In the Land of Inconsequence

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At 16, I read through Acts and came away understanding that the pivotal disciple in the book was not Paul but the man who stood behind him, Barnabas. In those words, God said to me, “Be a Barnabas. Help raise up future Pauls.”

I entered college a few years later and studied robotics because I enjoyed tech and knew there would be money in it. But after two years, I felt hollow on the inside. I realized that while I was good at computer-related things, it wasn’t where my heart was.

On completion of my sophomore year, I worked the summer at a Christian camp.  Not any camp though, but the one that six years previously was the place where I met the amazing manager of the camp, who introduced me to Jesus and changed my life forever.

I had a rough first week as a counselor. I had a cabin full of rowdy boys from Cleveland who did nearly everything wrong. Yet at the end of the week, I’d seen how Jesus had touched them. I’d understood something about the Great Commission I’d never grasped before.

After the kids left on Friday after dinner, the staff had its worship and communion service. As I partook of the Lord’s body and blood, I remember thinking that each of us had been consecrated by the Lord for this work. Each of us had a holy calling.

Following the blessing of that worship, seven of us piled into John’s enormous, early ’60s convertible (an Impala, or maybe a Caddy) and headed into town for ice cream. John, Lori, and Shawn took the front seat, while Keith, Michelle, Ruth, and I sat in back. The long-persisting, mid-June  sun crouched low on the horizon, the last of its rays golden on our faces as we sped west, the warm wind tossing our hair. Around us, katydids poured out songs of love, and the world burst with life and possibilities.

At the ice cream parlor, Ruth and I hunkered down in a booth and talked about what it meant to have a mission in life, to discover what God intended for each of us, how He would use us, and what the future might hold. I remember feeling something change in me, as if I’d discovered a great truth about where I stood in the vast cosmos, and how the Lord could use me going forward.

On the way back home, under a heavens aglisten with stars, John turned on the radio. A lone acoustic guitar built into a full band, leading into these haunting lyrics:

Ooh, I’ve been running down this dusty road.

Oh, the wheel in the sky keeps on turning;

I don’t know where I’ll be tomorrow.

I considered those words a sign of hope. That not knowing where I would be tomorrow was a sign of God’s joy in taking those who love Him to wonder-filled, unexpected places.

We cruised past a tiny oil pumping station, and a giant ball of orange-yellow erupted from a pipe and roiled the sky, turning night to day. When I looked at the faces of the six around me, I could see the fire dancing in their eyes.

I remember thinking, It will never be better than this.

The events of that summer made it clear that robotics wasn’t the future for me. I didn’t return to college in the fall.

Back home, with “what next?” occupying every thought, I asked to meet a pastor friend of mine named Terry. On a lovely September day, I sat in the courtyard of his church and waited for him.  An ancient woman with a cane shuffled toward the bench I sat on.  She moved about as slowly as a person can and still have the motion be considered forward progress. She eased herself down beside me, took a deep breath, and folded her white-gloved hands. After a moment, she turned to me, called me by name (though I had no idea who she was), and told me that she had been talking with God about me. She then said that God had told her to tell me to pursue my calling of being a Barnabas and to do so in the environment I enjoyed the most. I was stunned by her words. Just then, Terry walked out of the building to my right. I waved to him then turned to the woman. She was gone. I asked Terry who she was, but he said no one had been sitting beside me.

I love the outdoors. I’m a nature boy. I love working with people who desire to know God more deeply, people who don’t want the status quo in their Christian life, who are looking for something more.

Armed with what I’d experienced, I understood that God had shown me a direction. And I took it.

It wasn’t easy. I worked summers in camping ministry and filled in the rest of the year. Eventually, I found full-time work in that field. Even though I had ups and downs, I believed I was on the right course. I started ascending in responsibilities. I trained counselors, devised and developed curriculum and programs, even worked as a camp manager.

But eventually, at the age of 27, my lack of a college degree caught up with me. Doors started closing.

After leading a weekend retreat for my church, someone said that I had a real gifting for this kind of work and that I should pursue a degree in the field. The words stuck.

As it was already late March, I’d missed every deadline to apply to college, but I did so anyway. In mid-April, Wheaton called. I drove up, interviewed, was told they had a scholarship for older students returning to college in Christian Education, and a week later I was accepted and told I had a full-ride for my academic payments. I immediately enrolled in classes related to camping and a month later spent that summer at the college’s camp in Wisconsin.

It all seemed like a dream.

I graduated at the top of my class in 1992. I even won the Senior Class Scholarship for the most deserving senior class student.

I’d worked in some of the best camps in America by then. The president of Christian Camping International and the foremost authority on outdoor education in Christian camps were two of my references. My résumé was golden. Everything was working for me as of May 1992.

Fast forward nearly two and a half years and I’m selling computers, wondering what the heck happened.

The first wave of Catholic priest scandals hit right as I was graduating. In the aftermath, being single and 30 years old didn’t endear me to many camp leaders. Being married made one safe was the thinking, I guess, though I knew that was a lie. Still, the golden résumé,  prayer, and fasting couldn’t overcome the news headlines. It was a terrible time. I couldn’t believe what I was subjected to.

Yet I had to put food on the table.

After the last soul-crushing rejection from a camp that reneged on their offer of  a management and curriculum design job when they learned I was single, I threw in the towel.

A few years later, I was married and working in Silicon Valley for Apple then at NASA. Then came a child and a mortgage. The bottom fell out of tech and I changed careers yet again.

I live on a proto-farm now and write for a living. Most of my income goes to pay for insurance policies. My 9-year-old son is gifted and bored with school. He attends a special program for gifted kids each Saturday. This last Saturday, his engineering class of about 30 kids built circuit boards. My son was the first done with his. I worry how we will meet his educational needs.

The garbage needs to be taken out. Someone has to cut the grass. Weeklong work on taxes beckons. Gotta fill the fridge again. Census forms. The truck breaks down. How do we get to swim lessons now? Did we send in the vehicle registration forms? What day is it today? How did another week fly by?

The juggling goes on an on. So many balls to keep in the air.

Oh, the wheel in the sky keeps on turning;

I don’t know where I’ll be tomorrow.

Twenty-seven years after seven young people piled into a huge ’60s convertible and drove into the dream of a future filled with God’s purposes, I stand on the side of the road, lost  in the Land of Inconsequence, choking on the exhaust fumes.Wandering the Wasteland of Inconsequence

I spent this last Sunday morning with tears in my eyes.

That’s my story. I believe it’s one that many other Christians share, though the details are different. I think that church pews around America are filled with middle-aged people wondering what happened to the mission they embraced years ago. Life became cubicles and rush hour gridlock and the smirk on the face that accompanies hearing the dream stories of youth who are poised to change the world. Those were our stories—once.

It feels like hell living a life of no consequence, counting time until we go to heaven and receive whatever meager reward we earned, based mostly on what we accomplished for the Kingdom when we were barely out of childhood. The Land of Inconsequence is a terrible place to dwell, yet the population grows daily.

God knows most of us who dwell in that land would prefer to be elsewhere. We’d like nothing more than to cast off the burden of a life buried in bureaucracy and striving. We don’t want to look at the mission of the Kingdom of God and think, Hey, nice fairy tale. We want to be more concerned with the fact that Christians in India and elsewhere  face persecution, but we’re stuck on the phone arguing with the electric company, trying to figure out why our electrical bill is twice as high this month.

All the while, what we once were eats at us. The old mission claws at our heart, but we don’t know how to get back to it. We don’t know if we could even perform that mission should it one day open up again. And the days keep falling from the calendar.

Some will say that God closes those doors due to sin, stupidity, and sloth, but I don’t know if that’s always the case. Sometimes, things just are. Yet it bothers me that so many Christian people who once burned brightly now sit in a pew somewhere on Sunday and lament what might have been. They had a mission once. Now they pay endless bills and kill themselves to keep up with the ever-growing numbers on those pages.

I wish I had an answer for this, but I don’t. I’m trapped in the mire too. All the doors closed one day, except for one, and in taking it there seems to be no return.

Is this a sad post? Sure. But I don’t think we can run away from sadness. As Christians, we must be able to deal with all of life’s challenges in ways that reflect the truth of God. Sadness is part of the human condition, and God does not shrink from speaking to it.

The hope that I hold out is that God has an answer. We just may not understand it. Do I think that God is happy that so many people dwell in the Land of Inconsequence? No. But if the Church doesn’t acknowledge the problem, how can we expect to see that change?

I would love nothing more than to get believers together and raise this issue. It’s a dirty little secret, I think, and dirty little secrets need to be brought into the light of Christ and exposed before the people of God. Perhaps if we did this, God would work through us in ways that would help free people to return to those long-lost missions and find a way to escape an inconsequential life.

53 thoughts on “In the Land of Inconsequence

  1. Dan – This post has hit me hard. You have said some things that I have felt for a long time but could not put into words – or was afraid to put into words – as well as you have.

    If you ever figure out the answer, please let us know!

    Thanks!

    • Barry,

      I think our next best step is to connect with other people like ourselves and discuss this. I would think that bringing it out in the open will stir up things, which may help us all in the long run.

  2. David

    Sometimes we’re the shallow soil, sometimes we’re the weed choked crop. I couldn’t tell you why it works that way, as it often seems that we really have no say in the matter. Our seeming success or failure relies so often on the actions of others.

    Like Ezekiel, though, I suppose all we can look forward to is that, if we are faithful, when all is said and done, people will know that a prophet has been among them. It’s not something that encourages. I wonder how we would look at the faithfulness of God if Daniel had been eaten by the lions, or the three boys had been burned in the furnace?

    Encouraged? Not very. But all the old testament heroes had this in common: They did what they did with no promise of success. By whatever measure success is counted.

    If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”

    I’m stuck in the spiritual doldrums. Sails slack, albatross about my neck, dry as a bone. Hate my job, my life, and the fact that I don’t seem to care that I am adrift and rudderless. Sign of the times? Burnt out? Abandoned? Apparently Elijah felt the same way. So at least I’m in good company.

    “Eloi Eloi, Lama Sabacthani?”

    “Adam, Adam, where are you?”

    Even God has His dark days. Go cheer Him up with your desiring His presence, because nothing else seems to work.

    • David,

      The one thing I have always wondered about the minor prophets was how they adapted to returning to their regular lives after their time as the spokesmen for God. Did they ever get nostalgic for those days?

      • David

        Most of them didn’t survive the experience. But look at Gideon…Started a cult, probably looking for that ‘spiritual rush’. Solomon had his high point and then went against his own sage advise. Peter got chewed out by Paul, Paul went ballistic on Barnabas.

        Harking back to an earlier Amy; we have to come down from the mountain top. Sometimes we’re pushed.

        • David,

          Well, not all the prophets lived on, but some did.

          As to “1974,” I think that we have to hold onto the mountaintop. Jesus was there then. And while He’s here now, that beginning should always be precious. It’s why so many people are willing to tell their story of meeting Him.

          My 1974 was actually 1977, and it’s funny how similar mine was to Amy’s. We were the same age at the time.

