Thursday, August 31, 2017

Life is not easy. . .

Though we live in a world of comfort and convenience, it was not always so.  My grandmother cooked three full meals a day on a wood and cob stove, without running water, to feed her family and often a crew of workers on the family farm.  Now we get irritated if we have to wait too long in the fast food drive up window (and some even call 911 to register their complaints!).  My grandparents lived with aches and pains both of a life of physical labor and the effects of age.  They expected life would hurt and they did not complain much about it since the complaints did not lesson the pain but only drew attention to it.  Now we watch the drug commercials waiting to hear what new and improved remedy will relieve us of whatever ill or pain we might be suffering at the moment (and then take another pill to deal with the complications of the pain reliever until finally we join in a law suit against the pill maker because it was not a perfect solution to our problem).

My father worked every day of his life from about age 12 until almost 88 when he died.  Work was not a burden but his vocation both to provide for his family and serve his neighbor.  Now we expect mental health days, flex schedules, high salaries, perfect working conditions, early retirements, and all sorts of other amenities as if we were doing our employers a favor by working at all. 

We live with the expectation that we are at the center of everything, personal preference is all important, and there is little really worth personal sacrifice (not even a marriage or a family).  In contrast, previous generations did not lay the burden of happiness upon their spouses, did not have children for what they could do for the parents, and did not flinch from the call to service (military, community, volunteer, etc...).  They learned this from their parents and they passed on this sense of duty, this willingness to endure suffering, and this giving spirit to their children.  They were not perfect, nobody said that, but they had a radically different sense of their place and purpose in life.  Today we both marvel at what they accomplished through poverty and prosperity and insist that we either could not live that way or would not live that way.

I write this because our modern expectations of life have made it hard for us to understand the richness of the Gospel's gift.  When Scripture describes this world as a vale of tears, we do not really get it because that is neither our expectation nor our experience.  Life is good, we say.  We do not need a God to rescue us but a God to fix the few things we figure we cannot do for ourselves.  We do not a God to redeem us but a God to make our good better and our better best.  We do not need a God to give us heaven but a God who can help us make our best life today.  We do not pay as much attention to the cross because we are not so sure the things we say, think, or do need forgiving.  So the Christ who saves us less significant to our sense of ourselves and our lives than that Christ who imparts secret wisdom and life lessons to improve the good we already enjoy.

A significant portion of Christianity has adjusted the Gospel to fit where people think they are instead of speaking the life saving Word to where people really are.  We are not in control.  We are not the center of the universe.  We will die.  We will be judged.  In other words, sin matters whether we want to admit or not.  Life is hard, it is not fair, and it does not offer do-overs.  This is not pleasing to say or to admit but unless we accept this judgment, the Gospel makes little sense at all and we will be left replace the Christ of the cross with a Jesus molded to fit the whims of the moment.  While here on earth we scream to everyone "I am somebody", the reality is we are not all that important.  Our value is not how we judge ourselves but how God has judged us.  And the miracle of the Gospel is that Christ died for us, who were worthless, sinful, and enemies of God but now are His esteemed children bought with the most precious commodity of all, the blood of His one and only Son.  Here on earth we think we are owed self-esteem and we presume that no one has the right to judge us.  But God has judged us, in mercy, and esteemed us of far greater worth that we really are.  Once we begin to get this perspective right, life becomes a gift again, the sacrifices pale in comparison to the sacrificed paid to redeem us, and the gracious gift of God becomes ever more awesome and impressive as each day we rejoice to live as the children of God who we are.

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