Monday, December 21, 2020

The Nativity in Context: The Before and After

The Before

It’s 430 bc. The prophet Malachi has finished his series of prophecies. Israel had went through cycles of rebellion—in the wilderness after leaving Egypt, during the period of the judges when “every man did that which was right in his own eyes,” and during the monarchies that led to a split into two kingdoms, ultimately culminating in the exiles into Assyria and Babylon. God had promised that a remnant would return to Israel, and they did. Now, that remnant was also rebelling, and God, through Malachi, calls them on it and tells them to return to the Lord.

And then, silence.

For over 400 years, there are no prophets. God does not speak to His people. There was never a period before like it. A lot happens in this time, as kingdoms rise and fall as Daniel predicted. But one thing that does not happen is a word from God meant for all to hear. Years turn to decades, and decades to centuries. Traditions continued, but nothing new.

While the silence continued, a nation waited for something promised in the future, as more people likely forgot or doubted it would ever occur. God had told the ancestors of a coming King that a King would come from Judah and be the rightful heir to David’s throne. The prophet Isaiah said He would be God among us, born from a virgin. The prophet Micah said He would be born in a small town outside of Jerusalem called Bethlehem. These words hung over all humanity as the years went by.

Could we understand the weight of this silence felt by the world who might have thought God had finally given up on them? We cannot, because that silence was forever shattered by what came next.

The unraveling of this plan had really begun all the way back after the fall of man, when a Conqueror was promised who would come as a man and crush the head of Satan and suffer harm in the process. But this began to pick up speed when God spoke on an individual level.

One man named Simeon knew of the prophecies about a Messiah and had complete confidence that God would fulfill His promises. The Holy Spirit told Simeon that he would not die until he met this Messiah. His entire life began to center around this hope. When he is finally introduced, he is ready to die.

Then God sends the angel Gabriel to a priest named Zechariah, who tells him that he and his wife, both elderly and never able to have children, were going to have a son to prepare the way for the Messiah. Gabriel appears next to a young virgin named Mary and tells her that she is pregnant with the Messiah, and when Mary’s fiancé, Joseph, fears infidelity, Gabriel goes to Joseph and confirms what has happened. Joseph is a direct descendant of King David.

These experiences would be rare enough, but must have been overwhelming in light of the centuries before. These individuals grew up in a time when God had not been heard from for hundreds of years. They knew the scriptures, so you might imagine them asking their parents about the stories contained in them when God moved in clear ways.

Artist rendering of the prophet Malachi

“Today I studied when God struck an entire army with blindness because His prophet was surrounded and prayed for deliverance. Have you ever seen God do something like that?”

No, the parents would have to admit.

“What about my grandparents, or great-grandparents? Have they even seen a prophet?”

“I am afraid not. You see, God does not move or speak like that anymore. There is an old family story that your great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandmother heard the prophet Malachi preach about the Day of the Lord and Elijah coming again. But that is the last we heard.”

Perhaps Joseph was told about how he was the rightful heir to David’s throne, but how Judah had not had a king since King Zedekiah was captured by the Babylonians almost 600 years ago, and now the family lived in poverty. There was a promise that a King would again come from their family, but that was said a long time ago in a different era.

To see the full glory of God Himself coming in humility to be a personal God with us, we need to understand the deafening silence that was destroyed by it, never again to return. Seemingly out of nowhere, God begins to move in tangible ways again. The door was blown off the hinges when this long-promised Messiah was born and angels filled the sky proclaiming it (in Bethlehem), scaring the robes off the shepherds who had obviously never experienced it, if they thought it even possible. Thirty years later, the Messiah Himself burnt the house down when He walked into the temple and said He was the fulfillment of prophecy.

The Messiah came and filled four books in the New Testament with the things He said and did. Then He sent the Holy Spirit to inspire twenty-three more and to continue speaking to us to this day. For the record, we’re still pretty rebellious, but that nature hasn’t stopped God from speaking and giving of Himself—giving everything.

The After

The scriptures were very clear about the purpose of God’s dwelling among us. The full meaning of Christmas is found in Good Friday and Easter.

