Monday, February 19, 2007

Being Ready for Anything

(A sermon based on 1 Corinthians 15:51-58; Luke 6:39-49)

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Anything can happen and it usually does.

The question is, are we going to be ready for whatever comes? We ought not be too surprised when difficult events come our way, and yet too often we live as if they won’t. That’s a shame, because in Christ God has given us what we need to stand up against anything that comes. When we boil everything down to its essence, we can conclude that everything that does happen can be placed in two categories: life happens and death happens. We need to be ready for them both and both can be very hard to deal with.

Let’s talk about these realities in the order in which they occur: life first, then death.

In talking about life, Jesus used the metaphor of a man building a house. He said that the man who built his house on a solid foundation would see that house stand even when floodwaters struck it, but that the man who built his house without a foundation would see the utter destruction of his house. Jesus made it clear of what that proper foundation would consist: “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I tell you? I will show you what someone is like who comes to me, hears my words and acts on them” (Luke 6:46-48). We have a sound and strong foundation when we come to Jesus.

Too many of us, though, live as if the verse ended there, as if once we come to Jesus we’ve done all that we can do to be ready for whatever comes. Now don’t hear me wrong. It is absolutely necessary that we come to Jesus; that is the indispensable first step. As Chris Rice put it in his simple song,

Weak and wounded sinner
Lost and left to die
O, raise your head, for love is passing by
Come to Jesus
Come to Jesus
Come to Jesus and live!

Now your burden's lifted
And carried far away
And precious blood has washed away the stain, so
Sing to Jesus
Sing to Jesus
Sing to Jesus and live!
(Untitled Hymn, words by Chris Rice)

Lost in our sins, living without hope and headed toward dying without hope, then seeing Jesus—coming to him is the act that makes all the difference, the act that leads to our salvation. But we are not ready to face whatever life throws at us if, having come to Jesus, we sit down, cross our arms, and say “There.”

February 15 was a very significant day for at least two reasons. First, it was the fiftieth birthday of Debra Ruffin. Second, it was the day that the Atlanta Braves’ pitchers and catchers reported to Spring Training in Orlando. Another important event falls on Tuesday, February 20, when the position players report. Imagine a Braves player reporting to camp. He’s a highly touted rookie and he’s expected to make the major league roster this year. His arrival at training camp begins an encounter with coaches and with veteran players that could and should make all the difference in his career and thus in his life. So he gets to The Ballpark at Disney’s Wide World of Sports, looks around, says to himself, “Well, I’ve made the big time at last,” and takes a seat on the bench. He doesn’t listen to the coaches. He ignores the advice of veterans. He dogs his way through workouts. If by some miracle he does make the major league roster he will be in deep trouble because he won’t know what he needs to know to survive, much less thrive. It’s more likely that he’ll be playing baseball somewhere far away from Atlanta, where the housing isn’t plush and the travel is on busses and the pay isn’t so great. He’s a professional baseball player, but he isn’t ready for whatever comes his way because he refused to listen, to learn, and to follow.

We who have trusted in Christ as our Savior have come to Jesus. But are we hearing what he teaches and doing what he tells us and shows us to do? Be sure of this: things will happen to us that have every potential to shake our faith down to its very core. We need all the help that we can get. If we have a strong foundation, if we have been growing in our relationship with the Lord, if we have been hearing and doing his word, then we can stand.

We Christians, we who have come to Jesus, need to listen to him, learn from him, obey him, and grow in him every day. We listen and learn by spending time in careful and serious Bible study and in regular and focused prayer. Such living will give us the solid foundation that we need to be ready for anything.

So far I’ve been talking about being ready for life. Now I want to talk about being ready for death. Properly understood, life and death should not be separated in our thinking. Death is part of life and life is part of death. And for the follower of Jesus, resurrection is part of both. We can live the ways that Jesus taught and showed us to live because the resurrected Lord is present in our lives. We have been changed; we have been given an eternal perspective on life. That is one of the main forces that helps us to be ready for anything that we face in this life. Notice that Paul, after expending many, many words teaching the Corinthians about the reality of Christ’s resurrection and of ours, ended with these words: “Therefore…be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:57). It is the power of the resurrection that makes us “steadfast” and “immovable,” which sounds like having a solid foundation to me.

The truth is, though, that we are going to die. Our time on this earth is limited. To many people death is a terror and, given that they approach it without hope and without grace, it should be. But is not that way for us. We know the truth, the real truth. Christ has been raised from the dead. We will be raised from the dead. We will receive resurrection bodies that will be imperishable and immortal and incorruptible. Death will be swallowed up in victory! “Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 57). Indeed.

Eternal life experienced through a resurrection body, the most wonderful thing about which we can say being that it will be a body like that of Christ, is our destiny as those who have come to Jesus. Approaching our death with utter confidence and strength is the reward of those who have come to him, listened to him, and consistently done what he has taught and showed us to do. Even death can be faced with a strong and sure foundation!

The final stanza of the song I cited earlier celebrates the reality of Christian death well.
And with your final heartbeat
Kiss the world goodbye
Then go in peace, and laugh on Glory's side, and
Fly to Jesus
Fly to Jesus
Fly to Jesus and live!

Are you ready for it? Are you ready to face anything that comes at you as you live? Are you ready to face anything that comes at you as you die? If you know and are growing in your relationship with the resurrected Lord, you can be.

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