…but who are YOU?

question markRight ‘meaning’ for life is found first in knowing God, in loving and serving him, and only afterwards in whomever else we love and serve.

 In fact, it is only once our relationship with God has been made right that we are able to rightly love and serve him and/or others.


Seven sons
The importance of knowing God, of being rightly related to him, before we attempt to serve him is dramatically displayed in the nineteenth chapter of the book of Acts.

 

 

 

‘Some Jews who went around driving out evil spirits tried to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who were demon-possessed. They would say, “In the name of Jesus, whom Paul preaches, I command you to come out.” Seven sons of Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, were doing this. One day the evil spirit answered them, “Jesus I know, and I know about Paul, but who are you?” Then the man who had the evil spirit jumped on them and overpowered them all. He gave them such a beating that they ran out of the house naked and bleeding.’ Acts 19:13-16

 kindness

The spectacular apart,
in every aspect of our lives,
in all our best attempts
at loving and serving,
the grandest of gestures
or the smallest of kindnesses,
we need to recall Jesus’ words…

 

 

vine

I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. ….. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.
John 15:5-8

 

It is only when we know him and remain in him that we bear fruit for him and it is that fruit of his in all its astonishing variety and flavor that is the evidence of the meaning we have found for our lives through knowing him; in him, the vine, we are his branches that bear his fruit, in our own lives, and in the world, ‘to his Father’s glory’. 

Our best attempts at love and service are, after all, no more than our reasonable worship of God in the light of his love and grace towards us in Christ and neither (love nor service) are, nor should we ever expect them to be, easy. Any estimate of ‘success’ is best left to those we try to love and serve; or better yet, to God.

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But wait! There’s more!

Man's Search‘Man’s Search for Meaning’ is a 1946 book by Viktor Frankl, an Austrian neurologist/psychiatrist, and a prisoner in Auschwitz concentration camp during World War II.

Dr. Frankl saw that the way a prisoner imagined the future affected his will to live. One who identified a meaning for his life, a reason to continue living, was more likely to cope with that terrible existence and even survive beyond it.

 

His book, listed as one of the ten most influential in the United States, sold almost ten million copies and was translated into 24 languages by the time Dr. Frankl died in 1997.

He wrote, “A man who becomes conscious of the responsibility he bears toward a human being who affectionately waits for him, or to an unfinished work, will never be able to throw away his life. He knows the “why” for his existence, and will be able to bear almost any “how”.”
But wait...

 

But what if life is about more than survival or even about more than love and work?

 

 

 

Jesus said, ‘I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full…..this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.’ John 10:10;17:3

When he was asked which commandment was the greatest, Jesus replied, “The most important one is this: `Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: `Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:29-31

Ultimately, life is about more than survival; it is even about more than love and work.

Man’s ‘search for meaning’ is only satisfied by knowing God, by loving him first, and secondarily, by whatever else we do and whomever else we love.

‘Unforgiven’…. ‘We all got it coming kid!’

UnforgivenJust occasionally in the movies a character expresses himself so memorably that he writes himself, indelibly, into the lore of popular culture.

‘Go ahead, make my day’, snarled through gritted teeth by ‘Dirty Harry’ Callahan (Clint Eastwood) in the 1983 movie, ‘Sudden Impact’, comes quickly to mind.

And Clint scores again, as the character Will Munny in the 1992 film, ‘Unforgiven’.

 

In this movie, starring, and directed by Clint Eastwood, Munny, a former killer and outlaw but now a widowed-with-two-kids-poor-as-dirt-dirt-farmer is attracted by the $1000 reward offered to anyone who will kill two cowboys, one of whom done wrong by Delilah in Big Whiskey, Wyoming.

After Will’s young side-kick, the Schofield Kid, has killed the second cowboy ‘Quick Mike’, the kid has second thoughts about the whole enterprise. He discusses his feelings with Will Munny who offers his insight as follows.

Will Munny: It’s a hell of a thing, killing a man…
The Schofield Kid: Yeah, well, I guess they had it coming.
Will Munny: We all got it coming, kid.

