Sunday, January 31, 2010
We pass this house every day when we walk my 7-year-old to the school bus stop. They are our neighbors and I decided to play the hero. I sent my boys inside and I grabbed our snow-shovel and marched over to save the day.
The woman was very grateful. Her driveway is longer and wider than ours, is at a sharp angle and spends most of the day in the shade. The way the snow fell over the weekend, it was ice first, then wet snow on top of that, and finer, icier snow on top of that. It's a real bugaboo to shovel. Add in the angle of the driveway and the fact that none was melted, and I began to wonder if this type of thing was included in Hercules' labors.
I also noticed something. This Chinese woman, about my age, in her professional, high-heeled shoes was making good progress. And she didn't quit when Super-Pastor and his snow shovel showed up. She worked right alongside me and at just as quick a pace. Now, I will say that she had more than just that dust pant. She had a sort of chopping shovel, flat, and only about 3 inches wide. It's not good for moving mounds of dirt, but very effective at breaking ice. With persistence that a beaver would admire and speed that I couldn't seem to match, she chopped the ice, scooped it with the dust pan, and motored on.
So, I started in to working alongside, and I'd be hunched over the shovel, arms and hands aching. And, I'd feel pretty good about how much I had accomplished. Then, I'd look up and see that she had gotten just about as much done. The folks who wrote When Helping Hurts would be so pleased. They say you're not supposed to do 'for' people, but rather to do 'with' people.
As we worked, I learned that she and her husband are in application process for a Green Card. They are scientists and he is out of the state right now. I thought she was in the same field as one of our church members, so I asked if she knew the woman. I said our church member's name, and the woman, my shoveling partner, said, "Oh Yes, she's very famous." It was the second time I had heard this about my church member. When I see her on Sundays, she's just a quiet worshiper seeking a word from God. It's funny how in one context a person can be a big shot and in another completely anonymous and unassuming.
I don't know if the woman I was working with is a Christian. In our labors and brief conversation, I never sensed that opening where I felt it would be appropriate to begin a conversation about faith.
When we were done, she produced a bottle of wine. I tried to explain that I really don't drink very often and rarely wine. She insisted. I tried to explain that we don't keep wine in the house. She insisted. I decided that this gesture was very important to her, to show her gratitude. So I gratefully accepted. I wanted to honor her pride.
At home, at dinner with the family, my hands ached so much, it was difficult to grip a fork. I almost couldn't open the Texas Pete to pour in my soup. (I've really become a huge fan of the Texas Peter in recent years). The pain caused me to wonder what that woman must be feeling. Somehow, I think her body and her mind are used to extremely hard work and to getting the job done. And I thought, this lesson is good for all would-be-missionaries. Whether one is going overseas, on a day-mission project right in town, or helping a neighbor on one's one street, the missionary goes to serve and be served. In the name of Jesus, we give and receive love. I gave a woman some help she really did need. She gave me her story (a bit of it). She gave me a great lesson in diligent work. And she gave me a bottle of wine.
In the future as I see her in the neighborhood, I will know we share something. I wonder if the kingdom of God is like that - people coming alongside each other, working together, and realizing they share something.
In 2010, one of the ways we are attempting to live out God’s call on us to be givers of love and compassion is to explore the scriptures to see if we can get a sense of how much God values justice and mercy. Throughout the Bible it is clear that the people of God are people of justice, people of love, people of grace, and people who care for one another and for all people. The book of Amos, found in the Old Testament, provides one of the most powerful and provocative pictures of Godly justice.
