Imagine it is Super Bowl Sunday, Giants going against the Patriots. It been a crazy busy day, and once you go to bed, the lights are out. But this is different. In the early hours of February 4, 2008, it’s as if the lights go out in your mind. Everything goes black–for days. Six days later, you wake up to familiar faces standing around your bed. They have waited, wondering if you will ever wake up again. In this moment, you begin to speak, but the mouth seems to be disconnected from the brain. Nothing is cooperating, and thoughts are becoming confused. It turns out you have had a stroke–and you are just coming into your best years!
This is how Dieter told the story as we met today, this time at seminary. It’s familiar ground for him. As I wrote in the last post, this gifted young man did his theological training and went on to launch innovative ministries to Millennials in both Southern California and Chicago. Skilled musically, with stage presence and command of an audience, he was an up and comer on the fast track. He was part of one of the fastest growing churches in the nation. But eventually he left the stage to move to the Bay area and come back to earth. He gave himself to planting house churches and pouring into future leaders. And then on that weekend, it all came to a sudden end.
What do you do when your best skills are taken from you, when your hand can no longer strike the keys, and the words you are looking for seem to be lost somewhere in space? How do you handle it when this fast paced world around you moves on? As we shared our journeys, I was curious if Dieter felt let down by God. I listened for some of the disappointment I have felt when God did not seem to come through. Is he okay with the shift from jazz musician, worship leader, and pastor to a janitor in a food store? I looked for some of those hard edges that difficult times tend to shape in peoples’ spirits.
Our talk could have easily shifted to focus on the future. Make the best of things and hope Jesus returns soon. Live for eternity, when the imperfect will become perfect–when those in Christ will enter His kingdom, and damaged souls and wounded lives and ailing bodies and injured minds will be made whole. There is the temptation to allow life in the present to devolve into mere waiting, marking time, and hoping for some sympathy.
But our talk went in none of those directions. Like all who have been redeemed, Dieter’s life demonstrates that, in Christ, he has been cut from the rock, mined from the same quarry as Abraham and David and Jesus and Paul (Isa 51:1). He gets it, that though God’s ways are a mystery, His will is perfect. And presently, we live under an open heaven where the kingdom of God is already here. We live in this already/not yet tension where it is possible to live supernatural lives now. Now! Despite our frailties, we can experience a foretaste of eternity.
If this were not true, than Jesus’ words, “You will do the works that I do, and even greater works” (John 14:12) would be an empty promise–a lie. Jesus said this because of four realities, realities often lost sight of in the church:
-He died–and when Jesus did, we also died–died to our old self. Our former propensity to be self centered, whine over our circumstances, crave for what is not ours to have–has died with Jesus on the cross. The world, the flesh, and the devil no longer have authority over us
-He rose-and in our union with Jesus, we rose. A power unlike any other power on earth resides in us. If all of the world’s might could be amassed and distilled, it could not compete. It cannot overwhelm and change death. And whether we realize it or not, this force is at work within us
-He left-Jesus has gone to the Father. This does not suggest He has left us to scrape by, figure things, and make the best of bad situations (like strokes) while He takes a needed time out. It is just the opposite. He has ascended to enter a significant work on our behalf–He lives to make intercession for us. Right now He is taking our needs to the Father. Talk about power!
-He sent-Jesus left so that the Spirit could come and indwell and empower us. Is there a more overwhelming thought than this–that the God of the universe resides in us? He has taken up residence and lives to live through us.
When these four intersect, as I witness on occasion in lives–like Dieter’s–you begin to grasp something of Paul’s language in Ephesians 3:20–“Now to Him who is able to do above and beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us.” We can rise above our circumstances and live with joy–and change the world. Our lives are fully capable of silencing skeptics who doubt the reality of the gospel. We can prove that becoming acolytes of the church of self improvement (perhaps the fastest growing church in American culture) will get you only so far. It won’t get you to heaven–will not enable you to work through life’s inevitable curves–and it will not let you find an amazing kingdom that it is right here to enjoy and take advantage of in the present.