Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Do You See What I See?

Recently David Letterman opened his mouth and swallowed his foot. Letterman's comedy is an acquired taste, to say the least, but I must confess to rarely missing his show during his first ten years or so on the air. I particularly enjoyed his "Top Ten" lists and will even today tune in from time to time to watch them.

Having said all that I must confess to missing the recent program in which Letterman made, or attempted to make, a joke concerning Sarah Palin's daughters. I have since seen a video of the joke. My initial reaction was one of disgust. That type of humor is why I stopped watching Letterman regularly. My second reaction was to ask the question: "Didn't anybody learn anything from the Don Imus incident?" Imus, as you may recall, temporarily lost his job and millions of dollars for a remark about the Rutgers University woman's basketball team. I am of the opinion that Imus' joke, as he called it, was much less offensive than Letterman's. Not that either is in any way appropriate. It remains to be seen what price Letterman will pay for his crude attempt at humor.

Recently Letterman issued a public apology in an attempt to blunt the backlash his "joke" has engendered. During his apology Letterman made this statement; "My intent is completely meaningless compared to the perception." I'm sure that there aren't many who remember the Andre Agassi ad campaign with the slogan "Image is everything." Letterman's intent is certainly open to debate, but we will not consider such things today. Unfortunately his words are all too true for almost every aspect of our culture. We vote for politicians, make purchase decisions, and choose churches based on perceptions. Unfortunately we too often find that perceptions are seldom equal to reality.

Unfortunately the power of perception rings true in the lives of many belivers as well. The Bible calls it hypocrisy. Very simply: far too many believers give off a vastly different perception of who they are as opposed to who they say they are. Basically, their walk doesn't match their talk. Therein lies much of what is wrong with the church today. Jesus told us that our actions reveal what is truly in our hearts. The perception about Christians is that we are hypocrites. I realize that this is a gross generalization, but the truth is that the world lumps all "christians" together. You get painted with the same brush as all other believers, good or bad.

How do we change the perception? There is only one way. Daily, consistent, persistent faithfulness that is lived out in acts of love. We can love all men without compromising the truth or disregarding the word of God. Why do we fail? Because it's hard work. We can no longer expect our words alone to be enough. We must put feet to our faith.

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.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The Last Straw?

It's already been quite a week, and it's only Tuesday! I had originally intended to talk about the bankruptcy of General Motors (or "Government Motors" as some now call it), but I heard something on the radio today that gave me pause. While driving home after taking my wife and two youngest to see the movie "Up" (a movie I highly recommend) I heard a radio news report concerning President Obama's press conference on the issue of the health care "crisis."

I have no desire to wade into the morass that is the "debate" concerning health care. I am currently paying a number of doctor and hospital bills that were either not covered or only partially covered by my insurance. Would I like better benefits? Yes. Would I like a drug benefit that made sense? Of course. Would I like to be able to make sense of the policy materials and payment schedules? Who wouldn't. Yes, there is much about American health care that doesn't make sense, but we still have the best health care system in the world.

What concerned me about the President's press conference was the report that Congressional Democrats (are there any others on the Hill?) intended to have a plan for health care reform ready for the President's signature in eight to ten weeks. I nearly swallowed my teeth when I heard that. But thankfully I didn't because I don't have dental insurance and I'm sure my regular coverage wouldn't consider such an incident as a coverable accident.

To put this in perspective let me remind you that health care represents one-eighth of the total U.S. economy. The thought that a meaningful plan for health care reform could be crafted in only eight weeks is mind boggling! But what is most frightening about this is the cost. No one is talking about the cost of reforming health care, or the universal health care that is the apple of Sen. Ted Kennedy's eye. Consider this: Medicare and Social Security are both on the verge of bankruptcy. No one is calling for reform to these two massive programs. Those two programs together don't even come close to approaching the cost of health care reform. Yet the current administration seems willing to throw money (and caution) to the wind in the name of "saving" this or that. First it was the mortgage crisis, then the banking crisis, then the automobile crisis...what's next?

The real problem, and greatest danger, is that this country does not have an infinite amount of wealth at its disposal. Sooner or later (sooner if current trends continue) the well will run dry. We are already seeing projected deficits in the trillions of dollars. Yet no one, no Democrat or Republican (the new gutless wonders), is sounding the call for fiscal restraint and responsibility. Where will it all end?

With the bankruptcy of this nation.

All our technological and military might won't save us when the economy distintigrates under the weight of our fiscal irresponsibility. No amount of reform will save us then.