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Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas Wake Up Call, Part 3: Mysterious Melancholy

SO, did your living room ever look like this one after Christmas morning? Wrapping paper, bows, ribbons, boxes--thrown all over, and maybe a kid or two laying around in it? lol These are not my own cherubs by the way. But isn't it amazing how fast the actual day of Christmas goes by? Months of planning, countless hours shopping, wrapping, decorating, cooking, and assembling and WHOOSH!! The day is over.

And for kids, you've seen it, haven't you? They come bouncing down the stairs and, giddy with joy, they tear into their presents. RIP.TEAR.GRAB.CRUMPLE. Present after present until…the last present is opened. Then, there's that momentary look on their faces. They look around. Maybe it's behind the tree? Under the couch. Hmmm...wait. That's all? There are no more presents? Have you ever seen that moment of "Awwww, it's over?" in their eyes?

Maybe it's not on Christmas Day. Maybe it's a week after when the luster of new toys wears off, that special gift looks strangely like other things in the toybox, and the candy's well, gone.

Some call it Post Christmas Blues. I call it the Mysterious Melancholy. I feel it myself, usually the day after Christmas. Certainly I feel it when we've just come home from vacation. And I often feel it when summer break's over, and I'm sitting in the first faculty meeting at my school. {SIGH!}

I know I'm not the only one who's felt this…am I? {CRICKETS} Ok, not funny. Christmas is an utterly joyous time of the year. There's so much to anticipate, so much to savor and enjoy. And let's face it, God has given us so much in this life to enjoy. But…

But have you ever noticed that no matter how good something's supposed to be, that it's never quite as good as we think it will be? It never completely satisfies you, not for very long, at any rate. In fact, I'll go so far as to throw big life achievements into the mix. We go through stages of accomplishments: graduation, first job, marriage, child birth, etc. It's SO great…for a little while. The real world rushes in. The job becomes a chore, the honeymoon ends, the kids want noserings, etc. It just never satisfies.

Speaking personally on the matter. My dream was to become a published author. I even wrote that in my high school senior yearbook. Guess what? I am a published author now. I've done countless signings. I've been on local and national radio, local and national TV. I've toured across the country. I've been on the bestseller list 12 times. I've had nice people write me or tell me in person how my books are so great, etc. But, to tell you the God's honest truth, I'm still not satisfied. And it's not because I'm an idiot. (I may be an idiot, but that's not the reason I'm not satisfied). I'm not satisfied because I'm a Christian, and I will never truly be satisfied in this broken world. We were never meant to be satisfied here.

The Bible tells us that we are strangers passing through, that we are citizens of another kingdom. The Bible tells us that all of creation is groaning for the day Jesus comes back and renews everything. So no wonder there's this mysterious melancholy that we all feel, a kind of letdown that things have come to an end or that the excitement has dulled, or that the accomplishment didn't really do for us what we thought it might.

And let me clarify, so far I've been talking about believers; folks who call Jesus "Lord" and who are seeking after Him. For nonbelievers, the mysterious melancholy is still there. In fact, it might be doubly powerful, perhaps dangerously powerful. But the danger for unbelievers is that they can dogmatically cling to the hope that something on this earth WILL satisfy completely. If I could just get that ________ fill in the blank, then I'd be truly happy. And worse still is when someone falls into the trap of finding something that satisfies, but only temporarily. And once found, the poor soul needs more and more and more of whatever it is to achieve that feeling once more. This is what we term addiction. The reality is, there is nothing that will satisfy the unbeliever until you meet Jesus. And once you meet Jesus, the world cannot satisfy you, so you will long for Heaven.

CS Lewis was on to this a long time ago. I should have just told you all to read his book, "The Weight of Glory" and saved myself the post. There's no way I can do this subject justice. So here's an excerpt from Lewis:

Now, if we are made for heaven, the desire for our proper place will be already in us, but not yet attached to the true object, and will even appear as the rival of that object. And this, I think, is just what we find… If a transtemporal, transfinite good is our real destiny, then any other good on which our desire fixes must be in some degree fallacious, must bear at best only a symbolical relation to what will truly satisfy. ...

In speaking of this desire for our own far-off country, which we find in ourselves even now, I feel a certain shyness. I am almost committing an indecency. I am trying to rip open the inconsolable secret in each one of you—the secret which hurts so much that you take your revenge on it by calling it names like Nostalgia and Romanticism and Adolescence; the secret also which pierces with such sweetness that when, in very intimate conversation, the mention of it becomes imminent, we grow awkward and affect to laugh at ourselves; the secret we cannot hide and cannot tell, though we desire to do both. We cannot tell it because it is a desire for something that has never actually appeared in our experience. We cannot hide it because our experience is constantly suggesting it, and we betray ourselves like lovers at the mention of a name.

Our commonest expedient is to call it beauty and behave as if that had settled the matter. Wordsworth’s expedient was to identify it with certain moments in his own past. But all this is a cheat. If Wordsworth had gone back to those moments in the past, he would not have found the thing itself, but only the reminder of it; what he remembered would turn out to be itself a remembering. The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing. These things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself, they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.

If you are visiting here, and you really haven't made up your mind about Jesus, I applaud you for searching in the first place. There can be no greater pursuit in this lifetime that finding out who we really are and why we're here. At a deep level we all know this. We know that there's more to this so-called life than what we see. We know that there's something really important that we ought to be looking for. We know that even the best things this life can offer: the Super Bowls, the TV appearances, the dreams come true--none of it can truly and lastingly satisfy. This feeling we feel when the Christmas presents are all gone…it's a longing for something more, something of God…something heavenly.

