Tuesday, May 27, 2014

"And so, Lord, where do I put my hope? My only hope is in you" Psalm 39:7

I write this with a sad and heavy heart at the end of my last day here at the CooperRiis farm. This interim project in North Carolina was challenging in ways that I would have never anticipated. It is truly fascinating what you learn about yourself when you live and work in the same place. You realize your own selfishness when you face the challenge of serving people 24/7. Extend that to serving those who do not always want to be served or loved, and who face deep mental turmoil...it is just not easy. I walk away from this time having grown tremendously in flexibility and adaptability. In my role, I was pushed to be a chameleon and I grew a lot because of it. 

One of my biggest challenges at CooperRiis has been learning how to stand for Christ in an organization that is not faith-based. As a ministry student it was quite easy to talk about the Lord in conversation, in relationship, in many aspects of daily life. Throughout my summers, I often worked in a faith-based organization or got plugged into some kind of faith-based mission work. This was the first time that I was led to serve missionally in a secular organization. Moreover, a therapeutic community which tends to acknowledge Eastern beliefs and shy away from Christianity. I have noticed that conversations involving faith are extremely sensitive and can easily arouse some kind of controversy. There seems to be a lot of hurt and resentment towards the church. With this reality, I have learned just how difficult it can be to stand for Christ in a society that categorizes you as "religious" and ties jaded philosophies and stereotypes to that label. 

"They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator...Although they know God's righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them" Romans 1: 25, 32

While I had some experience with opposition in the past, I started over-thinking my approach. Just how could I maintain boundaries, remain respectful, not come off as condemning; while still bringing glory to the Lord in all of my work and still stand for truth? I am a pretty vocal person, so as time went on and I fell more quiet in an attempt to respect boundaries, I started to get frustrated with myself. I was frustrated by this pluralistic mentality that I seemed to constantly face. "You believe what you believe, and I'll believe what I believe and all will be fine." But no! That is not fine with me - because if I truly loved those around me then I would not just sit back and watch as they walk towards the edge of a jagged cliff. If I am filled to the brim with joy and life I cannot just keep quiet as though it does not exist. Just like when someone is in love and they seem to take every opportunity to bring up that person ("The sky is so blue today" "My boyfriend's favorite color is blue..."), I love to bring up Jesus and to see and acknowledge how the Lord is undeniably in nature, in people, and in situations. 

"For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities - his eternal power and divine nature - have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse" Romans 1:20

I remember a conversation I had within the first few weeks of being at CooperRiis. I was cleaning the dining room with another intern and he started talking about his perspective on our community. "But I would do things a little differently. What is healing without the saving power of Jesus?" I was profoundly impacted by this statement. Without the hope of the Cross what hope do any of us have on our own? I feel a sting deep in my heart when I talk to residents about their dreams and their vision for the future. Residents and many others in this world are completely uncertain of their purpose in life. Their dreams and goals extend only to what the world can offer - money, career, relationships - all things that can come crashing down and leave people feeling hopeless. Oh if only more would take hold of the freedom that is offered in Christ! Freedom which raises life from death and allows those who are lost to be found. 

"Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy." Psalm 103:2-4

As time went on, I continued to struggle with this issue. It probably did not help that I was also reading through Acts about the boldness and courage of disciples who spread the Good News; who even in the face of rejection simply brushed off their sandals and continued. And here I was, feeling so paralyzed by the dynamic of the therapeutic community I was in - unable to find a balance of my desire to be respectful and loving but still confident in faith. While I processed this internal battle and prayed for direction, I realized my desire for control seeping in. I was trying to find some formula rather than trusting the Spirit to guide me in every situation. The Lord may open opportunities for us to speak up, but there are also times that the Spirit will lead us to be still, to be silent. There are times that we would be more of a barrier to the Gospel if we were to speak up, then if we simply met each person where they were and loved them with no condition. I must remember that it is not my responsibility to save the world for that has already been done. I am simply a vessel for God's Kingdom. His plan will be accomplished with or without me. He can use me only when I surrender to His leading. I am not to evaluate my effectiveness but am to trust that the Lord will grow seeds that are sown according to His purpose. 

"But I trust in you, O LORD; I say, 'You are my God.'" Psalm 31:14

I leave here knowing that many still walk in darkness. As I stared out my window this morning, tears poured out for each of the lives here on the farm. For those who know me, you know I am not the most emotional person - and when I do cry it is usually something related to myself: I'm in pain, someone broke my heart, or I am frustrated with myself. This time, my tears were tears of genuine sorrow (not pity) out of love for each resident - wanting them so badly to find hope in Jesus and escape the shadow of death. How I pray that they do not just find healing in self-realization, or a career goal, or whatever else - but that they would find real life in Christ. I have never felt such a profound desire for others' salvation. I have never felt so genuinely desperate that people who are lost be found. Yet I have to trust that the Lord is above me, He is working out His plan for the glory of His Name, and He will open eyes to the truth and grant life to those who accept it. In every place I go I will face those who will reject this gift that is offered to them. At the end of the day, all I can do is love God with all my heart and all my soul and all my mind and trust that He will use me as a vessel to live out the Good News in love, for others and for His Kingdom. 

"He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake." Psalm 23:3

"Everything from Jesus' parables, to his healings, to his controversies, to his warnings and all of that, the reason they were telling this stuff is not just that it was good advice for them in their own day but that it actually mattered, that it actually happened. And if it hadn't happened you're into a totally different world-view.. A world-view which is about ideas, which is about self-realization, hugely popular in our culture just now, 'discovering who I really am.' For goodness sake, Jesus didn't come to help me discover who I really am. He came to tell me who he knew I really was and to do something about it - And that's much better news" 
- N.T. Wright, Bishop of Durham, The Case for Christ

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