Is Life for Merriment or Moments? What Difference Does it Make?

Why are we here? It is a question asked by every generation, and one of the most common answers is, we are put on this earth merely to “eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we may die.” So ask yourself, is merriment the main purpose of our existence? What are we supposed to get out of life, anyway? Consider this:

“I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the Lord”. (Psalm 118:17, NIV) David actually says a lot in this short comment from the Psalms about the celebration of life. To me, it echoes Christ’s statement in John 10:10, “I am come that they might have life, and have it abundantly” To start from the end and go backwards, David proclaims that he is alive to “declare the works of the Lord”. He looks to a Being greater than himself to find a purpose greater than himself.

Like David, your life has a purpose greater than what you see. If you play the game, “Six Degrees of Separation” where you know somebody who knows somebody else who knows the President or Kevin Bacon, you realize how interconnected and small the world is, and just how large your life is. It will touch corners of the globe where you have never been, and all kinds of people you have not seen. Because of that your life has a purpose much greater than simply living for yourself, and yet that is what many of us do.

The Mystery of History

As Rick Warren’s book “The Purpose Driven Life” says, we are here for God’s pleasure, not just our own. That’s why it is called His-story, and not My-story! Do you ever stop to realize that you are casual and short-sighted about life, even though you only get one chance at it? Life is not a dress rehearsal! The first part of this verse says, “I shall not die but live”, reminding us that our life will not end, and has a purpose far greater than its earthly span. I think we forget sometimes that life is far greater than an earthly sojourn—it is an eternal adventure.

merriment

C S Lewis said, “There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously – no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption.”

Are you serious about eternity? Do you enjoy merriment of the merriest kind?

How Long Do We Have?

As eternal beings, we have the opportunity to reflect the character and works of our creator. Do you think most people live as if their actions today mattered forever? Do you? Would your world be a better place if you interacted with others as though your conversation was an eternal transaction? As C. S. Lewis points out, it adds weight to things, even to our merriment. I’m not against parties (I love to party!), but I am not too impressed with purely frivolous parties. I mean, we all partied like it was 1999, but I’m not sure it added anything meaningful to our existence. But a party with people you actually love, celebrating together– why, that’s eternal.

The Psalmist not only speaks of the length of his life, he also proclaims its purpose: to “declare the works of the Lord.” What if you lived today with that in mind? Would anything change? Has God done any work in you, around you, or through you that deserves declaration? Since you are no mere mortal, live as if you matter. Live as if GOD matters. And have some merriment of the merriest kind.

Purpose

Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we may die!
But do you ever look around, or pause to wonder why?
Why are we put here on earth, and what’s the reason for our birth,
And what could be the purpose that imparts to us eternal worth?
It’s really no great mystery, the way to make some History
Is living for God’s pleasure. That’s the only thing to measure.

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

Life Eternal: Is it the Quantity that Matters, Or is it the QUALITY?

In John 14:6 Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the LIFE”: This life Jesus mentions is eternal, and that’s what we usually focus on, isn’t it? John 3:16 says that whosoever believes on him has everlasting life. It captures our interest because it is immortal and incorruptible. It will be everlasting. For many people, Christianity is an eternal insurance policy because it offers the possibility of living after death, and who doesn’t want to live forever?

But to me, that’s not what makes Christianity so compelling. In John 10:10 Jesus describes not a quantity but a QUALITY of life: “I am come that they might have life, and have it more abundantly.” This type of living begins NOW, not when we die. It is yours now, in the midst of a dying, broken world. It’s a lifetime free from worry, fear, death, prejudice, injustice, hopelessness, and selfishness. It is living within the possibility of joy, peace, faithfulness, forgiveness, and love. Eternal life does not erase the realities of a fallen world, but it creates new realities about how we live within it.

Puddleglum’s Logic

This eternal life does not transport us directly to heaven, but it brings heaven to us, and offers a spiritual means to navigate a carnal world. In “The Silver Chair” by C.S. Lewis, a pessimistic character named Puddleglum is held captive by a witch in her depressing under world, which she claims is the only real world. Even though Puddleglum’s group follows the great Lion Aslan, she denies his existence and tries to seduce them into giving up. She holds them prisoner in her underworld and surrounds them with false enchantments suggesting that Aslan and his world do not exist. Puddleglum and his friends are beginning to believe her fabrication when he rouses himself and even without full proof or certainty, makes the following declaration:

life

“Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things—trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Suppose we have. Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones. Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one. And that’s a funny thing, when you come to think of it. We’re just babies making up a game, if you’re right. But four babies playing a game can make a play-world which licks your real world hollow.”

life

A Choice Worth Making

In times of doubt, I’ve often looked at Christianity that way. What if it is all made up? What if there’s no heaven, no eternal existence? Well, for my money the values that Jesus taught still offer a better life than everything else. Even if Jesus didn’t live on earth and die (although we know he did) and even if he was not resurrected (although the evidences strongly suggests he WAS), then it would STILL be worth living a Christian life that offers love, service, peace, and comfort. In Puddleglum’s words, the qualities of the Christian life “lick the real world hollow”. The world calls you to anxiety, stress, and discouragement. It offers you temporary pain and temporary solutions. Jesus came so that your life could be abundant. From all that’s around you, choose abundance today. You might just find eternal life to go along with it. What do you have to lose?

