The One Thing Your Student Should Know…

Someone asked me recently what I would tell students about living their faith at school. It was a great question, beautifully framed, with the understanding that our faith is something that extends into every single part of our lives, not simply something we participate in for a few hours on Sunday or something that we selectively pick and choose parts to live by or ignore throughout the week.

Our faith is the full trust and confidence we have in the saving way of Jesus Christ that works it’s way out in our lives in every single circumstance.

To that end, the most important thing I would tell students about living their faith at school is- live your faith without fear or embarrassment.

Our faith in Jesus Christ compels us to forgive others, to be peaceful with all people, to care for those who are ignored, oppressed, or pushed to the edges, to serve the poor, orphan, and widow, to grace others with kind and encouraging words, to value all relationships, to treat others as we would want to be treated, to take a low and humble position in all we do, to not judge those whom others are judging, and to love each person as God loves us.

Those are the most beautiful expressions of life within our existence and absolutely nothing of which we should ever be ashamed. It is this kind of life, this kind of light in the darkness, that needs to shine bright in our schools for all to see.

I remember when one of my daughters was in grade school and a bully was constantly mistreating one of her friends by calling her names and kicking her. Caroline asked the bully to stop and think about the feelings of the girl who she was harassing. When this did not work, Caroline stood in front of her friend and shielded her from the kicks until the bully gave up. Caroline’s faith in Jesus was not just a mental exercise that day, but also a physical reality. She was a peacemaker and was willing to go to extraordinarily peaceful lengths to demonstrate the love of Christ to her friend and to her enemy.

Even you, as children, are disciples of Jesus. Following the way of Jesus is not simply a thing that adults do or that thing you begin doing when you have reached a certain age. Even now, you have been made new for a purpose. You have been given gifts, talents, and abilities to use for the Kingdom. You have been given a hope that is meant to be shared with others.

You will have classmates who are torn apart at home and at school with words that hurt and kill them on the inside, and you can be the one who offers a loving, encouraging, and healing word.

You will have classmates who are always the last one picked or who are always at a table by themselves, and you can be the one who invites them in and joins them at the table.

You will have classmates who are struggling and see no meaning or value in life, and you can be the one who speaks to the beauty and richness of this life and the hope you have.

You will have classmates who are always ridiculed and mocked for the way they look, their social status, their race, or their sexual orientation, and you can be the one who stands up for them against the accusations of others and treats them as fully loved children of God.

You will have classmates who feel alienated, misunderstood, and depressed, and who also may be contemplating suicide, and you can be the ear who listens to them, the shoulder they cry upon, and the welcome hand that invites them into loving community.

You will have classmates who appear to have everything (the best clothes, the most popular friends, the best looking boyfriend or girlfriend, tons of academic or athletic achievement) but who are searching for a reason to live, and you can be the one who shares about the wholeness and completeness you have found in Jesus Christ.

When there is so much in our world, our communities, our schools, our homes, and our individual lives that divides us, dehumanizes us, devalues us, and breaks us down and tears us apart… there is absolutely no reason to be fearful or embarrassed about the forgiving, merciful, graceful, healing, peaceful, and loving way of Jesus. There is absolutely no reason to be fearful or embarrassed about caring for others, praying for those who are hurting, and offering hope to others. There is absolutely no reason to be fearful or embarrassed about seeing the beauty in this life, the necessity of whole and healed relationships, and the value of every human life.

Jesus said that he came to give this world life and life to the fullest. You are an unique and magnificent extension and expression of this life to the fullest. Immerse yourself in this wonderful life that God has given you… and share it with everyone, every single moment of the day without fear or embarrassment.

Peace…

Brandon

alone…

I remember sitting down at a table with eight empty chairs around me. Everyone else was still in the buffet line trying to determine what they would fill their plates with. I, on the other hand, sat nervously poking at my food and wondering who out of the hundred plus crowd would join me. Sitting at a table in the middle of the room seemed like a good idea at the time, as I was sure that others would eventually join me. But as everyone found his or her place at other tables among already established friends and acquaintances, I soon realized that I would be sitting embarrassingly alone for the next two hours while feeling like the eyes of every single stranger were focused on me.

I felt completely alone.

Have you ever been in a situation in which you felt like an outsider or not part of the group?

Have you ever been in a situation in which it seemed as if the eyes of the world were upon you and were making judgments about how you looked and every move you made?

Have you ever felt utterly alone and wished that there was someone else who would just recognize you, say a word to you, or make you feel welcomed?

It’s true that my circumstance was only temporary but it was long enough for me to experience the ache of isolation, the pain of being an outsider, and the longing for inclusion.

I am not sure that when we are on the “inside” we consider or remember what it is like to be on the “outside,” to be the one coming into new territory, to be the one who feels awkward and alone, to be the one searching for a place to fit in, or to be the one desperately wanting someone to just give us an ear. It seems as if once we find our comfortable place, or our unique clique, it is easy to forget how others around us may be feeling or what they may be experiencing.

Even within my own church there have been many instances in which we naturally gravitate toward those with whom we already have established relationships with while neglecting those who are not familiar to us. It makes my heart ache at the number of people who may have been in our midst, or in the midst of any other church, and had this kind of experience. As we have been this way, we have been off the mark.

When a person is in the midst of the church, he or she should be completely enveloped by Christ. If a person has been alone, it is in the church where welcoming community is found and where a person will never again be alone. If a person has been cast aside by others in the world, it is in the church where loving, non-judgment is experienced and where even the toughest to love may find solace. If a person is dejected and questioning the value of his or her life, it is the church where encouragement, prayer, and the value of life is ever-present.

It is for these reasons why it is so important for each of us who are a part of the church to remember that our function and purpose in the world is not always for our own sake. Rather, our function and purpose in the world as the church (as the Body of Jesus Christ in the world) is for the breaking open and the pouring out of ourselves for the sake of others just as Christ did.

In the church, heaven and earth have collided. We are what it looks like for heaven to be manifest on earth through our lives. We are the embodiment…the visual representation of new creation. We are first fruits, the beginning part, of God making all things new. We are a living, breathing resurrection community where the old ways have been put to death and the new ways have awakened. And that is exactly what people should experience when they are in our presence.

There is not one person on this earth, when in the presence of the church, who should not say, “I have never experienced this kind of selfless love. I have never felt so embraced. I have never experienced so much concern and care. I have never experienced so much joy and affection. I have never experienced so much humility and service.”

Is that what people experience when they are in the midst of our church communities?

brandon

solitude and silence…

I sat down in front of the computer and put the first slide on the screen. Plainly and directly it read, “Please take a seat and remain quiet.” Amidst the conversations and music on that Sunday I heard someone say after seeing the instruction on the screen, “Yeah, good luck with that one.” But as the music faded and the conversations hushed to less than a whisper, everyone slowly began to take their seats as the room became completely silent. The room had settled into silence by a simple instruction on the screen, but the participants had no idea why they were being silenced. Even more, they did not realize that we were going to sit together in complete silence over the next forty-five minutes while I taught just using words on the screen about the importance of the spiritual disciplines of solitude and silence. I believe it took us experiencing it before we realized how much we needed it.

But let me be very clear at the outset. The practice of the spiritual disciplines does not have anything to do with earning your salvation. The disciplines are simply a means through which the Christian learns and then teaches his or her body to become subject to the Holy Spirit. It is the “beating our bodies into submission” that we learn to become less, so that the Spirit may become more in our lives. The disciplines are the means through which we enter into active discipleship daily. But many of us have just not taken the time to consider how desperately we really need discipline in our spiritual lives.

It is an understatement to say that our lives are full of chaos. We do not take the time to stop and realize how dependent and addicted we are to the noise and the rush around us. Every minute of the day is full noise and busyness. It is the television, music, conversation, kids, and incessant chatter. When we finally come up for air we gasp, “God, where are you? This hardly feels like the abundant life you promised. Where is the peace?” We don’t stop to think how our minds have become so conditioned to the three second snippet or the fast paced motion of life. It is no wonder we are so anxious, impatient, discontented, addicted, and medicated. My God, where is the peace?

Think about how this affects us. We do not stop to listen to others. We are constantly thinking about what we are going to say next or do later or the next thing on our schedules. We are unable to concentrate and sit in silence and just listen. We have to speak. We have to turn up the volume. Is it not true that we live lives that make it seemingly unable to quiet those things around us and those things in our heads? We are unable to just sit still and breathe, contemplate, find peace, and hear God.

In solitude and silence, we intentionally remove ourselves from everything and everyone for a period of time. We cut ourselves off from everything we have become dependent upon or addicted to…standing still and alone with God. Solitude and silence strips away everything that we have filled ourselves with and leaves the infinite void of our soul wide open and exposed…preventing everything but God to fill us. In solitude and silence we realize that there is no thing or no one to trust in but God alone, and this is an excellent beginning point for all of us. It is in this place that we are able to see ourselves more clearly because there is nothing left for us to hide behind. In solitude and silence there is introspection and self-examination. We metaphorically come out from behind the bushes and trees and finally stand naked before God…exposed. We are left with nothing but God…and God alone.

Being able to experience the full presence of God uninterrupted and in the quiet is the beginning point of experiencing real and unconditional love. It is in this place that we begin to understand and experience peace and contentment. It is here that we take a first step toward life to the fullest. When we teach and train our bodies to be still and quiet and fully present with God, we can enter back into our social lives with a new found peace, contentment, and dependence…not on those things that we were previously dependent upon and addicted to…but on God alone.

Do yourself a favor…take time each day and each week to cut yourself off and find retreat with God alone. Be quiet and just listen to what God is telling you and what God is revealing to you. Make this a normal part of your spiritual life and you will begin to experience how peace and contentment find their way into every situation and circumstance of your life.

brandon