Whirlwind Emprise

I usually like to pick a word for myself that I hope will describe each new year.

My 2017 word was gentleness.

I picked this word because I knew my goal for the year was to cease from striving, to stop grasping, to accept my smallness in the world and to be considerably less frustrated about circumstances. As a result, I knew I would need patience as hope would be deferred and answers to questions would not come.

I found some of the best ways to discover if you are in fact gentle is to consistently not get what you want or expect and then see if you are able to remind yourself with frequency that in this world you are entitled to nothing. Godliness with contentment is great gain. Part of the gain is the evidence of gentleness.

While my word was gentleness and I can recognize many situations in which I exercised it, gentleness is still my endeavor because The Rolling Stones remind me that getting what I want is not always going to be the case…

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…Unless you change what you want.

Wait… huh? (This will take a turn, you probably didn’t expect).

Scripture tells me that where my treasure is there my heart will be also and what I know to be true is: if my want is wholly fixed on desiring the love of Jesus above all else, I can have that. I can have unconditional love despite circumstance. I can obey God if I want to, and I can say no to competing desires.

Which is why in August of 2017, I started asking myself some new questions. I also began giving up certain expectations. I decided to cast my net wider because I felt like I was becoming too comfortable, while being less content.

So I applied for chaplaincy positions on college campuses. I connected with a new young adult community. I planned my first vacation alone. I began the process of coming to an internal acceptance that if need be I would remain single forever. I was even willing to accept that my calling to ministry was less than what I imagined and resolved that I could continue working in construction, quietly, even if I felt strongly otherwise.

It led me to October where I confronted myself with the help of a friend. I addressed some things I didn’t necessarily like about life in general at that point. And I gave God my opinion. I gave my evaluation of my love for Jesus, and it seemed to me to be found wanting. This feeling saddened me.

I did not feel unloved by God. I felt incapable of reciprocating. Though, I was reminded that love was a choice, I felt tempted to choose to not love. And this potential decision provoked me to look around and recognize the faithfulness and love of others. I discovered one of the ways we reignite our love (and fear) of God is to observe others who are loving God faithfully. Choosing faithfulness despite uncertainty and suffering is an awesome display of love.

And something began, and I hope will be brought to a mature completion inside me. I remembered that love requires me to give while trusting that the risks of faith I take are guided by God. I was also reminded that it is not possible for me to love even a little bit without God.

For me, love starts with listening. Love happens when we hear the needs of others and meet them, but love finds its energy in the word of God. I started to hear when I listened.

God is the only one who knows me in my depths and the only one who knows me better than myself, which makes making decisions much easier when I’m hearing from the one writing my story.

Fast forward to the middle of December. I began the process of applying for hospital chaplaincy programs. I wrote 12 pages worth of essays (5 about my life history, 1 about my work history, 3 regarding my spiritual development, 2 about navigating a crisis, 1 about why I want to be chaplain).

I had my good friend Victor read and edit all of them. He is finishing up his PhD in counseling and was amazing enough to edit my essays in his free time. He’s a quality human being. I submitted all the materials and references for these programs around Christmas and was leaving for India on New Year’s Eve.

My assumption, based on how things usually work, was I would hopefully hear back sometime after I returned from India because 3 weeks is a normal amount of time to review 12 pages worth of essays and additional materials in an application packet.

Apparently, in the hospital chaplaincy world in specific parts of the country a suitable response time is a few hours and 2 days respectively. Whereas, here in the northeast where I submitted an application packet, a month has gone by with no response from 3 different individuals at the same hospital who I submitted my application to.

So with very quick responses, during the peak of the holiday season, while I was preparing to leave for India for 2 weeks, I found myself scheduling interviews within a week or so of my return.

India was a blast and a rather busy 2 weeks. I tried to take some time to process 2018 and potential new seasons of life and these opportunities. I suppose the little time I had to think about it was enough. While I wanted to process it more, time and energy did not seem to allow it.

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Between jet lag, jumping back into work, and trying to prepare for the interviews themselves, I did not think about the implications of an offer. My interviews were on the 17th and the 22nd respectively, and I felt optimistic after both of them. Again I assumed I would hear something after a couple of weeks.

 

Not the case, I received an offer of admission to a residency position within 24 hours of my interview on the 22nd.

**Full disclosure, I heard from God several times in September about a timetable for my next step in following the Spirit to whatever my ministry direction would be so I shouldn’t have been too surprised. Something similar happened 7 years ago when I interviewed for my first ministry position.

I still didn’t and don’t really feel like I’ve had time to adequately process, but my experience thus far has seemed to indicate that God is not too interested in me swirling it all around in my head for hours on end. Because what I am prone to do is to make up fears or potential excuses.

God, the Father, did extend the offer allowing me to list all my initial fears as a “counting the cost” type of measure to which He promised to give answers to. We hashed that out at Qdoba. I left a little teary eyed after finishing my burrito.

I accepted the offer Monday, mailed my documents today and now wait and pray through a hopefully slow transition. I hope its slow because I’m aware of something else God is doing.

God is interested in doing a deeper work in my heart, one that I am getting the impression is more important than processing through the external details of the location and timing of my next season. That is what I must slow down for while the externals continue to be caught up in the whirlwind.

By the way, just for your information, my word for 2018 is one I learned while in India and that I gave away in the title of this blog. It is Emprise – an adventurous, daring, or chivalric enterprise.

Resurrector Gospel: Love

John 11:1-44

By Your spirit I will rise
From the ashes of defeat
The resurrected king
Is resurrecting me
In your name I come alive
To declare Your victory
The resurrected king
Is resurrecting me
The resurrected king
Is resurrecting me – Elevation Worship, Resurrecting

When I first heard the above song, I did not like it. I thought the lyrics were a bit trite for discussing resurrection. I still look at those lyrics on paper and can’t help but think, that’s it? Because when we talk about resurrection what comes to mind is John 11 and the story surrounding Lazarus dying and being brought back. When we talk about The Resurrection, we are talking about the entire premise the Christian faith is based on.

