Wait and Hope

Last week, I had the honor to write a guest post about God’s faithfulness on my friend Bobi Ann’s blog, bobiann.com. We first met when we were three years old in Mother’s Day Out together at First Baptist Church Kilgore, TX. We crossed paths again in college and seminary, then we both married minister husbands and are both in ministry ourselves! It’s been a joy to reconnect this past year through writing. Today’s post, in a way, is part two of that post on faithfulness, so if you want, click here for part one.

Isn’t it interesting how God often takes the really slow road? How, sometimes, we have long since written off a part of our lives as old or forgotten? And He pulls it out and dusts it off and says, no, I still have plans for this.

My husband and I are both fans of fantasy book series (i.e. Harry Potter), long-running TV shows (LOST), movie trilogies, etc. (Yeah, call us nerds, but as John Greene says, “when people call people nerds, mostly what they’re saying is ‘you like stuff.’ Which is just not a good insult at all.”)

We love books and shows like this because they are stories that take a long time to tell. The arc of the story is not over and done in one episode. There is a beginning and end (or in the case of LOST, they just give up mysteriously and leave everyone in confusion. Still bitter.); but in the middle, there are twists and turns, backstory, character development, and each little story within the big story is important. Everything is building and every detail is significant. These stories often take the slow road and something introduced in the beginning can play a huge role later on.

A few years ago, our church took one year to read through the Bible chronologically. Two things about that. One: The Old Testament is really long. Really, really long. Two: It wasn’t the first time I had read the stories, but reading them in this way I got completely wrapped in the history, the character development, and all the details (yes, even the genealogies were interesting!). I loved walking through the story from beginning to end. I loved seeing how things in the beginning were important in later stories and how all the pieces fit together. And just like a good movie where you anxiously wonder if the hero really will be able to save the day, I found myself identifying with Israel in their longing for a Messiah, for rescue. It was indeed Good News when Jesus finally came on the scene!

I loved being connected to THE story. The story of Jesus. Because ultimately all of Scripture is telling about Him. And all that time in the Old Testament was build up. It was getting ready for Him. If I could sum up the Old Testament in two words, it would be: wait and hope.

But talk about the slow road. We often get impatient when we wait for an answer from God for days or weeks or months. In the first three chapters of Scripture, the human race was already broken. Israel was promised a Messiah, and they waited. And waited. For thousands of years. Hoping for redemption. Hoping for rescue. Waiting and hoping.

When we talk about hope, we often use it in this way:

“I hope I get the job.”

“I hope we sell our house.”

“I hope the weather is nice for the birthday party.”

“I hope they have nachos in the cafeteria today.” (Who doesn’t?!)

When we say we hope in this way, we’re basing it off of a very narrow definition. It’s “the feeling that what is wanted can be had or that events will turn out for the best.” (dictionary.com) This is temporary hope and the thing hoped for may or may not come to pass. This is a definition of hope, but it’s not the only one. This is not how the Bible talks about hope. Because our real hope is not in someTHING, but rather in someONE.

“Now in this hope we were saved, yet hope that is seen is not hope, because who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with patience.” (Romans 8:24-25, HCSB)

When God’s people waited and hoped for the coming Messiah, they hoped in something that was sure. It was promised. There was no way it wouldn’t come to pass. More than just wishing for what we want or crossing our fingers that events will turn out for the best, hope is “a person or thing in which expectations are centered.” (dictionary.com) It’s not hoping for a thing, it’s hoping in a Person. THE person in which our expectations are centered. The person of Christ.

When our hope is in Christ and not merely in wishful thinking, then hope cannot fail. Because Christ is eternally faithful. In Psalm 130, the psalmist declares, “I wait for the LORD; I wait, and put my hope in His word . . . Israel, put your hope in the LORD. For there is faithful love with the LORD, and with Him is redemption in abundance. And He will redeem Israel from all its sins.” (Psalm 130:5 & 7-8, HCSB) The hero will definitely save the day, no doubt about it.

There is the only true source of hope, hope that does not disappoint. It is Christ, His faithful love and His redemption of sins. There is our rescue. All the twists and turns along the way are part of the story. The details of our lives that we want so badly to work out are important, just like the thousands of years of Israel’s backstory is important. It’s all part of the bigger story that points us to a singular hope in the person of Christ. And regardless of earthly circumstances, this hope remains, because He is always faithful.


