Wednesday, October 15, 2008


I've lived here for 3 months now. I just had my 90 day review, where they added an extra week of vacation and an increase in my pay. Both things I was excited about, but I think it cemented the idea in my mind that I am here. That this isn't a vacation, but my real life.
I haven't been homesick at all since I've been here. My days are filled, I love where I live, I have great friends, people love me, I love them... so it was odd when after getting extremely good news, I was struck with an intense bout of homesickness.
Part of it stems from the most amazing weekend I had this weekend! The man of my dreams showed up at my door to surprise me for 4 wonderful days spent together. Filled with dreams and laughter. I anticipated the drive back from the airport to be filled with heartache... I mangaed to avoid it. Apparently I couldn't avoid it forever. The heartache hit full force as I lay in bed last night, with the tears landing on my pillow. He was gone. Back home to his life, and it would be another long month before I would get to hold him again.
This was only the beginning. My conversations with friends back home, made me long to be there with them. They feel very much alone in this quest of following Christ, and I want them to know they aren't alone. To know that others feel the way they do. That there are others who believe that Church should be more holistic and organic than it is. However, I'm on the other side of the country. Where the plane tickets aren't cheap, and the gas even less so.
I began to remember so many things. Watching movies with my sister. Playing canaste until late at night with my sister and brother in law. Knowing that you don't have to say anything, and you are still understood. The students that would jump in my arms if I walked through the doors of my church. How I have watched them grow up for 4 years into such amazing people. My mom sitting on the couch crocheting blankets listening to me talk for hours straight. My dad sitting in the chair playing solataire.
I got so homesick, I actually started crocheting myself. Which I haven't done in years, and vowed I'd never do again. I just wanted to be close to them, any way I could.
I even thought that I would do something tonight that would help me feel a little more connected to home. Do something I do when I'm with my sister in Illinois. We really like TGI Fridays and Cracker Barrel a lot. So quite often we would go to one of these places. Only problem, it's a half hour drive to either one of those places. Not sure why that is so upsetting, I'd just go spend money I don't really have, and eat food that is definitely not healthy for me. (I get smothered chicken at Friday's and about every carb you can imagine at cracker barrel). But the thought that all the things I grew accustomed to over the last 24 years of my life are far away, hit me like a ton of bricks.
And so I wait for the days to move forward. I anticipate Christmas, and long vacations where I can be with all of them at once. I guess they were right, you don't really know what you have until it's gone. And absence truly does make the heart grow fonder.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Art of the Love Letter

I used to envy them their love letters. The type of letters you find in your great grandmothers desk, yellowed from the years, and cherished in her heart. Letters that said so eloquently how one sweetheart feels about another, and that though they are far apart, those feelings haven't faded.
These letters that often were the only connection between them at times. The only way they could connect across many miles, for the distance was too long to travel while one was away at school and the other at home, waiting, and counting down the days for the other to return. The long distance bill too expensive to make phone calls more than once on a rare occasion. Yet, theire love and care for one another didn't grow stale, for it is evident in every hand written word, that great care was given to the crafting of this sole way of communicating.
I used to envy them, because it seemed so romantic. The idea of holding out for a sweetheart who lives so far away must have made those moments together that much greater. It would be so hard to take someone for granted when the heartbreak of being apart for so long is still ringing in the back of your minds. It would be so hard to be viewed as an object, when things could fall apart at any moment. It must be so rewarding when the meticulous care paid off in the end.
I used to envy them.
The book I recently finished reading, which I recommend to everyone, was about modesty. The author spoke of Jewish law in relation to intimate relations between a man and his wife. How they weren't allowed to have sex during a woman's monthly cycle or the 7 days after. Though many people thought this was a horrible practice, implying that women are unclean during that time, when they obviously weren't, the author began to wonder if God intended more than that.
She began asking people who had made the decision to abide by this law in their marriage what they thought of it. Everyone she spoke to responded positively. Talking about how that momentary time apart, helped them to truly appreciate their spouse, and not view them as an object, but something to be cherished. One woman even said when her husband and her decided to follow these codes, it was during the time he couldn't be intimate with her, that her husband learned the art of intimacy in other ways... calling her at work just to make sure she was having a good day, or sending her flowers. One person went as far as to say that every time they had sex after that time apart, felt like the first time, like they were learning each other all over again.
So the author poses the thought, maybe God had deeper intentions than we think about the idea of restraint and modesty, even in marriage.
This lead me to think that if it's true, that the longer you wait for something, the better it is when you finally have it, maybe there is something to the art of the love letter. That maybe their is a beauty that our fast paced consumer society is missing out on. Where relationships are as easy as going to the bar for the night, and where we go through a drive through to get our momentary fix of grease and sugar.
The Song of Solomon continually repeats this phrase "do not arouse or awaken love until it so desires" as it is speaking of this relationship between the lover and the beloved. She is longing for her lover to come back to her. However, there is this running theme of waiting. Of not pushing for love before the appropriate time. The physical embraces between them don't even enter the picture until the very end of the chapter. The book is mainly about the longing and desire to be together, yet knowing the time isn't right.
I used to envy the love letters, the restraint, the modesty that accompanied life then. However, I never understood the pain. I never knew what it would be like to want to be with one person every moment, and only have letters and phone calls. I never knew what it would be like to want to wake up and know that you can see that person, only to realize, you can't... not yet.
Needless to say, I don't envy the love letters any more, however, my solace is this, that if the restraint and modesty makes the relationship all the better, than that is what I want. Nothing shallower. The depth will be worth the heartache. The restraint far better than the compromise for something less than love at the appropriate time. I think I can wait for that.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Falling or Growing: Metaphors of Love

There has been an oft used statment for the description of infatuation and romance, which is the term "falling in love". Though it is used often, and for valid reason I wonder if it is the best term to describe what I want.
Where falling in love is accurate, is in that infatuation, heart beating fast, palms getting sweaty, can't think about anything else stage of a relationship. Where that person is forever imbedded into the recesses of your mind which makes it difficult to do even the most simple of tasks.
However, falling in love also describes a lack of control or work. It isn't that hard to fall. In fact, you really don't have to do anything, but turn the wrong way, run too fast, ignore a wet floor sign, or wear shoes that are too big. It takes little commitment or time, because once your falling, there is very little that you can do about it.
The scary part about falling in love is, what happens when you stop falling? Obviously, as anyone who has sky dived will tell you, the rush and adrenaline are great at the moment, but if that parachute were to malfunction or not be there... well you can't even ask that person about the rush, because the only thing that matters at that point is the crash.
I've experienced both the fall, and the crash of "love". It was such a drastically horrifying experience, that I don't think I ever truly want to fall in love again.
So when I read the other day a different metaphor in relation to the process of love, I gravitated towards it. It is the concept of not falling in love, but growing in love.
Growing in love fills in so many of the holes left by falling in love. First, in order to grow something their must be a deep foundation. Prior to even planting something, the soil must be prepared. Thus, this metaphor is a great tool in seeing how if I seek to have a healthy growth of love, I have to make sure that I am grounded how I need to be, even before a seed of a relationship is even in the picture. This means that I must be a healthy person, that I must be doing the things that a healthy individual does. Then, as a seed of relationship is planted, it must first grow deep roots. Before a plant ever grows up, it grows deep. Thus, there must be great care, time and patience, as the roots dig deep into the already prepared soil. Then as the plant grows it takes work. It must be nurtured, cared for, and valued. At times, weeds must be pulled away from the plant in order to keep it thriving. Sometimes the rain doesn't fall the way it should, so more time energy must be spent running from the water source to the plant to make sure it doesn't shrivel and die. At times the rain doesn't stop pouring, and the roots must be deep enough to hold on through the storms.
The metaphor sounds so much more like a truly substantial relationship than "falling" does. Though there is far more work, though things are more difficult, and it takes a lot more time, generally the results of growing a flower, or a vegetable are a lot more rewarding than breaking your arm after the momentary adrenaline of a fall down the stairs.
I think that's what I want, to grow in love, because the heartbreak of falling has taken so long to get over, and I would love to see the beauty of the flower that grows, over time.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

