Point #2 from The Great Adventure Manifesto:
In the time I have left upon this earth, I will do my best to share my view of what it means to have a personal God and a daily relationship with Him. My writing will—in large part or small—reflect what I believe is an honest portrayal of a loving God in a big and unloving world, as well as the personal experience of those who are confronted by such a God.
There’s not much I can add to this point from the Mandate. When we think of why we are on this world, Christians have somewhat of an advantage. The day that I surrendered myself to Jesus Christ and took him on as Master of my life is the day that I suddenly had a Purpose, a reason for living. Beyond the obedience and surrender, beyond the promise of a Paradise by and by, because my life had a purpose, I had focus and meaning in my life. And I will always be grateful for that.
It’s easy to lose focus when you are good at writing, and have fun doing it. One of the reasons I wrote The Great Adventure Manifesto was to help myself rediscover that focus.
In a lot of ways, my Champion Trilogy is about that very thing. It’s one thing to say we are Christian, to have a Road to Damascus experience where God convicts us to follow Him, and it’s very different to follow Him daily, wherever He leads. Harris Borden learned that the hard way:
It had been a long time since Greg Phipps had visited a prison. The last time he had been in one was in 1989, in Thailand, when he was trying to help a fellow missionary who had been imprisoned because he’d come into conflict with an important general. The encounter hadn’t been either successful or pretty, and Greg had avoided prisons ever since.
Today’s visit was, once again, at the request of a friend. He waited patiently in the visiting room with the Plexiglas window, not sure what to expect. Harris had been gone for nearly two years now. He missed Harris, just as he missed Katya. The young couple had made their mistakes, but they’d added energy and enthusiasm to an otherwise unenthusiastic church.
He was surprised when a long-haired, bearded inmate stepped up to the chair opposite him and threw himself down. It took a long minute for Greg to recognize his pastoral friend. He’d filled out his slender frame with huge slabs of muscle. He sported a tattoo on the back of each hand. One on his right read: “Hebrews 10:31.” The other read: “Exodus 3:14.” His hair, now black, hung down over his eyes, and his full beard ran down his throat, divided at one point by an angry red scar that ran from his left ear to the center of his throat. But what frightened Greg most was the look in his eyes. Gone was the innocence, the sly sense of humor, the casual friendliness that had made Harris who he was as a pastor. Greg looked into the face of a man who’d been hardened by nearly two years in prison, rubbing shoulders with mass murderers. Harris looked at him with the eyes of a predator.
“Hello, Greg,” Harris rasped, after picking up the phone receiver. Greg was startled by the voice that came from Harris’ mouth. His heart suddenly went out to the young man.
“I’m so sorry,” Greg said quietly. “I…I….”
“Don’t be,” Harris said. “God is having His way with me. It’s all part of His plan.”
“Is it?” Greg asked, suddenly defensive. “Do you really believe God put you here?”
Harris smirked. “Did God put Joseph in prison? Maybe. Maybe not. But he used him there. I don’t have the same assurance. God has forgotten me.”
Greg shook his head. “Harris, you can’t say that.”
“Why can’t I?” he shot back. “What evidence do I have that God even cares anymore?”
“You’re still alive,” Greg offered.
“Yeah, there’s that,” Harris said, not impressed. “Despite all their efforts, I’m still here. But Katya isn’t. And my baby isn’t.”
Greg looked at him. He wanted to reassure him that God hadn’t forsaken him, that in fact, Katya’s body had never been found in the wreckage. But Greg was here for another reason.
“Don’t give up hope,” he said. “Sometimes it’s all we have.”
Harris looked down and shook his head sadly. Greg wanted to cry.
“This life is all I have now,” Harris said.
“Speaking of which, I finally got permission from the warden to come in and perform the baptism of your friend Gordon—.”
“He’s dead,” Harris said, interrupting him. “Died last night.”
Greg found himself without words, until Harris spoke up again. “How’s my church?”
Greg smiled when he heard Harris use the word my to describe the church.
“Good,” he said. “I agreed to take over as acting pastor until our new one arrives next month. The church board wanted to vote to keep you officially as pastor, but we didn’t know how long you’d be in prison.”
Harris nodded. “I understand. Someone has to lead the flock. Where’s Frank Hollis?”
“Gone. He and his family decided to move to Reno. They were frustrated when the church refused to vote a letter of reprimand against you.”
Harris smiled at that, and Greg was glad.
“You look good when you smile,” he said. “You look more your old self.”
“I haven’t had much to smile about lately,” Harris said, and Greg believed him.
“It’s been tough on the church, these past two years,” Greg continued. “The conference brought in one pastor, but he wasn’t strong, and didn’t last more than a year. Harris—,” Greg leaned forward against the Plexiglas. “We’ve been under attack by Satan’s forces, sometimes brutally, ever since you left.”
Harris stared at him. Greg could tell that he hadn’t realized how much his actions would affect others.
“Now it’s my turn to be sorry,” Harris said.
“Don’t be,” Greg said. “We were happily drowning in apathy. The attacks have forced church members to choose for one side or the other. We’ve learned to lean on each other, and more importantly, depend on God. Prayer meeting’s never been so popular.” He chuckled.
A wisp of a smile came over Harris’ face. “Maybe we should have done it sooner then.”
The discussion slowed to a stop, and Greg once again found himself looking at Harris, not know what to say. He could see the bitterness in Harris’ eyes, even as he dropped them to stare at the floor. He sensed that Harris was trying hard to hang on to his walk with God, but that prison and Katya’s death were uniting to grind him down into a fine powder.
“Harris,” Greg said, finally. “You’ll get out of here. I know it.”
Harris’ eyes came up, but his face still looked down. “How can you be so sure? They’ve tried again and again to kill me. They’ll never stop trying. And even if they did…” He sat up and ran his index finger over his throat where the blade had slashed him. “I could never go back to the life I had.”
“You’ve asked God to use you for something special,” Greg said, intensity coming into his voice. “You’re his champion. You will get out of here. When you do, you need to know for sure whether you’re ready to champion His cause for Him, do what He asks, whatever it is. You’re not here because God put you here. You’re here because somewhere along the line you depended on yourself rather than on Him.”
“Yes,” Harris said quietly, lost in thought. “I know.”
“You need to depend on God’s timing to get out. You need to learn to depend on Him for everything. This is the Refiner’s fire. He’s making you into a weapon of His work. God hasn’t forgotten you,” Greg said. “He never forgets His children. And He would never, never forget a Champion. He’s not done with you yet, Harris.”
Harris looked up from his reverie. “And what if I never get out of here?”
“Just remember: It’s not important what you do. It’s who you are.”
Harris stared at Greg. “Yeah, I heard that somewhere.”
We may never be called to go to prison, or run from the F.B.I., or stand up in testimony against demonic powers. But we are called to serve Him, daily. And that’s the beginning of The Great Adventure.
2 thoughts on “What Really Matters”
Sometimes I wonder how much of the perception that we need a God’s orders to have purpose is in fact a product of religious culture. When I lost my faith in the God I was taught about growing up, I did experience a devastating loss of purpose – but I wonder how much that is because I had been told growing up that life had no purpose without God.
I would also like to ask – is God’s purpose, to you, supposed to be intolerant? I often struggle with this differentiation between people who believe they are responsible for spreading “the good news,” and those who believe they are morally prohibited from tolerating certain practices in other people. I often find folks attempting to interfere in the lives of others in an un-wanted way, or telling others that they cannot expect to be accepted with their “evil” lifestyles – and I don’t imagine this is what God’s sense of purpose is supposed to be about, but it so often works out that way, and I wish that Christian teachers would talk about this more.
The simple answer to the question to that is to go back to Jesus’ Great Commission: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” But as you say, Christians, and more specifically, church-goers have made such a mess of it that my personal focus is helping people understand God better rather than trying to convert them. I’d like to recommend a book: “Your God Is Too Small” by J.B. Phillips and a movie (on Netflix): “Lord, Save Us From Your Followers.” Both spot on when it comes to today’s challenge for those who follow Him.
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