When I was young, my birthday was second only to Christmas in excitement for me. As I've aged, however, they have morphed into more of an annual time for reflection. Sure, I still appreciate the love and attention I receive from friends and family members, the gifts, and the myriad Facebook Happy Birthdays, but as I begin my 50th year of life three thoughts stand out for me more than the actual celebration of my birth.
#1: Wasted potential.
I suspect I am not alone in thinking that I have, in great measure, wasted the gifts that God has given me (and the opportunity to be much closer to Him than I am). How about you? Do you embarrassingly look back on the hours you squandered on activities that helped no one, including yourself? Do you imagine what you could have been if you kept your eye on the prize and then lower your head in shame as you see the delta between it and where you are?
And just think…this is how I feel now…wait until next year when I turn 50. 🙂
Every one of us has wasted their potential at some level in the eyes of God, but that is no excuse to give up or develop a heavy case of self-pity. Instead, there is still time for me, and for you, to reach the end of our lives and confidently say these words:
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up 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 loved his appearing (2 Timothy 4:7-8, English Standard Version).
And as for me, I will not hit the half century mark without taking these other words from Paul to heart:
Therefore it says,
“Awake, O sleeper,
and arise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.”
Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is (Ephesians 5:14b-17).
How about you? Will you awake and join Paul in fighting the good fight? Now?
#2: We are not treating the Bible the way God intended it to be.
The second thing that is heavy on my mind (but only slowly solidifying into a cohesive thought) is that as valuable as it is, systematic theology is being carried so far by Christendom that it has gone infinitely beyond “the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (that Jude speaks of contending for in the fourth verse of his short letter). We fail, I believe, in two ways:
First, God has never said the Bible explains everything, yet we are unsatisfied with agreeing on the basics and instead vehemently argue about that which is either unsaid or unclear (perhaps intentionally so). If true Bible believers have been arguing about it for 2,000 years then no matter how often you confidently state it, your view isn't as slam-dunk as you think.
(I am not saying doctrine is unimportant or differences should be ignored. Instead I am suggesting we consider that it was God's sovereign decision on what would be clear and what would not. We should not usurp that authority.)
Second (and related), I am more and more convince that we dissect Scripture beyond that which its Divine Author intended. I can imagine Paul or John or Peter or other inspired writers saying, “You did what?! You focused on the Greek root to use my words to argue X?! Did you not read what I was actually writing about?! You are missing the forest for the trees…and for another forest's trees for that matter!”
Yes, Paul makes an assertion based on the non-plural nature of a single word (see Galatians 3:16), but one example does not mean it holds in every case (especially in a book that is filled with various literary forms). Instead, we should always ask, “What is God trying to tell us here?” Yes, it may be multiple truths…but it isn't necessarily everything that could be derived from a passage or verse.
Ultimately, I suspect that what often excites biblical scholars saddens Christ.
Last, but not least, I feel those of us who (rightly) feel a need to contend for the faith have lost track of the equal calling to be compassionate. Consider these verses:
And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all (1 Thessalonians 5:14).
And have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh (Jude 22-23).
Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ (Galatians 6:1-2).
Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you (Ephesians 4:32).
Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive (Colossians 3:12).
And the Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will (2 Timothy 2:24-25).
We should always stand up against false teachings and protect our flocks from wolves in sheep's clothing like Paul did. However, let's not forget Paul's multiple admonitions to be patient, kind, gentle, and compassionate. I do not see a whole bunch of those characteristics on social media (even with Christians), yet it is the constant motif in the life of the one who “did not come to judge the world but to save the world” (John 12:47, in part).
It is a constant motive of the one who has been compassionate with me even though I have wasted so much potential in my 49 years. I pray I become more like Him and less like me…