“For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed–a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”“
From First to Last
A year ago today Heidi went to be with Jesus. It’s hard to believe its been a year. In many ways, it still feels not too long ago.
Her family and I made it through our “firsts”. The first wedding anniversary, first Kidney Transplant anniversary, first Thanksgiving and Christmas, first bone marrow anniversary, heart transplant anniversary and the first change of seasons.
Peppered in between all of these firsts, were my individual firsts. Selling my home was one of my first major decisions independent of her thoughts on the matter; without her counsel or opinion; without her in view in some way. Buying a new home in MD was my last (most recent) decision.
I remember the first morning I woke up without her. I remember the first time I went to bed without her. I remember the last time I carried her up the stairs to go to bed (3.26.21). I remember the last time I would wake her the very next morning (3.27.21).
These experiences of the first and the last, and all the other “firsts” throughout this past year bring to mind two things from the Bible. One a question and the other an invitation.
Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.
Death makes us feel the weighty effects of the fall. But over the past year, in my thinking, I’ve had a subtle shift in a perspective that is common nowadays; that is, regarding the phrase, ‘this was not how it was supposed to be’. This is a phrase referring to death. That sentiment bears within its essence that death somehow uprooted God‘s plan all along. But that is not true. The Bible teaches that God not only accounted for the impending fall of our first parents, Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:6-7) but he planned for it (Proverbs 20:24, Deut 8:2-3, Job 1:8). Though I do not wish to address the theological nuances bound up in what I just said, I wonder if James’ question resonates with you: What is your life?
After Heidi died, my heart was tied up with questions about my future. Some of these questions I feel free to share out loud. Others are reserved for an inner circle; and still others between the Lord and I. But a question for all of us, standing out in the open and in plain sight, is a question that the happy soul and the grieving soul must face — what is your life?
If it is true that our lives are a mist and that death was part of God‘s sovereign calculation in the affairs of man, then it may help us to consider afresh James’ question — What is your life?
When we put on the lens through which James is asking his question, we get the feeling he is thinking about what Jesus said in Luke 12.
Consider how the wild flowers grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith!
James heard Jesus saying that our lives are like wildflowers. Today they are here, tomorrow they are gone like a mist. But if the fields are clothed in splendor through no work of its own, and by God’s gracious hand, how much more are those whose lives are bound up in Christ will God provide all we need to live and breath, and have our being.
The life God gave in my marriage to Heidi was beautiful in its time. All of the adventures, all of the memories, all of the difficulties and hardships, all of the love we shared…everything was beautiful in its time. Everything served a purpose and an aim. Everything fell between two bookends — a first and a last.
Firstly, the life He gives us is beautiful because he created us. The life he gives us has a purpose and an aim. Death does not disrupt this aim.
He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.“
Ecclesiastes 3:11 (ESV)
Secondly, to have any sense of an understanding of this aim, we must see that our life and death, our first breath and last, fit perfectly within boundary lines God himself establishes.
The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance.
Psalms 16:6 (NIV)
Sometimes when I see look out at the distance of a mountain ridge, a cloud formation or a rainfall, I try to trace the boundary lines, and I think to myself with wonder why God was pleased to make the ridge end “here” instead of 100 feet to the left of right; or why are the cloud lines given with this color scheme and not another; or why does the rainfall end “here” and not one foot further?
For he looks to the ends of the earth and sees everything under the heavens. When he gave to the wind its weight and apportioned the waters by measure, when he made a decree for the rain and a way for the lightning of the thunder, then he saw it and declared it; he established it, and searched it out.
Job 28:24-27 (ESV)
I was there when he set the heavens in place, when he marked out the horizon on the face of the deep, when he established the clouds above and fixed securely the fountains of the deep, when he gave the sea its boundary so the waters would not overstep his command, and when he marked out the foundations of the earth.
Proverbs 8:27-29 (NIV)
Staring at the creation helps me see his faithful keeping of the world around me is but a microcosm of his faithful keeping of me here, now and in the future.
Lastly, Because these things are true, we have a security inviting us to never fear or worry about tomorrow.
I cannot look at the creation around me without eventually taking seriously Jesus’ invitation to consider the wildflowers. Jesus squashes our fears by pointing us to his creation; prompting us to look steadily at all the beauty he erects and the stability he provides.
At every corner where fear and doubt lurk about our life and about our tomorrow, James’ question and Jesus’ invitation serve as a centering force enabling us to not only confess the worry that stirs up within our pain in grief, but prompts us to use our faculties of imagination to realize that if God cares for everything around us, how could he not also care for us 100-fold.
He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?
Rom 8:32 (ESV)
The Bible has an uncanny way of having us look at things that are small in order to help us conceptualize things that are infinitely large or important for the heart to grasp.
One example is Proverbs 6:6, “Go to the ant…consider its ways and be wise.” If you want to be wise, you, who are “infinitely” larger in power and magnitude than that of an ant, must humble yourself, bend low, think deeply and consider the ant. Great wisdom for the heart is bound up in thinking deeply about this tiny creature.
Another example is Matt 13:31-32 “He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”
When God wants you to think about heaven, and think about the boundary lines of your life; when he prompts you to use your imagination about your future estate — he points us to the smallest of things – a mustard seed.
The further we consider the wildflowers, the more the doors open up in our heart to seeing the gospel. The presence of wildflowers in the open fields is tangible evidence of God’s provision of life and beauty.
Jesus wants you to consider wildflowers because he wants you to be captivated by his love and provision for you. He wants you to think about the fields dressed in flowers that come and go and come again, so you are reminded that though our lives, in many respects, are just like these flowers; life today and death tomorrow, He is with you and will never forget to keep you clothed with all beauty and goodness.
For those in Christ, the ultimate clothing we look forward to is the resurrection of the body – the new heaven and the new earth. Wildflowers in the field point us to this; wildflowers point to the gospel. This the course of the gospel: Life, Death and Resurrection.
When the wildflowers of yesterday have died, God provides again for those fields, giving renewed health and beauty in due time. If you see a wildflower, this is evidence and a kind of “proof” of our future resurrection. Even though all we need is the proof of Christ’s empty tomb, which we have, wildflowers serve as ever-present beauties we can enjoy, pointing and reminding us God’s promise to provide a beautiful life – a resurrection life – where death no longer exists.
When fear and worry about tomorrow creep in; when there is life today but death tomorrow; when grief, sadness, pain and confusion rest upon you; when contemplating the first and the last; when questioning what is your life, you will do well to go to the ant, look at a mustard seed or go in your backyard and look at your garden flowers and consider them.
Consider the wildflowers. Be drawn in with awe of the beauty and wisdom of God, and let your heart lean into Spirit-led consideration of the holy nature and goodness of the character of God.
Consider the wildflowers and let your heart look to heaven where there is life: Life in the Son and life forevermore.