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The Measure of One’s Life…and Arriving Home!

10 Feb

“Let us so live that when we die even the undertaker will be sorry.” (Mark Twain)

snow in ohio

A beginning…“Disappointment is the nurse of wisdom” 

(from the opening chapter The Measure of One’s Life by Gary Davenport)

There was five inches of snow on the ground outside the house, glistening beneath the street’s only light, settling in for another cold mid-winter night’s sleep in the Northeast corner of Ohio.

The week’s weather had been on a roller coaster, seeking to discern between the high 10’s and the mid-30’s, which certainly put the beautiful layer of ‘God’s gift’ in these parts at risk for another day.

The movie on the small television in the bedroom suddenly garnered even more attention than before, as lawyer Jan Schlichtmann (played by John Travolta) sat haggardly before a questioning judge. His life had seemingly come to a roadblock, and his demeanor displayed a frustration that spoke volumes considering the otherwise ‘high marks’ for the good intentions he had displayed throughout his career.

Viewed by some as an ‘ambulance chaser,’ he would acknowledge often through the movie, A Civil Action,[1] that money did matter. In fact, it mattered a lot if one wanted to drive expensive cars and dress impeccably in the finest of ‘threads’ and enjoy life’s finer things.

But this character struggled with good times and even better intentions. He eventually would grow ‘sentimental’ toward his clients, which was not to be considered by a “smart lawyer who wants to win the important cases.”

His problem was simple: he came to care about the client. And it cost money for small law firms to defend poor clients against deep-pocketed corporations who wanted only to “wear you down” until a settlement became a necessary evil.

He was penniless. Broke. And empty. Life should have been better. It had often lived up to the dream, but only for a moment in what seemed like a timeless daze of hard work and high ambitions.

The judge asked a series of questions, each determined to discover why his life was in such desperate condition. Where is all the money you made as a lawyer? The possessions one accumulates in his lifetime? “Do you expect your creditors to believe that you have nothing but $14 in your checking account and a portable radio,” she quizzed.

Then the words came forth: “Where is the money, the property, the belongings, the things by which one measures one’s life?”

The measure of one’s life! The measure of one’s life? What an intriguing statement. What a question? The suggestion is that one’s life is judged based upon accumulation of things. Stuff.

And the implication is that if one does not have this all-empowering stuff, that life is of little account.

A merchant, some few years ago, failed in business.  He went home in great agitation.  “What is the matter?”  asked his wife.

“I am ruined; I am beggared; I have lost my all,” he exclaimed, pressing his hand upon his forehead.

“All” said the wife. “No, I am left.”

“All, papa,” said his eldest boy, “here am I.”

“And I, too,” said his little girl, running up, and putting her arms around his neck.

“I’m not lost, papa,” repeated Eddie.

“And you have your health left,” said his wife.

“And your hands to work with,” said his eldest; “and I can help you.”

“And your two feet, papa, to carry you about, and your two eyes to see with, papa,” said little Eddie.

“And you have God’s promises,” said the grandmother.

“And a good God,” said his wife.

Where would we be without our good God, One who has shown Himself daily for His love and devotion to us? And isn’t it comforting to know that God  “…causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” (Matthew 5:45)

Those words are certainly expressed to each of us through God’s divine word: (Jeremiah 31:3)  “The LORD appeared to us in the past, saying: “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving-kindness.”[2]

If we’re prone to wonder if God really cares for us at all, the apostle John gives us a reassuring reply:  “”For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

He reveals even more in his later epistle, seeking to give confidence to those who were surrounded by the wisdom-filled Gnostics of the day: “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.” (1 John 3:1).

We often find ourselves questioning those things which once were most certain in our life. We move from doubt to despair and eventually discouragement or disappointment.

The company of the discouraged is a very noble company. Not too long ago, the Hayden Planetarium in New York City issued an invitation to all those who were interested in applying to be a part of the crew on the first journey to another planet. Eighteen thousand people applied. They gave the applications to a panel of psychologists, who examined them thoroughly and came to the conclusion that in the vast majority of incidents, those who applied did so because they were discouraged with their lives here and hoped they could find a new life somewhere else.  [3]

“Disappointment to a noble soul is what cold water is to burning metal; it strengthens, tempers, intensifies, but never destroys it. [4]

Even good marriages can be shaken to their foundations by circumstances that allow disappointment to breed. But the couples I’ve observed who have come through to the other side have done so first by God’s grace and second by holding firmly to each other. They have affirmed that the “we” they possess together is stronger than the “it” of the circumstances and disappointment. [5]

We don’t often see the larger picture since we are so close to the daily details.

