Sunday, July 26, 2009

Hope & Liberation

Those of you in YakTown know that Franklin Hill has been undergoing some MAJOR transitions the last couple months. From staff cuts to building relocation, this faithful gathering of folks is moving forward together through an incredible time of challenge and blessing. Fitting, isn't it, that the sermon series the Teaching Team had planned was on The Exodus. I love it when a plan comes together! And I love it even more when God chooses to interface with me so personally through the topics I've known were to come! We're still technically in the middle of the series as it is planned to last through to the end of August, but today's was so good that I gotta share!

The series started a couple weeks ago with the story of Moses and how God stirred in him a holy discontent with the situation of things. By saying yes to God's vision for his life, Moses made a covenant with destiny that allowed him to fulfill the purposes God had for him. The next week, Anne taught on God's directions, using the Passover Story as the first example of God giving people directions that did not make sense, but when they obeyed these directions, they made a covenant with faith that allowed them to be safe from death. (AND we get the same offer through Christ! GLORY! I love that story -- as an English teacher, there is so much subtext and connotation in when Jesus did what he did! Oh, I could go on and on and on!!) On July 19, I taught about the protection that comes when we follow the directions we receive from God. Just as the Israelites were protected from the forces from their past as they moved forward, so we too have a covenant with love that manifests as God takes His position as our rear guard while simultaneously opening up the way before us.

This week's message, though, spoke straight to my little heart. The topic was Provision: a Covenant with Hope. Oi -- such good stuff! Here are the big ideas:

~As Christ followers, we often focus on faith and love and can forget about the amazing power of hope until it wanes. If we lose hope, then we can easily lose our sense of faith and love. We start wandering in the desert, and if we forget Him in whom we place our hope, we start to wonder about if He really loves us. It was when the Israelites were out of Egypt that they started to doubt God's ability and desire to meet their needs. They didn't know the time in the desert was necessary.

~God could have taken them on a 7-day trek from Egypt to Palestine, but that would not have been enough time for them to develop the character they would need to thrive in the Promised Land. You can't take slaves into wide open spaces without first transforming the way they see themselves, each other, and God. If they hadn't had time to experience God and His faithfulness, they would have arrived in the Promised Land but they'd still be carrying the chains of the past.

~One way God shows His faithfulness to the Israelites as they are just beginning to get to know Him is by meeting their needs on a daily basis. I knew Cesar was going to use the passage about the manna and quail, a passage with which I am very familiar, but I had never thought of the Israelites' propensity to gather more than they needed as a matter of hope. They were tempted to gather more than they needed because they didn't have the hope that God would provide tomorrow just as He had for that day. Another temptation is to look at how God has provided for us today and pine away for the thing He hasn't given us yet. If we lose hope, we will start to grab things for ourselves because we think God has forgotten about that desire. (Can I hear an amen!) But just as the extra manna the Israelites gathered became maggot-infested, the very things we grab at in our hopelessness become poisonous and foul.

~Finally, to get around this, we need to make a covenant with hope. Saying YES to hope means choosing not to despair and moving forward when the promise of God that we thought was for yesterday hasn't shown up yet.

The applications for me during this season are deep and powerful. From ministry to work to food issues to personal needs, God has provided so much for me during this season of my life -- nearby family that will snuggle me like crazy, an awesome and authentic community to live my life with, a great job that I love doing, the opportunity to travel, and a bunch of other stuff. But the desire I have to be married is still unmet and it is easy, as I live in the desert that Yakima can seem to be, to lose hope and doubt that God is still aware of me in this space. But God is building some serious character in me and some serious community around me so that when a potential relationship surfaces, I will have the resources to make wise choices and navigate the challenges of any deep relationship with patience, love, hope, and all that other good stuff.

Cesar's final point was another deep thought. We often think of Genesis as the first book of the Bible (duh -- genesis = beginning) but in reality, Genesis was written by Moses, who obviously didn't enter the story until the time of the Exodus. Then, after God had shown Himself to be both loving and powerful enough to be Israel's Liberator, He was able to reveal Himself as creator. What a powerful idea! Jesus saves us first -- pulls us out of the crap of our lives, perceptions, and beliefs. Then He can begin to show us more of the depth and breadth and texture of who He is and who we are in Him, but if we stay in our bondage, we can neither clearly see these sides of who He is nor accurately appropriate what that means for our own lives.

Thank you, Father, for liberating us and teaching us to say "yes" to your offer of direction, protection, and provision through faith, love, and hope.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Young Life Camp

The room is quiet, as I quiet as I could imagine 700 high schoolers could be, as I stand behind the stage curtains with a piece of cardboard in my hand and the smell of permanent marker lingering in the air. After five days of zip lines, blobbing, and shaving cream, I’m about to participate in Cardboard Testimonies – a simple event that allows people to sum up in a few words the transformative power Christ has had in their lives. Thirty other leaders are with me backstage and we check out each other’s boards. Even before the session begins, I’m misty-eyed at the awesome power and love that Christ offers us, a power that breaks addictions and emboldens the fearful, a love that fathers orphans and calls wayward children home.

As I step to the blue tape mark on the stage, I scan the room and lock eyes with my girls: six Davis High School students whom I have known all year. They know a lot of my story, but they do not know this part: “Bipolar Dad, Unwanted, Unlovely.” That was my reality before I truly encountered the power and love of God. Then I smile and flip the board: “Eternal Father, Chosen, Beautiful.”

Moments like these are what camp is about – giving kids opportunities to interface with the life-changing Truth of God and what He can do in and through lives that are devoted to Him. What we first-time leaders experience so exquisitely is how the Holy Spirit can use any element of camp to draw kids to Himself. For Juanita, the Cardboard Testimonies demonstrated so clearly how powerfully God could change her life. For Colby, it was the ropes course – a terrifying experience that created a metaphor for her about the challenges of trusting Christ, a challenge that she accepted. For Jael, cabin time moved her to ask questions and receive Christ. For Silvia, Club provided a clear presentation of the Gospel and what it means to follow Jesus that reaffirmed her faith and helped her recognize how God’s hand had already been guiding her life.

As a leader, I got to experience each of these pieces of camp with my gals. Together with my campers, I got to laugh and play and sing at Club time, clip into the ropes course and climb Communication Hill, fly down the zip line and plummet on the swing. These experiences strengthened the relational foundation with these kids, and that happened because of the service of the Assignment Team, Summer Staff, and Work Crew. The sheer volume of volunteers who gave tirelessly of their time and energy for weeks at a time amazed me.

On a personal level, camp served as a reminder that this life I live as a follower of Christ simply is not about me. It seems like an elementary idea, something I should have mastered years ago when I was first getting to know Jesus. But the longer I follow Christ, the more He peels back the layers of my heart and reveals how deeply that vein of self-reliance runs and how that keeps me from experiencing His divine provision and grace. Praise God for that very grace that reveals our weaknesses and covers them, convicts us of our sin and cleanses us. I left camp refocused on the larger picture of God’s amazing story and honored to play a small part in that ongoing epic tale.