Life without Christ

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Phil 3:8 Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. (NLT)

My mother-in-law resides in a retirement community in downtown Seattle. Her lifestyle is limited by her modest means, but she lives among some very wealthy couples who, in non-Covid times, travel a lot. It appears that few of the residents are followers of Christ, as measured by attendance at on-site Bible studies or the demand for transportation to local churches on Sundays.

Is there a connection between wealth, travel and the status of one’s soul? Maybe. I’ll echo what a myriad of Christian authors down through the ages have maintained: this fallen world is NOT meant to satisfy the soul.

As a child, teenager or young adult we don’t know this. Life DOES seem exciting – going off to college, diving into a career, finding a mate, starting a family. But as we age and change patterns of work and life, all the possible life experiences, no matter how diverse, lose their lustre, their thrill. Ravi Zacharias has captured this fact by stating:

“The older you get, the more it takes to fill your heart with wonder, and only God is big enough to do that.”

I’m guessing that the wealthy octogenarians who cruise in luxury or fly to lush second homes can’t escape the sense that ‘all this doesn’t satisfy the way it used to!’ (are they even courageous enough to articulate that feeling so explicitly?)

At 63, were it not for the gift of being a Christian, I would be depressed thinking about decreasing pleasures as one ages. In fact, this week I’ve been pondering just what my life would be like if I did NOT know Jesus Christ. Why this topic? Something I read caused me to take a few minutes to write down what I would miss most were I not a follower and disciple of Christ.

If I didn’t know Christ, if I weren’t in union with Him by grace through faith, then I would…….:

  • Lack knowing the meaning and purpose of life. This is SO important to me. It stabilizes and undergirds me. Many people search and search for the meaning of life, intent on knowing why they are here. Understanding the big picture reassures me. I don’t have answers to a lot of my questions, but one thing I am confident in is: WHO God is and WHAT He has done and WHY He created the world and everything in it.
  • Be bereft of constant fellowship with Jesus and the Holy Spirit. As a little sister of Christ, I’m constantly chattering to Him as I go through my day. Out loud, I remind myself why I can rely on Him. I know the Lord is WITH me, always.
  • Have no access or right to all the promises that are in the Bible. These promises of supernatural power, provision, wisdom, protection, correction, comfort are mine because of Christ. They are my treasure.
  • Be deprived of hope for the healings and rescues that God CAN give, even though He doesn’t always give them. This kind of relaxed, confident hope allows me to leave the outcome in His hands.
  • Live with Mike in a marriage that was deprived of the freedom to love and be loved in spite of sin and selfishness. Priceless is a husband who is both brother in Christ and true friend.
  • Know that I would never again see loved ones. Now I am certain that I will SEE and be with fellow Christians, like my Mom, who have gone on before.
  • Lack the power-filled intercessory prayers of many brothers and sisters in Christ. Furthermore, I would not have the blessing of my own growing faith as I pray for others and watch God come through for them.
  • Be rocked by my suffering and that of family, friends and world. I don’t know all the reasons for an individual’s suffering. But what I do know is that God is good, that He uses the suffering He ordains/permits to make us, His adopted children, more like Jesus.
  • Have NO confidence that all the injustices in the world will be paid for, justly and perfectly.
  • Have no amazing, joy-filled future awaiting me, but only judgment and a forever future set in ‘outer darkness’, one filled with anguish and despair.
  • Not be able to let go with peace some dreams that probably won’t be fulfilled in this life, on Earth 1.0.
  • Have NO friends with whom I can be really real. Now I have many genuine friends, most whom I have yet to meet! The bond of Christ creates instant connection.
  • Not enjoy reading my Bible and Christian authors every day. I am richly fed.
  • Be deprived of recognizing when I commit sin, so I can repent, ask for forgiveness and be cleansed!

This gift of Christ’s forgiveness and union with Him satisfies me like nothing else. Knowing Him makes all the difference in my life. Without a doubt, I am much happier than when I was younger.

And with Paul, I can say that any created thing, as beautiful as it is, cannot compete with the gift of knowing God personally and intimately.

Finally, I appreciate the fact that I will NEVER run out of things to marvel over. I like it that God is BIG enough to satisfy me forever.

Looking forward to when Jesus comes back and I get a new body to go with forever life on Earth 2.0!

Why wonder?

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We need to be awed and astounded in order to be happy. Or put another way, those who have retained the ability to be ‘wowed’ and astonished are the happiest.

Who comes to mind when you think about what kind of person is easily dazzled?  Little children!

Wonder

I once heard Ravi Zacharias, a defender of the truth of Christianity, talk about his three children and what it took to wind-up each with that night-time story fear.  His littlest one needed only to hear Daddy read with a dramatic voice:

  • “The door creaked open slowly.”

The 5-year old, past being stirred by that preamble, was sent into a paroxysm of shivers with:

  • “The door creaked slowly open as an ominous but invisible voice growled, “Are there any children here?”

