- Intro: Stages of life: The “Back then”, The “Now”, The “Next”, The “Final Then.”
*In our lives we tend to focus more on one stage than the others…but it is common to think little about the “final then” when looking at the now, and the next.
Effective living takes perspective that sees life right now from a life-span perspective…life-span extends past this life.
Soda/shake straw: If the only perspective you had ever had was through a soda straw, how would you know that?
Then if like most people you believed that what you see is always accurate (the way things are)…then you would come to believe the view through the straw…your skewed view, would become reality for you.
Robert Clinton researched 500 case studies of Christian leaders as preparation for writing his book, “The Making of a Leader”
The following 15 years after it was published he researched another 3,000 case studies and his findings verified his original study.
I first read the book around 1990
I’ve read it several times since then, usually a number of years apart…each time…it makes sense in new ways.
The book helps look at life/ministry in terms of a lifetime perspective.
It offers anecdotal stories and Biblical principles that help you see a larger view than the soda straw view.
Clinton looks at the lives of leaders in phases…I won’t elaborate on all the phases but I will make a couple of observations that are relevant to our passage today.
Phase I: Sovereign Foundations
-God providentially works through family, environment, and historical events in our lives as a part of us becoming who we are.
-You may find it hard to believe God is working through all these events (starting at birth) especially if they were not good experiences…but he was
-It is often hard to see the importance of these things until later in life.
-Its important as you go through life to not merely experience regret and despair over past events…or to be jealous and discontent over what God has done for you as opposed to what he has done for others.
-Instead ask God to give perspective on some of the pieces of your sovereign foundations…as he does you will gain a deeper appreciation for his power.
-This phase is called sovereign foundations…meaning God was in control of it…and he has purposes in it.
-What about the evil things done?
-God has not done evil in your life, but he does not want us to waste anything that is a part of the foundations of who we are now
– The primary lesson regarding our foundations is to learn to respond positively going forward and to take advantage of what God has laid in these foundations.
-Earnest Alexander: Case Study…turned into a blessing for him and many others.
– Gen. 50:20 (Joseph) You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.
Will you by faith embrace what God can do through your own sovereign foundations?
It is very powerful what can happen if you will…it will help you put down the soda straw.
Ps. 139:16 your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.
Phase II: Inner-life growth
-This is the time when the emerging leader seeks to know God in a more personal and intimate way.
-Learning to pray, hear from God and respond to him…learning to say “yes”
-This is mostly a time of testing.
-Plunging and plodding…both have their own versions of testing.
-Often the testing comes in the form of a “vision” (You see what you believe God wants to do) then the death of a vision. (road blocks, opposition, seemingly impossible circumstances).
-Like Abraham getting the promise of a son.
-Then the death of the vision “he was called to sacrifice his son”
-Then the recovery of the vision…God provided a ram.
God was not playing game with him…he was developing him into a man of faith.
-Sometimes there is second “death to the vision”
Think again of Joseph…a vision of future leadership…then death to that vision as he was sold into slavery.
-Then the vision was recovered as he prospered in Egypt…then death to the vision again as he was sent to prison.
-Then recovery again as he was released and became second in command in the nation.
*God fulfilled his purposes in Joseph and through him…but in order for Joseph to become the man who could do what God was calling him to…he had to pass through the challenges.
Not to prove himself to God…but to develop into a man who had real depth.
Again God is not cruel, he is training us, developing us as sons and daughters.
There are other phases outlined in the book, but we will stop there.
Early on in our development God is primarily working “in” not “through” us.
Of course he working “through” but his main focus in “in”…what he is building in to us.
Remember, he doesn’t need us to get stuff done…he wants us to become his faithful, faith-filled people.
Many times people don’t recognize this and become frustrated.
They are constantly evaluating productivity and activities, while God is quietly looking into what is happening in their hearts.
This year we want to close the gap on our faith and love…this is a year, one year…in the lifetime that God gives us.
We want to discard the soda straws and see our lives from a lifetime perspective.
Today we are in Hebrews 11:13-16
- See your life as “Already/Not yet”
13 All these people (the ones discussed thus far in this chapter) were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance.
This is a bit confusing at first glance because of what was written back in chapter 6
Heb. 6:15 And so after waiting patiently, Abraham received what was promised.
So did Abraham receive what was promised or not?
It is important that we look at the scriptures and the promises of God in our lives as “already/not yet.”
If we miss this, we will have trouble navigating both the Bible and life.
Abraham had no human hope of having a son, yet he saw Isaac born.
He received the promise of a son…yet his son pointed to a larger promise…that would not be fulfilled in his lifetime.
That is what is being addressed here in chapter 11.
The promise of a nation, and ultimately the promise of a savior.
So he died already having “seen” the fulfillment (a son was born), but not yet having experienced it in its full measure.
This is the already/not yet fulfillment of the promise.
Not seeing the “already/not yet” in Scriptures and in life…leads to confusion and disappointment for people.
God has promised peace, presence, power, protection, purpose…but in part now and in full then.
When a person commits their life to Christ…there is a new life, a new desire, and a new power.
