My friend Tim and I have been leading some youth together every Friday morning through a video series put out by Voice of the Martyrs. In it we have been able to get a glimpse of the underground church in Vietnam, and hear there stories. It tugs at your heart and rips at your soul to hear a sixteen year old girl tell how the first time she went to prison for being a Christian was when she was twelve years old. There she was beaten, and almost raped. She was given one meal in her three day stay. In those four years since her first prison experience she has been jailed many times, yet she still clings to her faith.
Through watching these videos I've been flooded with guilt. I look at the differences between "us" and "them", and make a division. They are the "good" Christians, and we are the slackers.
I love being a youth pastor. It is amazing to witness a person's life beginning to be transformed by the living God. It can also be very discouraging to see that youth aren't always the same people on Wednesday nights or Sunday mornings that they are the rest of the week. Facebook is a valuable tool. Sometimes I can learn more about a kid in two minutes on Facebook then I could watching them for two weeks at youth group. Sometimes it breaks my heart. Double lives are lived; there's this disconnect between the "Christian" life, and everything else. I know this is true because I see it in my own life too. I know what movie I watched this week while alone in my apartment. I know what thoughts come to my head. I know the lies that pass my lips, the anger boiling in my heart, the self-righteous judgement I pass on others (and these are just the sins I'm aware of, lets not forget the evil my dial hasn't tuned into yet).
So I watch these Vietnamese Christians, and I feel guilty. Instantly I think, we need to be better! And I challenge the youth, "How can we be better? We need to be like that, but we're not!"
If only we were better.
After one of these meetings I left with an ugly feeling. Something didn't sit right with me. This reaction didn't seem appropriate. The Christian life is not about being "better".
Its about knowing God.
I can live my whole life striving to be better. It will only leave me exhausted. I am incapable of making myself better--we all are. We have all wandered so far off the path we don't even know how lost we are! The old patterns keep on showing up. OK. I'm lost. I've seen that tree before. Even when we think we've fixed up one area, there's another spot that hasn't been touched yet. "...And all our righteous acts are like filthy rags..." Heard that one before?
There is a lie that has sunk so deep in me that more often than not I don't even recognize its there. I believe if only I was a little bit better God would love me a little bit more. All of my energy focuses in on me and becoming a better person rather than on God and getting to know my Creator more deeply.
Why do we waste so much focus and energy on being better? I am tired. I'm worn out. I'm sick of focusing on how lousy I am. I would much rather focus on how great God is. I can't make me better. God can...and so much more.
A friend of mine said, "Men strive to make bad men good, Jesus came to make dead men live!"
In knowing God, we will be transformed. We are given a new life entirely. We trade in the dead version for the living one. The more we know God, the more our lives show we know him.
Maybe it isn't that the Vietnamese Christian's are better than us. Maybe in relating to Him through suffering, they know God in a way that we don't yet.
I have a new foundation to start from. Rather than looking at my youth group and thinking, this is something that will make us better--we should go to the soup kitchen because it's what "better" Christians do; I start from the place of longing to know God more intimately. We go to the soup kitchen because that is where Jesus is at. "Whatever you do for the least of these, my brothers and sisters, you do for me." We'll meet Jesus there, and lives will be transformed.
That's so much better than just being...better.