The Doctrine of “For Now” and “Not Yet”

For you astute theologians out there, you may be thinking this is going to be about the Kingdom of God and how this Kingdom is both earthly and heavenly, expressed in the here and now through Christ’s followers and is also yet to come in the perfect culmination of all things when we are with Him in Glory.

And you would be wrong. Sorry to mislead you.

No, it’s just that I have found myself saying those two phrases a lot lately. A lot. Here they are in context:

Michael says, “Well, we finally got the leak downstairs taken care of.” I say, “For now.” Michael says, “Got the faulty pipe replaced and we don’t have any more water coming into the basement.” I say, “Not yet.” Michael says, “All the doctors bills have come in from Abigail’s (not broken) arm and we’re all caught up.” “For now.” You see where I’m going with this?

Here’s the gut-level-honest-truth: February was a rough month. It was just one of those months where you find yourself saying, “This is just getting old.” I’ve never been so glad that February only has 28 days! We were ready to move on to March!

But regardless of what circumstances we are facing, this Debbie Downer mentality of “something worse is probably just around the corner” is pretty much the exact opposite of faith.

Part of Abigail’s bedtime routine each night is to sing a few songs as she goes to sleep. After we’ve read the books, after we’ve turned out the lights, we sing. I think it helps her calm down, but honestly, it’s refreshing for me too to sing a few minutes of quiet praise at the end of the day. One of the songs that almost always makes it on the bedtime playlist is one that I learned as a child. It’s simple. It goes like this:

“Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness. And all these things shall be added unto you. Halle-ju, Halle-ju-jah.” If you know the tune, I hope you were humming along.

These words of wisdom are straight from Scripture in Matthew 6 where Jesus spends a great deal of time telling us not to worry (which is again, the opposite of faith). The passage on worry begins in verse 25 with the phrase, “This is why I tell you.” I’m not sure that I’ve ever noticed that little phrase before. So I backed up to see why He was telling us not to worry. Interesting. Just before Jesus gives His command to not be anxious about anything, He is giving some cautionary words about money and possessions having too much power in our lives. I don’t know about you, but I find that worry and financial stress OFTEN go together. I guess Jesus is on to something here.

Jesus goes on to paint a beautiful picture of how delicately and intimately He takes care of some of the smallest members of His creation: birds and flowers. He cares for them and provides their every need. Won’t He do much more for you? Ok, I want to stop there, but He doesn’t. Actually He says, “won’t He do much more for you-you of little faith?” (v. 30, HCSB)

I’m confident that when my response to God’s blessing in my life is “well, it can only last so long” I am guilty of having “little faith.” My favorite part of Jesus’ teaching here on worry is verse 34, “Therefore don’t worry about tomorrow for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (HCSB)

Wait, what? In a passage where Jesus is condemning worry and assuring us of His provision, I want Him to finish off with something more like, “Therefore don’t worry about tomorrow because I’ve got it all handled and it just gets better from here.” No, Jesus doesn’t beat around the bush here. His command to not worry about tomorrow doesn’t change, but it’s not because He promises nothing bad will happen. No, in fact, He assures us that tomorrow will bring challenges. No doubt about it! God’s provision today does not eliminate hardships tomorrow. Actually, His provision today doesn’t even eliminate hardships today. Faith doesn’t cancel out our difficulties. It cancels out our worry.

I have no idea what tomorrow brings. But I know today God will provide. He provides “for now” when only He knows the “not yet”. “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness. And all these things shall be added unto you. Halle-ju, Halle-ju-jah.”

Leaving Old Bandages Behind

You may have never seen anything as equally sad and cute as a one year old in a sling. (And if you say those Sarah McLachlan commercials, I’ll have to ask you to stop reading.) How do small children not break bones more often? Ours falls approximately 37 times a day. Off chairs, over toys, running down the hall. Recently, she got a running start and went face first into a door frame.

