September 15, 2017

No Cruise Control at Fifty In The Christian Life

I turned fifty today and it’s been great.

Fine.  Love it.  Prefer fifty to forty.  Kids are older and walking with Jesus. Wife is just as lovely a companion as the day we first went out (24 years ago tomorrow incidentally).

Life more stable. Financially ok. What’s left of hair, totally grey.  But no pot belly, no false teeth, poorer eyesight, but an extremely hipster pair of glasses to offset that.

Fit and healthy. A major health scare in my early forties behind me.  Lots of exercise. Though I guess I could blow an aorta tomorrow in my long run and it would all be over.

I guess those are the thoughts of many a fifty year old man.  A kind of “so far, so good” set of thoughts.  A cruise control thought.

Here’s another thought though, and it’s one especially for those thirty year old young men in the church who think that perhaps, just perhaps somewhere there’s a point of arrival.

A point, like at fifty, where cruise control kicks in and life will seem that little less fraught.  Your ego will seem that little more settled.  Your besetting sins will seem that little further behind you, stranded back in the days of your passionate youth.

Let me disavow you of that notion.  There is no cruise control.  Not in the Christian life. There is no taking one’s foot off the pedal and assuming a downhill coast.  Unfortunately I’ve seen too many men of my age, or similar – even older -, who have done just that.  And the cost can be enormous.

You see, sin doesn’t age with you and become feeble like you  Sin, left unchecked, gets stronger and stronger. The desire for ease and comfort and stuff and the flesh can actually become easier to gratify, given you have more time, influence, money, status and opportunity to fulfil such desires.

We are called to put the flesh to death – daily.  Not just daily until our mid-thirties and then move on to higher pursuits.  Put it to death daily.  It is humbling to think that you are going to need to do that for the rest of your life.  But you are going to have to.  Unless of course you are proud and think that you do not need to.  But we know what prides comes before, and many a supposedly fine upstanding mature Christian man falls away suddenly in a wave of shock  and/or despair for everyone around him.

Well that didn’t happen overnight.  It may have been revealed last night.  But it didn’t happen there.  It happened when that man put his life into cruise control back some time in the past when it seemed such a little thing.

At fifty I have learned this: that God alone is completely faithful, and if it were not for His grace to us in the Lord Jesus Christ, there is no telling what would become of us.  Become of me. At fifty I look back and see what God has kept me from, what he has allowed me to go through, and where he will, by his grace, bring me one day.

I had no idea at thirty that the next twenty years would go so quickly.  And without serious intent to redeem the time in these evil days, those years ahead of you could well be wasted.

I walked around the shops yesterday looking at men such as I, in their fifties, and wondered to myself, “Do they think about it?  Do they think that twenty years or so from now, they will be saying goodbye to all of this?  Have they invested for a future beyond the grave?  Does it even cross their mind in the perpetual search for that next thing that will scratch that itch, that will satisfy?”

The idea that somehow we take life – and death – more seriously the older we get is not necessarily borne out by experience.  I have had the opportunity these past few years to witness my own father’s demise and death. His life ended on January 2 this year, the year I turn fifty.  I spent a good deal of that time watching other dying people in his aged care facility, and precious few, if any, seemed to be doing anything except waiting out the final years of life, unthinking or unaware of what they were headed in to.

I say “opportunity” to witness his demise and death because that’s what it is.  It was an opportunity to learn in a way that life and happiness is not.

Tomorrow my twin brother and I are having a joint fiftieth birthday party, and it will be fun.  The fatted sheep has been killed on my brother’s farm.  The food and wine will be good.  It will be an opportunity to laugh and share stories about our lives.

But it won’t be an opportunity to learn about our deaths, or think more about what that means.  The opportunity to do that, according to the Preacher, is not at a party, but at a funeral:

It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of everyone; the living should take this to heart. (Ecclesiastes 7:2)

So I will go the party tomorrow and enjoy it.  Hey, I’m no Puritan.  Hey, actually I am, and those Puritans were no Puritans, let me tell you.  They knew the secret to joy and life was putting sin to death and never hitting the cruise control button.

So tomorrow I’m gonna party like a Puritan, enjoying life, reminded of death, but looking forward to the new creation when sin and death, and the house of mourning are things of the past.

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There is no guarantee that Jesus will return in our desired timeframe. Yet we have no reason to be anxious, because even if the timeframe is not guaranteed, the outcome is! We don’t have to waste energy being anxious; we can put it to better use.

Stephen McAlpine – futureproof

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