Who are you, Lord?

When Paul was contronted on the road to Damuscus, he said, “Who are you, Lord?”

It’s interesting.  Clearly there was something extraordinary about the encounter.  It’s unclear if Paul was blind at this point of a moment later.  But he must have realized something was going down, he must have realized he was in the presence of greatness, otherwise, he would not have ended the question with the word, “Lord.”

And yet, he’d spent his whole life seeking out God.  He had the scriptures memorized.  He lived by exhausting, exacting laws.  He was filled with fire and felt like he was doing God’s will as he persecuted the early Christians.

I wonder what it was like.  He’s no dummy.  He must have– just at that moment– realized that his entire life had been basically a farce.  He must have realized– just at that moment– that he was face-to-face with the object he’d been seeking for his whole life.  The fact that he asks who it is though indicates that he realized he’d been barking up the wrong tree, that he never really got it at all.

Reaping

There is this field in  my mind and in it I am reaping what I have sewn.

Every day all day I am reaping what I sewn.

And it is always day.

There is one row of the field and it is endless, almost endless in front of me and behind me.  This one row is my row.

There are other rows endlessly to my left and to my right.  Others reap what they sew in these rows.

Strange plants, knee high and desperate for water are in front of me.  They have these fruits.  Strange fruits, wrinkled and coarse.  So feeble are the stalks that one of these little fruits weighs the whole thing down. 

I pluck the fruit from the plant and I place it in a sack tied to my belt at my left hip.  The sack doesn’t ever seem to get bigger when I drop them in, though I do this nearly endlessly.

It doesn’t ever seem to get smaller when I reach in and pluck one out to eat it.  It does not taste like anything and I do not eat because I am hungry.  I eat it in the place where I am endlessly reaping what I have sewn because that is what I must do.

I move slowly and I trample the naked stalk under my booted feet.  I am holding this wooden thing which is tied to something heavy behind me.  It was a thing designed for a beast and not for a man.  A large wooden piece, with two rusting chains trailing back behind me.

The chains are linked to something enormous behind me.  I pull it slowly.  It crushes the naked stalks beneath its wieght. 

The thing that I am dragging digs a rut in the ground.  When I reach the nearly endless end of the row of the field where I reap and sew, I will turn around.

My yolk and the thing which the yolk drags will disappear.  There will be another sack then, at my right hip.   I will walk only slightly faster than before.  I will bend down and place the seeds in the little rut I dug. 

There are things that do not make sense.  One of them is that on the trip down I have enough arms to hold the yolk and pluck the fruit and drop the fruit into the sack.

Something else that does make sense is that by the time I reach the very end of my row in the field the fruits have grown back up again.  I had reaped.  I shall sew.  And the yolk is back.

I do not know why I do not look back behind me.

I know that it is some great boulder that I pull.

It is both a rock and a metaphor and my hands grow blisters that are both metaphoric and true.

That rock is the weight of my selfishness.  It is the weight of my pride.  It is the weight of my hurt.  It is the weight of my self sufficieincy, and my delusions.

It is as large as a house and my hands bleed where I push at the yolk.

And I remember that there was a man who said that his yolk was light and easy.

And yet he said I should take up a cross for him.  He said I should lose my life for him.  He said these things that I did not understand.  He was the one who told me I will reap what I sew.

And I do reap what I sew.  But I do not believe those other things he said.

I keep on not believing them until suddenly I do.

It is not a yolk I am hauling anymore but a cross, suddenly.  A cross.  His cross.  My cross.  The weight is different.  It is light and yet it is not.  Because it is not my strength that carries it but his, his strength somehow through me.

And this is not a burden meant for a beast.  This is a burden made for a man.  It is the wieght I was born to carry.  It is both easy and not-easy, but I was born to carry it and the strength does not come from me, to carry it:  it simply flows through me.

I reach down and pluck one of the fruits by my knees.  I am surprised at its redness.  I am surprised that it is sweet. 