I wish I was Amish

The other day I was sitting in the airport. Since moving, I sit in airports a lot. Exhausted after a long weekend, I ordered a starbucks and sat reading a book waiting for my flight. I NEVER buy starbucks, except for on very very rare occasions. On this particular day, it hit me what I had done... I had bought into the commercialism and I looked like everyone else sitting in the airport.
Am I different than these other people? I should be. After all, that's what a life in Christ means. The Jewish understood that, they were completely seperated from the culture around them. They were so different the boys and men even had a small operation (I don't think I need to go into detail, you know what I'm talking about). Often times Jewish people wouldn't even go into the Roman market, because in order to do so you had to pledge your allegiance and worship to Caesar and recieve a mark on your hand (that's what it talks about in Revelation). Thus, they had to find alternative ways to buy and sell things, and trust that God would provide for them.
Did some of them pledge allegiance to Caesar? I'm sure they did, after all it would be a whole lot easier. It's easier just to bow to the regime around you, than stand out and be the odd one, however, we aren't called to bend to what's easier, we are supposed to be a "peculiar people".
Thus, people should see me as different. The very clothes I wear should be different. Is it showing a deep love for God and others, or am I supporting the materialism that pervades and infilitrates the minds of America? The food and coffee I buy should be different. Does it show a deep love for God and others, or am I supporting the rich getting richer while the poor are getting poorer? Do I support fair wages, or corrupt corporations?
Some people have told me that participating in systemic evil is inevitable, and though I believe that to an extent, I don't think that means we lay down and do nothing. Isn't our God bigger than the evil that pervades our culture? Aren't we called to be His hands and feet to the world?
Thus, as I sat in the airport I decided I wish I were Amish, or an Orthodox jew, or even Muslim, not for their belief systems, but for the fact that when you see them, there is absolutely no denying that they are set apart for a specific person. How they dress, what they eat, how they interact with others, is all influenced by their belief system. How much more should my dress, my food, my lifestyle, and my interaction with others be deeply influenced by a relationship with the creator of the universe? How much more should I look different because I have been saved by an amazing grace?
Then I had to ask myself, if the church is supposed to look so different from the world, be an eschatological community which is the closest you can get to heaven on earth... why then do we strive so much to look like everyone else?

Monday, August 25, 2008

The Great Let Down

There is this extremely difficult part about being a youth pastor, or minister of any sort for that matter, when things that people always believed to be true, begun to be deconstructed before their eyes. It's like a horrible break up crumbling before you, something you thought was real isn't. It was fake, a facade, to the point you almost feel stupid for believing it in the first place.
The past month I have been teaching my students about Jesus as healer. When looking for worship music to go along with the teaching I stumbled upon Hillsong's powerful song, titled Healer. I even explained the dramatic story of the writer having cancer, and trusting God for healing in his life... only... to get a rude awakening. He faked his cancer. All of it.
Do I know his motives? No. I have no idea if he was trying to make a quick buck off of a vulnerable crowd with a moving story. I don't know if he just had an extremely bad lapse of judgment. I have no idea. I do know what he did was wrong, and that he is paying the brutal consequences of the choices he has made.
I've read many blogs on the topic. From how horrible it is that someone would defame the name of Christ like that, to how we should extend grace and love to someone who is in a tight situation. I honestly think he's felt enough consequences to his action, and Christ will certainly be the judge of his decisions and heart. Thus, that is not my struggle.
My struggle is, what do you tell a youth group who already struggles with concepts of trust? Who already have admitted to doubting so much about God because church people are hypocrites and liars?
I think I have to take the role Donald Miller took in Blue Like Jazz. Set up a confession both to confess our sins as Christians. We have such a shoddy past. The evils of the crusades and the Spanish inquisition. Tele-evangelist who claim to heal your pain, if only you just send them $20. Those who serve Christ on Sunday, and walk out and deny him on Monday. The fact that the divorce rate is as high in the church as outside of the church. The horrifying truth that the pornography bought on pay-per-view is higher in hotels during pastor conferences than any other time of the year. I just want to apologize for all of it, and add to this list someone's obvious blatant misuse and representation of worship. This isn't Jesus. These are people, who desperately need Jesus.
Such horrible things have been done in the name of Christ. We just have to apologize, look forward, and run the race set before us. Love God and love others. They are going to have to see Christ by our love, not our hate, our violence, our greed. They are going to have to see Jesus through the sincerity of our words, and the truth that even when people fail us, Christ never does.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

God outside the Practical

I've been told, and I believe, that God's timing is perfect. That has seemed a little odd over the last few days, as it seems His timing has been anything but perfect.... if only I had stayed in Illinois through August... if only my class were a week later than it was... if only...
Maybe it's my timing that is completely off. My perspective of His timing is so limited. So finite. What I see as an inconvenience and a frustration, may be God's way of providing something for me that I need that I don't even realize I need. Time, space, distance. Maybe those things aren't bad.
I've had a lot on my mind and heart lately. Trying to sort through these details of timing. Trying to sort through what everything means. Weighing the pros and cons of a life vastly different than the one I have known these last few years. Weighing in the heartache and hard work, as well as the benefits and joys.
What's the right decision? I don't know if there is necessarily a wrong one. Practically, this is a bad time. A super bad time, but I've discovered that God very rarely checks his plan at the gate called practical. That's not how things always work. Sometimes we just have to jump and trust that he's either going to catch us or give us wings to fly.
I think I want to jump.

Friday, August 22, 2008

The Church is a Whore

Cynicism tends to plague me. Maybe it's the common thread that binds all 20 somethings, who discover the church, the world, people they love, are so far from what youthful idealism painted them as.
Though I don't think my cynicism is always misplaced, or has come about for no reason, it is often a barrier and a coping mechanism that is effective at its best, and destructive at it's worst.
My cynicism with the church stems back far however. Far into the very reaches of my childhood when I first ever interacted with the church. I understood Christianity to be a faith that follows Jesus. That if you call yourself a Christian, then you look like Jesus. Jesus fed the hungry, so Christians would do the same. Jesus had compassion to the very depth of him (actually the greek word is from the bowels, which is where the Jews thought the center and reality of a person was... we say heart, they said bowels) thus one who follows Jesus must have compassion until it hurts. Jesus wept over the hurting people around them, thus a Christian must weep over the hurting. Jesus was killed because he stood up to a religious and political system that was corrupt and hypocritical, thus a Christ follower must not be silent when the church is in err or political systems are oppressive. Jesus allowed himself to be killed because of his great love for us, thus we must allow ourselves to endure immense pain, ridicule, possibly even death, to illustrate his love to others through us.
Though my understanding of the church is one in which most people would nod their head in agreement, most people don't exhibit a life that agrees at all. The most common question I get as a youth pastor from youth is "if church people supposedly follow Jesus, then why do they hate so much? Why are they so critical? Why do they back stab and gossip? Why are they pro-war? Why do they scream at women who are about to have an abortion versus embracing them? Why are they so cruel to homosexuals? Why do they think God loves America more than everyone else? Why do they believe they are better than everyone else? Aren't they supposed to love? Aren't they supposed to embrace? Aren't they supposed to turn the other cheek, walk an extra mile, give someone their undergarments when someone asks for their tunic? Aren't they supposed to change the world with the faith of a mustard seed? With the love of God? With the faith and obedience of a child?"
What would you say to that? I tell them I'm sorry. That they are right. That Christians have done a really horrible job of exhibiting the love of Christ. That Christians really don't exhibit many of the qualities that Jesus spoke of... that Christians are rarely poor of spirit, that they rarely hunger and thirst after righteousness, that they rarely do good unto the least of these (unless it's for a tax right-off), that they would rarely sell all they have and give it to the poor, that they very rarely are 100% dependent on God, for material, for emotional, for spiritual, and for physical needs, and that they are often back biting instead of being part of the redemptive work of Christ.
However, I also tell them that I have seen it though. Rare as it is. That people like Mother Teresa lived that way. People like Dorothy day. Martin Luther King Jr. was preached against in the church all the time as sinning for not "submitting to the authorities", but was carrying on a tradition of speaking for those who could not speak for themselves, something ingrained into the message of the OT. Shane Claiborne lives in Philadelphia, and has been arrested on multiple occasions for caring about the plight of the homeless, for pushing for affordable health care and housing... he's even went to Iraq at the start of the war, to show people that Jesus is the prince of peace, even amidst the bombings of their homes and hospitals. It is rare... very rare... but I also believe that when scripture says the way is narrow, Jesus didn't mean "until you come up with seeker sensitive movements to make it wide so that all may enter!" I think he truly meant that it is a hard road. That it is easier to jump on the bandwagon of a Jesus who saves us, and forgives us, without taking up his cross and following in his footsteps which lead to a place where we must die.
The imagery of carrying Christ cross isn't a mistake. An instrument of torture was never meant to be a pretty necklace we wear around our neck, but a tool of which we would die on. Something that we carry, not to carry, but with the intention of dying for the same reasons, the same causes, the same heart that Jesus had. A heart that cries and mourns over lost people. A reason that all people are of value and madly loved by God, regardless of their sexual orientation, their nationality, their choices in life (remember, ALL have sinned). A cause that says we will not bow down to the constructs and systems of Rome, but will usher in a new kingdom, a kingdom that doesn't end, a kingdom that can be experienced here and now, and one day will be fully actualized, the kingdom of God. Dying for a freedom that transcends nation, creed, value system... to pledge allegiance to the ONLY person worth pledging allegiance to, the King of Glory.
But like I said... I'm cynical. A lot of times I doubt if its even possible to see the church reformed in such a way. To see Christians actually be... well... Christians. Because most Christians disregard me. They tell me I'm idealistic, and that that will wear off with time. That Jesus only said to sell all and give to the poor to one man (keep in mind he only said John 3:16 to one man too, but everyone seems to like that a lot more than selling everything, but like Rich Mullins said, that's why we have high lighters so we can keep the parts we like and ignore the rest). They tell me I'm radical, or too liberal, or too literal. That I may have a degree and have taken a million bible classes, but I'm missing the point. I've even been told that my belief and pursuit of holiness is more radical and set apart than even the church (which claims to be a holiness church) wants to call people too. I've been told that drinking on occasion is a greater sin than being a shopaholic and buying shoes that support a system of systemic evil, in which that kid was beaten and bruised so I could have my awesome new kicks, and then not buy my kids food because I spent it on shoes. I've been told that being gluttonous and eating so much accompanied with laziness, is not as great a sin as having dancing at a wedding.
Maybe that's why I'm cynical. Maybe I'm cynical because the church seems so full of incongruence's to me. God loves those we say he loves. God punishes the sins we say are sins. God blesses us the way we want blessings....
St. Augustine was right "The church is a whore, but she is my mother." Thus, I will love her. Thus, I will cherish her. Thus, I will strive to see the church become what it should always be. Despite my cynicism I still believe the church is the avenue through which God works, and I still believe for all its faults there is still hope that the bride of Christ will wear white at the great wedding.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Cheap Grace

