Thursday, April 26, 2012

Enjoy the Silence: Day 2

Day 2: Jeremiah 31:16-25

This is what the LORD says:

“Restrain your voice from weeping and your eyes from tears, for your work will be rewarded,” declares the LORD.  “They will return from the land of the enemy.  So there is hope for your descendants,” declares the LORD.  “Your children will return to their own land.

“I have surely heard Ephraim’s moaning: ‘You disciplined me like an unruly calf, and I have been disciplined.  Restore me, and I will return, because you are the LORD my God.  After I strayed, I repented; after I came to understand, I beat my breast.  I was ashamed and humiliated because I bore the disgrace of my youth.’  Is not Ephraim my dear son, the child in whom I delight?  Though I often speak against him, I still remember him.  Therefore my heart yearns for him; I have great compassion for him,” declares the LORD.

“Set up road signs; put up guideposts.  Take note of the highway, the road that you take.  Return, Virgin Israel, return to your towns.  How long will you wander, unfaithful Daughter Israel?  The LORD will create a new thing on earth— the woman will return to the man.”

This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: “When I bring them back from captivity, the people in the land of Judah and in its towns will once again use these words: ‘The LORD bless you, you prosperous city, you sacred mountain.’  People will live together in Judah and all its towns—farmers and those who move about with their flocks.  I will refresh the weary and satisfy the faint.”

When I read this passage the first time a few of the verses struck me.  Some of them were like a punch in the gut; others not so much.  Either way, my head was spinning. 

This is what the LORD says: “Restrain your voice from weeping and your eyes from tears, for your work will be rewarded,” declares the LORD. (vs. 16)

For the last few months I have felt pretty useless.  More than that, I felt like I was back in gym class getting picked last for kickball.  I can’t even say how many nights I fell asleep crying because I felt worthless.  I love spending time with the kids at church, but when I hear about my classmates (from high school and college) who have, like, real jobs.  It feels like people look down on my for the way I spend my time. 

When I read verse sixteen I really felt like God was telling me to stop comparing myself to other people.  What I’m doing is not worthless.  I am not last picked.  I need to keep my chin up and keep moving on. 

Is not Ephraim my dear son, the child in whom I delight?  Though I often speak against him, I still remember him.  Therefore my heart yearns for him; I have great compassion for him,” declares the LORD. (vs. 20)

I have a hard time believing that I really matter to people.  I know I am friends with people but it is really hard for me to understand that I might be closer than just friends with people.  I’m not a burden.  I have people who want to spend time with me.  Verse twenty says that not only am I a child of God, but a dear child of God.  Not just that, but He does desire to spend time with me.  He yearns for me. 

How long will you wander, unfaithful Daughter Israel?  (vs. 22)

While God desires to spend time with me, he is willing to let me wander.  Verse twenty-two presents the question as ‘how long’ not him saying ‘I’m gonna come drag you back kicking and screaming’.  While he longs for me to come back, he is patient and waits for me to decide on my own to return to him. 

I will refresh the weary and satisfy the faint.”  (vs. 25)

When I do return feeling beat down and exhausted God doesn’t add on to the bruise count.  Instead he nurses me back to myself.  He refreshes me.  He provides real love for my soul when I am faint and starved for that love.  He is a comforter, no matter what hurtful things I have said to him.  He always comes through when I am stretched way to thin, and I am so thankful that I can rely on him for that.  

*Read Day 1 here.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Enjoy the Silence: Day 1

***The other day I found a book I bought back in High School.  It’s called Enjoy the Silence: A 30 Day Experimentin Listening to God by Maggie Robbins and Duffy Robins.  It is all about lectio divina, which is literally means “divine reading”.  It’s a meditative reading method that is supposed to help read the Bible for deeper meaning.  When I saw the book I thought it might be time to actually try to go through it.  And that always works better if I feel like I am being held accountable (whether anyone reads this or not, I can always pretend).  So, here we go.***

Day 1: Luke 8:4-15

While a large crowd was gathering and people were coming to Jesus from town after town, he told this parable: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path; it was trampled on, and the birds ate it up.  Some fell on rocky ground, and when it came up, the plants withered because they had no moisture.  Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up with it and choked the plants.  Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up and yielded a crop, a hundred times more than was sown.”
 When he said this, he called out, “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.”
His disciples asked him what this parable meant.  He said, “The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of God has been given to you, but to others I speak in parables, so that,
   “‘though seeing, they may not see;
   though hearing, they may not understand.’

“This is the meaning of the parable: The seed is the word of God.  Those along the path are the ones who hear, and then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved.  Those on the rocky ground are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away.  The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature.  But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop. 

I am unsure what soil describes the state of my heart right now.  I desperately want my heart to be good soil, but I think it has a tendency to be rocky or full of weeds.  Often I don’t give myself time to let the word of God to sink in.  As one friend put it, I don’t really let myself savor the presence of God.  I’m not good at that.  Also, I worry about everything.  So much anxiety.  So much angst.  I try so hard to trust God with my plans and stuff, but it is so freaking scary.  On the other hand, I have noticed me being more willing to hand things over.  Maybe God is weeding the garden of my heart.

