Friday, January 21, 2011

New Thoughts on 'Answering the Call'

In this 'mini-sabbatical' I have been enjoying a very refreshing time, part of which has been re-evaluating my calling. It looks like we will be moving (not 100% sure, but likely) so I have been packing and purging in preparation for the probability.

I was going through some old files and stumbled on some handwritten notes from 2002 and the darkest underlined sentence was 'callings are subject to change'.

So, typical of me, I picked up a book to investigate this idea. I found a great one in "The Call" by Os Guinness. I have been perusing this one slowly, writing a lot of searching questions as I read and prayerfully meditating on the principles Guinness outlines.

Guinness repudiates my old notes in this sense- as Christians we operate within 'two' callings. Our primary calling is to follow Jesus Christ in a lifelong path of discipleship- building His kingdom wherever He leads. This calling NEVER changes.

Within this primary calling, however, comes a secondary calling of where, when, who...etc. These callings can change. God can and usually does change the assignment.

I have a quick side note to answering a call. Every time this 'jargon' comes up I can't help but think of former Briarwood Christian volleyball coach, Barry Walker. He used to tell a story about his girls 'sleepwalking' through a match one time. He turned out a lot of state championship teams during his tenure. Anyway, uncharacteristically, these girls were losing point after point after point. He was struggling with what to do when a parent in the stands yelled out , "GIRLS, THE PHONE IS RINGING- WILL ANYONE ANSWER THE PHONE?". He used to smile when he told the story as he recalled these girls being shaken out of their slumber and staging a huge comeback victory.

After six fairly predictable but good chapters- Guinness takes an abrupt turn in Ch 7 and revamps the idea of call by calling us to an awareness that it is  'Time to Take a Stand'. This is one of the more inspirational pieces I have ever read by Guinness. He starts by re-telling the Leonidas and his 300 man Spartan stand against the Persian King Xerxes. These warriors fought against impossible odds, eventually suffering betrayal, and defeat just beyond the famous Thermopylae (Hot Gates). At their last gasp efforts- out of armor- and literally biting and scratching until their dying breath- they sent out a famous epitaph: "Stranger, tell the Spartans that we behaved as they would wish us to- and are buried here." No surprise when you consider the training and cultural mindset 'Come back with your shield or ON IT".

Everyone loves a winner- we strive like crazy to win and fear like crazy to lose. But sometimes a heroic defeat inspires change. We understand the end of this story, it was the passionate last stand of the Spartans that finally rallied the Greek states to action and unity- culminating in ultimate victory.

Setbacks are just platforms for comebacks. Sacrifice can be more inspirational than leisure and comfort. The hard road means more in the long run. (I have no shame that in my last two seasons as a coach we ended with 'losing records 3-7 and 5-6 because I know we inspired many by the way we played and the loving bond we shared.)

What in the world does this story have to do with 'answering the call'? Guinness tells us that there has never been a more strategic time in human history to take a radical stand for our Savior. Christians never despair in crisis because they know that the very crisis itself presents the greatest opportunities.

Think of it this way: "Passerby, tell our Lord that we behaved the way as He would wish us to behave- and we are buried here." We stare in the face of pluralism, consumerism, secularism, rapidly changing communication technology and risk being swamped by the global rejection of absolute truth.

The primary call has not changed- the odds seem unlikely- but there has never been a more exciting time to be a bold witness for the life changing gospel of Jesus Christ.

And what if the tide does not turn? What if we are slowly relegated to the ruin of irrelevance and rejection? We have no need to despair.

I have been supremely inspired by an old hymn written by Frederick William Faber (he also wrote 'God of Our Fathers') in 1849 called Workman of God:
1. Workman of God! O lose not heart,
But learn what God is like;
And in the darkest battlefield
Thou shalt know where to strike.

2. For God is other than we think;
His ways are far above
The heights of reason, and are reached
Only by childlike love.

3. He hides Himself so wondrously,
As though there were no God;
He is least seen when all the powers
Of ill are most abroad.

4. Thrice blest is he to whom is giv’n
The instinct that can tell
That God is on the field, when He
Is most invisible.

5. Blest too is he who can divine
Where real right doth lie,
And dares to take the side that seems
Wrong to man’s blindfold eye.

6. Then learn to scorn the praise of men,
And learn to lose with God;

For Jesus won the world through shame,
And beckons thee His road.

7. God's glory is a wondrous thing,
Most strange in all its ways ;
And, of all things on earth, least like
What men agree to praise.

8. Muse on His justice, downcast soul,
Muse, and take better heart ;
Back with thine angel to the field,
And bravely do thy part.

9. For right is right, since God is God;
And right the day must win;
To doubt would be disloyalty,
To falter would be sin.

There is no shame in standing up for Christ and being wiped out in the stand. There is great adventure and satisfaction in answering the call to stand for right.

I used to teach the Sermon on the Mount to seniors as they began their last semester of high school. After one week on the Beatitudes (based on the latin 'Beatus' or 'blessed') I would have the students write a paraphrase of what Jesus is saying. I always started mine with a re-drafting of 'Blessed are the poor in spirit" with my version "Congratulations, you realize now what a loser you are" emphasizing that the beginning of spiritual progress is in admitting your own spiritual bankruptcy.

After a week of discussing this idea I put my introductory phrase on the board. One of my colleagues walked into the room at that moment and boldly proclaimed to the class, "I'm NOT a LOSER, I'm a WINNER" and walked right out. Each student looked at me for my reaction- I just said, "It won't take long for this truth to come to light. We are winners in Christ, but until we learn that we are losers without Him, we will never join Him. Paul said, 'I am crucified with Christ'. (my fellow worker) knows this...just walked in at the wrong time."

Bottom line for all of us is this: It is better to lose with Christ than to win without Him. Do you believe that? My prayer is that all of us will. The phone is ringing.. who is going to wake up and answer the call? It may be that foes may wear us down, it may be that we wear championship crowns. But we will in the end be one equal temper of heroic hearts.
We may be misunderstood, mistrusted, or mocked- but my dear brothers and sisters- there is great honor in responding to the call to stand! To do anything less is actually not living at all.

1 comment:

Joseph said...

I was talking to my boss about this idea that there is an overarching purpose within which there are a variety of callings. This started to make sense to me when I read Found: God's Will by John MacArthur. He lists all the things that we must become, and then the big reveal is that God's will is for us to do what we want when we are the person we should be (or are in the process of becoming that person). This is a time laden with opportunity. We can not miss the call. I recently read "The Chocolate Soldier" by C.T. Studd, subtitled "Heroism--The Lost Chord of Christianity". I'll share just a short excerpt:

EVERY TRUE CHRISTIAN IS A SOLDIER--of Christ--a hero "par excellence"! Braver than the bravest--scorning the soft seductions of peace and her oft-repeated warnings against hardship, disease, danger, and death, whom he counts among his bosom friends.