Lent Reflection: Desert Rice

rice

I was driving one day when these lyrics caught my attention, dragging it back from whatever planet it was on for the moment. I was startled by the poignancy of the words:

What wisdom puts the prophet in a desert place
Nobody to hear a single word he says?
And what wisdom brings reward from suffering
Where if I want to win I have to lose everything?

How can I make sense of this?
I am living in God’s foolishness
All the money and the power and the cleverness
Of this world, defeated by foolishness
Foolish things shame the kings (Tree63)

I though of John the Baptist and looked him up. It looks like his parents died when he was pretty young, and from there he lived on his own in the desert until he was about 30. He probably ate a lot of rice. I always imagine lonely people eating lots of rice for some reason.

The story doesn’t seem right to me. This man’s reputation preceded him even before he was born. Referencing John’s birth, the book of Luke says,

The neighbors were all filled with awe, and throughout the hill country of Judea people were talking about all these things. Everyone who heard this wondered about it, asking, “What then is this child going to be?” For the Lord’s hand was with him. (Luke 1:65-66)

If I were writing this story, I’m not sure I would have thought to put this great and mighty prophet out in the desert. I would have had him blowing people away as a kid with all his knowledge. I would have put him on Bible Jeopardy. He could have been the Ken Jennings of the New Testament (except for the Mormon part).

But God put him in the wilderness. He spoke to virtually no one, probably knowing all along that he had wonderfully important things to say. He waited, and when it was finally time, he served humbly. He baptized people and “prepared the way” and when Jesus emerged and John’s ministry was eclipsed, he gladly gave it up (John 3:30). It wasn’t long after that he was killed for his boldness. What a weird life.

What hits me hard is that by the world’s standards, John qualified for some very prominent roles. He could have been a traveling preacher, or a televangelist, or some big time prophet. He could have started a YouTube channel or been the figurehead of “John the Baptist Ministries.” It seems like all that potential was wasted. But I suppose it doesn’t really seem that way to me, because I know the end result. That’s the advantage of perspective, but what if I had been living alongside John? Wouldn’t I have been anxious to see him get out of that desert and do something with his life? Common sense demands that a man with something to say get out into the world and say it.

But common sense is much too common sometimes. I wonder if some of my own anxieties about ministry and calling are informed by common sense. I wonder if you can’t measure the legitimacy of real ministry by how foolishly it defies common sense. I wonder if it would help to eat more rice.

This post originally appeared on Chris Low’s blog Image via Wikimedia.

Advent Devotion: The Big PlayStation In the Sky

I used to hide under the table a lot during catechism classes, so I didn’t catch much of what the teacher said, but I do remember her saying that in heaven we will get whatever we want. At the time, all I wanted in the world was a PlayStation. I fully expected to get one for Christmas, but I figured that if the Grim Reaper happened to beat out Santa Clause, it was still win-win for me.

I suppose that sometimes we carry childish ideas about spirituality into adulthood. Up until recently, I still imagined heaven as the place where all of my deepest yearnings are fulfilled. The trouble is that if things really work that way, heaven is just a place to satisfy my vanity. It’s full of PlayStations and expensive guitars and pretty mountains. It’s full of things I think I want now, but maybe I don’t really know what I want. Maybe the best thing about heaven is not that I get what I want. Maybe the best thing about heaven is that what I want will finally be what’s actually good.

Sometimes I try to read this book called “The Imitation of Christ” by Thomas A Kempis. I can only read a few paragraphs at a time. A few days ago I read this:

“..thou shalt always have thy will in heaven…There thy will, ever at one with Mine, shall desire nothing outward, nothing for itself.”

So I guess we do get what we want. And maybe the closer we get to wanting the right things here and now, the closer we are to bringing heaven to earth the way Jesus talks about in Matthew 6. PlayStation wasn’t really that great anyway. Except for “NHL 99″ – I ran a fantastic franchise for a 10-year-old.

This post appeared previously on Chris Low’s blog. Chris is a past speaker at camp and is a singer/songwriter.

Lent Reflection: God’s Love Shines Brighter

blackconversesneakers

I didn’t have too much trouble with bullies when I was a kid. I tried to fly under the radar, keep a low profile, that sort of thing. The only dumb thing I can ever remember doing was in the fourth grade. Sean was a year older than me, and he was the kind of guy who had a ticked-off look permanently etched into his face. It was like he was perpetually chewing on burnt toast. I don’t know. For some reason I’ll never understand, I stole his shoes one day and hid them in a storm drain in the schoolyard. He had taken them off to play kickball, and in a moment of boldness and stupidity, I made my move. He knew immediately it was me. I imagine it was probably because I was standing next to the storm drain. I was not a bright child. I don’t remember what he said or did; I don’t even remember how I got the shoes back. All I remember is the intense fear. I had an enemy. He had a very angry burnt toast face.

I suppose since then I’ve done what most people do. I avoid conflict like the plague and keep my head in the sand if something ugly is about to happen. I avoid danger and shirk evil, and my only encounters with either are in the safe confines of a movie theater.

But I’ve been realizing something. If we never have moments of terror – if the world never frightens us and the darkness never threatens us, we hardly need a savior. Really, there’s nothing to be saved from. If we ignore the problem of evil and hole up in our own little world, Jesus is little more than a preference – like a pizza topping or a favorite t-shirt. We put him on when we feel like it, but we don’t need him.

The people in the Bible who talked the most about salvation really wrestled with the darkness. In Psalms 56-58, David is overwhelmed with the hatred of his enemies. In Romans 1, Paul is eager to share the Gospel because he knows the consequences of a failed mission. In John 4, the Samaritan woman can’t shut up about Jesus because she believes he’s saved her from a horrible, unquenchable thirst for love.

So what are you afraid of? Where have you seen the darkness? If nothing ever keeps you up at night, maybe you’re never really awake to begin with. It’s true that the Bible says “perfect love drives out fear” (1 John 4:18), but if we’re not honest enough with ourselves to know where the fear is, love can’t do its work. If we don’t stare into the face of evil every once in a while, the radical goodness of Jesus will start to fade. I humbly suggest that you focus your prayers today on seeing the world for what it really is, seeing Jesus for who he really is, and seeing yourself for who you really are. Will that be scary? Maybe, but the darkness is where God’s light shines brightest. Just don’t hide anybody’s shoes.

Chris Low was a speaker at Junior High II last year and has played at Bodinestock. Check his music and blog out at www.chrislowmusic.com.