Thursday, December 23, 2010

Calm before the silent night

It is a quiet morning here, December 23rd, and soon I will go into work. I was up late last night, a gift from my eldest daughter who was spending the evening (translation: for college students, "evening" starts about 9 pm and means anything up to and including 1 am) at a friend's house. Between icy roads, last minute changes in plans, and a schedule that allows me to go in to work a little later today (translation: for adults, "a little later" means anything after 6 am and up to 9 am, a time period that for college students is referred to as "some ungodly hour of the morning") I ended up waiting up for her. I trust my daughter, and I am glad she gets to spend some time with her friend, and she was very good about checking in with us to let us know what she was doing. So this "waiting up" business is my problem, not hers.

I received an email this morning from a young woman, Kristina, whose work I have posted on this blog in the past. She just emailed a retrospective piece about her recent three weeks in Thailand working with children's homes and agricultural missionaries and volunteering at a ministry that helps women avoid or escape from sex trafficking. Now she is back in Singapore at her school with a very few other students who will remain over the Christmas break.

She has me thinking today. What does it mean to be radically committed to Jesus?

Kristina challenges me in this way. Her obvious sacrifices -- leaving home and family and traveling literally to the other side of the world, not being home for Christmas, giving of herself and her time and her energy to go serve people whose language she does not know -- these obvious sacrifices make me wonder about my own heart. When Jesus says, "Sell all that you have, give money to the poor, and come, follow me," how do I respond? I live in an enormous house. My income goes largely to my stomach, my family's stomachs, and the stomachs of my two dogs, hamster, and thirteen runner ducks. I own a riding lawn mower, for crying out loud. It's a long way from the days when, somewhat like Kristina, I could load everything in the back of my '70 Impala and travel halfway across the country because I was convinced God told me to.

Truth is, I'm middle aged, firmly rooted, and well established in one place. Does that let me off the hook?

I don't think so.

A poster that I saw in college, one that I think of frequently, read like this: "The secret of life is this: to be ready at any moment to give up all that you are for the sake of all that you may become." It haunts me a bit, but it also reminds me to hold these things -- including my riding lawn mower -- loosely. The challenge for me right now is to live here, to live now, in the full knowledge that "for me to live is Christ, and to die is gain," as Paul wrote to the Philippians. So how do I let Christ live in and through me here and now? Jesus calls people different directions at different times, and sometimes he calls people to give themselves away in one grand sweeping gesture. Sometimes he calls people to put down roots, to lose their lives in one community, in one family, in one ever-growing tangle of Spirit-driven relationships. Truth is, you are most able to make a difference when you choose to invest your life -- not just a moment, but your life -- in a place for Jesus' sake. Am I willing to die here if that is Jesus' call? Absolutely. In the meantime I invest in things that matter -- people of all shapes and sizes. I invest in my daughters, yes, and in my wife (who I see growing day by day into her callings from God ... why is it easier to see Jesus working in her life sometimes than it is in my own?) but I also invest in friendships and ministry relationships and mentoring people. I am invested in the lives of three different orphans in Njombe, Tanzania.

For those of us called to follow Jesus into America, complacency is a constant battle. It is too easy to forget that this life is about him, not about me, and that I am no less a missionary here -- not because I am a pastor but because I belong to Jesus -- than Kristina has been one in Thailand for the last three weeks.

I'm quite sure God has called me here and now. As tempting as it is sometimes to ditch it all and make some grand commitment to Jesus by haring off to Azerbaijan, here is where he's called me. Of course, there may yet be places in my life he wants to change -- things he wants to add or take away, places in my heart that need to be killed or resurrected. So I struggle to stay close to him, to give him access to every part of my life and my soul so that he can shape me as he wants. I struggle to see my life and the culture in which I live through his eyes. I come back again and again to the manger, to the cross, so that I keep my eyes focused on Jesus and not on myself. And as I fall over and over and over again and get caught up in selfishness, in complacency, I return again and again to be broken and redirected by Jesus.

That is, after all, what it means to call him "Lord."

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