God spoke to me today.
I am not usually one to view coincidences as a sure bet that he is telling us something, but today I may have to change that. Especially given what it was all about. I was talking with my co-worker, Kristen, about stories from different trips people we know took over the summer. Some of them had amazing experiences. One person in Bangladesh encountered a woman who was half dead under a tarp. They picked her up and took her to a place where they ended up taking care of her. This person lived the parable of the Good Samaritan. I only read about it. Another person who spent the summer in the garbage city of Mokkattam in Cairo wrote a journal about how the faith of the people she met changed her forever.
Kristen then said to me (and herself I believe) “I don’t want to waste my life! And I don’t want to live the suburban life and I don’t want our students to either!”
We are in college ministry so we have students. I couldn’t disagree with her. My job involves giving students an experience with Jesus while they are at school. My hope is that this experience will change their life. More and more I come to see what that can mean. I want people to graduate and go live in the inner city. I want people to move to Cairo to work with refugees or the poor people that everyone else forgets about or ignores. I want people to work in one of Mother Teresa’s homes for the dying. I want people to ditch the things they wanted for their lives and embrace what God wants for the world. Call me crazy or naïve, but I just can’t see how the pursuit of the American dream fulfills that. I can’t see how a life comprised mainly of working all day and then spending 3 hours watching TV is what God has for us. I don’t want that for the people I encounter. I want them to live radical lives of following Jesus. I want to live a radical life of following Jesus.
In keeping with being an ENFP, I quickly was distracted by the fact that a singer I really enjoy had a free download on I-tunes. I downloaded “When the Saints” by Sara Groves and Kristen and I listened to it. The song absolutely moved me to tears. I listened to it again. I think I am going on seven or eight listens today. The song is about how, after being exposed to the reality of the world we live in, it is easy to get overwhelmed. She thinks about those who came before and it gives her strength and she wants to be like them. She thinks of Moses going before Pharaoh proclaiming freedom for his people. She thinks of the Sisters of Charity in Calcutta who stand beside the dying and give them dignity. She thinks of the girls trapped in prostitution and those who fight for their release. And mostly, she thinks of Jesus and how he carried the sins of the world on his shoulders as he walked the road of the cross.
It was as if Sara decided to join us in our conversation. Yes Sara, you are welcome any time.
Then it was time to prep a Bible Study for my Church Group. We are studying Paul’s letter to the Philippians. Paul is in prison facing the reality of execution. He writes to encourage the church that he is actually having a great time because the Gospel is going forth. In the particular section we studied, I noticed a few things that really got to me. “To live is Christ. To die is gain.” Paul’s singular focus in his life was Jesus. Nothing else. Given all the things I was just thinking about earlier in the day, this verse took on a new meaning. Faced with death, Paul decides that it is better to live. Well, obviously you might think. But the reason he wants to live is so he can be of service to the church. The only reason he wants to stay alive is so he can build up other people and help them grow in faith and joy. That is intense. Also, he implores the Philippians to live a life worthy of the Gospel. The more I think about it, the more I think that very few people actually do this. The few that do really stand out. We know about them. We know about Mother Teresa. We know about Francis of Assissi. They ended up doing great things, but did not start that way. They began with a simple idea of taking Jesus seriously. They ended up changing the world.
I began the study by saying something I strongly believe the Holy Spirit gave me to say. I said something like (I can’t remember it verbatim) “we all too easily look at Scripture and simply try to understand it. This isn’t entirely wrong, but if we stop there, we miss the point. This is meant to change our lives. It is meant to transform both us and the world around us. This thing is a powder keg if we use it right. So tonight, let us focus on what we should do with it, what it requires of us and what it means for us.” I think it really connected with people and it was one of the best studies we have had in a while. I think God is up to something. I don’t know what, but I want in.
I want in because I don’t want to settle. I don’t want to settle for a “good life.” I don’t want to settle for anything less than the abundant life Jesus promised to his followers. This, I am sure, is not about abundance of possessions or wealth, or even relationships. This is about the Kingdom of God. This is about new life. This is about the redemption of the world. This is about Justice and Righteousness for all people, not just the ones who can afford it or get away with it. And we enter into it by following Jesus where he went. By doing the things that he did. He is out leader.
I have caught glimpses of this abundant life here and there and I like what I see. I read the Gospels and I am challenged by Jesus. I am compelled by Jesus. I am amazed at him. I also have a hard time seeing how the church got so messed up and did so many dumb things if they were trying to follow him.
So this is my prayer: O Jesus, to have your heart. To love like you loved. To give of myself for others as you did. To pick up my cross and die. To know the joy of your suffering. To know the power of your resurrection. Do not let me settle for anything less than you.
Lord, have mercy.