I Saw God This Week

2011 HARTLAND HI SCH 1 MONDAY PM-114I saw God this week.

Not in a blinding blaze of His brilliant glory lighting up the night sky. Not in a booming voice that shook my house and rattled my bones. No. He’s much more subtle than that. 

I saw God in a Facebook message. Seriously. A private message sent by someone whose name I did not at first recognize. Someone who lives on the other side of the country. Someone who I’m not sure I have even formally met in person. But God showed up on a day when I desperately needed Him to show up. 

And show up, He did!

A wee bit of the backstory. Last weekend I was speaking at one of my all-time favorite places on this planet — Hartland Christian Camp — to a group of the best high school students you’d ever want to meet. The previous couple of days brought some devastating news to the Hartland staff and me. Our dear friend, Chris — loving husband, beloved father of six, missionary to Africa — died of an as-yet undiagnosed condition that befell him only 3 weeks ago. This came on top of Hartland (and me) losing another precious friend, Ken, to a motorcycle accident just a few short weeks ago. (BTW, Ken was supposed to dean at the Winter Camp at which I was speaking.)

In the language of the Broadway stage, “the show must go on.” So I was alone in my room, on Monday morning, putting my “game face” on. I had no choice. Every one of those students whom I had grown to cherish deserved my best. But before leaving my room and making my way to the chapel, on a whim really, I checked my Facebook page. In a private message, some guy named Kevin wrote to thank me for being one of his instructors at the Word of Life Bible Institute in Schroon Lake, NY, a way back in 1987. He reminded me of something that I said in class that he has never forgotten. A few simple words which had come to mark his ministry to young people even to this day.

As I reflected upon them, I realized that these words, uttered so many years ago, have continued to define who I am and what I am all about.

Kevin wrote, “The motto I still live by in youth ministry to this day is ‘Love kids unconditionally, and always tell them the truth.’” 

“Love kids unconditionally, and always tell them the truth.” 

Which was precisely what I was doing last weekend at Hartland, 26 long years later. 

“Love kids unconditionally, and always tell them the truth.” 

On a side note, you would have been so proud of these students. They have restored my faith in the future generation of Christian leaders. These students sat in session after session, sometimes for up to an hour, listening to this old man drone on and on. They were off-the-chart attentive, taking notes, nodding their affirmations, smiling their encouragements, even when I didn’t have the good sense to sit down and shut up. They are my heroes.

But back on point: “Love kids unconditionally, and always tell them the truth.” 

Come to think of it, that’s an amazing purpose statement not just for youth pastors. That’s a terrific purpose statement for every parent. For every friend. For every one. Words applicable to every one of our relationships, with young and old alike.

So let me broaden it out a bit: “Love people unconditionally, and always tell them the truth.”

Look, I’ll be the first to admit that though that sound bite defines who I am and what I purpose in my heart always to do, I fail and fall short of that goal daily. Sometimes I wonder if in my life those words more accurately define the exception rather than the rule. But before God, they certainly summarize the goal that I constantly strive to achieve: “Love people unconditionally, and always tell them the truth.”

Kevin’s kind words gave me the strength I needed to take my place on the platform and to bare my soul to some pretty special students one more time. Who would have thought? Something as simple as a Facebook message became for me a gift from God. Or more accurately, a glimpse of God. His tender voice reminding me that even at a time of profound personal loss and inexpressible pain, God was right there in the room with me, enduring my pain as if it was His own.

Which challenged me to ask of myself this all-important question: Are the words that I speak or write; are the messages that I send; are the ways that I treat others; are the smiles and hugs that I give or sadly withhold; are they gifts from God, expressions of God, or do they leave people out in the cold, people in need of a divine touch that I failed to give? 

Do you suppose that was what the Apostle Paul was getting at when he wrote this in 2 Corinthians 3:2? “But you are our letter… for everyone to read and understand.” Makes me sort of pause to ponder what kind of a letter I write to the precious people I encounter each and every day.

One of the students asked me this profound question last weekend: “If God does not dwell in the Temple any more, where can people go to see Him today?” What a thrill to be able to answer with these words, also written by Paul: “Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you?”

Wow. What a powerful, life-transforming thought. One that ought to give every one of us pause. Pause before we speak, pause before we act, pause before we react.

‘Cuz the truth is, if we really truly did indeed love others unconditionally, so many of the hurtful things we might otherwise say or do we would recognize as unnecessary, and unnecessarily hurtful.

Which comes down to this: If we truly are God’s love-letters to each other, as Kevin was to me on Monday, what kind of a letter are we sending? And will the people who receive our letters be the better, or the worse, for reading them?

Kevin inspired me to shoot for the former. To consistently do what I challenged him to do so many years ago: “Love kids unconditionally, and always tell them the truth.”

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One thought on “I Saw God This Week

  1. Lois Hudson

    Thanks for sharing your heart. It is difficult to “go onstage” when you’re grieving a loss. A friend calls these great connections (Kevin’s just-at-the-right-time contact) COINS – Creator Orchestrated INcidents.

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