Archive for January, 2011
“That’s right, woodchuck-chuckers – it’s… Groundhog Day!” You may or may not recognize that line from the Bill Murray movie “Groundhog Day.” And if you don’t live in the United States, you may not even know that February 2 is Groundhog Day, the day when the superstitious look to a small mammal to determine how soon spring will arrive.
In the movie, Phil Connors (Bill Murray) is trapped in a 24-hour time period that seems to repeat itself endlessly. Nothing he does allows him to move forward with his life.
Once Connors realizes what is going on, he gives himself over to pleasure: gratuitous sex, crime, and selfishly trying to woo Andie MacDowell’s character. Eventually he learns that all of this leaves him empty inside, and Murray begins to find ways to better himself and serve others. This being Hollywood, Connors eventually ends up with the girl, and they set off to live happily ever after, beyond Groundhog Day.
Phil Connors’ quest reminds me of one we find in the Bible, in the book of Ecclesiastes. This writer, a king, tells of some of the things in which he sought fulfillment:
- a quest for knowledge
- dedication to pleasure
- commitment to work
- rivalry with others
- political power
- unrivaled riches
- long life
- food and drink
In the end, he admits that none of these brought lasting pleasure. It was all, in his words, “a chasing after the wind.” He only found one thing that could give him the sense of meaning that he sought:
“The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.” (Ecclesiastes 12:13)
Some of us feel like Phil Connors, trapped in an endless routine. All of our attempts to find purpose and meaning in life leave us right back where we started. In the end, most of us learn what he learned on Groundhog Day: happiness begins with looking outside ourselves.
But I want you to know that your journey isn’t complete until you learn what the writer of Ecclesiastes learned, all those centuries ago: only by basing our lives on God and His teachings can we be truly fulfilled.
So this Groundhog Day, don’t let your life continue to be a series of meaningless days. Look to God, and let Him fill your life with a sense of purpose.
Several years ago I started swimming at the YMCA because I was out of shape. A few weeks later, I stopped swimming at the YMCA. For the same reason.
As I churned my way from one side of the pool to the other, I was keenly aware of the other swimmers. As I reached the edge of the pool, I would latch onto the side, fighting to catch my breath. They reached the edge, performed picture-perfect flip turns and continued their swim. Lap after lap. My workouts were painful to perform and even more painful to watch. The others seemed to glide through the water with no effort, their trained bodies moving gracefully from one end to the other. In other words, I was embarrassed. To be honest, none of them cared what I was doing. But I was shamed into retreating to the safety of the treadmills and recumbent bicycles. “Once I get into shape,” I told myself, “I’ll return to the pool.”
Many of us feel like that when we go to church or when we think about going to church. Everyone else seems to be so perfect while we’re painfully aware of our inadequacies. Some don’t even want to think about God for the same reason. We want to somehow get our lives together, and then we’ll go to Him. If you’ve felt that way, you need to realize that church is a place where people go to straighten out their lives. At the time of Jesus, many said, “Become worthy, then come to God.” Jesus’ message was just the opposite: “Come to God, and He will make you worthy.” God is in the business of fixing broken lives. Jesus said, “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” He’s looking for the people that need help spiritually, not the people whose lives are already perfect.
If you don’t feel “good enough” to swim in God’s pool, let me invite you to get back in the water. God wants to help me get into shape spiritually, and He wants to do the same for you.
If there is a God, why is the world in such a mess? I often hear questions like this from people who question the existence of God. They see and hear about child abuse, sickness, natural disaster, crime, and tragedy, and they are horrified. So they ask me as a believer how can I believe in a God who could allow such things to exist.
I tell them that God did not do this. He made a perfect world. Satan lives in rebellion against God. He could not stand the creation of a perfect world with man in a harmonious relationship with God. So Satan tempted Eve to do the one thing God told her not to do. And she did it. So did her husband Adam. As a consequence of their action, they had to leave the perfect Garden of Eden and live in a now fallen world.
