Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Summer on the Mount

There are no words to try and describe this summer.  Maybe that is the reason that I have sat down numerous times and attempted to write a catchy and cliché blog about how great it was only to find that by the end of the post, I am just rambling on and on with empty phrases about nothing.
 I have been to Africa and back (thank the Lord I was able to spit a couple paragraphs of some worth out about that experience) and to auditoriums where every person sat on the edge of their chairs with tears rolling down their cheeks dreaming of changing the world.  I have seen unshakable joy in the faces of men obsessed with Hope and despair in the sunken eyes of children dying of AIDS.  I have sat as the disciples did at Jesus’ feet as He spoke to them the greatest sermon ever taught.  I have wept and I have laughed and sung and danced.  I have been forced to my knees in utter surrender and sprayed hate and confusion in the face of God.  I have been shattered.  I have been healed.  I have been angry.  I have been glad.  I have lived.
And again I say; there are no words to try and describe this summer.  In May I embarked on the journey by starting to memorize the Sermon on the Mount and I was not in any way prepared for the great adventure that awaited me.  I started off very slow by trying to hold a couple verses a day but was soon blown away when I learned the Beatitudes and realized the magnitude of how different we are than what Jesus described for His followers to be.  “Be poor in spirit,” Jesus said and then I realized how last time I checked, we all thought God would be lucky to have us in Church.  He needs us.  He needs the United States to make His name known.  “well,” I thought, “0 for 1 so far.”  Then I moved on to the next verse.  “Blessed are those who mourn.”  Crap.  We suck at that.  Actually we do the opposite and love the drama on news about the latest gang fight or news of people dying in an attack somewhere in the Middle East.  Slowly but surely I started to see the divide.  I moved on to the next and to the next and with every verse, every attribute, I was more broken for us.  I was more broken for me, how far away I was.  About a month into the quest, I left for Africa and by the time I was memorizing Jesus’ words in the slums of Kampala I finally saw what I had needed to learn all along:
If I am to follow Jesus, I must live in the margins.
I can no longer accept what everyone around me is telling me.  It is impossible to follow Jesus and pledge allegiance anywhere else.  I was reading things and thinking of things that I had never thought of before.  Simple things such as when Jesus said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”  I had always thought the words stopped there.  But this summer, I kept reading and found a command that came after, words that change everything.  Why do we pray for our enemies?  Well according to Jesus it’s to, “pray that they may become sons of your Father who is in Heaven.”  Wait. What?  It’s not to so that they may die?  We’re not supposed to go blow people up?  I’m supposed to pray that my enemies become Christ-followers?  When the world is telling to pray for the death of Joseph Kony, or Osama bin Laden, I am suppose to be praying that they become my brothers?  When did I miss this in Sunday school?
When I landed in the United States after Africa, I was, as you can imagine, so confused that I really couldn’t see straight.   Right after that I left for Colorado and was blessed enough to sit under the teaching of Francis Chan and David Platt and was able to watch God’s heart for the Nations be manifest in an unbelievable and beautiful way among His people.  I watched Vision, Christ’s Vision, of the Great Commission actually being fulfilled.  I saw Jesus take my friend’s hearts in His hand and break them, only to replace them with His.  I heard whispers and murmurs of a Revival so much greater than I could have ever imagined.  I felt fire. 
The whole time, the Spirit kept writing Jesus’ upon my heart.  “When you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites.” “When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites.” “Lay up for yourselves treasures in Heaven.” “Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?”  Do I need to keep going?  Everyday I got up; I was punched in the face harder than the day before.  
I went right from Colorado to California and what awaited me was the most life-changing weekend I could have ever prayed for.  I walked onto the campus of the University of San Diego and was greeted by 650 maniacs who are in love with the impossible. 
This is where it gets hard to explain.  Many people have asked me what the Fourth Estate was and why I was involved with Invisible Children even when it’s not a “Christian” organization.  I don’t really have a good answer.  The best way I can explain it is on the last day of the conference, my heroes and my friends, Jason Russell and Jedidiah Jenkins made everyone stand up.  They told us to stand up and look around at the other people in the room, without saying anything.  And as I stood up and made eye contact with the other 650 people in that room, the Spirit said very clearly to me, “this is exactly where you are suppose to be.”  I cannot adequately describe the emotions that ran through me in those three minutes. 
That weekend I was overcome by Jesus placing the most brilliant minds in the world in front of me.  I heard ideas and plans on saving lives that I couldn’t even have thought of in my most wildest dreams.   We are all here together.  We are all humans.  We all have a story and my story would not be the same if it weren’t for my brother and my sister who are living theirs in Uganda.  We have to help one another.
Okay, I’m stopping there for a second. These words really aren’t cutting it for me.  To pull back and try again it’s simply this: I learned to live this summer. 
For the first time in my whole life I am willing to be labeled the lunatic for Christ.  I am willing to be spat on and talked about and made fun of.   This summer I saw that is impossible to live the life Jesus has described in the Sermon of the Mount and still love the things of this world.  It’s impossible to live the way He said and not be a lunatic.  Even now as I am sitting here in Starbucks in Fayetteville, AR I know that this is my “home” for the next four years but I also know that I won’t be home until I see Jesus face to face, so why do I continually pretend to be content?  Why do I continually pretend to be okay with how everything is going around me? 
I guess it is summed up pretty well by the story of my plane flight home from San Diego just a few short weeks ago.  I sat next to a nice elderly Canadian couple.  I began talking to them but didn’t get very far as they made it extremely clear that they didn’t want to be talking to me.  So I left them alone and turned to open the Word and spend time with Jesus. In only moments I was in hysterics as I listened and let the words of Psalm 10 and the Sermon on the Mount drive deep into my heart.  I can only imagine what this couple was thinking as they sat next to this 18 year old kid that was barefoot, wearing skinny jeans, had long wild hair and was crying like a little girl.  As the plane flight wrapped up and we began to land, I initiated conversation again and got the opportunity to tell them about the Fourth Estate and my heart for the Nations and Jesus.  The lady asked me, “are you a missionary?” I fumbled around for the words but eventually ended up saying something along the lines of, “I guess so? I just simply wanna love people, you know?  No matter if they’re here in America or in Africa.” She looked me deep in the eyes and said, “The world needs more people like you.” 
I am willing to be labeled a lunatic because Christ has saved my life and He has given me the grace to live for something so much bigger than myself.  If I am to live for Jesus, I must walk in the margins because even Christ Himself said, “the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.”

As a writer I cringe looking back over this post, because there is nothing but green staring back at me.  Green meaning, little squiggly lines showing me how many grammatical errors I made writing this post.  Most of the time, I would change every sentence.  But for today, I am okay with my green little friends because I know that some things cannot be explained by the English language and rules sometimes must be broken.  The English language cannot give justice to last three months of my life and the raw Love that Jesus showed me, embraced me with, replaced my heart with, and showed me how to love with.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Come Church, Arise

I’d like to clarify one thing before you read this post: I wish I were a Universalist.  Everything in me wants to be able to write this blog and walk through life with the earnest and honest belief that every person on earth is saved and spends eternity with Jesus.  I want desperately to be able to go to sleep tonight in peace because everybody, no matter who they are, what they have chosen, will have the second chance to choose Christ if they don’t in this life.  But my friends, I can’t say any of that, not even close and here I am, broken and bruised and heart-shattered because the complete opposite is true.
I’m not naïve enough to believe that I can convince any one in a short blog post that hell exists or that it doesn’t, for many have tried and failed miserably (go read, study, and pray for yourself).  All that I intend on doing is very plainly putting into words what has haunted me this summer.  I desire nothing more than to clearly push all of us (including myself) to something that has become a myth in the Church today: action. 
At the beginning of the summer I picked up Rob Bell’s new book about hell.  I picked it up with the arrogant legalistic view that everything he had to say would be nothing but heresy and that the guy was a lunatic.  What I found was that I should never be so quick to judge.  Bell makes a beautiful argument; no matter how un-Biblical and post-modern it may be, to why the Bible doesn’t teach condemnation or anything about hell.  I’ve grown up in a very Conservative Christian home and have been taught since I was very young to believe in hell and until recent years, the concept of denying its’ existence had never even crossed my mind.  But after reading Bell’s book the thought of hell not existing lingered around on my mind like a sweet aroma that didn’t lose it’s initial excitement.  What if hell doesn’t actually exist?  What if everything I’ve ever been taught wasn’t true?  What if everyone is eventually saved?  Whether they believe in Jesus, or Buddha, or Muhammad?
And then as I walked the streets of Kampala, Uganda, one thought entered my brain that crushed me: if that were true, why would Jesus have come and died the way He did?  If the argument about hell not existing were true and God had chosen to save everyone, then why in the world would He have come and died such a horrible death Himself?  There is no need.  God can do whatever He pleases and if from the beginning of time He had planned that all roads lead to Heaven, then Jesus would not have had to come and He would not have had to die.  No matter what argument I hear about blood being the only way to cleanse sins, none can stand in my mind because if everyone is saved, no matter what people choose, then blood is obviously not the only way. 
A couple of weeks ago I picked up Francis Chan’s new book about hell and I was not prepared for what I read in those devastating 150 pages.  I respect and look up to Chan as more of a mentor than a writer, and I was eager to see what He had to say about this issue.  Even though I wasn’t going to take everything he said as truth, I was still praying he would give me some biblical reason to not believe in hell.  (and keep in mind, this whole time I never actually came close to believing that there was no hell, I was only searching and longing for any true reason)  And if hell did exist, at least maybe it was just for a short time?  Maybe after 1000 years or so God just decided to destroy everything except Heaven and then at least all of those souls in hell could truly rest in peace?   I was desperate for something to quiet my raging and warring heart but what I read did nothing but bring about more anguish.  By the end of chapter three I had been convinced, not by Francis Chan but by the Spirit of the Living God that hell not only existed but that it was also eternal and the fate of every human being was more real than this computer that I am typing on.  Chapter three ended with a word of warning that God is God and He does what He desires to do.  He has never asked us to figure His ways out and to decide whether His way of doing justice fits our moral standard.  Who am I to question?  How is the clay to question the Potter?  Then Chan simply said, “Don’t get so lost in deciphering that you forget to tremble.”  At that line, I was in hysterics on the floor in front of Jesus.  As I wept and wondered how in the world any of this could be true, images of all of my friends flashed through my mind and with each face I saw, it literally felt like a dagger was digging into my heart.  And with each face, deeper and deeper, went the blade until I literally couldn’t think straight anymore.  And what killed me more than anything is that I truly believe that by the blood of Jesus I am saved, but how I don’t deserve this grace more than anyone else.  The blood of Jesus was meant just as much for Hitler and for Osama bin Laden as it was for me.  Do I believe that?  Doesn’t the Bible say that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God?  Doesn’t that put me in the same category as the most notorious sinners in history?  Shouldn’t I be rotting in the cell next to Nero and be enduring the same beatings and torture as Judas Iscariot?
I realize, understand, and know that each of us come to the place of having to accept the scandalous and violent grace of Jesus.  Although I will never fully see why or how any of it is possible, I believe with my whole heart that Jesus is real and that He came and died and He rose again and that He desires for every person on this planet to hear of His name and to be with Him forever.  I do not know why and will never know why God can allow people to not choose Him, but I do know He is merciful and His justice is perfect and that He is God and that I am not.  To put human limitations on God is the most arrogant thing any of us could ever do. 
To echo Paul from Romans 13, the time of our salvation is much nearer than we first believed.  My brothers and my sisters, time is running out.  I thank God every day for the past year and the small taste of Revival many of us got to see and for how many souls came face to face with Jesus in that month, but it is imperative that we do not settle.  Millions and millions of people die without ever hearing the name of Jesus and here we are, many of us completely content with playing patty-cake with each other on Sunday mornings while people burn all around us. If I believe with my whole being that Jesus is the only way, why would I ever keep that to myself?  How selfish of me to pretend the way people are living is okay, as long as they’re happy.  To compromise truth is one of the worst things we could ever do and Church, we must stop compromising.  Jesus gave us a command to fulfill the Great Commission and it’s about time we all got on the same page.  There are many believers around the world who are living and dying for that vision, who are giving everything to that the Nations are reached for Jesus.  We have to catch on, we must start living that vision as well.
Today 1.5 billion Muslims started to observe Ramadan.  Many of who have never met a follower of Christ.  Where are we going, if not to the world?  We have to live for Christ and proclaim to everyone His name.
I have only known and been following Jesus a very short time, so hear me when I say that this is more for my ears than anyone else’s.  I am so young and am only an infant believer.  I know without a doubt I have a long way to go and am not better than anyone else.  I only wish to run with the vision of fulfilling the Great Commission along side of every Christ-follower alive.
Richard Stearns says, “2000 years ago 12 men changed the world, and I believe it can happen again.”
One day we will sing Hallelujah and be in front of Glory.  May we all be able to say we ran the race well by the grace of God.  What if we all heard our Soul’s Desire say to us, “well done, my good and faithful servant”?  What if we all lived and breathed for Jesus?  What if we weren’t just called the Church, but acted as the Bride of Christ?
The time is now.  Come Church, arise.