Thursday, November 26, 2009
Sunday, October 4, 2009
Caleb is in 7th grade, and his family life is hard. His mom died when he was 5, and his dad, stretched thin as a middle-aged single father of 3 working as a carpet salesman, barely has enough time to work and feed his children. Relationships have come hard for his father in the past few years, and he’s lived with a two of his girlfriends without ever marrying. Caleb’s family is good enough; they stress morals, virtue, and the benefits of being good people. But without much of a reason for the question of “why”, deep down Caleb is confused. He sees the way in which his dad tries to love him and his siblings, but he also sees the incredible pain and lack of commitment in his father’s life. Rarely is someone home when he walks in the front door from school. He has trouble doing his homework and excelling in school. He sees his older sister not coming home on the weekends and dating losers. Last week he found her stash of bud (translation: marijuana), showed all his friends and stole some. Caleb wonders why his father won’t seriously approach her about the stuff she’s doing, but all his friends think it’s cool so he doesn’t say anything. There is no spoken belief in God and Caleb has never attended a church service in his life… Fast forward to the day that his buddy Kevin invites him to come to his youth group with him. Caleb shows up nervous, but is soon glad to see other kids he knows from school along with a few cute girls that catch his eye. He meets a volunteer leader and fills out a guest card with all his info (including writing his name as Chuck Norris) on it before leaving for the night and going home. Stop here.
Two worlds have collided and the situation is messy. From the outside it could look a lot worse, and many times it is, but on the inside lies confusion, apathy and insecurity. This situation is too systemic and removed for a church program plagued by religious stigma, and too complex for a well-structured weeknight youth service.
Isn’t this the average American family that we come in contact with all the time? Can’t we name dozens of people that fit into a profile like this? The fact is that many of us can easily identify the families like this in our community. Sometimes it’s hard to see the suffering in people when it’s not overt and explicit, and many times Christians don’t know how to interact and speak into people who haven’t hit rock bottom. It is intimidating. Words don’t penetrate as deeply. Simply put: it requires more of our time and relational energy.
All the awesome worship guitar rifts in the world won’t reach Caleb when he goes back to his day-to-day life and home. No awesome talk and funny video will do much by itself to bring Caleb to a place of true healing in his life. No flat screen TV with inspirational teaching loops on it will instantly provide him the love he needs to navigate the tough world around him. No awe-inspiring multi-million dollar church building will make his dad a better father to his children, or clean up his sister’s life. God definitely uses all the previously mentioned avenues of ministry in certain ways, but when left alone they fall well short of the way the Lord uses people in the lives of each other. Caleb knows this and deep down he’ll continue his journey, wandering like an isolated nomad through the deserts of adolescence.
It doesn’t matter that most experienced youth workers can immediately identify what’s wrong with this scenario, because in reality few people will do anything about it. Life changing relationships just don’t happen all that often for kids like Caleb. They’re not in the “inner circle” of the social youth group club. They’re flaky and skeptical. The only group they really fit in is the broken, hurting, and lost majority of society. They have emotional walls up that will test the patience of all but the most dedicated, called and incarnationally minded people.
What’s that? Incarnationally minded? Is that just some “Christianese” seminary word? Sadly, for most people yes. The truth is though, if you want to understand what real ministry in the trenches looks like, you have to understand the power of incarnational relationships. At the core of following and believing in Jesus Christ is the idea that God incarnated himself, or became flesh, and dwelt among us. (John 1:14) He went from heaven to earth. He went from the comfortable to the painful. He went somewhere that he was out of place. He laid down his life. How we attempt to do the same in the lives of those around us will determine the effectiveness of our ministry and our faith.
Our goal and call is simple: present the life changing power of the gospel of Jesus Christ, which we have seen FIRST HAND, to a world that desperately needs it.
The way in which we go about it requires something of us: our lives.
