Not a Strategy, the Cornerstone.

This past Sunday there was a great article about Evangelicals in the paper. Being one myself it caught my eye and I read it with great interest. You can read it here. It gives a balanced portrayal of why evangelicals often get such a bad wrap in many circles while noting that many actually do a significant amount of good in the world. I think it was an article I would write if I was a journalist of a world famous newspaper. But I’m not so I’m happy to read such things for free.

I gravitated towards the comments section not because I care much for this section typically but because I wanted to see what people’s thoughts were on my faith and way of life. Predictably their was a whole grab bag of negative and postive thoughts. Some were interesting and thought-provoking. Many were worthless polemical dreck. One theme that stuck out to me though was the confusion from many about why Evangelicals couldn’t just do nice things apart from Jesus, religion etc. People need help, it feels nice to help, why get all messy with the Bible? Added to this was the generalization that Christians “only” do good works to further proselytizing efforts. I feel like a few short comments are warranted.

Jesus is not my strategy. He is not a gimmick, a selling point or a product that I am trying to purvey. He is the central cornerstone of  my life. His life,  example and existence informs everything that I believe and every action I decide (or don’t decide) to do. Having Jesus exist outside any good works I may do is simply not an option. I don’t tell people about Jesus because it makes me feel good, I do it because it just comes up. I will applaud good works wherever I see them and I will call out bigotry, hatred, homophobia, stupidity, sexism or anything else that is contrary to God’s incredible love for humanity.

I imagine that first sentence in my last paragraph lost a lot of you but if your still reading know this: I’m not asking, forcing, persuading, or trying to manipulate you into a false sense of religious security. I am living my life  for someone, something incredibly bigger then myself. In fact it is bigger than all of us. I have no idea what that will look for you. I do know that if Jesus is not in the picture it will be less than what it can be. We have been created to do good works not to glory in ourselves and our goodness but to exalt and proclaim Jesus.

One more personal example. This summer I have worked at a Christian camp for boys and girls ages 7-15. In my position of leadership I have been the one that my counselors have come to when they have a camper with an issue, serious or otherwise. I have talked to kids dealing with homesickness, bullying, and trouble in their home life. Just last week I spent 45 minutes consoling a boy who was literally cowering in the darkness because he was exhausted and scared of his cabin mates and any potential judgement they might dole out to him. It took every ounce of my patience and energy to console this camper enough for him to go to bed.

It should be noted that I would console a camper, child, person, human being regardless of their race, socioeconomic status, appearance, religion, political leaning or sexual orientation. I have no idea if this kid was a christian or if and when he will ever become one. But the important question is really “Does God love them?” Then I better do my best to mimic that the best I can. God is the cornerstone of my life and I hope it will be evident to whoever I come across.

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My Journey with Camp (Part 3 of 3)

The next morning after my epiphany I got the news that the two biggest antagonists in my CIT program were being sent home for transgressions on their day off. A bit of me was sad; I didn’t want people to be sent home. But a larger side of me said, “Wow…God must really want me to pass this thing.” And so I set out to do it.

I gave devotions to my fellow CITS and even spoke to the whole camp as part of a chapel we did. The last week I shadowed a chief and stayed in a cabin. No major issues arose. When I sat down with my CIT director for my final evaluation I was confident. I got the sense he was not enormously impressed with me but it didn’t matter. I told him I had done what was expected of me as well as if not better than any of my peers. I think the big change here was not anything tangible it was simply a slight mental shift on my part. People were never going to treat me awesome everywhere, but that was not my responsibility. I simply had to do my best no matter what at all times. People could take it or leave it.

I passed my CIT.

My LIT was 11 summers ago. Since then I have been a chief all or parts of 6 summers. This summer I am a unit director. I plan activities and games, chapels and cabin bibles and am directly responsible for half the chiefs and campers in camp each week. It is in a word, unbelievable. Camp is amazing and fun, difficult and heartbreaking all at the same time. Without a doubt though, I love it. It is not the most glamorous or high-paying job and I realize many people may look at me and wonder why I am still doing this at 26. But overall I have gotten a tremendous amount of joy out of working at camp and will continue here for as long as I can.

My journey has not been short or simple. It has been marked by trials and missteps at every turn. But to close this long-winded episode of my life I’ll say this. God is there, however unnoticeably, working to turn you and me into the tools he desires to glorify him. And in that work, I wouldn’t have changed a thing.

 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.—Romans 8:28

 

A short manifesto on belief in times of fake-rapture.

Christianity made the news again. Fantastic.

