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It Takes a Smackdown to Open Our Ears

April 21, 2020

The ground isn’t supposed to move. When everything starts to shake and bake we can hug it with everything we have and we should be okay – we hope. In a famous picture taken a few miles from Mt. St. Helens, that’s what one climber thought. As the top of the mountain blew away,  he instinctively collapsed to the ground. They made it but what if the ground starts shaking everywhere and won’t stop? Corona has that feel to it, doesn’t it? It’s the “black hole” that swallows everything around us and sucks everything out of us if we let it. It has our attention like nothing in recent memory. With all kinds of stay-at-home orders and shut downs in place, a lot of what we know as “normal” has been swept off the radar for the undetermined future.

Huge changes shake everyone’s tree and higher education doesn’t draw a pass. People outside the loop just think that students pack up and go home. What’s the big deal? A wide swath of big deals sprout up like poisonous weeds.  In posts to come, I will look at what campus people (student ministry workers, professors, etc.) tell me they see.  But one thing cries for attention: these are prime times to hear the voice of God. Life smacking us down can open our ears to hear Him in ways that we just don’t when everything seems stable. You know…the way we like it.

Meet Saul of Tarsus, a man burning with hate and the architect of his own success. Saul was the whole package – a Pharisee to the marrow of his bones. He sported a pedigreed, elite education having studied with Gamaliel, a highly revered teacher. He hated the Jesus followers with a muscled passion. How could Jesus say He was God? How could people buy it? The priests and scribes knew they had a rocket to ride in this one; Saul was making good connections promising a prestigious future. Maybe the Sanhedrin! And then one day on the road to Damascus, as he rode carrying arrest warrants and Jewish expense money for the trip, the unthinkable hit him like someone kissing a load of falling bricks. Everything he believed, everything he’d worked for, all the trappings of Saul’s carefully stacked life smashed so flat that not even pieces remained. “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting…” He would sit blind for three days…gives one time to think over being wrong about most of one’s life. And Saul didn’t know it would be three days. He might be like this the rest of his life. Smackdown.

Meet Abraham. In Genesis 12:1-3, God appears to this guy who has the spirituality of a turnip and makes huge, God-sized promises to him. As I write and as you read, the two of us are part of the fulfillment of what God offered Him. Who in blazes is this guy? Abraham looked for God about as much as I look for Ben and Jerry’s to come out with two new flavors – asparagus cream and liver whip. Everything worked for, familiar and known pitched in the dumpster. But now, in what takes us seconds to read, he must  leave everything behind that he knows to go…where? He had no idea. He would go when God said “go” and stop when He said  “stop”. Abraham threw all the vital concerns of life, all his ambitions and dreams, to the wind of the voice of God. Smackdown.

Meet Jonah. How he hated the Ninevites! Nothing described the venom that boiled inside him over those people. Was there good reason? Maybe there was no good reason; since when does hate need a reason? God could have chosen anyone to go to Nineveh. Why him? What was God thinking? Well He could just get Himself another boy. Those people could all go to hell on a flaming roller coaster and slowly roast to death five excruciatingly painful times over. Jonah was out of here heading the other way. Don’t ever try to run away from God. You may or may not be a Christian. It doesn’t matter. God exists; His face is Jesus. Argue if you like. Ask all the questions you like. Flex the muscles of doubt. But do not try to run away or hide from God. Jonah spent three days bathed in stomach acids lying in darkness listening to the digestive organs of a whale. And the smell… As God appears to have vomiting whales in His retrieval repertoire, we ignore Him at our own risk. Smackdown.

Meet Job. When God brags on us in the face of Satan, we have something on our fastball.  That was Job; he could carry across-the-board prosperity without it pulling his heart away from God. And God knew it. Suddenly the bottom dropped out of his life. Thieves stole his livestock, killing his servants. His house collapsed in a storm crushing all his children. Overlapping boils and sores covered his body. His wife told him to curse God and die. His friends proved to be self-righteous fixers. He fights to maintain his innocence but no one believes him. Where is God? Smackdown.

The ground on campuses is shaking. Nobody really knows when it will stop. What will education and our lives look like when it does? Graduations cancelled. New jobs eagerly sought and hard won on indefinite hold. A semester’s work on shaky ground. Grad work derailed due to faciliity shutdown. Student independence curtailed and stressed by moving back in with families. Students shut in with families not much like the Waltons. International students with nowhere to live as dorms close. On campus or college town jobs badly needed to pay for school shut down. A population that already faces emerging genetic mental health issues now grapples with social and relational deprivation. One professor fielded student emails asking for an extension because two grandparents had died within the last week. Another needed more time to complete a paper due to high fever. Smackdown.

Smackdowns are good times to listen for God to speak something new into our lives. When everything else in our lives seems bolted down like we’re used to, somewhat under our control, falling out along lines that we like left alone, His voice gets murky. Maybe even ignored or taken for granted. C.S. Lewis famously said, “God whispers in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains.” God, being God, not only shouts but can play the bagpipes and crash cymbals at the same time. We are in such times. Could be time to listen. Smackdowns don’t leave anyplace to look but up.

If you think this might encourage college students or someone who loves them, then share, subscribe, Twitter and all that social media stuff. If this rings your bell, you might want to consider Geezer 1, the Facebook clubhouse for geezeronthequad.com. We’re a funky mix and I mean that in the best possible way. Adding your funk (And you do have some because Jesus put it in you.) to the pile would only make us better. I also am open to any questions you have about the Christian faith and living it. Just shoot it to me at geezeronthequad@gmail.com. No names required but I do reserve the right to ask clarifying questions to dignify your question with a decent answer.

 

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