[ I will be giving an update later on (hopefully this week!) about our time in Maine, including the Thanksgiving Day outreach, thoughts on being thankful in the midst of life's difficult circumstances, and the family memorial service for Lukey. But my heart is in another place today so I want to write about something else. BTW, thank you for your prayers yesterday! We made it back safe and sound and EVERY prayer request I listed was answered! Thank you Jesus! ]
I like to plan, but sometimes plans don't work out. Yesterday, I had a plan for our flight from Bangor (ME) to Philadelphia, but, well, you guessed it... my plan didn't work out. My plan? Thanks for asking! Sleep. I wanted to take a catnap but was rudely interrupted soon after take-off. Okay, let me temper that a bit... since it was a nudge from the Spirit that kept me from snoozing, some might say that 'rudely' would be a dangerous description of what happened.
Truth be told, I was very thankful for the way that 90 minute flight unfolded.
Our plane was a regional jet, so it wasn't huge by any means, which is sort of a big deal when you are 6'3" and change. We boarded and were making our way back to our seating assignments... row 11, seats A, C, and D. Summer crawled up into the window seat on one side of the aisle and Nicol settled in beside her. My seat was direclty across from Nicol, on the other side of the aisle. I scoped out my spot and was a little bummed to see that someone was already sitting in the seat next to mine. I was hoping to be able to stretch out a bit and, you know, stick with my plan... a/k/a, get some sleep. Besides, you gotta cut me some slack here... don't forget the 6'3" and change part. Anyway, after cramming our coats into the overhead compartment, I was about to sit down when I noticed that the row behind Nicol and Summer was completely open. Believe me, the choice was a no brainer. I plopped down and stretched across those seats faster than you can blink... and faster than anyone else who may have had thoughts of claiming them.
My plan was coming together nicely.
(As I write this I'm getting the feeling that someone may be thinking that (a) the flight attendant made him return to his assigned seat, or (b) the Spirit convicted him to go and talk to the lady sitting next to his assigned seat about Jesus... or something along those lines. Nope. Neither one of those things happened. But the Spirit did whisper...)
We made it thru the standard pre-flight rigamarole and off we went. I think Summer was asleep before the front tire left the ground. Nicol was already enjoying one of her favorite magazines. And I pressed the button on the arm rest, closed my eyes, pushed back to the recline position and... my plan was suddenly interrupted.
Get your Bible out of your backpack. Really? Oh come on, I'll read on the next leg, from Philly to Charlotte. Really, I will. I'm tired. Get your Bible out. Seriously? Get your Bible out and read 1 Timothy. Okay, okay. So I grabbed my Bible, opened it up and started reading. La la la. I've read this before. Yep, I remember that. Okay, I'm going to get thru this, but I'M ALSO GOING TO GET MY NAP. What a marvelously grateful attitude, huh?
But something happened. I began to notice a theme in what I was reading, phrases like some have made shipwreck of their faith, some will depart from the faith, having abandoned their former faith, some have already strayed after Satan, some have wandered away from the faith, some have swerved from the faith, and turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.***
Shipwreck. Depart. Abandoned. Strayed. Wandered. Swerved. Turn away. Wander off.
And then I began to think about Paul's words at the end of his second letter to Timothy... I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. (2 Timothy 4:6b-7)
The time of my departure has come.
Paul was at the end and, somehow, he knew that. What a remarkable realization this must have been for him, as he put ink to parchment while sitting in a dingy, cold prison cell. The beauty in these words is best seen thru the lens of another oft' quoted and well-known passage that he penned a couple years earlier... it is my eager expectation and hope that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. (Philippians 1:19-24)
Paul was about to experience that far better part of eternal living. The Light that once flashed around him that day on the road to Damascus was soon to embrace him with the warmth of fulfilled love and grace and mercy.
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race...
Paul had lived well. He had walked worthy. He did his part. His conscience was clear. And I think it safe to say that he had no regrets. His mind wasn't preoccupied with his investment portfolio and bank accounts, domestic and global economic uncertainties, rogue regimes and terroristic ideologues, physical and mental health, waste line and receding hairline, life insurance beneficiaries and college funds, housing markets and transportation needs, career accomplishments and epithets. His greatest desire? Depart and be with Jesus.
I have kept the faith.
It's impossible to miss, for all the Hymenaeuses and Alexanders whom Paul had observed tragically stray and wander from their faith, and for all the warnings Paul gives us about them, his great accomplishment in life and his great legacy to us was trusting his heavenly Father, standing firmly in the grace and kindness of Jesus, and walking step in step with the Spirit.
It's also impossible to miss, with all that this world throws at us, the daunting challenges and inherent dangers of life before the time of our own departure from this earth, the time when we will finally go to be with Jesus.
Oh Lord God, help us to keep the faith. Amen.
***1 Timothy 1:19b; 1 Timothy 4:1; 1 Timothy 5:12; 1 Timothy 5:15; 1 Timothy 6:10; 1 Timothy 6:21; 2 Timothy 4:4