an important part of the story: we’re mortal

A PSALM OF THE SONS OF KORAH

Listen, everyone, listen—
earth-dwellers, don’t miss this.
All you haves
and have-nots,
All together now: listen.

I set plainspoken wisdom before you,
my heart-seasoned understandings of life.
I fine-tuned my ear to the sayings of the wise,
I solve life’s riddle with the help of a harp.

So why should I fear in bad times,
hemmed in by enemy malice,
Shoved around by bullies,
demeaned by the arrogant rich?

Really! There’s no such thing as self-rescue,
pulling yourself up by your bootstraps.
The cost of rescue is beyond our means,
and even then it doesn’t guarantee
Life forever, or insurance
against the Black Hole.

Anyone can see that the brightest and best die,
wiped out right along with fools and idiots.
They leave all their prowess behind,
move into their new home, The Coffin,
The cemetery their permanent address.
And to think they named counties after themselves!

We aren’t immortal. We don’t last long.
Like our dogs, we age and weaken. And die.

This is what happens to those who live for the moment,
who only look out for themselves:
Death herds them like sheep straight to darkness;
they disappear down the gullet of the grave;
They waste away to nothing—
nothing left but a marker in a cemetery.
But me? God snatches me from the clutch of death,
he reaches down and grabs me.

So don’t be impressed with those who get rich
and pile up fame and fortune.
They can’t take it with them;
fame and fortune all get left behind.
Just when they think they’ve arrived
and folks praise them because they’ve made good,
They enter the family burial plot
where they’ll never see sunshine again.

We aren’t immortal. We don’t last long.
Like our dogs, we age and weaken. And die.

Psalm 49; MSG

We need to let this sink in, and sink in further. We’re mortal. We’re going to die. Period. This isn’t the entire story from the Bible, but it’s an important part of it.

There are small hints in the Old/First Testament that there may be something beyond death. Some would say large hints, but I think if you read the Hebrew and consider carefully interpretation from that, you would lean more on the barely present side. Not until the intertestamental period (between the Old/First and New/Final Testament) are books written which bring out the hope of the resurrection. And of course that’s the faith of the New Testament in the good news of Jesus.

But we need to let the realization that we’re mortal soak in. I think we can say that God created us to live forever, but best to say, with that potential. We are made from the earth, clay, and back to the earth we will go. We have hope beyond that in Jesus, for sure. But we need to let this soak in well first. And no better way than to read and ponder Psalm 49, The Message a nice, interesting rendering of it.

we are mortal

One of my favorite songs from a classical rock band is Kansas’s Dust in the Wind. We are more than dust in the wind, but the song still makes a salient point. We are mortal; we will die unless the Lord returns before that. The writer of Ecclesiastes, or Qoheleth, “the Teacher” puts it this way:

Remember him—before the silver cord is severed,     and the golden bowl is broken; before the pitcher is shattered at the spring,     and the wheel broken at the well, and the dust returns to the ground it came from,     and the spirit returns to God who gave it.

“Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher.     “Everything is meaningless!”

Ecclesiastes 12:6-8

He is referring to “your Creator,” God. We are mortal, dust. Our time here in this life is brief, even if we live toward a normal lifespan, the decades go fast, time flies and all the more it seems as we get older. God. God. God. That’s who we need to be centered on, above anything else. The God made known to us in Jesus. 

looking toward the end

Sometimes there seems to be no answers, or the prospects don’t look good. Maybe it’s telltale signs, or even possible indications that our time may be drawing near. It is amazing how resilient we humans can be, but we’re also so fragile in this life.

We will naturally do what we can to prolong our lives and make them better, but we can’t escape reality, as the years go by, and seem to hasten on. We likely will take a good look at our lives with some, and even maybe much lament, but also with understanding, and even thanksgiving to God for God’s goodness in his grace and mercy in the midst of it.

It is important that we think in terms of how we end well, or live life now, whatever age we are, because our mortal existence is uncertain and death is certain, unless of course the Lord returns prior to that. I think most importantly we should want to make first priority, love within our family. Where relationships may have been hurt, we need to seek healing. And we simply need to be present with others. Not on our computers or phones, but really present with them. And above all, we need to pray.

Of course we also need to be committed to a church, part of a fellowship or communion of believers in Christ. Meeting regularly for teaching and worship, and participating with each other in small groups, or however our church practices that, sometimes in the meetings themselves. And we need to be drawing near to God ourselves, daily, and all throughout the day.

All of this we want to do in prayer, and with God’s help. In the love of God, loving others. In the word, and in prayer. Trying to leave a blessing behind for those who follow us, a spiritual blessing, though where we can be a help materially can be good as well. All of this as always, in and through Jesus.

when there is no answer or rest

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
    Why are you so far from saving me,
    so far from my cries of anguish?
My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,
    by night, but I find no rest.

