Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Understanding Paul's Laments

Lately I have reconnected with some former members of my youth group on facebook. As I began checking out their profiles to see what they've been up to in the years since I've seen them, I found myself saddened to see that one listed his religion as 'atheist;' some of the others had descriptions that were more ambiguous but based on some of the language used and the pictures posted, I had my doubts about where their faith was headed as well.

I've found myself thinking about it a lot over the past few days, and it has made me feel very sad. I worked with these kids about six or seven years ago when they were in high school and middle school -- now many are in college or working. I thought about the lessons taught, the church lock-ins, the mission trips taken -- and wondered -- was it all for nothing? What happened? Or did they never really get it in the first place?

I don't know -- but I now have a deeper appreciation for Paul's letters in the Bible. I'm reading his letter to the Corinthians now, and I can feel his pain as he laments the poor choices the believers in Corinth have made and how they have turned away from the gospel to follow idols. Not only have they rejected the truth of the gospel, but in many ways they have turned against him as well -- despite all that he did for them.

But it doesn't matter. Paul's love for them remains strong. In fact, he says:

I will gladly spend myself and all I have for your spiritual good, even though it seems that the more I love you, the less you love me. -- 2 Corinthians 12:15

Paul doesn't care how much they offend him or hurt him, he only wants them to be in a good spiritual place -- to have right relationships with the Lord. This is a convicting verse for me because I think of how often we want to give up on people or turn our backs the first time they offend or hurt us. But the gospel teaches us another way -- to love even those that don't love us; to love even when we are hurt and offended.

It's been eye-opening for me to see how much the college or post-high school years are formative in terms of religious growth. I think these are the years where we really determine what we believe and how we are going to live. My own college experience has had such an impact on where I am now and the person that I am that I could write a whole book about it. Thankfully, I was rooted in a solid fellowship of believers that helped me to grow in faith and challenged me and held me accountable. I wonder where I would be without this group that truly was heaven sent!

In high school, many kids are still going to church because their parents make them or at times because it provides a social outlet for them. But once out of the house, the choice becomes entirely up to the individual. I think the college years are make or break in a lot of ways. I'm not saying that if someone drifts during these years that they will never come back, but I feel that the likelihood is much less.

My sister is going off to college this year. She has chosen a Christian college, I think in large part because she fears losing her faith after high school. She goes to a Christian high school where she stays in the Word, must attend chapel services, etc; and perhaps she fears that once that structure is gone, she wouldn't be strong enough to make the choice to continue seeking God on her own. I don't see her choice as a sign of weakness, but rather of maturity. All of us are weak when it comes to the things of the spirit. Christ said: "The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak." I think my sister understands that the pull of the flesh will be great, especially in college, so it's best to be in an environment where the pull of the spirit will be encouraged -- especially during the years that may be the most crucial to her further development as both a person and a Christian.

How I pray that the youth that I work with now would understand the gospel and cling to it! And how I pray that the youth that I worked with before would remember the gospel and return to it! For there is no greater joy than living for the Lord, for apart from Christ there is no life. As Colossians 3:3-4 says:

Your real life is hidden with Christ in God. And . . Christ. . is your real life.

Looking for Donkeys

I have to laugh sometimes at God's sense of humor and the irony of some of the happenings in the Bible. Like take 1 Samuel 8 for example. Lately, I can't stop thinking about it. In this chapter we meet Israel's first king, Saul. Only at this time, he's not a king -- just a regular boy from the smallest tribe of Israel, and he readily admits that his family is the least important of all the families in his tribe! Basically, he's on the bottom of the totem pole!

Saul is out looking for his father's lost donkeys when he meets Samuel --the priest and judge who tells him he is going to become king. Imagine, you're out looking for donkeys when you receive the completely unexpected news that you're going to become king! I don't think looking for donkeys was any more glamorous in Saul's time than it would be in our day. So I had to laugh at how ironic the whole thing was. Saul leaves the house a donkey hunter and returns a king! Weird, huh?

As I read that passage, I thought to myself -- I bet there are a lot of people 'looking for donkeys' right now (ie; doing something that seems relatively unimportant to them and feeling like they are on the bottom of the totem pole). And yet, who knows what God has in store? Who knows how God might meet them and turn their whole life upside down when they least expect it? After all, that's what happened to Saul -- why couldn't it happen to you?

Monday, April 5, 2010


Well, the season of lent has come and gone. Although supposedly a time for reflection and stillness, it seems this lenten season was busier than most for me. I had set out with the intention of blogging every day, and yet, just couldn't make that happen. I ended up having to give myself some grace on that one as oftentimes it was a choice between blogging or spending quality time with my husband.

