What I Want Them To Know

26 05 2013

Prayer request time felt especially heavy tonight.

A local teen killed herself earlier today: the second suicide to rock our community in two weeks. One of our youth’s brothers is on trial for murder this week. Another of our youth will be moving to Mexico on Wednesday. One youth’s dad is being deployed with the Air Force next week. And yet another’s grandmother is in ICU.

I offered up a prayer for all these, and more, wondering if my words could possibly be adequate.

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. (Romans 8:26)

In many ways, tonight was just an ordinary night. We played kickball, ate hot dogs, made homemade Icees, ran around, got sweaty, celebrated summer.

I think that life happens, MINISTRY happens, in the midst of ordinary moments: the spaces in between the silly games and the heartfelt prayers.

As I drove home, I wondered about the spiritual resources we are passing down to our students. How are we equipping them to cope with the stuff of life, both now and for the long term? What have we given them through youth group that will continue to sustain them after they’ve graduated? It isn’t as though there will ever be a prescribed formula for what to do when life gets tough…they need their faith to be strong enough to endure whatever life throws at them, but flexible enough to adapt to their own situation and emotions.

Here’s what I came up with (in no particular order):

1. I want them to know that our God is big. That there is nothing God can’t handle, including our sins, our doubts, our questions, our grief, our pain. That in the midst of all things God is working for the good of those who love him. And that even though he’s big, he is always with us.

2. I want them to be able to pray. We emphasize prayer all the time at church, but all too often we present it as a boring, dead discipline that we do because it’s good for us…like taking medicine or brushing our teeth. But prayer has so much more potential than that; it is our chance to encounter the living God. I want them to be able to offer short prayers in the midst of their daily, busy routines. I want them to be able to throw themselves at the feet of Jesus and express whatever emotion they’re feeling. I want them to know that they can pray even when they can’t find the words.

3. I want them to be able to search Scripture. I have found so much comfort through the words of Scripture as well as through other psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Instead of just waiting passively for us to tell them what story to read, I want them to be able to use the Bible as a resource on their own, so that they can find what they need when they need it.

4. I want them to understand and appreciate the power of community. I say this all the time: this youth group is not an ordinary group of people. You’re joined together because you have the same purpose. You’re here for each other because you love Christ, and that helps you love each other better. I want them to really do life together, and help each other THROUGH the hard times: bear each other’s burdens, laugh with each other, encourage each other, love each other. And I really want them to experience true community now so that they will seek it out in the future.

5. I want them to have hope. Faith, after all, is “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” In non-religious terms, hope is “facilitating creative visions for the future” and developing resilience (Carey, 2007). I want them to know what God’s vision is for his kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven. I want them to recognize that kingdom breaking into our world, to know that this is just the beginning, and to hope for what God will be doing tomorrow.

This is just a rough beginning. I’d love to hear your thoughts. What spiritual resources can we give our youth for when life gets tough? What resources have most helped you?

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The Lunatic Gospel: Genesis 13-14

21 08 2009

Click here to read the full text of Genesis 13 and 14.

From the Negev he went from place to place until he came to Bethel, to the place between Bethel and Ai where his tent had been earlier and where he had first built an altar. There Abram called on the name of the LORD.
– Genesis 13:3-4

So Abram moved his tents and went to live near the great trees of Mamre at Hebron, where he built an altar to the LORD.
– Genesis 13:18

What is it with this guy?? Everywhere he goes, he stops and builds an altar to the Lord–and he doesn’t just leave them there, he comes back and revisits them. So, presumably, you could follow in his footsteps through this trail of altars. Which leads me to wonder: what kind of trail are we leaving? Bread crumbs? Footprints? Or … altars? Is worship our first impulse at every step of our spiritual journey?

Enough with the rhetorical questions. What really interests me about this passage is what Abram does once he gets to the altar: he “calls upon the name of the Lord.” He did it in the last chapter, too. (In fact, we are told in Genesis 4, that Adam’s children’s generation was the first to do so!) We’re back to this whole concept of names–only this time, it’s God’s name that is in question.

And, according to the scholarly view, Abram doesn’t even know God’s name (YHWH) yet! That doesn’t happen until chapter 15!

Over the past few years, I’ve wrestled a lot with the idea of a chosen people. It just doesn’t seem fair. If God originally intended to extend salvation to everyone (as we believe happened with Christianity), why didn’t he just do it to begin with? And why does Jesus say that salvation comes from the Jews? Why would Jesus endorse Jewish legalism, when it seems to be contrary to everything else he says?

But Abram is praised for his faith. His salvation does not come from his obedience–not really. He obeys because he is faithful. He brings salvation to his nation through his own faith. And the generations that follow are given a legal code which sets them apart. They obey the laws, and they go through the motions of worship, because they believe in this strange, omnipotent God.  The idea of “salvation by faith” is at the core of Judaism, too, it appears. It is a supreme leap of faith to allow yourself to be set apart as a nation.

I also have, at times, found myself questioning the fairness of Jesus’ coming so late in the Bible. What about all the faithful people in the Old Testament who came before Jesus? Were they “saved”?  I don’t have the answer, nor will I ever claim to, but I offer up this verse as food for thought:

“Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.”
– Joel 2:32a

(originally posted 9/1/08 at http://thelunaticgospel.blogspot.com)





The Lunatic Gospel: Genesis 12

14 08 2009

Click here to read the text of Genesis 12.

By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going
-Hebrews 11:8

Every time I read this book, I am overwhelmed by what a wonderful story it is. Quite apart from its truth or falsehood, it’s just such a compelling narrative. What great characters; what a great plot! And the plot always thickens…

Because it’s not enough to just be a nation of people. Up until this point, it has been possible to become the patriarch of a nation simply by having lots of kids. Nations are families: human families.

