Friday, October 25, 2013

Today I got a glimpse, albeit a very small one, of what it might be like to be a follower of Jesus in a hostile environment. In some strange way, today in one of my seminar classes I had an experience I can only describe as ‘outing’ myself as a Christian, almost like ‘coming out of the closet’. Our discussion landed upon Christianity because one of our readings put forward the idea that Christianity is at the heart of the origin of human rights language. There were obviously some people in the classroom who disagreed with this idea because of historical events in the history of Christianity such as the crusades that were clearly violations of human rights and dignity. And I don’t disagree with them – there have been many things done in the name of Christianity that I am ashamed of, and that I don’t believe Jesus approved of either. But the moment that Christianity was brought up, I had fear in my heart. I hoped that we would skip over talking about Christianity because I knew it would be met with hostility and I wasn’t sure of how to respond or if I should respond. The picture painted, as is often the case, was that Christianity is responsible for all the major terrible things that have happened in the past and though it wasn't stated, it carried with it the idea that no human rights advocate could possibly believe in Christianity. As this discussion became full-fledged only right at the end of the class, I was spared from having to respond – but to be truthful I was also afraid to respond. I don’t believe any of the people in the class would intend to ostracize or discriminate me, but I was sitting there afraid to voice my own beliefs even as they were voicing theirs. It really hit home to me that much of the world is hostile to my belief in Jesus.

And it hit a painful cord in my heart that this was their image of Christianity, an image so contrary to my understanding of Jesus and His teachings. Jesus taught about loving your neighbor,  loving your enemy, giving to the poor, and sacrificing your life for others. He spent the majority of his time sitting and eating with people that the mainstream society rejected and oppressed like adulterers, sinners, prostitutes, and tax-collectors. He touched lepers when people didn’t even want a leper near their town. He listened to people’s stories, healed people and restored their dignity and preached a message of hope – that the kingdom of God was near, and that all was needed was repentance and love of God and others. I don’t see any justification for killing, oppressing, enslaving, discriminating or belittling others, especially those that are already marginalized and oppressed. Instead, I see Jesus leading the way in restoring dignity and loving even those that society has completely outcasted.  Thus, when I hear stories of the crusades and all the other terrible things done in the name of Christianity, I can’t understand how someone who read the Gospels could come to the conclusion that that was what being a Christian meant. Of course this shows why so many people have a negative perspective on Christianity, but the heart of Christianity does not align with violence and hate. There are so many Christians who spend the majority of their time seeking to love God, and love others, in practical ways that alleviate suffering all over the world. 

And yet, most of mainstream media only perpetuates the idea, through selective reporting of extreme cases, that Christians really are just bigots and haters. Maybe some of us are, but I have to wonder what they’ve read of Jesus when some Christians start holding signs that says, “God hates gays”. But then again, I’m not perfect, I make mistakes and I hurt people. I know that in my broken humanity I can’t possibly hope to love other people perfectly. I can’t possibly live the way of love and sacrifice that Jesus teaches perfectly, at least not in my own strength. . And I’m so thankful that there’s grace & forgiveness for the many times that I fail to live the way I’m called to by Jesus. And I don’t want to be a part of something that is about hate. I wouldn’t follow Jesus if he was about hating and discrimination and being prideful. I know sometimes that’s what I can be about, but that’s not what He is about and I want to learn to be more like Jesus. I want to be a part of something that is about love and restoration and hope and freedom. That is why I choose to follow Jesus. 

But in this class where Christianity was being put on trial, I was afraid to say that I am a Christian. That I am also passionate about human rights and believe the two are irrevocably tied to each other. And so I didn’t. I’m really not proud of that, but I was afraid of being put on trial myself. In some ways, I think there is a terrible double standard towards Christianity. It is wrong to be intolerant, unless you are being intolerant towards Christianity. It’s wrong to discriminate based on religion, unless the people are Christians. They probably deserved it because they are so intolerant. It scares me because there really is this undercurrent of this type of thinking pervading society.  It makes me wonder how far away more extreme persecution towards Christians is from hitting the shores of the Western world. It already happens in other countries.

