Revisited Nowhere Boy for the first time in four years today, and remembered why it’s up there with my all-time favorites. Couldn’t have been more timely. Whenever you hit a drought, remember that so long as you have blood in your veins and air in your lungs, there’s still some live-wire in you. All material tells a story about who put it there, so why not let yours tell a story of passion and resilience? We’re all geniuses. Let’s get on with our journeys so we can populate nowhere together.http://anotherdivinecomedy.blogspot.com/2014/01/nowhere-boy.html
"Judge not the Lord by feeble sense…"
In recognizing “His Grace—that is, the King—is sovereign,” do not make the mistake that I do of thinking His sovereignty is not gracious.
I rationalize that I’m speaking out of humility in saying: “I’m human. I fall short of His glory. He doesn’t owe me anything. That’s only fair. What is man that He is mindful of them?”
If your initial response to God’s sovereignty is anything like mine, we’re both bullshitting ourselves hardcore and simultaneously selling God short (as if we have that kind of bargaining power). I react to God’s sovereignty as if my own inadequacy merits more immediate concern that Christ’s promises. Namely, promises that:
Fortunately, nay, providentially, grace isn’t a matter of fairness. Though aware that we are not saved by good works, how often are we reminded that we are saved for good works? Now if only I’d stop trying to make Jesus out to be a liar and finally live with eagerness to do those “greater things” we’re bound to by Christ’s own words.
The last Monday of July, my friend Rachael and I were shuttling two hitchhiking Lake employees back to their dorm on a whim that had an original destination no further than Canyon Junction (if you’re unfamiliar with the country I’m alluding to, google a map of the Yellowstone road system). But as all good whim-pursuers know, a whim’s only successful if it takes at least two more whimsical turns in the act of carrying it out. My friend Emma and I are experts in this art, and our collaborative efforts usually result in nothing short of high-octane serendipity. However, I’ve been hard-pressed to attain the same success in solo efforts. Whim hunting is best executed with, at the very least, the company of a like-minded accomplice. Fortunately, I’ve found Rachael’s Coloradan blood is compatible with the affinity for Calvinball among my Montanan-heavy friend coalition.
Because we had already come as far as Lake, we opted to rain check (more accurately, hail check) our initial plan to hike in the Canyon area that day and instead take a jaunt up a hilltop that overlooks Yellowstone Lake. After waiting out a 10-minute hailstorm under a trusty, evergreen refuge, we made our merry way uphill and arrived to the overlook at about the same time as a young father, Cory and his two young-teen children, Spencer and Keeley. What started as a surface level goodwill between parties over being from respectable states (Montana, Colorado represented by Rachael with Cory and his family hailing from Minnesota), soon escalated to increased goodwill over a shared affection for Jesus between parties. Cory’s kids were pretty aloof during our spirited conversation when he brought up the perpetual dilemma of Christian parents everywhere: “How do I keep these guys plugged in?”
I’ve noticed this pattern in Christian adults that they tend to be caught off guard at any mention of zealous faith in Jesus on the part of a young person. The first few times I encountered this, I can say I was caught off guard myself by the kind of emotion this elicits in adults who are caught off guard. I questioned my conduct the first time I made four parents in the course of a week cry, but I realize now that heartfelt tears are not an unhealthy reaction to God’s work in the world—I’m not the most feeling, charismatic believer, so it took me a while to realize that.
I admit indiscriminate relativism (sometimes apathy) does seem to be more popular among most worldly demographics I’d affiliate myself with: 20-year-olds, college students, hippies, runners, backcountry snobs, Montanans, Northwesterners, etc. I assume that’s the cause of the pleasant loop adults find themselves being thrown through when they observe deviant behavior. Cory obviously noted our healthy fear of the Lord and passion about His work in the world, and presumably wanted to know what he could do to cultivate that in his own children. Unfortunately, I had no insight to offer him there because no aspect of my faith or convictions is homegrown. Rachael encouraged him in the fact that even when kids seem most obstinate they still listen to what their parents are saying.
After salutations and well wishes over the Minnesotans’ remaining days in Yellowstone, we parted ways, and started the walk downhill. One reality that kind of hit me that I shared with Rachael on the way down was the fact that God does harden and soften hearts according to His will. As such, I was hopeful that Cory wouldn’t put it all on himself if his kids don’t quite grow up to be passionate, God-fearing individuals. After all, I couldn’t really trace the roots of my own life as a believer submitted to the will of God back to any individual’s singular persistence. While it was doubtless influenced by a perceived credibility in the words and conduct of excellent Christians, my growth was the consequence of a willful, conscious decision to be changed by the Word of God and edified by the insight God has granted other believers.