Yoklohoma where the sun beats down on the plain…

It’s interesting.  I’ve never written much that was directly related to the idea of romantic relationships between Christians and non-Christians.   Nonetheless, this is an area that I have some opinions about, and an area I have some experience in.   There’s probably some connection between the fact that my experiences and opinions appear to be unusual ones.   And it seems like a topic we ought to be talking more about.  I’ve had a few people kind enough to ask me my opinion on this very topic.  (You can find some on this blog.)  These thoughts, then, are a bit of a summary of what I’ve said to the people who’ve asked my thoughts on the whole issue of should we as Christians seek out romantic relationships with people that aren’t Christians.

But before I get to what I think, I’ll do a quick biography.  For a much more detailed bio, click here.

To make a long story short:

I grew up a seeker. 

 I fell in love with a Christian.

Early on in our marriage we both acted like idiots.

She stopped acting like an idiot.

She almost died.

I came to Christ.

(Wow, what a depressing and liberating exercise, to boil down your life into 6 short sentences.  Everybody ought to try that.)

Anyway, that’s where I’m coming from.  In no particular order, here’s a few specifics about what I believe and why I believe it.

#1) God was trying hard to reach me.  I was to pig-headed to respond and so he continually upped the ante.  I don’t know if I would have come to Christ without the woman who is now my wife.  God is almighty and probably would have found a way.  But it’s hard for me to concieve of what this would have been.  Not because God isn’t powerful but because I can be a stubborn bone head.

#2) It wasn’t easy for my wife.  Her walk probably suffered for what she did.

#3) By the world’s standards, according to the criteria I was judging, I just about always won our verbal debates.  I’m good at manipulating arguments and twisting words.  She probably lost more ground than she gained on those rare occasions that she’d debate verbally with me.

#4) We were married about 5 years before I came to Christ.  For about 2-3 of these, she’d made the decision not to follow the foolish, destructive script that I’d gotten used to.  It took me that long (2 1/2 years!!!!) to “get it” that I was being hurtful and destructive and she wasn’t striking back.  Two and a half years is a very long time to live that way.

#5) A lot of people who should have been supportive to my wife within the Christian community weren’t.

#6) One of the most powerful things she ever said to me, before I was a Christian: “Someday I think you’ll be a great man for God.” I didn’t understand why this effected me when she said it.  Much later I came to understand that among other reasons for rejecting Christianity was the simple fact that I didn’t think I could do it.  Hearing her say that she believed that I could do it and do it well was a huge thing.

Later, I’ll post some wider, more theological and less personal thoughts on this subject. 

Testimony

“For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all men—the testimony given in its proper time.”- 1 Timothy 2:5-6

I began to contemplate and pray over that verse. The thing that jumped out at me was how differently Paul uses the word “testimony” than we do.
Today, we’d use the word “testimony” to describe a series of words, a monologue where we describe what Jesus has done for us. Our reason for offering up a testimony is usually to convert others. Often times we recognize that we need to do more than offer up words, but the thing is this: we still use “testimony” to describe the words we use. We say things like “We need to act Christ-like and then offer our testimony once we’ve built trust.” Testimony and action are seperate things.
The thing I notice is that the ransom is the testimony. This means, at the bare minimum, testimony and action are one and the same. If Jesus ransom of me is part of his testimony, then the things I do (and not just the words I say) are part of mine. On this understanding, the statement above is quite redundant. I wouldn’t act Christ-like first and then offer my testimony. I’d act Christ-like (partially) because it’s part of my testimony.
Perhaps there’s an even wider observation to be made. Sometimes I feel like we obsess on the cross. It’s as if the teachings before, they were a nice little appetizer. And the reseruction after was a tasty desert. But the crucifixion itself: that’s the meat and potatoes, that’s the entree itself.
In short, We identify those few hours as the atonement itself, usually.
But if we take this verse seriously it seems like there is an implication. If the testimony of Jesus is the same thing as his ransom of us, then the atonement took much longer than those few hours that Jesus hung on the cross. It was begun before his birth and it continued after his death. The atonement is ongoing, today, and Jesus teachings, both pre-Easter and post-Easter, these are intregal parts of the atonement itself.
There’s probably all sorts of implications for us in this. If we take this holistic view of what testimony is, then the very act of conversion becomes a wider drama, not a thing we can locate at only one place and time.
Choosing to follow Christ is just as important as the crucifixion itself. But these are both singular actions which exist in a wider drama.

How I came to Christ IV: Your turn

In 3 posts below, I explore my spiritual journey.

