No matter how hard we tried, we just couldn't wrap our minds around it. She couldn't have just had a heart attack and died…not now, not under those circumstances.
I can still hear her clucking with glee as she took a younger generation under her wing, etching the Bible on their bones. Jan was generous, hospitable, fastidiously proper. A bear about the subject of life-style purity, she was scandalized by young Christians who got tattoos and piercings. (I would lovingly remind her that she, herself, very tastefully wore earrings, lipstick, and pants; things that would have scandalized a previous generation). There was no arguing with her. Holiness, in her view, was a non-negotiable. I prodded and provoked her about her views simply being cultural. She stuck to her guns. She was mortified by how far down the slippery slope Christians were living.
Jan was passionate about Jesus not only being Savior, but Lord. Jesus was Lord. No waffling, no skating over fuzzy lines.You saluted and said, “ Yes” to God. As someone once observed, the juxtaposed words, “No, Lord” were impossible. Jesus was either Lord and you said “yes”; or you said “No” because He wasn't. Those two words could never be neighbors.
But in her last seven months, Jan tried to squish “No, Lord”, into the same sentence. Despite her unswerving convictions, she ran off with an old flame. When people heard, they couldn't believe it. Not Jan! Picture Mother Teresa running off with an old lover…it was that inconceivable.
She didn't regret her decision; not for a moment. Right up till her last breath, my friend was happier than at any other time of her life. Her happiness put those of us who loved her into a quandary. “How bad can it be? She's so happy. She's radiant; why in heaven's name would we wish her back to her widowhood? How puritanical, how pharisaical, to wish someone out of Jan.” It was enough of a quandary to make you “Sherlock Holmes” through your own soul.
Many of us felt like Puddleglum in the Chronicles of Narnia. Puddleglum is under the earth and under the spell of a witch who thrums a hypnotic mandolin as she throws magic incense on the fire. The witch says soothingly, “There is no Aslan.” Puddleglum, our hero, fights the mind-numbing incense with all his might and says “There is an Aslan!” But he grows weary and numb and starts to succumb to the deep deception. Then when you fear the very worst, Puddleglum takes his webbed, peculiar feet, and stomps out the fire and clears his and his friends' heads.
For those of us who loved Jan, the hypnotic voice did not say, “There is no Aslan”. It said rather, “But she's so happy ”. And we tried to answer that happiness was not the measure of a life well-lived. But it wasn't only the witch who was messing with our minds. Our culture joined in with even smoother tones….”But she's so happy.” Ninety-eight percent of Christian television joined the chorus as well. It was hard to think straight through the mind-numbing haze of smooth voices and rationale.
But now she was dead. And I was asked by the family to speak at the funeral. What could I say? Jan had loved and served her God enthusiastically for decades. Obviously, I couldn't just count her life as being the last seven aberrant months. Of one thing I was sure: I had to be a truth-teller. Jan would require no less. The last few months of her life she told random people, “I am a Christian, but I am living in sin”. Even in her rebellion, Jan couldn't keep from telling the truth.
I told the crowd, “Someday I am going to have to stand in front of Jesus, and Jan, and give an account for what I am going to say to you. I think from the vantage of heaven, this is what Jan would want me to say today: Jesus is worthy of every sacrifice you can ever make. Pleasure, promotion, nothing in the world compares to the excellency, the supremacy, and destiny of Jesus. Live your life in light of eternity, no matter what temptations come to you.”
One after another, young people she'd mentored and loved stood up and spoke of her impact on their lives. They were gutsy, raw; they loved her deeply, and they were bewildered that the woman who got them to forsake sin, herself succumbed. These young people were eloquent with their confusion. Jan was for them the ultimate contradiction.
