Monday, October 27, 2008

What God Wants

One of my favorite things in the world is to sit and listen to my boys, Will and Nate, entertain themselves. Each finds the other to be an unparalleled comedian. Sometimes Sam is included in the revelry, and I'm sure hoping that one day he'll be a full member. But for now, most of their jokes are intended only for each other, and boy oh boy, do they get worked up into a laughing frenzy. Nate, in particular, sounds almost intoxicated by the hilarity of it all.

Sometimes I wish the whole of life was like that, yet I know that Jesus told us in plain and simple terms that we'd have trouble in this life. (John 16:33). Amazingly, His words are often ignored. Thousands upon thousands of people have been led astray by the prosperity gospel--the claim that God always wants you healthy and wealthy, that God always wants you in a Nate-like hilarious state-of-mind. Certainly, if that were true, Christians would be the healthiest, wealthiest people in town, and the envy of all their neighbors. People would probably start turning to Christ by the droves.

But how would God be glorified in that? People would be using God as a means to an end. It would be all about them and what they could get from Him. But that's not the way God works. The reality is that even though God often chooses to bless those who follow Him, even the most devout Christians experience extreme hardships and heartaches. It must grieve God greatly to see people embrace the prosperity gospel when it mars the whole purpose of Jesus' sacrifice. And why exactly didn't the prosperity gospel work for Jesus anyway?

My pastor, Lon Solomon, was speaking about this recently and he said, "sometimes God wants you sick." Now, that's a pretty hard-lined position, much different than what we often hear, that God allows pain in our lives, but does not will it. So I've been thinking about this, and talking with some friends about it. And in some respects I'm not sure, in our humanness, we can fully get our heads around it. God loves us, right? How could He want us sick?

However, in another respect it makes perfect sense to me. As C.S. Lewis puts it in Mere Christianity, "Christ says, 'Give me All. I don't want so much of your time and so much of your money and so much of your work: I want You...No half-measures are any good.'" But tidbits and half-measures are pretty much our nature, don't you think? We have to work at it if we really aim to give ALL to Christ.

Now look back at your own spiritual journey and ask yourself this question: Where did I most learn to trust God with my life? Was it when you were in green pastures walking beside still waters? I doubt it. It was in the valley of the shadow of death, right?

So if God wants us to trust Him, to cling to Him, to rest in the assurance of His love, and we best learn to do that in the valley, then why can't the valley be what God wants for us?

If sin had never entered the world, we wouldn't have any valleys. But sin did enter this world, and Christ told us we'd have troubles. So why not pray that we will learn all that there is to learn in our valleys, and then take heart and praise Jesus that He has overcome the world!






Monday, October 20, 2008

A Couple More Soons

Wednesday marks seven of the happiest years of my life. In some ways my little Will turning seven is a stunning realization of how quickly time passes, and yet in other ways pre-motherhood days seem like eons ago.

I've been reminiscing about Will, how sweet he has always been, what a kind heart he has, how he comes up with amazing ways to help me. On Saturday Will and I were in Subway with the baby. I was paying for our sandwiches and Will was by my side, but as I was waiting for change I realized he was gone. Then from the back of the restaurant I saw him confidently carrying a wooden high chair above his six-year-old head. He picked out a table and straightened the straps for me to easily load Sammy. What kind of angel boy does something like that?

But one of my favorite stories about Will, and there really are so many, happened more than four years ago. He jumped off the ottoman, and although x-rays didn't show any type of fracture, he was limping so much that the doctor casted him anyway. It was August-- an inconvenient time for a two-year-old to be dragging a cast around since all you want to do in DC in August is get wet. But he didn't complain. He would ask when he was getting his cast off, but it seemed more like a matter of curiosity than a pressing need. He was such a trooper.

As the time approached for him to get it off, I'd tell him, "only a few more days" or "pretty soon we are going to get your cast off."

The morning before the big day Will woke up, stretched out his little arms, flashed his magical smile at me, and declared, "only a couple more soons!"

What a great outlook! And really so applicable. The Bible likens this life to "a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes." (James 4:14 (NIV)) Life is indeed short. In contrast to eternity we all only have a couple more soons. Yet lately I've been feeling very sad about the divisiveness in our country, about the prevalence of hate and greed, and then I've been researching international adoption for an article I was working on, and learning about the needs of orphans around the world is incredibly sobering. I've been wondering if we should buy some big farm house in the country and adopt a dozen or so orphans. But I can't think of anything sadder than using up my mist, my couple more soons, worrying. I know God never wants me be to be anxious about anything--that it is never His will for me to worry.

