Monday, August 13, 2007

Learning with application

On Saturday evening, I returned home from a full week of excellent Bible teaching and challenging insight. Last Tuesday, my family and I made our (almost) yearly trek to Sandy Cove. Because of our hectic schedules, we could only stay for a little more than two days, but it was certainly worthwhile because of the time we got to spend together, the escape from all the busyness of life back at home, and the superb way in which Tony Evans unpacked very familiar Bible stories and made their meaning fresh in his series of sermons.

During his first sermon, Evans talked about the familiar story of Abraham and Isaac and challenged us about how much trust and faith we really put in God. One can know in his head that God is God and that God is all-powerful, but it really takes a test of faith (when God says to do something that really doesn’t make sense) to prove commitment and belief.

Two points that he made stuck out to me. The first was that when Abraham and Sarah were told they would have Isaac, they felt it was utterly impossible and laughed in God’s face. The speaker’s point was simply this: are you hindering God’s work in your life because you think it’s funny?

The second was that while Abraham and Isaac were traveling up the mountain, while Abraham was doing what he knew he had to do in order to please God even though he thought it made no sense, the ram that would end up being sacrificed in lieu of Isaac was walking up the other side of the mountain. In other words, while God is testing us, while we are going through these situations that make absolutely no sense, He is working in the situation and has already planned His ending to the problem even if it is something we can’t see because our doubt (or something else) is blocking our view.

After Sandy Cove, my parents dropped me off in Baltimore to meet my boss and another guy that I work with for The Leadership Summit hosted by Willow Creek up in Chicago. The church acted as a satellite campus for the conference, so all the speakers talked to us through a live video feed. I have to admit, I wasn’t looking forward to it that much. I thought it would be three boring days of business and legal mumbo-jumbo, but, to my surprise, it turned out to be one of the most beneficial, challenging, and rewarding experiences of my summer. As with the Tony Evans sermon mentioned earlier, I also took two main important concepts away from the Willow Creek event.

The first was something Bill Hybels said in his closing talk. He said that if someone wants inspire people around them, they has to be an inspiring person who is inspired mainly by the fact that they know God’s purpose for their life and are following it voraciously. Hybels said (I’m paraphrasing), “If you have no idea what this purpose is, you need to re-arrange your schedule for the next few weeks and rigidly be in God’s word trying to find out what your purpose is for the moment and for life.”

I would agree and am very happy that I think I know my life’s purpose for the moment. My purpose at this point in my life is to be a student and to learn about life and all that it entails, “taking every thought captive” through the lens of the word of God. This summer, I’ve worked quite a lot on establishing my life philosophy and my views on the things I love through applying things I’ve read and learned. I’m reminded of what a former teacher said to me in an email once: Learning without application is just about as pointless as never learning at all. Don't be afraid to think on your own, even if you look back someday and think, "How foolish was I."

This information is really excellent, but what I took away most from the last week was John Ortberg’s talk on “A Leader’s Greatest Fear.” He said that the thing that should cause a leader the most anxiety is not the fear of failure, mutiny, or criticism, but the utter dread of giving in to a Shadow Mission. Ortberg defined a shadow mission as, “My authentic mission hijacked by my ego and my moods. The place where my sinful nature will lead me on its own.”

He then went on to apply this concept to the book of Esther and talked about how King Xerxes was a king that had been totally taken over by his Shadow Mission. Here was a man that had extravagant parties solely celebrating himself and a painstakingly long beauty pageant to fit him with the most attractive wife around. I wish I could remember how he applied many other points in the book to the Shadow Mission concept because it was one of the most brilliant lectures I’ve ever heard, but I can’t at the moment.

I do remember this, though. Esther could have been tempted to give in to her Shadow Mission … to be lazy and do nothing to rescue her people. But Esther had someone by her side: her Uncle Mordecai. Mordecai challenged Esther quite fervently: “For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place and you and your father's house will perish. And who knows whether you have not attained royalty for such a time as this?” Esther responded by saying, “If I perish and perish” and went on carrying out God’s plan for her life, saving the Jews from certain death.

Needless to say at this point, I was extremely challenged. But then, Ortberg took everything to a different level by saying that Jesus’ Shadow Mission was to be the Savior without the cross. He was tempted with this all his life and caused him such great agony! Satan tempted him in the desert, he prayed for “the cup to be taken from” him in the Garden of Gethsemane, and even while he was on the cross he was faced with the crowd telling him to come down if he was God. But he didn’t. He refused to give in to his Shadow Mission.

So, what’s your Shadow Mission? Do you have someone around you that is ready and willing to challenge you out of it? And do you have the courage to name and challenge the Shadow Mission of our culture and revolt against it? Just something to think about…

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