Tombstones, Life, and Ambitions: A New Year’s Post

It’s not about the numbers chiseled in concrete, it’s how you lived your life in the dash between. — Scotty McCreery, The Dash

Tombstones, life, and ambitions. This time of year, and this day in particular, people seem to think and act on these ideas more than usual.

Tombstones 

Anyone listening to the news or on social media could list numerous people who died this year.  Influential authors, singers, musicians, actors, politicians, theologians, missionaries. When news like this breaks, many are quick to bemoan the year — whether in jest or sincerity of hopelessness. “2016, what gives?” “Come on, 2016!” I haven’t spent the time to investigate the rumors of the GoFundMe set up to help Betty White survive 2016.

As if a calendar year could control who lives or dies.

I’m not trying to be insensitive.  On a personal note, this year death was — as always — very real in my life and the lives of my friends and family.  I went to more funerals than weddings this year. And there were even more that I was not able to attend.

Maybe this year-end reflection needs a new angle. Taking another look at 2016, perhaps a year so full of death is also a merciful reminder that life must end one day, and there is no way to tell how many years that dash on the tombstone will cover. It’s a merciful reminder, because left on my own, I would not remember to look to the end.

Life and Ambitions

While cheerily waving this year away, we greet 2017 with hope.  Hope that life goes on. Hope that life gets better.  Hope that we could change someone else’s life for the better. We set new ambitions.  How will we get better? How will we improve? Where will we make our impact?

What are your goals? I started setting mine this week and preparing to put them in practice (I won’t say what they are, but they might involve organization and simplicity… and the mortgage). For others who can be task oriented (like me… sometimes), the focus can be on do, do, do. The more I think about it, doing must go hand-and-hand with being.  As a result, with the new year approaching, I find a question growing more in my mind:

What kind of people ought you to be? 2 Peter 3:11

Just let that question ring into the silence and feel its impact.

What kind of people ought you to be?

Peter’s context here is the end of all time, not just 2016. Year-endings are a reminder of the greater ending to come, so this verse, to me, is also a poignant question for each New Year.

This rhetorical question is quickly answered within the same verse:

You ought to live holy and godly lives…

This is not a call to live a kind life or a good life, but to live a life sacred to God, in piety, or reverence and duty, towards him.  This is εὐσέβεια (yoo-seb’-i-ah), which has promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come (1 Timothy 4:8), and which has power inherent in it (2 Timothy 3:5).

So, part of my prayer for the new year is that I have the ambition to lead a peaceful and quiet life in all godliness. That I trust that God has given me everything pertaining to life and godliness.  That I don’t lose sight of the call to be holy because my LORD God is holy. That I don’t forget that by abiding in Him I can bear the fruit of godliness, and much of it.

In the words of Francis Chan,

The world is not moved by love or actions that are of human creation. And the church is not empowered to live differently from any other gathering of people without the Holy Spirit. But when believers live in the power of the Spirit, the evidence in their lives is supernatural. The church cannot help but be different, and the world cannot help but notice.

Happy New Year!

 

 

 

Not Consumed

“How was your week?”

I felt rather awkward making small talk after this past week.  I was pretty certain my answer to that question didn’t fall in the ‘small talk’ category.

I felt overwhelmed.

I was exhausted.

It seemed like the universe was against me getting any sleep.

As an indicator of how the week went, take Monday. After 11 hours at work, I came home, did laundry, cooked dinner and Tuesday’s lunch, washed dishes, and finished up lesson prep.  At 11:30 p.m., 5 1/2 short hours before my Tuesday morning alarm, I was trying to fish a broken measuring spoon out of the garbage disposal with a pair of chopsticks while holding a flashlight in my mouth so that maybe the disposal would work again.  The rotting fruits and vegetables couldn’t wait another 17 hours until the faculty meeting was over and I was off the clock again. I didn’t remember signing up for this.

I was grumpy.  I didn’t want to be a public school teacher anymore. I didn’t want to be a homeowner. I didn’t want to have to interact with any other people for the foreseeable future.

