This is a long one, maybe even my longest yet.
I've driven around, flown over, and walked through hundreds of cities and metro areas and I'm always somewhat amazed by the accomplishments of man; the towering buildings, freeways and streets, transportation systems and infrastructures with hundreds of micro economies functioning to prosper the majority. Sometimes it all just seems so ingenious, and it's somewhat smugly reassuring to observe what humanity is capable of. Until I take a step back. From the macro perspective, how fragile is our system! Our global economy is built on a bubble, on debt, on projected profit from that debt. It's an unstable facade, built on nothing ultimately sustainable beyond a hundred years. It's founded on the idea that the current generation is the most important. What we GET is what matters most. The plans that we have made are not plans that will last. They are not plans that will carry us much farther than the scope of our own life-spans. Civilizations greater than ours have arisen and disappeared throughout history, and the plans they made are now seemingly obsolete in the grand scope of things. What makes every generation think it is the most important? Thousands of years ago people much wiser than us implemented their plans with as much foresight as humanly possible, but even then the residual impact is little if any. Our plans are built on temporal knowledge, in the spiritual sense and the timely sense. The foundation for our standard of living is built on sand. Our plans are extremely fragile and near-sighted.
What if there is an Ultimate Plan? A Plan that isn't limited to one person, or one life-span? What if history, ancient and recent, holds proof of that plan unfurling in the macro and the micro sense? I believe in that Plan and Purpose, because I believe in a God who loves and interacts with His creation, but also because I've witnessed His work on the micro level, in my own life, as well as through my parents lives before I was even here.
My parents became Christians in the late 70's. I don't know much about this time in their lives, other than that they were post-hippie travelers who randomly met in Vancouver, BC, thousands of miles from their respective birthplaces (my dad from Halifax, Nova Scotia and my mom from outside of Richmond, VA). While in Vancouver, BC they attended some Gospel meetings and became "born-again" by every sense of the term. Their habits and lifestyles spun a 180 as they implemented their new found moral convictions, got married and started a family.
According to his testimony my dads conversion was a tedious one, spanning seven years and involving him being tracked down by a preacher who seemed to show up at the most random moments. These random interactions eventually led him to give his life to God. I think my moms conversion was a bit more impulsive. Either way, for several years they maintained a very black and white faith.
In 1994 we moved across the border to the US. The new church we attended was more concerned with posturing and judgement than community and love, and the culture slowly chipped away at my parents faith. Areas of their lives and marriage were left unattended, exposed, and allowed to fester due to lack of depth, accountability, honesty, and care for the things they once deemed important. Eventually differences could not be reconciled in their relationship and it lead to their separation, subsequent excommunication from their "church," and divorce. Since then their faith has struggled as shame, resentment, regret and bitterness have taken seats at the table while things like grace, mercy, love and forgiveness grow ever-distant.
Of course this is only my take on the matter, and I'll admit that from the outside it's seemingly easy to discern the consequences and their causes; the causes being justifications for stubbornness, revenge, anger and bitterness, and the consequences being detachment, loneliness, lack of peace and loss of faith. Speculation can only add up to so much, however, and the truth is that things are more confusing and messy on the inside. What I do know is that as of right now neither of my parents are actively pursuing any portion of the faith that once changed their lives. My mom used to read the Bible to us every morning at breakfast, but I'm speculating that she probably hasn't opened it in years. One of the most enduring images I have from my childhood is of my dad sitting at his desk, pouring over his bible and studying scripture, but I doubt he has spent any time doing that lately. Needless to say, both of my parents currently seem concerned only with their individual, short-term plans. They've lost their faith in the Ultimate Plan. I'm not blaming them, because they've had a hard go of it, and I'm not confident that I'm exempt from their circumstances. It could happen to the best of us, and so I must tread lightly and remember that "There by the grace of God go I."
In my experience, something happens when you read the Bible. Something rings divinely true within its pages. When read properly, the Bible doesn't encourage your political stance, tease your intellect or simply resonate with the "poet inside." Instead it grabs your heart and squeezes it until the tears flow. The truth about love, forgiveness and sacrifice is simply that; Truth. It just rings true. It speaks to that part of us that longs for ultimate Truth and absolutes. It puts things in perspective and it causes us to live differently, to love better. It calls us to become a part of the plan. When we read the Bible, it puts us on track. I can tell when a Christian has spent time reading it with enthusiasm recently, and I can usually tell when they haven't. My parents, I suspect, haven't. (If I'm honest with myself it's been too long since I've spent significant time studying the Bible and the symptoms of that have been showing. #realtalk)
In an effort to totally redeem myself (sarcasm) I've been reading this book by Francis Chan called "Crazy Love," and it he discusses his discovery of Gods specific love and divine plan for his life. He comes upon this by reading Jeremiah 1:4-5 where God says to Jeremiah, "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart." Thinking this might have just applied to the prophet Jeremiah, Francis was reminded of Ephesians 2:10, where we are commanded to "Do good works, which God has prepared for us in advance to do." His realization is that God knew us before we were here and prepared a plan for our lives. He planned for us individually ahead of time to follow Him in order to be effective stewards of His love, to do "good works" which advance His Ultimate Plan. We have to choose to be a part of it, and as with the Apostle Paul or my Dad, sometimes he chases people down. His plan is different for everyone in the micro sense, but He's the only Being with any eternal perspective in the macro sense, so we're forced to trust Him in order to be a part of it. People like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mother Theresa were figures who trusted God's plan and followed it into harms way out of conviction from the calling to do "good works," which I have no doubt God "planned in advance" for them to do. It's a humbling concept that an all powerful God would love us so much and want to know us so intimately that He would chase us down in order to make us a part of His loving plan. When people truly respond to His Plan, you see the loving approach to equality, sacrifice for the weak and service to others like MLK Jr. and Mother Theresa were characterized by.