Yesterday, my pastor, Lon Solomon (hear his remarkable testimony "A Story of a Changed Life" at www.mcleanbible.org), reminded us that God is sovereign. Isn't it interesting how we really do need to be reminded of the basics? I sat there and thought why have I been worrying so much? Is God in control or not? Such a simple question. Such a simple answer, and yet it lifts the world off my shoulders.

It also reminds me of a brilliant C.S. Lewis observation about having an eternal perspective. He said, "Aim at Heaven and you will get earth 'thrown in': aim at earth and you will get neither." (Mere Christianity)

Let us rest in the fact that God is in control and let us always aim at Heaven.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Shrek Without the Yogurt

Did you know that Sleeping Beauty is about to be released again, or "brought out of the vault" as Disney is fond of saying? I hadn't heard, but my five-year-old, Nate, saw a preview the other day.

"Mom," he said, "there's a new movie coming out called Sleeping Beauty. It looks good. It looks like Shrek without the Yogurt."

I wrote it down that very minute, ensuring that statement will never be forgotten in the Jackson household. But of course, Nate is right. Sleeping Beauty is a lot like Shrek without the ogre. Well, except for the fact that Shrek is a spoof of Sleeping Beauty and all things Disney. Nate wouldn't know that it is, in fact, Shrek that is a lot like Sleeping Beauty, except they added the "Yogurt." Shrek is his standard, the standard of his generation. It is really quite a paradigm shift and it got me thinking about how things change.

Even in my lifetime, which I am reluctant to admit is closing in on forty years, things have changed dramatically. There's a steady evolution in the world of ideas, but there's also catalysts which cause a sudden push forward. When I was a little girl, there appeared to be a consensus, that while the truth may not always be easy to uncover, there was at least the possibility of its discovery. Slowly more and more people began to question the very existence of truth. By the time I was in college, the "everything is relative" mantra was pervasive. Those who held to absolutes were regarded with disdain. The enlightened abandoned even the language of absolutes. At least they claimed to. A close look reveals that most postmodernists cling to the absolute of tolerance, even though it is logically impossible for them to justify this internal inconsistency. If everything is relative, it doesn't make a lick of sense that anything is good or bad. So you can't pretend that tolerance is any different than any other moral judgment. If you want to be consistent you cannot say tolerance is good. It's all relative.

But postmodernists are hardly unique. It seems that most people are inconsistent. What we believe affects our behavior, yet often our beliefs fail to determine our behavior. Sometimes we act contrary to that which we profess to believe. The book UnChristian by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons is a modern commentary on how the life of the typical Christian fails to reflect Christian values, fails to even be distinguishable from the life of the nonChristian. And G.K. Chesterton summarized much of Kinnaman and Lyons' book a century ago: "The best argument against Christianity is Christians." In a similar way, the postmodernist (the person with the "it depends on what is, is" point-of-view) fails to live a philosophically consistent life. For example, how many postmodernists do you know who are unwilling to label the Holocaust evil? Yet the logical conclusion of a relativistic worldview actually necessitates the ridiculous claim that the Holocaust was neither bad nor good.

But the Holocaust was evil. And tolerance is good. In our heart of hearts we know that. As Lewis said, "The moment you say that one set of moral ideas can be better than another, you are, in fact, measuring them both by a standard, saying that one of them conforms to that standard more nearly than the other." (Mere Christianity).

So it is not very hard to get people to admit that there's a standard. After all, what sane person would really want to live in a moral vacuum, where life in a concentration camp and a life of freedom are equal? Reasonable people will admit there's a standard. They just won't necessarily admit there's a Standard Giver, and that's like Nate thinking it's Shrek without the ogre. Both represent myopic views that miss the big picture. Because there is no standard without a Standard Giver.

But even with a standard and a Standard Giver the picture is incomplete. The necessary element which fleshes out the masterpiece is Love. The Bible tells us that the Standard Giver is Love. He made you just as you are, and He loves you just as you are. And nothing you can do will ever change that. Now, that's absolute cause for praise. Hallelujah!