"Come Before Winter"

by Alan Stewart

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There are few sights in the world as beautiful as the Tennessee mountains this time of year. As soon as the cold chills settle into the night, you begin to see the touch of God in every brush stroke of color draped along the hillsides. However, the cold chills are but a warning of things to come. The beauty of the colorful leaves is short-lived, and there is yet another interesting sign of the season. Perhaps you have noticed the skies being graced by flocks of geese flying in a tighter "V" formation than the military's blue angels. They soar with such precision, and they maneuver with such strategy. In spite of their beauty and form in the air, a multitude of geese on the ground can do a lot of damage to a city if they linger. It's good to know they are merely passing through and flying south for the winter.

In the closing moments of the Apostle Paul's life, he writes in 2 Timothy 4:21 some intriguing words to his young preacher friend, "do thy diligence to come before winter." While the urgency in his words was due to the fact he knew sailing was not permitted on the seas during winter, were there signs he could see from his window in the Roman prison that told him winter is just around the corner? As you read through this final letter of Paul's, there is a message that is obviously clear: he was facing both a physical and a spiritual winter, but he was heading towards a warmer climate.

To misinterpret winter's signs can leave us stranded, and to miscalculate winter's approach can be catastrophic. What is the value of flying south for the winter?

It speaks of a life without regret. I love these words he records in verse 7, "I have fought a good fight. I have finished my course, I have kept the faith..." He left no stones unturned in fulfilling the tasks before him, and he did not stop until he was finished! What is it that tells geese when it's time to fly south? The elements found in the jet-stream. As cool air rushes in, the warm air is vacuumed south. To miss that flow is to never make it south. Catching God's wind is rare in our lives, but with it comes opportunities that cannot be achieved otherwise. Getting in on the good stuff with God is all about timing, and to miss it makes life as futile as a dog chasing his tail...you only go in circles.

It speaks of a life without resentment. Early in Paul's ministry, he had been deserted by a young preacher named Mark. Now, in the later days of his life, as the chilly winds of remembrance blew against his soul, he says in verse 11, "...Take Mark, and bring him with thee: for he is profitable to me..." When a goose flying in the "V" formation becomes sick or wounded and falls out of the formation, two others fall out of the formation and stay with him to protect him until he is able to fly or until he dies. Paul had come to understand that grace is a buoy keeping afloat a drowning soul. How sad to think of the lives we have buried that spiritually still had a pulse.

It speaks of a life without rank. In verse 6, Paul says, "...the time of my departure is at hand." The word "departure" is the picture of a common soldier taking up his tent and going home. When geese are flying in the "V" formation, the lead goose will eventually tire, and he falls back, letting another goose lead. However, as he does so, he honks from the back encouraging the ones ahead of him to keep up their speed.

The lives God seems to use in greater capacities are the lives that know when to get out of the way and "honk" for someone else. We cannot soar with eagles unto horizons not yet seen if we never surrender the eyes and heart of a vulture. How difficult it is for us to remember that no man is bigger than his calling!

It speaks of a life without reproach. By verse 18, Paul confidently writes, "And the Lord shall deliver me from every evil work, and will preserve me unto His heavenly kingdom." Scientists have learned that when geese are flying in the "V" formation, the flapping of their wings creates an updraft for the ones following behind, allowing them to fly further than they could if they were flying alone. While it is interesting that geese do not fly alone, neither do you and I. Whether it is the congregation I pastor or the children I live with, I wonder, am I making it easier for those who follow me to fly beyond their ability? What some may be calling a "draft" may in reality be clear air turbulence, where the bottom suddenly falls out.

Somewhere over the horizon of our lives, the howling winds of opposition and the chilly breezes of isolation are sure to blow. While we stand captivated by the colorful leaves of our existence that soon fade and wither away, there is a jet-stream awaiting us.

If only we had the sense God gave a goose.

Alan Stewart is pastor of Rechoboth Baptist Church
in Soddy Daisy, Tennessee

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