The WAY, the Truth, and the LIFE

Jesus said, “I am the Life”, and it is not redundant
To think: was longer life his aim? Or life that’s more abundant?
Pie in the sky when you die by and by might matter most to some,
Eternity and what will be in all the years to come;
But rather than the quantity, the thing that means the most to me
Is life that’s lived abundantly and characterized by quality.
Jesus said, “I am the Life”, and then He came to give it.
For those of us who follow him, our job is just to live it.

To purchase my newest book Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

“In Him Was Life; And that Life was the Light of Men”

Of this baby born in Bethlehem, John said, “In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.” (John 1:4-5, NIV) Men have been misunderstanding Jesus since the time he was an infant. Apparently it is really easy to not understand Jesus… and one of the easiest ways to do that is to assume you already know, and to avoid really looking at him. Because you’ve heard a parable or two, you avoid looking at his entire life. People often look at small snapshots of Jesus without ever watching the whole movie.

See the Whole Picture

Or they assume that Jesus must be like people who say they know him, and the spectrum of behavior from folks who say they follow Jesus can be both incredibly varied and incredibly misleading. Jesus Followers (or those who merely claim to follow him) range from misguided religious nuts to sincere believers who make mistakes, still live in the flesh, and yes, still commit sins… It’s very easy, if you are skeptical, to look at the Church—the imperfect, stumbling, bumbling followers of Christ– and decide Jesus is not for you.

Or it’s easy to avoid looking at him closely because you think he is like “nominal” Christians, who may not actually be connected to him at all. So many people say, “Yeah, I know about Jesus, I know about his teachings”, when all they have done is given a cursory glance at what he said, or listened to a secondhand account (yeah, like this one) of what he said.

Factual and Actual

But I would say to you and to anyone who encounters the actual Jesus of the Bible, the rabbi who gave the Sermon on the Mount, the teacher who confounded the Pharisees, or the healer who healed, the same man whose birthday we celebrate every year at Christmas,  that John’s description of the Word is accurate and applicable. Use the “It’s a Wonderful Life” template, and let’s pretend Jesus had never been born… How different would the world be today? How much has his teaching and his sacrifice influenced the affairs of men?

life

It certainly influenced John. After 3 years of walking daily with Jesus, of watching him heal and listening to him teach, and after having meals and walking along the road and going to parties with him, he understood who Jesus was, and he captured it perfectly here in his introduction: “In him was life.” To Jairus’ daughter in Luke 8, Jesus was life. When Mary questioned him just after Lazarus died, he said, “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believes in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live.” To Lazarus in John 11, Jesus was life; and to the thief on the cross beside him in Luke 23, Jesus was life. To Stephen in Acts 7, even as he fell beneath the stones, Jesus was life. Saul of Tarsus, better known as the Apostle Paul, said, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” (Phil 1:21)

Ripples on the Pond

To me, in the 20th century as an insecure teenager, Jesus was life. As an adult who could be living in Pottersville instead of Bedford Falls, Jesus is life. The life of a Jewish Rabbi from over 2,000 years ago has reached out to me. His influence is undeniable, not because I’m so good but because without him my life would have been a train wreck. Here’s the Question you should be asking yourself: have you REALLY investigated Jesus of Nazareth? Do you know what he taught, have you truly looked at what he was about? John says that “in him was life, and that life was the light of men.”

I would suggest that there is indeed darkness in this world, and that the darkness not only doesn’t understand Jesus, it doesn’t want anyone else to understand him either. To those who understand Jesus and discover life in the Word, John promises illumination in the darkness. He promises the ability to see new things, to grow, to stretch outward and upward to life-giving rays of hope! I hope you investigate. I hope you understand. You know who said, “I am come that they might have life, and have it more abundantly”? Yep. But don’t take MY word for it. You can read it all yourself. And you should.

Would You Say This About Your BFF?

He walked with Jesus every day. John talked with him along the way;
He heard what Jesus had to say. He ate with him. John watched him pray.
He saw the things that no one sees, saw him confound the Pharisees!
He heard him preach and saw him heal, and decided Jesus was for real.
Then, finally, he wrote a book. It’s short. Go read it, take a look–
A book I heartily commend, John’s own account of his best friend:
He wrote this down, and it’s worth saying again:
“In Him was life. He was the Light of Men.”

