For twenty straight years I’ve woken up my child or children on the first day of school with a loud, over-the-top, “extra” rendition of “School Bells.” At 6:05 this morning, in the pitch dark, I opened the door to Carley’s bedroom and laid into it one more time.
One last time.
Today is the first day of our youngest daughter’s senior year at Canyon High School. She’s got the ring, she’s had the senior yearbook picture taken, and now she’s starting class. Her senior year. Her last year.
For twenty years I’ve taken that first-day-of-school picture: new clothes, backpack, lunchbox, and three Wal-Mart bags full of crayons, paper, pens, and a box of Kleenex. Today? Carley might be wearing new clothes — I can’t tell. But there’s no backpack, no books, no supplies, and definitely no lunch box. She allowed me to take her picture with Carrie-Anne, who is starting her fifth year today as the Culinary Arts Director at Canyon High, and then took off in her little green car. Gone.
I don’t think “School Bells” is going to sound as good or be as irritating next year over the phone.
We’re tired. We’re bored. You can see it in the way we look down when somebody’s asking for volunteers. You can see it in the way we straggle in to worship and complain about it when it’s over. We’re traveling more and playing more sports and assembling together with the Church less. The problem is just getting us to admit it. If we could admit it — we’re bored, we’re tired, we’ve lost our fire, we’re plateaued — then we could deal with it honestly and get some help. And maybe we’d understand that this spiritual fatigue is understandable.
It’s in the very nature of the kind of commitment we’ve all made. Following Jesus isn’t an inspiring baptism and then it’s done. It’s not a spectacular mission trip or a set of summer service projects or a two-year Ignite Initiative and then it’s over. Following Jesus is a grueling marathon. It takes great endurance. Continual focus.
The people at work, the non-Christians at school, they all seem to be living pretty good lives. They seem fulfilled. They’ve got good families. They read the latest books on marriage and parenting and they seem to be doing well. They go to parties, they take weekend trips, they’re doing great. They have great attitudes and a real enthusiasm for life. Who are you to tell them they need Jesus to have a meaningful life? In fact, your life seems to be much more difficult since you took on Christ so long ago.
The problem is that we have so little to show for our hard work. Where are the results? Religious people always want visible, tangible results. Whether it’s burning a bull on a remote mountain altar or sliding into a pew at the local temple of positive thinking, people want a religion that pays off in ways we can see — bigger harvests, healthier bodies, more security, instant peace of mind. That’s the problem with the Christian faith. In this world of religious show-and-tell, in this world of “seeing is believing,” we don’t have much to show. Or see. All we’ve got is a cross that has to be picked up every day.
But hold on. Isn’t the Gospel about God’s great victory over sin and Satan and all the bad things that oppress human life? Isn’t the good news of the Christian faith about the resurrection triumph of eternal life over death? Yes, of course. But that victory is hidden right now. One day every eye will see that victory, it’ll be clear, it’ll be glorious. But not today. We don’t see it today.
“In putting everything under Christ Jesus, God left nothing that is not subject to him. Yet at present we do not see everything subject to him.” ~Hebrews 2:8
What we see is chaos and violence and disease. It’s everywhere in everybody around us. Abuse and brokenness and addiction and loneliness and loss. In our family. In my own life. All things are under Christ? I don’t see it.
The preacher of Hebrews knows this.
“Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” ~Hebrews 11:1
Everybody in that Faith Ring of Honor in Hebrews 11 is commended because they displayed great faith when they couldn’t see. They couldn’t see. Moses was looking ahead, he says. Noah acted on things not yet seen. All these people, the preacher says, only saw the promise from a distance. It’s hard to get excited about a faith where all the final results are hidden. No wonder so many of us would rather spend our Sundays watching football where at least we can see who’s winning.
There’s a gap. And it’s real. Everybody’s got it: this gap between faith and sight. We’re all there in this gap. Somewhere in that gap, I’ve got to have a conviction about God. I’ve got to believe that, yes, God is bringing all things to completion, even though I can’t always see it.
The victory of the Gospel cannot yet be seen. But it can be heard. The truth, today, can be heard.
“In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful Word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.” ~Hebrews 1:1-3
The preacher calls this a “word of encouragement.” And it’s crystal clear from these opening lines that his spoken word is all about God’s spoken Word which is now made complete and fully known in the incarnate Word, Jesus, the Son of God. The Son of God is not a metaphor. It’s not a figure of speech. This Son of God is the heir of all things, he’s the one through whom God created the world, and he upholds us and everything we see and don’t see by his mighty Word of power.
“If you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.” Hebrews 3:7
“See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks.” ~Hebrews 12:25
“He who has ears, let him hear!” ~Jesus