After the class ‘officially’ ended, people stood around and continued to talk. I decided to speak to one of my classmates who had been involved in the discussion. I can’t believe I started our conversation this way, but I said, “Actually, I’m just going to come out and say it, I’m a Christian.” And I felt vulnerable. I worried that other people might overhear me. What in the world?
But this individual was more than understanding and really surprised me. She completely agreed that there was a double standard towards Christianity, and though she wasn’t Christian she said, “Honestly, sometimes it seems to me to make a lot of sense to ask, “What would Jesus do”? He really was about social justice.”  I really appreciated that. We continued to talk about how the world had become worse since science became the primary lens of making sense of the world, and that if it’s all about science where does hope come in? She even said, “If I was a Christian, I don’t know how I would have felt sitting in that discussion.” I really appreciated that.

This was a really revealing experience for me. About how society views Christianity, about my own fears around ‘outing’ myself in a hostile academic setting, and the power of being vulnerable with someone who is different from you and even disagrees with you on essential issues, but connects with your fears and heart for mutual understanding and social justice.
I am a Christian. I am passionate about human rights. And I believe that Christianity as modelled by Jesus and lived out by His followers has the power to alleviate the suffering of many and bring hope and dignity to many who are currently without. 

Sunday, September 1, 2013

The Only One Who Satisfies

Tonight I read a whole book, a novel, in 3-4 hours. I probably shouldn't have, considering it was near midnight when I started, but like most young women my heart was captured by the promise of a good romance and whimsical fantasy calling from an old, unread book on my cluttered bookshelf. 

I've been down the road of whimsical fantasy and romance many times before, and though it seems to offer a pleasant escape and the soothing of  loneliness and boredom, it almost always seems to lead to an even more glaring awareness of reality. The reality of my own heart and the longings for eternity and romance written on it,  that ache and yearn for something deeper and more authentic then the mushy, twisted romance and adventure sold in YA novels. 

What is it about the allure of Twilight-esque romance, the obsession with falling in love with supernatural beings, even though they emotionally abuse you and are often downright creepy, that seems to hold captive so many young women? The dream of falling in love with something or someone more powerful than yourself? The longing for a love thats eternal, that overcomes everything, where the heroine and hero end up in each other's arms, forever?  The lore of being so filled with wonder at your lover that you never stop gazing at them, never stop wanting to be with them? 

I mean, it's obvious to anyone who has ever looked at relationships or people in our broken world for even half a second that there aren't people that we could love like that, and no one who would love us like that in return. So why does this desire exert so much power over us if it's so unfounded? It's so unrealistic its maddening, but yet so many women, and men too (though in a different manner) pursue it like this mysterious, powerful romance is nearby, just waiting to be caught. Like it's what we were all meant for and we know it deep in our bones and soul, but we just can't seem to find it. Allusive and alluring, mystical and powerful, pulling us forward like some half-forgotten dream. So novels are written, plays and movies, all capturing and framing this dream through different lenses and contexts, sometimes just barely hinting at the glorious reality of it, often twisting and maiming it completely. And often our relationships reflect the same. 

That's usually how I feel after reading an epic love story, like I just caught a whiff, a fleeting glimpse, a murky reflection, of the truth of something deep in my own soul that refuses to stop the pursuit despite all the hurt, sin, death, and brokenness. The truth that my soul was meant to spend all eternity gazing, beholding, adoring, and pursuing Someone more powerful and more beautiful than myself. The secretly hoped-for truth that this Someone pursues and loves me first, before I even become aware of His existence, and that He is incredibly good. And that this Someone, is THE Someone, the Great I AM, the Creator of the universe, who wrote these desires into the very fibers of my soul, this sense of 'eternity written on the hearts of men', the deep longing of the human heart to worship, the ache to experience the eternal joy of bride and bridegroom, so that we would know and come to Him.  

It sounds like it's too good to be true, it sounds like crazy-talk, but the "proof is in the pudding." This half-remembered dream of an eternal, glorious love plagues the human heart for a reason. We were made for it, and thank you Jesus that it is not even close to the crap we often settle for in cheap novels and broken relationships.  I don't pretend to understand or even properly appreciate the amazingness of God and His love and heart, but I dimly know that our hearts were made for His.  

“If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.” - C.S. Lewis

Thursday, July 25, 2013

To Drink Deeply

There are a number of reasons why spending time in scripture, prayer, and worship is necessary.  I won't get in to all of them, but in the season of life that I am in the idea that worship and prayer are necessary for ministry and daily victory is really hitting home.

I am currently unemployed for the summer, though not for lack of trying. But in this season of unemployment, instead of lamenting my joblessness I have tried (and not always succeeded) to remain positive, trust God, and just ask Him what it is I should be doing right now.