Yesterday came and went like so many have previously and I didn’t even get out of my shift at work. I have balanced trying to be funny about this “rapture” nonsense with being utterly infuriated about how this continues the status quo of society in general.

I think the thing I hate the most is that this episode (re)confirms non-religious folk’s worst fears and thoughts on religion. For the people who will never think about entering a church this just dug the hole that much deeper.

I have talked to a reasonably large amount of people about faith, Christianity and religion. People tyipcally have a wide array of reasons why “organized religion” just doesn’t do it for them. But the thing that I see as a pattern is that while they are intrigued by this Jesus fellow they are unequivocally disgusted with his followers. They have a point. However I also feel that the nonreligious people I have talked to take great pleasure in building up straw men versions of what they think religious people are and take great pleasure in knocking them down. I hope this next part dispels this behavior, if only a little.

It can be difficult to explain what my faith is without devolving into cliché or stereotype but here goes. I believe some very specific things for very specific reasons. I like to think most of my beliefs (and the behaviors that derive from those beliefs) are wholly rooted in the Bible. The troubling thing about this rapture business is that is a actual belief all mainstream Christians have. We don’t predict it and I don’t know what it will look like but all agree: Jesus is coming back. This may seem utterly absurd to many but again the point is that this isn’t some nice story or hoax. It’s a world view rooted in a scripture of great importance to billions.

Perhaps the thing that is most depressing is that what gets lost in all this talk of this or that religion is the person of Jesus. A holy man, the son of god, perfect; sent to earth not to conquer empires or wealth, but to die, all for the souls of people, billions of which utterly reject him today.

If you hate church you probably have a good reason. If a Christian has judged you or treated you wrongly you have good reason to be suspicious. But that doesn’t change what Jesus did. For you and for all of us. I invite you if possible to ignore the rapture predictors of the world and to seriously consider Jesus. Read the New Testament, its not that long I promise. Think about it, process it and then perhaps make a decision. My faith and belief are indeed real and true for me and my hope and prayer is that others would seriously consider the claims of Jesus above anything else.

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Let’s not forget the fun…

This entry was inspired by church this past Sunday. During the sermon I kept thinking about how I would like to use my thoughts this summer at camp but realized that’s too far away. So I’m writing it down now while it’s fresh.

My church is doing a sermon series on family and each week identifying a room of a typical house with the bigger point. This week was on the “family room” where generations meet together. The overall point was how important bringing up your kids in the right way is so that they have the best opportunity to live a life of faith as well. The thing that struck me was that many parents err by being too intense about their faith. They are incredibly strict and/or mandate large amounts of prayer or Bible study. Perhaps they have ministry of their own that they focus on too much, to the detriment of their relationship with their kids. Regardless of how the intensity is expressed, the results are similar. The kids don’t feel the vibrancy of Christianity, they just feel restricted. When they leave home their first instinct is to do anything and everything they want that isn’t steeped in religion.  Note these parents aren’t bad, they almost certainly love their kids deeply. But the way they are passing on the faith is flawed.

What many Christians forget it seems is that following Jesus is fun! It is awesome and joyful and no matter how it looks for you it truly is the best way to live. This isn’t to say prayer, Bible study, or rules are bad or inappropriate, they are essential. But if they are given without any notion of freedom, joy or fun you risk falling into legalism and putting your child off from religion permanently.

I’m going to generalize a bit here but it seems like a lot of the more emergent Christian writers today are getting most of their writing fuel from the experience of growing up in an incredibly strict Christian environment and now are trying to come to terms with it. They know Jesus is great and don’t want to reject him outright but they are trying to match up real, true, joyful christianity with their decidedly miserable upbringing where everything involving God was at best a chore and at worst punishment.

One last thought. At my Christian camp that I have worked at many summer previously, there seems to be three main groups of kids. Kids who aren’t from Christian homes and are hostile to the gospel, kids who aren’t from Christians homes and are neutral (i.e. they haven’t thought about religion much) and finally, kids who have grown up in good, solid Christian homes who may even be Christians themselves. Now as you might expect the focus is almost always on the first two groups. Counselors long for the kid who doesn’t know God to get on fire for him in their week at camp. This is logical and good but I think we are mistaken if we ignore the “good” kids too much. Who knows what their home life might be? Camp might be the most fun experience they have involving Jesus in their entire childhood. I’ve had kids essentially tell me this more than once. By showing them that Christianity can be fun, they latch on to it with all their might. We must never forget the Gospel but we also must make sure that in presenting it we don’t neglect how truly good it is. In fact it is the best thing and any kid who doesn’t know that is going to be severely missing out. We can’t force kids to follow God but we can show them how truly good following him is.