This is immediate…but the transformation of the total person is a lifelong process that is not complete until after physical death.
John 16:33 “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
So what is it? Peace or trouble? Yes.
Why do I need courage, if you have overcome the world? Already, not yet.
You can experience God now…you can live with purpose and liberty now.
You can experience significant and ongoing victory over sin now.
You can have relationships that are powerfully transformed now.
But all of this will be short of the full experience of your salvation…that is not yet.
In this life as you move towards God in faith and obedience…you can and will maximize the life he has given you.
You do this by faith…often not seeing the fruit…but trusting in the promises of reaping and sowing.
Because how you experience this life now will ebb and flow.
You will be active…then on the shelf.
You will live in the vision, then in the death of the vision.
You will experience the thrill of the plunge…then the challenge of the plod.
This is how we live by faith…even when it seems like…”it is not working”
Things are not going well, I’m not seeing fruit…what will you do then…who will you trust?
These people mentioned in this chapter saw the “not yet” from a distance…and by faith welcomed it.
Even those who are industry, government, and military leaders who have long range vision…they look out 20-30 years to plan today…if they do not see into eternity…they are looking through a soda straw.
Even Mr. Musk who recently launched a Tesla into space and said “I love the thought of aliens finding that car millions of years in the future”…that image is real (the driver is not)
Is still looking through a soda straw.
“Really?…but he is a visionary…wants to colonize Mars…thinks in terms of millennia not decades”
If he misses eternity with God…and only sees the current physical universe…he is looking at the present and the future through a straw.
We must look at all “now” through the larger lens of the eternal “then.”
It doesn’t make us less engaged with now…t should make us more fully engaged with now.
How do we do this?
- See yourself as a Foreign National
Heb. 11:13b…And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth.
“Alien” in the Greek is “xenos” it means “foreigner”
Xenophobia: fear or hatred of foreigners.
“Stranger” is an (exile).
Right now there are about 65 million people who are classified as refugees, exiles, or internally displaced people.
But all Christians are exiles, wherever they live.
Israel was taken from their homeland into Babylonian, then Persian exile.
This was the result of them having forgotten that the “promised land” was not their final home…it was symbolic of that final home.
They made themselves too much at home in the “already promised land” and forgot the “not yet promised land”
They began to live exactly as those around them did…following their gods and embracing their values.
They received a harsh wake-up call regarding their true exile status…when they were physically taken into a foreign land.
Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had never finally settled in the land in which God called them.
They lived as nomads…they prospered in the land, they had families, they enjoyed life (or some of it)…but it was not their permanent home.
When God’s people later lost sight of their exile status…they lived like fools and their lives fell apart.
You must embrace this tension: Live faithfully in the time and place God has you but do not live like a “local” in terms of embracing the values that are not those of your true king.
People tend to have a hard time with this tension.
Either they become so disengaged from the culture that they have no impact
They become so submerged in the culture they have no impact.
We are to be “in” not “of” the world.
We are xenos…strangers.
We moved a lot early in my family’s life…my sister lived in 21 houses by age 20
When we arrived here in Wichita, my dad said “enough” and we settled here for the long haul.
Even during those many moves, my mom would…find a church, make friends and hang the pictures.
Many, I think, would just leave the pictures in the boxes…thinking what’s the point we will move again anyway?
The point was…this, today, here is my life…even though we will likely move again.
She was going to hang the pictures and make friends and find a church…with an exile mindset in all of it.
To live as an exile does not mean you fail to fully engage life where you are now.
It is the very opposite of that…we should…more than all people be excellent citizens of whatever country God places us in.
We are permanent citizens of heaven…with the values of that country.
So as exiles living in America…we bring heaven’s values here.
I don’t mean that we try to impose certain cultural norms on American culture…we don’t try to “Christianize” America. (that is different from “evangelize”)
I mean we live with the values of our King…we love people, we live with humble confidence, we enjoy and extend grace, we forgive, we live by faith.
Military leader: The pool of people who have the qualities of service is shrinking.
Our culture is producing fewer people with the ability and desire to sacrifice.
Many are so fully engaged with the values of their culture…that they are unable to effectively serve their culture.
When we live as citizens of our homeland…we make the best citizens/neighbors in our place of exile.
We love God; we love people…this is how transformation happens.
But the process is slow and hard and the impact is often invisible to our eyes…so…
- Resist the desire to want to “go back”
14 People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. 15 If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return.
Abraham could have given up on the life of a nomad and returned to Ur.
But he refused to do so…the Nation of Israel on the other hand “looked back” when things got hard.
When they were in bondage in Egypt…they begged God to free them.
When the process to liberty became difficult they begged to return to Egypt.
I think one of the most common prayers for humanity is “God, what have you done for me today?”
We are so forgetful.
It is a life of faith because it will always be about moving into what we cannot see right now.
I had a friend who was miserable as a non-believer…his life was unraveling.
He experienced the initial joy of new life in Christ…followed by the inevitable challenges of new life in Christ.
He tried to go back…remembering his old life more fondly than it warranted.
He dabbled in the old life and was profoundly miserable once again.