On the afternoon that she fell and landed in just the right (or wrong, I guess) spot, Michael and I (with all our vast medical expertise) diagnosed her with what I am now referring to as “jello arm”. As in, we would lift her arm over her head and she would drop it like it was made of jello pudding. Now, I am generally a very level-headed person. So naturally my first instinct was that her bone had somehow turned into mush and we needed to call 911 and maybe they could grow it back like Harry Potter’s?! Michael, thankfully, was much more calm, called the doctor’s office to let them know we were on our way, and even thought to drain the hamburger meat that was cooking on the stove and put it away before we left. How completely rational of him.

The doctor’s verdict was it was probably a fracture. On to the ER. X-rays couldn’t confirm (which apparently is not uncommon at that age), but they suspected a fracture as well. She got a splint and a sling and they sent us home, WAY PAST an acceptable bed time for a 16 month old. The next day we had another appointment with our regular pediatrician who twisted her arm in all the same painful ways it had been twisted the night before and again she suspected a fracture. Another appointment was scheduled with an orthopedic doctor to determine if she needed a full blown cast. We were instructed to watch her closely over the weekend as she most certainly had something serious going on in her arm and if she was in pain, take her to the ER immediately. This is serious. Got it. (Side note: Abigail is really trying to make sure we meet our annual deductible as soon as possible this year. Bless her.)

We spent the weekend doing very laid back activities. Books. Puzzles. Sunday she seemed to be feeling much better and was moving her arm a lot more. She was also really enjoying her sling and finding lots of things to do with it like store toys and wipe yogurt off her mouth.

On Monday, we head to the orthopedic. Ladies, you know how your car will make that funny noise and it does it every time you drive the car, but as soon as your husband (or dad or older brother) get in to check it out, the car stops making the mysterious noise? That’s exactly what this doctor’s appointment was like. The wrap and the splint came off and if her chubby little legs would let her, Abigail would have been doing hand stands. The doctor was polite enough to at least “take a look at her”, which was difficult to do while she was doing chin ups on the chair beside me. And his diagnosis, which we knew the second that splint came off, was “there is absolutely nothing wrong with your child.” Obviously, but thanks for your expert advice.

The nurse asked if we wanted to keep the splint. Now, it’s not that I’m not sentimental. But one, gross. That thing’s been on her arm for 4 days and I got a whiff of it when it came off. And two, she doesn’t need it anymore. I don’t know if her arm really was broken and it miraculously healed over the weekend or if it was just a bad sprain. But either way, she doesn’t need that bandage anymore. And we literally left it laying in pieces in the middle of the floor and walked away. And I haven’t been able to shake that image since.

What Christ has done for us is miraculous. We absolutely were broken and He healed us and transformed us so completely that it’s as if we were never broken at all. Sometimes we try to hold on to our past and keep putting bandages on it. We can’t just leave it in the middle of the floor and walk away. We hang on to old labels: addict, adulterer, liar, immoral. But God has given us new labels: free, delivered, new, loved. Of Zion, the Lord said, “You will no longer be called Deserted, and your land will not be called Desolate; instead, you will be called My Delight is in Her…for the Lord delights in you…” (Isaiah 62:4, HCSB). A new name. A new label.

The blood of Christ doesn’t just put a bandage on your past, His blood has covered it. “He forgives all your sin; He heals all your diseases. He redeems your life from the Pit…” (Psalm 103:3-4b, HCSB)

I want to leave old bandages behind. I don’t want to carry them around. They stink and I don’t need them anymore. I don’t need to keep a souvenir of the past. “As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:12, HCSB). So I’ll leave those old bandages scattered on the floor and walk away. Not broken anymore.

It’s Raining, It’s Pouring, The Old Man is Snoring

Weird, obscure 20th century nursery rhymes anyone? The rest of that little rhyme, in case you’re unfamiliar is, “He went to bed and bumped his head and couldn’t get up in the morning.” I’m not quite sure what the moral lesson is that we want small children to learn from this somewhat disturbing verse. Most nursery rhymes, in their original, not-modernized, versions tend to be on the frightening side geared towards scaring children into right behavior. For the record, I’m not necessarily saying I’m opposed to this kind of behavior modification, just making an observation. (If you don’t know me personally, please read that last sentence – and most of what I write for that matter – with a hint of sarcasm.) I will say, I don’t think “Rock-a-bye Baby” will be making an appearance on Abigail’s night-night playlist. Again…disturbing.