Isaiah prophesied that the Messiah would have the sin of the world placed on Him and be killed as the atoning sacrifice, attaining forgiveness and freedom for those who couldn’t attain it themselves. The psalmist said He would be pierced, thirsty, scorned, and abandoned. The psalms also said He would be delivered to the Gentiles for execution, and those executioners would cast lots for his robe. That Messiah who came to Bethlehem carried a cross to Calvary, facing a brutal physical death, but much worse, facing God’s wrath for the sin of all mankind.

And in that moment, Jesus became the final Passover lamb. He became the bronze serpent lifted up so that others could look on Him and live. All the Old Testament imagery and prophecies found their meaning in Him. And three days later, His resurrection became every bit the miracle His birth was. The journey of securing righteousness and eternal life for mankind had begun when the virgin conceived, and it finished in a miraculous breath.

Up until the period of silence, God had been speaking throughout all of history without taking on human flesh. Jesus’s incarnation was more than just His way to teach us on a personal level. He was born to be a sacrifice. This was not lost on the people involved in the nativity story.

When Simeon prophecies after meeting the Messiah, he says that Jesus is born for the “fall and rising of many in Jerusalem,” will be a sign opposed, and that in the future this birth would cause a sword to pierce Mary’s soul. The prophetess Anna prophesied of His redemption of mankind. Zecheriah prophesied of His salvation. Mary and Joseph were told He would save people from their sin, and Mary in praise acknowledged the prophecy that had come before Him. The magi, when they arrived later, brought Jesus gifts that foreshadowed the crucifixion.

I have at times looked past the nativity, seeing the crucifixion and resurrection as most important. It is true, Jesus coming to Earth in and of itself does not accomplish salvation, and the crucifixion and resurrection accomplish the purpose of it. But let’s not look past the incomprehensible miracle that a God who watched countless cycles of rebellion saw fit, from the very first rebellion, to not just put up with us, but come down to the middle of our mess and walk among us as one of us, without ever giving up His deity. The God of Creation experienced the pain, heartbreak, and day-to-day struggles that we do. The King of Glory came as a helpless baby, and even as a baby was worshipped because some people just got it—He wasn’t ordinary. He was the only one who could do what He did, and He did it. His coming broke a silence we will never experience because what He accomplished while He was here among us made Him our personal God not just for those thirty-some years, but forever. Understanding the buildup to the Christmas miracle and the purpose for which it was done gives it full meaning, and should reignite the wonder of the nativity.

Monday, March 16, 2020

Beach Reach 2020: "So Much Better Your Way"

This was spring break #7 for me, and each one has been used as a mission trip. I sometimes hear that we are “giving up our spring breaks” for ministry, but there is nothing I would rather do with it. This was my fourth spring break on Beach Reach, where we go to Panama City Beach to share the gospel with spring breakers—our peers—through running a van service, serving a pancake brunch, and hitting the streets of the city at night.

One might consider it laudable to spend every spring break on mission, but I know it’s a story of grace. I was continuously humbled by the thought of God using me in this capacity when I knew I’d be on the other side of it if He hadn’t taken hold on me. Who am I to be placed in this position? (More on that later.) I am also humbled by, and want to express my gratitude to, the BCM for allowing me on the trip and covering most of my costs, and to Living Church for covering the remaining costs.

This particular trip was preceded by a minor internal crisis. The other non-student leaders on the trip included a full-time associate campus minister, a house church pastor, a full-time pastor, and a full-time student pastor. Then there’s me, a third-year law student. Of the other leaders, one is in his 40s, one in his 30s, and two are in their late 20s. Then there’s me, the 24-year-old. I wondered what had possessed them to make me a leader when I seemed to be the odd one of the group. In reality, I knew that God doesn’t use us based on our status and he equips us for what He calls us to. I spent a lot of time in prayer (as I did generally for the trip) and talked to Seanna who made some good points as well.

While I didn’t need any certain status to validate me, it turned out that later that week I was asked to serve as the logistical coordinator for the trip, which is something I’m good with and enjoy, and it turned into a really cool role for the week.

As often happens on these trips, it was a slower start for me in terms of ministry. It left me wondering whether it was something wrong with me or bad luck, but those thoughts didn’t affect to the extent they did in the early part of last year. But a handful of good conversations came out of those nights.

The first night in the vans, I was driving and we had the opportunity to minister to a group of six girls. Several were Christians and we were able to encourage them in sharing the gospel with others they knew down there that week and pray over them. One revealed her grandfather had just been diagnosed with cancer. (It amazes me how open people are with us during our ministry time.)

