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Both/and

August 31, 2013

When one is a person of ideas, it is easy enough to find one’s life in ideas. Matters of real life are subjected to dispassionate analysis, conclusions are drawn, and they are set aside.

In her blog, “Coracle Journeys,” Judith Hougen offers a healthy reminder that our interaction with God isn’t simply a matter of checking whether all our beliefs are correct, but is an experience over time.

In her July 17 blog, “Remembering the Sacredness of Story,” Hougen wrote, “There is a sacred element to our stories because, whether fully acknowledged or not, they hold a narrative of God’s gracious initiative into our lives.” This truth has forced itself upon me as I prepare to leave Probe Ministries. I have been reviewing scattered journal entries from 1983 to 1993 written as I was being prepared for the work I would carry out for over sixteen years. In them I was reminded of some great things God had done in my life, but also of some times of real discouragement. My own newsletters from the early years at Probe added more of the same. People and experiences have come and gone, some more meaningful than others. Change has taken place even though most of the time it was imperceptible when it happened.

Having not yet found the next place for me after Probe, I am confident that the Lord will not leave me hanging. However, decisions must be made and a few significant factors (which I won’t relate) have made it hard to focus. I think Prof. Hougen would advise me to consider where I’ve been as I consider the way I should go. She wrote that we sometimes “lose track of our stories and who we are in those stories. We lose the plot and find ourselves adrift, and sometimes we need others to help us remember, to encourage us to find, again, the thread of meaning and purpose that runs through every life. I believe it’s by processing, owning, and listening to the past that we are best able to hear God’s voice and press into our calling.”

To be honest, the language of “story” still makes me a bit squeamish. My studies in theology and philosophy did not leave room for considerations of personal experience. Rational analysis or a reasoned understanding of revelation were the keys to right decision-making. There is significant truth in that, but it’s only part of the story. We think about the God who is active in our lives. It is a both/and matter. We think about our own lives in the broad framework of creation, fall, redemption, future hope. Hougen speaks of a “plot,” about “the thread of meaning and purpose.” The rich understanding of purpose that is so integral to Christian belief makes the commonly heard “it was/wasn’t meant to be” seem so pale by contrast.

Regardless of what my next station in life may be, what happened in the past meant something. That which was good will be preserved and the chaff will one day be burned away. This is an eschatalogical claim which will have its complete fulfillment after our Lord returns. However, it has meaning today as well. Whether I will continue in full time ministry, only the Lord knows now. If I don’t, the past will still play a part in what lies ahead.

This hasn’t been written to put my soul on display in keeping with the fashion of the day. It has been written as a reminder of God’s faithfulness and the meaningfulness of His actions in our lives. It also is a reminder that the good news we offer people who don’t yet know Jesus is much grander than simply to believe in Jesus and go to heaven when you die. It is to be connected with the God who is there, as Schaeffer put it, but also who is here.

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