“For this is the will of God,your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God” [1 Thessalonians 4:3-5]
After dinner I decided to take the longer route back to the dorm. The day was just on the brink of tipping over and spilling out of sight beneath the mountain horizon, but the remnants of a red sunset lingered. As I neared the dorm the light was all but faded from the silver-lined clouds. Upon turning a corner, it surprised me to see a huge, round, orange sphere hanging above the horizon on the opposite side of the sky. The moon looks so much larger when it first rises, and since I rarely seem to catch it at the right moment it always takes me off guard. Admiring the general splendor of it, I remembered that the moon, of course, does not become smaller as it lifts higher into the sky—it is our perspective that shifts. Even with this knowledge, no matter how I try to discipline my mind I cannot help but gape at how much bigger it appears to be. Perspective matters a great deal. But regardless of how small or large I perceive the moon to be, its figure remains constant. I do this with God. At times, His presence and involvement is so obvious. At other times He seems distant, quiet, perhaps smaller. While I love those harvest moon moments where He is close and tangible, I hate the nights when He seems far. But that’s just it. His presence does not shift; rather it is my position dictating how close I am to him. Unlike the moon, He is fixed and constant, and I am the unreliable, wandering one. The times when I imagine Him distant are the times when my perspective has shifted and fallen from where it should be. I need only to put myself in a place where my horizon is aligned with Him and I see Him clearly again for what He is.
A few years ago I was introduced to the notion that students can make a great, weighty impact on the world around them if only they would be willing to let God use them. I heard stories of a boy who had an idea that blossomed into a corporation that fed impoverished children and a girl who worked three jobs for the sake of funding 14 children through food and education. I read a book that was written by a set of nineteen year-old twins who launched a campaign to exhort other teenagers into action. I overheard a rumor that an eighteen year-old girl wrote a devotional book for other youth. I read in the gospels how Jesus used ordinary, uneducated fishermen to start the church, bring light to dark corners of the earth, heal the sick, give sight to the blind, and preach in languages that were not their own so others could have the opportunity to hear and understand. I read how just a word from His mouth compelled them to abandon everything—their careers, their homes, their comforts, in order to have the unparalleled chance of follow Him.
And then I am overwhelmed by the “logical” reasoning ringing in my ears, often coming from my own lips. Think about the future. Everything in moderation. Jesus wouldn’t want to put you in an uncomfortable position. You are one person—perhaps it would be better to support someone who is actually in a position to act. You can’t do everything. And it is so loud. My ear drums reel at the thunderous roar of it all. It throbs in my skull, reverberating off the walls and penetrating each neuron. Because, of course, it is so practical, and I see it in motion, a “working theory” every day.
But there’s something else that creeps into my mind, when I have my guard down and when I allow my mind to wander into the “what if” sector. Like a dimly lit lantern, my logic daily snuffs it out—but it remains just the same, pacing back and forth in the further recess of my mind.
I know the future. Not the future for my life, but the ultimate future where Jesus takes His throne on earth and when He comes again in glory and splendor and awful power uncharacteristic of His first appearance. A future where I will be with Him and spend eternity praising His great mercy. And when I look at that eternal future, you know, the one that actually matters, my own concerns pale in comparison with such beauty.
Jesus did nothing in moderation. When He went to fast and be close to His Father, He did so for forty days. When He saw the desperate needs of the people, He healed them constantly. On at least one occasion, seeing the people’s need for direction He taught for three days. For the bigger picture, on seeing the need people had for redemption from sin they could not possibly make up for, He personally came down to us, was despised and rejected by those same people, ultimately was mocked, scorned, stripped, brutally beaten, grotesquely mangled beyond human recognition, nailed to a shameful cross, and slowly suffocated, bearing the sins of all. He was fully dead, then raised fully back to life in order to live in the lives of those same, undeserving, wicked people who would be willing to accept His salvation.
During His ministry, His disciples were rarely in a comfortable position. They did not even have a place to lay their heads. After His ascension, the disciples were never in a safe position, but were hunted, imprisoned, persecuted, beaten, burned, tortured, maimed, dismembered, and beheaded. And some postulated they were just lying. Yet their willing, bold deaths cried otherwise.
It is good to support others who are doing ministry. But perhaps monetary “support” is rapidly becoming a copout for not wanting to inconvenience myself to put myself at risk. The cost of following Jesus was to pick up a cross and follow Him, and I have willingly and joyfully submitted to that. Which means my actions must mirror that.
