Thursday, January 13, 2011

Peaks and Troughs

Life has really had a lot of ups and downs lately. Mostly by my own hand, mind you, but I have been left wondering by it all.

C.S. Lewis wrote about peaks and troughs in The Screwtape Letters, and I've always agreed that life does indeed seem to consist of these up and down cycles.

I just didn't imagine they'd come so quickly, so deeply, or be composed so entirely of my own doing.

See, I can't say that I struggle with my faith in the sense of those words that most people speak them. I believe quite firmly in my God and in Jesus Christ. But I engage in behaviors, outwardly and in my mind and heart, of which I am deeply ashamed. In addition, I feel I am a very weak pray-er, and that I really don't read the Bible enough, or with consistency enough.... especially for someone who leads a Bible study group. Ugh.

And thus, while I am indeed very blessed and I thank God that my life has many high points, there are lots of lows, lots of troughs, and I can say that many are connected to everything I wrote about in that last paragraph... that distance I create between myself and the God I say I believe in.

Many Christian blogs would right about now throw in a happy ending, and sometimes that frustrates me, because that feels artificial to me. But you know what? We do have a happy ending. We do have a God who loves us enough to descend to our earth, take on a human body and walk about among us, get to know us, feel what we struggle with, overcome what we struggle with, and for everything we've done wrong, die on a cross so we wouldn't have to die in punishment and shame, and live again and forever so that we might live forever, too. My challenge sometimes is to replace "we" and "us" with "I" and "me". (Trying reading the paragraph making those substitutions; it's pretty cool!)

But there is one more challenge for me in those troughs. The challenge to remember that God expects more from me. See, it seems to me just as often as the Gospels and the Letters talk about redemption and grace, they talk about forsaking those things that cause us to be ashamed, that cause us to draw back from God. I know it would cause a lot less troughs if I were more disciplined -- more devoted -- to prayer, to the Scriptures, to my God. And I know it would hurt His heart less.

And I know I really really really want to hear those words one day... "Well done, good and faithful servant..."

So time, I hope, to get out of some of these troughs. Time to draw nearer my awesome God.

What keeps you from God? What causes you troughs? And how do YOU draw nearer to Him?

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Game Over... Right?

I was watching part of a hockey game a few weeks ago, and it came to a most interesting conclusion. The game was tied; it was in overtime, so the next goal would win, immediately ending the game. A player skated in and shot the puck at the net fast... very fast. The puck came ricocheting back, as though the goalie had stopped it, but it didn't look like he had. There was no telling "clang" that would have sounded as the puck hit the post... had the puck gone into the net and bounced back out too fast for anyone to see?

The crowd anticipated a stoppage in play, when the play would be reviewed. The television announcer was really, really excited. "This game might already be over!!!" he shouted, but players kept skating around the ice. They had to keep playing until that game was decided, until they knew it was over.

The game was indeed over. At the next whistle, the referee watched a replay that clearly showed the game had already been won. The celebration began, seemingly late but assured all along by that goal.

It's easy to see the analogy to the Christian faith here, I think. The decisive blow has been struck. The Anointed One, the Christ, has been sacrificed, and our sin has been forgiven, even before we were born.

And yet...

And yet we keep skating.

See, this is what we're called to do. We know how this game has ended. We know our God is the winner, the victor over sin, over death, over pain. But as players, it is our duty, it is our necessity, to keep working in this world. To work for the poor, the oppressed, the hungry and the sick. To love and forgive relentlessly. We know, when that final whistle blows, (or trumpet, I suppose), who the winner already is. But for now, there's more skating to be done.

Let's play with confidence. Let's play hard. Let's play like it all depends on it. In some odd way, it might. But at the end of the day, when you're exhausted and wondering how much longer until that whistle, and wondering if you've fumbled the puck enough to lose the game, have peace.

The game is over. Thanks be to God.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

New Year's Revolution

  Some folks at work were laughing recently about a verbal gaffe someone had made. After a string of such malapropisms most of this school year, they mentioned New Year's revolutions, meaning to say resolutions. I shared in the laugh, but trying to be helpful, offered that to revolve means to turn around, so perhaps this person was just promising to turn it all around in the new year.

  However, in the intervening days, I realized that a revolution of that sort simply brings you back to where you started. The earth revolves around the sun and, in some ways, the earth ends where it started. This seemed dissatisfying to me; I really liked the original analogy! So, a quick trip to turned up the following possible definition for "revolution":

     "a sudden, complete or marked change in something: the present revolution in church architecture"

  I have several small resolutions this new year. Mostly they come down to being a better man, to removing some of the sin I regularly walk in, to break some bad habits, to build some good ones, and also to be more organized and timely about things. But what I hope all these things lead to, by the grace of God alone, is a New Year's Revolution: a complete and marked change in me.

  An apparently popular verse around this time of year is Ephesians 5:17: "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!" The New American Standard Bible translates the verse as: "Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come." (Emphasis added.) This year, I want to be that new creation. I want to be that new creature. I want a New Year's Revolution, God making a complete and marked change in me.

  What are your New Year's resolutions? (Or revolutions!)