Thursday, March 26, 2009

Snow day

Snow is one of my favorite things in the world. That may seem strange to many people, but I have always enjoyed it. The beauty of it, the cold air in my lungs, how silent it falls on a world of darkness turning into pure light. I can remember standing in the middle of my street in Kankakee and looking up at the street lights as the snow gently fell to the ground around them; this generally noisy street in the city, perfectly silent as if it had been transported to a different place in time.
Today was the first snow day I've had since moving. Feet of snow fell in a short amount of time, and everything was canceled and even businesses closed. I worked from home versus making the drive to the church today, just to be on the safe side. No one would expect me in under such conditons anyway. Though I normally love the snow and embrace it, it seemed so much my enemy today.
Contentment has resided in my heart over the last month or so, which is a great state of being considering where I was just a few short months ago. Yet, today, I was far from content... I was lonely. Though my marital status has generally been a non-issue, because I am following Christ wherever that leads and whatever that means for me, today it became an odd issue in my heart. I've always stated that marriage isn't the goal following Jesus is, and I still believe that whole heartedly, but today I started to allow myself to ask the question of why that can't be a part of the journey I am on?
Maybe because most days aren't snow days. Most days I'm running around involved in 550 different things, working 18 hour days, and in my spare time reading enormous amounts of books. Most days I don't look at myself and wonder what went wrong and when. I don't generally think about any of that. I tend to find freedom in being single, in applying to go places like Colombia (where i could easily get taken hostage or be killed). Even though today was a rough day, most days, I tend to think about how much more growing I have to do before I would be capable of being a good wife to anyone. Not to mention my complete unwillingness to compromise on any of my standards, which limit the number of men I could even date down to 5, 2 of whom probably live in another country, and 1 has probably died (given the things I'm interested in... see Colombia comment). Which leaves me with 2, one of whom I've already dated, and has made his exit from my life.
It would be nice somedays to share life with someone. To talk about faith and politics. To talk about dreams, and plan adventures all over the world with. To sit and watch the snow fall. To go to peace rallies with. To talk about books I'm reading with. To watch foreign films with. To cook breakfast with. To hang out with homeless people with. To pray with and hope with and strive to bring the kingdom of God to earth with.
Today as the snow fell that's all I could think of, and for the first time since January, I actually allowed myself a few moments to be sad that I was so close to having that, and it just didn't work.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Time Flies By On Broken Wings

It has been two months. Two months since I was sitting in the living room of my friends' apartment at ONU eating pizza and talking about life.
I was struggling so much then, like a bird with two broken wings, unable to to fly and see beyond my current circumstances. Everything around me seemed to be crumbling. It was as though when I gave myself the freedom to dream, those dreams crashed as quickly as they had taken off, as I fell out of the safety of the nest instead of soaring above the tree of cynicism which had sheltered me for so long.
Sitting in the living room I was told that time would go faster than it seemed at the time. That before I knew it 5 months would come and go, and summer would be upon us. Time to make decisions would be here, and I would be confronted once again with the confusion which has so plagued my heart since the hot summer days of August.
Time has gone faster. Here I sit, 2 months later with so much more time under my belt. Those two months have given me a vastly large amount of perspective. Hopefully with that perspective I have been given some amount of wisdom as well.
Failure has plagued me, as I've watched myself make mistakes, as I've watched myself fail to trust, as I've watched myself doubt when i should have had immense hope. But Failure isn't how I'd define the last couple of months. Hopeful might be a better word. I've learned what it means to hope. I've embraced what it means to love all of those around you, not just those who you would like to love, but also those who are different and have vastly different beliefs than you. I've learned what it means to have true friends, friends who fly 1300 miles to spend spring break with you, and listen to your cynicism towards romance for the millionth time without criticism.
God is in the business of creating life out of death. He is in the business of redeeming wreckage and restoring it into something beautiful. This is truly what I have experienced these last two months. For i have seen God provide in the form of a house to rent with a yard, and a basement, when i had only dared to think for a few moments of the ministry I could do if I had a house to rent. I've seen Him provide in the form of anonymous amounts of money left in my mailbox at church. He's provided in the form of a wonderful tea shop that makes me feel like a part of a community, where everyone knows my name, and I can meet new people. When it felt like the loneliness would never subside, He provided for me wonderful friends, both near and far. He provided friends and family the opportunity to come and visit. When I started to doubt my ability as a youth pastor, He provided for me students who told me what I meant to them. Thus, out of my brokenness came immense strength.
I can't lie and say I don't still harbor cynicism towards some things, for that is probably stronger in certain areas than ever before, but I can say that I have grown more than I ever thought possible in such a short time.
God is moving. I can feel Him, I only pray to be a part of the rhythms of that movement.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Perfect Love casts out Fear

Fear. It may seem like a totally normal thing to be afraid, but it seems so out of place in the heart of a Christian. There are so many people who claim to follow Christ whose lives are dominated by complete fear.
I've witnessed believers afraid to go into a certain area of the city. The voices of those declaring war so that we might be safe, out of fear that something bad will happen to us. Most recently, I've heard pastors respond out of fear due to the church shooting in St. Louis, and declare that we need more security in churches, including armed guards at our entrances.
The whole thing boggles my mind, because I start to wonder if anyone actually believes what they say they believe. Scripture is abundantly clear that God did not give us a spirit of fear. The Bible states that perfect love casts out fear. There are parts where it says "whom shall I be afraid? If God is for us, who can be against us?" or even better yet, do not fear them who can only harm the body, but fear that which can harm the soul.
And yet the church seems to focus more and more on fear of external dangers while completely neglecting those things which can harm us for eternity. We will put armed guards at the doors of churches, yet we rarely do anything about the complacency so rampant in our church. We will so readily stay out of certain areas of town, without teaching one another about hope and reconciliation and the dangers of ethnocentrism. It's really simple for us to cheer on the things that bring us security, and take it to the point that we feel our safety comes from a pay check every week, and when that doesn't come, to believe God suddenly has abandoned us (when we refuse to depend on Him the rest of the time).
I may be a cynic and too harsh on the church at times, but it really concerns me as a minister, when people live so different than what the Bible claims. The Bible claims that the worse thing that can happen to us is death, and even that isn't so bad after all... actually it is the opposite of bad, for if we truly believe that Christ conquered sin and death, then why are we so afraid all of the time?
If we truly believe that Jesus was just the firstfruits of many who will rise from the dead (of which we are a part of) then why do we walk around so constantly afraid... why do Christians of all people have this shoot first, ask later mentality?
I am not saying we shouldn't use common sense, for we should, but with our common sense, we also have to stop worrying and fearing so much, and learn to trust God. He is capable of taking care of us. He is capable of bringing peace, hope, and reconciliation into the darkest of places, and the most violent of situations. He is calling us to do the same. If we do not believe God can bring hope, than our entire faith falls apart.
So I challenge us all, to not live out of fear, but out of grace and love. Live out of the hope that one day all things will be made new, and god will redeem all things, and we can be a part of that right now... or we can live in fear, but we can not do both.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Changing the World

I've never wanted to be another face in the crowd. Another person who says the same things, looks the same way, lives out the same goals and aspirations. The white picket fence dream with 2 kids and a dog, was never my dream at all. I always felt that dream was too small for the things I wanted to do, and what I've always wanted to do is change the world.
That may seem naive, young, or idealistic, but those desires have never been lessened or outgrown. The entirety of my life I have surrounded myself by young Christians, who are too new to the faith to be told they can't achieve things, or by old Christians who never really got "comfortable" in their faith, but have always striven to live it out more boldly, and drink in the truth more deeply.
Thus, I have never stopped believing that I will change the world... even if only for one person.
When I was an infant my mom came into my room and wrote me a letter on a piece of Christmas wrapping paper. I have it somewhere stored securely in my things. She didn't tell me about this letter until I was a freshman in college. In the letter she talked about how she just had this feeling I was different, set apart for some sort of purpose. I don't think she really understood all of the implications of that at the time, I don't think she could have, yet she wrote these amazing words that I was going to do something in the service of the kingdom.
As I went to school to study ministry, and then have gone through various ministry positions, and have tried to follow whatever it is God wants for me, I remember the words she wrote 24 years ago, and I wonder if she's right.
It's humbling to think God wants to use me in any way. Small or big, or in between. Even if I just change the world for one person, my life has meaning and purpose, and it is astounding.
I know myself. I know my failures. The things I keep struggling with, and falling back into. I know my pessimism, and my bitterness. I know how often I've gotten my heart broken, and how easily I can hold grudges. I know all of my secrets, that I try to forget, that catch up to me.... despite all of that, God wants to use me for something. He wants to use me for His purposes and His plan, to partner with Him in His redemptive plan to the world, and I will forever be astounded by that.
It is with that knowledge that I boldly walk forward regardless of the turns in the road, or what happens next, to potentially change the world.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Oh Colombia!

