Firsts. We’re obsessed with them. They are what we use to define our lives. It’s these moments that we reminisce on with little smiles on our faces.
It’s been over 20 years but I can still recall with great clarity my first date. I remember what both of us were wearing as well as that first kiss on her parent’s doorstep. I couldn’t believe how lucky I was. The night when a girl actually let my lips touch hers. It’s one of those moments that, when I look back on it, I can’t help but smile.
I also remember the first meal my wife tried to cook and the disaster it became. She was slapping the meatloaf with a spatula trying to find a piece that was thoroughly cooked before serving me one with the appetizing statement, “Here. This piece doesn’t look too bad.” Imagine my enthusiasm as the gelatinous mass squelched down onto my plate.
The pink meatloaf was accompanied by some sautéed mushrooms. I took a bite and felt my body slip into rigor mortis as the flavor struck me. They were without a doubt the most disturbing things I’d ever tasted but there was my young wife looking at me with hope written all over her face. In that moment, I knew what every young husband, at least what every SMART young husband, knew…I’d have to eat the whole bowl and smile through unshed tears while I did it.
I recall how joyful I was when my wife took a bite of the same mushrooms and exclaimed, “These are horrible!”
I didn’t hesitate. I earnestly said, “Thank You!” and, with great gusto, spit out my half-chewed mushrooms. That is another first for me. The first time I can look back and know that God answered prayer.
That night we made a deal, if a meal ever turned out to be such a dismal failure as that one, we’d eat fast food. No questions asked. Mercifully, my wife’s cooking greatly improved over the years, so I’ve only used this once or twice when she decided to experiment. I recall the chicken-flavored sod she had the audacity to serve one night that sent me screaming for a hamburger. I shudder just thinking about it.
Firsts. They are what we use to mark the chapters of our lives, but, in the past year, my focus has changed. I’ve stopped thinking about firsts and have started thinking about lasts. Last breath. Last kiss. Last words. Lasts.
They’re much more important than firsts. If something is “first,” it inherently means that there will be a second, probably a third, and so on. If something is last, it means that’s it. Nothing more to follow. Game over, man.
These thoughts came as part of a revelation I’ve had over the past year. I’ve realized that I’m going to die. Not just the intellectual knowledge that someday I will die but that I will ACTUALLY cease to exist in this world. I’ll go from being a man to a memory.
I will have my last day. I will share my last hug with my children and, God willing, my grandchildren. I’ll wake up for the last time. I’ll enjoy my last meal with my wife. I’ll kiss her for the last time and will share my last words. I hope they’re something meaningful and inspiring but, more than likely, it’ll probably be something along the lines of “What’s that smell?” or “Hey, y’all. Watch this!”
With this in mind, other things have started to lose meaning. I used to be obsessed with the balance of our checkbook, the condition of our car, or my professional reputation. Like most of us, I was obsessed daily with these things and many others that have no true meaning or satisfaction in this world. Will it matter in 100 years what kind of car I drove? Will it matter if I was a highly respected member of society? The painful truth is that it won’t. The gates of Heaven will not open because I had a good credit rating or because my house had more than 3000 square feet.
I can’t help but think of a quote from C.S. Lewis in regards to the path we take in life. Lewis said, “The safest road to hell is the gradual one - the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.” He’s absolutely right. Most people don’t charge headlong into Hell but trudge into it with their heads down and their hearts full of trivialities. It’s not that they are evil people. They’ve just let the weight of trying to survive in this world distract them from our true purpose here.
The lost and unsaved have an excuse, so to speak, for this hopeless existence. They don’t know the One who gives hope. Without a personal relationship with Jesus, they don’t have anything else to cling to but what little this world offers. A nice house and a reliable car. A large bank account and a speedboat. While the unsaved are understandable in their hopelessness, what about Christians that live this way?
As Christians, we shouldn’t spend our lives so focused on what we experience in this world. Our hope and purpose lie in the world to come. Our responsibility is to lead the rest of this world to an understanding knowledge of Christ so those without hope may achieve it. Unfortunately, most Christians are like I was a year ago. They’ve been so overwhelmed by the fear of failing in this world that they’re failing in the world to come.
I have had the pleasure of teaching young people at our church, and I’ve shared with them a thought I’ve had in this regard. Given, it’s not as eloquent as that posed by Mr. Lewis, but I believe it has a certain style. Satan’s top priority is to prevent us from embracing Christ as our Savior and, failing that, his next goal is to make us ineffective in reaching others. If Satan can prevent us from reaching out to this dying world with the truth of who Christ is…if he can distract us with sports, money, cars, and the opposite sex…then he has won a victory We’ll go about our days never speaking to another dying soul about the saving grace of Christ.
Once again, C.S. Lewis outshines me when he stated, “If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were precisely those who thought most of the next. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this.” These words ring so true. Think of how you’ve spent your time today. How long did you spend in prayer? How much time did you devote to reading God’s word? Did you take any time today to show anyone a reflection of Christ in your own life? If you didn’t do any of these things, why not?
Those of us that grew up in church can easily remember the children’s song, “This Little Light of Mine.” That song’s message isn’t just for children. Look to Matthew 5:14-16 for Jesus’s thoughts on this message. He called us a “light of the world” and commands us to “let your light shine before men that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in Heaven.” Too many of us are hiding our lights under the weight of mortgages, car payments, and a time clock. Do not be distracted! These things won’t matter when you have your last breath.
Never forget that our last moments here mark a new series of firsts. First day in Heaven. First time seeing Jesus. First time walking the streets of gold and so many other firsts that we can’t even begin to comprehend. Before we get to those, we have work to do.
While I treasure those firsts I’ve mentioned, I’m now more concerned with seeing how God can use me. Furthermore, as a parent, I feel that it is even more crucial to set my children on the proper path. I wasted years by not taking the time to teach them about what it truly means to be a Christian. I left it to the church and its leaders because I never truly understood that it was my responsibility as their father to teach them to follow Christ.
I am the one who is duty-bound to teach them to pray. I am the one that carries the responsibility to see them grow into a mature faith in Christ and to lead them to not only believe but to know why they believe. Most importantly, I have a responsibility to teach them to put their faith in Christ and then teach them how to lead others to that same trusting faith. Anything less would be a failure to them.
I want my children to know more than what it takes to be a good person. I want them to know what it means to be a good Christian. I want them to know how to pray. How to give without thought for themselves. I want them to know God. I want them to one day meet their Savior and hear the same words I long to hear, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”
I want my children to be better than me. I don’t want them to be hindered by fear when they should speak up or to be hesitant to put their tithe in the offering plate.
I truly hope they have some truly memorable firsts in this life because God wants us to be joyful while we’re here. I pray they look back on their lives and enjoy thinking of those same milestones that I have but I want them to keep the proper perspective. I want them to mark their lives with firsts that matter as well. First time hearing God speak. First time leading someone to Christ. First look at Jesus.
All that being said, the first time I kissed my new bride was pretty great. That’s one I intend to hold onto.