Friday, January 12, 2018

God is Love

This is the first of my series on what I have learned from ministers in my life and how these ministers have influenced and shaped my ministerial identity. I met Rev. Jay Deskins in 2010 when I was a camper at Christmount. I later worked under Jay for two summers at Christmount as part of the camp staff. Jay is a wonderful minister with a great passion for youth and I consider him not only a ministerial role model but a great friend. I thank him for the influence he’s had on my life.

It was the summer of 2010. A wonderful summer for many reasons. One of the biggest reasons was the week I spent at Christmount’s CYF Conference. I never did camp at Christmount before this year, so my soul was curious and anxious.

But I wasn’t anxious because I was going to camp. At this point, I was getting used to camp life and had also done a week at Camp Caroline the week before.

My anxiety came from a faith crisis I was struggling with at the time.

In 2008, I took an elective course in High school called “Religions of the World: The Bible in History”. The course taught me both biblical history as well as the five major religions of the world: Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. It was the first time I had direct learning about the world’s other religions and after that class was over, I grew a greater appreciation for learning about how other faith’s traditions view and interact with the world. This course even encouraged me to pursue a Religious Studies degree in college.

However, between that class and the CYF Conference at Christmount, I learned, either directly or indirectly, that some Christian theologies and interpretations of biblical scriptures reject other religions and even state that if someone does not believe in Christ, then they will go to hell.

This disturbed me greatly. While I proclaimed myself as a follower of Christ, I was not comfortable with the fact of God banishing people to hell simply for having a different belief.

For a long time, I was not sure what to believe about the faith I choose to follow. Should I just accept this “fact” and go on for my life? Should I renounce my membership in the Christian church? I had no idea what to do nor did I have the language to understand my inner frustrations around this eschatological question.

So I went to Christmount in June with these questions and anxiety and left with my understanding of God restored. How you may ask? To be honest, there were so many wonderful things that happened that week of camp, but one of them came from one man: Jay Deskins.

I never knew Jay before that week, but he was both my small group leader and cabin counselor. I could tell Jay had a wild and fun side about him, but there was much wisdom and spirituality as well. For example, while we had fun and played games in our small group, we always began with prayer and always ended with prayer.

And it was Jay who helped me with my faith dilemma that week.

Every night, the entire camp would create a circle of chairs in Aldridge hall. Throughout the week, campers were encouraged if they had any God, faith, or life question to anonymously write it and put it in the “Question box”. Then right before worship, a counselor or director would read the question and the entire camp would discuss it. No matter what the question or the camper’s beliefs about that question, the discussions were always civil and respectful. We called these moments as “God Talks”.

Well, I was brave enough to write my question. I don’t remember what most of the people said, but I will always remember what Jay said.

“I cannot believe in an all loving God that will send any of his children to hell”.

His statement hit me like a pound of bricks. And I knew instantly that Jay was right. I do believe in an all loving God. And I do believe that God, being the divine source of love in our universe, is not a God who seeks punishment against non-believers of Christianity. At least that is the God I choose to believe in.

Since that God talk, I have shaped my ministry around God’s eternal love for all of God’s children and I know the rest of my ministry will always believe that God is love. No matter who you are or what you believe. You are loved, because God loves you.

May this story help you remember that God is love and give you a similar hope that I received when I heard this message from the amazing Jay Deskins many years ago.