Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Revolution, part three

I can't remember exactly how old I was, or what grade I was in, but I would guess it was junior high. I have no idea what I was wearing. I can't remember a thing about the main lesson that night, or the rest of the week, for that matter. I only know it was Summer because it took place during a "Vacation Bible School" at my friend's church.

I do remember that it happened while our group was watching a cartoon filmstrip about life in a far-away country that a missionary worked in. (Ah, the filmstrip- complete with that little "ding" to let you know it was time to change the picture... sorry, back to the story.) I remember this part because the boy in the filmstrip had to get away from a huge snake just to get to school. Or to the village. Hmmm... I'm not sure where he was going, but there was a huge snake, and that got my attention. But after the great snake escape, I confess that I kind of lost interest.

You see, I was a bit distracted. I had been keeping my eye on someone else that night. Okay, actually all week. She was positioned just a few rows in front of where my friend Kevin and I sat. At this point I should probably mention that she was our group's teacher, and taunting her was the only mission I was really interested in. I was looking for the right moment and knew this was it. So, I leaned over to my friend and said what I had been thinking for the past ten minutes. My words barely had time to escape my lips when Kevin let out a laugh that pretty much eclipsed the sound of the actual presentation, which by this time had gotten very serious, even without the snake.

The filmstrip stopped. The lights came on. "Is there something you boys would like to share with everyone?" I considered my options. Kevin was still laughing and I have always liked making people laugh. Add to this that at one point (believe it or not) I had a tiny problem with authority, and you have a dangerous combination. Reason told me that I should stay quiet, but Kevin was literally shaking next to me. I tried to hold the laughter in and my mouth shut, but made one of those "raspberry" sounds as the air burst through my pursed lips. That was, as you might expect, the wrong thing to have done. She walked in a startlingly deliberate line toward the two of us and "guided" us out into the hallway.

Although our disruptions had so far been smaller, we had already been given multiple warnings during the evening. And the week. I began to get nervous. I could tell that we had finally crossed a line. What would happen if she decided to bring in Kevin's dad, who was working in another part of the building? Even worse, what if they contacted my dad and he had to drive across town to come pick up his delinquent son? Now I was beyond nervous.

As she spoke to us her words were stern, but never cutting. She didn't hesitate to discipline us, and yet I never doubted the tenderness behind her serious tone. Despite my lack of respect and manners, I could tell that somehow, she genuinely cared about me.

When the discipline was over, we returned to class. And from that day forward, I changed my behavior and learned to do the right thing...

And then the sky turned purple and pigs started to fly.

I'd like to tell you that my behavior changed more than temporarily. And I'd like to tell you that the temporary change was motivated by more than fear of punishment. I'd like to, but I can't- because there are too many other stories that happened just like this one. Most of the time I did far more to deserve justice than love. I will never forget the joke that I made that evening at her expense and her response, because it perfectly represents the kind of revolutionary love that can only come from Jesus.

"You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." -Romans 5:6-8

To be sure, this verse explains that there is nothing we could ever do to on our own to earn (or keep) salvation. If our only hope for salvation is to obey a law system, we are as good as lost, since no one can obey law perfectly. In other words, without His grace, we are powerless.

But another keyword to notice in this verse is "ungodly". Since we were powerless, God had to make the first move. A commentary I am reading right now about the book of Romans describes "ungodly" as being in "opposition to God and his law". When God demonstrated the extent of His love for us, we were in a state that was the opposite of Him! In other words, we weren't very lovable, and Jesus died for us anyway.

Certainly no one can show love to the extent that God has shown it to us through Christ. But we should listen carefully to John's words when he says, "Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love each other" (1 John 4:11). Despite the risks and difficulty, we must show love to others even when that love is not returned. This is tough to think about, but if we say we love God, we can't just love people who are "safe" or "easy".

Is there someone in your life (or maybe a whole group) that you just don't think you can love? Ask God to allow you to see them the same way that He does, and then to respond based on what He shows you.

I know that's not very comfortable. At least it doesn't involve escaping a big snake or watching a filmstrip.

In Him We Live (and Love),


p.s.- Thank you again Mrs. C. for loving this trouble maker. That love continues to amaze me.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Happily Unstructured

Just a little note to invite you to check out the link on the side bar of this blog. Clicking on it will take you to another page that contains, well, "Extra Stuff" just like the title implies. It might be an article or a section of a book; it might be an addendum to a regular "Convergence" entry; it might be pictures of the family or a recipe for hot wings- who knows? One thing is certain: it will reflect a happily unstructured format that I'm sure will be conducive to all people who don't mind a train of thought that stops at a few extra stations. The link includes the date I update it, so you'll always know if there's new stuff without having to click on it.

I've also been asked if there is a way to send an automatic notification when this blog gets updated. That might be possible, but I'm still not sure exactly how. If you are savvy with that type of thing and know of a way, I'd appreciate a few pointers. Talk to you soon!



Sunday, March 4, 2007

Revolution, part two

Organizing my thoughts this week has been difficult. I wasn't at a loss for words- I mean, how often does that happen? Actually, I've had this in mind for awhile and have just been working on how I would say it. However, while I was trying to make things nice and neat, God got involved. In a manner fitting of the word convergence, He allowed several random events to completely crash into the stuff I was already thinking about.

