Three Big Questions...

Wednesdays are study days for me as a pastor. I relish these days because they center me; they allow my mind and spirit to catch up with my body. They slow me down. They move me beyond administrivia. They nourish my soul. Today, I'm reading someone who's becoming a favorite writer of mine, N.T. Wright, a superb British theologian, the Bishop of Durham, and, as far as I can tell, a pretty normal guy (which isn't always the case in the rarefied atmosphere of theology). In particular, I am reading Wright's weighty tome, "The Resurrection of the Son of God." It's a magisterial, in-depth look at different views of the body, soul, and the afterlife during the time of Jesus. Today, as Wright was examining the apostle Paul's first letter to the Corinthians, he made this big point: he saw Paul's main intent in writing as getting them to identify themselves as part of the new narrative story inaugurated by Jesus and his resurrection. "[T]his is the story the Corinthians ought to be telling themselves about who they are and how their lives should be shaped. Becoming Christians does not simply free them from the constraints of their previous lives in order to leave them in a moral, or even narratival, vacuum. It weaves them into a new grand narrative..."

Wright, or in this case, Paul, was urging his readers to recall who they were--and what story they were a part of--in light of Jesus and his resurrection. Because of their faith in Jesus and, more importantly, because of what Jesus achieved in his sacrificial death and bodily resurrection, their lives, their identities, their futures, their roles, all of these were permanently changed. The biggest danger for them was forgetting who they were, whose they were, and what they were on earth for.

That's the take-home for today: three big questions whose answers we must keep before us daily. Who are we? Whose are we? What are we here for? Our answers to these basic questions determine the shape and trajectory of our lives. Get the answers wrong and we live in subjection to smaller stories, enslaving idols, yawning boredom. Get the answers right--and more importantly, keep the answers before us daily, and we live life fully, richly, adventurously.

So who are you? Are you an accident? A mere by-product of chance in a nameless, purposeless universe? Who are you? An animal with animal urges, the highest animal, of course, but an animal nonetheless? Who are you? A creature born to die? The sum total of your strengths and achievements minus your weaknesses and failures? Who are you? A consumer whose primary goals are comfort, convenience, and the steady fulfillment of self and senses? Who are you?!

The Christian, the one consciously living inside the Jesus story, answers with the following: I am a human being, a curious and wonderful hybrid of body and spirit. I'm hand-made by God, known and loved by my Creator from all eternity. I'm the highest of the created order on earth, gifted with a rational mind and creative spirit that reflect the image of my God. Though I've fallen out of intimate relationship with God due to my sinful self-absorption (this turning inward of my God-gaze), God has pursued me wonderfully, reached out to me, given me new life, and secured me to himself--all through the amazing journey of his Son, the man-God Jesus Christ. Because of Christ and his painful death on the cross, because of his victory over death at Easter, I am forgiven, fresh, new, guilt-free. I'm an adopted child of my heavenly Father, a new creation, an heir of Christ's riches. My life has purpose, meaning, security...even adventure. That's who I am. Who are you?

I realize that in answering the first question ("Who am I?"), I've also begun to answer the second two ("Whose am I?" and "What am I here for?"). I'd like to develop these questions and answers at a later date. For now, I'm really struck with this need to live consciously within the greater Story. All day long, I'm tempted to forget this story and buy into lesser stories: materialism (all that's really real and meaningful is the material), hedonism (the highest goal of life is the pursuit of pleasure), consumerism (the best use of my time and energy is consuming finer and finer things), egotism (I'm the center of life and reality). Ugh. These demote the grandeur and glory of what it means to be human. It's so subtle, but these lesser messages and shallower stories are thrown at us all day long. From TV, the Internet, the printed media, entertainment, advertizing, we are immersed in messages telling us who we are, whose we are, and what we're here on earth for. For me, I've got to resist these consciously and purposely by reminders of the Greater Story. I need the repetitive mantra, supplied by Scripture, worship, and Christian community to remind me of my true identity and the bigger story. I am God's child, bought by Christ's sacrifice, secure, loved, and lifted up into a Story much bigger than my own. A story of love and pain and hope.

That's plenty for today!

"I'm on the top of the world..."

Friday, July 14, 2006 will be a personal milestone for me in cycling. This was the day that two friends (Steve and Forrest) and I conquered the climb from Idaho Springs (7500') to the top of Mt. Evans (14,150') on our bikes. What a great adventure! We rolled out at 7:15a.m. in the cool, clear air and began the climb, an unrelenting 28.2 miles at an average gradient of 5.5%. The first rest stop (and brief it was) was at the half-way mark, Echo Lake, at 10,000 feet. Stepping off my bike, I felt nauseous and light-headed, concerned that these might be symptoms of altitude sickness. Thankfully, they weren't; I'm fairly sure I was just on the edge of bonking. A couple of gels, more Gatorade, and some focused prayer were just what I needed. Past the fee station and up the road to the summit, the views were fantastic--the Continental Divide spread out to our north, Longs Peak further north, Denver in the haze and heat to the east, South Park and Pike's Peak to the south and west. Up above treeline we pedaled as the road became bleached, cracked in places, and undulating. We saw marmots and these tiny mice-like creatures climbing the rocks beside the road. The topography felt like moonscape. The switchbacks careened madly back and forth as we continued to spin at a moderate pace. Interestingly, my heart rate stayed relatively low for the whole climb--I averaged 77% of maximum for the whole ride. Up, up, up we went, passed only by two elite-looking riders. The switchbacks in the last two miles before the summit are deceptive: just when you think you might be there (you can almost touch the observatory at the top), you've got several more switchbacks to climb. Before we knew it, though, we pedaled up the last pitch and into the parking lot, to be greeted by our faithful sag-car driver, Linda (Steve's wife), many sightseers and, believe it or not, a real, live mountain goat! Here we were, atop the highest paved bike climb in North America (if not the world--can you think of a road paved any higher?!). The descent was fast and bumpy on the upper slopes, smooth and speedy down below. It was a great day and one I'll never forget. Thanks for reading.

The Point at the End of the Spear

I look for what I call "God-moments" in life. These are moments when my heart is, in the old words of John Wesley, "strangely warmed" by God's presence or activity. I had such a God-moment recently while watching the DVD of the 2006 film "End of the Spear." It's a film about the five U.S. missionary martyrs who gave their lives in the mid-1950s to reach the Waodani people in the jungles of Ecuador. It's a lushly-filmed, restrained account that avoids being preachy or over-the-top religious. The witness of the missionary aviator Nate Saint, who at one point utters the following words to his son Steve, speaks volumes. Steve is anxious about his dad's missionary exploits in the airplane, urging his father to take a gun to protect himself as he reaches out to these notoriously warlike people. Nate's reply to his son hit me like a hammer. Nate explains that his own safety (and the use of his gun) are not necessary: "Son, we're ready to go to heaven; they're not." It floored me...and here's why: Nate's perspective was so thorougly rooted in faith and eternity that he was freed up to spend his life lavishly for a people who didn't yet know the God he knew. Comfort, control, certainty, safety--these were no longer primary for Nate Saint. He was consumed by a vision bigger than himself, motivated by a passion that enabled him to rise above mere self-protection. I was struck to the heart: while I confess formally that I share Nate's faith, I'm nowhere near his kind of freedom and vision. But I'd like to be closer...and freer...and more passionate about eternity, more able to rise above the instinct of self-preservation. I guess I felt the End of the Spear.