Wednesday, August 31, 2016

This Is For All Of Us

I used to have the idea that most people in the United States, or at least my personal area of the United States, knew who God was. Had a basic understanding of what Christianity teaches, whether they believed it or not. Knew who we mean when we say "Jesus Christ."
I think it's the most innocent lies that are the most dangerous. This one, born of misunderstanding and naiveté, is as ugly and insidious as a false oath or a dishonest life. It lulls one to sleep. It gives an excuse for apathy and disinterest, a protection against the idea that because of my silence, because of my fear, people I am talking to are lost in as much darkness as a tribesman in the Congo or a child in the Orient. 

There are people in Central Oregon, in our own backyard, who have no idea what the gospel means. Even if they have heard of Jesus, sometimes even if they've been to church, they don't understand God's love. They see Christians as moral policemen, in the world to hand out speeding tickets for envy, or demand prison sentences for lust.
They are lost, broken, and alone, and unless we are there for them, they may never hear the truth, or understand that God loves them. They move in circles we never come in contact with, they do things we'd never dream of engaging in, and we never see them, never speak to them. They might as well be on the other side of the world.
And some of them are children. Eight-year-olds whose parents are separating, who think God is punishing them for a lie they told last week. Six-year-olds wondering where God is while their father goes to prison. Thirteen-year-olds looking for love in sex and fantasies. They have no one to answer their questions, no one to teach them the truth, no one to tell them Jesus loves them more than anyone they've ever known.
There are several ways to reach these kids. One is to participate in a Good News club. One afternoon a week, for around an hour, you teach Bible lessons to children in local schools. If there's not already a club at a time that works for you, you can start your own. The ministry is already well-established in the area. all the organizational infra-structure is in place. The lessons are ready to be learned and taught, the visual aids printed, the notes taken. The only thing missing is people to teach.

It does not matter if you are “called” or feel like Good News Club is “your ministry.” If you wait for the perfect ministry to fall in your lap, something that fits your natural inclinations and makes you feel good about yourself, you will waste your life in the sanitized bubble of your own structured life, never interacting with the broken and needy. 
Very few of us are naturally good at public speaking, or teaching concise and applicable Bible lessons, or answering hard questions from hurting children. But that should not stop us from doing it anyway. Even if you don’t have medical training, would you still stop to help a bleeding, hurting person by the side of the road? Imagine that man died because another person refused to try to stop the bleeding? Would you accept the argument: “I didn’t help because I’m not good at stopping bleeding. I don’t know how to do it as well as a doctor would.” It isn't any better if you're saying that you're not good at teaching, or you can't answer questions as well as a pastor would.
We know that is a weak and cowardly excuse. I've been there. I've used those excuses. I'm not good at teaching, I don't know what to say to hard questions, I don't naturally interact well with elementary school age children. I've used those things as excuses to avoid getting involved.
But those are lies and they keep us from helping the needy. They stop us from doing the job in front of us.
Teaching Bible lessons to children is not unreasonably hard. If you’re not good at it, learn. If it’s hard for you, push past it. If you feel like you’re not the right person for the job, do it anyway. Stop making excuses for yourself, building weak walls between yourself and the hurting and broken. They need you. They need us.

 Look at your life. Find the time to make a difference. Whether it's with CEF's Good News clubs or some other ministry, get out there and interact. Be on the front lines. Reject the excuses, the lies, and the temptation to stay comfortable. 
Don't wait for the perfect moment to act. That moment is now.

To get involved with Good News clubs in Central Oregon, call the CEF office at (541)365-2233. Or find other ministries, other outreaches, or after school programs. They're out there and they need you.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

I don't know Jesus

Saying I know him is like saying I know the sky. I can read about him, like I can look up. But I don’t understand him any more than I understand what I see when I see a distant, blue curtain. I know about him, just like I know about the stars and the planets and the clouds, but there is so much more, and I can never learn as much as I think I should learn. 

