I had several talks with a young man raised in conservative missionary group this week. As he became a young adult, the founder of the group died. As a result, the group started unravelling. Many of this young man’s peers left and even abandoned their relationship with God. He himself hangs on to his relationship with God but sometimes wonders why.
This is a problem that often occurs with the second and third generation of a Church or fellowship group. Parents join those because of an already established relationship with the Almighty. The Church or the group becomes for them a vehicle or a tool to practice their already established faith so to speak. For their children it is different. Being born in it, the Church or the group becomes to them the actual matrix from which their faith is generated. This dependency on a leader, Church, group, or denomination is a fragile spiritual position to be in. Leaders can fail; and Church, group, fellowship, and even denominations grow and change, sometimes for good and sometime for bad. That’s what the Children of Israel learned when they went into captivity in Babylon. Having lost the Temple which was their vehicle of worship, they had to get closer to God by studying the only thing they had left: The Torah, the Word.
I explained to this young man that relationship with God must rather be based on a personal tangible experience, not appartenance to a doctrinal group. He said then that he couldn’t pinpoint such a time in his life. This made me rethink my answer.
There are many ways that a relationship with God begins and some are not always pinpointable. Some establish it through the vehicle of a sincere prayer; some remember the happenstance of a miracle; a convincing argument; an emotional rush. There are even times when people realized that they had it but didn’t know it. It just grew on them. But all of those probably started with a conscious or subconscious search. Even fighting against God is a sign of having a relationship with Him. It may resemble a very bad marriage, but unless you are crazy, you can’t fight against an entity that doesn’t exist.
But back to my friend.
I’d like to compare relationship with God to marriage. When we marry we make a conscious rational decision that will change our lives for better or for worse. It is a financial, logistical, and sometimes even a religious decision. In any case it will drastically change the way we live in every way. Whereas we can pinpoint the day we marry, we may not be able to pinpoint the day we fall in love. Yet falling in love leads to very tangible rational (sometimes irrational) and drastic decisions. Like getting married, dedicating our lives to God is our tangible answer to a relationship that started in a time and way we can’t really pinpoint and explain. That’s the decision that we make and no one does it for us. That time of decision then becomes becomes our reference point.
I want to take the analogy a little further. The most important part of a wedding ceremony is the sharing of the vows. Everything revolves around that. The vows are the promise that two people make to each other. In the Bible the breaking of vows is so unthinkable that Jesus said that it was better not to make vows than to make one and break it. Many things can go awry in a marriage; but at the end of the day, when the emotions, the violins, the pink clouds, and the butterflies are gone, if it it is based on the reference point and notion of an unbreakable and unshakable promise and not on external conditions, it will never break. It is the same with our relationship with God.
Here is a clip from the movie, A Beautiful mind.
I arrived in America in 1995. Because my wife is a native of Portland and the fact that her family lives in the area, we decided to make Portland our home.
After three days at my in-laws, I decided to take the bus to downtown Portland. When I told the blond lady bus-driver I had just been in America three days, she exclaimed, “Welcome to GOD’s country!” I got off at the last stop near the main train station, by the Rescue Mission. This was my first impression of a city in America. On my way back, the driver stopped the bus because of a young teenager toting a gun. Again I thought, “They do call it the Wild-West!”
Maybe it was due to these first impressions that my wife and I started a ministry to the Portland area street-kids and youth-at-risk. This ministry lasted about 10 years. Many young people joined us to help and we got very close to some of them. In our hearts, we were doing something for God and so were they.
During our summer ministry tour this year, trip we have had the opportunity to reconnect with some of these young people that worked with us. We were surprised to see that while some had kept their relationship with God some others didn’t, and even grew bitter against Him.
Indeed many things can affect our attitude towards God. As I wrote in a previous article, we are often mad at God because He didn’t do such-and-such that we expected Him to do, when actually the “such-and-such” were not things God had promised to do. We often fail to read the ‘contract’ that we have with Him. While angry, people say that they reject God and don’t want to have anything to do with Him. This is not unbelief; this is anger.
