Sunday, December 16, 2012

You Make Me Want to Watch a Better Movie

Needs a box for "Um, I sent me Son to DIE for you, didn't I?"

I was lying in bed, just sort of talking to God. Actually, I initiated one of those “state of the relationship” sort of chats. It really comes down to love, right?

Do You love me? I asked, but I wasn’t really asking. I knew the answer, because it’s been proven to me countless times. Yes, of course You love me, I answered myself. You love me a great deal. I actually lay there in the dark, looking up at the ceiling and grinning like a schoolgirl, I am not ashamed to admit. Thinking about my Savior’s love for me has that effect. It’s so wonderful, so strong, so steadfast and so completely undeniable. You could never make me doubt His love. Taylor Swift would sooner get back together with that one guy than I would doubt the love of my Savior and my God.

Well, since His devotion was not remotely in doubt, I turned my thoughts to me. I know I love You, I thought, and I meant it. Human love is so different, at least in my experience, to the love shared between a disciple and One he cannot see or feel or touch, at least in tangible ways. There was a time when I don’t suppose I knew much what it meant to really love God. I don’t think I could give you a great dictionary definition now, but a thought did come to mind.

Inhibiting Helen Hunt's
career since 1992.
“You make me want to be a better man.”

If you love movies about natural
disasters, you'll LOVE this film
about an misanthrope who's very mean.
That was the thought, and it’s a stolen one. You might recognize it from a movie that came out many moons ago (the Nineties, I believe) called As Good As It Gets. It was made at a magical time when someone thought that Helen Hunt might be a bona fide movie star if you could just get her away from Paul Reiser. Everyone really liked this movie, as I recall, although I didn’t think much of it when I finally saw it. Since I only saw the film once and thought it thoroughly meh, I’m trying to figure out why I’m so familiar with that quote. I believe that there may have been a trailer for the movie on a VHS movie that we owned, maybe Twister or something, and that may explain why that bit is so ingrained in my consciousness.

Quick! Name a Jack Nicholson movie from the past
twenty years where he does NOT play a grumpy old man.
Go ahead. We'll wait.
But back to the quote: “You make me want to be a better man.” Now, let me go and ahead offer the disclaimer that I may not have that quote down word-for-word. I don’t need any Jack Nicholson aficionados complaining in the comments section. But I think I got the essence right, anyway. I’m sure there were plenty of female viewers fluttering their eyelids and swooning at the thought of a grumpy old misanthrope striving to be a less grumpy old misanthrope for the sake of some blonde lady who might be a waitress, I think (I don’t recall). Without doubt, changing oneself to get other people to like you better is a popular concept, and is pretty much the entire message behind Grease. But it takes on a whole different element when it comes to our relationship with God.

I know that God loves me the way I am. I also know that He loves me too much to let me stay that way (is that a cliché? ah, well. . .). In MereChristianity, CS Lewis describes the changes that the God makes in the life of the redeemed:

“Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of - throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.”

I think that sometimes were tempted to think that these necessary changes are arbitrary, that they serve only the purpose of molding us into some sort of godly ideal, perhaps to make us fit for an eternity in heaven. I don’t believe that’s the case at all. Rather, I think that the process of transformation that makes us more Christlike is extremely practical. For one thing, take a look at the pain and sorrow in your life and try to figure out how much of it is the result of sinful behavior. Certainly, some pain—disease, accident, natural disaster—comes simply from living in this fallen world, but a great deal of suffering is also self-inflicted (the result of our own sin) and inflicted by others (the result of their sin). This devastating tragedy in Connecticut that has so rocked our nation was without doubt the result of sin. Sin has consequences. God gives us a plan not just for godly living but also for wise living. To follow His path is to escape many of the painful consequences of sin, although of course following in the steps of the Man of Sorrows Himself will not grant us a life free from all pain.

But living a Christlike life can also have a profound impact in the lives of others. Jesus listed the two most important commandments as loving God with all that you are and loving others as yourself (Matt. 22:37-40). Ultimately, to become more like Jesus is to be more filled with love for our Lord and for other people. In his book UnChristian, Barna Group president  David Kinnaman says that Christians “have become famous for what we oppose, rather than who we are for.” It’s true. In the New Testament, Christians were known for their association with Jesus Christ. In fact, when Paul was put on trial, he declared that the reason for the charges were because he believed in the resurrection of the dead (Acts 24:21), specifically because he taught the resurrection of one individual: Jesus. In fact, the very title Christians was all about Jesus. The believers were believers because they followed Christ and everyone knew it.

Now, I would argue that the term Christian has lost much of its original meaning. Most people associate the term with, just like Kinnaman says, with what Christians are opposed to. They’re anti-gay marriage, anti-abortion, anti-Democrat, anti-immorality and so on. Contrast this with Jesus words to His disciples: “By this will all people know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). Notice that He didn’t say that love was how people would recognize Christians. He said that this is how the world would be able to recognize His disciples. Through love.

Godly living and a tasty fruit salad.
See, if I permit the Holy Spirit to transform me into a better man, what this means practically is that I will love more. You will be able to tell that I follow Christ not through how I vote or where I picket or how loudly I complain, but through a life that is categorized by sacrificial love. I will not be known by who I hate. I will not be known for what I am against. I will be known by the fact that I love the lost and strive to share the love of Jesus Christ with them. Look at the fruit of the Spirit, for example: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithful and self-control (Gal. 5:22-23). These aren’t vague, ooey-gooey feelings or something. This is a description of how we are to treat other people. And just maybe they’ll see His light in us and glorify our Father in heaven (Mat. 5:16).

Dear Father, I am a selfish person by nature. I’m not saying that I’m always only looking out for myself, but that is surely what I default to. But You make me want to be a better man. You make me want to live a godly life that shines before others that You can use to draw them to Your arms. I know that is it Your influence in my heart that makes me even want these things. Help me, Father. Help me to live the sort of life that will impact others and draw them in. Help me to love the unlovable because of Your great love for me. Help me, Lord, to be a better man—because I surely can’t do it without you. And neither can Jack Nicholson. Amen.