I remember finding that shirt in one of those ubiquitous little beach shops that sold such things. I was on a trip with a friend as a young teen, had some spending cash, and snatched it up because it spoke to me. It became my favorite teenage t-shirt, which I wore until it finally fell apart. I think the message it said so plainly to me is to keep moving forward, continue the just-starting journey of my life, dressed for the day, a smile on my face, ready for what comes next.
And I was ready to keep on truckin’.
Most of us have hopes and dreams. We imagine what life will bring – fame, fortune, success, happiness. Some of us actually take concrete steps to make those things come to pass. Some of us do not, just assuming if we keep on truckin’ that it will all work out. In my high school senior annual, in my pitifully thin bio section, I noted as my ambition – “To make millions.” I am guessing I hoped my great attitude, borrowed from a t-shirt, would bring that to pass.
Instead, what came next was life.
Now, that is not a complaint. I have had a rich and rewarding life journey. I have enjoyed various levels of work/career, married well above my station, produced some remarkable children. I have traveled hither and yon, witnessed the sunrise on the Atlantic and the sunset on the Pacific. It’s been a good ride, despite the inevitable hazards along the way.
And, if you add it all up, I did make millions over my life. But spent every bit of it on all those things mentioned above. In an age of billionaires, millions seem almost humble anyway.
But is that all there is? Travel through life, have good times, enjoy great relationships, visit/do/eat/drink/be merry? Or, maybe on a grander scale, succeed in business/build empires/conquer the world?
Don’t get me wrong. We live in a body, on a planet. Of course that part of life should be well-tended to. Food is delicious, wine is a delight, human love is a treasure. The planet is rich in wonder and should be experienced to the fullest. There is no shame in being alive in a body, and the God who designed you did not design you for deprivation.
“Nothing is better for a man than that he should eat and drink, and that his soul should enjoy good in his labor. This also, I saw, was from the hand of God.” Ecclesiastes 2:24
But there is more, so much more. Because while we are truckin’ through life, we must understand that this life is not the destination. Along with that body we have a soul, the seat of our personality, and we also are spiritual beings. When our truckin’ is done, when we have enjoyed our last ribeye, swallowed that last glass of Bordeaux, marveled at our final sunset, the truckin’ will continue. Into eternity.
“We are strangers, we are aliens
We are not of this world” 1983/Petra/Star Song Records
In the early days of the church, after Emperor Constantine ascended to the throne and made Christianity the official state religion, lavish cathedrals sprang up. These were incredible, majestic, expensive labors of love, many of which still stand today. The church in Istanbul is a magnificent marvel, a tourist destination to this day. It is almost incomprehensible how these breathtaking structures were built without modern technology. They were towering temples to man’s idea of his Christian faith and the institutionalizing of a system of belief.
Ironically, those same sites are now Muslim, not Christian at all.
Therein lies the message. As humans we tend to build big. We want to respond to the body part of our three-part being and make it real, something to touch and see and feel. It is too easy to make this world our home, this life journey the destination, not realizing that no matter what we build, never mind our best intentions, it will not last. But Peter, the humble man who was the inspiration for all that construction in his name, wrote this to those very people:
“Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul” 1 Peter 2:11
Sojourners. That is what we are. The word means this:
“A temporary resident, passing through”
Sometimes it’s worth looking at another translation. Here’s The Message, in plain English:
“Friends, this world is not your home, so don’t make yourselves cozy in it. Don’t indulge your ego at the expense of your soul.” 1 Peter 2:11
So, what’s a man to do?
I look at it this way. We are currently planning a trip to the beach for our 38th anniversary. We will search diligently for the nicest condo we can almost afford, right on the beach. It will be glorious – toes in the sand, great meals on the patio soaking in the gulf views. Nighttime bottles of wine as the evening tide tingles our toes. We will book it, pay for it, plan for it. When the time comes, we will load up the car and drive the four hundred miles to our destination, passing through parts of three states. I will not ride along with my eyes closed, I will not ignore the natural beauty and sights and sounds along the way. I will not pass on coffee and biscuits in the morning and a sloppy hamburger for lunch. I will enjoy the journey, even though it is not why I am on the trip.
The highway is not my home, the road is not my destination. My beautiful condo is the goal.
Yesterday I attended a memorial service for a friend. It was an unexpected event, a celebration of a man’s life that ended way too early. I enjoyed the slide show – a happy man with his bride of nearly forty years, endless pictures of him with his four kids, travels, and fun times. Heartbreaking shots of his three little grandkids. Fishing, working, building, eating, drinking. A life – a physical life – well lived. The pastor in his eulogy told funny stories, serious stories, uplifting stories, about this man and his life. He said “life’s a trip” – but now it is over for this guy.
But he also told stories of how my friend helped others. He was a doer, a worker, a man who labored to support his family and readily helped his friends. And however tragic his ending may have been, that is all that is left behind. And that is the secret to life. The rest of that passage out of 1 Peter says this:
“Live an exemplary life in your neighborhood so that your actions will refute their prejudices. Then they’ll be won over to God’s side and be there to join in the celebration when he arrives.” 1 Peter 2:12
So I will live my life. Go. Do. Build. Enjoy. Eat, drink, and be merry.
But I will be mindful that this world is not my home, this body but a temporary residence. I am just passing through, headed to my eternal condo, as Jesus put it:
“In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also. And where I go you know, and the way you know.” John 14:2-4
Remember that you are a sojourner, a temporary resident in a physical world. The only thing that you will leave behind is how you loved, who you loved. And while I’m still truckin’, even without my beloved t-shirt, if I could change my high school bio it would not say “to make millions” but rather to “love millions.”
Keep on sojournin’. Enjoy the trip, and I hope to see you at the destination.