Beyond a Pollyanna Christianity

Assembly 2013

Last year, we had a youth pastor come and speak to our students during Assembly about some difficult things he had experienced in his life (he lost his college scholarship just hours before receiving it due to a football injury) and how God had used them for good in his life and used them to point him in a new direction.  The students were spellbound.  I realized that we had rarely had speakers in Assembly speaking to our students about hard things, about struggles, and the inevitability of suffering, while still pointing students to the love of Jesus and his presence with us and even how he uses such things for our ultimate good.

While I know we do want to shield our children, especially when they are young, from the hardness and harshness of life, and while I truly believe our response should always be one of thanksgiving, even in difficult circumstances, I am coming to believe that we do our children’s faith harm when we shield them from reality all the time, when we present a God to them that is more of our own making than a real God, when we present him as if Aslan were a “tame lion.”  God is not a tame God.  He does allow suffering.  He does allow hardship.  He does it because He loves us and totally for our good, but sometimes we don’t get to see that good right away, maybe not even this side of heaven.

I want to have a deeper theology at Arborbrook, one born out of the love of a very real God who loves every single family and every single child more than any of us ever could.  His love takes your breath away.  It is costly, the kind that Mrs. Green spoke of in Assembly on Thursday when she shared the gospel with our students through the metaphor of blood- how blood cleanses, drawing the oxygen in and sending the carbon dioxide out.  The love of God isn’t just a superficial Valentine’s heart box filled with candy.  It is a blood-red love, one that came at great cost.  But it is deeper and better than anything we can experience in human terms.

This summer, in an effort to find a wholesome movie to watch with my children, we watched Pollyanna, which had been purchased at a yard sale.  It is a classic movie and heartwarming to see how the positive Pollyanna has an ennobling effect on the frosty adults around her.  However, it also has a plot line that I had forgotten- one involving a minister who makes everyone’s Sundays miserable by condemning them from the pulpit and chastising them from Scripture.  Pollyanna convinces him the better way is to stick to all the “happy passages” of Scripture that make people feel good- the ones about rejoicing and being glad.  The problem is that those are only half the story.  While the pastor’s condemning messages were an affront to a loving God, so is the thought of removing any passages that deal with pain or with suffering or with difficult truth.  Either one is an affront to the God of the Universe.  Scripture must be taken in total.  God is not a “tame” God.

Anything less than this means that when our children are faced with very real difficulty, they do not know how to cope.  It may seem to them as if we have been lying to them about God’s love.  When someone bullies them or a grandparent dies, they do not know how to process how God could allow such a thing.  He never promised us an easy life.  But we can have joy in the midst of difficulty.  Real joy.  As my friend Susie told me the other day (quoting from someone else), we like to talk about going from glory to glory and that is true!

And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:18)

But Christianity is also going from cross to cross.

Then he said to them all, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23)

The good news is that we are more than conquerors, and God is totally in control and will never leave us or forsake us!  That means that we can seek the lessons He is teaching us through the hard things.  We can truly rejoice whatever the circumstances, trusting God with a deep and real trust born out of an understanding of His character and His faithfulness.  We don’t need to be victims of others or of circumstance.

Those who know me know I love Ann Voskamp who writes about eucharisteo and about being thankful. Thankfulness is the best habit I have ever adopted and it is one that I want my children to grow up knowing and practicing.  A thankful child is just a great child to be around, as is a thankful adult.  However, what I love about Ann too is that she writes about hard things, not just easy and beautiful things- times that children die and parents get sick, times when a young couple can’t have a child, or about poverty and the desperate need of children in Africa.  She does not shy away from the hard things.  She looks at them and asks God what he would have her do in the midst of suffering.  She calls this being part of the “Esther generation” (called to such a time as this).  But in ALL things she is thankful.

I have seen young people struggling in their faith when they are faced with the death of someone they know or a time when things just plain do not work out the way that they had hoped.  I struggled with some of that this summer myself asking God why he allowed certain things to happen.  But my mom gave me some great advice.  She said, “What did you expect?”  And I realized (though I know better), that I had slipped into the “American” mentality that says blessing always follows hard work.  I had begun presuming that if God was pleased with me, things would go according to plan, we would be blessed, and our problems would fade.  Things don’t always go according to plan.  But they are never out of His plan for us.  Things don’t always appear to be a blessing.  But if God allows them, he will use them for blessing in our lives.  Problems sometimes multiply rather than fading for the believer.  But what do we expect?  Look at the Apostles and at Jesus himself.  Look at all of the prophets in all of Scripture.  Did any of them have easy lives?

Look at what Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 6:3-10

“We put no stumbling block in anyone’s path, so that our ministry will not be discredited.  Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left; through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.”

Paul did not have it easy.  His ministry was full of challenges, difficulties, shipwrecks, imprisonments.  But he kept his eyes focused on Jesus and stood strong in the Lord.  When I was young, I wanted to go to Ithaca College but could not afford it and had to go to college in state instead where I had a scholarship.  This was just one of many hard things, and not nearly as difficult as other things I have experienced, but if I had not gone to the school where I went, I would not have had a chance to be part of an awesome and vibrant Intervarsity chapter, I would have missed out on the opportunity to go on tour with a Shakespeare troupe, and I would not have remained in town where I eventually was able to meet my wonderful husband.  God had a plan that was bigger and better than I could see, but he had to close a door first that looked to me as if it was a very good door!

This year we are focusing on the love of God in Assembly all year.  But we are not just going to be talking about it in a superficial way, but in a very real and present way.  We are going to be talking about many aspects of God’s love: His love in creation (including how we are fearfully and wonderfully made), His calling love, His benevolent love, His generous love, His compassionate love, His adopting love, His patient love, and His atoning love.  Each time we talk about God’s love we are also going to talk about our response to that love and how we are to emulate it as believers who mirror the love of God as His hands and feet here on earth.  It is going to be a very rich year, and I’d appreciate your prayers for our teachers and staff as they prepare to teach about these things and for our guest speakers who will come and share about them.  Pray for the hearts of the students, that those who don’t know him yet would be captured by the gospel and that those who do know him would have their faith deepened.  Thanks be to God for the glorious opportunity and incredible responsibility to teach these children this new school year and to share with them the deep, deep love of our Savior.

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