Did I mention I was tired?

I felt overwhelmed by things to do and beset by the temptation to be short tempered, complaining, impatient, and unkind.  In my discontentment, I didn’t feel like fighting the temptation.  After all, I felt justified.  And surely God wouldn’t expect me to keep fighting when I was obviously overwhelmed.

How was my week?

I felt consumed.

I felt consumed by work, by impatience, by inadequacy, by discouragement, by weariness.

But then, the Holy Spirit sent a timely reminder.

I am not consumed.

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,

for his compassions never fail.

They are new every morning;

great is your faithfulness.

Lamentations 3:22-23 NIV

My feelings were strong, but not stronger than the reality. If God’s great mercy means I am not consumed by his righteous wrath, how much less can the urgency and pressures of the world and my own heart consume me?

Meditating on that didn’t make getting the measuring spoon out of the sink any easier, or earn me extra hours to sleep.  It did, however, take away the tyranny of the discouragement and bitterness that threatened to seize my heart. What light was brought to my mind by the beauty and glory of that thought!

Trials may try to consume, but the Lord’s love is greater still. Struggles will eventually cease, but his compassions will never fail.  Discouragement and weariness may be great, but God’s faithfulness is greater still.

 

To love with all

Fall break means more time for reading!  This week I started Dr. Helen Roseveare’s book ‘Living Sacrifice’.  In the preface, Dr. Roseveare expounds on what it means to be “a living sacrifice” (Romans 12) and show love for God (John 14:21). At the end, she writes thoughtfully about what it means to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength.

To love the Lord my God with all my heart will involve a spiritual cost. I’ll have to give him my heart, and let Him love through it whom and how He wills, even if this seems at times to break my heart.

To love the Lord my God with all my soul will involve a volitional and emotional cost.  I’ll have to give Him my will, my rights to decide and choose, and all my relationships, for Him to guide and control, even when I cannot understand His reasoning.

To love the Lord my God with all my mind will involve an intellectual cost.  I mist give Him my mind, my intelligence, my reasoning powers, and trust Him to work through them, even when He may appear to act in contradiction to common sense.

To love the Lord my God with all my strength will involve a physical cost.  I must give Him my body to indwell, and through which to speak, whether He chooses by health or sickness, by strength or weakness, and trust Him utterly with the outcome.

The sum of these apparent costs… could be considered as the sacrifice that I am invited to offer Him as the response of my whole being to His love for me in that one “full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world.” (pgs. 27-28

How counter this seems to our culture that places emphasis on seeking personal fulfillment, satisfaction, and joy, whether they be in relationships, jobs, or even the church.  This is also contrary to our too highly prized personal autonomy, even where God is concerned.

Dr. Roseveare’s writing prompted me to asked some questions to examine how I view and live out the call to love with Lord my God with all:

1.) How have I loved the Lord my God with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength in the past?

2.) How am I loving the Lord my God with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength in the present?

3.) In what areas am I unwilling to love the Lord my God with my all? Is God calling me to sacrifice my affections to be obedient to Him?

4.) How do I see others loving the Lord with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength? How can I encourage them in that?

5.) Am I putting my sacrifices in perspective by meditating on the great love of the Lord my God abundantly displayed on the cross and throughout my life?  Do I consider it a privilege to share in Christ’s sufferings? Do I consider the sacrifice not worth comparing to the weight of glory waiting for me?

And so

Last week, I came across one short phrase that, small and uninteresting as it seems,  stopped my reading and demanded I give it my full attention.

And so we came to Rome. Acts 28:14.

Granted, not much there at first, except the sheer nonchalant nature of the phrase.  καί οὕτω (kai hoútō) — and in this manner, for all that, in this way, thus — we came to Rome.   It was the context that gave the phrase itself the strength to arrest my attention. It seemed as if the phrase called out, “Think of what I convey. Think of the depth and feeling that one little phrase can hold.”

