ending well

For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. 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 Timothy 4:6-8

None of us should compare ourselves with the Apostle Paul, and I don’t belong with him in the same breath at all, of course. But Paul’s words here does seem to include all the rest of us, when you see how they end. And we are told elsewhere to follow his example as he follows Christ. So we can find solace and hope there.

Like Paul, then, we can live out our lives for Christ, for others, even for our enemies, and through the most difficult of times fully. Akin to “being poured out like a drink offering” to God. Realizing that we indeed are in a fight, the good fight, elsewhere the good fight of the faith. That we are in a race no less. And that we’re to keep or hold on to the faith.

I think it’s as simple as that. We’re not to be Apostle Pauls going everywhere preaching the gospel, planting churches, etc. But we’re to be what God has called each one of us individually to be within the community of faith. We simply need to be a light in the way God purposes for us as individuals with all the other lights. When you look at the rest of Paul’s letters, that will be evident.

We want things to be better now, but we long for Christ’s appearing when what’s wrong will be judged, and all the wrongs set right. And when the new will be completely present. Something we begin to taste now, which whets our appetites. In a way we can’t wait. But we settle in now, wanting to end well. To finish like Paul did. May God grant that. In and through Jesus.

fighting and longing

For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. 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 Timothy 4:6-8

The Apostle Paul nearing the end of his life summed up something of it with the above the words. When you read of Paul’s life in Scripture both from Acts, and through his letters, especially 2 Corinthians, you see just how true this was. He was indeed in a fight spiritually, and it was Christ-centered in the hope and promise of Christ by God in the Spirit.

I find it easy to lose heart for a number of reasons. For just one thing, I’m not Paul. He may well have been haunted by his past (watch the wonderful film, Paul, Apostle of Christ), but his failure was pre-conversion. For some of us, we’ve had failures post-conversion. Not that we all don’t need grace in forgiveness along the way, for we most certainly do. But it’s easy to lose heart for any number of reasons, and especially so when we’ve gotten off track ourselves.

Encouragingly Paul lumps others with him who simply long for the Lord’s appearing. If we want Christ to return so that this mess will be fixed in God’s final judgment and salvation, at long last this old creation being replaced with the new creation, which includes us and everything else, then we’re in good company for sure. And with that longing, God will put the fight back in us. The fight and the longing seem to go together.

Longing includes the sense of not arriving in this life. If we’re looking for a faith through Christianity that brings us to a sense of having arrived, then we won’t find it. There’s no such thing. For us in Christ the fight and longing go together. We continue to press on, knowing we haven’t arrived. But intent in heading for the goal.

In the end we may not be able to say that we ran the entire race well. But at least we can hopefully say that we finished the race and kept the faith. In and through Jesus.

in it for the long haul

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.

Hebrews 12:1-2

The great book of Hebrews ends with a list of Old Testament saints who were simply people of faith (Hebrews 11). I use saints in the same way all are saints who are God’s people, set apart and holy, consecrated to God. We’re talking about ordinary people who have faith in an extraordinary God. See the passage.

The idea expressed here is not in terms of a sprint, or even a mile long race, but more like a marathon. It is a long race, actually lifelong. So that to run it well, we have to be in it for the long haul.

Often we think in terms of short bursts, or things in front of us we have to do which may take require special effort. We go from one such mini crisis to the next.

What might be more helpful for us is to try to look at everything, including the challenging problems as part of what we are called to do for the long haul. Everything is in the mix. Instead of seeing it all as one short sprint after another, it would surely be more healthy and helpful to see it as a whole, part of the race marked out for us by God. So that we’re not tied in knots over challenges that come our way, or inevitable setbacks.

When we get older, it may be easy to quit thinking in terms of the long haul. But this race lasts until the very end. We who are older ought to be an example in running it. Actually I wish I would have learned this well decades ago.

At any rate, let’s settle in, and by God’s grace throw off all that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles us. And with perseverance and endurance run, all the while fixing our eyes on Jesus. The one who is the pioneer and perfecter of faith, whom we follow. To the very end. In and through Jesus.

 

finishing well

Are we there at the end? No matter what happened midway, or even at the beginning. Someone may have had a great start in their faith, with seemingly endless possibilities. Yet somehow or another didn’t take hold of the help they needed, and stumbled badly midway. And it may have taken some time to recover, and get over. It could be any number of things. The point is that one did not continue well in their faith, and suffered loss as a result, which probably in some way or another has impact the rest of their life.