There are many heroes of the faith that I have. Among them are Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King Jr., and Jim Elliot. One such heroe, spoke often of Cheap grace in his now classic literature. I admire Dietrich Bonhoeffer for his non-violent resistence to the evil that pervaded his home in Germany during the Nazi regime. Even though being a part of a plot to kill Hitler, he knew that to kill another was wrong and begged for God to forgive him, before he was executed by the Nazis.
Cheap grace, is something Bonhoeffer speaks of a lot. I've been astounded in my many years as a Christian how much it prevades much of what we do.
The concept of cheap grace is that, grace is given freely (which is correct), but we can do whatever we want once we have it, because salvation has absolutely nothing to do with how we live.
However, that concept of grace is so contrary to scripture. It is difficult to read scripture and say that our actions are irrelevant. I don't believe God saves us due to our actions, but actions defintitely have a connection.
Jesus is preaching in Matthew at one point. I imagine a large portion of dedicated Jewish followers, who love God surround him. He begins speaking of sheep and goats. How the goats didn't serve the least of these, so they will go into damnation. How the sheep did serve and thus they would enter into paradise. The funny thing about this story is that neither the sheep or the goats expected what was coming. The sheep didn't expect to go to heaven, they were just living out of the overflow of their hearts. The goats, EXPECTED, to make it. They thought they were in. They didn't make it. The versus don't talk about praying a 3 sentence prayer for salvation, it talks about a lifestyle. A way of living, that is so engrained in them, that neither group knows what they are doing.
It's exciting to read about the sheep. How they make it to the kingdom without even knowing, that part is awesome! We hate however to read the part about the goats. Sadly, I equate them with many church people. Who think they can enter heaven on a wing and a prayer, without having a true transformation of their lives.
Without the transformation, we are residing in cheap grace. Without having a change of heart, that ultimately overflows into action, it's difficult to say if grace was truly embraced at all.
I like to say it this way, Jesus didn't die to make nice Christian people. If that's all he died for, we might as well chuck the church out the window, turn it into a social club, and I might as well go back to school and become the english teacher I intended to be. There would be no point! He suffered an excrutiating death and endured humanity just so we could achieve what public school systems have the ability to achieve? No! He has so much more for us. He died so that we might be transformed. That we might have life and have it abundantly, which means being crazy, which means being radical, which means stepping out and caring for everyone. Not because it is the right thing to do, but because we can't help but live out of the overflow of a grace that is anything but cheap.... it cost Christ his very life.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Romance as it Should Be?

A friend of mine is doing this project about how to truly be a man of God, one must love their sisters' in Christ self-sacrificially. There are a lot of proponents that go into it, but mainly he's focusing on how men need to exhibit more modesty and chivalry towards women. For example, in order to be a modest person, a guy would be careful about the words he would say to girl, so she would feel loved and valued, without being played.
I honestly give him a huge amount of respect, and think that he is on a great journey to discovering what it means to be 100% devoted to the cause of Christ. Ultimately, it should have an effect on every relationship, even what you say, how you dress, and how you act around people of the opposite gender.
Thus, he has been asking me all of these probing questions, about how to be a better man of God. What are ways to be more cautious, etc.? So, he asked me yesterday to talk to him about the inner workings of a woman's mind.
To be completely honest, I have no idea how the inner workings of a woman's mind is. Guys think they don't understand women, and what they don't understand is, it is so difficult to understand yourself sometimes. For example, it's not like I choose to freak out at awkward moments and get really emotional about things, it just happens sometimes, and I constantly have to try and sort those emotions out.
Yet, it has got me thinking a lot about relationships, and what it truly means to have a godly relationship. That doesn't lead someone on, because that isn't godly at all. That puts the others interests before you own.
Today, I went for a hike to clear my head. I ended up writing my friend 3 pages of how I feel things have gotten so messed up. This is what I told him:

You asked me how you could be a better man. If there was a way you could genuinely care for the women in your life, without having them interpret your actions as having to do with ulterior motives.
I would never claim to be the right person to ask that question. I've interpreted affection from men wrong so many times, that when they do have genuine motives, I'm so closed off, it never goes anywhere.
I've been thinking about your questions a lot. About the conversations we have about changing the world, and how I can't stop laughing when I talk to you. Ok, so the latter is probably sleep deprivation, but you get the point.
For whatever it amounts to, you put far too much pressure on yourself. You are far more a man than most anyone I've ever met. The fact that you care enough to ask accounts for something.
However, like i said last night, it has to be a two way street.
I'm sitting here, on your rock, and the rain is starting to come down. It's beautiful, and the hand prints of God are everywhere.
In moments like these I feel very conflicted emotions. I feel so loved and close to God, in ways that only happen in nature. I feel 100% confident and completely independent, yet dependent on God at the same time. Yet, there is this huge part of my heart that wants to share these memories with someone. To be able to process information and love in a tangible way.
that is why I wonder, if I get so conflicted about how I feel at times, and yet I am perfectly content to be single, what must someone, some girl, who truly hasn't felt the greatness of God feel? One who doesn't feel completely loved? Wouldn't she desire to find that love elsewhere?
That would be a truly dangerous place to be in, because suddenly the love and wholeness we are supposed to feel in Christ gets wrapped up in a person other than him.
Donald Miller says that we often mistake a desire to be loved for love. I can't tell you how many times that has happened in my own life. But, the problem is, you can't put two half people together and make a whole person. You have to put two whole people together to do that. Which seems like a completely illogical thing, but is completely true.
The issues you talk about often stem from the fact that both men and women are seeking their fulfillment in something other than Christ, each other.
Some of these people may even love Jesus, but when society tells you you are incomplete without someone attached to you, even Jesus doesn't seem like enough. That's where things fall apart.
If we truly understood what it is like to be loved by the creator, all other relationships would pale in comparison (editorial note: not to mention the change in how we interact with one another).
The fact that so many of the people we know rush to get married stems more from a misconception of who they are and the true purpose of marriage than anything else.
Marriage isn't for us. Well, not entirely. It is to be an example of Christ's sacrificial love for his church. If we viewed marriage that way, it redefines a lot of what we hear.
Even sex would be an action, not of exploitation or self-fulfillment, but a genuine giving of oneself for the other in the most intimate way possible.
It would be striving to show Christ's love in a small way, not only to the one we love, but to a world that is so desperate for love.
Until Christian universities, parents and churches start teaching that, it will be difficult for things to change. For girls to stop looking for love in all the wrong places, and for guys to be the men they need to be.
I've heard far too many girls say they would die if they were single (editorial note: I'm not really sure what that means for me!) There is this desperation that one doesn't exist without a mate. No, it is without the creator that we don't exist! It is supposed to be a desperation for Him we are supposed to have.
There are plenty of times I long for the deep intimate relationship marriage offers, but if it isn't in the proper context, it isn't truly what God wants for me. He wants me to experience His love, and self-sacrificially reveal His love to another. I can't do that unless the man I marry and I are 100% desperate for God.
That's why I am content to wait. For as long as it takes, which could honestly take me to the true wedding banquet when Christ returns. That is also why I strive to have my teens understand their relationship with Christ and the radical love he has for them.
You can only be a radical, if you experience the radical love of Christ first.