I just ordered 5 books about Colombia. This may seem insignificant, but I am applying to go to Colombia with Christian Peacemaker Teams in July. Though I had my heart set on going to Israel, I felt as though I am supposed to apply for Colombia. The last week as I watch my friend get ready for her journey with CPT, I find myself even more excited about the idea.
Though my application isn't even in yet, I still feel this excitement over learning about a country that is considered one of the most dangerous in the world, and trying to see the hope in the midst of it all.
On top of all of it, it has given me just one more reason to return to learning spanish. It's been several years since my last spanish class, but I am discovering how important it will be to know. The prospect of going to Colombia only makes me feel the pressure more.
God truly is working in so many ways, and it will be truly exciting to see where He leads me over the next few months, and how He will carry me through the application process for this delegation to Colombia.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Chapel in the Mountains

There are times in my life where I am completely smacked in the face with the fact that God is so much bigger than I make Him out to be. His plans are so much more vast, His arms outreach so much further, and the history of my faith moves back so much further than where we are right now.
I had such a moment the other day. I was driving back through the mountains, on my way home from visiting potential retreat sites for our winter retreat next year, when I saw it in the distance.
In the middle of the mountains on this rock surrounded by water, was this little chapel. It had to be the most beautiful thing I'd ever seen. I don't know how long it's been there, but I do know it is considered an historical site.
The stone walls were breathtaking, the stained glass glistened in the sun. It was as though I had stumbled upon the best place in the whole world to pray. A place with breathtaking views, and clean crisp mountain air. The knowledge that probably hundreds of people before had come here to pray almost crushed my heart in.
God is so much bigger than we are. So much bigger than our denominations, our church governments, our theologies. We can never define him or capture him. He is so much wider and bigger than we can ever conceive, and in that moment I felt the mystery of it all. That made me stand in awe of the amazing creator, that though bigger than I, desires to be with me.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

The Honest Church

One life touches others. Inevitably it does. Though it may not seem like it sometimes and the path seems dark and lonely, one life still touches others and impacts things, sometimes in ways you never expect.
There are many times as a youth pastor I get frustrated. Frustrated by the choices students are making. I get frustrated watching students make grand commitments to God and then seemingly make no changes in their lives. I've seen it a million times.
There are times I begin to wonder if anything I say is listened to, or if my cries for sexual purity and a whole hearted pursuit for God are falling on ears that think that nothing in life is more impossible.
Tonight was not such a night. It's odd how often I feel off about nights, and God turns them into amazing moments of grace for me.
I got a text message after service tonight from a student that said "You know what this youth group has meant to me? It has saved my life. Literally, from cutting and suicide." It was in response to a question I had asked during youth group about what sort of story and legacy our youth group is leaving.
Tears streamed down my cheeks. This student's parents don't even go to our church. His life has been hard and lonely.
If it ended there I would be excited enough, but the truth is, he wants to share his issues with the group. He wants to bring about awareness to cutting and suicide, and wants this community of believers to see him at his most vulnerable, and surround him with love. He wants them to ask him questions. He wants to be authentic before them, and in turn open the doors for them to be authentic with him.
You may call that a lot of things, but I call that church. True church, in it's honest and truthful form. Where your wounds can be exposed without judgment, and there is peace and rest there.
Of course I didn't discourage him, but opened up the door to have a night honestly dedicated to the issues he has struggled with, and truthfully talking about what it means to be broken, and the redemption christ wants to bring into that.
God is moving. He is alive. He is breathing life into this place, and of all people to choose to be his hands and feet, he has chosen me, and I will never completely understand why, but am grateful to be a part of the story of these young people's lives.