Wednesday, March 22, 2017

George Bailey Christians

It's a Wonderful Life is my favorite movie. You've probably seen this popular holiday classic and know George Bailey is its hero. The trouble is, he doesn't know it for most of the movie.

You see, George spends most of his life hoping to get out of his small hometown of Bedford Falls and as he tells his father, "do something big and something important." Unfortunately, life keeps throwing George curve balls. His father dies and he doesn't go to college so he can run his father's Building and Loan, a business needed in Bedford Falls so people don't have to live in the slums of rich Mr. Potter. He gives his college money to his brother Harry, waiting for Harry to come back and take over the Building and Loan. Instead, Harry gets married and his wife's father offers him a job, a good one George knows his brother should take. Then George gets married, misses out on his honeymoon to save the Building and Loan, and ends up even more tied to "this crummy little town." Finally, after all this, and a world war he can't fight in because he has a health issue, his world comes crashing down when he is accused of embezzling from the Building and Loan by a devious Mr. Potter.

George has experienced some good times, but from his point of view, life's been mostly bad. He's failed at everything he wanted to do. He hasn't done anything big or important. His life is one disappointment after another. At his wit's end, he decides to kill himself.

If you've seen the movie, you know our hero is in for a surprise. Clarence shows up, an angel who wants to help George see the value of his life. When George says it would have been better if he hadn't been born, Clarence gives him the gift of seeing what life would have been like without him.

It isn't pretty. Turns out George had more influence in the lives of people around him than he knew. His younger brother died at the age of 9 because George wasn't there to save him from drowning. This means the men Harry saved as a pilot in World War II died as well. Mr. Gower the pharmacist ended up a prisoner and broken man when George didn't stop him from putting poison in a medicine bottle. His mother is old and bitter, her son and husband long dead. Mr. Martini, Ernie, and countless others live in slums because the building and loan closed up when George's father died. Mr. Potter has turned the town into a cesspool.

It's here that Clarence utters one of my favorite lines: "Strange, isn't it? Each man's life touches so many other lives. When he isn't around he leaves an awful hole, doesn't he?" George has left a hole. He never understood how every person he met was affected by him, how a life in a little town actually did matter.

Clarence's conclusion is "You see, George, you've really had a wonderful life. Don't you see what a mistake it would be to throw it away?"

In America, in much of the Western World, there is a focus on doing something "big and important." We have the mind of George Bailey. We laud those who seem to do the big things, who get famous and noticed. Then we compare ourselves and well, we don't measure up. Our life is so...small.

Christians fall into this trap. They imagine something big they will do for God--be a missionary, start a humanitarian organization, build orphanages in a needy place, bring hundreds of people to Christ, lead a church. They feel guilty when someone tells them if they really lived a Christian life, they'd do something big for God, they'd follow the dreams "God has given them."

Here's the problem--most Christians are George Bailey. Life has played out for them in unexpected ways. They're stuck by circumstances. What they thought would happen didn't. They aren't a hero; they're just an "ordinary yokel."

If you believe this, you believe a lie. You are a George Bailey, Christian, but you aren't an "ordinary yokel." You are George because "your life touches so many others." Your life has done something "big and important" even if it doesn't look that way to the world. Every day you live, every day you cling to Christ, every moment you do an act of kindness, you have done something important.

In the end of It's a Wonderful Life, George is saved by his friends who recognize all he has done for them. His brother Harry gives a toast "to my big brother George: The richest man in town." It's no coincidence Harry calls George his "big" brother. It means more than age; it means George is actually as big as he wanted to be. In fact, he's rich, because he has used his life to touch the people around him. He's given of himself, his time, and his heart. He did it in a "crummy little town" and his friends couldn't be more grateful.

Christian, you may think your life is nothing. You may see what others do and think because of how your life has worked out, you've done nothing. This is not true. Your life has touched so many. If you were to leave, a gaping hole would remain behind. Never believe the lie your life is a throwaway. Your purpose from God is wherever you are. Forget the shouts of big and let God use you now.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Entertainment: How Much Poop Is Too Much?

When I was a teenager, I heard a speaker use an illustration that has stuck with me. He asked, "If I offered you a cookie, would you eat it? What if I told you I put some poop in it?" His analogy alluded to our entertainment choices. The point was poop is still poop even if it's disguised to look delicious.

Later in my twenties, I once discussed entertainment with my father. He wisely questioned why Christians ask how close to the line we can get. If we love our God, wouldn't we want to get as far from the line as possible?

You see, here's what I believe is the hardest thing about entertainment in the life of a follower of Christ--we love it. We are really good at justifying why entertainment that has poop in it is okay. I've often wondered, what if we met Jesus in his physical body and asked, "What must I do to be saved?" And he said, "You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.’" And we said, "Yes, I've done those." And Jesus replied, "One thing you lack, stop spending your time on movies and TV and video games and follow me." Ouch. How many of us would honestly be able to leave behind our favorite entertainment for Jesus? The rich young ruler, whom the preceding is based on, was challenged by Jesus to give up what was closest to his heart--his riches. From my observation, entertainment is the dear love of many Christians.
So how much poop is too much poop? Well, as we all know, people have different convictions in entertainment. The trouble is, this fact itself is often used as an excuse for eating poop. So, instead of telling you how much is too much, I'll present a good way to evaluate entertainment choices.

I find asking, "Does this entertainment glorify God?" isn't that helpful because we're also really good at justifying how non-poop parts of a pretty poopie entertainment can glorify God. We try to wrestle some redeeming aspect so we can justify our enjoyment.

Here is a more direct question: "What does this entertainment claim is good and right?" What is this entertainment trying to tell me? What does it want me to believe? Sometimes we have to dig to discover the answers to these questions, but most of the time, I find the answers obvious. Entertainment champions ideas. What are those ideas? Once I know what the entertainment is championing, I ask myself if I can champion that as well. If I am a Christian, I ask, "Is this something God champions?" And if it isn't, then why am I trying to get close to the line? Why am I not trying to get as far away as possible?

Some will still defend their entertainment, claiming they are just learning about the world through this particular entertainment. I find this argument fairly weak. People who tend to use this defense usually have no valid explanation of how this entertainment is making them a better witness. They just want an excuse to delve into poop. There may be a select few people out there who need to see various entertainment to interact with unbelievers, but most of us aren't going to have that problem. Your lack of seeing poop isn't going to keep you from sharing the gospel. It's never kept me from witness at all. If I haven't seen something, I say I haven't and the topic of conversation moves on. Not seeing poop is rarely a deterrent to a relationship.

Years ago, I decided that no entertainment was better than Jesus. At the time, I let go a book series I had become obsessed with. I asked God to remove my desire for it, and he did. I have never felt such freedom. Even now, I find the grip of having to see, watch, or play something doesn't hold me. I don't have this obsession to date my TV at the same time every week or get that game the minute it is out. I am not controlled by entertainment. I control my entertainment.

How much poop is too much? I think you already know. I think as you ask yourself the question, the Spirit brings poop to mind. The more vital question then is, "Do you love poop more than Jesus?" And if you don't, then what are you going to do about it?