To all those who are broken and fumbling: (and all those who think they are not.)

“And behold, a man came up to him, saying, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.”  He said to him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The young man said to him, “All these I have kept. What do I still lack?”  Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.” -Matthew 19:16-22

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When Jesus revealed the rich man’s need, he stood back, aghast at the request. How? How could he give up everything? What kind of benevolent Messiah would ask that of his followers? He worked hard for what he had and no loving God who would make that a prerequisite for entrance into his Kingdom. Surely it is the law that holds the power of salvation! Surely i’m a good person, surely…I am serious, and don’t call me Shirley.

Jesus looked at the disciples and claimed that “It is harder for a rich man to enter God’s kingdom than for a camel to go through the eye of a needle.” As his disciples scratched their heads at this, wondering how their Master could endorse such a narrow way, Jesus said that those who would inherit eternal life would be those who left everything behind for him.

My quasi-Christian American civil religion doesn’t allow for this kind of cognitive dissonance. We want to take up our platforms and raise rabble over so much, but when Jesus’ words hit us squarely between the eyes and challenge and provoke us, we are more apt to close the Book and go on with the way we like, as we have done many times before.

I don’t believe that Jesus is slandering the rich or diminishing God’s goodness with his strong words. I believe he is illustrating the law apart from grace, he is decrying selfishness and raising rabble about our tricky penchant for idolatry.

I grew up in a loving supportive Christian family where my Mom and Dad were both present and loved God with reckless abandon and, in many ways, raised me to fall in love with Jesus and to truly believe what he says. I grew up in a youth group where for many kids, this was not the case. I have since ministered in youth groups where this was not the case. And you know what? I love those kids.

One of my favorite things about them is that they are abundantly aware of their need. They are well acquainted with their brokenness and their doubts. There’s so much that I want them to know about the Gospel and selflessness and truly taking hold of the life God is calling them to, and that can be very very difficult at times. But I don’t have to convince them that they are desperately in need of a savior. They are so aware of that. And there’s a lesson in that.

The rich man walked away from Jesus because he wanted the Kingdom of God as a sort of side item in a combo meal he paid for with his “good” works. I want my wealth, my security, my self-assuredeness of works righteousness and if that’s good enough for my perfect life, that is good enough for eternal life.

And Jesus stood in the face of that flimsy theology and spoke directly to his need that he would not admit he had. Our pride swells and our spirituality buckles under the weight of the brokenness we believe we are hiding.

It has been an unbelievably difficult week for me. My friend Max went to heaven on Friday. My mother found out that she has cancer in one of her kidneys. That mocking voice in the back of my mind has been whispering threats and doubts and insults and hurling me to the conclusion that I am powerless to stop the tides from pulling me under and filling my lungs with water, but you know what? God has revealed to me in all of this that I am powerless. I am irreconcilably broken and I have not arrived and I will not arrived until the day I embrace my Jesus in his Kingdom.

It is out of our abundant need that the seed of the gospel is watered and grows. It is in having the humility to admit that we are broken beyond any repairs we could complete ourselves and must look outside of ourselves for the truth of Jesus to hit us squarely between the eyes and cut us deep.

My friend Max was one of the most humble people I’ve ever met. He lived his life without fear of failure because he knew who was holding him. Before he died, he wrote a note in the hospital about how he picked up his Bible and hugged it to himself. “The very Word of God is heavy on my chest,” he penned. Max, at any moment’s notice, would’ve been willing to sacrifice everything to be in the will of God. He spoke boldly to others about the love of Jesus. He figuratively had the very Word of God heavy on his chest at all times.

So in brokenness we find respite.

In loneliness, we are comforted by God’s very breath.

In adversity, we rise stronger than before we were knocked down.

In humility, considering others as better than ourselves.

In obedience, denying ourselves, picking up our cross, and following Jesus, wherever he leads and laying whatever he says aside for the sake of the Gospel.

We are all in desperate need. We all have brokenness coursing through our veins and to say otherwise is to deny the fundamental realization that brings us to Jesus in the first place. We are beset, but our completeness is in Christ alone.

 

New Year, New…Everything (on dealing with loneliness)

At the time I began writing this post, it was 11:30 p.m. 30 minutes until January 1, 2015 is over. A beginning for so many people of something new. A new lifestyle, a new diet, new relationships, new everything. We make promises to ourselves, we make promises to our families, we make promises to God and wrap them up in the nice little bow we call “resolutions.” And then, so often, we break every promise we dared utter within the first few days.