What about yours?
Post a comment below. Share where you’re at now, spiritually. Explore how you got there. Whatever faith commitment you’ve made, how has it changed you?
Come on, do it. All the cool kids are doing it.

If you’re interested in my story, check the posts on this blog “How I came to Christ, I” “How I came to Christ II” and “How I came to Christ III”

How I came to Christ III: My life after becoming a Christian

What changed after I accepted Christ?
Nothing.
Everything.
(If you’re interested in what my life was like before I made that decision, or why I did, take a look at my posts: How I came to Christ, parts I and II respectively.)
I still have good days and bad days. In truth, some of the hardest days of my life have come since becoming a Christian.

I know that some people become Christians and all there problems go away. They are happy all the time. All there problems shrink. All the sinful aspects of their lives go away. They are healed instantly, and they are whole.
If you’re looking for these, you’ll have to go looking somewhere else. This wasn’t my experience. I think I’m overall happier, but Jesus is not uber-prozac; people who know me would be the first to tell you I’m not somebody whose always got a smile on his face. (I’m a firm believer in psychiatric medications; no disrespect is meant at the prozac crack.)
So what’s changed? What’s the point? Why bother?

I believe for most people, becoming a Christian is the beginning of a journey toward Truth. I’m open to the possibility that some people are teleported to the truth, Star-Trek style. But for most of us, it glorifies God that we walk… and it is a long walk.
The difference between being embarked on an epic journey and randomly wandering is mostly whether or not you have a destination.
There was a time I wandered through life. Now I am embarked on an epic journey.
This meaning of the whole trip converys meaning to every little step. When I experience the metaphorical equivalent of a strained ankle or a blister, it is a blister I have in the name of my creator and redeemer.
When I’m at my best I feel the troubles of life less sharply and the joys of life more accutely. The idea that I am loved, that I am deeply and truly and loved, changes everything…
when I let it.

When I am praying, when I am serving, when I am in the scripture… not just reading it for geeky show off points, not just reading it to earn brownie points with God, not just reading it to garner support for presuppositions I had before even opening the bible… in short, when I’m reading the bible the right way; when it’s more an act of love and communication than a task a set of propostions…
When all these things happen my every day reality is transformed in profound, inexplicable, and deep ways.
When I don’t engage in these acts of love and communication with my creator, my life is not really much different than it was before Jesus was a part of it.

I don’t really mean that last sentence. Except that I exactly do.

It’s frustrating to try and put words to this. The simple act of orienting my life toward Jesus, of accepting Him into my heart, this is an action which is much greater than everybody ever said… and at the same time, if I don’t follow it up, with actions, if my confession is just for show, it’s exactly, at the same time, much less, too… But when I do follow it up, when my confession is one that penetrates me, when I know that it is heart-felt because it spurs me on to act on it… then everything is so different.

This makes it sound like Christ is only with me sometimes… and this, too, isn’t right. He is with me. But it’s more like, sometimes I’m with him, and other times, when he says “Follow me.” I say, “uhhm, I think I’ll take this short cut over here.”
I say this forgetting that the Israelite’s short cut lead to 40 years in the desert.
Evem when I go my way Jesus rains manna of all sorts on me. He doesn’t leave me even though I leave him… He continues to call after me, and I hear him, and sometimes I turn and follow, and sometimes I don’t… And I guess this is the story of the whole human race, of all human history.

How I came to Christ, Part II: Jesus invades my life

I posted a while ago about my life before I became a Christian. If you’re interested, it’s here:

https://jeffsdeepthoughts.wordpress.com/2008/02/27/how-i-came-to-christ-part-i-my-life-before-jesus-invaded-it/
Today I’m going to write about that night that I became a Christian. It’s a little bit like those rock groups that get labelled “overnight success stories” when in fact they’ve been working below the public’s radar for years: my conversion experience was both quite dramatic and sudden and also a long time in coming.
When I left off in that last post, my wife was in the hospital. She was quite literally fighting for her life. My support network had gradually eroded. People I’d counted on for years were suddently not there. I had two very young kids that I was suddenly soley responsible for.
A sermon came to mind. Lonnie, the pastor, had preached on the story of Gomer. He’d shared the biblical principal that sometimes God ruthlessly cuts away at our support network and all the things we’re leaning on if these things stand in the way of our coming to Him.
In those circumstances, after having really wrestled with some stuff, it was hard not to apply that to myself.

