Saturday, August 25, 2012

My Encounter With A German Atheist

I met him while ministering in Berlin. He was only 17 years old, but looked much older.  His story, I will never forget. When asked if he believed in God, he said no.  From his response, you could tell there was a bit of anger and bitterness behind his reasoning.  He wasn't ugly or mean, just firm in what he believed.  He went on to explain why he was certain there wasn't a God.  He hadn't been indoctrinated, or convinced of his atheistic beliefs by another, but had come to that conclusion through his own human reasoning and attempt at explaining his life's journey.  A journey full of hurt, heartache, and abandonment.  When he was younger he, and his siblings, were abandoned by his parents.  They just left one day.  He had an older brother that died in an accident somewhat recently, leaving him pretty much on his own.  I think he mentioned that he had a younger brother or sister, but other than that he has absolutely no family.  He's 17 years old, all alone and has no home.

Looking at the hand that's been dealt him, he has reasoned that there is no way God could exist, because if He did, He would never let this kind of stuff happen to him or anyone else.  As I stood looking into his eyes, I realized my theology couldn't reach this kid.  I couldn't convince him through argument or debate.  I couldn't pull out a 5 point sermon on why bad things happen.  While I know his anger and bitterness is misplaced, I couldn't convince him of that in the few minutes we were able to talk.  There were huge walls of hurt that couldn't be broken down with a simple "Jesus loves you."  I felt in that moment that anything I said would be much like trying to put a Band-Aid on a severed artery. I knew that this young man would never be reached by only hearing about Jesus; he had to see Jesus with skin on.  He had to see the love of God in a tangible way.

What I wanted to do was take this kid into my arms and hug him.  I wanted to fix everything in his life for him.  I wanted to convince Him that God hurts when he hurts.  I wanted to take him home and attempt to be a father to this fatherless boy, and to show him the love of God.  I wanted to make things right.  Instead I stood there with no real answers.  I couldn't bring him home.  I couldn't fix his life for him. I couldn't convince him that God hurts when he hurts.  I felt inept.  I felt powerless.  Here, was a kid, hurting and I couldn't stop the hurt.  Here, was a kid with a broken heart and I couldn't put the pieces back together.  If I had a few months, or a few years, perhaps I could help him, but I only had a few minutes.  The ministry we work with in Germany, European Initiative, strives to reach people and connect them with local churches and ministries that can follow up on them.  However, as is the case here in America, many churches struggle to engage in reaching the lost and discipling them. Ministries like EI, need the church. What am I saying?  God needs the church.  He needs believers who aren't afraid of getting their hands dirty.  He needs believers who are willing to engage in meaningful relationships with people who are hurting. I'm not taking a prideful position here and I don't want to imply that I'm out there doing my part while the rest of the church sleeps.  I'm part of the problem to be completely honest.  I get so busy living life for myself that I lose sight of those around me who are hurting and are in desperate need. God needs the church, me included, to wake up and to determine to be who He created us to be.  This young man needs the church.  He's not going to simply walk into the doors of the church.  I knew when I was talking to him he wasn't going to open up to the Gospel over the course of a 15 or 20 minute conversation.  It was going to require much more than that. His heart was hard and the walls that surrounded him where thick.  He wasn't going to come to church because someone handed him an invite card.  He needed to be pursued.  Pursued by someone who sincerely loved him.      

When I walked away from the conversation, I broke.  I had to get away for a moment and just compose myself. I wish I could have found a place where I could be alone for a moment, but everywhere I turned there were crowds of people. I quickly wiped the tears and tried not to get too emotional. I think maybe I got a glimpse of what caused Jesus to weep for Jerusalem. He wanted so desperately to reach them,  heal them, free them, and save them, yet He couldn't.  Jesus, the Son of God, couldn't help them because they rejected Him, so He just sat there weeping for them.  Like Jesus, I wept for this boy.  I connected with his pain and my heart was broken.

It’s been several days since then and I can't get this boy off my mind.  He's there constantly, haunting me in a sense.  Maybe, that's the wrong word, as I don't mean to imply that it’s a bad thing. Yet, it’s like an old LP that is stuck and replaying over and over in my mind.  It's as if the Holy Spirit is pricking my heart, and doing a bit of surgery on me. It's a little painful, yet it’s good.  I keep asking the question, why did this guy's story send me over the edge?  What is it about him that stirred up such emotions in me?  I've heard stories like this before and some even worse, yet there I was literally about to lose it.

The truth is that I've been asking God to help me see others through His eyes.  I've been determined to get out of the judgment seat and leave that to Him.  I want so desperately to see others through the eyes of love and compassion rather than the self-righteous glasses that are often my default lenses.  I'm convinced that's exactly what happened that day in Berlin.  I didn't see a dirty, homeless boy that day.  I saw a hurt, wounded, young man who needed so desperately to have his eyes opened to the reality of who God is.  The hurt and the brokenness I felt, was God allowing me to capture a glimpse of His heart for people.  And to be honest, I never want to forget what my eyes saw and what my heart felt that day.  I didn't simply feel sorry for this young man, I hurt for him.  And although, I admit I can be brought to tears by a simple Hallmark commercial, this was different.  This stirred up something much deeper than some superficial surface emotions. I have truly been moved with compassion concerning this young man.  

This boy's story isn't unique.  And one doesn't need to travel halfway around the world to find people like him.  They are everywhere.  They are our neighbors.  They're our co-workers, classmates, and fellow church members.  They are those who wait on us at restaurants and check us out at the grocery store.  They're our doctors, hair stylists, and bank tellers.  They're our friends, family, and loved ones. They are the people who we love to be around as well as the ones we can't stand.  They are all around us, but if we choose to look through our tainted lenses of self-righteousness and judgment we'll never truly see them.  We'll encounter them but we'll never truly see them. However, I believe if we'll ask God to show us what He sees, He'll do just that.  But, I warn you, don't ask that if you don't want to be challenged to take on the responsibility of doing something to meet the needs, and heal the hurts.  When God begins to show you the depths of hurt and pain that people are dealing with, you'll be compelled to engage. 

That's exactly where I find myself today.  I'm desperate to engage like never before. Not because I feel a sense of obligation but because there's a world of hurting people.  I'm part of the church, and as such I'm the light of the world.  I have the answer for the world and if I, along with my fellow members of the Body of Christ, fail to engage, then those who are hurting will never meet their Healer. What an absolute tragedy that would be.  While I have to trust God to reach this young man in Berlin, there are people here in my community that need me to be God's hands and feet.  They don't need to simply hear my Christian jargon.  They need to see in me a reflection of God's unconditional, unlimited love. I can't reach them all, but perhaps I can reach one or maybe a few.  I really don't think God is expecting us as individuals to reach the masses.  He just wants us to reach our neighbor.

I know full well that there are many who want nothing to do with God and there is not much I can do about that but pray and trust God to somehow, someway reach them.  It's imperative though that I never allow the fear of rejection to keep me from reaching those who are desperate to be reached.  When I begin to see others the way God sees them, I'll see the value in them that He sees.  I'll understand the truth that they are worth it. They are worth my time, energy, and sacrifice.  They are worth reaching.  They are worth me stepping out of the comfort zone formed by the four walls of the church building. They are worth loving.

I don't know how well this BLOG is communicating what I so desperately want to communicate.  Perhaps, you just had to be there that day I encountered this 17 year old German atheist.  Maybe, you needed to see the look on his face when he boldly declared his disbelief in God.  Maybe, you needed to look into his eyes as he shared all the hurt and pain his life has endured.  I was there though, and what I witnessed broke my heart.  God used that 17 year old German atheist to get access to my heart and speak clearly to me.  Why did this young man's story break my heart the way it did?  I've figured it out.  It's because this young man's story breaks the heart of God.  

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Life On Mars

Space exploration excites me.  I remember as a child thinking how awesome it would be to be an astronaut.  Unfortunately for me the training required to become an astronaut included machines that go around and around and I don't do things that go around and around.  Merry go-rounds and any type of  carnival ride that goes around in circles makes me sick to the point of puking.  I've always been like that, so from early I knew the astronaut thing was out of the question.  Of course, I guess I could have aspired to be one of those guys who stayed on the ground and answered the call when the astronauts said something like, "Houston, we have a problem!"  Somehow when you're a kid though, that job doesn't seem quite as exciting.  However, even though merry go-rounds ruined my hopes of space travel, nothing could squash my interest in space exploration.

This week I've been really excited about NASA's latest adventure, the Curiosity rover.  This rover, that is said to be the size of a small compact car, landed earlier this week on the surface of Mars.  After traveling over 300 million miles through space, this rover is now ready to begin exploring the planet of Mars.  While some may not get all that excited about the first fuzzy picture sent back, I was blown away by the picture that clearly showed the wall of the crater the rover now sits in.

