Hard Stops

stopsign51In recent years, I’ve been introduced to the term “hard stop.” I first heard it on radio in connection with live talk programs. The term came up when the program host would tell a caller that their conversation had to end in the next few seconds because a “hard stop” was coming up. This meant a commercial or announcement was about to air that would be played at a certain time and that time was fixed. I’ve also heard the term recently in the business world when, in a meeting, one of the attendees, knowing she had another meeting immediately following this one, would indicate she had a “hard stop” coming up to allow her time to get to the next meeting.

I’ve also heard the term in a Christian context. Ann Voskamp, the author of the book “One Thousand Gifts” has made several references to the devotional value of “hard stops” throughout the day. From the January 18, 2012 entry on her website aholyexperience.com, Ann Voskamp made a simple and profound case for Christians taking (rather making) time for “hard stops” throughout the day. She wrote:

A House of Prayer, a SHELTER, establishes its foundation on twin piers: an established PLACE and an established TIME. We can only pray without boundaries, only pray without ending, when we have established borders, time and place, in which to pray.

For a house to withstand hard winds, it requires hard stops. God’s people have always prayed with hard stops — fixed hour prayer. At a fixed hour David prayed, Daniel too bowed in prayer at set times, like Peter and John and the Early Christians. When the clock struck a certain hour, those hard after God made a hard stop.

Everyone bent a hard knee and prayed. Hard stops make us rise soft-hearted.

I am learning to make hard stops. Three times a day — 9, 12, 6 — to make a complete stop and pray. It’s not long (Short!): A Psalm. The Lord’s Prayer. Jesus’s Creed: ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Mt. 22:36-39)

Establishing a time establishes Who is the priority.

I mentioned this on Tuesday during a book study of which I’m a part. For the last two and a half years, I’ve been privileged to be a guest in a twice-a-month book study with the Field and Stream Team at Kensington Church in Troy, Michigan.

We have been reading through “Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life” by Donald Whitney. In our discussion on Chapter 10, concerning Silence and Solitude,  several guys asked how we can take what we’ve read about and discussed and make setting aside time to be quiet and alone with the Lord a day-to-day reality in our lives.  It occurred to me to mention the idea of doing “hard stops” throughout the day. With most of us having some type of smart phone, programming in an alarm for the time we set aside should be no problem. The idea caught on quickly as a number of the guys started punching in alarms into their smart phones.

However, the discussion went one step further. One of our team members, Dave, gave us a challenge. During each of the next two weeks, we will set aside a one hour time to be with the Lord as well as two fifteen minute periods. We will discuss what happened when we meet in two weeks. Everyone present loved the idea and accepted the challenge.

I would like to challenge you. If you’re not already doing it, set aside some time as a “hard stop” to meet alone and in quiet with Christ. Let us know, by way of our comments section, how this went.

The Last Day…

Tracy_Caldwell_Dyson_in_Cupola_ISSOn October 30,2000, I was listening to a news radio broadcast from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (Windsor, Ontario is just across the river from us). The newscaster observed that this day might go down in history as the last day in which a human was not living in space. The first crew to inhabit the International Space Station (ISS) launched on October 31, 2000 and docked with the ISS two days later. Since then, there has not been a day in which a person has not been living in outer space.

I thought of that in conjunction with what is on the Church calendar today. We’ve commemorated key events in the history of Christianity over the last few days. On Thursday, we celebrated Maundy Thursday (also known as Holy Thursday), remembering the Last Supper which Christ had with His apostles, as well as His agonized prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane just prior to His arrest. On Friday, we remembered what is called Good Friday, in which the Lord Jesus was tried, condemned, suffered and died a horrifying death on a Roman cross just outside Jerusalem. Tomorrow, Easter Sunday, we will remember the resurrection of Christ from the dead. It was a resurrection in which the Lord Jesus, in His humanity, will never die again.

Like the CBC newscaster back in 2000 who noted what he did about the ongoing presence of humanity in space, I reflected on the fact that on this Saturday of Holy Week, today we remember the last full calendar day in human history on which Jesus of Nazareth would ever be dead.

The historical evidence I’ve seen seems to point to Friday, April 3, 33 A.D. as the day of the crucifixion. Therefore, Saturday, April 4, 33 A.D. was the last full calendar day in human history in which the Lord Jesus would be dead.

That has staggering implications for all of us. He who is God, the second person of the Trinity. and also human, in His humanity, has become the first human to regain physical life in an imperishable, regenerated body. He has been alive in that body since April 5th, 33 A.D.

Think of the human history He has witnessed and guided. For almost twenty full centuries, He has been in Heaven, alive in His regenerated body. As generations have come and gone, He has watched as your ancestors lived out life in their generations. For those of your own ancestors who trusted in Him, He continued His special work in their lives.

The writer of the letter to the Hebrews notes this in pointing out to us:

He is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for us.” (Hebrews 7:25 ESV)

Because of His rising from the dead, there won’t be another “last day” for Jesus. For those who have trusted in Him, and do so today, we must rejoice and be glad. There will never be another day in history, ever again, in which we live and Our Savior doesn’t.

A Picture of Human Destiny

three-crosses-1024x890Today, the Church remembers the suffering and death of Christ on a cross outside Jerusalem about the year 33 A.D. On this Good Friday, I’ve been reflecting on what happened on that day almost 2,000 years ago.

We are told in the Gospel accounts that the Lord Jesus was crucified with two others on that day.(Matthew 27:38; Mark 15:27; Luke 23:33; John 19:18)

I think this is significant. All four Gospel writers thought it was an important enough detail to record for their written account of what happened to the Lord Jesus that day. Matthew and Luke give us a bit more information about what happened.

In Matthew’s account, we find bypassers, chief priests and elders who mocked the crucified and dying Jesus. In the text, we see also:

“The robbers who were crucified with him also reviled him in the same way.” (Matthew 27:44 ESV)

In Luke’s account, we find:

One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”  (Luke 23:39-43 ESV)

Some might look at these texts and see a contradiction. However, the same Holy Spirit who inspired Matthew to write also inspired Luke. How do we harmonize these two accounts?

I think the simplest way to harmonize them is to see that one of the robbers repented and placed his faith in Christ while on his cross and the other robber remained hostile and apart from Christ..

I think that these accounts give us a very compact picture of human destiny. We see two humans, both of whom are hostile to Christ when their time of crucifixion begins. Yet, one remains hostile to the end and refuses to allow his eternal destiny to be changed. The other comes to faith in Christ and is ultimately saved from his eternal condemnation.

What a picture of human destiny. The perfect human, Jesus Christ, is in the midst of sinful and hostile humanity. In His dying, He brings life and peace to others. His death (and also in His resurrection days later) changes the destiny of those who trust in Him, giving hope, purpose and eternal life.

One remains hostile. The other comes to faith. The ultimate paths of humanity are only two. The path of the one who fails to believe and the path of the one who does believe.

What encouragement for us to trust Christ. The thief who repented had no list of good things he did for God. His life was lived in rebellion to God and to the people around him. With only hours to live, under a sentence of death, both physical and spiritual, he brings nothing to recommend him. In the midst of his crucifixion, he changed his mind. With words of implicit trust said to Jesus, this robber’s destiny was changed. After this, he wasn’t going to have a long lifetime to do the work of Christ on Earth. But it can be truly said that he spent the remainder of his life faithful to Christ (even if that life was to be measured only in hours). No long list of good works already done to recommend him to God. No promise of a long life to do the work of the kingdom of God. Only simple trust in Christ in the midst of nothing else. Yet, such faith then and today hears the promise echo back: “Today, you will be with me in Paradise.” 

Finishing Strong

Finish Line - 2014-03-08Recent events are reminding me that not only are we running the race which God laid out before us to run (Hebrews 12:1-2) but that we need to keep the finish line in mind and in sight. Those of us in Christ know from this passage that not only was Christ the one Who put us onto this race course but also caused us to start the race, raced along with us and awaits us at the finish line.

A few weeks ago, I participated in a 5K walk in nearby Utica, Michigan. It was my third 5K walk in the last three months. I really wanted to do well (that is, to set a new personal best time). To help me along the way, I used the stopwatch on my wristwatch to indicate the elapsed time at certain mile markers along the way. In working the numbers later on, I found that the pace on the first mile was remarkably fast for me. The second mile was a bit slower but still much faster than my average pace. It was, however, between mile markers 2.0 and 2.6 that I really slowed down. Without other landmarks to use, I didn’t realize at the time how much I had slowed down.

However, at mile marker 2.6, the large structure for the finish line was directly down the street in front of me, half a mile away. When I calculated my speed from that point to the finish line, I found that my pace significantly increased. I completed the race with a personal best time, 32 seconds faster than my last race.

I didn’t realize it at the time but seeing the finish line gave me a focus to complete the race and do it with strength. I think we can compare this to what we have in life’s journey. The finish line is Christ. At a time in my life when I know that I have fewer years on Earth in front of me than behind me, I want to encourage all of us in Christ to finish strongly.

Recently, I read a passage from Psalm 92 that goes along with these reflections on finishing strong. I pray this would be true of all of us:

They flourish in the courts of our God.
They still bear fruit in old age;
they are ever full of sap and green,
to declare that the Lord is upright;

Psalm 92:13-15 (English Standard Version)