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Thought for the weekend: Pushing on to our heavenly goal

By Allen Sleith

The New Testament book of Hebrews speaks about us being surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, a kind of roll-call of those who had been faithful to God's unfolding purposes with the people of Israel.

It then speaks about how this reaches its climax or fulfilment in Jesus Christ, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, the one whom we keep our eyes fixed on as we run the race of faith marked out by him.

Today, the Christian Church remembers Basil of Caesarea and Gregory Nazianzen, two of the three so-called Cappadocian theologians who lived and witnessed in the fourth century in what we now know as modern Turkey.

Among the many important things they accomplished was to expound the truth of the gospel in the face of various opponents whose teachings were a threat to the integrity of the Church's faith.

In particular, they helped to define and defend the Church's understanding of God as Trinity, meaning that the Son and the Spirit are distinct from but divine persons, as is God the Father.

The third Cappadocian was Gregory of Nyssa, a younger brother of Basil.

A recent resurgence of research on his writings has made for a fresh appreciation of his theology.

One recurrent theme is his emphasis on the Greek word "epektasis", which translates as "a stretching toward an ever greater embrace of divine glory".

I like that image: it captures nicely the desirable dynamic of facing, or, better, leaning into the future with the hope and expectation that the best is yet to come.

As another year ends and a new one comes into being, that image seems especially apt.

We learn from the past, but don't live in it, our attention fixed on what's yet to come and what we can contribute or yet become.

As Philippians chapter three puts it: "Straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on towards the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus ... only let us hold fast to what we have attained."

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