I'm not sure what all this rover will eventually tell us about the planet Mars, but I'm certain we are going to learn some really interesting things about a planet that we've all had questions about.  One of the main questions that scientists want desperately to answer is whether or not there has ever been any form of life on the red planet.  Curiosity is equipped with the tools not only to take pictures and videos but also to dig into the surface of the planet and take soil samples.  Instead of thinking of it like a rover, think more in terms of a scientific laboratory on wheels.  Trust me, at a cost of over $2.5 billion this rover is more than just a high end Kodak camera.       

Scientists really would love to find some proof of life as they maneuver Curiosity all over the planet's surface.  Proof of some one-celled organism is all they need to validate their hopes.  Personally, I think that would be absolutely incredible.  Of course, a discovery like that would probably lead to more questions than answers.  But, then again that's what keeps the wheels of science turning...questions that need answers.

While scientists are so pumped about the possibility of closing the book on the question of whether there has ever been life on Mars or not, for me that question has already been answered.  Of course, there's been life on Mars.  The very existence of Mars, points to the truth of a Creator.  Although, Mars may or may not have been home to some one or multi-celled organisms in the past, it's very origin and existence testifies of the life giving power of God.  NASA, scientists will be blown away should they find some proof of life, but believers should not think it abnormal to find some life form on any planet created by the Originator of all life forms.  I guess that what I'm trying to say is that proof of life on Mars is not simply found on or under its surface, but in the fact that its origin is found in the Giver of all life.  In other words, because Mars came from the Life Giver, evidence of this Life Giver is found in its very existence.    

Only time will tell all that we will discover from this newest technology from NASA, but I can't help but think that in the process of our discovery, how limited it shows we humans truly are.  Think about it, while we are on the cutting edge of something pretty remarkable here, Mars holds no secrets from our Creator.  Its surface, its craters, its core and everything about this planet is not only known by Him but its birth and its history has been written by Him.  While we get set to discover some interesting things about the planet, God doesn't need to explore this planet in order to know more about it, He only needs to remember.  He's been there, done that, and bought the T-shirt.  Mars is not a mystery to God, its the product of His handiwork.  If He knows the number of hairs on our heads, I don't think it's a stretch to say He knows every square inch of that planet.

Some may think, life forms on Mars may serve to invalidate what we know and believe about God.  I think it'll only reaffirm and strengthen the truths we know.  With every picture Curiosity sends back, I  discover a little more about my Creator.  I'm reminded about how awesome He is, and how small I am.  I'm reminded about how my knowledge of who He is, is always increasing.  I'm reminded of how all of creation carries with it the nature and very signature of God.  I'm reminded that if I'll stop long enough to take a long hard look, I'll see glimpses of Him everywhere.  


Thursday, August 2, 2012

Jesus Is An Equal Opportunity Offender

Will the real Jesus please stand up?  Many have a view of Jesus that is inconsistent with the real Jesus.  Some see Him as a weak, humble, lowly individual who was tolerant of all.  Artistic images of a wimpy man with the look of hopelessness in His eyes, holding a sheep, help reaffirm that view.  But is that really what He's like?  Some see Him as a man who was angry with the religious crowd, and loved stirring them up.  Some view Him as a good person who because He loved everyone, would never offend anyone.  Others see Him as a man who was a rebel and revolutionist.

Scripture gives us a very clear picture of who He is, but in order to see the truth of who He is, one can not approach Scripture with presuppositions.  Jesus was indeed a loving person.  As a matter of fact, as God, Scripture declares that He is love.  Love is at the core who He is.  It's not simply something He possesses, its the very essence of who He is.  So, those who see Him as a loving individual, are spot on, but we have to be careful that our understanding of love is not a perverted one.  Does, love dare offend someone? Reading the accounts of Jesus as He walked the earth, one cannot ignore the fact that who He was and what He said offended many people from many different walks of life.  Both the religious and non-religious alike were taken back by Him and the message He shared.  Those who followed Him and those who did not were all ticked off by Him.  So much so that on more than one occasion, they wanted to kill Him.  So, someone who is perfect in love, offends. Interesting!

