I don’t know what to do… I was so sure; I was so ready. The past weeks and months have been a such a mixed bag of emotions – sadness at the thought of leaving so many of my loved ones; weariness with the constant ridicule of skeptics and unbelievers; but most of all, joy. Joy and anticipation at seeing my Lord! What a day it should have been – to hear the trumpet call, to see the thousands and thousands of angels… to see His blessed face. Yes, that was the greatest feeling of all – joy and ecstasy as I anticipated His arrival.
Now, I feel nothing.
Or rather, an emptiness and disappointment so numbing that it is almost as if I have lost the ability to feel.
I don’t know if I can stand to face the harsh criticisms of friends and family – even if they don’t say anything, their eyes will be filled with contempt, scorn, and the arrogant look of “I told you so”… I don’t know if I can ever hold my head up again. I believed and taught and campaigned and preached that the day was at hand. Now, I’m embarrassed, ashamed, and shaken to my core. I don’t know if I can ever believe in anything again… ever.
False teachings, while by their very nature are inconsistent with truth, nevertheless have real and true consequences. Many people woke up this morning to another glorious Sunday, in which to gather for worship of the Almighty God, proclaiming their love for him and their faith in the death, burial, resurrection, ascension, and yes the return, of His Son, Jesus Christ.
For others though, today was a day of dread, and expectations denied. The first of many days in which the uncompromising light of truth is shone onto the dimness of false teaching, and the dark despair of hopes gone awry. The above ramblings are my feeble attempt at understanding even a small part of the anguish that sincere but misguided souls who have bought into Harold Camping’s predictions must be feeling today.
As I said, false teaching has real consequences. Real people with real souls, whose real faith has really been crushed, and whose real emotions have been shattered. As we rightly celebrate God’s vindication, and the continuing victory of truth over falsehood, let’s not neglect to offer up a prayer for some genuine seeker of truth. Some soul that desperately wanted to believe, and even now may be clinging to the tattered remnants of a stripped and threadbare faith.
Harold Camping was wrong, and so were those that followed him – but this episode cannot be about the rest of us gloating that we were right. Some of those that believed have now had their lives ruined, and that is a sad reality. Pray that God will turn even this to His purpose.
SEAM stands for Something Ezra Asked Me. Appropriate, since just when I think I have things all sewn up, he asks me a question and it all comes apart.
My son and I have a deal – Monday is question day. Each Monday, the goal is that he will ask, and I will answer, some question that he has about God, Jesus, the Bible, etc. Of course, he can ask me a question about anything, anytime. And we’re not legalistic about it – if he doesn’t have a question one week, we’re both quite confident that he’ll have three questions the next. But pretty much every Monday, we get into a great conversation about some very interesting spiritual topics based on his questions. Since we started doing this – about 8 months or so now – I’ve found these particular talks to be encouraging, uplifting, and challenging.
And humbling. Oh yes, very humbling. In fact, is there anything more humbling to a young preacher than a question asked out of the boundless curiosity, keen insight, and matchless simplicity of a precocious 11-year-old? Questions have ranged from exegetical (“Dad, what’s Paul saying about the law in Romans 7?”) to textual (“Dad, what’s up with Deutero-Isaiah?”); from profoundly simple (“Dad, how do you obtain the grace of God?”) to the maddeningly complex (“Dad, why did God say thou shalt not murder and then tell Israel to fight so many wars?”) – humbling questions all.
Today’s question threw me a bit: Dad, why did God make us?
The way I’ve heard the question answered before – and indeed, the way I answered it today – takes the original question and turns it into what did God make us to do? Another important question, but I don’t know if it’s the same. In any case, we reflected on Ecclesiastes 12:13, Isaiah 43:7, and Revelation 4:11, which collectively suggest that we were created to please, honor, and glorify God. I think that’s an important concept to grasp – we don’t live for ourselves, but for the God that created us. Our purpose in life is to please Him. If my son grows up with that lesson planted in his heart – if it blossoms and grows into a life of trusting faith and fruitful service – then I’ll be happy.
But, still… why?
Why did God choose to create us, knowing the heartache that we would put Him through? Some might say for love – yet surely God doesn’t need our love. The love between the Father, Son, and Spirit is greater than anything we can fathom, much less offer, and has been in place for all eternity. Our adoration and praise – how much better can we really do than the angels? Who knows? I don’t have all the answers, but I sure am glad my son is asking questions. More to follow in coming days, but in the meantime I have one for you:
How would you answer a child who asks you why God made us?
