Introducing … the Theme of CAFO2022!

To enjoy an audio version of this post read by Jedd Medefind, click below.

 

 

The Chinese government agent spoke without emotion, but his words carried electricity, “You are under investigation.”

My friend Tom knew what that meant.  He and his family were being watched, closely.  Any contact with friends would land them on the government’s watch list, too – and likely in serious danger.

Tom sped home.  His wife, Erika, agreed:  there was little to discuss.  They’d poured their hearts into China for more than a decade, including many years with the persecuted Uyghur people.  Now, the very best thing they could do for those they loved was to leave without saying goodbye, immediately.  Within hours, they were at the airport.

They were grateful to make it out together.  But as a plane spirited them away, relief turned to grief.  Their life was back there.  They’d put down roots, immersed themselves in the culture and language, loved much and were loved in return.  What had taken more than a decade to grow seemed to have died in a single day.

“It felt like a burial,” said Tom to me.*

*          *          *

We’ve all felt that feeling.  It comes in endless forms and in any season of life.

The failure of a business.  The close of a career.  A torn friendship.  A son going off the rails.  Infertility.  A long-held dream now out of reach.  Undesired isolation.  A foster daughter sent back to a dangerous situation.  Fading physical or mental capacity. 

Every deep loss carries a whisper of burial.

Every deep loss carries a whisper of burial.  The world grows smaller, enclosed.  What has been is no more.  Sorrow blends with shame, even when we bear no fault.  Our weakness lies heavy upon us.

In Genesis, God forewarned our fore-bearers what a future torn by sin would hold: “You will surely die.”  The original Hebrew repeats the word twice: “You will die die.” The repetition conveys emphasis. But perhaps it also hints at what this dying will feel like, too. Not only a single physical death, years down the road. But also the experience of perennial loss.  Burial upon burial.  What else would we expect when a creature has shattered its bond with the very Source of its being?  Such is life in our fallen world.

*          *          *

The Bible never shrinks from this reality. The Psalms, especially, overflow with lament.  Time and again, they grieve the full range of losses that humans face every day:  disease and destruction and depression and a thousand other sorrows.

And yet, there is always more to the story.  Yes, death and heartache are given their due:  from David’s grief for Jonathan, fallen in battle … to hot tears shed by Jewish exiles in Babylon… to the murder of the first martyr, Stephen.  Losses are not downplayed.  Sometimes, they are devastating.  But never are they given the last word.  In Scripture, loss is real but never final.

In Scripture, loss is real but never final.

Latent in every sorrow lies potential.  This potential is not merely for repair, wishing that we might get back to the way things were.  No, it is much more.  It is the possibility that, in God, loss itself can become the occasion for even greater gain.  Not a return of the single seed, but the birth of myriad more.

Jesus himself put it this way.  “Unless a kernel of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains a single seed.  But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” (John 12:24)

For all who live in Christ, what we experience as death is never a burial; it is always a planting.

*          *          *

Is this merely a pious idea – one that may prove enough true in the end, but today floats intangibly above the grit and grime of daily life?

It can be.  If we wield them as a cliché, such words aren’t worth the breath it takes to say them.

But I’ve seen enough to know there’s more here than that.  I’ve known enough deep souls – people who’ve lived this truth – to be sure that Jesus’ words are far, far more than mere prose.  When grasped and held and felt, their reality spills light over all of life, even its most shadowy rooms.

People rooted in the truth of planting see the world differently.  Most of all, they see – and thus live – with anticipation.

Anticipation is not an anesthetic.  It does not negate pain or numb it.  Even when Jesus anticipated the explosive resurrection to come, he wept bitterly at the tomb of his friend, Lazarus.

Rather, anticipation is deep-down confidence that our tears are not final.  Anticipation is conviction that – in God – the best is yet to come.  Winter will be followed by spring: not merely warmer weather, but life multiplied, a dozen sprouts for every flower that fell in autumn.

*          *          *

This confidence alters everything.  Biblical anticipation gives us new sight, like glasses to a person who’s seen only blurred shapes for decades.  It is one prime expression of the “renewed mind” that Paul describes in Romans 12:2.  Biblical anticipation offers a reframed, Scripture-formed vision for all things, now newly perceived and freshly interpreted.

A burial and a planting look much the same from the outside.

However, this we must not miss:  a burial and a planting look much the same from the outside.  In both, something precious is submerged and seemingly lost.  At first, it is only on the inside – often deep in hidden places – that burial and planting differ.

What makes the difference?  Something buried decays.  Something planted germinates.  On the human side of things, what leads to this germination is mostly a matter of our small decisions, especially in our thoughts.  Burial turns inward, increasingly self-absorbed and consumed with hurt and what’s been lost.  Planting turns upward, with trust and anticipation that God can bring good, even from this.   This reorienting of our vision – chosen again and again in countless unseen thoughts – is central in how we are “made new in the attitude of your mind” (Ephesians 4:23).

Let’s contrast the two, burial vision and planting vision:

 

No, this planting vision is not an abstract ideal that hovers above the real world.  Nor is it merely “the power of positive thinking.”  Rather, it is the potent anticipation that comes from confidence in the power of a God who plants.

This God-centered anticipation recasts how we think and all we see.  As it does, little by little we begin to notice:  hidden choices yield new life.  Roots are threading downward and small shoots are springing up.  What had waited long, enclosed and unseen, now sprouts above the surface, the first green hints of a harvest to come.

Consider, for just one example, how we view a child who has known great hurt.  A burial vision sees her especially through what has happened to her.  It subtly categorizes and defines her, with an emphasis on trauma at the center.  Certainly, it longs for her future good.  But when trapped in a burial vision, the primary questions we ask tend to focus on understanding what went wrong in her life and how we can keep that history from causing difficulty and pain today.  Aware of the cutting edges of her past, we seek to soften the edges of her present.  Guided by deep empathy, we work to prepare the road ahead for her, not vice-versa.

A planting vision does many of these same things.  It earnestly seeks to understand the past – including deep hurts and why a child may do things they do.  But it never stops there.  It empathizes with a child’s pain, but never defines her by it.  So its animating question is not “What happened to you?” but rather, “What do you need to thrive?”  In this, a planting vision seeks especially to help the child to cultivate a perspective, habits, and character that will give rise to health over time.  Yes, it knows that “success” will look different for each child (as it always does.)  But amidst all this, and through countless ups and downs, a planting vision remains expectant.  It trusts that God can bring life from fallen seeds:  not just repair, but the bearing of good fruit.  It dares believes even that the very places of a child’s greatest hurt can become the source of her greatest gifts to the world.

*          *          *

Bit by bit, a planting vision like this can remake our own lives as well:  friendship and marriage, our thought life and work, organizations and churches.

A deep struggle with addiction grows into a vibrant recovery ministry.  Being let go from a job opens us to a whole new career.  A battle with cancer helps us rediscover the dearness of life.  A crisis of faith ultimately deepens our faith.  The confines of illness give us time to develop a latent gift.  A childhood of neglect sparks a life devoted to neglected children.  Severe migraines make us tender to the pain of others. 

I’ve seen all of these firsthand, some in my own life.  In God’s world, they happen every day.

The point is not merely that torn fabric can be mended.  It is that, in Christ, the place of the tear spills light. The broken bone isn’t just healed; it grows strong than before.  The shattered bowl will not merely hold water again; it holds the breathtaking beauty of kintsugi.  The gaping mouth of a tomb – that dreaded symbol of death and finality – now sings of resurrection.

This is what my friends, Tom and Erika, found in their forced return to the United States from China.  They grieved all they left behind.  Sometimes they still do.  But they’ve also discovered a reborn mission.  Today, they serve Uyghurs and other immigrants who’ve landed in Washington, DC from all around the world.  Each day – with English classes, material goods, Christ-centered conversations, shared meals and more – Tom and Erika and their children spill life into countless others, many of whom have lost much as well.  Many of their dearest friends now live a half-world away.  But they’ve also found countless more friends here who love them dearly, too, including me.

*          *          *

When we know that we live in a world like this – a world alive with a planting vision – we live differently.  We join in that planting.  Because our Father is a planter, we can become planters as well.

We need not grasp and cling to things like the pitiful servant, who took the money his master gave him and buried it.  He did that because he assumed that any potential for loss was unacceptable (Matthew 25:14-30).

Is that true?  No.  Not at all!  The children of a planting God can take the gifts we’re given and risk them.  Seeking great yield, we hazard loss and hurt and a hundred other sorrows.  Why?  Because we know that this is God’s way.  It is the life He calls us to, the very best kind of life.  And if we should lose things, even our very life, those things, too, are not buried.  They are planted.  Their loss is real but never final.  In God’s good time, they will spring up again – thirty or sixty or one hundred times more than we planted.

This, my friends, is the theme for the CAFO2022:

PLANTEDnot buried

 

This vision will pulse in all that we explore together at the CAFO2022 Summit – from corporate worship to keynote talks, workshop learning to mealtime fellowship.

Together, we will deepen and grow as a people planted by God Himself:

People who anticipate the good God can bring from what feels like death …

People who experience planting again and again in their daily lives …

People who join with their good Father and one another in His planting, too…

To learn more and register now, visit the CAFO2022 Website!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*Names changed to protect identity.