  3. Sonya

    My story has some similarties to yours but I worked in parks and recreation. Attended a christian college in Alaska. Saved in late 70’s but then the shepherding movement hit and I got drawn in. Dropped everything to be ” spiritual ” ( long story… )

    Hmm within the last two months at church I have heard two stories about pastors that have committed suicide. Now medically I know anyone that does that suffers from depression however does ” dying to self ” cause this? I hope not. The pastor then went on to talk about how some christians may not have a ” theology of suffering ” and I suspect he is right.
    I also wouldn’t mind getting back on a similar track I was on in some regard but it’s not likely now.And as an older female ( emphasize FEMALE in that line of work ) church crowds it’s not that supportive. So I can also relate to the single and marraige thing…

    The fact that you are living on a farm I hope gives you some comfort. When we stand before God we will account for how we have handled his natural resources and the environment as well.

    You have definately found a great ministry in writing and being a parent is a pretty high calling to do it right.. In many ways Dan you have been walking by faith in going in different directions.You are doing well.

    When we get to heaven all of our mansions Jesus has for us will be a perfect fit. Whether you are male or female,single or married won’t be an issue then. I long for the day ! :>)

    • Sonya,

      Theology of Suffering: As I have aged and encountered more suffering, my “romantic” notions of suffering have long since waned. Suffering sucks. It teaches its lessons quickly. Perhaps I am one of these people who don’t have a “theology of suffering,” but then there are folks who are almost masochistic in the depths to which they praise suffering. As I look at it, though, suffering is an aberration. It does not persist into the eternal Kingdom. It has an end. And I can think of nothing that has an end that was ever really praised by God, save for human marriage (ha! ha!).

      I resist the notion that settling down into a comfortable life and doing a few things socially acceptable things even the pagans do sets my life apart. That, as I read the Bible, is settling for something less than my utmost for His highest. It feels like the broad road that leads to destruction. At least, it seems that way.

  4. Jeremy

    Wow Dan!
    That is a very powerful post in so many ways. I am there with you brother. Since I was a child I have felt called into the full-time ministry. That calling has evolved in many ways and has taken a number of different routes. I went to good college and got a degree in Religion and Philosophy and then planned to start an MA in Biblical Studies. Along the way I got married and now have two beautiful children. I am working a job in retail and come home often beat up from the verbal abuse I receive from enduring customers (some of which I see walking out of church on Sunday). We live paycheck to paycheck and collect those bills. I have a passion to get a doctorate in Biblical Studies because I love to teach and write. Accompliching this mission seems as close as the moon and I am afraid I will end up living that life of inconsequence. Is it our culture?

    All I know is that last night I was complaining about the exact same thing to my wife. I have tried to get to where I feel called but have often been blocked but what appears to be jealousy. I pray for you as I do myself. But please be encouraged; you have blessed so many of us in so many ways.

    • Jeremy,

      The list of perfectly acceptable Christian practices and functions I’ve done that got me in hot water with people who got complacent could fill a 300-page book. So yes, I understand.

  5. Even though I live out there in the “mission field” and people tell me our life seems like it’s out of the book of Acts, we can still feel like nothing is happening and it’s of no consequence. What can we do? Seek Him. Obey whatever He tells us to do–today, this moment. There’s nothing more to do. If it’s walk away from the job, the house, all security…then do it.

    God is more interested in our transformation into the image of Christ than He is in how much we are “accomplishing” for the Kingdom. Let Him renew the fire in you to be a living sacrifice and surrender to Him again and see where He leads, but first you have to be willing to go, no matter what.

    (And side note: your gifted son…I have been working on putting together links for homeschoolers…your son could explore any number of topics and hundreds of books online for free. Let him explore whatever he’s interested in. This is sort of a new project so I’m adding to it constantly. http://homeschoolfreestuff.wordpress.com)

    • Lee,

      I have plenty of good reasons to make a course correction. In fact, I may have been resisting it for a couple years now. The problem is that I have no course to shift into. I’m sure many can identify with this dilemma. We know what is wrong; we just can’t find the solution.

    • Lee,

      That’s a helpful link. Thanks. I homeschooled and would have liked to have continued, but that option was taken away by circumstances, as I was left in a damned if I do, damned if I don’t dilemma.

      I’ve never had a problem going with what I have believed to be the Lord’s leading. But I have no clear leading and no open doors. The same circumstances that led to us having to abandon our successful homeschooling makes all decisions infinitely more difficult.

  6. Wow! Though the details are quite different, your story is my story, too. These sentences stood out: “All the while, what we once were eats at us. The old mission claws at our heart, but we don’t know how to get back to it. … And the days keep falling from the calendar.”

    I’m far from where I thought, twenty years ago, I would be at this stage of life. Over the past 10 years or so, I have often wondered where I went wrong. Countless time I have second-guessed past decisions (“If only…”), trying to figure out both how I got here, and if there is any way to get back on track. The only thing I’ve been able to figure out is that even if I could live my life over, if I knew no more than I did the first time, I would make the same decisions again and end up in the same place I am today. In other words, I’ve figured out that there was no way to avoid this path that God has chosen for me to travel.

    You related a mysterious personal experience, and said that you “understood that God had shown [you] a direction.” Twenty-one years ago, I had my own personal experience that set me in pursuit of God’s direction for my life, but lately I’ve honestly wondered to myself if perhaps I was self-deceived. Maybe I got it all wrong and God never called me to the task I thought He called me to. It’s been so long ago, it seems like a dream now (but, if I said it didn’t happen, I’d be lying).

    It’s been particularly difficult since entering my fifth decade of life (the 40s), almost 7 years ago. I’m acutely aware that I probably have more years behind me than I have in front of me, and it makes me sad. Despite an outward smile and occasional laughter, just below the surface there is a deep, lingering sadness.

    God bless my wife of (almost) 20 years who has walked with me through this, and has been a listening ear. I’m sorry her life with me hasn’t turned out like we hoped (and hasn’t been particularly successful). Talking to others usually proves not very helpful because most people I talk to can’t relate to my life story, and so have little to say that’s helpful.

    But, I thank you for writing this, if for no other reason than it reminds me that I’m not the only Christian who feels this way.

    • Wyeth,

      Thanks for sharing.

      The book The Velveteen Rabbit has a poignant take on this. Many know the skin horse’s discourse on what it means to be real, but people forget the dilemma of those same toys: They had been boxed up and put away. In that way, they were no longer fulfilling their calling as toys.

      I think a lot of people feel that way, though. I wrote this, in part, to reach out to people who are wondering how they ended up boxed and put away. I know God doesn’t work that way. Sure, getting older may mean doing less of what younger people are capable of doing, but it shouldn’t mean that those days are over entirely.

      I think people can relate to your life story. There are too many people out there for your story not to resonate with someone. None of us is alone and there is nothing new under the sun.

  7. Diane R

    Boy, are you ever describing me. Add to your story that I am a woman (not a good thing to be in churchland), and like you were, I am presently single. In two days I will turn 66. I thought I finally would be classified as elderly by the church at 60, or at least 65, and hae the respect of that title. But no, I am still “single” (I look young; perhaps at 80 I will be classified as elderly?) But I do have an inner witness that is growing stronger that God will open the doors for me to do the ministry I have felt called to for the past 38 years. Perhaps the wait for all of us is a maturing and smoothing-out-our-rough-edges process. At least I think that is what has happened and is stil happenign with me to prepare me.

  8. You have a farm, a Christian camp background, a Christian degree, a stable marriage, and a son. Why don’t you raise money and interest to convert your farm into a Christian camp?

    • Poet,

      It’s been strongly considered in the past. Sadly, there are now circumstances over which I have little control that have pretty much eliminated that possibility.

  9. connie

    Dude, it’s called the wilderness.

    How many years did Moses spend tending his father-in-law’s sheep?

    How long did Joseph rot in an Egyptian prison?

    How long did the children of Israel wander on the backside of the desert?

    And how long did Job sit among the potsherds scraping his boils?

    Before God turns us loose on His destiny for us, He has a lot of work He wants to do in us. And a lot of the times, the tyranny of the ordinary is what He uses.

    Don’t despise small things, or small beginnings. The same God that led you in such dramatic ways early on is still on His throne. He knows what He’s doing and He’s not done yet.

    But take heart: the wilderness is not forever…..

    • Connie,

      The difference is that usually those people do not start out well and end up looking like everyone else. The Bible, instead, shows the opposite: That the great people of faith start off looking like everyone else and end up elevated.

  10. Christopher

    Dan,

    I do not want to discount how you perceive your current situation. I do want to encourage you by letting you know that your writings on Cerulean Sanctum have been of ‘great consequence’ to me. I’m also sure I’m not the only person who is regularly blessed and edified by your writing.

    I have been reading your posts for at least a couple of years and I have been inspired, encouraged and challenged many times.

    Even your recent post, “The Christian Singles Mess,” has helped me coalesce thoughts I’ve had in recent conversations with two 40-ish never-married friends who are discouraged with dating and the prospects of finding a wife. I’ve been married for 15 years so it’s hard to relate, on this issue, to my peers who are still seeking spouses. Your insights have been very helpful.

    Even though you are questioning your place in God’s purpose, you are still there right inside of it! I know it may not seem so from your perspective but from my perspective, it is quite true. I was in your position for the latter half of the last decade. Only in the past 6 months have I been shown the purpose of the past 10 years. The first half of those years things were progressing and I was happily waiting on God for a clear direction for ministry, the second half of those years I began to feel like you have shared today. I started to think I missed something along the way.

    My encouragement to you is twofold. Even what you are doing while standing on the side of the road in the Land of Inconsequence is still very important and in God’s purpose. I too, like many who have commented, have felt as you do now and thankfully I’ve been able to see the borderline in this badland. For me, there is clear purpose ahead and I know that God has the same for you and the others who comment here.

    • Thanks, Christopher.

      I get letters from people weekly telling how Cerulean Sanctum has been a help, a comfort, or a challenge. I do not discount those letters. Still, I know that exist here on this earth for more than just Cerulean Sanctum. It’s a tiny part of what I should be doing as a Christian.

  11. Kenith

    At first I was going to say how much I enjoyed your article and how it really “spoke” to me. Then I just thought about how many times I have felt the same way, and you know what, this is life. God has driven me to Ecclesiastes again and again over the last few months to drive home the futility we all, and I do mean ALL of us feel. From the most beautiful, the most brilliant, clever, and the most wealthly among us, we all believe there must be more. Life is vanity. Only God gives meaning to our lives and that meaning only comes through the Lord Jesus seeking us, upholding us, filling us with His Spirit. All of this sounds too much like a preachy thing, but those things He does gives us meaning. He alone gives us meaning. Because of Him your life cannot be inconsequential. Look at the folks that depend on you each day, from family and friends, to those of us who read your blog. You may not see that you are making any difference, but you are making a huge difference to those of us who follow your life and see our own reflected in your writings. So, when you are through having your pity party, be sure and write another great article. Rejoice in the Lord Always! And do not take yourself so serious. Seriously!

    • Kenith,

      I’ve written before about Ecclesiastes and the truths in it (http://ceruleansanctum.com/2005/05/becoming-ecclesiastical.html).

      I disagree with your statement that “because of Him your life cannot be inconsequential.” The NT is pretty clear that our natural inclination is to drop down into inconsequence. It is possible to run the race and not finish well. It is possible to be saved yet receive little reward in the life to come. It is possible to put a Christian veneer over a life little different than that of the pagans.

      Jesus makes strong statements that the Christian life bears little resemblance to the pagan life. Yet we have a tendency to excuse the fact that we live lives identical to the pagans, only with a veneer of Christian respectability over the top. When the young man tells Jesus that he will follow Him only after he buries his parents, Jesus replies with the nearly nonsensical response of leaving the dead to bury their own dead. But that’s how God sees it. Jesus asks for so much more. Every response of the Christian to a “normal” life MUST turn that normal life on its head. Yet how many of us actually live that way?

      Even the pagans love their spouses, kids, and their friends. That’s baseline behavior in the eyes of God. That doesn’t garner any special reward from God. The Christian is supposed to love his enemies. In a time of utter frustration with Jesus, the disciples lament that they have left everything for Jesus. The Lord replies that they will indeed be rewarded for that level of devotion. The Christian forsakes the normal life for the life dedicated to the Gospel.

      My question the is “Are we doing that?” And if we are not, aren’t we indeed living inconsequential lives?

  12. Donald E. Bennett

    Dan,

    Most of my life I’ve felt as if I was of little or no consequence. I have many gifts, but excel in none of them. I have no great accomplishments under my belt and probably never will. God’s plan for my life has always seemed fuzzy. I long ago became accepting of these facts. A couple things have really helped me do that.

    1. By my own efforts, the only consequences I can have are bad ones, no matter how they might look to the world. It is only by Christ working in and through me that I can have a role in anything of good consequence.

    2. The knowledge that I am of consequence to God. I am of so much consequence to him that he willingly died so that I could be raised to a new life spent with him.

    3. I am of consequence to those around around me. A role model for me is Jacob, the father of Joseph, the father of Jesus. He’s mentioned once in the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew. He was probably a carpenter in the little town of Nazareth, an average Joe with average problems. What we do know about him is that he raised a son who was righteous. This righteous son decided to treat Mary decently, though he wasn’t under an obligation to do so, listened to God and married her, then helped raise Jesus. Jacob probably didn’t live to see Jesus grow to adulthood and likely never honored him as the Messiah. He likely never knew what consequence his raising of Joseph had on the world.

    I will probably never know what consequence my life has on the world. You probably won’t either. One of us might be the great-great-great-grandfather of the next Billy Graham. Or not. We just need to put/keep our faith in Jesus and trust that God will work all things for good.

    BTW, my eldest daughter will probably be a counselor at camp this summer which is making me a little nostalgic. Yesterday I was waxing nostalgic for those late evenings in the staff lounge debating theological issues. I hope that my daughter will have those same chances to sharpen and grow her faith.

    • Don,

      You and I are alike in some ways and obviously share similar histories, especially when it comes to camping and youth ministry.

      I know that I am of consequence to God. No doubt! But is He of consequence to me? I say that He is, but if my life looks little different from the “pagans” around me, am I truly reflecting all of Him that I should? (See my comments to Kenith above, too.)

      Though Ray Boltz crashed and burned, I still like his song “Thank You” and believe it will hold true in the lives of many Christians including mine. That said, I know that my ministry now is a pale reflection of what it once was, and that can’t be good for the purposes of the Kingdom. A man as richly blessed with skills and gifts from God as I am should be doing more with them lest he wind up burying that talent in the ground and reaping the recriminations for doing so.

  13. Sonya

    Dan,
    I like to brain storm..maybe you could partner with the christian schools in your are or even public schools and invite students out to your farm and do work for you or community gardening with teaching etc. Or you could do something ” NOLS like ” at your church for a week or so maybe actually accompany them on a trip and bring the family.

    When weather changes I get nostalgic to.

    • Sonya,

      Thanks! I will consider the options you raise.

      BTW, you are right. The weather changes do bring out that nostalgia. I spoke with a friend about this on Sunday. We both had gotten out old classic rock tunes that we had listened to in our youth and both realized it was because we once loved to get out in our cars, roll down the windows on the first warm day of spring, and crank our music to ear-splitting levels.

      Ah, youth!

  14. Michael Richardson

    I know you said that there others like this filling pews all over, but…. This is me. I woke up on the other side of 40 a couple of years back and was suddenly aware there were at least some things of my “God-given dream” that simply couldn’t happen. Ever. The sad part is, I seem to be a a place that’s even farther away. And although still relatively young, the end looks a lot closer than the beginning and a sense of anxiety has began to creep in.

    • Michael,

      I hear you. I think that Christians do suffer from a sort of mid-life crisis related to ministry, especially if they had been devoted to ministry in their youth.

      If I have learned anything in life, it is that “to everything there is a season.” Some ministry is for a season and that season may never comes around again. But seasons differ, and simply because one season has passed does not mean that there will never be another season. Spring does not look like fall and summer does not look like winter, though. The future may indeed hold ministry options, only they may not look like the options of youth.

      I play drums weekly on the worship team at my church and I write this blog. Neither is something I did much of in my youth (though I did often lead worship as a guitarist at the camps I worked at). Those are my primary ministry outlets now and they DO matter. But it is different. It’s a different season. That I would like to add onto that season is part of my current lament, though I know I should also take heart that I have not crawled onto a shelf completely and ossified like some folks have. Even then, I still feel for those folks who have because I know how easy it is to do and how much some of them may have fought the process before it overwhelmed them.

