Birthdays and Funerals

I’m having what they call a “birthday” this coming week. For me, each birthday brings about memories of the year just experienced, anticipates a new and hopefully better year, and involves celebrating with loved ones. Birthdays are much different than funerals. I think most people would say they would rather go to a bad birthday party than a good funeral any day. Each funeral brings about a recollection of old memories, giving up hopes of future memories, and involves mourning with loved ones. With good reason we rarely find ourselves celebrating at a funeral. But with good reason, as a believer we should see our funerals to be more greatly anticipated than our birthdays. It is a strange but not unfamiliar concept in Scripture.

Ecclesiastes 7:1 proposes that, “A good name is better than precious ointment, and the day of death than the day of birth.” A child just born has made no lasting stamp upon the world and no reputation has yet been established, but death solidifies the reputation developed during the life. On the day of birth a child enters into a world full of sin, strife, and pain, but the day of the Christian’s death we are ushered into holiness, peace, and joy found in our Redeemer. Because we bear the name of Jesus, a name better than precious ointment that will be remembered and even exalted in death (1 Peter 4:16), we can gladly join in and say that the day of our death will be a glorious one indeed.

Christ has gone through and defeated the power of death for us, so that we have nothing to fear. We will face death like Jarius’ daughter, who died and though all around her thought all had ended, Christ came to her not in a rush of fear that death was overpowering, but because he had power over death, in His perfect time He took her by the hand  and raised her up to new life.(Mark 5:35-43). Psalm 116:15 says Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints,” if death is so precious to the Lord, how precious should it be to us as well?

Paul affirms this view of death, saying “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21). How could death be gain? A man loses his life, his family and friends, his work, his home and his earthly possessions when he passess away. How deceived we are, for the death of a believer is far from the hideous shrieking death those who are unregenerate face. The death of the Christian is a most beautiful fate! He gains everlasting, renewed, abundant life, he wears a golden crown and walks on streets of gold, he sees and dwells with his Savior, and has gone from a foggy mirror to face-to-face. In death, a life once wrought with sin will be wrapped in Christ’s holiness.

His victory has become our victory and we partake in His resurrection so that on the day of our death we will not fear, for Christ has gone before us even in death and will gently draw us to him (1 Corinthians 15:53-56). Yes, birthdays are joyous occasions, but even more joyous is the day of the believer’s death, for then Christ will take them by the hand and never forsake them even through the grave, for the death that once brought fear serves now to be our advantage for then we will see Christ face to face (Hebrews 2:14-15). -M.


1 Corinthians 15:54-55, “When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”

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Birthdays and Funerals

Exalted to Our Fall

A tragic Greek myth relays the tale of a skilled craftsman who invented wings made of wax and feathers in order to escape captivity with his son. As father and son flew to their freedom, Icarus paid no heed to his father’s instructions to abstain from flying too close to sun and this caused the wings to melt, resulting in a fatal fall into the sea.

It is obvious that Icarus was a foolish child who used his father’s gifts to take him places he was never intended to go, and this caused his downfall.

Maybe not quite so blatant is that quite often we are foolish children who use our Father’s gifts and take them places they were never intended to go and this causes our downfall.

God and has brought us from captivity into freedom, (Isaiah 61:1)and is the Giver of good things (Matt. 7:11), but our sinfulness has shattered our appreciation for those gifts. Whether the gifts be material or immaterial, we have a way of thinking we deserve what God gives us  and proceed to use those same things for our own exaltation or worship. We revel in hubris– excessive pride and arrogance.

We take gifts that are meant to be means to glorify God and we see them as an end in themselves,  inverting their importance and purpose. We praise the gifts rather than the Giver because we adore the way they can make us seem better in our own eyes– if God has given us a box we would probably stand on it to make ourselves feel taller. Romans 1 explains this as unrighteousness: God has revealed Himself in many ways (vs. 20), people reject God  in ungratefulness, (vs. 21) they exalt themselves falsely (vs.22), and choose to worship the creation rather than the Creator (vs. 23), and this causes their downfall (vs. 18).

Our pride and idolatry is rampant. God has given us the ability to reason, and we attempt to reason Him away, God has given us the gift of language and we use it to gossip and slander, God has given us money and we covet and splurge on unnecessary items, God has given us an appreciation for beauty and we tumble into lust or envy, God has given us responsibility and we revel in power or pride. God has given us emotions and we let them dictate the way we live. God has given us food and we become gluttonous, God has given us possessions and we become materialistic. We as depraved humans are able to take any of the good gifts God has given us and distort them, even as those who claim to be worshipers of Christ.

An oft-quoted verse  warns that, “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall” (Prov. 16:18), and Proverbs 18:12 reaffirms this, saying, “Before destruction a man’s heart is haughty.” Let us be warned that when we take selfish ownership over God’s gifts, the pride that exalts us will  ultimately bring us low, and we must not see this as unjust but recognize it as God’s grace. Consider it a blessing that unlike Icarus’s father who was unable to prevent his fall, our Father is a Savior who is in control of even the fall and teaches us to know that idolatry end in sorrow and that there is true joy in  true worship (Ps. 16:4& 9-11). In God’s desire to see His own glory and our holiness,  He may discipline us and let us reap the consequences of our idolatry, pride, and selfishness (Gal. 6:8), even though it may be painful (Heb. 12:11).

There is much hope in this though, for as Augustine observed, we have restless hearts until they are embedded in Christ. Things that were never intended to satisfy us will always leave us restless for something deeper. The more often we worship God’s gifts rather than God Himself, the more we instill a void of discontentment in ourselves. Perhaps if you are in a place of discontentment, it would be wise to observe the way you handle the gifts you have received, for true contentment comes from  resting our hearts in Christ and knowing that if all else on earth fails, He promises to be with us always (Matt. 28:20, Deut. 31:6).

