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These Tents Get Awfully Ragged!

26 Jan

Photo by TheBrassGlass on Morgue File.

Our soon to be four-year old (where does the time go?!) has had something of an obsession with death and dying the last few weeks. I am not sure where it has come from exactly. Yes, I can be rather somber and morbid, but I try to reserve that for my own personal time and not exhibit such dirge like tendencies on her watch! Therefore, I am almost certain that I am not the root of these macabre thoughts.

It seems to me our recently turned six-year old (where does the time go?!) had a similar hang-up when she was about the same age. Perhaps there is some great metaphysical, existential awareness and discovery that takes place around the passing of one’s third year of life into their fourth? Perhaps this is a mysterious hinge point in life: a glimpse into the subconscious human

Okay, probably not. It probably just means my girls are odd or they have been watching some kind of funky cartoons behind my and my wife’s backs!

However, there is something to be said with this fleeting (well, hopefully fleeting!) preoccupation with death. But, mind you, she is not preoccupied with her own demise. No, no. She is preoccupied with her mommy and daddy’s death!

In fact, she has gone so far as to make arrangements for herself in her doting parents post-mortem state! She asked my mother if, after my wife and I have kicked the proverbial bucket, she could go live with them!

At this point, I am just praying she is not clairvoyant!

Granted, our own demise is not a topic we tend to think about with much pleasure. Yet, it is, if there has ever been such, an inevitable subject.

Of course, we are all, in some sense or the other, in a state of dying.

There is a scene in Tombstone where Doc Holliday is on his death-bed in Colorado and Wyatt comes in to continue a card game. Wyatt looks at his faithful friend and asks, How are you doing today? Doc replies, I’m dying, how about you? Wyatt sagely responds, “About the same.”

The Bible uses this imagery of death and life in quite dramatic and, often times, quite interesting ways. One of the great paradoxes we find in the New Testament is the teaching that in order to live for Christ, we must die to self daily.

There is this dance between the two: between life and death. Do you feel it?

I have recently been teaching through 2 Corinthians for our Winter Bible Study at church. Paul’s relationship with the church in Corinth, a church he planted, was a tumultuous one. (You can read about Paul’s ministry in Corinth in Acts 18.)

It seems to me, one of the things Paul is doing in 2 Corinthians is to mentor believers in having, what may be called, a God-oriented or theo-centric oriented view of life. That is to say, a view of life that sees God’s hand working and moving, disciplining and blessing. So then, life is not merely a hodgepodge of cause-effects or runs of good and bad luck, or a random set of consequences; rather, we, as Christ-followers, are to see it has controlled and directed by God’s providence, will and purpose.

Why are we called to submit? Why are we called to die to self? So that we can see this reality and work to advance the kingdom of God and proclaim the gospel of Christ.

As he moves his way through the letter, the apostle reminds us that we but jars of clay (4.7a). Later he will use the analogy of a tent (5.1a) to describe our lives in this world. Of course, the tent imagery hearkens back to the Old Testament Tabernacle (i.e. Tent of Meeting). The Tabernacle was a temporary, mobile structure. It was used, primarily, during the years of wilderness wandering by the ancient Israelites. It continued to be used through the time of the United Monarchy, during the reigns of Saul and David. It would be Solomon who would, in effect, retire the Tabernacle by building the Temple.

As Paul points out throughout the letter, this life is transient and temporary. It is fleeting and passing. The things which are seen will not last. They are in a constant, perpetual state of demise and death. But, the things which are not seen (i.e. the spiritual) are eternal, lasting forever (4.18).

So then, Paul is teaching us to have the right perspective. He is teaching us to make sure our focus is on the right things. As believers, our focus is to be on the eternal things: the kingdom of God, his gospel, his will and his glory. Our investments, more and more, should be in that realm and not in this physical, passing realm. Jesus taught the same when he said that where your treasure is, there will your heart be also (Mt. 6.21).

It is important to notice there that our heart follows our treasure, not the other way around.

Thankfully, Paul does not leave us with the doom and gloom of a transient existence which comes to its end, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing; rather, he teaches us that for all those who are in Christ, we are new creations (5.17). And that God, in his mercy, has taken our tents and has transformed us into temples of the Living God (6.16; 1 Co. 6.19-20)!

Just as was done in the Old Testament, the Tabernacle gave way to a permanent structure in the Temple; so too, God has transformed us from tents into his temple. Yes, these tents are still failing and are still natural and will therefore die. But, they will be raised again in newness and glory, in the image of his Son, our Lord and Savior, and we will dwell and reign with him forever!

As Paul triumphantly exerts in his first letter to Corinth: . . . this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality . . . (1 Co. 15.53). That is to say, this physical, dying body will be raised in newness, as a glorified body, which is eternal, never fading, ever-living, never dying!

Death is inevitable. People, since the dawning of time, have tried to escape it. They have done all they can to delay it. But it comes nonetheless.

Death is certain. But, by God’s grace, eternal life is offered. And this life is through his Son Jesus Christ. And we praise God for it!

 

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