Sackcloth and Ashes

December 19, 2004 at 10:59 pm (Church)

I was looking around at the Junior Highers in Sunday School today while Calvin was teaching. Just watching their faces. Trying to determine where their thoughts were. If they were paying attention. If they even cared. I do this quite often, actually. My little mind struggles furiously, trying so hard to read their eyes and faces. Are they taking it in? Does it make sense? Do they understand? Are they listening? And, once again, the ever looming question, do they care?

They’ve been doing better since we, to my great sadness, decided to abandon going through the Old Testament, right smack dab in the middle of Joshua. My heart broke at that decision. There is so much there, so much important…will they ever be ready? But at least they aren’t rolling all over the floor now (sometimes literally with some of our more…active…students). At least they’re paying attention now. Or…pretending to pay attention anyways. How anyone could not be interested in Joshua is beyond me…

The problem is that we’ve inherited 6th graders who didn’t start in Genesis. They were wonderful up through the end of Leviticus, even into Numbers. They were interested, asked questions. But once we hit Deuteronomy…we lost them. And I think that was around the time of the demographic change of our class because of losing some of the older ones to Senior High and getting some younger ones from the children’s ministry. I don’t know how to strategically fix this problem, but we decided to come down a level and try to meet them where they’re at right now. Which, apparently, is even knowing what being a Christian means. They’re not ready to study the Bible from the beginning. They’re just not interested.

How it is that children can grow up in the Church and still not know what being a Christian means…where on earth have we gone wrong? How can we have these kids, and it’s not just kids, mind you, who call themselves Christians yet are so…apathetic toward the whole Christian life in practice? How can they be so dispassionate? How can they not care? How can you be a Christian and not want to devote your life to worshipping the God you’re…well…supposed to be worshpping?

Maybe you can’t. Maybe you shouldn’t. But they say they are. And somewhere, somehow, we’ve been emphasizing the wrong things. Now I realize that there’s a choice a person has to make. I realize that you can’t force someone to want to follow God. But why are they Christians if they don’t want to follow God? Isn’t that kind of…the opposite of a Christian? Let me guess. They want to go to heaven. I could shoot whoever popularized that aspect of salvation to the neglect of the rest. I know it’s important, I know it’s real, I know that Jesus talked about it, Paul talked about it, and it’s a part of the greatness of salvation. But it’s not everything. I prefer to see it as the great hope of Christian life. Not why you become a Christian. You don’t become a Christian because you don’t want to go to hell. I mean, maybe that’s the energizing factor for some people, and that’s okay. But ultimately, the reason you become a Christian has to be because you have chosen the Christian God out of all the other countless possibilities. You decided on YHVH instead of Ba’al. Or Asherah. Or Allah. Or Shachar, Chemosh, Shiva, Zeus, Artemis, Ra, or Osiris. Or to be more culturally relavant, atheism, agnosticism, or materialism. It has to be because it’s what you want. Because you love this God. You want to worship Him. You are eternally grateful to Him. Whatever. But it has to be because of God. Because of Jesus. Because you want Him in your life. Because He has offered you such a great salvation, and in response you want to devote your life to Him. Not because you don’t want to go to hell. I mean, what’s that? Who wants to go to hell? “Sure, I’ll ‘get saved’. I want to go to heaven. But as far as obeying God – forget that.” Come on. You mean to tell me that’s salvation? I find that really, really, really hard to believe. And so do some other people. Namely, inspired authors of the New Testament.

I’m not trying to say that some people who say they are saved aren’t. Well, okay, we know that’s true. What I mean, is that I’m not trying to go around pronouncing eternal judgment on people just because of what I know of them. That’s not exactly my place. And good heavens, don’t lump me in with lordship salvation people – I denounce that doctrine. If you’re going to lump me in with someone, lump me in with James. If you say you’re saved, show me the works, man, show me the works. Quit fooling around. Quit playing. Quit pretending. Quit fooling yourself.

So every week, I sit in Sunday School, watching them. Some of them are beginning to see. Some of them have supposedly made decisions to be real Christians. I suppose I’m somewhat of a cynic. And can you blame me, when I look at the adult population of the Church? But I guess I should have faith – faith that God can change people. Maybe they’re too young to really understand. But I just can’t believe that. I need more evidence for that. Besides, it’s not just them. It’s everyone. It’s an epidemic. We asked them, “Why are you a Christian?” “Well, because I accepted Jesus into my heart…” “Because I believe in Jesus…” No, no, no. I mean, why did you make that decision? Why did you decide to accept Jesus? To put your faith in Him? Blank stares.

I wanted to fall to my knees and weep. To tear my clothes and put on sackcloth and ashes on my head, to use an Old Testament custom. I get that feeling alot lately when I look at the Church. How far we have fallen from Christ’s ideal for His Church. I’m not perfect, but I can’t get enough of learning about God. I absorb it, breathe it. His great plan for the redemption of humankind laid out throughout the whole of the Bible excites me, makes me want to jump up and down. What a great God, what an awesome God. Who can compare? Who is like Him? How much more should we devote our whole lives to him in worship? How can we say we’re Christians and not? What is that all about? Man, I know the Christian life is hard. I know that it’s not easy to obey God sometimes. I know we all fall, and stumble, and struggle, and go through times when we just seem to feel like we’ll never win the battle against sin, and sometimes even give up. But to not even care? To brush it off? At least give me some passion. At least give me repentance. I get nothing. I get blank stares. We don’t even know why we’re Christians.

How, oh how, can it have come to this? Sackcloth and ashes. Day by day my yearning for the return of the Church in America to God increases. I have this burning passion to see the people of God living, really living, worshipping like they should. And I get excited. Maybe I can help. Maybe I can do something. Maybe I can teach these teens. Disciple some girls. Grow some people in the faith. Help raise up the next generation for Christ. Maybe they don’t know now, why they’re Christians, but maybe they can learn. Maybe they can change. And then I despair. A brick wall. That’s what I feel like I’m up against. So many have tried. So many have made a dent, only to have it fall away again the next generation. Is it even possible?

Nevermind. It doesn’t matter if it’s possible. Jeremiah knew it wasn’t possible, yet still he remained faithful. And there is always a remnant. Always a remnant. For now, I’ve been called to this group of teens. To do what I can to help them see, help them learn, what being a Christian is all about. Maybe one day they’ll get to the point where they’re so excited that they want to know all about the Bible from the beginning. My heart breaks every Sunday, yearns to see them really love God, but alas…that is ministry.

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