I read it again, and noticed that all four soil types actually heard the word of God.  The difference comes in the way the word of God developed and grew in the hearers’ heart.  The word didn’t sink in at all on the path.  The word couldn’t really put down roots with the rocks in the way.  The word put down roots, but couldn’t produce fruit because of the weeds.  In the good soil the word sank deep, put down roots and grew to produce fruit.

Good soil doesn’t just happen.  It takes a lot of work.  In Buffalo we seeded a yard.  At first the ground was hard and compacted.  We went over it with rakes to break it up, and then we cleared out the rocks and weeds.  The job took for-freaking-ever, even with 18 of us working at it.  After that we sowed the seeds and went back over it with the rakes.

I think God does the same.  He softens our hard hearts.  He clears out the rocks and debris so his word can take root.  As it grows, he weeds out the distractions as we let him.  He does all this work only to have to go over our hearts again so his word really sinks in.  In the end we produce a bumper crop.  This excess of spiritual fruits overflows from us.  That overflow can affect our neighbors whose hearts God has been softening up. 

Gardening takes so much time and effort and you get so messy doing it.  I am so thankful we have a God who is not afraid of getting messy and working hard even when we actively fight against him.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Community in Buffalo, NY

So, I already talked about the way that the students who went to Buffalo really connected with each other.  That isn't the only way the theme of community and togetherness manifested itself.

While we were up there we worked with various ministries around the city.  We helped Jeremy from the Buffalo Christian Center (BCC) with miscellaneous jobs around the center.  Some of us helped start an urban garden (really we just turned the pile of horse crap *ahem* compost).  We helped rehab a house for a couple families who are investing in one of the neighborhoods that needs some love.  We seeded a lawn for a church, cleaned out a garage for Urban Christian Ministries (UCM), helped with an after school Kids Club, and spent some time getting to know some gang members who have recently show interest in or accepted Christ through the work of Friends for Life.

Something that the students who went up with my noticed is the way all these ministries were aware of what the others were doing.  Not only were they aware, but they supported one another.  When we would show up to the work sites the people in charge would be so grateful that we were there, but also they treated us like part of the team.  And it really was like we were all working for the same goal.

This community, and the little taste of what I imagine the Kingdom of God is like, awakened something in the students.  They were saying how they crave that kind of community and the joy that came from the service they were doing.  It was like they had only just caught a glimpse of real christian community like what we read about in Acts.

I don't think I can really do justice to this lesson and the experiences that shaped it.  I really think this a was a "you had to be there" moment.  I just know how amazing it was to watch some of them literally wake up to the way life in christian community can be.  I know that is something I crave on a pretty regular basis, and now that there are others like me we have a chance of making it happen.  If Christ is the center, how could we possibly fail?

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Buffalo, NY

A couple weeks ago I went up to Buffalo, NY with 17 other people from my church (3 other adults, and 14 high school students) for an urban mission trip.  I haven’t really been able to write about it before this because it has taken me this long to recover and process what all happened that week we were there.  I’m still not entirely sure what all went down, but it was too incredible of an experience to hold off sharing about it any longer.  

We had spent the ten weeks leading up to the trip preparing ourselves and the students for what we were about to do.  There was some introduction needed for our fantastic suburban kids who had never really experienced any sort of urban anything.  We tried our best to keep any culture shock to a minimum, and give them the tools needed to make this trip about more than just hanging out with friends.  The thing about our team was that it was like pulling teeth to get them to talk during those ten weeks.  There was another team who went up the week before us, and they seemed to have gotten the talkative students.  

Fast forward to the van ride up to Buffalo; after we had driven for like two-ish hours we stopped for dinner.  After the kids were done eating they were playing Frisbee in a mostly empty parking lot.  As they were playing a group of guys came up and asked to play.  Our kids didn’t even think about it, but just tossed them the Frisbee and made room in the circle.  It was cool to see.  

Once we were all loaded up and on our way, our van started telling stories.  I mean, they were making up stories as a group to keep themselves entertained.  Jacqui and I were having a theological debate when next thing I hear is “Kate, start the next story!”  Thus, Javier the Iguana set out on his quest to find the perfect guacamole recipe.  I loved looking back and not seeing everyone plugged into their iPods, but interacting with each other and getting to know each other.  

The theme of togetherness continued through the trip.  Whenever there was down time the 14 high schoolers would spend their time hangout, all together.  There weren’t really factions or cliques.  It was just all of them together all the time. When I looked around at the high schoolers who were there, they really should not have worked together as well as they did.  I loved it.  

Since getting back, they have still tried to stay in contact with each other.  On Good Friday, the group who had off school went to lunch and saw the Hunger Games.  After that we proceeded to go get coffee and have a Nerf war (aka reenacting the movie) in the park near the coffee shop.  They were together from 11am to 6pm that day, and it wasn’t long enough for them.  They were already planning what they would do next time.  

The way they click reminds me of my housemate in the ministry house back at Witt.  It’s a group that shouldn’t work, but because they have Christ and love in common they just do.  I love it so much.  I get so excited when I think about it.  I really feel like God is going to use them to make some changes in our youth group/church/city.  I’m pumped. 

For the sake of not boring everyone with all the details all at once, I’m going to stop for now.  I’ll write more later about what all we did in Buffalo and other cool things like that.