Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Five O' Clock Shadow (of Death) in Light of The Cross

 Growing older is not upsetting;
being perceived as old is. 

- Kenny Rogers (perhaps the best beard ever!)

Christianity begins where all the religions of the world end, at death, and it starts with resurrection. 
- Author Unknown

Back when I worked in the restaurant industry in New York City I would dream of the day where, upon moving to Texas, I would finally grow a beard.    I'm kind of a throwback; I prefer Delaney and Bonnie to Justin Timberlake and The Allman Brothers to Adele.   I probably romanticize the times when beards and bell bottoms were the norm.   My mother-in-law tells me the 70's as a whole was a terrible period in American history and I should give up the "hippy" adoration.   But back to the beard....

For whatever reason God gave me a big, full beard.  I have a five o' clock shadow by noon every day.  I go through razors like toilet paper and it's frustrating to say the least.  My logic has always been, "Why Shave?  If the Lord put hair on a man's face, why erase it every couple of days?".   (Incidentally, in a show of striking partiality, my free-spirit logic does not extend to the other sex in general and in particular, my wife's underarms!)

When we got to Texas, much to Megan's chagrin, I grew out the beard but was horrified with the result.   Long grey hairs grew alarmingly faster than did all the rest and poked through the darker hairs making this 35-year-old look a whole lot older.

Consequently, what I expected to be a sign of freedom ("You can't fence me in!  I've got a beard!") turned into a sign of bondage to aging and, ultimately, death.  My grey hairs are an undeniable sign that my days are numbered.   So I tried to turn back the clock with a pluck here and a pluck there but eventually became frustrated and shaved off the beard to reveal the much younger man (for now!) beneath.
Sunday afternoon I came face to face with my inescapable future once again when Megan and I went to an Assisted Living Center to play music for folks whose median age must have been around 90.    We couldn't help performing with an extra dose of energy and I got the feeling they really liked it.  Though most of them were quickly rolled away back to their rooms a few stopped to thank us and share memories that our music and testimony had brought to mind.   With their quality of life rapidly deteriorating all they have left is the memories of feeling better, more autonomy and less dependence upon others for their very survival.

The glory of young men is their strength, but the splendor of old men is their gray hair. 
- Prov. 20:29

Caught somewhere between young and old, I celebrated my 35th birthday last week and though I've never been happier, I'm finally realizing just how fast life flies by.  I can no longer escape the evidence - the mirror doesn't lie.  All the good times we enjoy as family too quickly become memories and the hard times begin to build character allowing us to endure even more "curveballs" that life inevitably throws our way.

We're all dying - so what do we do with the reality that singer/songwriter Slaid Cleaves says, "everything you love will be taken away"?  Magill! Your glass sounds half empty, you may say, but look at Solomon's proverb....

Even in laughter the heart may ache, and the end of joy may be grief. - Prov. 14:13

Tim Keller breaks it down this way....

This is true of everybody.  Why?  There is an existential angst that comes with living because everything your heart really wants out of life will eventually be taken away from you.   Consider a family sitting around a table.   Someone at that table will watch all the others die.   Your health will be taken away from you; your loved ones will be taken away from.  Everything.  One day it will all be gone.   There is a ground note of sadness that you cannot overcome. 
- Tim Keller, Sermon: The Wounded Spirit

"Christianity of all faiths", Keller, goes on to say, "is the only one that allows the believer to be intellectually honest about the reality of death" (i.e. not wishing it away or blowing out the desire for life).   Why?  Because our God actually condescended to participate in death with us and in so doing turned our experience of death upside down eternally.   The Roman Empire's practice of crucifixion made the cross a symbol of death the world over but in the heart of the Christian there is no more beautiful symbol for life everlasting.   Eternal life for believers was the net-effect of the cross.

There are no immortal sorrows for immortal souls - C.H. Spurgeon

Even (and especially) in death Christians have a hope that surpasses pain and loss.   In dying we cross over into the arms of a God who sees us not as broken sinners but as redeemed joint-heirs to the kingdom, Children of God in Christ (Rom 8:17).

It's hard to imagine embracing death when "I've got an awful lot of living to do" but truly living means dealing with death honestly.   By God's grace He has provided us a means in Christ fearlessness in dying because we've been promised the same resurrected life that our Savior enjoys.   What else could explain the conviction to preach Christ-crucified that led nearly all of the early disciples to horrifying deaths and martyrdom?

When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:
   "Death is swallowed up in victory." "O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?" The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. - 1st Cor. 15:54-57

This hope inherent in the victory of which Paul speaks injects our living with both conviction and eternal gratitude leading to a purpose that can never be taken away: giving Glory to God - loving because we've first been loved (1st John 4:19).   We'd just as well get started doing now what we'll be doing for eternity*.


(* In eternity my beard will never grey - but even if it does, I won't care!)

Next Week...   

* Wednesday Men's Group - Kings Cross Wrap-Up
@ 2 American Center, 5th Floor (Ritcheson Law Firm) 

* The Magills at The Forge Bistro, Ben Wheeler, TX, Friday the 2nd - 7pm-10pm - get there early for a seat and dinner!

* The Magills at The Crossbrand Cowboy Church, Tyler, TX - Saturday Night the 3rd, 6:30pm and Sunday Morning 9am and 11am services

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