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.

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