On campus one night, I said, “I’m sixty-one years old…today.” As the applause died down, I said, “Thank you, my favorite color is blue, my size is ‘medium’ and the stores down the road are open 24-7.” Then came the present better than anything I could get from a store. “You don’t seem anywhere near that age.” I don’t think so either but there lurks inside me an inner “codger” who gets out occasionally. So let me vent him now.
When I was your age going to college, books were engraved on rock and there were no backpacks to carry them in. No buses on campus and the freshman dorms were so far away from everything it was like walking to Nicaragua for breakfast where we had gruel. No meal plans, the same for lunch and dinner. And there was none of this Charles Dickens stuff, “Please, Sir, I want some more!” (Oliver Twist was a wimpy punk!). Papyrus hadn’t been invented. Neither had language. Profs grunted and scratched themselves and we just had to remember it as best we could because you couldn’t write anything down. There was no Facebook when we left campus for the summer. We just clamped our teeth down on sticks and screamed it out for three months. And we were glad just to have sticks to clamp our teeth down on…
Okay, I’m back and my inner “codger” is locked up with his pudding. Terms are mostly done and graduates have all “pomped”. Thousands of students will head home for the summer. Summers can be tough. Many new Christians only understand their new faith in the context of the campus and a Christian group. Home can be a desert with non-Christian family and/or friends. Some have no church home or a family church that doesn’t serve up much meat on the bone. Add to that the stress of the job search to help with tight finances. While I didn’t have Facebook then, I wish I had. Today we do and we should work it like mad through the summer; someone else may really need the encouragement. One guy writes, “Hey, everyone! I miss y’all guys like woah. LIKE, WOAH!” He’s not alone.
I’d like to help – first with a couple of things for your summer reading list. One is “Surprised By Oxford” (Nelson) by Carolyn Weber. A young woman takes her sin and brokenness off to grad school at Oxford – and finds Jesus Christ. If we’re tired (and I am) of hearing the baloney about how the university is death to faith, this book brings home a big slice (with butter) of all the good things that Jesus does on campus that we will miss this summer. I’ve been told this is a Christian “chick” book. My response? HIKE UP YOUR BIG BOY BRITCHES, SUCK IT UP AND READ THE BOOK….BE A MAN! My second is “Meeting God in the Flesh” (IVP) by Don Everts. This little beauty glides in under the radar and is a spiritual IV speeding Jesus into our deep places. Hearts and Minds Books will give the usual “Geezer” discount of 20% if you say you saw them here. Both of these will be fresh oxygen for the summer.
To go even further to keep you fresh for the summer, all posts on geezeronthequad.com this summer will be Bible studies from the Gospel of John for students away from campus as well as lovers of students on sabbath reloading for next fall. We did this last summer it really popped for you guys. And John hasn’t run out of Jesus. Each study will have both a heart application (personal) and a “street” (ministry) application. If these help you out, be generous with that posting and sharing thing.
Hot summers can be spiritual winter. Let’s help each other out there. If anyone wants to shoot a prayer request this way, just comment at the bottom of any of the posts. Or use firstname.lastname@example.org. Put down your name as “anonymous” or, more fun, disguise yourself under a fake name. Seriously. I don’t need to know and Jesus knows where to put the prayer no matter whose name we use. You could be Chutney Cadwallader III, Omar the Bad from Wichita or Ottoman Okra…doesn’t matter. But real requests, okay? I’m glad Grandma is finally getting those tattoos sanded off from her minor league hockey days (She meant to tell you about this when you got older.) but this should be from you. Something like, “Dear Dave or Geezer, I’m worried. I seem to be growing a second head and I couldn’t even seem to get along with a roommate last year!”
If you think this might encourage students or those who love them, then share, subscribe, twitter and all that social media stuff. You can also go to Facebook and shoot me (David Swartz) a friend request or look at something called Geezer 1 and ask to join.
