Monday, November 29, 2004

The Incredibles, Real-Life Style

Our Dependence on Lives Well Lived

One of our church members turned 100 years old today. Her body is frail, but her mind is still as sharp as ever. Best of all, though, is the condition of her soul. For longer than most of us will even live, she has seen and loved and walked with Jesus Christ, and her spiritual legacy abounds with family members and friends whose souls will forever bear her God-bearing fingerprints. The Apostle John gave us a great way to pray for her: “Dear friend, I pray that you may enjoy good health and that all may go well with you, even as your soul is getting along well” (3 Jn 1:2).

Her life reminds me of the biblical mandate to have heroes. Not heroes who mean more to us than Jesus, but heroes who give us inspiration and vision and direction by their devotion and discipline, their accomplishments and aspirations, their flaws and failures. And yes, I do think having heroes is not an option; it’s a biblical mandate!

This is implied in the way Scripture is written—most of it is narrative. Apparently, we need more than just the truth in abstract form; we need to see it lived, breathed, broken, loved. “God loved the world” doesn’t hit us with quite the same force as the picture of Jesus weeping at the tomb of Lazarus (Jn 11:35). Kind of like reality TV (which, of course, is hardly deserving of the name), we crave glimpses of real lives. We need heroes.

The writer of Hebrews makes this explicit when he says: “Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.” (13:7) This exhortation comes just a few paragraphs after he has named a dozen heroes (11:4-40) and used their lives as an argument for how we ourselves should live (12:1-2).

So here’s my suggestion to you. Sometime in the next few months, read a biography of a great Christian. Implied in this suggestion is one of the criteria I use to select my own heroes: pick somebody who’s dead. Hebrews 13:7 advises us to “consider the outcome of their way of life,” which we can’t quite measure until they’re finished living it. So save yourself the devastation of a fallen hero by restricting your “hero” category to dead dudes only. Or at least pick heroes you can be sure about because they’ve lived faithfully for the last 100 years!

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Glimpses of God in the Raking of Leaves

Pondering God’s Glory in Fall Yard Work

Yesterday I finished my annual leaf-raking marathon. We have 3 gargantuan trees in our yard, and our neighbors all have several of their own, which means we relax under great shade in the summer and swim in an ocean of fallen leaves in the fall. We love our trees, but when the sap stops flowing in October or November, we start raking and don’t stop for weeks.

I took a little break yesterday to make a phone call to a couple God-centered young ladies and that’s when the question came: “What of God do you see in leaf-raking?” Hmmm… what a strange question! But it’s the right one to ask, because after all, everything in life exists to bring glory to God. So we should probably consciously consider “What do I learn or see or remember of God in this?” in every single thing we do, learn, see, experience, feel…

How is leaf raking a means to see and savor the glory of God? I came up with 2 answers. First, leaf raking reminds me that everyone has God’s fingerprints all over his/her soul. Everyone, both God-fearers and God-haters, tends to prefer order rather than disorder. A well-tended lawn reminds me of God’s command to our first parents: “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Gen 1:28). Why are we this way? Because God is this way, and He created us as a reflection Himself. When your neighbor rakes his leaves, he’s showing the family likeness.

Second, leaf raking reminds me that my heart longs for God and God alone. A few months ago these leaves were a beautiful accent to those gorgeous summer days, but now they’re withered and dry. And once again we’re reminded that all the beauties and joys of earth are transient, fleeting, and contingent. The very temporariness of a leaf’s life reminds us that, not all the splendor of earth, but God Himself is the desire of our soul.

Here’s the application to you… Don’t take a break from what you’re doing to think about God. Ponder Him right there in the midst of whatever you’re doing. Discover God right there in your math homework, your daily commute, your relational issues, the news, the weather, whatever. Your job isn’t to bring Him into these things; He’s there already. Your job is just to see Him there!

So next time you’re raking leaves, look for God. Make your own backyard a place of worship and make the leaves themselves holy articles for seeing and savoring God Himself. Still skeptical that tree leaves can be quite that edifying? Well then, you might need a new glimpse of heaven, where “on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yields its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations” (Rev 22:2).