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This year, instead of making resolutions I knew I wasn’t planning on keeping, I spent my day eating collard greens and black-eyed peas (a southern tradition that has carved itself into my life, regardless of how gross I thought it was as a kid) and reflecting not only on 2014, but on years past.

In a little over a week, I’m going to turn 24 years old, and I’ve found that it is so easy to spend all of your time thinking back to “the good old days.” And I even spend my time chasing those days again, attempting to relive days gone by when my close high school friends go back home for a few days, a few weeks, maybe, and I return to the town where I grew up to spend precious minutes with them.

And in that time, we make new memories and it is beautiful.

Some days, I wish the moments would last forever.

Let me restate a few truths I’ve mentioned on this blog and elsewhere in the past year.

1.) This is my first foray into living by myself in a new city.

2.) I work as a Youth Minister for an incredible, supportive church and I really love it.

3.) I am, by definition, an extrovert. Everything about me is encapsulated by that. I process everything externally, value constant contact, love to be surrounded by others, gain energy from that socialization, and turn into a sluggish pile of molasses when I don’t have it.

4. Maybe that makes me needy, but I’m currently okay with that.

All of that said, living in a new city is an overwhelming and terrifying thing. I have met folks at the church I work at who I care a lot about and consider friends, but that doesn’t go far beyond the walls of the church, because, well, relationship building takes time.

I have met people at local coffee shops and through mutual friends and the times I spend with them is great. But it doesn’t feel like home just yet. And I’m told that’s normal.

But a year ago last month, I left a college campus filled to the brim with people I spent every waking hour with. And now, experiencing the brunt of loneliness isn’t just relegated to the times I am alone in my apartment seeing what’s new on Netflix.

So, many days in the past 6 months, my extroverted soul has been sick, even when I’m surrounded by others.

Frederich Buechner, a Presbyterian minister, once said:

“That you can be lonely in a crowd, maybe especially there, is readily observable. You can also be lonely with your oldest friends, or your family, even with the person you love most in the world. To be lonely is to be aware of an emptiness that takes more than people to fill. It is to sense that something is missing which you cannot name.

Did he read my mind? Probably. Or maybe it’s that the human condition is incredibly predictable. And this keen observation tells me I’m not a freak, I’m not alone in my (sometimes self imposed) isolation. That, as extroverted of a person as I might be, people cannot solve the innermost longings in my soul.

Buechner then points to a familiar passage of scripture, Psalm 137:1

“By the waters of Babylon, there we sat down and wept, when we remembered Zion.”

Buechner, and many Christian theologians like him, find parallels between the Psalmist’s cries of dire landlessness and a longing for home with our longing for heaven, our hope to see God face to face. For the one who knit us together inside of our mother to hold us closely and call us Beloved.

This is so that we, fickle people who can’t always keep their emotions in check, can be reminded that our lives are of importance to the only One who can love us with a fierce and undying love, and embrace us despite that we are so slow to give love in return.

And that, when we feel loneliness creeping up inside of us, that longing is for Zion, for Heaven, for the place we can’t quite see but that we know is there.

He finishes with :

“Maybe in the end it is Zion that we’re lonely for, the place we know best by longing for it, where at last we become who we are, where finally we find home.”

I am in a transition currently that is both beautiful and painful. The little boy that I was is becoming the man that I am. I am responsible for others, someone people look to for guidance and the best I can give them is an assurance that though all may not be right in the world right now, it will be one day, and in the meantime, they aren’t alone.

As I reflect on the year, one common theme that emerges is change. Everything is in a constant state of change, like sand shifting underfoot. There are very few things you can hold onto in this life, but I want to make one thing clear: Jesus Christ is the only thing worth holding, the only thing that, at the end of it all, won’t slip through and leave you lonely.

When and if I can look back on my life on January 1st, 2016, I am fairly confident I will see a life where my extroverted soul is free and surrounded by new friends and deeper relationships than I currently have in my new setting, but everything can change in a precious moment. But not Jesus.

He is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

This New Year, after being surrounded by my dearest friends and closest family and feeling a joy that sometimes feels elusive, I resolve to not resolve. Because life is a journey that doesn’t end until I reach Zion, until I’m finally home.