Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Uncensored Thoughts: Pondering Life, Death, Suffering, and the Glory of God

She passed away today. Her name was Mrs. Riebock, and she was my high school Bible teacher. But she was not just our teacher; she was our Wheaton Academy Class of 2000 sponsor. She walked with us through our awkward freshman year in which we were all terrified to be at a new school, and proudly applauded for us at our graduation as we left as confident seniors, ready to take on college life. She fearlessly led us through homecomings, service projects, and fundraisers each year with great and unparalleled enthusiasm. She brought life to our Bible classes and made it exciting to study the things of the Lord. She was the most eclectic woman I had ever met. Look at the murals painted on her classroom wall in every imaginable bold color under heaven, and you will be given a glimpse into her personality. And who can forget her circumcision screams "heard 'round the campus" or her "whooping stick" to keep us students in line?

My sweetest memory of Mrs. Riebock did not come when I was her student, but when I was her colleague. While working on my Masters degree last fall, I substitute taught at Wheaton Academy. One day I received a call asking me to sub for Mrs. Riebock. I was thrilled and immediately accepted! When I entered her classroom, I was a bit surprised to find her sitting at her desk--not at all absent--and she was equally surprised to see me.
"What are you doing here?" she would ask.
I responded, "Substitute teaching for you, I thought!"

Apparently the office had made a mistake, and I didn't need to be there. I walked to the door to exit the classroom, but she stopped me, saying, "No! You came all the way out here to teach, and you want your money. Stay here, and I'll go out so you can get paid." Mrs. Riebock went out of the way to accommodate her "substitute," even though she didn't need me. That day, Mrs. Riebock cared more about blessing her former student than sticking with her own agenda. She reflected the love and servant's heart of Jesus Christ, and through that action, I was blessed.

I have an "uncensored confession," as I like to call it in our Come Thirsty Sunday school class. I don't begin to understand the ways of an incomprehensible God. I don't know why God chose to spare my mom's life when thousands of people got on their knees to pray for her healing after she was in a coma in Turkey, but take the life of Mrs. Riebock when thousand of people were on their knees praying for her healing when she was going through a liver transplant in America. I don't understand why my classmate Quinn, Mrs. Riebock's youngest daughter, lost her dad in June, and three months later lost her mom. I just don't have all of the answers.
But there are some things I do know. I know that God is good. And I don't just mean that He is somewhat nice and typically kind. I mean that His very essence is good; there is no good apart from Him. I know that God is love. His love is unconditional. I know that God is for us. If we are His children, God is not 9% or 99% for us; He is 100% for us at all times. And I know that Jesus is the way and the truth and the life. There is no life apart from the Christian life, because there is no God apart from Jesus Christ. His ways are incomprehensible, but they are trustworthy. Yes, God is trustworthy and faithful and true. I live and breathe these truths.
I went to hear John Piper speak at Wheaton today. He talked all about suffering. My friend left depressed; I left invigorated. He spoke difficult words. Words that I want to silence with all my being. But words that my soul so longs to hear that I can almost physically feel the echo of its longing deep within me. He said that our suffering is an essential part of our Christian existence. Our suffering should make Christ look great. We might be "sorrowful," but we are to be "always rejoicing" (II Cor. 6:10). Our lives should testify that Christ is more precious to us than everything in the universe, including father or mother, brother or sister, career or unemployment, ambitions or failures, singleness or marriage, children or no children. Christ is more precious. Period.
Furthermore, nothing will happen to us apart from God's will. Do you really think that these events surprise God? God knows, and God is good. We must embrace suffering, hardship, risk, and danger while on earth for the relief of suffering in eternity. "We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God" (Acts 14:22). In Romans, Paul states, "Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in His sufferings in order that we may also share in His glory" (Rom. 8:17).

So the ultimate question is not whether we will suffer. We must suffer. The question is, "Will Christ be enough when we endure suffering?"

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

What's Your Calling?

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose. For those God foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those He predestined, He also called; those He called, He also justified; those He justified, He also glorified.” Romans 8:28-30, NIV

From dew on wool fleeces to geometric shapes in the clouds, too often Christians look in all of the wrong places for a revelatory sign of God’s calling upon their lives. But in Scripture, calling is much more paradoxical. It is more clear and precise and definitive, revealed in and through the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. And yet, the ancient biblical stories inform us that calling is more supernatural and mysterious as God speaks not through the wind or the earthquake or the fire, but through a whisper (I Kgs. 19:11-12). It is to this magnificent God with a magnanimous call that Christians must respond in a manner that is “worthy of the calling [they] have received” (Eph. 4:1).

In The Call, Os Guinness writes, “…calling is the truth that God calls us to himself so decisively that everything we are, everything we do, and everything we have is invested with a special devotion and dynamism lived out as a response to his summons and service.”[1] Guinness differentiates between the primary and secondary calls. “Our primary calling as followers of Christ is by him, to him, and for him.”[2] Calling begins with God. Romans 8:28-30 (quoted above) lays out the order of calling: God predestines His chosen, calls them to Himself, then justifies and glorifies His loved ones. God chooses; the Christian responds. It is just as impossible for Christians to call themselves as it is for Christians to predestine, justify, or glorify themselves. Guinness writes, “We cannot find God without God. We cannot reach God without God. We cannot satisfy God without God….”[3] Calling always starts with God.
Christians have the responsibility of responding to God’s call. This response to primary calling comes through loving Christ with one’s “heart, soul, strength, and mind,” out of which must flow “love [for one’s] neighbor as [oneself]” (Lk. 10:27). It is precisely because of the need to respond to God that Paul writes, “With this in mind, we constantly pray for you, that our God may count you worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may fulfill every good purpose of yours and every act prompted by your faith. We pray this so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him…” (I Thess. 1:11-12a). It is through the grace of God that the Christian can embody his or her calling. Apart from the active work of the Holy Spirit, the Christian’s work would be ineffectual and unworthy of the high calling which he or she has received. Only through the power of Christ will the Christian’s calling become a reality. And when this calling is lived out in a worthy manner, the Lord will be glorified.

In addition to a general call, the believer is also given a personal, specific call, or “secondary call,” to borrow the language of Guinness. “Our secondary calling, considering who God is as sovereign, is that everyone, everywhere, and in everything should think, speak, live, and act entirely for him.”[4] Our primary calling is shared with all believers—each person is called to glorify God and love Him completely. Our secondary calling is specific to each individual’s life, based on his or her spiritual gifts, talents, and interests. In The Purpose-Driven Life, author Rick Warren encourages Christians to identify their calling by considering their S.H.A.P.E., an acrostic for “spiritual gifts, heart, abilities, personality, and experiences.”[5] By identifying the areas in which God has gifted one, the passions which He has instilled in one, and the experiences which have served to shape one, calling may be further clarified.

So what is your calling? What are the gifts and talents that God has interwoven into the fabric of your life? Where does your greatest passion meet a need in the world?

Live a life worthy of your calling!

[1] Guinness, Oz. The Call: Finding and Fulfilling the Central Purpose of Your Life. Nashville: W Publishing Group, 2003. p. 4.
[2] Ibid. p. 31.
[3] Ibid. p. 13.
[4] Ibid. p. 31
[5] Warren, Rick. The Purpose Driven Life. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002. p. 236.