Monday, February 5, 2018

A Theology of Time

Douglas Frank Photograph 

A Theology of Time

What is time to you? Is it something you cannot control or just keeps rolling on? Does it go slow or fast, or does that depend? In the beginning God said,  ‘“Let there be lights in the vault of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark sacred times, and days and years, and let them be lights in the expanse of the sky to give light on the earth” (Genesis 1:14). Signs of sacred times, days and years marked by the stars in the sky. Time was meant to mark part of creation and much more as the Bible speaks of it 888 times. The Creation narrative in Genesis marks out the seven days ending with Sabbath rest. But even in this demarcation Peter said of the coming last days that God is not slow in keeping His promise that He wants that none should perish but all to come to repentance. Therefore His patience will extend for a period of time that we do not know.
“But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand yearsand a thousand years are like a day (2 Peter 3:8). That’s one of those riddle-like God things that is just plain beyond our comprehension. In a scary reminder back in the Genesis 4 & 6 people at that time began to call upon the Lord, but they were also wicked at that time, except for Noah. God spoke throughout the early narrative, “At that time and at the appointed time.” You see to God there is a perfect and appointed time. As Solomon writes, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven” (Ecclesiastes 3:1).  This passage often quoted at funerals tells us that there is a time for, “being born and for dying; planting and uprooting; killing and healing; tearing down and building up; weeping and laughing; mourning and dancing; gathering and scattering stones; embracing or not; searching and giving up; keeping and throwing away; tearing and mending; being silent and speaking; loving and hating; war and peace…He has made everything beautiful in its time” (Ecclesiastes 3:2-8, 11). In other words, God is in control of all time and things, and He said that we should understand this from the beginning to the end because everything that God does endures forever and cannot be changed whether you think so or not.

Life is a tapestry over time weaving a mosaic of patterns for each of us, in or out of God’s will. I must admit that for the first 40 years of my life I lived for myself on my own terms or those given to me by others. It was not God’s time honored guidance that reigned in my life. I became a hospital executive serving as CEO of several. This led to a career as a crisis or turnaround leader. I was sent out to troubled hospitals primarily in the Upper Midwest. These hospitals were typically in duress financially as well as in quality of care. Major downsizings and revamping of all systems were required. This work meant 24/7-time and was very stressful, although sometimes the directions taken were the only ones that would keep the hospital open. Needless to say it was exhausting in every way. Yet I did not have an anchor at the time other than self. However, it was in the dead of a snowy night as I was driving home after several weeks away from family that I came to a crisis; exhausted physically, mentally and morally. It was then in “The fullness of time that God sent His Son,” to interrupt my life. The only radio station in the blizzard was an invitation through Pastor/Teacher Chuck Swindoll to give up my life and control to Him. As I knelt in the snow in my blazing headlights, like Paul on the Damascus Road, I was changed. My time would become His, not my own. My journey of walking in God’s way would bring a loss of career and extensive Christian counseling. But God finally spoke through time saying audibly to me, “This is the way; walk in it” (Isaiah 30:21). These words would launch a new career into full-time ministry, including six years of seminary, two years of healthcare chaplain training and now many years serving other people in crisis as God had served me in my own, at just the appointed time.

So what do we do? Hebrews 10:12 says, “For it is time to seek the Lord.”  I agree, since God is the “Determiner” of all time and things.  I want to know Him better and frankly speaking, be on His side. Why you might ask? Because, “The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble” (Psalms 9:9). Psalms 46:1-2a calls Him a “Refuge and strength, an ever present help in times of trouble. Therefore we will not fear.” As I consider God’s control in my life I want to be like Solomon the writer of Proverbs who said, “My times are in your hands” (Proverbs 31:15). God calls those who believe in Him, “friends.”  Moreover, “a friend loves at all times” (Proverbs 17:17).  So what do I do? “Trust in the Lord at all times” (Psalms 62:5). Why would I trust in the Lord this way?  Since the beginning and increasingly today, “the times are evil” (Amos 5:13).  One writer said, “Time is cruel.” The Apostle Paul said in 2 Corinthians 6:2, “Now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.”  Isaiah the Prophet said, “See, I am doing a new thing! Now it spring up; do you perceive it?” (Isaiah 43:18-19). He said this 700 years before it would happen, the sending of God’s Son to earth.

Life and time are perilous at times. I have been in several situations in my life requiring God’s interceding at just the right time. He interceded through a classmate of my own father to carry me out of a tennis tournament when I collapsed from a near fatal eating disorder of anorexia. I could not control my out of control life in an alcoholic family, but God.