I think of my parents meeting out of what seemed like sheer happenstance, thousands of miles from their home-towns. I think of their dramatic conversions, how my dad was chased down through a seven year process where God, through experiences and interactions, would not leave him alone. I think of my childhood, my five siblings and my two Haitian-born sisters, the opportunity given to us to learn about God and accept His Plan for our lives... When I step back and look at all this, it doesn't seem like random chance. It seems to me like my parents were accosted by the Holy Spirit, chased down by a God that had a plan, and plan that they had no intent of fulfilling when they started their adulthood. I think about the people in my life who have steered me toward that Plan, even when I fought so ignorantly against it.
I've seen what I claim to be God's work in my life. It sounds crazy, I know, to talk about things you can't see or prove with your basic senses, but I've felt the peace of knowing my Creator. It's better than any other high I've experienced. I've felt drawn and called to certain things, hard things that I didn't want to do, but when I came out on the other end I realized how blessed I'd been for doing them. The point is I wouldn't be here if not for God's work in my parents, and regardless if they admit it or not they were used for His glory in their youth, and although in their 50's they have nearly forgotten His gift, His plan continues through us, their children.
Part of me says He's done chasing them, that His work in them was fulfilled in us, that their role in the Plan is done... but another part of me says He desperately longs for communion with them again. The God I read about in the Bible isn't one that turns His back on lost children. Jesus illustrates God as the father in the Prodigal Son parable. The son spent his entire inheritance partying and dishonoring his father, but in the end his dad accepts him back with loving arms and throws a feast for his lost son who came back to him. Jesus spoke about Gods love is like a shepherd who would leave his ninety-nine sheep in the wilderness just to find that one lost sheep. When I read that I don't think God is fine with any of His sheep or His children wandering off, going their own way, unprotected and vulnerable. I could be stretching it, but perhaps that parable also says something about our innate need for community. Perhaps the ninety-nine in the flock are safer because they have each other, they have strength in numbers, but the lost sheep is all alone, in desperate need of a shepherd and community, and because of it's unique situation the shepherds heart breaks for it. So much so that he leaves the ninety-nine "found" sheep to go find the lost one.
When I read about Gods Plan, I think about it's significance and how it far surpasses our own personal plans. This is much more than just life and death. "Lost" and "Found" have significant spiritual meanings and outcomes. It's true that not all who wander are lost, I've wandered my fair share and I believe it is a part of how I'm wired. I also think it's true that those who seek will find... I've found that when I honestly seek God without any conditions, He always shows up. Those who are truly lost and running away, however, are characterized by selfishness. They give very little. Lost people are plagued with worry and stress, they're misguided, prone to denial and indulgence in frivolity. Chan says in his book that "Worry and stress reek of arrogance." It's true that at their core, worry and stress are selfish feelings. The number one concern of those emotions is Self. Those emotions display lack of peace, distrust and ignorance of God's unconditional love and provision, and they also restrain the ability for one to love and sacrifice for others. Worry and stress cause us to implode, completely taking us away for Gods plan for us to "do good works" which He has "planned in advance for us to do."
I once heard a quote that said something like this: "What you do for yourself in this life will die with you, but what you do for others will live forever." I don't know who wrote it, but it's definitely a Biblical principle. People who become obsessed with their tiny, insignificant plans, become characterized by worry and stress. They become selfish. They become lost.
Jesus tells us that if even man, who is sinful in nature, gives good gifts to his children, how much more does the perfect God of heaven wish to give to those who call him Father? He also says not to worry, because if God takes care of the birds, making sure they have nests and food, how much more will He take care of us, His most beloved creation? The difference is that as humans we have a choice. We can choose to have His help and peace, to live without anxiety or stress or worry or anger or any negative emotions. We can choose to trust in the Ultimate Plan and to do our part by doing "good works he has planned in advance for us to do." Or we can bear our own burdens, hyper-focus on our selfish, temporal plans and watch worry and stress swallow our lives and damage ourselves and our families.
May we all seek the bigger, better plans for our lives.
"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."
-Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV)