62. On the Way (2)

Reaching into Redemption Meditations: 62. On the Way (2)

Phil 1:6   he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

The end? And so we eventually come to what I feel must be approaching the final study in this series. My feeling is that this is where we will soon stop. It’s time to move on. And that is a characteristic of this ongoing redemption that we have been considering for nearly two months, there is always something more to come. We used to watch that TV series ‘The West Wing’ and anyone who has worked their way through all of those series about life in the White House, will remember the President who deals with each problem or facet of the job and then says to his aide, “What’s next?” There is always for the Christian a “what’s next?” Let’s start by noting some of the things this simple verse above says.

The Starting Place: “He who began a good work in you”. God started something in me – there was His call, His conviction, His conversion (the offer of justification, adoption and an empowered and new guided-life), to which I simply said yes, but I am what I am because of what He started off. In each of the earlier Bible studies in this series, in each of the people and in the life of Israel, it was because God initiated contact, God started the relationship, and the redemptive process started from there and continued from there.

An Indeterminant Goal: “until the day of Christ Jesus.” This redemptive process will continue until a specific point in history, when it will stop. 1 Cor 15 speaks of our future after death when we will be raised in a new body. The work will have been finished. The mystery is whether we will have to wait until a specific point in God’s planned history, or whether it happens the second we die (e.g. Lk 24:43). But there is an end goal that God is working towards. We don’t know that day. If it is the day of our death, it still remains the great unknown. The older we get, the greater our awareness of our mortality. When we are younger, the honest truth is that death is something so far off (at least in our thinking) that it will never happen. Reality says we never know when it will be. People do die in middle age or younger. When we hit our sixties it is statistically more likely, but for those who are sixty, we may yet have another forty years to live out on this life.

His Purposeful Activity: “he…. will carry it on to completion.” The truth we have seen again and again in those earlier studies, and sought to apply in the later ones, is that God is continually working to change us – all of us who are Christians! Until that ‘completion day’ I am still a work in progress. His goal is, we have seen again and again, to deliver me from the old self-centred, godless life that I lived before I met Christ, and deliver me into a life we refer to as ‘the kingdom of God’ where His will is preeminent in our lives and we are being changed, bit by bit, into the likeness of Jesus Christ. In some of the earlier studies we sought to put content to what we meant by being ‘delivered from’, and then what we meant when we spoke of ‘being delivered to.’  As this is the penultimate study it might be helpful to add some thoughts about how this applies to different generations.

Redeeming the Young: For the Christian who is a young person, the biggest challenge is to understand what our calling means, and how it is wise to be distinct and different from the unbelievers in our generation. Choosing God’s design for say love, relationships, careers etc. requires wisdom to see how His way is best. That part of the redemptive process is about God accompanying us through the desert of modern culture that is so deceptive. It requires us to make seeking Him out and seeking to understand His will, His law, a priority. Help to achieve that comes best from Christian youth leaders hopefully. It is a major decision-making time. young, retirement,

The Middle Years: Handling success and established routines becomes the challenge for these years, working to hold on to a living relationship with God in the midst of the busyness that comes with raising a family, working out a career. The redemptive process here involves enabling us to triumph in being parents without tearing our hair out, or career people without getting utterly worn out. It is in this period that most of us make the greatest impact on the world because our energy levels are at their best. This is ground breaking time.

Into Retirement: Except so often people say, ‘Christians never retire’. No, we become grandparents and those who hopefully have the wisdom of years, who are there to stand by those in the generations below who are still slugging it out with the world. But retirement means new purposes, and time to use them. We have two elderly Christian friends who have faithfully served the Lord all their lives. They live elsewhere in the country, but we try and visit them, every 6 to 9 months. She is just 90 and he is just 89. Like many elderly people they are not so fit and healthy as they once were, but when we visited them recently he said, “Of course our biggest cry to the Lord is, ‘Lord, what can we do more for you?”  They are still looking to go all out for God. They stand as shining beacons to the rest of us, with that challenge.  If you are in this age bracket and wonder about your role, consider the following: “The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon; planted in the house of the Lord, they will flourish in the courts of our God. They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green, proclaiming, “The Lord is upright; he is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in him.” (Psa 92:12-15) Somehow with the grace of God this can be us – flourishing, growing (still!), bearing fruit, fresh (“lithe and green, virile still in old age” says the Message version), speaking out a powerful testimony to all we encounter, God is great, He is still my security, and He is utterly loving and good.

Shut In: But there are those of us whose latter days are not ones of great freedom and our contacts are few and far between, and the enemy plays on this and writes us off. Paul, speaking of God’s purposes declared, “His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Eph 3:10,11) The picture he conveys is of all the heavenly watchers – angels, demons, powers and principalities – all watching us and watching to see how we cope with the circumstances that face us, watching to see how God’s salvation through Christ is being worked out in us.  Whether it is living alone with just three days of life left, or years and years in isolating circumstances, the picture of us being watched by these heavenly watchers, says we have the capability of bringing glory to God, even when we are on our own and no one else can see us. Even alone we have the opportunity to bring glory to God and that is wonderful.  That is just as much part of these redemptive processes we have been talking about for so long, as anything else is.

