Archive for the ‘death and dying’ Category

Another Year to Waste?

When the new year roles around we often take the opportunity to look back and re-evaluate things.  For me, the beginning of a new year on the calendar also means a new year in my life since I was born at the beginning of the year.  Often, each year at this time, I look back, not only at the past year, but on my entire life.  I’ve now lived 34 years, which is about the length of time that Christ lived on this earth.  So the past couple of years have been especially retrospective.  Have I wasted my life?  Is my life on a trajectory that will end up in a place where it is wasted?  Or has my life taken a trajectory that will end up making an impact?  John Piper talk’s about this little plaque that hung in the kitchen of the house where he grew up in Greenville, SC.  The plaque said:

Only one life

‘Twill soon be past

Only what’s done for

Christ will last

In the last couple of years I’ve had the occasion to visit with people who were at death’s door.  Visiting my Uncle Bill the day before he died was one of the most profound of those experiences.  The perspective on life is very different when you are looking at it through the lens of a person who has hours left to live.  What difference does the kind of car you own make in that moment?  Do you really care how big your TV is?  Do you say to yourself, “I wish I had been a better golfer”?  Do you say, “I wish I had taken that chance to have an adulterous relationship”?  Do you think, “My life would’ve been so much more happy had I spent a few more years holding on to that bitterness”?

There is so much talk about “purpose” and “fulfillment” and all kinds of other mumbo jumbo.  That’s not what I’m talking about.  I don’t believe for a second that my Uncle Bill was the least bit concerned with his life’s purpose or his own personal fulfillment in his final hours. Driving home from that visit, what struck me the most was that moments in our lives tend to revolve around the most fleeting of pleasures. I know it is true in my own life. I’m not saying we should live in such a way that we deny ourselves pleasure. Actually, I’ve learned exactly the opposite of that – we should live for the greatest of pleasures. The problem is that our taste for pleasure has become so corrupt.

C.S. Lewis wrote…

The New Testament has lots to say about self-denial, but not about self-denial as an end in itself. We are told to deny ourselves and to take up our crosses in order that we may follow Christ; and nearly every description of what we shall ultimately find if we do so contains an appeal to desire. If there lurks in most modern minds the notion that to desire our own good and earnestly to hope for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing, I submit that this notion has crept in from Kant and the Stoics and is no part of the Christian faith. Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.

Did you get that – “our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak.” We think so often that what the Bible labels as “sin” is really an over blown desire for pleasure and that Jesus is just a killjoy. That is a lie from the pit of hell. Really, the Bible says that “sin” is a desire for pleasure that has become so corrupt it can’t even recognize what true lasting joy and pleasure are anymore and that those things can only be found in a right relationship with the God who created us for His own glory (Jeremiah 2:12-13).

Here is where I’m going…I know for a fact that my Uncle on his death bed never looked back on his life to say he wished he had spent more days seeking after the pleasures of this world.  And so I hate every moment that I waste seeking pleasure in something that can’t even come close to the greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. What do you fill your life with – “drink and sex and ambition”? The gospel of Jesus Christ offers infinite joy to us. After 34 years – I want nothing more than to turn my back every day on the fleeting pleasures of this world and make an impact that will last – “Only what’s done for Christ will last”.  I don’t want to waste another day making mud pies in a slum because I cannot imagine the fullness of joy that is at the right hand of the LORD God Almighty.

Here is a great book to read that says it much better than I could:

opdwl_large

What do you say to a friend who just watched his father suffer and die from cancer?

I believe the Bible…that it is God’s word.  I study it and teach it and seek to know it by heart.  I have found great words of comfort in it.  Knowing that you are dealing with the suffering and death of your father I wanted to share with you some things that I hope will bring you comfort.  However, I cannot begin to understand what you have been through these past few days and weeks and months – so I will not belittle your suffering by saying I know what you’re going through.

How many times did we sing the words of Isaiah 43:1-3 when we were in InterVarsity together at JMU.  I know that like me, this passage is ingrained in your memory.  It is a passage that has been very much on my heart and in my thoughts for you these past weeks.  Here is what it says:

Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
When you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.
For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.

Of course you know these words convey a spiritual reality.  The water and fire in this passage are a picture of suffering and trial and tribulation.  Isaiah speaks the words of the LORD to his people and says that when they go through suffering He will be with them.  Great suffering does not mean that God stops being the God of His people.  He redeemed them.  He called them by name.  They belong to Him!  They will still be His people.  He will still be their God.  Don’t let the suffering scare you.  If, at any point, you are overwhelmed in suffering the loss of your father, remember the promise in these verses – He redeemed you and you belong to Him.  The loss you are suffering at this moment and in your most quiet moments on the road ahead may be unspeakable, but God has not deserted you.  He is the LORD.  He is the Savior.  I pray that you will cry out to Him and find comfort in His presence and in His word.

Horatio Spafford lost four of his daughters when their boat sank in the middle of the Atlantic.  He was supposed to be with them on that boat to go on vacation.  He stayed in the U.S. to work, hoping to join them later.  When he got the news of their death he got on the first boat he could and made his way to the place where the ship, holding his daughters, went down.  At that place he wrote the words to the great hymn, “It Is Well”.  Looking out on the water of the Atlantic Ocean, where his four precious daughters suffered and died, and as he was suffering from this unspeakable loss, he sought comfort in the great truths expressed in this poem:

When peace like a river attendeth my way
When sorrows like sea billows roll
Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say
It is well, it is well with my soul

My sin, oh the depth of this glorious thought,
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Was nailed to the cross and I bear it no more
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, oh my soul

And Lord hast the day when my faith shall be sight
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll
The trump shall resound and the Lord shall descend
Even so, it is well with my soul

Spafford found, through this ordeal, that the LORD was teaching him the faith and ability to say, even in the midst of the rolling billows of sorrow, it is well.  Like Spafford, I pray that the God of all comfort would also be teaching you to say, it is well.  Where does that kind of faith and ability come from?  It comes from learning to trust in the timeless truth that Christ has borne all our sin in our place and that a day will come when that trust or that faith will become sight and you will see your Savior face to face.  I hope these glorious truths bring you comfort during these days.