To guard against a misuse of God’s gifts, we must  “set the Lord always before [us]” (Ps. 16:8), behold the loveliness of His face, and see the gifts He has given us as grace upon grace, for we have already received far more than we deserve through the gift of salvation. With eyes set firmly on the Savior,  you will not be distracted by the gleam of the sun or be carried away in improper handling of God’s gifts. Recognize that all “good and perfect “ gifts (Jas 1:17) are from God and are for His glory and receive them in humble thankfulness, lest you, like Icarus, are using your Father’s gifts in an unsuitable manner and exalt yourself to your own destruction. -M.

Exalted to Our Fall

The World’s Not a Stage

When the lights are dimmed and you’re sitting thirty feet away from the stage, a play becomes believable. You don’t see from the balcony that the nice looking wallpaper is actually a mass of squiggles, or that the big general store in center stage is actually just a well painted front. You are unable to see the inconsistencies scattered throughout the set until you take a step closer than you’re supposed to. In a theater that is acceptable. Within our own personal lives, it is not.

In our sinful desire to appear better than others, we do everything we can to put on a show and appear a certain way before people– even ourselves. We dim the lights, we stand back, and are satisfied with what we see, not knowing that our anxiety about
our homework clashes with our belief in God’s sovereignty (Phil. 4:6), or that our gossip with our best friend breaks our fellowship with others (Prov. 16:28), and that our love for the things of the world that we hold too close to give up is a hindrance to our communion with our Heavenly Father (1 Jn. 2:15, Jas. 4:4).

We are blind to the fact that these inconsistencies show that we cannot be bothered with holiness. We’ve hit the main points of holiness in that we don’t murder or say the Lord’s name in vain, but when it comes to the equally important sub-points we tend
to think that as long as we can fool others, and especially ourselves, than we are doing well. We can’t be bothered with things like a bitter envy or selfish ambition (Jas. 3:14). Doesn’t God see that we are just too busy to change our cherished daily patterns?

There’s one problem though. Even if we can deceive ourselves, God can not be deceived and still sees what we do not bother to confess to Him. Charles Spurgeon said rightly that “there is in all our hearts a great backwardness to self-examination.” That is, we are quick to examine everyone and everything around us except our very selves. The Scripture teaches against this though, and throughout the pages of Scripture there are phrases such as “take captive every thought and make it obedient to Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5), “test yourselves, examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith,” (2 Cor 13:5) “look carefully…. how you walk” (Eph. 5:15) and “discern what is pleasing to the Lord.” (Eph. 5:10). While grace and mercy abound within Christ, sometimes we take advantage of this and prefer not to deal with our self proclaimed permissible sins, thinking that time will gently wash them away with no effort.

This is where the process of self examination comes in. While sanctification is a process of the Holy Spirit, we also have responsibility to be aware and alert of our lives if we are are living in faith. We are never told to be at peace with sin because we are at peace with God, rather, peace with God means being at war with the schemes of the devil. Just as a soldier should never let down his guard, we also should be aware of danger, especially that which comes from within.

There are two kinds of self examination: the kind that falls short of truth and the kind that uses a backdrop of truth. When self-examination falls short of truth it means that we are avoiding confronting certain sins in ourselves because we are too comfortable
with the way our lives look.  We look in ourselves and use the imputed righteousness of Christ as an excuse to avoid obeying the commands of Christ. This is not only a shame but an outright disregard for Christ’s blood and His desire for us to be holy. Self-examination should not be an introspective self obsession, but a humble, clear-minded assessment of ourselves through the gospel. It means looking to Scripture and see God’s commands as the Holy Spirit points out the sins we harbor that are contrary to the Truth.

In self-examination, be not afraid to “Stand not only on the mountains of your public character, but go into the deep valleys of your private life. Be not content to sail on the broad river of your outward actions, but go follow back the narrow nil till you discover your secret motive, ” as Charles Spurgeon said. In other words, it is not enough to have a life that merely looks holy from the outside; we must find the source of false worship that is indicated by our sinful behaviors and steals us away from being enamored with Christ. If sin is not taken by its roots of untrue worship, it can subtly come back again and again in different manifestations, for even seemingly good works can stem from sinful motives. Self-examination must strip sin to its very barest – idolatry, and see Christ at His most glorious in order to be truly dealt with.

Faith that lasts is faith that is functional, and faith that is functional comes from being aware of the work of Christ in our lives and a knowledge of our exact need for Him. We are not alone in our self-examination, for the Holy Spirit is working in us and gently revealing our needs (John 16:7-11), Christ is interceding for us (Rom. 8:34), and the Father is holding us accountable and drawing us closer to Him (Rom. 14:7-12).

How many times do we dim the lights and stand 30 feet away from our lives in order to deceive not only ourselves, but others? It’s easy for us to gloss over “little” sin issues and brush up some outward appearance without realizing the need for personal holiness and structural, that is, internal work. It is painful to look into the locked closets of our inner lives, but even a closet cannot be properly used unless it is cleaned out from the inside, and that takes much work.

If your lack of self-examination is showing a shallow understanding of your need for God, perhaps you need to pray like St. Augustine and ask the Lord to “reveal me to my own eyes so that I may confess to my brothers in Christ what wounds I find in myself.” -M.

Sources:

Augustine, and Thomas. Confessions. New York: Collier, 1961. Print.

Holy Bible: English Standard Version. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2001. Print.

“Spurgeon 1858/19/self Examination.” Spurgeon 1858/19/self Examination. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 Jan. 2014.

The World’s Not a Stage