Thursday, November 8, 2007

"End of Construction: Thank You for Your Patience"

Though I’ve not seen it myself, I’m told that on the tombstone marking the modest memorial to a remarkable woman who was, given the public prominence of her preacher husband, inevitably known simply as “Billy Graham’s wife,” read the words: “End of construction. Thank you for your patience.” Ruth Bell Graham chose them herself years before her death. They come from a road construction sign she once saw greeting travelers with the good news that the long wait and faithful patience was now being rewarded. She reputedly commented: “What a marvelous image for the Christian life – a work under construction until we go to be with God. That’s what I want as my epitaph.” And so it is.

What strikes me about that epitaph is not just the modest, self-effacing candor that was so typical of Ruth Graham’s life, but its appropriateness as a metaphor for the Christian life – a work under construction. Nowhere, in my experience, is there more dissonance between “Baptist” and “biblical” than here. There is a popular Baptist soteriology (doctrine of salvation) that sees salvation as purely event without any sense of a process, journey, “work under construction” at all. Our language betrays it: “So-and-so got saved last night.” Finished, complete, end of story. And sadly, for many it is! The day they give their “hearts” to Jesus is about as “Christian” as they’ll ever be. Armed with the knowledge that they’re now “saved,” their “ticket is punched,” they return to life and to “business as usual.” No Christian growth, no discipleship, no “work under construction.” And then we wonder why there are so many “undiscipled disciples” (as Jess Moody called them) in the Church!

To be sure, salvation begins with an event, a decision, a moment, but it does not end there, not if it’s really “salvation.” To save us, God must change us, and that takes a lifetime, as Ruth Graham knew. It is transformation, enculturation, formation, and it is both event and journey.

C.S. Lewis once wrote: “God is easy to please, but hard to satisfy.” What he meant was that God loves us just as we are, but because He loves us, He cannot leave us as we are; He must form us in the image of His Son Who is both our Source and our Destiny. That is why He is so infinitely patient with us; He has a lifetime (ours) to finish the construction.

And note: Construction zones are not smooth highways and easy rides. Lots of bumps and “lane shifts” and starts and stops can be expected. Anybody who tells you otherwise has never been “in the zone.” Think about it! Patience and persistence are required.

One thing more. In this “construction zone,” we don’t just work on Sundays.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Well put! I have visited the grave site on Billy Graham Parkway. The library is also fantastic.