Any route to intimacy with God requires humility, but I feel like mine in particular must have demanded more of me than I noticed. I generally subscribe to the words of what is, in my opinion, the most beautiful song ever recorded by the likes of Seth and Scott Avett, “Ten Thousand Words”:
Ain’t it like most people? I’m no different. We like to talk on things we don’t know about.
As a young believer and a human being fraught with several noxious variants of pride, I sat through many hours in fellowship settings with people who were miles ahead of me spiritually. Since I’m a person of insight and most folks eat up original interpretations of things, I can usually bullshit my way through any discussion and play myself off as a valuable contributor. But in the Christian faith there’s not a lot of room for bullshit. As my friend Emma once said, “God has a monopoly on Truth.” Nowadays I can earnestly say I hope two things have very special burn chambers reserved for them in eternal fire: wind-chimes and relativism. While the vile nature of wind chimes has gestated over enough time and land to negate any need for explanation, I will elaborate on my beef with relativism. It’s simple: God gave us good sense and to neglect putting it to use is imprudent at best, arrogant at worst. I know from experience because April of this past spring, I started using my own good sense again and my imprudence and arrogance deposits underwent a half-life in the blink of an eye. Miraculous! Billy Mays should’ve sold this stuff!
Needless to say, I had to play the fool in a lot of conversations with God and other believers to be as I am today—and even then not having any redeeming qualities apart from the ways I’ve been renewed because of increased knowledge of my Creator. Our conversation took a direction toward territory I’m not far removed from myself. We started talking about the young Christian variety that hesitates to pursue growth in their faith out of concern for not having anything to contribute to fellowship settings. And though I’m no stranger to that brand of self-consciousness, I now know that it’s just a sham Satan puts on. If anything, I can say with different perspective now that I only think more highly of people who take such a step of faith although they might be miles behind their closest companion on the same course.
For me, that was true about this time last year. Trouble is, I didn’t know it so that fear of not having anything to contribute eluded me. On the contrary, I thought any two cents I could contribute to really any conversation must be a gem. I noticed this especially when my body’s caffeine level was particularly abundant because everything I had to say seemed unexplainably more interesting so as to pose a need to state it with that much more gusto…and volume…and speed. I suppose I was devoting 48% of my energy to trying to sound profound so as to be taken seriously. Another 48% was of course devoted to gratifying my flesh desire for attention by being indiscriminately and impersonally outgoing at the slightest detection of an audience. The remaining 4%, I do think, sincerely sought God’s will, but nonetheless, those are troubling ratios. I definitely relapse into those old habits occasionally, but the sweet thing about any consistent time internalizing the Word of God is inevitable transformation. I’ve recently become a big fan of the way Paul describes our new self in Colossians 3:7-10
You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from you lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which his being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.
It seems like Paul’s implying that merely taking time to process God’s character—His image—that things in us start to change…and in good ways. Friends, I don’t know much about mechanical processes and inductive reasoning, so I don’t know what kind of intricacies and gremlins stimulate this process, but somehow, IT WORKS! Now, I love Paul, but I will say he can be cryptic and his explanations sometimes leave some information still to be desired. And that all pisses me off sometimes because, in spite of being merely mortal like us, I can’t be the only person who’s put him to the test only to find out that everything authored by Him that made it into the Bible seems to work exactly how he says it will.
And, because God has a sense of humor, the very first time I really think I fully admitted that to myself, I came upon these words in Philippians 4:9:
Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.
But here’s the thing, I think what Paul says (and what I have said about Paul) can be true for any believer truly speaking within the will of God and under the authority of the Holy Spirit, because in so doing, their “righteousness” is not of them. As Paul says earlier in Philippians 3:8-9:
What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ, and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith.
Now I feel like the term “righteousness” encompasses a complex array of virtuous qualities, and I’ve been trying to attain a working definition for it myself, but if one implication is merely “being right,” then Paul’s definitely proved himself true countless times in having a righteousness not his own. One set of dots I’ve connected recently in Paul’s letters: first to Timothy, he says:
Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both you and your hearers.
—1 Timothy 5:16
What might be a component of sound doctrine you ask? One such answer may be the concept of thanksgiving, which Paul midway through the third chapter of the prior-reference letter to the Colossians advises in three consecutive sentences (Colossians 3:15-17). Now all that remains to be satisfied to verify the Philippians 3:8-9-based “Paul is accurate and reliable” theory for this case is whether there is practical evidence for this brand of sound doctrine. For that, I reference Acts 16:
Verse 25: About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them.
