A Life Well Lived

“Aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.” (1 Thessalonians 4:11-12 ESV)

I recently attended the funeral of a good friend of mine whose life was tragically taken from him by the cancer of leukemia. Only forty-eight years old, my friend Doug left behind a loving wife and six children. Nearly a thousand people gathered to mourn the loss and celebrate the life of my friend. It was the largest funeral I had ever attended, and I was so struck by the influence and affect this man had on so many.

Photo Courtesy of Suzanne McNeil Photography - suzannemcneilphotography.com

Photo Courtesy of Suzanne McNeil Photography – suzannemcneilphotography.com

Co-workers, neighbors, family, church members, children and parents of the sports teams he coached in the community, and long-time friends spanning over several decades all attended his memorial service. We cried together, we prayed together; we laughed together, we grieved together. We missed our friend Doug, together.

Doug was a godly man. I met him over twenty years before his passing, in the high school auditorium that housed our local church in Knoxville, Tennessee. Doug’s joy was infectious and his love for Jesus was evident to all who interacted with him. It wasn’t long before he was asked to lead a small group, and I was one of those privileged to attend his group and benefit from his love and care. Doug and his wife, Alison, spent countless evenings opening up their home — and their lives — to our little church (which eventually grew to be a large church due in no small part to their investment). We lived in a college town and Doug adopted the college student’s schedule in his hospitality. I can remember countless times staying late after our small group meetings to no bother from Doug and Alison. Around 11pm, Doug would announce that he was ordering pizza for everyone and we would linger late into the evening on a Friday night. This dear couple counseled my wife and I through the early stages of our relationship into engagement and the beginning of our marriage. We babysat their children back when they only had two kids before their family grew to include six children; their two oldest were the ring bearers in our wedding.

Doug lived a quiet life. He didn’t have a Twitter account. He didn’t have a presence on Facebook. You could barely find his profile on LinkedIn, and even there it didn’t include his picture or any remarks about his work or personal life. All it said was District Sales Representative at Wallace Hardware and Co., the establishment where he worked for over twenty years. In these days when people change job titles or move companies every two to three years, Doug was an anomaly. He worked at the same company and attended the same local church for over 20 years and led his small group for nearly 18 years until the cancer set in and chemotherapy and bone marrow transplants limited his ability to lead. I can remember Doug with his bald head, wearing a mask to prevent infections, coming to church with the same joy and smile he had always displayed previously. He continued to coach his sons’ soccer team with the mask in tact, as well. And when I interacted with him, he would always seek to encourage me and draw me out about what was going on in my world. Consistent and faithful, hardworking, content and cheerful, season after season of steady plodding – that was my friend, Doug. He was a great man, and I believe he heard, “Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful…enter in to the joy of your Master” (Matthew 25:23).

As I’ve contemplated Doug’s life, I’ve sensed the Lord instructing me:

“Aspire to this.”

We live in a celebrity-crazed culture. It’s everywhere you turn, on the news, in the checkout lines of our local grocery stores and gas stations, in our Facebook and Instagram feeds, and even in the church. The American culture values the greatness of social influence. We measure our stature by the number of our followers and the prominence of the people we are connected to (many of whom follow us simply because we follow them). I wonder how influential we truly are, and how influential we think we are.

It’s so easy in our culture to be enamored by the trivial and to push aside side what is central, frankly because what is central so often feels so ordinary. We want extraordinary, but in our pursuit of extraordinary, in our ambition to live lives that count for something, we can so easily sacrifice what matters most. Doug gave many of us a wake-up call because when it comes to what is most important, he nailed it. He lived a short life, but it was a short life well lived. Just before he passed away, Doug and Alison celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary. During those 25 years, he was faithful to his wife and she was faithful to him; he fulfilled his vow “till death do us part”. He trusted in Jesus for the forgiveness of his sins and for the gift of eternal life. He lived daily rejoicing in the joy of his salvation. He raised six children in the fear of the Lord, pointing them continually to Jesus. And he gave his life away in tireless service to his local church even as he joyfully fulfilled his responsibilities as a husband and father. He lived all-out for Jesus. What a life!

Over against the backdrop of our culture that is so impressed with social standings, God’s Word instructs us to “aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one” (1 Thessalonians 4:11-12 ESV). We often hear the call to aspire to greatness, but who hears the call to aspire to live quietly? To mind our own affairs?

Now, I’m not saying that there is anything at all wrong with building a large following on social media (especially if it’s utilized for noble purposes), but that is not the sign of true greatness.

Doug lived a life of true greatness. And, I for one, am instructed by his joyful life of quiet, yet profoundly influential, obedience to the Lord Jesus Christ. I know that I need more of this type of aspiration in my own life. In Doug Sexton, we watched ordinary and radical living gloriously collide to form a life full of meaning, purpose, and eternal value: a life well lived.

Do we really believe that if we aspire to live quietly, to mind our own affairs, and to work hard with our hands that we will make a massive impact on others for the glory of God? Doug Sexton has made me a believer. I miss him, and I thank God for his profound impact on my life.

Let’s all learn from Doug to aspire to what truly matters in this life, that we too may be prepared for the next.

When Your Mood Matches The Weather

The buds of the tree frozen in ice

Laura and I woke up early this morning to let our new labradoodle, Tulip, out of her crate and into the cold air to “do her business” in the out-house of our front lawn. A gift for my oldest daughter’s 11th birthday, Tulip has brought a lot of joy to our home.

When I opened the front door this morning, I was somewhat surprised, but not shocked, to be greeted by snow flakes falling in the crisp, cool air. Spring officially began on March 20th, but it still feels like winter in the section of the Northern Hemisphere where I reside.

