Friday, December 28, 2012

Heeding the Whisper - Week 7

I may be almost a month behind, but at least this series will finish up before the new year.

In the final session of the Called study, titled "Sneak Previews," we discussed what a calling should mean to people who look forward to eternity.  We discussed three somewhat-related topics:

The primary idea of the topic is that our calling is not just a temporal, earthly concern, but one that will carry importance and meaning into the new Jerusalem.  When the prophets talk about the redeemed creation, they paint a picture of a place where life still happens, where commerce and culture are active and thriving.  The popular notion of heaven frequently involves white robes, fluffy clouds, and endless noodling on the harp, but the biblical picture is that we'll still be living and working.  Work itself was never itself cursed, but when creation was cursed, work became a toil.  It wasn't bad, it was just difficult.  When all things come to fulfillment, what we did in the here-and-now will be important.

This does raise the question, what will we do in the redeemed creation?  I'm not sure we'll have an answer until we get there.  There are a lot of jobs that only exist because this world is fallen and imperfect.  As a scientist, I have a particular interest here, because my job involves discovering hidden truths of the world and using that knowledge to make it better.  When all truth is made plain by the light of Christ, when all flaws have been rendered from the world, what will that leave for me?  I don't know.  I can't wait to find out, though.

The second idea, which flows directly from the first, is that we have a responsibility of working towards the renewal and redemption of creation.  This is not to say that Christians can bring about "heaven on Earth," but we abandon our charge to be the "salt of the earth" by leaving the world around us to rot in corruption.  Of course, what this means is an entirely different can of worms.  A lot of people have thrown their hats in with politics as the means of living out this principle, but there's a lot more to it than that.  I still think the most effective way of redeeming the world around us is through the gospel, one heart at a time.

The final idea that came out of this session involved the impact of our calling and our life.  There are a lot of people who see most of the impact from living out their calling right away; a doctor, for example, sees patients recover and walk out the hospital door.  For the rest of us, however, the true reach of our lives may never be fully realized until we leave this life behind.  One example used is Ruth; in the book of Ruth, there are no miracles, only the story of a faithful woman who finds love in a foreign land.  Yet Ruth is counted in the genealogy of Christ, making the mundanity of her life more significant in retrospect.

A truly interesting example Frank gave for this was the story of Rodriguez, as told through the documentary Searching for Sugar Man. Rodriguez was a guitarist whose music never found fame in the US; he did, however, develop a huge following in South Africa.  The man lived most of his life in obscurity, and his fans in South Africa didn't even know he was still alive.  Some time ago, he was "re-discovered" and invited to South Africa for a concert.  Imagine his surprise, coming onto the stage to an audience of thousands, cheering fans who knew the words to his songs better than he did.  It's a remarkable story, and its connection to our calling is significant.

I'll have one more post on the series to wrap up the various ideas that have floated around, and I hope to have it out before January.

Monday, December 03, 2012

Heeding the Whisper - Week 6

I realize this post is incredibly late at this point.  The series has actually ended; well, sort of.  Scheduling conflicts and holidays pushed back my small group's completion of the study until next week.  My own tardiness in putting up this particular post has more to do with figuring out just what I wanted to even say about the topic.

Week 6 of the study involved the role of "calling" as a tool in evangelism.  This series has dealt with the implications of living out your faith every day of the week, which means treating work as an extension of faith.  It's not just that work is something separate from the life you lead on Sunday morning, but it should be an integrated part of that whole.  Since sharing the gospel is the highest privilege and responsibility in the life of faith, work must also be an integrated part of evangelism.

In particular, the idea of "calling" can be useful in evangelism.  It's something that a lot of people will find familiarity with, even if they don't understand it in the way that Christians understand it.  (Well, to the degree any of us even understand it.)  Just like Paul taking the altar to the unknown god and turning it into a vehicle for the gospel, so we should use calling to find and reach people where they are.

Frank has said that this was the entire basis of his thesis, which was itself the basis for this series.  It's sound advice.  If you believe that God is reaching out to every person, the way a person wrestles with purpose and calling can definitely be an opening for the gospel.  They hear God, even if they don't understand it.  (Or, in Paul's words, "Therefore what you worship without knowing it, this I proclaim to you.")

This is probably much more complicated in practice, though.  This area runs up to a problem Christians have been having since New Age spirituality became so prevalent in the West, in that the language used by Christians has been co-opted to mean something almost, but not quite, entirely unlike it's original meaning.  The shared language doesn't just extend to the idea of a calling, but to what that should mean as well.  Most of the world understands morality through the lens of "good deeds;" it doesn't matter what you believe, as long as you're a "good person" who does "good deeds."  The "calling" a person wrestles with then becomes a matter of finding something you enjoy doing and/or being able to do "good deeds" through it.  It's not entirely divorced from the ideas we've been discussing the last several weeks, but it's certainly a bastardized version of it.  

The heart of the matter is that our calling is God inviting us to participate in his work.  Expressing that to a world that wonders whether such invitations are possible . . . well, that's the hard part.  I'm not really sure I have anything profound to add that wasn't already said by Frank in this series.  Avoiding formulas.  Listening.  Humility.  Explaining ourselves.  Everything that evangelism is supposed to be.