Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Jesus Wept...

Jesus wept (John 11:35). This verse is the shortest verse in the English Bible. Two words. But these words represent so much. Bible scholars tell us that these words in this story are not just referring to  the tears that fell down Jesus' face, but of much deeper emotions. Outrage. Heartache. Anger. Uncontrollable grief. What is described is Jesus' total outrage at death. He is overwhelmed with emotion. He is angry at the brokenness of his world. He is grieved by the loss of a friend and for those who are mourning. What is described here is God personally standing with those who are mourning and fully entering into the range of emotions that comes with the human experience.

At the site of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing where 168 people died is this statue of Jesus. His back is to the site of the destruction. He is facing, with his head in his hands, the memorial of those who died. I think that it reminds that God is not absent in such horrific events. He might not answer the "why" questions in a way that satisfies our souls, but he is present. He is heartbroken at the brokenness of life - he can't stand death and pain. He is standing with those who mourn. Weeping. Indeed our God is not remote. He does not stand back and leave us to feel the sting of grief and loss on our own. He is with us. 

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Discovering God's Will For Our Lives

Ever found yourself wrestling with what God might want from you or for you? What is God’s will for your life? Well this week in my church’s young adults group we grappled with this topic. This is some of what we talked about…and then a bonus video that we didn’t have time to look at.

Usually when someone is wrestling what God’s “will” might be, they are trying to make a decision. They want to get a sense of what God might have in store for them and maybe find clarity of purpose or direction. In this sense we can understand God’s will as being two-fold. There is God’s “universal will” and God’s “specific/individual will”.

When I refer to God’s “universal will”, I am referring to what God desires for all people, everywhere, regardless of personality type, culture, geographic location and other variables. It is through scripture that we realize that God’s will for all people is to be in relationship with him through Christ (1 Timothy 2:3-4), that he wants us to yield to Christ and be transformed (Romans 12:-12), to be under the influence of the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:5-17), and to invite others to follow Jesus as well (Matthew 28:19-20).

Of course there are other aspects of this will of God for us such as putting God and his priorities above our own, loving others, doing good to our enemies, hanging out with other believers, representing Jesus to our neighbours, and seeking justice and mercy. These are just a few other aspects of what God would desire for all people. In fact, one of the most basic tests of whether what we are doing/considering/pondering/desiring would be acceptable to God for us, or his will for us, would be to check with scripture. In this way we are to ensure that we are in line with God’s desires for us. The reality is that it is possible to honor God, to be acting in his will, doing any number of things

However, there are times when God seems to want to fine tune his desires for us to something more pointed. These will always been in line with God has revealed in his universal will but are specific to an individual in a unique circumstance. So how might we discover what God might have in store for us? I would suggest that the following are four parts of the conversation that God has with us as he reveals himself and his desires.
  1. God will reveal himself and his desires to us as we are in the habit of reading scripture. It is here that we learn God’s heart and he shapes ours. It is here that we have our priorities reshaped and our dreams recast in light of who God is and what he asks of his children. It is here that his Spirit moves within us. 
  2. God reveals himself and his desires to us as we are in the habit of spending time in prayer. As we spend time in prayer, we allow room for God to speak to our hearts. As we give him our burdens we realize his ability to carry us and things find new perspective. As we sit and listen the Holy Spirit transforms us and whispers movements and visions.  
  3. God reveals himself and his desires as we include the godly counsel of those whom we trust. These are the people who see things differently than we do. With wisdom, perspective and experience they can ask questions, reflect our thoughts back to us so we can see them for what they are, and pray on our behalf.
  4. God reveals himself and his desires through the circumstances of life. God uses the circumstances of our lives to shape us into the people he would have us be. He has given us passions, abilities and places in locations and situations that can guide us to find our place. These may not always be fun or what we might wish for in our “ideal” setting. But all circumstances can be used for God’s good. 

