Sunday, December 31, 2006

Every December 31st I make it a point to write a journal entry. When it comes to my journal, it may be months between entries, days, or occasionally hours, but December 31st always receives an entry.

As you might have guessed, December 31st entries are reflections on the past year. A list of gains and losses. Occasionally a lesson or two learned. Typically as I reflect I discover a central theme for the year, something usually that God used the events of the year to teach me. 2006 boiled down to one theme, one word: hope.

I cannot say that before 2006 I ever really understood hope. Yes, I hoped for things, and I hoped in things. But, I do not think that I truly knew what hope is.

This year, I saw many who live without hope. Some of them I have become deeply involved in their lives. I see the emptiness that is there.

For me I came to believe that there was something more to hope for than the bondage I was so enmeshed in. I began to believe that I could lead a different life than the one I was leading. I began to see freedom, and I hoped for it.

I love to run, but running takes an effort that I am not always willing to give. Each time that I strap on my running shoes and take to the road, I remember the exhilaration and the clarity that comes to my mind with each step. An ambition of mine is to run a marathon. As I have talked with other marathoners, I hear stories of the anguish and the pain that hits especially hard in the last few miles of the race. But every time that I ask if it was worth the pain, every time that I ask whether or not they enjoyed the experience, they all say it was worth it and that they loved it.

Hope is like that. Hope does not come out of times of ease and blessing. Hope comes out of times of hardship and anguish. Although the race is worth it, the race comes with a lot of pain. But you eagerly and expentantly look for the finish line and know that it is drawing nearer with each step. That is the hope.

It would be nice if hope and its predecessor faith came out of the blissful moments of life. But somehow I do not think that hope would be hope or faith would be faith if they came out of those moments. And so in the midst of the pain and the hardship, I eagerly hope for and find the freedom given in Christ.

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.
It is written: "I believed; therefore I have spoken."With that same spirit of faith we also believe and therefore speak, because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you in his presence. All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.
Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
2 Corinthians 4:7-18

Monday, December 04, 2006

(Taken from a paper I recently wrote for Dynamics of the Spiritual Journey, my Tuesday night class.)

There was a canyon near the city I grew up in. Many wealthy people had homes in and around the canyon. A man bought property on the edge of the canyon wall. This land had one of the best views of the canyon and the lake below and was an excellent place for a dream home. The man was quite eccentric and designed a house with an entirely steel framework that resembled the head of a bird of prey. He began to build the house jutting over the side of the cliff, but he misjudged. The man quickly ran out of funds after construction began. He went bankrupt, and the bank repossessed the land and the partially built house. The steel framework, the only thing to be completed on the house, still stands at the top of the cliff—a horrifically, ugly fixture surround by beautiful landscape and some of the finest homes in the area.

Every time that I drive out to the canyon I remember the story and see the monstrous memorial to the man who did not count the cost. Jesus told a similar story in Luke 24:28-30:

“Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’”

This he used as an example of counting the cost of discipleship. Jesus made it perfectly plain that if you desired to be in relationship with him as a disciple that it would cost you everything—your relationships with family and friends, wealth, etc. Everything had to be worth less in your estimate than your relationship with him.

This is where I find myself in Jesus’ story. Sitting and counting the cost. Desiring to be a disciple of Jesus, becoming his follower in doctrine and in conduct of life, but not yet certain of paying the full price. I sit counting the cost of truly following Jesus, not just believing in him, but learning to live like him—having the kind of relationships he had, seeking out the kind of wisdom he had, loving God as he did, loving others as he did. It is truly dangerous and truly costly! So I sit and count, deciding whether or not to invest.