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The Problem of Pretending

(picture snitched from the excellent blog of The Naked Pastor)

I remember sitting in this group of people when one guy spoke up,

“Sometimes I can be such a bastard.”

Actually, he was really a nice guy: he was just being honest, being real, about the state of his inner soul. He had decided that he was tired of pretending.

I remember that my first reaction to his self-disclosure was, “Wow, I’ve never been in any church or small group that you could SAY THAT in.”  What I really meant was, “I’ve never been in a church or small group where we all weren’t pretending.”

Why is that?  Why is pretending an art form, a life goal for everyone human?  It seems we’ve been in the pretending business ever since Adam & Eve tried to pretend they weren’t in the garden and ever since Cain tried to pretend he didn’t know where Abel was.

Why do we have this problem of pretending? Let’s look at some of the reasons:

1. Shame— just like Adam & Eve & Cain, we try to hide our guilt. The problem is, if we try to hide it, we just isolate ourselves, from God and from others. That’s no good. Jesus died so that we could be free from shame & guilt, and from all the chains and prisons that go along with it, including pretending.

2. Acceptance— we want to be accepted, we want to fit in, so we mold ourselves to what we think will be acceptable to others. That can work, all right, but we lose our soul in the process. That’s no good either. Sometimes we try to fit a mold to be accepted by God. That can’t work, because He sees right through. It doesn’t matter to Him, anyway— that’s where Jesus comes in, to bring us back to God, warts and all.

3. Safety— we all want to feel safe.  Sometimes fitting in feels safe, & sticking out from the crowd feels very unsafe.  On the other hand, sometimes fitting in feels unsafe, so someone will deliberately stick out from the crowd to put distance between them and any possible hurt.

4. Pride— sometimes it’s not that we want to fit in, au contraire, we want to be superhuman, we want everyone to admire us & ooh & aah over us as having it all together.  Or else we don’t want to be pitied, we can’t bear the thought of being seen as the screwed up & needy pile of crap that we are.  Either way, pride drives us to pretend.

Any of those sound familiar?  I’ve used all four, in different ways and at different times.  Pretending will work, for a while, but it’s a dead end— all kinds of nasty side effects on the soul— fear, isolation, stagnation, burnout, lost dreams.  The problem is, being real isn’t a bed of roses either in this life— anyone remember what the velveteen rabbit looked like at the end of the story?

This isn’t one of those posts with a neat little ending, because there isn’t a neat little solution to the problem of pretending.  We all have fallen souls that fear being real, and we’re around a bunch of other fallen souls that often do hurtful things to people who do dare to be real.  I just want to say, “Can we try a little less pretending, please?  Let’s have the courage to try, to try & be real, & have the grace and compassion to accept each other and embrace each other for who we really are.”

Jesus Christ: The Most Relevant Reality

The Scriptures give us so many pictures of our relationship to Christ.  We are to abide in Him as a vine, we are to treasure Him as a pearl of great price, we are to follow Him as Lord, we are to regard everything else as dung in comparison to Him.  These words and word pictures are meant to give form and structure to something that is greater and richer than any words can fully express: that Jesus Christ is the ultimate reality in the universe, and that we are made to live in the truth of that reality.

But what does that mean minute to minute in my daily life? For me, it helps me to ask myself, “Is Jesus Christ my Most Relevant Reality, right now in my life?”  What do I mean by that?  I mean among all the things competing for the attention of my mind and heart at any given moment, the reality of Jesus Christ is to be pre-eminent, is to be what takes center stage, is to be what influences me most, is to be the dominant force in my life.

An example: I’m at my office, 10:18AM.  I have all these things, all these “realities” all circulating in my mind, all clamoring for attention: the differential diagnosis of Mrs. Smith’s headache, what I’m going to eat for lunch, the department meeting tomorrow night, whether my next patient will be crabby or not, my daughter’s science project, balancing the checkbook, and on and on it goes.  All of these things are worthy of my consideration, and some of them are vital for me to consider.  I won’t even mention all the other “realities” that are not worthy of my consideration, things that spring out of pride, lust, anxiety, & lack of faith that nonetheless are also clamoring to take center stage of my soul. 

What do I do with all these realities?  While many of them may be relevant (or claim to be!), only one can be the MOST relevant, only one can truly take center stage at any given time.  Which one will it be?  Which one SHOULD it be?

Even as I think about Mrs. Smith’s headache or what I’m going to have for lunch, I must choose that those realities are lesser things when compared with the reality of Jesus Christ: His sovereignty, His love, His holiness, His kingdom.  Nothing should either take the place of or be considered apart from Jesus.  Jesus must be my most relevant reality.

So here’s the word picture of the day:  Take a look at the solar system.  Each of the planets has a gravitational pull, but none has a pull that even comes close to that of the Sun.  The Sun is the most relevant reality in the solar system.  The Sun so dominates every other force on the planets that they orbit around it continually.  That’s how our lives should be: letting the Son of God so dominate us that we are “orbiting” around Him continually, letting Him be the most relevant reality in our life.

But what if Mercury got too close to Venus?  Even though Venus is much smaller than the Sun, Venus could end up pulling on Mercury hard enough to either: (1) cause Mercury’s solar orbit to be erratic and unstable (2) cause Mercury to start orbiting around Venus instead of the Sun or even (3) cause Mercury to crash into Venus.