Not only can I not do everything, I can do nothing. I am weak, wayward, and prone to wandering. I become distracted, proud, and blind more than I’d like to admit. But through Christ, I can do all things. I could be mistaken, but given that I’m an English major I wouldn’t doubt it when I say that qualifier “all” is all-inclusive. How crazy. That verse alone gives me confidence to claim that there is nothing He will ask me to do that He will not enable me to do. So whatever that is, be it washing windows, making coffee at Starbucks, teaching, writing, building huts in Africa, or whatever else, I must have full confidence that I am in the center of His will and not running back to my tiny realm of comfort.
A beloved, older gentleman once remarked that he thought he could change the world when he was young. But he supposed everyone thinks that when they are young; it’s when he or she grows up that a person gains a more realistic view and settles for normal. Whatever that is. I wonder if perhaps people settle for “normal” not because they realize they can never really impact anything, but rather because they stop trying. And while I do encourage planning ahead, exercising moderation in certain areas, supporting others, and not leaning on my own abilities, I also feel deeply, now more than ever before, that those logical notions may close the door to radically living up to what Jesus calls us to do and acting by the prompting of His Spirit within us. What if we tried a different “working theory” where we sought after His council instead of our own, and leaned on His understanding instead of another’s? And looked to eternity instead of the temporal? And did nothing in moderation when it came to loving Jesus? And chose to be uncomfortable in the here and now for investment into souls that will never end? And ourselves acted, and were willing to be vessels for Jesus to do whatever He wanted in and through us? What would happen?
Most people, avid readers or not, have somewhere along the line heard of Sherlock Holmes. Many have read the stories about him. Some adore the creative genius he lives by in an attempt to incorporate such originality into their own lives. A few actually believe him to have been a real person (he is, in fact, and always has been a fictional character. So sorry if I had to be the one to tell you.) His name litters every decent bookstore and his legacy invades practically every modern mystery TV show. But what are perhaps less commonly recognized are Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s (the author) shockingly simple, yet profound insights into human life and the world around us.
One such insight is the habit humans so easily slip into of always seeing, but never really observing. Holmes’ trusted friend and colleague Watson accompanies him on most cases and sits in on interviews with clients. Watson never fails to be struck with admiration and awe at the seemingly psychic methods Holmes’ employs to figure out an obscure clue in the case. When Watson only saw a badly scratched watch, Holmes’ would see a careless owner who was, more likely than not, careless in other areas of his life. When Watson proposed that circumstantial evidence led to the only logical sentence of guilt, Holmes’ could look at it from a different perspective and see the honest explanation. All day long, we see things. We see people, possessions, buildings, circumstances, and we are swift to rely on a knee-jerk, easy reaction to explain what is seen. But what good is this way of looking at the world if we do not, in fact, really observe or understand anything? People may be quick to judge a slow cashier as lazy without having the heart to see her bruised arm and consider the nightmare she must go home to and the sleepless nights she has endured. This idea reminds me of a chastisement Jesus gave the Jews once while He was teaching:
You will indeed hear but never understand, and you will indeed see but never perceive. For this people’s heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed.” Matthew 13:14-15a
I can relate to John Watson.
Another remarkable concept is Holmes’ perpetual search and discovery of truth. Holmes’ entire career and passion balances on the pivot of what is true and what is simply conjecture. His crowning method is to narrow down the possibilities by disregarding what is impossible. Then, whatever is left, no matter how improbable, must be true. In a generation that loves to propose there is no fragment of any kind of truth in the world (which is, in itself, a humorous contradiction) I sincerely appreciate Doyle’s method of deduction and reasoning. Perhaps it is inconvenient that the son did not in fact kill his father, and that it was in fact some other mystery character who was careful enough to cover his tracks. But isn’t it much more fulfilling to discover the truth, whatever the effort necessary, instead of melting into the mold of popular opinion and bias? It certainly ends up better for that innocent son. Holmes’ character is built around this constant hunt for the truth, and he always ends up finding it, even when everyone else had settled for the “obvious” conclusion. I love him for that. That may be the quality of Holmes I appreciate most and enjoy the stories most for. It’s just like Jesus said once in the temple:
The truth will set you free. John 8:32
Quick definition: Hebrews 11:1 Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. (Actually, the whole chapter is pretty incredible so it would behoove you much more to go spend the next few minutes reading that rather than the rest of this blog post)
Luke 5:17:20 On one of those days, as he was teaching, Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting there, who had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and from Jerusalem. And the power of the Lord was with him to heal. And behold, some men were bringing on a bed a man who was paralyzed, and they were seeking to bring him in and lay him before Jesus, but finding no way to bring him in, because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down with his bed through the tiles into the midst before Jesus. And when he saw their faith, he said, ‘Man, you sins are forgiven you.’