The lone survivor of a shipwreck, marooned on a lonely island, managed to build a hut in which he placed all he had saved from the wreck.  He prayed for rescue and anxiously scanned the horizon every day to signal any passing ship.

One day on returning from a hunt for food he was horror-stricken to find his hut in flames.  All his possessions had gone up in smoke!

The next day a ship arrived.  “We saw your smoke signal yesterday,” the captain explained.

A Christian who was in very difficult circumstances fell on his knees in despair to cry to God, “When am I going to get out of all these trials?” But by a slip of the tongue he actually prayed, “What am I going to get out of all these trials?”  The change of that one word “when” to “what” was just what the Lord wanted and the hard-pressed Christian realized it. There is something more important than escaping from trials — it is learning what our Heavenly Father wants us to gain from them.   [6]

Corrie ten Boom used to say, “When the train goes through a tunnel and the world gets dark, do you jump out? Of course not. You sit still and trust the engineer to get you through.”

The apostle Paul said it best: “Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.”( Romans 5:3-5).

He laid it clearly on the line in its ultimate contrast later, in  Romans 8:18:  “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”

He even realized that the difficult times were intended to reveal his own weaknesses, and force him to rely more upon the eternal God: “To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” (2 Corinthians 12:7-9).

The apostle Peter also needs our attention: “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you.  But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.” (1 Peter 4:12-14).

And the end result isn’t so bad, either, is it?   “And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.” (1 Peter 5:10) If it takes a broken heart to draw us closer to God, then our prayer should be, “Break my heart.” Anything that draws us closer to God has great value.

Do you have wind chimes at your house? The next time you face a storm, listen carefully. Along with the howling wind, you might hear a beautiful sound from the chimes. They are making music in the midst of a storm. That is a parable of our lives. In the face of the greatest storms of our lives, we can make beautiful music.

If you want to see what’s in a sponge—just squeeze it. The contents will reveal themselves under pressure. The same thing will happen to you. When the pressure gets tough, you will see what’s inside your heart and soul.

 

[1]Jan Schlichtmann, a tenacious young lawyer, is confronted with the litigation of a lifetime in this unbelievable real-life story. Several families in the small town of Woburn, Massachusetts, have suffered the tragic losses of their children to the rare cancer known as leukemia. After having their claim rejected by most law firms in town, these citizens approach Schlichtmann with the possibility that the deaths of their children may have had to do with Woburn’s drinking water supply being contaminated by a couple of local businesses. The rub lies in the fact that these businesses are offshoots of two of the most powerful national corporations in the country! Schlichtmann must push his skill and craftiness as a lawyer to the limit in order to oust his opponents, who are working with a limitless bankroll.

 ———————————

 

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backyard deer(from the last chapter)

Snow is still on the ground in Northeastern Ohio. Some 67 inches has fallen since first being confronted with lawyer Jan Schlichtmann (played by John Travolta) sitting at that table in the courtroom.

We’ve come to realize (haven’t we?) that life isn’t about power, or fame, or education, or wealth.  Life has higher ambitions for us to achieve. Our days are marked out differently that most.


And though we might become penniless, or go through troubles too difficult to even discuss without much emotion, “the things by which one measures one’s life” has become clearly understood. Right?!

For those of us involved daily in other’s lives through ministry, a “beginning and end” doesn’t always follow each other in an orderly way. It’s rare that we even see the “end of the matter” because people move away and we lose touch. We don’t know if our counsel was the wisdom promised.

We just know that we have done our best to counsel and encourage. Prayers were offered in the beginning. And they continue even now.

That’s why we often enjoy mowing the yard. Or shoveling the snow. Or watching that sporting end that has “an opening bell” and a concluding horn.

We see the end. It allows us to evaluate the process. We judge the results. There is the chance of closure.

I am drawn to the words of Solomon and Jesus on such matters. They give us the grand conclusion. The sum of the matter. It’s crystal clear.

Matthew 6:33  “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

Ecclesiastes 12:13-14: “” Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.”

I am also warned not to follow the route of Eliphaz and Zophar and Bildad, those  well-intentioned but weak-kneed friends of Job. They came to comfort and proved a burden. They spoke many words, had enough ‘doctrine’ to appear correct, but ended up of little help.

God gives us His biggest concern:  “After the LORD had said these things to Job, he said to Eliphaz the Temanite, “I am angry with you and your two friends, because you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has. {8} So now take seven bulls and seven rams and go to my servant Job and sacrifice a burnt offering for yourselves. My servant Job will pray for you, and I will accept his prayer and not deal with you according to your folly. You have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.””[1]

You have not spoken of me what is right. Wow!

It seems we can sin against God by saying things about Him that are not right! It certainly encourages us to listen more often and be willing to learn what we need. It humbles us. It puts us in a proper posture.

Then we are right where God wants us.

I was driving to a funeral a few years back listening to a sermon tape from an Arkansas minister who ‘speaks the solid, undeniable truth in a loving way.’ While the words met his usual high standard, the song sung just prior to the sermon got my attention.

It was new to me. The words were powerful. By the end, tears were literally streaming down my cheeks:

God Himself is with us, let us now adore him, And with awe appear before Him. God is in His temple, All within keep silence, And before Him bow with reverence, Him alone, God we own; To our Lord and Savior Praises sing forever.

God Himself is with us; Whom angelic legions, Serve with awe in heavenly regions. “Holy, holy, Holy,” Sing the hosts of heaven, Praise to God be ever given. Bow Thine ear, to us here; Hear, O Christ, the praises, That Thy church now raises.

O thou fount of blessing, Purify my Spirit, Trusting only in Thy merit, Like the holy angels, Who beheld Thy glory, May I ceaselessly adore Thee. And in all, Great and small, Seek to do most nearly What Thou lovest dearly.[2]

If we are seeking to do most nearly what He lovest dearly, our lives will have proper focus, direction, and directives. Our purpose in life will be clearly marked.

We need to “…find out what pleases the Lord.” (Eph. 5:10).

The final test is not what we think of ourselves, or what others may think. The final test is: What will God say? J. C. Ryle says, “The Lord Jesus winds up the Sermon on the Mount by a passage of heart-piercing application. He turns from false prophets to false professors, from unsound teachers to unsound hearers” [3]

“”Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’  Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ ((Matthew 7:21-23).

Jesus is quite ready to concede that many of the false prophets will do and say wonderful and impressive things.

The Lord is not speaking to irreligious people, to atheists or agnostics. Nor is he speaking to pagans, heretics, or apostates. He is speaking specifically to people who are devotedly religious—but who are deluded in thinking they are on the road to heaven when they are really on the broad road to eternal damnation.

Obedience to His will is the test of true faith in Christ. The test is not words, not saying “Lord, Lord,” and not obeying His commands. How easy it is to learn a religious vocabulary, and even memorize Bible verses and religious songs, and yet not obey God’s will. Words are not a substitute for obedience, and neither are religious works. We are to hear God’s words and do them (see James 1:22-25). We must not stop with only hearing (or studying) His words. Our hearing must result in doing.

There is no point in saying that we love a person, and then doing things which break that person’s heart. When we were young maybe we used sometimes to say to our mothers, “Mother, I love you.” And maybe mother sometimes smiled a little wistfully and said, “I wish you would show it a little more in the way you behave.”

So often we confess God with our lips and deny him with our lives. It is not difficult to recite a creed, but it is difficult to live the Christian life. Faith without practice is a contradiction in terms, and love without obedience is an impossibility.

The words of an engraving from the cathedral of Lübeck, Germany, beautifully reflect our Lord’s teaching here:

“Thus speaketh Christ our Lord to us, You call Me master and obey Me not,

You call Me light and see Me not, you call Me the way and walk Me not,

You call Me life and live Me not, you call Me wise and follow Me not,

You call Me fair and love Me not, you call Me rich and ask Me not,

You call Me eternal and seek Me not, if I condemn thee, blame Me not.”

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[2] All scriptures are from The Holy Bible, New International Version, Original work copyright 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society.

[3] Bruce Thielemann, “Dealing with Discouragement,” Preaching Today, Tape No. 48.

[4] Eliza Tabor, Instant Quotation Dictionary, p. 97.

[5] Elizabeth Cody Newenhuyse, Marriage Partnership, Vol. 7, no. 3.

[6] Pulpit Helps, November 1994, p. 8.

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[1] Job 42:7-8

[2] God Himself Is With Us by Gerhard Tersteegen, 1729.

[3] Expository Thoughts on the Gospel: St. Matthew [London: James Clarke, 1965], pp. 69-70.

 
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Posted by on February 10, 2015 in Encouragement

 

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