Planting Seeds

Our Sunday night ministry has continued strong.  Each week we have half a dozen or so core attendees, who bring with them a myriad of roommates past and present, co-workers, family members in town.  It continues to be a place where people feel welcomed and loved.

But I’ve struggled over the past few months, worried that it’s stagnating into a fairly predictable clique.  And worse, that we aren’t really making headway in building relationships that lead to sharing the Gospel and applying it to the lives of people who think they already understand it.  Some evenings are spent playing games – literally.  And while I don’t mind me a game every now and then, I want something more.  Something deeper.

My struggle has found me isolating myself at times.  Excusing myself from the group when they’re involved in a large game or several small discussion groups that I have no part in.  At times it has felt as though my presence is superfluous.  I  know  this isn’t the case, but when there’s no real meaningful connection with anyone in the course of an evening for weeks  on end, I begin to second guess myself and my work and whether or not I’m all that necessary.  Easier to just nip off upstairs for a round or two of Call of Duty before checking back in to see that everyone is pretty much as involved as they were before I left, as though I haven’t really been gone.

I’m missed by some, who attribute it to my introverted nature.  I haven’t been able to find the right way to tell them it isn’t that I don’t want to be with people, but rather it seems people don’t need to be with me.  For all my talk about mission-work and the long-game in terms of relationship building, I’m still pretty American.  I want things to move along quickly.  I want to see some  stuff happening.  And when it’s been months since I’ve had a substantive interaction, and that one was challenging, to say the least, I  begin to tire.

God is good.  And a lot happened on the past two Sundays.

Last Sunday, there was an early discussion before most of the folks arrived.  The topic had been touched on once or twice before but here it was again.  How can we trust or love God if He allows people to go to hell?  This young woman – raised Christian and recently graduated from a prestigious Christian liberal arts college – was insisting that she couldn’t be happy in heaven knowing that there were people in hell.  She wasn’t sure she could trust a God who didn’t make sure everyone went to heaven.

The discussion began based on a Gospel reading from Mark regarding blaspheming the Holy Spirit – calling the good works of God evil.  Conflating good with evil.  She was worried that perhaps she was blaspheming the Holy Spirit, and I agreed that perhaps she was, something she was a bit rattled by to say the least.  If you’re going to insist that God is doing something wrong, something evil by allowing people to go to hell, then you’re putting yourself in a situation similar to the one Jesus warned the scribes about.  If you presume to pass judgment on the works of God, you’re in effect setting yourself up as God, and this is an untenable situation.  So long as you’re putting yourself above God you will refuse the good and necessary gifts of God, and this puts you in eternal danger.

It was an invigorating conversation to say the least.

Afterwards I was able to talk with a young man who was struggling in a relationship and the very real difficulty of learning to orient two separate lives down a single path.  I was able to listen and suggest some mentoring courses of action that might be of help to both him and his lady.  New opportunities for my wife and I to live out the Gospel by standing with the people the Holy Spirit has placed in our lives and assisting them with the hard work of life.

That was last week.  An exhausting but very exciting conclusion to an 18-hour work day.

Last night was another great conversation.  A young woman was asking questions about Holy Communion.  She didn’t understand why the Roman Catholic Church (that she was partially raised in but was not confirmed in) wouldn’t allow her to receive Holy Communion?  She saw  Holy Communion as a beautiful and wonderful gift to receive regularly and it make no sense that anyone would be excluded from it.  So after a bit of discussion about Scripture, we opened up Scripture and actually read it together.  Specifically, 1 Corinthians 11:17-34.

She read it, and I would stop her on occasion to explain or elaborate on something Paul said, or offer insights as to what he was getting at.  All of which culminated in verses 27-32, which are some of the most challenging verses in Scripture as regards the Church.  Paul asserts that physical illness and even death can result when someone doesn’t recognize what they’re participating in and therefore receives Holy Communion inappropriately.  It was so amazing and humbling, at the end of perhaps 30 minutes of Scriptural reading and discussion, for her to finally exclaim in understanding that denying Holy Communion to someone who may not know what they’re doing isn’t an attempt to be exclusive or cruel, but rather an expression of Christian love and responsibility.

Only on a few occasions on Sunday nights have I been sought out for discussion specifically because of my vocation as a pastor.  And this was the first time that in fulfilling that vocation, somebody was able to see and understand Scripture with their own eyes and heart.  I don’t know what that will mean for this young woman, but at the very least she has a better understanding of why the historic practice of the Church has been to be careful in terms of who is permitted to receive Holy Communion.

Two weeks in a row of wonderful discussions where I believe the Holy Spirit was at work.  I’m not sure how or to what ends, but it was a reminder that God is always present, and that building relationships can and does lead to a place and time where someone is willing to trust you enough to give voice to a concern or a question.  And to a time and place where the Word of God can be brought to bear for the glory of God and the benefit of the body of Christ.

What a humbling privilege!



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