Monday, April 21, 2014

Trust Without Borders

I remember chatting with a friend last year as she was applying to Ph.D. programs. She said, "We won't know whether we're moving or not until next March because that's when schools make offers." I thought-- probably out loud, actually-- "poor thing. I can't imagine waiting until March to know what I'll be doing after graduation!" Well, in an ironic turn of events, today is April 20th and my friend's plans are solidified, while I am still weeks (maybe months!) away from knowing what comes next. 

Graduation is now less than a month away, so I know an end is coming; I know "goodbyes" are in order, and transition is on the horizon. I just can't see past the rising sun yet to know what's ahead. In the last few weeks, I've been listening to a certain song over and over. The first few lines go like this:

You call me out upon the waters
The great unknown, where feet may fall 
And there I find you in the mystery
In oceans deep, my faith will stand

It's been a comforting validation of my feelings-- "Lord you're leading me forward, but where? When?" And also a beautiful reminder that it's in the seasons of unknowing that we most learn how to rely on God. Because as much as I want to plan, to wrap my mind around the future, to get things in order and conceptualize the next few months, I can't. Which means the only place left to look in the gathering mist is at Him: 

And I will call upon Your name
And keep my eyes above the waves
When oceans rise my soul will rest in Your embrace
I am Yours, and You are mine. 

I want so badly to be able to look to the next job, the next city (and the plentiful housing opportunities there!) the moving plans, the summer calendar; but at least up to this point the Lord has blocked those things from my view. And as much as it has frustrated me, it has also blessed me because it has forced me to contemplate the reality that whatever job comes my way is not my ultimate hope. Whatever bright new city or white picket fence we soon call home is not where my heart can truly be at rest. It is only in Him. 

And this song-- about oceans rising and the great unknown-- has helped me to re-visualize and re-appreciate Jesus' profound ability to sleep on a boat in the middle of a storm. He didn't worry about his life. He didn't bite his nails about the future, or about what would happen to him, or threaten the Father to disclose every single detail before he could lie down and sleep in peace. In fact, he said things as outlandish as "Don't worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself," and "Don't worry about what you will eat or drink or wear." I've known these words most of my life, but as an adult I'm amazed to realize that Someone actually lived them

And yet, the great power of the gospel is that Jesus doesn't just set a moral example, but He actually has made a way to share His life with me, so that I can live as He lives. Because of the resurrection, this radical trust is not just for Jesus, but for me too. It is the Christian life. And so, maybe not knowing what lies ahead-- until the very last minute-- isn't so much just some anomaly I should attempt to survive. Maybe it's actually God's gracious way of teaching me the norm for all who belong to Him: trust that isn't conditional, peace that isn't circumstantial, rest that isn't shakeable. So in that sense I sing: 

Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters wherever you would call me 
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
And my faith will be made stronger in the presence of my Savior

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Easter in Real-Time

Last night, I had the unique experience of getting to see a documentary about someone I know. It was a friend who, quite literally in a former life, started a nightclub that revolutionized music culture in Dallas and club culture across the country. The interviewees in the film described this club as "wild," "lecherous," and to some degree a drug haven (though the latter part was not necessarily the intention of the owners or managers). 

Today, my friend is a devout Christian leading a quiet and peaceable life with his wife and daughter. He's given up his night club project and has taken up our seminary-- as treasurer of the board, his business skills keep the lights on at our little school. This is not to say necessarily that "nightclubs are bad" and don't mix with Christianity (who doesn't love a good dance party?): rather, these are just elements of a much larger story about a man who came to faith in Christ from an unlikely set of circumstances.  

Attending the premiere of this film in the week leading up to Easter gave me a tangible, real-time reminder of what this whole Christianity thing is all about: new life. Jesus Christ died on a Cross two thousand years ago to forgive sin, yes, but He also rose from the dead to manifest new life: life beyond sin and its consequence, death. In offering Himself for the world, He defeated those powers and ushered in a new creation that has the power to re-make the world. That means to be a Christian isn't just to say, "Glad I'm off the hook for that bad stuff I did" but it's to say, "In Christ, I am a completely new person." 

