Sunday, December 27, 2009

Facebook Evangelism ... or "Keep Christ in Christmas, You Heathen Swine!"

Last week I found myself in an office at work where a particularly haughty woman was castigating a co-worker for wishing her a "Merry X-mas".  You know the drill from here:  "Jesus is the reason for the season", "they can take Christ out of Christmas but they can't take Christ out of me", etc., complete with contemptuous sneer and wagging index finger. 

So, another bold believer standing up for her Lord, or just a Pharisee being a jerk?  I've been considering this question while reading Presbyter's recent posts on "Digital Barbarism", and alongside the rash of now-ubiquitous Facebook comments like:
Billy Bob believes in Jesus Christ and is proud to say it! Let's see how many people on Facebook aren't afraid to show their love for our heavenly Father and Jesus Christ our Savior! Repost this as your status. Let's get God back in this country like He should be! If you this as your status update. Just copy and paste.
Facebook appears to have replaced the bumper sticker as the place where Christians succumb to the temptation to "boldness".  Yet, if my primary concern is that the world is dying without Christ, will they be saved because I brazenly copy and paste my outrage to Facebook?  Will they be reached when our culture rejects expressions of "Happy Holidays" and re-accepts Nativity scenes in the town square?  Or will they be reached when Christians heed Paul's instruction to "Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt ..."

If indeed "I am not ashamed of the gospel" and am ready to prove it by a public, glib display of self-righteous arrogance, maybe a little more shame is called for.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Doesn't God Want Me to be Happy?

"It can't be wrong when it feels so right."  When Christian singer Debbie Boone crossed over onto the pop music charts in 1977 with "You Light Up My Life", it was these lyrics that made Christians really sit up and take notice.  Does "feeling so right" really mean something must be right? 

Happiness.  We all want it.  In fact, we demand it.  Now.  On our terms.  We're just claiming what is ours by right, because the Bible promises it ... doesn't it?  After all, "happy is that people, whose God is the LORD."

During my last conversation with my spiritual father, he spoke about some of the challenges of pastoring.  One set of church issues that particularly troubled him (as it does most who are involved in ministry) centered around the various romantic pursuits of the flock:  sexual promiscuity, marital infidelity, divorce, homosexuality, etc.  When our hearts burn within us for someone or something we cannot (or at least should not) have, it is common to protest:  "Doesn't God want me to be happy?"  Well, doesn't He?

Of course He does.  There would be little point to the hope and promise of the Redeemed if there were no hope or promise.  As God's dearly loved children, we are guaranteed eternal, unbridled happiness in His presence.

Oh, right ... that.  Of course.  But what about now?  Surely God promises me joy here on earth ...

Ah, well now we come to it.  Happiness and joy--are they the same? 

Happiness is pure emotion.  It's what I feel when I get a promotion, sip a vanilla latte, or cuddle with my wife front of a good movie.  On the other hand, when my kids don't do their homework, or when there's tension in my marriage, or when I sit by the death bed of a loved one ... well, not so much.  Ever since sin and death entered the world through the Curse, the fact that we will experience unhappiness is a stone-cold lock of a guarantee. 

By contrast, joy is a choice, a command, a fruit of the Holy Spirit.  It is what happens when I rejoice in the face of calamity (and in good times), secure in the hope of my salvation, laying claim to the promise of Christ:  "In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world!"  Jesus promises his followers trouble, not happiness.  But He gives us Himself so that we may overcome and be joyful in all things:
Though the fig tree does not bud
       and there are no grapes on the vines,
       though the olive crop fails
       and the fields produce no food,
       though there are no sheep in the pen
       and no cattle in the stalls,

 yet I will rejoice in the LORD,
       I will be joyful in God my Savior.

But this isn't what we want!  We want the fig tree to bud ... NOW!  At the root of sin is the demand that this life produce uninterrupted happiness for us.  If we don't experience it in obedience, well we have to do what we have to do!  God can't expect us to tolerate unhappiness, after all.

One of my favorite stories on this topic comes from Larry Crabb's superb book Inside Out.
     A man opened a counseling session with an urgent request:  "I want to feel better quick."

     I paused for a moment, then replied, "I suggest you get a case of your favorite alcoholic beverage, find some cooperative women, and go to the Bahamas for a month."

     Now it was his turn to pause.  He stared at me, looking puzzled, then asked, "Are you a Christian?"

     "Why do you ask?"

     "Well, your advice doesn't sound very biblical."

     "It's the best I can do given your request.  If you really want to feel good right away and get rid of any unpleasant emotion, then I don't recommend following Christ.  Drunkenness, immoral pleasures, and vacations work far better.  Not for long of course, but in the short term they'll give you what you want."
My generation's great child philosopher, Bill Waterson's "Calvin", puts it succinctly:
Calvin:  It's true, Hobbes.  Ignorance is bliss.  Once you know things, you start seeing problems everywhere... and once you see problems, you feel like you ought to try to fix them... and fixing problems always seems to require personal change... and changes means doing things that aren't fun! I say phooey to that! But if you're willfully stupid, you don't know any better, so you can keep doing whatever you like! The secret to happiness is short-term, stupid self-interest.
Hobbes: We're heading for that cliff!
Calvin:  I don't want to know about it.
Now, lest you think me a curmudgeon, I'm totally in favor of happiness.  In fact, I think I'd like some more, please.  There's nothing wrong with being happy.  But while the "pursuit of happiness" may be an "inalienable right" according to our Declaration of Independence, it is also an invitation to hedonism when it becomes our consuming motivation.  It is the siren's song, offering satisfaction for the moment, but leading to emptiness and death.  The Teacher understood this:
I denied myself nothing my eyes desired;
       I refused my heart no pleasure.
       My heart took delight in all my work,
       and this was the reward for all my labor.

Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done
       and what I had toiled to achieve,
       everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind;
       nothing was gained under the sun.

Doesn't God want me to be happy?  Indeed He does, and he has promised it in abundance as the culmination of a life lived in grateful, obedient submission to His commands.  In the meanwhile, we can learn to rejoice and remain faithful in the midst of trouble, as we wait patiently for that day:
Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

This Earthly Tent: A Saint Enters the Final Hours

Mrs. Jailer is back in the Philippines with her father, who is entering his final hours on earth.  Rolando "Rolly" Rosales has lived a full life, and will soon be reunited with his wife, Remy in perfect peace and rest.

Today my wife and most of her siblings are together with him, and today they made the decision not to continue extraordinary measures to extend his life.  This can be a crushing choice, but for the believer it is made so much easier by the fact that our hope is not for this life, but for the one to which Rolly is about to enter: 
Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. Now it is God who has made us for this very purpose and has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.
I recall a quote by Bob Boardman after he had accepted that cancer would soon take him:  "My greatest fear is that God would yet heal me."  He was only half joking ... Bob knew that this mortal life is full of groaning, but that those who are in Christ will one day be swallowed up by life of quite another sort--one of eternal peace, joy, and face-to-face fellowship with our Lord.

Like Bob, Rolly is about to "break the tape" and enter into his rest.  Those of us who remain behind will mourn his passing, but we do so with the comfort of knowing that to die in the Lord is great gain and the ultimate objective of this life.  Good bye, Rolly ... until we meet again!