Friday, October 19, 2012

Tomorrow begins today

I’m sitting in my office, on a blustery Friday morning, watching the freshmen pile into College Church for one of the convocations for Freshman Connections.  They are literally coming from all over our campus, headed to the same place.  This scene happens around here all the time — students scattering all over our campus, going to class, eating, napping, playing, practicing and yes, even studying.  The campus buzzes with life.

As I’m watching 700 people moving to the same place, my mind has wandered to the events of this week.  I’ve found myself wondering, How many of us will leave this place, scattering all over the world in short-term missions trips?  We’ve been asking and wondering about the ways that God might be asking us to give our lives away.  Some have made light of the fact that when using that phrase, calling ourselves to short-term missions isn’t really equal to “giving your life away,” is it?  That’s a great question.

I listened to Wayne share in a class yesterday about discerning the will of God.  How do we know what God is asking us to do?  For a man who has spent 40+ years of his life ministering and raising support for the children of Calcutta, has anyone besides me wondered how he got there?  Well, he answered that question very directly yesterday, and what he said might surprise some of you.  He looked at the students in that class, and he said, “You get to where God wants you to be, by doing what you’re supposed to do today, as best as you can do it.”  Don’t worry about tomorrow, just look at where you are currently, and live for God today, right where you are.

That answer reminded another question asked of Tony Campolo, a speaker we had last fall, who, like Wayne, is a great storyteller.  At one point during a Q & A, a student stood up and said he felt like he was wasting his time and money here.  He just wanted to go now, doing the things Tony and Wayne talked with us about.  Tony looked at him and begged him not to.  He told him he is privileged to be at a university like ours, and that he should get everything out of the opportunity as he can.  Study, ask questions, drive your professor nuts.  He then reassured us all by saying that what you are doing today is never wasted; it is always preparing you for what’s next.

So, how do you give your life away?  We can say it doesn’t happen by going somewhere on spring break or over the summer.  But if I’m hearing them right, and understand the words of Jesus, the One who shapes how we walk, we give our life away one day at a time.  It’s about today, not tomorrow.  It’s about doing it here, not over there.  So, what are we waiting for?

Text for the week:  Matthew 6:25-35

Friday, October 12, 2012

The signs of the seasons

During fall break, I had the chance to travel to northern Michigan.  If you’ve ever been there this time of year, you know the colors are amazing.  I never get over seeing the yellow poplars, red oaks, and orange maples.  Sometimes the combination is breathtaking.  When the sun hits the trees with all their color this time of year, it makes me glad I live in this part of the country.  But I know this season of the year signals a sign of things to come.

Fall is an indicator that winter is just around the corner.  The days shorten, the leaves will eventually turn brown and fall to the ground, and the white stuff won’t be far behind.  Not trying to depress anyone, it’s just the reality we live in. 

One nice thing about the seasons is that you know each season only lasts for a time.  With every season we are reminded that something new is around the corner.  As beautiful as fall is, winter is not far behind.  And as cold and barren as winter is, spring and new life will soon follow.  Spring will be followed by summer, and then we get to do this all over again.  Seasons are signs of what is to come.

When we talk about seasons, we talk about things like color, snow, anticipated warmth, rain and new growth.  They also indicate holidays, vacations and breaks.  But we also talk about the passing of time, contrasts and even grace.  We see evidence of grace, and God, in seasons.  Just as seasons pass, we can know that there is more of God for us (See “Stay tuned, there’s more to come”), and also know that what is happening to us right now isn’t all there is. 

The cycle of life we go through can be filled with growth and change, ups and downs, good and bad, and pain and sorrow.  These can be seen as, and I’ve heard them called, seasons of life.  You most certainly are in one right now.  We can be assured that the God we serve doesn’t call us to a life that stagnates and dies out, but calls us to one that is vibrant, alive, and always hopeful for what’s next. 

So as you walk across our campus over the next couple of weeks, and see the color that will come and go, let it serve as a reminder that just as the seasons signal that something new is about to happen, we can hope for the same.

Text for the week:  Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

Friday, October 5, 2012

New hearts, not dead parts

Do you remember Silas, the character from the movie and book, The Da Vinci Code? In this story, he practices what is called corporal mortification. It is a practice that can take on many forms such as fasting or denial of pleasure, done as a form discipline, or paying penance for ones sins.  In Silas’ case, he practiced this in extreme forms, physically abusing himself, as an expression of submission and discipline.

This is taken from the writings of Paul when he says things like:  “I beat my body into submission,” or “If you live according to the flesh you will die,” or the call to “honor God with our bodies.” There has always been a call in the Church to live a disciplined life throughout history. It isn’t too unlike what we do during the Lenten season — giving up something that helps remind us and participate in the suffering of Christ, but when taken literally can lead to places where Silas found himself. We often find ourselves in bondage to the very things we are trying to find freedom from. 

Thankfully, we know Christ has made the provision for us, and we receive it, underserving, but recipients anyway. When you read passages like the following, it’s not difficult to see how those seeking to look more like Christ could revel in bloody stumps and blinded eyes. 

“If you want to live a morally pure life, here’s what you have to do:  You have to blind your right eye the moment you catch it in a lustful leer.  You have to choose to live one-eyed or else be dumped on a moral trash pile. And you have to chop off your right hand the moment you notice it raised threateningly.  Better a bloody stump than your entire being discarded for good in the dump…And don’t say what you don’t mean…In making your speech sound more religious, it becomes less true.”  Matthew 5:29-30, 33, 34 (MSG)

It could almost become a marker for those who are “serious” about their following in the way of Jesus, and one that puts the rest of us in our place.  It’s why Jesus said their displays when fasting and praying are empty. 

Do we really think as we read these passages that cutting off a hand or poking out an eye can get us to these places?  We don’t have to question whether the call is serious because of the provocative tone he uses, but God’s desire for us is that this become a natural outflow of the heart — a heart that has been changed by the one who created it in the first place.  So we can live without an eye or a hand, but our heart can remain as corrupt as ever.  I don’t think Jesus is near as concerned about killing parts, as much as he is at renewing hearts. It’s because He knows if we get the heart right; the “parts” will follow. 

“You’re familiar with the command to the ancients, ‘Do not murder.’  I’m telling you that anyone who is so much as angry with a brother or sister is guilty of murder.  You know the next commandment pretty well, too:  ‘Don’t go to bed with another’s spouse.’  But don’t think you’ve preserved your virtue simply by staying out of bed.  Your heart can be corrupted by lust even quicker than your body. And don’t say anything you don’t mean.  And here’s another saying that deserves a second look:  ‘Eye for eye, tooth for tooth.’  Is that going to get us anywhere?  You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’  I’m challenging that.  I’m telling you to love your enemies.” Matthew 5:21, 27, 33a, 38, & 43 (MSG)