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Something Too Precious Not To Share

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Something Too Precious Not To Share

By Tom Rose

What things are precious to us?  They are generally objects: a favorite dress, sweater or perhaps a wedding gown; an old pair of sneakers or perhaps a baby’s first shoes; a special locket, pin, or ring; maybe a record, scrapbook or a special book or Bible possibly with a flower in it; certificates, trophies and plaques; collections of coins, stamps or rocks; books, letters, newspaper clippings, and of course, the pictures.

Mentally take yourself up in the attic and let me join you as you open the boxes, open the trunks.  As I watch the way you handle and linger over the contents, and listen to you tell your memories about their meaning, and watch your facial expressions, I’ll tell which ones are precious to you. 

This sentiment was expressed by Amy Grant in her song, “Heirlooms.”

“Up in the attic…down on my knees,
Lifetimes of boxes…timeless to me;
Letters and photographs…yellowed with years,
Some bringing laughter…some bringing tears;

Time never changes…the memories, the faces,
Of loved ones…who bring to me…All that I come from,
And all that I live for, And all that I’m going to be…
My precious family is more than an heirloom to me.”

Isn’t that the sentiment we hear survivors of a house fire or natural disaster tell us after their devastating loss?  “Well, even thought we lost everything, at least no one lost their life.”  I believe that is what this song is suggesting.  In this life people, and our relationships with one another, are more valuable than “things.”

However, there is something of even greater worth to consider – one’s soul.
In our everyday lives, do we ever think of our spiritual (i.e. non-material) life as being precious to us?  The apostle Peter in explaining how Jesus redeemed His believers from a life of sin, sets up another contrast of values by saying,

“…Knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things like silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ.” (I Peter 1:18-19)

The price of our freedom was not perishable possessions, it was the life-blood of the Son of God, a far more costly gift than any amount of earthly treasure.  I Cor. 6:19-20 emphasizes this point by noting,  

“You are not your own, for you have been bought at a price.”

In the second verse of this song, we find the writer is telling us that spiritual and eternal concerns are truly more important than earthly matters.  

“Wise men and shepherds…down on their knees,
Bringing their treasures…to lay at His feet;
Who was this wonder…Baby yet King,
Living and dying…He gave life to me.

Time never changes…the memory, the moment,
Of loved ones…who bring to me…All that I come from,
And all that I live for, And all that I’m going to be…
My precious Savior is more than an heirloom to me.”

The Puritan Thomas Watson thoughtfully observed, “Great was the work of creation, but greater the work of redemption; it cost more to redeem us than to make us – in the one there was but the speaking of a Word, in the other the shedding of Christ’s own blood.”  That thought gives the word precious a whole new meaning.

Perhaps, however, this song has yet a deeper meaning.  Do we view our faith and our salvation as just another “heirloom” to be left in the “attic” of our minds?  Looking honestly at our daily actions, do we rather than sharing with others our love for the Lord, just keep our memories from the past to ourselves?  When was the last time we spoke of the events of our own baptism or that of our friend or relative?  How often do we speak of the ideas expressed at a Gospel meeting, or mention to someone the words of a prayer or hymn at the funeral of a loved one?  When was the last time we talked with a friend about what the Bible says it takes to inherit eternal life?  Do we ever treat Jesus as just another object along life’s pathway? 

Let me share with you some recent research to highlight the importance of these questions.  Larry Alex Taunton is the Executive Director of Fixed Point Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to the public defense of the Christian faith.  Over the past two years, he launched a nationwide campaign to interview groups of college students who belong to the atheist equivalent of Campus Crusade (e.g. Secular Student Alliances and Freethought Societies). The rules were simple: “Tell us your journey to unbelief.”  From several hundred subjects, a composite sketch of the American college-aged atheists began to emerge, and it would challenge our assumptions about this demographic.  Most of the participants had not chosen their worldview from ideologically neutral positions, but in reaction to Christianity.  These students had heard plenty of messages encouraging: “social justice,” community involvement, and “being good,” but they seldom saw the relationship between that message, Jesus Christ, and the Bible.  They were serious-minded, but often concluded that church services were largely shallow, harmless, and ultimately irrelevant.  Although, students would often begin by telling the researcher they had become atheists for exclusively rational reasons, the results of their testimonies made it clear that, for most, this was a deeply emotional transition as well. Finally, and perhaps most poignant, they showed a deep respect for those teachers and ministers who took the Bible seriously.  Two responses give insight into their thinking.

Phil was once the president of his church’s youth group.  He loved his church when they weren’t just going through the motions.  He recalled Jim, one of his Bible teachers, did not dodge the tough chapters or difficult questions.  Although he didn’t always have satisfying answers or answers at all, he didn’t run away from the questions either.  The way he taught the Bible made me feel smart.  During my junior year in high school, the church in an effort to attract more young people, wanted Jim to teach less and play more.  Difference of opinion over this new strategy led to Jim’s dismissal.  He was replaced by Savannah, and attractive twenty-something who, according to Phil “Didn’t know a thing about the Bible.”  The church got what it wanted: the youth group grew.  But it lost Phil.

Michael, a political science major at Dartmouth, told us that he was drawn to Christians that unashamedly embraced Biblical teaching.  He added, “I can’t consider a Christian a good, moral person if he isn’t trying to convert me.”

As surprising as it may seem, this sentiment is not as unusual among non-believers as one might think.  It finds resonance in the comments of Penn Jillette, the atheist illusionist and comedian.  He says, “I don’t respect people who don’t proselytize.  I don’t respect that at all.  If you believe that there’s a heaven and hell, and people could be going to hell or not getting eternal life or whatever, and you think that it’s not really worth telling them because it would make it socially awkward…How much do you have to hate somebody to believe that everlasting life is possible and not tell them that?

In summary, three points clearly stand out from a thoughtful study of the scriptures coupled with a reflection of the above research.*  First, most young atheists come out of churches whose mission and message is vague.  Second, one must never confuse a desire for people to accept the gospel, with creating a gospel that is acceptable to people.  And third, Christianity, when taken seriously, compels its adherents to engage the world, not retreat from it (Mk 16:15-16).

*Taunton, Larry Alex “Listening to Young Atheists: Lessons for a Stronger Christianity,” The Atlantic, June 3, 2013.

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