Why So Surprised?

Short post today, but I’ve just really gotta get this off my chest.

Very few things upset/disappoint/sadden me as much as my fellow Christians exhibiting outrage when persecuted. There is no humility in outrage. There is no love in outrage. There is no witness in outrage. The only times outrage was clearly justified within New Testament Scripture were when God’s Church or temple were defiled (when Christ overturned the vendors’ tables in the temple, when Paul called Christians to excommunicate those among them bringing evil into the Body, etc).

People, this is what we committed to when we chose to walk with Christ. Christ warned us time and time again that, hey, if you choose to walk with me you’re gonna have a tough time at points. It’s to be expected that people who don’t know Christ will act as, well, people who don’t know Christ (1 Cor. 5:12). So why do we act so surprised and angry when we get some flak?

I yearn for a day when Christian culture in America realizes that we have no greater opportunity to be a witness for Christ than to respond to all forms of persecution with the love, humility, and grace first shown to us by Christ. Please, I implore you today to dare to try to be like the Lamb who didn’t even begin to protest when falsely accused, tortured, and crucified. Let’s show the world something radical: an unnatural love it cannot know outside of Christ.

My Second Meaningful Encounter at One Simple Old Stoplight

Yesterday, I had my second meaningful encounter at one specific stoplight in Seattle. Some of you know about the time I was blessed by a stoplight that skipped me three times and allowed me to talk with an incredibly kind homeless man, reminding me that things we view as inconveniences are sometimes God’s way of telling us to slow down and look around.

Yesterday afternoon, I met a man named Doug at that stoplight. I pulled up and saw a homeless man with a sign that summarized a life-changing episode, saying, “Laid off, now homeless, need work.” I looked around my car to see if I had anything to give him real quick. Nope, nothing. Then I remembered that I had some extra snacks that my boss let me take home from work today.
“Hey buddy,” I called and signalled him over. “How’s it going?”
“Eh I’m alright, how about yourself?” he replied.
“No complaints here. Hey, what’s your name man.”
“Hi Doug, I’m Christopher. I just wanted to let ya know that I’ll be praying for ya. Also, I work at a cafe and have some snacks from work here. Would you like them?”
“Uh, sure,” he said, seeming kind of startled. He probably didn’t expect to encounter a guy with a little pink cardboard box offering some strange looking South African treats.
As I handed him the treats I told him, “You know, I was almost homeless once. Just last year.”
“Really? What happened?” he asked, obviously surprised.
“Lost my job, just like you. I was just kinda lucky that my parents and roommates could spot me money for my rent for a couple of months. I understand how difficult of a time it can be though, not knowing where your money for life will come from. You’ll be in my prayers man.”
Doug then reached into his pocket and pulled out the white slip that I’ve included a picture of.
“Here, these are thank you notes of sorts.” After he said this he took a bite of the spinach and feta roll I’d given him. “Wow, these are really something! Thanks!”
His face lit up just a bit and suddenly my insignificant gift was actually worth something. I hope I brightened his day at least a little.

After that my light turned green and I had to drive off, but I would like to try to do a little more for Doug. You see, his note shows that what’s happened to Doug could really happen to any of us. He has a degree in CIS and has had work his whole life. Right now he’s just hit a hard time, as many of us will at some point. So I need your help. If you know of any opportunities for work for Doug in CIS somewhere, please let me know. Or if you might know anyone who might know someone, please share this with them. Help me to make Doug’s day even better.
God bless you all.

Recognizing Brokenness

Today in my Issues In African and Asian Christianity class we spent some time reading about a pastor in Baghdad.  In our reading, the author took a moment to briefly describe the reality of the violence that this pastor had placed himself in the midst of, mentioning that one day on his way to his church the pastor walked past 60 bodies graphically hanging along the street. What struck me at this moment wasn’t that fact itself, but how I almost heard that and merely thought “Wow, that’s rough,” instead of feeling actual anguish; anguish over the brokenness of our world displayed in the reality that this pastor was experiencing around himself.

The lyrics of Hosanna immediately came to my mind when I considered this. It’s a song we sing in church all the time, but I don’t think we really always mean the lyrics. In the bridge we sing, “Break my heart for what breaks Yours.  Everything I am for Your Kingdom’s cause.” Do we really mean those words though? Do our hearts break at the injustice in the world? Why do we tolerate the brokenness? Why do we settle for “that’s just how the world is”, rather than being the change that we [should] wish to see in the world and refusing to accept the world as it is?  Why do we hear facts like “About 29,000 children under the age of five –  21 each minute – die every day, mainly from preventable causes. (UNICEF.org)”, and not respond with outrage that we as a society allow this to happen?  Why is the brokenness of the world not constantly, or even really occasionally, on our minds?

