Monthly Archives: December 2011
In the spring of 1942, a painter named Edward Hopper created a painting, which he entitled Nighthawks. It depicts a counter waiter dressed in a white uniform behind a triangular bar in a diner, a man in a suit and hat with his back to the observer, and a younger couple to the left of that man. The painting is a picture of lonely emptiness, which was exactly what Hopper was trying to capture. It was the mood of the country immediately following the attack on Pearl Harbor.
The most recent incarnation of this painting is Gottfried Helnwein’s Boulevard of Broken Dreams. In this painting, the characters of Hopper’s are replaced with Elvis Presley as the bartender, Marilyn Monroe and Humphrey Bogart as the couple, and James Dean, whose back is no longer toward the viewer but is turned and taking his characteristically “cool” stance while seated. Everyone in Helnwein’s work is striking a pose most recognizable for those stars, yet the message is the same: lonely emptiness.
Now Helnwein is one seriously messed up mind. Yet even if you were to acknowledge this about him, he does possess a talent to communicate emotion in his works. The overwhelming conclusion you would get viewing any of his “art” is humanity lives in a world of violence, loneliness, emptiness and has no lasting meaning. In Boulevard of Broken Dreams he communicates they all died senseless deaths. Pressley died from complications due to extended use and abuse of alcohol and drugs; Marilyn died from an apparent drug overdose; Bogart’s death was attributed to alcohol abuse and James Dean died in a tragic auto accident. All were avoidable, all wasted life and talent, all were meaningless.
The Apostle Paul speaks prophetically about our culture in his opening chapters of Romans. There Paul describes a culture rejecting God and His commands but instead has chosen to worship the creation of God rather than the God of creation. Paul writes in Romans 1 the unrighteousness of those who are enemies of God suppresses the very truth of God, the very thing offering them the life and meaning they seek. Since their activities are not right, or are unrighteous, they are unable to see the truth God has placed about Himself in all of creation.
Paul’s conclusion is very unpleasant for those who refuse to come to God through submitting to what Jesus Christ has done for them: Paul writes, “As a result, they are without excuse.” Those who claim Christ and Christianity is nothing more than a recycled and repackaged psychological rational to “deal” with life, have made their choice. These people know God, they have seen His wonders in this world and in the lives of people, but they have refused to glorify “Him as God or show gratitude.” Paul’s thought continues: “Instead their thinking became nonsense . . . Claiming to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of . . . God for . . . man, birds, four-footed animals and reptiles.” Today, we have chosen to substitute choice, materialism and the environment and therefore claim a greater sophistication over those silly ancients who worshipped the “idols” Paul describes.
Yet all of this is merely a conclusion of what “is”—which is a description rather than a prescription. In John 10:10, Jesus is “painting a picture” for His listeners so they might understand the difference between what they could find on their own and what He is offering them. In this passage Jesus tells them He is the door through which everyone who enters can find salvation – in other words, completion, meaning and communion. He concludes, “I have come that they may have life and have it in abundance.” Jesus Christ promised to all of those who were seeking fulfillment and not finding it, the very thing they sought: real, lasting, fulfilling life with meaning and no loneliness!
As a pastor, I find it extremely difficult to watch people fill their lives with everything but Jesus Christ. This is true of those who claim to know Christ as well as those who do not. Unfortunately, their dreams will not be broken in some late-night diner. Instead, their brokenness will be realized before the throne of Christ hearing the words, “Depart from Me.” It is also sad people often do not even know they are lost or on the wrong road. In all of our “going,” we do not realize we have made a wrong turn. For too many people, the awareness of going down the wrong road will not occur until we reach the end.
The “dead end.”
Back in the early nineties there was a song called “Life is a Highway” by a guy named Tom Cochrane. Now ole Tom used to be with a group called Red Rider, so I guess Tom thought if he stuck near to the riding theme he would continue to see success. Tom was wrong.
“Life is a Highway” was a one-hit-wonder dead-end for Tommy! Besides, every guy knows life is not a highway, silly rabbit, it’s a tool store!
Tools are just simply way cool. Most of them are heavy, so they have substance. Many are quite useful, so they have purpose. If they are a well-known brand they have reputation. Many are customized to fit a specific task; in fact almost every imaginable task out there has a tool made just for that task. And perhaps the most important thing about tools is they are costly – and every male of the species knows if you have a lot of really heavy, expensive tools specifically made for specific tasks all of the other guys will stand in awe of your tool collection . . . and your wife will expect you to do something useful with them!
Yet no one wants to live for either tools or a “driving experience,” whether speaking poetically or not. When we find ourselves living for things or even other people, we will come to a rather quick understanding there is no happiness in either things or people. Things break, they depreciate and they can be stolen. People disappoint us in so many ways. So if life is not a highway, a tool store nor a person, what is it?