Please return our seats to the upright position and hand your infrared night vision goggles to the attendant at the rear as you leave. See you next post at geezeronthequad.com
Pamela Paul, now senior editor for the NY Times Book Review, remembers that first job interview near the end of her senior year at Brown University. “I was mid job interview with Quaker Oats, explaining why I wanted to work there (It had something to do with Crunch Berries). Suddenly, I saw myself from a distance. Is this what I’d gone to four years of college for? What happened to my dreams of writing, of public service? I ended up interrupting myself by saying, ‘I’m sorry, I’ve made a mistake – I actually don’t want to work here.’ ” Then I walked out. At that moment, I knew I needed to do something completely different…”
It’s time to stop talking about callings from God – time to stop talking about it, chewing on it, meditating and reflecting on it, dancing around it, reading about it. It’s time to get after it, time to take all this stuff out on the road and live and drive it. Maybe God is calling you to make Crunch Berries. Maybe, as Pam said, it’s something completely different. The greatness of God’s call on our lives isn’t the greatness of the task but the greatness of the God who calls us no matter the task. You know the classic adage, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a Slurpee from 7-11.” Okay, maybe it doesn’t say that but let’s start to start!
Let the Holy Spirit do some heart sifting here. Remember Pam asking where her dreams went? Our dreams are where our heart goes to play whenever our mind runs free-range. Jesus said, “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” (Matthew 6:21) Some dreams are merely fantasies; others begin to take hold and we build ladders and draw maps we think might get us there. We make plans. We order catalogs and check out grad school websites. We draw up “what if” budgets. We collect estimates for truck or trailer rentals or moving services. We willingly endure the stress of change. None of us has a problem with change as long as it never touches anything we care about – and it always does. Technologically, I couldn’t win a game of Jeopardy against a gerbil and a cabbage. Every time I figure out the latest new Facebook twist, someone “improves” it by changing it up. We endure the disruption, inconvenience and stress of change toward the things we dream about and plan for. Finally, there’s sacrifice. We give up or relinquish something (possessions, lesser or competing dreams and goals, time and money) that we would otherwise have kept or invested in ourselves. It’s tragic that these four things can converge not only on things not having anything to do with God’s Kingdom but on things trivial and insignificant. Where these four tangents intersect, that’s God in our lives regardless of what we say we believe, what our doctrinal statement might say. Pursuing the call of God starts here.
Tis the season for bad commencement speakers. I just saw one who’s anything but. During his college days, a lot of people in Christian circles thought him a rebel who didn’t measure up to their idea of a leader, etc. And some didn’t keep quiet. When they piled on, I wrote him an encouraging note…something like “Stay funky in Jesus” or “Keep the starch out of your spiritual shorts”. Upon graduation, he went to California to get into film, script writing and screenplays in particular. We lost touch. He spent years scraping away at it. Others trying to do the same packed up and went back home. He put in long hours, did a lot of menial hard work inside the industry. One thing led to another and today he’s a serious producer/writer/insider for the Kingdom who did the commencement deal at his alma mater and received an honorary doctorate. Holding up the doctorate, that glint in the eye that made more than a couple of church leaders squirm is still there.
Where to start? Go back to the first post in this series and read through them again with pen and paper handy. The Spirit of God will flag where to start. Steve Jobs, the young maverick just getting off the ground at Apple, stood at an impasse. Steve had vision coming out his ears but didn’t know how to build the structure that would make it fly to the next level. He started to talk with John Sculley, head of Pepsico. After a few conversations, Jobs said,” Look, you’re the only guy I respect and admire. Why don’t you come out and lead Apple. Sculley didn’t want to – he liked where he was at Pepsi. He thought he was set until retirement and like the whole New York lifestyle. Jobs kept pushing; Sculley kept dodging. “How much money will it take to pry you out of Pepsi?’ Sculley threw out an outrageous figure thinking it would be the ultimate deterrent. Jobs swallowed hard and said, “Okay, I’ll pay you even if I have to take it out of my own pocket.” Sculley still tap danced trying to come up with another dodge when Steve Jobs cut him off in frustration: “Look, do you want to spend the rest of your life selling sugar water or do you want to change the world?” John Sculley says he stood completely unprepared for a question like that. It began to burn inside him until he left Pepsico for Apple. A question like that doesn’t just evaporate from the heart especially when Jesus Christ puts it there.