It's so odd how the church, something that was meant to be completely different than the world around it has adopted so much of the world's attitudes when it comes to how we treat the opposite gender. Romance isn't about the good feelings you get, it's about the feelings you give to another. Remember, it says in scripture that we are to love each other the way Christ loved the church. If Jesus died for the church, that really changes what it means for us to be in relationship with one another.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

American Pop Christianity

There is nothing that makes my blood boil more than what I like to call "American Pop Christianity". Basically it works something like this. "If I am a good American, I'm a republican, hold up good American values, submit to the government, have a car with a fish on it, and say the pledge of allegiance while saying God bless America, I am a Christian". Not to mention that individual wants God to bless them as well, in very material ways.
Interestingly enough, Jesus wasn't an American. He was middle eastern. He probably looked a lot like the terrorists we see emblazoned on the news. Dark skin, dark eyes, dark hair. Scripture says he was unattractive. At times I find myself questioning if the Jesus American Pop Christianity serves, and the Jesus I serve are the same person. Then I begin to wonder if the Jesus I claim to serve, is just a version of Jesus I feel aligns with my ideals, instead of learning to align my ideals with his?
I remember reading somewhere that it is so much easier to serve a god we have formed into our own image, than to be formed by the horrifying, amazing, all-powerful God of the universe. Often, we just take what we've heard about Jesus, and warp it into our own image.
Renowned Old Testament scholar, Walter Brueggemann goes as far as to say "the contemporary American church is so largely enculturated to the American ethos of consumerism that is has little power to believe or to act (The Prophetic Imagination, 1)." What a sad day. To not have the power to believe or act because we have so enmeshed ourself into the ethos of society, rather than transform it by our presence.
The oddest part about it all is, we are supposed to look radically different. To be the image of Christ to the world, yet are we the image of Christ when we look exactly like it? I sometimes find myself staring in the mirror for long amounts of time. I kick myself sometimes for being so preoccupied with my appearance; obviously there are levels of concern that should be taken into consideration, it's ok to brush one's teeth for example (please, please brush your teeth) or comb your hair. Those aren't vanities, just hygiene. However, I have been known to go to a rally opposing war in Uganda where kids are kidnapped into being children soldiers, and then go spend $100 bucks to get my hair done, for no other reason than pure vanity... i want to look good.
The Nazarene church, at its inception, began in downtown LA. The goal of the church was to reach a community that no one else was reaching, with a message of hope. This message of holiness, that God, through the power of the Holy Spirit, and the death and resurrection of His son Jesus, has given us the ability to live free of sin. What an amazing message for those on skid row, who have seen nothing but darkness for years! The church, however, got some flack on this holiness mission because of the standards they placed on those who were a part of the church. They were too "legalistic" many would say, and for better or for worse, many still say. They made a rule (not a doctrine... it's not a biblical statement about who God is, but a guideline for living a life in better relationship to Him) which said that women (and I suppose men) couldn't wear jewelry. Though this may seem silly, they had a deep reason. There reasoning was that Christians look different than other people, and they spend their money in different ways. They don't flash vanities, but live humbly, in order to give to others. After all John Wesley said "Earn all you can, Save all you can, in order to give all you can" and died with only enough shillings to pay for his funeral expenses.
Thus I ask again, if the goal is to be set apart, different, why do we strive to look like the nation we live in? Aren't we resident aliens? Citizens of a higher nation? A nation who calls us to do more than vote, but to die to our own wants and desires for the sake of a Christ who loves all nations? Not to mention, if we truly lived as 100% sold out citizens of this state, wouldn't our daily choices and actions (and maybe even our dress) be completely different?
Shane Claiborne says it this way in his book "Jesus for President" which I highly recommend (if for no other reason, than to begin thinking, especially before the upcoming election), "The church is a people called out of the world to embody a social alternative that the world cannot know on its own terms. We are not simply asking the government to be what God has commissioned the church to be. After all, even the best government can't legislate love. We can build hundreds of affordable housing (a good thing by the way) and people still might not have homes. We can provide universal health care and keep folks breathing longer (another nice move), but people can be breathing and still not truly be alive. We can create laws to enforce good behavior, but no law has ever changed a human heart or reconciled a broken relationship. The church is not simply suggesting political alternatives. The church is embodying one (Claiborne, 228)."
Thus I pose this question, how do we separate true Christianity from the look alikes that seem to wander around in sometimes very convincing clothing, alluring us into a conformity we were never meant to belong to? I pose this question first and foremost to myself, because I tend to talk a good game, go to a few good rallies, talk to a few homeless people, allow the occasional person to live in my home, volunteer time to support women with unwanted pregnancies (instead of just holding a sign and condemning abortion), yet those are meaningless if they are just empty things to appear edgy, or compassionate. If they aren't born out of a true love of God and others, and a true allegiance to this community we call the church (also known as the kingdom of God) then I might as well just stay at home and watch another mindless television show, eat, drink, and be merry, because all of it is meaningless.
The nice thing about being angered with American Pop Christianity (creating a Jesus to fit our own political agendas and lifestyle) is that I have discovered I am not alone. Donald Miller, for all of my extreme words and attitudes, sort of just throws it all out there when he says "if I weren't a Christian, and I kept seeing Christian leaders on television more concerned with money, fame, and power than with grace, love, and social justice, I wouldn't want to believe in God at all. I really wouldn't. The whole thing would make me want to walk away from religion altogether because, ... their god must be an idiot to see the world in such a one-sided way. The god who cares so much about getting rich must not have treasures stored up in heaven, and the god so concerned about getting even must not have very much patience, and the god who cares so much about the West must really hate the rest of the world, and that doesn't sound like a very good god to me. The tele-evangelist can have him for all I care (Searching for God Knows What, 28-29)."
So maybe it isn't Christianity non-Christians aren't attracted to after all? Maybe it's this cheap watered down lukewarm version they are so repulsed by. Maybe they see the inconsistencies in us (myself included) that we are so unwilling to see in ourselves.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Disclaimers Don't Work

