The Fear of Safety
It only takes one conversation with John Bernhart to realize he is mature for his age, experienced in spiritual wisdom and disciplined devotion beyond his years as a twenty-something. For that alone, Harris Creek cannot simply claim him as a model prototype of our ministry efforts, but rather we are quick to applaud the work of his primary faith-influencers (his parents) and the previous saints who have shaped John’s faith. It is noteworthy though that John articulates the type of reciprocal commitment we offer students and hope they offer back to God as young adults in Waco, and not only does John speak the language, he also walks the walk through faithful service in the context of deep, invested community.
AS A COLLEGE-STUDENT-TURNED-YOUNG-PROFESSIONAL, TELL US ABOUT A DEFINING MOMENT FOR YOUR TIME WITH HARRIS CREEK AND HOW IT HAS CHALLENGED YOU TO CHAMPION THE VISION OF THE “OUR TURN” CAMPAIGN.
God has, is, and will continue to break through my life using His people in the moments I least expect it. Such a time occurred during a sermon series at Harris Creek titled, “The Noonday Demon.” The Noonday Demon explains a pattern of behavior in 3rd and 4th century monks who committed to lives of community with one another, but would soon disappear around the noon hour. Why? Because of the fear of commitment. The fear to commit to a certain place, at a certain time, with a certain group of people. The fear to put down deep roots in any time and place with certain people.
Today, many of our behaviors and lifestyles, whether we want to admit or not, are based on this same fear. Many of us plan to attend school or find work in a different city than our own. Then, without considering a possibility of remaining in the same place, we look for the next opportunity somewhere else. Sometimes, we are not in our ideal place, but that is okay. We accept the position expecting to have a different one anyway in a year or two. Oh yeah, and we normally expect this other position to be in another city too. Once we retire, we usually plan that retirement destination in (you guessed it) another place. This constant nostalgia, or longing to be in another place, never fully allows our hearts to be aligned with our feet.
I found myself living with these expectations leading up to this sermon series. My feet were in Waco, Texas, but my heart was elsewhere. For a quick rewind of my life, I was raised in West Virginia. My move to attend Baylor was my first time in Texas. I knew nothing about Texas. Or Waco. Or Baylor. I had no family and no friends nearby. I knew nobody and nobody knew me. I was out of my comfort zone, but I was safe. Safe from what? Safe from the people who knew me inside and out – all of my quirks, tendencies, pet peeves, passions, and struggles. Fast forward four years and I am set to graduate ready to place myself in a similar situation again. It was time to move to a place where I am unknown and prove once again, I am capable of sustaining myself. Just me. No need for help or assistance from anybody else. Just me. To remain in Waco after graduating was my last resort. This option would be like “settling for the leftovers” because I was unable to cut and run as planned. I think when we view what God gives us as leftovers, we fail to realize God is actually giving us the exact portion we need to continue following Him.
This sermon series defined for me the reality of God’s call to be committed – to be willing to put down deep roots in this place, at this time, with His people. We are to live “like a tree planted by streams of water.” We are to live like “oaks of righteousness.” Because God is “able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power of the work within us.” Key word: us. God does His best work in and through us when we take Him seriously, put down deep roots, and remain committed to where, when, and with whom He has placed us.
This sermon series defined for me the reality that God had placed me and still has me right where He needs me. He placed me in Waco to live and serve, at this time, with His people – whether I am at the grocery store, in a church building, serving on Sunday mornings, investing time with my Life Group, my graduate program, or my work environment. What I have learned is this: there is nowhere else God needs me to be more right now to follow His will than be committed to putting down deeper roots in Waco, Texas, in 2015-2016. God has spoken to me loud and clear similar to how he did to the prophet Jeremiah: “I, the LORD your God, have called you out of West Virginia and sent you to Waco, Texas. Plant yourself down. Build onto the foundation. Be fully present. For in the welfare of your current city, you will find your own welfare.”
In conjunction with “Our Turn,” I am currently feeling led to sacrifice and rearrange finances to contribute to the campaign even though I will (likely) not be in Waco for 2 more years to see the campaign finished, let alone the final building project. I know I have been a benefactor of the sacrifices made of people before me, and I want to make a lasting investment that will continue to give future attendees a defining moment with the people of Harris Creek just like I was able to experience.
Perhaps you are in a similar situation as John, not knowing how long you’ll be in a stage of life, in a city, with a group of people making up a local mess called a church. Fact is, you’re here. As an act of faith combatting your fears (commitment, the unknown, or the fear of confronting what you believe to be safe), take a step today towards establishing deep roots with a local congregation. In the words of Jim Elliot: “Wherever you are, be all there.” If you’ve experienced a similar journey of faith, share your story.