The prophet Amos gives us a picture of God’s anger throughout his book, and the first two chapters show the breadth of God’s judgment. Keil and Delitzsch in their commentary describe in vivid detail the sins of
God threatened fire upon the walled city of
Nor does God approve of excessive evil and violence. The Ammonites “ripped open the pregnant women of
Even the chosen people fall under judgment. “Because they have rejected my law … I will send fire upon
The Gileadites crushed their prisoners to pieces. The Ammonites ripped open pregnant women. The Philistines and Phoenicians (
“For three sins of
In God’s eyes exploitation of the poor and the denial of justice to oppressed people warrants the hardest of divine discipline. In fact, because
As we think about how God wants us to live justly and treat each other and the peoples around us the values revealed in Amos 1-2 are a great help. When we hurt people, or participate in exploitative systems, we are as guilty of sin as if we committed violent crime. So, are we, as Americans, consuming an incredibly disproportionate amount of resources, knowing there are people in the world starving, participants in an exploitative system?
Tuesday, January 12, 2010
The guy who is doing this is a committed Bible reader. Often he and I come to different conclusions after reading the same text. We sometimes engage in quite lively debates when our Tuesday group gets together. And, this man, my friend, is a regular reader of this blog, so I am certainly not talking behind his back. The fact is he is a bit of a provocateur. (I should add I use that term playfully and not in the confrontational sense.)
The reason I describe my learning of his decision to sponsor a child as one of the best of 2010 is I get to see his compassionate side. We have our entire church studying the compassionate life in small groups and in Sunday morning sermons. I am searching deep within myself and deep within the hearts of our members for the compassion Jesus had, especially with regard to disadvantaged people. We have had people who went on mission trips in 2009 share testimony. And in small group discussions we are trying to tackle the hows and whys of living compassionately and advocating for justice for all people.
My occasionally contrary and always thoughtful friend is taking every step of this seriously. After he and I had a spirited exchange (that carried over into several forms of media) regarding the Poverty and Justice Bible and the Green Bible, he went out and bought both. He's been critical of each, but not in an uninformed way. His criticism is valid because he shelled out the money for these study Bibles. And, now, he's revealed his own compassion by taking heart for a young Ugandan boy.
I am not arrogant enough to think for one minute my friend sponsored this child because of our church-wide emphasis. I believe he is trying to respond to the Holy Spirit's promptings. Perhaps this was his plan all along for 2010. Perhaps God would have led him to this regardless of what's happening at church. No, I don't think he's acting because of the direction we have set. But I am thrilled by what he's done because my big goal for this entire emphasis is to see more and more of our people live compassionately.
When you sponsor a child, you're helping and empowering. The comment was made, "Well, it's not like adoption," and that's true. But systemically, it might be more helpful. When one adopts a child, that child is taken out of his country. My little boy Henry has a great life now, but it is an American life, not an Ethiopian blood. My friend's sponsorship of his Ugandan child will help that child grow in body, mind, and spirit. Furthermore, that child is still in Uganda. He will grow up as an educated man with talents that can help transform his country. And he will grow up knowing (through the teaching of World Vision missionaries and his own church) that part of his provision all his life came from a loving Christian in America, one he never met.
So, I think sponsorship is a great act of compassion and one that has the potential to lead to transformation - both in the child and in the man sending the checks. I hope his action and willingness to share it with our group is a catalyst that provokes many others in our group and throughout the church to make similar decisions to do acts of justice and be moved by compassion in 2010.
And I encourage you, reader of this blog, to have your own honest talk with God about the ways you can live the compassionate life in 2010.
She also gave Jesus appropriate hospitality. She welcomed and cared for Jesus out of love for him. Simon's hospitality to Jesus was extended in a social system of reciprocity. In other words, every courtesy he extended to Jesus would be intended to benefit him (Simon) in some way. That was the convention. He gave hospitality for his own sake. The woman, the unwelcome woman, gave hospitality for Jesus' sake.
Jesus proclaims her forgiven. She is a sinner no more upon his declaration. Then he sends her off in peace.
Our family has had a recent experience with being made to feel not welcome. We have welcomed two sons into our lives through adoption. We couldn't imagine life without them. Henry came from Ethiopia a year ago. He came with a facial condition which we knew nothing about. But it is contagious and it has covered his face with bumps.
One of the other parents at the nursery school he attends and loves, has made a stink about Henry, even refusing to send her children unless the director takes measures to correct the situation. It's understandable. She doesn't want her child's face to have 20 bumps on it the way Henry's does.
