[Letter to myself from March 6th, 2010. Pretty cool to see how I've grown since then.]
I am pleased to have seen how you have grown recently. It is as if you are starting to finally run (or attempt to run) in the race for the prize.
But I want to write this letter to beg you, cajole you, and frighten you to go deeper in faith. And that has to go so much deeper than just your mind.
You have a solid, discerning mind. That has helped you in your recent times of change—you have been able to understand that several of your deeply held beliefs are in fact inconsistent with the teachings of the Person you claim as your God. You have sought to reconcile the contradictions, and have not hesitated to throw out any pretension that sets itself against the Messiah.
For example, you have discarded the “power-over-others” model of power and domination that the world relies on to affect change (but that your slaughtered God refused). You have discovered an empathy for the oppressed that had formerly been covered up by a “laissez-faire” capitalistic mindset. You have learned the value of community.
You have not ignored God’s correction in these areas of your intellect, and for that I am glad.
But I have some things to say as God grows you.
First, you must remember that nothing you have been given, no change in yourself, is the result of you. It is God who has changed you. God has placed you with people who have changed you—some in ways you may never even imagine. Never ever forget that you would not be where you are today if it were not for their obedience to God in lovingly speaking the truth to you.
In addition, there have been omens directly from God, “Black Swan Events” that are impossible, that shouldn’t have happened, but that speak to you in an unimaginable way. Sometimes they’ve been as small as a significant phrase, other times as amazing as a prophecy or vision. If you have ears to hear, then hear. If you can remember, then remember. Like Mary, treasure these things in your heart.
So never forget that it is God that molds your heart and mind, not yourself. Never ever let a hint of pride enter in. “Someone who is conscious that he is capable of nothing has every day and every moment the precious opportunity to experience that God lives.”
A second thought I have for you is something that you have been coming across a lot. And that is to refuse the lukewarm objectivity of the formal Christian religion. Instead, choose, surrender, and bind yourself in the passionate, messy, subjectivity of a relationship with God.
Andrew, too often your faith is intellectual. Kierkegaard warns against this in practically every one of his writings. He says that to possess Christianity as a worldview is to have it precisely backwards. Faith is not about “understanding and articulating what we believe”. Faith is about an existence—to live completely as Christ.
My twin brother in Christ, it would be far worse if you have grown intellectually but don’t live it. As Kierkegaard warns: “Most systematizers stand in the same relation to their systems as the man who builds a great castle and lives in an adjoining shack; they do not live in their great systematic structure.” Or as Paul writes, “If I have all knowledge and can fathom all mysteries…but have not love, I am nothing.”
So Andrew, you need to make a choice. Actually, many, many choices. You need to make the decision each and every moment to be like Jesus. Many people admire Jesus; few are willing to follow him. Each decision to follow him shatters through time and reaches into eternity—there is no moment but now; there is no “later” to follow God. The time of redemption is now—don’t put it off! “Venture to give all your possessions to the poor and you will certainly experience the truth of Christ’s teaching. Venture once to make yourself completely vulnerable for the sake of the truth, and you will certainly experience the truth of Christ’s word.”
You need to make sure that truth exists for you. It is only true for you insofar as it leads you to action. It must permeate all your being and you must accept all of its consequences. Anything less is to be lukewarm. And to be lukewarm is to be spit out in utter disgust by the God of the Universe. Hear that Andrew? You would be better off as a wicked pagan than as a half-hearted Christian. Anything less than complete and total surrender to Jesus is betrayal. If you believe in love but do not love, you are nothing.
This is not easy, and I think especially for you. In the Enlightened West, it is countercultural to think of truth as needing to be subjective. We in the West are “rational”; we have highly developed theologies, philosophies, and worldviews. They are logically impeccable. They are objectively true and can be proven through proofs. But all these proofs do is turn Christ into a system of logic that we can choose whether or not to believe in.
But Christ isn’t a system, and he isn’t a part of this system. He’s a person and you have to choose him. I ask you Andrew, choose to be in a relationship with him more intimate than family or a lover. A relationship that actually affects what you do! In the West, we believe in our ideologies but we don’t act on them. Such a belief, such a faith, is dead! Reject this mindset and live like those in the East, who have this going for them—at least they practice what they believe (such as we see with family piety and honor in Asia).
And as you go forward, Andrew, you must also have faith. Faith is so scary, and I know that. Abraham had faith that God was telling him to kill his son. To thrust a knife into the heart of his son. Isn’t that crazy? But Abraham had faith that even if he killed Isaac, that God could resurrect him. Abraham’s trust was so deep, so passionate.
