I was sitting in my church when I was handed a flyer. In modern slang, it asked questions about God and life. I turned it over and saw an address stamped at the bottom.
I had to know where this came from so I made my way to this address that turned out to be a house in Detroit. I met some people that were doing something for God but, really, I couldn’t understand what.
Just stay and find out someone said. As it got later, different people showed up. When I say different, I mean very different from me. They sat on the floor mostly and conversed among each other. A guitar appeared and there was some singing. These were spiritual songs but very different from the church ones I knew. The enjoyment of singing these songs amazed me. People just loved singing these songs.
Eventually, a fellow, a few years older than most present, sat himself on a short stool between the living room and dining room. He began what I took to be a sermon. He said that something was happening among young people that was unusual. He described it as a movement. He had seen it in other cities and came to Detroit to be part of what God was doing here.
The young people there were those who had tried to find a different lifestyle other than a conventional one. But they had found that it did not deliver the freedom they wanted. In fact, their disappointment in the counter-culture left them without much. They put off their despair by using drugs but this only pushed the questions to their next sober moment without giving any real answers. And ‘Free Love’ took a toll on your soul as well.
Not that this was all explained at that time, but I will tell you what I learned later. This fellow was indoors now on a cold winter evening, talking to these young people that had been hanging out in public parks during the summer. A few lived there and I learned their stories as I returned in the following days. The comparing of life before and after was the main point. Before, they were wasting their lives and now their lives were full of meaning. It was that simple.
They stunned me with the news that Jesus had found them. Really? In a park? Among fellow drug users? Yes. Their clear-eyed accounts told of a shocking change to their life-style. “I stopped using drugs and started following Jesus.” Really? How? Maybe you should ask Jim to explain.
Jim was a fellow that sometimes went by Smiling Dog. He was called that because he had been like a famous drug dealer named Smiling Dog Henry. He answered to either name. He was quite serious now and said several fellows were going out to talk to others about Jesus.
To the original point, what had I learned about what Christians should do? One thing was: tell others about Jesus. Another was: gather with fellow believers. Yet, there was also: go somewhere and do something. This last was the most vague but maybe the most important.
All these things had some form in churches I knew about: Share your faith with your neighbors. Go to church often. Become a missionary!
I had been exposed to these ideas in churches without any inward response. They were uncomfortable at best. Risky and dangerous at worst. Yet, here were people doing them in a seeming natural way. Effortlessly, it seemed. I joined the group as it gained larger quarters in Detroit.
I learned that there was suffering involved. Jim said it was difficult talking to old friends who did not want to change their lifestyle. They felt they were to live counter to the ordinary as a revolt against something. They thought Jim was not doing this anymore and had betrayed the cause. It all made sense when you were high, I guess.
Several others found that their families thought they had just found a new way to waste their lives though they were glad drugs and sex were not a part of it. To be misunderstood this way made them unhappy at times. They were accused of being in a cult or being too extreme in religion.
They could not go back to either lifestyle, conventional or unconventional. The group multiplied in a form much like the original house. A married couple would be like house parents and several single people would live in the house with them. Some would work and others would be active in places like universities or just on the street where people gathered. Sometimes church groups wanted to know about how former drug addicts could so changed.
Not all had been drug addicts but most looked the part of unconventional Christians. Some conventional churches had become interested in hearing about this activity among young people. What did it mean? It was so different. How could you reject conventional society and embrace a different sort of Christian lifestyle?
Here are two conclusions that came much later: First, we are meant to suffer. Some will tell you that God only wants to bless you and there is no need for any suffering. But what God wants is for us to grow in good character. This can only happen with a certain amount of suffering. You must choose between easy happiness or a struggle to become as good as you can. Did you know God wants you to be good? Selfishness can only be overcome by following Jesus.
The second is to discover how God wants to use you in this world. I marveled at a man who had been a pastor for some years. He had an experience in his office as he was ready to give up on the whole thing. He came out of that room a different man. It was like Jacob wrestling with that man of mystery in Genesis. I thought he would leave the church but no. He put on the church vestments and he told the people how God had met him and changed everything for him.
Another lady who had rejected God had a second divorce and saw herself in her younger son. She became horrified that he was becoming like her when she knew she was unable to find happiness in life. She went to a church and wept as she listened to the sermons week after week. Then she got cancer. The treatment kept her alive but the cancer would return again and again. The treatment was brutal. She did not give up and continued to be somewhat healthy at times and enduring painful treatments at other times.
I knew her before as a rich woman in charge of her life and business. Now she had a simple job that had good health benefits and spent her healthy times working and sick times going for various treatments or tests.
Her change in character was great. She had become a different person. I learned that the suffering that seemed a cruel addition to her life had some incredible value. She had passed others, myself included, in becoming like Christ. This situation had troubled me a great deal. I asked why? Why was she chosen to suffer so much?
I still don’t have an answer for this. I do have questions. It is not ‘Why?’ anymore. They are: How am I conforming to Christ? Do I act and react like him? How am I working toward his kingdom on earth right now? Am I doing my part the best I can?
Then these questions became others: Do I love Jesus too little? Do I believe too little? Love believes all things. It’s the measure of our love for Christ Jesus that answers all the other important questions. Ones about faith, about serving God, about suffering, and about hope. Your relationship with Jesus will never find an end. The limit is your love. He who is forgiven little, loves little. But those that love much are forgiven much. We are forgiven all our sins. But if you love Jesus like the woman who poured out her expensive perfume on him, you receive much more than if you think you only need a little forgiveness and a tiny bit of help from God in your life.
The first command is to love God with all. The new command is to love others as I have loved you. Do you know why he tells us to love? He doesn’t know any other relationship. He only knows this: him loving you and you loving him. Our relationship is as large as our love for him and our service is as much love as we can receive and share with others.
Remember: love believes all things. Like maybe you believe some people are evil and want to harm you. Okay, but do you also believe God is all good and is well able to care for you in all circumstances? Love believes all things. Do you believe some things? Or do you believe all things?