Sunday, November 14, 2004

A Sheep in Need of The Shepherd

A Devotional Journal Entry

I came to the Bible tonight with my cup bone-dry, weary of life and longing for God. I’m a pastor, but tonight I felt more like a sheep than a shepherd. In fact, that very metaphor was simmering on the back burner of my mind, since I had encountered it twice in the last 24 hours: praying through Psalm 23 last night with an anxious church member and meditating on Isaiah 53 this morning during Communion.

My Bible reading schedule has me in Ezekiel right now, and so my expectations were shamefully low. I kind of assumed I’d read the obligatory chapters and then move on to a more helpful portion of Scripture in my quest to hear the gentle voice and feel the tender touch of my Shepherd. And then I came to the middle of chapter 34…

"For thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out. As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep, and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. And I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land. And I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the ravines, and in all the inhabited places of the country. I will feed them with good pasture, and on the mountain heights of Israel shall be their grazing land. There they shall lie down in good grazing land, and on rich pasture they shall feed on the mountains of Israel. I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord GOD. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak…”

I was stunned to hear the Lord God taking the words of Psalm 23 on His own lips and saying them to me: “I myself will search for my sheep… I will bring them out… I will feed them with good pasture… I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep… I myself will make them lie down… I will seek… I will bring back… I will bind… I will strengthen…” And suddenly I was there, hearing His voice, finding good pasture, quenching my thirst…

Thursday, November 11, 2004

But Now I See…

Seeing Christianity as a Certain Way of Seeing

I’m nearly convinced that the main struggle in all the Christian life is the struggle to see. Not “to see” in the sense of light waves and optic nerves and brain sensations. “To see” in the sense that Jesus meant: “For this people's heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them. But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear.” (Mt 13:15-16)

This language of seeing is all over the place in the Bible. Why are certain people Christians and others not? Because in the latter case, “the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Cor 4:4). How are people changed into the image of Jesus Christ? By “beholding the glory of the Lord, [thus] being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (2 Cor 3:18). What motivates us to endure suffering? The eyesight of Moses, who “endured as seeing him who is invisible” (Heb 11:27).

I doubt if we would be so flippant about how we spend our days if we could see that life is a vapor (James 4:14). I doubt if we would sin so quickly if we could see the deadly poison underneath the candy coating of temptation (James 1:14-16). I doubt if we would be so attached to earth and so apathetic about heaven if we could see the ugliness here compared with the magnificence there (Rev 21:10-27). I doubt if we would treat people with such condescension and disdain if we could see that the priceless blood of Jesus flowed for their forgiveness (Rom 14:15). I doubt if we would be so casual about poor study habits and low grades if we could see that even the way we eat and drink reflects what we think of God (1 Cor 10:31).

So I conclude that another way to describe true Christianity is that it is a certain way of seeing. If you’re not a Christian, ask God to help you see. If you are one, pray and strive and train yourself to see what you really see. In short, Christian living is Christian seeing. Perhaps John Newton was right in more ways than one when he described his conversion: “I once was lost but now am found/Was blind but now I see.”

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Seizing the Day vs. Brushing Your Teeth

Living with Passion AND Responsibility

I don’t know if you caught it in the last post, but Jonathan Edwards really raises the bar on what carpe diem means in practical terms. Resolution #7 reads: “Resolved, never to do anything, which I should be afraid to do, if it were the last hour of my life.” Now that proposition should stir us up to some really serious thinking…

How many of my normal responsibilities would I do if I knew it were the last hour of my life? Would I write this post? …sleep? …brush my teeth? Probably not. And so the tension emerges: how do I reconcile responsible living with passionate living? Am I forced to choose either “be responsible” or “seize the day” as my philosophy of life?

Some might say we ought to find a balance between the two options. They would argue that sometimes we “seize the day” and other times we just do what we have to do. But I don’t like that answer for two reasons. First, it’s subjective, leaving me without a way to tell if I’m balancing the two ideals correctly. There’s no way to tell if I’m too reckless (seizing the day) or too conservative (being responsible).

Second, it leaves most people right where they started, comfortable with their nonchalant, passionless approach to life. If we resolve the tension of Edwards’ resolution by saying, “Well, you can live that way only sometimes, not all the time,” most people will breathe a sigh of relief and flip the TV back on for the rest of the night.