I try to put disclaimers on things I think will offend people, hoping they will just not read it and move on to the next post... however, human nature steps in and the minute you tell someone not to read something, that's the first thing they want to do.
I'm not criticizing anyone because I do exactly the same thing. A door says, do not open, and my first inclination is to open it. I really have to refrain myself from doing things I shouldn't, quite often, because I always thinking I'm missing out on something somwhere. (I tend to be the last one to leave parties, because I hate thinking that if I leave before someone else, then the fun will really begin without me... yeah, I'm strange like that).
However, I often think people open doors of being offended without every processing what that means. I do it all the time. Jump to conclusions, label people a certain way because I don't agree with them, and that's always a dangerous thing.
You have to follow through to understand what's really going on, and grace must be exhibited, because if you are anything like me, I'm constantly thinking and reforming opinions, and more often than not, have more questions than answers. That has to be ok.
The odd thing is, I read a lot. Too much sometimes. I go to too many classes, and talk to too many people. It is true, the more you know, the more you wish you didn't know. Knowledge is an amazing thing, and we should continue to be life learners, but when we only know in part on earth, it can get really messy really fast.
My attitudes toward the attitudes of the suburbs didn't come from no where. It came from studies of the history of the church, looking at the lives of people like Martin Luther King jr., Mother Teresa, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Jim Elliot, and Shane Claiborne. It came from reading lots of sermons by Jesus where he accosts the rich (because he didn't love them? of course not! But because of their attitudes towards their need of God!) Where Zacheus gives so much money away to the poor. The story of the rich man and Lazarus. The story of the sheep and the goats; a story which shows us that both the righteous and unrighteous do things out of the overflow of their life (read the story again... the goats thought they were going to heaven... it was sort of a shocker for them not to go).
I process all of these things in my mind, and I still ask the question of why we strive so hard for material wealth? I love rich people, don't get me wrong. They need Jesus as much as anyone does. My students and friends and neighbors in the suburbs need Jesus as much as the kids in Africa do, but showing them that need is so much more difficult. Often I encounter goats, who think they are going to heaven, but don't live out the lifestyle christ calls us to. Often I encounter people who love the life of Mother Teresa but are unwilling to live like her. And that is where i reside in deep question. How do you enable people to see the discontinuity between their attitudes and actions?
It's not that all rich people are going to hell (because honestly, not a single American would make it to heaven then, according to the world's standards on wealth). But, I still have to reconcile scripture in my head and heart where Jesus is harsh towards the comfortable, and comforting to those who don't have anything.
I don't think it is always the issue of possessions (I have to be careful, or I'll become Shane Claiborne, and people will be very angry... so just read his book "the Irrisitible Revolution" and we'll call it even). There is more to it than just possessions, it's the purpose of our possessions. It's the attitude we have towards our possessions. It's the level of our dependency on God.
That's why I think Jesus says it's so hard for the rich to enter the kingdom of Heaven, because they have forgotten how to depend on anything but themselves and the value of a dollar.
To clarify, this is where I am afraid of going. I'm afraid of becoming too comfortable with things, and not comfortable enough in relationship with God and others. The danger for me, is that as I am transitioning (I'm not saying where I am is a stepping stone to the next thing... I'm saying I just moved here 3 weeks ago, and have to learn how to live in a different state, different socio-economic area, etc. People didn't get that last time, so i need to clarify) I will get in a routine that places me in a virtual island where I forget to reach out to those around me. That I will become what I am trying to teach people to come out of.
Like I said... there are usually more questions than answers :)

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Disclaimer: If you Offend Easily... you Probably Shouldn't Read

Whenever I enter back into an academic setting a couple of things happen. First, I am always challenged. Second, I always covet something I don't have.
I tend to have super big dreams for my life. I want to change to world. I'm not really content not to change the world, and I'm always striving for bigger things.
However, you must understand that when I say bigger, the sense in which you understand that word may be vastly bigger than what you think. Unlike many youth pastors, I have absolutely no desire to have the biggest youth group as far as numbers. I want kids to feel like they can bring their friends, not because I want glory, but because they see Jesus in my students. I want the youth group's impact to be big, that doesn't mean that their numbers are big. There is a huge difference between the two.
But, my dreams aren't limited to that of a local church, or even being a youth pastor in a church. As odd as this may seem, I don't really see myself as a very good youth pastor in the commonly understood way youth pastors are good. I don't like lock ins. I don't like big games. I don't like meaningless events. I don't like separating the youth group from the larger church all of the time... to be completely honest, I tend to long for the small churches I grew up in, the intimacy and family feel that they bring, and the hard core faithful disciples they tend to cultivate. That said, I believe that can happen in a big church, but it just takes more work, and I still am wrestling with how it is done.
When I come here though, in a safe, theoretical environment, I am suddenly re-filled with dreams I once had. Often impractical dreams and goals, of what it means to truly be the hands and feet of Jesus to the world.
To be completely honest, I hate the suburbs. Hate, is actually probably too nice of a word for how i truly feel for them... but it's the best I can come up with. (This is where you may want to stop reading ;) I tend to feel like they are the key place of mediocrity. It's sort of like someone can't decide whether they want to live in the city or the country, so they live somewhere in between. I have always thought I was going to live in the city. I love the city. I love working with inner-city kids, I love hanging out with homeless people, I love constantly being reminded that grace is all around us, and we must depend on God every second of every day, for our very survival. Since I don't feel called to Africa, the inner-city is the closest I get to that.
I've had a dream since I was a small child, that I would one day move into the heart of a dangerous, hopeless, poverty stricken city and live there until it is completely transformed. Doing my best to be the hands and feet of Jesus in a practical way.
That's probably why when I moved to the suburbs, my friends all asked me if I was selling out. Am I selling out?
I don't really think I am. The passions for the city are there. The passions for loving, for evangelism, for compassion, are all still there, I just think it's odd living in transition, and if I'm not careful, I could end up residing there.
People need love in the suburbs. People need, in the words of Walter Brueggemann, the constructs of the imperial mindset gradually broken out of them, and for better or for worse, that's what I'm gifted in.... prophetic preaching. But how did the prophets of the old testament live among a community, preaching the truth of God, without being absorbed into the culture itself? That had to be a struggle.
A struggle I am finding myself struggling with every day. I told a friend the other day, that the suburbs are seeping into my soul, and quite frankly, will steal it if I'm not careful. It's too easy to be comfortable there. I have a great pool, new flooring. I'm not killing roaches every day like I was in Kankakee. I haven't seen people selling drugs in my front lawn like I used to. The cops have yet to knock on my door looking for someone. ... so... I lay by my pool, instead of picking up trash in my neighborhood.... Not that the things I do are inherently bad, but it is becoming so easy to forget where my dependency must lie. It's getting easy to close myself into my cubicle apartment, and forget that just above me is someone who needs the grace of Christ. I've done little to reach to my neighbors. Little outside of my little comfort zone.
Shame on me! My best friend always says that people move to the suburbs to forget. Forget that people have real needs. Forget that God is the one who provides everything for us. Forget that we must be thankful for every crumb we receive. Forget that the sole reason we are blessed is to bless others. Forget that it is harder for a rich person to enter the kingdom than for a camel to go through the eye of a needle. To forget what it's like to be uncomfortable.
I think I forget sometimes, whose I am. That my life is not my own, but to be spent on others. I think I forget to reach out sometimes, that my hands and feet are not my own. I think I forget to be bold sometimes, because it will so upset the comfortable nature of the world I currently reside in.
However, like we talked about in class today, we aren't called to comfortable faith. We aren't called to stay in an infancy level of relationship with Christ, we are called to trust God, to question the constructs around us, and to have the wisdom to tear down the evil constructs around us, even if for most of our lives we saw that evil as Christian. (I know... I'm stepping on toes... hey I could come out and name things... leaving it obscure for a reason :)
It was a sad day when the church of the Nazarene forgot it's heart and moved to the suburbs, I just pray that I don't forget mine. It has to be possible to still remember, in spite of location... just have to learn how.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Lessons from "Penelope"

