Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Battle of Faith

I’ve never been in a war zone. I have cousin who has served several tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, a small group member who is overseas right now, a father who served on the DMZ in Korea. I imagine that when someone signs up for the military, there is an awareness that war is possible for them, that one day they will be in a battle, but knowing that and having it become a reality are different things. And I can imagine that there are some men and women who, on the eve of battle, say, “You know, I didn’t sign up for this. I don’t want to be in a battle.” But the reality is, they did sign up for it and they are in the battle, and their option now is to fight.

I think that spiritually I feel much the same way. When I signed up as a follower of Jesus, I realized in theory that my life was not my own, that I belonged to God and was to live for His purposes. But I also imagined that this meant a life of peace and safety. Instead, what I am realizing is that I have signed on in a battle, and the closer I grow to Christ, the more I realize what is raging.

It’s not by accident that Paul writes about the armor of God. There is a spiritual battle going on that I am largely blind to, and as a leader in the church, I believe that I am under fiercer scrutiny, being drawn closer to the front lines. And there are days when I say, “You know, I didn’t sign up for this. I don’t want to be in a battle.” But the reality is, I did sign up for it. I transferred my allegiance from the kingdom of darkness to the Kingdom of Light; I have a King, and while my King is good and loving, He has enemies. And so do His followers.

Was it for nothing that Jesus said, “If they hated me, will they not also hate you?” Was it for nothing that Jesus invited His disciples to  take up their cross daily and follow Him?

Many Christians in America don’t sense the battle because we’re not a threat to the enemy. When we live complacent spiritual lives (which I am prone to do), there’s no need for a counterattack. But when we advance God’s Kingdom, living for our King and not for our own lives, we will see and feel it.

What’s so great about that joining the battle? Why not just take the assurance of salvation and try and be as comfortable as possible this side of heaven? For me, when I think about it, I think of movies and stories that stir my soul. The Lord of the Rings is an enduring classic because so many of us resonate with the ordinariness of hobbits who do extraordinary things. I love when Frodo says, “I wish the ring had never come to me.” Yet he is counseled by Gandalf to find hope in the battle. And so Frodo does, bolstered by community, fighting with what he has, not what he doesn’t. Caught up in a greater story is what we are created for, but there is no greater story without risk, no victory without battle. Too many people miss the adventure and settle for what’s safe, not what’s best.

I’m in. I don’t always want to be “in.” I’m tempted to run. But having other in the battle with me makes it all the more worth it. And even more, the Word of God strengthen, sustains and emboldens me. Stay in the battle and move forward.

Monday, August 15, 2011

No Trust in Mountains

When I head up Highway 421 towards Boone, there’s a point where the hills get green and the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains come into view. As I hit that point, something in my soul begins to settle, and there’s nowhere I’d rather be than in the NC hills. Every part of me wants to absorb the mountains – I love to stand in the creeks and let the water run over my feet and to put my hands in and pick up smooth rocks; I pause on trails to feel the soft moss on fallen logs; I breathe deeply, smelling the fresh air; I take in the shadows and the greens and the splashes of color from wildflowers. Whether I am walking a trail or sitting in a meadow, my soul is both more awake and more at rest in the mountains.

Last week my family and I received the gift of being able to stay at a home in Blowing Rock, and not just any home – a home with every possible comfort, with a beautiful view off the back deck, and, best of all, a home that was given freely, not just  the fact that we didn’t have to pay for it but also in the sense that the owners gave it with a generous, gracious spirit that enabled us to truly feel at home, not worrying about if we were going to mess things up. I left my laptop in Greensboro, and I was able to spend long days with my family, to connect with the Lord in the cool evenings on the porch, to walk and run the trails and begin to share my love of nature with my children.

Needless to say, driving home was hard. Diane and I knew what was waiting for us – a sick friend in her last days of life; back-to-school preparations and the inevitable adjustment period that comes with school’s start; jobs that we each enjoy yet demand a lot from us; less time together and with our kids. It was hard to not long for the mountains and the week that we’d had.

But yesterday morning at church, in the midst of my sadness and longing for the hills, we sang a song based on Psalm 121. “I lift my eyes to the mountains – where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, maker of heaven and earth.” Ps 121:1-2

I realized that it could be easy to put my hope in the mountains, in their refreshment and rest, but really, without Christ, they are just big rocks covered with trees. My rest is not in the mountains but in God who made them, and God’s rest and presence is just as much available to me here in Greensboro as it is in Boone. Remembering that and setting my heart and hope on that truth is harder here. There are more things to distract from that truth. But I believe that our vacation gave me the opportunity to reset and refocus so that I could come home and depend anew on God.

Psalm 62:1 says, “Truly my soul finds rest in God alone,”,  a truth statement. I experienced that truth in the mountains. Now at home, I am learning to live in Psalm 62:5 which says, “Yes, my soul, find rest in God,” commanding my soul to live in truth. And God, my help and my maker, is helping me along that path of rest and hope in the midst of work and life.