LOOKING BACK IS THE KEY TO MOVING FORWARD

Dear Fellow Member in Particular,

Well, here we are in the last month of the year 2010. As I begin to write this letter to you, I am sobered by the reality that another year of my life is almost gone, and my recent November birthday tells me that it was #67. As I begin this letter by sharing some of my own thoughts with you, I hope you will be motivated to take stock of your own life. Each of us is constantly spending time, and, unlike money, that time cannot be replaced. As we will see, looking back to evaluate our past is the key to moving forward with vision, direction, and hope for our future. By the way, like mine, your future is as bright as the promises of God.

On a Sunday morning 43 years ago this month (i.e., 1967) I sat down in an apartment in Cleveland, Ohio to listen to “some tapes” about the Bible that my former college friend and three-sport-teammate had told me about. I was a Lieutenant in the 82d Airborne Division, and, at his invitation, had driven from Ft. Bragg, North Carolina to meet him in Cleveland on my way home to Indianapolis for Christmas leave. When he opened the box and pulled out 33 hours of reel-to-reel tapes, I exclaimed, “You said ‘some tapes’!” He said, “These are some tapes.” And I replied, “You’re right, those are some tapes!”

Three days later, we finished the last tape, and my heart was burning within me like never before in my life, despite the fact that I had for the previous two years been on a spiritual quest that had exposed me to a myriad of well known Christian speakers and authors, churches, and para-church ministries. During the three days, as the stranger on “some tapes” continued to show me things in Scripture that no one else ever had, I said out loud at least 25 times, “Why have I never heard that before?” Oh yes, what he set forth from Scripture contradicted much of what I had believed, but honesty compelled me to admit that I had previously been misled.

Having just turned 24, I was planning to work in the front office for the Los Angeles Dodgers when I got out of the Army the following September. Other than sports, nothing had ever really gripped me to the end that I wanted to sell out to it, but, as Philippians 3:12 says, “…Christ Jesus took hold of me.” Ever since, despite some stumblings along the way, I have continued to “press on to take hold of ” the Lord’s purpose for my life. As for 2010, it has been another significant though extremely stressful year, what with starting The Living Truth Fellowship, continuing to run my SAT prep business to support myself, and taking in Elizabeth’s mother to live with us, which necessitated the chaos of adding on to our home to make room for her.

In regard to looking back, consider the scriptural concept of “remembering,” and you will see why, as another year comes to a close, it is both necessary and profitable to remember (a) the deeds and miracles of God (cp. Ps. 56:10-13, 77:11, et al.) and (b) our own deeds, especially our wrong choices (Deut. 9:7; cp. Heb. 3:7-4:8). In regard to looking forward, remembering God’s works helps us build our faith for the days ahead, and a healthy grief about our mis-steps will help us avoid repeating them. Together, those two things will help us “redeem the time” (Eph. 5:15), i.e., “milk the moment,” and “seize the day” in 2011.

So, as I ask myself the same sobering questions, I encourage you to ask yourself: Where are you now compared to a year ago, in terms of your relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ? What was the benefit of your life to others in 2010? What did you do for people with the talents, knowledge of the Word, and resources God has given you? Are you exhibiting more of the fruit of the spirit? Do you stand up for right in the face of wrong, no matter what it costs you? As we each honestly answer those questions (it’s okay to phone a friend and get a second opinion), let us seek the Lord as to what we can do in order to answer them even more positively a year from now.

One quality that I see sorely lacking, both in the world and in the Body of Christ, and for which I strive, is loyalty. Here are the synonyms that The New Oxford American Dictionary lists for loyal: “faithful, true, devoted, constant, steadfast, staunch, dependable, reliable, trusted, trustworthy, trusty, dutiful, dedicated, unchanging, unwavering, unswerving.” When I grow up, that’s how (and who) I want to be. Loyalty to Jesus Christ is about doing what is right no matter what it costs you, just like he did. For the record, I have the firsthand privilege of living with someone who has set the most vivid example of loyalty I have ever witnessed, both to God and to me, my dear wife, Elizabeth. And I hope that you consider me a loyal friend to you, based upon my relationship with you through the years we have known one another.

Grasping the reality of what Christ has done for us is a huge key to standing up for him in word and deed (1 John 4:7, etc.). I teach SAT Prep at a Jesuit school, and over the front door is a quote from the “saint” the school is named after: GIVE YOURSELF GENEROUSLY TO GOD. Each time I walk in there, I get to see that edifying exhortation. In that vein, I love Eugene Peterson’s contemporary-English rendering of the following verses:

Romans 12:1-2 (The Message)
So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what He wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.

I don’t know about you, but after 40+ years of dealing with the spiritual pressure of living in a fallen world as one who has chosen to stand on the cutting edge of making known the truth of God’s Word, it now feels like there is a more concentrated effort by the enemy to distract us as God’s people from our primary purpose and wear us down physically, mentally, and financially to the end that we have little energy, time, or money to devote to God. Furthermore, from what I see in the lives of many longtime Christians I know, far too many are isolated from real, iron-sharpening-iron koinonia (full sharing). Christianity is a “team sport,” and too few brethren whom I know still have the “I’m-on-a-mission-from-God” fervor they once had, with the energizing assurance that they are part of something bigger than themselves.

In these incipient days of The Living Truth Fellowship, with a steadily growing but still relatively small number of supporters scattered around the world, I know that I myself miss that. How about you? Do you feel a genuine, battle-tested camaraderie with believers who are reaching out with the truth they know? Are you part of a group that is building something together, in which their “community faith” and fire helps increase your own? That is exactly what we are trying develop in TLTF, and believe me, we are open to suggestions as to how to do it, because we certainly do not have all the answers. Obviously, it will require lots of brethren hiding the Word in their own hearts and speaking it boldly to others.

I do know that we must keep encouraging ourselves, and one another, to fight the good fight in the battle of the minds (carnal vs. renewed). We are “heaven bound” (to meet the Lord in the air for a while) and we must not allow ourselves to now become “earthbound,” which is easy to do. Our intimacy with Jesus Christ, enhanced by an eager anticipation of his coming, is the key to staying “plugged in” to him and shining his light and his love into a dying world. Consider this excerpt from The Message about focusing on the interests of our Lord:

Colossians 3:1-4 (The Message)
So if you’re serious about living this new resurrection life with Christ, act like it. Pursue the things over which Christ presides. Don’t shuffle along, eyes to the ground, absorbed with the things right in front of you. Look up, and be alert to what is going on around Christ—that’s where the action is. See things from his perspective. Your old life is dead. Your new life, which is your real life—even though invisible to spectators—is with Christ in God. He is your life. When Christ (your real life, remember) shows up again…, you’ll show up too—the real you, the glorious you….

None of us knows when our last day on earth will be, but just in case it is tomorrow, maybe I should live today as if it were my last. As Tim McGraw sings, “Live like you are dying.” In reality, seeing that we will eventually run out of days, we have been “dying” since we took our first breath. The older we get, the more thudding is the realization that this life absolutely will end one day. Of course, we want that “one day” to be the appearing of Christ when he catches us up to be with him, but even that means we will then have no more days to lay up rewards for the future. And we can rest assured that the Lord Jesus will richly reward us for everything we do for his sake, not for how people respond to the good we do.

Hebrews 6:10-12 (The Message)
God doesn’t miss anything. He knows perfectly well all the love you’ve shown him by helping needy Christians, and that you keep at it. And now I want each of you to extend that same intensity toward a full-bodied hope, and keep at it till the finish. Don’t drag your feet. Be like those who stay the course with committed faith and then get everything promised to them.