For it is by grace you have been saved...

Monday, December 13, 2010

On Finals and Final Days

Our oldest daughter is in the midst of experiencing her first “finals week.” College of the Ozarks does it a little differently than I remember college finals. They had a “dead day” last Friday (no classes) and then started finals on Saturday. LoriAnn’s introduction to college final exams came at 8am on a Saturday morning; and it happened to be her worst/toughest class. Almost seems cruel (and I almost feel guilty about giggling when I first heard!)

She’s a good student. Her momma trained her well. I know she works hard and will do well. But it is a bit traumatic the first time. It brings back a lot of memories; some good, some bad. Like the time in seminary where I walk into the classroom all prepared for my 1:00 final and find an empty room. I ran to the prof’s office to see which classroom the final had been moved to, and the kind lady in his office said, “Oh, that final was at 11:00 this morning.” Aahhhh! But I digress…

Thinking of final exams, along with the approaching end to another year, has caused me to be a bit reflective about endings in general. As in “end of the world” kind of stuff. No, I’m not going to tell you that the Mayan’s are right and it’s all ending a year from now, 12-21-2012. I actually just read of another group, I forget the name, that is shooting for next Spring some time. I remember the lengthy explanation one guy gave years ago regarding 88 reasons the world would end in ’88. Guess we missed that one.

No, I’m not really into the date setting crowd (although when you think about it; even though Jesus said no man would know the day or hour, with all this speculation out there, everyone picking this or that date, you figure someone might actually get lucky. Who knows?). I’m not overly concerned about exact timing (as my seminary final story should reveal!). We serve a Sovereign God who makes know the end from the beginning, who holds all things in His hand, who marks out the days and seasons, and will bring His plan to completion exactly as He has designed, in the time He has set. So it’s all good.

The issue is being prepared. That’s where thinking of LoriAnn’s finals got me to seeing some of the parallels. Let me just share a couple.

1. You know it’s coming. In college, they do give you a specific time and place (although I swear Dr. MacGorman said 1:00!) so you know the time and place. There is no excuse. You’ve known all semester long that this day would come.

God hasn’t given us the specifics in that regard, despite what the gloom and doom preachers tell you. He has given us “signs”, but someone as spiritually in tune as the Apostle Paul himself seemed convinced early on that it would be in his own lifetime.

I think God purposely built in that sense of uncertainty to keep us from being too complacent. Imagine if we all knew absolutely for sure, without a doubt that this or that date was “the day.” What if was a hundred years away? What would that do for our urgency in reaching the lost, pursuing holiness in hopes of His coming, etc? Uncertainty in that sense may be a good thing.

But of this we are certain. The end is near (I’ve always wanted to say that). Jesus is returning. He is coming in glory to establish His eternal kingdom. There are few things in the Biblical record that are presented with more certainty. He is coming; He is coming soon. All the earth will bow down before their Maker and exalt the name of Jesus; some to their joy; some to their judgment. No excuse, you know it’s coming.

2. The material has been presented. Again, in college, this is a “no excuse” kind of thing. Some prof’s are more lenient than others, but even the tough, impossible guys could at least say: hey, look, you had the material in front of you.

I remember one Church History guy who only gave one exam all semester: the final. Everything was on that one test: names, dates, events, etc. We would put together huge timelines to study. But as hard as that was, and as much as we complained, the truth was: the material was all right there. We knew what the test covered.

God has given us “the material.” He has preserved for us His perfect Word. He has spoken down through the years through His prophets and apostles, and most clearly through His Son. What a blessing.

I don’t think we appreciate the reality of this as much as we should. While millions of people over thousands of years have gone through all sorts of things trying to “discover” their god and their god’s will, our God has come to us; revealed Himself to us. What an amazing thing, to hold the very Word of God in our hand.

In His Word He has told us what is on the final, so to speak. He has told us that our sin will keep us from Him, but that in grace He sent His Son to solve that sin problem. Jesus died as a substitute, taking the sins of His people on Himself, suffering the penalty in our place, and offering us His righteousness instead. Only through Christ will we find salvation and eternal life. It’s all right there in the book. We have no excuse.

3. We need to be prepared. Again, knowing the final is coming, knowing the material is there, all any student has to do is just make a conscious effort to be prepared. Wasting the semester away and acting as if the final won’t happen doesn’t change the reality. It will come, whether you are ready or not.

Likewise, ignoring the reality of Christ’s return doesn’t change the reality of it. Deny all you want. Christ is coming. We will stand before His throne. He will render judgment on all the earth.
Here’s where the analogy of the college final takes a radical detour. In college, if you work hard, study hard, you can earn your grade on that final. In life, though we ought to work and study hard, ultimately it’s not our effort that prepares us. It’s the effort of Christ on the cross. It’s His work that saves us; for by grace you have been saved!

Being prepared isn’t about how hard we work, it’s about trusting in His work. It’s all about Who you know, as they say. But you must know Him. You must trust Him. If you don’t, I urge you to read or re-read the “material”, God’s Holy Word. Look again into the glorious truth of the Gospel. See your own sinful heart and your inability to do anything about it. Then turn to Christ in faith and repentance and begin serving for His glory in all things. Then you will be able to face that “final” with confidence, knowing you are prepared because Christ has prepared you by His blood.

I really hope LoriAnn does well this week. I hope she’s studied well, gotten plenty of rest, and double checked the schedule so she makes it there on time! (Hope you’re reading this, Sunshine!).

But more than that, I hope that you, dear reader, “do well” when the Day comes. You know it’s coming. You know the material. You must be prepared. Ready or not, here He comes!

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