There’s this thought, in my head, kind of all the time, that I need to get to know him, that sometime (sometime more convenient, when I’m not busy) I should apply myself, with prayer and fasting, or maybe even just focused thought, or a pilgrimage, or something, to get to know Jesus really well and then I would have earned a close knowledge of Jesus. Like knowing him is a prize for best behavior.

Maybe no one can really know Jesus, he’s too big for a person to get their head around, like the sky. He seems bigger on the inside than the outside, like the garden in The Last Battle. On the surface it’s all there, but when I try to see past it, to understand him as a person the way I get inside the heads of characters in stories, or the way I analyze other people, figure out their motivations, their values, something goes wrong. My mind feels like the parts are floating apart. I don’t know who he is. Something superhuman, something trans-human. Incomprehensible. 

But I want to know him like I know my friends. I want to know what he wants, what he’s going to do next, what he likes. Like my husband, my sister, my buddies. I want to walk around with him, talk to him, hear his voice in my ears, as sure and certain as I smell smoke or taste water or touch the ground. 
Then, I think of showing him what I’m working on or telling him what I think and suddenly I decide I don’t want that after all. That sounds too close and too personal. Too invasive. I want, after all, to run my own life. I have always wanted that. Even more than running my own life, I want to run my own thoughts. I want to decide, what I believe, what I think, what I am going to do or not do about it. Is that wrong? Am I capable of not wanting that? Maybe it’s a problem, maybe that’s why I don’t deserve to know Jesus.

I see other people that seem like they know Jesus. Maybe they do know him better than I do. Maybe they just pretend they do. Do they really understand him? Maybe they’ve done the prayer and fasting thing and earned their brownie points, earned a voice in their head or an angel on their shoulder, a direct communication line with Heaven that I think I want. I say I think I want it, because even in my best thoughts there is a part of me being distant and self-aware, or thinking about how this, this particular feeling or thought of piety, is surely making me more worthy of knowing Jesus. Even now, I am aware of how I sound, how I am going to look, what people are going to think. (That I’m crazy? That I’m being transparent, or honest? That I’m obviously not a Christian? Because real Christians know Jesus? Or that I’m not putting the effort into my faith that I should?) 

Maybe that’s why I don’t deserve to know Jesus. I shouldn’t give a damn what they think. (Maybe it’s the swearing. Why I don’t deserve to know Jesus.)

But it’s so true, I don’t deserve to know Jesus at all. I’m a self-satisfied beast. I like to think of myself as very intellectual and superior, because I ask a lot of questions. But as I go about questioning everything, sometimes I’m not sure whether I doubt because I love truth, or I doubt because I love to doubt.

I don’t even know myself, and I certainly don’t know Jesus. Nor do I deserve to. 
Yet he knows me.

There’s no good reason to know that, no explanation of it (which I hate), it’s a mysterious, intangible thing that isn’t even corporeal enough to be called a feeling but I know that despite my own pathetic, narcissistic, selfish soul, God has loved me enough to know me. And I? I haven’t put in any particular effort to know him back. Nothing very difficult, anyway. Nothing like what he went through to know me. I see myself and I see nothing worth knowing, and even thinking that, I have a smug feeling, because I’ve heard that one should see one’s self as worthless. What in me did God find that was worth giving everything for? God must know of something beautiful that I don’t. He finds me worthy of love. For isn’t that true love? Caring about someone enough to get to know them intimately?
This God, this God I do not know, that I do not love back, not nearly as much as I should, still loves me, still knows me. I can question his existence or his goodness, I can walk away, I can run to his arms, I can sin or I can live my entire life in righteousness, and none of that will make him love me more or less. 

Let me learn to love him back. To trust him. To let him know me until one day I can know him, whether that is terrifying or comforting, whether that means I lose my self or find it, whether it means people see me as stupid or smart. Whether they think I am devout or irreligious. Right or wrong. 

“Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” Psalm 139:23-24