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Homeward Bound: Finishing What We Start

II Corinthians 4:16, 5:11

In my medicine cabinet at home is a container of power-pack vitamin pills. It says on the box: “Take one a day for six weeks and watch your energy level rise!” Does it work? I don’t know. I keep forgetting to take the pills!

In our bedroom, we have one of those treadmill exercise machines. The ad read: “Thirty days to physical fitness.” Does it work? I don’t know. But I do know that it’s a great place to hang my towel after the shower!

On my bookshelves here at the church is a collection of books entitled Great Theologians of History. The ad in the magazine read: “Expand your mind by reading the giant minds. For just $11.95 a book, we’ll send you a new volume every six weeks until you have the whole collection.” Has it expanded my mind? I don’t know. I haven’t gotten around to reading them all yet!

I intended to take the pills; I intended to work out; I intended to read the books—but I just haven’t yet. Nor have you, right? That furniture-in-the-raw you bought is still in the raw, right? That French-pastry-made-easy kit has never been opened, right? That teach-yourself computer course is a course you’ve never taken, right? Some things we start we never seem to finish, right? Breathe easy! I’m not going to put you on a guilt trip about all the unfinished projects which are part of your life. The fact is that we don’t have to finish everything we start. In fact, some things in life may be better off abandoned. You’ll still be a good person and a child of God even if that macramé kit never comes out of the closet, or the woodworking class never gets taken. However, there is one thing in life which I want you never to abandon. There is one source of courage in life which you really need. There is one secret to endurance in life which will keep you ever-strong. There is one thing in life I want you to never lay aside or to lose. It is your faith.

We are spending these weeks looking at the Christian promise of heaven and how it shapes our life here and now. I find it fascinating that here in II Corinthians, Paul uses heaven to remind his readers to stay strong and faithful. In fact, he begins this passage by saying: “So we do not lose heart…we have courage…” If you want to have courage in life, get focused on heaven. If you want to have strength enough to see life all the way through, get focused on heaven. Paul then makes his point by raising and addressing three questions: Is your body tired? Are your burdens heavy? Are your days numbered? Watch how he does it…

Is your body tired? Remember, Paul says, that your spirit is being renewed.

His words: “Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day.” You know the only problem with this body of ours is that it doesn’t always work right and it doesn’t work long. It gradually—or not so gradually—begins to wear out. This will blow your mind. Do you know that 80 percent of the dust in your house is your own shed skin? I like that one-liner: “How do you expect to feel fit as a fiddle when you’re shaped like a cello?” It was Gypsy Rose Lee who said, somewhat indelicately, “I still have everything I had twenty years ago, only now it’s all lower!”

Our bodies are wearing out. We can’t avoid that. Sometimes the passing of physical strength and the onslaught of physical problems can be a great discouragement. It can steal more than just our physical capacity, it can rob us of our joy, our zest, our buoyancy, our hope. But Paul hits that problem head-on. He is promoting a paradigm shift. He is advocating a whole new way of looking at life. Make no mistake, he wants us to take care of our bodies. He is the one who called the body “the temple of the Lord”. He is the one who wrote that physical exercise and training is profitable. But here he reminds us that after this life is past, what really matters is that which is eternal in us.

Of course, we are living in a world which constantly teaches us that we are physical beings, and that therefore our primary concern ought to be the care of our physical bodies and the gratification of our physical desires. Think about it. How many things have you read this week in the newspaper or seen on TV which are designed to convince you that you are a physical person—and when your physical body ceases, you cease as well. But Paul says that’s wrong. He says that our body is just a “temp”, if you will—just a temporary container for the eternal part of us. Therefore, we are not primarily, or ultimately, physical beings—we are spiritual beings and our highest task is to feed, to nourish, to condition, to train, to renew our spirits day by day.

Do you remember when Stephen, the first martyr of the church, was near death after being stoned for his faith? We are told in the book of Acts that he looked up and the heavens opened. He was given a vision of God in all of his glory with Jesus standing beside Him—and here is what Stephen said: “Lord Jesus, receive my….” “My well-sculpted body?” No! “My degrees and diplomas?” No! “My bank accounts and tax benefits?” No! The only thing that mattered then is the only thing that really matters. Stephen said: “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” And because he had entrusted his spirit to God on earth, God received it in heaven.

Beloved, what are you doing to cultivate your spirit? Paul says that if your body passes, it’s okay. It has to, because “flesh and blood cannot inherit the eternal kingdom.” So as your body wears out, be sure that your spirit is being renewed day by day.

Are your burdens heavy? Remember, Paul says, that your present troubles are preparing you for future glory.

His words: “For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure.” Do you believe that? You complained this week, I know you did. I have my little spies, and they followed you around, and they told me that you complained—traffic was bad…coffee was cold…boss was cranky…spouse was out-of-sorts. You complained, I know you did. I did too. But Paul says: “Listen, folks, these troubles you have here, whether they be in a carnival or in a cancer ward, whatever they are, they are light and momentary compared to the joy and the glory waiting for you.” Do you believe that?

