For those of you who do not speak "Christianese" this means I was brought up in the church. From the time I was a child my parents taught me about the Lord, about sin, and about Jesus. I never knew a day where I did not know that my so-called "good works" were laced with bad motives and pride and that my only way for a relationship with a holy God and with His body was the sacrifice of His Son. Peace preached, spiritual family...yet for a long time I felt very alone.
Admittedly, I'm an odd ball. If you're friends with me in real life, on Facebook or Pintrest, or if you read this blog you know that all too well. Another memory from childhood is my overactive imagination; the stories ebbed and flowed in my mind, taking me into my own little world, but often coming out for a peak, my characters tripping into real life...and soon the teasing started. Inevitably I began to prefer my imaginary world to reality. I didn't want to face the rejection, rejection I didn't understand, rejection from my peer group in and outside of the church.
Then I entered Junior High, arguably the most awkward and painful time in our existence (ok, slightly overdramatic, but then I am talking about the beginning of puberty, so it seemed appropriate). The arms of my youth group pulled me in, accepting me, challenging me, teaching me. I was confronted with sin, included in group activities, considered a friend, and the imaginary world began to look a little less dreamy. I was still me, oddness and all, but for the first time my peer group didn't seem so scary. Moreover, through the discipleship of the staff I wrestled with difficult questions about my faith, realizing quickly that I believed what my parents had taught me all those years, owning my faith.
For this reason I believe youth ministry is a vital one. Not that youth, or any Ecclesiastes 3:1).
age group, should be separate from the rest of the body, but that they, like every age group, have distinctive needs. This, of course, can be done wrong; as a culture there is nowhere near enough intergenerationality (spell check is telling me that's not a word, I choose to ignore it), but there is a time and a place for everything (
So what is your opinion on youth ministry? Objections? Rebuttals?
"So, they're scared that a polar bear is going to threaten their religion?"
The chorus of voices confirmed this assertion and I squirmed. The conversation teetered on absurdity, begun with a simple discussion of a recent movie that had come out based on a book called The Golden Compass. I don't remember exactly how we got there, but I'm quite sure Harry Potter was somehow in the mix and that the so called discussion seemed somehow hollow. My greatest drive at that point was to prove that I wasn't an unthinking religious zombie that would prefer to burn books for their sins than to engage people within their culture.
Maybe it was because it was an early class, maybe I was a coward, but I failed to do either that day. Worse than disengaging I attempted to gain approval by bashing other members of the body of Christ for their "overreaction" towards a children's book. Sadly, I didn't pick up on the logical fallacies being used by our professor, sadly I did not prove to be always ready to give an answer for what I believe, sadly I caved to the people worship I've struggled with all my life, allowing emotionalism to effect my ability to speak with intelligence.
But recently, another book has come out that reminds me of this discussion, that has sparked similar debate and I don't want to be silent. It's dangerous waters, coming out against art that is easily seen as cancerous, offensive to the holy God of the universe and detrimental to the culture, but after my failure in college silence proves to be nothing more than cowardice.
Let me clarify, to a point I believe we all ought to engage in culture, to read literature and watch movies and view art even if it makes us uncomfortable or challenges our belief system or doesn't seem "Christian" (emphasis on the quotes), but there are certain things I believe we should boycott with strong conviction...not with a self-righteous "I would never read something so depraved and how dare you" sort of attitude, but with a deep sense of humility and a strong conviction of our own propensity towards temptation.
I read Harry Potter (some of you may gasp...not sure there are too many out there anymore).
I read Twilight (my stomach curdles and the English major in me is shaking her head while face-palming).
I even read Hunger Games (the first time I've ever said the movie version is better than the books...now the English major is really flipping out).
But I will absolutely not read Fifty Shades of Grey.
This isn't because of the bad writing (like Twilight), it isn't because I have no interest in it (like Hunger Games initially), and it sin't because it has the appearance of evil (like Harry Potter...please take this with a grain of salt, dear readers), but it's because I know myself. Given simple public TV fodder I am easily tempted by sin and what a fool I would be to add kindling to the fire. I haven't read it, so I can't speak from experience as to what the content is, but I've heard enough to know that I should never touch it with a ten foot pole, and I would encourage the rest of the body of Christ to do the same.
When perversion is normalized, romanticized, everyone is put in danger.
