Wednesday, December 21, 2016

The Journey - chapter 1

The Journey - From Secular to Spiritual
Chapter 1

With each step taken, the journey changes. There are moments of clarity and moments of deep fog. For whatever reason, I imagined this journey would be much easier than it has been. While I certainly accept there will be trials in all aspects of life, I see now that I had an irrational and illogical view of how my transition would go. Such is life.

Each story deserves some level of context and this story is no different, truly. In fact, many of us have similar stories and it is worth pointing out that I cherish the commonalities among us. It is those commonalities we must learn to embrace for the sake of Romans 12:9-21 and the gospel for which we carry, share and live out.

My story that gets me here is not unlike anything you may have heard before. There is brokenness, heartache, depression, addiction, betrayal, abuse. There is love, humor, joy, elation. There is adversity, resilience, pain, triumph. I am by no means some special case but I am here because of the grace of God, the power of a praying mother, the willingness of a friend who shared Jesus and the never-ending conviction of the Holy Spirit who refuses to let me drown in my own doubt.

To say that I grew up in the church would not be a proper statement. I grew up attending a church with my parents who decided they wanted us to be exposed to more of a conservative group of people. They sent us to a small private school that was associated with the church. We didn't make it to church every Sunday but we were mostly regular for about 5 years. As I neared adolescence I found myself very busy with sports and singing, two things I adored. While pursuing these two passions, I had little time for anything else, including church. I had very little connection there and struggled to grasp the necessity of it. I found God to be very unapproachable and cold. To be honest, I began to doubt if He cared very much about me personally.

As I found a voice I also found the boldness to rebel against the church and the people within it. I had begun to discover my own intellect and with that discovery I began to look down on anyone else around me that seemed unwilling to rise up and use the brains within their heads. To be honest, I quickly became very condescending to nearly everyone around me. This resulted in short-term friendships, alienation of my immediate family and a daily struggle to interact with nearly anyone around me. In short, I stopped listening to everyone except myself.

This behavior lasted for more than 15 years. Relationships became disposable and I was OK with that. I burned through college friends, a marriage, two brothers, a sister, in-laws and countless people along the way. At 28 I needed a restart, I just didn't know how it was possible.

The journey from secular to spiritual must recognize what each of us has not only come out of, but more importantly what we continue through each day. The world is all around us, it's not going anywhere. We must learn to live in it while seeking to be changed by the world we belong to and not the one we're in. That last sentence is profound. I fought to not only live in this world but to change it in spite of its nature and my own. The reality is that this world is not changed by us, it is changed through us by the power of God. Therefore, what God does to us, for us and through us is nothing short of a complete life makeover. I began to recognize my own need for a new life. The only trouble was, at age 28 I was still listening to the world.

Over the following 5 years I got married, bought a house, had a kid, adopted another kid, bought a house. Sold the first house and bought another house. And got invited to church. Everything except for that last part was how I saw my life going. I began to see success by what I could change in my own world and therefore, on a greater level, the change I could have on my sphere of influence within the world around me. Without any sort of a big picture mindset I wandered in search of the next challenge. I searched my sphere of influence and beyond, hoping to find what I needed, which was a crutch for my pride and lack of humility. It was in those moments that a co-worker invited me to an open-gym night at his church. I saw another challenge, so I went.

At this point, the mind would tell us that it is a foregone conclusion regarding my life from that point forward. But let me interrupt that assumption with a few observations, especially regarding the mindset of so many people who are wandering around aimlessly looking for the world to meet their challenge for fulfillment. The first thing is to recognize that even though I said yes to attending an open-gym night, I walked into that place with my athletic ego in high gear. I walked in there to prove a point, which was that I was superior. Before long, everyone there knew who I was and that I came to play hard. I am sure I turned more than just a few people off to my behavior. As I look back, I wonder how many observed my actions and thought to themselves that I was merely one example of a soul who needed to be surrounded by Godly, humble people who could look past my prideful arrogance and see someone who needed Jesus. More aptly, I wonder how many people saw me as a soul who was lost to the world, consumed by the secular.

The second thing to recognize is that I walked into that gym with a lot of baggage, including an addiction to alcohol and an ego the size of Oregon. I remember making friends with a couple of guys but I also remember that most of the people there didn't talk to me much. As time went on, not only did that not change, but it got worse. My baggage was beginning to show and unfortunantely, I had no idea. I think that there is a common misconception that exists among those who have been raised in the church, which is that if we can just get sinners to come to church, they will walk through the doors and be magically fixed. The truth is it never works that way. However, let me be clear here, because I don't want to take away from the power of the Holy Spirit to change a life, but this world exists and it is not going anywhere, regardless of how much we might fight against it. When a person is consumed by the world and all of its flaws, it is much like being wrapped in a separate layer of skin. It's not so easy to just peel it off, it takes some work. More than that, it takes the assistance of God's people to love in spite of the skin of the world that a lot of us have before coming to know Christ. I would love to tell you that there are thousands of people who walk into a church, hear the word of God, learn about the love of Jesus and then shed that old skin right then and there, but I would be lying to you if I said that. But let me explain.

The journey from secular to spiritual starts with a choice to take the first step. From there, the road that you are on may still be a somewhat familiar one, marked with people and trappings of this world, such as friends, family, job situation, living situation, finances, addictions, habits, behaviors, character traits, etc. People do not simply walk into church and walk away from everything in their lives just like that. Are you still tracking with me? This is the state of the journey and it is wise for us to recognize how hard it is to simply drop everything and follow Jesus. For the vast majority of us, we walk in to church with chains holding us back and we walk back out carrying many of the same chains we walked in with. This is sad but it is something we must address or we are going to fail our brothers and sisters who need to know that a changed life is what God desires, even if it takes you awhile to change.

The disciples were asked to follow Jesus and they dropped their nets and left everything behind (Luke 5). The suggestion in these passages is that the disciples didn't go through a process, they simply heard the words of Jesus, saw His power (the miracle in Luke 5) and chose to follow. However, this same group of disciples struggled at many times to trust Jesus, to believe in His ministry, to listen to His commands, to believe they were capable of doing similar feats and to be bold for Jesus as He had instructed them to do. It would take these disciples the better part of 3 years to be able to stand on their own and even then, we see issues in Acts. And this brings us to a further understanding of our journey. It took the disciples more than 3 years to journey from the secular to the spiritual and they had Jesus in the flesh to learn from. We are fortunate to have His ministry in printed form along with the insight of thousands of others who have come before us.

As I contemplate the process known as entire sanctification, I realize that a changed life for Christ is indeed a very special thing but I am also realizing that it is not an instantaneous thing. Why is that so hard to fathom? Because in America we want everything right now. We live in an age of convenience and instant gratification. The unfortunate downside to this perspective is in our spiritual walk and growth in Christ. Our flesh is tethered to a world that would prefer to rip it off. We must recognize the words of Paul that we need to condition ourselves for the marathon of life, preparing our minds and bodies to go the distance. Training ourselves as a champion athlete would, who works tirelessly day in and day out in order to be the best he or she can be. This means that we are daily in the word, daily in prayer, daily in meditation, daily in concert with other Christ followers, etc. Our journeys must get us to this point. The trouble is that most people do not find the destination to be all that palpable.

To that end, this is the juxtaposition of my transition from secular to spiritual. One one hand, I see value in keeping an eye and an ear to the road of my secular life. There are many people there who I wish to speak to and I don't want to lose sight of them. On the other hand, the spiritual life is what God has called me (and all of us) to. Jesus said that we are not of this world, and I get that, but I'm here none the less. And because I'm here and because I am in the process of coming out of complete saturation of the secular, I feel as if I am dripping dirty parts of me in the areas of the spiritual. On one hand, the secular life seems much easier to live right now. On the other hand, the spiritual life offers blessings now and rewards for eternity. And even though I know how shortsighted the secular viewpoint is, I still struggle with it.

I have never considered myself to be dense. I say that because as I look back over the last 13 years, I see a man who has fought very hard against the journey. There have been ebbs and flows, ups and downs, highs and lows. I have felt very close to God and very far away. At times I have been certain I was on the right path and other times when I felt that I just needed to walk away from it all because it would be so much easier. "In this life you will have troubles....but take heart!" Each day I try and remind myself of the words of Jesus in John 16, knowing that I cannot for one moment depend on my own abilities to navigate these waters. And yet I question why this journey has taken me this long. Shouldn't I be further along by now? Were there any disciples like this? How long did it take Thomas? Did he immediately launch into full blown missionary mode after he put his fingers in the wounds of Jesus? Oh ye of little faith!!

Oh Lord, complete this transition for me, as I am simply too incapable of doing this without your help. Guide me past my uncertainty and foolishness that is masked as cautious wisdom. Instead, grant me your wisdom to see the joy in the journey, regardless of the road I am on. Help me to reach out to others who are also on this same road, who feel lost and defeated, who don't think they're good enough to serve you... because I'm certainly not good enough to serve you and yet you love me anyway. Every gap I leave, you fill. Every deficiency of mine that is discovered you cover. Your grace is all I need. Your power is made perfect even in my weakness. For when I am weak, then I am strong. Thank you Lord for all you are. Amen.