The second night I was on the streets and our creativity and outgoingness opened up some conversations. The fun one was hanging out outside an ice cream parlor. I figured I’d check out the flavors but found it had just closed. I sat back down and called over to a table of people, asking them whether it was worth coming back later. Our conversation about ice cream eventually turned to a conversation about God.

Later that night I was called out to by someone in a minivan, a rapper and his manager asking me to buy a t-shirt. I bought his mixtape to have a conversation and was able to share about what we were doing down there and prayed for him. Later I was able to have a similar interaction with a random person walking by because I recognized the Kansas State logo on his shirt (thank you college sports).

Another thing I worked on early in the week was listening to God and speaking over people what He gave me. Another aspect of the ministry time (which runs 9 pm to 2 am, and often later) is that a quarter of the entire group (which had about a dozen groups from various campuses and ministries) is in the prayer room at any one time, praying for requests from people on the streets and spending time in God’s presence. It is some of our favorite times. For some in the group, receiving a word from God was a new thing, which it would have been at that stage of life for me as well. God used me to minister to several people in our group during those prayer times and pray over them.
There were definitely some odd moments during the week. My first night driving, I had someone vomit for the first time in my van while I was driving. It was not the only time. Thankfully, Sarah from our group had put together kits for such instances, so thanks to her because it worked well. My other night on the street, my group was outside Waffle House and were approached by a man who was clearly high, and eventually made the girl with us uncomfortable. When he approached a couple other people, offering to give them his pants, we took the opportunity to make a discreet exit. As we walked past the corner of Waffle House, there was a knock on the window, and when we looked over a girl in the corner booth flashed us. There was also the feeling that we were living in a bubble, because it was a normal Beach Reach but in the world around us there were schools and universities closing and shifting to online classes, stores facing stockouts, and coronavirus spreading around the world. We also realized that, since we were having contact with hundreds of people from around the country who were also having contact with hundreds of people from around the country, we were prime suspects to contract the virus ourselves.

I share these experiences to give a full picture of the things we encounter on Beach Reach, but know that the things God did make whatever weird things happen like nothing. And, honestly, my last two night of ministry were a lot of fun and we saw some crazy moves of God.

I had Sara, Wyatt, and Colt with me on Wednesday and we were on the streets for about six hours. Things were slow early on; we got into a handful of conversations that didn't go very far. I did have the opportunity to encourage another group we ran into who were also not having much luck. But even though there wasn't a lot happening, the group was a riot. We laughed and danced to music we’d hear and yelled greetings to people we’d pass. Wyatt kept yelling at motorcyclists to do a wheelie. The way we were dressed and had fun made us unsuspecting Beach Reachers and made us approachable.

At about 1:15 am, we knew we still had at least 45 minutes left. I had the group sit on the porch of a closed restaurant and was just honest with them about our tiredness. We walked about six miles that night over six hours, and it was late in the week. Some of us had spent more than two hours cooking for the group dinner we’d had earlier. But we all took turns praying, and I said something along the lines of, “God, we’re really physically and socially tired, but our time isn’t up, so please guide us. And it’s really hard to start conversations right now, so please bring us one if you want us to have one.”

We agreed that God was pointing us in the direction of a road that was a bit dark, but eventually led to a busier area. I was thinking we’d encounter someone in the deserted part and I could tell them God brought us to them, but we got to the busier area without seeing anyone. We walked past the ice cream parlor that was closed, then by Club LaVela. Club LaVela used to be the biggest club in Panama City Beach (and the country) and maybe the most popular spot. However, after Hurricane Michael the club has been closed the last two spring breaks.

As we were walking by LaVela, we spotted a man face-down on the ground. Someone from another group tried to talk to him, and he barely responded and said he was just sleeping. My group stayed, and when I tried to talk to him he didn’t respond. Wyatt flagged down a sheriff’s deputy, who woke him up and told him to find a ride. I started talking to the man, and learned he had been drinking with a friend and when he refused to get in the car since his friend was planning to drive, his friend left him. He decided to just lay down and pass out. He wasn’t too interested in talking right away; I asked if he needed a ride or had anything he wanted us to pray with him about, and he said no to both. I told him we’d be over within eyeshot waiting for our own ride (it was now after 2 am) if he ended up needing a van.

