The Dancing Puritan

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Only Christ Can Satisfy

Lori and I were returning home from a day of Christmas shopping. We had just finished dinner at a popular soup and salad restaurant and I was stuffed to capacity. Our once-a-year shopping day is looked forward to by both of us. Most of our Christmas shopping is done in one day (with a little help from Amazon). We had been in the van about five minutes after dinner when suddenly I had sharp pain on the left side of my chest. It got my attention. For a moment I felt like Fred Sanford and thought, "This is the big one." Interestingly, my breathing was fine, so I had some level of confidence that I was not having a heart attack. Lori unwrapped a peppermint and gave it to me. Amazingly, after just a couple of minutes the pain subsided. It was indigestion after all and the probability increased that I would live to shop another day.

The sharp pain was not heart related but it did remind me that one day my heart will fail. Ultimately everyone dies of heart failure. The chest pain was a stark reminder that physical life cannot be counted on. But it is not just physical life that can't be trusted. Look around. A rich businessman. who once had a strong financial standing, lost his wealth. A family down the street, who once was the picture of happiness, now has a "prodigal son." You know the stories.

I spent the past two years digging into the book of Ecclesiastes. Ecclesiastes is a honest book about the vanity of life. Vanity does not mean worthlessness, it refers to the fleeting nature of all things "under the sun." Even the best things of life are fleeting. They cannot be captured and brought to the chest in a permanent way. They leave. They blow through our hands like a puff of wind. They are here today, gone tomorrow.

Solomon knew it. He tried everything. He built houses, planted vineyards, gardens, and parks. He surrounded himself with people who answered to his every command. He collected silver and gold and was renowned around the world. He collected musicians, music, wine, and women (Ecclesiastes 2:1-11). His conclusion: Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun (2:11).

The problem for Solomon was not that he possessed silver and gold. The problem was that the good life possessed him. He knew that gifts were to be enjoyed as from God. He learned that good gifts make terrible gods. It is a lesson that all of us need to learn. Anything or anyone can be worshipped.

It is challenging to grow older and to see the remnants of youth fading away. The world is strewn with men my age who are constantly grasping for their glory years (which probably were not as glorious as they are now romanticized to be). Such men often do foolish things. Sometimes they abandon the "wife of their youth" in search for that pretty-little-thing across town. In their vain attempt to show themselves strong they become pitiful in their attempts to be young again. You have seen them. You have felt sorry for them and for those who have felt the impact of their wind chasing. Hollywood is an example. It is plastered across grocery store magazine covers. Hollywood is a lie. Take a look behind the face lifts and multiple marriages that are draped in fine clothes and flashy smiles.You don't have to look very hard to see the utter emptiness of life without God.

Our family went to the local mall the day after Christmas to exchange imperfect gifts. The parking lot was beyond capacity. Christmas Day brought gifts that were not quite right so we rushed to the stores to make them right, knowing full well that the replacements will soon be broken or out of style. The problem is not with shoes, shirts, tech, and movies. The problem is much deeper. Once again, millions of people tried to capture the wind on Christmas morning. They looked to the gifts and overlooked the baby. They didn't know or they failed to remember that all things were created through him and for him (Colossians 1:16). The wind is refreshing but it cannot be captured. It is time to stop chasing the wind and find the meaning of life in the one whom "the fullness of God was pleased to dwell." (1:19). Let the next chest pain, sick child, lost business venture, and even your next success remind you of what really matters.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Shadow Chasing and Christmas

Many of us are chasing shadows and never feel the warm breath that pushes forth from living lungs. It is easy to miss the truth in the midst of consuming shadows. But it is there, in the eyes and behind the eyes of those who are being remade in the image of God.

That the mansion is broken-down is obvious by its warts, failures, and blemishes. Rather than dealing with the brokenness it is easier to look away, to chase after shadows, and never really embrace truth, purity, and reality. 

Christmas decorations are storytellers. For the person whose heart strays from God, decorations are a vain attempt to dress up a mirage, to hope against hope that a shadow will bring warmth. However, like a virtual fireplace, a mirage lacks oxygen. For the person who loves God decorations are flowers planted in good soil, they indicate reality, a deep reality with a beating heart.

Think about Christmas shopping. Do you shop from real hope? Or do you hope in your shopping? What about your decorating? Do you decorate from hope or do you look for hope in the decorations? Does the decorated tree cheer your heart? It might, for a moment. Or does the cheer in your heart result in a beautifully decorated tree?

Lost by those who get tangled up in heated debates about the legitimacy or illegitimacy of the Christmas holiday, is a real understanding of joy.

C.S. Lewis wrote a letter on August 19th, 1945 to a Mrs. Ellis. This letter was recently discovered in a secondhand book. In this letter Lewis describes his view of joy:
It shocks one awake when the other (pleasure) puts one to sleep. My private table is one second of joy is worth 12 hours of Pleasure. I think you really quite agree with me. (From The Guardian).
Did you catch it? Lewis wrote, "one second of joy is worth 12 hours of Pleasure." That’s it, you know. Pleasure is the shadow that many a lost soul is chasing, except it is a bit more tangible than a shadow. Pleasure can be brought to the breast and held for a moment but it will ultimately bring drowsiness and sleep. In the end pleasure is a shadow that flees so that it can refuel and be chased again. Every captured moment of pleasure always runs out of gass.  If you look for pleasure to cheer your heart, then your heart will feel cheered for a moment but soon the cheer seeps out like a punctured balloon, and you are left flat. 

The problem is in seeking pleasure rather than joy. Joy is weighty, substantive, and real.

Lewis wrote in The Weight of Glory: "You and I have need of the strongest spell that can be found to wake us from the evil enchantment of worldliness." We are often enchanted by worldliness and imagine that shadow-collecting, with all of its pleasures, is what we were made for.

What were we made for?
For by him all things were created in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities--all things were created through him and for him. (Colossians 1:16). 
The "him" above is Christ. We were created by and for Christ. It’s all about Christ. He is the source of our joy. When we know him, and find our joy in him alone, then we can rejoice in him and enjoy his good gifts to us without thinking that we deserve better than we are getting. Grace abounds because God sent his Son to rescue sinners. From that base-line truth we can look into the eyes of our tired spouse, challenging children, and difficult boss and engage them with love and hope. Why? Because we have seen, touched, tasted, and embraced the reality. We can also look at a world drowning in Christmas chaos and decorate a tree from joy and not for joy.

Seeking pleasure outside of the boundary of Scripture is grabbing for the wind. Yes, there is a refreshing puff of air that brings giddiness for a moment but the thrill will soon pass. Moses knew that, rejected the "fleeting pleasures of sin," and chose Christ.

By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward. By faith he left Egypt not being afraid of the anger of the king, for he endured as seeing him who is invisible. By faith he kept the Passover and sprinkled the blood, so that the Destroyer of the firstborn might not touch them. (Hebrews 11: 24-28)