Seeing Life God's Way
Seeing Life God's Way
Not too long ago, a friend of mine was at the doctor's office for his annual checkup. As part of the exam, the doctor looked in his eyes. Noticing how serious his astigmatism was, he said half-jokingly to my friend: "You're about blind, man. You better get your prescription for your glasses checked on to make sure it's up-to-date."
So my friend made an appointment with his ophthalmologist. The doctor had him sit in the chair, take off his glasses and read the chart at the end of the room. Now my friend's eyesight really is pretty bad, but if you've ever been to the eye doctor and read the chart a few times, you know that you can squint and kind of fake your way thru at least part of the test.
The doctor asked him, "Can you read the top letter?"
"Yes," my friend said, "it's an 'A.'"
"Can you read the next row down?"
"Yes, it says, 'CZY.'"
"Can you read the next row?"
"Yes, I think it reads, 'RNSCV.'"
"What about the next row?"
"I think it reads, 'JMBOS'."
Finally the doctor said, "Ok, you can put your glasses on."
"How'd I do, doc?" my friend asked.
"Pretty good except for the fact that this chart contains numbers, not letters."
How you see life defines life.
The way we see or don't see life shapes our life. How you see and define life determines your destiny. Your perspective on life will determine how you invest your time, spend your money, use your talents, and nurture your relationships.
I think one of the best ways to get to know other people and begin to understand what makes them tick, is to ask them, "How do you see your life?" You'll discover that there are as many answers to that question as there are people to answer it. I've heard or read that life is a circus, a minefield, a roller coaster, a puzzle, a symphony, and a dance.
Some people have said that life is like a carousel: sometimes you're up, sometimes you're down, and sometimes you just go 'round and 'round and 'round.
I've heard other people say that life is a mystery, and you spend your whole life trying to figure it out.
Samuel Eliot Morrison, the great historian of Harvard University in the 1940s and 50s, once said that life is like a card game; you have to play the hand you're dealt.
If I asked you this morning how you see life, what image comes to mind? That image is your life metaphor, and it will determine your expectations, your values, your goals, and your priorities.
If you see life as a party, your primary value will be to have fun.
If you see life as a race, you will have speed and efficiency.
If you see life as a marathon, you'll value endurance.
If you see life as a game, you'll value winning.
The great Christian writer G. K. Chesterton was once asked what the most significant books he ever read were, apart from the Bible. He replied, "Homer's Iliad, because life is a battle, and Homer's Odyssey, because life is a journey."
So, friend, what is your view of life?
One of the main reasons that God gave us the Scriptures is to teach us how he views life and to encourage us to learn to see it in the same way. In Matthew 16:2128, we're given a story of how Jesus saw both his life and the lives of those who claimed to be his disciples. Let's look at what it means for us as individuals and what it means for us collectively as a church. We'll begin by looking at verse 21.
"From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life."
God's view on life: Jesus must go to Jerusalem to suffer, die, and then be resurrected.
The word that's used in this verse for "suffer" is the Greek word from which we get our word "passion." In verse 21, Jesus begins to describe for them the passion of the Christ, which involved pain and torture and eventually his death on a Roman execution rack.
The disciples don't know this at that moment, but Christ's suffering is for their sins and the sins of the whole world. He is the holy Lamb of God who must provide atonement for sin. Matthew uses the word "must" to describe the reality of Jesus' suffering: he must go to Jerusalem and he must suffer many things and he must be killed.
The fact that Jesus Christ, the Messiah, would die for men and women and children is rooted in the reality that God sees all of us with eyes of love—even when we're at our very worst.
And God wants us to see, as the apostle Paul wrote years later in Romans 5:8, that "God demonstrated His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us."
On January 25, 1993, Carla Ardenghi died. She didn't have to—she was just 28. A few months before her death Carla had discovered she was pregnant. When she went to the doctor for a routine checkup, they discovered that she had a rare form of cancer. The doctors told her that if a special surgery was performed and she received chemotherapy right away, they could save her life—but first she'd have to have an abortion. Carla refused the abortion, the surgery, and the chemotherapy, and six months later she slipped into a coma. After she did so, the doctors took the baby by Caesarean section even though he was three months premature and weighed just 23 ounces. Carla died eight hours later.
When Stefano Ardenghi grows up, do you think he'll understand the sacrifice that his mother made? Do you think he'll realize that she died so that he could live? Do you think he'll see that she gave her life out of love?