Providentially, there were delays in picking up the street teams. After standing there maybe five or ten minutes, the man called me over and asked if he could get a ride. I said that when we were picked up he could come with us and we’d drop him off. Then he began to open up about his life. He said he didn’t even know how he ended up “here,” speaking of his physical location and his spot in life. He repeated that several times. He had kids about our age, his marriage was in a bad spot, and while he drank it had never ended up like this.

I asked him if he had considered that Providence had brought him here so he could have this conversation with us. We believe God uses situations that aren’t ideal to bring people to Him and remind them that He pursues us in our messes, even if we create them. He told us he made a lot of money but it was completely meaningless. And maybe the most striking thing and one of the most seamless transitions to the gospel I’d heard, “You know, I believe in God, and I pray, but I am so lost.”

During our talk with him, I had explained the work that Jesus did, and I said, “There is nothing that has happened to you or that you had done…” My intent was to say, “…That Jesus didn’t already know when He went to the cross, and He went anyway.” Instead, he filled it in with, “…That he can’t forgive.” My response was, “…Yes.” Then I told him that the resurrection gives the power to have victory over those things. Once we were eventually in the vans (close to 3 am), Nick was also able to talk to him some. In four years, that was a pretty unique experience to me.

The last night was a whirlwind. I got our van together—consisting of Caleb, Paul, Emma, and Wyatt—at the beginning and started praying. We made the vow we’d made last year and should have made earlier in the week: no one leaves the van without hearing the gospel. Not holding them hostage, but on our end we had the determination to get there before they left. I’m praying and we haven’t even gone online yet when someone knocks on the window, asking for a ride. He had been left at the club by his friends and wanted to get back to his hotel. This made him open, and we quickly got to the gospel on what was a pretty long ride. He shared with us how he goes to church and would consider himself a believer but his life doesn’t show it. He was familiar with what Jesus has done but I was able to explain to him the purpose of the cross and the freedom that should come with a relationship with Him. We continued talking for a while after we got to his hotel, and I asked him if he wanted to settle that and surrender right there, and he said he did. I don’t know exactly where his heart is still, but I’ve been in contact with him and can hopefully continue that conversation.

The next group was two very drunk men who were rather crass in their conversation. When they got in the van, door man Paul had them sit next to him, because I would have thrown them out if they turned their attention to Emma. I knew we had a short ride and needed to cut through the noise. Emma boldly asked what they knew about the gospel. One mentioned a Bible verse he likes from Isaiah, “Here I am, send me.” I told him that’s why we were here, sent to them to carry God’s message.

After a couple conversations I was able to jump in, I was content to listen to the others. They absolutely went for it. Every single group that got in the van, I’d hear three people talking and explaining the same gospel in their own way. And this wasn’t just a monologue; they were answering questions and finding out where people were in their lives. I heard Paul explaining at one point that Jesus was either right, a liar, or a lunatic. We took one group to Waffle House and sat there 20 minutes continuing conversations. Then we took a group to a hotel and sat there 40 minutes continuing conversations. God gave favor in all of this in that no one told us to move. Four of the six at the hotel got out at some point but the other two kept talking. Then two more people approached me and asked for a ride, and I said they could hop on in and we’d leave once the others left. Wyatt, who had been left without anyone to talk to for a few minutes, immediately started talking to them. All of them are underclassmen, and I was so proud of them and so encouraged to hear their conversations.

It really amazed me to be in that place. Late on that last night I was telling Ashleigh that when I met her almost three years ago neither of us would have thought we’d be having a hand in this week. But even looking farther back, and I say it every year to the group, I know I’d be on the other side of this were it not for God’s grace. I was in tears the last night of worship with that idea weighing on me. Jesus changed our lives and we want to see that in others’ lives.

This song was not even played at Beach Reach, but it’s a good summary of what we see and how we respond:

Hallelujah, You have saved me
So much better Your way
Hallelujah, great Defender
So much better Your way

I saw people seeking satisfaction in alcohol, drugs, and sex, and thought, “So much better Your way.” I saw people searching for and not finding hope in fleeting things and thought, “So much better Your way.” I look at people around me seeking satisfaction in personal ambition, progressive ideals, social justice, alcohol, and temporary pleasures, and think, “So much better Your way.” I know that this could just as easily be me, and say, “So much better Your way.”

