Monday, August 22, 2011

...but God gave the growth.

I've been in Arizona for about 2 weeks now after spending 7 weeks in North Sacramento. It was the second summer training program that I did this summer. Just like the first one, God kicked me in the rear to show me that He didn't just call to these STP's to use me, but also to teach me something and to show His greatness.

The reason I wanted to go to this particular training program was because it was working with fatherless young men, which was kind of a no-brainer for me since I grew up without a father myself. During the first couple weeks, I was asked if I would be able to share my testimony with the boys as we had a section called “Knowing God.” I agreed to do it. When I was actually doing it, I was nervous as all get out. But I told them about growing up without a father to teach me how to be a man, how I had created a god out of my report card, and how God had shown me that He is my father and that He is a much greater and more stable God to serve than a letter grade. It was frustrating because I knew some of the boys really didn't care and were actively not listening to anything I was saying.

However, one kid came up to me afterward to ask questions that he didn't want to ask in front of the whole group. He asked, “Do you still hate your father?” which is indeed a loaded question. I told him that God is helping me work towards forgiveness, but I know that that's just not possible without the help of my true Father. I asked if he was angry with his father and he said that he was just angry in general, and blames his father's absence for it. He said he doesn't want to use that as an excuse, but that's the way he sees it.

I was floored. First of all, I didn't really expect this kid to be listening at all. Second, I saw great maturity in him for wanting to take responsibility for his anger. Most of all, I saw a great vulnerability behind his words, that he was essentially a little kid crying out for a father that was never there.

As the rest of the summer played out, that moment really stuck out to me. God showed me how He had orchestrated that day to happen:
First, that was the only day this summer that that kid came.
Second, I was only the 2nd person this summer to give his testimony. When I thought about what I'd say, I thought I would tweak it a bit to be more relatable to the kids, so I mentioned my father, a figure who not only has been absent from my life, but my story as well. Others later in the summer hadn't done that so much, so if I'd gone later, I probably wouldn't have included that.

I have no doubt that God worked July 8th out so that that kid could hear my story and hear about the hope that the Father gives to those who were wronged by other people. Also, in typical God fashion, He didn't let me see what happened past that. I don't know if that kid's a believer now, or if he ever will be one. But that's not my job to know or make happen, though I sometimes think it is. He didn't call me to convert that kid, or any of the other kids I saw. He called me to share my story. He'll take care of the rest.

There were other things that happened in Sacramento this summer that God used to teach me, but it was this that stuck with me the most. I saw God's hand moving undoubtedly that day when He told me to speak to a bunch of crazy kids about my life. And really, He gave me the story. God gave me the seed to plant, now I need to trust him to provide the waterer, and for Him to cause it to grow.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Pine Valley 2011-Sonship

This summer has been pretty busy and that busyness doesn't seem like it's going to come to an end any time soon. Not too long after school ended, I went to Colorado Springs for my fifth and final (tear) EDGE Summit. For a reference to what little turn around time there was, we had graduations happening while I was in the Springs. I was there for a week before saying good by to my EDGE classmates, a lot of whom I probably won't see again this side of heaven (a sad thought, but it's true). Some of us are continuing on staff as Staff In Training. I think there was one or two couples doing entity staff, which as I understand it, is sort of like a third year of EDGE where you are on campus, but you are getting less training and it is not a long-term commitment. A few others, myself included, are doing associate staff, meaning that we have or will have jobs outside of the Navs while still committing to campus and other Nav events. Still others have decided to leave Navs completely. It's sad to see us all go our separate ways, but I know that we are following God where He leads us.

Five days after I got back from Summit, I headed to California for a summer training program in Pine Valley, outside of San Diego. I was there for a little over 2 weeks. 2 weeks after that one ended, I will leave for another training program in Sacramento to work with inner-city kids.

I thought it would be nice to tell people about the awesome things that happened at Pine Valley via my blog. I also thought that just telling you things would be boring. So I decided to write a small story, a parable if you will. This one was actually told by someone a lot smarter and holier than me (Jesus), but I'm editing it a bit.