There’s a lot involved in finishing well; look at the entire Bible. But at the heart of it for us in Jesus, is the fact that we are in Jesus, usually in scripture: “in Christ.” That we have the promise of God’s faithful work in our lives to be completed when Jesus returns (Philippians 1:6). Too often though, we look at that as if it’s automatic. God is faithful for sure, and we often are not. But the context in that Philippians passage makes it clear that this is contingent upon us. Paul was referring to those who had become partners with him in the gospel. At least their lives being a witness to the gospel’s truth, impact and power.

We need the will and determination to keep going after this no matter what. Knowing we can only do so in Christ Jesus in God’s will with the Spirit’s help. So that in the end, we’ll be there along with many others. Finishing well. Maybe beaten up and bloodied, or just plain sore. But there, in and through Jesus.

running a marathon

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

Hebrews 12:1-3

I’m in a particular work situation with quite long hours, but less days per week as a rule. It is not something I’m easily catching on to, nor even want to take on. But with the minor car accident I was in last year, the recent speeding infraction going what I believe is the correct speed limit, but at the wrong time (I didn’t see the lights flashing), it seems that God has me on an agenda to slow down, and even relax where I can.

Much of my work is not really conducive to relaxing. It requires a degree of ability, plenty of discipline in perseverance, and attention to detail. In some ways that reminds me of something I’ve never done myself, but have to take second hand from others: running a marathon (42.195 kilometers, which equals 26 miles 385 yards). I think I could train and do it, though I don’t think I want to, and at my age it’s probably not the best idea, unless I would do it wisely, and perhaps keep doing it. But I’m realizing as I face a number of upcoming weeks with an extra work day, that I need to take it on as a marathon, and less as a sprint, or with sprints along the way. I want to be relaxed about the entire endeavor, insofar as that’s possible.

And that is a part of my life, and therefore something God must be using to help me better find my way in his way. I could name at least another change or two in my life lately, suggestive in the same way. The context to the passage above on running the race focuses on Jesus’s suffering, and therefore our identification with him in that before the world, as the writer to the Hebrews was trying to make clear to the recipients of this letter (and see what follows in the writer’s counsel to them). Hebrews 11 as marked in our Bibles is part of the context of this passage as well. That cites certain actions of Old Testament saints (of course we in and through Jesus are all saints, marked out as God’s holy people), and in the case of Abraham points to a number of actions which had come to characterize his life. So including my work situation into the mix of the larger picture, I think is surely apt.

I must proceed by faith: “confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” And to do so according to God’s specified program, which is a matter of God’s revealed will found in scripture in and through Jesus and the good news in him. We never know what a year, a season, a month, a week, and for that matter, a day might bring forth. But we need to try to take life in stride as much as possible, in the context of the full run we’re called to in Jesus.

We’re to run this race marked out before us with endurance and perseverance, getting rid of anything which is a hindrance in doing so. And we’re to do that, fixing our eyes on Jesus, who is the pioneer and perfecter of faith, especially marked by his suffering and death on the cross. So that whatever comes our way, we can be ready. Realizing that sinners will oppose us along the way, and that God’s loving hand of discipline is necessarily on us as well, to make us holy, that we might share in God’s holiness.

All of this is not easy, but I’m trying to get into the rhythm of being able to get my necessary stride, so that in all of this I can grow together with others in God’s calling for us in Jesus, run the race God has marked out for me, and finish well, along with others in and through Jesus.

a marathon

So since we stand surrounded by all those who have gone before, an enormous cloud of witnesses, let us drop every extra weight, every sin that clings to us and slackens our pace, and let us run with endurance the long race set before us.

Now stay focused on Jesus, who designed and perfected our faith. He endured the cross and ignored the shame of that death because He focused on the joy that was set before Him; and now He is seated beside God on the throne, a place of honor.

Hebrews 12:1-2; VOICE

In the United States, we love the sprinters, “the world’s fastest humans,” and we pay little attention to marathons, though perhaps that has been changing in recent times. Part of that might be our penchant for instant entertainment and results. We probably are not all that good at processing things, therefore we prefer a song (which might be good) of three to five minutes duration over a symphony any day. Anything that takes time and involves process is not what we’re all about, or programmed for.