What we see in life determines what we believe and how we act.
Jesus saw life as a means to service and sacrifice so that all could be saved.
But, at least at that moment, Peter didn't have that view. In verse 22 it says, "Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 'Perish the thought, Lord!' he said. 'This shall never happen to you!'"
Peter's view on life: Jesus cannot suffer, because life is about us.
Disciples simply did not rebuke their rabbis in Jewish society, but Peter does so because he doesn't want to see Jesus suffer. He believes that the Messiah is to conquer, rule, and reign out of power and prestige. He's been brought up to believe that the Messiah would come in glory. When Jesus talks of himself as the Messiah who is a suffering servant, Peter can't see or even imagine that as a possibility.
On October 25, 1520, Ferdinand Magellan's small ships sailed around the very tip of Argentina through the straits that are called Tierra del Fuego (which means, "land of fire"). As they were sailing along, the crews noticed huge fires on the shores that the natives had built to light the area and keep warm. But even though the ships sailed just a few hundred feet from shore, the natives paid absolutely no attention to them because they considered the ships to be a mirage; they had never seen anything like that before and they couldn't imagine that they were real.
Peter can't conceive of the Messiah suffering, so what exactly is he trying to tell Jesus?
He's saying something along these lines: Jesus, don't be talking about suffering and torture and crosses and death. That's bad for morale. After all, you're the Son of God. God's good, so he blesses you and gives you joy and his plan for you is to live a long life of peace and prosperity. Surely he would never let you suffer.
Does that sound familiar at all?
How about: Always be positive; always be upbeat. God is good and you're his child. He blesses you and gives you great joy and his plan is for you to live a long life of peace and prosperity. Surely he'd never let you suffer.
It sounds something like what Jesus heard once before in the wilderness: You're the Son of God. Why go hungry? Turn these stones into bread. You could feed yourself and the whole world and show how relevant you are.
If you're the Son of God as you say you are, throw yourself down from the temple. God will send his angels to protect you so that you won't get hurt. That way you can show how spectacular you are.
You're the Messiah and you came for a kingdom, a people—a nation—and I'll give them all to you. You'll get all that power without pain or passion if you just bow down and worship me.
In his wonderful little book In the Name of Jesus, Henri Nouwen wrote: "Jesus' first temptation was to be relevant by turning stones into bread. His second temptation was precisely the temptation to do something spectacular, something that could win Him great applause. 'Throw yourself down from the temple and let the angels catch you in their arms.' But Jesus refused to be a stunt man."
You all know what the third temptation of Jesus was. It was the temptation of power: "I will give you all the kingdoms of this world in their splendor."
What makes the temptation of power so seemingly irresistible? Maybe it's because power offers an easy substitute for the hard work of love. It seems easier to be God than to love God; it's easier to control people than to love people. The long, painful history of the church is the history of people ever and again tempted to choose power over love and control over the cross.
Jesus sees Peter's statement for what it is, another temptation from the devil, and so he responds in verse 23: "Get out of my sight, Satan. You're a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but merely the things of men."
God's view on life must supplant the human view on life.
Jesus sure can burst a guy's bubble. In the story right before this one, Peter proclaims that Jesus is the Messiah, the son of the living God. Christ calls Peter a "blessed rock" because of this confession. But now Jesus calls him "Satan," saying he's a rock of offense—a stumbling block that can't see beyond his own concerns to what God wants for all of humanity. Jesus severely rebukes him in order to get his attention.
I don't remember this event in my life, but my family has told me that it really happened. When I was three and my relatives were visiting from Ohio, everyone was sitting out in the front yard on a beautiful July evening. Our family cat walked by, and for some reason known only to God and my little brain, I picked it up by the tail, swung it around three or four times, and let it fly!
My dad was raised on a ranch with a lot of animals, and he had absolutely no tolerance for that kind of behavior. He rebuked me by giving me a really good licking to my rear end.
That's just a funny story about a little kid who acted foolishly and a father who wanted him to get the right picture of how animals should be treated. Jesus' rebuke of Peter is a very serious matter. To my knowledge, this is the harshest thing Christ ever says to any of his disciples. We all had better pay really close attention, because how we see life determines what we believe and how we act.