But God is setting up something different. Abram has to leave his people, his family. He is to become the patriarch of a consecrated (set apart….chosen!) nation, and he must first separate himself physically from the others.

When God first calls Abram, he says “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you” (verse 1). At this point in the story, the land hasn’t yet been “Promised.” It’s just on display for Abram to see.

What the view might have looked like

What the view might have looked like

Can you imagine? Essentially, God is saying, “Come here, Abram. I have something to show you–you’ve just got to see this!”

And just like some modern tourist in the Big Apple, Abram comes to see the sites. But he’s letting God guide his itinerary. When he gets there, he immediately builds an altar to his Guide, even though he isn’t even quite sure where he is and what he’s doing there.

And maybe that’s the important part of this faith thing. To be ok with uncertainty. To trust God enough to drop everything and follow him to the ends of the earth, not for what you can get out of he deal, but because that’s what God asks of you. And because you just want to see all that God has to show you.

(originally posted 6/19/08 at http://thelunaticgospel.blogspot.com)





Finding Our Way

25 07 2009

For nearly a year I resisted getting a GPS.  “It’s just another expensive gadget,” I told Jordan, over and over again.  “Why bother?  Between mapquest and google maps, I think we’ve got all that we need.”

Never mind that I am quite possibly the most directionally challenged person on the planet.  For nearly a year I made it work as I navigated my way around the backroads of north Louisiana.  Getting lost was never a problem, I reasoned: instead, it was an adventure, a challenge.  I always allotted a few extra minutes to account for the inevitable wrong turn, and I was never too proud to ask for directions.

But when we decided to move to Atlanta, we had to re-evaluate.  Atlanta is a lot bigger and a lot more confusing than Ruston.  There are a million angry drivers on the road.  There are giant, terrifying, eight-lane, one-way streets.  There are at least 10 streets/roads/avenues called Peachtree.  Not to mention, “rush hour” lasts at least half the day, and it’s best to avoid driving anywhere during this time.

So, two months ago, we bought a GPS.  And the funny thing is, having a GPS does not keep us from making wrong turns.  But whenever we do skip a turn or find construction blocking our way, the GPS doesn’t even skip a beat.  “Recalculating…” she says in that annoying voice (or maybe we’re just already annoyed by our own stupidity?), patiently turning our screw-up into a detour.

(By the way….yes, we are those people. We talk back to the computer voice and even call her by name: Samantha)

Last night, we celebrated our first anniversary by going out to dinner at a Lebanese bistro.  We thought we knew how to get there, but after we entered the address into the GPS, Samantha sent us in a different direction, through an unfamiliar and busy part of town.

The remarkable thing was, we didn’t doubt her route for one second.   After all, she had the computer chip, the satellite reception, the mapping technology.  She knew the destination and the best route to get there.  And we trusted that she would tell us about every turn we would have to take.

We just drove, one road at a time.  And sure enough, we soon heard her say, in triumph, “Arriving at destination…on right.”

Psalm 23: A Modern Version

The Lord is my GPS.
I will never need another map.
He makes me drive on busy roads
And leads me beside quiet subdivisions.

Even though I drive through unfamiliar territory
I will not fear, for You are with me.
Your “recalculating” comforts me.

You prepare the way before me where I do not want to go.
You take me down this route, one turn at a time,
Until I find myself “arriving at home” with You forever.





Meditation on Faith

24 07 2009

(I know that this is formatted differently from most posts.  It was inspired by a creative journal entry that I wrote last year, and I tried to convey the imagery of the journal using colors, indentations, and font styles.  Think of it as a work in progress…)

You of little faith!    – Matthew 6:30b

Truly I tell you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move.”
– Matthew 17:20

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.  For by it the men of old gained approval…

Abraham believed the Lord, and it was credited to him as righteousness.
– Genesis 15:6

By faith we understood that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which were visible…

I say, faith is a burden.  It’s a weight to bear.  It’s brave and bittersweet.  And hope is hard to hold to.  Lord, I believe!  Only help my unbelief!
– Andrew Peterson, No More Faith

“…God has allotted to each a measure of faith.”  – Romans 12:3

“Now there are a variety of gifts, but the same Spirit…to another [is given] faith by the same Spirit…”  – 1 Cor. 12:48

Preach faith until you have it.  Then, preach faith.

So what, then, is this faith thing? An assurance, a conviction?  A burden?  A gift?

It’s hard to understand the fact that God has given people faith in different amounts, and yet the world testifies to that very fact.  There are people who struggle as they search for a faith that they don’t really feel, and others who can’t help but believe,  as though that faith was programmed into the core of their soul.

Everywhere there are people who claim that even the “best” non-believers are still living in sin because they do not believe.  But Scripture teaches that faith is a gift, just as teaching is a gift, and healing is a gift.  And exercising any one of these gifts without love is nothing: a clanging symbol, a noisy gong.  In other words, useless.

But what happens when you exercise one of these gifts without faith?  Surely no gift is greater than the other; in the body of Christ, there is room (and necessity) for each person to exercise his or her unique gifts, in proportion to God’s allotment.  And so, I can’t help but wonder…is there room (and necessity) for the non-believer to exercise his or her unique gifts?

I am reminded of a conversation that I once overheard between a Christian and a rabbi.  The Christian asked, “Don’t you get tired of having to live up to an unrealistic standard of righteousness in the laws?”

The rabbi answered, “I’d rather ask myself, ‘Am I doing enough?’ than have to always worry, ‘Do I believe enough?'”

…Because what happens when you can’t measure up to that standard?  What happens when you find your soul devoid of faith? Is the advice passed on by John Wesley enough: can you preach faith until you have it, and hope that by doing enough, you will train yourself to believe enough?