The fact is, Henry's condition is a virus that will run its course without any permanent damage. It causes no discomfort in the present. And, every doctor and pediatrician we've talked to said that the condition is no cause to disqualify him from nursery school. At public schools, he would not be sent home because of uncovered bumps. We have checked with the nurse at our older son's school.
Still, the director of Henry's nursery school, a woman we respect and love, has dictated that the only way Henry can participate is to have the bumps covered. Otherwise, he's not welcome. One day we tried it - imagine covering the face of a 2-year-old with band-aids. Even when we observed the stipulation, the complaining mom kept her children home. No matter what, her message was our son was not welcome.
It's been hurtful because no one talked to us about it. The nursery school tries to maintain a family atmosphere, but in this case, no one in the "family" had the love or concern to tell us our child wasn't welcomed. They went through back channels, talked behind our backs, and hid behind the director. They made her do all the dirty work.
In the grand scheme of things, this is all small. Henry is sad now, but he likely won't remember this any more than he will have any detailed memory of the events that led him to become an orphan. Kids are resilient and they bounce back. Henry is a happy, rambunctious boy, a true joy in our lives. We will get through this just fine. That said, we are sad. In the moment, we weep from sadness.
This morning, as I think of the issue of welcome and I contemplate the sermon I will write on Luke 7:36-50, our recent and ongoing experience with Henry is on my mind. I don't really know what it is like to be on the receiving end of the establishment's rejection. I am a white, middle class, professionally educated, American male. That puts me in the class of the most advantaged people on earth. Any minor inconvenience or injustice I suffer is completely insignificant in the sense that I have it made in life, and I have the resources to recover. Even in this nursery school flap, my wife and I could fight. We choose not to.
But, as I ponder our experience and the experience of the woman in Luke 7, I wonder. Can we, can I, love Jesus with as much appreciation as she did? I hope so. I would rather that Henry be able to go back to nursery school. But we aren't going to cover his face in bandages. So,he can't go. Knowing that, what can we learn from God? How can this help us grow closer to God?
Wednesday, January 6, 2010
Sunday, January 3, 2010
You come to church where you hear a video about work being done somewhere else – a country you’ve only barely heard of on a continent you’ve never visited. You are wholly unaware of that country, what it is like to live there, what language they speak, what food they eat, what the whether is like, what daily life is like. But, you come to church and the pastor and elders and other church leaders – people you typically trust - implore you to dig deep and give your money because the people in this country you don’t know are materially poor and/or they don’t know anything about Christianity. So, you’re supposed to give your money to meet their needs and help them meet Jesus.
You flip on the TV in the evening and happen across a story about rising unemployment and the working poor – it seems a segment of the population in our mostly wealthy country suffer are languishing in poverty. There truly are people in America who cannot afford any kind of health insurance, are undereducated or completely illiterate, live in unsanitary conditions that perpetuate poor health, lack opportunities for advancement or improvement, and sometimes don’t have enough food - yes, here in America. You’re a hard-working accomplished person and part of you thinks “in
You drive to work on Monday morning, and at the traffic light, in the median, is a guy with a sign. “Homeless. Desperate. Anything will help.” And you drive past and come to another major intersection and there’s another guy with a sign. “Will work for food.” Now come on! It’s one thing to be locked in a community or a situation where there is no way out. But there has to be a better way for the hungry individual to fight his problems and work toward a better life than to stand at a corner and beg for the spare change of willing donors, people who work for their money.
Around the world, around our country, and right here in our community, less than a mile from this spot and from the homes in which we live, people are struggling to make it. Poverty is real. There are children who go to bed not knowing if they will eat tomorrow. There are families who have had their very humanity stripped away because they have absolutely no way of knowing whether things will ever improve. But the reality of the world and of those who suffer is not an intractable situation. It is not hopeless because we aren’t just an assembly of hardworking Americans. We are the church, the body of Christ, the gathering of his followers. We live in the tradition of the very first believers who received the Holy Spirit. And we too have received the Holy Spirit. So we know God’s word in the Bible is God’s word for us – to show us what God is all about; to encourage us; and, to drive us to put our complete trust in God and to live as Jesus and the first disciples lived.
