Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘the gospel of Jesus Christ’

It is hard to claim that twenty-first-century America is a happy place. Anger and bitterness abound, and joy and peace are in short supply. A sense of despair hangs over us. As a people, we seem to have no sense of purpose.

We try to alleviate this despair with busyness or toys, so we distract ourselves with work and social media and television and smart phones. Such things, though, do not solve our basic issues, so we seek therapy, believing that a psychiatrist and perhaps the right drugs will get our minds balanced to deal with the problems of contemporary living.

In many churches the pastor is the spiritual therapist, and his sermons are therapeutic, giving attention to hearers’ felt needs. People flock to such churches because life is all about them and their issues, and they know that this particular pastor is going to deal with human concerns and give them some spiritual therapy to apply to their psychological sore.

Unfortunately, we miss the root issues while trying to fix the surface ones. The primary reason for our despair is sin, and the solution is not a pseudo-psychiatrist masquerading as a preacher.

Fallen man and woman live in selfish sinfulness. They live outside of God and in rebellion to his will. This man or woman may attend church periodically, perhaps even every Sunday morning. Perhaps he or she recognizes that something is out of order in life and considers church as the place to get it right.

While the therapeutic salve or always being on the go may distract momentarily distract us, in the dark of night and the quiet of one’s soul the despair continues. It may be dulled, but it is not removed or replaced. Unfortunately, many stumble through life, day by day, pushing their despair aside with the distraction of entertainment or social media, work or recreation, or alcohol or pharmaceuticals. Anthony Burgess [1600-1663] observed this about the nature of man centuries ago: “Oh, it is to be feared that there are many that give themselves lusts, and carnal pleasures, that so they may put a foggy mist between their conscience and themselves. Others dig into the world, labouring to become senseless, that so there may be an eclipse of this light by the interposition of the earth. Others run to damnable heresies, denying Scriptures, God, heaven, hell. . . . What are these but refuges of guilty consciences? We must distinguish between our carnal concupiscence [desire], and conscience; between deluded imaginations, and conscience; between an erroneous and scrupulous conscience, and a well grounded and truly informed conscience, and when we have done so, we must follow conscience as far as that follows the Word.”

The despair remains because the condition of the fallen person remains. Scripture instructs that, as fallen humans, we are “dead in trespasses and sins,” that we “follow the course of this world, . . . the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience,” that we live “in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and [are] by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (Ephesians 2:1-3).

We are helped only when we recognize that despair is a God-given gift to alert us to the fact that we are not what we were intended to be. God created us to live in fellowship with him, but like the fish longing to live on land, we rebelled and find ourselves out of the environment unto which we were created.

God has graciously gifted us with despair so that we will grow weary of living in an alien environment. Our conscience convicts us of our waywardness, and the Word of God and the Spirit of God point us to Christ. Only in Christ will our lives find the peace and sense of purpose unto which we were created: “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” [Romans 14:17 (ESV]). Despair arises from living in the wrong environment, but despair is God’s gift to drive us to Christ, the One who is “the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6).

Read Full Post »

The older we become, the more aware we are of the specter of death. When we are young, relatively few people whom we personally know die. As we grow older, that number increases.

Many of us grow more aware of death because we realize we have fewer days before us than we have behind us. Youth sees death as little more than a possibility. Young people realize death can and does occur, and sometimes they even have a friend who dies. Still, the young person sees that he or she probably has several decades ahead, and that is probably true.

The older we become, the less theoretical and the more real death becomes. The apparent invincibility of youth becomes gradually replaced with an awareness that our days are numbered.

How do we to deal with the prospect of our inevitable demise? Some have plastic surgery, as if looking younger externally will do anything for one’s aging organs and bones. Others live in denial, refusing to think about death. Still others look to medicine or exercise or nutrition in order to postpone what is coming. And still death comes.

How should a Christian face the prospect of death? It seems that we need to change the focus. Instead of focusing upon death, we need to focus on life. The One whom we follow is life. The apostle John proclaimed, “In him was life, and the life was the light of men” (John 1:4). We were spiritually dead in our trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1), “but God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved” (2:4–5). We were dead. Christ has given us life.

This exchange recorded in John 14:1–6 between Jesus and his anxious disciples should be encouraging to us when we consider death. Jesus said, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.” Thomas asked Jesus a question that may have been on all the disciples’ minds, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Thomas wanted to know how this was going to be worked out, but Jesus told him to look deeper: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

How we pass from this world to the next is not to be our concern. Our gaze is steadily to be on Christ. The One who is life, the One who conquered sin and death, the One who saved us from our death and gave us life will have us ushered into his presence.

Such a change in perspective is not living in denial of death and it is not a psychological crutch to get us through tough times. Death is real. Unless Christ returns during our lifetime, we will experience death. We shall not escape its reality. The heart will produce its final beat; the lungs will draw their final breath. We may die in great physical agony, or we may go quietly in the night. Regardless, we shall go.

And yet we focus not upon our coming death as though that were a time of doom. We focus upon Christ. He is our life. He has saved us, is saving us, and will save us from our sins and from the tyranny of death (see 1 Corinthians 15:51-57).

So we focus upon life, and that focus means that we dwell not on death but upon living. We are “to glorify God and enjoy him forever” now. We are to live life to the fullest now, intentionally seeking to honor God with our desires and plans and choices. A thought penned centuries ago by London preacher Josias Shute [1588-1643]: “A musician is commended not that he played so long, but that he played so well. And thus it is not the days of our life, but the goodness of our life. . . . that is acceptable unto God Almighty.” The apostle Paul put it another way, “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:58).

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: