The Beginning of an Unexpected Journey: Part II

Sitting near the front of The Coop was a weeping 19-year-old man, who, for likely the first time, felt the intense gravity of the holiness of God. Robert Lane’s exposition of the Word of God from 2 Corinthians was used by the Holy Spirit to rend my heart, and draw me before the cross of Jesus.

Perhaps I was saved in the moment. I’m not altogether sure. In retrospect it is difficult to determine at what point between the ages of 18-21 I repented and believed the gospel. What I do know is that I’m following Jesus now, and what I am seeking to with my life is the result of a seed Lane sowed, and that the Spirit has nurtured and is continuing to grow into a fruit bearing tree. But I will speak more on that later…

As I wept, the intensity of God’s presence multiplied as Lane continued his sermon.

Again, my memories are fuzzy considering this happened 6 years ago. If you are reading Bobby, please forgive me if I butcher the story you shared.

I’m not sure if Lane was describing a dream or vision he had received, or if was merely a story he developed to illustrate the work of a missionary. The story was told with such conviction it felt like something that really, literally, happened.

Lane described a vast ocean beneath a dark, gloomy sky. What first appeared to be waves on this ocean were revealed to be thousands upon thousands of people drowning. A rock emerged from the depths, lifting some of the people out of the water to safety. Some of these people saved from death began to build on the rock and make their homes. They were finally safe, and content to live their lives on the rock. But some looked down from safety and saw that there were still thousands of people drowning. They climbed down the side of the rock and began pulling others out of the water. The ones they saved followed suit. Some of them opting for security on the rock, others expressing compassion toward their fellow-man by saving them.

The idea arose that they ought to maximize their efforts to save people. Using some wood, they constructed raft-like bridges to reach further out into the ocean. Their plan was successful, and they were able to save many more people. This continued for some time. But there was one man standing on the rock who looked upon the ocean full of dying people, straining to look out as far as he could. Before the outer limits of his gaze was a dreadful horizon: innumerable bodies sinking beneath the waves; hopeless. The bridges only reached so far.

He knew there were others out there beyond his sight, who couldn’t see the rock, and unwilling to look for fear of drowning. His heart broke for them. Taking a deep breath, the man dove from the precipice of the rock into the ocean. He began swimming as far as he could. He swam, and swam, and swam, until the rock was out of sight.

The others on the rock thought the guy was crazy, and didn’t expect to see him again. But after a while, someone spotted him swimming back! In one arm he was clinching someone, dragging them to the rock. They were safe. He then turned around, going back into the darkness.

By the end of the story I was broken. I was weeping uncontrollably at this point. “That’s what it means to look like Jesus,” I thought. “I have to forfeit my life so that I can find it.”

That was the beginning of an unexpected journey. At the time, I didn’t really know what to do, other than that I had to be the man in the story. I had to become him, because he looks like what Jesus did for me. Jesus, the only man ever worthy of honor and respect, the only man truly capable of slaying unbelieving hearts and the doubts of skeptics, left His home to plunge into the darkness to rescue me. At home He was safe with His Father. There were no fears, no disunity, and no lack of love. Yet He left because He loved His Father, and He loved the people who were made through Him and for Him, even though they hated Him. Jesus made Himself nothing. He became a frail jar of clay so that He could be broken to spare us from our sin and the wrath of His Father. Jesus suffered death to give me life. But He was no ordinary man. He was God in the flesh, and so He left the tomb. Jesus walked away from death, leaving my sin dead and buried forever. For that reason, I am confident that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate me from the love of God in Christ Jesus my Lord.

More than anything, I want to be like Jesus. In order to be like Jesus, I must carry in my body the death of Jesus, so that His life will be manifested in the lives of others.

Before Jesus left His disciples, He commanded them to go and make disciples of all nations, and to teach them to observe all that He instructed. That means the very command Jesus gave to those disciples is the command given to us in modernity. If you are a Christian, you are the Church, which means you are a missionary regardless of where you live, which means the weight that rests upon you is to tell the good news of Jesus and make disciples. My family is seeking to embrace that joyful burden as faithfully as we can, by the help of the Holy Spirit.