Even then, God loved man so much that He enacted a plan to restore that perfect world. The plan culminated in the coming of God’s own Son to redeem man. Those who believe in him get to live with God forever. Those who do not believe in Him, don’t. So here is my answer: it is not God’s fault. He gave us the free will to make choices. Adam and Eve made bad ones. So do we. God promised He would fix it, and He did.
But some of those questioning do not believe this story. They do not believe in God. So I tell them to quit blaming Him. If He does not exist, then He is not the cause of this messed-up world. If He does exist, the fallen world is not His fault or His choice. And He will make it right.
So the choice is always yours to make. Believe God is real and will fix the world we have destroyed, or believe He does not exist and just live with the way things are. No hope, no future, no life.
As for me, I believe. It makes more sense than anything else I have heard.
I like the story of Gideon in the Old Testament of the Bible. Gideon was an Israelite who lived in a time when a foreign power, the Midianites, were constantly invading Israel. These raiders would wait until the crops were ready to harvest, then they would descend upon the land and steal everything the Israelites had worked for months to grow. It was a terrible time for the God’s people.
God used Gideon to free His people, using a small band of men armed with pitchers and torches. It’s a fascinating story that can be read in chapters 6 and 7 of the book of Judges.
There’s one aspect of the story that sometimes gets overlooked. Gideon was a coward. Time and again, we see him acting out of fear. When we first meet Gideon, he’s down in a hole, hiding from the Midianites. God tells Gideon to tear down an idol that has been erected in his village. Gideon does so… at night, because he’s afraid.
The next day the villagers come to Gideon’s house, and Gideon hides in the house while his father convinces the crowd not to harm his son.
Later in the story, when Gideon has already raised an army and has received numerous signs and messages from God, God tells him to go eavesdrop at one of the tents of the Midianites “if you are afraid.” Gideon went. Because he was still afraid.
I’m not pointing this out to attack Gideon. I’m doing this to show that God can use all of us, even the cowards among us. God shaped Gideon into the very leader his people needed.
The remarkable part of all this comes in the very first words God had for Gideon. We can read them in Judges 6: “When the angel of the LORD appeared to Gideon, he said, “The LORD is with you, mighty warrior.” (Judges 6:12)
Mighty warrior? Really? Remember, these words were spoken to a man standing in a hole, hiding. A man who would do his acts of heroism under cover of darkness, because he was afraid. A man who needed Daddy to protect him from the townspeople and needed a word of reassurance every step along the way.
I like that. It tells me that God sees us not as we are, but as we can be. He can look at me, with my uncertainties and fears, and say, “I’m with you, mighty warrior.” More than that, He can look at me, with all my faults and failures, and say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” He can cleanse me from sin and forget that I ever sinned in the first place.
The story of Gideon is an encouraging one for people like me, people who aren’t perfect but are willing to let God make them perfect. Maybe it’s a good story for you, as well.
My electric razor quit the other day. In the midst of my frustration, I realized that the battery just needed to be charged. So I quickly grabbed the charger, plugged it into the razor and took off for work. Imagine my frustration when it still did not work the next morning. As I was complaining to my wife, she asked if I had charged it. I sweetly and lovingly – sort of – explained that of course I had. I even showed her how I plugged it in. She then – sweetly and lovingly – explained that perhaps I should plug the other end into the electrical outlet. I had failed to connect to the power source.
I have found the same problem in life sometimes. Have you ever realized that life just was not working for you? It might be that life has not turned out like you thought it would when you were younger. Maybe it is your relationships that are broken. Or maybe it is that you have no joy, no hope, and no purpose in life. You know it could be better than it is. Everything would be better if you could just find the right answer.
Perhaps you have tried to find the answer that will change your life. You may have tried money, power, sex, drugs, politics, popularity, and a host of other approaches to a more fulfilling life. Yet, in the long run, none of them work. None of them can fix your life. Not in the long run. But there is a power that can. God.
God wants you to live life fully. He specializes in mending relationships. He wants you to life a life of hope, joy, and purpose. Not only does He want this for you, but He did something to make it happen. He sent His Son Jesus to this world to show you life — to give you life.
All you have to do is plug into the power source.