That is why it is important that our relationship with Him be not based on false premises or promises. Preachers who promise the ‘moon’ to potential believers actually do a disservice to the cause because God has never promised us the ‘moon’. But even more than that, what is ‘true faith’?True faith is like getting married. A wise husband-to-be will not promise the ‘moon’. He doesn’t know what the future holds. Like with any healthy marriage, our union with God can never be conditional to happiness, health, or wealth. The knowledge that we are united with our Creator should also have nothing to to do with format, practices, or doctrines; only as the Good Book tells us, “Faith working through love.” (Gal 5:6 ESV)
The Good Book also tells us of those ancient patriarchs who died in faith seeming to never have received what God had promised to them. That’s true faith, faith that is not dependant on the answer, but on obedient love. I am reminded of the three Judean captives who were asked to bow down before an idol. As true followers of God, they couldn't do that and were to be thrown into a fiery furnace. so they said to their oppressor, “...Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, .... But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up." (Dan 3:17-18 ESV)
This is a story about Pig-Pen. Pig-Pen felt bad because of the flies that pestered him. He really didn’t like the flies. “What should I do?” he kept wondering. He didn’t realize that the flies were attracted to the cloud of dirt and filth that hovered around him in a cloud. And Pig-pen loved his cloud of filth. One day he was caught in a short but heavy downpour that showed him clean. This is when he exclaimed, "In one minute the rain has washed away what took me all day to accomplish.” He sometimes referred with pride to the cloud that surrounded him as the “dust of ancient civilizations.”
He wanted to impress Violet of whom he was quite fond. He cleaned himself up for a little time but then was totally unrecognizable, so that didn’t help. Another time he tried to fool Peppermint Patty by keeping only one side of his body clean. It didn’t last long as soon enough the flies revealed the trick.
He himself didn’t look at himself as dirty. In his eyes, his dirt represented a very valuable commodity. “Don't think of it as dust. Just think of it as the dirt and dust of far-off lands blowing over here and settling on me!. It staggers the imagination! I may be carrying the soil that was trod upon by Solomon or Nebuchadnezzar or Genghis Khan! One then may think, “Poor Pig-Pen; he is a relic of history, yet no-one appreciates him. He is harassed by these naughty flies and he can’t even get a girlfriend. That’s not fair.” Poor Pig-Pen indeed. Instead of realising that where there is no filth there are no flies, he had rationalised the dirty and lazy habits of his life into a lie that he himself believed. He had even convinced others that he was the victim and not the cause of his own predicament. Once, after bathing and dressing in clean clothes, Pig-Pen stepped outside his house, and instantaneously became dirty and disheveled, whereupon he declared "You know what I am? I'm a dust magnet!" On another occasion, Pig-Pen decided it was important to have clean hands, but after failing to wash them, he gave up realizing that he had "reached a point of no return." So he also had a problem with consistency and determination.
Whereas Pig-Pen is a fictional character, we may need to realise that there is truth to learn through Pig-Pen’s predicament. If we live life with integrity and honesty, we do not have a problem with negative rumors against us. Or if we do, like flies who will not remain in a clean place, these rumors and gossip will go away through our own transparency because, “Where there is no dirt, flies don’t stay!”
My wife and I have been out on a ministry tour for a month now. We have another two months to go. For the last two weekends we have been in the neighborhood of Minneapolis, Minnesota. We are now on our way to Iowa.
We spent the 4th of July in the little town of Lyons, Nebraska, population: 814. Downtown feels like something out of a movie on the A&E channel. The 4th of July parade seemed to have been composed of half the city parading for the other half, their friends and relatives, in the audience. In the evening, the fire department hosted the town’s dinner.
There were quite a few events on that 4th of July and my wife and I strolled the town looking at what was happening. One of the events particularly drew my attention. The flyer said, “Blind Tractor Race”. Were these local farmers really going to drive their tractors blind? It sounded quite reckless to me. I wanted to see this.
As I arrived I was delighted to see what was really happening. The driver of the tractor was really going to be blindfolded, but standing beside him, sitting and holding the best he could to whatever he could find, was a seeing person who gave verbal instructions to the blindfolded driver.
People sometime talk farmers down, but according to someone I know, these farmers were actually pretty smart: they had the seeing leading the blind!
Many lessons can be drawn from this. First, it is a real exercise of trust and humility for the driver who is put in a position of vulnerability and dependence. It is also an exercise of integrity for the seeing person who has to make sure to give clear instructions and be patient.
There was one team of a father and an young teenager who reminded me of what it feels like to raise teenagers in the world. Another team was a team of women who didn’t seem to have good communication so the tractor went all over the place.
In the Bible, blindness is used as an imagery for ignorance. So I felt that this exercise presented a good illustration of what it to be a teacher. All in all, I felt that it was a good illustration of what it is to be It is a good illustration of what it is to be a teacher.
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