Do you remember heading off to college? I vaguely remember this event. Somehow, as it was 35 years ago now, a few of the details have faded. What is fresh in my mind is taking my own children to college for their freshman year. I remember not only the emotions of dropping them off, but pragmatically, I remember how much it cost (real caring, I know). Not only is college tuition expensive, but the “incidentals” are a killer. They add up, and add up fast.
This spring and summer, we once again helda very successful grad-pack drive for our ministry partner, Cristo Rey. As a reminder, Cristo Rey is a college preparatory high school committed to bringing an excellent education to some of the most vulnerable students in our city. With its teaching staff and the commitment of the business community in Kansas City, culturally diverse students with economic need receive a college prep education made meaningful through an innovative corporate work study program.
Our annual grad-pack drive seeks to provide many of the basic “incidentals” a student will need for their freshman year of college. From a high quality backpack to school supplies, to bedding, towels, and toiletries, each student receives nearly $200 in supplies. In addition, our drive provides extra funds for students who need additional help purchasing books and other last minute supplies when they arrive on campus.
This year we expanded our project to include contributions to Cristo Rey’s tuition assistance fund. This allows students who need assistance with their high school fees to stay in school.
Your generosity in this year’s drive provided $19,625. We provided various supplies to 78 graduates and contributed more than $10,000 to the tuition assistance program. Thank you for making a massive difference in the lives of these graduates, and the underclassmen who will be able to complete their education as a direct result of your generosity.
I don’t know about you, but I am ready for church to get to whatever “normal” is going to look like moving forward. Yet, I also have to admit I am humbled and reminded of my selfishness when I consider where we are as a church and a country. What do I mean? Have you ever had one of those moments when you are feeling bad for yourself because of some difficult situation you find yourself in, and then you talk with a friend and find their situation is far worse than yours? When that happens, I often find myself doing a little bit of a reality check and turning my “frown upside down” by thanking God for His provision and grace in my life.
Recently, I had that experience with church, and it came in two waves. First, I was reminded how AMAZING our outdoor services have been. A congregant stopped me in the parking lot to thank me for the outdoor services. He went so far as to say “I wish we could do this every week.” I was reminded that while far from what we know as “normal,” our outdoor services can provide many of the opportunities I long for in a Sunday gathering. Talking with friends, hearing from God’s Word, and singing my heart out in worship.
Second, I received an email update from our Leawood outreach partner, Elam. These emails are often humbling. I find myself thinking “first-world problem” about so many of my irritations and frustrations. In this month’s update, the ministry shared THIS VIDEO link to their Facebook worship service. Thousands of Persian speaking individuals throughout the middle east and the world are tuning in to worship Jesus through Facebook. In other communication pieces from Elam, they have indicated growth in the Iranian church through the time of COVID.
People are coming to Christ through the virtual church. God is indeed working!
I was also reminded of a video our friend Farshid Fahti made for Christ Community early in the year.
(Read Farshid’s story.) The video reminds us that while the church gathered is ideal, we can still continue to grow, even in isolation and in smaller groups. The church all over the world is growing and strengthening in small groups, house churches, and unique expressions like “car church” (ask me about that sometime).
My prayer for us is to keep longing for what is to come. Our hope is in Jesus. But, in the meantime, let’s make the most of what God has given us and not put our spiritual growth on the bench, but be grateful for the opportunities we have.
NOTE: If you’d like to receive email updates from ELAM, feel free to SUBSCRIBE to their newsletter. Additionally, Elam’s newest magazine, IRAN and Beyond, can be found in our lobby. It contains all sorts of great stories of what God is doing.
“So, how are you?” Have you found, as I have, that many people answer this simple question in the same way? “Busy!” Life can throw a lot our way. On top of that, we can contribute to our struggle by filling up what little free time we might have with more stuff. Now I make no judgments on how you fill that time. I would guess a strong case could be made for that stuff being really good stuff. I know I can argue this for my own stuff really well. The question is not if it’s good stuff, but how much is too much, and when should I say “No more!”
I have been challenged in recent months with a barrage of thoughts on the subjects of rest, sabbath, pace, spiritual disciplines, and how all of these things are lived out, practiced, and embodied in my life. It started over a year ago with books, articles, and podcasts. Little “drips” that were all saying the same things – “Alan, is your life focused on the right thing? Are you really living the life that Jesus has in mind? You seem to be busy, but you don’t seem to rest much.”
I think I’ve always struggled with the idea of rest because I am a “doer.” I like getting things done (and I really like the book Getting Things Done and a hundred other life-hack type books that help me be more efficient and get more stuff done). I like seeing items on my to-do list get checkmarks. I love what I do vocationally and that drives me to work hard. Basically, everything in my life screams “Go fast! Do more!” To be honest, I think I have found my identity in this for a long time.
Then, in the midst of the struggle going on inside my heart and mind—the battle between “do more” and “rest more,”—one of my kids came home from college and asked a heart-felt, but piercing question. “Why did we not practice sabbath as a family growing up?” That may be a hard question for anyone to hear from their kid, but for a pastor, that was really challenging. I’m supposed to be good at this kind of thing and while I think we tried to honor the sabbath by making church a priority, we obviously failed at actually slowing down and resting on the sabbath and observing it in any sort of biblical sense.
Can you relate? I’m guessing (or hoping) you can.
So, at this point, in our new COVID-19 induced time of “slow,” I think I am grateful for a change of pace. It is in the “slow” that I am more ready and willing to focus on and hear the still small voice of God.
In his book The Attentive Life Leighton Ford points out “the ‘burning bushes’ in our path are signs planted in our life, opportunities to listen and pay attention. How often does God put signs out that we miss because our life is filled with so much stuff?”
I am also wondering how to make this “slow” or change of pace last. How will this not just be a phase we go through? How will I not allow the 127 things on my weekly calendar resume control once our quarantine is over? How will I teach my children to rest and not allow the myriad of activities they have the opportunity to participate in to take over their life and mine? How can I learn to rest more in the goodness of my Savior? How can I “observe the sabbath and keep it holy”? Again, Leighton Ford suggests “[we tend to think] it is the crazy pace of our lives that is killing us when really it’s our inattention to our deepest desire, the desire for God.” I would suggest it is the crazy pace of our lives that is a major contributor to our inattention to God.
Will you join me in praying for something different in the future? Will you join me in seeking to capitalize on our current circumstances and use it to learn a new rhythm? Will you join me in creating new family habits and new family traditions? Ones that are centered on and grounded in Scripture, not culture? Will you join me in being able to answer the question of “How are you?” with something other than “busy”?
NOTE: If you want one resource that may help point you down this path of questioning, I recommend John Mark Comer’s book The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry. It is one of many contributors that have helped in my struggle.