But speaking of behavior modification, this little rhyme is currently shedding some light on a little bit of bad theology that I think I’ve been hanging on to for far too long. Not too tightly, but just tight enough that it needs to be dealt with. I know it’s bad theology and every time I’m brave enough to say with words (out loud) how I really feel about a certain situation, I know it immediately. (Thank you, seminary education.) I know. It’s not right. It’s not how God works. But in all honesty, I am often tempted to believe that all circumstances impacting my life today are a direct result of how pleased (or not) God currently is with me. Let’s stop right there and say: This is no way to live!

Do you ever think this too? Everything seems to be going wrong so we wonder, “God, are you not happy with me? Have I done something to step out of your favor? Am I outside your will? Are you punishing me?” It’s difficult to unravel this bad theology, because sometimes, our circumstances ARE a direct result of our actions. The action is also known as “sin” and the undesirable circumstance is the “consequence” of the sin. But this is not always the case. Grace is also always at work. Sometimes your circumstances are the result of someone else’s actions. Sometimes your circumstances may be the result of something that happened before you were born. It would be impossible to expound on all the possible answers as to why we may be suffering in this way at this time in this context (sinful from birth, personal sin, sins of others, the world is a sinful place, the fall, etc.), so my short answer (and my current method of expunging this bad theology) is this:

“‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts, and your ways are not My ways.’ This is the Lord’s declaration. ‘For as heaven is higher than earth, so My ways are higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.'” Isaiah 55:8-9 (HCSB)

I want to push back. I want to argue. I want to question, “But WHY God?” But these verses tend to always be the end of the conversation. And honestly, they bring such peace. In everything that happens in this crazy world, His ways are always higher, His thoughts are always better. We can’t comprehend it. And besides, when did Jesus say, “Follow Me and I will give you the life of luxury and ease?” (I keep looking for that verse and I just can’t find it!)

Sometimes it rains and it pours. And it may seem like God is mad or He’s just not paying attention. He was there, tending to our needs and then, I don’t know, He got distracted or He just had bigger fish to fry. OR He’s not happy with me. Nope there it is again. It’s so easy to arrive at this conclusion if we don’t see the bigger picture. That God is always seeing our situation from a much larger lens, that He sees our situation as it relates to all things past, present and future. That at times, my circumstances may be a direct result of sin in my life, but at other times it may be an opportunity to exercise faith to produce something greater. Or it may be a result of someone else’s actions. Or something entirely different. Maybe it’s not about ME at all?! His ways, His purposes, His thoughts…so much higher than mine.

Sometimes it rains and it pours. God is not oblivious. He knows. He is not the old man who bumped his head and can’t get out of bed in the morning. He is so present and sovereign and HE KNOWS!

It’s hard to understand sometimes, I know, that “He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:45b, HCSB). I assume that both sun and rain are meant to be positives in this verse, but I often associate ‘rain’ with not-so-good. Yes, it’s refreshing, but it also causes floods and sometimes it just pours and you want the sun to come out again. Either way, I have to stop believing that my good actions should return a blessing from the Lord, while my sins will incur His immediate punishment. It’s not that simple. That is a works-based religion. But we live by faith, set “free from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:2b, HCSB). (Big side note: This grace and living by faith never excuses us from always pursuing righteousness.)

This is a 10,000 ft view of a very complex theological discussion about sin and grace (for further reading, see Paul’s letter to the Romans). But without knowing all the answers, I want to be able to live life in the reality of His abundant grace and not under the prospect of His impending wrath.

I don’t know all the answers. I’m so glad He does.

The Role of an Adult in the Life of a Teenager

I have spent basically all of my adult life working with teenagers in some capacity. Sometimes that was Sunday school teacher. Sometimes it was camp staffer. Sometimes it was Bible study teacher, mentor, game player, worship leader, chaperon, discussion guider, host home mom, lock-in supervisor, homework helper, you name it. I love them.

I love how awkward they are in middle school and how they literally do not stop moving. Ever. What is that?

I love how they think they know everything one day and the next day the whole world is a blank slate again.

I love how they don’t know who they will be in five years but we see a glimpse of who they are becoming.

