March 2010 ~ From a Burden to a Blessing

March 9, 2010

I recently read an article about a new book on Pope John Paul II called, Why He is a Saint. I admired Pope John’s mastery of languages, his confrontation of the Communists, and his leadership of the Catholic Church. Yet, the author says John Paul would whip himself, even at times when he was on vacation. The book says he would occasionally sleep on the floor, hoping these actions would help him attain “Christian perfection.”

The article made me sad for John Paul, but it also helped me understand a distant part of my spiritual journey. I am thankful for my Catholic upbringing, but there was something unhealthy mixed in with it. Both John Paul and I needed a Spirit-filled person to teach us the grace and love of God. If the gospel message gets distorted by the messengers, it can bring a lot of confusion and pain. John chose the whip. I chose to rebel.

Most of my early Christian teaching came from the nuns who taught our catechism classes. They were dressed in black with head coverings designed by someone who could have worked for the Taliban or Goths. Like the Catholic priests, the nuns took vows of celibacy and poverty. I admired their dedication, but the austerity of their lifestyle scared me. I feared what would happen to me if I gave my life to the Lord. I thought I would have to wear black shirts with a white collar, stay celibate and live in Iowa or Africa. So I prayed and believed in God, but I didn’t want to get too close to Him.

I have never been too clothes conscious, but I couldn’t picture Jesus wearing black shirts with white collars, or brightly colored robes. Jesus would make people around him comfortable so he could teach them about the Kingdom of God. He didn’t want barriers distancing him from his followers.

I didn’t understand the celibacy issue as a boy either. Even though I was more interested in sports than in girls, I wanted to keep that option open. By the time I was a teenager, the possibility of marriage and intimacy became important to me. Whether God would send me to Africa or Iowa was more than the issue of where I was going to live for the rest of my life. It was really about who God is. If He sentences people to live in a dangerous place, or a boring place, how could I trust him with my life?

I asked Jesus to be the Lord of my life when I was twenty, but I had not resolved these issues. If he was really alive, I wanted to get to know Jesus in spite of what might be in store for me. I remember how I felt when I first heard that Billy Graham was married. I was shocked that a man could really be used by God and not be celibate. At first I thought he might be an exception, but as I learned there were many married men and women who were really used by God, it was liberating for me.

I was on this topic in a sermon once and a lady came up and said, “I’m from Iowa and it is really a wonderful place.” I apologized. I didn’t mean to slight her cornfields. I have friends who live in Africa too, and they love it over there. The issue isn’t really Iowa or Africa, it is who God is. Does God sentence people who trust Him to serve in places like a judge sentences a criminal? Or does God lead people to places out of their comfort zone that turn out to be places where they can bear fruit and prosper?

The Lord has not asked me to move to Africa, wear black and white or stay celibate. He has asked me to stay faithful to Kristina, serve His church, love His people, and share what he gives me. I continue to be surprised by what I experience following Jesus. God’s assignments, though sometimes intimidating, do not turn out to be burdens; they bring blessings. Jesus has taught me about a Father in Heaven I can love and trust.

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