See, it’s not that we’re better. It’s not that we give up our spring breaks for mission trips. It’s not that we serve our peers. It’s not even that we look out for people that aren’t looking out or can’t look out for themselves. We aren’t saved by our works and they don’t suddenly become part of our identity after salvation. It’s all God, every step of the way, in every work done in His name, in every person that passes from death to life, in every life devoted to Him, throughout our lives and ringing through eternity. From Him are all things and to Him are all things, and everything was created for Him. Our lives point to Him, and all that we do is through Him and for Him and finds meaning in Him. And we carry His name to the people He sends us to.

Monday, December 30, 2019

Old Lessons on Faith for Our New Circumstances

The last few years have involved constant change and uncertainty. This, however, has molded me, brought rich blessings, and increased my faith. My experiences are far from unique, but they have taught me these lessons. They are timeless lessons, and they still apply to our changing lives as they did to the people in these Bible stories.

The formations of this post began this summer in the house church I attend from something the Spirit revealed to me while we were discussing faith. I then drew out that and two other stories in the first few weeks of a Cru community group I lead for graduate and professional students at Ohio State with my friend Chelsea.

During Jesus’s public ministry, He sent His disciples across the Sea of Galilee ahead of Him. A storm came while the boat was in the middle of the sea, and in the midst of the storm Jesus shows His presence, as He always does. While His disciples were fighting the storm they may have forgotten He knew what they were going through, but He reminded them He was there.

So, Jesus comes walking on the water, and has to tell his disciples it is Him because they think He is a ghost. He tells them not to be afraid. Then this is where Peter steps out in faith:

And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” –Matthew 14:28-31

Now a lot of people like to criticize Peter and use him as an example of faithlessness, but we should remember that he was the one of the twelve that stepped out of the boat. He knew great works could be done through Jesus.

And he does walk on water. Peter is able to look at Jesus and do what was thought impossible for a human to do. His actions show an immense amount of faith in who Jesus is and what He can do.

Peter’s problems begin when he looks away from Jesus and at the storm. “But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink…” In what would normally be a scary situation (not just on a boat in the middle of the sea in a storm, but outside the boat in the middle of the sea in a storm), Peter did not feel fear in Jesus’s presence. But when he forgets about Jesus being there, he becomes fearful. When he looks at the situation around him instead of Jesus, he begins to sink.

What’s the lesson? In the midst of a storm we can be okay—and see incredible things done—if we look at Jesus instead of the circumstances.

Jacob was raised with everything. He was the grandchild of Abraham, who was very wealthy, and son to Isaac who inherited and furthered that wealth. His family had status and respect. He was the favorite of his mother, Rebekah, and she helped deceive his father, giving Jacob the blessing of the firstborn instead of Esau. But this created a problem.

Now Esau hated Jacob because of the blessing with which his father had blessed him, and Esau said to himself, “The days of mourning for my father are approaching; then I will kill my brother Jacob.” But the words of Esau her older son were told to Rebekah. So she sent and called Jacob her younger son and said to him, “Behold, your brother Esau comforts himself about you by planning to kill you. Now therefore, my son, obey my voice. Arise, flee to Laban my brother in Haran… –Genesis 27:41-43

Rebekah sends Jacob away. That night, for the first time in his life, Jacob is all alone. The man who had everything finds himself alone, in an unfamiliar place, without any of the comforts or securities he was accustomed to.

Jacob left Beersheba and went toward Haran. And he came to a certain place and stayed there that night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place to sleep. And he dreamed, and behold, there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven. And behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it! And behold, the LORD stood above it and said, “I am the LORD, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring. Your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south, and in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed. Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it.” And he was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.” –Genesis 28:10-17

This was a story particularly pertinent to my community group, as people who had just moved to a new city and university, away from home and friend groups, in a demanding program, with everything changing and everything uncertain. But this can be true of many situations. We all face these times in our lives.

While everything changes around him, driven from home, his life in jeopardy, journeying to an unfamiliar place, Jacob lays down to sleep with a rock as a pillow. And there, in that place, God meets him. God comes to him in a dream and shows him angels ascending and descending between Heaven and Earth—which Jesus says in John 1:51 is our prayers going up and answers coming down, with Him interceding for us. God tells Jacob He will fulfill His promises and He isn’t going anywhere.