Timeout. Mind you, Paul and Silas just had the shit beat out of them. Also, they were probably nearly naked because the magistrates ordered them stripped before having them beaten with rods and severely flogged. The guys make the conscious decision to sing hymns—that is, they offer God praise—and notice they have “hearers.” What followed:
Verse 26: Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open and everyone’s chains came loose.
Now instead of taking this opportunity to make a break for it at the demise of the jailer keeping guard at that hour, Paul and Silas end up entertaining the jailer’s questions about salvation:
Verses 32-34: Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house. At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his household were baptized.
Not only was the jailer and his family literally “saved” in the sense that matters, but the next day, the magistrates ordered the release of Paul and Silas. As Paul told Timothy, literally both he and his “hearers” were saved.
But I guess where this whole Paul tangent relates back to my conversation with Rachael is in the fact that it was true even with the jailer and His inquiry about salvation that babies don’t learn from babies. He humbled himself verbally in asking and outwardly as he “fell trembling” before Paul and Silas in verse 29. He didn’t consult another prisoner. He learned the gospel from men who had stood in the counsel of God. We had more or less moved on in our conversation while following some power lines back to Lake’s Park Service facilities when I spotted some wild strawberries. We stopped and got our fill of the tasty little berries and Rachael, impressed that I even spotted the things asked if I had been looking out for them. I frankly had not been, and truth be told, it’s more characteristic of me to be the last of my companions to spot such delicacies (but the first to eat them, naturally).
She followed up asking how I was able to spot really any of the flower and plant species I’m prone to point out. With a little thought, I realized it was not dissimilar to my spiritual maturation process. I still remember learning some of my first flowers and birds with my old co-worker, the one and only Jo-Jo. She had to remind me countless times of the name of the abundant yellow flowers in the Park. I must have cycled through every pointed weapon used in the Western hemisphere trying to remember the name for Arrow-leaf balsamroot myself—Spearleaf arrowhead? Razorgrass quiverroot?
Then I realized the process is simple as that. I learned with someone alongside me who had walked the road before…and many successive forks in the road after that. Fortunately, my supporters had long-since developed a high tolerance threshold for fools—after all, this is America. You could describe the process as relational instruction. And surprise, surprise: God gave Paul some insight about the nature of the practice as well. He says in verse 24-26 of his second letter to Timothy:
And the Lord’s servants must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Opponents must be gently instructed, in hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.
Admittedly: opposition—little bit extreme. Few people who are not within God’s fold deliberately worship Satan. But nonetheless, Paul suggests that “gentle instruction” is the ticket if you want to see anybody brought to a knowledge of the Truth. But even then, we must maintain that God is sovereign and growth and knowledge do not come from human hands.
Young Wealthy Fellow: Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?
Jesus: Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.
[Jesus gives Young Wealthy Fellow the specs upon further inquiry]
Young Wealthy Fellow: All these I have kept. What do I still lack?
I found myself scratching my head over this scene in chapter 19 of Matthew a little over a month ago. God knows how long it had been since I last read the first book of the gospel, but I was struck with some hardcore déjà vu when I got to this exchange between Jesus and a fellow whom we later find out to be a man of great wealth.
I wasn’t having any luck recalling the last thought-provoking question or commentary I heard on this passage. I was, however, struck by Jesus’ tactful, slightly evasive and cryptic, but nonetheless intelligent response. Why? Because, like many of His apparently indirect and evasive responses, this one indicated an awareness of our human inclination to negotiate mental shortcuts for things we just can’t get our heads around. In this particular case, the guy asked about eternal life—salvation. Jesus could’ve come right back at this guy with a stern monologue about how He’s sick and tired of dimwits asking about this “good thing” bullshit. He could’ve proceeded to stress that the entire damn crux of this salvation business is that under the current order, it’s not attainable. At which point, He could’ve wrapped up and called it a day with, “And that’s why I’m here. Do you get it now?”
But as you may notice reading the gospel yourself, Jesus was not one to assert Himself. In fact, I paid closer attention going through Mark earlier this month, and in the 16 chapters of that book, Jesus doesn’t speak of Himself as the Messiah in first person until the 61st verse of chapter 14. Up to that point, He lived out all of the qualities of the foretold Messiah, and either spoke about said Messiah in third person or, as in Mark 8, left it to His peers to articulate their own conclusion about His identity. And I love Jesus’ response in verse 62 after being directly asked by the high priest if he was the Messiah. He said, “I am.” The Aramaic equivalent: “Ehyeh”—significant because “Ehyeh asher Ehyeh” is the Aramaic translation of the Hebrew word “Yaweh,” which of course, is how God introduces Himself way back in Exodus 3. So is this not the most chill-eliciting two-word response in the entire gospel?
