On the way to my favorite writing niche, I passed the hour-plus drive with a downloaded episode of NPR’s This American Life podcast (I know, I’m a snob). The story featured a Samoan family who, because Dad got a call from God, moved from their Polynesian paradise to the frozen tundra of Whittier, Alaska for a Samoan church start-up.
More pointedly, the story revolved around a teen-aged girl who went from watching the sun rise and set between two majestic mountains that framed her own part of the Pacific, breadfruit trees in her front yard – the whole nine – to a 15-story utilitarian, block-style high-rise in which – get this – the entire town’s population of 200 residents lived. Post office, police station and school were all situated in her building. Linoleum floors and blandly painted, concrete walls were her scenery.
All because Dad got a divine call – not saw an opportunity – she went from Shangri-La to Shutter Island. I must say, I love this girl. She was a great interview; smart, funny and mature. But you could feel her angst of adaptation – and feel for her big time.
Cliche alert: there’s a cost to following Jesus. And Zalena got stuck with the price-tag simply by virtue of being her Dad’s fifteen-year old daughter.
As you might guess, this young disciple had to work through bitterness, loneliness, apathy and depression, but at the time of her interview for TAM, she had come to great peace about the entire ordeal. She was asked where she would have ranked Whittier on a 1-10 scale when she first arrived at the bleakly frontier town and replied, “only to be nice, a four.”
“An eleven,” she says without hesitation.
Now a high school senior, Zalena went on to explain that she had learned to let go of her defiance and embrace her new normal – and to do it with more than acceptance. She’d found joy in her place and even learned to fall in love with it.
Earlier this year, I generated a proposition that every generation in Church history has had to answer to one of Jesus’ great questions in the Gospels. In the interest of applying proper credit, however, I didn’t come up with it, O.S. Hawkins did. I kind of ended that conversation and haven’t gone back to it until now.
Adding to Mr. Hawkins’ thought flow, I suggested then that there is also a question for our generation, possibly the Church’s last generation before Christ’s Return…possibly. I inferred – then – I might even have an idea what that question might be. And…weeks ago…I was certain our challenge-in-the-form-of-a-question was in the Caesarea Philippi dialogue in which Jesus turns to the Twelve, who are studying the altars to the many mythical gods on that high place, and asks:
“Who am I to you?
Deep down, now:
Who am I really…to you?”
Def worth pondering.
The more I’ve studied on it, though, the more I’m leaning toward another question the Master posed to His men. It’s more life-threatening. More rubber to road.
Before I go there, let me set the stage a bit.
Eschatologically, I’m neither pre-trib nor a-mill. IOW, I don’t ascribe to a secret catching away of the Church prior to the seven years of worldwide tribulation, nor do I believe a thousand year physical reign of Jesus and His Church on the earth is purely metaphorical.
I believe the Church must go through Great Tribulation in order to become the “bride made ready” for her Bridegroom Lord at His Return – at the end of which, she will rule and reign on the earth with Christ for a literal 1000 years. It will be a time of the Government of God in full operation on the earth, lion playing with lamb, child cuddling with asps, curse lifted, divine righteousness pervading all civic and political and societal landscapes, no injustice, no foreign occupiers…
…everything, most certainly, the disciples expected Jesus to do as they climbed down off that Matthew 16 mountain. That same mountain where Jesus even prophesied to them a Church Triumphant, a hell-scaring Rock-sturdy enterprise his men would lead and have keys for and open and shut doors to. This was all bolstered by Jesus and lightning and dazzling brilliance and prophets and thunder and God’s booming voice on the next mountain on the journey. To them it was a lock. KINGDOM NOW, IN FULL.
They had so many wild fantasies doing cartwheels in their imaginations they couldn’t hear Jesus’ “but first, guys…”
Thoughts of cabinet positions, unrivaled power, injustices reversed, and dynasties toppled had them like:
They never even listened to Jesus’ “before all that, fellas…”
So as they neared Ground Zero of the New World Order, their conversations became increasingly more along the lines of who’s greatest, who’s the favored disciple, etc. You know, the typical ranking, sorting and posturing the church likes to do. And don’t forget, as far as they were concerned, THEY were the Church to make it all happen, to usher in the Kingdom of God. So, best start candidating for cabinet positions now, amiright?
Into this devolving narrative breaks a surprising encounter with the mother of two of Jesus’ grown-men disciples. You heard right. Mom is getting into the act, and it’s not going to be pretty. Tradition holds her to be Salome, the sister of Mary. That makes Salome Jesus’ aunt, and the brothers James&John His cousins. It would seem nepotism is as good a reason as any to start the vetting for the best places at the Table.
In my next post I want to carefully unpack the story for you, including the challenge-in-the-form-of-a-question, otherwise you’re reading a chapter of a book rather than a blog post.
I’d love to ask a favor, though. If, between this post and the follow-up, you get some time or need some further insight, travel over to an entry from long ago, “Left Turn Jesus” and see what was on my mind back then about all this.
Until next time, faithful reader (or new victim), let Jesus be the answer to all the life questions that plague and challenge you.