I’m not saying that we should all be mopey and depressed about how broken the world is, but I think reality should hit us, and it should hit hard.  We shouldn’t just be satisfied living life with our nice cars, big homes, clean running water, and monthly $10 donation to some random charity.  We should be praying earnestly, taking some kind of time out of our year for ministry outside of our home city, taking some kind of time for ministry in our cities, ministering to the ‘least of these’, living as Christ actually lived.  Sometimes I think much of our Church in America seems more like the Pharisees of Jesus’ day, obsessed with a moral code and ‘righteous’ living, rather than like Christ himself, loving the marginalized and living humbly and embracing those who are suffering while walking with God in ways that reflect more of his positive actions than his negative ones (Do vs. Do Not).  We have an abundance of sympathy here in the US, but a real shortage of empathy.  When we see pain, we’re more likely to respond with “Wow, that’s a bummer,”  than we are to respond with, “Wow, that’s terrible.  Let me come alongside you and just be here for you in whatever way I can.  You’re actually worth some of my time.”

I’m not demanding that we all just pack up our stuff and leave for the most broken and violent regions of the world right now, ready to risk everything in order to display God’s love for people in the midst of violence and poverty (although some of us really should).  What I’m saying is that we should feel something for these people.  We should care.  The plights of the impoverished, the abused, the victims of violence, the trafficked, the homeless, the broken, the weary, and all those suffering should be addressed in our thoughts, in our prayers, in our giving, and in how we spend our time.  Christ did not come so that we could have happiness in our little bubbles of security and wealth (If you even make minimum wage then you’re richer than at least 80% of the world.  Think about that sometime.).  He didn’t come to establish a moral code (the Pharisees already had that covered).  He didn’t even come so we could just tell people about him and all share some kumbayas and joy.  He came to redeem the world back to himself and to change our lives radically.  The lives of the early Christians we find in Scripture were incredibly changed when they put their faith in Christ.  What if we actually began to care about the world as God does?  What if Christ’s love showed up in our time, our finances, our prayers, our churches, and even our daily attitudes and the most minuscule of actions?  What if the status of the world we live in really began to mean something to us?  I don’t think we could help but change it.

Even if we can’t regularly place ourselves among those suffering for whatever reason (Maybe you legitimately don’t have the time to volunteer regularly or something.  I get that.  I’ve been there.), we can at least make a difference in our every day actions.  For one thing, we can be active in intercessory prayer for those suffering.  In many places where God acts in Scripture it’s directly in relation to prayers (Exodus 3, Judges 3, and Acts 12 are just a few examples).  I don’t know why God allows us to have a direct impact on how and when he acts, but it seems that he does. For whatever reason, he seems to desire for us imperfect men and women to be part of the actions he takes in His perfect redemption of the world.  And beyond prayer, we should be living lives overall that serve as reflections of the grace and love that we’ve been able to experience thanks to Christ.  Next time you see that homeless person on the corner, invite em to dinner.  Next time you know someone struggling with finances while you’re doing pretty well yourself, anonymously help them out.  Maybe in the next year you could even dedicate some time to putting yourself in a distant city or nation in the service of God.  We can’t fix all of the brokenness of the world ourselves, but we can be unique parts in the story of God doing so.

I want to end with two passages from Scripture.  The first is one of exhortation to action.  The second is one of the hope that we can have in Christ’s redemption of the world.  As someone who currently studies poverty, injustice, and the overall brokenness of the world that needs fixed, the hope that God has given us for the happy ending is sometimes all that keeps me from just burying my head in the sand.

Isaiah 58:6-7,9-10
“6 Is not this the fast that I choose;
to loosen the bonds of wickedness,
to undo the straps of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
7 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked to cover him,
and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?
…9 Then you shall call and the LORD will answer; you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’
If you take away the yoke from your midst,
the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness,
10 if you pour yourself out for the hungry
and satisfy the desire of the afflicted,
then shall your light rise in the darkness
and your gloom shall be as the noonday.”

That’s what God wants from us more than all the worship, fasting, mega-churches, sermons, and tithing in the world.

Hosea 2:18-20
“…18 And I will abolish the bow, the sword, and war from the land, and I will make you lie down in safety.  19 And I will betroth you to me forever.  I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and mercy.  20 I will betroth you to me in faithfulness.  And you shall know the LORD.”

God promises to remove the pain of this world.  He promises that we’ll one day live in peace and justice and perfect intimacy with Him.  But if we do not fight the world’s current brokenness ourselves, we miss being part of God’s active redemption and renewal.  It has been said that the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.  Luckily for us though, we have a God who will act regardless of whether we do or not.  But still, I exhort you to be that change that you wish to see in the world, and to earnestly wish to see many things change.

Lord, break our hearts for what breaks yours.