Whether Munny’s point is simply that we all die, or whether he is commenting on the universality of guilt (at one stage he is accused of killing an innocent man and he asks, ‘innocent of what?’) it resonates with me (as a Christian convinced of the universality of guilt).

But, and this is my point here, that doesn’t mean I would be wise to recommend ‘Unforgiven’ as a reliable commentary on mankind’s problem with sin. While the prognosis the movie offers might match what I find in scripture, it fails us desperately in respect to a remedy.

spidermanThis dilemma reminded me of an article that appeared in Time Magazine in 2004 under the title, ‘The Gospel According to Spider-Man’. You can see the full article by clicking here. What struck me as interesting (and moderately disturbing) was the revelation that the movie industry has begun to provide Churches with Bible-study guides suggesting movies as useful illustrations of the gospel.

One line from the article, ‘Hollywood doesn’t necessarily want to make Christian movies. It wants to make movies Christians think are Christian,’ came as a warning,  to me, as one who shares a blog, blueboxparables that draws material from the BBC’s ‘Doctor Who’ science-fiction series to illustrate aspects of the Gospel of Jesus Christ (albeit mostly to the converted).

This concerns me on at least two levels.

  • First, it exercises my mind in making every effort I can at transparency (i.e. not hiding the fact that I am both a fan of ‘the Doctor’ and I am a Christian).
  • But, secondly, it exercises my conscience in that I find myself, indirectly, promoting a product that is ultimately not a friend of the Gospel and which in many ways denies it (and I continue to do this even knowing that writers may be intentionally appropriating biblical themes of life and death, good and evil, faith, hope, trust, and love for their own purposes.

the_impossible_astronautI am not forgetting that these are themes present in all the major faiths and even, strangely to me, in atheism; it’s just that some are obviously Christian-for example Rory, Amy and River Song sharing a last meal of bread and wine with the Doctor before he is killed, and then cremated, and then resurrected-but-not-really-resurrected, in an episode of Doctor Who. (That’s Series Six, Episode One, ‘The Impossible Astronaut’.
You can visit Blue Box Parables for some comments on that episode by clicking here.)

So, I must remember that any given movie may present opposing views without discriminating between them (this may reflect the world in an accurate way) and therefore I need to be careful that, when I refer to elements as illustrative of the Gospel, I must always add that the movie is not the gospel and the medium is most definitely not the message.

  • For example, in Unforgiven, Will Munny’s sentiment that we all ‘got it coming’ is certainly echoed by Strawberry Alice after Davy (one of the guilty cowboys) is killed by Munny and his two companions. ‘HE HAD IT COMING! THEY ALL HAVE IT COMING!’ she shouts through her broken window to a stone-thrower who has colorfully accused her and her co-conspirators of murder.
  • Yet when Will Munny is about to kill Little Bill Daggett (who most of us by then would agree really did have it coming) he is unpersuaded by Little Bill’s claim, ‘I don’t deserve this… to die like this. I was building a house!’Will tells Bill, ‘Deserve’s got nothin’ to do with it’ and, when Little Bill says, ‘I’ll see you in hell, William Munny’ Will simply answers, ‘Yeah’, before firing the bullet that dispatches him there.

So I conclude with this thought; when it comes to death (as the wages of sin), ‘deserve’s’ got EVERYTHING to do with it, but thankfully, when it comes to Life (the free gift of God to everyone who has faith in Christ) what we deserve does have NOTHING to do with it. As one man, Paul, who knew about his own guilt wrote in the New Testament,

‘Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners–of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life.’
1Timothy 1:15, 16

Tapeworms, fevers (and spells of derangement)….

Knowing God cover

‘Once you become aware that the main business that you are here for is to know God, most of life’s problems fall into place of their own accord. The world today is full of sufferers from the wasting disease which Albert Camus focused as Absurdism (‘life is a bad joke’), and from the complaint which we may call Marie Antoinette’s fever, since she found the phrase that describes it (‘nothing tastes’). These disorders blight the whole of life: everything becomes at once a problem and a bore, because nothing seems worthwhile.

