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: 

req·ui·em 
rekwēəm/ 

noun 
(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. 

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Albania Mission Trip: All the Earth Will Shout His Praise

By many accounts, the time leading up to the Albania mission trip and the time immediately following were/are disastrous. Logistics fell apart, finances didn’t add up, and illness plagued several. In the midst of my own illness and financial problems, and the general business of life that seemed to not allow for significant preparation, I was told there would be a verse or short passage that would sustain me in the final days before we left.
The group and missionaries with children at a village

The next day, I found this:

I am convinced that any suffering we endure is less than nothing compared to the magnitude of glory that is about to be unveiled within us. –Romans 8:18

All the suffering and groaning of creation is real, and painful, and confusing, but God was going to show up, and the problems we faced along the way would pale in comparison.

The night of our last meeting, I had what seemed to be the flu and a depleted bank account from rent and flight payments. But a week later, I spoke to Dustin & Gabi about what had occurred since that night. After people prayed over me, the second day of the flu was better than the first. By the third day, it was gone. This would usually take me at least a week to overcome. I continually found sources of money I didn’t realize I had to sustain me: extra cash I’d brought from Columbus, extra money in my PayPal account, Kroger gift cards, even being randomly handed cash. And I recognized God’s faithfulness to me in light of my last semester. This spring was the biggest class load I’d ever taken. I felt strongly, though, that the most important thing was to walk in what God had for me. That meant taking weekends away, going on a mission trip over spring break, and staying involved in ministries throughout the week. In the end, I did far and away the best I’d ever done in law school despite taking so much time away from studying. It doesn’t add up apart from Him.
Soviet bunker on the Adriatic Sea

For those of us coming back to the U.S. afterwards, we continued to face problems. In the Tirana airport, with all of us on a 50-hour run with three hours of sleep, Nathan became sick and he and Ben almost missed the flight. We had to go through security and customs in both Italian airports even though they were only layovers. I became sick in Florence, Italy, and have only hazy memories of our layover there. We almost missed both those flights. In Philadelphia, we had hours of delays that culminated in a flight cancellation. This caused me to miss work on Monday. When we returned to Northern Kentucky on Monday night after midnight, Seanna’s car was missing. She and I were up until three a.m. trying to track it down. I awoke Tuesday morning with a horrible illness that prevented me from leaving the house, something illness rarely does, and missed another day of work. This illness continues even as I write.

Service with a Roma group
But in the midst of the madness, we can choose to view our problems through the lens of God, or God through the lens of our problems. We choose to alter our perception of our problems because of God rather than alter our perception of God because of our problems. He is faithful, and good, and we know His heart for us. Our prayer for favor in the line for Nathan and Ben in Tirana and delays on the plane were granted, and we all left Tirana together. We were given favor in the Italian airports with workers there to specifically make sure we got through on time. Our flight cancellation gave seven of us another day together to explore Philadelphia, and Seanna a chance to see her sister who lives nearby. Even today God continues to provide for us.

What Hell meant to break us has failed and will continue to fail. We declare God’s faithfulness over our situations, even when they aren’t what we want and even when we don’t understand them. Even now not all of these problems have solutions, but God’s track record tells us He won’t fail us now. No suffering takes away from what He has done.

Art outreach on the city square
The trip to Albania was actually my thirteenth mission trip. I’ve had the opportunity to go to Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, D.C., Virginia, and California. But Albania was my first international mission trip. I didn’t want to pass up that opportunity, especially with this group and with evangelism as the goal. So many fun memories with the people there, from exploring the coast of the Adriatic Sea to visiting Sophie’s coffee shop to games we made up and played throughout the week. The makeup of the group was no accident, and the ten of us worked with some awesome missionaries and Albanians along the way. Across the world felt like home because my family was there.

Service at a village
Our work in Albania took on one of two forms. The first was evangelism and relationship building, which were planned mostly by us, and the second was helping existing ministries and missionaries. Our concern over the language barrier was alleviated, as it rarely interfered with what we did. We were brought to English-speaker after English-speaker in Tirana, mostly students close to our age. Our first outreach in the city square led my group to three high school students with the opportunity to explain the gospel and pray over them. Our last one led me to someone close to my age, explaining that there is a personal God who loves us and wants to have a relationship with us, a truth that is sometimes lost on a majority-Muslim country. Even outside of official evangelism time, we had appointments to do the same.

Perhaps my favorite evangelistic outreach was our art outreach. I have no traditional artistic ability in the slightest, but many in our group did, and we saw that as no coincidence. Set up in the city square, people flocked to us. Everyone there had stories of people they were able to talk to. One of my favorite attributes of this group is the ability to attract people wherever we go. We are known by our love for each other and for others.

Kids service for the Roma
So many awesome relationships were formed that night. We genuinely cared for the people we met, and they wanted to get to know us. Our goal in being out was to share the gospel, but it flowed naturally in the course of our conversation with people—conversation about school, dreams, experiences, fears, hobbies, and friends. I talked to Ani for a solid two hours that night. She shared her desires for university, her wading through finals, her hopes of moving abroad, and her ways of coping with the stress of school. I sympathized with her on many of those things. We talked about our experiences in our respective countries. And I shared with her that a personal God who loves her so deeply came to Earth to face the punishment for our wrongdoing so that we could have life.

The work with existing ministries was particularly humbling. Throughout the week we were continually introduced to missionaries who have sacrificed to follow the call of God wherever He had them go. It showed us the value of community. It demonstrated the purpose for faith. And above all, it continued to remind us that God does not show partiality. A group of Americans standing in the villages and outcast Roma communities of one of the poorest countries in Europe never had the slightest thought that we were better than. The love of God extends to all of us. We all begin under condemnation and are all offered grace. We need the cross as much as anyone. The same Spirit living in us lives in the Albanian believers. Sin makes us all equally hopeless and the cross and resurrection makes us all equally children.

That might be the biggest takeaway from the trip. The beautiful symphony of voices in multiple languages lifting up the name of Jesus is the embodiment of Heaven. All the Earth will shout His praise. All share the same Father, every tribe and nation adopted into the same family. Every tongue confessing that Jesus is Lord. The love of God spans all borders and social classes, and we’re all in desperate need of Him. This trip constantly reminded us of that.