The first power of this small statement was in the events preceding. Those events began in Acts chapter 21, or, in human time, over two years earlier. It was a journey that began with the violence of an angry mob and a divided council.  It was faithful testifying in the face of that violence. Paul escaped two plots against his life. The journey continued with a two-year detention in Caesarea and being left in prison as a favor. The journey continued with an ill-timed journey across sea, a horrific storm, ship-wreck, poisonous snake-bite, and a prolonged stay on Malta. Afterward, the author takes us on a dizzying overview of cities where they stopped after Malta.

And so we came to Rome.

The second reason that phrase delivered such an impact is the theme of God’s plan coming to fruition. At the beginning, when Paul’s testimonies were met with riots and few others besides accusers seemed to be standing by him, the Lord himself stood by Paul and said, “Take courage, for as you have testified to the facts about me in Jerusalem, so you must testify also in Rome” (Acts 23: 11).

After Paul’s two-year imprisonment, it is revealed that had Paul not appealed to Caesar, he could have been set free.  From a human standpoint, the journey seems worthless.  The human thought of freedom makes the reader want to cry out, “Why did you appeal?” At least that’s what I thought for years. But Paul is meant to go to Rome.

Finally on the ship to Italy, a violent storm arises that lasts for weeks, meaning almost certain death. But it has always been as before:

“For this very night there stood before me an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I worship, and he said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar.  And behold, God has granted you all those who sail with you.’ So take heart, men, for I have faith  in God that it will be exactly as I have been told.”

Nothing could stop God’s plan. No aspect of the journey was without hope, because God had spoken.

And so we came to Rome.

The third aspect of this journey is that the delays were not wasted. Paul was meant to go to Rome, yes, but along the way he was meant to testify before two governors and King Agrippa, he was meant to witness to the men in the storm. Paul was meant to encourage the brothers and bear witness at Malta. All the other people and cities along the way to Rome, Paul was also meant to see.

And so we came to Rome.

In the end, I was impressed with these things:
In obedience to God, the journey may be long and dangerous, but God will accomplish all He means to do.
The Lord himself stands by us in the journey. The same God that spoke hope to Paul, speaks hope today.
The path of obedience may seem littered with setbacks, waiting, and detours, but those too are sent by God to accomplish his purpose in and around us.

And so…

“All the littles of our little world…” (another Spurgeon post)

“How precious also are thy thoughts unto me, O God.” — Psalms 139:17

Divine omniscience affords no comfort to the ungodly mind, but to the child of God it overflows with consolation. God is always thinking upon us, never turns aside his mind from us, has us always before his eyes; and this is precisely as we would have it, for it would be dreadful to exist for a moment beyond the observation of our heavenly Father. His thoughts are always tender, loving, wise, prudent, far-reaching, and they bring to us countless benefits: hence it is a choice delight to remember them. The Lord always did think upon his people: hence their election and the covenant of grace by which their salvation is secured; he always will think upon them: hence their final perseverance by which they shall be brought safely to their final rest. In all our wanderings the watchful glance of the Eternal Watcher is evermore fixed upon us-we never roam beyond the Shepherd’s eye. In our sorrows he observes us incessantly, and not a pang escapes him; in our toils he marks all our weariness, and writes in his book all the struggles of his faithful ones. These thoughts of the Lord encompass us in all our paths, and penetrate the innermost region of our being. Not a nerve or tissue, valve or vessel, of our bodily organization is uncared for; all the littles of our little world are thought upon by the great God.

Dear reader, is this precious to you? then hold to it. Never be led astray by those philosophic fools who preach up an impersonal God, and talk of self-existent, self-governing matter. The Lord liveth and thinketh upon us, this is a truth far too precious for us to be lightly robbed of it. The notice of a nobleman is valued so highly that he who has it counts his fortune made; but what is it to be thought of by the King of kings! If the Lord thinketh upon us, all is well, and we may rejoice evermore.

— Spurgeon, Morning & Evening, April 30