The Blog of Pastor Mike Wilkins
"The long run" referred to in the title of this blog is, in the first place, the many years Mike Wilkins served as West London's solo pastor, and then its Senior Pastor, since he and his wife Deb moved to London (and this church) in 1984.
In these past few years (beginning November 2011,) Mike's various health challenges, particularly a serious and ongoing case of cancer, has added another layer to the "long run" metaphor, and lots to blog about. Mike is currently on an extended Sick Leave, but generally worships with the church family on Sunday mornings.
With the publication of a book he wrote in 2016 entitled "Glory in the Face" (now available electronically and in paperback from Amazon.ca, and other online venders), Mike has just launched a new website, which will serve as a sort of scrapbook for readers of the book, with relevant background photos, for example, of That Last Final Solo Canoe Trip in May, 2011, as well as additional information about the book, and--coming soon--a new set of blog posts, mostly about the peace of God and the joy of the Lord and the face of Christ and the strength to face anything. You'll find the new website now at www.gloryintheface.com.
Oct18FriOctober 18, 2013
Some good news this week. Yesterday we learned that the Pathology People have concluded that my gut-wrenching surgery (now four weeks ago) did manage to remove all the cancer from my nether parts. Meanwhile, the next set of chemotherapy treatments (declaring war on the cancer in my liver) begins in four weeks. So here, at the half-way point between my Previous Big Thing (Thing #2) and my Next Big Thing (Thing #3), I am mulling over something that the Apostle Paul wrote about himself.
Put me down as a big fan of the Apostle Paul. In my personal "Parade of the Giants" (The procession through history of my favourite great examples of faith in Christ), Paul is the man walking at the front of the parade. And please don't put me down for it. It's right that I should admire him, for deliberately imitating Paul is a repeated New Testament instruction (e.g. 1 Corinthians 4:16 and 11:1; Philippians 3:17 and 4:9; 2 Thessalonians 3:9.) These days, I have been thinking a lot about the exemplary statements he wrote to the church at Philippi. He wrote these words from a prison cell, probably in Rome, as he waited to learn if the Next Big Thing he was about to receive was going to be a Roman execution or a "Get Out of Jail" card. While he waited, he wrote on the topic of maybe and maybe not dying very soon. Remarkably, he described himself as "hard-pressed between the two."
Philippians 1:20-26 ESV
... it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again.
So there was this remarkable man, thinking through the two likely outcomes of his imprisonment and declaring himself to be "hard pressed between the two." From Paul's point of view, "to depart and be with Christ" was the "far better" option, but "to remain in the flesh" was "more necessary" -- for the Philippians and for many similar groups of first-century Christians dependent upon him.
For me, the art of using the apostle Paul as an example requires never losing sight of the important fact that he was a 1st century apostle and I am something very much else. This being the case, there is an important contrast between his expectation of his immediate future and my expectation of mine. I believe that it is exactly THIS difference that brought Paul to a certainty about not dying any time soon, a certainty that I am very sure I have no corresponding right to assume. Paul's conviction that he would "remain and continue" with the Philippians for the sake of their "progress and joy in the faith" does NOT entitle me to any sort of similar certainty about what happens to me next, for Paul was almost unique, one of a small number of foundational 1st century church leaders: chosen servants of Christ with a very specific, historic calling.
Still, Paul's "teaching" and "conduct" and "aim in life" and "faith" and "patience" and "love" and "steadfastness" and "persecutions" and "sufferings" are set out in the New Testament as examples for us to imitate (2 Timothy 3:10,11). And he considered that the "gain" that comes from dying was "far better" than the "fruitful labor" that would come from living on. So here's what is occurring to me. As I keep busy doing "two things at the same time" (From the post of May 31: "wholeheartedly fighting for my life and trusting God and praying with all my heart for strength and health and healing and a long life, while at the same time, quietly and peacefully accepting the reality that this might in fact be the beginning of the end of my life..."), I am being called BOTH to prepare myself for the upcoming chemotherapy-based battle for continued life on earth AND sincerely to prefer "to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better."
Although Paul's personal certainty does not entitle me to assume that I am NOT going to die any time soon, even for the sake of additional "fruitful labor," his example directs me to try on both dying and not dying very soon AND to live in a genuine state of being "hard-pressed between the two" -- and it is Paul's example that shows me how.
Paul's "hard-pressedness" was pretty plainly the result of believing that, as he puts it, "to live is Christ." Plainly, he was a man so thoroughly dazzled by Jesus Christ that there was nothing in this world as attractive to him and as appealing to him as Christ himself. Paul was "hard-pressed between the two" because he loved Jesus so much that there was nothing in this world that appealed to him more than seeing, and being with, Christ. Not even serving Christ. As such, he accepted the fact of his own death with composure and peace. But he didn't just accept it. He embraced it as his personal preference. Such was his love for his glorious Lord Jesus.
And so should I. With no real certainty on the question of "maybe and maybe not dying very soon," I am being called to cultivate such a love for Christ that my personal preference really is "to depart and be with Christ," believing that "that is FAR better." And so I'm working on it. In my Bible reading and my praying, in my Bible study and my meditation, I'm seeking to see Christ so clearly and to love him so intensely that I really am "hard pressed between the two," as the remarkable Apostle Paul is my example.