3 Things I learned this year…

After a year overseas it seemed like a good idea to take stock of what has taken place and see if I learned anything. Indeed I have learned a ton this year and so I wanted to spell out three major points that perhaps will help anyone who reads this in the future. Please note that for the sake of clarity I write about some specific incidents below. No names will be used for the sake of privacy but pleased note I am not perfect in any of the below things and will not be any time soon.

1) Communication

Basically what I mean by this is it is so important to talk about things when you are having a problem or issue. If you have a problem with something or someone and no one knows, how is that problem going to be solved? Most people like to sit on their problems and just hope they solve themselves. In my case I just really don’t like awkward confrontation. But at the end of the day it is almost always better to air grievances or issues you might have to the person causing them. Be tactful and respectful but please communicate. It is essential.

2) Flexibility

I see this played out everywhere I go and last year included. People agree to do something. They generally sign a document or contract saying they will be a willing and happy participant. They arrive appearing like a team player. And then they spend nearly the entire time they are under contract moaning and groaning about how bad the organization or higher-ups are. One thing changes or something doesn’t go their way and they freak out. I am not saying don’t stand up to abuse by your company or organization. I am saying learn how to employ constructive criticism. Don’t go around spreading rumors, communicate with the people you have grievances with. Flexibility will make you a better employee, more pleasant to be around, and will let you stand out from your peers.

3) Godly Self-Worth

This is a subtle one and it is often hard to see where the line is but it is nonetheless important. God calls us to humility, to service, to love. That is fine. But he does not call us to degrade or neglect ourselves because we think others are better than us or we want people to like us more. Do you know anyone who has trouble saying “NO” to things? I know people who are just amazing, godly and fun. But they do not hold themselves in high enough esteem to always take care of themselves. They aren’t serving God out of love or gratitude but fearful compulsion. God loves everyone the same. He doesn’t think some are better than others and he certainly doesn’t need us to prove ourselves to him. So be humble and loving and full of servant-hood, just make sure you are doing it for the right reasons.

Hope you found these interesting and/or helpful. Let me know if you have any thoughts/additions in the comments section.

Time to go…again.

I went on a walk tonight for the last time in Sokolov. I get on a plane tomorrow to go to South Africa, and in a few weeks, home. I’m filled with emotion and feelings and it’s just weird. When I left South Africa I was pretty happy. Not because I wanted to leave but because it just felt right. The year was up, it was great, I was excited for the future. Here, in this moment, it just feels a bit strange and anticlimactic. I have been here 10 months and it is simply weird to think I won’t be here tomorrow.

I have much to rejoice over. I got to teach in two schools this year. I met awesome students and got valuable classroom experience. I made great friends, Czech and American, who I will stay in touch with long after this year is over. I learned about a new culture, food and language. I traveled to multiple countries in Europe. I grew a lot.

This year was far from easy. It started horribly. But as I sit here with this subtle feeling of melancholy I realize how important  it was to be here this year. It was important not just for me but all the people I met. I have a lot to look forward to in the coming months. I’m so excited to see friends and family at home. But my year in the Czech Republic was incredible and so I’ll close out this year by just saying that God is a good and faithful king and I’m thankful for it.

Worship

I’m in Hungary this week for my spring break. Traveling in Europe has been cool. Partly because you get to see new and cool things but mostly because you get to meet up and, however briefly, reconnect with fellow teachers who I trained with and got to know very well back in August in Pasadena. It is really good to check out how different teachers are experiencing their year and how they do things in their country, town, or city. It is also cool if you get to go to church with them because it is a very different thing depending where you are over here.

The church that most ESI teachers in Budpest generally go to is a Calvary Chapel right in the middle of the city. While it is attended by and  most of it leadership is Hungarian, the head pastor and a few others are American. So what you end up getting in the service is a lot of Hungarian/English combined. The songs are mostly sung in Hungarian, with English translations below. It was pretty neat.

We started singing a song and I realized we sang it at my Czech church all the time, except in Czech. Up to this point I had only been able to translate one line from the Czech : “Ja verim, Ja verim” (I believe, I believe). So the song was being sung in Hungarian but now I could see the English words below and realize exactly what the song is about. So I started following along and singing the English words best I could. When I got to the “I believe” part though, a funny thing happened. I just felt like singing in Czech. It just felt like the good, right,cool thing to do. So I did. While a song was being sung in Hungarian and being translated into English, I sang the one line that I could in Czech.

A small thing to be sure but it was also a powerful thing. It was a reminder of how blessed I am to be over here. And a reminder that God and Christianity is truly big enough for every culture, every country, every nation and indeed every language.