Or take Elijah. He was a man “just like us.” But “he prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years” (James 5:17). How awesome! He trusted God, but not with a trust born from logic, evidence, and arguments. He trusted him in faith, blind, crazy, audacious faith.
And you’re going to need faith. Really badly. Because you’re going to screw up, and you’re going to need to have faith that God still loves you and that you are forgiven in Jesus’ Name, Blood, and Power. Remember that nothing can separate you from the love of God.
And beyond that, if you are taking risks for God, your life won’t have a safety net. You will be forced to depend on God. And that takes faith; especially in a rich, Western society that places security and safety above all else. Instead, embrace danger, trusting that God will catch you. You could be a missionary called to Yemen, or called to sell everything you own and give it to the poor. You have no idea yet (or perhaps you do! Inquire of God). But you need to be willing to go wherever he needs you to go.
Finally Andrew, you must discover what your deepest passion is. “A saint is the person who can will the one thing”: the one thing that is his or her destiny. Andrew, beware of drowning in the many ‘good’ things that can distract you from your destiny. It is so easy to be busy, busy feeding the poor, busy leading Bible studies, busy going to church. But if those things “squander and dissipate” your life, you will feel like butter spread over too much bread and miss the point of your existence. You have a divine purpose, and it’s probably not to just be “nice” or “courteous”—it’s to commit yourself completely to that end that God put you here for. So you need to seek with all your heart, strength, and mind to find and discover that end. And then live it out. Do not be like Esau, who for a bowl of soup sold his inheritance. Be like Jesus, who would often choose to leave the multitudes of people (knowing he could miraculously have healed thousands of them) to go be alone with his Father. He knew what his mission was, and even the prospect of healing thousands would not distract him from that.
And remember that your mission may not even bear fruit in your lifetime. You “cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that. This enables us to do something, and to do it very well. It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest. We may never see the end results…we are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs. We are prophets of a future not our own” (Archbishop Oscar Romero).
In closing, Andrew, I know that omens and metaphors from nature speak deeply into you, so allow me to use one.
You must be baptized into the Living water, and reject the Lukewarm water. You want to be one who has “been buried with [Christ] in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead” (Colossians 2:12).
Andrew, Living water is moving, it is fresh, healthy. Lukewarm water is stagnant; it is dead. Likewise, Living Christians keep moving, are not bound to one tradition, and are unafraid of trying new things. You must allow the Spirit to move in unexpected and fresh ways. Lukewarm Christians stick to what they know, to old traditions that have lost all their relevance and life. They are not free, and don’t have joy.
Secondly, Living water flows down from the Mountain of God, rushing to the seas (Zechariah 8:3; 14:8-9); it is focused on the end goal. Lukewarm water focuses on where it is, plays it safe, and stands still. In this metaphor, Living Christians are focused on eternity (the sea). You must learn that nothing that happens now matters except pleasing God. Sacrifice fame, money, safety, family: all of these are incomparable to the glory that awaits you in the Kingdom of God (You will gain bread from heaven, safety in God’s hands, and an eternal, innumerable family of believers).
Lukewarm Christians, on the other hand, claim to care about God, but they do not choose to cut the chains that bind them to this world. They stand still in their dead-end jobs and lifeless churches because they do not want to change or feel uncomfortable (and then they wonder why God seems distant!). American Christians are particularly entrapped in this mindset. Lukewarm people -who I believe are the majority of modern Christians- have never taken a risk for Christ, and certainly not one that would place them in a precarious situation where they are wholly outside of their safety net.
What a tragedy! What sadness! Oh, I wish that God would bring extreme persecution upon modern Christians, so that we would be made to have faith like those in the early church! “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church” (Tertullian, 2nd Century). I wish we were forced to either choose God or choose the world once and for all, rather than trying to have it both ways! I pray for an environment that separates true followers from the Lukewarm!
In the marathon that is the Christian life, Lukewarm Christians say “I am going to take a break and rest, at least I’ve been in the race up to now, right? That’s better than some people…and anyway, God cannot expect everything from me. I do not have enough energy to go on.”
But I call on you, Andrew, to say, “No, I will run every step as fast as I can, though I am blind and exhausted. I have a trust in a God who will help me. He will daily renew my strength to go on.”
And Andrew, if you trust in Jesus, you will find that He is carrying you as you run. You won’t strike your foot against a stone; no, your feet won't even touch the ground.