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

The Right Kind of Revenge

“Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:17-21, NIV) As Paul illustrates what love looks like, he paints on the canvas of human relationships. There are a few subtle points in this passage that are important. A loving person, Paul says, does not repay evil for evil. As he encourages us all to live at peace with those around us, he agrees with what Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount: “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? ” (Matthew 5:44, 46 NIV). We are not to seek vengeance when we are wronged, and we can achieve justice by leaving things in God’s hands. Peace is impossible where people seek vengeance. Gandhi reiterated this when he said, “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind”. Paul encourages us to “leave room for God’s wrath”. This is a striking statement in the middle of a chapter about love, and one of the subtle points that are important in this passage. God’s wrath is a fierce and righteous thing. It is never capricious or frivolous, but always just and appropriate. We can depend on it. It addresses wrongs and ultimately (rightly) punishes those who harden their hearts. In C. S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia, Aslan the great lion is portrayed as loving and kind. But the characters who know him are filled with respect, and even somewhat afraid of him. He is civil and majestic, but fearsome and dangerous. When they describe him they always say, “Oh he’s not a TAME lion”. God’s wrath is something pure, far above our petty motives and selfish ways. Romans 12 says we should allow HIM to administer perfect justice instead of attempting to straighten things out ourselves. SO what does that look like for you? I drive a LOT in traffic (in my job, on vacation, traveling, whatever) and I am a fairly assertive driver on a road filled with timid, distracted, or just plain selfish people. Of course I myself am a GOOD driver. As a result I tend to be critical of other drivers, and even offer commentary on their lack of skill, concentration, and judgment. My entire family has noticed this through the years, and it is an area of my Christian walk where I have often been less than loving. As I have gotten older, I’ve made some progress behind the wheel, and have at least become a bit less outwardly demonstrative toward the distracted drivers around me (which means: I don’t purposely cut them off, make unnecessary hand signals, or run them off the road) but I haven’t really lived in peace while driving. I am trying to apply Romans 12 to my driving, so I can exemplify a different attitude in the car. (Some days good, some days still not so good…) I’m not sure that letting someone merge when it’s not their turn will “heap burning coals” upon them, but I could at least offer good in response to evil and trust God to provide justice. I’m making a commitment here to try to be a more charitable and peaceful driver. SO… what’s YOUR application of Romans 12? What keeps you from living at peace with others? What frustrates you about your enemies? Get out there and overcome evil with good. God says He will take care of the rest.

From Pompeii to Cortona

I couldn’t imagine a more perfect evening. We have arrived at Cortona after our whirlwind Roman Holiday, and the change of pace from Rome is astonishing. There are birds singing, and the pale azure sky is accented by wisps of cotton scattered lazily across its vast, comfortable canopy. The temperature is utterly appropriate, and makes it possible to feel completely at home by the pool on grounds that are lovely as any I have ever walked upon. Flowers are celebrating the Italian Spring, and the smell of rosemary and jasmine resound like a nasal aria wafting over us in the very gentle breeze. Francesco and Christian are in the kitchen cooking our evening meal, which we will eat on the terrace in the courtyard, listening to the soothing, cheerful melodies that baptize us with pure joy. Good wine and good company make this a wonderful day to be alive.
I’m sure there were days like this in Pompeii before Vesuvius erupted and buried the city under tons of ash. There were beautiful days of sunshine and blessing. People were laughing, talking, eating, playing, and then– sudden disaster. They were caught and trapped in their homes, buried while attempting to escape, frozen in hot ash and a moment in time. On our tour of Pompeii the other day, there were molded images of their distress on display, bodies outlined from having been smothered under the falling volcanic debris. The bodies are people of all ages, shapes and sizes, grandparents and children, frozen now for centuries in their ashen state. The terror of sudden demise is expressed in their body language, and relentless time has turned them into morbid statues that we tourists gawk at with sympathy and relief.
So, what does Pompeii have to do with Cortona? Or more accurately, why am I sitting in this perfect evening at Villa Laura, thinking about death and destruction in Pompeii? Well, first of all, I think I appreciate this day more, having seen the unfortunate results visited upon those poor, ashen forms… And I should not only appreciate this day, but every day as a blessing and a reason to celebrate. The contrast between Pompeii and Cortona is a reminder that life is short, and we need to embrace the day at hand. Don’t waste it. Finally, we should be grateful for the life we have, because it is a blessing to be savored and appreciated. I shouldn’t need a perfect Cortona evening to inspire such gratitude, but I do intend to carry this evening forward with me as a permanent reminder that today counts. I hope you will too.