How Long? Paul wrote, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.” (2 Tim 4:7,8) We cannot be certain about the final days of Paul’s life but in his writing here to Timothy when he says, “I have finished the race”, there is a sense here that he has come to the end of his journey through life. He anticipates his reward in the presence of God. Tradition suggests that after his imprisonment in Rome he was released and only later arrested again and then executed; he yet had some days to live out this journey. As we said earlier, we never know how long this redemptive process is going to continue. If we are elderly, like my two friends, the temptation is to think, today or tomorrow could be the end. It might be but on the other hand, there may yet be many days to come. Whether it is young or old, we may feel weak and frail but that should never stop us shining like a candle in the darkness. The challenge for today is still, “What’s next?”

To Summarise: May we never forget that whatever the circumstances, whatever the age, as Christians we are participating in a process that God is working out in and through us, to redeem us from our old selves, the selves in the mold of the self-centred and godless world, and to redeem us to become something more wonderful than the world can possibly conceive, a child of God, ever growing into the likeness of their Father.  And how can this be? Because His unique son, the Son of God, Jesus Christ, died on the Cross at Calvary to make it all possible. His death was the price paid that enabled this process to start, to continue and to be brought to completion one day, in you and me. Hallelujah!

22. Goals

Meditations in Meaning & Values  22. Goals

Phil 3:14    I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

We have been considering  the idea of us reaching to our potential in life and then that life is a process, a series of changes flowing on, one from the other, and it is going somewhere, and it is that ‘somewhere’ that we want to look at in a little more detail now, although we are aware it has been on the periphery of our thinking a number of times in these meditations.

Again we are aware that you may be thinking, but all these things are so obvious, so why are we bothering with them? It is because they are so obvious that we need to pause over them and reflect upon them for our great danger is that we take them for granted and fail to see and rejoice in wonder of the world and the life that the Lord has given us. So let’s recap or try to summarise as simply as possible where we have just got to. Life is made up of a constant series of changes which take time and for us human beings those changes have historically been talked of as ‘three score and ten’, although today people are indeed living on average a lot longer than seventy years. But life is a flow of changes, culminating eventually in death.

Solomon kept of facing this conundrum, what is life about when everything we do is eventually swallowed up by death? For example at one point he says, The wise man has eyes in his head, while the fool walks in the darkness; but I came to realize that the same fate overtakes them both.” (Eccles 2:14) i.e. the wise and the foolish both have the same end, so he thought to himself, “What then do I gain by being wise?” (v.15)  A little later he writes, “Man’s fate is like that of the animals; the same fate awaits them both: As one dies, so dies the other. All have the same breath; man has no advantage over the animal.” (Eccles 3:19) Even later he writes, “Naked a man comes from his mother’s womb, and as he comes, so he departs. He takes nothing from his labor that he can carry in his hand.” (Eccles 5:15). All of this process that we have been considering, as much as it may improve and change us so that we achieve our potential, simply changes nothing, we will all eventually die.  Thus the goal of this life can appear to the person thinking “under the sun” as very negative. What’s the point if all that is going to happen is that we are going to die and be forgotten. That’s where Solomon got to and where many people today get to.

This thought of an end goal, although we have briefly considered it before, needs further thought. What is our answer as Christians? What is the meaning or purpose in life if all that happens is that eventually it ends in death? (Yes, I know we have been here before but we are seeing it in the bigger context of working to achieve potential and working in the midst of a process.) There are two important conclusions to these questions. Very simply, the process is important and then end goal is important.

Let’s consider the verses that come before our verse above: “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called.” (Phil 3:10-14) The very nature of the apostle Paul’s life meant that he was in a hot-house situation where reality was something which confronted him more than most. As a result, he looks at all he has learned and experienced in life so far and concludes that he simply wants to know God’s power through Christ, a power that will raise him from the dead, and in the meantime while he is waiting for that the best he can do is press on – do all he can – to get to that ultimate goal.

The ultimate goal was a primary factor in how he now lived. We spoke previously about sanctification, being changed into Christ’s likeness and later Paul is able to write, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” (Phil 4:11-13)  We considered being content in an earlier meditation, and Paul shows it as a sign of rest in God’s purposes. Because this was so important to Paul he challenged those he wrote to, to also be heavenly minded because heaven is both our present resource and our future destination: “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.” (Col 3:1,2) When we focus on heaven it brings a new meaning to our present activities, a new purpose to life and to our end goals, to what our future potential might be.

We pondered recently on the problem of waiting, for these things that are not blindingly clear at the moment, of living in a ‘waiting mentality’. The prophet Hosea addressed this when he said, “Let us acknowledge the LORD; let us press on to acknowledge him. As surely as the sun rises, he will appear; he will come to us like the winter rains, like the spring rains that water the earth.” (Hos 6:3)  Meaning in the present it comes clear when we make God the focus of our lives. Meaning for the future becomes clear when we make God the focus of our lives. Process and goal are wrapped together by this attitude.

Instead of becoming so heavenly minded as to be no earthly use, as some have said when we focus on God, we find we become more fruitful in terms of blessing God’s world today, and we stride forward more purposefully with heads held high to achieve whatever God has for us. The excitement of today and tomorrow is that God has yet more to input to my life, more than I received yesterday and the days before. The process is ongoing with the blessing of God upon it, no longer meaningless drudgery, but receiving all of the goodness He has for me, to bless me, to change me, to use me, and as that happens day after day, we will be working nearer and nearer the potential He has for me on this world and then the next. Hallelujah!