 

But absurdist tapeworms and Antoinette’s fever are ills from which, in the nature of the case, Christians are immune, except for occasional spells of derangement when the power of temptation presses their mind out of shape-and these, by God’s mercy, do not last.’ From ‘Knowing God’ by J.I.Packer

In It’s a (Meaning-full) Life, restored relationships with God and with our neighbor(s) but beginning with God, were identified as essential to genuine life, in fact Jesus went so far as to affirm that the greatest commandments were these two; that we love God with every fibre of our being and love our neighbor(s) as we love ourselves! (Any doubt that love can be commanded, simply reflects our alarming confusion about love-but that’s another story.)

When Dr. Packer argues for knowing God as ‘what makes life worthwhile’, as the remedy for despair and even boredom, he is confirming that sin lies at the root of our ignorance of God and so of our failure to truly love him and even our least offensive neighbor(s).

C and H tantrumAs a Christian who suffers (more often than I care to admit) from those ‘occasional spells of derangement when the power of temptation presses (my) mind out of shape’ I am grateful for Dr Packer’s reassurances; that (a) I am ultimately immune to the fatal consequences of sin (by God’s grace) and (b) I may know that these spells will not last (by God’s mercy).

 

 

We are all ghosts to you!

Here is the latest post from Blue Box Parables, written by sevennotesofgrace !

Blue Box Parables

DOCTOR WHO SERIES 7B SERIES PREVIEW IMAGESIn the recent episode “Hide” (Series 7/9) the Doctor and Clara investigate a haunted house, joining a psychic and a professor who are seeking the mysterious ghost of the Witch of the Well. Midway through the episode we see Clara most upset as she suddenly realises the darker side of time travel. She sees who she is, mere dust (a mere breath that is here today and gone tomorrow), compared to this adventurous time lord who can feel the turn of the universe. Here is the conversation, after the Doctor has tracked the ghost to the literal ‘end of the earth’.

D: What’s wrong?
C: Have we just watched the entire life cycle of earth, birth to death?
D: Yes
C: And you’re ok with that?
D: Yes
C: How can you be?
D: The TARDIS, she is Time, with wibbly vortex and so on
C: It’s not what I…

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‘It’s a (Meaning-full) Life’

life

Sent by Jesus to ‘preach the good news to all creation,’ (Mark 16:15) we are, like Abraham, both blessed and made to be a blessing.
(Genesis 12:2)

 

In Christ, life is never meaningless; he speaks to us even in our losses and in our failures.

Knowing that we are, at best, complex mixtures of obedience and rebellion, we are grateful that Scripture does not avoid the issue but reveals it, even in the lives of those whose outstanding faith is described for our example. Abraham, Moses, David, and Peter all encourage us that our failures need never be final.We have the same reassurance that came to Habakkuk and to Job; that even when there is ‘no fruit on the vine or herd in the stall’, even when our best, least selfish dreams fall in ruins at our feet, even when our families break down and break up, God has not changed, and we still find great meaning in what we mean to Him.

Apart from Christ, our meaning is defined by our status as sinners, alienated from God. But, ‘While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) and when we accept this, God’s gift of new life by grace through faith, we immediately assume new meaning.

J.S. new look
We realize that we have become, through faith in Christ, sons of God and our outlook on the world begins to change as we watch it unfold around us with new eyes. We begin to see others as we have learned, by grace, to see ourselves; as sinful yet significant, as lost yet loved and, from that point on, Jesus may continue his work in them through us.

 
‘For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows.’ (2 Corinthians 1:5) Our life matters because we matter to God and through him we matter to others to whom he sends us.

J.S. IAWL

When we are confronted with doubts about our significance, we have this truth to hold on to; that, yes, we have meaning.

 

 

 

Jesus, when he was asked which commandment was the greatest, replied, “The most important one is this: `Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: `Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:29-31

If meaning for mankind is found in our right relationship with God and with our neighbor, it is no wonder that feelings of meaninglessness rise out of our failure to maintain those relationships as God has intended.

J.S. prayingAnxiety about meaning can never be properly resolved without restoring both these relationships; and we must always begin with God.