But all of that said, the Christian faith and life is all about process and longevity. It is not about some great flash into arrival and unending success. If we don’t believe that, maybe we would do well to read the passage linked above which includes all of Hebrews 11. But much of our Christianity seems to be different. It is about greatness now in the sense of doing great things, and in some sense having arrived. But I don’t see scripture, and life that way at all.

We never know what a day may bring, but we have to be in it, committed for the long haul. We have to have a marathon runner’s mentality, not the sprinter’s. Many things will happen along the way. Seeming failure, setbacks, mistakes, challenges, unforeseen problems, whatever it might be. But we go on, maybe get up and go on, but definitely go on. We’re in it for the long haul. Looking to, indeed fixing our eyes on Jesus. What we’re called to. In and through Jesus.

 

The United States and us fearful Christians

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for.

….All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.

….Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.

Hebrews 11-12

July 4 is upon us, this being the holiday weekend preceding it. And if there’s one thing for sure, so many of us, and I’ll include myself, are hardly past the election fervor, caught up in a presidency which may turn out to be the most polarizing in US history, aside from Abraham Lincoln’s presidency during those tumultuous and horrific Civil War days. Hardly any of us like what is going on in US politics, many for similar reasons, others of us for different reasons, some of the concerns being the same across the board. It is a difficult time for a good number of reasons in a nation which is not only polarized, but threatening to be on the edge of being torn apart.

The question on this post is this: When push comes to shove, just where does our confidence lie? What do we think will win and save the day, and why? And just why are we so upset and fearful?

This is not meant to be a critique of the United States, but there’s no doubt there have been seismic changes in society, and that the liberal, progressives have been all but dismissive of the conservatives. And there’s no doubt that the conservatives themselves have written off the liberals. You have few moderates, who by many would be seen as wishy washy and weak kneed. As far as I’m concerned, while I do have opinions about US politics, and especially concerning issues of the day, none of that matters in comparison to the main point of this post. While those things have an important and provisional place, they are not at all on par with what now follows.

We as Christians, and especially the older generation of us, which includes myself, and I plead guilty, we have lost our focus and therefore are weak in our faith, and weary, in danger of losing heart. Oh yes, there will be some who will fight to the bitter end either for the Democratic Party, or for the Republican Party, or their version of what they think America needs, and won’t seem to have lost any heart at all. They have a lot of hope for good, and to avoid what isn’t good through the federal, state and local government. And again, it’s not like that has no value at all. But we in Jesus are actually called to something else, even while at the same time we pray and humbly participate according to our convictions for the good of the state.

Our goal is something better, something much more. It is to be a follower of Jesus in whatever culture we’re placed, to announce and live out the good news of the kingdom of God in Jesus, in the truth that Jesus is King with the hope that follows. We should be those who are commended for our faith in God, both confident and assured that God will fulfill his promises come what may. And that includes whatever we may face in coming days, years, or generations, should the Lord tarry.

We need to quit thinking and from that acting as if all depends on what is happening or not happening in Washington, D. C., as hard as that might seem to us, for some of us for different reasons. Our eyes need to become fixed on Jesus, period, who shows us the way as the pioneer and perfecter of faith, and of course, is the way. Faith, plain naked faith, and I mean the faith that is in the God revealed in Jesus, that is what we live for, and if need be, die for. While at the same time we faithfully pray for those in government, and hope for the best for the nation, and the world.

That is our calling. This is what we Christians in America should be known for. In and through Jesus.

See Andy Stanley’s compelling message, Fix Your Eyes, which inspired this post.

 

ending well

For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. 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 Timothy 4

Sometimes, in fact it seems often, one has to cut through the crap of life. Sorry about that, but there’s maybe some good precedent for that with Paul in Philippians 3:8. Just how are we going to end our life? I once joked that I was asking a pastor that, of course meaning how best to live out the rest of my days.

One thing we can be sure of: there will be difficulties and disappointments. I can easily get lost in distractions, given all the demands of life. But I think more and more of the inevitable departure to come. Ah, alliteration: I should have been a preacher. Ha.

But seriously: The realization that the end is closer than the beginning, that time seems to go much faster than it used to, one day piling up on and actually cascading into another, I realize that it won’t be that long and I’ll be in the Presence of the Lord. That is sobering, to say the least.

