If You Continue…

In late February of 2013, I began training to be a professional wrestler. It came after putting a dream I had growing up, on hold for about 7 years. Really, on hold is not the right word, more like out of my mind what I thought was completely. But it’s amazing what the right place at the right time, at a season of life where other things lost their meaning can provide for a person.

As it turned out, the initial excitement of training only lasted a few weeks, and as I was gripped by a season of depression, training just wasn’t giving me any sense of joy. But I remember having a thought for several months. I remember thinking, “If this dream was something that was a part of a my life and brought me joy for so long, one day if I persist long enough this might just bring me joy again.”

Whether or not that thought worked or was sustaining, I’m not sure I can tell or remember. What I do remember is that I continued until 2018 (with almost a full year break in 2015-2016) when I moved to South Carolina.

It was then I continued in a new direction with a new set of expectations and goals with an invigorated sense of purpose that I believed was grounded in a call from God. If any of that interests you, this blog chronicles much of that journey, or you can ask me for a rambling, long winded, inchorent babbling version where the only hope is that I will shut down in the middle of it in order for it to come to a succinct but albeit inconclusive end.

This is quite a long introduction to say a few words on the topic of continuing on in one’s faith. To start I present a scripture:

21Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. 22 But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation— 23 if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.

Colossians 1:21-23

I have been struck by the conditionality of Paul’s words. To expound on the supremacy of Christ just prior, and to follow the verses above by proclaiming that Paul rejoices to share in sufferings, he seems to say “in your reconciliation you could stop or move on from your hope, the same hope that was meant to be an anchor to your soul; you could cut ties with.”

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He puts forth the condition of cutting ties in a sandwich by way of reminder of a former alienation and enmity brought about by evil behavior. He also reminds us that the way God presents you now is as holy an pure and without blemish unable to be accused and that there is unimaginable possibilities in the hope of the gospel. Even still there in the middle is an “if you continue in your faith.”

And what makes us want to not continue is hardly ever what one might think actually could. The New Testament seems to be strongly convinced that persecution would not stop followers of Jesus from continuing. The writers seem far more convinced that false doctrine leading to false beliefs is far more likely to lead believers astray than persecution. There is almost this assumption/guarentee of persecution, whereas false doctrine/teaching has to be entertained, has to find a willing ear. And this according to the New Testament is far greater catalyst in the turn towards no longer continuing than anything else I can think of.

I think the reason people turn to false beliefs is due to palpability. There is something in what is being believed that is easier or more conducive to living life a certain way than if they kept a grasp on truth. Anything to avoid the disruption of comfortability or status. But to continue on in faith, means saying yes to who (Jesus) you barely know and what you may have not have the faintest grasp of what is involved (the works prepared to do beforehand).

If we want to follow Jesus, expecting the upending of sensibilities is what we signed up for; alongside it is a steadfast promise that we will be kept and loved and forgiven upon confession and our efforts to continue to turn from darkness toward delight in Jesus.

Will you continue? What do you believe that is convenient but untrue? What do I believe that keeps me comfortable yet unwilling to look foolish in faith? Who am I continuing for? and what do I need to do with the ministry of reconicliation God has entrusted to me as an ambassador of the kingdom? So many answers to these questions I know in part, or hardly at all, but in choosing to continue, I establish myself in hope.

Longanimity: The Hope of A Calling

My urgency to write might in part be due to my angst, in part due to the fact that I have not blogged in over 3 months which usually is not a great indicator. I learned a new word today: longanimity. It is derived from Latin, meaning “long soul,” but essentially means patience in sufffering.

I found it in a translation of Scripture of Ephesians 4:2 which usually translates longanimity as longsuffering. Suffering is an inevitable part of the call to salvation which is entirely strange. We are offered salvation from eternal torment and salvation to relationship with Jesus, only to share in His sufferings perhaps with a keener awareness of the suffering caused by our own sin and the common suffering of the human condition. In a sense, it feels like it gets worse before it gets better.

