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Life

A few weeks ago my family and I were watching the classic musical, Fiddler on the Roof. The main character, Tevye, is wrestling with whether to arrange the marriage of one of his daughters to the local butcher, a much older man named Lazar Wolf. There is drinking and talking and eventually singing and dancing as Tevye consents to Lazar’s proposal (it is a musical after all). The song they belt out? To Life.

Tevye’s life is centered in family, tradition, faith and troubles. These are the elements that make up the lives of many believers. Family makes life bearable. Tradition brings order to our values. The God in whom we put our faith carries us through our troubles. In Tevye’s life, though, community is the framework within which all these elements find their truest and most valuable expression.

I have spent much of my adult life in and around Uria Village, on the slopes of Mount Somau in Papua New Guinea. Cultural differences abound. But there are four broad categories we share in common: family, tradition, faith, and troubles. We have different ways of reckoning family (we value the nuclear family, they the extended [much like Tevye]). Our traditions are different, but are still traditions. Expression of faith depends upon the person or family. Troubles are troubles.

What is Life?

Despite the differences, we all grapple with the question, “What is life?” The Somau Garia have no single word for “life”, but a collection of idioms that hint at life’s meaning. Westerners, especially Americans, talk of “the good life”, referring to ease or wealth or amassing goods, or holding power over others. Experience teaches us that these are hallow pursuits that end poorly–no matter how fun the journey seems.

Satan waves shiny trinkets before our eyes to draw us away from true treasure. If he can distract us just long enough to derail our faith, values, traditions, families, or communities, he has won a battle in this great war.

There is no short way to answer “What is life?” Perhaps we might just catch the slightest essence of its meaning by looking a few passages from the Bible. If we catch just a whiff, we might gain some advantage over our adversary, trumping his lies with capital “T” truth. We might cast off the temporary for the lasting.

God-Breathed

A few Old Testament passages might enlighten us. Consider the following:

Then the Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground. He breathed the breath of life into the man’s nostrils, and the man became a living person.

Genesis 2:7, NLT

From a lump of dirt God formed a magnificent, complex being, made not only of flesh and bone and blood, but also of soul and spirit. Paul later refers to our bodies as “tents” that we inhabit while on this earth. So there is one kind of life in the body, but there is more to us than just body.

Ezekiel has a rather strange vision of a valley filled with dry bones. Despite its strangeness, we gain insight about the nature of life from it.


Then he said to me, “Speak a prophetic message to these bones and say, ‘Dry bones, listen to the word of the Lord! This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Look! I am going to put breath into you and make you live again! I will put flesh and muscles on you and cover you with skin. I will put breath into you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’”

Ezekiel 37:4-6, NLT

Notice the consistency in how the beginning of life is referenced. In Genesis God breathes life into Adam’s nostrils. In Ezekiel prophesies that God himself will put breath into the dead, dried up, rotting bones and they would not only have sinews, muscles, and skin but that they would stand on their feet, comprising a vast army! What was dead he would make alive again. What was a chattel house of death would become a living army that would make his name known.

Dead and Raised

Paul writes in Colossians that we were dead in our sins and that we were buried with Christ when we were baptized (2:12). Just as we were once dry bones, dead and wasting away in our sin, God himself buried us in the grave and raised it to life by faith. When he raised us, he didn’t bring us back to life to leave us in the same condition that caused us to be death, he raised us by his mighty power and gave us all that we need for eternal life and godliness. He took our sin away and made us stand in grace.

Satan would have us believe that our ongoing failure and sin defines us. He is a liar. We are defined by the life, death, resurrection, and ongoing priesthood of Jesus Christ. We stand in that place of unmerited favor where God our Father loves us, disciplines us, and makes us holy so that we might know him (and make him known).

Lasting and True

Jesus prays for us in John 17, saying to the Father:

And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.

John 17:3, ESV

So death is marked by slavery to the demands of the flesh, the world, and the devil. It is characterized by lying tongues, sexual immorality, unbridled anger, malice, hatred, covetousness, idolatry and a multitude of others. Death is characterized by a single characteristic that encapsulates them all: selfishness which might also be called devotion to self.

Life is marked by love, compassion, humility, patience, generosity, forgiveness, and a knowledge of God–not knowledge about God, but knowing him in the deepest and truest sense. It’s an intimate knowledge that is shaped by respect, honor, obedience, affection, and love. It is a selflessness that finds its completion in God the Father and Jesus Christ his Son.

All is Christ

Have you ever written a love letter? It is common to include the phrase, “You are my life.” It means that a person lives solely for the beloved. Paul reminds us that Christ is our Beloved, the one for whom we live:

When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

Colossians 3:4, ESV

God breathed life into us. He gave us a body, soul and spirit. He knew our frailty in being made from dust and, knowing we would fail and fall into sin, created us anyway. He breathed life into us. Having died and been buried with Jesus Christ, he breathed life into us a second time.

For the believer, life is being raised with Christ, hidden in Him, joined to Him, adopted through Christ into God’s family. Life is a transformative experience where we are invited to put off death and put on life. As Paul writes, Christ is our life.

The Hard Road to Victory

You want victory over the adversary? You want to make his name known throughout the nations? You want to shake the gates of Hell in your generation? Live in the reality that this earth and these years are merely temporary. Live with eternity in view. Put off the obscenity and absurdity of this generation. Put on Christ.

After all, Christ is your life. How can you live any other way?

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Dancing in a Hurricane

The Christian life is filled with its share of heart-ache. It should be so. God chose to take up a dwelling place in us when he gave us his Spirit and because of that, we experience the world differently than we once did. That which once pleased us now grieves us. He even told us that in this life we’d find plenty of trouble, though knowing that we are going to experience suffering or pain or trouble is little comfort. Especially when the pressure is on.

Believers are often pressured to paint a smile on a grieving heart. There is a price for being plain spoken about high cost of discipleship. Though it is becoming more mainstream to be candid about our experiences, we too often are expected to tell touching stories where everything turns out like the ending of a Hallmark Christmas movie.

I remember a scene from Spectre (a recent James Bond movie) that may speak more to my experience. Mr. White (one of the bad guys)  taunts Bond, “You’re a kite dancing in a hurricane, Mr. Bond.” He wanted to steal Bond’s hope of finishing his mission, convincing him to stop then and there. What a compelling description of how Satan frames our situation and attacks. Like Mr. White, he intensely wants us to succumb to fear of the tumult of the hurricane.

Seeking some answer to this taunt, I ask:  “Lord, why aren’t we just blown away in the gale?” or “Why are we not consumed by the enemy?” 

His answer reflects his compassion. I realize that when I cannot see I must trust. When I cannot hear I must open the pages of the Scripture to see what I cannot hear.

Here is, in part, his response to my asking:

“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.

“He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will dwell in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the Lord, ‘My refuge and my fortress, my God in whom I trust.’”—Psalm 91:1

“We have this [hope] as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf . . .” —Hebrews 6:19-20

“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though the mountains tremble at its swelling.” Psalm 46:1-2

The language in these verses is violent, noisy, threatening. It shows us our need for protection and deliverance. But it also depicts the compassionate love of God and Father, Warrior and King, Refuge and Fortress.

Take His words to heart, warrior. “Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea . . .”