rhythm and chaos

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It has been one of my persistent struggles to understand my testimony and share it well. I get frustrated, because if anyone should know this story, it should be me; I’m the one who has lived it, who has benefited on a daily basis from the blessing of walking with Jesus since I was three years old. I should be able to bear witness to His work in my life. I should be able to see clearly, at least in hindsight, where He has done His greatest work in me.

In some ways, I can: I can look back and see the shifts and the weather patterns that have colored my years, and some of the purposes they’ve played out. I know these are all parts of the testimony God is writing in me, but whenever I try to sum it up in so many words, I’m frustrated by the attempt to “arrive” somewhere. I want to be able to draw a line clearly from the shift that happened one year ago, or eighteen months ago, or the day I got the phone call, or that undefined span of time as a newlywed, or on my wedding day, or when I moved to Bible school all the way to now and say, “This is it. This is exactly where God has brought me. Here’s how and here’s why.”

But I can’t.

Much as it sometimes feels like there must have been one moment in which everything changed, in which God ultimately revealed Himself and brought my testimony to its climax, the truth of the matter is that God works slowly. He works in processes, in moments, across years. He’s a farmer, not a magician.

I grew up watching (and sometimes helping) my dad farm, and I’m not sure anything has taught me as much about how God operates as that experience. Farming, a metaphor the Bible uses again and again to describe God’s work, is change and same, reward with disappointment; it’s past and now and future, all bound together somehow. There’s a rhythm in it, but also chaos - unpredictability. It is down-to-earth and touching heaven at the same time, in the most humbling possible way; a momentary glimpse of the Edenic vision in which God and Man and Creation coexist in harmonious relationship with each other.

And it doesn’t ever “arrive.” A year of abundant harvest is followed rhythmically by winter’s rest, only to try it all again when spring arrives. No two years will yield the very same, and the story is never over. There is progress and process, joy and frustration, years of fallow and change, but the work doesn’t reach an end-point or get wrapped up in a bow. The testimony is never quite complete.

Nor is mine. It can make for a frustrating story to tell, but also an exciting and comforting one. In moments and across years, in a way that will never be completed in this life, God is cultivating me. His work is hard, long, and emotional, but also calming, grounding, and restful. I can’t necessarily draw lines between the seasons and say “This is what, this is how, and this is why,” but I can point to the One who is constant through it all and say, “He is always near, and He is doing something in me.”

We are a culture that only puts the big, earth-shattering events on display. The trips to Europe, the births, the deaths; the times we audibly heard God’s voice or saw Him move in a tangible way. But I’m convicted that it’s in the in-between where the real work and growth is done. The mundane middle is what life is made of - the rhythm and the chaos, and the too-boring-to-be-documented. I don’t know if I’ll ever “get there,” or even know where “there” is in this life, but I know that if I’m walking with Jesus, it will be good.

of math, millennials, and the mission field

My sister Hannah is a mathematician.

She’s the only mathematician I’ve ever actually known personally. You just don’t meet that many people who go to grad school to learn things like real analysis and partial differential equations with the hope of spending their careers doing research in the area of “pure math” - and I’m still not fully sure what that means. Even less often do you hear someone exclaim, while writing proofs in what appears to be another language, “It’s so beautiful!” (Hannah has said things like this on multiple occasions.)

Far more common? “I hate math.” “I can’t calculate the tip - I’m terrible at math.” “Why don’t we stop teaching kids all this stupid algebra and just teach them useful things, like how to do their taxes?”

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Every now and then, you meet a one-in-a-million, like my sister. Someone who has found the beauty and the wonder that others may never appreciate, due to their deeply-held baggage of fear, confusion, inadequacy, or ignorance. Sadly, they grew up learning mathematics as a series of formulas to memorize and complicated steps to master, but no one ever taught them the logic of it; they never got the opportunity to problem-solve, to think critically, to ask why.

So they struggled through twelfth grade, or maybe as far as the undergraduate requisites, and then said goodbye to math forever. After all, we’ve got calculators for that.

The same thing has happened to the Christian church in America.

People are mystified at the numbers of the millennial generation who are leaving their Christian faith upbringing behind. Many of them, like me, were raised in Sunday school and AWANA, active within their youth groups, and never missed church. They went on mission trips and had records of great spiritual transformation. They loved Jesus. And now they’re gone.

And it’s for the same reason so many people hate the beautiful thing that is mathematics: because all they ever learned was the rules. They learned how to look, act, and speak like a Christian. They learned the Ten Commandments and all the other Biblical rules that their church considered important. They learned verses and stories and could sing the books of the Bible in order; they learned the formula for a salvation prayer (“Jesus, please come into my heart”), and how to categorize people into the ones doing it “right” and the ones doing it “wrong.” They learned how they should vote and how they should dress and who they should associate with. They learned the black and the white.

But no one ever taught them the logic of it.

No one gave them the chance to problem-solve, to think critically, or to ask why.

No one led them past the rules and into the relationship that their hearts were crying out for - beyond the formula and into the beauty of Christ and His love.

And no one gave them permission to consider that maybe it’s not all black-and-white, after all. Maybe some things are gray.

Why wouldn’t they bolt as soon as someone offered them the freedom to think outside the box, to be loved for who they are rather than what they do, or to ask the questions they’ve been dying to ask all their lives?

It’s not a mystery. They know the Bible, they know the Gospel, and they know exactly why they’re no longer part of the Christian church. If we’re listening, so do we.

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And I hope we’re listening, because to steal my sister’s words - it’s so beautiful. What God has done, the story He is writing, is so beautiful. The love He has offered is so beautiful. The desire of His heart to draw His created image-bearers back into relationship with Him, and to give them an inheritance as His own sons and daughters, is simply breathtaking. What a heartbreak to imagine that many will reject that truth because of deeply-held baggage like fear, confusion, inadequacy, and ignorance.

But we can’t share this beauty and freedom with others until it’s a reality for ourselves. Just as we’re the product of an education system that taught math as something you’re either “good at” or “bad at,” so many of us are the product of a church culture that has diminished Christianity into a list of rights and wrongs. Hannah has put in years of hard work and persistence to find and celebrate the beauty in mathematics; likewise, this issue can’t be solved by making churches more “relevant” - it has to be solved the hard way, which is by example.

The mission field of America, in many ways, starts inside of us. Even if we have never walked away from what we know to be true, most of us still have some callouses from clinging to the rules at the expense of the relationship. And our friends and peers who have abandoned their practice of faith very likely know just as much Bible and Christianese as we do - so they know how to spot a fake. They won’t be fooled by a religious show.

Only when we ourselves rediscover the beauty of the Savior, the genuine delight of walking in relationship with Him, and the blessing of counter-cultural unity with the His body can we possibly hope to recapture the young hearts in this nation. And truthfully? Some of the hearts that most need recapturing are our own.

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Hallie Liening

Hallie grew up on a small farm in rural eastern Washington. At 18, she moved across the country to go to Bible school, and then married the Boy Next Door at 20. Now 22, she is a graduate of Great Commission Bible Institute with a Certificate in Biblical Studies and resides in Olympia with her husband and her two cats. She survives the claustrophobia of living near the city by making frequent trips back home to visit her family and her horse, writing sentimental blog posts about the countryside, and by filling her house with photographs of Mt. Adams sunsets.

all things new

It’s a new year - again - already.

It feels like we were just here, turning the calendar from 2017 to 2018. It feels like I was just waiting to turn 24 and holding my breath to see what the year would bring and writing about my hope to remain thankful, regardless.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve had a love-hate sentiment toward the turn of each new year. I love the idea of a clean slate, a time to reevaluate life and make changes where needed. But I have always listened to the midnight fireworks popping with a sense of fear and dread, too - afraid of change, afraid of what could happen and what could be lost, afraid of trading what’s old and familiar for what’s new and uncertain.

This new year, in particular, has been difficult. It’s an anniversary of the many painful things that came one after the other at the beginning of 2018, and to be candid, I’ve been working hard to remain in denial that it’s January again because I just don’t want to think about that stuff. Last year, “new” meant “bad” - just like I’ve always feared.

Then I came across a handful of verses that got me thinking.

Do not call to mind the former things, or ponder things of the past. Behold, I will do something new, now it will spring forth; will you not be aware of it? I will even make a roadway in the wilderness, rivers in the desert. The beasts of the field will glorify Me, the jackals and the ostriches, because I have given waters in the wilderness and rivers in the desert, to give drink to My chosen people. The people whom I formed for Myself will declare My praise.

Isaiah 43:18-21

I’ve heard this passage plenty of times before, but this time one contextual fact stuck out to me: This assurance from Yahweh to His people comes in the midst of Isaiah’s prophecies of the coming of Babylon, who will conquer Israel and drag the nation into exile. Pain and suffering are coming, and have already begun - yet the God of Israel says “Behold, I will do something new.”

And “new” doesn’t mean “bad.”

In the chaotic unknown of the wilderness, He will make a path.

In the dry and despairing desert, He will make a river.

He doesn’t end the struggle for His people, or rewind the story so they can continue living peacefully in their own land. The wilderness and the desert are still there. But He does something greater, mightier, and more unthinkable: He creates a new, good thing out of what was hopeless and dead - extending grace so far that it touches even the onlookers and the wild creatures.

My God is doing a new thing - a new, good thing - right now. He isn’t (yet) rescuing us from this earthly domain or rewinding the consequences of sin, but He is doing something greater, mightier, and more unthinkable: He is creating something beautiful and new out of that which was old and dead.

One of my favorite verses in Revelation says, “And He who sits on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new’” (Revelation 21:5). I’ve always thought this was an end-times verse, a promise we cling to for the future - and so it is. But it’s also a now verse.

God isn’t waiting until the world as we know it ends to start making all things new. He’s been doing it since the dawn of time, and He is still doing it every single day in the hearts of people like us.

Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.

2 Corinthians 5:17

My God is doing a new thing - a new, good thing - right now. He isn’t (yet) rescuing us from this earthly domain or rewinding the consequences of sin, but He is doing something greater, mightier, and more unthinkable: He is creating something beautiful and new out of that which was old and dead.

He is making rivers in the wilderness and streams in the desert.

He started this work all the way back in the Garden of Eden, with a new plan to reveal His glory by reversing the curse of sin. He created a river of life through our wilderness of death with His own Son’s blood, available to anyone who would drink from it. He resurrected His Son’s dead body back to life and glory, and now He is doing the same thing in my heart, and in yours.

But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.

Romans 8:11

This is what I cling to as I stand with some trepidation in the doorway of this new year. In God’s work, “new” never means “bad” - it’s always part of the glorious and gracious transformation from death to life. The suffering may not yet end, but we stand right now at the beginning of our eternal lives, and He is already working here and now to make all things new.