Given my recent ramblings on spiritual decision making, I found this post by Stephen Witmer over at the Gospel Coalition an interesting read. I couldn’t help but think of myself and my fellow graduates in reading the first paragraph:
Graduation time is getting close again. I’ve been around enough colleges and seminaries and graduate schools to know that this is a time of great excitement for some students and great fear for others. In his wise providence, God has already revealed to some soon-to-be-graduates what their next step is going to be. And in his wise providence, others have absolutely no idea. Some don’t mind having no idea. But a lot do. A lot are worried about it. They’re casting themselves upon the Lord as they plead for direction and provision. This is a word for them.
I hasten to add that it might help you too – even if you aren’t facing graduation. Read the entire post here.
I remember her eyes more than anything – big, and hazel. It was dark out, but the high beams from the cars whizzing by tended to illuminate her face. An attractive face, if it weren’t so distorted by incoherency and unreasoning fear. She couldn’t have been more than 25 in my mind, but I tend to be a bad judge of things like that. She told me her name, but I’ll just call her Jenny.
She had jumped out of one car – apparently to get away from an abusive boyfriend – and into another. The driver was caught completely off guard and pulled into the nearest parking lot. While she was frantically asking the clerk to call the police, Jenny jumped out and stalked off, clearly not in her right mind. But she didn’t go far.
I don’t know what made me get involved. Maybe it was that I had just come from a church function (but then, I’m always coming from one of those). Maybe I saw a large possibility of her getting hit by a car in her seemingly inebriated state. Maybe I was just there. In any case, I was compelled to do something.
So… that’s how I found myself on the second most dangerous intersection in Lubbock trying to calm an intoxicated stranger. Because I had to do something.
Of course, there was little I could do. Her chemically altered state was the dominant factor. In addition, she was terrified beyond lucidity (I still don’t know whether her phantoms were real or imagined), and in the brief moments when what she said was comprehensible there were enough inconsistencies to make me suspect that she was deliberately lying to me.
What was abundantly clear was that she was terrified. So I did what I could. I talked to her to try and calm her down, eventually getting close enough to hold her hand. Then we sat and talked until the paramedics and police arrived.
I’m not sure what my expectations were as I approached her – I was praying fervently for wisdom throughout, but I couldn’t think of anything more specific to request. What I know is that I came away from that experience with a crippling sense of inadequacy. Which is why I didn’t blog about it immediately. After I thought about it a while, I can see some good that came out of it. For me, at least.
Ministry is messy – a fact easily overlooked while training for it. Despite all the training and preparation in the world, there are some situations that nobody is prepared to deal with. I’m not saying this was one of them – the paramedics had things well in hand once they showed up – but it certainly was for me. And in a very real way, some predicaments are so convoluted and difficult that it takes the direct intervention of God himself to resolve them.
There are no guarantees. I had about 15 minutes total with Jenny, and I don’t even know if she heard a word I said. She isn’t the first, and who knows how many other chance encounters with complete strangers I’ll have before it’s all said and done. Out of those, I’ll be able to have a positive influence on some… and some, not. But God’s promise is that he will be with me, not that anybody else will.
Truth is still truth, even when things are hard. I know that my actions are pleasing to God, an odor of a sweet smell. I know that my inability to offer anything but a momentary comfort is nevertheless agreeable to my Father. I know that his ability to work in all situations, with or without me, is greater than I can fathom. And I know that ultimately all things are in his power and control. I know these things, even though it sometimes doesn’t feel like it. So here’s another thing I know – truth trumps my feelings.
It’s not easy, but I’m trying to be at peace. Another thing I’m learning is persistence in prayer. There’s another name on my prayer list. Her name isn’t Jenny, but if you whisper that name to God tonight, I’m sure he’ll know who you’re talking about.
The ultimate gaming system. Funny.
Lord willing Bridget and I will be graduating from SIBI in less than 2 weeks! What a journey it’s been…
The past 2 months have been even more hectic than the rest of our time here. I’ve been traveling almost continually, visiting several churches to interview for potential ministry positions. I’ve been blessed to meet so many wonderful people, and humbled by some of the incredible work I’ve seen God doing among his saints and his churches. But… it has been exhausting! Full load of classes all day, assignments all night, traveling and preaching all weekend… then start it all over again on Monday. Fortunately things have calmed down for now, and I am enjoying the slightly relaxed pace.
However, the next couple of weeks won’t exactly be a leisurely stroll to the finish line. There are still a couple of assignments to finish up, and most pressingly, one more sermon to preach. I’ve been chosen by my classmates to represent them by preaching for the Sunset congregation on May 15. I’m very excited, and humbled by the opportunity. Once I clear that hurdle, I’m looking forward to seeing the family members that are coming for our graduation, participating in the end of program activities, and walking across the stage.
Once we are through with school activities, we will be staying in Lubbock for a little bit to tidy up our affairs, then we’ll be off to the next phase of the journey. After a lot of prayer and consideration, we’ve decided to accept a position with the Montwood church of Christ in El Paso, TX. We’re really excited about it!
I can’t believe how much of a home Lubbock has become to us in less than 2 years. It will be hard to leave here; but we always knew that this was a temporary stop on a much longer journey of faith. The friends we’ve made here will be friends for life, and I look forward to seeing how God will glorify himself in our classmates. The instructors here have become fathers and mothers to us; it’s hard to imagine not seeing them in just a short while.
Still, the next phase is looking pretty good. The Montwood church has a lot of great things going on… I’m sure I’ll be blogging a lot more about that in the future.
In the meantime, Bridget and I still have some administrative hurdles to clear, both in school and before we can assume our new positions. We have greatly appreciated all the prayers on our behalf up to this point, and we continue to solicit them now.
Everybody has criteria for making decisions. Sometimes they are explicitly spelled out, and sometimes not. But unless a gun is held to our head, (actually, then as well) what we choose to do is based on something. I hope the thoughts in this series have given some incentive to think through what our decisions are actually based on. And in this last segment, I’d like to offer one more criteria.
It occurs to me that something gets lost in the popular notion of determining God’s will through subjective experience and self-determined criteria. In the desire to submit to God in life’s major decisions – where should I go to school, who should I date, who should I marry, where should I live, what kind of work should I be engaged in, how many kids should I have, what should my ministry involvement look like – in all the hype of trying to find God’s specific will for each of those big choices, it seems to me that God’s will in the little choices gets missed out or ignored. This despite the fact that God makes it abundantly clear what his will is.
There are a few really important – and IMHO, really clear – passages that discuss the will of God:
1 Thessalonians 4:3-4: God’s will is that we should be holy. Particularly in these verse the focus is on sexual purity, but the general idea of holiness is what underlies Paul’s specific instructions here. Apply this, for example, to dating and marriage. I don’t personally think God is whispering in anybody’s ear to tell them who to marry (although I do believe God knows exactly who you will marry, but that’s for another time). Here’s the thing: it makes no sense to be all super- (or pseudo-) spiritual about “finding the right mate” if you are not following God’s clear instructions to practice holiness in the context of your dating life. I don’t think he’s going to tell you exactly what to do, but if he were going to do it – do you really think he’d tell you what to do with the big things if you’re consistently not hearing him on the little things? And if you’re mind is right doing the little things, to some extent the big things will fall into place.
Hebrews 10:35-36: God’s will is that you persevere in doing his what he wants you to do – and in this context, that means to hold on to your faith in Christ. It means to not turn back, in spite of difficulty and hardship, even when the people and social structures that previously offered you comfort are now bent on destroying your faith. Apply this, for example, to college and career. God isn’t going to tell you exactly where to go or what to do, but if you know his will, you should think twice about deliberately putting yourself in a situation that could cause your faith to be shaken.
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18: God’s will is for you to live a life of joy, prayer, and thanksgiving. Sounds simple, right? And it is… as long as we don’t deliberately throw up roadblocks to prevent it. Apply this, for example, to ministry. When deciding which way to go in a ministry assignment, think carefully about whether or not you actually want to do it and can do it realistically. It makes no sense to take on a new work if it is going to make you miserable. It makes no sense to continue in a certain ministry if it is producing more bitterness than resentment, and is so time-consuming that you don’t have room to continue cultivating your personal relationship with God.
Much more could be said, but the bottom line is this. God wants you to live a life that looks more and more like Jesus: make decisions that will help you to reach that goal.
If you want to do some more reading on this subject, there’s a link here that suggests some resources you may want to check out. I’ve read Kevin DeYoung’s book, and I think he does a good job with the topic. But I haven’t read any of the others, so I can’t say one way or another – I’d love to hear from anyone that has.