A response to the "small group questions" for the 3 February 2019 message at First Pres, Boulder. 1
The LORD had said to Abram, “Leave your native country, your relatives, and your father’s family, and go to the land that I will show you. I will make you into a great nation. I will bless you and make you famous, and you will be a blessing to others. I will bless those who bless you and curse those who treat you with contempt. All the families on earth will be blessed through you.”
So Abram departed as the LORD had instructed, and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he left Haran. He took his wife, Sarai, his nephew Lot, and all his wealth—his livestock and all the people he had taken into his household at Haran—and headed for the land of Canaan. When they arrived in Canaan, Abram traveled through the land as far as Shechem. There he set up camp beside the oak of Moreh. At that time, the area was inhabited by Canaanites.
Then the LORD appeared to Abram and said, “I will give this land to your descendants.” And Abram built an altar there and dedicated it to the LORD, who had appeared to him. After that, Abram traveled south and set up camp in the hill country, with Bethel to the west and Ai to the east. There he built another altar and dedicated i t to the LORD, and he worshiped the LORD. Then Abram continued traveling south by stages toward the Negev.
excerpt from the New Living Translation of the book of Genesis 2
Consider the life of Abraham: Called out of comfort into the unknown, received a promise he could not see, shaped his life around it. How does your own life follow a similar pattern?
I've talked about it a lot already, but I'm actually pretty happy with the history of my response to God, and it only seems undermined in my narrative by how blessed I've been. Even going as far back as choosing where I would go to college (itself already a luxury) I remember that my mother had already wanted me to attend Olivet Nazarene University. I don't really understand why. But I resisted, probably mostly because I was a teen and I didn't want to do what my parents wanted me to do. But I still remember the moment, at one of their introductory weekend events, when I was standing in the quad and feeling confident, despite my cynicism, that I was where I was supposed to be. Clearly the rest of my life—my wife, my career, and everything that followed—would not have happened otherwise. And I love my life.
It was at Olivet that I met Andi, of course; and as tropishly as possible: at a small groups Bible study. And it's actually true that what first attracted is to each other was the way we discussed scripture and theology. It'd be ridiculous if it wasn't true. And our earnest pursuit of wisdom and understand in the Spirit remains so central an aspect of our relationship as to be under-appreciated.
It was at Olivet that I first heard about SULI, a federal internship program that gave me a summer at Argonne National Laboratory. There I first learned about High Performance Computing, and from such figures as John Valdez, Susan Coghlan, Bill Allcock, Cory Lueninghoener, Craig Stacey, Tisha Stacey, Andrew Cherry, Daniel Buettner, and Loren Jan Wilson. These people taught me, mentored me, and took a chance on me after I graduated. Many of them even came to my wedding.
The guy who introduced me to SULI lives in my neighborhood now, a thousand miles and three states away, ten years later.
My SULI internship was difficult, and now because of the program itself. I felt overwhelmed by and under-prepared for the work, but that's how you grow. What was difficult was the timing: it was at Argonne, sitting on the floor of the student lodge where I could barely get cell reception, that I learned that my mother had leukemia. I didn't know what to do: should I, as she always had, prioritize my education? Or do I go home to be with her and our family? At the time I rationalized proceeding as normal. It's what she would have wanted, right? Besides: she was obviously going to recover. This wasn't that big a deal. It would all be fine.
I carried this attitude all the way to the next semester, when I received an urgent, early-morning call to come home. I stopped by my 7am gym class to make sure it was ok for me to be absent. My mother passed away that weekend.
But it was the people I met at Argonne who introduced me to KAUST: the Saudi Arabian university that would define so much of our lives from that point. It was Andi that was just crazy enough to go with me. It was in going to KAUST that Andi and I developed our habit of goading each other into doing the things we wanted to do but were otherwise too afraid to do. It was at KAUST that I first felt like a professional. It was at KAUST that I first experienced church outside of a framework that had already been constructed for me. It was at KAUST that our first child was born. And it was because of KAUST that we were able to grow out of some of our midwestern xenophobia. (We lived in a house built by Saudi Binladin Group, for goodness sake.)
From KAUST we moved to NYC, and for a time this was a disruption in my narrative. Because when we left NYC, life was hard. I was unhappy at work. We were stressed about money. I was working a lot, and Andi felt like there was no space for us to be a family. And we had our second child, Miles, on the way. We had little community and no family, but leaving felt like giving up.
It wasn't until a couple years later that I truly felt peace with it:
We were visiting friends on Long Island, and got a bit turned around on our way out. Suddenly we found ourselves, at 7pm on a Friday, driving through Times Square. Andi was a bit stressed, but all I could do would laugh at the absurdity of it all: clearly God was there with us, because the situation was too comical for it to be an accident.
We found our way through and out of the city, and started driving through New Jersey in an absolute downpour. And I started crying, I so closely felt the presence of God in our lives at that moment. I realized that I had not been afraid to be in the city: that God had brought us there, and had brought us back out again, both when we lived there and when we briefly found our way there again. When my son woke up in the back seat and asked in wonder at the lights where we were, I could tell him, "This is New York City. We used to live here. This is where you used to play." To him, and to us after having lived there, the city will not be a frightening "other" place to be avoided: it is a real place where we've lived and worked, where we've met friends and worshiped God.
My perception of God's call is relatively mundane, in an Evangelical sense; but I consider it an expression of faith that, in all these things, I have seen God's plan in effect. Sometimes, like when we sojourned for a time in New York, I have felt that we were wandering; but I know that God is ahead of us, and I only pray that we continue to keep our eyes on him.
In examining your own life, what promise have you shaped your life around? (Is it spiritual, cultural, material, or something else?)
I pursue the promise that, while creation is broken, it was not created so, and that God's plan for me is working out its redemption.
Looking back, there is no doubt that God has been faithful to his promise to bless Abraham to be a blessing to others, especially as we remember the work of Jesus. What blessing did someone first receive that has now been passed on to you? How many generations back did that blessing begin?
What first comes to mind is the blessing of my parents' faith, which really begins in earnest with them. There is the blessing of our friends, the Malones, who's passion for Christ was the beginning of the house church system at KAUST, and shaped my perspective on church through today. There is the blessing of the three day movement, and the serendipitous day a family friend invited me to attend Chrysalis, and that blessing extends back to Cursillo in 1944 and earlier.
Where might you be invited to be part of the wellspring of generational blessing?
Materially, we try to prioritize sharing the blessings of our life with others; but more specifically in adulthood I have tried to speak confidently about my faith, whatever the circumstance, so that the common discourse will not be so dominated by a certain destructive corruption of the gospel.