OUR FRAGILE LIFE
Treating Ourselves and Others with Care
As a person grows older and reflects back on incidents that have caused him to make major changes in his life, he comes to realise just how fragile our building efforts are. He realises that what may take years of hard work and effort to achieve can be destroyed in a disproportionately short period of time.
The Destruction of Eastern Germany
History is full of examples. It took the Germans a thousand years to settle what were their eastern territories, but in less than ten short years everything they built was destroyed in a violent war of their own making which was then followed by a massive expulsion of millions of souls by their enemies. A thousand years of history, and the generations upon generations of people who created it, were wiped out almost overnight. The pain of that expulsion lingers deep in the German soul as the expellees dream of returning to what can never be. All the efforts of peaceful civilisation over a thousand years were utterly destroyed by one brutal war that lasted a mere six years.
Glory and Sudden Extinction
Many a civilisation, painstakingly built up over hundreds or even thousands of years, has since disappeared into the ashes of history, seemingly destroyed overnight. To us living in the twentieth century these things are often just cold facts, devoid of life, because we were not a part of them. We hear of such things, shrug our shoulders, and get on with our lives. Even when we read of that which has more personal interest as a Church, such as the history of Israel -- of its glory and sudden extinction -- we are still removed far from the events of these peoples, their hopes and their despair.
But this principle of slow rise and rapid decline in the affairs of the nations is actually just a more global manifestation of processes that are going on in us day by day, and even hour by hour. And yet for the most part, even though these processes are happening now, people are generally so out of touch with themselves that are not aware of their reality. Usually it is not until some major tragedy hits our lives that we are shaken into a consciousness of the reality of life in this world, and for a moment we are forced to concede that "life" is not as we supposed it to be.
Some Painful Realities
Consider, then, some realities. A marriage relationship, painstakingly built up over many years, can be destroyed in a day by infidelity. A beautiful home, built by human hands over many years, can be burned down to the ground into a pile of ashes in an hour. And a life of holiness, service, and dedication to God can be swept away by an impulse of rashness and be left in spiritual darkness.
Consider how fragile life is! It is unbelievably fragile. It is hard to build, but very easy to destroy. I have recently been reading some of the stories of the victims of Nazi concentration camps -- of Ravensbrück, Auschwitz, Treblinka, Madienek, and others -- and I have experienced in my soul (to the extent that one can when one is not physically apart of the reality of the horror) both the utter devastation of such human tragedy as well as the hope that such things can bring, despite the enormous suffering. The nightmare of the concentration camps gives you a perspective of what reality is, putting into perspective our own "normal" lives in a peaceful nation such as this one. And I have come away from these stories more determined than ever that I shall do my best to remember the lessons of history by putting my own experiences into the context of the greater whole.
It was easy for the Nazis to destroy, to reduce people to mere animals..or worse. It was easy to throw responsibility to the wind in the name of some pathetic philosophical excuse. The trouble is that the same mechanism the Nazis employed to justify themselves in committing such acts of terrorism and barbarism against humanity are not so different from the ones we employ in failing to be true to God.
Building and Destroying Relationship: The High and Low Roads
It is hard to build a relationship with God, but incredibly easy to break it. It is hard to go the Lord's way, but terribly easy to go our own. Yet the bottom line is that the choices in life that really matter are difficult. And if you want further proof that this is so, consider the life of Christ, because His eternal message to humanity is that if you want to walk the path that leads to true happiness and enlightenment (self-knowledge), then you must expect to encounter hardship and experience suffering. His own mortal life is the revelation of this necessity. This is the HIGH ROAD of life, and you won't find many people willing (of their own free will) to walk it. It is the Way of the Firstborn, who is Christ.
By contrast, the LOW WAY is the way of ease and idleness, of fleeing life's realities, of taking the course of least resistance. Though by leading such a life you may not directly harm anyone by what you do, you in fact harm both them and yourself by what you don't do, for you rob each other of the opportunity for real happiness, and not the temporary, illusiory "happiness" of the world. The Low Way is not the way of evil which is the third way. I know of noone in this Church who has yet (praise God) chosen the Third Way but there are many who have chosen the Low rather than the High.
Throughout our lives we are constantly forced to make choices between the High and the Low. I would even venture to say that these choices occur routinely on a daily basis. They are open to us because we in the rich West are free to do much as we please with our free time. God has freed us through technology and (relative to the past) enlightened government to choose of our own wills to do many good things. This is a blessing to those who have a sense of responsibility but a terrible curse to those who do not, and who use this spare time to make trouble for themselves and for others, or do nothing at all.
They say that "idle hands make mischief." I learned that lesson when I lived in South Africa. The richer whites have black servants who do all the household chores, look after the children, do the cooking, in fact, they do everything a mother would normally do except give birth to their children. The result of this has been a high incidence of adultery amongst white housewives who, with nothing to do, relieve their boredom with sin. When you choose the Low Way then you have only two choices: to either do nothing, or become active in sin, the latter of which leads to the Third Way of evil.