The credits just stopped rolling... The curtain fell on a beautiful story. For fear of ruining a great story for you, I will leave out the details, but tell you the essence.
It was this story of a girl who was born under this curse, that caused her to be... well... not the prettiest girl ever. Her mother didn't really help, because she hid her from the world, and her only goal was to rid her of this curse. This ugliness that, she felt, consumed her daughter's life. Instead of instilling in her a sense of freedom, of hope, of love of self, she instilled in her fear and doubt.
Though the tale is fictional, the story is so real. A story of how when you truly love yourself, or someone else, there is something magical that happens, that goes so far beyond what is skin deep. Maybe that's why I am so drawn to the story. Drawn in by characters who though fantastic in the film, are so familiar. The boy who loves her despite what she looks like, but looks deep in her heart. The mother's fanatical ranting about looks. Those girls who always make fun of you no matter what. And one timid girl, who lives her whole life thinking she is unlovable.
I know all of these people. In one way or another, I've encountered them, and at times, been them. It's on odd thing how the beliefs we instill in others are so crucial to what people believe about themselves. Because the mother believed her child was ugly, and repeatedly told her so, the daughter couldn't break the curse, which could only be conquered by the love of self.
Donald Miller talks about this in "Blue Like Jazz". He writes this chapter about romance, which is so deeply poetic and real, that i remember my eyes misting up the first time I read it. Don's friend is talking to him about marriage and how God shows His love for us through marriage. He then goes on to talk about loving others. How, for whatever reason, we seem to gauge the love God has for us, by how much others love us. He says that is why God tells us to love one another so often.
As beautiful as those words are, they are also extremely convicting. Honestly, it's a lot easier to make fun of the "fat girl" or the "smelly kid" then it is to embrace them, see beyond that, see beauty, and love them.
And I don't mean that "I have to love them, but I don't have to like them" type love. I mean real true love. The type of love that changes people. The type of love that makes your heart hurt when they hurt, or makes you laugh when they are happy. That type of gut wrenching love, that turns you inside out. Where you would die for them without thinking, but more difficultly live for them.
That's the type of love God has for us. This agape, never ending, deep in your soul, you are the most beautiful thing in the world even when you are stepping on my heart, kind of love. That's the type of love He asks us to have for one another. To look past the horrors that may lay on the outside, to the deep pools of the heart.
Honestly, I am so far from there. I can love the smelly kid, the prostitute, or the homeless man, but I have a real hard time loving arrogant people, lazy people, and rich people. Yet, I'm called to love all of them. We are called to love all of them. Whether our country calls them enemies of the state, or our friends call them enemies in the lunch room. We are supposed to love like Christ loved the church....
what would that look like, considering he died for her?

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Defying How Youth Ministry Has Always Been Done

Passion is generally a good thing. It enables you to do things 110%, and encourages you to actually want to change things. I am, by nature, a passionate person. In everything I do, I put 110% effort, and my heart and my soul into everything. Whether that's relationships with people, or pointless little every day things (like blogging).
The problem is, I can't turn the passion off. It isn't like there is an on off switch, thus when someone doesn't see my point of view, or try to understand why I am passionate about something, my passion turns into a completely different direction.
For example, I feel like the church over the last 20 years has done a really poor job of raising up mature Christians who actually know what the Bible is talking about, and living a life that actually listens to what Jesus says, mostly because of poor youth ministries. (I say this, because I have heard it come out of the mouth of some pretty big name youth min. people, who have apologized to me and my peers for having to undo, and then redo what they worked so hard to build). This was seen very clearly at a camp I was counseling at one summer.
I love camp. I think camp is a great opportunity for students to escape the rigors and often horrors of everyday life, to focus on their relationship with Jesus and have fun too, however, sometimes the fun can take a turn for the worse. I remember the vision clearly, we were divided into groups to compete all week to win some sort of greatness by being the "best" campers. Thus, when it came to game time, and the students in my group could care less about game time, this youth pastor started freaking out. I literally thought he was going to blow a blood vessel. Screaming and yelling at the kids about how they didn't care, and a bunch of other, quite frankly, crap, about how they should try harder, and how important it is for them to win.
Now, I'm terribly sorry, but I don't remember reading anywhere in scripture about how we as Christians are supposed to strive to win at trivial things like competitions. It does say we are to do our best, don't get my wrong, however, what are we teaching students when we look like the world as we try to push them to be number 1 in the same ways the world does? They get enough of that at home and school. Church's competing against churches, and students put up against each other, not out of fun, but out of a desire to win, seems so contrary to the last shall be first attitude Jesus so often preaches about.
Shouldn't we spend our timing fostering the desire in students to care for others? To spend our time teaching them, that it is ok to fail at things in this world. That God loves them regardless of whether they win or lose at a stupid game of dodge ball. That the last truly do go first in the kingdom, and we should put others above ourselves.
I wonder sometimes if it's not this cut throat attitude that in part has turned an entire generation of just out of high school students away from the church. If they can't just be themselves in the church, whether they are athletic or not, whether they care about embarrassing games or not, why would they want to be their? They get enough of that out in the world.
And that's where my passion comes out. My passion for students to truly become 100% radical followers of Jesus, to live how he says to live, to be who he calls us to be. Sometimes I think that's chucking big games and competitions out the window. I sometimes think that's chucking out cookie cutter youth ministry out the window. Honestly, I think it's chucking big events out the window sometime, and just doing what Jesus did. Loving students, healing their wounds, being there for them, and teach them the gospel truth. There is a time and place for everything, but I'm wondering if what we as youth pastors try to push on our kids so often (be more busy, add more things to your schedule, pay money for this event, compete, be the best, win this game) is more what we want for them, then what they need.
After all, it is a whole lot easier to plan a big event, then it is to be there week after week with a student you think may never change.
And that's when my feelings get hurt, and I quite frankly get angry... because I start to wonder if my calling to reform the church and call it back to what it should be is pointless, when my philosophy is to turn the other cheek, and so much of the message I hear is go out and get ahead, whatever it takes.
Sometimes I just wish I could turn the passion off. It would make things so much easier sometimes.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Out of Darkness into Marvelous Light I'm Running

There are moments when I wonder if what I am going to say will have any impact. I get these crazy ideas sometimes, and often it is hard to know if they are from Christ or from some warped section of my brain. Thus, when I plan a youth worship service, I always wrestle with things when I have a "good" idea. Knowing teenagers the way I do, "good" ideas can usually go one of two ways, they can go extremely well, or they can crash and burn.
Tonight I wasn't sure what to expect. We were down numerically. Some of the students were ill, and many families are squeezing in their last minute vacations before school starts, so it's been sort of hit or miss. I try not to get caught up in the numbers, not let them hinder me from the work Christ has for me. Yet, being human, the self esteem bug comes in, and you really want people to like you, to want to be there. To send you long explanations of why they couldn't come, like their dog ate their homework type excuses are even better then nothing.
Whether or not I liked it, there was a smaller group tonight, with no excuses at all. I went forward with my plan, how could I not? I spent all day Wednesday working on it.
I gave the announcements and left the students with a volunteer. They were led up the stairs a few moments later. It was dark. No lights, just a few candles I had lit on the ground. My goal was to transition them into reverence, which is never easy with teenagers, especially in the summer.
The youth room was pitch black, but in the middle of the room was a candle. One single candle. It cast a soft glow on their faces as they sat down around it.
I was behind the sound booth, they couldn't see me, and as the room began to get quiet I began to read....
"There was a man named Nicodemus, a Jewish religious leader, who was a pharisee..."
The room was silent. No one shuffled. No one talked. They just listened, looking at the light. I continued to read through John 3, about Nicodemus coming at night, approaching Jesus with questions, and Jesus responding. Jesus talks to Nicodemus about light and darkness. About how Christ wants to bring us into the light, but we love our sin too much to jump into it.
I asked the students to think about light and darkness. What it would be like to live in darkness, then see the light for the first time. How amazing it would be to see colors, and faces! Then I asked them if they were ready to come into the light. That it wasn't about having all the answers, it's about coming to Christ with our questions still there. That we don't have to know everything about Jesus to have a relationship with him, we just have to come to him. We have to enter into the light.
I ended with the song "To Know You" by Nichole Nordeman. I asked them to ask themselves, if they really wanted to Know Jesus, that despite their doubts and fears they really just wanted to say, "Hey! I'm here! I don't know how, I don't know why, but I trust you, and I really do want to know you!"
I prayed. I told them they could stay. They could pray as long as they wanted, or they could leave. They all just sat there. Silently. Reverently, staring at the light.
After a while all but 3 got up.
Then there were 2. We sat there for a while, when the questions started to come. "I want to be different, but how?" "How can I follow, if I can't even see the path?" "I just don't know how to be different... I feel like I'm in some sort of pathless location, with no direction... where do I go? What happens now?"
It's odd how in those moments I shift from the cool, fun, youth pastor, to the serious confidant. I didn't have all the answers, but I prayed with them. I sat with them as they cried and prayed. I told them about experiences in my life the best I could, of how God has changed my life.
That's when the light broke through. The marvelous light that showed me again, that it isn't about me... it's about Him. It's not about big youth groups, or great statistics, it's about lives being changed. It's about allowing God to use us to be his hands, his feet, and sometimes his voice. And, when we do that, sometimes when we least expect it, he shows up and does exactly what he promised he would do... he rescues us and them out of darkness and into His marvelous light.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

