Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The Campfire and the Firecracker (a reflection on joy)

I love Independence Day—mainly because of the explosions. Yeah, I certainly love our country and grilling out is great. But from the earliest age that my parents would permit, my inner pyromaniac would emerge every year around the end of June like Mr. Hyde with a burning punk clenched in each fist. All my best scar stories are somehow related to this most incendiary of holidays and I have little doubt that trend will continue.

Fire also played a pivotal role in one of my other fondest childhood memories: camping. Specifically the campfire, without which a camping trip just devolves into a slumber party. I loved it when my dad would let me help him start the campfire. As I got older, I took pride in the designation among my friends as the person responsible for starting our fire in the harshest of conditions—even rain and snow.

I mention these two things—the campfire and the firecracker—because in them I see a perfect contrast of the difference between the joy we can find in the Creator versus the happiness we get from created things. Allow me to explain.

The Law of Diminishing Returns

The firecracker is exciting, flashy, adrenaline-inducing. But it's so short-lived. There's a pop and bang—and then it's gone. And then you need another one. If you're like me, I just can't set off the next firecracker the same way as the last. I've gotta twist wicks together and set a bunch of them off at once. Or find something to blow up. The law of diminishing returns kicks in and I quickly get bored using the firecrackers the way the warning label instructs. Things can get pretty dangerous pretty quickly when you start using explosives in a way they were never designed to be used.

But we do this every day, and with much more dangerous things than firecrackers. We get a flash of wealth, and suddenly we're consumed with the next big promotion, the next new car. We get a spark of sex and soon we're blowing up our lives with the next porn fix or one-night stand. We get a pop of success, and then we're lighting every wick in sight to sweeten our resume' or keep climbing the professional ladder.

My point is not that money, sex, and success are bad things. They can all be gifts from God and can all be used wisely. But they will all flash and fade and if you're looking to them to give you the lasting joy that only God can give you. No matter what your sparkling fix is, you'll never be satisfied with it. It will never give you a happiness that lasts.

There will just be a BANG...

...and a taste of gunpowder...

...and a hole in the ground.

A Slow, Steady Burn

But the campfire is different. It may not always be as exciting and sexy as the firecracker (though at times it can be) but it offers so much more than just temporary amusement. Instead of the painful light and lack of heat from the firecracker, the campfire offers warm light and steady heat. Where the former sends you running, the latter draws you in.

And when the harsh realities of life set in—when the storm comes—only one can stay aflame and only one save your life:
Looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
  (Hebrews 12:2 ESV)

We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part.
  (2 Corinthians 8:1-2 ESV)

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.
  (James 1:2-3 ESV)
So, what fires are you feeding in your life? Are you only setting flame to the things that will go POP in the end, or are you drawing closer to the only source of true light and warmth in this cold, dark world?

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