Every free moment gives us the choice between the High and the Low Way. I know of no other way to fulfilment and happiness than to be about our Heavenly Father's business by building upon the rock of Christ. For we have the promise that if we build upon Him, then no storm can blow us down. Christ is infinitely strong; through faith in Him, we become infinitely strong also. Every human house will fall. All our best efforts can lead to tragedy unless they are consecrated in the Lord of Life. The High Way is difficult and along its way we will see many of our human efforts destroyed. And the fact that they are destroyed should lead us to an understanding that perhaps, after all, they were not essential to our eternal happiness and well-being. The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away things that are not eternal; but that which is eternal He cannot take away, and will not take away -- we can only loose them by casting them out by our own negligence and foolishness.
The Purpose of Suffering
Yes, there will be many things which you believe are from God, or of God, which will crumble away, and then you will start to doubt God. But if you are wise, and see things through firstborn eyes, you will realise that what you thought was of God was in fact out of your own fleshy nature and not expedient for eternal happiness. That which is right today may not be right tomorrow. It may be right for a limited period of time but we, because our minds are not infinite, wrongly suppose that they are forever. Hence we need to cultivate that precious, personal relationship with Christ, and that gift of hearing His Voice always, so that we can respond to His every commandment and go where He wants us to go. Human things are fragile. Life on the physical plane is fragile and you may be quite sure that you will encounter tragedy somewhere no matter what road you take. But only one path allows us to see everything in perspective and to walk away rejoicing. Our tragedy is not that we suffer but that we waste suffering. We waste the opportunity of growing into compassion. Therein is the purpose of suffering for therein is one of the purposes of life -- to teach us compassion.
If there is one thing I have learned about reading the ghastly stories of those who have gone through the hell of Nazi concentration camps it is that their suffering has not been in vain. Though many people were irrepairably destroyed, countless thousands have discovered a depth of compassion that those who do not suffer cannot know. There is a maturity of character in them, an ability to identify with suffering whereever it is, and to respond without hestitation.
On the Front Line of the Gospel
Now we do not have to go to an Auschwitz to learn these lessons though, who knows, we might. A time far worse than the Nazi era is on its way to wind up the history of this sorrow-drenched world. But we don't have to be tortured or deprived in order to learn compassion. We have only to be willing to put ourselves on the front line of servive. We have only to make ourselves available to serve others. Once we do that, the Lord will open up a thousand opportunities to serve. It is not good enough to say: "What opportunities are there?" for we do not have the infinite mind of God. We need only to know that they are there, and that He has especially equipped us for certain tasks in life. It is in being responsive to God's call and acting it out that we will, beyond a shadow of a doubt, be led by the Holy Spirit to situations that will not only be a blessing to other souls but to our own too.
Have You Been Called?
Those who have come to the New Covenant have been called to it by the still, small voice. It is their "spiritual career", if you like. If you think back on how you came to this Church, and of the odds of a person in a world of several billions finding a small remnant of less then a hundred souls, then perhaps you will appreciate that your being here is no accident. Just as Satan places temptations before us, wherever we may be, God places opportunities before us too. Where we are at any one time is usually no accident, even if we are where we are not supposed to be. But one thing you may be sure of is that your place and circumstances of birth are no accident. If you believe in a doctrine of pre-existence, as we do, then it is impossible to blame our parents or ancestors for where we are born. For we believe that we are where we are because of divine purpose. What happens after birth is another question and it may well be that we find ourselves the victims of circumstances which we, or others, have chosen for ourselves, whether they are in harmony with the Lord's will or not. But one thing is certain. If a person remains open to God, and has a desire to obey Him and follow Him in all things, he will lead us to the right place, to the right people, and to the right circumstances. To believe anything else is, I maintain, to believe in nothing at all.
When you consider all the millions of factors that combine to make the circumstances in which we find ourselves, and then consider how fortunate we are, then the honest soul must delare: "I see the hand of the Lord!" I firmly believe that this New Covenant Church is no accident, nor do I believe it is an accident that the Lord had led the people to it that He has. We are a strange cocktail indeed, but pregnant with possibility. Though outwardly we might not seem to be much, yet inwardly I see the potential for a mircale. I also believe that every single soul who has come to this Covenant has the possibility of rising into its highest endowments irrespective of their backgrounds or spiritual handicaps. There is a home in this Church for everyone provided that all accept the conditions of membership in a community that must work together and seek the one mind, one heart, and one spirit relationship that God has called us into.
Everyone Has a Call
I suppose what I want to say, in conclusion, is that I believe in every single man, woman and child in this community of saints. I also believe that every single one if of equal worth and has gifts unique to himself that are precious beyond anything earthly. After three years of close association (however distant that may be relative to the Church of the Firstborn) we are for the most part aware of each other's weaknesses. Let us not, however, make these the object of our spiritual examination further, but get on with the task of nurchuring the possibility for infinite good which resides in each soul. I have a dream, if I may borrow the words of Martin Luther King, and that is that we may all live together in peace and love in the Holy City of Zion. How I desire that! Let us set our goal on that high ideal and prepare for the Church's New Year, which though still some six months away, is a time I look forward to, for each year the Lord presents us with the opportunity to wash the old year away through covenant and sacrifice and to start afresh. Let that living ordinance begin anew every week or month as we wipe away the offences of the previous week or month in the ordinance of the Lord's Supper.
Zion will triumph. Let us go up unto her!
From a sermon given on 6 October 1991 in Oslo, Norway
This page was created on 4 July 1998
Last updated on 4 July 1998
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