Psalm 22

We are in Lent, now close to Holy Week, a time of reflection on our Lord’s sufferings, and also a time for repentance along with the acknowledgement of our mortality. It is a season during which we in a sense should embrace suffering both in rememberance of what our Lord suffered, as well as seeking in some way to participate in that suffering. And besides, we suffer ourselves because of our own sins, and because of the sins of those around us, which again reminds us of how our Lord took the brunt of our sin upon himself in the death that he died.

But what about times, as the psalmist said, quoted above, when God does not seem to be answering our prayer, and when we can find no rest? Those surely are the times to persevere in faith and not quit, even as the psalmist did not (see the entire psalm from the link above). Nor Jesus himself, hanging on that cross. We continue to pray and look to God, and carry on with our assigned tasks, even when the world seems crashing in on us. And in that process, we do find God’s answer, and at least the final rest, in and through Jesus.

so tired

I have been thinking of and praying for a neighbor of my childhood who is nearing the end of his earthly journey, surrounded by loving family and friends, soon to meet the Savior face to face to hear the words, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant…” I didn’t know these neighbors all that well, they were a bit of a way from us, through one neighbor across a dangerous enough (in my mind) country highway. I knew this man as a burly strong guy with a wonderful smile, I can still see that smile. His daughter says he was a prayer warrior.

It dawns on me that life simply won’t continue on as it has without some change. I’m amazed at the strength and stamina I have. My wife has helped me eat healthy (mostly vegan, she’s basically 100% vegan). It is one thing to live longer, as Americans and much of the first world countries do, but it’s quite another thing to live at least most all of that time in good health. We would all like to live well right up to our final day, be taken home so to speak in our sleep.

I suppose I’ve prayed many prayers in my lifetime which are similar, but perhaps far and away the one prayer I’ve said the most to God, even often at the start of a new day, and even more so, at the end especially of a work day is something like, “Lord, I’m so tired.” God gives us strength to carry on. I have to get outside in a short time to shovel several inches of heavy (if cleaning my car yesterday is indicative) snow, a significant amount, perhaps up to an hour’s worth, more or less. And then off to work, where yesterday just to keep on top of a job that was unsteady I had to be aggressive and quick as a cat (ha) to keep the job going okay and do what had to be done. Today to finish that job.

In the midst of all of this, though we are dust, and to dust we will return, the Lord gives us strength to carry on. As I get older, I wonder more and more where that strength will come from. And needed wisdom too, for that matter. I know where that comes from, but I speak existentially, from the perspective of simply being tired: physically tired, and tired in other ways as well.

My former neighbor, Mr. Hilty has amazingly reached the end of the wonderful strength he had, a truly loving man as I’m reading and remembering. Like him, unless the Lord returns before that, I will return to dust (What about cremation? That’s another subject on the fringes of my mind off and on, lately.) I hope with him to hear the words from our Savior, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” I am so utterly undeserving, but by his grace he forgives and gives us a new heart, even in beginning to be like his own heart. And so I have a bit of hope, that direction.

Until then, I carry on with the strength God gives. Acknowledging my own weakness and sin, and knowing that when the strength God gives me is withdrawn, I will be taken up into his arms so to speak, wonderful when some sense of that is experienced in this life. And with Mr. Hilty, we will be in fellowship together before the Lord forever, never again to pray anything like the prayer, “Lord, I’m so tired.”

 

Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent

Today on the church calendar is Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of Lent. Lent is the period from this day to Holy Saturday, the day before Easter. It is a time of preparation for remembering Jesus’ suffering and death and celebrating his resurrection. Penitence, meaning a sorrow over our sin, and repentance, which includes confession along with renunciation and forsaking of sin, is to mark this time. This is a time to especially focus on our sins, asking God to search us so that our darkness might be exposed by God’s light, so that we might confess our sins and receive both cleansing and forgiveness. And through that live differently. In doing so, we’re seeking to honor our Lord by responding in whole hearted faith to what he has done for us in his death on the cross. So that we might be enabled to rejoice completely in his resurrection, as we share in his resurrection life even now.

Ash Wednesday is also a day of remembering our mortality. We are dust, and to dust we will return (Genesis 3:19).

The priest or pastor takes ashes which are watered down (perhaps with holy water or olive oil), and marks the sign of the cross on the participants. The ashes are previously blessed by the priest or deacon for the purpose which they serve to draw us to confession of sin and the salvation of the cross of Christ. As well as reminding us of our mortality.

Lent and the frailty of life

for dust you are
    and to dust you will return.

