“Bye...so long...good bye...have a good trip...bye...thank you...good bye...thanks for flying with us.” Since I frequently sit in the front row, aisle seat on many flights, I’ve listened to the flight attendant’s refrain to all the disembarking passengers countless times. Well, in the spirit of moving on or disembarking from another year, this is my official “Good bye” to 2013, and in particular, our 40th anniversary theme of “STILL AT IT,” while we welcome in 2014. The phrase “still at it” was the motto of the great evangelist and Methodist pioneer, John Wesley. “AT it, ALL at it, and ALWAYS at it!”
Maybe we should just pause a moment and backtrack, and talk about our habit of an annual theme. This is definitely not trying to employ a gimmick, or turn a catchy phrase. You know, where you find a cute slogan, preferably one that rhymes. For instance, “Put It All On The Line In 2009" (the teen years just like living them, are harder to rhyme with). Instead, our theme has been a focus or reference-point for our faith, a kind of congregation rallying call to coincide with God’s gift of a new year. It’s not the same thing as scripture, but it is definitely deeply rooted in the truth of scripture. It’s that seed (the Biblical truth behind it) that we want to plant at the start of a new year, watering it with prayer and the working of God’s Spirit, to see it grow and bear fruit throughout the year.
Yes, I know that it’s purely subjective, but it is something we deliberately and diligently pray about and ponder its implication for our lives and church. We try to be like “the men of Issachar, which were men that had understanding of the times to know what Israel ought to do.” I like the translation that puts it, “the men of Issachar understood what was going on at the time.” It’s all about the Lord helping us to walk in tune with Him throughout the course of a new year.
Last year it was a bit of a no-brainer, since it was our 40th year anniversary as a church. Yes, it was forty years ago that myself, a very mature and polished 24-year old :) along with my 19-year old wife, Mona, came to Tucson. The “still at it” theme refers to God’s grace and faithfulness that has helped keep us on track over the course of four decades. Since 40 is a nice round number, along with the scriptural significance and our church’s history, that “still at it” resonated over the last 52 weeks.
We milked it for all that it was worth. Beginning with the scriptural foundations it presented in January’s preaching, we later adopted it as appropriate for our Bible Conference theme in June. I think it’s worth noting that the Conference Video that was produced has had more impact in churches around the world than anything we’ve ever done. I’ve thought a lot about why that is and my conclusion was since it contained a lot of people and interviews relating to our Fellowship’s history, it helped people everywhere “connect the dots” about who we are and where we came from. In August, we were able to “put on the Ritz” with our 40th Anniversary Banquet at the Sheraton El Conquistador Resort. Who would’ve ever thought that an ex-hippie would be buying a tuxedo! You can add to this mix the numerous references over the pulpit in stirring messages that talked about some God-moments during this span of time. I believe that all of this was a good and right thing to do because it was all about bringing glory to the Lord Jesus.
At the same time, people can attest that while I celebrated the moment, I kept emphasizing that this was a memorial and not a monument. In my mind there is a difference. A memorial is a milestone we arrive at along the way, that we recognize as we continue our journey. A monument says this is where we came to when we stopped and died. This is not an insignificant difference, since we have not yet finished our journey of faith. The result was as the year was winding down, I realized that a lot of emotional and spiritual energy had been invested into forty years, and I was not going to try to “top that” with a new, glitzy theme. No, I wanted to have ears to hear what the Spirit says to the church! That was then, this is now.
So it was when I read those words, “THE UNFINISHED TASK”, there was an inward quickening that said, “Yes!”
This is the theme for 2014 to follow up our 40-year anniversary with. I don’t use it like a crack of a whip “Come on, get with it, do more!” It is recognizing as many others have pointed out that we have a job to do, and that the Book of Acts doesn’t have an official ending. The last two verses say, “He lived there two whole years at his own expense, and welcomed all who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance.” (Acts 28:30,31) We are living in the Acts 29 era of God’s grace and never-changing call to go into all the world and make disciples, starting with Tucson! There will be more forth-coming when I preach on this, January 12, 2014, but a few appetizers are in order on this New Year’s Day.
“The Unfinished Task” keeps us pointed and moving in the right direction! These great and observant lines come from James S. Stewart in his book, The Winds of the Spirit.
“Have you ever noticed, in reading The Pilgrim’s Progress, how often Bunyan’s pilgrim Christian, in journeying to the Celestial city, was met by pilgrims going the wrong way – like Timorous and Mistrust, who came running down the road shouting to him “Go back, man, go back! There are lions in the path!” - or like Mr. Pliable, who indeed made a splendid and encouraging beginning to the pilgrimage, outstripping the rest in his enthusiasm, until one day the Slough of Despond got hold of him, and he climbed out on the side nearest his own house, a pathetic, mud-bedraggled thing, and made tracks for home, and was never seen again?” That is the great danger – that you and I should lose heart in following Christ our King, and in the lengthening shadows should stand thinking back regretfully to the joy and confidence and dedication of earlier days now gone beyond recall, vanished in the devastating attrition of the years. When Paul wrote about Christians ‘starting in the Spirit and ending in the flesh’ – which means, starting with devotion and ending with drudgery – he was referring to a risk from which none of us is immune.”
Couple this with the fact that “The Unfinished Task” refers to one of the resurrection gifts from the Lord Jesus. In 1Corinthians 15, the Apostle Paul writes a masterpiece on the resurrection of Christ: its necessity and its benefits. Listen and walk with me how he unwraps this amazing truth, the turning point of all history!
"Death is swallowed up in victory." "O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?" The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1Cor.15:54-57) What gifts are ours? The first is the promise of life beyond the grave, “O death where is your victory?” Jesus conquered death and the grave, and His resurrection is the first fruits and guarantee of our resurrection. It makes sure that death does not have the last word! The second gift is the promise of an overcoming joy and victory, “thanks be to God who gives us the victory!” He uses an a fortiori argument, which means arguing from the stronger reason to the weaker, or the greater to the lesser. If Jesus triumphed over death, then He is our victory in life’s ups and downs.
The final gift He leaves us with is the gift of an unfinished task.
“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 vein.” (1Cor.15:58) This is the last verse of the chapter, meaning that the whole truth of the resurrection is intended to leave us in this exact place! Trevin Wax wrote, “Can you see that when God calls you to salvation, He calls you to His mission. His work for us leads to His work through us. So the point of the resurrection is not to sit back and wait for a heavenly afterlife. It’s not to give a religious dimension to our lives. It’s not to rest only in the comfort of future hope. The point is proclamation...We are soldiers of the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. There is a breeze blowing through this army of messengers. That breeze is a Person – He is the Holy Spirit of God empowering us to be on mission. The borders aren’t confined to Jerusalem. They’re not confined to Jerusalem. They’re not confined to your church or your community. The message must go out. The nations must hear. The Spirit of God uses the Gospel of God to motivate the people of God to be on mission with God. To be about his work is a great gift.”
My friends, the resurrection is not just the “happy ending” on the Jesus story. It’s the happy beginning of God’s new creation. The One who cried out in victory, “It is finished,” the One who is both over and works in and through history calls to His church. We have a job to do. Remember, that’s not the crack of a whip that you hear, it is the wind of the Spirit in our sails, The Unfinished Task.