Our Lives Are But a Mist

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“Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit’— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.” James 4:13-14

In 1861, Horatius Bonar penned a hymn entitled, “Nothing that My Hands Can Do.” (It was recently redone by Sovereign Grace Music.)  In verse 3, there is a little line which says, “My life is but a fleeting sigh / A tear within the sea.” Dr. Bonar understood, even over 150 years ago, something that many Western people fail to see.

We are all guilty.  Every one of us.  All of us are wrapped up in the here-and-now.  And we read over passages like James 4:13-14, giving them little thought.  But, the truth is, we have invested so much time into this life that we think very little of the next.  We Americans – especially us Americans – whether or not we claim to be followers of Christ, have come to believe one of two very great lies.

The first is that we have been deceived into thinking that caring for our families, our bodies, and our churches is unnecessary. Society constantly assaults us with the lie that our greatest end is to take all we can, doing what is best for ME, and doing so without consideration for anyone else.  It is true, you won’t hear an advertisement telling us not to do good, but we certainly do hear – on a daily basis – things like “live for the moment” and “follow your heart.”  The only problem with these voices is that “living for the moment” totally ignores the truth that eternity is forever, and that we “are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.”  Living for the moment, if fulfilling our own appetites, disregards an unending eternity. Following our heart doesn’t work either, because “the heart is deceitful above all things” (Jeremiah 17:9), and will always lead us away from the things of God.  So, those who have believed this lie take little care to train their children in the things of God.  They eat and work to satisfy their fleshly cravings.  The poor and needy are cared for, only when it is convenient.  Those who believe this lie are living for the moment. And this moment is about one person: me.

The second lie is much like the first, but manifests itself differently.  The second lie tells us to really care for our bodies, protect our possessions, and give our children the best.  This lie tells us that our greatest end is to invest in the here-and-now by doing whatever it takes to stay healthy and stay happy.  So, those who believe this lie work to preserve their bodies.  They eat healthy and exercise constantly, then love what they see.  They, too, are living for the moment.  They ensure that their kids have the best of everything, and that their homes and valuables are insured to cover loss.  But you see, those who believe this second lie are also “living for the moment.” They say, “let us do this to improve our lives,” all the while forgetting that their life is but a mist – our days are numbered, and one day, this will all end.

Now then, where does this bring us? Well, we should now ask ourselves, “Have I come to believe either of these lies?” And if we are honest with ourselves, we will likely admit to the affirmative.  So, what do we do? Let me help us get some better perspective.

Friends, eternity is forever. This life we live is just a moment in the grand scheme of time. And everything we do in this life is shaping what our eternity will look like.  Paul says it like this:

“For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done.  If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward.  If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire” (1 Corinthians 3:11-15).

Without fully expositing this text, here’s what I believe the apostle is saying.  He is saying that the way we live our lives now is preparing a life for us in eternity.  We must first begin with the foundation, who is Jesus Christ.  If we do not start there, we will never see the Kingdom of Heaven.  Jesus Himself said that no one can come to the Father except through Him (John 14:6). We must all come to the place where we see that our sin is repulsive before a holy and righteous God, and then see that Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, came to the earth to satisfy God’s anger toward our sin by perishing on a cross.  Jesus said that whoever believes in Him will gain eternal life (John 3:16; 17:3). Without the forgiveness of sins, we will perish in eternal damnation apart from God.  If however, we have trusted in Jesus to forgive us our sins, He will cleanse us and give us life anew (1 John 1:9; John 10:10).  This is fundamentally what it means to be a Christian.

And yet, we cannot simply claim a faith in Christ if we will not follow Him.  Ephesians 2 talks about how those of us who are saved were granted salvation from sin’s punishment through the grace of God (verse 8), but it goes on to say that we were created in Christ for “good works…that we should walk in them” (verse 10)!  This means that when God chose to save us, His intentions in saving us were that we might live lives that are pleasing to Him.  He intended that we work to help others receive the gift of salvation (by giving them the good news of the Gospel), and that we live in such a way that eternity is always before our eyes.