Yes yes, He goes on to heal him later (physically) for those of you enraptured by suspense. Now, I am a visual learner, and so when I read something, I cannot help but picture the scene in my head; so everything I read plays out like a movie. This is an epic scenario. Construct an image of this in your mind and tell me this is not the most outrageous thing ever. I would love to know what the homeowner was thinking. I can tell you right now what I’d be thinking. But that’s not important, the point is these friends are so great as to cart their buddy over to Jesus and PUT A HOLE IN THE ROOF to let him down be they knew, I mean, they knew that if anybody could help him, Jesus could. And He did.
Faith is coupled with outrageous action. A man or woman of faith does not simply talk about hope that is unseen, but plunges into action as a result of such hope. Do I do that? Do I talk more than I take action? It’s like writing a thesis about a well-built capsule engineered for the purpose of giving tourists a thrill in a ride down Niagara Falls. Given enough time and paper, such a student could probably “prove” that it could, in fact, safely transport a person to the bottom from the top. But that wouldn’t exactly prompt me to get on the first flight available. What would be greater proof is if that same person was willing to get in that capsule and survive the fall.
Does anyone ever actually do well with these? I’ll raise my hand first to admit it’s not always my strong point. Actually, it’s never been my strong point. Therefore, this year I am keeping it simple and applicable. Simple, meaning that the list contains only three and each resolution is not complicated to understand or put into place—but each requires perseverance. Applicable, meaning that each resolution has been placed on the list for a specific purpose and needs to be implemented frequently, so as not to be forgotten. So, the three for 2011 are
- Trust Him
- Be at Peace
Trust Him. Relates to something I have been convicted about lately, as well as the scripture I referenced yesterday (Luke 5:1-11). Allow me to briefly summarize the turn of events: Peter had already been fishing all night with no results, Jesus tells him to let down the net into the same sea he had just been fishing in, Peter humors Jesus’ request, Peter catches more fish than two boats can manage. I can imagine how Peter felt when, not only had he been out fishing with absolutely no success and he’s more than likely tired and discouraged, and then Jesus is like, hey, you should try the exact same thing you’ve already been doing in the exact same location. Yeah. Logical location? Not so much. Logical timing? Probably not, given that it was the middle of the day and apparently it was more common to fish at night. So what made the difference? Because the first go-around, the men catch nada. Second time, they just about sink their boats with all the fish.
But the second time is when Jesus told him to go. The success came from going out when and where Jesus told them to. It wasn’t about Jesus wanting them to be discouraged and poor from not catching fish. And it wasn’t so much about the time of say or location. It was about having the faith to trust Jesus when He said “go.” The unlikelihood of the timing and location also served to make it obvious to Peter that it was Jesus who had orchestrated the success; it can be attributed to nothing and no one else
Even when it is not logical, I need to follow His instruction. Even if I have already met discouragement in a certain area; if He sends me back, I need to go. I want to go.
Withdraw. This is not being uninvolved in the lives of others—it is separating myself from the noise to just enjoy God’s presence. I think Christians as a whole do not do this often enough.
Luke 5:16—But He would withdraw to desolate places and pray.
Jesus is all about ministering to others and healing and teaching, but it seems like every other paragraph he is taking time out to go away and just be with the Father. This is so critical. This is just as much a part of the relationship as serving others is, if not more so. I am not referring to a scheduled quiet time, although I think that is very beneficial and the structure is fabulous for someone like me who loves to structure everything. Having a certain time set aside in the morning to read the Bible is great, but if we are not careful that can become ritualistic and fruitless if it is nothing more than sitting still for a moment with the Bible open in our laps. This is a relationship, and you don’t always plan necessarily when you are going to set aside random hours to be with a person you love—sometimes that just happens. It should be the same way with God. It needs to be the same way in my life, and it needs to happen more often.
Be at peace. This is not the same thing as trusting Him, although I would venture to say that the two are related.
John 16:33 I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.
Peace is not an outside forces that waxes and wanes with the trials that come. Rather, it is an ever-fixed mark within me, rising from the life and involvement of Jesus’ Spirit. Therefore, no outer suffering can possibly quench the overflowing cup of peace I drink inwardly. So what’s the problem? Because time after time when the foundation quakes I am not at peace. If I do not “have peace,” then I am not drinking. I can hold to the promise that regardless of what happens in this lifetime, I am more than a conqueror through Him who loves me, and I can take heart. He has overcome the world.
1 Corinthians 14:33 For God is not a God of confusion but of peace
It’s not like He’s out to make me feel overwhelmed and confused, as we sometimes act—He reaches out to offer peace and shed light on my footsteps. Any confusion is a direct result of me trying to do my own thing in my own strength.
Are there more things that I will/should work on this year? Will God work in my life to change things that I need to let go of? Yes and yes. My greatest hope and privilege for this year is that of John’s:
John 3:30 He must increase, but I must decrease.