Class Is In

Several posts back, I started a series designed to answer the question, “How did you guys end up at Bethel?” As you’ve already figured out, it’s not a short answer. It was my goal to write out the entire “back story” prior to the first day of class.

failWe started class last Tuesday. I have failed.

The struggle I now face is to somehow complete a description of our journey here, while leaving room for new posts that describe life here and now. The past is great, but I’m in the present, with more to share as we go forward. Compounding matters is the fact that our days here have become very full very quickly. The past week had this as an average day:

6:15 AM: Wake-up
7:30 AM: Deliver three girls to two schools
10:00 AM: Head to class
5:45 PM: Leave class
5:46 PM: Race to pick up kids from two different after-school daycares, before they close at 6:00.
6:15 PM: Supper / Baths / Homework / Stories / Bedtime for kids
8:45 PM: Adults’ homework time
11:59 PM: Sleep till it rolls around again

This opening week of class has featured unusually long days, so that schedule shouldn’t always be quite so nutty. But additional activities will take up most of the slack that might form, as various versions of small groups and ministry experiences begin in the weeks ahead. I think we’ve also discovered that both of us will be spending a couple hours reading and writing most evenings for the year. Our course is set.

Don’t these people know I have a blog to maintain?!

However, this post is not dedicated to daytimers or demands. Everyone has those. I’d best be guided by a statement my wife might make when the sharing of life’s details is simply too little: “But I want to know what’s happening inside of you.”

text-messageThat’s tricky to describe, as a friend back home discovered on my third day of class. He texted me this, “How are things in your adventure with God there?” His question landed in a moment when I was feeling fairly rattled. My reply: “Oh boy… The easy answer would be to say that it’s ‘really good’ so far. Another answer would be to say that I’m wondering if this experience is going to kill me in some way. But that would require more explaining than I feel capable of. :-)” He mercifully left me alone with a gentle reply that he hoped I didn’t really die and a nervous-but-caring emoticon.

Let me attempt to describe a bit of this by first talking about somebody else.

bill-johnsonThe senior pastor of Bethel Church is a man named Bill Johnson. I unashamedly admire and appreciate him a great deal. If you listen to his messages for any length of time, you’ll hear him allude to a very profound God-encounter that he had many years ago, an experience that generated a significant shift in his life. For many months, Bill felt his life wrapped around a single sentence of prayer: “God, I must have more of You at any cost!” One night, he was awakened at exactly 3 AM. He was immediately wide awake and experiencing in his body a sensation just shy of electrocution. The more he tried to stop it, the worse it got. He neither heard a voice nor saw a vision, but he sensed no doubt in his soul that this was God responding to his prayer. This sensation lasted nearly four hours, at which point he got out of bed completely refreshed. The same thing happened for two more nights.

When Bill recounts the story in person or in print, he shares those details just sufficiently to describe the scene, but he doesn’t linger long there. The outer experience mattered because it got his full attention, but his full attention was quickly directed to deeper places than his nervous system. He felt aware of a significant exchange taking place in his spirit. The Father was challenging him on whether he meant what he had prayed.

“At any cost?”

Jacob encountered the Lord, and he limped for the rest of his life. Mary was chosen to serve the Lord in a glorious role, and she bore the stigma of birthing an illegitimate child from that day forward. What cost was Bill willing to bear? He felt as though God was setting sights upon his regard for his reputation. Who doesn’t want to be respected and esteemed by others? Would he continue to pray this prayer if God offered a life with “more of Him” in exchange for his own dignity?

The Bible describes the Holy Spirit as the Counselor and the Word of God as a sword so sharp that it divides our deepest layers one from the other. Whichever image you prefer, the point is that God knows how to get to the heart of the matter in a hurry. Bill was laid bare, and in that moment, his prayer of response was, “More, God, more! I must have more of You at any cost. If I lose respectability and get You in the exchange, I’ll gladly make that trade. Just give me more of You!”

Feel free to make that prayer as much your own as you wish.

