Our culture loves a good story…..as long as we can consume it in about 2 hours. Unfortunately when a story that covers years or even lifetimes is condensed to a 2 hour tour de force of amazing videography and dialogue, all we get is the highlights. We no longer have to wait for anything; even bad dialogue is only there to pass the time before we get another action scene or another heartfelt and “better than I could ever write” love letter. When trying to apply this movie timeframe to our lives there is no time for us to get a sense of reality, no pauses for time to pass as the characters think and ponder their feelings, no real distance to make a heart grow fonder, and no anticipation to build as plans are made to see each other. Instead we see a montage of near instant transformation. Bad habits are exterminated, years go by in time-lapse; and love can be born, expressed and consummated in less time than a real conversation, even when the characters are worlds apart. I am not trying to rag on movies or stories; I love great stories and movies that cut to the heart. I just think that one of the side effects of this fast forward culture is a disgust toward waiting…for anything. Fast food, speed dating, next day delivery, immediate answers to any question we can think of…Siri how old is…the days of anticipation have been replaced by the countdown of seconds until we can “enjoy life again”. I am by no means immune to this stereotype. Every day every aspect of my life is affected by this constant bombardment of pressure to get things done, pressure to always be doing something (even if its just thumbing through Facebook) and the pressure to live up to these fictional character traits and time tables handed to us from a Hollywood reality that doesn’t really exist. If we look at any good story we find that the hero isn’t someone who sits around all day watching TV and updating their status…certainly we have stories where the hero is thrust into an adventure against his will and then thrives, but this is not reality for the majority of us. For the majority of us a journey that produces a story worth telling requires dedication, long hours of servant like service to those we love and a lifelong commitment that propels us through times of waiting and adversity, often lots of adversity.
Good stories require adversity. When there is nothing to overcome, or no evil to outlast there really isn’t a story worth telling. Unfortunately the villain in our real life stories is most often not what we expect or even acknowledge. Instead the moral pride we all have too often vilifies political agendas, cultural stereotypes or evil dictators as the bad guys in our world all the while skipping over the true issue. Our hearts. We sit in our ivory castles judging others secure in our moral superiority all the while ignoring the truth. If there really is a standard we can judge others by how can we be so sure our standard is the right one? Who’s to say there isn’t some other higher standard which we too are falling short of? My judgment is every bit as partial and biased as the next person because all our judgments are subject to the influences that have raised us, the culture we grew up in, the time in History we live and the experiences we have had. So we’re really all just bad people……right? After all who teaches toddlers to scream or talk back or hit each other? The answer is of course no one, it is ingrained in their character. The laws of society keep us in check but our bend is to our own agenda at the expense of those who don’t agree with us. Since not everyone can be right this means there must be some cosmic or divine measuring stick. If not then the laws we set up for the protection of life and the liberties and freedoms we think we have are simply human concoctions and can be changed at the whim of whoever is in power. So if there is a cosmic law then breaking this law is what we would define as morally bad. Christianity simply believes that there is a being (God) who created this earth, who set up His cosmic law and holds us accountable to it. When we break His law, which everyone with no exception does, we call that sin. Sin is not just something we do, its something that is born with us, a defiance that is ingrained in our very hearts (again, think of the toddlers instinct to defy or hit others). We want to be free from sinning or as the culture calls it “doing bad things”. But instead of looking in reality and trying to determine what is really going on with us, we have decided to simply re-categorize ourselves. We are no longer inherently bad, instead we are good people who are “products of the bad world”. This means that with enough teaching and the right upbringing even “bad people” can become “good” again. This idea is foolish when you think about it. People are the ones who hurt others, the world is the way it is because of people, not the other way around. In reality the chasm isn’t between people and the evil world, but instead between people and the cosmic law creator (God). This leaves us completely lost and hopeless. There is no way for me, a bad person, to become good if this evil was born in my soul! what utter hopelessness. So we resort to keeping a tally in our head hoping our good deed outweigh the bad ones. And so the scene is set for the Gospel, which arrives like a breathe of fresh air. It changes nothing about the facts, it plays no games when it comes to who we are (sinners) and what we deserve (judgment). Instead it opens a door that wasn’t there before. God in His love took the punishment we rightly deserved on Himself. The just sacrificed for the unjust to save them from their sin. And there it is, the Gospel…….so simple: believe that there is a cosmic law that you break every day, believe that God still loved you so much He sent Jesus to take your punishment and follow what He says as He leads you to eternal life with Him! It is incredible how so many basic facts and real observations can make so much sense when laid out in the Bible and studied against what we see in the real world.
