Rethink death–yours and others.
I can’t say much for his political or military loyalties, but the bravery, genius, and Christian faith of Confederate general Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson can’t be doubted. It is said that Jackson, in battle, demonstrated absolutely no fear, riding about on his horse, bullets whizzing past him. When asked about that apparent death-defying behavior, Jackson is reputed to have said that if God intended him to die, then he would die, and if God intended him to live, then he would live.
It is appointed, we learn from Hebrews 9:27, for people to die once and then face the judgment. Everyone, it seems, will die and face the judgment. The best efforts of people of the past to live forever have failed. Despite the advances in modern medicine, people still die. As much as we want to pretend it won’t happen, it will–followed by the judgment.
When we don’t have to worry about that judgment, when we know how it will turn out, then can ride around in our lives like Stonewall Jackson. He was not fool. He didn’t want a piece of shrapnel tearing through his body, but he trusted in both the protection of God and the ultimate destination that his soul would reach.
If Christians spend their lives acting as if they have something to fear from this world, then they need to spend some time reflecting on the implications of their theology. As for me, I’d like to see myself riding bravely into whatever battle God stirs up.
- Do you worry about your death? What is the nature of that worry?
- How does your worry change your behavior? Or what does lack of worry enable you to achieve?
- Pray this week that God will help you develop a “Stonewall” attitude toward death.
Rethink your delays.
The Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard had a theory:
If you say, “I will quit gambling forever, but I’ll do it after going to the casino tonight,” then you will never quit gambling. On the other hand, if you say, “I may not be able to quit gambling, but for today, I will not go to the casino,” then you may have hope.
I find a lot of truth in that, although I’ve never struggled with gambling. The same can be said for losing wait or exercising or reading the Bible or tithing or getting involved in missions or establishing a home budget or anything. How often do we think that one of these days we’ll either stop that negative behavior or start the good one but that we’ll make that change after indulging in the old behavior one more time. “Just one more episode of The Great British Baking Show and then I’m really going to start doing the laundry!”
When we believe in Jesus and all that He means to our lives, then there shouldn’t be any delay in our reaction to Him. Martha said that she believed that Jesus could still receive anything He asked of God, so why didn’t she go ahead and ask Him?
The reality, of course, is that our belief is almost always limited by our unbelief, our faith is tempered by our doubt. That doesn’t make us bad Christians; it makes us normal Christians.
Jesus, however, did not call us to be normal, and one path to super-normal Christianity is to rethink those delays that turn into denials.
- What behaviors of obedience do you find yourself putting off until tomorrow or “some day”?
- What lies at the root of your delays? Is it addiction to self or a lack of confidence in Christ?
- Pray today that God will make you more immediately obedient to His call and commission.
Rethink your doubts.
At the end of the movie Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, the two main characters, cornered and wounded by a far superior force, burst out of a place of temporary safety, determined to go out in a blaze of bravado. The picture freezes with the pair, each holding a pair of revolvers, desperately rushing against impossible odds. The sound continues as we hear a Bolivian commander shout “fuego!” and the sound of a volley of rifle shots. We don’t have to see the result to understand.
These against-all-odds moments of defiance are a set piece in action films. “I may go down,” the heroes seem to say. “But at least I’ll go down fighting!” That’s the sort of feeling I get from Thomas in the verse quoted here. “We have to die sometime,” he suggests. “So we might as well go die with Jesus now.”
This sort of brave resignation–“It’s a good day to die!”–makes for good movies, but there’s a faulty theology behind it. Thomas, you see, was right, but he didn’t know it.
Following Jesus, over the centuries, has been a splendidly dangerous occupation. Thousands of followers have been martyred in all corners of the world. We might forget this, since persecution in America is, at least currently, fairly trivial.
But we do have to die sometime. If we’re going to die, then we might as well die with Jesus. What better way to go out? I have no confidence that Jesus will deliver me from every scrape possible in the flesh, but my confidence in Him goes far beyond the flesh.
Let’s ditch our doubts and resolve, if need be, to go and die with Him.
- What form do your spiritual doubts take?
- When you examine your life, do the choices you make reveal any further doubts, further places where you don’t rely on God?
- Will you pray each day this week that God will build on the belief in you to help you with your unbelief?
Jesus came to show us the true purpose of our lives.
After church Sunday, Penny and I came home before engaging in the fabulous adventure of taking our grandkids thrift-store shopping. Both of us decided to change our clothes before the expedition.
For me, the process was simple. I had on my Kid City t-shirt topped the a warmup jacket that I left open. Slipping out of the jacket, I pulled on a short-sleeve button-up shirt.
Penny, on the other hand, shed all of the outer clothes she had on and went with an entirely new set. Even her shoes were changed out.
In reality, I changed my clothes; Penny exchanged hers. My change was fairly minor, but hers was very thorough. When it comes to clothing, I don’t know that one is in any way better than the other, but when it comes to our life in Christ, there is a difference.
Jesus did not offer us a changed life. He offered an exchanged life. A changed life would be one in which we agree to stop cussing or start attending church in response to the fulfillment of the promises Jesus made at that last Passover with his disciples. Essentially, those changes, even when they’re good things, are the equivalent of accessorizing our lives. They’re window dressing.
The huge and effective sacrifice of Jesus on our behalf calls not for some change. It calls for a wholesale substitution: our will replaced by His.
- What elements of your life changed when you came to know Christ?
- Are there parts of your “old wardrobe” that you need to swap out?
- Will you pray earnestly that Jesus will continue to exchange your desires and priorities for His?
Jesus came to deliver us from bondage to sin–not just in word but in reality.
With all due respect to my pastor, he erred this weekend when he spoke about Abraham Lincoln and the Emancipation Proclamation. When Lincoln, in 1863, issued that executive order, he didn’t really free anyone. Why do I say that? The Emancipation Proclamation supposedly freed the slaves in all of the Confederate-held territories. That would sort of be like the United States today giving the vote to everyone in North Korea. We could say it easily enough, but to actually achieve it, we’d have to face some struggle.
Had Lincoln made his proclamation and then the Union forces lost the Civil War, those supposedly free slaves would have been no better off. When you make a bold declaration–such as the Declaration of Independence in 1776–you have to be able to back up your words with power. That’s what Lincoln had to do after January 1, 1863.
At that last Passover dinner with his disciples, Jesus made some pretty bold claims. He promised more abundant life and freedom from bondage to sin and the law. And Jesus had to go through a struggle to prove that He had the right to fulfill those promises.
It took Abraham Lincoln and his armies about sixteen months to prove their authority to free the slaves–and even then, the process was imperfect, lingering to the present day. It took Jesus just a few hours to forever win the battle against sin’s mastery over human beings and a few days to prove, on Sunday morning, that his victory was absolute.
- What has the freedom from sin’s bondage meant in your life? If you don’t know, you need to consider this question thoroughly.
- How do you live out the freedom into which Christ has delivered you?
- Do you live a life worthy of a freed person? Can others see your liberty clearly?