“This tape will self-destruct in five seconds…”
For some of you that will be a familiar line, voiced at the beginning of each episode of Mission: Impossible by a tape recorder that started smoking even as its reels continued to turn. But even before the tape began to roll, you already knew what was going to happen. That tape recorder was manufactured to carry only one message and play it only once. That tape recorder was made to self-destruct.
Have you ever stopped to consider that you are no different than that tape recorder? Your body, down to the last cell, has been pre-programmed to self-destruct. It is in our very genetic structure, and in the nature of the current physical universe. No matter how healthy you are, no matter how well you take care of your body, you will eventually grow old and die. God has already programmed you to self-destruct.
The Bible speaks very pointedly to this fact:
What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. (James 4:14)
Man who is born of a woman is few of days and full of trouble. (Job 14:1)
We must all die; we are like water spilled on the ground, which cannot be gathered up again. (2 Samuel 14:14)
Is this simply indulging in despair, to think of death? No, or else God would not have inspired these words to be recorded in the Scriptures. These words are in the Bible because God wants us to consider the nature of our lives. The poet-warrior David even prayed to God to help him grasp his own mortality in Psalm 39:
O Lord, make me know my end
and what is the measure of my days;
let me know how fleeting I am!
Behold, you have made my days a few handbreadths,
and my lifetime is as nothing before you.
Surely all mankind stands as a mere breath!
So, we are like that tape-recorder in that we are programmed to self-destruct. But we are also like that tape recorder in another way: we have a message. Each one of us has a message to give to the world in our life, a message of love & hope & worship & joy & obedience toward God. Each one of us is unique, and each one of us is important, and each one of us can glorify our Creator.
But guess what— there is one way we are different from the tape recorder. The tape recorder knew how much time it had. It knew when there was only five seconds left. We don’t. We don’t know when the message of our lives will be finished, and the tape will stop rolling. We know our time is brief, but only God knows how long our tape is.
You have only one message, and you only get to play it once. Give it all that you have, starting today. Your tape is running, starting now…
Tick, tick, tick.
Note: The following is article #29 in a series reflecting on chapters in John Piper’s book Future Grace. More information on the book from Amazon.com is available here. A list of all the articles in this series so far is available here.
Dying. It is something we will all face. And like every other part of our walk with Christ, His grace can infuse all aspects of our death, from attitude to expectation to the actual experience.
In Chapter 29 of Future Grace Dr. Piper discusses grace & death. He reiterates his aim for the entire book:
The aim of this book is to liberate people from fears and desires that enslave the soul and hinder radical obedience to Jesus.
Freeing us to live a radical life, doing whatever will advance the Kingdom and glorify Jesus– that’s why God gives us grace. But fear often stops us from radical obedience to Christ, and fear of death is among them. We fear the unknown, we fear the pain, we fear the disability, we fear the loss of death.
But if by faith we grasp that God’s grace will truly be with us, even in death, and if by faith we see beyond death to our eternal joy in Christ (Romans 8:18), then even death shall lose its power over us. Dr Piper states,
There is only future grace in front of us….if we do not need to fear our last and greatest enemy, death, then we do not need to fear anything. We can be free. Free for joy. Free for others… when the future grace of dying in Christ takes hold of you, it frees from fear and gives courage to live the most radical, self-sacrificing life of love.
We need to dwell on God’s grace in death, and let it empower us, let it embolden us, let it fill our hearts with joy. We need to meditate on Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 5 now, when we are young and healthy, and not only when we are dying:
For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.
So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him.
Grace can indeed give us courage in the face of death. But grace does more. Paul saw that the actual process of aging and dying in itself was a means of grace:
So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)
Dr Piper comments that, “The unseen thing that Paul looked at to renew his inner man was the immense weight of glory that was being prepared for him not just after, but through and by, the wasting away of his body.”
As children of God, we can embrace all of life with grace, even death. As Dr. Piper states, our new heart frees us to lie awake at night not fearing eternity, but looking for it:
But if you find, written on the tablet of your heart, the truth that there is a Creator, and that you are created to have a relationship with him, and that what separates you from whales and dophins and chimpanzees is not mutations and chemicals, but personhood in the image of God, then you will probably lie awake at night and think about eternity.
