Friday, June 29, 2012

Looks Can Be Deceiving

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people's bones and all uncleanness.  So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness." - Jesus (Matthew 23:27-28)

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Christ and Our Callings, Part 3

As I think about my calling in life, I have to grapple with two things.  First, who's doing the calling?  Who is the one calling me?  It's not myself.  Callings cannot come from within.  (But how often we live as though they did!  We hark to Socrates's cry: "Know thyself!")  It is God who is calling me to belong to him and to live under his reign--the reign of his Son Jesus--in every breath.

But I also wrestle with the order or priority of my callings, of the roles and responsibilities I've been given.  Even if not chronologically derived, my foremost commitment is to my wife as her husband.  I've entered into a covenant with her to hold fast to her until death parts us.  Beyond that, I'm now a father.  Those are my primary callings.  Only after that am I a science teacher/coach/whatever.  I suppose a good glue holding all those other callings together is the call to be part of Christ's body (Romans 1:6-7).  Which just gets me back to the first calling in the first place.  (See "Christ and Our Callings, Part 1.")

In Philippians 3:12-16, Paul sets up a paradox that surrounds the Christian life.
12 Not that I have already obtained this [becoming like Christ, vv. 10-11] or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13 Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. 15 Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you.16 Only let us hold true to what we have attained.
Paul somehow rests content in all that Christ is for him and all who is in Christ's hands.  "Christ Jesus has made me his own."  Because his righteousness is that of Jesus and comes through faith, not his perfection in good deeds or service (v. 9), he knows his life and identity are secure.  But at the same time, he knows Christ has grasped him for the sake of "the upward call of God."  As a result he presses upward, never resting on his laurels or living out of his past, but always pushing to enjoy and love and serve Jesus more and more.  

Still, Paul closes with an urge to "hold true to what we have attained."  That is, while we should strive to grow in our knowledge and service and ever press on in the Christian life, we should also make sure we're living faithfully within the callings and circumstances and knowledge we have at the present.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Christ and Our Callings, Part 2

Atop psychologist Abraham Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs sits "self-actualization."  This is said to be the greatest need of all humans.  Understood rightly, Maslow said self-actualization is really a person who gains increasing awareness of himself, the world, and his place in it; lives honestly and transparently; and has a sense of mission, duty, and responsibility to other humans.  Through this, a person lives beyond himself and finds a place of transcendence in the world.

I would argue that in our souls, deep within, all people know we have fallen from something great.  We suffer as much from original glory as we do from original sin.*  Not that our original, God-given glory was bad.  But sin has caused us to shrink away from God, others, nature--even our true selves--into the hollow recesses of our own deceitful self-honor and self-wisdom.  We climbed upon a tiny throne but away from everything else weighty and good.

The problem is, we often try to discover who we are or fix our resulting sense of loneliness and angst by taking on roles in life that we think will restore to us a sense of fulfillment and transcendence.  How easily I can do this with a job!  If only I got some recognition for my awesome "21st century skills"-based lessons.  If only someone thanked me for my high SOL pass rates.  If only Libbey would let me teach my new stoichiometry methods at the district inservice.  If only I could teach AP Biology and get some cred.  If only I could do more ecology field trips and get kids involved in nature's web hands-on.  If only the cross country team would win the district title.  Of course, this works the same way in "sanctified" callings within the church.  If only I could use my gifts to teach theology full-time.  If only I could read that John Stott book and learn more about the cross of Christ.  If only I could grow more competent in counseling others.  If only I could teach the church in [enter largely Muslim nation here].

But it's not a job or any supposed "calling" that is meant to fulfill our souls and give us real life; Jesus said we can find that only in knowing him.  "I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly" (John 10:10).  "And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent" (John 17:3).  What John calls "eternal life"--life without limits, in satisfying wholeness--is nothing other than coming to God through Jesus and being satisfied in him.

That's why Paul labored and strove at great cost to himself, not to discover through his jobs and callings more about himself or to "find himself," but to find and discover Jesus his Lord.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Christ and Our Callings, Part 1

I've invested ten of the past twelve years of my life into being a high school science teacher (five years of schooling plus five years of service).  In many ways, it's been wonderful.  Let's face it: how many people get to choose a career path, study for it, and then actually find continual employment in that exact role?  I have a stable job at a top-notch, innovative public high school, my students earn pretty good scores on the state benchmark tests, and I get to coach cross country as well.  On top of that, the pay is decent enough, the benefits are great, and I have a continuing contract.  Still, I often find myself looking out the window with a restless spirit, wondering what lies beyond being a science teacher.

For years now I've had a vision of serving the church in a country where sound theological education is needed, either where the church is small, dead, or has strayed from orthodoxy (e.g., Germany, France, Czech Republic), or in a nation where the evangelical church is young and persecuted (e.g., Turkey, North Africa).  I've never thought of this as a necessarily "higher" calling, but being able to devote myself to teaching God's Word just seems awesome.  After all, I already love studying the Bible and getting chances in the local church to lead studies and teaching.

But when I look at my passions and gifts and wonder about my "calling" in life, I find myself face-to-face with the question, "Who am I?"  It's really a question that shapes all our pursuits in life.

God's answer to the question of my calling is the same answer he gives to my identity: I am "called to belong to Jesus Christ" and I am among those "in Rome loved by God and called to be saints" (Romans 1:6, 7).  Now of course I'm not in Rome proper, but I have a city, a concrete location and context in which to live my life as a saint, that is, a justified sinner possessed by Jesus Christ.  It is this identity as one belonging to Jesus that shapes and defines the "calling" of all Christians.

Monday, June 18, 2012

The Process Is the Point

When I was raising support in 2005 to go to Turkey, the story of Jesus walking on water (Mark 6:45-52) took on new light.  And again I'm at a time in my life when I'm faced with some new opportunities that have set me out "rowing to Galilee."

45  Immediately he made his disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. 46 And after he had taken leave of them, he went up on the mountain to pray. 47 And when evening came, the boat was out on the sea, and he was alone on the land. 48 And he saw that they were making headway painfully, for the wind was against them. And about the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. He meant to pass by them, 49 but when they saw him walking on the sea they thought it was a ghost, and cried out, 50 for they all saw him and were terrified. But immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take heart; it is I.  Do not be afraid.” 51 And he got into the boat with them, and the wind ceased. And they were utterly astounded, 52 for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.  53  When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored to the shore. 
Jesus had told the disciples to go to Bethsaida, where they were to continue their ministry to the poor and afflicted, proclaiming the kingdom of God.  So when the disciples got into the boat, I'm sure they thought that their rowing was all about getting to Bethsaida and what they were going to do there.  How many would Jesus heal?  What new mysteries would he unfold?  But that wasn't even the point.  It wasn't about Bethsaida.