Saturday, May 14, 2016

Supporting the Christian Values of Home and Church: What does that mean?

"Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.  Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.  God's love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only son into the world so that we might live through him.  In this is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.  Beloved, since God loved us so much, we ought also to love one another.  No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is perfected in us."  I John 4:7-12, NRSV

The sanctuary of the Wedgewood Baptist Church in Ft. Worth, Texas was packed, mostly with teenagers, on a Wednesday night, September 15, 1999.  "See You at the Pole" had happened that morning, and the youth were gathering in a time of worship and celebration that evening.  Shortly after the rally began, 47 year old Larry Gene Ashbrook walked into the back of the church, threw a pipe bomb, and started shooting from a 380 caliber handgun.  Reloading several times, he killed seven people, including four teenagers.  Three young adults, including students from nearby Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, who were assisting with supervision were killed when they attempted to protect kids in the room.  Several other people were seriously injured.  One of the participants, a 19 year old named Jeremiah Neitz, confronted Ashbrook, and started talking to him about the gospel.  It was a very dangerous situation for him, and a very brave thing to do, but it bought some time, and Ashbrook stopped shooting.  Only one more person died after that confrontation, when Ashbrook turned the gun on himself.  Many of those youth are alive today because there were some fellow Christians who put their faith in action, and laid their lives down for them, and one who survived, who put his own life on the line.

When questioning Neitz after the shooting, police had a hard time believing his story.  Why would a young man put himself in that kind of danger rather than protect himself?  The answer is found just a few verses earlier:

"We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us--and we ought to lay down our lives for one another."  I John 3:16, NRSV

The kind of fellowship between believers that John was shaping with this epistle was developing at a time when Christians faced the daily danger of persecution.  But faith in Jesus brings believers together in relationships that are stronger than persecution, even to the point of death.  We rarely see examples of that kind of persecution, so when they do happen, it's hard to understand the kind of faith that it takes to put yourself in mortal danger to protect the lives of others. 

That's not the only relevant application of this particular Biblical principle.  As a Christian community, we might not face the kind of situation where we are required to lay our life down for someone else, but if that's the ultimate expectation of a relationship between believers, what should our relationships look like the rest of the time?  This is a discussion that comes up frequently in a Christian school.  We tend to think in terms of the ideal and principle when we are in a group, and we expect others who claim to have the same kind of faith in Jesus that we do, to behave according to the ideal that is stated in the principle.  We question behavior in others that we evaluate as not being consistent with the kind of spiritual maturity that is taught in this epistle.  But the real question we should be asking is whether or not we expect our own behavior to meet this standard. 

It would be an expectation of the adults who work with students in a Christian school to have this level of maturity, especially teachers.  Effective teaching of Biblical values requires believing in them, and modeling them.  If you send your children here, then you're right to have this expectation of the staff.  Part of our agreement to serve in this ministry is that our faith has reached a level of maturity that makes us capable and effective teachers of Biblical values and principles, because we know the scriptures, and we live by them. 

Among the students, there are those who are demonstrating spiritual maturity.  The amount of scripture that they know, and what they know about it is impressive.  It should be.  They have a class in it every day.  And we do indeed see a difference in their behavior, in their attitude, and in their lifestyle that reflects what they know and what they are learning.  But they are students, and they are still learning.  Not everyone has the same level of spiritual maturity, and not everyone has the same kind of faith foundation at home, or in their church.  If your expect that the school's ministry will be supporting and encouraging to your child as they grow in their spiritual maturity, you're on the right track.  I've heard it characterized as the difference between a shelter and a refuge.  We're a refuge.  Students will interact and engage with other students here who do not share the same level of maturity of faith, who do not necessarily have the same kind of spiritual foundation at home, or the same support from the Christian community at their church.  While we require every family, and every student after 7th grade, to have a testimony of faith in Jesus as their savior, that doesn't guarantee that everyone is on the same level in their spiritual maturity.  Realistically, it doesn't really guarantee that everyone actually knows Jesus. 

 Those who have a foundation that's been laid at home, and who have a connection to the body of Christ through their church have a distinct advantage.  We can do a lot here, but we certainly can't do it all.  Our role is to support the faith foundation at home in a partnership with parents, and what we do here is made more effective when it is a genuine partnership.  It's more difficult if we're the only place that undergirds and supports a student's faith experience.  These particular passages from I John point to the fact that those who do have a firm foundation of faith bear a responsibility for those who don't. 

"How does God's love abide in anyone who has the world's goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?"  I John 3:17, NRSV

If we're expected to help with material needs, how much more do these passages underline the expectation that we are to help with spiritual needs?  If you're part of our school community, and your children enjoy advantages that provide them with a foundation to grow in Christ, and develop spiritual maturity, then you are part of the ministry to others, who need to develop those things in their lives and in their homes.  We're brought together in fellowship in many ways, as classmates, as teammates, in the cast of a musical, as we travel to archery tournaments, or on field trips to places like Gettysburg, or mission trips to places like Virginia Beach.

If Jonathan Neitz had thought of himself, and either hid out or fled from the situation, it is hard to tell how much longer Larry Ashbrook would have wandered around the room reloading his gun and shooting people in the Wedgewood Baptist Church.  You may not ever find yourself in a situation that critical.  But what happens when you see that the enemy has started an attack on students at the school through behavior or attitudes that don't necessarily exhibit the standards of Christian values and behavior that you do?  Do you flee?  Hide out?  Gossip and complain about what other should be doing?  Or do you face the attack, and help protect those who are less mature and more needy than yourself? 