I'm not thrusting a sign into the air demanding this novel (trilogy?) to be burned, I'm not condemning others for reading it as if I'm some angel of light untouched by the aforementioned perversion, I'm simply coming from my own weakness and sin, knowing that God has called me to be holy as He is holy (Lev. 11:44) and that given the opportunity I will absolutely edge towards sin rather than flee from it.
On the flip side, we do need to engage culture when we are able. Though we are to be set apart we are also to be in the world (1 Corinthians 9:19-23), to speak intelligently and with love to those who challenge us, but again we should never do that which will tempt us to sin.
So I have a two-fold urge to my fellow believers; don't set yourself up to be tempted, but learn how to engage the culture with wisdom and love and grace. Thank God for His mercy in using weak and broken objects such as us!
Look around the country (maybe the world, but we'll stick with the U.S. as I know it better). First you have your…
Jocks and cheerleaders, otherwise known as the Baptists.
The Thespians, also called Pentecostals.
The Popular Crowd or, Non-Denominationals.
and finally… the geeks/nerds, called Presbyterians.
But make no mistake, all of these belong to the Debate Club, ready with well prepared (or not so well prepared) arguments to prove the other wrong.
Each is marked by a specific set of indicators; the Baptists by their squeaky clean reputations, the Penecostals by their theatrics, the Non-Denoms by their coffee shop worship and cool, alternative Church names (i.e. "Current Church"), and Presbyterians by their passion for the truth (read: minute details regarding scripture) and each can easily be lumped into one generalized category. More often than not, the different cliques tend to edge away from one another depending on their position on the church social radar, and each generalizes about the other.
Like the stereotypes we see portrayed amongst high school students, these differing denominations (or non-denominations) have far more in common than they might care to admit. In fact, these often competing entities are actually apart of the same body, the body for which God rent Himself. Moreover, what they (and by they I mean "we", myself included) fail to realize is that there is more in common amongst those who are loved by the LORD than there is between us and the rest of the world.
I just have a lot of feelings…
I don't want to downplay our differences, or ignore the fact that there are very serious issues we need to graciously discuss, but I think we need to remember the undeniable fact that we are not our own, that we were bought at a high price (1 Corinthians 6:20), and that God has called us to be part of each other (1 Corinthians 15). It's ok to laugh at ourselves and maybe even a little at each other, but ultimately we are part of Christ's body, and as such we are called to love one another. So I'm praying for the Church, that maybe during conflict we remember that Christ didn't just die for us individually, but for the whole body, and that maybe we'd show each other a little more grace…
Meet my child the copy machine. When it has a problem, here I come to save the day! When it needs to be fed it beeps (cries) until I add paper. It needs regular naps during the day. And let me tell you, it does not wake up happy.
My second child is the phone. It's a bit more like a toddler; wining until it gets my attention, constantly at my side like a little one clinging to my pant leg, making it very difficult to go to the bathroom. Sometimes when I give it what it wants I'm rewarded with a pleasant response, a kind voice, an easily answered request, but others, well, I get to deal with an all out fit that makes me want to go cry in a corner.
Then there are the salesmen. In a way they are like a spouse: big ideas, grand plans, and in desperate need of the tiny details to be taken care of. The little things are my job; travel plans, stamping envelopes, printing, making copies, getting coffee, water, making reservations…they couldn't do their job if I wasn't doing mine, or at least it would be very hard.
A smile is part of the job, cleaning up after others is what I do, and often, amidst the stress, I tell myself it's just practice for marriage and kids. But sometimes that makes me forget to focus on the job at hand, to be thankful for what I have right now and not what I'm hoping for in the future. Don't get me wrong, hope is wonderful, hope gets me through the day, the problem comes when I focus only on the future and not on doing my best and finding joy in the present.
It can be hard to find sometimes, honestly, the search can feel a bit like an impossible Where's Waldo mission, but there is joy even in the stress and frustration. Because in reality, my current circumstances aren't some purgatory-hunger games-torture-training session meant to prepare me to be a glorious super mom/wife, it's part of my sanctification process…which, sometimes can be sort of like a purgatory-hunger games-torture training session.
More than that, there is something to look forward to, something way better and way more believable than me becoming Supermom (boots included, but no capes…if you've seen the Incredibles, you'll understand), because my sanctification process is preparing me for eternity.
"Thus you are to be holy to Me, for I the Lord am holy; and I have set you apart from the peoples to be Mine." Leviticus 20:26
The holy is in the hardship, and the reward at the end is relationship, unhindered, with the bridegroom Who poured himself out for His bride.