Perhaps, I have no better demonstration of the ability to endure suffering in the body in the last several years than the example of the perseverance of my own father. Since 2018, he has been fighting leukemia. During the fight, he has faced several other health complications that he has overcome by in large with an optimistic disposition (also in the midst of a global pandemic). His doctors and nurses praise his perspective, and I am frequently amazed by how resilient he is in the face of sickness.

What my father has demonstrated is the ability to bear with himself, one particular instance in which he was in the hospital for 6 weeks without visitors in the midst of Covid stands out most. Somehow he did not go insane, or if he did, he somehow managed to recover the sanity he had, although one could argue from his sense of humor and ability to somehow say inapprorpriate things that some of his sanity left him in the late 60’s early 70’s. It was a different generation. Nowadays people are going insane under the guise of rational thought and relativism.

Regardless, the longanimity that the apostle Paul writes about in Ephesian 4 not only has to do with the suffering we endure within ourselves. It deals with the suffering we endure as an evidence of our calling, in relation to bearing with others. Herein lies a whole new depth of suffering that the Church has done a particularly stellar job of ignoring. How so, one might ask.

We ignore the command to bear with one another in the ease in which we forgo reconciliation or when we act as a transient member of the Body that supposedly has life sustained by a unity of Spirit. It’s to easy to leave a church in America, by in large because there is a cornucopia of options and opinions (which could potentially function as evience of our disunity). If you prefer to have the positive spin, it is the evidence of the diversity in our expressions of worship. (Although in the south you would be hard pressed to make a case that diversity is something celebrated in many churches). Why, one might continue to ask.

Because of the neglect of Ephesians 4:3 “Make every effort (or you could insert the word strive, although that is a word that the Church has grown to all but demonize despite it being commanded) to keep the unity of Spirit through the bond of peace. My latin translation, uses the phrase Zealously strive, not in regards to earning our salvation but in regards to keeping a unity of Spirit bound by peace. In other words, try with everything you have to be united with brothers and sisters in Christ. Perhaps, now would be a good time to pause for a minute and think about what we zealously strive for.

I’ll go first, at this stage almost nothing. I strive for nothing. I would say for a long period I zealously strived to make ministry a vocation. I would say I have zealously strived in the much more distant past to make romantic relationships work. I have zealously strived in my writing. I have zealously strived in my fight against lust, in my struggle with seasons of depression, in the attempts to renew my mind with Scripture, in laboring in various jobs in seasons when I worked long hours, in seasons of prayer for revival on my college campus. But now, maybe I strive to survive this school year or maybe I’ve all but given up.

As much we are called to strive and bear with another in love, (these are not easy words, they demand much of our faithfulness, our complete humility, our complete gentlness, see Ephesians 4:2, they demand self-sacrifice, require a self-effacing that we might allow ourselves to fade into the background) there is a disarming word at the front of all the demands placed on us as a result of this one disarming word. That word is calling or if you prefer, a more gentle and perhaps a less angst inducing word, you can substitute invitation. An invitation to the divine call of salvation. God Himself has called out to us in the life, death and resurrection of His Son Jesus Christ because He wanted me; He wanted us. He invites us, gently, humbly, not seeing equality with God as something to be grasped, yet saw the reconiciliation of humanity as something not only strived for or grasped but was willing to face death for the joy set before Him. That joy: us, sinful self-seeking us.

And amidst this invitaton is the invitation to hope. In every choice to endure suffering in our body or for another is hope, the anchor of the soul. So we hope, for my father’s continued hope and positive disposition, hope for our eventual renewed and whole mind, hope and courage to strive for reconciliation at all cost, hope to actually bear up under the suffering of our brothers and sisters in Christ rather than ignore their suffering and plight for the sake of the maintenance of our own convenience, reputation or platform. Jesus left Heaven (He also returned and lives to make intercession for us). What do we leave for the sake of love?