Saturday, September 19, 2009
Wednesday, July 29, 2009
Lately a spirit of unity has been sweeping over the youth ministry community where I live. It seems that we’ve all come to the conclusion that if we don’t work together we’re like people swimming alone up a swift river…working really hard and not going anywhere. More than that, I think we’ve come to realize that in a city like Boulder, unity in the faith community speaks volumes to people seeking truth in their lives. Boulder is a place of deeply fractured belief systems. There is no one dominate world-view, and people are precisely attracted to living here for that reason. Being united in belief and practice stands out in sharp contrast to the world around us, and the power of cooperative truth can be a strong magnet to people looking for the Lord.
The last thing we need to have is a fractured Church. I think we’d all agree with this statement, at least in spirit, and I know that there are many people who have heartbeats driving them to promote unity in the Christian community. That is wonderful…and needed. I’ve been wrestling with this idea though, and I’m constantly confronted with the question of why. Why is unity so hard in practice? More importantly, what does Christ mean when he calls us to be one as he and his Father are one?
As I’m being led to work in unity with the people around me, I’m realizing just how hard it can be. I’m beginning to understand how little differences can actually become huge barriers in the process of gaining momentum. To begin the process of understanding each other and moving to a place of true undivided ministry, we can’t just expose the areas that we disagree on and attempt to reconcile them. This approach is many times impossible and even dangerous. We will always disagree. In fact, we should disagree…it’s healthy. Homogenous ministry approaches and worldviews can lead to blind-sided organizational structures and will miss out on reaching/communicating to whole groups of people. Without disagreement, it is impossible for us to improve, restore and grow each other as iron sharpens iron. An iron sword standing alone becomes dull and useless…as do we when we aren’t opening ourselves up to the criticisms (and even the slightly off-base ideas) of others. This leads us to the conclusion that it is not disagreement on it’s own that is causing so much strife within the Christian community …it is something much deeper.
Something is present in conflict that tries to take our differences (that which are inherently beautiful and part of our creation) and turn them into ugly irreconcilable monsters that threaten the very fabric of our being. I want to dive deep into mistrust and the ways in which it divides and conquers the body of Christ. Mistrust acts like a cancer cell in our spirit. It breeds on itself and multiplies until it takes over whole regions in our lives. It takes away the freedom and beauty that comes when the Christian community acts in a healthy way.
Mistrust is developed in two major ways as it relates to the ministry community: It comes from our own insecurities around who we are in Christ, and it comes out of a misunderstanding of the kingdom of God. When we forget the darkness that Christ called us and redeemed us out of, we can quickly forget that the Lord takes us first as we are and then begins the process of transformation within us. He takes all of our shortsighted ideas, our less-than-holy lives, and our brokenness, and in turn he gives us life. He lets us on to his team…he asks us to join his ‘club’. We forget that we are imperfect sinners called to live deeply in grace, and then we project impossible standards of perfection on to those around us that are still actively falling short. When they don’t stand up to those standards, we call them heretics and accuse them of watering down the gospel. Couldn’t this be what Jesus was partly rebuking the Pharisees for in Matthew 23:4 and Luke 11:46 when he mentions the burdens that they place on people without lifting their own fingers to help them as they stumble? It seems that one of the problems of the Pharisees was that they pictured a kingdom of heaven without the broken, messy, and redeemed people of the world. They were the epitome of mistrust. They didn’t trust each other, let alone other Jews and Gentiles. When Christ called lowly fishermen to be his disciples, heal, teach, and start his church, it raised more than a few angry fists.
All this to say, as we live in a kingdom of crazy, broken, and sinful people, we can’t let disagreements (however right and just we may be in the situation) become a foothold for disunity. Instead, we should act like Paul encourages us to in Galatians 6:1…restore each other gently. We need to pick our battles and any time we begin to worship the clarity of our theological pool, we have to remember that Jesus just might come walk through it with muddy boots on.
Saturday, January 3, 2009
Sunday, December 21, 2008
"Chance and change are busy in our little world of nature and men, but in Thee we find no variableness nor shadow of turning. We rest in Thee without fear or doubt and face our tomorrows without anxiety."