Strangers and Sojourners

We are getting ready to go on vacation today– and it’s one of those “once in a lifetime” vacations, to Rome (the eternal city) and Tuscany, the heart of Italian wine country and culture. We have been thinking about and preparing for this vacation for over a year, and it seemed as if this day would never come! We have spent hours thinking about going, looking forward to our sojourn in Italy. But now we are killing time today at home, waiting for our evening flight and in the meantime trying to think of what we might need in Italy, or what we may have forgotten to pack. We are also readying our home for our absence– our dog Abby is at grandma’s, the timers are set on a couple of lights, the potted plants are all near sprinklers now, and the thermostats are programmed. As I walk through our home, I feel strangely disconnected, knowing that I am leaving for even a short while to reside somewhere else. Even though our home is warm and familiar, I am looking forward to the journey ahead– new sights, new places and food, new friends, and new adventures! We have been so looking forward to this trip that it has affected our reading, our conversation, and our priorities. It’s amazing how an upcoming experience like this makes an impact on what we do and how we feel– and today we feel the thrill of anticipation, knowing that we will soon look upon work by Michaelangelo, DaVinci, and see first hand the wonders of ancient Rome… that anticipation is so pervasive that part of me has already left this familiar home and is projecting my thoughts to the trip ahead. I’m ready to go!

Then it struck me… I will also be going on a trip soon, one to the “eternal city”, one that will involve new places and friends, where the work of Michaelangelo and DaVinci will seem insignificant, and where growth, friendship, and revelation will be continuous and inspiring. Anticipation will be endlessly fulfilled and surpassed, conjoined with even more delightful anticipation that will be again fulfilled and surpassed. And I wondered… is THAT trip affecting my reading, my thoughts, my conversation? Has it changed my priorities? Am I looking forward to my ultimate destination with enough connection and assurance that I am preparing to go, taking care of details, and not feeling TOO connected to this familiar home? Peter said that we are aliens and sojourners, people on a journey to a wondrous destination, and that as temporary residents we should take care not to get too wrapped up in temporal pursuits. We are never told to ignore our place on this earth, but we are reminded of its brevity– so we should smell the roses, and appreciate not only where we are going, but we should also enjoy where we are, even when the season is temporary. May our journey enliven and transform us, and may we recognize the wonder in our sojourn, even as we anticipate the joy in our arrival!

What’s the most important word in the English language?

I first considered that question in 1978.  It was posed by Oscar Thompson, a seminary professor who happened to be dying of cancer, but for some reason was full of life, love and enthusiasm in spite of his circumstances. The class began to blurt out the logical answers: “Love!” “Money.” “Time.” “God!” “Eternity.” “Words, Language”– Oscar would say, “Nope, that’s not it; no, not that–without the word I am thinking of, none of that has any relevance”, or “that word is meaningless without the word”, and we spent several minutes trying to guess, reaching further for answers but coming up empty. “I’ll tell you the most important word”, Oscar said. “The most important word in the English language is relationship. Without relationship, love is meaningless– how can you love all by yourself? Money has no value except in relationship to exchange for goods or services, time is merely the way we try to track the relationship between events or thoughts or bodies in space, God has no place in our universe unless He is relating to us, eternity is empty without it, and words and language are only the relationship of letters to sounds to words to thoughts that enable us to express ourselves. Why, without relationships, we could not even use language or communicate. Without the word relationship, that very communication would be useless indeed!” Yes, my friends, I challenge you to come up with a more important word!” I have thought about Oscar’s premise now for 35 years, and I haven’t come up with a better “more important” word. And yet, very few of us think about the central role relationship plays in life or, if asked, would even choose that as the “most important” word…  I have asked that question of groups dozens, even hundreds of times, heard hundreds of responses, and not only has no one ever mentioned “relationship” as the most important word, I don’t think any group has ever even come up with it before I had to tell them. But I tell you this: relationship is the fabric of our lives, our medium as artists, the air we swim in (yeah I know)– it is why we are here. Oscar Thompson opened my eyes to that fact, and while it is a small thing I guess, it’s still a good thing to think about. Think about the important relationships in your life– family, bff’s, loved ones, friends… And what about God? How do you relate to Him? God is the God of relationships. He introduced himself to Moses, not as the majestic super-cosmic God of the universe, but as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Why, God’s very nature–Father, Son, Holy Spirit–means that He exists in the context of relationship! Probably why, since we are made in His image, we live in that context as well. Think about your relationships. Any that need repairing? Any you need to honor more? Wow, I am so bad about some, and take so many for granted… Opportunities for application abound! Maybe today would be a good time to dust off a neglected friendship, to reconnect with someone who used to matter to you; maybe today would be a good day to send up a little prayer and renew your relationship with the One who made Oscar Thompson so enthusiastic and alive even when he knew his time on this earth was short. He knew, and I am still learning, that the most important word in the English language connected us to the most important One of all.