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Will the Real Jesus Please Stand Up

If we learn anything from history, the Bible, culture, we are, by and large, an idolatrous people. Wars have been fought for lands, possessions, people. Helen of Troy is said to have had a face that launched a thousand ships. The litany goes on and on.

Point is, we’ll make an idol of anyhting: beauty, our cars, our T.V.s, our summer homes, what have you. Sure, we’re much too enlightened for that these days–we don’t call them idols anymore.

But idols they are. Come on: we idolize celebrities, needing to know every minute detail of their lives, while decrying the presence of those rags at all the supermarket checkstands. Fact is, if we didn’t buy them, if there weren’t demand, those magazines wouldn’t be there. The publishers just give us what we want. So, too, Hollywood with its movies and T.V. shows: whatever sells tickets, and generates ad revenue, is what it will keep churning out. Ad nauseum.

It’s all fine and dandy to lay the blame at another’s feet–when the problem lies about eight inches beneath the head, and in the center of the human chest.

It’s a heart condition.

And the worst of all the idols we put before God is the one we fashion in our likeness. (Look no further than our iconography: every people group wants to claim Jesus as their own. There’s white Jesus, brown Jesus, black Jesus, yellow Jesus, etc. When all we know for sure was that He was a Semitic man, “without form or comeliness”). Instead of letting Him claim as His own…

Just as the God who hates everything/everyone we hate is likely one who we have created in our likeness, so, too, is the God who approves of everything we do. Who likes everything we like.

If God (if Jesus) we serve doesn’t offend our sensibilities, He’s a poseur, an impostor.  A fake. Because the real one is an iconoclast: someone who defies labels, will not be pigeonholed.

Just like nobody puts baby in a corner, so, too, no one puts God in a box. Oh, we try. How we try:

There’s conservative God, who wants to close the borders, and doesn’t care about the aliens and strangers among us. There’s the gay God, who wants to just tastefully redecorate our souls (and His son is coming back clad in rainbowed-colored robes, bestride a unicorn). There’s also the social justice God, who only cares about hot button issues, about righting this world’s ills, about making a heaven on earth. But from Him one never hears the Gospel, of the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. Cause he’s too busy trying to make a heaven on earth now. When the real God says nothing about doing that; rather, He says He’s going to make a new heaven and a new earth. (This is not to say that there are not worthy causes–there are. But the Gospel is the cause).

Lest we forget, in addition to the Gods, the Jesuses, detailed above, there’s also Focus on the Family God–whose focus is indeed upon the family. Families are good, for sure.

But can you imagine that God saying:

“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household.” ( Matthew 10:34-36 ESV).

That’s not very family friendly, folks.

The point of all of this, in case you hadn’t guessed, is to simply state this:

It’s a slippery slope, folks, when the God we serve shares all of our values. And not the reverse.”

Jesus didn’t die just to tastefully redecorate, but rather to knock the whole building down, pour a new foundation (Himself), and start afresh.

He came not to make us nice people, but rather new people. People fashioned after His image and likeness. Anything less, or else, is idolatry. It’s Jesus-and–which, as we know from Galatians, is not the Gospel. He tells us come as we are, but he doesn’t leave us there.

Because an encounter with the real Jesus will always leave us fundamentally changed.

Always.

So, which God–which Jesus–do you serve?

The Chill Winds of Mortality

When someone so well-loved, widely regarded, respected, and talented as Robin Williams was passes on it’s like losing a friend. Or a family member. This is someone who came into our homes week after week, who we visited at the cineplex, who was in the news.

So it hits hard.

Doubly so, and especially for those of is who grew up watching Mr. Williams’s work, because it reminds us of stark naked reality: if someone so rich, successful, and nearly universally loved as Williams was can die, so can we all.

We are not immune to death’s call. So far as I know there’s but one way to enter this world (birth), and though it take a myriad forms, one way to leave it:

Death.

As the story of Williams’s death broke we all felt you chill winds of mortality blow over our souls. Wealth, success, fame, power, regard are no antidote. While wealth may buy us extra time, it’s no guarantee. The late Steve Jobs was a billionaire, was able to extemd his life by a few years, yet still he had to pay the boatman.

Death, as Shakespeare said, is the “undiscovered country, from whose borne no traveler returns.” Even those of us who are Christians don’t know what awaits us on the other side. We have the Bible, and we have hope. But none of, despite claims to the contrary, has actually crossed over, seen what lies in that far country, and come back to report our findings.

It doesn’t work that way. God generally does not, as much as we wish it, gives us foreknowledge of our own ends. He teaches is instead to number our days, to live as if He were coming back, indeed to live as if each day was our last.

Because we never know. It could be a car accident, a plane crash, a heart attack, a tumor, or any number of things which could lay each one of us low. The only think I know that is sure, upon which I have staked my life, is this:

“He that believes in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live. He that lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?”

That’s what it comes down to, friends:

Faith, and

Trust

Where are you placing yours? Knowing that this one life you’ve been given here upon this earth will end, where–in whom–are you placing your faith, your trust?

Your (eternal) life depends upon it.

A Reflection Upon the Death of Robin Williams

This post was occasioned by the Crash Synchroblog.