A common human condition is discontent…to believe…”If only…then I would be content”
It never actually works that way.
The only people who are ever truly content…are those who are content with what they currently have…that’s what contentment means.
Contentment is more powerfully fueled by gratitude…and a vision for a final “then”
To close the gap on where my faith is and where it can be…to see life from a lifetime perspective…
I must watch out for fantasizing about what is not real…and to embrace what God is actually doing in my life.
I have seen people living in growing liberty descend back into darkness because they begin to believe what is not true.
“What God has provided is not enough.”
When people walk away from what God has provided into what they believe they must have…they do not thrive…ever.
We are to live as “exiles”…we long for our final home…this makes us spiritually resilient and grateful people.
“This stuff is beyond me, I’m just not there…of course we are not, we are closing the gap”
*We neither want to leave feeling better about ourselves (and not growing)
*Or feeling miserable about ourselves(and not growing)
*We want to grow…plain and simple…get a vision for what could be…none of us have arrived.
Jesus had some hard things to say to the larger group of students who were following him (disciple means student, learner).
Finally many of them turned back and no longer followed him.
They followed initially because it was exciting and new.
Some had left following John the Baptist to follow Jesus…because he was the “next new thing.”
Then when the message was hard, and the following was hard…they left to find an easier, more interesting way.
Jesus looked at the twelve and asked “You do not want to leave too, do you?” John 6:67
Peter replied, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life?”
-Peter got this right, but he wouldn’t fully live it for some time.
Perhaps this life of faith has been harder than you reckoned it would be…maybe you are thinking of going “back”
So where will you go? What was really there for you?
Don’t look back, look ahead at what God has promised.
- Look at what God has promised
16 Instead, they were longing for a better country — a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.
I had a friend in college named Brian…he died of cancer the summer after my Sr. year.
When I would spend time with Brian those last 6 months of his life it was like being with a much older man of faith…even though he was only 25 and had only been a Christian for a fairly short time.
His cancer had turned his view mostly to heavenly and that view matured him quickly.
It was challenging and encouraging to be around him.
Life was “now” and an ultimate “then.”…in fact at the end, his “next” was the “final then”
The last time I saw him, a day before he died…he spent our time mostly wanting to talk about my life, my walk with God, my future… he was excited for me.
He on the other hand was excited about his “next” but it was heaven, not life here.
He was, because of his cancer and relationship with Christ, an old man of faith at age 25…he lived and died like an older, wiser man ought to live and die.
Looking to his final home…investing in those who would remain after him.
Everyone has are stages of life…and our focus shifts as we move through life
-In all the stages of life it is important to see the “whole timeline”…including the final “then”
We all have a now, a next, and a final then.
Children live mostly in the now, with a very short view of next (tomorrow, maybe)…and a vague view of the ultimate then.
Last week I was having lunch with my 3 and 4 year old grandsons.
We were talking about why we can’t see God.
My 4 year old said, “Its because he’s in heaven.”
Then, “Where is heaven, in space…no, it can’t be in space…on a planet?”
I said “No, its not in space, not on a planet.”
Then I pondered some way to explain other dimensions that are real but not outer space or planets to a three and four year old.
Finally I said, “You guys want some dessert?”
As we get older, we have a now…a next…and an ultimate then.
More and more the “next” takes priority in our thinking…we move out of the “now” focus…or at least should do so.
Graduation, College, jobs, marriage, children, homes, different jobs, children out of diapers, children into and out of college…the next things become more center in our minds.
We become dreamers and planners.
During this time if we lose sight of the ultimate “then”…we can live foolishly in the now as we only think of the “next”
People who don’t see big picture…often compromise during this time…and that compromise comes back to bite them.
But it is normal to gaze at what is next during this time…but it is important to keep on eye on the “final then”
*Teach us to number our days aright, so we will gain a heart of wisdom*
Then as we age we still have a now, a next, and a final “then”…
But what often happens in our culture as people age is they become like children in their perspective again…trying to live only in the now.
Its why sometimes people retire and “play for a living.”
Retirement from a job is okay, but playing for a living is the job of a child…not a grown man or woman.
As we age we must look more fully to the ultimate then…and live in the now faithfully not foolishly.
Mostly this will mean investing in the generations behind us…serving, encouraging, helping.
Where are you?…focused on the “next”…that’s okay…
Neck deep in future plans, and present pressures?
Keep the larger “then” in perspective…make decisions today…that see the whole timeline.
Maybe you are older and the “next” is getting shorter (much more “back then”)
Will you embrace your stewardship?
It is never your stewardship to serve self, then die…it is to serve Christ by serving others.
God was not ashamed, but proud to be called their God…because their longing was for him.
It was not a perfect longing, but it was a real one.
God has made you to long for him…other things can easily move in and push this built in longing aside.
Live your life as it comes to you…now, next…but do not lose sight of the final “then.”
God was sovereign over your “back then”…your foundations.
Will you trust him with your past as well as your future”
We are “xenos” foreigners, exiles.
Hang the pictures and live like an exile.
Life will be full of challenge and full of good if you do.