There is a poignant scene towards the end of The Return of the King where Frodo, Sam, Pippin and Merry–now returned from their long adventure–are sitting in a pub, mug in hand. The place is a buzz. Smiles and laughter abound. Everyone is having a good time. Everyone except for the four. They gaze about, noticing the carefree attitude of the patrons, but they cannot summon the same. They’ve been through too much. They’ve experienced things they would have never expected. They’ve seen things they wish they never had seen. They had done things they wish they wouldn’t have done. They had said things they wish they hadn’t said. It had been a rough go-of-it. They were now somber. They were a bit more serious. Frivolity didn’t quite attract their interest anymore. They had grown up.
I am sitting at the same table.
Today is my fiftieth birthday. We are celebrating as a family, making a memory for the kids. And–like the hobbits–I am a bit more sober. I, too, have seen death. I’ve experienced difficult days and seasons. I’ve seen things I wish I had not seen. I’ve done things I should not have done. I’ve said things I should not have said. My adventure hasn’t always been an easy one either. But I have survived. I sit here this morning with a mug in my hand. The green of the Shire surrounds me.
Frodo may have left on the boat, but Sam returned to his wife and children. Life went on. Sam dug in and loved his family. That is my intention as well. The majority of my adventures are in the past. My Army days are a distant memory. My pursuit of academic degrees is finished. I am done climbing mountains. Any hope of earthly glory has diminished. I have dug in. I am loving my family.
Several years ago, I heard of someone here in Dayton that left his wife and children because the responsibility was too much to bear. Rather than dig in, he ran. That’s not my way. In fact, it’s not the way of the Wehse men. We are far from perfect, but one of our strengths is endurance. We stay.
Whatever mid-life crisis I experienced is over. Thankfully, it did not include another car or another woman. I did not need to start over. God had given me too much for me to think I lacked anything for my happiness. I am a truly blessed man. I am a recipient of special and common grace. God is both my Savior as well as my Heavenly Father. He has given me two glorious books to teach me that He is great and greatly to be praised–The Word of God and creation. He has blessed me with many sweet memories and a future too glorious to conceive.
And He has given me today.
Today–my fiftieth birthday; a day in which to celebrate God’s grace with my wonderful wife and five children who still look up to me and think I am funny.
It’s going to be a good day; a good day indeed.
“Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints.” Psalm 116:15
A friend of mine went home to be with Jesus this past week. The morning of his funeral, I read a Charles Finney sermon entitled, The Death of Saints Precious. This particular sermon was preached at a funeral in 1849. While I love all of Finney’s main points, this one especially stood out to me:
“God accounts their death precious, because He really enjoys their joy better than they do themselves.”
His first point was similar: “God deems the death of His saints precious because their happiness is very dear to Him.” Are you following Finney’s logic? Because God cares deeply for the happiness of His children and because He actually values their joy more than they do themselves, He considers their death to be precious.
I thought about that again this morning as we studied Psalm 104 in Sunday School. Consider the rending of verse thirty-one in a couple different translations:
“Let the LORD be glad in His works” (NASB).
“May the LORD rejoice in His works” (NIV).
That’s exactly what God does when He welcomes one of His children home! Angels high five one another. Confetti falls. Music shakes the place. Joy and happiness abound. What a moment! Finney wrote, “In a very real sense, when God receives His children home, He receives the reward of all His labors in their behalf.” God has worked for the salvation and sanctification of His recreated image bearers. Their much-anticipated arrival in glory greatly glorifies God! He has pure joy and the joy of the saint surely is indescribable!
Due to these facts, Finney challenged those in attendance that day to be careful not to mourn selfishly. He admitted doing so upon the death of his own wife. He confessed, “I said to myself–Shall I be thinking of my loss and not of her much greater gain.” His conclusion was actually a warning, “Let us behave how we take exceptions, even impliedly, to God’s dealings!” I love that! Be careful when you call God’s character into question–even when experiencing intense grief. God is good and does good (Ps. 119:68). And, if anything is good, that which promotes God’s joy and the joy of His children surely is!
So, rejoice when those who know God the Father through Christ are ushered into the tangible presence of God–the home of pure joy! Mourn appropriately, but thank God for this wonderful truth:
“In your presence is fullness of joy; In your right hand there are pleasures forever” (Ps. 16:11).