It’s no wonder that this Spring would tease us by peeking and dashing like a school-age game of hide-and-go-seek. Snow in Spring is fitting following a winter that has been unusually cold.

Sometimes I imagine that it’s all the fascination with the movie Frozen that is delaying the inevitable, and enviable, arrival of warmer weather. And as much as I love the movie, I’m ready to sing, “Let it go!” with a new idea in mind.

Snow, in and of itself, is a beautiful thing, and I’m grateful to live in a place where we typically experience all four seasons. The problem for me (and, as a result, my wife at times) is that often my mood matches the weather. Lately, it has resembled a yo-yo effect of vacillating frequently, and it has not been uncommon to end a day encouraged only to wake up feeling very sad. I wonder if you can relate?

One Thing Never Changes

Over the years, through many changing seasons, I have been greatly served by the writings and sermons of Charles Spurgeon. It seems he had a constitution much like my own, so his writings have served me well. This quote is from Beside Still Waters, and it can be of help to all of us whose moods tend to match this weather we are experiencing:

“I have sometimes envied those good people who are never excited with joy and consequently are seldom or ever depressed. ‘Along the cool, sequestered vale of life they hold the even tenor of their way.’ Happy people! At the same time, when I rise as with eagle’s wings in joyful rapture, I feel right glad to be capable of the blissful excitement. Yet if you soar to the skies, you are apt to drop below sea level. He that can fly, can fall.

If you are so constituted that you rise and fall, if you are a creature who can be excited and then depressed… then you can only be strong by faith… Settle this in your heart. “Whether I am up or down, the Lord Jesus Christ is the same. Whether I sing or sigh, the promise is true and the Promiser is faithful… If you will stand firm in Christ Jesus, even in your weakness you will be made strong” (p. 21).

This morning, as the snow falls and the wind chills in Spring, I am so thankful that the Lord Jesus Christ is the same: yesterday, today, and forever – the same. Our God does not change like shifting shadows or erratic seasons, and His mercies are new every morning, regardless of the weather. We are secure in Him, and that’s a reason for joy in every season!

Rest for the Weary Soul

BLUERIDGE PARKWAY OVERLOOK OF LOOKING GLASS ROCK

Some time ago, I took my wife on what was supposed to be a very restful, romantic getaway to Asheville. I had it all mapped out. The plan was to visit a place called The Max Patch along the way and then drive in to Asheville for dinner at one of our favorite places, Tupelo Honey, for sweet potato pancakes that are out of this world.

We were going to stay the night in Asheville and then visit the Biltmore the following day.

The Goal was Rest and Refreshment

Everything was going great when we arrived at The Max Patch in the early evening. We took a short hike and savored a stunning 360-degree view of the mountains in the Pisgah National Forest. It was spectacular. Then, we watched the sun-set brilliantly over the mountains, and we hiked back down just in time to head out for our special dinner. We had timed it just right where we would make it to Asheville in time for our dinner reservations.

Here’s where our restful, romantic getaway took a very surprising turn.

When we returned to our vehicle, despite numerous attempts, the van would not start (I mean nothing!). Because we were in a National Forest, our cell phones didn’t work, either. At this time, it was dark; it was late October, and we had no coats and no other accommodations. We were completely stuck.

I hadn’t planned for a night of camping (and we’re not campers!). What was supposed to be a restful, romantic getaway, turned in to a very uncomfortable night in our van, as we were freezing together and we ended up splitting a rock-solid cliff bar for our dinner.

There was no rest for the Coopers on that getaway outside of Asheville!

No Rest Outside of Christ

As we make our journey through the ups and downs of life, God regularly reminds me that there is no true rest outside of Christ.

The only way to find spiritual rest is by coming to Jesus. In Matthew 11, Jesus invites all who are weary to come to him for that rest.

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for you souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (v. 28-30)

Notice that Jesus does not invite the “wise and learned” (v. 25) but the weary and heavy laden (v. 28). This is good news for the weary. Your weariness qualifies you to come to the Savior for rest.

Jesus offers ETERNAL REST for all who seek forgiveness for their sins and freedom from their guilt. He invites us to come to him and rest from all our endless, fruitless efforts of trying to save ourselves through works of the law.

But this rest is also a PRESENT REALITY: All who are burdened by sin and suffering in this fallen world can come to Christ. He is a Just Judge and a Gentle Savior. He’s not mistaken about your condition: He is the Judge. He knows everything. He knows your condition exactly, so you can go to him honestly.

All Who Are Burdened Can Come

The invitation is universal. It is extended to ALL who are weary and heavy laden. None of the troubled are excluded.

To the weary mom who is pouring herself out day-in and day-out, morning and afternoon and evening, whose work does not stop and whose efforts are often met with no thanks and no immediate rewards, Jesus says, “Come to me and I will give you rest.”

The illness that goes on and on and on, the pain in your body that just won’t go away, the pain in your heart that never seems to heal, the grief of the loss of a loved one, the financial stress, the slander of those who disagree with your decisions, the loneliness you feel even in a crowd, the betrayal, the rejection of people you love, all of it we can bring to Jesus for rest.

Whatever the situation, whatever the sorrow – Jesus says “COME to me and I will give you rest.” What a gentle Savior!

He can give us rest because he is gentle and lowly in heart. His yoke is easy and his burden is light. In his service, pain is pleasure, and “he makes any condition comfortable” (Richard Sibbes).

This rest doesn’t mean that we don’t work. It means we take Jesus’ yoke as we work (not the yoke of slavery, but the yoke of sonship, the yoke of complete acceptance and full pardon and absolute approval in and through Jesus).

There is no rest outside of Christ. Oh, but in Christ, there is a continual fountain of refreshment and rest for every weary soul.

He is our rest and our righteousness. Let us go to Him to find rest for our weary souls.