Sunday, June 7, 2009

That Which Defines Us.

Last week I had the distinct pleasure of taking my wife and two youngest children to see the movie "Up." My youngest are 9 and 10, so the movies we usually see are not the kinds of movies that inspire deep reflection on the meaning of life. Not that many movies inspire reflection of any kind. Yet all movies, and for that matter all forms of entertainment, flow from a philosophical base that informs everything that they present. As a parent and as a Christian I have a responsibility to carefully screen what my children are exposed to and when they are exposed to those things. I was not disappointed by "Up."

At its heart "Up" is a movie about dealing with disappointment. I don't want to give away the story, especially since I want you to see the movie for yourselves, but the movie centers around the reaction of a man to the death of his wife. The movie deals very poignantly and powerfully with the bitterness of life, the pain of unrealized dreams, and the crushing effects of loss. "Up" does not hesitate to present the harshness and struggle of life.

Harshness and struggle. We don't like those two words. The realities of life are far too often the direct opposite of the hopes and dreams that we create for ourselves in our youth. Yet words like harshness and struggle more accurately describe life than "happily ever after." Please don't think that I am a pessimist, far from it. My life has been characterized not by defeat but by victory over incredible odds and crushing losses. My faith in Christ has enabled me to find hope and meaning in hopeless loss and devastating rejection. My life has taught me that without Christ there is no hope of any kind.

I believe that we are defined not by our success but how we handle the adversities of our lives. Yet somehow that truth is never spoken of and we do not equip our children to deal with the struggles and disappointments that are such a large part of life. As a result we have raised generation after generation who are unable to cope or find meaning when life doesn't deliver what they expect.

Christians are not immune to this dilemma. The most bitter people that I have ever known are Christians whom God has "let down" by not delivering on their hopes and dreams. They seem to believe that faith in Jesus should guarantee their happiness. Salvation is not a cure all or a magic ticket to escape from all our troubles. Jesus even told us that we should expect trouble in this world. Those words are in direct opposition to much of what passes for the gospel in many churches and on many television programs today. Those who preach and teach such a "gospel" are responsible for bringing great damage to many.

So what should our response be? We must remember that while we are not guaranteed happiness and success in this life we are promised the continual presence of the Holy Spirit. The presence of God is the key to making sense of setback and heartache. We must also come to the understanding that the focus of the believer's life should be on faithful obedience that pleases the Lord, not on our selfish desires. The title of Max Lucado's book puts it into perspective: It's Not About Me. Too much in modern Christendom is about anything but God. Lastly (although certainly not exhaustively) we must come to understand that nothing comes to pass in our lives by happenstance and that, while we may be caught by surprise, God is not. There is a purpose to be found in the death of spouse or children, abandonment, and failure. But that purpose will not be found in ourselves.

The lead character in "Up" discovered (or perhaps rediscovered) that life is found not in the attainment of dreams, but in the process of living itself. When his focus shifted from himself to others he discovered life. When Christians give up "us" when can find real life in God.

And to think that I thought about all this from an animated movie.

Ya never know.

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