At the perfect time God healed me from what was a futile illness while on the faculty of the University of Virginia (UVA). I have written about this miraculous even in my book Great is God’s Faithfulness. After several weeks of high fever and freezing joints I was unable to function. The UVA physicians didn’t know that a tick bite had given me three life-threatening illnesses. It was in the middle of the night while my fever soaked through the bedclothes and I could only crawl that I cried out to God through my pain and tears saying, “Praise the Lord O my soul…and forget not all His benefits, who forgives all your sins, who heals all your diseases” (Psalm 103:1-3). As the words reached God, He sent His hot healing power to surge throughout my body bringing complete and instant healing. I could jump out of bed praising God. It turned out that more than 100 patients had died of my illnesses in the year of my trial.

Is God asking you for something that is difficult? I have already written about God’s miraculous healing at UVA, but sometimes we are asked to act even when our own life or position is at stake. I recall my time as Chief Compliance/Ethics Officer for the University of Virginia (UVA). My superior, the Executive Vice President of UVA said, “We are hiring you because you are skilled and you are a Yankee so we won’t worry if we need to kill you.” This was tongue and cheek yet somewhat true because the Civil War was sadly still going on in the South. I needed to challenge practices that were illegal, discriminatory and full of harassment at times. I recall calling on the President of the Medical College for his treatment of females in ways that were no longer acceptable in most of the country. Because we were both strong Christians it went well and we became close friends through the many challenges at UVA. Eventually, after I had led this major effort that changed a myriad of practices I had outlived my usefulness to certain executives, therefore making clear to me the time was right to head back to home in Wisconsin.  I was healed physically from disease and now I needed to remember, there is a time for everything under heaven.

The present time is all we have. We need to live life one day at a time, being in and enjoying every moment. God is returning to rule and reign as well as to judge the earth in the perfect time. Jesus said that, “At the appointed time I will return” (Romans 9:9). The time is short (1 Corinthians 7:29) and the present world is passing away.

So, what do we do in this time? God called us to live a holy life through His grace given us in Christ Jesus before the “beginning of time”  (2 Timothy 1:9). Perhaps you don’t know this One who was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be? A lesson comes from the Book of Esther, portraying the obedient life of a Jewish woman under a proclamation of certain death whose courage brought salvation for all her people before a pagan king. “And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14). She had the courage to challenge her husband king regarding his proclamation to exterminate all the Jewish people brought about through an evil plot. He relented, even as her life and a multitude of others were on the line. What about you? Are you being called for something unique and special requiring faith and boldness beyond your capabilities?

I have pastored a church after a bloody implosion due to pride and arrogance of a lead pastor that caused division. When I was at the end of my rope from leading, counseling and caring I had suicidal ideations. But God sent His Holy Spirit on Pentecost as I was leading worship as a hot healing strength moving through me. He brought joy and clarity that has filled me since in a miraculous way even tough I still do stupid things.

Speaking of dumb things, last summer I headed to nearby Lake Michigan when in August it had finally warmed enough for swimming. The hurricanes in the South had caused huge waves and rip currents of which I was unaware. Almost immediately after I hit the surf, I was dragged out nearly a quarter mile unable to battle back against the torrent. At the point of near total exhaustion, when I feared of drowning, I cried out, “Help me Jesus!” Immediately a peace that transcended all understanding came over me. I thought this is what drowning feels like. I could no longer swim in the maelstrom when suddenly at just the right time I was thrown onto the rocky beach now many hundreds of yards away. God Himself had transported me, not by my own doing.

“But when the time had fully come, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of His son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, Abba, Father” (Galatians 4:4-6). Other translations say at “Just the right time, the perfect time,” God sent Jesus Christ into His world to live and die and be resurrected for our sins. Praise God that He is returning and as 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18 declares, He is coming back at just the right time to take us with Him into heaven and out of the tribulation or at least the wrath He will pour out on the earth. In the meantime while waiting for that time, we need to reflect, seek God in His sanctuary, be silent, seek solitude and even simplicity in our lives as Chuck Swindoll wrote in his book, Intimacy With The Almighty.  We only have so much time on earth; Scripture says 70 or 80 years if strong. The Psalms teach us “to number our days (time) aright that we may gain a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:10,11,12).  This time of our end and God’s return is coming soon and the last verses of the Bible in Revelation say, He who testifies to all these things says it again: “I’m on my way! I’ll be there soon!”
Yes! Come, Master (Lord) Jesus! (Revelation 22:20 The Message).

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