You and I – we come to church and hear the Bible we trust read, in it the very words of Jesus. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.” That good news was not a hope for relief from pain in some far off future, or hope for better things in the next life. Jesus began demonstrating the good news and began establishing His kingdom before he was crucified. When he said God “sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, 19to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,” he meant right now. That “right now” continues in the age of the church, which includes the age in which we live. So, the work Jesus started, the work of bringing good news to the poor, is work to be carried out in the church. This is to be the life of Jesus followers.
Will every single sermon of 2010 and every Bible study be about poverty alleviation? No! We will deal with a number of themes as our church has many people with varied spiritual concerns. The compassion life of Jesus will though always be in the background and frequently as it is every year in the foreground. To open the year we are asking all small groups to study the Sunday morning texts which all come from the Gospel of Luke. The sermons and small groups discussions will align to bring awareness to all of us; and the awareness, which I believe is a gift of the Holy Spirit, will prod us to action – to live compassionate lives. This is no bleeding heart, guilt-inspired campaign, no initiative intended to salve the conscience of the opulent middle class American; this a gathering of disciples attempting to respond to God’s word in faith and deed.
We want what break’s God’s heart to break ours. We want to value what God values. We want to go where He leads. We want to become who He is leading us to become. With that in mind we will move into 2010 with a closer look at what Jesus is doing in Luke 4. But first, a note about poverty.
Consider what you think of when you hear the word “poor” or some group of people described as “the poor.” Ask yourself, what comes to mind? Are “the poor” a group of people who are “out there” in some unknown, seldom visited somewhere? Are “the poor” a group of people described as “they,” or “those people?” I suggest that the poor are in here. Now, don’t hear and then gaze around the room to see if you can figure out whom I mean. Every person suffers from spiritual poverty because of sin. My sins may be related to lust or rage; hers maybe related to sloth or gluttony; his may be related to lack of faith; someone on the other side of the room may deal with prejudice; someone on the other side of the room may commit sins of omission – not doing what he knows God wants him to do. Or, sins of greed. In myriad ways, we sin and thus are afflicted with spiritual poverty.
Spiritual poverty leads to relational brokenness. A man may suffer in that he is oblivious toward his neighbor; or he may openly hostile toward his neighbor. But all men and all women are locked in relational brokenness because of sin.
There is nothing to be done – we cannot by our will power stop sinning, but praise the Lord! We don’t have to. We need to stop sinning, but that much true. But, we have help. Jesus came to “bring good news to the poor” and “to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free.” Jesus is our hope and in the body of Christ, empowering through the constant presence of the Spirit, responding to our prayers from Heaven, Jesus is helping us live in His kingdom.
Our journey to awareness and compassionate living includes our admission, almost like a participant in a twelve step group. Every one stands, says his or her name, and admits the truth. “Hi. I am Rob. I admit that due to sin, I am spiritually impoverished and thus relationally broken.” It’s true of the millionaire and the pauper. Conversely because of God’s grace the Spirit empowers both the materially rich and the materially poor. Our journey to awareness and compassionate living is one in which we give and receive help. The woman with a sixth grade education who works 60 hours a week doing laundry and still needs food stamps to get buy has much to offer to a tenured university professor even as she has much to receive from that professor. On the road to relational wholeness and spiritual riches both make contributions and both need gifts of grace. Our commitment to live compassionate lives in which we champion the needs of the neediest in society includes us seeking tangible blessing those will are helping will give. We are recipients because we are poor and we are helpers because we are Jesus’ disciples and compassionate living is clearly what he leads us to do.
With that understanding of shared poverty and the commitment that we will give our attention to compassionate living, again we set our hearts and minds on the Bible and what we see in Luke 4.
Luke tells us that Jesus was full of the Holy Spirit when he returned to
Jesus went home, to his synagogue, but he was a man and his hometown neighbors had no idea what he had become. He returns as a local boy made good. Already Luke writes, “A report about him spread through all the surrounding country.” Jesus had performed miracles, and the people who watched him grow up wondered if he wouldn’t show them some of his magic. The problem with miracles is they create impressions but rarely do they inspire transforming faith. The people heard Jesus was in the synagogue. They came hoping to witness a miracle. They got a sermon instead.
He was given the book of Isaiah and he chose a prophecy that many understood to be messianic. The assumption was when the messiah comes, we will see the release of the captives and the recovery of sight of the blind, and we the oppressed will go free.” Jesus’ statement that today the scripture has been fulfilled was tantamount to announcing the beginning of the Messianic age.
The synagogue crowd responded in three ways. First there was great admiration. “All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, “Is not this Joseph’s son”’ (v.22)? They immediately became admirers. But Jesus did not want or need admirers. He had no interest in people telling him how great he was. Admiration is fleeting quickly. Before December 2009, Tiger Woods had countless admirers. However, because like me, Tiger Woods sins, he is, for all his millions, poor and his spiritual poverty has yielded relational brokenness. This brokenness is where live. It won’t be fixed unless we realize that Jesus doesn’t want our admiration. He wants more from us.
The admiration Luke describes vanished when the crowd realized they weren’t going to be seeing any miracles. They knew Jesus’ family. They knew he was as broken and poor and insignificant as any other Jew. They wanted the Messiah to come an elevate
Do we need to change our expectations of God? Of what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ? Do we need to rethink the Christian life before we have any hope of actually hearing the Spirit speak and receiving the blessings God wants to heap on us? The synagogue crowd asked for a miracle, they got a sermon. They expressed amazement at the sermon; Jesus told them they didn’t understand. At that point the crowd turned ugly and forced Jesus to the edge of the cliff on the outskirts of town.
Why did they get mad enough to kill him by mob action? Jesus told them the Messianic age had begun but they would never get it or be part of it, and they thought it belonged to them. Even in their poverty, the rural Galileans believed God was theirs instead rejoicing that they were God’s. The first two reactions to Jesus that day was (1) amazement, and (2) rage-filled rejection. There was a third that Luke unfolds throughout the rest of the Gospel and throughout the book of Acts. We see it in the final reading of the passage, verse 30.
The mob had dragged him to cliff’s edge with malevolent intentions and Luke writes, “He passed through the midst of them and went on his way.” Jesus always went on his way which was God’s way. In his life, he was opposed or at least his progress was blocked by the temptations of Satan, misplaced Messianic hopes of the crowd in Nazareth, the familial pressures placed on him by his siblings and mothers, the misunderstanding, doubt, and fear of his own disciples, the religious and theological challenges of the religious experts, the Pharisees, the political opposition of the temple leadership, the Sadducees and chief priest, and the imperial pressure to conform applied by Rome. Jesus would not be cowed by this attempt on his life. He would not shrink from the terror of demons. He showed no fear of Herod despite the corrupt king’s unpredictable nature. The crucifixion fell into God’s time table that is the only timeline Jesus paid any attention to.
It’s a short verse but it is not an afterthought. In carrying out his mission of bringing good news to the poor, Jesus went on his way, God’s way. We read the Gospel, we pray, and then we have choices before. We can hear Jesus and be amazed. Oh he’s such a good moral teacher. Oh he’s such an important figure in history. Jesus does not want admirers and admiring him does get one any closer to his kingdom.
We can hear Jesus and become enraged because we are broken, spiritually starving because of sin. To yield to Him as Lord, we submit everything – our possessions, our dreams, our aspirations, our grudges, our attitudes, our relationships with others – everything to Him. And we don’t want to do that, so many consciously or unconsciously rebel against God and against the Gospel and try to throw the parts we don’t like off of some cliff. Jesus is not impeded by those who react to him in angry rage and his kingdom is not hindered by the sins of humanity. Jesus does not need admirers and is not intimidated by rage-filled haters.