  15. Pingback: Old earth and life « Windblown Hope
  16. Cindy

    In church Sunday our pastor was talking about “having life and having it abundantly”. I think that is what we are missing out on. The life we live in this consumer driven chaos makes this seem impossible. I struggle with this and continually feel that something is missing. Thanks for the thoughts.

  17. Hi Dan, I came to faith in my middle 30s, so had no youthful dreams of serving God in full time ministry. Of course shattered dreams of youth is a consistent theme in just about every life, Christian or not. But what I was going to say was, I don’t believe there is such a thing as the land of inconsequence. I mean, to give you one example, your life is a Dad is full of long-term consequence, most of which you will not see for many years. In other words, none of us know the consequences we’re engendering, because they usually don’t show themselves right off the bat. I can’t help thinking that being the Father and husband and neighbor that God has called you to be, in such a time and such a place as this, is ministry enough for any man. I guess I don’t understand why that doesn’t seem to be enough for you.

    That being said, I admire your honesty, as usual. Your post has stirred and disturbed me, I’ve been thinking about it all day, and dang it man, you go places in this blog that no Christian blogger goes. I thank you for not being cautious and painting inside the prescribed lines!

    • Thanks, Bob.

      I wrote more about the inner disquiet in my post today (http://ceruleansanctum.com/2010/03/for-even-sinners-do-the-same.html). I think the gap between what we deem normal Christian living and the Lord’s normal is far greater than some of us admit. Heaven is the baseline. Somehow, we forget that there’s a reward beyond just passing through the pearly gates.

      Middle age shouldn’t signal the onset of comfort and inaction, yet that is what happens far too often. Our Christianity becomes a big La-Z-Boy recliner and we fall asleep in it. It becomes a veneer that covers over the fact that we no longer are different from the world around us. But I don’t see that happening in the lives of real saints.

      Again, thanks for your kind words regarding the blog. I never wanted it to read like all the others because I never felt that God was showing me the same things as everyone else. John wrote a mystical yet human, passionate Gospel that doesn’t read like the other three. I pray that Cerulean Sanctum is the blogosphere’s equivalent.

  18. ccinnova

    I can sure relate to feeling like I’m in the Land of Inconsequence, perhaps even more so having been unemployed for over a year with no prospects of a change in that status anytime soon.

    I don’t think I can say I’ve ever had a strong calling for a particular mission or ministry since becoming a Christian during my college years. However, I’ve experienced being judged unfit or unsuited for certain types of ministry due to a variety of reasons, including the fact that I’ve never been married.

    I began the sixth decade of my life last fall in the wilderness and remain there. Perhaps someday in the future I’ll be able to look back and see how this season prepared me for the next stage of my life. Right now, I’m having difficulty seeing what good is coming out of this season.

  19. Dan,

    You and I are about the same age, and I can very much and viscerally relate to what you’ve shared here. Lately I’ve been praying that I’ll be God’s servant and do his work whether or not anyone (including me) recognizes the work as such. I suppose you and I are now both old enough, in life and discipleship, to value faithfulness over significance.

    Peace.

    Milton

    • Milton,

      But is it always true that Christians begin strong and end weak? And what of our reward? Too many of us think of heaven as the final goal, but heaven is only the baseline measure. It’s the treasure we lay up that matters. And if your ability and mine to lay up treasure is progressively thwarted, should we not be concerned?

      John Piper writes a book entitled Don’t Waste Your Life, which speaks to this issue. He asks whether we are risking enough for the Kingdom or whether we have fallen prey to comfort. It’s the same question I’m asking, and I don’t like the answer God seems to be showing me.

      • Good questions, Dan. I didn’t mean to imply that abandoning the quest for consequence has anything at all to do with becoming weak in the faith. It’s not a defeatist attitude at all. Rather, it’s having the strength of faith to put Christ above all–especially our personal ambition.

        I know what you mean about being thwarted, based on ministries that went down in flames. In several cases I simply messed up; in others Satan worked through others to thwart the work I was doing. Those cases when others thwarted the work had nothing to do with the treasure I’m laying up in heaven. I suspect the grandest mansions in heaven will be reserved for Christians most of us have never heard of. In short, approval from God has only incidental relation to apparent ministry success. Naturally, it bothers us to see our work torpedoed, but that shouldn’t change our focus on faithfulness above success.

        The comfort issue is something else altogether. In fact, I have a feeling that really being faithful in discipleship will frequently end in apparent ministry train wrecks, because many of those with their hands on the controls of a given ministry may well in turn be under the control of the Devil. As Paul told Timothy, “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”

        So the truism is this: real faithfulness in discipleship will often lead to train wrecks in ministry. That’s not to say all ministry train wrecks arise from persecution against the minister (I’m fairly sure most don’t) or that an apparently successful minister had to make sinful compromises to get where he is. A truism is not true in every single case, but it’s useful in describing the trend.

  20. Can I venture to say that your metric of kingdom success sounds a lot like a world version of religious success? That isn’t a personal critique, just on the vibe your post had. We are in the world, respectful to laws and taxes of a nation, encouraged to work. In that sense, being an ordinary Joe is no shame. We are also not of the world, and we do those things out of a different motivation and with a different focus. We are even called to suffer differently. When that works, it stands out. It makes me sad that when people look at me in my powerchair and think my life is an inconsequential waste, because they are the ones missing out. What I lack in physical ability and financial security is completely overshadowed by Jesus‘ life abundant. Formal ministry might be denied me by human prejudice and sheer cost, but I have found the days of my life filled with numerous opportunities to minister. If I have any spiritual gifting, it is that in a crowd of strangers I am invariably the one people talk to. This turns every hour I wait at the bus stop into a chance to improve someone’s day, and often to confess the source of my hope. Even just to see them slump in and leave with more brightness in their step is worth the small cost of not living in headphones or a book, ready to devote time and attention to anyone who asks. When I come home, little worldly accomplished but full of stories about the people I met in my day, my unsaved friends marvel at an experience unlike their own. There are so many other lifestyle choices that are different because of Jesus‘ hold on my life, and makes me noticeably off step with the world.

    I too dreamed of a life in formal ministry. I wanted to be a missionary, and I told God I would go wherever he sent me. The suburbs of New York was not what I had in mind! My concepts of my calling then were very worldly and American. By the time a wiccan priest I game with, who has an overstated view of my devoutness, asked me why I didn’t have a special title like priest or nun or missionary, I had an answer. Rank and status in the kingdom of God is nothing like how it works here. We are all priests, with a great high priest, spread all over the world into an endless variety of different roles. What seems the more important role to the earthly observer is very unlike how God sees things.

    Text has little inflection, so I just wanted to add that this was meant to be encouraging, not judgemental. I follow your blog, and if you live out at all your ideas of how being a Christian influences your economic choices and interactions with people, I am sure you are making a huge impact. Day by day, huh?

    • Tokah,

      I twice applied to do missions work in Hungary (before the Iron Curtain fell). Both times the trip was ready to go; both times it was canceled. Sadly, one of the trips was run by a mission group that had never canceled a trip before; the one I was scheduled for was the only one that never came off in the history of the group. Obviously, I didn’t like being “special.”

  21. Yet it bothers me that so many Christian people who once burned brightly now sit in a pew somewhere on Sunday and lament what might have been. They had a mission once. Now they pay endless bills and kill themselves to keep up with the ever-growing numbers on those pages.

    Dan:

    It bothers me too. What is even more scary was that growing up pentecostal / charismatic, this mega-ministry mindset was all wrapped up and encompassed into a concept called

    Joshua Generation…..

    and crossing the Jordan and entering the Promised Land and conquering the enemies through both spiritual warfare and the theo-political voting blocs.

    Now, it’s 20 years later, and the religious leaders have somehow decided to change ‘our names’ from Joshua to Moses and claimed that our “curse of Gen-X”, anger, secret sins, lacking faith, and bitterness of striking instead of speaking caused all of our dreams, giftings, callings to cease. Now they call a new group of twenty-somethings “Joshua”.

    We are no longer useful after being ‘used’ by them. We didn’t ‘produce the results’ and bring forth the utopia so it’s time to try the same failed methods from previous generations on this new generation.

    Kinda of crazy theology when Moses was Moses for his entire life and Joshua was Joshua for his entire life but youth pastors make good careers out of the Joshua Generation concepts.

    As I now look back now, I really do not want to go retro and try to re-claim all those ‘destinies’ and ‘words’ people stated nor try to make true all of those “dream stories of youth who are poised to change the world” in the name of someone’s guerilla evangelistic, quazi-domionist, anger agenda army. All you ever do in the midst of failure and shambles is question yourself, and then re-question your questions….

    Instead, I want to run away as fast as I can while repenting for all the wood, hay, and stubble we called God and revival and, like the name of my blog, go Onward, Forward, and Toward the true will of God and fulfill a Great Commission in the environment around me from the co-worker in need of a loving savior, to the young man who has gone prodigal and squandered everything, to the addict who needs freedom instead of another converted “addiction to Jesus” or super revival. .

    Because at almost 42 years of age, I can no longer tolerate another ‘move’, ‘mega-revival’, ‘manifest destiny’ that we will call it ‘of God’ now but seriously regret or laugh at it flippantly five years down the road.

    I see hurt and dying people, not target markets and niche demographics. I see lost and confused people and not sensitive seekers. And they need the Truth from the Scriptures. Not from the context of what some famous pastor states in his bestselling book turned Christian curriculum. They need someone with the impartation of the Holy Spirit to tell them the Truth.

    It’s not Inconsequence, nor wilderness of a barren wasteland. It’s evidence of how God still loves us and is still sovereign and provident and sits on the throne reigning.

  22. Mark Van Norden

    Wow. I read your second post first, and I’m glad I went back to this one. I’ll say first that I appreciate your question as to whether the Christian life should look different than a worldly life. In truth, yes, it should look different, but to what extent and in what ways?

    i am a physician in a small town in Kansas. My wife is a social worker by training, but owns a retail store in town. Both of us run our respective businesses together, and have for the last 2-3 years. We also have a four year old son. We obviously have to attend to the day-to-days, i.e. working, paying bills, going to meetings on this and that which concerns our businesses, etc. In this respect our lives look similar to those around us. Look a little closer, though, and you’ll see the difference. The difference is in how we have chosen to go about these things. The way that my collections policies as a physician differ from most others I know (just as an example), or how we will give a free tuxedo rental to a high school kid who can’t afford one. “The devil is in the details”, as they say, and I believe in our lives the Spirit of Christ is in the details. We both started our businesses under the belief that we were given divine instruction to do so. Since that time, he has led us through hard times. We have made decisions we would not have had to make, but they were the decisions we were led to make, and the result was a harder road than we would’ve had to take, in the natural. We operate our businesses in a natural world, but we operate it based on spiritual principles of faith, and believe that our business are a “beachhead” of the kingdom in our community. Nevertheless we must still attend to the daily needs that come from living in this world. A previous poster commented to the effect that our life as younger Christians is preparation for our ultimate calling. I don’t know what my ultimate calling is, but I know I’m doing what I’m called to do NOW, and he will reveal all else when the time comes. My wife and I have spent several years doing very “natural things”, but a wise man I know likened it to plowing, that plowing is hard work. Now we are beginning to see the spiritual benefit of what seemed to be very natural work.

    Jesus lived 30 years preparing for a three year ministry. How can my life be any different, meaning that my most productive years of ministry will be in the latter days of my life.

  23. Mark Van Norden

    Dan,

    I’m sorry my last post was so long. I just had one more thing to say….two maybe.

    I think the modern church fosters this idea of ministry as this great thing that we should do, and often it is envisioned as being full time. We are obviously all Kings and Priests, and therefore all called to ministry. Is my ministry to my family (by supplying their needs and being a Godly husband and father), while I seek to be renewed into the image of Christ, any less important than being a full-time “minister”? I say no. In truth, success should be defined by whether or not we are doing God’s will. He does not put us on an island, give us a calling, and then make us figure out how to get there. He will lead us each step along the way. If you are finding yourself at a place where you don’t see the way, maybe there is a fundamental change in you that he is trying to accomplish. Or maybe its a matter of being patient, like Abraham waiting for the child of promise, and simply doing the last thing he told you to do until he tells you the next step. God is loving and merciful, as you well know, and he will lead you into the next step when the time is right. Our reward in heaven is not determined by “how much we do for the Lord’. Our reward comes because we ran the race and kept the faith, because we followed his direction, no matter where that direction led us. Often time, as you have pointed out, his direction puts us at odds with those around us, i.e. the world, or organized religion. But lack of conflict does not mean we are failing in our walk with him. At the base of it, our calling is to seek Christ, corporately and individually, and to be transformed into His image, corporately and individually. As we do that, the world will see “the city on the hill”, and there will be no doubt that we are different. As another commenter stated, “they will no we are Christians by our love”. Unfortunately organized Christianity squelches the true expression of the body, and thus the purposes of God are thwarted in many people’s lives.

    Second, and last, thing I will say is to echo what others have said. The Lord has given you talents, and insight, as evidenced by your writings, and how they resound in the hearts of so many believers. He will use your talents, but on His terms. As a straight A student in high school, who placed all my confidence in my intelligence, he had to shake my confidence in my intelligence, so I could learn to rely on him. what I counted as a strength was in reality a weakness, and it wasn’t until it became a perceived weakness that I could find His strength in it. I am not saying that this necessarily describes you, but maybe it does. Again, I’m too wordy and I’ll stop here. Thanks for all your posts, and I pray that the Lord sheds the light of the Spirit in your heart. God Bless

  24. Wow! Dan thanks for your honesty as always. It feels scary enough to admit that this post nails so much of where I am right now so it must have taken ten times more courage to write it (courage or desperation, maybe?). I guess, the truth is out, now – and I have found not enough people really want to tackle the question of “what happened to all the stuff we used to hope for?” Something in me fears this will just lead to another protracted conversation and still no change. May God presently burden us not only with some answers but some strength to live them …

  25. Dan,

    Seminary grad, told Pastoring was out of the cards because of my stutter (now largely gone), working in I.T. as a web developer, Gifted kid(s), blogger, facial hair.

    We have a lot in common!

    Just wanted to say that your words have been an encouragement to me, and that maybe this is part of the ministry you have been called to.

    I noticed that you have 744 subscriptions to your blog. That is more people than most Pastors ever get to encourage on a regular basis.

    • Mark Van Norden

      Michael,

      I myself am a stutterer, since I was a child. I prayed for deliverance on many a Sunday, and never was delivered from it. To this day if I get nervous or really tired I’ll have difficulty, but I’ve learned to not let that define me. I find it funny, however, that you were disqualified from “pastoring” because of a speech impediment, when Paul himself relates to the Corinthians that he came not with eloquent speech, but with “weakness and in fear and much trembling”. Paul states his message was in “demonstration of the Spirit and of power” (1 Cor. 2:4). To me this all too plainly exemplifies the problem with our modern “church” system, in that a brother with a heart to serve was not allowed, because he wasn’t smooth enough. This is contrary to the ways of God, and I would encourage you that the gift of pastoring does not have to look like the primary example we see today, and in fact you may find that you’re not intended to be a pastor at all, but a prophet, apostle or evangelist (or some other gifting). It is unfortunate that in the modern church the primary outlet for someone with a heart to serve to carry out that service is to be a pastor, and there is minimal if any recognition of the importance of the other gifts.

      • I know a pastor (now retired) who was (is) a stutterer. I don’t consider stuttering a necessary hindrance, if we believe in the power of God to overcome our limitations. I think that often the evangelical church doesn’t truly believe that the seemingly impossible is possible with God.

        When it comes to our being stuck in a place of “inconsequence”, I try to remind myself that, although it seems impossible (or, at least, rather unlikely) that I will see the fulfillment of what I thought 21 years ago was God’s call on my life, I should not give up praying and hoping. What is impossible with man is still possible with God. Besides, I’m not dead, yet.

  26. Mark Van Norden

    In my mind and heart its a matter of faith. If we truly believe that the visions we had in our 20’s were given to us by God, we must stand in faith that those things will come to pass. Abraham waited many years from the initial promise that he would have a son until Isaac was actually born, and the reason he was counted among the heros of the faith is because he had FAITH, because the promise was more real in his mind than the natural reality of his age. Likewise we have to believe and stand that the vision given to us will come to pass, even if we can’t see or don’t understand HOW it WILL come to pass.

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