So it is with me.  If I take my eyes off Christ, and let a problem or an anxiety or a desire or even a good thing like my love for my children or my wish for ministry to go well, if I allow anything to become more dominant in my soul than Jesus, then that will cause my “orbit” around Christ to become erratic, or even unknowingly I will start to “orbit” around that problem or other thing in my life until it becomes the most relevant reality in my life instead of Christ.  I may even get so close to it that I end up “crashing” into it in obsession or addiction or despair.
So, where is your life today?  What are you orbiting around?  Is it Christ?  How can you today keep Christ as your most relevant reality?

Victory or Defeat?

That’s the question posed by a commentator at Entertainment Weekly concerning the frenzied finale to season 5 of the TV show 24 last week.  And a mixed bag it certainly was, with Jack and his buds finally bringing down the corrupt president, but not before a lot of innocent (and not so innocent) lives had been lost, and not before a lot of scars had been etched on the souls of all the major characters involved.  Of course, Jack himself for all his work and sacrifice has to look forward to a lifetime of Chinese water torture. No wonder the commentator summed up his impressions thusly:

(The finale) validated the central theme of the season, which was, at bottom, the contradiction at the heart of this series: Can one man make a difference? Unlike any other series on TV, 24 suggests that the answer is probably no. It’s been great to see Kiefer Sutherland run, shoot, and outwit so many foes, but the layers of evil, corruption, and rot, fanned out last night to include the entire globe, seem for now at least to have defeated him. It takes guts to go out in a blaze of…defeat.

Whoa…enough with the nihlism already.  He’s almost right: the layers of evil, corruption, and rot do permeate this planet, and it does take guts to buck it, and reality demonstrates that life is messy, that often a man does go out in a blaze of defeat, that life sometimes is more like the final scene of Saving Private Ryan than the final scene of Return of the Jedi.

So what’s wrong with this final conclusion, that one man can’t make a difference?  Because this isn’t a universe on autopilot.  This isn’t a universe whose fate is still undecided, or whose fate is being manipulated by some impersonal force. This universe was created by and for an omnipotent, omniscent being who is still running the show and calling all the shots.  He came down into the story and became the main character, the one Man who truly did make a difference, and by his life and death and resurrection proved that He truly was the author of the story, and had already written a really great ending for the final season.  

And what’s the bottom line for us? That if we have truly received the new birth through faith in Christ, we can be just as confident in defeat now as in victory, for there will one day come a “season” where all the Hendersons, Bierkos, and Logans will meet perfect and final and inescapable justice, and we will no longer count the minutes or hours or centuries, but see that some hard “24 hours” in our lives now will mean nothing in the scope of eternity.

The Reality of Christ

The reality of Christ is the single most important fact in the cosmos.

Children of God will spend all of eternity gazing, savoring, exploring, relishing, worshipping, and displaying this focal point of all reality.

How can we live in this reality today?

We can let the reality of Christ permeate our outer world and our inner world.

Our outer world is characterized by the effects of the fall: suffering, sin, injustice, imperfection.  Whether it is a stop light that won’t turn our way or a child dying of cancer, we are immersed in a world scarred by sin.

How, then, do we live in such a world? By dwelling in the reality of Christ’s life.  In John 1:14 the apostle states, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”  Let that sink in.  God dwelt among us.  We saw his glory, full of grace and truth.  For someone who has the new life of the Spirit, seeing that glory, meditating on that fullness of grace and truth, dwelling in that light can extinguish any darkness, no matter how great, that we encounter in this life.

Our inner world is horribly scarred by sin as well, by countless acts of pride, anger, selfishness, deceit, and lust.  The child of God who honestly looks at his soul sees his sin, sees how twisted his old self is and how evil, how rebellious, how dead to God it is.

How, then, do we live with facing our own sinfulness?  By dwelling in the reality of Christ’s death.  Later on in the first chapter of John is recorded the great declaration of the reality of Christ’s death, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”  Our sin has been atoned for and taken away.  All our guilt, all our evil, all that rightly separates us from God and condemns us, has been cast away as far as the east is from the west by the death of Christ.  We are redeemed and restored.

This, then, the reality of the life and death of Christ, is the gospel. This is the reality that saves and gives life.  Let us live in that reality today.

Echoes of a Deeper Reality

Even though you’ve been raised as a human being, you are not one of them.

They could be a great people; they wish to be.

They only lack the light to show the way.

For this reason above all, their capacity for good, I have sent them you, my only son.

So, what’s that a quote from? Some wierd Bible transaltion? Some funky musical on the life of Christ?

If you look, even our debased culture carries echoes of a deeper reality, glimpses of God’s truth, even though partial and distorted. Some may be intentional on the part of the writer being aware of Christianity, some may be unintentional and orchestrated by the providence of God.

If we use a cultural “echo” to think about the deeper, truer reality, that’s ok. The problem comes if we read too much into it, start letting the distorted truth become our truth, and then have a false view of God and reality. The prime example in the past few years was how many Christians went on and on about the film The Matrix, which had some echoes of God’s truth but actually had a lot more toward Eastern philosophy and religion.

In the above quote, there are echoes that the person being talked about was not human, that he was an only son, that he was to be a light to humanity and be instrumental in their becoming a great people. All of that is true of Jesus Christ. Was is NOT true, however, is that humanity “wishes” to be a great people, lacking only light to illuminate their capacity for good—like all sub-Biblical views, these few sentences deny original sin and our fallen nature, a fatal flaw to any world view. A person who sees a Saviour as only light and wisdom can never come to Christ.

So, still don’t know where the quote is from?

The teaser trailer for the film Superman Returns, June 2006.