The Tenderloin

In the last line of my final World Race blog, I wrote, “The World Race is finished, but this is only the beginning.”  Of all the things I’ve said that I look back on and either regret saying—or that I don’t regret saying but, through my actions, have sucked the integrity out of them, as with a straw—I can happily say that, praise be to God, this one has retained its value and its meaning.  Simply put, I really do feel as if God has blessed me to see the World Race as a launching platform, rather than as “the glory days.”

I’ll try hard to work against every aspect of my long-winded nature and cut right to the chase (ah, this is so hard for me!)  What’s the next tangible step for me? San Francisco.  Huh? That’s really far.  I’m taking solace in the fact that God took Abraham really far from Ur.   Will I end up there ultimately? The Bible dictates that I can’t possibly answer that question: “Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.  Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” (James 4:13-14).

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But, towards the end of the World Race, I started to feel a burning calling to urban areas.  As God refined my call, I feel as if he refined it to include not just the idea of the city, or urban areas, but one city.  San Francisco is America’s least-churched big city and there is a huge need for both the Gospel and the love of Christ in that city.  This summer, I will be working in the Tenderloin district of San Francisco, which many people call the city’s worst district.  Some statistics about the Tenderloin:

-       Roughly 6,000 homeless people stay or pass through this district daily

-       90% of residents lived on a fixed income

-       7 out of 10 violent crimes in San Francisco occur in the Tenderloin, and has been an area of escalating drug violence since 2007, with 14 homicides that year alone

-       The racial makeup of the 25,000 person population in this district is: 44% Caucasian, 33% Asian, 11% African America, 11% Hispanic, and 1% Native American

-       The children in the Tenderloin are: 67% Asian or Southeast Asian, 12% Caucasian, 11% African American, 5% Hispanic, and 5% other

-       Out of the 501 business plots in the Tenderloin, there are 130 vacant plots, 66 liquor stores, 33 bars, and 14 adult-oriented businesses.

Though the statistics look bleak, the organization I will be working with, San Francisco City Impact is attacking these problems head-on, with a comprehensive, Gospel-centered mission that includes: a church, a private school, a homeless shelter, a meal delivery program, a thrift store, and a medical center.  I will be serving with SFCI from June 2nd to August 20th as both a short-term mission trip leader, and in the various ministries under the SFCI umbrella.  City Impact is doing incredible things in San Francisco and has attracted pastors such as Francis Chan to pick up and move to San Francisco to come alongside them in their work.  (Here, Francis talks about City Impact’s Adopt a Building Program, a program to get the Gospel to every apartment building in the Tenderloin):

And here’s the part that makes my stomach turn, if I were to be honest.  Successful marketing people would likely tell me that when I ask for money, I should avoid mentioning that it makes me uncomfortable to ask for financial help…but it does.  Either way, to be able to stay and minister in the Tenderloin this summer, I will need $875.  This includes 100% of my living expenses, from food to lodging (I will be living at SFCI, in the Tenderloin itself, as opposed to commuting daily).  If the Lord moves your heart, or has at one point, for the American inner-city, I would ask that you would faithfully consider being a sender or a go-er.  If supporting me is something you are interested in, I would be beyond grateful, and am already humbled by your support.  I wish there was a way of saying that without making it sound cliché.

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If this is something you are interested in, you can support me online through clicking here, which is the donate-to-Missions link, on SFCI’s website.  Here is the link to SFCI’s website as a whole for further browsing.  Because there is not a spot to put my name, I am told by the director that you should e-mail me a confirmation of your receipt, so that I can let them know that the person who just donated is associated with me.  My e-mail is: bcfriedman@crimson.ua.edu

Also, if you have any questions, please send me an e-mail!  I would love to talk to you, and share some of my heart for the city.  If you have read this entire post, I really want to thank you for your support of me, as chances are we know each other.  If the Lord has taught me one thing, it is that I am powerless on my own.  1 Corinthians 3:8-9: “The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labor.  For we are co-workers in God’s service.”


UPDATE (3/20/13): I am now fully-funded! God has poured out his blessing on me, through you, and I couldn’t be more grateful.  I would still love to partner with you in prayer this summer, however, but it feels good to say that financial support is no longer needed.  This is how Moses must have felt in Exodus 36:6-7:

Then Moses gave an order and they sent this word throughout the camp: “No man or woman is to make anything else as an offering for the sanctuary.” And so the people were restrained from bringing more, because what they already had was more than enough to do all the work.

The “Problem” of Worship

I have been thinking a lot about worship recently.  By worship, I don’t so much mean musical worship—these two ideas are now so bound together that one might very well label “musical worship” as redundant—but rather the raw, unadulterated idea of worship as adoration.  My worldview says that the universe was hardwired for adoration—of God alone—and other things are (legitimately) good, but penultimate, or second-to-last.

Worship is many things, all of which words human words fail to tackle or pigeonhole.  Jesus told us we are to worship God “in spirit and truth” (John 4:24).  The “in spirit” parts basically means that Christians worship God via his Holy Spirit inside of us and that we do so by beholding and enjoying, even right now, both his invisible and his visible qualities.  In other words, we don’t primarily worship God via, say, candles or singing.  These things may be mediums to bring us to the point of joyfully adoring God for who he is, but they are not to be confused with the act of worship itself.  An atheist may sing “Amazing Grace” in an American Idol audition, with beautiful pitch, but this doesn’t necessarily mean that worship is occurring.

The second part, “in truth”, means that we are to worship God as he actually is, not as we’d like to imagine him, or her, or them, or it.  This part may ruffle a few feathers, since we aren’t too keen today in pinning down God to any one expression, but the Bible does unequivocally teach that there is one true God: “Now this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” (John 17:3).

We needn’t worry about eliminating diversity by being bold to worship God as he is, because God contains immeasurable diversity in himself—not to mention in his worshippers across the globe.  The Jesus Christ who reigns eternally in the spiritual realms, elevated high above a multitude of prostrate nations and above creatures we haven’t even seen, continuously singing “Holy, Holy, Holy” is the same Jesus who embraces prostitutes and lepers.  There is much more joy to be found in worshipping God as he is than as we’d like him to be, I promise you.  In the long run, vaguely tiptoeing around who God(s)-ish may or may not be as to leave open the possibility of a God-ish force (who rather conveniently aligns his, her, or itself with 21stcentury cultural trends, and better yet, the ones you like most) and who may be an exotic addendum to an otherwise “unspiritual” lifestyle is not nearly as satisfying, nor as true, as worshipping the one true God as he is—a blood-soaked Nazarene.

But, in addition to this, worship creates a bigger “problem” for us today.  Worship effectively defines what is an end and what is a mean.  It makes God the end of all things, as he should be.  Worship says: “Worship of Yahweh is the end, and truly loving one’s neighbor is a means.”  The world says: “Loving one’s neighbor is the end, Yahweh is one possible means, and worship is superfluous.”  Worship says: “Worship of Yahweh is the end, and money can be one means.”  The world says: “Money is the end, God is the means, and worship can sometimes be a fun Sunday activity.”

I see these two issues as intricately intertwined.  When worship of Yahweh is a means to an end—one among many—then it only makes sense that we can worship him however we’d like, as long as he’s useful. Likewise, when we worship God however we picture him, her, or it—or, more likely, don’t worship him at all, then he, for all intents and purposes, becomes a means to an end.  I am just as guilty of this as my neighbor.  What about you?  Is God your end or your means?

Heaven

As I sit here in this cramped airplane seat and gaze, thirty-five thousand feet in the sky, over a painted sunset of oranges and blues and over the tiny river below that is snaking its way through Southern Tennessee, the scene begets worship.  Indecisive white clouds are suspended halfway between the ground and the wing of the plane, floating effortlessly above the corruption of the earth below yet too nervous to venture into the regal ether the wings of this plane are slicing through.  There is freedom up here—freedom in insignificance.

All it takes is an image like this—not even an argument, an image­—to usher me, a human, to my rightful position in the created order.  I can’t, in my right mind, look at the explosion on the horizon, now deep orange, and be convinced that B+’s and A-‘s are worth quibbling over.  Images bring scripture to life.  Indeed the most telling argument for (Psalm 8:4)“Who is man, that you are mindful of him?” is not an exposition of the Psalm but the view from my window, a view that reduces buildings to pinpricks and human bodies to invisibility.  Had those men, so determined in building a tower “that reached towards the heavens” (Genesis 11:4)” been shown the view from my window, I am convinced they would rush to their idolatrous cohorts with tears in their eyes, and convince them to scrap their blueprints.  “It’s futile, it’s futile, all is futile!” they would shout!

I often wonder how many of my “theological” problems really stem, at their core, from a view of God that is far too low.  For example, we always hate the whole, “maybe your reward will be in the next life, in gazing upon God” argument because it sounds like a cop-out answer to the problem of suffering.  But maybe that’s not because there’s a problem in our logic.  Maybe our view of the value of what gazing upon the Lord will look like is simply too low for the equation to work out.   The equation works.  We’re just not plugging the right numbers into it.

I don’t know what he will look like, nor what that experience will entail—we won’t know for sure until the life to come.  And I think that’s where heaven comes in.  The problem with a low view of heaven is that it promotes a low view of God.

No, I don’t believe I will live out my eternity in heaven playing a golden harp while perched upon cotton-ball clouds.  On the other hand, I also think this picture, horribly inadequate and cartoonized as it is, may be more accurate (in that it involves worship) than the equally dreadful notion of heaven as the endless fulfillment of traditionally understood hedonistic pleasure and riddle-solving—you know, the version where we eat steaks, drink beer, and get to ask God where the Ark is buried and who really killed Tupac. 

Some of my views of heaven—and by extension, God—run contrary to Biblical revelation, and are thus both sinful and idolatrous.  All of my views of heaven, however, are insufficient, for “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.” (1 Corinthians 2:9).  But maybe that’s where the fun—yes fun—comes in.  While working within the bounds of the inspired revelation, I think God beckons the artist in all of us to come out and play.  How mind-blowing is it to know that any picture we can paint of heaven is, by definition, “wrong” in that the real heaven will be better?  In that light, here is my delightfully “wrong” view of heaven in the remaining words.  Were I to die today:

I believe that the second I get to heaven I would experience complete sensory overload.  My head would be drawn to the image of God like a magnet, as I behold realms of creative beauty so foreign to me now that it would instantaneously trivialize the English language—or any language.  Nouns would crumble and verbs stutter and choke, as attempted similes would become virtual blasphemies.  Grammatical constructions themselves would be haughtiness, save one raw, lone word, thrice repeated: “Holy, Holy, Holy.”   The sight would be exotic that the rainbow would become grey, and new colors would blast forward in my direction, jeering the paradigm of the color wheel and lording it over Picasso.

I believe my hunger and thirst would instantly disappear into everlasting satisfaction, as the anxious neural pathways that for 22-odd years transmitted signals of hunger and thirst to my brain would be informed their task is done. 

I believe my knees will instantly buckle and my face will make (literal) contact with the ground in worship, not out of peer pressure (for I believe everyone else, clothed in white, will be doing the same, at least upon their arrival), but out of an overwhelming sense of internal compulsion.  As my face-planted nostrils drink in the incomparable aroma of the New Eden—forehead still pressed against the same dirt floor from which my ancestor Adam was raised—I will wonder how my Savior, having had knowledge of this aroma, bore the stench of earth for thirty-three long years. 

And lastly, the song—the song.  I believe that just as my nose is funneling in glory, still a half step behind my eyes, already having beheld the blasting open of the color wheel, my ears will join the parade as they perceive a song, first soft, then ever louder.  It will be so exotic as to confound the earthly genres yet so recognizably beautiful as to tickle the tear ducts.  Finally, the tear ducts will submit as they realize it’s the song I’ve been unknowingly longing for, the song that blends and perfects all of my favorite songs, expanding and contracting choruses and verses I thought to be just too short or just too long and making the notes I thought to be too low higher and the notes I thought to be too high lower. 

The rhythm will itself explode the traditional view of time signatures, utterly refusing to be boxed in to quarter, eighth, and sixteenth notes, and their most oft-used combinations as if that is all there was to work with!  My hands, previously palms-up and open wide beside either side of my face—still pressed to the ground—will slowly clench into fists and start simultaneously beating the ground, in perfect unison with the beat until I spring up from my knees and from the ground.  I will spread my arms wide and raise my chin up from the ground until my head is gazing straight forward, and at that point—suffice it to say no more nor no less than what scripture plainly teaches—at that point, “I will see his face.”

The “Why?” Question

The time came, a few days ago, for me to ask myself that inevitable question—“Why?”  Why do I do what I do?  Why do I follow Jesus?  Far from being an expression of aimless philosophical searching, the question was occasional (as in “having to do with a specific occasion”, not intermittent), in nature, and precise in its focus.  I was asking myself this question within the context of a rapidly approaching Fall Semester of college and I was (and am) already formulating in my mind an endless list of hypothetical scenarios in which I will have to choose between jumping—anyone who knows me knows I can’t dive—into the metaphorical “deep end” of following Christ, on the one hand, and being content to stick my toes in the spiritual kiddie pool—spiritual, at least—but risk averse and ultimately lacking the potential for true glory, on the other. 

What if the Holy Spirit tells me to skip a football game to fast and pray, for example?  The fact that I can already conjure this up in my mind makes me worry he will.  What if I need to share the Gospel with someone and doing so could possibly hurt our friendship?  What if I face a scenario where sticking up for Christ will obviously hurt my grade? I am not saying I’m totally against making any of these decisions, but I am saying that if I do, then I better have a pretty good grip on the why.

It must be stated here that the Gospel is true regardless of my reaction to it and my love for it.  The Gospel is staunchly indifferent to my reception of it (2 Timothy 2:13).  Nevertheless, I think it helps to have something about the Gospel that surpasses my intellectual realms and invades my emotional realms—something aware of my own unique hard-wiring and well adept to operate it—if I am to give my life for it this Fall.

And I think that this infiltrating of the Gospel into that which is “personal” and unique to us as individuals takes on different forms in different individuals, precisely because the Gospel is so all encompassing.  The central truths of crucifixion, resurrection, and salvation remain true, regardless of the individual, but something like, say, the doctrine of God as an adoptive father, might motivate one who is actually an earthly orphan more so than it would me, the son of two loving parents.  Similarly, I am guessing (though I am just not old enough to know yet), that different aspects of God and the Gospel might hit particularly different sweet spots within the same person at different seasons in his or her life.

In this season, I am feeling tired of worldliness—and this is a good thing, I know—but tired nonetheless! I am fatigued. As I return back to campus, that which once appealed to me seems, well—boring—now.   What if Alabama wins another national championship?  I mean, I guess we will have a big party, welcome the players—like Gods, I might add—at the airport, and then put the trophy on display at Wal-Mart—like last year.  We will then post about it on Facebook, prompting very little real jealously from other schools—their students will continue their studies, smilingly indifferent to our pseudo-glory. 

In the paper, there will probably be political Op-Ed pieces aplenty as the election nears.  Some conservatives will probably demonize Obama and some liberals will probably demonize Romney.  One of the two of them will win, likely narrowly, and DC will remain in gridlock either way. 

There is little real surprise left anymore, or so it seems, from the world.  The world has little left with which to exhilarate my soul and electrify my day-to-day.  I am realizing, however, that where the world falls short in this area, God comes through.  For that reason, I can write the previous two paragraphs with a smile, while on the edge of my seat, rather than tired and with slumped shoulders.  It is against this backdrop of an ever-graying world that the God of the Bible explodes onto the scene, like a refraction of light, turning white into every color of the rainbow like water into wine!  The more I learn about God, the more shocking I see he is—the more scandalous

You would think it would be the opposite, because typically, the more we know of a person, the less we are surprised by them.  With God, however, I am shocked every day.  God’s precepts are shocking—surprising—scandalous—outrageous.  God’s don’t wash people’s feet—they don’t do that—they don’t.  And contrary to the typical Christian apologetic that says, yawningly, and is if it were only logical, “Of course the universe should have a purpose,” I prefer to stand arm in arm with the most ardent of atheists and say, “Of course the universe shouldn’t have a purpose,”—and then be shockingly blindsided by the delightful fact that is does!

As I read the scriptures, I become more and more shocked that God in the flesh died on a cross—not because I have forgotten how the narrative goes, but because the more I learn about the holiness and power of God, the more shocked I am that the trait of humility would coexist within that body!

Jesus—on a cross—preposterous!  Fulfilling victory by means of death—that’s like cheating!  It’s every ounce as preposterous to me as it is to Muslims, who say (in defending his very honor) that Jesus was whisked away moments before his crucifixion!

“That they said (in boast), “We killed Christ Jesus the son of Mary, the Messenger of Allah“; but they killed him not, nor crucified him, but so it was made to appear to them, and those who differ therein are full of doubts, with no (certain) knowledge, but only conjecture to follow, for of a surety they killed him not!

Nay, Allah raised him up unto Himself; and Allah is Exalted in Power, Wise…

—Qur’an, sura 4 (An-Nisa) ayat 157-158[1]

I too find it hard to believe that God would shame himself by allowing his Son, nay—himself—to actually be crucified! But that’s the point—that God doesn’t act in ways that would seem “only natural”.  In fact, it seems to me that God delights in taking into consideration everything we say we would expect him to do and then blatantly doing the opposite!

Which aspects of God propel me the most will surely be ever-changing with the seasons, and are already too many to count.  As I enter this season, one easily identifiable driving force behind waking up each morning to live for Christ is the very fact that he is shocking and surprising.  The answer to this season’s “why?” is that it is because he blows my mind.  My favorite type of party is a surprise party and my favorite type of news is surprising news.  So, this Fall, surprising people sounds like a good gig to me.  Yeah, I’d set my alarm early for that one.  

How is your “why?” question being answered this season? 

Tuscaloosa Never Stood A Chance

Like I wrote about in my last blog, I am trying to get more and more comfortable with leaving things raw and refusing to tie things up in neat, individual bows after each individual post.  The usual disclaimers exist—namely, that there are a lot of things I am learning that can be effectively summarized in a sentence or two and that I am supposed to be learning real, tangible things along the way, in this faith journey—so I am simply saying that I want to allow myself to be raw and to marvel at what God has left, for the time being, to remain a mystery (with careful prudence not to darken what God has clearly revealed, of course, in his word) in the context of this blog.

With that being said, I nervously admit, with honesty in and of itself being the primary goal, that I am not that excited for college this fall.  I must make a distinction here.  I am incredibly excited for college ministry.  I am incredibly excited for what will be done in and through FBC Tuscaloosa.  I am incredibly excited to both be a mentor men and to be mentored by men—to make disciples (Matthew 28:19).  I am excited to be reunited with my Christian brothers, both in my fraternity and in my college ministry, and am excited to pour my heart and soul into them daily—and learn from them as well.  I am excited to see students yet unsaved come to saving knowledge of the Lord! It will happen.

I am excited to learn about Church history (or “History of Christian Thought”) because I love the bride of Christ, his church (Revelation 19:7), and I am excited to learn things, more generally speaking, that deepen my love for Christ.  In all of these senses, I am zealously excited for college in three and a half weeks.  That part cannot be understated.

But, if I were to be honest with myself, I notice a trend running through the things I am excited about—namely, the fact that they are the things of Christ—discipleship, evangelism, fellowship, and the knowing of God.  This part isn’t bad at all—praise be to God that I am excited to get going with all of this—but the truth is that I am somewhat scared of the fact that my interest pretty much stops there.

The quad at the University of Alabama is gorgeous, and I will likely spend countless hours there this year—but I haven’t exactly missed it.  I enjoy the extra-curricular social events, both Greek and non-Greek, and will try, like usual, to attend as many of them as my schedule prevents—but it’s not as if, were you to tell me they would all be cancelled this year, I would be crushed beyond belief.  And—and here I am about to commit the ultimate blasphemy for anyone who has ever set foot in T-town—I am not that excited about Alabama football.  Sure, I will attend every game, and do so with joy, but it’s just a game.  It’s just a pigskin.  We could lose to Auburn this year in the Iron Bowl and I wouldn’t care less.  Someone had to say it. 

Maybe this will all change the second I get to Tuscaloosa.  Maybe it’s merely my lack of being there that has made me forget the place.  But, then again, the opposite could be argued—namely, that I would miss it more for having been away, then upon my arrival and upon my settling in I realize that it, like all things not God, has its flaws.  Who knows.

It’s not that I don’t like Tuscaloosa or the University of Alabama, it’s just that the glory and the wonder and the magnificence of God has swallowed them up.  Tuscaloosa never stood a chance.  With where I’m at now in my thinking, the best analogy I can offer you is the one where Jesus tells us to hate our fathers and mothers (Luke 14:26).  He doesn’t actually mean to hate our fathers and mothers, especially given his teachings elsewhere about the importance of loving them.  He means that my love for Tuscaloosa and for my university—outside of the ministry that goes on there—should look like hate when held up next to my love for God.

This could be really bad because it could very well be that I need to have more campus allegiance than I do to be an effective minister for Christ on that very campus (in this season).  This could also be really good, though, because it could mean that God has done some clarifying work for me—that he has washed away many of the idols and much of the silliness that characterizes vast swatches of the American college experience and left only the parts he wishes would remain—his perfect greatness, the imperfect, but encouraging goodness of his saints, and the battlefield for lost souls. 

Perhaps I have drunk my fill of fraternity socials, classes, campus life, and football games and found it to taste, not bad, but well—bland—at least in comparison with the “new wine” I have graciously been shown, not only over the past year, but over my whole first two and a half years as a Christian.  Perhaps it was necessary that God reduce my excitement over things that are (in comparison) trivial, that my excitement over his coming work on campus may be increased! Only time will tell.

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*(From a mural I saw in downtown Philly…God will only grow something worthwhile when our hands are lifted in praise and adoration!)

When God Writes A Story, He Writes A Story

I did not plan on having such a large gap of time since the last time that I blogged and now, but it came about rather organically.  Recently—and it’s been a little more than a month since the World Race ended—I have been doing a good deal of processing, and have thus been somewhat reluctant to post blogs. 

It’s not so much that I am trying to put together polished theological expositions—look elsewhere for those—but more that I have trouble explaining even my on-the-fly musings without an often subtle, though sometimes more overt usurping of God’s authorial rights on my life.  God clearly writes my life story, but I tend to steal his pen, in naïve ecstasy, every time I think the latest plot twist has laid bare the entire mystery of the remaining Friedman narrative.  For this reason, I have been reluctant to write recently, not because I am unsure of my own experiences or my own convictions, but rather because I am hesitant to put a neatly tied bow on top of them. 

I believe God’s glory will be much more clearly revealed through fifty or sixty more years of faithful writing wherein each individual sketch lacks the necessary neatness of a finished product, but rather contributes to a gloriously divine masterpiece—holy oil paints on a sinful and broken canvas.  I am much more content to unknowingly paint Mona Lisa’s mouth now, her eyebrows in a few years, and her hair on my deathbed, than to paint, with words and over the years, a large number of individual devotionals, each one cheap and proverbial. 

King David, himself a “man after God’s own heart” (Acts 13:22), felt no need to proverbialize his long, God-soaked life story.  He was refreshingly raw and audaciously authentic in everything he said and did.  He felt license to wrestle in the moment.  In the same Psalm, for example, he nervously asks, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me,” (Psalm 22:1), comes to his senses, “But you are holy…our fathers trusted in you,” (22:3,4), relapses into timidity, “But I am a worm and not a man,” (22:6), summons up the energy to trust in God, “I was given over to you at birth, you have been my God from my mothers whom,” (22:10), relapses once again, “my strength is dried up like baked clay, my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth. You put me into the dust of death,” (22:15), and so continues, like Jacob, his wrestling with God.

