How is it with YOUR soul?

27 02 2012

Three reasons that I am especially thankful for my Wesleyan heritage this Lenten season:

1. Connectionalism!!  (A big fancy word describing the polity of the United Methodist Church.)  Unlike a lot of Baptist or non-denominational churches, we Methodists are deeply connected through a (sometimes tedious) system of districts, conferences, and jurisdictions.  The youth workers in our district have really capitalized on this connection: we meet together monthly for lunch and fellowship, we plan crazy fun events together (like our lock-out last fall or the Mardi Gras parade last week!), and we’ve just started a Lenten Bible study together.  For the next six Thursdays, we are meeting in various churches for a brown-bag lunch and discussion of Richard Rohr’s book Wondrous Encounters: Scripture for Lent.

2. Diversity: Okay, we could still do better in this area.  But the 11 of us who got together last Thursday represented a variety of different backgrounds, and none of us is exactly the ‘typical’ youth minister (only one goatee in the whole bunch!)  In all seriousness, though, we are going to learn so much from each other!  The oldest in our group has been in full-time youth ministry for 22 years; the newest member, for just 26 days!  Some have kids, some have “other jobs,” some are working toward ordination, some are in school, some are single…no matter what issue we discuss, we are guaranteed to have a lot of different wisdom and perspectives to share.

art journal page

3. Small Group Heritage: John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, was a big believer in small groups.  He organized people into “bands” and “class meetings” for Scripture study and accountability.  Each small group was instructed to begin with the question, “How is it with your soul?”  Up until last week, I always found that question to be a little invasive, and rather difficult for an icebreaker!  But last Thursday, I realized what power this question has!  Our souls, we discovered, were tired, frazzled, excited, burned out, overwhelmed, and joyful.  As we responded to this simple question, we were able to understand each other on an much deeper level than we would have otherwise.  And the lovely thing about gathering together with other youth workers is: we get each other!  As each person shared, I looked around the room and saw the rest of us nodding our heads.  Whether or not we had been in that exact situation before, we understood…and thus were able to validate each other’s fears, questions, and vulnerabilities.

Often we think of Lent as a time of going into the desert, where it is dry and barren.  But we are discovering that we find God in that very same wilderness…so it can’t really be empty, can it?  Perhaps instead, Lent is a season of oasis and refreshment, in the midst of the deserts where we find ourselves! 

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?