Saturday, April 16, 2016

Be Merciful Even As Your Father is Merciful (John 6:36)

I'm really amazed how much our church is growing.  And not just church but also Bible Study on Friday nights has 16 adults (including two people who take care of the children) and 10 children ages 1-13. Family Night has exploded to about 60 people.   Yay!~ (I think).

The "older people" ages 45 and up are faithful. They come to church every Sunday, memorize the verses for Bible Study and counsel the younger generation.  God is reaching out through them.

The youngest group is the hearing children of the Deaf adults. They love to come to church and look forward to doing fun things in Sunday School. As soon as the van pulls up to their house they come running out, smiling and waving hello.

The Deaf teens are starting to ask good questions about faith. One or two (Sulmi included) want to do God's will.  Sulmi notices God's hand and guidance in her life.  She trusts God and readily prays when things are not going well.  When I am struggling with a problem, she says "let's pray". I have hope that some of these teens will mature and become strong young Believers.  All except one comes from non-Christian families.To follow God's moral choices and God's ways of compassion and faithfulness is a way of life completely outside of their "family's culture."  Yet, they come to every Bible Study, every worship service and every game night.  I am praying the Holy Spirit touches their hearts powerfully.

But my heart aches for the 20 - 35 age group.  They still are doing the teenage hormonal thing.  The bulk of our church falls in this age range.  The most difficult "problem" is their sexual promiscuity.  Almost EVERY woman and EVERY man has sex with others from the group.  The men also use prostitutes at bars. (It's legal here.) Several of the children in our church have been created through these match-ups.  Even some of the Deaf women with children continue to earn a living with their bodies. At least one of the men and one of the women have an STD. 

I have talked about this with each of the women.  I have talked about the dangers and the stubborn nature of sin.  I have regular conversations with one of the men about his addiction.  Nathanael Davis holds Bible studies and frank conversations with several of the men on an almost weekly basis. 

I preach God's word.  I preach about becoming Holy.  I try to teach them to avoid temptation.  I don't shake critical fingers, but I do say what is right and what is wrong.  

If I kick them out, not only am I saying that I give up on them, I can't reach them if I shun them away. If I say, "Fix the problem and come back when you are holy" I will lose them.  I will also be violating Jesus'principal of judging other people instead of loving them.

Others would say I need to exorcise them of the evil inside.  Even if they would let me, I can't do that.

The problem reeks of the inability to make good (faithful) and healthy choices.  Is it because of addiction?  Yes, probably but also there is a lingering teenage stubbornness that says: "I can do anything I want and you can't force me."

This sexual promiscuity has been a problem since we started church.  Two of our regular attenders and three of their female friends earned money "on the streets". I talked with them and prayed that the Holy Spirit would convict them.  As they have grown older I had hoped they would mature and this "habit" would go away, but it hasn't. And, just as disappointing is that the five "new people" who have recently started attending our church are no different.

Hmmm.  I struggle with what to do about this. God led me to a book by Pope Francis called The Church of Mercy.  It gave me a new perspective.  I think it is Jesus' perspective.  Papa Francisco's premise is that the priest should sit in the mercy seat not the judgement seat.  He says so much more than I can quote here, but a taste of it follows:
"God responds to our weakness with His patience." (not judgement)
"Faith is born of an encounter with the living God who calls us by revealing his love." (not a shaking finger)
"We are called to find Christ in them but also to be their friends, to listen to them and to help them to embrace the mysterious wisdom which is God."

This concept of NOT judging or even "setting them straight and speaking truth into their lives"....became clearer to me in a recent blog post I read:
When He Became a She and Learning to Walk In Love

I think it is every pastor's goal to be able to present their church that they have cried over, prayed for and sweated over, to Jesus and have him say, "Well done my good and faithful servant".  To receive that praise I felt I had to fix the "sin problem",  But, this week, I have learned that to be faithful, I need to get out of the judgement seat and extend God's mercy. Wouldn't it be great if Deaf people knew that our Deaf Church is a place where they can feel safe, loved, accepted?  I honestly believe that their "faith will be born of an encounter with God's love."

Father, help me to reflect your mercy.  Sprinkle my words with kindness and friendship.  Help me to lead these people into your loving arms.

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