Sunday, February 22, 2009

It’s Never As Simple As You’d Hope

Our church has hosted an emergency women's shelter since December 15th, giving up to 20 women a place to stay each night from 7 pm until 7 am. It has been a joy and a blessing for our church and for our volunteers. I think that for the core women who have been there from the start, our church's multi-purpose space has really become a home. And yet there have been challenges that have really been discouraging. We have had women who were simply unwilling to follow the simple rules of the shelter; women who have accused us of racism and favoritism or questioned whether we really were Christian because we enforced the rules; women who have been asked to leave for a few days, allowed back, and then asked to leave again. And it's just confusing as to what is the best way in each situation.

We are an emergency shelter, trying to keep women from being cold and in danger, but we also desire that they feel like they have a home and a community to come to each night. In order to have a home and a community, there need to be rules and expectations of how we treat one another and consequences for when that doesn't happen; it works the same way in my own house. Yet the desire to provide shelter and the desire to see transformation (which is aided by the power of consistency and community) often seem in tension. I ask myself, "How can we turn anyone away from our shelter if we have space for them, just because they are unruly or refuse to cooperate?" Then I see the effects of the uncooperative on the women who really have taken ownership of our space and do consider it a home, and I realize that there is a bigger picture, a community that is affected and needs to be protected.

I also see a mom and a daughter have to leave our shelter because the mom refused to comply with our rules, and now I know that they are just bouncing around from house to house, and my heart breaks for the little girl. We found out this week that one of our residents that we asked to leave (because she was medically unstable, beyond our ability to safely help, and because she was abusing heavy narcotics) died of an overdose at a rehab facility. And in six weeks, our shelter will close, and I don't know that all of our women will have a place to go. I stand by my opening statement that this shelter has been a wonderful experience, and I think that our city and our church are different because of it, but it's not as simple as that. There has been a cost and the road has not been smooth, and I am certain we have made mistakes in this process. But our hope is in Christ, and our job is to be faithful and trust Him with the results. And I believe that beneath the surface, the Kingdom of God is advancing one small step at a time.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Psalter’s Catching On

The other day in Sunday School, Psalter's class was studying about Abraham and Isaac, and at the point where Abraham was about to kill Isaac, the teacher asked, "Kids, what is that in the bushes?' Psalter and another little boy in her class immediately said, "Ramses!" Duke and State fans need not call child protective services.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Christ in You, the Hope of Glory

Many who know me know that one of the most important and transformational parts of my walk with Christ has been an understanding that Christ didn't just die to pay for our sins, but that He also died to give us His life. Christ doesn't expect us to live our lives for Him, but rather He asks us to let Him express His life through us, truly being vessels for Him to live and move by His Spirit. The reason that this has been so freeing is that it takes the pressure off of me and my ability to be obedient, faithful, good, loving. On my own, my tendency is to be none of those things, or it is to do those things because I hope to get something in return (most likely I hope that you will like me and approve of me). For me, living apart from Christ in my own resources (even doing good things) is an exhausting treadmill that never stops. I have often lived in fear of disappointing my friends, wondering if my next mistake would be the one that would lead them to just be done with me for good.

I feel like Christianity so quickly morphs into a life of trying to be like Jesus, and we take on the burden of trying to be holy and nice and loving. That burden was never meant for us. There is only One who is holy, only one who is Good. There was only one who "lived the Christian life", and there is only one "Christian life" – Christ's. And now He offers to live that life in and through us, if we would simply receive it.

Many times I do a poor job of explaining this concept to others, and I think that sometimes I end up sounding like I believe that what we do doesn't matter, and that obedience and active love are inconsequential. I guess in the very truest understanding of the Gospel, what we do doesn't matter, in that we can't earn or deserve Christ's salvation and love. But at the same time, in the truest understanding of the Gospel, what we do goes hand in hand with what we have been given. As The Message says in James 2:24, "Is it not evident that a person is made right with God not by a barren faith but by faith fruitful in works?" What we believe eventually manifests itself in how we act.

I think that ultimately where I am finding freedom is that the root of my actions and my response to God is not from a desire to be pleasing to Him or to get it right. Rather the root is that Christ lives in me, and that all that I need for faithfulness, obedience, and life is found in Christ. And so in every situation, I can be at rest knowing that my performance has no bearing on my standing with Christ. I am free to love, to listen for His voice, and to know that it is not up to me at all. My job is to be available to Christ and to trust His work in me. So for example, there is a person in my life that I really struggle to love sometimes, and there was a root of bitterness growing in me. My first response to them was frustration and eye-rolling, and the harder I tried to do otherwise, the more that response grew. But recently before spending some time with them, the Lord gently reminded me to let Him be my life. He reminded me that Christ in me loved this person; Christ in me understood their heart correctly and could help me see them in His eyes; Christ in me had the life and patience that I did not have on my own, if I would simply rest in Him. And so I asked Christ to live His life through me, and the difference was night and day. I enjoyed being around this person, I did not resent them at all, and God really blessed that time.

Christ in you, the hope of glory, is not simply a nice verse in Colossians. For a Christians, Christ truly lives in us, and He alone is our hope in every situation, every moment. He is my faithfulness in my marriage, my kindness to my children, my wisdom in confusing situations, my peace in frustration, my ability to honor God with my life. And in that, there is deep rest for my soul. Matthew 11:28-30 in The Message says, "Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you'll recover your life. I'll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me – learned the unforced rhythms of grace. I won't lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you'll learn to live freely and lightly." Amen.