“Ok”, you may say, “I understand this”, maybe you even agree with it all and maybe you call yourself a Christian, “but”, you still ask, “how does all this work itself out in my story?” This is where our culture of instant gratification has sabotaged us. You see this mindset has been gladly accepted into the Church today. Christianity becomes popular in a culture like ours when it gives easy (almost free) access to forgiveness so we can feel better about ourselves. But in the reality of the Gospel this is just a mirage luring broken people in with a promise of a quick fix. This is after all what the world is after a fix to the problem. Instead of dwelling on what Jesus has done we want to ask “what would Jesus do” because we want to fix ourselves. This is simply using the Gospel as a self help guide, not resting our souls on the victory it has won for us. This mindset is nothing new, remember how legalistic the Pharisees were, but the ideas have evolved with the changes in technology and society. Christianity craves the same instant gratification that the world experiences. “Can’t I read my bible app once a week, pray when I feel sad or something’s going wrong and then expect everything to be fixed?” Unfortunately that’s just not reality. We too often forget that the Christian walk is a work of progressive sanctification, starting when we hear the call of God and finishing when we finally meet him in heaven. We will not see this work completed on earth! This idea of a toil that doesn’t end is nearly intolerable to think about in a culture where we are upset when our food takes 5 minutes to long to arrive, or we haven’t “changed the world” or “made a difference” after two months at a new job.
We are constantly reminded in scripture of the importance of this journey we are on (Matthew 16:24, Galatians 5:16-24) and the troubles we will experience on it (John 16:33, 1 John 3:13). We are to be “in the world not of it” (Romans 12:1-2), meaning our home is with God and we are fighting the daily fight to conquer sin and trust in Him until he returns. This is how the Gospel story is played out in our lives. This is the narrative that must drive us daily to his word, and moment by moment to constant prayer. Remember that every story is part of this Gospel story. There is no exception. The world is split between those who believe, those who doubt, those who question and those who reject it all together. Our part as Christians is not to judge others on where they are at in the story, our part is to do everything in our power to help open their eyes to the greater story we are all apart of. So, by all means enjoy the movies and stories told by others, revel in good filmmaking, and admonish and praise great writers, but never fall into the trap of thinking this is our reality. In his book A Praying Life Paul Miller says “Many of us rush around without much conscious knowledge of the pilgrimage God is carving out for us. When tragedy strikes, we’ve not learned the ways of God, so we have no frame of reference from which to respond. So, we slog through life, missing the divine touches……..When we understand the story, it quiets our souls.” This is the danger of the mile a minute life, when are life is a hurricane of to do lists and activities, no matter how “Godly” they seem, we won’t be able to hear the gentle breeze of God’s grace and peace. But, like Mr. Miller says, when we see the story of our life as a part of the Gospel story it brings meaning! Again he writes: “Just like a character in a good novel, I have choices to make. Will I run from the presence of my enemies, or will I wait for the Lord to prepare a table for me? Will I try to fill it with stuff, or will i let the shepherd make “me lie down in green pastures”? Life becomes an adventure.” And that is how I want to see my life, as an adventure, a Gospel adventure story. A story that leads through the valleys of empty joy, valleys of empty desires, and even valleys of death to other things I love. Valleys that can’t be traversed in a day, or a year or even a lifetime, but ultimately will lead to seeing more clearly than ever before the grace of God, and the love of Jesus, in other words a Gospel Story.
No matter how easy the world makes it to sit and stay for a while
remember that the path is broad and the way easy that leads to destruction,
so tarry not at the fleeting pool of earthly pleasure
when an ocean of joy is promised to those who endure.