|Portland Sunrise (Photo Credit: urbanplanningdave; Creative Commons)|
Don't worry. Not in an immediate, urgent, physical, oh-my-gosh-how-long-do-you-have sort of way (as far as I know).
No, this is a journey into the valley of the shadow of death, where every former part of my life is laid out on the table to be considered and deconstructed. My dreams. My goals. My fears. My beliefs. My identity.
They've all gotta die.
I think I have done this before. Back when I was six years old, I said a prayer acknowledging that Jesus had died for my sins and risen from the dead, that he was Savior and Lord. I believed then, and I believe now. Scripture says I died then, that the former life was gone (all six years of it) and my new life was wrapped up into the person of Christ. I've had to die to my false self in my teen and college years, had to die to my pride and independence when I was married, had to die to my sense of time and energy when I had children, had to die to my own power through a life of pastoral ministry. There is even a daily death, a repentance when the old life tries to subvert the new one and I once again have to wrestle with dueling identities who struggle for my heart.
But this is a new death. Everything is on the table, spread wide and viewed in harsh and exposing light. My pastoral vocation. My heart for the local church. Even my belief in God. I have to be willing to allow these to die. My concepts of these things are in the midst of deconstruction, a spiritual wrecking ball flying through my soul and leaving gaping holes that need to be restored.
I knew I couldn't enter into this death alone. The journey into deconstruction happens best within community. I have been blessed with friends and mentors, new and old, who have listened and prayed and asked questions and given encouragement and reminded me of truth. I have read books and listened to music and watched films--an artistic community of sorts, empathy machines within which I am understood and understand others. I've communed with the Creator, wrestling like Jacob in the wilderness, demanding a name be given, a promise be fulfilled.
Recently, I had a conversation with a local seminary professor. I heard he had been through burnout before, and I wanted to glean any wisdom I could from his experience. While he patiently listened to my story, these words tumbled out of my mouth unexpectedly: “I guess why I’m here is…I need a picture of hope. I need to know that there’s life beyond this.” My sudden tears confessed how raw I still was.
He quietly nodded. “You need to know, Joel: there is hope. But it will require death—the death of your pride, the death of your plans. It will even require the death of your current concept of Jesus. But there is resurrection, so there is hope! And the new, resurrected you will be more whole and more real. Jesus is not done with you yet.”
The death of my concept of Jesus? I initially feared and wondered at what he meant. But the more I've prayed and explored, the more I've realized that my former concepts of Jesus were still lacking, that there was more grace to experienced, more love and joy and peace to behold. Jesus is not a concept or an abstract truth; he is a person, and a person contains infinitely more mystery and glory. I am learning to love this person with greater depths than I thought possible, to experience him in new ways as lover and savior and sufferer and friend. It was only through the willingness to give up my own concepts of life that I could discover his resurrection power once again.
We celebrated the death and resurrection of Christ this past Easter weekend. This was the commemoration of the day sin was conquered and a new age was inaugurated, when the king showed his true colors shining through the glory, like a sunrise breaks through the darkened grey clouds of the dawn, giving light and life to the creation below. When all hope was seemingly lost, when love and grace were placed into the grave, when death seemed to swallow up life, resurrection said otherwise and changed the trajectory of the story. To quote the sermon series from our current church: death is not the end.
In the midst of these days of personal deconstruction and death, Jesus is present to resurrect. New vocation, new identity, new belief, a new heart for God's people and the call to be a shepherd. Death is not the end.
If anyone is in Christ...NEW CREATION! The old has gone, the new is here. (2 Cor 5:17)