Some followed Him one day expecting to be fed by Him and were upset when He told them He wasn't going to.  Perhaps, there's a lesson in that account to be learned about simply feeding people who have a much deeper issue that needs addressed than an empty stomach, but that's another topic.  He referred to an outsider as a dog.  He refused to allow the man delivered of demons to follow Him.  He stirred up his hometown, ticked off the religious leaders, and had His own family thinking He had lost His mind.  We all know well his refusal to cast the first stone at the lady caught in adultery, but do we remember the instructions that he gave her after doing so?  His love, which did not condemn her, also instructed her to stop her behavior.  How dare Him, right?  In the middle of this emotionally charged moment for her, He spoke truth to her. He didn't say, it's all ok, you just need a big hug.  He risked hurting her feelings by telling her to stop that behavior.

The truth always carries with it the potential for offense.  None of us are perfect or possess pure heart motives continually.  Sometimes when we are faced with the truth about who we are and what we are doing, we struggle with that truth.  The key is always how we respond to that truth.  When we reject it, then that truth becomes a stumbling block for us.  When we receive it, that truth becomes liberating.  "You shall know the truth, and the truth will set you free," Scripture tells us.  For us individually, it is important to always be open to allowing the truth of God to penetrate our hearts.  Whenever, we do not allow that, we find ourselves slaves to something we were never designed to be slaves to.

But, what do we do regarding speaking the truth to others.  Loving others demands it.  The spirit of tolerance is not love.  Tolerance is a spirit shrouded in fear, and is more concerned with pleasing others rather than helping to set them free.  Having said that, speaking the truth can do more damage than good, when it is not motivated by love.  Jesus did not offend people for the sake of offending them.  He wasn't grandstanding or simply making a point.  He spoke the truth because He loved them.  He didn't condemn them, but He didn't coddle them either.  There is a balancing act that we must perform, and the key is to always be motivated by love for others.
A couple of weeks ago, Dan Cathy of Chick-fil-a, said something that offended people.  He wasn't mean spirited, he wasn't angry, and he wasn't hateful.  He spoke the truth about what He believes and people were offended.  Some see Cathy, as a villain and a proponent of hate speech.  Some are outraged, and incensed by someone who simply shared the truth.  I don't know Cathy's heart, but his life's journey seems to be consistent with a man who genuinely cares for others.  One must ask themselves what is it about what he said that caused such an offense.  Found in that answer is the truth that has the ability to set one free. In the same way that some were offended by Cathy's statement, some have been offended by the response to Cathy's statement.  All would do good to ask themselves, "why am I offended and what does that reveal about my heart?"  Is there malice in my heart?  Is it righteous indignation or am I simply angry at my fellow man?  Trust me when I say there are spiritual dynamics at work here, and it's important that we see and understand the real enemy we're fighting against.

The fact is that many, both believers and non-believers, really want nothing to do with the truth.  John's Gospel tells us that the light came into the world and man rejected it because they were doing evil things.  Truth always sheds light on things we would rather keep shrouded in darkness.  Because of that, there will always be opposition to the truth.  Even the truth spoken in a non-confrontational way.

God so desperately wants all of mankind set free. Jesus came to the earth to do that.  In order for that to happen though, He could not remain silent for fear of confrontation.  I think its interesting to note that He didn't spend time debating issues.  He spoke the truth and left the hearers with the responsibility of accepting it or rejecting it.  Their path to true freedom was rooted deeply in their freedom to make the choice.  While I'm certain His heart was grieved by those who rejected Him, He never allowed that to affect the way He loved them or how approached others.  

The real Jesus was tough.  While he was compassionate and loving, He was also confrontational.  He was more concerned with individuals becoming free than pacifying them.  John, one of His closest friends here on earth, who knew Him well, recorded in Revelation how he fell down like a dead man when he encountered this same Jesus years later in a different setting.  There was no, "What's up G?" or   "Long time no see, bro."  He fell down flat on his face in awe of someone who was one of his best friends.  Doesn't quite fit the image of some of the artist's renditions I've seen of Him.  Jesus isn't interested in coddling us, He's determined to speak the truth to us at the risk of offending us.  The church should be no different.  We carry with us the answer for the world.  When we bow our knees to the spirit of tolerance, whether its in the church or outside the church, we've ceased to be the liberating force we were created to be. In speaking the truth though, our purpose should always be to set the captives free and love should be at the core of all we do.  Without love, we're simply making noise and eating more chicken.  It's much, much bigger than that.  Jesus isn't nearly as interesting in what we say or do as He is in why we say it and why we do it.  Let's hold to the truth.  Let's live the truth.  Let's speak the truth.  And most of all, let's make sure we do it all with love.

If any part of this BLOG offends, then I guess that's good.  The key is how are you going to react to it?