Lord, to whom shall we go?

Home.jpg

I’m going to begin by assuming that everyone reading this knows who Joshua Harris and Marty Sampson are, and the news that they’ve recently made. If you don’t, read this and this.

It’s not easy to watch iconic Christian leaders crumble. I was particularly impacted (for better or for worse, but that’s a discussion for another time) by Joshua Harris as a teenager, and his public renunciation of his faith in Jesus Christ left me with a lot to process about my own roots in the Church and journey with Jesus.

Some of it is not easy. Like one hundred percent of church-attending Christians, I have experienced pain there, pain that has been inflicted on me by other believers. That’s sad, but that’s life until the King returns - we will hurt each other.

Like ninety percent of church-raised children, I have been very sure of what I believe until the day came that I wasn’t. I have experienced doubts and fears, and that’s hard, but that’s life until the King returns - faith is not yet sight.

And like an untold number of Christians in this age, I have wondered what it means to love others and tell them how lost they are at the same time, when it feels like the only voices speaking are those of self-worshiping license or self-powered hypocrisy. That’s a wild pendulum to ride, but it also seems to be the ride of choice, because it’s always easier to shout from an extreme than to dodge the hazards of interpersonal nuance.

I don’t know the whole story of why Joshua Harris left the faith. I would imagine that immense pain, doubts, and exhaustion helped to pave the way.

And there is just one passage of Scripture that keeps echoing in my mind:

“… The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life. But there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who it was that would betray Him. And He was saying, “For this reason I have said to you, that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted to Him from the Father.”

As a result of this many of His disciples withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore. So Jesus said to the twelve, “You do not want to go away also, do you?” Simon Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life. We have believed and come to know that You are the Holy One of God.”

John 6:63b-69

I think there’s room in following Jesus to acknowledge that others on the journey sometimes hurt us - and sometimes excruciatingly so. I think He is gracious and understanding with our biggest, scariest doubts. I think the complicated messiness of trying to love people enough to not leave them in their sin is something we all get tired of after awhile.

But I will not turn off His way, because honestly - to whom would I go? It is He who holds eternal life - the Holy One of God.

A mentor and friend recently inspired me to imagine what my life would be, right now, without Jesus - and what I saw in that imaginary world made me so thankful that I don’t live there.

Without Jesus, there would be no refuge from the misery of sin, guilt, and shame. I would live with those ugly entities for all of my days. I’m an over-thinker and a people-pleaser, and it is only Jesus who sets me free from the unnecessary burdens I often carry - and even redeems the necessary ones with His blood. Only Jesus says, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Without Jesus, all the good relationships I treasure would evaporate, from my marriage and my family to my closest friends and spiritual mentors. Yes, I’ve been hurt in the community of the faith, but I’ve also found healing there. Perhaps there would be other relationships, but none with the iron strength of bonds wrought in Christ’s blood.

Without Jesus, where would this deep-thinking, endlessly-learning spiritual seeker find her rest? God made me with too much thirst for what is real and true to be satisfied in the vanities that other philosophies can offer. I would have spent my life searching and yet returned void, hopeless, despairing.

My view of Christianity is not rosy or naive. I am the first to challenge and question any idea, belief, or tradition that is presented as truth, and I am not afraid to acknowledge the incredible harm that some individuals in some churches have done. I’m against hiding sin, sweeping pain under the rug, telling people to band-aid their wounds with more Jesus, or rebuking doubts. I don’t think there’s a right denomination or a right translation of the Bible or a black side and a white side to every moral issue.

But I do know that there is nowhere to turn for what fills the void in the human soul except Jesus.

Comment

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.

these are the days

(This post is inspired by Emily P. Freeman and her recent podcast episode, “Point and Call”.)

It’s September, suddenly - one of my favorite months of the year, and I’m concerned that today is already day three. Ten percent of the month is already behind us. The days go so fast, in a blur, so I feel the need to mark time here before it gets away from me.

These are the days of long, hard shadows in morning light, angled across all my flowers and filtering through their petals like tiny stained-glass windows. These are the days of cold nights, as evidenced by the chill in the lake water when we spent last week together at the cabin, and sometimes even a layer of fog to mute the world on my way to work in the morning.

They are days of learning many random things I never thought I’d need to know: how to stack russet potatoes, the best way to rotate the new produce in with the old, a hundred four-digit PLU codes. All those little things that make a shelf look nice? Someone does them - they don’t just happen by magic. I guess I knew that, but it didn’t mean anything until I became the one turning milk cartons to face the right way in the cooler.

And they’re days of learning many deeper things - the kind that have to be learned again and again, day in and day out. Like learning to set my eyes on Jesus, who has already endured and overcome every heartbreak and struggle I face. Learning to take refuge in who He says I am, and remember that He alone (not my feelings, not my mistakes, not my perceptions, not another person) gets to name me. Learning that He doesn’t always disclose the destination, or even the goal, but He does faithfully take the next step forward with me.

Welcome, September; don’t go too soon. I want to enjoy these days with you.

summertime reflections

It’s mid-July already, and I find myself lost in a rather reflective mood. These long summer days have been sticky and temperamental, a shower here and a sunburst there; I strained my lower back doing too many burpees and so I’m relegated now to long daily walks and short core-strengthening sessions, and in a way, I’m glad - glad to have been pushed to enjoy the out-of-doors more intentionally while the weather is mild and the world is green. I love to go outside and say hello to my flowers and walk barefoot in the yard and pick raspberries and marionberries straight off the vines. I love to find new trails and routes to explore, places where I can feel small under the towering firs or the vast sky. Summer, somehow, always serves to jolt me out of step with the rest of the world’s clip and strip away the superfluous and remind me of who God says I am.

I am seen. “Then [Hagar] called the name of the LORD who spoke to her, ‘You are a God who sees’” (Genesis 16:13a). I’ve joked before (all too seriously) that invisibility is my superpower. I’ve always been the kind of person to think carefully before I speak, and to speak only if I had something truly valuable to say - which is a trait quickly passed off as quietness or shyness, and makes it spectacularly easy to fly under the radar. I’ve spent years trying to figure out how to do something worthy of notice with my life, but I am learning - slowly - that I am already seen. There is never a time when I am out of God’s sight - the recognition that I crave, He generously gives, and I need not do anything to gain or deserve it.

I am significant. “Your eyes have seen my unformed substance; and in Your book were all written the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them” (Psalm 139:16). The loudest voices tell us that significance can be quantified in numbers - the number of people reached, the number of dollars made, the number of successes won, etc. But the Bible says true significance is sourced from a much humbler place, because it is a gift, not an achievement. I try to imagine God, as He was creating the masterpiece we call the Universe, painstakingly writing every one of my life’s days into His script. Somehow, while He was placing stars into position and setting planets into orbit, the tiny detail of Hallie’s life on July 16, 2019 did not escape Him - nor did the 9,312 days before it, or the unknown number that may come after it. For some reason He wanted me here, now. For some reason I’m a piece of His story, called into His family. For some reason - known and quantifiable only by Him - I am significant.

I am cared for. “Why do you say, O Jacob, and assert, O Israel, ‘My way is hidden from the Lord, and the justice due me escapes the notice of my God’? Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth does not become weary or tired. His understanding is inscrutable” (Isaiah 40:27-28). The same God who sees me and declares me significant proves these things true with His tireless love and care for me. Even when I’m complaining and blind to the work He’s doing, like the nation of Israel in this passage, God is not wearied in the pursuit of ultimate justice and goodness for the child He loves. I can rest in Him because He never rests; He keeps fighting for me, loving me, and winning the victory for me regardless of my failure, discouragement, or forgetfulness.

These are the truths He keeps reminding me of during these slow, but rapidly slipping, days of summer. Life is such a paradox - it’s small as well as important, simultaneously fleeting and everlasting. Like the flowers in my front garden, I may occupy only a small space for a short time, never to be celebrated by the masses, but I still have the opportunity to beautify the lives of a few passersby with the Truth for a moment. Perhaps that is enough.

1 Comment

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.