But… I like the song. I like it because when dead things come alive, emotion and energy overpower words. Sure poetry is nice, but nothing is more impressive than a resurrected life. So it should come as no surprise that in John 11, when Jesus resurrects Lazarus, the religious establishments wants to kill him.

A cursory reading of John 11 might make one think, this passage is about a guy that dies who Jesus then raises from the dead. While the resurrection of Lazarus looks like a story about life, it is more a story about love. I believe we can know it’s about love from John 11:3 when a word is sent to Jesus saying, “Lord, the one you love is sick,” and in John 11:5 which reads, “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.”

But Jesus has an odd way of showing love. An odd but true way.

He refuses to be rushed.

Jesus heard Lazarus was sick so instead of going to him, he waits a couple of days. Then he tells the disciples they will go to him, but the disciples are apprehensive because the Jewish leaders were just trying to kill Jesus in those parts.

Jesus wants to veil the disciples in regard to the death of Lazarus, but they press him.So Jesus tells them Lazarus has died, and Thomas, in verse 16, assumes they are all going to march to their death as well. There is so much drama, but Jesus is trying to protect a whole bunch of people he cares about from the harsh truth of life so they would trust in the work of His kingdom. The disciples are afraid to die here, or at the least they are afraid that Jesus will die.

When Jesus arrives in Bethany, both Martha and Mary, the sisters of Lazarus, are pretty shook up. They are upset about their brother’s death and a little disappointed in Jesus.

*Pause button* How often do we get disappointed with Jesus? Martha says something to Jesus in 16:21-22 that maybe you have said to God,  “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”

If you were actually here, Jesus, all this $#%@ would not have happened. If you were here, I wouldn’t have gone through all this. If you were here, I wouldn’t have endured the divorce; I wouldn’t have endured missing my mother from sickness; I wouldn’t have been fired from my first ministry job; I wouldn’t have endured a broken heart; I wouldn’t be pushing 30 and feel like I’m pushing dirt off me.

Or… maybe… I would go through all those things, but in fact, you’ve always been here.

*Un-pause* The lesson Jesus teaches his disciples, the lesson he teaches Martha, the lesson he teaches Mary, and even the lesson he teaches Lazarus is when you were face to face with death, Jesus never left. When you and I face the end of something, we encounter the One who always was in the beginning and who has no end.

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We find Jesus saying, “The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die.”

 

In spite Jesus’ assurance, hope, and optimism toward resurrection life, he cries. In fact, he weeps. Jesus cries with us. He wept with you and he never left you. As much as I’d like to be able to level an accusation at Jesus as an excuse in times of distress, he doesn’t leave.

The message of the Resurrection is that death can’t keep God away, and if death can’t keep God away, so long as you live, in any situation, God is an ever-present help. This is the relentless pursuit of God toward the beloved creation. The demonstration of God’s love is faithfulness toward us.

Jesus took the time to meet each of the ones he loved in their emotional pain as he listened to their cry rather than fixing the situation immediately. To love someone in the depth of their pain is a demonstration of divine mercy. To be able to say “I will endure all suffering with you, even for you,” is the expression of love that no other god claims to offer.

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Yet Jesus doesn’t stop at meeting us in our pain. He moves away the stone to have the glory of God revealed to us. He calls us out of death and pain into life and joy. He says, “Take off the grave-clothes and let them go.”

 

Shepherd Gospel: Lead

John 10

What leads me is what moves me. Whether appetite or necessity or interest, what is in front of me or occupies my mind will determine the next step I take. In faith, what is meant to lead the Christian is Jesus/the Spirit of God in the believer. However, what is meant to lead me and what actually leads me is unfortunately not always consistent which offers evidence to free will or offers evidence to my sinfulness.

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In John 10, Jesus describes himself as the shepherd and describes his followers as sheep. He gives his sheep credit as the ones that know His voice. The sheep follow the one they are familiar with. They are moved by the one they trust. Jesus is the shepherd, and he is also the door. Jesus is the one we enter and exit by. Our going in and going out, each of our steps are dictated by Jesus.

Jesus states his purpose in John 10:10, “I came that they(us) may have life and have it abundantly.” He also states the how, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”

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For every sheep that the shepherd leads, there are those other species and thieves that exist in the world that level attacks on both shepherd and sheep. Jesus endures accusations that he is possessed by a demon, he endures the doubts about who he is.

Then Jesus states in John 10:30 “I and the Father are one.” That statement almost gets Jesus killed. Blasphemy is worthy of death, but in the case of Jesus, truth eventually gets him killed.

Jesus says he lays down his life of his own accord and like any great leader, he has a clear goal in mind. He leads the ones he loves into both abundant life and sacrificial service. He demonstrates that our fullness comes in our willingness to lose everything for the sake of Jesus. Yet the metaphor Jesus uses is so not glamorous.

 

Who actually wants to lead sheep? Who actually wants to be compared to sheep? But that is what I am. I am a sheep. I am a weird-looking, furry creature that bends his head to eat grass and mosey around looking for something to do. I am a sheep that is not sure how much of an impact or significance my life actually bears, yet I understand that God himself has me accounted for. I recognize the baaa’s of others and usually the voice of the shepherd. I recognize that the Shepherd is good…

But I also recognize my wandering. I recognize my inconsistency. I recognize my denseness. I recognize my propensity towards getting lost. I can only be found in Jesus Christ. I can only find purpose in my relation to the Holy Spirit. Which is why at the end of the day I’m okay with being a sheep as long as the Lord is my Shepherd.