Peter got it. Jesus’ words about eating his flesh and drinking his blood freaked out everybody in John 6. They left in droves and while their tail lights disappeared in the distance, Jesus spun on them and said “Are you leaving too?” “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life?” (John 6:68) This is the stuff callings are made of. Borrowing from Barbara Brown Taylor, Peter had “glimpsed God and if trusting that means struggling with a whole lot of disgusting things that go with it, then Peter will consent to struggle. He will not give up the truth he has found even if it comes tucked in a box full of spiders. He will not go away from the life he has been led to, even if it is miles from the life he thought he wanted.” Calling – it’s time for us to get it.
In the movie “Space Cowboys”, Tommy Lee Jones’ character revisits the stealth fighters he used to fly and reminisces, ” Ugly on the ground and leaks like a sieve…sitting on the ground is a lousy way to die… but get her up to Mach 1 and 120,000 ft..” We may all be ugly on the ground and leak like a sieve…but we weren’t built for the ground, space and time. We were fashioned by the Hand of God to redeem as much of this wounded ground as we can, dragging it beyond space and time while we live until Jesus Christ Himself comes to knead His glory into every thimble full of cosmos right down to the last strawberry. (God already has that strawberry thing down.)
A couple good guides to help along the way include “Finding Calcutta” by Mary Poplin and “Kingdom Calling” by Amy Sherman both on IVP and available from Byron Borger here at 20% off if you say you saw it here. If you think this might help college students or someone who loves them, them subscribe, share, tweet and all that social media stuff. Or you can check out a Facebook group called Geezer 1 and ask to join. All newcomers have to buy pizza for the rest of the gang.
Please return your seat to the upright position and give your infrared night vision goggles to the attendant as you exit to the rear. See you next post at geezeronthequad.com.
In much of life, the innovators, the people who shape things, other people, trends and culture don’t get much credit (and therefore not much fame or money). Sometimes after they die and not always then. We just lost one, Jonathan Winters. A tortured comedic genius influencing many, he’s become lost in the tides that separate generations. Robin Williams movingly remembered him. Two things stand out; Winters defining impact on Williams as a child and the acknowledged respect and admiration of his peers that drew them in like little children as well. Winters neither engineered nor aspired to any of this. Williams remembers improvising with Winters. “Sometimes I would sit in but I felt like a kazoo player sitting in with Coltrane.”. We call this mentoring; biblically it’s called discipleship.
Madeleine L’Engle, author of “A Wrinkle In Time”, remarked that most people who become Christians do so because they’ve seen one – they’ve seen Jesus Christ alive inside someone’s skin and said, “I want that.” Paul put it another way. “Be imitators of me as I imitate Christ.” (I Cor. 11:1) If we follow Jesus Christ seriously, we inevitably will begin to yearn to come alongside others who have gone deeper, who burn with the same fire that’s starting inside us. A wrought iron artist I know travelled to Germany because the best wrought iron sculptors in the world live there. Jesus knows we need this to flesh out His desires for our lives and sprinkles them generously and strategically across our path. Usually they are quite ordinary and humble, without a drop of pretense and burn with a single flame. When they sense we’re serious, they’re willing to share anything they know. I learned jazz from jazz musicians; they love the music and want others to love it too. I never met one stingy with advice or time for anyone who meant business. During a Disney World trip, I ran across a balloon making clown at our hotel who just finished a show for kids. I introduced myself saying I did balloons and he pulled me immediately aside in spite of my protest that he’d just finished work. Visibly exhausted, he came alive as we talked balloons, twists and tools. Jesus has people all around us like that and will take the wraps off them when we’re ready. When we hear an inner voice saying “I want that” or “I want to be them when I grow up”, maybe that’s someone Jesus wants us to know.
Mentors who sharpen us in our callings come in two different flavors – interior and exterior. Faith On Campus helps us understand and become both with this new resource. Exterior refers to “doing”; most secular and/or business mentoring is only about this. But interior mentoring is far more important because it describes “being”. We never outrun who we are; it always comes to the surface either in strength or in weakness. “Keep your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life.” (Prov. 4:23) No gifting of the Holy Spirit flourishes for long without a corresponding deep interior work of that Spirit. The inner life and outer expressions of living, serving and ministering all hang as one piece. This often comes ingrained as an unconscious spiritual lifestyle. It’s almost impossible for me to pray for people without incorporating Scripture into what I say. The older Christians surrounding me in my baby step days in the faith did it and I asked why. They pointed out that most authors greatly appreciate being read because it shows someone takes their work seriously. To give God’s word back to Him in prayer gets our eyes off ourselves and shows God we’re earnest about Him and not just our request. Sometime it only takes a few seconds. A little later, I sat on a platform getting ready to read the Scripture for a speaker. I asked what the Scripture was because I didn’t want to stand up and read the wrong thing. He just gave me a big grin, a one-armed hug around the shoulders and said, “It’s all the Word of God. Just read it, man, it never comes back empty.” I learned to relax a little and let God work and I have a vigorous confidence in the power of God’s Word. We surrender too much to Western culture’s clamor for visible results and measurable success – now. Henri Nouwen felt a big misalignment in a deep place. He left the academic world of Notre Dame, Yale and Harvard to eventually work as a servant to the mentally and developmentally handicapped people of L’Arche (founded by Jean Vanier) outside Toronto. For the first time in his life, Nouwen’s life was not defined by externals. The people he served could never attend the prestigious universities he taught at or understand his award-winning books. They didn’t care if he was a scholar or their janitor; they mentored him in their weakness and Henri Nouwen grew a new center. Without this internal work, we simply will lack the staying power over the long haul of our lives. We may well burn out, dry up or blow up – disappointing the Lord and ourselves, damaging the Body of Christ or discrediting Jesus in the eyes of people who need Him.
We need exterior mentors as well. Maybe we have a string on what God might be calling us to but how to find Christians who walk ahead of us to help with advice, “how tos” and avoiding pitfalls? Want to serve a needy group, address an issue or learn a ministry? First, read about it then find out who’s doing it and go hang out with them. We should muzzle our opinions and ask lots of questions. Maybe some Christians who do for the glory of God what we’re exploring have a group or mentoring program online like here.
I speak tenderly with grace when I say that we need negative mentors as well. it’s possible to embrace Jesus Christ and yet do nothing with His grace and allow it to do nothing inside us. I’ve remarked sadly as a pastor that I cared more about some people’s souls than they did. Without the pompous sin of pride, we should prayerfully hold in memory people for whom mediocrity was just fine, content with the shallows or who maybe having run hard after the Kingdom for a time faded to gray invisibility.
No mentors are either perfect or sinless. They’re like a Lego stack unit. I want to pray like this person, have the patience of that person, be able to share Christ like this guy, have a hunger for Scripture like her, be an encourager like them, etc. A great place to find both kinds is in biographies. I love John Wesley’s evangelistic zeal and perseverance (He rode over 20,000 miles on horseback to share Christ.) but he also was a pain to be around, had a terrible marriage and liked to shock the end of his tongue with electricity every morning. I admire Selena of Huntington who shrewdly and enterpreneurly bankrolled the entire Evangelical awakening in Great Britain in the 18th century while losing a husband and dealing with prodigal children. For starters, check out some lives newly in the presence of Jesus, “All Is Grace” by Brennan Manning and “Tapestry” by Edith Schaeffer. Going back, check out “George Whitefield” by Arnold Dallimore. Whitefield was the Billy Graham of the First Great Awakening. Lives shaped in the fires of spiritual awakening and revival demonstrate huge cross sections of the soul, good or not, served up piping hot. Byron Borger will give you 20% off if you say you saw these here.
You’re reading this because someone discipled (mentored) me. In 1969-73, a chiropractor, an owner of a sign business and a couple who ran an auto parts store all thought the Jesus Freaks at Clarion University of PA needed some help. I owe everything Jesus has made me to them. And now I want to be them when I grow up. So I drive over the US and Canada out-of-pocket to challenge students to live for the Kingdom of Jesus Christ. I write books. (My wife says it’s good the publisher handles this because Dave would give them all away. As always, she’s right.) I blog and post Kingdom smelling stuff in a Facebook group called Geezer 1. It’s for students and those who love them.If you’d like to be part of that, just subscribe here or shoot me a friend request or ask to join the group. If if you’d like to share, tweet and all the other social media stuff, I’ll pray a blessing on your emus.
Please return your seats to the upright position and give your infrared night vision goggles to the attendant as you exit to the rear. See you next time at geezeronthequad.com.
“I want the dirtiest jobs you can think of.” I took our youth group to Chicago for a weekend with a bunch of old Jesus Freaks and other misfits for the Kingdom who back in the sixties buried their lives in the north side of Chicago and didn’t have enough sense to leave. People come from all over the world to hang with them, experience their community or learn about innovative urban ministry transcending ethnic lines while Jesus steam presses some of their kinks out. “I got the picture,” the guy on the line said. They didn’t disappoint us. I wanted a bunch of church rats to get their faith down and dirty in ways that would stick.
It’s hard to think about callings from God without imagining something big, attention-getting – Moses stuff. Or those people up front – preachers who yell and spit a lot or worship leaders with closed quivering eyelids. If we can’t do those things, there must not be much left; many Christians think they have no calling. The spotlight, the stage or platform, anywhere Jesus allows us to get noticed for Him also makes for a bone that our sinful pride can gnaw on. Christ’s glory can be sticky and hard to get off our own fingers. Only one thing over the long haul keeps our head screwed on and focused on Kingdom things like our calling – the power of serving.
When Paul says that the God’s agenda for Christians’ lives is that they “be conformed to the image of His Son,” (Romans 8:29) what does he mean? Jesus Himself sets the tone in places like the foot washing text in Matthew 20:28 in saying “…the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many.” Again in Luke 22:27 where He says “…I am among you as one who serves.” Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh, got that flesh dirty, bloody and torn. Us living the same way stands as the only was to insure that His life will continue to pulsate in and through us and that our callings will live and not stagnate or dry up.
We fuss and fawn over ourselves too much. And we spend too much time, energy and money trying to get others to do the same. One of the most formidable obstacles in the road to pursuing callings from God lies in having to scale the mile high walls of the American Navel. In a culture bristling with personal trainers, cosmetic surgeons, yoga and Zumba classes, diet consultants, tanning salons as well as nail and hair specialists, our obsession with ourselves makes us ugly no matter how we tweak the wrapper or shell. Serving, getting dirt under our spiritual fingernails, lets a deeper attractiveness breathe. Any combination of a few things make serving easy to understand, hard to miss.
First, serving is almost always inconvenient because it runs on God’s schedule, not mine. If it’s at my convenience, it’s probably not serving. Next, it means doing for others regardless of whether we like them or not. They’re in front of us. They’re breathing. Jesus loves them. Serving time! It also means sometimes doing for others what we would never even do for ourselves. Finally, serving means doing without being noticed, applauded, thanked, complimented, rewarded, paid or even seeing results or feeling good about ourselves later (even though we probably will). Human applause, praise and affirmation is not only overrated and inflated, it’s dangerous for anyone wanting to walk seriously with God. In our narcissistic culture, we dump it all over each other like someone pouring a pound of sugar in one coffee. It kills many appetites in us the Holy Spirit wants to feed.
“Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God that He may exalt you in due time.” (I Peter 5:6) Serving always humbles, never humiliates. Servants don’t think God’s will gets done only when their ideas get put into play. Servants don’t give orders or have preconceived ideas as to what they will, won’t or need to do. (We can always spot sinful pride by what it refuses to do while masking as being spiritual. If someone overflows with this, the more likely they are to get ordained.) Servants take orders without complaint, tackling the low task with vigor and thoroughness. Servants don’t whine for attention, strut for the spotlight or pander for praise and compliments. Serving sandpapers our sinful self-centeredness and blows the tires on our pride like nothing else.
Sometimes it’s intentional. We plunge into other countries and/or cultures for concentrated immersion into need or tragedy. It doesn’t have to be a mission trip or urban plunge weekend. We can volunteer anytime. I’m always chagrined that people can go off to Zambia for two weeks or the slums of a city for a weekend and then come home to do nothing more than encourage people to go off and do the same. That’s great but there are homeless shelters, rescue missions, food pantries, literacy programs, big brother/sister things, sports leagues, crisis pregnancy centers in our own neighborhoods that would love to have us any day of the week or the month. Take the church with us instead of needlessly duplicating their good work. And parents who want their kids to live for Jesus should get their faith dirty alongside their kids.
Sometimes it’s incidental, sprinkled so randomly across our day that we don’t even recognize it. We’ll serve reflexively like saying “excuse me” after a sneeze. It becomes ingrained in our spiritual DNA. And that’s when it becomes creative and fun. Why just touch someone with kindness when we can touch them with grace that has BANG to it?
Serving guards our hearts from blowing up everything beautiful of Jesus in and through us, including our callings. Serving doesn’t just feel good, it feels right. Christ shines through our clay with rare light when we take the low place. The real praises we crave will never come from a world that gives its awards and then forgets, that awards degrees for theses that no one will read, whose treasures aren’t even skin deep. Our Scorekeeper counts cups of water, cookies baked, hands held and tears dried. We are never more like Him that when we walk in His steps and do it.
If you think that this would encourage a college student or someone who loves them, then please forward, share, post, tweet and all that other social media stuff. If you would like to see this blog regularly, then either subscribe or catch me on Facebook. There you can either message me to be part of something called Geezer 1, bunch of people who know Jesus better and are sharper in every way than me, or shoot a friend request.
Please return your seat to the upright position and give your infrared night vision goggles to the attendant as you exit to the rear. See you next post at geezeronthequad.com.
” In 1938…I was suffering from splitting headaches; each sound hurt me like a blow…. I discovered the poem…called “Love” [by George Herbert] which I learned by heart. Often, at the culminating point of a violent headache, I made myself say it over, concentrating all my attention upon it and clinging with all my soul to the tenderness it enshrines. I used to think I was merely reciting it as a beautiful poem, but without my knowing it the recitation had the virtue of a prayer. It was during one of those recitations that Christ himself came down and took possession of me. In my arguments about the insolubility of the problem of God I had never foreseen the possibility of that, of a real contact, person to person, here below, between a human being and God.” – Simone Weil, Waiting for God.
“…He is risen just as He said…” – Matthew 28:6
It doesn't matter....why Demi and Ashton split (except to them)....that a Kardashian might get married next week (regardless of which sister or what number of wedding it might be)....who's getting kicked off the island....who is dancing with the stars....whether or not the Men in Black are real ....that our school floated like a brick in the March NCAA bracket ....that some professors go to…
The little piece of paper posted at the trail head said this was a Grizzly Repopulation Area, you know, where they release a male and female Grizzly and tell them to go make Grizzlets. Twenty-five miles from the nearest pavement and almost knowing no fear, we plunged off through a mile and a half of meadow bristling with huckleberries (Grizzlies love them.) arriving at a mountain lake as pristine as when Adam took the family there for a vacation. It strained every muscle of hearing to pick up the soft breeze rustling the aspens and pines; otherwise the silence just roared. But wilderness beautiful at midday can turn deadly as the sun and the temperature go down. So we tore ourselves away and headed in.
