I just want to talk to you a little about why I’m here and I hope I speak for the other youth workers as well. HYPE. H.Y.P.E. Helping youth pursue excellence. Our desire is to help you, even though I often find myself being helped by you in one way or another. Then there’s this pursue excellence part where it gets a little tricky. We were going to perform a skit, and it would’ve been funny and challenging and exciting, and I was going to explain how living every aspect of your life in Jesus is what excellence is, and that meant choosing to do the right thing instead of the wrong thing whenever and wherever you happen to find yourself. But after reflecting on what living every aspect of your and my life in Jesus really does mean and my days in junior high and high school, I realized I didn’t really believe that, and it wouldn’t have been worth two cents to me in high school.
So instead of practicing a skit, I am here writing this letter to you trying to explain what it could mean or what it could look like to live every aspect of your life in Christ Jesus. I think getting there is a lot uglier than anyone would care to admit, but once there, if it is possible to get there at all, it is the most beautiful thing I could imagine in anyone’s life. And I really think you only need one word to describe it: Wholeness.
If this world is nothing else, it is fragmented; in pieces. Our little worlds are no different. We could be flying high one moment laughing with friends and then lower than low the next moment when we overhear those same friends talking bad about us behind our backs. We could be enjoying a Cyclone game one moment, and then complaining about being stuck in traffic the next. We could give some clothes to someone in need, because “I am not what I wear or own,” and then the next moment feel like we can’t live without the newest J’s or latest product the Apple machine is pushing on us. We are being a good Christian talking to God one moment, and then making fun of the dorky kid the next. We do good. We do evil. We’re brave one moment, scared for our lives the next. Life is beautiful and bright sometimes. Sometimes it’s so dark and ugly that if you could open your eyes and see what’s going on, would you even want to? We are often broken into a million pieces, riding the current of whatever is flowing the fastest in our lives. And what is God’s answer to all this? To all this brokenness? Often it’s not what we want or expect. It is usually something like, I am God, or follow me, or don’t be afraid. I know it seems sort of wack, but let’s think about it for just one second. If you had all the answers to all the suffering and brokenness happening on planet earth, you would be smarter but would that take any of it away?
Instead there is Jesus standing before a kneeling, crying Peter who had, despite his bold promising, betrayed Jesus just three days ago. Peter was torn to pieces at what he’d done, so Jesus loved him. He restored his purpose and said follow me.
Also, there’s Job, who despite doing everything right, had his wealth taken from him, his children were all killed, his body eaten away by some disease, screaming to God, “Today also my complaint is bitter; his hand is heavy despite my groaning. Oh, that I knew where I might find him, that I might come even to his dwelling! I would lay my case before him, and fill my mouth with arguments…(but) if I go forward, he is not there; or backward, I cannot perceive him; on the left he hides, and I cannot behold him; I turn to the right, but I cannot see him…if only I could vanish in darkness, and thick darkness would cover my face.” After all that screaming, God’s response comes in the form of a whisper, “I am God, where were you at the creation of everything? When this great mystery of life began?”
And finally, there’s Paul, writing a letter much like this one, saying, “We do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, of the affliction we experienced in Asia; for we were so utterly crushed that we despaired of life itself.” But possibly on reflecting on his walk to Emmaus, a walk where he had every intention on punishing some Christians but instead he saw Jesus, literally saw the supposedly dead Jesus, and what did Jesus do? Jesus rescued Paul’s heart, told him not to be afraid, and stopped him from killing others, and so it was Paul who was able to write, “Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death so that we would not rely on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. He who rescued us from a deadly peril will continue to rescue us; on him we have set our hope that he will rescue us.”
All these stories have one thing in common. And it is not answers, but a God who is present, who is there (wherever there is). And whether you believe or want to believe in God or whatever you think about Jesus, my hope is that you will maybe, just maybe, have the smallest understanding of the presence of God in your life. That presence which makes used up things new, which uses crooked sticks to draw straight lines, which makes things whole and alive from things shattered and dead. And in maybe understanding this you would be whole no matter what is going on around you. That you would be at home in who you are. That you wouldn’t spend your days and nights worrying and afraid of what others think of you because you know who you are in Christ. That when everything seems so dark, and you can’t see God, or can’t believe he even exists, you will not despair. That when everyone is chasing a fantasy, often found in a boy or girl or clothes or sports or the praises of people, you would know that there is a superior unending joy that can not be satisfied by these temporary pleasures. That you would be teachable, because when you look at the whole picture you know you don’t know everything, and sometimes God uses people to help you out. Hopefully he will use people like me, like Anthony and Tyanez, like Nick, like LaShawn to show you, even if it’s very poorly, how to live every aspect of your lives in Christ.