“Do not be overcome evil, but overcome evil with good.” Romans 12:21
This verse summarizes everything just mentioned by the Apostle Paul. It is the umbrella under which the previous commands land. Paul began this important section of Scripture by challenging the believers in Rome to present themselves as living sacrifices (12:1). He then gave a list of commandments that–when applied–allow Christians to guard against evil and, in fact, overcome it on a daily basis.
Consider again the list:
- Do not be conformed to this world (12:2).
- Renew your mind (12:2).
- Do not think too highly of yourself (12:3).
- Use your spiritual gifts appropriately (12:4-8).
- Love with purity (12:9).
- Hate what is evil (12:9).
- Cling to what is good (12:9).
- Be devoted to one another in brotherly love (12:10).
- Give preference to each other in honor (12:10).
- Avoid spiritual laziness (12:11).
- Rejoice in hope (12:12).
- Be patient in trials (12:12).
- Devote yourself to prayer (12:12).
- Contribute to the needs of the saints (12:13).
- Practice hospitality (12:13).
- Bless those who persecute you (12:14).
- Rejoice with those who rejoice (12:15).
- Weep with those who weep (12:15).
- Guard yourself from pride (12:16).
- Leave vengeance in God’s hands (12:17).
- Live at peace with everyone (12:18).
WOW! That is quite a list! Are you discouraged? Surely you do not believe you are obeying these commands perfectly? No one does. That’s why we desperately need Jesus. He lived out the commands of God without fail. Now–as we trust in His finished work–we are free to strive for consistency in our lives as it pertains to practical righteousness. Thus, a study of the list is beneficial. It helps us to evaluate whether or not we are truly living the sacrifice. The exhortation Paul gave to the first century believers is Rome is ours as well. We are to offer ourselves each and every day to such an extent that God is glorified and people are blessed.
So–browse the list one more time. You are weak in more than one of the areas listed. I am weak in several as well. With God’s help, what are we going to do about it? After confession and prayer for assistance, what first step can we take?
What first step can we take today?
Pride is wicked. Pride leads us to think that we are better than others. Pride causes us to look down on people. That’s why Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome, “Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited” (Rom. 12:16). The translators of the King James version render a portion of this passage as follows: “condescend to men of low estate.” I typically like renderings of The Message, but I take exception with this particular selection: “…don’t be stuck up. Make friends with nobodies; don’t be a great somebody.”
Can you see what bothers me?
The NIV utilizes the word people. The King James employed the term “men.” The concept conveyed in Romans is simple to understand. We are to prove we are on mission by ministering to individuals in a socio-economic status different from our own.
Nobody is a nobody.
Everybody is a somebody.
I am a somebody. You are a somebody. The man with the cardboard sign on the corner is a somebody. We have all been created by God, and we all bear His image. As such, we all have dignity. We all also have needs. The stranger asking other strangers for money isn’t the only one needy among us. The rich have needs. The middle class have needs. The poor have needs. And one of those needs is for friendship. God created each of us with both the capacity and the need for intimacy. We must have friends. Our challenge, therefore, is that we carefully select our friends. As Christ-followers, we are not free to only choose our friends from the rich, famous or people-like-us classes. We are called to attend the wedding of the poor (John 2) and speak to the woman with the bad reputation (John 4) and accept the dinner reservation from the shady businessman (Luke 19).
We are called to live like Jesus.
Meditate upon His life on earth for a moment. Even a cursory reading of the Gospels illustrates that Jesus had no intention of being liked by the movers and shakers of His day. His selection of His disciples proved He was not attempting to stack His deck so that He would gain credibility. Yet he did not disdain those with more money than Himself (if it is possible to think of Jesus as lacking anything!). Some of His friends had more temporary wealth (Lazarus). Others were unemployed fishermen. Jesus could relate with people in any class. Jesus would minister to people in any social class. So should we.
This is a great opportunity for us to examine our lives. Think through your list of friends. Are they all like you? Do they make about what you make? Do they live in a house similar to yours? Does being seen with them in public cause you to feel good? One way in which you know you are probably obeying this verse in Romans 12 is that when you think of one of your friends, your answer to the questions above is “no.”
“Anyone who says he is a Christian should live as Christ did” (1 John 2:6; The Living Bible).