At any rate, the past few days have been truly amazing as I've considered the sacrifice of Christ. As with most stories that we've heard before, we fall into the mentality that we already know it, and the story loses its power. Even with a story as amazing and incredible as the resurrection, we often fail to see how miraculous and mind-blowing it was just because we've heard it so many times, celebrated it so many years.

But God has been doing something in my heart these past few days and I'm trying to figure out the best way to live it. This lenten journey has taught me that I have a lot of things to figure out still, and that life is about trying to figure them out. It's also about taking action. We can have the best of intentions, but if we don't do anything with them, it doesn't matter.

At any rate, on Sunday morning before heading for church, I happened to read 2 Corinthians 5. The whole chapter is fascinating -- talking about how we will one day be given new bodies in heaven, etc. But what stood out to me most were verses 18 and 19 which say:

And God has given us the task of reconciling people to him. For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people's sins against them. This is the wonderful message he has given us to tell others.

What an appropriate reading for Easter Sunday. Christ's death was all about reconciliation. And it struck me that our ministry as individuals and as the Church is one of reconciliation as well. I think the church has become good at telling the world everything that they're doing wrong, and clearly there is a lot of sin in the world. But Jesus came to bring reconciliation -- not to count people's sins against them. How many times in the church are we guilty of counting people's sins against them instead of setting about the ministry of reconciliation, instead of sharing the wonderful news that we have been given?

The night before we had a friend over for dinner, and he happened to talk about how Jesus was always eating with sinners. He made the comment that sinners back then were certainly no different than sinners today. Their language was probably foul and laced with expletives, their topics of conversation enough to make 'religious' ears blush, and their activities reprehensible. But that didn't stop Jesus from eating with them. He didn't expect them to clean up their act before He shared a meal with them. He could eat with them and He could see beyond all of that stuff to the soul of the beautiful person that He created. The religious leaders of the time often criticized Jesus by saying: "This man eats with sinners!" And I had to ask myself, would anyone describe me that way? Would anyone say of me: "This woman eats with sinners?" Because if they wouldn't, maybe I'm not doing something right. If they wouldn't, maybe it's because I'm too busy surrounding myself with people that are just like me, people who talk the way I do, believe what I believe, act the way I act. And if so, maybe I've been guilty of turning Christianity into a club for people that already have it figured out instead of a hospital for sinners, which is what Jesus had in mind.

On Thursday night, my husband was invited over to the house of one of his co-workers, his superior. My husband works for an electric company, and he has told me that his co-workers swear like sailors, talk about women in demeaning ways and drink too much. He accepted the invitation of his superior and went to his house along with another co-worker. The man lived out in the country and had a bunch of guns. Apparently at one point, he got out the guns and was shooting them into the woods and allowing my husband to do the same. It sounded like a strange way to pass the time to me, (especially after the man had had a few beers!) but I guess this was something he enjoyed and there was really no harm in it. At any rate, as my husband was describing his visit, I said, "I wish I could picture these people you work with. I have no idea what they look like." "You will," said my husband. "I'm sure you'll meet them soon." Then he told me that his co-worker had invited me to come along the next time. At first, I thought that I might feel a bit uncomfortable with the language and the guns and the whole nine yards -- and then it occurred to me that being uncomfortable isn't a bad thing. It's part of being an ambassador. Also, it would really be no different than being in another culture, which is something I love. When I go into another culture, I don't immediately understand their way of doing things. But while we may speak a different language and have different ways of doing things, that doesn't stand in the way of me trying to develop a relationship with the people. And I do that by listening, trying to learn from them and loving them.

I realized that I have been shamefully arrogant in the past. I have actually said that the people my husband works with are not the kind of people with whom we could be friends with. I said that thinking of their vocabulary and conversation topics and how their values didn't really mesh with our own. But shame on me!! I am ashamed of my attitude. These are exactly the type of people we can be friends with. These are the type of people that Jesus was friends with. Shame on me because I am a sinner saved by God's grace and given the ministry of reconciliation! But praise God for revealing to me the error of my ways and reminding me that I still have so much to learn.

I want to be an agent of reconciliation in the world. That is the purpose of the church! But this can only happen when we stop counting mens' sins against them and focus on the wonderful message Christ has given us to tell others. Judment for sin will come, but it is not our job to judge. We can leave that to the Righteous Judge who judges without partiality.

Will you tell others the wonderful news that by Christ's death on the cross they can be reconciled to God? Will I?