BEGINNINGS AND ENDINGS

I love beginnings. There is hope in beginnings. It helps us to leave the past behind. Letting the past dictate the possibilities of the present or future undermines hope of change in a good direction. Some religions and philosophies promote the idea that we are just a part of a never-ending cycle. Take the idea of reincarnation, for instance. We are supposed to cycle in and out of various kinds of bodies, from the level of insects to those of humans until we have worked off our "karmic debt" or achieved "enlightenment". But even this is part of a larger cycle in which everything that exists one day will be destroyed and resolved into the void, out of which another whole universe will emerge and souls created that will need bodies in which to evolve toward enlightenment, and so on - forever! Talk about pointlessness!

I was, of course, describing the Hindu view of reality but it is found in western philosophy also where we find people today advocating a "scientific" version of the Eastern religious view, namely, a "multiverse" in which universes come into existence, spin out their possibilities and then die or are reborn as new universes. Again, nothing is ultimately gained. It is all an endless cycle. Studies have been made of workers whose jobs were, for the purposes of a study, made meaningless. The effect is what you would expect: their motivation to work is greatly diminished. The ancient Greeks told the tale of Sisyphus, the founder and king of the city of Corinth, who for his many misdeeds and angering the gods is condemned to roll a large stone up a steep hill, only to have it roll back down to the bottom, requiring him to go back down and try to roll it to the top again - endlessly, forever. This is certainly a punishment no one would want to experience!

But the Bible starts with "In the beginning…" (Genesis 1:1; John 1:1) and concludes with "world without end" (Isaiah 45:17; Ephesians 3:21 - KJV), thus providing a basis for enthusiastic hope and a powerful motivation for effort toward the good. One's efforts will be rewarded and even if the stone rolls back down to the bottom of the hill one can start over with a real prospect of success. That was what so captivated the souls of poor, hopeless people when they met Jesus. He told them, in so many words and in many ways, that they could start over. As Paul put it, "God was in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them…" (2 Corinthians 5:19)

But this new start is not simply a beginning at zero or nothing. No, a thousand times no! It is a beginning that starts with what Jesus gained for us on the cross. In other words, we start out ahead, not behind. We are playing no catch-up game but have signed on with a winning team, in fact, a team sure to win. We simply have to make sure we stay on the team. And this team doesn't kick people off. People have to leave it of their own choice. What a powerful, positive incentive to work hard! As Paul said to the Corinthians believers (and remember, the story of Sisyphus would have been well known to them): "Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord." (1 Corinthians 15:58)

The great goal toward which we reach is the kingdom of God, in us, in the world and in eternity, where God's will is perfectly done. If we are truly saved, we want to be part of the kingdom of God and we want the kingdom of God to take over wherever it has not yet been perfectly established. We don't want to miss out on it! And we don't want others to miss out on it either. The kingdom is for everyone! Having this hope, we press on, fighting "the good fight of faith." (1 Timothy 1:18; 6:12; 2 Timothy 4:7) We have plenty of obstacles, plenty of opposition, within ourselves, in the world and from the devil - but we also have plenty of reason for hope. Paul writes, "Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 3:12-14)

If we are disciples of Jesus, we have a beginning and we have an ultimate ending: total victory! This ultimate victory will not be worn away by the progress of time or made insipid by the eons of eternity. Yes, we have an eternal future that begins in time. Now, in this life, we have a brief battle to wage, a few years, perhaps, of toil, but forever we shall have the enjoyment of its fruit. Now some will read these words, "battle" and "toil" and will be offended. They will say, "But aren't we saved by grace through faith?" What is there to do, then? It is absolutely true that we are not saved "on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy spirit whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life." (Titus 3:5-7)

God doesn't save us because we are righteous; He saves us to become righteous. When He offers us salvation it is salvation from sin not to sin! If we receive the Lord Jesus as our Savior, we are inviting Him to dwell within us and do a renovation of the heart and life. Anyone who is just "accepting Jesus" in order to escape punishment for sin in the afterlife hasn't actually received Him but another Jesus, a phony Jesus who does not exist. The desire that God will satisfy is the desire to be holy. "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied", said Jesus. (Matthew 5:6) How can you want to go to heaven where there is nothing but righteousness if you can't stand righteousness here on earth! As I heard Dallas Willard say one time, "God will take everyone to heaven He thinks can stand it." But don't fool yourself by supposing that you will enjoy unrighteousness in hell. Sin is the happiness thief, the joy killer. The worms of desire gnaw unceasingly at the heart of those who have finally and forever rejected salvation from sin. They cannot be satisfied, they will never be gratified. Sin is an empty promise. It offers happiness but gives you grief. It stops up the wells of enjoyment shortly after it gives you but a sip of stolen pleasure. Make no mistake about it - sin is your problem, not the solution. If you do not truly allow Jesus to save you from it, it will bring you to a very bad end indeed!

So are you ready for a new beginning? A new year is upon us and with it, and with each new moment of it, the offer is extended to you: will you receive your Savior? Will you walk with Him in the coming year and all the years ahead? Do not despair. God is the God of hope. Your past does not dictate your future, at least not so long as life shall last. The offer is extended to everyone on life's stage: come play a part that shall make you a star - "Those who have insight will shine brightly like the brightness of the expanse of heaven, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever." (Daniel 12:3) To borrow from the words of T. S. Eliot, "In my beginning is my end… in my end is my beginning." In our end, that is, our ultimate goal, we shall find our beginning. If it is to shine with the glory of God it will begin with walking in the light as He is in the light. (1 John 1:6-7)