Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Preparing for Death - Part 4 "Proximity Over Chronology"

People are obsessed with time. Even we Christians often look at their lives chronologically. We measure our lives by past milestones and base our decisions on future expectations. In many cases, this chronological view of our life is useful. We think back to our baptism. We recall important spiritual events in our life that help strengthen our faith. We use God's gifts to plan for the future. We take care of our families and ensure that we will be prepared for hardship. This is all well and good.

But sometimes we make too much of time. We turn it and our planning into idols. We become fascinated by our legacy, our heritage, our progress, and our future goals. We become so consumed by the past and the future that we lose track of the present. We live on autopilot as we continue to look behind us and ahead of us with ever-increasing anxiety. This even effects how we live out our faith. When we look at the key events in our Christian life, we often see them as the things that make us Christian--the boxes that we have checked off--rather than the points in time when we have had direct contact with the Word through the Means of Grace. It is not the date when these events occurred that is important. It is the fact that they occurred. It is not a matter of the chronology of the Christian life, but of the Christian's proximity to Christ that caries true value.

The vast majority of modern works on the Christian life are all about chronology. They push the idea of making progress as a Christian. They are looking for chronological improvement and see everything in view of the big picture. They have grand visions for you with long-term plans and promise impressive results. They go on at great length about planning for the future and coping with the past. They are all about charts and graphs. They thrive on mnemonic devices and bullet points. We have become consumed by it. We take this kind of "practical Christianity" and adopt it into our world view at the expense of everything else. We worry endlessly about being a better Christian. We buy books to make us a more joyful giver. We look at our life as a path that should be made up of constant improvement. We waste all of our time and effort wishing we could be better.

This is a macro perspective that is ill-equipped to effect significant change in our lives. It fails because it deals only in time and not proximity. It makes plans, promotes ethics, and develops strategies, but it fails to do the one thing that changes people. It fails to connect people with Christ in the present. It places hope in future improvement and future good works rather than hope in the divine promises that exist in the here and now. It wants to witness, but it never equips the Christian to witness effectively. It wants to control temptation, but its philosophy never comes to mind when temptation comes. It wants to seek after God, but it is inconsistent and undisciplined in its approach to this goal. It throws out alot of pretty words and idealistic concepts, but it fails to address the heart of the matter: when it comes down to crunch time, we forget about what we read. We plan and we fail. We resolve to do better and we learn everything about that we should be doing, but we do not take the steps to improve. This is a world-view that is filled with missed opportunities, 20/20 hindsight, and procrastination.

That is why we must never lose sight of our present proximity to the cross. That is what our emphasis should be. It is the constant proximity to the cross that is essential to the Christian. Our confidence rests in Jesus and not the sum total of our experiences. Our reference point is not our works, our tenure as a Christian, or who our earthly teacher is. Our reference point is the cross: the person and work of Jesus Christ.

It is when we acknowledge our identity as children of God in the moment that we truly live according to God's will. It is when we cast aside our human plans, man-made dreams, and our reliance on our pet programs that we become totally dependant on Christ. It is when we disarm ourselves of man-made defenses and put on the Armor of God that we become holy and effective. It is in the moment where we turn our backs on what the world has to offer and embrace Christ that we live by faith.

The Christian life is not just about graphing our ethical progress. It is not a list of dos and don'ts that are listed and checked off. It is not just about reaching our full potential in certain areas of spiritual and ethical conduct. We should be concerned about living a life that constantly seeks to remain close to Jesus in body, soul, and mind. Each day is a series of moments lived by faith that lays hold of God's promises and gifts. It is helpful see life in terms of proximity rather than chronology. Time comes and goes, but Christ is constant. It is true that you were and are a sheep and you could be a better sheep, but your primary concern at any given moment should be how close you are to the Good Shepherd at the present time.