In pursuing callings from God, He will steer us into places most people avoid whenever and however they can – places called wilderness. The biblical list is pretty awesome. There’s the nation of Israel (Exodus-Deuteronomy), Moses (Ex. 3), Elijah (I Kings 19), John the Baptist (Mt. 4), Jesus (Mt. 4) and Paul (Gal.1:17). We’re mistaken if we think we hear God most clearly in mountaintop moments; they’re both precious and often too overwhelming to process. He actually does His best work in wilderness for two reasons. Times in wilderness usually are more drawn out than mountaintops. Serious business with God requires thinking and that takes time – the serious leisure found in wilderness. Second, the isolation of wilderness disallows distractions; God has our undivided attention. Just try to make serious strides toward God in the flow of daily lives. It’s embarrassing how quickly we get turned aside to trivial stuff and distracted, termites that eat our time and shred our desire.
Wildernesses where God does serious retooling have a smell to them. First, it seems like God is far away, completely absent. The utter aloneness of these times stands as both the defining characteristic and the main reason we avoid them. But nothing could be farther from the truth. John of the Cross’ “Dark Night of the Soul” gets bad press in our comfort loving emotion driven culture. We’ve “pretzelized” it to describe everything from clinical depression to the Slurpee machine going dry at 7-11. Actually reading John, we learn that the “Dark Night” comes as an honor from God. It means God intentionally withdrawing all conscious sense of His presence and activity. To what end? Grad school in walking by faith, boot camp. It costs nothing to sniff curiously or play at calling. Pursuing one sports a price tag. Only in the heat of drought do the roots of both plant and soul stab down through the hardest clay. Following Christ into the world demands muscle of spirit built-in only one place – wilderness. God absent? God Himself oversees the process with an extremely clinical eye, engineering circumstance and pushing tolerances with exquisite timing and a quick trigger finger. After Jesus pushed through exhaustion, dehydration and spiritual warfare, angels came on Him like scum on a pond.
Playing off the last couple of sentences, wildernesses appear to be random but come carefully timed. Mark 1:12 picks up that after Jesus’ baptism, the Holy Spirit drove Him into the wilderness; this couldn’t wait until later and it came with insistent urgency and force. A “worst” time for us could be the perfect time for God.
Our attitude in wilderness makes all the difference in the world. To lose our heads in physical wilderness could cost our lives. Wilderness does not play nice with those who disrespect it. To grumble and complain, sulk in self-pity, lose ourselves in shallow distractions or make every attempt to avoid these altogether not only short circuits something God was serious about in our lives but deepens our cravings for the taste of our own easygoing deadness. Emotions will drag us into this without a whimper; our wills need to drop into four-wheel drive knowing God means something serious especially when every feeling in us denies it. In wilderness, we keep our antennas up.
What in blazes can God have in mind in these desolate places of the soul? Sometimes it’s a plain old cleaning out. I walked down a street in a college town when a prof threw out his arm to stop me. “I don’t want you to get hit.” The bar we were about to pass was a big student hangout. Every morning when they opened, they never fooled with a vacuum cleaner or brooms; they just hosed the place out front to back. Sitting helpless and blind for three days is not my idea of a good time (Paul, in Acts 9:9, didn’t know it would be just three days.) But Jesus hosed a lot of mess out of that man. Wasn’t God good to give him three days off with no distractions (like seeing) to get it done?
