Wednesday, February 27, 2008
In many circles, it is an outdated word.
It is a harsh word, a severe word. It is politically incorrect. Some would argue it is a mean-spirited word, wrangled only by the hateful.
We would much rather use words like "issues" or even "struggles" because they reduce the culpability. And maybe through these linguistic gymnastics, we can ignore the devastation our own sin wreaks on others and ourselves.
In a recent bible study with orphanage teens, the subject of sin arose. And these hard-edged youth struggled to understand the concept of sin. It was not a part of their social code and therefore they possessed little ability to grasp the cause and effect of sin. (That the "wages of sin is death.") They struggled to even define examples of what true sin is.
In this day and age, are we so different from the Hungarian orphans? Do even those of us who bear the name "Christian" truly grasp the life-massacreing, soul-searing nature of sin?
Hebrews 3:13 states, "But instead warn (admonish, urge and encourage) one another every day, as long as it is called Today, that none of you may be hardened (into settled rebellion) by the deceitfulness of sin -- (that is,) by the fraudulence, the stategem, the trickery, which the delusive glamor his sin may play on him." (Amplified)
Sin does not lie placidly by the wayside waiting for us to wander accidentally into it. It is as active as the con-man out to secure the long con, toying with our affections, playing on our insecurities, strategizing on our weaknesses. No matter how small a sin, each works insidiously to drive one more nail in the coffin for our faith.
We do not have to look far to find examples. From pastors who have fallen into sexual sin, to church ladies consumed by their own venomous gossip, to the bitter heart who can only lash out in hate --- to the reality of me in my deepest places. Sin takes its toll. And its repurcussions ripple out like spiked lashes on the backs of family and friends. John Donne was correct when he wrote,"No man is an island."
We live in a battlezone, but scarcely realize it. We catch glimpses of it in some moments and pray eanestly for a day, and as quickly as we begin, we forget and slip into the mundane cares of the world that seem so pressing.
In Holy Sonnet 19, John Donne captures my own struggle with faithfulness and facing sin:
Oh, to vex me, contraries meet in one:
Inconstancy unnaturally hath begot
A constant habit; that when I would not
I change in vows, and in devotion.
As humorous is my contrition
As my profane love, and as soon forgot:
As riddlingly distempered, cold and hot,
As praying, as mute; as infinite, as none.
I durst not view heaven yesterday; and today
In prayers and flattering speeches I court God:
Tomorrow I quake with true fear of his rod.
So my devout fits come and go away
Like a fantastic ague; save that here
Those are my best days, when I shake with feare.
As Hebrews 3:13 admonishes, may we grasp an understanding of nature of sin, and, "as long as it is called today" actively encourage and urge one another to be on the alert, lifting all those dear to us up to our Lord in prayer, that he might protect us from the Enemy's schemes.
Thursday, February 14, 2008
Valentine's Day has been dubbed the day of Love. But perhaps more accurately, it is a day of longing -- longing for ideal love and perfect romance. Unfortunately, few recognize perfect love even when it lingers fully within reach.
Last week, at a conference for teen girls here in Hungary, several twenty-somethings attended. They had grown up in the orphanage since age three -- in world with little moral compass, and much more passion than compassion.
"Marry your best friend?" Mari*, one such girl, questioned the wisdom being shared in a small group. "Never! What kind marriage would that be? There would be no real love or passion!"
In her world, love is all about wild rushes of emotion and sensual nights of passion. And so she searches for a sexual passion that will endure forever, an emotional high that never grows dull. And she cannot understand why it continues to evade her.
Clearly she does not understand love.
When I was growing up, I recall endless discussions on the topic of "finding Mr. Right." In Christian circles, we phrased it, "waiting for God's best," but in the end it all amounted to a notion that there was someone out there crafted just for me -- my ideal life partner.
True love meant a perfect fit and certainly happily ever after.
But what happens after all the rice is thrown and the new couple settles in the utter imperfections of day to day life only to learn each is now eternally linked to a fellow creature as sinful as himself? It is disillusioning. And some have been wont to conclude they must have missed God's best in the pursuit of a mate, because the life in which they find themselves is certainly not happily ever after.
Again, I would argue, this person does not understand love.
So what is love?
Love is not sappy sentimentality or fluttery feelings around the heart. It is not rooted passion and sensuality, but rather in sacrifice and long suffering. We will not discover it by "finding the perfect mate," but rather by allowing ourselves to be perfected by Him who loves best of all.
Valentines Day each year underscores our very natural longing for love. But that longing is not satisfied in idolized images of a perfect man or a perfect mate -- because people are not perfect and therefore inevitably fail to emulate perfect love.
Still, deep inside us, we want to make mere human love our idol and believe if we can only attain it, all will be well. Our lives will become happily ever after. And like Mari, who grew up in a Hungarian orphanage, we cannot understand why it continues to evade us.
Real love is out there. It has lingered within our reach all the time. It longs to teach us what it is all about, but we shun it again and again. We eschew its complete sacrifice. And dismiss it casually only to again pursue an idol of imperfect love.
True love is not of this world. And we will not understand it until we begin to value it above our own selfish ideals and idols of fleshly love.
Are you longing for love on this Valentine's Day? Then take a fresh look at the Author of Love and discover that a divine romance awaits you -- one so mystical and magical than it could only be designed by the Lover of your Soul.
*not her real name
Monday, February 11, 2008
In the era of Harry Potter-esque incantations and Lord of the Rings mystique, the concept of spiritual warfare can conjure images of Dementor-like demons and Sauron inspired personages of Satan in a dark, creepy battle for the fate of a soul.