My friend is a new person. The old man is gone. His former self, I'm sure, would not recognize him today. In fact, I think a lot of his old friends don't even recognize him. His flesh-and-bones story of transformation is an illustration of the fundamental reality of the Christian gospel: God has come to heal the world so profoundly that it becomes as new. And it's evidence that this healing is much, much deeper than mere behavior-change. It's not about just getting one's act together, slipping up a bit less or dropping a bit more in the offering plate on Sundays. It's about total and complete death to the old and definitive, irreversible newness of life. It's about resurrection. 

But one more thing last night taught me about Easter: this new man went to the premiere of the film. He joined his old community and extended the hand of fellowship to them. He didn't turn his back on them or write them off as "the heathens" he left behind. Rather, he stood in front of all of them afterward and said he wanted this film to be produced so that he could share with his old community the good news of new life he has found in Christ. 

And see, that's the thing about this new-creation life: it spreads. Jesus doesn't hoard what He won in his resurrection, but offers it to anyone who would come to Him. In fact, He was raised for our sake. And He doesn't call His followers to run away from their own stories-- however dark-- in order to hide in some Christian-ghetto. No; He says, "Go into all the world." After last night, I'm convinced that nothing less than the power of the resurrection could have compelled my friend to re-live some of his darkest memories on a large screen and then stand in front of that entire crowd and speak to them with love and humility. He faced shame, ridicule, and even anger in that moment. But he did what he was re-born to do: live, that others might live too. 

The gospel of Jesus Christ is the declaration that His death and resurrection are available to us too, in every specific and situated element of our own stories. And it is a calling to receive it in such a way that we become agents of that very thing-- in every specific and situated element of our own stories. I'm thankful for my friend's example of this to me last night. 

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Newness of Child-Like Life

Though my brain is-- for the most part-- working better this semester, I've still found less energy to write regularly here. The improvement is that I have a list of ideas for future posts. At least I'm thinking about and wanting to write this semester! But the next step is to follow through and get them written. We shall see. 

In the meantime, here's an excerpt from a short message I shared this morning at our church's prayer service. It's based on Jesus' blessing of the children in Mark 10: "And they were bringing children to him...and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said, "Let the children come to me; do not hinder then, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it." And he took them in his arms and blessed them." 


I’ll confess that as I prepare to graduate from seminary, I’m discovering that I actually have more questions now than I did when I started. I came thinking I had a pretty good idea about things, and a few years of schooling would be a nice big bow to tie it all together. But things have not worked out as I expected. And for the most part, I’m actually quite happy about this. I’m thankful to be graduating with the realization that I don’t, in fact, have all the answers, and that I’m not expected to. But every now and then, I wrestle. A new idea, a difficult biblical passage, or a theological argument gets my wheels spinning, and I revert back to thinking that I have to figure this out, I have to understand this—or else.

That’s why a passage like this one in Mark is so healing for me. Jesus welcomes little children and holds them up as the standard. He says, “Enter like a child, or else.” It puts my desire to know it all into perspective and exposes it for what it is: pride. Or maybe, fear. Or maybe, distraction from what is and should remain central. Whatever my cocktail of motives might be, Jesus makes pretty clear that having all the answers is not the way to enter the Kingdom of God. Now, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be curious—I'm not a parent yet, but word on the street is that children are perhaps more full of questions than the rest of us! And it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t engage in thoughtful and even serious study in our quest for understanding. But it does mean that we are to accept the reality that our knowing is and always will be small. In the long run, that’s actually a blessing, isn’t it? What a relief. We don’t have all the answers and we aren’t expected to.  

We’re reflecting on this passage during Lent, which is a time to contemplate our sin and journey with Christ toward the Cross. As we prepare our hearts to enter into Christ’s death, let us also remember that the Cross first and foremost secures new life for all who are in Him. Jesus calls us to come and die—to our pride, to our fear, to the various ways we attempt to be self-sufficient adults. He calls us to come and die to sin that we be reborn as the very children of God. You may not need to crucify your prideful desire to know it all like me, but what are the specific ways you refuse to enter the Kingdom like a child? In these last few weeks of Lent, picture them on the Cross of Christ. And meditate on the reality that all who die with Him are also raised with Him-- to newness of child-like life.