Your life is not really measured in hours, days, and years. It is measured by it's proximity to Christ. Because of this, One doesn't say, "I don't need to go to this weekday service because I went last Sunday." One asks, "In this moment, what can I do to be in the presence of Jesus?" One does not say, "I am tired of letting this guy off the hook when he keeps doing me wrong." One says, "In this moment, how can I forgive as Christ forgives?" One does not wonder, "What will I wear? What will I be doing next year?" One asks, "In this moment, am I joyfully putting on Christ? In this moment, am I living my life according to God's Word? Am I living a life of repentance?"

The Christian must always keep his heart and mind fixed on Jesus. Without a constant concern about this proximity, the sinful flesh causes him to forget about his faith for long periods of time. The flesh rules the Christian's body Monday through Saturday by preoccupying his mind with worldly distractions and diversions. The flesh will even turn the Christian's past success against him and uses it as an excuse to permit sin to flourish for a little while with the understanding that he can always repent in the future after his appetites have been attended to.

But the sober-minded Christian says, "Right now, I want to be close to Jesus" over and over again throughout the day; moment to moment. He makes every thought and decision in view of his faith in his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Jesus is always in his mind and on his lips. The sober-minded Christian takes every thought captive and purposefully engages every temptation with stubborn resolve. The sober-minded Christian never lowers his guard. He never puts down his sword and shield. He resists conformity to the world. The wise Christian knows that the battle against temptation always exists in the present. The opportunity to do good is in the present. As Christians, we strive to remain eternally vigilant by living our lives one moment at a time... and always in close proximity to Christ.

And so we constantly drown the old Adam in each moment. We constantly pray because moment after moment we offer up our petitions and thanks to God. We constantly read and hear God's Holy Word because moment after moment we meditate on the Scriptures. We constantly consider and long to participate in the sacraments. We constantly engage in morning and evening devotions. We constantly forgive and serve our neighbors. We constantly live in peace, joy, hope, charity, and love. We constantly cast off the pleasures of this world and look to the eternal life that is to come. We constantly resist and fight against temptation. We constantly repent. We are constantly thinking in terms of our proximity to Our Lord Jesus Christ. We constantly return to Christ for forgiveness and grace.

We make the most of the moment that we have. The past is beyond our reach and the future may never come. We live each moment in the presence of Jesus. We consciously take each moment one at a time and act by the guidance of the Holy Spirit. As a result, we become more resilient. We become more spontaneous and adaptable. We become bold and perceptive. We become lovers of truth. We live for Christ in the moment without regard for the world's consequences. Our sin becomes more visible to us and we become more vigilant so that we can stand against it.

We stop just marking time and we start really paying attention to the detail of our life. We stop paying lip service to the term "disciple" and we start living for Christ with true discipline.

Suddenly, all of those good works that we wish that we were doing seem to happen more and more frequently. The things that a dozen New Year's resolutions could not accomplish become second nature. The life that we live suddenly becomes one of purpose because we consciously apply our faith to each moment rather than just talking about living by faith. We are living in the Spirit and not according to the flesh. The power of the Holy Spirit is poured out and we receive the peace and wisdom that a thousand Christian self-help books could not grant us.

And when death approaches, we do not need to worry about the things that have been left undone. We do not worry about the endless list of failures or regrets. We do not need to long for the things that remain unknown, the achievements left unearned, and the pleasures left unexperienced. We do not evaluate life based on the transitory moments that pass away in the wind. We are not here to mark time. These chronological concerns are tiny when compared with the question of proximity. The moment of death is the same as any other. It is nothing less than another opportunity to live by faith. At that point of death, just as right now and two minutes from now, the Christian draws strength from the Holy Spirit and says, "In this moment, I want to be close to Jesus."

1 comment:

Cindy Ramos said...

Hmm...you made me think (that happens when someone hits me with the law and gospel). I tend to be obsessed with chronology. Often planning, scheduling, and completing tasks is all that occupies my mind. I've ignored the idea of "living in the moment" or "enjoying the here and now" because it sounds so self-helpish and is really just about me. But what you wrote is different. "Right now, I want to be close to Jesus." That's not something to roll my eyes at. It's what I need to remember when my selfish sinful nature gets in the way. That proximity to Jesus is where my focus should be, over and above tasks and timelines.

Thanks for this post. I especially liked the last paragraph...and the last sentence.