Monday, July 6, 2009

Parallel Paths

Whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.

                        Mark 8.35

On Loan

A big part of my family’s Southern heritage was love of gospel quartets. From time to time, a church would host an all-night “singing,” a showcase of well-known quartets that went on into the wee hours. “Until Then,” a standard in every repertoire, was one of my favorite tunes, even though I was far too young to understand it fully. It spoke of life’s fleeting succession of trials and tests “until the day God calls [us] home.” Over the years, chunks of the lyrics have vanished. Yet one phrase bobs up any time I get too focused on possessions and security. “The things of earth will dim and lose their value,” the song says. “If we recall, they’re borrowed for a while.” It hits me like a ton of bricks. All I have now or ever will have is on loan. It will come. It will go. Its value will rise and fall. But it’s only “mine” for the moment, borrowed for a while. When I’m gone, my holdings and savings will be loaned to someone else.

Fears of Losing

This frame of thought becomes essential to understand one of Jesus’s most intimidating challenges. And the situation it arises out of confirms it comes from His impatience with fears of losing what we have. Jesus asks the disciples Who they think He is. After they hem and haw, He puts the question to Peter, who answers, “You are the Christ.” (Mark 8.29) With that, Jesus plainly details what He’s facing—hardships, rejection, execution, and resurrection. Peter, perhaps still heady from his confession, pulls Jesus aside and takes Him to task. We’re not privy to their conversation, but it’s safe to assume Peter asks if the Lord knows what He’s saying, something like “These people have invested a lot of trust in You. Now You say the authorities are going to target and kill You? Where will that leave them? They’ve got homes and families and futures to consider.” Jesus rebukes Peter, saying, “You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.” (v33)

Jesus calls a crowd to join them and issues this mandate: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life [or, “soul”] will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.” (v34-35) Before anyone presses for further explanation, He asks two questions that capture His meaning. “What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?” (v36-37) Now, let’s step into Peter’s sandals. We’ve just confessed Jesus is the Christ—God Incarnate, Creator and Ruler of all things. The matter takes a sudden turn, shifting Jesus’s question from how much we can give to what’s ours to give. Our material possessions, plans, and hopes already belong to Him. Nothing we “own” is really ours. Either we place our trust in borrowed goods at the expense of the only thing we brought into and will take out of the world—our souls—or we surrender misplaced confidence in what’s not ours to begin with to secure what is. Jesus isn’t telling us to put our homes on the market, have a yard sale, and hit the road as roving disciples. He’s saying we should get our minds off temporary things of men and concentrate on eternal things of God.


He tells a story in Luke 12 that gets to the crux of this issue. A rich farmer has a phenomenally successful harvest. He looks at his silos, sees they’re inadequate to store his crops, and decides to tear them down to build bigger ones. Once that’s done, he’ll be set for years to come. He says, “I’ll say to myself, ‘You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.’” (v19) Before he can even call an architect, however, his “until then” moment arrives. God calls, saying, “You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?” (v20) Jesus wraps up His parable by cautioning us not to worry about sustaining our natural lives or protecting our physical bodies. “God will take care of you just as He takes care of the rest of nature,” He says. Instead, we should invest in our soul’s welfare, amassing “a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted… For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (v33-34)

Every believer’s life travels parallel paths. One follows natural progress. We live and learn and work hard to grow and prosper. The other follows Christ’s unnatural ways. We look beyond the literal to see the real. We trust what He's promised rather than mistake what we've borrowed as something we’ve earned. And though we prosper, we don’t place pride and security in earthly treasures loaned to us. We know these things are temporary and the trail leading to them comes to a halt. “There is a way that seems right to a man,” Proverbs 14.12 says, “but in the end it leads to death.” The soul’s path is the endless road. In Psalm 139.24, David beseeches God to “see if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” That’s the path we want to travel. That’s the one that guides us to lose what’s not ours to begin with to save what will stay with us forever.

Our lives travel parallel paths, one finite and one eternal.

(Tomorrow: Cursers, Haters, and Users)

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