If, however, we have fallen into believing either of these two lies I’ve mentioned, we are building up our lives with “wood, hay, and straw,” things that will be burned up before God on the Day of Judgment. We must stop living in such a way that if we lost what we have built, we would have no reason for living.  We must stop living for the here-and-now, preparing our bodies and souls for this life only – this is a fool’s errand!  And yet, there lies before us a greater reward, far beyond the temporary satisfaction we gain in this life, if we will but start preparing our bodies and souls for the life to come.

How do we do this? Well, firstly, it is imperative that we trust in Jesus.  Without His forgiveness, everything we do in this life is worthless before God to save us.  Religion cannot save us.  Works cannot save us.  Only His unearned grace is powerful enough to forgive the blackness of our souls.  So, ask yourself, “Have I been washed clean by the blood of Christ? Have I been forgiven? Do I have true, deep-seated joy?”  These are all the result of trusting in Christ alone for salvation.

Secondly, once we have been given new spiritual life, we are motivated by the love of God to live differently.  This means committing daily to teaching our children the things of God.  This is building on our foundation with gold, whether or not we presently see results. We parents will all stand before God some day, giving account of the way we managed the divine stewardship of parenthood.  Let us care for our bodies, but only in a way that our minds and spirits are made alert to “redeem the time” we’ve been given (Ephesians 5:16).  We are building with gold when we see that our bodies have been given us to serve Christ – not our fleshly desires.  Let us consider, not only our own interests, but also the needs of others (Philippians 2:4). As we do, we are preparing for ourselves eternal reward!

Our lives are but a mist – a fleeting sigh.  Let us be careful how we make use of this short time.

 

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We Have a Living Hope

Living Hope

The other day, I began reading the book of 1 Peter again. The books of 1 and 2 Peter have always been intriguing to me, perhaps because they were written by a man who denied Jesus three times. To me, they are a testimony of the work of grace and mercy extended by a loving God to a wretched man. Peter had learned what grace was and he found peace with God. Perhaps that’s why Peter could start his letter with the phrase: “Grace to you and peace be multiplied” (verse 2). He then begins his letter’s content in verse 3. Let me read it to you:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.

Just to muse a bit with you, Peter tells us in this verse that because of God’s “abundant mercy,” the new birth has wrought for us a “living hope,” secured for us through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from tomb. To me, and without scholarly exegesis of the text, there is something to be said about this phrase. It is almost as if Peter is saying that because of Christ’s death and rising to life again, because of His effectual work – plainly, because of the Gospel, we are brought forth from one particular state to a new, better state, which Peter calls “a living hope.” The Gospel, though, doesn’t merely carry us from one place to the next, or change our status from one to the other, but it actually makes a new person, a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17).

To dig deeper, there is a way that something can be alive, but still outwardly appear weakened, sickly, even dying. In other words, there is no quality of life. I am reminded of the elderly man or woman, confined to the nursing home chair. They are immobile, weak, and must be fed and cared for by someone else – they are totally at the mercy of another. There is essentially “no hope” for this person. Each day is a reminder of an imminent death, all seems hopeless, and what remains of life is grim. The end of this earthly life can be a very saddening and fearful time, and perhaps especially so to one in a nursing home.

But, for the Christian, Peter is not describing one who is alive, yet dying. For he speaks of one who is alive and has hope. It is a living hope – it is, in fact, an encouraging, even exciting assurance because hope does not disappoint (Romans 5:5). Hope that has been granted by God’s abundant mercy and secured through Christ’s resurrection cannot disappoint, because if Christ is risen and lives, then we too shall live! Indeed, we too are at the mercy of another, just as the nursing home resident. But, rather than depending on another to sustain us until we die, we are depending on Another to sustain us until we live. For those of us who have been granted this “abundant mercy” look forward to “an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for [us](1 Peter 1:4). It is this mercy that has saved us, and it is this mercy which shall preserve us until we throw off this earthly tent we live in. We look toward the moment when we receive our glorious bodies – when we are “further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life(2 Corinthians 5:4 ESV).