I spoke in Part I about the war between the will of my flesh and the will of the Spirit. Through the kind providence of God, the course of the war was dramatically changed forever. The will of my flesh is being conformed to the will of the Spirit because Jesus touched me while listening to Lane in The Coop. I am often failing, but Jesus is not often faithful-He is always faithful, interceding for my at the right hand of the Father. I am a child of God, and as His child, I’m going to lead my family in diving from the rock and swimming into a dark ocean. By embracing the death of our wills, and carrying in our bodies the death of Jesus, we have life. 

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Should the Lord allow us, my family will be moving to Khon Kaen, Thailand sometime between the summer and fall of 2017.

 

The Beginning of an Unexpected Journey: Part I

Six years ago, Robert Lane took the stage in “The Coop,” a large cabin-like facility where the staff of Snowbird Wilderness Outfitters gathered to hear preaching, prayer, and spiritual and practical instruction for ministering to young teens.

My memories from the time are a bit foggy, but if I’m not mistaken, Lane had recently returned from ministering to an indigenous tribe in or near the Amazon. I was filled with wonder as he described some of the stories from his time there. But something happened while listening to him that I did not expect…

Before taking a job at Snowbird for that summer, I had begun my studies at Fruitland Baptist Bible College. I had a desire to be a preacher of God’s Word. I wanted to pastor. I was young and wide-eyed, ready to take on the world of ministry. All of that came crashing down that fateful evening as I listened to Lane.

“…if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.” ~2 Corinthians 4:3-12

This is the Scripture Lane exposed to us in The Coop. He described to us how he had wrestled so deeply with this text when he had served with Snowbird one summer years ago. Of all the concepts to consider and pour one’s mind over, Lane was obsessed with understanding what Paul meant when he said, “we have this treasure in jars of clay.” Who on earth hides treasure in something so fragile? In a world of safety deposit and lock boxes, I understand why this small statement is so troubling. Anyone who owns anything of value inately knows that there is someone in the world willing to risk their freedom to obtain that thing of value. So we lock it away. We hide things under our beds, in our closets, and in our banks. We set passwords (some better than others) to protect our investments. We lock our doors and windows and purchase firearms to protect and defend what is ours. Yet Paul and his companions hid their treasure in a clay jar. With a single strike, all that treasure could be spilled on the floor, becoming instantly vulnerable. There were no defenses against any threat.

The key lies in the following verses where Paul briefly describes their experiences as missionaries. They were afflicted in every way, perplexed by their suffering. They were the jars of clay! Paul and his fellow missionaries were always carrying in their bodies the death of Jesus. These Apostles and disciples in the earliest years of Christianity were literally, and metaphorically, always being given over to death for the sake of Jesus.

Lane’s exposition of this text humbled me, and opened my eyes to my identity as a follow of Christ. Christians are jars of clay. Our bodies are fragile, and our souls can be severed from our bodies so easily. Why subject ourselves to such things? There is nothing appealing about this, yet there is not a Scripture supporting any claims that we shouldn’t embrace such a life of frailty. “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my [Jesus’] account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven.” “But Jesus,” I think, “I don’t want to have to go to heaven so soon!”

There, at a first glance, appears to be no escape for the Christian. Not only must we embrace our identity as jars of clay, we must also rejoice that we would be chosen to be such frail things!

As I continued listening to Lane, the enormous weight of the call of Jesus on my life, and the lives of every Christian, began to fall of my head. All my visions, no, delusions, of grandeur began to disappear. I had been envisioning a life of honor and respect, where with a word I would compel hearts to fall deeply in love with Jesus. My theological prowess would slay unbelieving hearts and the doubts of skeptics. All of that, in a moment, crushed by the Word of God.

I began to weep…but the war between the will of my flesh and the will of my Spirit was not over…