To be frank, such images creep me out a little. And I prefer not to think in such terms. But that does not mean I do not believe in the spiritual battle. As we prepared for last week's conference for teen girls both from the orphanage in Miskolc, Hungary and from our church's youth group, I was astounded by the series of obstacles that arose. Was it spiritual warfare? Following is a chronology of events. You decide.
Week before the conference:
Primary translator for the orphanage segment of conference must cancel due to ill family members.
Our church, which uses a small Christian conference center for church services is due to renew its contract. We are using the same facility for the girls conference. The renewed contract price is too much for our church, so the church moves with one week's notice. This means that while we will still have our conference there, we will not have ready access to the sound equipment and other church stuff we had been counting on. Moreover, it increases our costs as we could no longer "piggy back"on what the church is already renting.
Monday 4 February (3 days before conference begins)
We have one replacement translator scheduled to be at the orphanage for the opening night of the conference. Her father has what appears to be a heart attack and is rushed to Budapest for medical attention. We now have a team of 10 Americans coming and no one who can translate for them.
Tuesday 5 February (2 days before conference begins)
We learn that three sisters (out of the ten girls slated to come from the Miskolc orphanage) have just been contacted by a long lost sister who has decided to come THIS weekend to visit. The three will not come to the conference. Moreover two others who are close to these girls refuse to come without their friends.
Meanwhile two new translators agree to join us for opening night.
Wednesday 6 February (the day before the conference begins)
Hungarian train workers are on strike with no resolution in sight. Team of 10 from Ohio will arrive in 24 hours and there is no transportation available between the Budapest Airport and Miskolc -- about a 2 and a half hour drive. All transportation alternatives are booked due to train strike.
Snow begins falling in Chicago -- the hub that the team is scheduled to fly through. Large snowfalls predicted. Team's flight delayed and rerouted.
Orphanage agrees to send van to pick up team.
Thursday 7 February (the day the conference begins)
Team misses connection in London will not arrive until 3:30pm. Conference starts at 7:00pm -- but site is a good 2.5 hours from airport. I arrive at airport only to learn the expected flight actually will not arrive until 5:00pm. I wait with Hungarian orphanage van driver for the two hours and phone back to tell Russ to push back start time until 8:00pm.
Team arrives. I take a critical three people in my car and the van takes the rest and luggage. Jozsi, the van driver assures me he knows a fast way through Budapest that will get us on the highway to Miskolc in no time. I agree to follow him.
Jozsi gets us lost in the heart of Budapest. Frustrated by the man's inability to follow his own map, I take off without him and drive like a maniac toward Miskolc. We phone ahead to the translators and tell them to play some games with the girls until we get there.
8:35 pm -- we race into the rented conference room to face about 6 or 7 teenage girls, some of them laden with teen attitude. Gina shares a testimony about how she had been brutally rejected by her birth parents -- suddenly all attitudes change.
Friday 8 February (conference recommences in Debrecen)
We meet the girls at 4:00 (after school and work) to travel together to Debrecen -- about two hours away by bus. At 3:00pm one of the girls slated to leave with us calls saying she was vomiting and very ill -- ate some bad food at the mall. She has to cancel.
The conference that followed proved a time of love and healing for all the girls who attended. It was truly rich with relationship, care and concern. And it may prove to be the beginning of something really big in the way we operate and reach out to youth here in Hungary. I am thankful that God is bigger than all the obstacles and that he has the victory in the battle for the soul.
Monday, February 4, 2008
That is sign that should hang around every Christian's neck. We are souls in progress, spirits under construction. And as with any construction site, those venturing close, need to proceed with care.
Ironically, God calls us, with all our rough edges -- some dangerously sharp -- into the lives of others. He wants us to reach out in our weakness and love the unloved, care for the discarded of this world. He rarely waits until we are "ready" -- until we have reached some pinnacle of perfection in the school of compassion and charity. He simply says GO! LOVE! and POINT THEM TO ME.
This is an insane scheme! What is God thinking? Are we not more apt to do more damage than good? And indeed, one does not have to look far to find examples where those bearing the name of "Christian" have done more harm than good under the banner of "serving God."
So why would the God of the Universe entrust the love and care of the wretched -- His precious wretched -- to such frail, bumbling, brutes as we? He knows we are bent on arrogance and prone to pride. He has to know it is a recipe for DISASTER.
What is He thinking?
On Thursday of this week, we will begin a teen girls conference for ten orphanage girls and ten youth group girls here in Hungary. Now, only four days before it begins, more things are falling apart than coming together.
And as I consider of the magnitude of these orphanage girls' pain, I can't help but realize I and a group of Americans are ill-equipped to reach them where they are. We are but bumbling brutes -- construction zones in our own right -- entering their fragile world. It would seem a recipe for disaster. And yet, God has called us to enter it.
"As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another," the wisdom of Proverbs 27:17 cries out. God created us to need each other -- all the "each others" are the tools of Christ's craftsmanship in our lives.
Perhaps this conference is less about us teaching them and more about simply sharing where we are in the process of our construction and letting them share where they are. And as the iron of their lives scrapes up against the iron of our lives, we may just discover that as much as they desperately need a touch from us, we, more desperately still, need to touch them.
I am astutely aware of the potential for disaster here. I am equally aware of the potential for God to move by His spirit when we recognize and acknowledge our weakness and need for Him. So I enter this week with fear and trembling, urging all to pray for a miraculous work of God's spirit in the lives of these girls. May our team and translators come together in humility and subject ourselves to God's plan in these four conference days.