Thursday, April 21, 2011

Holy Thursday

Today we celebrate Maundy Thursday. This phrase comes from the latin language and is a reference to the new commandment Jesus gave his disciples. Jesus is sharing his final meal with the 12 men who have been following him for three years. He gives them his final sermon. In John chapter 13 he gives them these words: “Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me but where I am going, you cannot come. So now I am giving you a new commandment: love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples” (John 13:34-35).

When we think of people coming to Christ, we initially think of camp meetings and altar calls. We usually think of great preachers like Billy Graham and his crusades. Revivals, sermons, and altar calls are all effective tools of evangelism…indeed thousands have come to Christ through such means. However, in John 13, Jesus connects our witness and testimony to our love for one another. Our ability to reach others for Christ is contingent on our own faithfulness and commitment to each other. It is our Christ-like love for people that makes us the light of the world. My own conversion journey is a prime example of this truth. It was in the context of a faithful group of friends and adults that I began to believe the good news of Jesus Christ.

When I was fourteen years old my family moved from Colorado to Alabama. I was not very happy about the move. I was about to enter high school with all my friends and I had no desire to leave the Rocky Mountains for the Deep South. Plus, I had a girlfriend who I had been dating for a whole week and so of course we were in love. This was terrible.

However, in retrospect, this move was the best thing that ever happened to me…it was a part of God’s prevenient grace working in my life. Prevenient grace is the amazing truth that God has been loving us and working in our life long before we gave him two thoughts. Quickly after arriving in Alabama, my family began searching for a church home. One of the first churches we visited was a smaller church close to our house. I remember the overall service being incredibly boring. The preacher read his sermon in a monotone voice and the organ was way too loud for the size of the sanctuary. There was no reason why my family should have joined the church. Yet, I ended up spending the next four years of high school at that very church. In fact, this church was the place where I accepted Christ as my savior and where I received my call to the ministry. The main reason we stayed was due to the care and welcome we felt from the congregation. Specifically, my brother and I felt very comfortable with the youth group.

Both the youth minister and the other teenagers were very welcoming and accepting. Yet, it was not simply the welcome that drew me in, but the community itself that attracted me to the group. Honestly, it is odd that I would have been attracted to the youth group. They did not have a cool youth room. There were no big video screens or a great sound system. There wasn’t a youth band or contemporary worship. In addition, I did not have much in common with most of the kids in the youth group. They were primarily musicians and artists. I was your quintessential jock. I had nothing in common with them. You will never hear me sing a solo in church…unless we want people to leave. Nevertheless, I was attracted to this community of believers. This youth group was different. The young people were unlike the majority of teenagers I had met. They were truly connected to one another. They had fun together and they cared for each other. They talked about Christ as if they really knew him. Now, they were not perfect. Yet, they really loved one another and they really loved Christ. It was clear that they had something I didn’t and I wanted it.

Within a year of being with this group, I accepted Christ. And yes, I accepted Christ at camp after an altar call. Yet, I realize now that my journey toward the altar started long before that night at camp. The youth minister and the teenagers loved me into the faith. It was there I saw a group of people who prayed together, laughed together, and cried together. Their love for one another showed me what it meant to follow Christ. Moreover, it was their love for one another that helped me see and accept Christ. My guess is that many of you have a similar testimony. You probably accepted Christ during an altar call or at church. However, I am sure there was a group of individuals who loved you into the faith. A friend, co-worker, Sunday school teacher, or a pastor…someone came along side of you and invested in your life.

Jesus gave us a new commandment…to love one another as he has loved us. To extend the same grace, kindness, and forgiveness he has given to us. And when we do this...we show the world we are different...we show the world we are followers of Christ.