No More Night, No More Pain, No More tears, Never Crying Again

I remember very clearly the first time I held someone in my arms who had lost the love of their life. It was my freshman year of college, and a good friend of mine had died in a car accident. They were going to get married.
As heart broken as I felt, I knew that he had to feel a million times worse. My tears were one thing, his were another.
Grief is such an odd thing. Sometimes I hate the culture of America, because we don't know how to grieve. I don't know how many times I have heard justification for sadness or the age old response "I'm ok".
Only, I know what losing a friend is like. I've been there more times than I wish to recall, and I know that they aren't "ok". I know they are far from it.
I myself, remember the cliche things people say to you when someone you love dies. "It'll get better over time." or "they are in a better place". Those things are meaningless when everything within you feels like a deep, dark pit, and the more you think about it, the more you wonder if you will ever stop crying again. I've been there.
In the place where you feel like you are falling, and nobody notices, and even if they did, you know that no one would have any idea how to catch you.
That's why I had to go. I drove the 2 hours to spend a short amount of time with friends I knew were feeling things that I had felt before. The conversations about headaches from crying, about wanting to throw up, about how "I just saw him last night. He was fine. I just saw him." I remember.
At times like these, there are moments where I despise being a pastor. For better or for worse, I like having answers, and to some things, there are none. However, as I made the long drive, talking on my phone, trying to arrange plans for my friends to fly here for the funeral, I thought about the class I took on the study of the end.
We talked about death in that class. About whether or not death was a consequence of sin. We all acknowledged that it was. That it seems too unnatural, wrong, and unfair, to be something that God originally wanted to occur.
She was in that class. His girlfriend. I wonder what she is thinking now as she flies from thousands of miles away? Does she remember that class?
I hope so. I hope she remembers how much we talked about life. That God is a God of the resurrection, and if Christ raised from the dead, so will we. I hope she remembers that Christ will return, and her beloved will be raised, just as Christ was raised. I hope she knows that God is a God of life, and that even when things seem beyond repair, He can breathe life into her. Help her to love again. Help her to speak the truth that Christ is risen, and so shall we rise, if we follow him.
For the end, we know, is far from the end. There is always one more word to be spoken, one more voice to ring out, one more power to be defeated. "then I saw a new heaven and a new earth... And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying "now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them.. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away." Revelation 21:1,3-4

Sunday, July 20, 2008

The Eyes of the Blind opening the Eyes of the Seeing

After a while vision gets taken for granted. Among other things, it just becomes a pretty normal way of life, you wake up every morning with the ability to see and don't really think much about it. Textures, colors, shapes, all seem commonplace.
When something happens and that sight can be taken away, things start to look much different. A couple summers ago I went to the eye doctor to get contacts. I went through the routine exam. I'm not a huge eye exam fan, especially when they give you that glaucoma test, you all know what I am talking about. When they tell you to hold your eye open as they shoot highly pressured air into it. Only this time I had to take the glaucoma test twice. I didn't think anything of it, I probably just blinked (how can you not blink when air is shot into your eye at 120 mph?) The doctor told me, however, that things seemed out of whack. Unusual. Unusual isn't really what anyone likes to hear going to any doctor.
He was concerned. He told me he was worried that I had a congenital type of glaucoma, and that I could potentially go blind within 10-15 years. Wonderful! That would be about the time I'm ready to get married and have kids, so the blindness couldn't come at a better time. I had to come back for more testing.
I sobbed. I don't think I've ever been so saddened about anything having to do with my health before. There would be no more point in backpacking, if you can't enjoy the views. I could forget playing tennis, or riding bike. Of all the things I worried about, I worried about never being able to see words again. I began to plan all the books I had to read. I would just spend the next 10 years reading as much as possible. There was so little time. Everything looked different to me. New. Colors were more beautiful, shapes were more profound, and I noticed every beautiful line in every person's smile.
Obviously I went in for some more testing, and nothing was wrong. I just have weird eyes, or something, but I shouldn't worry about going blind.
I wish I could say that from that point forward, I appreciated my ability to see a lot more, however within a few weeks I got back into my usual routine. The fear of blindness behind me.
Tonight I had another glaucoma type moment. It had nothing to do with my health, and in fact I wasn't even afraid, it was just that I for a few moments remembered not to take my sight for granted.
A new student started coming to youth group. Odd to say since I myself am new. However, this student asked me the most beautiful questions about Jesus. They may seem funny or odd, but I think they were beautiful. The student asked if Jesus could fly, followed by how could Mary be Jesus' mother if she was a virgin (if you remember, a question the virgin herself asked). I was caught off guard. All night I had been talking about mustard seeds and the kingdom of God, obviously deeply spiritual and profound... he wanted to know about how Jesus came into this world and what he was like. Simply. No crazy theologies attached.
I told him how Jesus wanted to experience in its entirety what it means to be human, even the experience of being born and raised. I asked him if it made sense, and he told me that it was just so hard to understand why he would do that.
That's when my eyes were opened, for a few moments, to what it means to see. He hasn't experienced sight yet, true sight. The kind where you see God move in every day things, or hear his voice in the wind, because he isn't there yet, he just wants to know, out of his naive curiosity who Jesus is. Yet, it was he who taught me something tonight. I can read as many books as I want, get a million degrees, and nothing will be as awe instilling as the fact that Christ willingly chose to leave heaven to lay in the womb of a young girl, to entail everything that it means to be human.
I guess in a way, the pastor was taught by the student tonight. The non-believer opening the eyes of the believer, because truly it is an amazing thing to see, even in a small way, and even for a moment, the amazing love of Christ for us.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Not all who wander are lost, but generally I am... lost that is

To say I am directionally challenged would probably be a grand understatement. I honestly think that the term "so and so could get lost in a paper sack" describes me to a t (just replace so and so with Robbie). This has caused me some pretty severe problems in the past.
For example, last summer I got lost in the city I was living in. I was talking to a friend on my phone (another reason why cell phones and driving are a bad idea), and missed a turn or something. This wouldn't be all bad, except for it was dark, I had no idea where I was going, and my emergency gas light came on. It was a bit scary. I had to put the 2 dollars worth of change I scrounged up into my gas tank to finally make my way back.
Today... well... let's just say, today has not been my day. To start off, I rode my bike around the community. Knowing that I am directionally challenged, I made sure to make note of where I was going. I didn't get lost, however something almost as horrifying occurred. I stopped into a store for a few minutes to pick something up, and just as I clicked the lock down on my bike lock the thought occurred to me.... I forgot the key to my bike lock. Luckily I was only a couple blocks away, and also luckily I have a sense of humor about myself enough to laugh at how ridiculous the whole thing was. I just laughed and thought "there has got to be a sermon illustration somewhere in this".
Little did I know as I was laughing about the key incident that a far greater storm was brewing. I took some students out for coffee. It was awesome! A great place, the sort of place I would love to hang out in. I brought them home, said goodbye.
In my arrogance I thought, I don't need to check the map quest directions, I made it here fine, surely I can find my way out. This was my first mistake.
The second problem arose when it got dark. You see, everyone tells me it is hard to get lost because the mountains are to the west and the city to the east.... which is totally awesome, IF you can see the mountains and the city. When you go the wrong way and are in some small suburb with too many buildings to see any direction, in the dark, well... let's just say it is a lot easier to get turned around.
The third problem is, I have a tendency to continue to get more lost, because I always think "the next street will be a street I recognize". The problem with that statement is, I moved here 1 week ago and don't recognize any of the streets. I just end up wandering. Thinking I am going west, when I'm really going east, etc.
Since I get lost quite frequently, you might even call it a hobby of mine, I just sort of rode it out. Drove around, thinking this was a great opportunity to learn the neighborhood and such. I was thinking that it could be far worse, like the time I got lost on the east side of Detroit. (For those of you who don't know, getting lost on the east side of the most dangerous city in the US, is not a great place to be lost). That's when I started to see the bars on the windows of the gas stations and convenience stores.
I still wasn't nervous. I have this disorder, it's extremely low blood pressure. Few things stress me out, and probably if I got any more relaxed about things, I'd be dead. However, I decided I would like to get home tonight instead of arriving to youth group tomorrow night at 6pm, if I could ever find the church even.
So I called my sister, who had the map and directed me home.
Now there are several obvious illustrations that come to mind. Cliche really. My sister was like Jesus and I couldn't get unlost until I asked her for help, or trying to fix things on my own was doing no good, or my personal favorite pride comes before a fall. And though all of these statements are true, and though they may be applied to my situation, I don't really feel like any of those things are the lesson I learned.
I did learn, 1) it might not be a bad idea to invest in a GPS system, 2) that in the midst of confusion and lack of direction, you can still have peace.
Maybe that is still somewhat cliche, but I really never worried the whole time I was out, because eventually the sun would come up (I might have to drive for a long time, and get gas a time or two) and I would see where the mountains are, and I would be able to orient myself. It may not have been for hours, but it would come, and I would find my way again.
I didn't give up hope, because I knew that the sun was faithful, that the mountains were faithful as well, and without fail, they would be right where I left them.
So, maybe you took from my story that Jesus intervenes with the map when we are lost, or consult the map (God's word) before making decisions, which I think are also valuable lessons, but what I learned is that even when it seems like there is no map, when there are parts of life that seem gray, dark, hopeless. When it seems like there is no way out of whatever situation we are in, whether we have put ourselves there or not, the sun will eventually rise, and the mountains will still be where they were, and we can have peace, because even when we can't see Him, He's there. He's always there.