God’s story is so much more interesting than a string of consecutive proverbs, however true they may be. The Red Sea is representative of God’s judgment of Pharaoh, but it is terrifying and of itself, as a raging body of water that some people actually walked through!

I will let God do his thing through me and humbly record it as it passes by.  Rather than cheaply proverbialize every twist and turn, I would rather let the narrative speak for itself.  I am not, of course, unaware of my own active role in writing my story, lest his sovereignty reduce me to a passive bump on a log as it was never intended to do! Oh, no—let the paradoxical mystery be upheld and let the copyright be shared!

These ideas—the idea of both God’s story in history and God’s story through me speaking for themselves—are revolutionary to me and will likely represent an overhaul of how I write.  Don’t get me wrong, some of God’s truths ring out clear in day-to-day experience.  I can’t look at the night sky and not write, “The heavens declare the glory of God, the skies proclaim the work of His hands.” (Psalm 19:1).  The scriptures are meant to penetrate my day-to-day experiences and breathe life into the mundane in that sort of way.  The point, however, is that overall I want to make a shift towards marveling at God’s story more (which continues through to today, of course), in and of itself.

I did not come up with this on my own.  I pretty much read it word for word, but from an unlikely source.  A few weeks ago, I came upon this gem of wisdom, and it has literally been the most profound thing I have read all year.  If you don’t read anything else on the blog, read this (very short) tidbit from Sally Lloyd Jones, the author of the Jesus Storybook Bible:

 http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tgc/2012/02/21/teach-children-the-bible-is-not-about-them/

An except here, she writes:

One Sunday, not long ago, I was reading the story of “Daniel and the Scary Sleepover” from The Jesus Storybook Bible to some 6-year-olds during a Sunday school lesson. One little girl in particular was sitting so close to me she was almost in my lap. Her face was bright and eager as she listened to the story, utterly captivated. She could hardly keep on the ground and kept kneeling up to get closer to the story.

At the end of the story there were no other teachers around, and I panicked and went into automatic pilot and heard myself—to my horror—asking, “And so what can we learn from Daniel about how God wants us to live?”

And as I said those words it was as if I had literally laid a huge load on that little girl. Like I broke some spell. She crumpled right in front of me, physically slumping and bowing her head. I will never forget it.

It is a picture of what happens to a child when we turn a story into a moral lesson.

When we drill a Bible story down into a moral lesson, we make it all about us. But the Bible isn’t mainly about us, and what we are supposed to be doing—it’s about God, and what he has done!

When we tie up the story in a nice neat little package, and answer all the questions, we leave no room for mystery. Or discovery. We leave no room for the child. No room for God.

What is The Joshua Life?

Sometimes, I bite into things that are too big for me to chew on.  Many times, my eyes are bigger than my stomach.  Sometimes, my “spirit indeed is willing, but my flesh is weak,” (Matthew 26:41).  That’s how I feel about this new blog.  It was much easier to write my old blog for the World Race, because as big and as transcendent as God is, I could easily anchor him to the context of my seasons—specific overseas missionary work in specific months—and thus be readily supplied with tangible events, useful “vessels” through which I could write about God.

It’s a little bit harder now.  It’s as if God was a hound dog that I had (appropriately) fenced into eleven different yards in eleven different months and that I have just now let free—free to run around, uproot earth, and slobber over anything and everything he comes into contact with.  Writing about this hound dog is very much a secondary affection, a compliment to the more primal (and tiring, though joyful) task of simply chasing him down.  Writing about a free-roaming, all-consuming, vocabulary-defying (oh, how the concepts of God make a painful mockery of the English language!), rule-breaking, joy-infusing God is a challenge for the ages.  Nevertheless, with two years of college to go, I want to give it a—forgive the pun—college try.

I wrote a short final blog on my World Race blog site explaining, briefly, why I chose to keep writing at all, but here are a few of my thoughts about this new blog:

I love the God-man Jesus Christ, I love his church, and I love orthodox doctrine.  It gives me such great joy to write about solid, Biblical Christian doctrine insofar as it both offers me startlingly accurate analyses of daily life and also offers me an exciting framework through which I can behold the God-man, my supreme pleasure.  G.K. Chesterton puts it well, this excitement of orthodoxy:

“This is the thrilling romance of Orthodoxy. People have fallen into a foolish habit of speaking of orthodoxy as something heavy, humdrum, and safe. There never was anything so perilous or so exciting as orthodoxy. It was sanity: and to be sane is more dramatic than to be mad. It was the equilibrium of a man behind madly rushing horses, seeming to stoop this way and to sway that, yet in every attitude having the grace of statuary and the accuracy of arithmetic. The Church in its early days went fierce and fast with any warhorse; yet it is utterly unhistoric to say that she merely went mad along one idea, like a vulgar fanaticism. She swerved to left and right, so exactly as to avoid enormous obstacles…It is easy to be a madman: it is easy to be a heretic. It is always easy to let the age have its head; the difficult thing is to keep one’s own. It is always easy to be a modernist; as it is easy to be a snob. To have fallen into any of those open traps of error and exaggeration which fashion after fashion and sect after sect set along the historic path of Christendom—that would indeed have been simple. It is always simple to fall; there are an infinity of angles at which one falls, only one at which one stands. To have fallen into any one of the fads from Gnosticism to Christian Science would indeed have been obvious and tame. But to have avoided them all has been one whirling adventure; and in my vision the heavenly chariot flies thundering through the ages, the dull heresies sprawling and prostrate, the wild truth reeling but erect.”

 “Jesus said, ‘If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.  You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” – John 8:31-32

I want this to be a passionately honest blog.  Granted, not all things about my life and my heart and my feelings are appropriate for the Internet community.  Many things are not.  Many important things I will not talk about, simply to save them and talk about them only in the intimate setting of face to face—you may say “traditional”—relationships, and eventually, a marriage.  Nevertheless, I think that there are many things I can still dig out of my own messy, scatterbrained mind that may help the Body of Christ—and myself, in the process.

“An honest answer is like a kiss on the lips.” – Proverbs 24:26

I don’t know where this blog will leadI love the fact that the universe is arranged as a love story—not a meaningless world in which atoms and molecules vie for prominence and their most ardent observers struggle to create (ironically) meaning, nor a vaguely spiritual, pantheistic cosmic consciousness, but a love story.  Though I don’t know where my part in the love story will lead me—what threads I have been assigned to weave into the divine tapestry—this unknowing will hopefully illuminate the love of God in a tangible way as I observe and thus relate how he woos, coaxes, guides, and even rebukes me—all in real, unfolding time.

“I will lead the blind in a way that they do not know, in paths that they have not known I will guide them.  I will turn the darkness before them into light, the rough places into level ground.  These are the things that I do, and I do not forsake them.” – Isaiah 42:6

I named this blog The Joshua Life because Joshua was instructed, before taking over the Promised Land to, “meditate on (scripture) day and night” (Joshua 1:8), and through that meditation, he was guaranteed success.  Also, Joshua was a man of willingness.  When the Israelites failed, for lack of courage, to take over—or even attempt to take over—the Promised Land in the book of Numbers, Joshua was one of the only two men willing to fight.

I see a strong connection between Joshua’s commission—to take over a physical place for the local glory of God—and our current commission, “The Great Commission,” (Matthew 28:16-20)—to take over spiritual strongholds and to share the Gospel, through word and deed, for the global glory of God.  Like in the times of old, I find my lack of spiritual fruit less a product of running into unconquerable, hard ground, and more a product my own lack of courage—courage to reap a “plentiful harvest” (Luke 10:2) with “all authority” (Matthew 28:18).  Because words have such great power (Proverbs 18:21), I want to speak the courage of Joshua over my naturally timid self.

So, let’s do this thing! I liken the passionate Christian life to running downhill in that the slope of the hill is so steep that the only safe way to avoid falling is to keep running faster and faster—often much faster than you had ever intended to run.  I hope, as long as this blog lasts, to communicate honestly the triune God’s relentless pursuit of a sinner like me and to testify to the inherent, but wild truth of Christian orthodoxy as it trickles down into my day-to-day life, “wheeling, but erect.”