Following Jesus In Between the Firsts and Lasts
Look around social media over the last few days and you’ll likely see all kinds of photos of smiling children headed off to their first day of school. Some little ones are holding cute little chalkboards that state the school year, age of the child, etc. Perfect not only for social media, but for scrapbooks too! That’s a pretty great idea, actually. All I ever did was have my kids hold up as many fingers as their grade level. This pretty much stopped working their junior year of high school.
This is a season of firsts for lots of people. And some are even experiencing first firsts, like sending their kid to their first day of kindergarten, or their first year of college. There’s something about firsts that are exciting, new, fresh, nerve-wracking, nail-biting, freeing, and every bit emotional.
Lasts are kind of the same way, only in reverse. The last day of school is a celebration of things accomplished, of endurance and perseverance, and of looking forward to a summer of rest and recreation. The kids smiling in the pictures of the last day of school are doing so because it’s almost over. We made it. There’s a sense of pride, some sadness perhaps, or maybe just relief.
Day One of just about anything is opportunity, challenge, potential, and optimism. No matter how old you are, new beginnings can mean new achievements, new relationships, new standards, goals, and maturity. Most everything is looking up on day one.
But what about on Day 91? Day 116? Day 138?
“Most everything is looking up on day one. But what about on Day 91? Day 116? Day 138?”
That time of year calls for a different kind of outlook each morning. By then, not too many kids are getting out their favorite clothes, looking for the cute little chalkboard, and mugging for the camera. It’s more like moms and dads trying to put clothes on feral cats and shove them out the door onto the school bus. In the bleak, cold, dark mornings of February, sometimes it takes a faithfulness and a certain amount of discipline to choose joy in order to tackle that day with as much determination and optimism as you did on Day One. But some days, it just feels like survival mode. There is a tipping point in the calendar year where students and teachers alike are looking forward to Last Day, even to the point of counting down days.
And if you’ve been a Christian for more than a few years, you know what this feels like spiritually.
Day One is pretty awesome. We’re reminded of this every time we witness a baptism. It feels exciting, new, fresh, a little nervous, freeing, and every bit emotional. We watch a person go down in the burial waters, then see them come out of that watery grave a new creation, forgiven of their sins, and realizing the promise of an indwelling Holy Spirit in their own body, mind, and soul. That’s worth celebrating! A new baby Christian arrives on the scene. Then the church nurtures and feeds them, helping them increase in wisdom and stature, growing in favor with God and other people.
“The church nurtures and feeds them, helping them increase in wisdom and stature, growing in favor with God and other people.”
So from here on let’s use our imaginations. As an illustration we’ll use a kid in our congregation named Chase baptized on August 14th by his dad.
On August 14th of 2023, Chase could very well celebrate his first re-birthday. And on and on he grows. Day after day, year after year, middle school, high school, further education in whatever field God calls him. Then one day, Chase wakes up in the morning and is gently reminded he turned 41 years old not too long ago.
Something in his memory stirs a faint but fond picture of his father smiling at him as he came up out of the water of the baptistery back in Countryside Christian Church all those years ago. He smiles as he recalls his dad lifting him up in celebration so we in the congregation could see him better.
And there in his bed, Chase says a prayer of thanksgiving for all those in that church who loved him, taught him, and helped him launch his faith into adulthood. He turns his attention to his Bible on the dresser beside his bed. He realizes he hasn’t picked it up in what seems like a very long time. Life hasn’t been the easiest lately for various reasons.
“He says a prayer of thanksgiving for all those in that church who loved him, taught him, and helped him launch his faith into adulthood.”
He’s in that middle spot of life, far removed from Day One, and the Last Day seems distant. He’s at the age where he prays more frequently for Jesus to come back. He longs for that Last Day more often. And it is that longing in his heart, the faithfulness of his parents, the example of his church family, and the unfailing love of God that prompt him to pick up that Bible. As he turns on the lamp, the Bible falls open, and his eyes fall on 2 Peter 3:9:
“The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent. But the day of the Lord will come as unexpectedly as a thief. Then the heavens will pass away with a terrible noise, and the very elements themselves will disappear in fire, and the earth and everything on it will be found to deserve judgment. Since everything around us is going to be destroyed like this, what holy and godly lives you should live, looking forward to the day of God and hurrying it along. On that day, he will set the heavens on fire, and the elements will melt away in the flames. But we are looking forward to the new heavens and new earth he has promised, a world filled with God’s righteousness. And so, dear friends, while you are waiting for these things to happen, make every effort to be found living peaceful lives that are pure and blameless in his sight.” (2 Peter 3:9-14 NLT)
These words give 41-year-old Chase encouragement to endure. They give him an enhanced urgency to look to the Lord’s coming, but also to ask for renewed grace for the day ahead of him. These are the in-between days when perseverance, daily devotion, and contentment are important markers of maturity. So he breathes a prayer of gratitude, gets up, and begins another day with the reminder that God is sufficient and faithful today…and each day.
“He breathes a prayer of gratitude, gets up, and begins another day with the reminder that God is sufficient and faithful today…and each day.”
Back to reality here, for me: There have been 19,662 days since my Day One on this earth, that is, my birthday. And if my memory serves me right, there have been 16,935 days since my baptism. Lord willing, I might have another 10,000 days before that Last Day where I go be with Jesus forever.
It’s in the in-between that we find out what we’ve allowed God to form in our hearts and minds. It’s not just in the crisis, suffering, or tragedy, but in the mundane details and boredom of every day, that we’re tested in our faithfulness, obedience, and tenacity to follow Jesus.
“This is the day the Lord has made. We will rejoice and be glad in it.” (Ps. 118:24 NLT)
Celebrate and remember Day One. Pray for and anticipate Last Day. But be present today. Abide in Christ today. Love others well today. And then let’s do it all over again tomorrow as God gives us strength.