Now rewind back to this scene with the young, arbitrary fellow. Jesus doesn’t lord (pun absolutely intended) his status as the “only One who is good” over the guy, nor does he hint at any set of standards whereby we can measure “good.” Because why settle for good when God desires perfection? Now offhand “perfection” sounds like a much taller order than “goodness.” But the Jesus who refrains from asserting Himself one moment exhibits such boldness in this moment as to indicate “perfection” is just what He’s after.
In a conversation during the last week of March, one of my friends aired the suggestion of praying over people’s perfection. Her rationale was that we impose human limits on folks when we don’t do so, and sell ourselves, others, and God short in the process. So I felt like I was in familiar territory when I read Jesus’ response to the man’s question “What do I still lack?” or in another translation, “What more is required?”:
If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.
And as I read Jesus’ response, I finally found the place of this passage in my memory. It involved a guy named Jude and a Bible Study. Jude brought up the passage as something reminded him of it, and shared that He’d always wondered what the guy lacked since Jesus never stated directly anything along the lines of:
“Well, young man, you lack musical talent, culinary aptitude, and athletic prowess. So I can’t promise you’ll get past the bouncer, who—funny story—is actually going to be one of those twelve blokes behind me. I told him I’d give him the keys to the kingdom when we were back at Caesarea Philippi. Yeah, he still has no idea I meant it literally. Good kid. He’s a little fickle now, but he’ll turn out alright.”
I probably ventured an ill-informed guess (that was before I embraced scriptural insight as a fruit of the Spirit like I do now, so it didn’t occur to me to ask God for an interpretation. Silly me!). But I think now I would say the guy lacked perfection, or at least a willingness to be perfected. And even if that insight had occurred to me then, I don’t know that I could’ve articulated it because I didn’t understand perfection as I do now. Three passages have since helped me understand perfection. First, 1 John 4:18:
There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.
You’ll possibly recall from your intro psych classes that punishment in a clinical setting is the removal of something already present, so something you have at inception. Which points me to 2 Corinthians 8:12:
For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what one does not have.
You’ll recall that the guy in Matthew 19 was stressing about what he didn’t have. “What do I still lack?” To which Jesus essentially responded, “Never mind what you don’t have. Let’s work with what you do have, which is a lot. And what do the poor have? Practically nothing. Sell what you have and give to those who don’t.” This guy was struck with fear at the thought of punishment—forfeiting his possessions. Thus, lack of willingness separated him from perfection.
And the last verse that’s informed my understanding of perfection over the past year comes out of a letter authored by none other than Jesus’ selected gatekeeper himself. This is what I call the Second Peter faith train. 2 Peter 1:5-8:
For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Now this verse makes no direct mention of perfection, but I think it’s implied in the idea of “increasing measure.” Just like Jesus never gave the guy in Matthew 19 a hard-and-fast framework for assessing “goodness,” Peter doesn’t assign specific degrees and proportions to the qualities listed in order to be fruitful. And I use “fruitful” very liberally because many of the things here listed are fruits of the Spirit. In my experience many of those things seem to come out most when I let the cross act as a gap-filler between the height of God in all His glory—perfection, if you will—and the depth of my fallen nature relative to that. And as I mature, that distance between the two seems ever-expanding; therefore the cross increases in measure (that’s a RIGHTEOUSMESS).
And here’s where I saw the Matthew passage awfully foretelling during my April reading: Peter has a light bulb by verse 27. Jesus drew out the teachable moment once the young, wealthy guy stormed off, clearly ill at ease with Jesus’ radical concept of perfection when Peter chimed in:
We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?
Peter had his fair share of Homer Simpson moments. They’ve all been documented and available to the public for over 2,000 years. But the Spirit gave Peter insight in this moment, and by God, Peter got this whole perfection thing (but seriously, it was by God that Peter understood). In this moment, we catch a glimpse of the apostle in the making during Jesus’ ministry here on earth. From the impressionable, impulsive fisherman of Christ’s carnal lifetime to the formidable apostle interpreting tongues on the day of Pentecost, Christ brought this bloke a long way, and he’s since offered us some insight about this radical matter of perfection. So whatcha reckon there will be for us?
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