Monday, May 3, 2010

Crossing the River Styx

Today's Sandwich: Chicken Cutlet with Mozzarella Cheese, Lettuce, Tomato, and Mayo on a grilled Panini. mmmm I love my Paninis.

Back in high school I discovered what would be come one of my favorite bands ever. It wasn't a new band. They were by no means current. I'm pretty sure by the time I got around listening to them, most of their fan base were middle aged baby boomers that remembered listening to their records back when they were in high school. I am indeed talking about a band that had rockin' guitar rhythms, with long and powerful solos that at the end, the guitar would spontaneously catch fire in combination to the heat of the friction from the guitar player and the pure awesomeness of the solo itself. Though the guitar would be on fire, it did not burn, nor did it burn the player. It was the burning bush of guitar solos. And this was in every song.

Naturally I am talking about the band Styx. They were awesome. They still are awesome. I commandeered their greatest hits CD from my mother when I got my own licenses, and that CD has, at all times, always been accessible in my car. It's a rule, nay, it's the law, it should be the law, it must be the law, that every car must have that CD in it, at all times, ready to be played for spontaneous moments of rock. Rock so great, so powerful, that it melts the faces off those who listen to it, just from it's sheer power of awesomeness.

I may be over exaggerating here, just a little bit. But I truly do love that album. And I love every song on it. Which is rare to love every song on an album, at least for me. What's great isn't just the fact that they had awesome musical compositions. But their lyrics have always found a way to hit home with me. Some of them may be ridiculous, such as Mr. Roboto, but others have such heart and depth to them.

Such as Babe, which was written by Dennis De Young for his wife for when he would go on tour. It's about how much he loves her, misses her, and will be thinking about her while he's away. It's beautiful. Or Grand Illusion, which is about the absurdity of the American Dream, and once we get where we're going. Once we have that life we so desperately want with that new car, the big house, and all the material possessions to fill it, we're still left to our own thoughts of "who am I?" But my favorite song. A song that I readily connected to, is Show Me the Way. I just love it.

Every night I say a prayer
In the hopes that there's a Heaven
And everyday I'm more confused
As the saints turn into sinners

All the heroes and legends
I knew as a child have fallen to idols of clay
And I feel this empty place inside
So afraid that I've lost my faith

Show me the way, show me the way
Take me tonight to the river
And wash my illusions away
Please show me the way

And as I slowly drift to sleep
For a moment dreams are sacred
I close my eyes and know that there's peace
In a world so filled with hatred

That I wake up each morning and turn on the news
To find we've so far to go
And I keep on hoping for a sign
So afraid I just won't know

Show me the way, show me the way
Bring me tonight to the mountain
And take my confusion away
And show me the way

And if I see a light, should I believe
Tell me how will I know

Show me the way, show me the way
Take me tonight to the river
And wash my illusions away

Show me the way, show me the way
Give me the strength and the courage
To believe that I'll get there someday
And please show me the way

Every night I say a prayer
In the hopes that there's a Heaven

In short, this song pretty much says. This world sucks. It's full of vial, awful people, events, tragedies. The people you look up to. Your childhood heroes, or even your adult heroes, you find out that they too have their own skeletons in the closet. And when they're brought out into the light, our view of them is shattered and broken. Not only is our faith in them gone, but our faith in their cause is badly shaken. And we're left wondering, am I on the right path?

Back in college I watched as my home church back in Ohio went through a traumatic event as we watched our two youth pastors fall from grace just with in six months of each other. These two guys had been with the church a while. One of them for over 10 years. Pouring into the youth ministry, building it, sustaining it, and moving it forward. Needless to say their actions rocked that foundation, like a massive earth quake. I watched at was once a solid youth group crumble as youth leaders and church leaders scrambled trying to preserve whatever they could of. I even heard one story of a former member that I went to youth group with question her faith because of the ordeal.

The next two years were brutal, hard years for the youth group as I watched on the outside via stories from my mother and other leaders, as they began to rebuild what had been torn down. When I would hear accounts of what was going on, I could just see that the ministry was lost, confused, and begging for God to "Show them the way."

We all go through moments like that. We all go through hardships, were our very foundation of our world view is rocked drastically, and we have no choice but to put all we know aside, look to God and simply ask him to "show me the way." But it's hard. So hard in fact we sometimes would rather shut our eyes, go to our dreams and escape. Pretend it's not there. But then we open them, look out, and see we have so far to go.

Life is rough, and an over quoted, and highly misused in my opinion, verse that we Christians like to immediately spit out to each other is Jeremiah 29:11

For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

It's a great verse. I do like it. And boy is it the truth. But lets also take this into context. The heading of the chapter is "Letter to the Exiles." Why? Because Judah, at this point in time, was in exile. They were not living in the promise land. They were living in Babylon under the rule of King Nebuchadnezzar. And he was kind of an arrogant jerk.

So the letter was to give hope to the Jews as they lived in exile, right? Well correct, but read on aside from just God saying he knows the plans he has for them.

Jer 29:11-14

For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 12 Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you," declares the LORD, "and will bring you back from captivity. [b] I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you," declares the LORD, "and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile."

Did you read the part where God says "I will bring you back to the place form which I carried you into exile?" God put them there in the first place. God rocked their foundation. It was God who did the banishing. Why? Well they weren't really seeking Him.

"So Alex, what your saying is if I don't seek God, he will banish me?" No. Well...maybe. He's done it before. Truthfully, I don't know exactly what God will do, because I am not Him. But what I do know is that he is good, and that even though he did say to Judah "I put you there." He also said "I will bring you out." He had a plan. He knew what had to be done to reshape the people of Judah into men of God. It wasn't to hurt them. It wasn't to punish them. It was to discipline them.

And discipline is different from punishment. How so? Easy. Punishment is repayment of wrong. You're not meant to grow from your punishment, your meant to suffer. Discipline, on the other hand is a growing experience. A disciplined athlete eats right, exercises daily. Does work out routines that will improve strength and stamina to become a better athlete. A musician disciplines herself to practice her instrument everyday. It's not always pleasant. Sometimes it's torturous. But she gets better, and better. Like a good father, God disciplines us, so that we may grow, and become better men and women of God.

Sometimes that discipline can completely rock our world. We don't know up or down anymore. We're left speechless, and almost faithless. Reaching out one last time, pleading, asking, begging God to "Show us the way." And in that little passage in Jeremiah, God says "Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you."

Back to my story from earlier, I used the term "fallen from grace" to describe the situation of my old youth pastors. Truly I should have said "fallen into grace," because that is exactly what has happened. Their worlds were rocked by their actions, but they have fallen into the grace of God, and it has been amazing to hear how God has been working, shaping, healing, and revealing himself to them in their lives. It has been awesome to hear how God has been working.

And now finally with the youth group back at my home church. It has been two long hard years. They have been crying out to God, "Show us the way!" And God has answered, and he is healing, reshaping, and rebuilding that ministry. He had heard their prayers and has answered. He was sought by them, and found by them.

We all ask God at one time or another to show us the way. To restore our faith. As I have seen not only in the bible, and with my youth group, but also in my life, when I seek Him, I find him.