I believe we are all people meant to discover Jesus, believe and follow Him. I believe that once you believe, you will find a joy that satisfies you in a unique way--a peace that surpasses understanding. But even so, you will only just be getting your citizenship papers. Your far off country still waits. And there, you will be ultimately satisfied forever, for you will be with God.

I'd like to close with a very convicting quote from Lewis:

"We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased."

Sunday, December 21, 2008

A Christmas Wake Up Call, Part Two: A Fool's Wager

Hopefully the cheek is still stinging from the recent sharp smack. Strangely enough, most who posted comments about the topic were thankful to receive such a smack. Hmmm...well, this next topic may or may not be so well received. Actually, it was my ten-year-old, Tommy who thought this up on his own. I was so amazed that the two of us talked about it for the last half hour of our drive home from Christmas shopping.

How do you feel about the topic of gambling? I know it's one of those things Christians should steer clear of, but I can't help but bring it up as an illustration. So, here goes. You've got to wager your house (or something else very dear to you). But you have a choice of the type of wager you're going to play. The first wager works like this: You must bet this valuable thing on one of two possible outcomes. If you pick the wrong outcome, you lose everything. If you are correct about the outcome, you win…nothing.

The second type of wager works like this: Once again, you have two possible outcomes to choose from. If you select the correct outcome, you not only win your house but unimaginable riches on top. If you select the wrong outcome, you lose…nothing.

So which type of wager would you like to place? If you're like me, you're screaming: "PICK B, PICK B!!" Why? Why so easy to decide which wager you'll attempt? Both of them are bets. There's a certain amount of uncertainty involved in either one, right? You could still lose, right? But the difference is in the potential consequences of either wager.

In the first wager, there's really nothing to be gained at all…and everything to lose. In the second wager, there's everything to be gained…and nothing at all to lose. Only a fool would attempt the first type of wager. Only a fool.

The tires made a steady thrump-ump on the highway. Intermittent streetlights flash through the windshield. It's quiet in the car. Then, Tommy says to me, "Dad, I don't get it. Why would anyone not go with Jesus? I mean, it's not like Jesus will hurt them or anything?" My son the next C.S. Lewis? I think so. {No bias here.} lol

I was blown away. What a brilliant question. What Tommy was asking was simply another form of the wager scenario I posed above. Person A needs to decide whether or not to believe in Jesus. Certainly there are compelling reasons to believe. There's more historical, archeological, and empiracle evidence for Christianity than any other faith. Jesus himself has more corroboration in history than most ancient leaders. The Bible manuscripts meet accuracy tests that would put ALL other ancient documents to shame. But this isn't really about apologetics. This is a wager. There are unknowns and there very definitely are consequences.

If Person A places a bet against Jesus, ie: there is no God -or- Jesus isn't who he said he is, so I'm just not going to believe in him. I choose to believe that we're all cosmic accidents and that there's nothing after death but nothing. If Person A is correct, then he wins absolutely nothing. He lives his life as he sees fit and dies and disappears. He'll never even know that he was right. But if Person A is wrong, then he loses EVERYTHING to a level beyond comprehension. First of all, he's lost everything he ever "owned" on earth. You cannot take it with you. The Pharoah's tried it, but guess what? It didn't work. But far worse than that, Person A must now face Almighty God and answer two questions: What did you do with your life? And what did you say to my Son whom I offered for you? Person A will have no answer that will satisfy. And Person A will experience eternal death, pain, separation…hell.

But if Person B places his bet to follow Jesus: I don't know everything about you, Jesus, but I'm willing to believe that you died for my sins and I place my faith in you. If Person B is wrong, he loses absolutely nothing*! Person B dies and disappears, never even knowing that he was wrong. But if Person B correct, and Jesus is who He said He is, then Person B wins everything. You win your life now which, though filled with the same struggles that are common to man, will give you an unwavering hope. But more than that Person B will gain eternity in heaven with God.

While Christmas shopping, have you looked at any of the scenic photo calendars? You should. Absolutely breathtaking images: mountain scapes, volcanic eruptions, sunrises over the ocean. Just stunning sights to be seen right here on planet earth. If God made the earth in seven days and has been working on Heaven ever since, there's a fair chance Heaven might be pretty cool. "I go there to prepare a place for you." Isn't that what Jesus said? Can you imagine what Heaven will be like? Nope, me either. Not that I don't try, but the Bible tells us it will be better than we can imagine. So try all you want. Heaven will still be better.

Did you note the asterisk (*) above? It's where I say that the follower of Jesus loses nothing if He's wrong. Well, yes and no. Paul says if the ressurrection is false then we Christians are above all men to be pitied. Jesus told us we would need to lose our life to follow Him. There is sacrifice involved. The thing is, if we're wrong, we'll never know it. If Christianity is false and after death there is nothing, then we die and poof. That's it.

But really, if you become a Christian and seriously follow Him, what do you really lose? Fun? If you think that being a Christian doesn't include fun, you've been sold a line. Any Christians out there in BLOGLAND who have fun? Post a comment and tell us about it.

"Taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in him." Psalm 34:8

The only kind of so-called fun that Christianity prohibits is the kind of fun that most people regret. It's the kind of thing that ends up hurting you in the end.

Why would any person in this lifetime absolutely refuse Jesus? I don't know. It's a fool's wager.