Tuesday, October 16, 2012

this Hope and this Future


I used to be a very negative person.  I saw the glass half empty.  I prepared for the worst and never expected the best.  I never felt a sense of peace or contentment.  Although I still struggle with some negativity, I have rid most of my life of its presence.

I prefer to speak of possibility, hope and expectation.  My life's passion is empowering others to recognize their inner strength and to dedicate their lives to serving God with the gifts and talents He's provided them with.  We all come with negative baggage but my dreams are filled with being a part of God's redemption story in others.

Over the years I've grown tired, perhaps even angry, at the amount of Christians who preach the "you are a horrible sinner and are going to die" sermon to unbelievers, as if that would motivate someone ridden with guilt, confusion and pain, to come into the loving arms of the Christ I know.  We all know the reality; we are sinners, we are going to die, we go to hell without Christ.  But shoving that in someone's face who hasn't experienced, or even knows about the grace and mercy Christ offered us on the cross, can only leave someone feeling as if they don't deserve a love like that anyway.

Through time, God has molded me into the kind of person that extends grace and forgiveness pretty easily but lately, I feel like He has been reminding me of the reality of who I still am as a human.  I've talked in several posts that God has been sharpening my character, so painfully sometimes, that I wonder how I could ever change a certain aspect of who I am so drastically.  And it is just as true today.

As much as I loathe hearing one more pastor or warrior of the faith preach on our inherent evil, the reality of it is still truth.  If, as believers, we ever forget that at our core we are simply just sinners and think we are past the trials of the flesh, I think it is just as dangerous as living in a state of self-pity and self-loathing over our evil heritage.  Because of the state of hearts, an innocent and blameless man died a brutal death as the only atoning sacrifice to reconnect us with God.  If we ever forget that, it makes what He did for us, cheap.

A couple of weeks ago, I was feeling especially proud of myself and all that God was allowing me to be a part of.  I even went as far as to reminisce on the person I once was and what a stark contrast of that person I am today.  As I was journaling, amidst words of hope and excitement, out of nowhere I began to write these words;
"You sacrificed for me.  You died for me.  Not just a simple death.  But a brutal death.  You knew it was going to be this way and yet you did it for ME.  You saw my face in the crowd, you looked into my eyes as I scoffed at you.  As I spit in your face and called you names.  As I mocked your crown of thorns and laughed at the blood dripping down your face.  You met my eyes, in all your suffering, and whispered to me, 'I love you, child.  I'm doing this for you.'  And you'd do it again, to show me over and over how much you love me."
At the end of writing the last words, tears were streaming down my face.  It was as if my soul had forgotten the reason I am who I am today.  The reality of who I once was, and the person I still am, reminded me that everyday I can live, if only for God's grace and to extend that grace to others.

The difficult balance of being proud of the people we've become because of Christ and the reality that we were destined for an eternity of damnation should create just enough tension to keep us humble.  But in fact, somewhere along the line we cheapen the sacrifice Christ made by boasting in what good people we've become. At the same time we also cheapen the sacrifice Christ made by dwelling on the innate evil within us, canceling out the fact that through Christ we were made a new creation.

We are a new life, a new creation.  This gives us the motivation to share this Hope and this Future with others, especially those who don't feel they could ever deserve it.  But we need never to forget the sacrifice that was made on our behalf that gave us this Hope and this Future that we now possess.
"You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness." -Ephesians 4:22-24

Saturday, October 06, 2012

Take Out the Trash


Yesterday, on my way to The Hole I was conversing with God and I said, "...I don't want it to just be me, drinking some coffee and chatting with friends."

I've been struggling a lot with the "next phase" of ministry in The Hole.  The last few weeks have been mostly to be there and to comfort the community, however I could, after the loss of Lepido.  But five weeks out and life seemingly is going back to normal.

I do have a tendency to always want to do something rather than just be.  Like, just being isn't good enough.

I've caught myself having this conversation with God a lot the last week or so.  Not wanting this to just be a reunion of friends.  I want ways that I can bring Jesus to people who don't know Him.  I want real conversations about real life that bring about discussions involving the Bible and what God has to say about things.  If I just wanted to drink coffee with friends I could stay in my own neighborhood.

Yesterday, as all of us "hens" were sitting around outside drinking coffee I began to notice something that I hadn't taken notice of the last couple times there.  We have had a small following of teenage boys that "hang around" while we are all outside chatting.  They hardly ever interject into our conversations and they pretend like they are not listening.   But I catch them engaged in the conversations out of the corner of my eye.

One of the boys is Carmen's 16-year old son, who they call Bunga.  He was recently laid off of work because of shortage in supply and he now has entirely too much time on his hands.  Five weeks ago, he and I barely had a relationship.  He would barely say hi to me and he acted "too cool" whenever I was around.  Something changed after his dad's death.  I don't know if it was the fact that I came to his dad's funeral or if I was just someone who consistently showed up in his life but today as he came to hang out he made sure to come hug me and ask me how I was doing.

Earlier in the afternoon, Yuleidy, was carrying two heavy buckets of trash to be dumped in the river.  Being pregnant and the fact that both her brother-in-law and her husband were sitting there while she walked past with the buckets, I felt the urge to say something.

I teased Bunga (although my words were serious), "Bunga, I need to teach you something today."  He shyly smiled, and continued sweeping the porch.  "Yuleidy, who is pregnant and younger than you, just walked by carrying the trash from your house.  Do you maybe see a problem with this?"  He continued sweeping with his back to me but every time his face turned I could see his shy grin.  "Taking the trash out should be the responsibility of the men in your house.  Yuleidy cooks and cleans and takes care of her daughter.  Don't you think she might need help with something like the trash?"  My words now caught the attention of Yuleidy's husband sitting close by.

"Bunga, you have the chance to be a good man.  To be an example to the younger boys around here that look up to you.  Do you hear what I am saying?"  A couple of the teenage girls around us all snickered and commented that Bunga doesn't listen to anyone.  I said out loud, "Bunga listens to me.  He knows that I love him.  He knows what I have to say is important."

Bunga continued sweeping.  You know when someone has a smile on their face that to everyone else it may say "I'm just letting the 'old hen' talk" but you know that the wheels are really turning?  He had that look.  And when he turned around and stopped sweeping he smiled at me.  Like, a real smile.  Not one that is just to appease the 'old hen' but one that says "I'm listening."

After I spoke to a friend today about the experience she called it a "teachable moment."  Something I initially thought was so unimportant was revealed to me to be incredibly important.  The more I thought through it and the more I rolled it over, God very clearly said to me, "Goody, no one has ever expected anything of him.  Today, you gave him expectation.  A standard that he can live by and live up to."

So as I struggled for the past week wondering what my next "move" was in The Hole I have been given anticipation and hope for more teachable moments.  For opportunities to invest and expect more than anyone else ever has from these youth.  To break chains of generational sin.  To stop cycles that seem so impossible to stop...

...except when I have the chance to teach a boy to take out the trash.