I'm fearful that many of us have either been told or have bought into the false idea that following Jesus is pretty much all about us—that discipleship is supposed to be pretty easy, and that suffering is always for the other guy, the other gal, the other family, or the other country. Then, when something bad happens to us—there's a diagnosis of cancer, the email says that the company has laid us off, someone in our family gets in a serious car accident, a child gets sick and dies, or a disaster like Katrina or 9/11 occurs—we're left wondering if our heavenly Father really loves us, because we've been told so often that He won't let us suffer.
What's interesting is that most of us would never dream of raising or parenting our own children that way.
Imagine how you would feel, or imagine what you would do, if someone came to your kids and said: You know, your parents love you very much. So you can be sure that your mom and dad will never ever spank you or cause you pain. They'll never make you go to the dentist or eat peas or pull weeds in the back yard or make your bed or clean your room or say you're sorry to your brother or sister or do your homework. And whatever you want at the store, you just name it and claim it because all they have is yours and they love you.
You'd probably get pretty steamed. Those are lies that would show your kids that you don't really love them, because those ideas would destroy them.
You can see why Peter's comments cause Jesus so much frustration and anger, because Christ without the passion is not Christ, but the anti-Christ—the false Messiah or an idol of our own minds and culture.
Maybe we need to repent of that and get clued in to reality, because how we see life determines what we believe and how we act.
Jesus turns to the rest of the disciples and tells them very clearly how they need to see life and how they need to act. Look at v. 23ff.: "Then Jesus said to his disciples, 'If anyone would come after me, he must first deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come in His Father's glory with his angels and then he will reward each person according to what he has done."
God's view on life must be the view of Christ's disciples.
Jesus' point is pretty clear: if you want to be a Christ-follower, you have to see life as he sees it and live life as he lived it.
From a Christian perspective, life is a means to serving others and sacrificing for others in order to do God's will. In the process, true, genuine life is found—both now and for all eternity.
In our American culture, we're pretty much told the complete opposite of this. We're told to "grab for the gusto" and think of ourselves first and consume all we can, as often as we can.
And yet sometimes I wonder how much happiness has been found for people in our society who live that way?
There was an article in the Wall Street Journal about a month ago, entitled, "Rich, Healthy, and Miserable." It was based on a survey that some sociologists did to determine if making more money really made people happy. They discovered that when people got a raise, it did make them feel better for about a month, and then almost everyone began to spend up to the level of their new income. It wasn't long before they felt as strapped and uptight and as unhappy as they did before they got the raise. The article was fascinating, because at the end, the author made three suggestions for finding happiness. Two of them were to give more money away and to invest your time serving other people.
How we see life determines what we believe and how we'll live, and that's why Jesus tells you and me to lose our lives for His sake, because then we'll find it.
Just about a week ago, my favorite Seinfeld episode came on the nightly reruns. It's the one where George Costanza—who is probably the most selfish, self-centered, unhappy, neurotic character ever created on TV—comes into the coffee shop and tells Jerry and Elaine that life's just not working. He says that his entire life has turned out to be just the opposite of what he wanted. Jerry tells him to start to choose the opposite of everything he feels and to everyone's surprise, George begins to do so. He starts to tell the truth instead of lying all the time. He starts to treat women with respect instead of lusting after them all the time. He starts to love his parents instead of dicing them all the time. He starts to show self-control instead of going into a rage every time he's behind the wheel. In the process, he gets a new job, a new girlfriend, a better relationship with his family, and some self-respect. George lost his old life, but in the process he found a new one that was much better.
Now that's just a silly TV show, but what Jesus says here is true for all of us: If we want to be a Christ-follower we have to see life as He sees it and live life as He lived it and that means a life of service and sacrifice in order to do God's will.
Friends, this is a very challenging passage of scripture, but I want us all to notice that it contains a great promise. Jesus says that if we live life like he did, we'll find life now and he'll reward us when he returns.
So let me ask you this morning: how do you view life?
Is it a carousel, a race, a battle, a journey, a mystery, or a dance?
Or do you see life as an opportunity to serve God and love others and make an impact with the Gospel?
Is Jesus near and dear to your heart?
My prayer for each and every one of us is that in the coming weeks and months and years, people will look at our church and say, "Hey, those folks really love God and care about other people."
And if that's true, then someday, when Jesus returns, he'll come to each of us and say: Well done, good and faithful servant. You saw life as I did and you did life as I did. Enter into the joy of your master.
Scott Wenig is associate professor of applied theology at Denver Seminary in Denver, Colorado, and author of Straightening the Altars.