Jesus in the Gospel of Luke taught a lesson on anxiety. In it he reminded His listeners their lives were so much more than food and their bodies were designed for more things than clothing. Now why would Jesus take the time to tell us to back away from the food bar and the clothing sale? Because anytime we place our self-worth in anything other than Him, we will come face to face with disappointment, worry, fear and anxiety!
So how do we balance these “things” that we will need to live our lives? We need clothes, food, shelter and a way to get to work so we have to have things, but what we do not want is for those things to have us! The Apostle Paul in Corinthians stated if we have placed our hope in Christ in this life only, we should be pitied more than any other people alive! Why? We are those who have come to Jesus Christ for salvation and were forgiven by Him through His work on the Cross. If we then forget there is an eternity out there ahead of us and for which we were created, we are then living far below our means as believers.
I have met very few believers these days who are too heavenly minded for any earthly good. Yet there are many believers who are too earthly minded for any heavenly good. Life is not about things or just living for the next moment; life is about our realizing we are created for an eternity to come to live with the God of eternity. If we can catch just a glimpse of the wonder in this fact then people will want what we have and we will have blessing beyond our imaginations – both now and in eternity!
Life isn’t a highway, but man oh man, can it be a great ride!
Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure many have benefited from psychoanalysis over the years, yet the “compartmentalization” Freud offered to the thinking world has disturbing consequences.
Our world seethes with emotional and physical difficulties in which we can conveniently categorize into compartments in which we have no responsibility. If we think of something uncomfortable, our ego is reasserting itself. If we engage in wanton sex merely as a means to “still the urge,” well this is nothing more than the expression of our libido. Of course, we have no desire to acknowledge our “id”–“it” merely exists for its own self-fulfillment and who could fault anything for just existing?
In case anyone has not noticed, humanity has issues. People everywhere are trying to find meaning in order to make sense of their surroundings. We have sought meaning in power, in wealth, in change and even in personalities–network television makes millions, if not billions, off the visceral need for people to live out their lives vicariously through characters in “un-reality shows.”
Secularism finds it rather unsettling to embrace the evidence of a “higher power” which surrounds everything. The first response is to look inward. This in itself can be unrewarding since what is “inside” is usually demonstrated on the “outside.” There are some very fine minds who seek to guide the masses by centralizing all thought and motivation on the Self through positivism relying on the belief we have the power to “change” our circumstances. Some circumstances can be changed by us; Newton’s Law demands a reaction to every action and observation surmises this also works in society. I believe the Bible reminds us of this as well: we will reap what we sow.
Now if we are indeed the “center of our being, our reality,” (not a new idea, China used to call itself Chung Kwo or “Middle Kingdom” because it thought it was the “center of all”) does this mean we are then willing to be responsible for our actions? Claiming our egos drive thoughts, emotions and reactions argues against this. Claiming to be the center is nothing more than the rehashing of the “Big Bang” theory–everything started from a single point, we don’t know how it got there and we have no idea what made it go “boom!” It did, we’re here and I’m in charge!
I have a relatively good memory. Having this, I remember most, if not all of my actions and thoughts, though I have relegated many to forgetfulness. I have noticed having this memory produces many things: guilt, fear, loss, humility, arrogance, pride, love, joy, hate and kindness among many others. Granted, not all at once, but these all lurk in the shadows of my memory. If I desire to be honest, these emotions can be overwhelming (literally they can cover me like a flood) and they are convicting. Herein lies my dilemma: why out of all my memories do I consistently have problems with those being most negative and destructive? It’s not that I never think “good thoughts,” but why do the “bad thoughts” cause so much pain and anguish?
Secularism attempts to build a world detached from the foundation on which all that “is” has true meaning. The Self can satisfy for a short time, yet the wisdom of maturity convinces us this is silliness–or as one ancient scholar remarked, “This too is vanity.”
My challenge is this: there exists meaning not in a thing, an event, an ideal or ourselves but in a Person. Such a person must be beyond my own limitations, peccadilloes and idiosyncrasies in order for me not to eventually be disappointed with Him as I have (and all humanity) with other people. This Man came into this earth in the manner of all humanity, yet He lived a life of perfection and died an unjust, undeserved death. He is familiar with all of my weaknesses, He knows how I am tempted to do wrong, yet He loves me in spite of it all. He told people He was the embodiment, that from which all meaning is based, of the Way, the Truth and the Life. If I trust Him, believe Him through the actions of a life changed by Him, I can experience meaning and eternity beyond this moment, the next one and all of eternity that follows.
In spite of my imperfection, He loves me and I have trusted and love Him.