A third way that we can respond to the Gospel is to see that Jesus is going on his way and we can follow. We give up control of our destiny. We surrender the need to have the final say-so in our own lives. We look to Jesus and we follow the way He is going. We become followers walking the Jesus way.
This means two things: first, we acknowledge that when he says he’s bringing good news to the poor, that means us. We are spiritually poor and relationally broken and on our knees through grateful tears we receive the grace of God and we know that it will come in His Spirit speaking to our hearts; it will come in the way we love on another and function as a community; and it will come when we receive all the grace the economically poor have to give to us.
Second, we acknowledge that just as we receive the good news, we are to share the good news. We have surrendered everything we have, so our time, our words, our hearts, our money, our talents, our energy are things we give to God to use in the bringing the good news of salvation and the rescue from poverty to the world around us.
The observant listener will note that I have not provided specific answers to the problems I introduced that the outset – the world mission offering called for at church; the alleviation of painful economic poverty that exists right here in our country; and, the proper response to the guy at the intersection with the sign begging for a hand-out. The truth is I don’t have all the answers because I am still spiritually poor. I am still in the process of receiving relationship healing. Throughout 2010, we will seek answers for the best ways for us as a church to be involved in compassionate ministry.
I know this. The starting point is to forget all preconceptions we have and to walk in the way of Jesus, following him. That’s the beginning of the good news. We are poor. Jesus has come for us. Why don’t we release all of the trappings of materialistic life, all the seductions of the world around us, all the temptations to be in control of our own lives? Why don’t we hand it all to Him? I invite you this morning. Come and walk the Jesus way, the beginning of the compassionate life, the beginning of the good news.
I began the
We are an economically wealthy people. It would not seem that way to many members who struggle to make it from paycheck to paycheck. And, there are in
Simply put, for the prayer to be answered, for things to “go well” with us, for our lives to be blessed, and for us to experience Shalom (peace, wholeness, relational blessedness), we rich Christians needs to pay attention to Christians who are financially poor.
In the Sunday morning sermon last week (1-3-10), I asserted that we who have worldly means are also poor because of sin. We experience spiritual poverty which yields relational brokenness. The two great commands of Jesus are to love God and love people; we rebel against God and hurt people. For all to “go well” we need to move to a place where we trust God enough to surrender our hearts to God completely. We also need to move to a place of relational vulnerability that leaves us open to being hurt but at the same time makes us available for relationships God can use to transform us. This includes meaningful relationships with people in different economic situations.
Remember the prayer - “Beloved, I pray that all may go well with you.” I don’t think all can go well with follower of Jesus Christ until he or she has realized his or her own spiritual poverty and has developed deep and lasting brotherhood with believers who live in material poverty.
Does this mean it is the church’s mission to through the power of the Spirit eradicate material poverty in the world? I don’t know that. I am not certain that moving out of spiritual poverty and relational brokenness and into the grace of God will lead to the eradication of all hunger and economical injustice in the world. I do know that when we follow Jesus we are filled with compassion for people.
Compassion means if I see someone in need of prayer, I pray with him. If I see someone truly hurting, I embrace him or her, and I communicate that I love because Jesus first loved me. Compassion means if I see someone hungry, I try to help bring food. Furthermore, to the extent of my ability and availability, I try to change the structures that left that individual hungry in the first place. In other words, beyond giving a man a fish, I try to teach him to fish and give him a fishing pole and a means to get to the water.
Compassion in the context of my own relational brokenness also means I realize that I have much to receive from the man I am teaching to fish. Even as the church helps economically suffering people, the church receives blessings of God from the poorest of the poor. Whatever your economic status and whatever mine is, we have much to give each other and much to gain from one another because we each receive the Holy Spirit according to God’s grace.
As we explore themes of compassion in 2010 and as we at