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Thursday, October 7, 2010

Beginning Anew in Athens

Let me just say that God has been more merciful to me then any of you can possibly imagine. It is encouraging to me that even in the most depressing book in Bible, Lamentations, there is a verse that reads:

The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; - Lamentations 3:22 ESV

I kind of feel like those Jews did after they had been carried out of Jerusalem into Babylon. I have also sat by the river and wondered what this exile into an unfamiliar place with unfamiliar people could mean. I have cried, I have pleaded, I have mourned, and I have looked longingly toward what I would consider my "time in Jerusalem." Is it any wonder that when Jerusalem is referred to in the Scriptures, by its people (other than verses about judgment) it is referred to with reverence, excitement, and longing. Jerusalem was the place where the Temple was; the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob met with his people there. So, the question for those taken to Babylon was:
How shall we sing the LORD's song in a foreign land? - Psalm 137:4 ESV

It is a legitimate question; how does one sing the songs of Zion, of Jerusalem, when one is exiled in a foreign land like Babylon? Or, in contemporary terms, how does one continue to passionately serve God in a place and culture that does not understand and may even be hostile towards how I think and the way I am wired to serve God. I am not saying that Clements is Babylon, far, far from it. What I am saying is my experience in life right now is like the Jews having to go to Babylon. Just so there is no confusion; as I am about to say, I think Clements is a good place to begin anew, to start over, to repent as it were...but I am getting ahead of myself.

Right now, I am in exile, not in Athens (please be discerning if you go back and read "Exile in Athens"), but in my own spiritual life. The Confessions series of blogs has been an attempt to show that something is wrong with me, that I do not have it all together. The longer I am out of college, the more I am seeing just how narcissistic and neurotic I can tend to be; I am not happy about it in the least. Like the Jews who forsook God; I am in exile for running from God for the longest time...for being irresponsible, reckless, and leaving my life and reputation in such a mess that God had to send me to nowhere, refuse to give me work, and force me to get over myself in order to give me a chance to start over.

In my arrogance I have dictated to God what should happen, who I should be friends with, and where I should be in the coming months. Yet, as I have heard repeatedly on several occasions; God is more concerned with me being conformed to the image of his Son than what I contribute to the kingdom. I mean that is the whole emphasis of predestination in Romans 8:

For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. - Romans 8:29 ESV

God's main goal for me is for me to conformed to the image of his Son and to be honest; I have no idea who I look like right now. One of my deepest fears has been that if I stopped being the jaded, sarcastic twit I have always been, then I will fade into insignificance and be forgotten. I don't want to be forgotten; that is my problem. The vanity I share with every single individual of my species screams to be remembered and to be unique; yet my uniqueness cannot come from the selfish-gene. Christ wants each of us to be unique, after all, God is the God of diversity, but he wants us to be unique in him. In Ephesians 1 the phrase in him is repeated constantly, reminding us that everything we have and are is found in Christ and in him alone.

Therefore, if I am to be the unique individual God created me to be, then I must be that person in him. Who will I become, if I just let go of my own image? I do not know, but it has to be better than who I am now. I cannot lead or minister or even really, love someone if I am not becoming who I am supposed to be in Christ. I want to highlight the word becoming because I have serious issues with living by grace. As a perfectionist and someone who has been prone to morbid self-approbation; I need God to constantly remind me what or rather who grace is. I am nowhere close to being an exact reflection or image of Jesus Christ; I will never be really close in this lifetime, but by the grace of God I can become
more like him than I am today.

So, I talked with Pastor Tim Anderson to start off with; I was looking for ministry but God was looking for me. I am always amazed how God finds small ways to remind me that he is still there; that despite my spoiled sulking he has not left the building (ie my body) and he is still very much in charge. God used Pastor Tim to really speak to me, to speak to me in a way I had never been spoken to by a pastor before. Once I knew that Pastor Tim really cared about me, not trying to get rid of me, I was more than willing to listen. He started talking about helping me with things that I have long since known were issues but really have had little idea, guidance, or encouragement on what to do. It amazes me because I have been praying for several months for God to give me a human being to relay what he is trying to get at in me. Once I was willing to go ask to serve, he was willing to talk to me.

Now mind you, Pastor Tim cannot change me, neither would it be right for me to put my hope in Tim Anderson. My hope, my only hope, is in Christ to use what I can hear to get my attention. He has done just that; where all my studying, reading, and praying have produced a lot of silence...God has simply been waiting for me to submit myself to serve, learn, and listen. I have to be honest with you all, there are lot of things that I am not overly fond of at Clements Baptist Church. I am just not a country born, Southern mindset, Athens kind of guy. I am Southern Baptist in doctrine but I am not so much in application and practice. But none of these things are anything but preferences that God has placed in me for future use when he deems it time to release me from exile, and they can be easily overlooked.
What really needs to be said about Clements is the people's commitment to God and to each other. There are few places in the world where the people care about each other as much as they do at Clements. People who have been gathering together for years really do consider each other family. There are various levels of education, socioeconomic status, theological leanings, etc and they all manage to love each other and the church that God has formed from them, passionately. Pastor Tim leads a group of men, and to some degree women, who are dedicated to building each other up and preparing each other to do the work of the ministry. I had the privilege the other night to sit in a "Yoke fellow/Deacon/Staff" training time and I was impressed by the commitment that all have to be used to build Christ's kingdom with Clements Baptist.

To sum it up, Clements has a touch of God on them, something you don't often find. How else can a church have existed for so long and never had even a semblance of a major church disagreement? How else can a church of 700 people meet on land near a cow pasture (at night you can literally hear the cows and sometimes even smell them)? God has his hands on Clements, especially on those who are leading her, and what better place could there be to get this jaded, sarcastic troublemaker back into loving and serving in the local church?

No, life has not gone how I had wanted nor how I planned it. If it had, I don't think I would have paused long enough to begin to see just how really screwed up in sin that I really am. If God had not "imprisoned" me in my parents' house with no job, no friends, and no foward motion...I may have kept moving, perhaps right into a whirlpool and I would have been sucked under and smashed to pieces. Yet, God in his great mercy chose instead to put up with my griping, whining, and sulking in order to begin anew in me; to reconstruct what I nearly tore down in college: the image of Christ in me.

Pray for me, brothers and sisters.

Grace and peace be with you all.


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