Earlier this week, my oldest daughter was memorizing part of the United States Declaration of Independence. When she came to me to practice, she had memorized the following lines: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed, by their Creator, with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness." Since I am currently writing about the topic "Revolution", I thought I should file this away- you just never know when part of the Declaration of Independence will come in handy.

Around mid-week, I travelled to Ashland, Ohio to attend a funeral. As I mentioned in an earlier entry, some funerals are just extraordinary events, where God somehow allows both great sorrow and great joy to exist side by side. This was certainly one of those times.

Throughout the whole service, people read letters about her, thanking her for her faith, but one in particular summed it up. I can't hope to remember it verbatim, but here is the basic message: "You lived a life of faith, and that faith was passed to your son. He lives a life of faith and passed it on to your grandson. Your grandson lives a life of faith, and passed it on to me. And so because of you, I know Christ." Wow. What a legacy. It was even more amazing when I stopped and thought about how many of her children and grandchildren had chosen this life of faith.

Finally, just as I was beginning to compose this entry, I found, quite by accident, another blog called "Convergence". It's just the word- no extra numbers or anything- just "Convergence".

I found it interesting for two reasons. First, it is also written by a guy named Jeff. (Maybe that's just interesting to me...) Second, and perhaps the reason the first one captured my attention, is that this guy's blog is almost an exact opposite of the one you are currently reading. It's entirely black, and I'm not just talking about the layout color. It was heartbreaking to read; his posts begin as the entries of a "typical" 20-something guy entrenched in college life- and become increasingly more hopeless as time goes on. For instance, one of his latest entries is simply this sentence: "i lie everyday." Another says, "i wish someone would read my blog an maybe feel the same way as me. then i wouldn't feel alone." He said he's fighting anxiety and that "life kinda sux when i feel this way."

And then it happened. The different events began to bump up against each other in my head. Little by little all of those individual fragments started to mix, and before long they were swirling together and forming a kind of mosaic. From my vantage point, here's how all the dots connected to form that picture.

Christianity is perhaps the most revolutionary idea/movement/life choice/commitment in the history of History. I mean, no other world religion wraps its whole central moment around the necessity of the perfect Creator dying (freely, out of love no less) for all the wrongdoings of those whom He created. This same God, who rises from the dead, now offers the opportunity for those He created to be adopted as sons and daughters, simply as a gift- you can not earn it. Jesus himself makes this clear when He says, "The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full (John 10:10)." Later in that same chapter He says "My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand (John 10:27,28)."

So, here it is: God is offering everyone the chance to be a part of the ultimate revolution. His gift is eternal life. So far, this is great. As a matter of fact, it sounds kind of American- a revolution that bring freedom and life (I knew the Declaration of Independence would come in handy). Now all we need are our other rights, like liberty and the pursuit of happin...

Maybe this isn't exactly like our Declaration of Independence after all. Come to think of it, it's really more a declaration of dependence. Since we didn't (and can't) earn salvation, it's not exactly a right, is it? It's more like an incredible privilege. So, our most reasonable response to God seems to be a life of service, lived out of gratitude. The church then, is a group of people whose lives have been impacted by the revolution and who are together, growing in Christ and serving out of gratitude, right?

Well, not exactly. In fact George Barna, a believer whose research group holds vast statistical data on the church says that one of his greatest frustrations "has been the disconnection between what our research consistently shows about churched Christians and what the Bible calls us to be. Granted, we are sinful creatures and will never achieve perfection on this planet; only when we are reunited with God in heaven will we experience a fully restored state. However, if the local church is comprised of people who have been transformed by the grace of God through their redemption in Christ and the presence of the Holy Spirit, then their lives should be noticeably and compellingly different from the norm." He goes on to give four pages of stats that demonstrate that largely, we aren't different at all.

"Revolution" can also be defined as "One complete orbit or cycle." In other words, it's going in circles. If you have made the choice to follow Christ, you are a part of the revolution. The world is filled with people like our friend Jeff from the other Convergence blog. They are all around us; in the next cubicle; across the street; maybe even down the hall in their bedroom listening to music. You can take a chance and live a life that serves God with gratitude and leaves a legacy of faith, or you can be comfy and go in circles.

So, how will your life define that word?

In Him We Live,


Thursday, March 1, 2007

An "In Between" Post...

Hey everybody!

I wanted to post a quick note just to let you know that a "real" entry is coming soon, but is still a couple of days away.

Our family had a visitor from Houston on Tuesday evening and I was with him at a funeral in another part of Ohio on Wednesday. Perhaps I'll share more on that later. For now I'll just say that some funerals are truly special events, when God somehow allows the paradox of great sorrow and overwhelming joy to exist side by side. This was one of those events, and I feel grateful to have been there.

I returned from the funeral early Wednesday evening and polished off a paper I have been writing for my current class. As a result, I haven't found a big enough block of time just to sit down and write out what is on my heart this week. No excuses, though- just catching you up on my week. I am heading to Cincinnati right now and will be home again around 1:00 Friday morning. After a little sleep, I'll get to work on the new entry.

I truly hope that you have experienced God in a real way this week- I know that honest community with Him is something He very much desires from us. Since we are created in His image, it explains why we too have a deep inner need to be in community with each other. With that in mind, if you have a story you'd like to share, or just want to catch us up on what is going on in your world, please feel free to post a comment. I have thoroughly enjoyed reading the comments so far, and look forward to seeing this community develop even more. I'll talk to you soon!

In Him We Live,