Thursday, April 05, 2007

On Undoing Things and the Amazing Grace In It

" have work to do. Take them on. Stop them! Do it! Blow their dirty, filthy ships out of the water!" - John Newton, to his younger contemporary, William Wilberforce, as they both work toward "undoing" the slavery that John had played a part in maintaining
"To Timothy my true son in the faith...stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain men not to teach false doctrines any longer nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies. These promote controversies rather than God's work-which is by faith. The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Some have wandered away from these and turned to meaningless talk. They want to be teachers of the law, but they do not know what they are talking about or what they so confidently affirm." - The Apostle Paul, to his younger contemporary, Timothy, as they both work toward "undoing" a slavery that Paul had played a part in creating.

I just saw "Amazing Grace". The movie about William Wilberforce working to abolish the slave trade in England.
I was "assigned" to see this movie by one of my Shepherds and with another one of my Shepherds. The idea behind the assignment was that I am a type of William Wilberforce, and my Shepherd who came with me is a type of John Newton...and that our relationship is similar, and that seeing ourselves played out in this movie would be inspiring and healing.
Now, I just want to go on record as saying that this is a really cool "assignment" to give somebody!
But more importantly...He was right.
Of course, the "movie" that we are living in is not quite as "Big Screen" worthy, but it summoned much from the depths of our hearts nonetheless.
The "cause" that William was passionately working for was freedom and life for all men. The enemy was enslaved to other men rather than God alone. William's mentor and minister, John Newton, used to own a slave ship, but repented (he is the one who wrote the song "Amazing Grace") and now serves God as a humble minister of the pure gospel and inspires others to do the same. John is somewhat haunted by "20,000 ghosts", he says...the souls of those slaves that he had a hand in enslaving. He is free from playing that role anymore in his life, doing quite the opposite now, but he desperately wants to undo what he has done. And through his enabling of William, and his own confessional truth telling, he plays a significant role in doing just that. While William's passion and giving of his life for the cause is the primary storyline being watched in the theatre (i.e.: He is the one "preaching" in the parliament), it is John's repentance from his past life that offers poignant credibility and inspires persistent faithfulness to the cause.
The "cause" that I am passionately working for is freedom and life for all men. The enemy is enslaved to legalistic religion rather than Christ alone. My mentor and minister, this Shepherd, used to preach and teach this legalistic religion, but repented and now serves God as a humble minister of the pure gospel and inspires others to do the same. My Shepherd is somewhat haunted by his "20,000 ghosts" as well...the souls of those slaves who still live under a legalistic righteousness that he had a hand in teaching. He is free from playing that role anymore in his life, doing quite the opposite now, but he desperately wants to undo what he has done. And through his enabling of me, and his own confessional truth telling, he plays a significant role in doing just that. While my passion and giving of my life for the cause is the primary storyline being watched in our "theatre" (i.e.: I'm the one preaching from the pulpit), it is my Shepherd's repentance from his past life that offers poignant credibility and inspires persistent faithfulness to the cause.
William and John go about their separate lives, connecting periodically and memorably just a few times throughout the movie, faithfully living out and fighting for the cause in their separate roles and ways. I imagine that for each of them, the mere thought of the other inspires them to continue faithfully in the life they now live , and want all others to see.
That is a pretty good description of the relationship that my Shepherd and I have.
May God bless us with the blessing of living every day in faithfulness to this worthy cause, and may we be grateful every day for how God has given us each other to keep us ever-inspired to die for it.
"I once was lost, but now am found...was blind, but now I see." - A line from the John's song, Amazing Grace

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Walk into Pain

“It is the Law that any difficulties that can come to you at any time, no matter what they are, must be exactly what you need most at the moment, to enable you to take the next giant step forward by overcoming them.  The only real misfortune, the only real tragedy, comes when we suffer pointlessly, without learning the lesson.” -- Emmet Fox
"The circumstances you currently face are the precise conditions required to give you exactly what you are needing to be who you are most longing to be." - Your Truly
"And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." - St. Paul
"The obstacles before you will become your source of life." - The "fortune" from my fortune cookie at lunch yesterday
"Put your trust in the light while you have it, so that you may become sons of light." - Jesus
So it comes to this. God has reverted to fortune cookies to pronounce out loud, once again, what has become so glaringly true in my life's experiences.
And yet, still, I resist.
I resist pain when it presents itself to me.
I resist coaching others to walk into their pain.
I resist seeing Christ's life, who I say I want to emulate above all else, primarily as a "walk into pain".
I resist people who love me enough to point me into it while the world (and my rational flesh) calls them fools.
It's so counter-intuitive. No wonder my Master has tutored me with the idea that "narrow is the road that leads to life" and that only a "few find it".
So few believe. So few. Even among the spiritual. So few.
When circumstances provide me with the obvious opportunity to be forged, to confront myself, to transform, to metamorphosis, it always requires time, energy, intent, willingness...suffering.
Sometimes I do brain-dead things to drown out the "opportunity", like flip on the TV or surf the web. But most of the time I need a much more noble distraction to "trick myself" out of doing this self-crucifixion-type work. Something as obviously mind-numbing, useless, and time killing taking a drink, a drug, or even picking up the comic section of the newspaper isn't thick enough to shade me from the light of opportunity before me. No, I need much more "spiritual" deception. Something I can use to justify my avoidance of true suffering.
Like calling a hurting person. God knows there are plenty of them, and after all, what better way to avoid anything lacking in me than by helping someone who is lacking in them? I even get to feel appreciated in my assistance of someone else's transformation while avoiding mine!
Or serving my family. How splendid is that? I get to be a good husband and father, and acknowledged as such, while avoiding the hard inner-work that would be a much truer blessing to them.
Or drowning myself in the details of my "work". I'm a minister, so I get the double bonus of "needing to get my work done" or "providing for my family" AND consider it a service to my church. No one, not even I, will notice that my zeal stems from my fear of suffering. There's nothing like a little suffering to camouflage my avoidance and fear of a massive dose of it.
You know, the opportunity for truly sincere, holy, life-giving suffering is probably constantly available, but rare is the moment, it seems, when it both presents itself in glorious fashion and I am awake enough to see it as such. I should take it when it comes...and so should you.
We should put our trust in it's light while we have it, so that we can become sons of light.
Right now, right here, if I will perk up and pay attention, I will undergo a revolution. All things that are present in my life right now, all the cast of characters that surround me, even the seemingly insignificant ones, will work for good for me. If only I will love God and work according to His purpose in putting them all there. If only I will walk into the suffering.
It's trying to happen. For you, too. Look around, spot it, and walk into it. And then, and only then, will you find life to the full. Only then will you be a source of it for others. Only then...will you be more like Christ than you are now.