Friday, April 3, 2015

Lead Me in the Paths of Righteousness

This past Wednesday night, we had a joint youth event with three churches from our community.  We played "Underground Church" which, in a fun setting, tends to highlight the ignorance of many of us in the American church when it comes to the idea of religious persecution and "counting the cost."  We have it so easy!  Perhaps, at times, too easy!  We are free to gather together and worship without fear.  Proclaiming the name of Christ may, occasionally, bring some ridicule on us but, usually, only in the form of criticism for our "unenlightened" views.  We have generations of church-goers who have been told that, if they'll only say a simple prayer, eternity in paradise is theirs.  We give lip-service to "taking up our cross" but rarely think about the implications of actually doing it. In short, we can't truly imagine what it would be like to face death every day simply because we believe in Christ, crucified and raised, as our redeemer. Jon Walton, spoke to the youth and reminded them of the importance of regularly praying for the persecuted church and challenged them to start each day in prayer for other Christians around the world.

On Thursday morning, I woke up and turned on the news.  A college in Kenya had been attacked and more than 100 people were dead.  Christians were singled-out for killing. The events of our "game" had taken place in real life. Only, in reality, instead of being taken to jail, these believers were killed on the spot!  I really couldn't even wrap my mind around the reality and brutality of the story I was watching.  I prayed, I grieved, and then... I started another day of real-world living for me: Breakfast? Check- although the drive-through line was too long at my usual stop so I had to settle for another one; Early Education? Check- VCR problems for the Easter Story movie, VeggieTales retelling on DVD instead; Help with Egg Hunt? Check- 800 candy-filled eggs for 30 kids; Paperwork for State? Check- at least the first packet; Easter Sunrise Service planning? Check- Sound system laid out & generator tested; Supper? Check- steak cooked perfectly and good salad. 


I woke up in the middle of the night with tears in my eyes.  How can I stay so insulated from the tragedy in this world? How can I settle into my comfort when so many are in need?  How can I take my faith so lightly when, for so many, faith, communicated, is a death sentence? How can my heart remain so hard when I claim to follow Christ who wept with compassion when he looked at a broken world? I say I desire to follow Christ but fall so very short of his example!

Today is Good Friday.  We remember the suffering and anguish of the Cross.  We remember the compassion Christ had even to the condemned man hanging next to him.  We remember his death and burial and the heartbreak of those who followed him.  We remember that he cried out with a loud voice, "IT IS FINISHED!" We remember and we celebrate because we know what comes next in the narrative: HE IS RISEN! We claim the promise of salvation: Sins forgiven, past wiped clean, strength to face what stands before us, eternity with our God.  We claim these things yet we often don't live as if we believe them.

I have been struck recently with an illustration that won't let me go.  I was reading a novel set in medieval Wales.  The author describes watching a field being plowed by a yoke of oxen. Behind them in the plow and the man who is steadying it. In front is the ox caller.  This young man stays always in front: encouraging, calling, directing.  There is no whip. There is no punishment from the man in the back.  There is the constant presence of the one calling them forward to accomplish more that they believe they can.  The one who keeps them from getting distracted by their surroundings. The one who will greet them at the end of the day with a reward and his physical touch. The one who believes in them and their abilities.

I immediately took this image to heart.  Too often, we get caught up in the image of a God who beats us into line or doesn't care what happens to us.  We get distracted by the things of this world or caught up in the comparison game- "As long as I'm better than so-and-so, I'm ok." We take our eyes off of the one who has laid the groundwork before us and will direct our paths if we just follow! He is there. Encouraging us.  Leading us. Rewarding us when we reach our goal. He is there having walked every step before us. As his children, we should know his voice and follow!

Today, I choose to follow Christ: to love the unloved, to minister to the heartbroken, to sit in the company of children and embrace their simple joy, to step into an "unclean" world and point people to the hope I've found- with compassion not judgement.  I choose to carry my faith with me every step of the way never forgetting the love and sacrifice that has borne me to this point. I choose to be God's every minute of every day. I choose to focus only on my relationship with Him and to avoid the temptation to compare myself to others.  I choose to be God's child.

Psalm 23: 3 says:
"He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake."
Father, restore me and lead me as I carry your name. Amen