And the more ‘savvy’ seven year old needed more drama and suspense.  It wasn’t until Dad described the perilous predicament of the three children, cowering under the bed, when:

  • “All of a sudden, a slimy but firm green hand snatched a bare ankle and dragged forth the oldest child from under the bed.”

Ravi continued in his account of bedtime stories from 30 years ago to make the point that adults who have lost the ability to be awed grow weary of life.  Why is that?  We are wired, by God, to wonder, to feel awe, to find ourselves comforted by something immensely more grand and powerful than us.  It’s that combination of being scared yet knowing that one is safe.  Like being caught on a mountain ledge in the midst of a raging storm and finding a shallow cave in which to ride out the tempest.  One feels secure AND at the same time swept up in the grandeur of so much power.

Maybe that is why the Bible teaches over and over again that ‘The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom’ Proverbs 9:10.

Are you feeling blasé, bored with life, lost in the ho-hum seeming monotony of daily life? I think this hits most first-world people, many starting around the age of 40. Bored people are not happy people. I know.  From experience!

So what do we have to do to regain the habit of holy awe?  First – admit our boredom to God as sin!  A people blasé about the Creator, Sustainer and Redeemer doesn’t KNOW God. Second – pray and ask His help, for we are helpless to do anything good for ourselves. Third – find a promise from God, claim it and pray it.  How about Psalm 119:18 – Open my eyes so that I may contemplate wonderful things from Your instruction.

 

Night sky awe

Confessions and consolations of a jaded Christmas spirit

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Ravi Zacharias describes bedtime stories he would recount when his three children were little.

Bedtime story

All it took was one line, to fire up his youngest –

“There once was a monster!”   That proclamation was enough to send 3-year-old Nathan into the sweetest of shivers of fear and excitement.

Naomi, a bit older, needed more than the existence of a monster to get her going. But Daddy whispering, “The monster snuck up the stairs” produced the same goose bumps.

Finally, oldest child Sarah, a bit blasé about monster stories in general, kept her cool until Daddy inserted the extra detail “This particular monster loved snacking on little girls with braids!”

As we age, it takes more to satisfy us. Most of us can anecdotally attest to this truth when we think about how excited we were as children about upcoming events. The thought of trick-or-treating in costume or an annual trip to the beach brought great anticipation. But by the time we were 14, these annual events might have begun to lose the allure they once held.

Here we are, so quickly it seems, Christmas week! Where is that same anticipation we once had as five-year-olds? The long wait was both a source of impatience AND way to infuse the whole festive time with a holy wonder. Although I can ‘taste’ the long-ago anticipation in my mind, I can honestly say that it’s been decades since I felt those same thrills about anything.

But there have been touch-points of renewed excitement, first as newlyweds, then again as parents with little ones. The novelty of celebrating such a meaning-laden holiday, or travel to Europe under vastly different circumstances did reappear, because they were now shared experiences.

Now as I approach 60, I have (by God’s grace) celebrated Christ’s birth many times. A fellow Christian and I were talking about the diminishment of pleasures the other day. It had been a trying day for him, with a bitter work-related disappointment, and I’m sure that didn’t help his mood. For better or worse, moods are often the context or window through which we evaluate life. He commented how even the approach of Christmas didn’t fill him with much joy or anticipation. I responded that maybe this was God’s way of detaching us from the things of this world. That maybe God was maturing us to appreciate a richer type of true pleasure.

Bored (gargoyle)

People in their 40s and older often succumb to mid-life blues, “Is this all there is?” They draw despondent conclusions from the fact that what used to thrill them no longer does.

But those conclusions are wrong, for the Christian!

And that thought was bolstered by what I read before bed. The author, Thomas Brewer who manages Tabletalk Magazine, reminded believers of ‘the fullness of joy’ that awaits us:

God paints the future reality of ‘fullness of joy’ we will experience in the everlasting kingdom of God.

Psalm 16:11 In Your presence is fullness of joy; At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

The Hebrew word for fullness is ‘soba’ and it means satiety. (Think of our word ‘satis-fied’.) On page 61 of the November 2014 magazine Brewer recalls Paul’s teaching that this life’s present sufferings aren’t worth comparing to what God is going to reveal to us, glories that we cannot even begin to picture. Brewer goes on to write,

  • “In other words, this life is just the beginning. There are joys we haven’t yet experienced – a new life awaits that can’t even be compared to this one.”

How encouraging! So there’s nothing wrong with us! When what used to thrill us no longer does, or at least not to the same degree, we draw a different conclusion. This lessening of earthly pleasures is part of the normal course of God’s providential plan for humans. And in fact, maybe there is something faulty with our theology if we cling TOO tightly to this world. Yes, our family is precious to us and nature still has the power to render us speechless with awe.

As Brewer concludes his essay, he reminds Christians that, “…this life is merely the childhood of our eternal happiness. We wait to enter the gates of that eternal city, where we will enter into the joy of our Master (Matt 25:21)”

So embrace Christmas. But don’t measure today against previous celebrations or what you think you SHOULD feel. Thank God for all his good pleasures and above all for the promise of everlasting life in his presence. Rest in the comforting fact that ‘The best is yet to be!’

 

 

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