Apparently, I have been impacted by the death of beloved celebrities long before I knew what a celebrity was. You see, as a toddler I’m told I watched Bonanza with my parents. I wasn’t yet three years old when Dan Blocker (“Hoss”) died, and I’m told I cried. Many artists, actors, writers, performers have died since that day in May, 1973; I can’t say that I’ve again reacted with open weeping.

But I have felt profound sadness, even melancholy. When someone with whom I had spent many happy hours leaves this life behind I’m not untouched. The late Douglas Adams, with his Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy books, made me laugh. Made me think. When he died–after a workout at the age of forty-nine, thirteen years ago this past May–it touched me more deeply than I would have supposed. I suppose it’s because I knew his work, had as I said above, spent many a happy hour reading of Arthur Dent’s galaxy-spanning adventures, busting a gut all the while.

Adams’s light had gone out.

I felt the same when I heard Robert Jordan had succumbed to cardiac amyloidosis in September of 2007. I had spent hours, days, months reading his Wheel of Time books. Though I didn’t know the man, it felt like an old friend had passed beyond mortal realms and into the undiscovered country (from whose borne no traveler returns).

I felt it again yesterday upon hearing the news of Robin Williams’s passing. I grew up watching Mork and Mindy, saw The World According to Garp in the theater, enjoyed Mrs. Doubtfire (“It was a run-by fruiting!”). Essentially, I had grown up with him. He was with me from childhood to marriage to childrearing. I was able to share his work with my children: Toys, Jumanji, the Night at the Museum movies.

Now his light, after a lifelong struggle with depression, has gone out of the world. I’m not going to disparage his struggles, but neither will I romanticize his death: suicide is never the answer, folks. Life is a gift, and is worth holding onto even thought it may appear all light has gone out of it. Because, even as dark as things may seem, there is at least the promise of dawn. Maybe I don’t understand at all clinical depression, and have never personally been deep down that dark rabbit hole. That’s as may be. I guess what I’m saying is: why now? After beating back his demons for 63 years, what made the man decide not to fight on (having slain those dragons before). What made him despair of living?

Maybe we’ll never know.

What I do know is that his legacy will live on through his work, and that he is being widely memorialized with words, and scenes, from his best know roles: Dead Poets Society, Good Will Hunting, and Good Morning Vietnam. As iconic as those are, I’d like to leave you with this scene from 1984′s Moscow on the Hudson:

Good night, Robin Williams. When you said, in Bloomingdale’s, that you “vant to defecht” none of us knew that it would be this soon.

Time Off

I’m taking time off work this week to spend some time with my family before the school year gets into full swing. There wasn’t a plan–we didn’t map out the week’s activities.

Not to say we haven’t done anything; we have. It’s just that, tied to schedules as we are: church, small group, who’s got ballet, who’s sleeping over, getting to work, etc… It feels good to pause. Like a break in the action of a particularly intense thriller, or the quiet after a dramatic scene in a book (like Gandalf falling into the chasm at Kazad Düm), we needed a break.

Time to catch our collective breaths, time to pause, take stock.

A time free from rote routine.

I think that’s a good thing. We, all of us, can only push so hard at life before it pushes back, and the stresses of demands, obligations, schedules threaten to overwhelm us.

It’s nice to take time, and simply do nothing. Face life without a map, or even a compass, and just enjoy it. I, of course, write this from a place of calm and comfort. My holiday will end, back to work I’ll go, and the kids will be back in school.

I hope to take just enough of the calm with me to carry me through. Because I think the point of mountaintops isn’t to live there (having summited Everest, none may abide in that place), but rather to take enough of mountain back into the valleys with us. <-- That is the art and skill of life well-lived, friends.

Now: how do we make it reality?

Changes

I’m not one to do things by half measures. I’m, like most men, sort of binary like that. I either don’t workout at all, or (like now) I’ve joined a gym, and am working out days per week.

It’s all about changes, really. I see my body changing, my energy flagging, and my waistline expanding. Time was, I didn’t have to do anything about it. I could eat what I wanted.

But the carefree days of youth are gone–replaced by sobering reality:

Things cannot continue as they have been. It’s time that childish ways were put behind me (while simultaneously keeping my childlike sense of wonder intact). I think about the future, about being there for my family…

It’s about far more than just exercise–as important as that is. It’s about setting an example, about leaving a legacy. To that end, while I’m exercising the self-discipline to condition my body, I’m also involved in counseling. Because I want to discipline my soul. I want to free myself from the wrong ways I’ve handled things.

I want to set an example for my family that continues long after I’m gone.

I want to finish strong.

So I work, and strive, now to build not just a better body, but a better soul. For it was for freedom that Christ set us free. I don’t want to continue to be entangled in the negative influences, and patterns, that have shaped me until now. It’s time to let that go.

I’ve learned something along the way I’d like to pass onto you:

It’s not enough to just let something (bad, negative, hurtful, sinful) go; no, else we risk leaving a void.

We have to replace those former things with something good, uplifting, holy.

You see, I’m making a lot of changes lately. I’m tearing down one house in order to build it upon a better foundation.

Changes.

Are there any you need to make?

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