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Why Wait?

Lying in the hospital bed and not permitted visitors, I had a lot of time to think. My illness was not even remotely life-threatening, but the reality of mortality consumed my thoughts. “I’m a lot closer to my ‘omega’ than my ‘alpha,’” I silently pondered, “Even if I reach my mid-eighties, that’s only 20 years away, and I’ve lived long enough to realize 20 years is short.” To be honest, I was frightened. It is one thing to ponder our demise and the hereafter in a conceptual sense, but like a mountain range, death looms larger as it draws nearer. And in the words of rhythm and blues guitarist and singer Albert King, “Everybody Wants To Go to Heaven but Nobody Wants To Die.”

Except, perhaps, the apostle Paul. Writing to the Philippian church, he poured out his heart to them: “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.”1 Paul realized that life in Christ has already begun—“to live is Christ,” he said—and to be with Him in heaven is better yet. So how do we hold to the same confidence that eternal life in Christ has already begun in us? “We know it by the Spirit he gave us,”2 wrote John. Christ lives in all who believe, and we gain confidence for the life to come as we experience His presence in the here and now.

My time to go has not yet come, so I’ve been thinking about how to prepare for it in the meantime, that is to say, to experience God today. Here are a few things that have proven to be helpful. Spending time with God in the Psalms is highly relational. Recalling Old Testament prophecies already fulfilled in Christ, such as Isaiah 52: 13 – 53:12, assures us today that God will keep His promises for tomorrow. Open conversation in daily prayer is refreshing and reassuring—relational, like personal psalms pouring out from within. God speaks to the heart of each of us through His Word for all of us, which is “living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword.”3 Finally, consider the difference He’s already worked in us and in so many others who walk among us as living testimonies to changes only God can make. In other words, experiencing the presence of God begins now. Why wait?

Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.4 Amen.

1 Philippians 1:21-24
2 1 John 3:24
3 Hebrews 4:12 ESV
4 John 6:68

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Receiving Good from Samaritans

What began as a trip to the ER one evening a couple of weeks ago became a two-day stay in the hospital. My symptoms were clear, but diagnosis and treatment were slower in coming, so I was in a highly stressed state of mind, body and soul. At some point during the evening, the nurse said to me, “May I say something? You have been stressed and anxious since you got here, pacing, talking and trying to diagnose your own problem.” [Guilty as charged.] “The tension is only making matters worse for your body,” he continued, “Your job is to rest and to trust us to do our job.” He was right—there was good wisdom in his words—so I did my best to lie quietly and remind myself of all the technology and medicine in the hands of the experts caring for me. My role was to receive from them.

We love Jesus’ parable of the socially ostracized Samaritan providing care for a badly beaten Jewish man when neither priest nor rabbi would offer the same. Though fictitious, he remains today as the exemplar of “love your neighbor as yourself” and a continual call for us to do likewise. Yet there are two sides to care: giving and receiving. Both are humbling things; each calls us outside of ourselves. As one person gives in kindness and peace, another receives in gratitude and trust. Humility blossoms where pride once took root, and differences aren’t so different anymore.

Jesus said that when He returns, He will say to those on His right:

Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me . . . Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me. —Matthew 25:34-36, 40

Did you catch it? Jesus gives care, of course, yet Jesus also receives care. How so? He is with you; He lives in you. He is so close to you that when you receive care, He receives care. He is inseparable from you, committed to you, and humble enough to receive with you. Then may we also be humble enough to receive care from people who give care, like Jesus does.

Father, send your Spirit to soften my heart to give as Jesus gives and to humble my heart to receive as Jesus receives. You are good, God. Thank you. In Christ I pray. Amen.