Monday, April 23, 2012

Pulse Check

In our youth ministry, we're sorta between series right now. I like to leave a week or two in our programming for un-programmed discussions. We just finished a series on the season of Lent and we're gearing up for a series (after Unify, of course) on "Live a Life of Love" (Ephesians 5:1-2) which is our church's new mission statement. We'll be talking specifically about the strategic component of our vision--our discipleship process, so to speak, of "connecting, growing, becoming."

But last night we just had a "pulse-check" to see where we are and review some basics. We had a great conversation around the question, "what's the most important thing in the world?" You know, that "secret of life" question. Students' answers revolved around ideas of love, acceptance, happiness, and faith. And we got the chance to unpack some of those concepts. But what we realized was that our answers to that question were a lot less important than the process of how we got to them. The right-ness or wrong-ness of our answers are dependent on how we filter the question, how we frame it, where we get our references.

You see, you can make a case for all sorts of good answers. Acceptance, seen through the right filter, could be argued as the most important thing. Faith, in the right light, might be the most important thing. Love, hope, etc. All can be argued. But the best question is, how are we getting there?

Jesus said, "seek first the Kingdom, and all these other things will come together." So for us, our first point of reference for discerning what's most important is God and God's kingdom. Are we filtering our perspective through who God is, what God says, what God is doing in our world, what God's dreams are, and where God is living?

We talked about the great command...
When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had left the Sadducees speechless, they met together. One of them, a legal expert, tested him. “Teacher, what is the greatest commandment in the Law?” He replied, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: You must love your neighbor as you love yourself. All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands.” (Matthew 22:24-40)
If we're tempted to see loving God and loving people as very different things, Jesus tells us to resist that temptation, the two are actually very similar. You see, we may like to think that loving God is a religious thing and loving people is a relational thing and we may want to compartmentalize the two, but Jesus (in his teaching but also in his incarnational presence in history) brings them together for us. Love for God is not just about saying the right prayers, believing the right doctrines, or going to the right church with the right frequency. Loving God, just as loving people, is about a relationship. I don't love my wife through my obedience to her, as though the point is to keep her from getting angry with me. No! Although there's a connection between those things, my love for Amanda is about her heart. I'm after her heart.

I think that's what the whole "seek first" thing is all about. Seeking God's kingdom is about pursuing God's heart. As cliche as it has become in some circles, it's still about a relationship with God. That's the filter through which all our questions must go. Are we seeking after the heart of God? Is this about love? Or are we just trying to solve a cosmic equation?

Some of us are tempted, on our worst days, to see this "relationship with God" stuff as a bit below us, as though we've got a much more robust and sophisticated understanding of things. That's me, at least, when I'm trying so hard to wear the "theologian" hat that I forget God's love for me. I set it aside because it sounds so simple and it sounds so juvenile or because I think I've got to make it more philosophical and complex than all that. But that's the reality to which we're invited. that's what all this theological reflection is about. It's about the people of God falling in love with Jesus, being in God's presence, and pursuing God's heart.

That's the pulse check, not just for my youth group but for me and for you.

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