Friday, July 18, 2008

The Little Things In life... are often the most annoying

Few people would probably disagree that moving is stressful. Obviously there is the packing, the renting of a truck, the driving, the unpacking, the buying things you didn't think you needed and now you do. However, those are the big things. The obvious. Most of that, after a week, is done and over with, however, it is the little things that are annoying.
For example, I move to the area, and naive me, I just assume that my bank NationalCity, would be, well National, but don't believe the lies, it just isn't. With bills due in a few days, there is no access to a bank. So, I had to wait for a check to come in the mail in order to open up a new account at a new bank.
Now that you are all on the edge of your seats, when you move, you also have to change your address. Which I did a week ago. However, it takes a while to change over.
For the last few days I have checked my mailbox without fail. I get on my bike and ride it up to the front of the complex, I pull out the little gold key, and I look inside. Empty... well... except for the few pieces of mail the person who lived here before me doesn't have, because he probably got sucked into the little things of moving and forgot to change his address.
However, today, it finally came! Along with an exciting card, complete with pictures, from a good friend in Illinois. This of course made me forget my aforementioned annoyances, and enjoy the rest of the day.
I wonder though, if life isn't like that in general. We often mark time by big events. Weddings, funerals, graduations, even moving, yet, I tend to agree with Dr. Q when he says that those big events are just compilations of the little things we do everyday. I posted my resume, seemingly small, someone responded, and on the relationship went, until I actually moved, but the move didn't happen overnight. Furthermore, I wonder if more often than not, God moves in the same way. If all of our time spent waiting for God to do something humongous and life transforming, is a life missing out on all that God has in store for us, in the small things.
We get so used to the small things though. Though I've only been here a week, I have already gotten used to seeing the foothills each day on my commute to work. I've already gotten used to the sun in the morning shining in my room. I at times even respond nonchalantly to the words of encouragement or smiles that people give me. Aren't all of those things the movement of God?
It's not the large things that make you a resident of an area, it's the small tedious address changes, and maybe it isn't the large things that make us a resident of the kingdom of God either. Maybe it is in our every day, small living that identifies us with the creator. Maybe if we could live more in the small things, we won't miss the big things when they happen.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Love of God is greater still...

I've heard it said, that when someone gives birth to a child they are shocked and awed by the overwhelming sense of love that they feel for someone they have just met. Not being a parent myself, I have to observe and collect what other people have told me.

Sometimes I think that being a youthpastor is the same way. The passion for youth that I have been given, also comes with this insane ability to just love teenagers. It's sort of crazy if you have never experienced it your self, but I truthfully don't know if I can say that I have ever met a teen I didn't love. There are a few I struggled to love, but when the layers were stripped away, their well being was still deep in my heart.

It is odd to love people you have met, so deeply and with abandon. Scary would probably be an understatment. There is this deep sense of vulnerability that goes along with love. I've experienced great loss with love. Loving teenagers is a heartbreaking endeaver. They do things that are akin to playing russian roulette with there lives, when they have unprotected sex, or any number of other risky behaviors, and each time I feel my heart break a little bit.

I care for them, though I have just met them, these teens here. I see them on the streets, in their cars, even in our church, and I start thinking about their lives. Who they are behind the scenes. I know there are girls that hate themselves. They starve themselves out of the need for control, the need to cope, a feeling of ugliness. There are boys that cut themselves, feeling that that is truly the only way to feel anything. I know that there are countless numbers of high schoolers that are contemplating taking their own lives. Still others feel like there isn't an adult in the world who cares for them and begin to wonder if they are even worth loving. That's when the pain of love comes in. Wanting to hold all of them and instill truth in each one, while knowing the impossiblity of that task is overwhelming sometimes.

That is when I remember... the love of God is greater. As much as I would do for those kids, as much as my heart breaks and bleeds, God's heart has done so much more. He literally bled and died to set them free. To show them that they are beautiful, that they are of value, that they have worth, that they are not an object to be used and tossed about, but that truly truly they are loved.

A few months ago I wrote a song for a student that I know. She is 14 and has had multiple sexual partners. For a little girl, which she still is in many ways, her life has taken so many dangerous turns. I wrote about how she was literally dying for truth in her life. I've spent many nights in tears with, and over this girl. Instilling in her truth is sometimes so difficult, and sometimes seems pointless, but I hold onto hope. I hope because I know that as much as I love this girl, there is a God who loves her inumerabely more.

As the old hymn says "
The love of God is greater far
Than tongue or pen can ever tell;
It goes beyond the highest star,
And reaches to the lowest hell;
The guilty pair, bowed down with care,
God gave His Son to win;
His erring child He reconciled,
And pardoned from his sin.
Oh, love of God, how rich and pure!
How measureless and strong!
It shall forevermore endure—
The saints' and angels' song.
When hoary time shall pass away,
And earthly thrones and kingdoms fall,
When men who here refuse to pray,
On rocks and hills and mountains call,
God's love so sure, shall still endure,
All measureless and strong;
Redeeming grace to Adam's race—
The saints' and angels' song.
Could we with ink the ocean fill,
And were the skies of parchment made,
Were every stalk on earth a quill,
And every man a scribe by trade;
To write the love of God above
Would drain the ocean dry;
Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
Though stretched from sky to sky."

How marvelous His love for us, and for them!

Friday, July 11, 2008

Uhaul trailers and Cheap Hotel Rooms

Moving is one of the most stressful things a person could ever experience. To start off, it seems like the trailer is big enough... it's never big enough, even when you only own a tiny dorm size tv, a single bed, and a futon. Then there is the craziness of actually driving the million hours to get across the country.
And the amazing thing about moving to the rocky mountains are the innumerable fields of corn it takes until you actually see a mountain. For a while you imagine them in the distance. I think that envisioning mountains is the prairie's version of desert mirages. Eventually the corn and soy beans have to end, and eventually they do, it just takes nearly a thousand miles to get to them.
Yet, after the miles of corn, the mountains have risen, and I am finally here. Not quite in my new home, but not in a cheap hotel either. I'll be there tomorrow. Sleeping in my own bed, after it is assembled, and decorating my own walls, even though they will be oddly foreign.
Soon I'll be starting my new job, yet a job is such a poor description of what ministry is. Vocation may describe it more clearly. It's a calling, a lifestyle, a passion, a burden, a joy, and a number of other things all at once. The overwhelming amount of what the days, weeks, months, and potentially years ahead hold for me, weighs on me from time to time.
I've read the books. "Your first two years of youth ministry" sits on my book shelf. Doug Fields did a great job, I have no doubt about that, but reading about your first two years, and living your first two years, are two completely different things. Not to mention, the kids of the Rocky mountains, though very similar, are still different from the midwest version of kids I have learned on. But for as different as they are, they are still teenagers, whom I love and care for more than the very breath I breathe, and that has to outweigh a lot of insecurity.
Not to mention, beyond my love and care, there is a God who is far more capable of loving and caring for those students. The same God who called me to make the journey to come here, will have to be the same God I depend on in the days ahead, and the same God who will carry those students when I can't. That has to be enough for now.