Lastly, in my own search to understand how God speaks to me, I have found the following guidelines helpful.
  • Leadings from God are consistent with the Bible.
  • Leadings from God are usually consistent with the person he has made you to be.
  • Leadings from God usually involve servant-hood (in contrast with fame and fortune).
  • If a leading requires you to make a major, life-changing decision in a very short period of time, question it.
  • If a leading requires you to go deeply in debt or place someone else in a position of awkwardness, compromise or danger, question it.
  • If a leading requires you to shatter family relationships or important friendships, question it.
  • If a leading creates unrest in the spirit of a mature Christian friend or counsellor as your share it with them, question it.

My experience tells me that discernment does not happen as quickly as I might like, but that the timing is always bang on. May your experience be similar as God shapes you and leads you into the person that he desires you to be. 

Monday, March 12, 2012

Responding to Issues of Injustice

Last Tuesday/Wednesday I witnessed something amazing. I watched my Facebook newsfeed blow-up with people becoming aware of an injustice in our world and passing the word along. As a person who works with teenagers and young adults, and would like to consider themselves looking for ways to address injustice in our world, I found everything surrounding the Kony 2012 campaign very intriguing. I watched the video, read blogs and articles, posted thoughts and responded to questions from students and friends. I am not sure what will happen next with this…nor am I entirely sure what I think should happen next. But in my processing this event around the issue of Joseph Kony and the LRA, I have found myself reflecting on a number of things. This blog entry is me attempting to organize my thoughts. It is not my intent to directly address the Kony 2012 campaign by Invisible Children. Rather, I am sharing where my brain has been over the past few days in hopes that through sorting out my own thinking that others may be encouraged to think about issues such as this in different ways than they did before. I am not someone with all the answers, just someone trying to sort some things out as he goes. ~ Josh

·         The power of social media is absolutely incredible!

The response to the Kony 2012 video re-enforces for me that there is a generation of people out there who care about injustice and are willing to get excited about a cause if they can only become aware of it and be given practical ways to engage in a solution.

I can be swayed by a well put together video with a cute kid in it. *sigh*

I appreciate simplicity and directness in how a cause is advocated for. This makes it easy for people to grab onto and for them to understand what they can do. However, I am realizing more and more just how complex our world is and that to reduce issues of injustice to simply being “black” or “white” is not fair, nor does it lead to actually addressing the issue. More often than not the issues that we are reacting to are symptoms of something deeper and more systemic.

For every good, or well-intentioned, idea there will be feedback and criticism. It is wise to listen and evaluate all voices in the conversation. Who knows, maybe these other voices can provide some missing perspective.

I need to get into the habit of researching the organizations that I give money to. This is not pointed at any one organization, it is just wise stewardship.

I think that for “awareness” to be more than simply an emotive response to new information we need to be willing to learn more on our own.  There is always more to the story. In addition, I think that for “awareness” to be genuine, that it needs to move us to some sort of action. Being an advocate cannot simply be passing along a video that is going viral and changing a profile picture. It should change us.

I think I often delude myself into thinking that writing a letter to my MP or donating funds makes me somehow an advocate for the weak and working to end injustice. While these are good things, these are often acts to appease my conscious so I can feel good about focusing again on myself. I am thinking that being “aware” is a way of life that probably begins with an examination of my own priorities and how things like my coffee purchases effect (and possibly oppress) others.

I feel uncomfortable with responses to injustice that remind me of colonialism (i.e. western domination, the west solving the world’s problems for them, etc.). We haven’t exactly had a great track record with this. Rather I am drawn in by organizations that seek to partner with indigenous peoples and empower them to implement solutions.

I like the idea of mobilizing the public to advocate to their government officials to stand against an injustice and be a champion for the weak. I am uncomfortable with mobilizing the public to demand something from their governments that may in the end look like military force.

I am encouraged when I hear stories of forgiveness and reconciliation amidst a situation that seems to not be conducive to such movements of grace.  

I  feel like however we (I am speaking specifically to Christians here) respond to issues of injustice that we need to be devoting ourselves to praying for God’s kingdom to come and his will to be done here on earth as it is in heaven (see Matthew 6:10).  It is through prayer that we can discern how God would have us participate in his kingdom-mission against injustice and through prayer that we will see God do what seems impossible to us.  

Well, those are my thoughts for now…