Last summer I spent some time talking to a church/business consultant. He showed me a graph he uses to depict the life cycle of a church or organization ( kind of scary ....I know). It is the typical mountain graph where you start at the bottom with an idea....grow the idea while climbing the mountain with the peak as your goal. Then starts the decline....all going downhill ending in the demise of the group whereby you need another new idea or vision to start a new climb.
Well it doesn't take a genius to see where this "life cycle" graph comes from. It is the cycle of life most people believe in ...and live in ( scary I know) ! You are born, and you start to grow and all the while you are heading up in the world. At some point you "make it" to the top ( or as far as your ever going to) and suddenly you are "over the hill" and you start the long sure descent into loss and decline ending of course in the grave. Period end of story.
For me there are lots of problems with this "life cycle" graph; the greatest one being that it promises something it cannot by its very nature produce...LIFE. Face it climbing the mountain to get to the top of anything can be very hard....it is even harder to arrive at the top thinking you have it "made for life"...only to find out it is all falling apart and your over the hill! Going down with only death to look forward to is no picnic, no wonder so many people and groups who believe this cycle is life are totally depressed! I would be too if that is all I had before me.
So what is the alternative? What should the graph of LIFE look like? Well I think it follows the very pattern of Life Himself....Jesus Christ (John 1:4). Jesus was born into this world and from the moment of his birth his life was on a descent....down into Egypt....down to a no name place called Galilee....down into a carpenter shop....DOWN not UP! His face was set for his ultimate descent into Jerusalem where he would be lowered into a pit ( Psalm 88) the night before his crucifixion only to go down further and be nailed to a Roman cross ( that is as low as one could go). This was the ordeal of going down into death which his entire life had been focused on. And because he was faithful there is not and end of story but a beginning...not a new idea but a new Life and a new Creation( 2 Cor. 5:17).
Easter should be the greatest day of the year because it proclaims Resurrection; death does not win ...the grave was empty! So what does this look like for us two thousand years after the Resurrection; after Jesus' victory over death?
Well, let's follow Christ on his journey...the true hero journey. We are born and cross a threshold into this world and the truth is from that moment we are descending into the valley of the shadow. There are lots of tests and trials along the way( can I hear an amen?); we meet allies who come along side of us but we also encounter enemies. We are following Christ's life but we are not alone for He gives us a mentor, the Holy Spirit; who provides us with spiritual gifts and the wisdom we need on this perilous descent. Finally we come into an ordeal, the likes of which we have never known...the inmost cave of the journey, ( the bottom of the valley). There is a deep truth to be revealed in this place where we have arrived and feel so lost and alone; it is unique to each and everyone of us. There is a truth the Father and Son want us to know; perhaps it is the revelation of just who we are ( think Simba seeing his father in the water); or a task which we have been appointed( think Frodo in Rivendell). Whatever it is it will require a death...a death to self ( Galatians 2:20).
Having come through the ordeal we are on the road back; we are living a resurrection life and we carry an elixir with us that can bring life and healing to others. ( Remember now, Jesus' victory over death was left to the church to be implemented by the church...John 20:21-22)This is the time of ascent...think of coming up the other side of the valley. Our physical "death" is not down into a grave of eternal nothing, it is crossing the final threshold and a glorious ascension into the presence of the Lord.
If you want to see a great visual of this go to see the movie Gravity. ( Spoiler alert...don't read the rest of this paragraph unless you want to!) The most glorious scene in the movie is Sandra Bullock's return to earth...glorious balls of fire...she passes through a threshold and is baptized ...removes the old garment and comes to new life in new creation...on Earth! This is the glorious promise of the gospel....we shall all be changed in the twinkling of an eye...( 1Cor. 15:51-52) receiving our new resurrection bodies....which will be GLORIOUS! ( As you can see we can't get enough of glory, neither could Jesus, His glory was revealed on the cross.)
So which life pattern would you rather be living? The world's "life cycle" or the Life Journey of Jesus Christ? For me there is no comparison. I will be turning 65 next week. I can feel from the "world" their interpretation of what this age means....your old, your diminishing, your way over the hill, all you have to look forward to is loss and death, your done....the end. But I am living in a very different story because of Christ. I have great joy. Joy is the life of heaven which means I am present tense receiving life from the age to come. Since I am already in the Kingdom I am not diminishing but actually increasing in....yes...glory. I feel very much like one of those flaming balls passing through the final threshold and on a wild ride. ....which again is glorious. Will things begin to shake, rattle and fall apart? You bettcha! That is part of the ride...but it all ends in Glory! And that ending is only the beginning..............