Great Themes of the Bible (#30-Proper Perspective)

"Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure" (1 John 3:2-3).

The godliest man I have ever known died differently because of his faith. A few days before his death from cancer, my father said, "Don't get me wrong. I love mother and you boys, but everything I have to look forward to is on the other side now."

I didn't take what he said the wrong way. I understood perfectly and took great comfort in his words. He knew that his wife and three sons had already started grieving (for ourselves!) over his imminent death. But he was telling me that it was all right and not to grieve without hope. He had long ago surrendered his life to a reality he had not yet seen or touched. As the fulfillment of his life's purpose came close, he was anything but frightened. He was exhilarated over his prospects and was just trying to make it easier for us in our distress. After all, he was dry-eyed when he said it to me, and I was the one about to burst into tears.

But the faith of James Shelly did not "kick in" during the three and one-half weeks he was hospitalized before dying. Long before he died differently because of his faith, he had lived differently on account of what he believed. He had lived all his adult life with the perspective of eternity in his heart. He had seen the end of this life as the beginning of his direct experience of God. He had ordered his priorities accordingly. He had lived with his wife and taught his sons on the basis of that perspective. He had served his customers and loved his neighbors from that perspective. Because of his settled confidence in God, he not only died well but lived well. And that sort of faith is what today's text is about.

When You Can See the End . . .

What if tomorrow's newspaper arrived on your doorstep today? That was the thesis of a television program carried on CBS for a few years. A Chicago man was shocked one morning when a strange cat turned up at his door with a copy of the next day's headlines. It happened on a weekly basis on TV's Early Edition. From his experiences, the show's reluctant hero discovered that he was being given a unique responsibility. So he risked being thought a fool by others to help them avoid tragedy. He could see the end of events in which others were thoughtlessly absorbed, so he treated those events differently and tried to get the other actors to see things from his perspective. It was only make-believe. It was just television drama.

But there is One who knows the end of all things from the beginning. Eight centuries before Christ's birth, a prophet wrote these words from and about Israel's God:

Remember the former things, those of long ago;
I am God, and there is no other;
I am God, and there is none like me.
I make known the end from the beginning,
from ancient times, what is still to come.
I say: My purpose will stand,
and I will do all that I please (Isa. 46:9-10).
God doesn't write all the scripts. He doesn't rig outcomes. Yet because of his perspective as a God outside our space-time limitations, he knows not only the sovereign purposes he will accomplish but the free choices we will make and their outcomes. So he tells us enough of the future to keep our present oriented to truth, holiness, and eternity.

That same prophet, Isaiah, had earlier chided the priests and prophets of the false gods of the nations around Israel with this:

Bring in your idols to tell us
what is going to happen.
Tell us what the former things were,
so that we may consider them
and know their final outcome.
Or declare to us the things to come,
tell us what the future holds,
so we may know that you are gods.
Do something, whether good or bad,
so that we will be dismayed and filled with fear.
But you are less than nothing
and your works are utterly worthless;
he who chooses you is detestable (Isa. 41:22-24).
Texts such as these have value to those of us who are apologists for the Christian faith. The ability to foretell future events correctly and without fail is an argument both for the uniqueness of the single book that contains such prophecies, the Bible, and the existence of an Eternal and Omniscient Being as its ultimate author. But this morning, I am not speaking so much as an apologist as simply a disciple. If we are loved by, redeemed by, and destined for the fellowship of the God who knows the end of all things from the beginning, doesn't that imply some things not only about our confidence in the future but also about how we should be using our time in the meanwhile?

Christian Discipleship

Today's sermon completes the "Thirty Discipleship Lessons" we have been studying since June of last year. And the point of this final lesson is to underscore the confident perspective Christ's disciples are allowed to have through faith. Because we have the early- edition headlines of The End, we should live each day in confident anticipation. Because we are going to die differently on the basis of our redemption by Christ's blood, we should be living differently until that time comes.