Jacob is fleeing for his life and leaving everything he had known, and God reveals Himself. “Surely the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it.” In the middle of his difficult circumstances, Jacob almost misses that God was there all along. And God would be there for whatever would happen in the days ahead.

When everything is upside down, changing, and uncertain, we serve an unchanging and certain God who meets us in that place.

Abraham had waited decades to see God’s promise fulfilled. God had told him that he, though his wife Sarah was barren, would have a descendant, and that all the Earth would be blessed through him:

God said, “No, but Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his offspring after him….But I will establish my covenant with Isaac, whom Sarah shall bear to you at this time next year.” –Genesis 17:19, 21

God says His promise will be fulfilled and promises that it will be fulfilled through Isaac.

After many years of waiting (and some lapses in faith), God gives them Isaac. Thirty more years pass. Isaac is grown but he is not married and has no children. Abraham still has no descendant through Isaac. Then God makes an odd command:

After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” –Genesis 22:1-2

Abraham obeys without any recorded questioning:

So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac. And he cut the wood for the burnt offering and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. On the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place from afar. –Genesis 22:3-4

He builds the altar and raises the knife to kill Isaac (vv. 9-10) before the Angel of the LORD stops him (vv. 11-12).

Now Abraham had to think through his obedience in this situation. God was commanding something unusual in light of what He had said. But Abraham knew one thing: God had made a promise. God promised him that he would have a son, Isaac, that his descendants would come through Isaac, and all the Earth would be blessed through Isaac. That meant that whatever God had planned in commanding the sacrifice, Isaac was going to come out of it because God hadn’t fulfilled His promise yet. And Abraham knew better than anyone that God always fulfilled His promises.

We learn more about Abraham’s mindset in Hebrews:

By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, of whom it was said, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back. –Hebrews 11:17-19 (emphasis added)

Abraham trusted God to fulfill His promise so much that he figured God would just have to resurrect Isaac after he was sacrificed. This is even crazier because there was no record of anyone being raised from the dead before this point. Abraham believed God would do something unprecedented rather than believe that God would fail to keep a promise.

Many would not have blamed Abraham for refusing to follow a command that didn’t make sense, or at least questioning God. God’s plan seemed to go against His promise. How could Isaac be sacrificed when he is supposed to have descendants? It took tremendous faith for Abraham to trust God when it looked like God Himself took a sure promise and commanded its failure. But Abraham knew a way had to be made, because God is faithful. Faith is trusting God when His plans seem to run contrary to His promises.

These lessons were learned thousands of years ago, but we’re still facing the same circumstances. There are still storms. There are still changes and uncertain circumstances. There are still times when God’s plans seem to run contrary to His promises. But we serve a faithful God who always fulfills His promises, even if not in the way we expect or want. Let His faithfulness be the driving force of our faith in Him. Let faith arise in the storm. Let faith arise in the change and uncertainty. Let faith arise when God’s plans don’t make sense in light of His promises. And may we see the impossible done as we follow Him into all He has planned for us.

Friday, August 9, 2019

Resurrection at the Requiem: A Call to Christian Graduate and Professional Students

It’s a message that has been continually on my heart for the last two years. I’ve explained to some friends that it feels like I’ve unlocked something that few others have. But I so want them to have it. 

It’s not always that fun to be a graduate or professional student. You work full-time hours but pay instead of get paid. A lot of your friends your age have a salary and not homework. You feel weird because you’re in your mid-twenties but still a student. You have increasingly more responsibility but the benefits don’t seem to match. 

But in the annoyances and difficulty my faith has been elevated to a reckless level. I’ve spent the last two years trudging through law school, never knowing what my next year will look like until the current one is almost over. Every year is spent trying to figure out the next.

And when the uncertainty is maximized, faith is maximized. And it’s such a freeing place to be.

As I thought about how I could articulate my life and what I desire in others’ lives, God placed the word “requiem” on my mind. 

I was scarcely familiar with the term, and when I double-checked its meaning I didn’t understand why it was that word, of all words. But I prayed and was instantly given clarity. Here it is: 


(especially in the Roman Catholic Church) a Mass for the repose of the souls of the dead 

My heart is grieved when I look around at the death in the lives of graduate and professional students. I’ve heard people talk about the best places to have mental breakdowns. I’ve seen excessive drinking in an attempt to relieve pressure and insecurity. 