Some background: We studied the book of Galatians at Pine Valley, which deals a lot with works-based justification that the church was dealing with. Some people told the Galatians that they had to be circumcised to be true believers in Jesus. The apostle Paul, himself circumcised, let them know that it was not by following any Jewish law that they were saved, but by faith in Christ alone. He said that if they made it necessary to follow one law, they would have to follow all of the law. They were making themselves slaves to the law rather than accepting the freedom that they had just by being sons and daughters of God. That's what this story is about.

The Son
I wake up in a daze. The sun painfully hits my skin, reminding me of the even more painful realization of a new day. "Will this ever end?"

I think back. I had it good. I didn't know how good I had it. Like an idiot, I told Dad, "I'm fine living on my own. I got this. I'm just going to take what you've blessed me with, and hit the road. Thanks for everything, but I don't need you anymore." How wrong I was.

This life is pathetic. I don't have anything left. No money. No bed. No food. I'm so hungry. I look at the stuff the pigs are eating. When I was living with Dad, that was appropriately called slop. Now, I'd give anything just to eat what they're eating. Heck, I'd give anything just to eat
anything. This is absolutely miserable.

I know what I have to do. I have to go back. It will be a big shot to my pride, but I don't care anymore. I would gladly give up my pride for a meal, a place to sleep, clothes that are cleaner than the ground I walk on. Dad's servants aren't even in the miserable state I'm in right now. I have to go back.

"What, are you going to waltz back in and pretend like you didn't completely dishonor and disrespect Dad?" The thought won't leave me as I walk towards the place I used to call home. This isn't a matter of my pride, but my family's. How could they just take me back in? "I know! I'll work off what I've done. I'll go back and be servant for Dad's house."

I know what I'm going to say. "Dad, I screwed up royally. I'm not worthy to be your son anymore, so take me back as a servant." I'm rehearsing this over and over again. It's all I can do as I walk. Am I still walking? I've been at this forever. Am I there yet?

I think I see my house in the distance. Yes, I do! It could be a shack, but nothing could look more like a castle. I can't wait to get there.

Is that... is Dad running? What a shameful thing to do. What's a man his age doing running like that? Did one of the horses get out again? What is he doing?

He just called my name. I haven't heard that name uttered in so long. It's like sweet, sweet music. But wait, does this mean he's coming to me? I wasn't expecting this. "Just tell him what you've rehearsed."

Dad finally catches up to me with a bigger smile on his face than any man should have after running so far. I look down in shame, not wanting to look into his eyes that I'm surprised even want to look at me. I start my speech: "Dad, I screwed up royally. I'm not worthy to be your son anymore, so-"

is him!" Dad yelled towards the house, interrupting my speech. "Quick, fire up the grills! Bring my robe and ring! Cook the very best steaks! My beloved son was dead, but is now brought back to me alive!" I went from being in the middle of a speech to being speechless. Did I hear him right?

He's almost pushing me towards the house now. "Wait, Dad, this isn't right." I stop to look at him. "This party, the robe, the ring, this doesn't make sense. I dishonored you. I took what you gave me and squandered it. I don't deserve a party. I don't deserve to be your son. I barely deserve to be your servant, but that's what I'm asking to be."

"Son," he said, taking my shoulders in his hands, as he always did when he was making a point to me, "do you know why I'm throwing this party? Don't you know why you get the ring and the robe? You're my son, with whom I am well pleased. None of this nonsense about being worthy. You're my son, and nothing can take that away. No matter how many times you leave, no matter how far you go, no matter how long you're gone, you will always be my son. That's unconditional. You don't have to work your up to sonship again. That's ludicrous. You didn't have to work to obtain it, you don't have to work to retain it, and you don't have to work to regain it. You are always my son, whom I love."

And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, "Abba! Father!" So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.
-Galatians 4:6-7

The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.
-Romans 8:16-17

...and behold, a voice from heaven said, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased."
-Matthew 3:17