When you’ve been in one place for a long time, you tend to have flashbacks every now and then. Most of mine in the past couple of days have been from freshman year – a time when I didn’t have the slightest worry in the world and had nothing figured out. I miss those days. No, I still don’t have much figured out for my life and I’m not really worrying too much about my future (key words: “too much”), but what I miss from those days is the constant presence of other people in my life.
There are still quite a few people in my life these days, but we’re mostly all busy and have our own schedules. Back in those days our schedules were wide open and often intertwined. Whether it was a dorm-hall hangout, CCF soccer pick-up game, or a trip to the movies with a few from both crowds, there was always something to do and people to hang out with. Of all my five years of college, I’m going to miss hanging out the most.
Ever since last Thursday night, I’ve been thinking of what I’d like to tell the people who are still in college. Back in the eighth grade we left our “wills” to various people in the grades behind us, which entailed dumb things like “To So-and-So I leave my locker and all my dirty gym socks,” or “To So-and-So I leave my unparalleled swagger.” But this isn’t what I had in mind here (although, if I had to leave something, I’d leave Brian Teague my enthusiasm for proper grammar – you need it buddy ;)).
No, what’s been on my mind since last week is a message. It’s been difficult to put to words and has several aspects to it, but one that I want to give to all those coming back to U of O, NCU, or LCC next year. It’s simple, easy to remember, and aligns perfectly with the words of Jesus: Invest in each other.
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” – John 13:34-35
What has gotten me through the difficult emotions in life, what has deepened my walk with the Lord, and what has propelled me to the point I’m at now has been not only the presence of other people, but the intentional love these people have shown and shared with me. Had Cross Training’s men’s group not discussed Blue Like Jazz in a relatable way, I may not have become so passionate about writing. Had my roommates in The Revolution not been so interested in my story, I might never have felt inclined to share it. And if the generations before me had not been so honest with me, I might never have been so honest with them – or even with myself.
In my doubting days, I wondered why a good God would let bad things happen to good people. I wondered where He was and what He was doing when thousands upon thousands were dying around the world. But then a couple friends would call me up just to see how I was doing, a pastor would text me about coffee the next day, and a roommate would walk in my room asking how things with God were going. As I sought a definite answer to the world’s pain, God was working on my own healing through the people around me. No, they weren’t perfect – none of us are – but that’s just it; they were so relentless in sharing this selfless love with me that I could see something within them propelling them forward when everything else seemed to be falling behind.
“Ekklesia” (ek-clay-see-uh) does not mean a church building or sanctuary; it means a gathering, an assembly, a congregation of people. Originally it was used to describe political gatherings or assemblies watching the great orators of ancient Greek culture. But the earliest Christians began to use it to describe their own meetings; gatherings of a Kingdom much greater than the world’s. In some cases risking their lives, they met up to pray with each other, learn about the Lord from each other, and share a meal with each other. They saw each other’s smiles and felt each other’s tears. Living out Christ’s commandment to love, they invested in each other.
And this is what I wish the groups behind me will do. No amount of private devotionals will bring you as close to God as the prayers and presence of others around you. You can’t operate as a full body if you’re just a hand or foot; you need the other parts attached to you if you want to function well. You need others to keep you sane.
There’s another aspect, though, to being an “Ekklesia.” A little over a year ago I described the church as a fleet of ships at sea – each ship representing the smaller congregations. The people on these ships, the crews, are needed in order to make the ship move forward. But yet they aren’t traveling in any random direction; there’s a purpose within each crew, an objective to carry out. Invest in each other, yes, but do something with each other.
Get outside, go places, meet new people, talk about life, talk about faith, talk about Jesus. My five years of college, despite my procrastination, have seen a lot of productivity. And yet, there was so much time wasted in front of the TV, on Facebook, and just lounging around being bored.
A parable in Matthew’s Gospel contains a tidbit of detail that I’ve always found indirectly convicting; “And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing. And he said to them, ‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too,’” 20:6-7. When I first considered that word “idle,” I felt as though Jesus was asking me that question: “Why are you wasting your life on Facebook, Twitter, watching TV, or just lounging around? There is work to be done!”
As the saying goes, you’re only young once. These college years of your life could be some of the most exciting and most memorable. Life was given to us not for the purpose of suffering and then dying; it was given to us to enjoy. Such joy, though, comes from the Lord, which is amplified in Christ-committed communities, which are sharpened and strengthened when focused on a goal – when seeking to work in Christ’s vineyard. Then and only then “work” loses its dread and instead grows intertwined with joy.
Paul’s Christian life was spent in prisons and under house arrest. As the Scriptures say, he was beaten and bruised regularly, but he always had someone with him investing in him and was always investing in others. And he was always focused on the prize at the finish line.
Write songs, sing songs, dance, write stories, share stories, live stories, and love each other through it all. Life is more than degrees, jobs, and careers. Life is Jesus. And Jesus is within you.