The question remains just what we’re going to do about it. Unfortunately too oftentimes we know of cases where people don’t end well. Older age, and old age certainly brings its challenges. I’ve known some notable exceptions to this rule, especially since I’ve gone to a nursing home many Sundays now for years and years. And I think there are the cases where there seems to be a bit of both: people struggling, yet realizing something of God’s forgiving, sustaining, overcoming grace in their lives. And really, Paul’s life surely involved struggle to the end, fighting the good fight.

I want to end well. Which means I want to be a true follower of Christ, cutting through the nonsense and failure of my own life, and not letting that stop me from going forward in that direction. I want to be committed to Christ by being committed to his body, the church. Right now we’ve left the new Anglican church plant to take our granddaughter to a church near where she lives, an evangelical megachurch which in some ways I like very much, but at the same time missing the liturgy and the climax of the service, the broken bread and the cup. And actually identifying more with the professed beliefs rooted in scripture and the Great Tradition, rather than those which are part of the relatively recent history of evangelicalism.

God knows all of that, and I know less than I do know. I certainly identify with evangelicals in many ways, and in fact am not afraid to be called an evangelical. I work at a leading, and I must say a faithful evangelical ministry, Our Daily Bread Ministries, and have lived in evangelical circles most all of my life. But the big thing, the main point is that we’re Christian, Christ-followers, in whatever tradition we are a part of.

All of this to say that through all the hurt, disappointment, disasters and difficulties life brings, along with the blessings, which are daily, for sure– I want to live the end of my life well, keeping short accounts, in other words making amends as in asking forgiveness when needed. Desiring what is really important, and chucking the rest. Agreeing to disagree with others on things which are not gospel, even if they are important. And going on in growing in the faith, hope and love that is in Jesus.

We will fail along the way, and temporarily be befuddled, losing what vision we have. But we learn through such times to go on, even to go on strong through faith. Keeping our full attention on God through Christ by the Spirit, and doing so together with others, while accepting that responsibility ourselves. Whatever our calling, part of that general as in for all believers, and part of it specific as to our own gift the Lord has given us, we want to be faithful. Especially in being a witness in how we live out the truth and love of the gospel of God in Jesus. I hope I truly end well, and if so, I will do so only be by God’s grace. Amen.

running the race

A blogging friend, professor, scholar from Ireland just wrote a post which is both challenging as well as encouraging to me (if you’re short on time, read that post and skip this one), and something I’ve been thinking about a bit lately. There are plenty of things which can make us stumble or become discouraged and all but give up, along the way. Along with the problem of becoming distracted in sin and idolatry. But we need to be people through Jesus who are set in one direction, knowing we are pilgrims passing through and on mission. Knowing too, that we are an eschatological people. We are present for this world, but with a new world in and through Jesus and God’s grace and kingdom come in him.

All my Christian life I have struggled over this or that, normally not big issues or sins. Little ticky tack kinds of things which get my eyes off the goal and slow me down. I am almost to the point of being used to that, instead of being thrown for a big loop which sometimes would last days and rarely would abate until at least a day or two. Usually that’s not the case anymore, even if an issue is unresolved to me. I am learning to go on and to push through and continue hopefully in the race God has called us to in Jesus.

We so often have to go on in spite of rather than because of, although it is always because of God’s grace in and through Jesus that we can go on. I speak at least from my own experience. I want to get caught up into the life of the Spirit and of God’s love in Jesus for the world. What I need comes in and through Jesus, so as to run this race of faith in a world arrayed against that.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

faith–continuing on

At times, maybe many times without us realizing it, the wind of the Spirit carries us, and we sail in that breeze (an analogy), or find little trouble moving on, in spite of whatever troubles we have. And then there are those other times when our faith is challenged. We are struggling with uncertainty, doubt, or fear, and our faith seems to be waning. Actually such times can be times of significant growth in our faith, if nothing else in learning how to better live under such pressure.

The goal of our faith is the salvation to be revealed in the last day, which certainly is for us, but also for others, indeed for all of creation. We are to see our faith as not simply about seeing ourselves through, but seeing others through as well, in fact seeing God’s will done in and through Jesus for the good of others. And the focus of our faith is to be on Jesus himself, and God’s will for us in him. We focus on Jesus and his way, that we might be changed into his likeness and follow.

And so we go on, no matter what. Looking to God in and through Jesus that we might bless others in the blessing of God.