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ruleBackground

Gospels

John 21:17

The third time he said to him, "Simon son of John, do you love me?"

Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, "Do you love me?" He said, "Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you."

Jesus said, "Feed my sheep."

January 6, 2002

The Measure of a Life

A few weeks ago, my family was on vacation in Florida. One day, my father-in-law George and I left my husband and son to the theme parks and drove up the Gulf Coast to see a man with whom George had served in the Navy during World War II. They hadn't seen each other in 50 years.

On the way to see him, my father-in-law told me how well he thought of this man, who, he said, had seemed back then to be capable of making more of his life than "the rest of us poor country farm boys."

We spent a few hours with the man, who was now in his mid-70s. He was riddled with leukemia and diabetes. He'd spent most of the prior month in and out of the hospital, and he said matter-of-factly that he didn't have much time left.

In between reminisces from their Navy days, a picture emerged about the man's life in the last 50 years. It was clear he felt he had, in fact, been very successful and achieved much.

"I think I've done pretty much what I wanted to do. I've accomplished a lot," he said. "I guess you could say that I am satisfied with how my life turned out."

He'd gone to college and earned several degrees in different fields. He'd returned to the military and retired a colonel. After that, he'd been a successful businessman. In fact, he told us, he'd almost been a millionaire twice.

"The first time, I'd almost made it, but my first wife ended up with half," he said, with some anger.

"I worked my way back up there, but then wife number two took another half," he said with greater disgust.

Across from me, wife number five smiled timidly. Some 20 years his junior, they'd been married a matter of months. I noticed their interaction seemed to be based on him ordering her around and making veiled backhanded remarks. I looked around his house, which was large and tastefully furnished, and tried to push away the thoughts that were coming into my mind.

My father-in-law asked whether he'd had children. His face clouded over. "Two," he said. "My daughter's in her 40s. She's led a very troubled life."

He looked away. "I don't even know where she is living right now."

He said nothing about his son until some time later. "He's just a jerk," the man said flatly.

About that time there was a knock on the door. It was the FedEx man, with a package of books. "Ah, some light reading on ancient history," the man said, opening the package.

He looked over at me. "Probably not something you'd be interested in," he said. "Not many people are."

"Actually," I said, hoping to stimulate some conversation, "I am taking a class on the history of the church through the medieval period right now."

His face darkened. "Don't get me started about religion," he said. "I don't want to get into any arguments. Let's not go there."

So we didn't go there.

After we left, my father-in-law remarked again how much he admired his friend, and how it seemed he had lived up to the potential he'd seen in him all those years ago.

Depends what you're measuring by, I thought to myself.

*****

Then Jesus told his disciples, "If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

For what will it profit a man, if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life? Or what shall a man give in return for his life? For the Son of man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay every man for what he has done. — Matthew 16:24-27

*****

On the two-hour drive back to our hotel, these words of Jesus haunted me.

I didn't know anything about this man's upbringing, what he'd faced, or why he hated the church so much. But I felt a profound sense of sadness about how he'd lived his life and what he felt was important.

I also grieved for the broken human legacy he'd be leaving in his wake.

Every time I hear someone say they don't see where following Christ makes any difference, I think of people like this man, who has had no relationship with Jesus. I look at what they do with their lives, and what they leave behind.

Too often, I see this pattern: The man (or woman) lives for himself, his own enrichment and his own pleasure. Other people are valued for what they can do for her — make her happy, give her a comfortable lifestyle, be obedient to her. When something breaks down, so does the relationship. Then, it's on to the next. And the next. Children who live in an environment like this growing up think this is how the world works and are likely to follow the same patterns.

You don't have to go very far to notice it. Look at the lives of your family and friends, neighbors and co-workers. Perhaps there are parts of this pattern in your own life.

*****

Why does Jesus matter? Why is Christ's church important? Why do we want others to know about him and come to him? One of the reasons is because following Jesus gives life purpose and meaning.

I am convinced that only by following Jesus can our lifestyles be turned around to the point where we stop living for ourselves, stop contributing to what's wrong in the world and become part of God's healing solution.

There are untold numbers of people like my father-in-law's friend, who spend their years gaining the world and forfeiting their lives. And then one day they die. This simple fact should fill those of us who know a better way with sorrow — and the motivation to reach them.

.

Postscript
Feb. 4, 2002 — George and I learned that his friend died just two weeks after our visit, shortly before Chirstmas.

 

Then Jesus told his disciples, "If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

For what will it profit a man, if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life? Or what shall a man give in return for his life? For the Son of man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay every man for what he has done."— Matthew 16:24-27