6:44 PM Lloyd Ogilvie, one-time chaplain to the U.S. Senate, once had a serious accident while on study leave in Scotland. One afternoon he was walking on the beach when he fell between some rocks and broke one of his leg bones. Almost fainting with pain, he managed to crawl for several miles until he found help. The break required many months of recuperation in a hospital in Scotland.
During that time Ogilvie confronted what he called the “seduction of the secondary.” Alone with his pain, and away from the strain of his work, he was reminded of the preeminent need to have a close walk with God, to live for the Gospel, and to find his identity solely in Christ and not in any other human being.
What is life all about when God removes all the scaffolding? In Phil. 1:10, Paul puts it this way: “You must discern what is of utmost importance in life.” For years I believed that scholarship was primary. It was all too easy to succumb to the pressure to be relevant, spectacular, and powerful. Jesus faced these same three temptations (Matt. 4:1-11). Twenty-one centuries later, they still confront every Christian. Satan may show us the poverty of the world and tempt us to become humanitarians. Or he might suggest that if we did something spectacular we could win the world. Of he might allure us with the sweet promise of power. Jesus felt the pull of the devil’s suggestions, and so will we. There is perhaps nothing inherently sinful about being relevant, spectacular, or powerful. But what is good can often become the enemy of what is best. If we are to put the kingdom of God first, we must turn a deaf ear to other calls.
Tragically, it often takes a “severe mercy” in our lives before God gets a hold of us and we begin to affirm God (rather than success or relevance) as the only source of our identify as Christians. A few years ago I stood at the place in Bucharest where the brutal dictator Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife were executed because of their abuse of power. Contrast that with a scene in Alaba, Ethiopia, where in 2005 I had gone to meet the parents of a 19-year old who had been murdered for his faith. There I met a man named Tesfai whose 8-year old daughter had just been beheaded by the enemies of the cross. I asked him what I could pray for. Instead of asking for money or safety he responded, “Pray that I might be loving and forgiving like Jesus.” There was nothing “relevant,” “spectacular,” or “powerful” about Tesfai. But here was a man who had his priorities right. Jesus did not come to condemn the world but to save it. And His mission is to be carried on through His disciples. Like Jesus, we are to do the Father’s work and announce the Father’s kingdom, and we are to do this by loving all people, even those who hate us.
As I write these words my life expectancy is about 20 years. I want to commit myself for these 20 years to doing all I can to reconcile lost sinners to God, to themselves, and to one another. If my scholarship can contribute to this end, then I am content to continue teaching and writing books. But never again can my focus be on academics. The human problem is essentially a problem of the heart. Forgiveness of sin is at the root of Jesus’ radical message. And with the forgiveness of sin the Gospel also brings an empowering liberation from the seduction of those secondary things in our lives that pull us away from reality.
Friends, a time comes when each of us must reevaluate our priority system. Life is too short to live it for temporal dreams.