I love how dramatic they are. I really do. They are dramatic because everything is important to them. EVERYTHING is SUPER IMPORTANT! Like, OMG…

I love getting text/Facebook messages from them where I have to enlist google to decipher what all the  abbreviations mean…IDK what UR talking about…

Though I love them, I’ll be the first one to admit that I feel like an unlikely candidate for student ministry. Suffice it to say, I am not cool. No, in fact, I am pretty much the opposite of cool. I am not loud or crazy. I don’t giggle, I’m not silly. I dress pretty conservatively and am fairly reserved most of the time. My almost one year old goes to bed at 8:00 on the dot so my idea of “night life” is pretty much limited to Netflix or a good book. And I am perfectly ok with that. I despise a good 95% of what is deemed “popular” music.

Not only am I not cool, I’m a rule enforcer. I’m the chaperon that knocks on your door at 6:45 a.m. to make sure you are awake and will make it to breakfast on time. I make you drink water and eat vegetables at camp. I don’t let you go back for a second bowl of ice cream. I will shush you.

I never make the mistake of thinking I’m cool and that’s why teenagers would want to hang out with me. So why would they? Because I’m an adult. And they need adults. They need their parents, first and foremost. But even when their parents are godly and loving, they still need other adults. They need people who will love them the way Christ loves them. They need to see what it looks like to live out your faith in your 20’s, 30’s, 40’s and so on. They need to see that a relationship with Christ extends far beyond the four walls of the church on Wednesday night. They need someone that listens. They need someone that prays.

They don’t necessarily need a buddy. They have plenty of friends speaking all kinds of messages into their lives every day. They don’t need more of that. They need an adult who will speak truth to them. And who will listen. And who will love them and value them. That’s why it’s ok that I’m not cool. I don’t need to be. That’s not my role. My role is to model a life fully lived for Christ and the Gospel and to spur them on to do the same.

Who Cares About the “Joneses”

UPDATE: I wrote this original post on August 7th but didn’t publish it. Yesterday morning, the 8th, we woke up to several inches of water moving through our basement in a flash flood that destroyed all the flooring and baseboards but thankfully left most of the equipment and furniture salvageable. So not only did our home improvement project list just get significantly longer…we were reminded yet again that what we do have really isn’t even ours. We should hold on to it loosely. And it’s just stuff…

ORIGINAL POST: Michael and I are in our second week of a massive ‘spring cleaning’ project around the house. Yes, it is August. Probably the fact that we are doing spring cleaning in August should give you a clue as to how desperately our poor little house needs it. We haven’t gotten to the actual cleaning part yet – we are still working on the organizing. It started two Saturdays ago. We were out early doing some garage sale shopping. Michael said he would like to make better use of the storage space under our bed. I said I was wanting to get some bed risers so it seemed like we were on the same page. 11 days and about 27 home organization projects later and our house is still an absolute wreck. And the bed risers are sitting by the door waiting to go back to Target.

In my mind, the reason our house doesn’t stay organized is because it’s small – we don’t have much storage space, the bedrooms are small, no pantry, etc. Granted, our house boasts about 2400 square feet of livable space, but we actually “live” in about 1400 of that. (I do have to, somewhat reluctantly, admit that the studio space is perhaps the most organized and often cleanest part of the house.) Of course it doesn’t take more than 2 minutes on the internet to understand how ridiculously large our house is in comparison with global standards. You don’t even have to make comparisons to impoverished countries to be embarrassed. In 2009, the average new home size in the UK was 818 sq feet. In Spain it was 1,044. France was 1,206 and Canada was 1,948. The average new home size in the US was 2,164, second only to Australia who came in just over 2,300 sq feet. So what was I saying about our house being small?

Why is the lure of “keeping up with the Joneses” so strong at times? 90% of the time I am perfectly content with our house and our stuff. In fact, over the years Michael and I have made conscious decisions to accumulate less and live more simply. We want to always live below our means. We want to live in a place where we are satisfied and not constantly looking out the window thinking there could be more. I want to put my clothes away in my tiny closet and be happy. Who cares about the “Joneses” anyway? I want to not just be content with what I have, I want to make a conscious decision to live with less.

