Monday, August 29, 2016

Get Lost

Years (and years and years) ago I attend a class about how to share your faith. Rather than suggesting that we start with a Gospel presentation, the teacher said that we should begin by asking questions. Supposedly, as we probed the other persons' belief system, they themselves would begin to recognize that they were lost. The point was that we needed to help people recognize that they were "lost" before we could tell them how to be "found."

In a sense, going to seminary has been doing a similar thing to me. It has been helping me get "lost."

Since I was practically born on the second pew of a church, I've spent most of my life feeling "found." I knew what Christians believed. I knew what one must do to be saved. I knew how salvation had been wrought. I knew what the Bible said. I knew (basically) what the Bible meant. I was as found as found could be.

Or so I thought.

But class by class, things began to unravel. Questions--BIG questions--started looming large. Doubts moved in and set up house.

I'm not alone. Thankfully, I have an amazing group of colleagues by my side, a cohort of ministers who are muddling through right along side of me. They challenge me, inspire me, undo me, nourish me, and comfort me. We have gone to the brink together.

During one class, while peering out over a steep precipice of unknowns, one of my classmates became ashen. Noticing his fallen countenence, our professor asked, "What's wrong? What are you thinking?"

To which my classmate replied, "I'm just wondering how in the world I'm going to preach this stuff to my church!"

Our professor exploded, "DON'T PREACH THIS STUFF!!! This is just the stuff with which YOU must wrestle if you are ever to preach well."

My professor wasn't advocating hiding essential doctrines or watering down the Gospel. He wasn't insinuating that your average everyday Christian doesn't have a genuine faith. He was simply reminding us that going to seminary is both a privilege and a responsibility. We are becoming theologians, guardians of orthodoxy for our generation. And as such, we better know what those who have gone before us thought, and how they arrived at their conclusions, and why (or if?) those conclusions matter. And frankly, that stuff is messy. I wish it were neat and tidy, but it just isn't. Because God entrusted His Good News to human beings, and He continues to do so.

My professor's point was that we have to let the hard, confusing, difficult truths inform us. And then we have to let the Spirit transform us. Then, and only then, might we be ready to attempt to preach--and to handle His awesome Word of Truth with the dignity and respect it so deserves.

This "informing and transforming" feels a lot like being lost. And yet...I have the sense that I am being found as well.

I have found a profound respect for Christian orthodoxy.

I have found a deeper sense of awe for the person of God.

I have found a greater appreciation for the Scriptures.

I have found a surer faith in a few Truths. I've discovered the essentials.

I have found a genuine admiration for the broad and diverse family of God.

And I'm learning that not all doubt is unhealthy. Some doubts keep me humble. Those doubts are gifts of grace.

In the end, learning about God does not take the place of experiencing God. Knowing about Jesus is not the same thing as knowing Jesus. Believing in the Spirit is not that same thing as living in the Spirit. And if there's one thing all the questions and doubts have driven me to do, it's to cling to the One who saved me.

In fact, I think of when Jesus healed the man who was born blind, and how everyone questioned the poor guy about HOW he was healed. He doesn't know how it happened. All he knows is, "I was blind, and now I see."

Before seminary, my faith was full of answers. Now my faith is full of questions. But one thing I know: I was blind, and now I see.

He found me, despite the doubts and questions.

Jesus changes my life. Jesus makes me whole. Jesus fills my heart. Jesus gives me pupose. Jesus enables me to love. Jesus makes me holy.

I'm not sure everyone must wrestle with the complexities of faith, but I'm sure that we all go through periods of doubt and questions. In those moments, I suppose we have to take our cue from Jacob, the Old Testament patriarch. We wrestle with God, but we don't let go. We might get wounded in the fight, but we hold on until the blessing comes.

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