None of us are far removed from death. Although we tend not to think that way at least not until we get older when old age may be just around the corner, maybe a few years or a decade or so away. Yet life can end for the youngest through an accident or illness. We are mortal, having lost the way to the tree of life which is found now in Jesus.

The disciples when following Jesus to Jerusalem where he had told them he was to suffer many things and be killed three days after which he would be raised to life couldn’t begin to understand what Jesus was about to do, and what God would accomplish through that.

God in the Son took upon himself our humanity unadulterated, indeed dust. Jesus was not born immortal as a human, although also God, hence mystery. There is no doubt that he suffered as we do, even to the full experience of death. As has been said by church fathers of old, Christ took on himself our humanity so that we might share in his divinity. He suffered death that we might enter into life. He took on himself our sins that we might be forgiven and reconciled.

That is a part of Lenten season, to accept our mortality as is underscored with the ashes crossed on our foreheads on Ash Wednesday as we look forward to the resurrection in the eternal life that is ours in Jesus. To realize that even the youngest among us is not immune. To prepare us for the inevitable day unless the Lord returns before that. If though not wanting death we are ready to die in any given day, maybe we are living a life worth living. Helping and comforting others in the good news, the gospel. In and through Jesus.

the fragility of life

Yesterday in some respects was a challenging day which in answer to prayer turned out well. But then late in the day, when I was resting on the couch and coming up out of a doze, I again had trouble catching my breath. I could only inhale, not exhale, and I had to try to keep breathing through my nose until the saliva had passed through my windpipe (my layman way of putting this). No fun. I’ve went through this a number of times, and it is scary. Then I thought after perhaps close to a year with no incidents that I was over it, but have had a few (though less than what I used to have) since.

Life is fragile, for sure. We can seem to have a clean bill of health, and hopefully live well within a normal life span, though that too is uncertain. But we are a car accident away, or some physical malfunction from not being able to carry on, perhaps even the end for us here. We can’t count on another day. And although we rightfully write off all the possible end time dates set, the Lord could return any time (according to my understanding). We do well to live in the light of this.

And so, while I would like to come up with some answers which might help me live longer and well here, I want above all to live well in God’s eyes, in relationship to God and to others in and through Jesus by the Spirit. I want to walk the line in terms of God’s will in Jesus. And I want to do so both in community in Jesus and in mission for the world. I want the gospel, or good news of God’s grace and kingdom come in Jesus to be front and center. I want to share that good news as a witness through both my life and words. I want to be a blessing to my lovely, sweet wife, to our daughter and granddaughter, to our neighbors, to my brothers and sisters in Christ at church and elsewhere, to my co-workers in Christ at RBC Ministries, as well as to the poor and those in need.

I am thankful for the many days in which we’re relaxed and with no anticipation of the end, but enjoying good health. But we ever must be aware that even then nothing in terms of this life is certain. The one certainty we can hold on to through it all is that God is faithful in and through Jesus, that we can count on him to see us through. As we look to him to use even these frank reminders of the fragility of life to draw us closer to him.

bigger than us

Part of our struggle in this life, though hopefully not the only part, is with our mortality. As one decade after another passes us, once in awhile we note the signs of aging in the mirror (yes, even for us guys!).  And time does seem to be passing us by, we really are beginning to get just how fleeting life is, hopefully a growing, maturing perspective. And even attempted explanations by scientists for this growing sense of the days, weeks, months and years seeming to come and go more and more swiftly as we get older.

What we need to understand is that we are not the center. That life is not about us. Our story matters, but it is woven into the one Story of God in Jesus. We do each have our part, but life is bigger than us.

Life here and now, the life for which we have life, for which we are created is found in Jesus. Jesus is the way for us, we in him and he in us. And “in Jesus” is not just an individual experience. It includes all others in Jesus. So “in Jesus” involves both communion with God and the communion of the saints, God’s people. And in a true sense, that is one communion in Jesus. Of course God remains God so that even though through Jesus we are taken into the perichoretic dance, that is the active love and fellowship of the Trinity, yet God remains God in his own counsel, as well as Person (of course Three Persons in this God).

To take the way of Jesus, to be in Jesus means to live fully in the existence God gives to us as a gift. To revel in that, to celebrate that. To walk in it, through good times and bad. We’re to begin to experience here and now in Jesus the more abundant life, life to the full, life overflowing. And while we should not fear death, we still see death as the last enemy God will destroy through Jesus and his death.

But a big part of that life, at the heart of it is the passionate realization that we each have our part for a time, but that the part is about the whole, the whole being God’s kingdom and grace in Jesus. A good news for the world we’re to live in, and live out now.

So that life is to become more and more not us, but Christ living in us. Yes, each of us a unique expression of this from God, but all in this together. God being the writer and director,  indeed the enabler of the script he is writing. While we learn to live and move as we’re being moved in and through Jesus.