The Stretch: The Now and Not Yet

We live in an uncertain world, and we instinctively turn to comfort in times of uncertainty – comforting patterns, comforting promises. Sometimes our anxiety is actually a form of comfort. It makes us feel powerless, which keeps us from having to do anything.

All of the best things in our lives involve a stretch, and all of the best things in our faith involve a stretch, too. It takes us to where we are to somewhere better. This is a principle of life.

Stretching is when we trade comfort for uncertainty or a level of discomfort.

We can do this because we can see just enough of the promise of a future. We see an outcome or purpose that makes the stretch worth it. Pushing against that is the human condition.

We like being comfortable.
We like certainty.

Comfort may not be easy, but it’s controllable and convenient. However, we shouldn’t get too comfortable with our times. This leaves us with two alternatives: fear (no hope) and hope. When it comes to our times, we’re not just confined to the present moment.

As people of God, we actually have a stretch between the now and the not yet. That’s what hope is.

  • Thessalonians – First letter to a church Paul wrote.
  • People were quitting their jobs because they expected Jesus to return at any moment.
  • People were beginning to die, and there was a concern they would miss out on heaven.
  • There was a pessimistic view of death and what was to come in the world around them.

An actual gravestone in Thessalonica – After death, no reviving, after the grave, no meeting again.

That’s not what we want to see on a sympathy card.

Paul sets up an immediate contrast between hope and no hope. He’s reminding us that there’s a comfortable way that the world around us lives, but then there’s a stretch for how WE live.

1 Thessalonians 4
13 Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. 14 For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. 15 According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep.16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. 

18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.
When you hear this passage read in church, or at a funeral, the reader usually stops here. And it’s a tremendous reality to remind ourselves that death doesn’t get the last word.

The grave doesn’t get the final say. But here’s where we run into trouble: This great hope at the end of our lives here on earth doesn’t give us many handholds for the life we live here in the meantime.

This can profoundly shape followers of Jesus in some unhelpful ways.

We have this understanding of salvation in Jesus that focuses primarily on after we die, not on how we live now. As a result, we don’t know what to do in the meantime.
Hebrews 13
14 For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the one that is to come.

On translation reads: For this world is not our permanent home, we are looking forward to a home yet to come.

Not my “permanent” home reads very differently than “not my home.” Our current homes on earth are not our permanent homes, but we also don’t stop caring for our current homes because we aren’t going to be there forever. We wouldn’t let things go or throw trash on the floor, and we shouldn’t do that in our Christian lives either.

When the events of our world unsettle us or mess with hope or peace, we do one of two things:
  1. We clock out and throw in the towel.
  2. We try to make sense of the events to regain a sense of understanding rather than fully understanding the hope we can hold onto regardless of the events.

Imagine turning on your car only to hear a weird noise. If you don’t understand everything about cars, have a friend who does, or have a trusted mechanic, you’re on Google or YouTube trying to find a solution. There’s uncertainty about the situation.

1 Thessalonians 5
1 Now, brothers and sisters, about times and dates we do not need to write to you,

Why were they asking about times and dates? Why do we worry about times, dates, and signs? Because they’re a way to figure things out in the face of uncertainty.

People around them were beginning to die off. Their understanding of when Jesus was supposed to return was being shaken. The world around them was uncertain, even threatening.

1 Thessalonians 5
2 for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. 3 While people are saying, “Peace and safety,” destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.
4 But you, brothers and sisters, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief.

This shouldn’t make us anxious because we are followers of Jesus. Paul contrasts those who live in the light and those who live in the dark. In a sense, he scolds the Christians for being like the people who live in the dark:

1 Thessalonians 5
5 You are all children of the light and children of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness.

This is a reminder of who we are and how we approach uncertainty. We’re not trying to assemble hope from the pieces and parts in front of us. We’re starting with hope!
1 Thessalonians 5
6 So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be awake and sober. 7 For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night.

He’s talking about ways we can avoid things or indulge ourselves to distract from them.

1 Thessalonians 5
8 But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet. 9 For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. 10 He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him.

There’s a way of living that armors us against this uncertainty:
  1. Faith – Conviction of the truth of who God is, the power He has, and the certainty of how it all works out.
  2. Hope of Salvation – Our expectation that it will happen, that it’s ours and that it’s coming. Like Amazon’s real-time tracking, we know how many stops until it arrives.
  3. Love – This word isn’t abstract “love” or even “love for God.” It’s love for others (agape). It’s expressed not just in feelings, but also in what we do. It’s very hard to be self-protective and love like this at the same time.

1 Thessalonians 5
11 Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.

There’s a bracing forcefulness to the word “encourage.” Don’t forget who we are! Think of the chants we shout at games when things get tough. This is a way to pump our team up when there's a lot on the line.

Since the end is decided, we can live in a certain way, and we can live for a certain way.

All of the “end times” passages in the gospels and in the writings of the early church relate to the same three things Paul writes about here.

How we’re thinking: Live in a life of faith and righteousness.

Where we’re going: Live in a life of hope in how it ends.

What we’re doing: Live a life of love that isn’t about preserving or protecting but about flowing outward.

As a people, we have one foot planted firmly in the now and another planted firmly in the not yet because Jesus gets the last word.

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