Saturday, July 31, 2010

The MOST Important Thing In Life

What Is The Most Important Thing In Life?
Note:  The following is the first in a series of letters I'm sending to my adult/near adult children.  I'm posting these - minus (of course) any really personal stuff - because what I'm seeking to communicate is important enough to stand scrutiny, clarification, and even correction.  So feel free to comment.  It's welcome, and helpful

I offer this with the hope that the discussion will help all of us to see what really matters... and to respond appropriately as a result. - DC


July 31, 2010
Hi Kids!

We've reached a new stage in life:  The stage where I have to write to you to communicate things we used to just talk about!  We haven't had all four of you in the same state for more than a couple of days for quite some time now.  I can't tell you how much I miss the daily interaction with all of you.  You're all growing up way too fast, and it seems like there's never enough time to talk about what's REALLY important.

And maybe this is a good way to continue our conversations.  After all, this process will spare you from those long pauses in my talking... you know  the ones that you've all complained so much about.  (By the way, that's a genetic trait passed down from generations, and it's coming at you faster than you realize!)

And you aren't children anymore, either.  Mom and I are very proud of each of you.  I also feel strongly enough about what I want to say to allow you to digest it at your own pace.

What's So Important?
Let me start this way:  I've spent a lot of time over the past 12 months thinking about this question:  What Is THE Most Important Thing In Life?  

This should be an easy question for "church kids" to answer, but I want to ask you to think about it with me.  I'll also tell you where I'm headed longer term, so we don't get lost along the way.  In summary, I believe that there are four essential things you need to get clearly settled in your mind.  These four truths will be an anchor for you, and will form the foundation for everything that matters in your life... really!  There are that:
  • God is...
  • Man is not...
  • Jesus did...
  • As a result, We must...
We'll unpack each of those statements one at a time (and thankfully, not all in this letter!).  While I've got more to say about this, think first about the average person's reaction to "God."  Most people seem really not to care about the subject in any meaningful way.  Even people who are religious, or who even claim to know and/or love God can spend the vast majority of their time ignoring Him!  But if God is, and ESPECIALLY if God is who He says He is, that doesn't seem to be such a great idea, does it?

What's the Right Answer?
Do you remember the old joke about the Baptist Sunday School teacher who, in a class "warm up" session, asked her 3rd grade class to identify a picture of a small mammal?  No one would answer and, after being put on the spot, one boy said this:
"Well, I know the answer is Jesus, but that thing sure looks like a squirrel!"
That boy "knew the right answer" - but "the answer" really didn't seem to match reality.  And while he misunderstood the question and thought he was supposed to give the "Sunday School" answer, the point remains that those of us who grew up with one way of looking at the world are often thrown for a loop when the real world challenges our assumptions.  And just like that Sunday School boy, you're old enough to realize now that the "Sunday School" answers don't always seem to fit in the real world.

You all understand by now that the "real world" of 21st century America sees EVERYTHING as more important than our "Sunday School" answers.  The pursuit of comfort and entertainment, personal fulfillment and pleasure are the basis for our entire popular social, political and economic system!  "Fun" is what people live for these days.

But our family answer to my question - the "Sunday School" answer - is that GOD IS the MOST important Thing In Life.  But we also know that this is a strange, unrealistic and (worst of all) impractical answer in our culture.

Let me suggest two thoughts about this, and ask you two more questions.  These may seem obvious to you, but they are radically different from the way people think today:

My first thought:  God is. By this I mean that the subject of God Himself is the most important thing in life.  There is no more important thing to think about, no higher subject, no more practical topic than God Himself.

Newsflash:  Most people don't think so!

Today is my parent's 56th wedding anniversary.  Every year that I remember when I was growing up, they went away to Door County, Wisconsin to celebrate their anniversary together.  And every year, Nana and Papa read together the book The Knowledge of The Holy, written by their pastor for years, A. W. Tozer at the Christian and Missionary Alliance Church in Chicago.  In it, Tozer says this:
"What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us...".
Tozer was right, and I know this in part because I saw that Nana and Papa showed that they believed God was important in the way they lived their lives!  Your Mom and I hope that we have communicated to you what we believe about God in the same way.

When something is important to you, you think about it.  You talk about it.  You pursue it.  You care about it.  Not just once a week or on holidays, or when life goes wrong and you need help.  If God Is, than God is IMPORTANT.

So here's Question 1:  When people look at you and your life, do they think that you think God is important?

My second thought (and it's closely related to the first)God IS.  That is to say, not only is the topic of God the most important thing in life, but God Actually Exists.

Newsflash:  Most people don't think so.

