Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The international (and then some) body of Christ

As I write this I'm sitting in a chair outside the (now closed for the evening) administrative offices of the Canadian Lutheran Bible Institute. Students run up and down the stairs. A few have stopped to turn in papers that were due two hours ago. (To their credit, most checked with me ahead of time to make sure they could turn the paper in later.) Someone is pounding on a piano downstairs, and someone is practicing a presentation just at the edge of hearing. All the other noises are drowned out from time to time by a couple students singing selections from "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" at the top of their lungs. The bulk of the student body (not the best way to put that) is off at a local aquatic center swimming for the evening. My daughter Mathea happens to be with them, having borrowed enough ingredients to cobble together a makeshift swimsuit.

This is the third year I've taught at CLBI. Each year I am inspired by this tiny school -- sixty students this year -- and its laser focus on making disciples of Jesus Christ. They're not primarily worried about issues of accreditation or degrees. They're not focused on academics, though of course students are challenged to grow academically while they're here and expected to do college-level work. Mostly, though, CLBI exists to focus on making disciples of Jesus Christ.

The student body is primarily entering into what Terry Walling would call the "awakening" transition. This transition usually takes place in the 20's or early 30's, and in it young adults go through four steps:

Step 1 -- Anchoring. What has God taught you from his word? This step entails reviewing your biblical calling and purpose as a believer. Biblical purpose anchors your personal calling.

Step 2 -- Assessing. How has God shaped you in your past? In this step it is important to understand your past development and life values as a believer.

Step 3 -- Discovering. What is God calling you to accomplish? Discovering your personal vision provides direction for the future.

Step 4 -- Implementing. How do you plan to accomplish your personal calling?

These students, judging from their conversations in class and their response to pointed questions, are largely coming to the end of Step 1, and beginning to muddle through steps 2 & 3. They recognize that God has given them the gift of a strong biblical foundation in their time here. Now they have to begin to know themselves, to begin to know how God has wired them and what he calls them to do in this world.

It's exciting stuff.

Another thing that has been coming up over and over again while I've been here is the way the body of Christ rolls over international boundaries like they don't exist. Harold Rust, the president of the school, and I were talking this morning. The conversation was focused on the way God is creating new forms of Christ-centered community in his church -- forms of community that have their roots in the early church, forms of community that the western church has largely ignored for the last century, at least since the invention of the automobile. The conversation ranged all over the world, from CLBI to Los Angeles, from Minneapolis to Sheffield, England, to Tennessee and back to London, then across the Atlantic yet again to bounce around Canada and the United States some more.

(My writing is getting interrupted at the moment by a young couple, not students, coming in to meet with the president of the school and his wife who are leading them through their marriage preparation work.)

Another conversation today focused on what God is doing in his church in non-Western contexts. Mission teams of second year students from CLBI go each January to an amazing variety of nations -- places like Suriname, Mongolia, Nepal, Kenya, and lots more. These students gain a firsthand sense of what God might be about in the wider world. So earlier today we were talking about what the western church has to learn from community and biblical authority in the church in the rest of the world.

Certain things are clear here. The call of God toward a simple life, for one. The centrality of Christ, for another.

A contingent of students has been working their way through The Truth Project. We did this at Central a couple years ago. Tonight they were talking about the relationship between Church & State. Their teacher just paused to talk with me about the story of King Uzziah who ruled Judah for 52 years. The vast majority of that time he ruled wisely and well, but near the end of his life power got the better of him. It's no accident that Isaiah records his amazing vision of God (Isaiah 6) starting out with these words: "In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and lifted up ..." The uncompromising lordship of Jesus is another thing that remains front and center here.

So here I sit, typing. And without moving from this chair, I am reminded of my connections to believers in Jesus all across the world, all across time. It is a privilege to be a part of this.

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