But the hopelessness is widespread. Eternal hope isn’t found apart from Jesus, so we should expect that there will be people who don’t know Him who are struggling with their identity and unable to find peace. But this is something I see in Christians just as much. 

Maybe there isn’t alcohol or drug abuse, but the hopelessness is there. Christian students are falling victim to pessimism. They’re falling victim to insecurity and struggling with their identity. They have fear of the future because it is uncertain. So many are in misery and doubt.

There is so much more for us. Jesus didn’t go to the cross for us to live like that.  

So, brothers, we are not children of the slave but of the free woman. For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. –Galatians 4:31-5:1 

Yes, that’s talking about freedom from sin. But lack of trust in God is sin. He calls us to trust Him. 

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go. –Joshua 1:9 

For the righteous will never be moved; he will be remembered forever. He is not afraid of bad news; his heart is firm, trusting in the Lord. His heart is steady; he will not be afraid, until he looks in triumph on his adversaries. –Psalm 112:6-8 

Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?  And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. –Matthew 6:25-34 

And He gives us every reason to trust Him. 

Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?” Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. –Hebrews 13:8 

But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. –John 14:26-27 

God sent His Spirit to remind us who we are and whose we are. And I think a lot of Christian students will comfort themselves with these words, but it’s a momentary thing. Then back to worrying. Then it's time to take our eyes off Jesus and look at the storm and the waves.

No. We’ve been set free from that.

Lord I come to tell You I love You. To tell You I need You. To tell You there's no better place for me than in Your arms. To tell you I'm sorry for running in circles, for placing my focus on the waves, not on Your face. You're the only one who brings me peace.

If God never did one thing for us apart from redemption, all His goodness and faithfulness would still be wrapped up in that. But He doesn’t just stop there. He heaps on grace. He gives strength in weakness, and light in darkness, and life from death. Why do we run back to the grave? In our flesh it might seem more comfortable, but it’s not where we belong anymore. We aren’t who we were. We’ve been completely remade. 

I faced this battle for a while. I was coming off what still might be the best year of my life, though the last year has rivaled it. My senior year of college was crazy, and the summer after crazier, but it was so full of growth and joy. I left my home of four years to continue school for another three in a different place. Placed on that was everything else I was bringing in and adjusting to the expectations and workload of a professional program. I felt lost at times. But I’m found in Jesus. In that time I learned to trust Him on a level I’d yet to experience. 

A friend had a vision that nearly brought me to tears not that long ago. Deep in the woods was a cottage, which he said was a place of comfort and refuge, and when he knocked on the door, I answered. I said, “Hello, come in, how can I help you?” He asked, “How do you live out here alone?” I responded, “I’m not alone. The Lord is with me.” 

That same night, God brought me back to a place He’s brought me often. I’m on the edge of a cliff, unable to see what is beneath due to fog. But Jesus is there with me and tells me to jump. The first time I was there I questioned Him. I didn’t know what was below or what was going to happen. But I knew He was leaping with me, and that was enough. The next thing I saw was a person on a foggy street. Only one streetlight could be seen, but when she arrived there another could be seen. She never knew what was at the end of the street, but the path immediately before her was illuminated. 

God guides in short lengths. That’s where faith is the strongest. I’ve learned there is so much freedom in not knowing the future but knowing the God who knows the future. 

We’re talking about the God who raises the dead. The God who predicted events hundreds of years before they occurred. The God who parted waters. The God who sent His Spirit in power to move in the church age. Do you think He can’t handle your crazy life? 

It really is possible to gain such a trust in God that you do not worry about your future career, or your exam grade, or your unexpected expenses. Faith is more than belief. It’s a gift given to every believer that allows us to trust when it looks stupid to others. It’s not blissful ignorance. It’s believing God’s track record and that He’ll do again what He’s done before.

Some of us have attended the requiem of our lives. The requiem of our social lives, the requiem of our free time, the requiem of the control of our futures, the requiem of hope, the requiem of confidence. The only requiem we need to attend is that of our will and our skewed view of ourselves, because that died when we took up our crosses. Jesus has resurrected us, and we’ll never be the same.