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The Grace of Age

Of all my birthdays one stands out in a peculiar way—twenty-two. Can you guess why? Until that point, I had looked forward to the spoils that come with age. In childhood, it was things and activities that patiently awaited my impatient self—getting a bicycle, joining a Scout troop, and playing Little League baseball, for instance. Along the way, my age-related desires migrated toward special privileges—the driver’s license at sixteen, voting at eighteen, and, yes, legally imbibing at twenty-one.

Then came twenty-two . . .

And I realized no more age-related opportunities or privileges lay ahead (except maybe social security at sixty-five, which held no appeal at the time). The small, sobering voice of reality crashed my party that year.

Many birthdays have come and gone since twenty-two. The bikes and ball gloves of my youth are mere memories, though I embrace our shared experiences in a nostalgic way, and I still appreciate the privileges of adulthood. Yet far greater than any of these is the special grace of realizing worldly things satisfy but for a moment and our time on earth doesn’t last forever. Reality has a way of getting our attention and redirecting us to what matters and endures. Jesus taught the gathering crowds, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”1 Our hearts follow our treasure, and in the transforming love of God, what we treasure matures into what matters, that which lasts—God himself.

Then how do we store up treasures in heaven? Think for a moment—when do you most sense God’s presence? Isn’t it when you open up to Him in conversation and when you absorb His life-breathing Word? Then also, when do you sense God’s pleasure? Isn’t it when God blesses someone through your obedient acts of kindness and healing words of truth and grace? Loving God and loving people—these are the things that matter, the things that build up lasting treasures that await us when we come of age.

“And now the prize awaits me—the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on the day of his return. And the prize is not just for me but for all who eagerly look forward to his appearing.” (2 Timothy 4:8 NLT).

Father, the older we get, the more our desires reach toward yours. Thank you for this grace. Lead us today into what matters—loving you with all our being and loving people in the ways you call us to do so today. Be our treasure. In Christ we pray. Amen.

1 Matthew 6:19-21

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Focused

In last week’s post A Good Compliment, we considered the words we might most want to hear from Jesus when we arrive “on the other side” and step into His presence. “Well done, good and faithful servant!”1 was likely our group consensus. Then what words might we want to be able to say upon our final boarding call from this life’s departure gate? Writing to his young protégé Timothy, the apostle Paul, his end now imminent, reflected on his life’s work. “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”2 Wouldn’t we all, in humility and joy, want to be able to say the same about our life here?

“Oh, but he was Paul, and I’m just me!” we might resign in despair. Yet by his own accounting, Paul lived much of his life not fighting the good fight at all; in fact, for years he actively opposed Jesus Christ. “For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am,”3 he mused to Corinthian believers. His formerly misdirected life magnified all the more God’s forgiveness and love, for Paul was worthy of neither; it was only by God’s grace that he could look back on a life of meaning and impact, for his work for God was a gift from God. And God extends the same to us: the present of a purposefully productive life. Then what do we do with this gift? How do we in God’s grace and by His means fight and finish well; how do we keep the faith?

We focus today on what matters forever. “Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead,” Paul once wrote, “I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”4 By his own reckoning, he worked harder than all of the apostles, “yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.”5 Pressing on and working hard in the power and guidance of the Spirit—these are the makings of the fight fought, the race finished and the faith kept. Continuing in his letter to Timothy, Paul turned his attention to what lay ahead: “Now there is in store 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 longed for his appearing.”6 The aging apostle—still focused on what lay ahead; still encouraging us to do the same.

Father, “You have made my days a mere handbreadth; the span of my years is as nothing before you.”7 Send your Spirit to strengthen and guide me, that I would productively live today for your kingdom that lasts forever. In Christ I pray. Amen.

1 Matthew 25:21
2 2 Timothy 4:7
3 1 Corinthians 15:9-10
4 Philippians 3:13-14
5 1 Corinthians 15:9-10
6 2 Timothy 4:8
7 Psalm 39:5

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A Good Compliment

Mark Twain once quipped, “I can go two months on a good compliment.” We today might say instead, “Affirmation is my love language.” (I like the legendary humorist’s version more.) It seems no matter how else we receive and express love—be it through gifts, acts of service, quality time or physical touch—we all embrace the sincere words of genuine affirmation. Think about it, when you “step over to the other side” into the presence of God, what words will you yearn to hear? Might they be these: “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful… Come and share your master’s happiness”?1 What does this deep longing tell us but that we know we have purpose in this life and that this purpose is not about us? We are here to glorify the God who knows us best and loves us most and to be conduits through whom His love flows to a world that thirsts for it.

The Bible makes it clear we receive salvation by entrusting our life to the Son of God and His redemptive work on the cross: Jesus took upon Himself the penalty for our sins and in this great love redeemed us for Himself. Writes Paul, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”2 Yet just as the Spirit breathes new life into believers, so also He leads us in impactful acts of love that God planned long ago for us to do. Paul went on to explain, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”3 We are not saved through good works; we are saved for good works. And the God who gives us life is the God who gives us purpose.

If God has prepared good works for us to do, then doesn’t it make sense that we ask Him to show us what they are each day? This is Jesus’ model, for even the Son of God did only what His Father told Him to do4 and said only what the Father told Him to say.5 Likewise, life in Christ is not a matter of us doing what we want for God, but God accomplishing His plan through us. What an honor! How humbling! Such purpose! This is how we bear fruit that will last.6 Then in due time may we hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant!” We could go an eternity on this good compliment, couldn’t we?

Father, thank you for the honor of Kingdom purpose and eternal impact. Show us today what you would have us do and say today. Guide us, that we would set aside our will and be open to yours. In Christ we pray. Amen.

1 Matthew 25:23
2 Ephesians 2:8. 9 ESV
3 Ephesians 2:10 ESV
4 John 5:19
5 John 8:28
6 John 15:16