Sometimes God will shut us away from everything to show us something completely new. God took a throng of slaves descended from Jacob, peeled the fingers of a world power like Egypt from their throats and led them into the wilderness of Sinai. What did they know of Him, Who He was, how to approach and serve Him? Forty years, from the Exodus to the Jordan River, in land so arid that God would have to provide all the food and water would make them the People of God. Cold desert nights would ring with the praises of God and the desert sand would drink the tears of their repentance.
When God decides to speak He can explode like a bull out of a rodeo chute. Listening to John the Baptist was like kissing a tornado of fire. Where did he come from? He wore sackcloth and ate bugs (They’re high in protein). What could have happened out in the wilds to craft a vessel like this? We’ll never know. But we do know that John was marinated in the fiery holiness and love of God for a long time. Sometimes, in wilderness, God wants to “hog” us to Himself. From there…who knows?
Jesus. Forty days. Fasting and probably dehydrated. Satan. The big test. Faithfulness and obedience sharpened to edges unknown to human experience up to now. Vision fought for and therefore sharper than before. Toughness to be misunderstood, slandered, betrayed, rejected, tortured and killed. Wilderness.
What do these look like? C.S. Lewis famously said, “God whispers in our pleasures but shouts in our pain.” Depression – it’s interesting to see how many notable Christians throughout history dealt with it. Check out “Darkness Is My Only Companion” by Kathryn Greene-McCreight and “Bright Days. Dark Nights.” by Elizabeth Skoglund. Hearts and Minds Books will give you the “Geezer” discount if you ask. Illness and pain throw open the doors to the deserts and/or gardens inside all of us. Don’t waste them. (See “Coping” by Elizabeth Skoglund. Out of print but can be scored as used.) The persistent stress of unchanging circumstances (roommate or housing issues, family, school, work) in life get overlooked as nothing more than aggravations. Maybe they shouldn’t. Fingernails across the backdrop of our lives might have God’s thumb on them. Relationship breakups and bruised friendships. Beyond real hurt and blaming others and ourselves, is there something else we should step back and see?
Sometimes it’s simpler. Picture a weekend on most campuses in early February with no one around and the sports teams out-of-town. Our roommate asked if we wanted to go home with them (one of the great things about roommates – home cooking and we’re not at home). We said “no” but wish we hadn’t. It’s Friday or Saturday night and we sit in our room.
Maybe we’re sitting alone somewhere else on campus. Take a walk through your library on Friday and Saturday night. Try it for a couple of weeks taking note of the faces we see repeatedly. Sure, we’ll hit the library on weekend nights if we face a deadline for a paper we’ve procrastinated over. But most weekend nights? Why would we do that? Because otherwise, we have nowhere else to go and no one else to be with – or we would be. Our campus library probably doesn’t have sand on the floor but for some, it’s desolate wilderness (and maybe an outreach point for our Christian group).
My wife and I had just hoofed it across a chunk of Nova Scotia to sit and watch big waves pound on big rocks. A hundred yards offshore, a large seat floated on his back watching us. On the way back, a guy wheezed up to us on the trail and gasped, “Is it worth it?” Are they, are wildernesses engineered by God worth it to mine this thing known as His calling? People who emerge from wilderness come out exhausted, bruised and scratched up, aching joints and feet, strap cuts to the shoulder, maybe more than a little dehydrated – and more deeply alive than when they went in. To bypass or avoid these, we miss a lot.
Some cool stuff for you to check out. As I’ve said in other posts, one of the best things cooking on campus is the rise of student theological journals. Some of the people who graduated from Dartmouth decided they didn’t want to stop writing and Fare Forward is the result. They’re sharp and they now post the first March Madness bracket of the year (but it’s not about basketball). John Mulholland and others at Redeeming Reason chronicle some serious ongoing intellectual work in the Chicago area. Many will love their articles and resources.
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Please return your seats to the upright position and return the infrared night vision goggles to the attendant as you exit to the rear. See you next post at geezeronthequad.com.