One of BSSM’s key terms is the word “revivalist”. The mission statement of their school revolves around developing the revivalist in every student. “How do they define that term?” you ask? Great question. Here’s the official answer:

  • Revivalist: a believer who is focused and passionate, willing to pay any price to live in community, purity, and power because they are loved by God, whose manifest presence transforms lives and cultures

For the record, I don’t wear that word comfortably today. I don’t even claim to be that. Part of the issue is that the term skews in my grey matter into images of televangelists that I don’t trust or wish to emulate. But the more personal issue is that I haven’t often felt like “revivalist material”. I’m aware of my shortcomings, at least enough of them to fear that that list doesn’t often describe the person I am.

But it describes the person I wish to be.

I think I do.

I think I have wished to be that for many years.

Can there be a believer anywhere who doesn’t at least want to want to be what is described above?

bibleOn our first day of class, we were assigned to read two chapters of Scripture everyday for the rest of the school year. The first two months feature assigned passages, an Old Testament flow through selections that carry the “big story” of the Bible, followed by heavy New Testament immersion featuring every chapter of the Gospels and Acts. In the quiet of this afternoon, I sat with famous, read-it-a-million-times passages from the lives of Abraham and Moses. Let me share what landed during those readings.

Genesis 22 features Abraham being tested by God’s request to sacrifice his son Isaac. It opens like this:

1 Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!”

“Here I am,” he replied.

2 Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.”

3 Early the next morning Abraham got up and loaded his donkey.

People love to be their own masters. We intuitively buck against anyone’s attempts to tell us where to go or what to do or with whom to do it or what it will cost us. Yet, God lays out all these details for Abraham, in an un-imaginable scenario. And the response of our “faith father”?

“Early the next morning Abraham got up and loaded his donkey.”

No hesitation. No bartering. No dragging of feet or digging of heels. God directs. Abraham obeys. And I am convicted just in time to read verse 12.

12 “Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.”

My highlighter targeted the phrase “you have not withheld from me”. In the margin, my pen recorded, “Your obedience is marked by what you don’t withhold.” Just as Bill was awakened for some 3 AM soul-wrestling, I am sensing, albeit current-free at this point, the Lord leaning upon me with some questions:

  • What do you withhold from me, Jason?
  • What drives you to do that?
  • What do you imagine would happen if you stopped protecting that which is so precious to you, and instead offered it to me in obedience?

Good questions, Father.


I’m going to keep reading…

Back in Genesis 22, God responds to Abraham’s daring obedience. Notice verses 12-14.

12 “Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.”

13 Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. 14 So Abraham called that place The Lord Will Provide. And to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.”

I’m especially intrigued by verse 14.

Abraham named the place in accordance with his experience there. But the rest of the verse suggests that a soon-to-be-old saying was birthed on that day. We get the impression that for ages to come, this sentence became part of regular dialog. It was widely known, in the vocabulary vault of everyone from a young age: “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.”

And I find myself musing. In what types of conversations did that line arise?

I imagine two people conversing about matters of faith or trust or obedience. One is describing the work that Yahweh is doing in his life, and in an effort to provide counsel, the other says, “Well, you know what they say: ‘On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.’” This cliché was likely offered as encouragement that the God who provided for Abraham would also provide for him. But that message alone would be a watered-down “Chicken Soup” version of the truth. The saying that rooted itself in the language of the day was explicit with a location: “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.”

The provision of the Lord occurs on the mountain of the Lord. One doesn’t receive the living water in the living room. God’s gift is indeed merciful and miraculous, but it is only received after cost has been counted and mileage has been logged. Said another way:

Don’t get no ram
At home with the fam.

Ahead of filling in the blank of what “you have not withheld from me”, there is no promise of tasting firsthand the provision of the Lord. The provision is heaped after the mountain has been hiked. Or as the margin of my Bible now notes, “As you follow where He leads and offer what He asks, He will provide.”

The word “as” is far larger than its two measly letters might suggest.

