Journal from December 9, 2017
I’m 38 years old.
Forty is not far away.
Time is our most valuable commodity. I want to make the most of my limited trips around the sun.
If my most Formative Years are now behind me (19-37), and the years beyond 60 are Legacy Years where we focus on what we’ll leave behind when we leave these mortal bodies, then I am self-consciously now entering what I hope to be my most Fruitful Years where I want to leverage my God-given gifts, talents and skills for maximum impact in ministry and vocation.
We just returned home from a family adventure to the Swedish Institute. This has become a new Christmas tradition for our family. Papa and Mor Mor, Keri’s parents, surprised the kids and me by meeting us there. Craig said he hasn’t walked through the Turnblad Mansion in over 30 years. We both stood in awe and marveled at the ornate woodwork and architecture. “They don’t make things like they used to,” we both had to admit.
The mansion was built to last—quite unlike our fleeting lives. I didn’t ask, but I bet the last time Craig walked through that mansion 30 years ago, he was roughly my age and perhaps was even with his dad (Harold) who passed away a couple years ago now. Fleeting lives indeed.
This week’s lectionary reading from Isaiah has been on my mind all week, and I’m still putting the finishing touches on my sermon for tomorrow as I write this. Isaiah has been reminding me that “All people are grass, their constancy is like the flower of the field…the grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever” (Isaiah 40:6-8).
As I was reflecting on Isaiah’s words I noticed for the first time the verse between the familiar two just quoted: “The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the Lord blows upon it” (v. 7). How peculiar! Usually when God’s breath is mentioned in the Bible, it refers to God’s life-giving power (cf. Gen. 2:7; John 20:22). Here we have Isaiah speaking of things “withering” and “fading” in the face of God’s breath/wind—a life destroying breath. What’s going on here?
Here’s my stab at it. Isaiah is contrasting the trustworthiness and permanence of God’s plans and promises coming to fruition (“the word of our God will stand forever”) with the fleeting and fickle nature of all human scheming apart from or in opposition to God. All humans and their schemes ultimately “fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away” (Isaiah 64). In other words, “Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails” (Prov. 19:21).
Isaiah is unveiling God’s big picture plans for the history of redemption, calling a people back to God, and urging folks like you and me to make sure our lives are firmly anchored on his everlasting promises. He’s warning us of the great folly of turning our lives into another Tower of Babel project—advancing our own prideful schemes, making a name for ourselves, trying to secure our own future and blessings while leaving God off to the side.
The daily headlines are full of human political posturing and power-mongering. Nations are flexing their military muscles and threatening with nuclear capabilities. These are the politics of power and warring factions born of Babel.
Meanwhile, a counter revolution is still taking root in the world. Another army is being gathered from the four corners of the earth. A movement is being born of God’s breath that began in an upper room in Jerusalem 2,000 years ago when Babel’s scattering of the languages was reversed as the Holy Spirit enabled people from various nations to all har Peter’s message in their own tongue. In that upper room at Pentecost (Acts 2), the breath of God blew into a people determined to give their lives to furthering God’s work begun on the cross and with the resurrection three days later. That wind/breath continues to blow and give life to this revolutionary community of Christ-centered lovers and grace-extenders across the globe today!
Time started over that first day of the week, when the women found the tomb empty. It was the first day of God’s New Creation, the starting point of this grand adventure we call the Church. The church marks time according to the events of Jesus life—birth, baptism, life & ministry, death, burial, resurrection and ascension, and coming reign.
My life is fading like the grass, for sure, but my future is securely bound to the promise that I’ll share in Christ’s future. My death is already behind me, for I died with Christ in my baptism 38 years ago. I now live in Christ and for Christ these limited earthbound years. Someday I will rise with Christ and share in his resurrection as well. Heck, I’ll even reign with Christ— whatever that might all entail.
As I bring this year to a close, as well as this rambling reflection, I am inhabiting a different time-zone than ever before. I’m embracing a new calendar and calling our church to join me in observing the Christian Year in 2018. The passing of my time on earth shall no longer be marked by the changing of the weather, the school year and summer break, the civic calendar, Hallmark holidays, or the changing of the sports seasons.
My life is now “hidden in Christ” (Col. 3:3). My life is not my own; I was bought at a price (1 Cor. 6:19-20). “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20). “My life is worth nothing to me unless I use it for finishing the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus—the work of telling others the Good News about the wonderful grace of God” (Acts 20:24). What a life! What a privilege!
God’s good purposes shall prevail, and I want to keep urging others to give their lives wholeheartedly to serving God and being part of His unfolding Story—the story that will stand forever! This means also warning people of the folly of pursuing things that will eventually be carried away like dry grass clippings or withered flower petals by tomorrow’s breeze.
As I close the book on 2017 and begin a new chapter, I echo the psalmist’s prayer and invite you to make it your own prayer as well: