Being Prepared For the Future
by Ted Schroder
The four Sundays before Christmas Day constitute the season of Advent, which marks the beginning of the Christian year. Advent means ‘arrival’. It refers to the coming of Christ: his first coming in humility at Bethlehem, and his second coming in glory at the end of history. During this season, we remember the Old Testament prophets who looked forward to the coming of the Messiah. Also the significant figures who prepared the way for his coming: Mary, Joseph and John the Baptist.
But it is also the season in which we are reminded to prepare for his second coming. Jesus warned us, “Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come….keep watch.” (Mark 13:33) The world in which we live is facing great changes. The future is uncertain. Many of us have been unprepared for the economic and political changes. To be unprepared is to court disaster. To be unprepared is to be at the mercy of events. To be unprepared is to feel defenseless. To be unprepared is to be irresponsible. Jesus warns us that life will not stay the same. There is no guarantee that the future will be smooth sailing. Change is inevitable. So Jesus warns us to be prepared for what will happen. To be forewarned is to be forearmed.
We need to beware of the fallacy of the theory of uniformity. Uniformity presupposes that whatever happens today has always happened this way, and that we can anticipate the future in the light of the processes we see in the past. On the basis of uniformity it is said that the future will mirror the way things have always been. But the Bible is premised on something other than uniformity. The sovereign God of creation and salvation intervenes to disclose himself to the world. Biblical prophecy is a call to respond to God’s self-disclosure because he has the entire future in his hands. The Bible is the Preparation Manual for the Future. It contains many warnings. We neglect them at our peril. We need to be ready for the coming of Christ in the events of the future: whether it is in the uncharted waters of the coming year, or at the end of our personal history, when the Lord comes and takes us to himself, as he surely will when he is ready for us. None of us know when that time will be.
How can we go about being prepared for the future? Jesus said, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.” (Mark 13:31) What did he mean by that? St. Peter expanded on what Jesus is saying:
“For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. For,
‘All men are grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field;the grass withers and the flowers fall,
but the word of the Lord stands forever.’ (Isaiah 40:6-8)
And this is the word that was preached to you.” (1 Peter 1:23-25)
Jesus and Peter are contrasting the perishable with the imperishable, the temporal with the eternal, that which passes and that which endures. Our glory as human beings: our outward appearance, our material possessions, our status symbols, our achievements, are like the flowers of the field that wither and falls at the end of our time on earth. What has been implanted in us by the living and enduring word of God: the new life of the Spirit of Christ, his presence and power, his grace and his love, his compassion and kindness, his humility and unselfishness, is what stands forever. It is the fruit of that seed of the words of Jesus that will stand up to God’s scrutiny in that final day when he ushers us into his glorious presence.
Only the words of Jesus, and what they produce, abide forever - forever relevant, forever applicable, forever fresh and new. This truth has to be our bedrock, our conviction, if we are to avoid being taken unawares by events, if we are to be prepared for the future. If we truly believed this, what would our daily life look like?
Instead of being constantly mesmerized by the current news cycle, hearing the media pundits opining repetitiously on every broadcast, pouring over the stock reports in the hope of beating the market, or protecting what we have, being depressed by the bad actors on the world scene, and either allowing our minds to be programmed for despair, or trying to escape the atmosphere of doom and gloom by vicariously living through the triumphs or disasters of our college or favorite sports teams, or taking refuge in addictive behavior, we need to reorient our daily lives. What would happen if you began each day with the reading and meditation of Holy Scripture? You would be investing in the living and enduring word of God. You would be nourishing the imperishable seed of the Spirit to become fruitful in your consciousness. An eternal perspective would begin to flourish and influence your attitude. You would begin to view your current situation, and the present age from a new vantage point. You will see the headlines in new context.
The Bible chronicles the rise and fall of dynasties and civilizations. Heaven and earth will pass away, this generation, like all generations before it, will pass away. But the word of the Lord will endure forever. Jesus said, “My words will never pass away.” They are to be relied upon. We fail to heed their message at our peril. They are meant to prepare us for the future. What do those words convey? In every age, whatever our circumstances, we are challenged to trust in the Lord, to follow his Word, to be filled by his Spirit, and to worship him. We are created to be God-centered, not human-centered. St. Paul put it like this:
“So here’s what I want you to do. God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life – your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life – and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.” (Romans 12:1,2. The Message)
Director of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins, Dr. Ben Carson, suffered from an anger problem when he was a teenager. It got so bad that one day, in a sudden rage, he pulled a knife on a friend. If it had not been for the belt-buckle, which snapped off the blade, he could have severely injured, if not, killed his friend. He could have spent the rest of his life in prison. Instead, he ran home in shame, and locked himself in the bathroom where he cried and prayed to God for help. He slipped out of the bathroom and got a Bible and began to read it. The words of God started to permeate his mind. The seed of the Spirit of Christ was planted in his heart. He gave his life to Christ, and vowed to read that Bible every day and be guided by its teaching. “I had locked myself in that bathroom alone with God for four hours. But when I walked out, I knew he had done something very significant in my heart. He had changed me in an undeniable and palpable way.”
This year will pass away. Your life will eventually pass away. But the words of Christ will not pass away. They are eternal. They are worth hanging onto. They are our lifeline. That is why our life at the Chapel is so important. We are preparing for eternity. We are getting ready for the coming of Christ and the end of history. We are being prepared for the future.
November 30, 2008
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