Thoughts at Sixty on Third Campus Thrills and 1 Corinthians 15:58

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It is good to be sixty. The view of life from the perspective of six decades is full of hope and not catapulted anywhere by flashes of excitement. We have seen too many exuberant moments and movements come and go. Not that we are cynical or jaundiced. We love being excited with fresh life and merciful triumphs. But we do not get our strength from these moments.

There were seasons when we did. It was costly. There was a good deal more discouragement and depression than there is now. All of that is now ballast in our little boats, and the winds don’t tip us as far as they used to. We expect storms now with a greater equanimity that comes with age. The introductory apostolic lesson, “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22), has become, for us, a settled commonplace.

At seventy-one, Charles Simeon was asked by his friend Joseph Gurney how he had endured so much persecution and outlasted all the opposition of his forty-nine-year pastorate at Holy Trinity in Cambridge. He answered:

My dear brother, we must not mind a little suffering for Christ's sake. When I am getting through a hedge, if my head and shoulders are safely through, I can bear the pricking of my legs. Let us rejoice in the remembrance that our holy Head has surmounted all His suffering and triumphed over death. Let us follow Him patiently; we shall soon be partakers of His victory. (H.C.G. Moule, Charles Simeon, [London: Inter-Varsity, 1948], 155f.)

That’s the perspective of seasoned suffering: Forty-nine years of trials is called “a little suffering.” And the entrance into final victory, he says, will be “soon.” In the meantime, we must not mind these troubles. We will accept each pleasant moment with gratitude. But we will not use it to argue that the next moment should also be pleasant.

We have passed through so many changes. Sickness and health, growth and decline, praise and criticism, friendship and betrayal, gratitude and neglect, wealth and want, pressure and ease, excitement and boredom, war and peace, fear and security, clarity and confusion, harmony and tension, dreaming and doom-saying, weariness and energy, doubt and certainty. These used to carry far too much exhilaration and far too much devastation. They don’t any more. Pleasant, yes. Painful, yes. But not so threatening as before. And not so heady. More and more, we love the Swedish strains of Karolina W. Sandell-Berg:

He Whose heart is kind beyond all measure
Gives unto each day what He deems best—
Lovingly, its part of pain and pleasure,
Mingling toil with peace and rest.

(“Day by Day”)

Though He giveth or He taketh,
God His children ne’er forsaketh;
His the loving purpose solely
To preserve them pure and holy.

(“Children of the Heavenly Father”)

We don’t look for quick fixes any more. We take the long view. God will call us to account for faithfulness, not success. “A long obedience in the same direction” (as Eugene Peterson puts it) has become our passion. Not coasting. Not sprinting and falling over the cliffs of weary lust. Not buying an RV and moving to Florida to tan our wrinkled skin. But setting our face to join Jesus on the Calvary road.

No hurry. No slacking. “Go and tell that fox, ‘Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I finish my course’” (Luke 13:32). Jesus arrived on the cross and in heaven in perfect time—his time. “No one takes my life from me. I lay it down.” He found the pace to finish the race. He set the times then. He sets them now.

He knows the time for joy and truly
Will send it when he sees it meet,
When he has tried and purged thee duly,
And found thee free from all deceit.
He comes to thee all unaware
And makes thee own his loving care.
(Georg Neumark, “If Thou But Suffer God to Guide Thee”)

Sixty is a good age to find your stride in the marathon called life. Downhill is nice. But we’ve covered enough of the course to know: Don’t count on the downhill pace to get you over the next rise. Just when we think we have crested the hill, a mountain will rise before us. We must smile and take the hand of the weary and say calmly, “By my God I can leap over a wall” (Psalm 18:29).

All of that to say, I am deeply thankful to God for a strong beginning of the South Site last Sunday. I thank God for Rick Melson and David Livingston and a small army of volunteers that managed a thousand details. I thank God for tears and prayers after the services—some from repentance and some from sweet homecoming. This was a high weekend for us.

But our endurance and our abiding joy in the work of serving Christ at Bethlehem is not based on

  • the excitement of newness, because the new will one day be old,
  • the largeness of numbers, because the numbers will one day be small,
  • the pleasure of good partners, because one day we will be alone,
  • the commendation of others, because the day of criticism will come,
  • the reward of money, because it will one day vanish like the grass,
  • the thrill of emotional highs, because the emotional lows will come.

No, very quietly and firmly and joyfully we will, God willing, endure and flourish in these latter days because we know that in the Lord our labor is not in vain. “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:58).

Aiming to be steadfast by grace,

Pastor John