So, what do we make of Jan's story? Grace is larger than life, and larger than all our convictions. It's interesting in Psalm 119, the longest Psalm in Scripture, that after 175 verses of adamant conviction of the primacy of diligent pursuit of God's Word, the Psalm ends pitifully. “I've gone astray. Come seek me.” We want to shout at the Psalmist, “How could you go astray! You were the poster child for loving God's Word! What went wrong?” Yet, I find great comfort in that last verse. More comfort than all that precedes it. I think it proves that you can love God with great passion and zeal, and find yourself dead of a heart attack in an illicit relationship. We are all that fallible, that frail.
We can't afford to point fingers. There isn't a sin in the world that any one of us is incapable of performing. You're in deception if you think you're the exception. Yes, God's grace is greater than our sin; yet, the often unsaid truth is that how we live matters. It particularly matters to a generation who is watching to see if Jesus is worthy of a life that says, “ No”, to custom-made temptations, no matter how enticing.
Live pure. Simple words that challenge us to the bone. Words we need to heed as we embrace the next generation into greatness. Jesus, in his famous prayer prior to the cross, said in John 17, “For their sakes I sanctify (dedicate), myself.” It's a curious phrase.
You would think Jesus would say “For Your sake, Father, I sanctify myself.” But no, Jesus makes it clear; He does it for us. Actually, we see this life principle all around us. For a baby's sake, a young mother sets herself apart to get up multiple times in the middle of the night. For that same child, a mother denies herself a thousand pleasures. For the sake of his children, a father forfeits a promotion that might uproot them to another city at a vulnerable time in those children's lives. For the sake of a younger generation, grandparents raise grandchildren whose parents have forsaken them.
For our sakes, allied soldiers in World War II gave their lives. For the sake of the poor, doctors give up lucrative practices and live in sweaty, fetid regions. For the sake of children trapped in child sex trafficking, I have a friend who flies all over the world constantly, challenging hostile governments. For your sake, Jesus said, He sanctified Himself.
Living pure, living a dedicated, devoted life, is essential in embracing a generation to greatness. Personal purity matters. In a culture of unmitigated self-pursuit, self-gratification, “the self stuffed with self,” as Walter Percy once said, it is vital that we devote ours lives for the sake of others.
I taught Juvenile Hall maximum security children. Most of my students had murdered people or committed other crimes that made them too much of a security risk to send to the on-site school. After a year of close observation, I came to the conclusion that more than drugs, more than gangs, the absence of dedicated, devoted adults in their lives, was the greatest contributor to their lives of crime.
I am not simply talking about parents, (and I mean no minimizing of their strategic role), but dedicated, devoted adults, who will set their own pleasures, agendas, self-seeking aside and for the sake of a youth, will say with Jesus; “For their sakes I sanctify myself.”
One of my great Jans is to have been recently adopted by a group of young, exceptional leaders. As I hear their stories …I wish I could shake and erase like an Etch-a-Sketch the effects of multiple self-centered spiritual leaders who were not willing for their sakes to sanctify themselves. Fortunately, my young friends have chosen to remain faithful to Jesus, even when their leaders have not. But for each of them there are probably many others, who've said; “Forget it! It they can't live it, why should I?”
Our decision to live pure matters more than we know. Let's say, I throw in the towel of personal purity and indulge in some custom-made temptation. My behavior will impact the young leaders who look up to me. Who can know who those leaders will eventually affect? Who can measure the loss? If just one of the young leaders I impact throws in the towel because I did, it could affect an untold chain of future leaders and destinies. We cannot sin alone.
I met a lovely family in Central California who had exceptional children. I asked them their secret and they said a memorable thing: “Our secret, if we have one, is that we try to live 2 Corinthians 10:6", which they interpreted to mean that if they saw something in their children they didn't like, they looked first in themselves to find that thing and repent of it, before they asked repentance from their children.
If we have a child who lies, we could invite the Holy Spirit into our own lives and ask “Where am I lying? Where am I fudging the truth? Am I honest when I pay my taxes?” Personally, I was convicted of using a parking privilege for which I had the right placard, but the placard wasn't technically mine.