And there was this night. It’s so over-the-top dramatic that I’m embarassed to admit it: There was this tremendous thunderstorm. Flashes of lightning lit up the room. Cracks of thunder rolled through the house.
I sat there, in the living room. It was much more like wrestling with God than praying. It was such a visceral, physical experience… even though I was just sitting there.
I had another thought from the sermons at the church we’d been attending. The series was about the idea that we offer should offer ourselves to God as living sacrifices. A central image to that series was that the challenge of being a living sacrifice is that we have this tendency to keep crawling off the altar.
I’m not usually a visual person, but that night, I could see it so clearly in my mind. In truth it’d probably been modeled more off of cheesy horror films than an actual biblical altar, but I saw it there, in my mind’s eye.
The altar/sacrifice thing, I could get.
The Gomer ruthless thing, I could get.
But the cross… which clearly was at the center of all this… it just didn’t work. I couldn’t make it make sense. I new even more clearly that if I could just find some way to make it make sense, then Jesus would have me: heart and soul. I knew that this was the last obstacle.
But it was quite an obstacle.
What did Adam’s mistake in the garden have to do with me? What did Jesus’ death have to do with my own sin? How was there justice in this? Why did God need to do it? Couldn’t he do everything he wanted? Wasn’t there a less horrible way?

I remembered something that I’d read a long time ago. It was from a book by Madeline L’Engle. L’Engle was one of those authors who created a disconnect between. She was a Christian but she was reasonable, intellectual, and loving. There were a few people like this. Some I knew personally. Others I only knew of through their art. But it seemed like they were on to something, Christianity did something to them, it changed them for the better.

At any rate, Madeline, through her characters, says that God can handle our worries and doubts and fears and anger. We should turn this stuff over to Him, and he will accept it.
So that altar was still there in my mind. And I turned over my rage and fear and sorrow and guilt over to God. It was there, in front of me. It looked like intestines or excrement. Not a very pretty picture.
God took it up though. He took it from me. The first thing I felt was relief, a sense of being healed, a sense of being lightened.
The second thing I felt was disapointment in myself, bordering on shame. God gave me everything. He created the universe. He created sunsets and hot tubs and laughter. And what had I given him in return?
A large pile of excrement.
And he’d taken it.

But I realized something: the best I could do wouldn’t be much better. If I could visualize the best of myself, if I could take it of me and offer it to God, it wouldn’t be a bonus for God, it wouldn’t be extra credit. The very best of me was exactly what I owed God.
I was crystal clear in that moment that I’d fallen short of my potential. Every day of my life I could have done more, I could have done better.
God had given me this shining, holy, potential. I had corrupted it through my own errors (sin) I had fallen short of it through my own laziness, short-sightedness, and selfishness.

The very best I could offer God was just an echo of what God had given me. I could never have a balanced relationship with God.
And these thoughts they didn’t come all at once, but my mind was racing. They came quickly, one after the other. They weren’t exactly in words, but the following is something like a translation into words of what I experienced:
I started thinking about my kids. If they borrowed a dollar from me, I think I’d want them to pay it back. Not because I need a dollar. But because it’s not good to be indebted, to be out of balance. But it would be silly for me to loan him another dollar to pay back the first. If I wanted my son to be in a right relationship with me, I’d have to create a way for this debt to be cancelled that didn’t involve me giving it to him.
It’s that way with God, too. There is a debt in our relationship. Even if I gave him back everything he gave me, this does not cover the debt I owe through falling short.
Suddenly it didn’t matter about Adam. Working out the issue of original sin was irrelevant. In some important way I realized that I am Adam everytime I fall short of God’s dreams for me. I eat of the tree every time I sin.
It occured to me that the way to restore this relationship was a contradiction: Only God has enough “wealth” to pay it back, only He possesses things he wasn’t given… and yet it couldn’t be God, any more than I could loan my son a dollar to pay back the first one.

Both God and not-God. Is there a better definition of Jesus?
And then it fell into place. I invited Jesus inside. The invasion began.
More later.