Friday, April 18, 2014

You (Won't) Only Live Once

You Only Live Once.

The inspiration for anything from skydiving to one-night-stands, “YOLO” has become one of the favorite hashtag-maxims of this generation. It makes sense. Too many of us spend life standing on the sidelines, watching others seize opportunities we ourselves are too afraid to chance, allowing the parade of days and years to float past us. We need something to get us in the game, an energy drink for the soul, a kick in the inner constitution. We need a 4-letter reminder that we only get one shot at this crazy existence and that we had better start giving it all we’ve got.

“You are never going to see these people again,” says the blind cosmos. “So who cares what they think?”

There are reports from ancient Palestine that a man was killed and then days later came back to life. Eyewitnesses say that he ate a post-mortem meal on the beach with his friends.

My family recently went on vacation to Disney World, where we took an African safari in the Animal Kingdom. The safari jaunt whet my appetite for trans-global adventure, one involving the unbounded wild and the risk of real danger. I began to imagine what it would be like for Katie and I to trek the jungles of Africa or the rain forests of South America. Within a few minutes, I found myself chatting with an older couple who, to my astonishment, casually mentioned that they had travelled on an African safari. They said it was the best trip of their lives. “If you ever have the chance, you should do it,” they told me.

“Yes,” she told him. Cassie Bernall was asked by her Columbine murderer if she believed in God. Then he shot her.

Maybe it makes sense to spend tens of thousands of dollars on a safari (even if you cannot afford it) if you are only going to live once. Maybe it makes sense to buy that car or have that affair. But there are many other endeavors that would never make sense to the YOLO philosophy. I wonder if Mother Teresa would have spent all those years gnarling her body caring for people who were just going to die anyway if she thought she was only going to live once. A leper colony does not seem like a place you expect to find #YOLO graffiti in the alleys. Would Dr. King have found those death threats more compelling if he thought he was going to live only once? Would he have abandoned his letter-writing to scratch #YOLO on the Birmingham prison walls? Would Cassie still have said “yes”?

If the thought of living only once is enough to incite a desire for fleeting fun and self-fulfillment, what is it that would cause someone to give up those things for the good of others?

Peter said to Jesus, “We have left all to follow You!”

“Truly I tell you,” Jesus said to them, “no one who has left home or wife or brothers or sisters or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age, and in the age to come eternal life.”

Christians are empowered to live for the good of this present world precisely because we believe we will live more than once. Jesus could throw Himself headlong toward death on a cross, dark and torturous as it was, because He knew that death could not keep Him. He would rise again, and the first day of the week would become the first day of a new hope for anyone who dared to follow. He promises us that He is only the first to rise, that He has blazed a trail over the broken gates of death for us all. We will rise because He is risen.

Here is our great consolation and hope. If this life is all there is, then why not live for myself? Why not live like a toy store shopping spree, grabbing all I can in exuberant desperation before the clock runs out? But if there is a life to come, and if I will live that life in a body that is made new, then I am free to live with the confident patience of a wise investor. I am free to defer pleasures, saving them for the future so I can share other’s burdens in the present. I am free to live simply and work passionately and sacrifice completely. I am free to live my best life later.

What if you never reach your dreams because you have given so much for the needs of others? What if carrying your cross and following Jesus means you never get that job, or live in that house, or marry that person, or visit that country? What if it means that you lose your very life? Jesus says you will receive many times more than any of those things, and I do not think He means only spiritual blessings. The promise of Jesus’ Resurrection is a promise of a new body living on a new earth. There we will have friends to love, exquisite meals to eat, mountains to climb, castles to build, and Jesus to worship. There will be no sin, no sickness, no sorrow – none of the things that haunt and hinder our dreams in this world. All will be made right, and all will be ripe for our enjoyment.

This is not pie-in-the-sky or some sort of theme park for which you can buy a ticket. This is the bright Sunday morning for those who follow Jesus through the darkness of Good Friday. Have you given up on wealth and possessions for the Kingdom’s sake? Here is your inheritance. Are you now single and celibate for the Kingdom? You cannot imagine the intimacy that awaits you. Are you weary and worn from caring for your sick, tending to your little ones? You will hear, “Enter into My rest.”  

Do not place your joy in only living once. That is but a dying joy born of fear. “Do not be afraid,” said the angel at the tomb. Do not be afraid of missed pleasures, small houses, sickness and death.

“He is not here, he has risen.” Here is the true joy of living. Here is the courage to love the world rather than the short years of this age, to sacrifice our dreams and our desires and our very lives, knowing that they too will be raised and redeemed. Here is the strength to say “yes” – to lay down beside the Lamb who was slain.
“I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in Me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?”

“If you ever have the chance to go on safari, you should do it,” they told me.

My friends, I think I will. Go on ahead, blaze the trail through the jungle. Leave for me a path and I will catch up with you soon.

For now, there is a cross to carry.

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