Doesn't it make sense to you that a proper perspective on life would make a difference in how you view what is happening to you today? Isn't it possible that you would have more patience with setbacks and suffering if you kept the promised end of all things in view? Don't you think you could be more patient with your own faults as well as those of others if you could rest assured that you are going to surmount Satan's attacks to get safely home to heaven?

Several years ago, Gary Thomas wrote this in Christianity Today:

Thinking about eternity helps us retrieve [perspective]. I'm reminded of this every year when I figure my taxes. During the year, I rejoice at the paychecks and extra income, and sometimes I flinch when I write out the tithe and offering. I do my best to be a joyful giver, but I confess it is not always easy, especially when there are other perceived needs and wants.

At the end of the year, however, all of that changes. As I'm figuring my tax liability, I wince at every source of income and rejoice with every tithe and offering check--more income means more tax, but every offering and tithe means less tax. Everything is turned upside down, or perhaps, more appropriately, right-side up.

I suspect judgment day will be like that.
Yes! He's right. He has to be right. Come to think of it, there are several things of this sort with which we can identify. Why would a woman be eager to get pregnant? Doesn't she know the next nine months will have to be lived with more thought to that life growing inside her than to her own? Hasn't anybody told her that childbirth is painful and life-threatening? Why, you can't talk that way to a woman who wants to be a mother. She's willing to embrace all the peril for the prospect of holding a baby in her arms.

Why would a kid who likes sports, enjoys movies, and wants to travel commit to eight or ten years of schooling in the very prime of her life? She wants to be a physician. So the sacrifices that will have to be made along the route to that goal are embraced and endured for the sake of the outcome.

How do you deal with a birth defect, fight drug addiction, or live a celibate life as a single person in a sex-saturated society? Why should you keep your stressful and often- unsatisfying marriage together? Why be honest when others in your business or company are cutting corners, lying to customers, or skimming cash? For that matter, why live a Christ- surrendered life when you want to be as selfish and self-centered as everybody else seems to be on most days? When it's hard to hold onto your faith? When you get so many bad breaks? Try Paul's answer for size:

Satan's angel did his best to get me down; what he in fact did was push me to my knees. No danger then of walking around high and mighty! At first I didn't think of it as a gift, and begged God to remove it. Three times I did that, and then he told me,
"My grace is enough; it's all you need.
My strength comes into its own in your weakness."
Once I heard that, I was glad to let it happen. I quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift. It was a case of Christ's strength moving in on my weakness. Now I take my limitations in stride, and with good cheer, these limitations that cut me down to size abuse, accidents, opposition, bad breaks. I just let Christ take over! And so the weaker I get, the stronger I become (2 Cor. 12:7b-10, The Message).

In our text for today, John was writing to Christians living not only in a world-culture but also an emerging church-culture that told them they didn't have to live surrendered, Christ- honoring, pure lives. They were being told to throw restraint to the wind and live as degenerate pleasure-seekers. Gnostic heretics had reinterpreted the Gospel so as to argue that breaking God's moral laws didn't really matter.

John started back at 1 John 2:18 to warn against these Anti-Christ false teachers. He pleaded with them to reject the "higher knowledge" of the Gnostics in favor of the Holy Spirit anointing they had received at the beginning, to live with the announced return of Jesus in view, and to live pure lives on the basis of their expectation.

His message to them was the same as mine to you today: Dear friends, now we are children of God . . . Are you struggling? Do you still feel the stirring of your base, sinful nature? Have you failed miserably and embarrassingly? Are your weak virtues like candle flames in a strong wind?

Then remember. Remember. Remember this: You, dear friend, are now today God's child, and he has made you some precious promises. I don't know how he will get you through, but I know he will. I don't know how much more of the refining process you still have ahead, but I know he will not abandon you. I don't know when Christ will come or all the details of that event, but I know he will claim you at his appearing. And it will have been worth anything in the meanwhile to have hung on.

If you really believe he is coming back, get ready for the meeting by taking your discipleship seriously and joyously!


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