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Thursday, July 22, 2010

Building monuments and temples in memory of yourself...

A common question we have is "What will people remember about me when I'm gone?"  One's legacy can become an obsession to some.  Death is not the end all of a person's concern about their impression, but there is a sense in which when one feels like they haven't accomplished enough they must do more, be more or even have more when they die.  To the extent our image and what people think about us is important while we're alive it will be more so in death.  I think it is a natural tendency that where there is that much need for identity in life there will be even more urgency as we die.  Our final legacy is of the utmost importance since it is truly our last attempt to define ourselves.  This obsession with identity has especially been weighing on my mind the past few days.

Not to be misunderstood, I do think it is important to have dignity and integrity enough in this life and have a sense of responsibility and desire to leave this world in the best way possible.  There is nothing wrong with living in such a way that people will miss you and there is no shame with having made an impact on this earth and being remembered in death.  We look to Saints in our scripture and press on as they did toward our Lord and savior.  We look to the Fathers at the infancy of the church and we remember the great defenses they made to safeguard our holy religion.  We can even think of people we have known in this life, mentors and teachers, and be shaped by their influence and carry on a little bit of their memory in our lives.  Praise God if at the end of your life you are accounted as such by people!  To have lived a meaningful and substancial life is something very healthy and good to strive for.  But this is not what I mean by my critique.

The problem comes when we have our priorities out of whack.  There are 2 questions that when answered honestly can point us toward where there might be a real danger in our lives.  First, "What do I want people to remember me for when I pass on?"  Second, "What is being demonstrated by my life as the thing(s) that is of the utmost importance to me?"  An honest answer to those questions can be very humbling, as it has been to me.  On a quick self analysis I realized that in regard to the first question, while my love for Christ was there, it was not the initial thing that I listed.  Even more humbling was a reflection on the second question when I had to think about what my lifestyle and habits define as what is most important to me.  Praise God if your identity in Christ was the first thing to come to mind in what you want to be remembered for, and praise God if your life actually is a reflection of the Lord!  That is what should be true of our lives, but I fear that it is not the normative occurrence in the lives of believers in our context.

There are a thousand things warring for precedence in our lives.  Some of them good and holy things, many of them neutral things that can be good or evil, and then some of them are just evil and depraved things.  Spiritual disciplines and spiritual interests can become an idol in our lives if left unchecked by the gospel.  Doing good things, loving people, studying theology, evangelism, preaching and any number of good religious things can easily become the primary focus of our lives even ahead of our actual love and affection for God himself.  Those are just a few examples of good and holy things that can usurp Christ in our lives.  Then theres the morally neutral things in life.  Love for and interest in various forms of music, food and beer are things that are common around people in various groups of my friends.  Then theres always clubs and associations we belong to, professions, hobbies, even personality traits (sarcasm and wit, for instance, are celebrated by many people) can be very important to us.  Also the friends we have, the possessions we have, how much money we have, what neighborhood we live in.  All of these things and more can have a very real influence in the image we build up for others to see.  Then the evil and depraved things.  I hope no fellow child of God actually strives to have things of this nature define them, but we all know that our outward flaws and obvious sins are remembered, and certain sinful habits can easily define us.  I need not list them for scripture is clear and we are all aware of what types of things we struggle with.

Things on all spectrums of morality define our lives, and for whatever reasons, we cling to some of those identities very strongly.  At times it can be to hide various weaknesses or things we don't like about ourselves.  Perhaps you want to be thought of as strong and in control so you cling to various things.  Perhaps you want to cover up certain sins in your life, so you exaggerate it's counterpart to hide it's stain in your life.  Perhaps (as I am very guilty of) you would just rather push people away to keep them from hurting you.  Other times we cling to certain interests and people or associations we want to be identified by.  Perhaps we dress a certain way, talk a certain way and even act a certain way to fit into an image that defines that interest or that affiliation we desire.  Perhaps we even strive to learn about various interests and hobbies to (at best) be an authority on the topic or (at worst) just be an elitist.  Perhaps we gather possessions: the newest and most advanced technological toys on the market, the most flashy car, the most stylish decor in our house, whatever we need to fit into a certain type of people.  Perhaps we go to graduate school to get specific credentials to feel accomplished and create a very specific identity and life path for ourselves.

While there is no problem with striving to have various things define our lives, it is of paramount importance that Christ himself is the central and primary part of our identity.  Above and beyond anything and everything, who are you in Christ Jesus?  Your identity in Christ is what will give you entrance into heaven, so everything be damned if your identity is misplaced.  It won't matter what legacy you leave behind if the most important identity is misplaced.  Here are just a few things to refresh your mind about who you are as a Christian
...for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise. - Galatians 3:26-29
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. - 2 Corinthians 5:17-21
“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people's feet.  You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven." - Matthew 5:13-16
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.  Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. - 1 Peter 2:9-12
The scriptures are replete with promises and descriptions of who you are in Christ.  Search them and see what being a Christian means.  We should strive to make these things (scriptures selected here and the others found in scripture) a reality in our lives.  We should bask in their truth and meditate on them until they change our lives.  When these truths change our lives, our other interests or identities need not go away, they will be corrected if necessary and put in their place as secondary to Christ Jesus!  This is not an easy road to travel, but it is the most fulfilling road to travel.  Let us take one step at a time and help each other as we traverse this path of life all the while striving for heaven.

1 comment:

  1. Wow! Well put, dear brother... convicting and a good remiinder. Keep up the writing :)