Dr. John E. Johnson

Dr. John E. Johnson
Blog, Wisdom

Time to Get Back To What We Promised

On the fortieth anniversary of his ordination, Eugene Peterson went back to review the vows he made before God. Vows are often made when an Ordinand sets his/her life apart for service. But then, all of us who have come to Christ are called to a life of promises–promises that are critical. They are the pitons, the pegs driven firmly into the vertical rock face stretching between heaven and earth. They protect one against mood swings and weather changes, miscalculation and fatigue. They provide stability during dark nights of the soul; they keep one from going off the cliff when one walks through a spiritual desert, or faces a disappointing loss. 

Vows are promises that say–no matter what, no matter the distractions of this life, the temptations to other priorities–I am committed to my first love.

As Peterson reviewed his vows, the sixth vow stood out: “I will seek to follow the Lord Jesus Christ, love my neighbors, and work for the reconciliation of the world.” Reading this today, I was struck by its simplicity, as well as its applicability for all of us who know Jesus. It asks the necessary, penetrating questions in this post election moment–

-will I seek to follow the Lord Jesus? Will I, no matter what, keep Him in front of me–rather than letting myself get in front of Him? Will I follow, even if it isn’t where I thought I would go? Will I give my best energies to contemplating today where He is asking me to follow Him next? Will I guard against becoming diverted, following my own impulses, and getting off course? Will I be more absorbed with following Him than following the evening news?

-will I love my neighbor? As Peterson puts it, “the first casualty on the fields of ordained leadership is usually the neighbor.” But this is true on every field. People today have become functionalized, treated as resources, units, assets, friends on Facebook, and consumers (or this week as voters–Democrats, Republicans, or Independents). These are times believers can and must stand out as those who value people regardless of their function–who insist on flesh to flesh relationships rather than impersonal, digital ones. Will we love one another, even amidst deep differences-be they political or otherwise? Will we disavow ourselves of all mean-spiritedness? Jesus declared that love and respect is what authenticates genuine faith (John 13).

-will I work for the reconciliation of the world? Will this be my main work, to see people move from “alienation from” to “reconciliation with” God? On a flight two weeks ago, I met a man who shared that he once followed God, but now he sits on his agnostic “perch”, neither drawn to atheism or Christianity. Sadly, much of the reason had to do with the failure of the church in his life.

In these moments, I realize I am called to this work of reconciling. As Peterson notes, it is a work the world does not necessarily notice. It happens in places like prayer. It happens as we quietly and lovingly probe, exposing the lies of the evil one, and sharing how much God desires that we come back home.

Reflecting on all of this, Peterson concludes: “This vow lays down essential protection against losing touch with the primary work in which Christ Himself is engaged.” Now that this election season is behind us, maybe we can get back to our primary work–back to our vows.

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