Category Archives: God & Life

Being Mortal

I recently finished an excellent book written by a physician, Dr. Atul Gawande, titled Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End. The book deals with the modern medical establishment and how people are treated as they face diminished physical capacity through the aging process. Image result for being mortalHaving recently been in a front row seat on this journey with my mother as she faced the assault of Parkinson’s Disease – I am very sensitive to this topic and see it as one worth exploring more deeply no matter where a person is on the spectrum of physical strength.

A key point that Dr. Gawande brings up frequently in the book is that human beings don’t merely want to be ‘kept safe’ – instead they want to have enough freedom, independence, autonomy, or authority to enable them to have meaning and purpose in their lives. An aging person who is fed, clothed, sheltered, assisted, and kept safe may produce less headaches and stresses for their adult children – but they may also sense that their purpose for staying alive has been taken away from them. The quality of life is radically diminished if a person does not feel as if their life matters or has a purpose to it. Here is a key quote from the book that speaks to this issue:

In the end, people don’t view their life as merely the average of all its moments—which, after all, is mostly nothing much plus some sleep. For human beings, life is meaningful because it is a story. A story has a sense of a whole, and its arc is determined by the significant moments, the ones where something happens. Measurements of people’s minute-by-minute levels of pleasure and pain miss this fundamental aspect of human existence. A seemingly happy life maybe empty. A seemingly difficult life may be devoted to a great cause. We have purposes larger than ourselves.

― Atul Gawande, Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End

Image result for aging

I like the last three sentences above. We know this is true from our own experience and the experiences of others we know: pleasure-filled lives can be empty, and difficult lives can be full of meaning and purpose. As we journey through the book of Acts, we are learning what it means to be on a “mission from God.” We know that it’s not enough for people to just exist – people long to thrive. Part of thriving means knowing that your life is being used for a larger purpose – a purpose that is larger than you are.Image result for aging

The lives of the first followers of Jesus are an inspiration to those of us who are recipients of their legacy. Those first believers knew that their lives had a purpose and a meaning that was much larger than they were. Many of them were willing to die for their faith in Jesus – because they knew that life in Christ was something worth living for, and something worth dying for.   We live in a culture where lots of people are focused on making a living but who are not sure how to make a life. They are longing for something more – a purpose and meaning that is larger than mere self-fulfillment. Jesus sends you, and me, and followers all around the world on a mission to bring his good news to others in the power of his Spirit.

The life of being a disciple of Jesus is not ‘safe’ – and it is not easy. Yet it is a life of abundant meaning and purpose. As our bodies age and our physical strength slowly diminishes, we are assured that we have a “mansion in glory not made with human hands, eternal in the heavens” (2 Corinthians 5:1). Image result for purposeThough Dr. Atul Gawande writes beautifully about ways that we can improve the lives of people who are physically diminished – he is not able to offer the very best key to purpose in life. Dr. Gawande is clear that the answer to this situation takes more than medicine and surgery. That’s where you and I come in. How will God use you to bring the very best gift to the people in your circle of influence. Let’s continue to worship and pray and serve and reach out together in Christ and celebrate the lives that he is changing every day through our church and through other faithful churches around the world.

What’s Heaven Like?

Lately I’ve been preaching on what the Bible teaches regarding Heaven, Hell, and life after death. The Christian life is always a balancing act – this is especially true when it comes to the balance between our focus on Heaven and our focus on life here and now. Sometimes you hear the phrase: “He’s so heavenly minded he’s no earthly good” – which applies to a type of Christian who seems so focused on spiritual and heavenly things he/she does very little to help people on this earth. No one likes this type of person. Yet I agree with C.S. Lewis that when you study the people who have thought the most about Heaven – you find that they also did a lot to improve life here on earth for others. This is why it is good for us to learn about the promises God gives us in his word about what to expect after we die.

In preparing for my sermons I came across a beautiful and Biblical description of Heaven by a French Reformed theologian, humanist, and poet named Simon Goulart (1543-1628). Goulart was a contemporary of John Calvin and part of the Protestant Reformation of his time. It was an era when life was short, but the strong vision of Heaven that pastors preached about helped give hope to people as they faced plagues and persecution and other challenging circumstances. Here is Goulart’s description that I found very helpful for contemplation and meditation:

“The eternal and blessed life with God in heaven, accompanied by rest and unspeakable glory, is the goal of the faith of Christians.

This is the harbor of their hope, the refuge of all their desires, the crown of their consolation that they will certainly enjoy, having escaped from the travails of this miserable and fleeting earthly life, indeed, from death itself.

They will receive in heaven glorified bodies, healed of all evils, no longer afflicted by sin, ignorance, errors, illness, sadness, worry, fear, anguish, or enemies. They will be delivered from all pain and suffering.

They will enjoy fully and completely the Lord their God, the fountain and inexhaustible treasure of all good things, who will pour out on them all His goodness, His infinite joy, with which He will satisfy all their thoughts and desires. They will see Him and contemplate Him face-to-face, without any clouds to obscure Him.

They will learn of God’s wisdom with regard to the creation and redemption of His elect by means of Jesus Christ, and the reasons for all His all-powerful and wondrous works.

The eternal Father will disclose His burning and unspeakable love for them, which He demonstrated by sending His Son into the world to draw them from death into eternal life.

His children will be moved by His gracious work, filled with wonder, contentment, and ineffable delight, and will love their heavenly Father with a burning love, submitting themselves fully to His wisdom with eager joy.

And they will submit to Him as their only sovereign and greatest good. And they will rejoice with continuous joy in His presence, magnifying His glory, singing of His goodness along with the holy Angels and the entire Church triumphant.

There they will see Jesus Christ, the Patriarchs, the Prophets, the Apostles, and all the faithful who have preceded them, including their family members and friends who died in repentance and faith.

This entire company together, with one heart and voice, will recall the goodness and infinite blessings God has shown them, celebrating with songs of thanksgiving the praises of the Father, the Son, and Holy Spirit.

Thus eternal life is the end and fulfillment of all good things for which God has purchased us through His Son.

This is the goal on which our gaze should be fixed throughout our earthly pilgrimage. This is the treasure that we should unceasingly desire. This is the hour and the blessing to which all the plans and efforts of our lives should be inclined. This is our true country, our permanent city, in which our citizenship has been acquired by the merit of the death of Jesus Christ. This is the home that we long for, amidst the banishments, the weariness, the dangerous fears of this valley of misery and the shadow of death. This is the safe refuge and the beautiful harbor toward which we sail amidst so many waves and storms that constantly trouble the world. This is the blessed land where we will dwell by means of death.” –Simon Goulart (1543-1628), Christian Discourses XXVIII, 322-327.