Monday, April 04, 2005

A Truly Good Life or 'The Good Life'?

[The eighty-four year old grandmother of a member of our congregation passed away on Friday. This is a memorial message I've prepared for a prayer service happening during this evening's visitation. Myrtle was confined to a wheelchair and had endured a lot in her life.]

I suspect that if you asked the average person today what makes a life a good one, they would say, a life in which they had the full use of all their faculties with no disabilities.

In fact, just this past week, I spoke with a guy in his fifties who told me that he hoped if he ever were as much as confined to a wheelchair his family would find a way to take his life.

Maybe we’ve forgotten that there is a profound difference between “the good life,” on the one hand, and “a truly good life” on the other.

From all I’ve heard, Myrtle knew that difference and she lived that difference. Her life wasn’t always easy. But that didn’t keep her from living her life to the full. Nor did it rob her life of its significance.

You see, to the person with faith in Jesus Christ, suffering, difficulty, or disabilities don’t have the final word over their lives!

One of the most important people in the New Testament portion of the Bible was a man named Paul. From the moment he came to follow Jesus Christ and started traveling the Mediterranean basin to tell others about Christ, Paul’s life became a lot less than a picnic.

To some friends at a church in Corinth who seemed to think that life ought to always be easy and who admired egotistical preachers who told them the same thing, Paul reviewed some of what he’d been through because he followed the God we know through Jesus:
“I’ve worked much harder, been jailed more often, beaten up more times than I can count, and at death’s door time after time. I’ve been flogged five times,,,, beaten by the Roman rods three times, pummeled with rocks once. I’ve been shipwrecked three times, and immersed in the open sea for a night and a day...I’ve had to ford rivers, fend off robbers, struggle with friends, struggle with foes...I’ve known drudgery and hard labor, many a long and lonely night without sleep, many a missed meal, blasted by cold, naked to the weather.”
Now would you say that was a good life? Paul would have said so because, like Myrtle, I suspect, he tells us that life with Christ is infinitely better than life without Him. Why is that so?

First, because to know Jesus Christ is to know the only One Who can give us life with God. “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life,” Jesus said of Himself. “No one can come to the Father except through Me.” The privilege of that caused Paul, who had once occupied a place of privilege in his country, to say:
“...whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.”
Jesus is the way we know God.

A second reason that life with Christ is better than life without Him is that life on this planet--even one that lasts eighty-four years--is really a small portion of our total lives. God has created us for eternity. We will either spend that life with God or without Him. Myrtle would tell you that we must see any suffering we may endure during our short time on earth within the context of all the joy that will be ours in eternity with God. Another passage of the Bible says, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us.” Believers in Jesus Who keep on following Him no matter what their circumstances know that life on this earth is just a prelude to eternity; so they practice their faith through adversity here as a way of preparing to live that faith face to face with Christ in eternity.

A third reason that life with Christ is better than life without Him, even when we suffer, is that God can use adversity to teach us to depend on Christ, magnifying the significance of our lives. I don’t know about you, but my past successes and the conveniences I have in my life can sometimes delude me into thinking that I deserve easy living. But speaking for me, I know that I don’t. I’m an ordinary, garden variety sinning human being who certainly doesn’t deserve God’s blessings.

But to those who turn to Jesus Christ and rely on Him for the power to live lives that matter, God gives that power. In another part of the New Testament, Paul says, after talking about having experienced times in his life when he was flush with cash and others when he was destitute, he had learned, “I can do all things through Christ Who strengthens me.”

In another place, Paul talked about some undefined suffering which God had not taken away in spite of his prayers. He said that he sensed God had told him that the answer to his prayers was No to keep Paul from becoming too full of himself, to teach him to rely on God to live and work and achieve the goals he’d set for himself. God told him, Paul said, “My grace [My charity] is sufficient, for power is made perfect in weakness.” And so, Paul said, “I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.”

Aaron has told us about the many times he found his grandmother praying. That’s an awesome thing when you think about. Here was an elderly woman, seemingly powerless, devoid of many of the things that the world claims goes with a good life, who regularly called down the very power of heaven into the lives of the people she cared about. You can bet that God heard every prayer! Is there any person more powerful than Myrtle was when she prayed? Is there any person more powerful than the praying follower of Jesus Christ?

There’s a lot of loose talk these days about what gives a person “quality of life.” Of course, all of us would like to have lives of ease. We’d all prefer not to burden others. But what Myrtle’s life seems to tell us is that if we will dare to follow Jesus Christ, God will give us the power to live lives of purpose and joy here, no matter what our circumstances.

He also will give us eternity. As Jesus Himself puts it:
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him may not perish but may have eternal life.”
As all of you remember Myrtle and her family today, this is the most important lesson you should draw from her life: That life lived with the God we know through Jesus Christ is good...forever.

1 comment:

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