Saturday, September 29, 2007

Tirelessly faithful

I have gone on two mission trips in the last two years. The first was to Jamaica to do reconstruction work on the Caribbean Christian Centre for the Deaf after they were devastated by Hurricane Ivan two years before that. The second was to Gulfport, Mississippi to do reconstruction work on a couple houses in an area that was severely damaged by Hurricane Katrina. In both cases, when we left to come home, it seemed like things were on the up and up. Our work, combined with the work of many other people, was beginning to shift the momentum of the people there who were directly involved. They were beginning to look like they could come out of it. We could literally see the fruits of our labor in the people and the places. We had gone to the places God had called us and seen Him bless our efforts. We had stepped out of the boat in faith.

Approximately three weeks ago I received a letter in the mail from the CCCD school in Jamaica. This year another hurricane (Dean I think) had come through and done the same amount of damage that Ivan had done before. Roofs were torn off buildings, severe water damage was everywhere - they were back to square one again. All that work, undone in a matter of hours. Then last night we presented a slideshow and other things to our church from the trip to MS. As we came in, we were handed letters from Dick and Joanne (members of our church still working down there). The letters said that things were not good, in fact they were pretty bad. As it looks right now, the house that we worked the most on will be reposessed as they cannot afford the payments required. There are also physical, mental, and emotional problems wearing hard on individuals there. All that work, undone - their house went from unliveable to gone. They are packing up and moving to a temporary location until they can figure out what to do next.

Where is your faith? I have been examining that question this week for myself. The answer is that it is in God and God alone. We are so tempted to put our faith in the things that we do, in our human efforts. It is especially tempting when we see good results. We think WE really made a difference. To really see it from the right perspective though, we should put our faith in God, and let Him use us however He sees fit at that time, and after it's over - regardless of what happens - we need to keep right on having faith in God.

Our merely human cognitive ability is not nearly enough to understand God's ways. Asking "Why?" is probably the most futile question there is. We will only know when we are joined with Him after this life. So if we can't know why, that leaves us with faith. We have to trust God. We have to put things like this in context. Context determines meaning. If we look at these two examples by themselves, it would seem that God is fickle and lets people down, leading you to help someone and then destroying what was done. But this is far from accurate. Because God has been acting for all time, we need to consider these two small events in the context of all events throughout time. Doing so anchors my faith so deeply that it cannot be moved. Sure, my life and things that happen to me will be up and down. Life IS hard, and no one ever said it wasn't. But when things like this happen, I have to go to the place where my faith is anchored and see these events in light of what I know about God. I know He is a good God. I know He is all powerful, all knowing, and that He loves every person so much that He has already won victory FOR US over death and the consequences of our sin. There have been numerous times in my life when I have been comforted by God, provided for by Him, strengthened by Him, given wisdom by Him, and all the time loved by Him. These are the things that keep my faith anchored deeply in God and not in my own human efforts.

Life is hard. Without God in your life, you will struggle miserably with life. But with God in your life, you will still struggle, but you will struggle well. This is especially evident when other Christians come to your aid with prayer, support, love, encouragement, and grace. And so these people need us to help them struggle well in this situation. They need our support (in whatever way we can), they definitely need our prayer, they may need our encouragement, and they always need our love and grace. Sometimes life can beat you down. It can knock the wind right out of you. We need to be tirelessly faithful in our God. We need to look to Him through rough times and when we do, we will find it to be true that He does help us when we're struggling. All these things create the context in which to view the tragic things that happen in life. Help other people to see that context too. Without the context, people tend to draw all kinds of conclusions about the way things work with life and God that lead them away from Him. We need to help them head towards God in a storm. The things that we do here on earth can be destroyed in an instant. But the things that God does, and that His people do in His name (friendship, love, mercy, grace, evangelism, teaching, praying), these eternal things cannot be undone by even the mightiest storm or power. There will always be people in need, and we will always need to help them. And we should keep going back, and keep helping until there is no more need.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Who are we inspired by?

I want to think about the idea of being inspired. I heard a story on the news today that got me thinking about this. Maybe some of you heard the story of the hate crime in West Virginia, where a girl was tortured by at least 6 other people because of her race. They "hated" her and therefore decided to take it out on her. Well, I would say that hate inspires hate in almost every case. As I thought of what kind of horrible people these folks are for what they did, I began to feel hatred towards them. I thought that they needed to be dealt with in a similar fashion. I would also say that in contrast, love inspires love. When someone shows love to another person, it inspires other people to react in a loving way. Hate inspires hate, and love inspires love. This is almost always the case, except with Christians. We are called to be inspired not by the world around us, but by Jesus. Jesus always inspires us to love, never to hate. True, He hates certain things, but He doesn't inspire us to hate.

So, if I am a follower of Jesus, I am to be inspired to love. But in this case, I find it extremely difficult to feel any love towards these people, and others who commit atrocities such as this. So where does that leave me? I know what I am supposed to do, but I can't think of a way to lovingly approach this situation without letting them off the hook for what they did. No one said being a Christian was easy - at least Jesus never said that. But He did say that we need to be salt and light - countercultural in our behavior.

Matthew 5:38-39 "You have heard that it was said, 'Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.' But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also."

Matthew 5:43-45 "You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven."

Matthew 7:13-14 "Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is that gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it."

Jesus has clearly set out for us clear instructions for how we are to react to evil. We are not to do nothing, but instead to turn it around and teach them something about Christ. If someone punches me, it is easier to walk away (still being peaceful) than it is to offer to let them punch me again. It is easy to hate my enemies, but harder to love them and pray for them. But the last verse sums up what the goal is - to gain life, and not destruction. Walking away after someone punches you, you will still probably have a grudge with them. But standing there and inviting them to have another go shows that you have let it go. Now, what is "it"? IT is the temptation to respond in kind. Hate inspires hate. But if you are able to be inspired by Jesus, and not the world around you, you are able to offer the person a second punch because you have truly let "it" go - your thoughts and actions are not headed towards destruction, but instead you are choosing life. (although three punches and you may be gambling that life a little too much - just a joke). The point is that it is natural for us to feel hate, but it is not Godly to respond with it. I honestly don't know exactly how to "love" these people that I was hating this morning, but I do know that I can (and will) pray for them. It is not easy. Few will find the road that leads to life. But if we are inspired by Jesus, and allow Him to direct our actions and reactions, and remember why we are doing so - to truly be sons of our Father in heaven, then we will find life, fuller life than we thought possible.

Monday, September 3, 2007

answers to comments

So, now that you all are doing your part, I figured out how to do mine. Having a blog is a lot of work! Ok, no it's not. I am just too busy watching cable TV. Ok, no I'm not.

Anyway, in answer to Nathan, the way that particular situation worked, he took ME to a baseball game, so YES, you are indeed my friend! But, in fact, I would take you to a baseball game if the opportunity ever arose.

Now on to Dave's question about Vintage. Ironically enough, Vintage is for young people. Don't kill the messenger now, but it is a young adult worship service that the Nags Head Church has on Monday nights (on highway 158 just south of Jockey's Ridge) that we attended while on vacation this year. In fact, Nathan is the worship pastor there and a big part of Vintage (hence the "woohoo"). I would imagine though that if you were to be on vacation there soon, say, sometime in September, and wanted to go, you know, just because you are feeling the whole Vintage vibe, that they would probably throw you a slice of pizza and enjoy your company.

In fact, this young adult worship is what is inspiring me to begin a young adult Bible study in our church sometime soon.

Scripture to ponder today: 2 Peter 1:3 "His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness."

He has already given us everything we need, so what's our excuse?