Well, I'm nearly half-way through the latest book on my reading table, "Irresistible Revolution," by Shane Claiborne. It is one of several "books" influencing my thinking today.
Claiborne makes an interesting statement: "We can tell the world there is life after death but the world really seems to be wondering if there is life before death."
Life before death. Isn't that what all of us are after? Isn't that what really drives materialism and greed and selfishness? Heck, crime, addiction, prejudice, injustice ... I maintain they are all driven by misdirected attempts by stupid human beings like you and me to get in a little living before we die.
Jesus is very clear when he states, "I came that they may have life and have it in abundance." But he is not talking about living large. He is talking about breathing, eating, drinking, sleeping and experiencing life in a way that renews and refreshes and makes us go to sleep at night thinking, "I can't wait for tomorrow."
Claiborne asks, "Would you still be a Christian if heaven and hell did not exist?" Hell yeah! (Sorry.) Yet I want to explore another idea. Just as faith is not fire insurance; not exclusively about what happens in the next world, neither is it a bottle of Valium; meant to constantly calm the storms of life.
I don't mean to imply that our faith will not keep us calm and peaceful among the storms, I just mean that we shouldn't hold up our faith as the anti-weather device.
"Just get me through today" is not living abundantly.
"Help me, some way, some how," is not living abundantly.
"Tell me when it's safe to come out of the cave" is not living abundantly.
That's surviving abundantly. I think Jesus had bigger ideas for our lives that merely surviving.
Dare we embrace the storms? The difficulties? This thought reminds me of the character Lt. Dan from Forrest Gump. In one scene, there is a terrific storm at sea and he is aboard one of the Bubba Gump Shrimp Boats, at the top of the crow's nest to be exact (remember he has returned from the Vietnam war with no legs). He is mad at God and as the storm rages, he laughs and shakes his fist and yells something like, "Come on old man, is that the best you can do?"
By the time the storm ends, Captain Dan has made peace with God; and not by "surviving" the storm, but by living abundantly in the midst of it.
I don't have any idea if this story really illustrates the point I'm trying to make here. All I know is that life happens, 24/7. That's what I tell the rehab ladies all the time. Life happens. Now what am I going to do with it? And even if life kicks your butt, you can just as easily sit there and say, "Wow, life is kicking my butt, how amazing is that!" as you can cry and bemoan it all, woe is me, woe is me, woe is me.
Think of George Bailey in the movie, It's a Wonderful Life. When shown what life would be like had he never been born (or ceased to exist), he decides living in the midst of all his troubles looks pretty exciting. When his life is "given back" to him, his lip begins to bleed, as one of the last things that happened before he "ceased" to exist is that he was punched in the mouth. Another character comments, "Hey George, your mouth is bleeding!" He tastes the blood and cries out triumphantly, "My mouth is bleeding! Well what do you know about that!"
In that moment, George Bailey is living abundantly.
I know people who live the philosophy that everything in life is to be embraced, acknowledging in every moment that God is beside you and has not abandoned you.
That is living abundantly, staying alert to God interacting with you through it all, and not just carrying you, carrying you, carrying you (although that is sometimes exactly what he is doing), but showing you that no matter what, you can choose and experience abundant life.
I think that's pretty darn cool. Abundantly cool. Life before death.