Later, I was directed to read Exodus 12. Verses 1-13 provide the instructions that were to guide the Hebrews on their final night of Egyptian slavery. There are details about late-night lamb chops shared with families and friends. They can expect bloodied door frames and battered firstborns. Tucked in those instructions is verse 11:

11 This is how you are to eat it: with your cloak tucked into your belt, your sandals on your feet and your staff in your hand. Eat it in haste; it is the Lord’s Passover.

These funny fashion tidbits are hardly funny. And they’re hardly tidbits. They describe the vital tone of this meal.

This is not to be a leisurely lunch.

No lounging afterwards. We are not watching college football.

The body-garments point to the heart-questions. As your mouth ate, your soul was to ask:

  • “Now what?
  • What are we doing?
  • Where are we going?
  • What is next?”

This meal was to be eaten in a spirit of readiness. In the lamb, one was receiving the sustenance of the Lord – salvation. And it appears unthinkable that one would consume such a feast while imagining that he could simply stay put afterward. That option is not on the table.

This menu demands movement.

This feast bestows freedom.

One cannot fill up and head home, for home is not back there. Home is beckoning us onward. There are rivers to cross and deserts to traverse.

Anything formerly withheld can be left here. Whatever value it once held and whatever role it once played, the Lord will provide abundantly more as you bear the cost of following Him wherever He leads.

My supportive friend ended our text-talk with a hope that I don’t really die. I appreciated the sentiment. I felt the same. Nobody likes the feeling of death. But perhaps since then, my trembling insides have stilled just enough to discern a hunch that is somehow and simultaneously unsettling and silencing. God would send a different text.

Some things are supposed to die.

And I will lovingly hunt them down in you.

3 thoughts on “Class Is In

  1. Nobody wants to die. Self-preservation is a powerful force against surrendering to death. Yet Jesus calls us to surrender what we cannot keep that we may receive what we will not lose. And the dying starts with the “self” we think we are – a self made in some other, lesser, image – in order to receive (by faith) the image of the Selfless One. Who we are must be rooted in Whose we are. And we will receive (again, by faith) a revelation of Holy Spirit as (yes Jay, it’s a much larger word than it seems) we soak in His presence. For what it’s worth, I am so grateful to the Lord for His direction in your lives. I would say that I am proud of you and Shannon, but I’m not sure if that would sound contrived. (Well, now I’ve said it, and it’s NOT contrived…so please take it as encouragement!) Prepare to be wrecked. In a good way. I only know this partially – my journey as a “mature” student is not yet done – but I can tell you that the pain is real. I revel in the moments of light, joy in them, but I realize the process is continuing and He has graciously granted me an oasis. I am finding that my “self” is not the finished product I thought I was, much as you have written in earlier posts. So I strive to prepare to be rebuilt, even as the demolition continues. And I lean in to my Saviour. Thank you so much for your talented, anointed (get used to the word, brother – you were (both) born for this..) writing, and your refreshing honesty. All glory to Jesus.

    • Thanks for both the thoughtful reply and the kind words, RJ. In short, I guess all I was attempting to say was that the “dying” process of discipleship is very intense and very real. The feeling one imagines of battling for final breaths is a valid image of what it’s like when we sense God beckoning us to surrender control or privilege or sin or fear or reputation or whatever else we wrap our hearts around so tightly.

      The death experience wrapped into following Jesus is real.

      But the life experience wrapped into following Jesus — the resurrected life experience — it’s also real. And more real than we think. I recall many years when all I had was a Bible-based suspicion: “There HAS to be more to than this than I’m currently tapping! More freedom, more joy, more power, and more even than what I’m craving. There HAS to be, or it makes no sense.”

      He’s the King of glory. And glory is no small word.

    • I appreciate your words and your friendship, RJ. You’re right that we all possess that desire of self-preservation. It’s a great trait as it drives us to take care of ourselves and those around us, and to value life. But in the spiritual realm, it can cut the other way, often stirring up fears that actually prevent us from following God. I suppose that in a Kingdom where resurrection only follows death, that challenging dynamic will always be at work.

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