Reflections on a Graduation and a Bike Ride

May 18, 2017

Last weekend our youngest child, Joel, graduated from UNC Chapel Hill. During those four years of college, Joel and thousands of his classmates worked hard at their academics, spurred each other on to excel, developed deep friendships, and grew to love their university. Indeed, the graduation ceremony emphasized again and again: “Chapel Hill is home. You can always come home. This place is your home forever.”

Speakers exhorted the new graduates to be true to themselves, forging their own path, not allowing others to define them; to continue to practice and develop critical thinking in order to live a good, moral life; and to continue to pursue higher learning, for in that way they will find fulfillment. Indeed, when acting like this, we were told, there is no limit to the good they can do.

Prior to graduation weekend, I participated in the 2017 Law Enforcement Bike Ride to DC, an annual ride from Charlotte covering about 500 miles in four days, to honor law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty. During those four days, more than a hundred cyclists worked together, persevering through the long miles and the cold, wet weather. Many placed a picture of a deceased officer they knew personally on the rear of their saddle. A support crew accompanied us and served us faithfully; churches and volunteer fire departments opened their doors to warm us and feed us. Like Joel’s classmates, we all – riders and support crew – developed a strong sense of camaraderie, and rejoiced to accomplish a challenging task together.

I delight in Joel’s hard work and fine education, as well as in the privilege of biking last week with so many dedicated riders. Joel grew and changed in positive ways through his four years at UNC Chapel Hill; those four days of riding had an impact on me. Praise God for such opportunities to stretch ourselves, to step out to accomplish something difficult, and to be able to carry it through to the end.

Both experiences point to eternal realities revealed in Scripture. God made us for something larger than ourselves individually. He created us to accomplish His tasks together. He made us for Himself, so that together we would be His intimate family – so that we would be truly at home with Him forever.

As humans made in the image of God, we long for that home. We long for that sense of belonging, that sense of accomplishment, that sense of camaraderie in working together for a vitally important task. Throughout our lives, we experience pointers to that real home, that real sense of purpose, that real camaraderie. But these pointers are most helpful and valuable to us only if we look through them to see the much greater reality they signify. Our home forever is not our alma mater; our great accomplishment is not persevering through challenges to fulfill an earthly academic or physical goal. Our home is with God, through union with Christ, with all the redeemed from every tribe and tongue and nation. Our great accomplishment is to disciple all these people groups, and then to worship our King with them in word and deed forever and ever, never ceasing to increase our delight in Him.

Along the way, we may need to forge our own path if others are leading us away from God; but we also need to deny ourselves and take up our cross and follow Jesus. We would do well to develop critical thinking skills and to apply them to help us understand better both Scripture and the world around us;  but critical thinking in service of our fallen desires will lead to the opposite of the good life. Higher learning subject to God’s revealed truth can help many to understand that truth in a deeper way; but when not subject to God, such learning easily puffs us up, and God opposes the proud. We can forge our own paths, think critically, and achieve the highest standard of learning – and yet do great evil in the world.

So pursue tasks you love; word hard together with Christians and non-Christians in education, in sports, in service. Enjoy the sense of common purpose, the joint accomplishment of a difficult task. But remember to look through the sign to the signified reality. God invites us to participate in the greatest accomplishment of all time; He welcomes us into the only eternally, perfectly loving family; He grants us the greatest joy and fulfillment imaginable. Don’t focus on pursuing the sign and then miss out on the reality.

 

What a Gospel!

May 4, 2017

Consider what Peter says about the recipients of his first letter:

He writes to those chosen “in accordance with the foreknowledge of God, through the setting apart [for God] of the [Holy] Spirit, unto obedience to Jesus Christ and [unto] sprinkling with the blood of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:2, own translation).

If you are in Christ, how did you get there? “In accordance with the foreknowledge of God.” That is, God the Father knew it and planned it long ago. He orchestrated all that happened in history – from the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus to the migrations of your ancestors and the meeting of your parents – to bring it about. And He orchestrated all that happened in your life to bring it about – from your siblings, friends, and schools to your encounters with believers and the Word. You are in Christ “in accordance with the foreknowledge of God.”

And you are in Christ “through the setting apart for God of the Holy Spirit.” That is, at exactly the right time, when all had been prepared, including your hearing the Word of Truth, the Gospel, the Holy Spirit picked you out of the mass of humanity headed for destruction, setting you apart for God. He opened your eyes to the hopelessness of the path you were on, to the empty promises of sin, to the beauty of Jesus, and to the joy of following Him. He surgically removed your heart of stone and transplanted a new heart of flesh. By His grace, you joyfully chose to repent of your sin, to take up your cross, and to follow Jesus. And that same Spirit continues to conform you to the image of Jesus.

What was the purpose of all this work by God the Father and God the Holy Spirit? It is all “unto obedience to Jesus Christ.” That is, all this took place so that you could glorify God by obeying all that Jesus commands, just as He obeyed all the Father commands. So our obedience is not optional, an extra add-on that might be good to do if we are saved, but is not essential. No! We are saved “unto obedience”! Our obedience is of central importance.

So we are chosen in accordance with the foreknowledge of God, through the setting apart for God of the Holy Spirit, unto obedience to Jesus Christ. Wonderful! But there’s a problem. You know what it is. In this life, our obedience is always imperfect. Chosen and saved for the purpose of obedience, we fail to live up to our purpose. We sin. We rebel. Yet God, having orchestrated all things to bring about our salvation, has dealt with this problem too. Peter says we are chosen and saved not only unto obedience but also “unto sprinkling with the blood of Jesus Christ.” God chose us not only to glorify all persons of the Trinity through our initial salvation, but also to glorify Himself through our being sprinkled, cleansed, covered time and again with the forgiveness that only comes through Christ’s death. In Christ, our disobedience doesn’t lead to our being excluded from Him – because God chooses us “unto sprinkling with the blood”.

Ponder that last paragraph. Realize: By the grace of God we fulfill our purpose even when we fail to live up to our purpose. Obedience is central – we are saved in order to obey! And our failure to obey is covered – Jesus’ blood is sufficient!

What grace! What mercy! What a Gospel!