Jesus changes everything.
I’m sure we’ve all been to a number of orientations over the years. Whether they’re for a new school or a new job, in my experience they typically have one thing in common: mind-numbing boredom. I’ve spent hours and hours in a cramped room listening to corporate videos extol the virtues of the company founder and days in the Alabama July heat wandering from contrived university talk to contrived university team-building exercise, wishing the whole time I could just go home.
Orientation for RUF was an entirely different experience.
Marx once called Christianity “The opiate of the masses,” a wish fed to the downtrodden in order to keep them complacent. “There’ll be a pie in the sky by-and-by,” the saying goes. “There are those who are so heavenly-minded that they serve no earthly good.”
Numerous Christian theologians and philosophers have pointed out over the past few centuries exactly how wrongheaded these conceptions of Christianity are. Lewis points out in Mere Christianity:
“A continual looking forward to the eternal world is not (as some modern people think) a form of escapism or wishful thinking, but one of the things a Christian is meant to do.
It does not mean that we are to leave the present world as it is. If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next. The Apostles themselves, who set on foot the conversion of the Roman Empire, the great men who built up the Middle Ages, the English Evangelicals who abolished the Slave Trade, all left their mark on Earth, precisely because their minds were occupied with Heaven. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this. Aim at Heaven and you will get earth ‘thrown in’: aim at earth and you will get neither.”
As the one who does “far more than we can ask or even imagine,” Jesus does not simply reserve the full goodness of himself for the day that we see him face to face. By the power of his Holy Spirit, we become agents of change and redemption in this very moment, the vanguard and first fruits of the New Jerusalem that comes down from heaven.
I got a full taste of that beauty last week.
Sixty-three newly-minted RUF Interns made journeys from everywhere across America to the Westin hotel in Atlanta, recently graduated but feeling like freshmen again. “Will they like me? Will I fit in? What if I don’t make any friends?” It’s amazing how quickly all our insecurities can come flying back to us when we simply change locations.
As leaders in RUF, we’ve been trained over the past few years to especially keep a caring eye out for the outsider. “Love the foreigner,” our God tells us, “For you were foreigners in Egypt.” As we walked into the large conference room for the first time on Monday afternoon, we all came, in some sense, as outsiders. It’s entirely normal in our society for outsiders to avoid one another – but in the space of a few hours, something else happened.
We realized we were family.
We all gathered together the second night to sing hymns together – not because anyone had told us to, but because we wanted to. We reminded each other both of the hardships of life and God’s promise that he will never leave or forsake us. We, in song, confessed to one another our many weaknesses, but also Jesus’ perfect provision for us. We thanked our Father for his over-abundant blessings to us. And when we were done, we realized that we’d just had a small experience of eternity.
Because we’ve been adopted into the family of God, even something like orientation – with all the drudgery of filling out tax forms and learning to read income and expense statements – becomes a place full of beauty. You see, whether it’s sitting across from a friend you’ve literally just met and being able to share some of the darkest, most painful details of your life in what feels like perfect safety, or long conversations shouted over a crowded room about the beauty that you find in knowing who God is, the church is in the business of bringing heaven breaking into earth in the here and now.
At the same time, we are still in a world “groaning with the pains of childbirth.” On Thursday we got the news that a bus from a church in Huntsville had flipped over, that people had been hurt and killed. In the middle of the lobby we begged our Father to be merciful and good and caring – to be the same as He has always been. As soon as we raised our heads, we saw one of our new friends being taken out of the hotel on a gurney – and we went right back into prayer there in the middle of the lobby. (Praise Jesus she’s doing well and was able to come back to the hotel that night!)
The wedding party is gathered. Everybody is standing around and the whispers have started – they’re talking and sharing their stories about the bridegroom and the things that he has done for all of them. The ways he’s been good. The ways he’s been beautiful. There’s an almost palpable air of anticipation as everyone begins to realize: he’s coming. It’s almost time. Soon He’ll be here.
The beauty of the gathering is offset by the longing for the one reason we’ve all been gathered to begin with. But our longing isn’t a hopeless one: it’s a sure one. We long in the context of the confident knowledge that one day, some day, someday soon, we will turn and we will see the thing that we have all been waiting for: Christ himself, in all his beauty and glory and majesty, robed in His Gospel, standing in front of our own eyes! And then everything that has been wrong – all the death, all the suffering, all the sickness, all the heartbreak and loneliness – will be gone forever!
Our hope begins here and now. In our homes, in our churches, in our small groups, in our workplaces – wherever the men and women who have been united by faith to Christ Jesus go, there the “fair flowers of paradise extend their fragrance ever sweet.” Today we see in part and know in part – just a little while longer, and we will know fully. Until that day, Christ calls us to gather the rest of his guests in to his table – to feed the physically and spiritually hungry – to do for them what he has done for us.
And because He loves us, in every place in His kingdom – far as the curse is found – the dawn of heaven breaks.
- Please pray for me and my fellow interns as we fundraise. We believe that our Father is the one “who owns the cattle on a thousand hills” and that he will provide. Consider partnering with us as we seek to bring the Kingdom of Christ here on earth.
- Please pray for the students we’re going to come into relationships with. Pray that God would bring them to us – or send us to find them – and that his Spirit would use even our fumbling words to communicate the beauty of the gospel to their hearts.
- Please pray for our prayer lives. The author of Hebrews calls us to “exhort one another every day, so long as it is called ‘today’, so that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” We are so weak that we need the power of the Spirit before we are even capable of remembering to cry out to Him.