Some people don't believe in God in the first place.  They see people like us as curiosities, maybe throw-backs to a by-gone era.  I've had people tell me that "religion is a crutch" for psychologically needy people.  They think "God" is something we manufacture to protect ourselves from the ultimate meaninglessness of life.
Bonus thought:  By the way, when you run into someone accusing you of believing in God "for emotional reasons," consider R.C. Sproul's response.  In his book  Defending Your Faith: An Introduction Into Apologetics, Sproul points out that while of course he has an emotional draw towards believing in God, Atheists may also have an emotional need underlying their denial of God.  After all, if God exists (especially as described in the Bible), than people aren't autonomous after all - and they are to be held to God's standards of conduct, not to what THEY think is right!
Also, while other people aren't willing to deny the existence of God, they misunderstand who He really is.  They may be "deists" in their theology, seeing God as a supreme being who created the universe but who doesn't get involved in human affairs.  Like a clock-maker, he made the world ("wound it up") and now sits on the sidelines watching how things play out.  Others believe in a God that they've made up - maybe like an old, befuddled, rich Grandfather, who helps them out when they need him, but generally stays out of the way.  In any case, these are people who accept the possibility or even the existence of God, but that belief doesn't make any practical difference in their life.

If God does exist, that that is A BIG DEAL.  The existence of an all-powerful, omnipotent being casts more than a little shadow over the fun most people are pursuing!  Tozer also pointed to this:
"All the problems of heaven and earth, though they were to confront us together and at the same time, would be nothing compared with the overwhelming problem of God:  That He is; what He is like; and what we as moral beings must do about him..."
To put it simply, the existence of God is a problem.  Mankind's GREATEST problem... OUR greatest problem.  As Sigmund Freud once said, the worst thing imaginable would be to fall into the hands of "the superior power of fate," and ESPECIALLY if that "fate" is an all-powerful and holy God!

So here's Question 2:  When people look at you and your life, how real do they think that you believe God actually is... and how are you addressing "the problem of God" in your daily life?

That's what I wanted to say to you this time.  I'm hoping that I can prompt you somehow, in the midst of grad school, college or high school - in the midst of friends and fun, school and dreaming about the future - to consider that GOD IS.  And because He is, pursuing Him, knowing Him, loving Him... well, dealing with Him is The Most Important Thing In Life.  And not just because it's "the right answer," but because your are gripped by the reality that most people sadly miss.

You know I've been working on our family genealogy.  I've been able (through Papa's sister's work) to trace our family back 13 generations to a man named John Rogers from England.  He was born in 1500, and was notable first because he was responsible for printing the first English Bible translated from the original languages into English!  He was caught up in the Reformation controversy in England, and stood firmly, boldly and publicly for God - even in the midst of hostile religious and political times.

In 1555, he was sentenced to die for what he believed.  The story strikes me because he was my age when this happened!  You can read the whole story in Chapter XVI of  Foxe's Book of Martyrs, but on February 4, 1555, in the Smithfield area of London, England, this actually happened:
"When the time came that he should be brought out of Newgate Prison to Smithfield, the place of his execution, Mr. Woodroofe, one of the sheriffs, first came to John Rogers, and asked him if he would [recant].  Rogers answered, 'That which I have preached I will seal with my blood.'  Then Mr. Woodroofe said, 'Thou art an heretic.'  Rogers replied 'That will be known at the Day of Judgment.'  Mr. Woodroofe added, 'I will never pray for thee.'  Though Rogers responded, 'But I will pray for you.'"
Your Great-Grandfather (11 times removed) John Rogers awaited and met death - burned at the stake - cheerfully!  A little while before his burning, they offered again him a pardon if he would renounce his faith, but he utterly refused it.  The fire was lit and he washed his hands in the flames as though he did not feel them!  He became the first of hundreds to die at the hand of Queen "Bloody" Mary.  And why?  Because he believed that GOD IS.  He knew what was REALLY important... and he died for it.  More importantly, perhaps, he lived for it, too.

This is part of our family legacy... it's in our blood, so to speak.  So I'm praying that you see the reality of what really matters in life, that you feel it - "that the eyes of your heart would be enlighted in order that you may know..."  And this starts with seeing God as important, and real.  After all, "anyone who would please Him must first believe that He is..." (Hebrews 11:6).

Well, more next time.  I love you all very much.  No matter how near or far you are from home, we're thinking about you.  We pray for you daily, and will be excited to see what life has in store for each of you this year.

Love always,



DavisWeth said...

Knowing that we have an ancestor that was so strong in his faith is amazing to me. Thank you for not only reminding me of what should be the focus of my every day life, but for also giving me motivation to really live for the most important thing in life.

Christopher Hays said...

Thanks for setting a fantastic example of being so intentional and reflective about your kids' continued spiritual growth. It encourages and inspires me as a father; keep it up!

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