Light to Live By

"The unfolding of your words gives light ..." (Psalm 119:130a)

Month: March 2014

First Things

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures. (1 Corinthians 15:3-4)

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This time of year we reflect intentionally upon the supremely important message of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Take note of two words Paul used to describe that message: “first importance.” The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ has priority over all things. It is significant beyond all else in time, space, history, culture, experience, imagination or thought.

Matters of “first importance” too often are neglected in the crush of life. What are some things we hang the title “first importance” upon? Job? Sure. But press back beyond that. Family? Yes. But there are other things of greater importance.

Let me suggest a couple of matters of “first importance”: breathing and eating. That’s pretty basic! Few things are more significant to the individual human experience than breathing and eating.

Matters of “first importance” too often get squeezed out by other, secondary things. But eventually life has a way of getting back to matters of “first importance.”

Have you ever choked and seriously faced the possibility of never breathing again? I have. In fact, my grandfather died that way! I assure you, when it happens to you it quickly becomes a matter of “first importance.” Whether or not your socks match that day simply doesn’t seem that significant. This matter of “first importance” is supreme again.

Ever seen a person who is physically unable to eat? Watched the effect upon her body? Observed the slow process of inching toward death? Quickly you realize again what is of “first importance.”

But that sense of clarity doesn’t always fill the 24 hours we are given each day. We are consumed with filling the car up with gas, getting to work on time, putting the kids to bed, paying bills, texting and catching up with Facebook.

That is the stuff of every day life. None of it does away with the things of “first importance.” Nothing can ultimately supplant them. But for a while those things do tend to mask their supremacy. Yet somehow, eventually everything comes back to the matters of “first importance.”

I was thinking the other day about when Vice President George H.W. Bush represented the United States at the funeral of former Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev. While there Bush was moved by a silent protest carried out by Brezhnev’s widow. She stood without moving at the coffin of her husband, remaining there until seconds before it was closed. Then, just as the soldiers touched the lid to seal in their leader’s body, Brezhnev’s wife did something that took tremendous courage. She made a gesture that must rank as a great act of quiet defiance, given its context and time. She reached down and she made the sign of the cross on her husband’s chest. There in the center of the Soviet Union’s secular, atheistic power, the wife of the man who had headed it all hoped that he had been wrong. She hoped that there was another life and that life was available through Jesus Christ who died on the cross and rose again.

Eventually we all face the matters of “first importance.” We can’t escape them. Brilliant and bold or quiet and slow—it doesn’t matter who you are, where you live or how you spend the moments that make up your life—you’re destined to end up back at the matters of “first importance.” We all must face the fact of Jesus’ death and resurrection. He is God who came in human flesh, lived a perfect life, died in your place, taking your punishment, bearing your guilt, enduring God’s holy anger toward you, so that you could be accepted by God in love. God raised Jesus to life forever more. Jesus is alive. He wants you. He is pursuing you.

And He loves and seeks and desires the people He has put within the circle of your relationships. Why not take these new few weeks to invite them to consider these matters of “first importance” by way of conversation or perhaps by joining you for a Good Friday or Resurrection Sunday service?

The Lonely Road of True Fellowship

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:10-12)

Lonely

William Barclay was correct: “A man had to be prepared to be lonely in order to be a Christian.” (The Gospel of Matthew, 1:107). A.W. Tozer also asserted that “Most of the world’s great souls have been lonely.”

Indeed, how could it be otherwise? Tozer declared in another place that “The Christian, the genuine Christian, realizes that he is indeed a lonely soul in the middle of a world which affords him no fellowship.”

This world is no friend of grace, nor of those who live by and offer it. There is a reason Jesus put “peacemakers” just before “persecuted” when enumerating His Beatitudes. Yet Jesus’ words do speak of a deeper fellowship than the world can offer, indeed, a fellowship that is truly found only in the world’s rejection. It is fundamentally a communing fellowship with the King Himself. To the rejected, despised, persecuted and reviled, Jesus promised a present experience (“is”) of “the kingdom of heaven.” Which at least means that such folk get to come under that special reign and relationship with the King Himself right now, in the present. Jesus’ words may mean more than simply that, but they do not mean less.

There is then (marvelously, but only secondarily) down this painful road also the fellowship that is found with “the prophets who were before you.”

Again, I affirm that Barclay was correct: “A man had to be prepared to be lonely in order to be a Christian.” But he was also correct when he then later wrote, “… no man ever suffers persecution alone; if a man is called upon to bear material loss, the failure of friends, slander, loneliness, even the death of love for his principles, he will not be left alone, for Christ will be nearer to him than at any other time. …. When a man has to suffer something for his faith, that is the way to the closest possible companionship with Christ.” (1:113, 114)

Is it possible that your present hardship is not an evidence of Jesus distancing Himself from you, but, quite the contrary, an evidence that He is drawing near to you? Is it possible that current distress is only God’s answer to your prayer to know Him more deeply?

John J. Murray, was speaking about God’s plan for building our character, but I wonder if his words do not also fit with this matter of bringing us into true fellowship with Himself: “We might be tempted to ask whether God can [give us true intimacy with Himself] without suffering. That is a hypothetical question. He has not chosen to do so.” (p.15, Behind a Frowning Providence)

 

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