A few weeks ago, I began to settle into my unemployment and ask God what He wanted me to do in the meantime. Over and over again, I heard him say, "Seek me." And quite frankly, that annoyed me. 

Seek Him? Okay, I know that I am supposed to do that, and I do want to do that, but it just seemed so basic, so elementary. Couldn't He tell me anything more specific and/or exciting? Maybe something that would seem more productive?? I know that is not the greatest attitude, but hey, the "get-a-job-or-else" vultures were circling. And the truth is, I really wasn't seeking Him during that time.

After wrestling with  it, and praying through it with someone else who encouraged me to obey God's voice in my life, I decided to do so. The next week I made a point to wake up and spend time in prayer and in worship - turning my heart and mind to God and entering into His presence by faith. Some days it was awesome, some days it was difficult, but it was always worth it. 

It was worth it because being in God's presence is wondrous, healing, and powerful. Sometime's the healing part involves tears and painful confession, but it's always good. It's worth it because the truth of the Gospel, that God loves me despite my sins and sometimes blatant avoidance of Him (which is also a sin), and restores me in His sight to full righteousness because of Jesus, comes alive and ministers to my heart and soul. And this heightened awareness of the Gospel produces awe and thankfulness and more faith. And well, I am encountering the God of the universe. What can be more worth my time than that?!

And, I can began to notice that the days that I intentionally spent time worshiping and praying were days where my heart seemed to beat with more of God's love, where boldness and gentleness seemed more in-sync and available, and where I seemed most in tune with the Holy Spirit's leading in my life. 

During this summer I have continued to volunteer at Why Not Youth Missions, and with my church Freedom House, serving free burgs' and dogs' to the homeless and hungry. I can go to these events and not speak from a spirit-filled, Christ-centered heart but still enjoy myself. I can go and have fun, talk to people, listen politely, dodge some drunken romantic advances, goof around, and still have a good night. And I have done that many times. 

But, my heart desires more than having a good time while I serve, and I believe God calls me to more than that. I want to "shine like the stars in the universe as I hold out the word of life", to bring the light of Christ to someone's darkness, to overwhelm someone with God's healing love, to see strongholds broken and the lost and broken ushered into the arms of their loving Father and Shepherd. I want Christ in me to be all that people see.

And I am learning that it won't happen with some magical wave of the Holy Spirit wand. I truly need to be meeting with God in the 'secret place' of my relationship with Him, knowing Him, being known by Him, and letting my heart rest in His hands and in His truth. Daily. I truly need to come to the Fountain of Living Water daily and drink deeply if I am to be a fountain of this living water to others. 

But it's crazy how I can write all this, and know that this is how I am meant to live, and even desire to live from this place of intimacy with God, and still go through day after day where I simply don't do it. The business of life, or the lure of Facebook and friends, or cleaning even, whatever trivial thing it may be, can (with my permission of course) steal the time I could be spending with the God of the universe that loves me. It's so silly really. 

Thank you Jesus for your lavish grace and unfailing love. Please continue to teach and lead me.

This, written by Heidi Baker, is what I am trying to get at:

"The Spirit and the bride say, "Come." Let anyone who hears this say, "Come." Let anyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who desires drink freely from the water of life." -Revelation 22: 17 
May we choose to drink freely and deeply from the water of life every day.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

I am resolved.

God is so good. This semester has been a little difficult, but it has mostly been good. My passion for Jesus just seems to be getting stronger and more certain and undivided. There is so much more to go, but I have encountered Him in ways that I didn't think was possible and I have gained a clearer and stronger sense of the freedom I have in Christ. I feel an even clearer call to live a life that is surrendered and devoted to Christ and His kingdom. I feel so much joy knowing that God has a purpose for my life, and that it is ultimately going to bring Him glory. I don't want to live the mediocre Christian life - I want to live out of the fullness of Christ and do crazy, awesome things for His namesake. I want to learn more about love and how to live a life that is drenched in the love of God. Man, I know it's going to be hard, but ultimately so worth it all! I know this begins with worshiping and loving Jesus every day, and  looking for ways to lay myself down for Him - serving, loving, worshiping, and claiming the truth of His word. I want IT - His kingdom on Earth, His voice saying, "Well done, faithful daughter!" The joy and freedom that comes from knowing Him and obeying His voice. And Him, just simply Him. And how can I not respond to His love with utter surrender and devotion? Christ is all that I have to stand on in this world of fading pleasures, and I am going to run this race for all it's worth. I am resolved. Thank you Jesus! :)