Do you love your fellow believers, even the less mature ones, that much?

But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy.  And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace."  James 3:17-18, NRSV

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Practical Examples

Sometimes you wonder how much attention younger people, particularly school age students, pay to what is happening in the world.  There is so much happening, so many critical issues occurring which have an immediate impact and effect on the lives we live, and the future we've planned, all of it available literally at the fingertips of anyone who has a cell phone, tablet, MP3 or other electronic device.  That includes most school-aged students.  But when they have their head bent over, concentrating on what is on their screen, is it related to what's happening, or is it some mesmerizing game, or distracting social media post?  Are they so secure, and insulated, in the prosperous world that has been created around them that they are dangerously unaware of what is important, and either don't know, or worse, don't care, about what is going on all around them? 

Some of them are most definitely aware.  I've been asked for my opinion about shopping at a particular discount department store chain, related to their policy on bathroom use.  Yes, it does sound strange when you put it down on paper that way.  My response is usually to turn that around, to find out if they know why that's an issue.  If they do, then I ask them, "How should Christians respond to that?"  It's a remarkably complicated question, because there's a quick answer that seems right from a moral perspective, but there's also consideration which must be given to the question of how that answer affects what other people will observe, and learn, from my faith as a result of my actions.  And that isn't always as obvious as it might seem to be. 

The social status of the Jewish faith of Jesus' day was woven into religious teaching so tightly that it was difficult to separate principle from practice.  On at least three occasions, Jesus did something that shocked the religious leaders of his day, but which illustrated the importance that he placed on redeeming and restoring sinful people to a relationship with God.  He accepted a dinner invitation and hung out with Matthew's tax collector buddies, who were despised, social outcasts because of their occupation.  He more or less turned down the admiration of an adoring crowd in Jericho to spend the afternoon with Zacchaeus, another despised, socially outcast tax collector, who had notably cheated people to benefit himself.  And he spent some time talking to a Samaritan woman (double whammy) who was also lacking in moral character when it came to her relationships with men.  In Jewish teaching, the woman's reputation and lifestyle made her an outcast, and a Jewish man talking to a Samaritan woman was well outside of social expectations.  But Jesus did it anyway, because he cared more about the woman's spiritual condition, and about grace and redemption, than he did about what people thought.

In each case, Jesus showed that he cared much more about the spiritual condition of the lives of the individuals than he did about the rules that had been developed as a result of the blending of a social agenda with religious doctrine.  Take that principle, and set it along side the question about what a Christian should do in a particular situation, and the person who asked the question has their own answer, from a conscience that is now familiar with a Biblical idea, and they can answer that question for themselves.  And with students, that's more important than just telling them what you think they should think. 

I read an account, several years ago, about a Jewish rabbi who lived in the Warsaw Ghetto during the Nazi occupation of Poland in World War II.  He was connected to the underground, so was more aware of the potential fate of the Jewish population in the Ghetto, and in all of Europe for that matter, and was active in resistance work.  For a while, he was able to assist some of the younger people in the community with getting false papers so that they could live among the Polish population, at least somewhat safe from the deportations that sent people to the camps and furnaces of Auschwitz. He had always been taught that such actions were illegal, and thus, immoral, but at the same time, in a world turned upside down, he was very clear on the principle of the sanctity of human life that he knew from scripture. 

His connections allowed him to escape selection himself, but he found himself in a camp, and then on a work crew wandering through Eastern Europe, disinterring mass graves where Jewish communities had been massacred and buried, burning the corpses so that the Nazis could hide the evidence of the murders.  Eventually, all of the violations of Jewish ceremonial law that he had to undertake, from handling dead, long buried bodies, to the lack of any ability to participate in ceremonial cleansings, began to weigh on him, and he contemplated suicide.  As a child, he had been required, in his Jewish school, to memorize the entire book of Psalms in Hebrew.  Each day, as he dug up bodies and placed them in piles to be burned, he went through the entire book, sometimes more than once in a day.  It was burned into his memory, and because the SS guards would not get too close to the graves or to the pyre when it was set alight, he could speak the words freely, out loud, so that others could hear.  That's how he was able to bear what would have been the unbearable work he was forced to do. 

He survived the war, and several years later, arriving in the once German city of Breslau, which had been turned into the Polish city of Wroclaw, to begin a new life in the aftermath of the war, a man came up to him on the street who recognized him from the travelling work crew, and told him that he heard him recite the Psalms every day, and that was what kept him sane and alive. 

Perhaps the things that are going on in our world today aren't quite at the level that they were during the dark days of World War 2, especially in Eastern Europe.  But there are a lot of things going on which require Christians to do some serious thinking, and rely on some serious faith.  And there's no guarantee that the world we live in won't turn upside down, at any time.  Our Christian faith is the most important thing we have in our lives.  Sometimes, we can use it to behave in a manner that cheapens its value and dispute over petty, insignificant things, while ignoring the effect that our behavior has on other people, and how they look at Christ.  It could well be that a time will come when our ability to think about the Christian values we have and know so well will be a deciding factor in how we deal with something that comes into our lives. 

"One who is taught the word must share all good things with the one who teaches.  Do not be deceived, God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap.  For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the spirit will from the spirit reap eternal life.  And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap if we do not give up.  So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith."  Galatians 6:6-10, ESV

What is the good word or deed that you have today for the household of the faith at Portersville Christian School?