Life Is Fragile

February 18, 2010

A time existed as innocent children when we knew nothing of death. It never occurred to us that animals died, or worse, that we die. It intrudes on us at the first sight of a dead animal, and we ask our parents our first questions about death.

Awareness of death may come at the death of a family member. The childlike questions of why don’t they get out of that suitcase are met with adults straining to give an answer – to find just the right words.

If death came to the aged and infirm only, death might be easier to explain. Yet, a grim reality exists: life is fragile. It is fragile to all of us regardless of age or station in life. Youth may be the time of life when we feel invincible, but such feelings are mistaken. I’ve been to funerals of children and the elderly and those in between. Death knows of no minimum age requirement.

If death came only after a very long life, death might be easier to explain. Although I’ve known ninety year olds who still wanted more of the gift of time, somehow, we take comfort when the deceased has had a long and full life, but it doesn’t always happen that way.

None of us can say to God, you owe me so many years. Even the 70 or 80 years found in Psalm 90 are but round numbers not guarantees. That means each day of life is a gift from God. I’m not trying to be morbid reflecting on the frailty of life. I simply want to be aware that each moment is precious. Each moment is a gift.

The gift of life also has purpose. God grants me this wonderful gift so that I might know him and glorify him. We each have an expiration date. Usually we don’t know when it will be. We are not like gallons of milk with it printed on our sides. That gives urgency to spiritual things.

The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil. (Ecclesiastes 12:13–14, ESV)

The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” (Acts 17:30–31, ESV)

Life is a gift. Life has purpose. Life is fragile.

Encourage One Another

February 13, 2010

The Christian life can be compared to a journey with obstacles and trials. The goal is to finish the journey in faith. The danger is always present that we will stop along the way and maybe even choose a different direction for life – a direction that leads away from God. That means the Christian needs encouragement to persevere and live a life worthy of his calling. It is in the context of our need to persevere that Hebrews gives its command to encourage one another.

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. Hebrews 10:24–25, ESV

Translators attempting to give us a smooth English sentence can on occasion loose an important idea. The above translation of verse 24 is all too common.

 …and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds,…Hebrews 10:24, NASB

 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Hebrews 10:24, NIV

 The problem with the above translations is that the actual object of “let us consider” in Greek is “one another” as in the NKJV.

 And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works… Hebrews 10:24, NKJV

The command to encourage then has one another as its focus. It is first of all selfless, and it is at this point also countercultural. We live in an age of the consumer mentality: what do I get out of it? We never get the worship assembly right if we begin with ourselves. We must always begin with God and the need of others.

A Korean parable about a visit to heaven and hell gives insight to this difference of perspective.

The visitor peeped in at the door of hell and saw an enormous banquet hall. In it were a number of long tables with bowls of rice and delicacies on them, well-flavored, smelling delicious, and inviting. The guests were sitting hungrily, opposite one another, each with a plate of food.

The guests all had chopsticks to use, but these were so long that, however hard they tried, not a grain of rice could they get into their mouths. This was their torment; this was their hell. “I’ve seen it, that’s more than enough for me,” said the visitor. Departing hell, he entered into heaven.

Inside, he saw the same banquet hall, the same tables, the same food, and the same long chopsticks. But the guests were joyful. All were smiling and laughing. Each one, having put the food onto his chopsticks, held it out to the mouth of his companion opposite, and so they managed to eat their fill. Joy, love, and fulfillment were found in heaven.

Following Jesus often involves paradoxes: losing our life to save it, the last shall be first, and greatness comes by humility. This is but one more. To be encouraged, we must encourage one another.

Under the Knife

February 4, 2010

The tabloid press has recently reported on beautiful people who have gone under the knife to be more beautiful. They went under the knife of cosmetic surgery pursuing a vision of outer perfection. Although such surgery seems extreme, all of us would willingly consent to surgery when our life or health is at stake. None of us like it, but we are willing to go under the knife.

But there is a surgery more important than the ones to enhance outward beauty or repair physical health. This surgeon wields more than a scalpel. He wields a sword.

Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience. For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account. Hebrews 4:11–13, ESV

The message about the sword is bracketed by some important ideas. We are to strive to enter the rest which is heaven itself, and we are warned that this rest can be missed by disobedience. At the end, we are told that everything about us is exposed to God before whom we must give account. God has already seen all our spiritual x-rays, CAT scans, and MRIs. There is nothing about us that he doesn’t already know. We shouldn’t play games or think we can hide. Faking it leads to disaster even if others buy our sham.

The point of sword is that it pierces. The sword of the word can pierce all the way to our thoughts and intentions. God has always wanted our hearts (Deuteronomy 6:5). God has always wanted his law written on our hearts (Jeremiah 31:33). This is surgery to make us more beautiful on the inside. This is surgery to correct our failing spiritual health. Without it, we will spiritually die. The surgeon wants us more obedient, more holy. The word’s penetration into our heart is to make us more like the one we are following – Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:2).

Hebrews reveals all too clearly that there have been others who have heard the word and responded with hardened hearts (3:7-8). We have a spiritual surgeon who wants to penetrate all the way to thoughts and intentions. He wants to make us more beautiful on the inside. He wants to make us more like Him. Are we willing to go under the knife?