Do you believe it when Paul says that “God works in everything to bring good to those who love Him and who are called according to His purpose”? Do you believe that? Or do you believe that God works for good only in some things? You can’t imagine how God could work for good in this hassle over your car payment, or in what the doctor told you about the results of your tests. God may work for good in some things, but my perpetual single status is driving me crazy, and that’s not working for good…or my perpetual marital status is driving me crazy, and that’s not working for good.

I believe, ladies and gentlemen, that the greatest test of faith is not in the church building, but in the hour of conflict and struggle and difficulty. It’s easy to sit here on a cushioned pew in air-conditioned comfort on a pretty day and say: “I believe”. It’s another matter altogether when you put a spade of dirt on a casket, or walk out of an emergency room, or get a pink slip at work, or soak your pillow with your tears. Can you say then, “I believe”? Not that it’s easy. Not that it’s simple. Not that it all makes sense. But can you have the deep-down conviction that the God who started it all is going to finish it all—.that even in the worst of times and circumstances, he is working for the ultimate good?

June 6, 1944. Fifty years ago; “D-Day” we call it. A vast allied armada slipped across the English Channel in miserable weather and began pouring thousands of troops onto the beaches of Normandy. Dear friends, you cannot stand, as I did a year ago, in the peaceful, pristine beauty of the American cemetery there, surrounded by 10,000 glistening white crosses set against the greenest of green grass and look down from the bluff to the sands of Omaha Beach below—you cannot stand there and grasp the terrible pain and cost of that colossal struggle—you cannot stand there without weeping. At least, I couldn’t. Within hours that day Hitler’s Atlantic wall had been breached, the vaunted Luftwaffe had been driven from the skies, the German Navy from the seas. The long, agonizing battle would continue for another year, but its outcome was no longer in doubt. The days ahead were filled with pain and difficulty almost beyond our ability to describe or understand, but the ultimate victory was assured.

The cross was Christ’s D-Day. On that day, the forces of heaven and the forces of hell locked in mortal combat, and when the day ended, Christ destroyed the power of evil forever. Oh, the battle still continues, and will continue until the end of the age, but the outcome has been decided; victory assured. There is pain and struggle and difficulty for us to face everyday, but God is at work in it all to bring His good—maybe not immediate good, maybe not apparent good, maybe not what feels good, but ultimate good, His good. So as your burdens get heavy, remember that your present troubles are preparing you for ultimate glory and victory.

Are your days numbered? Remember, Paul says, that you are headed home to heaven.

His words: “For we know that if this earthly tent then is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands eternal in the heavens.” Paul is calling us to live by faith, to build our lives not on earthly reality, but on heavenly promises, to center our days not upon that which can be destroyed but upon that which is eternal. Paul is calling us to live by what we believe, not by what we see. In other words, there is more to life than meets the eye. In fact, most of life is what you do not see. What your eyes tell you and what your faith tells you often are two different things. Don’t be fooled by your eyes!

Your eyes tell you that you are getting older; faith says “You’ve never been younger!” Your eyes see no fruit from your labor; your faith sees tomorrow’s harvest. Your eyes tell you to throw up your hands and throw in the towel and quit; your faith tells you no deed done in God’s name is ever wasted. Your eyes tell you that the world has never been darker; your faith tells you that God has never been nearer. Your eyes see city streets dank with foggy fear, but your faith sees God’s candles glowing in dark corners giving soup, offering blankets, lending an ear. Your eyes tell you that the nation is corrupt; your faith tells you that God is sovereign. Your eyes see walls; your faith hears Jerico’s trumpets. Your eyes see devouring lions; your faith sees Daniel’s angel. Your eyes see storms; your faith sees Noah’s rainbow. Your eyes see giants; your faith sees David’s slingshot. Your eyes see your mistakes; your faith sees your Messiah. Your eyes see your guilt; your faith sees His blood. Your eyes see a grave, a casket, and a stone, but your faith sees a city whose builder and maker is God. Your eyes look in the mirror and see a sinner, a failure, a promise-breaker; but by faith you look in that same mirror and you see a robed prodigal bearing a ring of grace on your finger, and the kiss of your father on your forehead. Don’t be fooled by what you see. Live not by what you see, but by what you believe. Are your days numbered? Is your earthly existence going to end? It’s all right. You are headed home to heaven.

So…

Leave the macramé kit in the closet. It’s okay. Abandon the wood-working project. That’s all right. Some things in life don’t have to be finished. Some things in life are better left abandoned. But there is one thing we must never abandon—it is the high and holy quest to see God’s face. The time will come, my beloved, when

We shall behold Him
Face to face, in all of His glory.
We shall behold Him,
Face to face, our Savior and Lord.

Yes, we shall behold Him, face to face…

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