In Priscilla Shirer‘s “One in a Million“, she takes the reader on a journey with God by walking through the history of the Israelite’s journey from Egypt to Canaan. When she talks about the Israelites being led by the pillar of cloud and fire, she writes this, “Wouldn’t it be cool if God would just come down and linger over the house He wants you to buy, over the church He wants you to attend, over the person He wants you to date and marry?” OH wait…HE DID. He did linger over our house. Ok, so it certainly wasn’t a pillar of cloud in the sky. But he prepared this house for us. Before we ever moved to the Nashville area, before we ever heard of Central Baptist Church, before we ever decided we would live in Hendersonville, He lingered. In 2005, the SBC Annual Meeting was held in Nashville. Our pastor and his wife participated in a city wide prayer walk as part of the conference. They were assigned a section of Hendersonville which included our street. They walked for hours and prayed over the houses in the neighborhood, ending right in front of our house. They stopped and prayed over our house, praying for the people that would live there in the future, for how those people would be involved in the community and for the how they may even be involved in the church. They prayed specifically over our house and for us. We moved into that house 5 years later and Kathy cried as she told me that story and realized she was praying for us.

So when I struggle with dissatisfaction over what we don’t have or what we could have, I’m reminded…God knew what He was doing when He put us here. He planted us here not so we could have a cool house, but so we could be part of a community. The house may not be everything I want it to be, but it’s more than enough. And someday it will be clean again!

Death of a “church”

While running an errand on a lunch break this week, I passed two church buildings that have recently closed their doors and the buildings were converted into new businesses. One was in the process of becoming an upscale, trendy restaurant. The other had already been transformed into, of all things, a doggie day care. I know of another church in a different part of town that years ago closed its doors and is now a beauty supply store. When Michael and I bought our first house in East Nashville, the search for a “church home” was endless and frustrating. Because of the changing culture and demographics in the neighborhood since the 1950’s, many of the churches had all but died. Week after week, we would walk into a church that from the outside looked like it should have several hundred people in attendance. The grand, old sanctuary was dark and empty (and occasionally moldy) and we would quickly be escorted to another room, maybe a fellowship hall, where a small congregation of 20 or 30 were gathered. It seemed that while in other parts of the city, mega churches were apparently thriving and expanding to new locations, these smaller, older churches were slowly and painfully dying away. That was 5+ years ago and I know that a few of those have since disbanded their congregation and sold their buildings.

What causes a “church” to die? An older generation that never reproduced younger believers? Traditions that we hold too tightly? Resistance to changing culture and new ideas? What happened to the race that we were running? In Galatians 5:7 Paul admonishes his readers by saying, “You were running so well. Who prevented you from obeying the truth?” What kept us from running the race with endurance? Sometimes a church closes because it runs out of money. Sometimes it closes because of arguments and disagreements. But I think the closing of “church” doors is usually a symptom of a greater disease. The disease that we have allowed other things to take precedence in our lives above Christ, our Cornerstone. “Church” becomes merely the Sunday social hour, not a time of fellowship with other believers reflecting on what God has done and anticipating what He will do next. When we confine “church” to what happens in that hour on Sunday morning, we make the mistake of believing that the church is a building and that it doesn’t go with us every minute of every day. 1 Peter 2:5 states “you yourselves, as living stones, are being built into a spiritual house for a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” It is us. Our bodies, our fellowship with other believers, our daily spiritual sacrifices to the Lord. It’s not easy to be the church so I’m afraid many times instead of persevering, we decide it’s easier to close the doors and start over. Honestly, sometimes I have this fleeting thought about my house! I think, I will never be able to get it truly clean ever again! I would rather just sell it and get a new house and start over! Of course, anyone who has ever been through that process of selling and buying knows how ridiculous that thought is. So I get to cleaning. Maybe we’ve thought this about church. It’s hard, we can’t fix all the problems, so let’s just shut it down and start all over with someone new. Let’s just walk away. 2 Timothy 4:2 pleads, “Proclaim the message; persist in it whether convenient or not; rebuke, correct and encourage with great patience and teaching.”

So when I see a church building that has closed it’s doors, I pray they haven’t walked away. I pray their faith is as real today as it was when they gathered in those rooms. I pray they still meet and find encouragement from a local body of believers. I pray they will be able to say with Paul in 2 Timothy 4:7, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”