We can hope & pray, as Christians have for 2000 years, for eternity to come, either by death or by Christ’s return. Either way, come, Lord Jesus.
I drove past a dead man on Sunday, and didn’t know it.
So did thousands of others traveling on I-26.
35 year old Mark Keesecker and his car were a few feet away from me as I sped past, lying in a creek at the bottom of a steep embankment, unknown to anyone until the wreck was discovered Monday.
His friends who were laughing and having a good time with him Friday night never dreamed it would be the last time.
Life is short. Very short.
I can’t help but think of the plaque that John Piper talks about, that hung in his house as he was growing up:
Only one life, will soon be past; Only what’s done for Christ will last.
Mark’s grieving friends and family aren’t thinking about his realtor awards, or his house or his car. Thankfully, they can remember how he loved Christ and how he strove to serve Him and be a light wherever he went.
It’s so easy to pass over Christ’s story of the rich man in Luke 12:13-21 and say, “That sure doesn’t apply to me, I’m going to church, I’m sure that I’m ”rich toward God.”"
I think a better response would be to get on our knees and pray, “God, show me where I am treasuring the things of this life more than You. Show me where I am not pouring my life out for Your Kingdom. Please, through Your grace, don’t let me waste my life.”
Stephen Covey has said that you should make your goals and plans for your life based on what you want overheard at your funeral. What do you want heard at your funeral? You only have one life, it will soon be past; only what’s done for Christ will last. You don’t have a guarantee of tomorrow. How are you going to live today for Christ?
Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come. (Mark 13:33 ESV)
In the ESV Bible the phrase “do not know” appears 92 times. That should tell us something about our knowledge, or lack of it.
When Jesus spoke these words, He specifically was referring to the time of His second coming. But like many other passages, this command has a personal application as well: you and I do not know when the time will come when we will personally see Jesus, when our life on earth will be over. We would all admit that it could be any day, even today.
The question is, are we really living as if we believed it could be today? Are we living coram deo, before the face of God, being a faithful and devoted servant of our Master? Or are we sleeping today the slumber of anxiety or self-absorption or materialism?
You do not know when the time will come. Live like it.
—>cross-posted at www.xpound.org
In The Matrix, Neo is told many things that make absolutely no sense to him (or to us the audience) until later in the movie. One of the pivotal staements is this one by the mysterious “Oracle”:
The Oracle: Sorry, kid. You got the gift, but it looks like you’re waiting for something.
The Oracle: Your next life maybe, who knows? That’s the way these things go.
Neo has no idea what “next life” means— it makes no sense to him.
However, at the end of the movie, Neo does die, and out of that death comes life, a life that has energy, power, ability, destiny. It is life on a completely different level than he had thought possible before, life on a higher and broader scale than he even had a category for, but it came only through death.
In a sense, all of us who have experienced the new birth through faith in Christ have a new life on a whole different level. But why do so few feel like it or act like it? There sure was no mistaking Neo was different after he was “born again”:
Part of the reason that we are still living such ordinary lives is simply this: we’re not dying. We are not experiencing life because we are not embracing death. We are not experiencing the power of the resurrection because we haven’t experienced the power of the crucifixion.
We are not taking seriously the words of Christ, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” (John 12:24 ESV). We seem more comfortable thinking about dying with Christ only in the past tense. And there is an important past tense, finished and done aspect of our death in Christ, but it isn’t meant to end there, to stay a one time past event. Instead, God intends for us to come to it again and again, every day of our lives.
But we like to keep dying with Christ in the past tense, don’t we? Maybe that’s because only thinking of being crucified with Christ in the past tense makes no demand of us: if we don’t have to think about dying today, we know we don’t have to give up anything today, we don’t have to experience any suffering today. But the power to live a supernatural life can only come through death; and not just the death we experienced at the moment of our new birth, but death to self that we must embrace every day, death that will bring us more fully into the reality, present tense, that Paul was talking about when he wrote, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” (Galatians 2:20 ESV).
Embrace the cross
Where Jesus suffered
Though it will cost
All you claim as yours…
Embrace the life
That comes from dying…
Embrace the cross
Embrace the cross
The cross of Jesus
(from Embrace the Cross by Steve Green)
We need to fervently pray every day, “God, kill everything within me that is not focused on glorifying Your name!”