All this to say, if Christ was raised from the dead, so have we been and yet will be! This is our surety and expectation because since Christ lives, how can we be dead? How can I, who has the Spirit of Jesus living within me, be dead? If I am burdened with this life, depressed, upset, or disappointed, it is because I have forgotten (or have yet to grasp) what this mercy-granted, Christ’s resurrection-secured hope really is. I am reminded of the old hymn “Blessed Assurance,” written in 1873 by the blind hymn writer Fanny Crosby. Ms. Crosby understood what this living hope all about. She enjoyed a “blessed assurance” that was implanted in her very soul because she grasped the glorious Gospel! Let us recall some of those poignant words:

“Blessed assurance! Jesus is mine! O what a foretaste of glory divine! Heir of salvation, purchase of God, Born of His Spirit, washed in His blood!”

Christian, you have been purchased, washed clean, given new life, and made an heir with Christ and by Christ! This is a blessed assurance! This is a living hope! O, that we boldly petition the throne of grace until we begin to glimpse the depths of this living hope! And when this is assurance is graciously realized through divine aid, we will sing aloud with Ms. Crosby:

“This is MY story, this is MY song, praising my Savior all the day long!”

We have been begotten again to a living hope, and we are just about to lay hold of this precious inheritance along with our Beloved Friend, Savior, Brother, and Lord. Let this blessed assurance take you from this day to that day.

Running This Race

Dear Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, and Twitter-using, Homeschooling mothers of 6 with one on the way, yet still an avid blogger, food blogger (with pictures of recipes step by step), and all those other people that seemingly have it  “all together.”  And Tumblr-using moms.   Whatever that is:

I confess to you that I can’t keep up.  I don’t know how everyone does it.  I try to keep up and I end up just feeling extremely inadequate and beat down at the end of the day.  I would love to blog regularly, sew my kid’s clothes, refurbish an old dresser, cloth diaper and puree all of Malacai’s baby food.  But who has the time? It’s an effort for me to keep the house clean, laundry done, menu plan, spend time with the kids and apply proper love and discipline, do devotions, and take care of church stuff – all the while striving to be a patient and loving mother and wife who displays Christian qualities and enjoys the everyday repetitions of life.

It’s true that I love and enjoy reading blogs.  I follow quite a few awesome mommies who love the Lord and seek to be more like Him in the midst of their chaos.  I find encouragement and fellowship in their writings.   It’s true that I think all of the above mentioned social media platforms can be wonderful.  It’s no lie that I have spent way too much time moseying around on Pinterest or scrolling my Facebook feed just because I want to do something mindless.  Meanwhile, my 9 month old is whining in his highchair and my 4 year old won’t stop interrupting my research of the latest status updates, the amount of “likes” my kids’ pictures have gotten, and what political platform meme someone has shared.

So, what is the problem here?  Why do I feel that I can’t keep up? The problem is ME.   My focus is always on me, my inadequacies, and my failures to measure up with everyone else.  I don’t like it.  I don’t intend to be so selfish.  I don’t wake up and think, “How can I magnify Michelle today?!”  Unfortunately, my flesh always creeps up and rears its ugly head.

In January 2010, Josh and I attended a Passion Conference with the college and career group from church.  Beth Moore preached a sermon using a word picture that I will never forget.  (All credit here goes to her.)  Although I remember it, I don’t often apply it.  Lately, it has been resonating in my heart and I need it to revive my selfish soul.  According to Hebrews 12:2, this life is a race we are running.  And though we have a tendency to look at everyone around us, we need to keep our eyes on the finish line, on Jesus, who is the Author and Finisher of our faith.  The only thing I need to do is run and focus on Him.  Keep going, eyes fixed on HIM (not the homeschooling mother of 6, all the blogs writers that I wish I would be like, and the moms who seem so much more patient, and kind, and creative with their discipline).  Stop focusing on all the other runners in this race and what they are doing, and look to the One who makes all my inadequacies adequate by what He did on the cross.  If we only realized the glorious justification that was accomplished when HE arose from the dead, we would stop trying so hard!  We would stand in the grace of God knowing we are totally okay!  Totally set free of false expectations.  Totally set free from the bondage to this world and all the temporary pleasures it teases our minds with daily.

So I am going to read and re-read Hebrews 12:1-2.  I am going write it on a Post-it and place it in front the window where I do dishes (because you know we spend a lot of time there), and I am going to soak in the truth of where my focus should be.

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“Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,  looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”