This principle is pronouncedly evident in the current Islamization of Europe. With the reigning preference for personal autonomy, including not having children, Europe is swiftly becoming Eurabia. The future, as someone said, is in fertility rates. I am not trying to be prescriptive about family size. But I do think the clear potential for the Islamization of Europe has enormous consequences for the culture of the West. Every decision costs. Our refusal to consider the future insures we won't have one.
We sometimes ask ourselves, how has our culture gone so far from goodness? Could it be simply that we are not seriously sanctifying ourselves for the emerging generation? Could it be we only live for ourselves? Could our culture of self eradicate a culture of those who were to come after us? Forty million aborted children give mute testimony to our lack.
Sanctifying ourselves for the sake of embracing a generation to greatness does not mean being odiously self-righteous. It's not about being holier than thou, heaping judgments on others. God is amazingly, wonderfully full of mercy. Scripture describes Him as “rich in mercy.” I have been the recipient of His rich mercy. But God is also a God of truth. Mercy and Truth kiss themselves in Jesus Christ.
Recently I was speaking at Westmont College in California , and I told the students…”Look, I know many of you are struggling with your faith…you're tempted with agnosticism. I am, too. But if we were a group of powerful people inventing a God in order to control people, we could never in a billion years come up with a God who is mercy and truth. The beauty of the character of God's rich mercy, and unswerving devotion to truth, is something that humans couldn't have thought up. We could not have come up in a million years with a God who sacrifices Himself instead of truth.”
We love the mercy part, but the truth part is difficult to swallow in a relativistic age. For instance, someone once said “All suicide is mass murder.” I understood them to mean that when a person commits suicide, he is murdering all the potential relationships that would have been his. A person who commits suicide is murdering untold people that could have come into being through them. In the same way, all sin affects masses. Every decision, every action has generational consequences.
We are free to do as we like. We are free to live as we please. We can guzzle down all the pleasure our nerves can stand. We are free as well to doom another generation to disillusionment with absolutes. Our freedom has great power for good or ill.
God gave the 10 Commandments because He wanted us to model to each other His very own character and behavior toward us. He said don't commit adultery because He would never trade us for another. God wanted us to model to our children and other children who are watching, what He was like.
God said; “Don't steal, don't murder, don't covet, don't lie, honor your father and mother, because He is a God who doesn't lie. He is a God who honors us. He would never take what is not rightfully His. He commands us to safeguard the Sabbath, because He Himself modeled for us rest. He wasn't exhausted after creation, he was modeling a rhythm of rest for us, and wants us to model it for each other.
There has to be in the life of a young generation, someone they can point to and say to themselves, “That's what God is like.” He is patient, unswervingly committed, rich in mercy, full of truth, He gives Himself away. He makes costly decisions. He follows through. He doesn't seek the easy path. When others look at us they hunger to see something of the character of Jesus.
The tragedy of history is that no generation has owned the fact that how they live affects the future. No generation has ever responsibly said with Jesus, “For their sakes I sanctify myself “. Of course, there have been marvelous individuals in each generation who have lived self-less lives. May their tribe increase. But could it be, that God would grace an entire generation to live pure, to become through the power of the Holy Spirit, dedicated and devoted?
Will we perfectly live dedicated, devoted lives for the sake of another generation?
No, of course we will make mistakes. But could there be a generation who chooses as much as possible, to say “No” to custom-made temptations for the sake of those following after us? Could there be an individual who will say with Jesus, “For their sakes, I sanctify myself'? Could that be you?
Wonderful One, thank you for being rich in mercy, rich in truth. Teach me how to sanctify (dedicate), myself for the sake of others. Teach me how to continually invite your Holy Spirit to correct me. Teach me how to embrace this generation into greatness, by being someone who says “No” to custom-made temptations, and models Your character of love and purity. May I live pure and love deep.