So here’s the solution that I would propose. We need to take a longer view of “seize the day” than just what it means for me right this moment. In other words, we need to keep tomorrow in mind when we ponder how to seize the day today. We might forfeit opportunities to seize the day tomorrow if we don’t seize the day in a certain way today.

For example, I would love to skydive and feel the explosive adrenaline rush of freefalling for several thousand feet. So I carry that little desire with me for what “seize the day” means for me: skydiving first chance I get. But what if I’m standing on the rim of the Grand Canyon someday and “seize the day” comes to mind? Do I have to choose responsible living over passionate living? Do I say either "yes" to my desire (passion) or "yes" to living for another day (responsibility)? Nope. I just need to be more careful about how I define “seizing the day,” realizing that I might have an opportunity to freefall for several thousand feet AND live to tell about it sometime in the future.

So here’s the application to you… If you’re a student, seize the day by studying with all your might so as to maximize your opportunities in the future. If you’re an employee, work with all your might for the same reason. If you’re a parent, disciple and train and pray with all your might so as to maximize both your own and your children’s opportunities in the future. If you’re a Christian, know and make known Jesus Christ with tomorrow in view. If you’re not a Christian, consider well how you seize the day, realizing that your own eternal joy is at stake.

No matter who you are, take Jonathan Edwards’ resolution as your own for every day and everything you do: “I will never to do anything which I should be afraid to do if it were the last hour of my life.” Wow. What kind of people would we be if we really lived that way?!

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Live Like You Were Dying

Is Carpe Diem a Biblical Way to Live?

Occasionally pop culture produces something that echoes the voice of God Himself. Often the voice of God is so mingled with “non-God” voices that the biblical value is nearly eclipsed by the unbiblical ones. But occasionally pop culture produces an echo of God’s voice that is so loud and so true, the biblical value can’t be missed.

About a month ago I heard Tim McGraw’s “Live Like You Were Dying.” The point of the song is obvious: life is precious; don’t waste it! It reminded me of the movie Dead Poet’s Society, with its compelling theme: Carpe diem! (“Seize the day!”) The song and the movie both inspire us to live with passion, to seize every opportunity, to squeeze every drop of living we can out of life! In our greatest dreams, we long for a life marked by fervor and intensity and exhilaration. Our souls resonate with Thoreau’s fear: “not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived” (Walden).

But does this approach to life find its original expression in the Bible? Are Tim McGraw and Professor Keating (Dead Poet’s Society) and Henry David Thoreau echoing the truth of God when they implore us to live with all our might?

Jonathan Edwards thought so. In his late teens he developed a list of personal resolutions that guided and motivated him for the rest of his life. Resolutions 5-7 read like this: “Resolved, never to lose one moment of time; but improve it the most profitable way I possibly can. Resolved, to live with all my might, while I do live. Resolved, never to do anything, which I should be afraid to do, if it were the last hour of my life.”

As we would expect, Edwards’ philosophy of life is spelled out explicitly in the Bible. “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart” (Col 3:23). “Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity…” (Eph 5:15-16; cf. Col 4:5). “What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn't do it, sins” (James 4:14,17). Apparently, half-hearted living is not a biblical option!

So I want to add my voice to God’s and Edwards’ and all those from the culture and say to you: “LIVE!!” Don’t fritter away your precious life on video games, surfing the web, plodding through malls, or watching TV. Live!

I want to wrap up with a few suggestions for how to “seize the day!”
· Realize that wasted hours become wasted days, which become wasted months, which become wasted years, which become a wasted life. So start seizing the day by seizing each hour.
· Take every opportunity you can. Realize that today is a gift and tomorrow is not guaranteed. You might never get this chance again. So do it now!
· Cultivate a sense of wonder and originality in how you look at life. When other people see a homeless bum, consider whether you might have just seen an angel (cf. Heb 13:2).
· Find something worthy—some cause, some person, some mission, and devote your entire life to it. I would argue that the best choice here would be knowing and making known Jesus Christ.

So what are you reading this blog for? Go LIVE!!