As is my tradition, before I take a trip overseas, I write a test blog from my iPad. The interface is a bit different on a mobile device than on a computer, so I like to write at least one blog from the iPad to work out any kinks while I have access to power and bandwidth.
Saturday I leave for Ethiopia. This is also the time when a hurricane is predicted to be passing through, but we will pray against that. If Jesus commanded the wind and the waves, and we are acting in his authority, then so can we.
We are traveling to Ethiopia to do the finishing work on the Tesfa Center, which is a center designed to give destitute widows in the rural countryside a place to work and sustainably support both themselves and their children. James 1:27 came to mind today. It says, “Pure and undefiled religion before God is this: to look after widows and orphans in their distress and to keep oneself unspotted by the world.” We have been given the awesome opportunity to do this. Notice that is not enough to be unspotted by the world? There are also things that must be done. Likewise we are not just called to be busy. Faith without works is dead, just as works without faith will not save us. By faith we show gratitude to the God that selflessly gave himself for us, that while we were yet sinners he died for us. We in turn should live as ransomed people. As God gave his life for us, we return it by giving ours back.
So long as I have internet I plan to give updates while I’m gone. Finally, I leave you with a picture of one of the widows we are going to minister to.
I remember as a teenager, there was a book in our school library titled, “Nuclear War, What’s In It For Me?” Clearly it was satire, but the title made me think. My blog is usually geared toward a western audience and all of the Western pre-conceptions and paradigms about the way we think the world is and what life should be. We think the title I mentioned is ridiculous, but with how many other things can we replace “Nuclear War” and it makes perfect sense to us? “Marriage, What’s in it for Me?” “Faith, What’s in it for Me?” Most of what we do and think about comes back to, “What’s in it for me?”. It seeps into the way we think about everything. Life is about money, and comfort, and prosperity. Life is about……..me. Even the verses we like to quote are about us. Jeremiah 29:11 is one of our favorite verses to quote. “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
The context and the preceding verse is conveniently omitted. This was the situation when Jeremiah prophesied those words; Israel had been carried into exile in Babylon. Their kingdom was gone, and their freedom gone along with it. They were aliens in a land not their own, and subjects of a pagan king. They longed to go back home, and false prophets were telling people that they would go home soon. Jeremiah had something entirely different to say, and it was something that came straight from God.
“This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”
Israel was complaining and asking “Why has this happened to us? When will God deliver us?” This sounds a lot like us whenever we face adversity, or when our life doesn’t look the way we want it to. We quote the verse about God wanting to prosper us, and fail to realize that He didn’t place us here for ourselves; that it’s not about us. I especially like the last part. “Seek peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” They weren’t to pray for judgement out of spite for carrying them into exile. They were to be agents of positive change where God had put them, even thought they didn’t want to be there.
Have you ever seen a tree growing on bare rock in the desert? Often it will grow where a seed found a small crack, and will start putting down a tap root that eventually splits the rock. Here’s the thing about that tree. It doesn’t complain that it was planted in such a bad place. It doesn’t envy other trees that were planted closer to water, or in a better climate. It quietly takes in sunlight and whatever water God gives it, and uses those resources in the fullest possible way for where it lives. As it splits that rock, more soil gets trapped in the crack allowing other small plants to grow there. Sometimes it reaches water that was hidden or trapped beneath the rock, and it’s able to flourish and provides shade for animals and less heat tolerant plants. Eventually, over centuries, the entire landscape can change, and if enough plants grow, even the climate changes and the desert can disappear. If a tree growing on a rock can do this, how much more are we called to as beings created in the image of God?
We were not placed here for us. We were placed here to make a difference in others, and consequently a difference in the world around us. Don’t moan about your situation and ask that God immediately remove you from the situation you’re in. Pray for the people and places around you, because if those around you prosper, so will you.
I’ve been pondering this blog for about a week now, and I’m glad I pondered for a while and didn’t write, because an article came to my attention during that time that drove a lot of my point home. The article appeared on slate.com, and was titled, I kid you not, “In Medicine We Trust, Should We Worry That So Many of the Doctors Treating Ebola In Africa Are Missionaries?” I’m putting a link to it here, for those who care to read it, and it is an interesting read.
My purpose in this blog is not to harp on the opinions of Atheists. I frankly have no right to do that, since I would be out of line in thinking that Atheists should act or think like anything except Atheists. Rather, my purpose in bringing up the article is to bring clarity to the way Atheists think, and why they think it. The author of the article, in his words, is a bit uncomfortable with the above situation, namely that it is almost exclusively Christian missionary doctors who are on the ground treating those with ebola. Which begs the question, “Why would anyone be uncomfortable with that?” The author gives a number of reasons, and I think he’s very thoughtful about it. But I think only an outsider looking in can cut to the heart of the reason why he’s uncomfortable. In order to be an Atheist, he has to, and has, convinced himself that there is no value in religion. The fact that these people, (as he puts it), who don’t profit personally from their work, and risk their lives to help others, proves that his previous premise is wrong, and therefore, causes dissonance in his worldview.
I’ve seen the same thing in my travels. The more dangerous the place, the more likely it is that it’s Christians who are there helping. By the time you get to South Sudan, whether the organization you are working with is officially Christian or secular, the people working there to help others are almost as a rule Christian. Now I’m not saying Atheists don’t like to help others, but the fact is that very few of them are willing to risk their lives to help others, being that what happens to them if they get killed is at the very least, uncertain.
Again, though. This is not about Atheists. This blog is about Christians, specifically Christians who’s actions are so like Christ that they would cause an Atheist to question his worldview. Let’s flash over to the west, America specifically and myself included, where it literally costs us nothing to be a Christian. The attitudes I’ve seen in this country, even from those professing to be Christians is sometimes truly staggering. Attitudes like, “They have no business going over there. If they get ebola, they’re getting what they deserve.” I’m not joking. I honestly can’t understand the thought process, except to say that for every person willing to do something, there’s another person who’s willing to do nothing except pee on the first person’s shoe.
Let’s see what Jesus had to say about this in Matthew 25. “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in,36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me. And you people had no business doing that, and if you got ebola, you got what you deserved.” Of course that’s not how the ending goes, any more than the following. “Then He will say on His left, For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink,43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me. In fact, you didn’t do anything I asked of you. You took my free gift of salvation, then looked out for number one, and number one wasn’t Me. Great is your reward in Heaven.” If I heard that, I would have to assume I was being mocked. But that is how we often act, if not so explicitly. We go to churches that require nothing of us, and so that is what we give. We chase after consumerism and self, addictions, pleasure, and convince ourselves that we’re not bad people. And no, maybe we’re not bad people, but maybe also we don’t look enough like Christ to make an Atheist question his worldview. I hear people say that their faith is a private thing. If we follow Christ and our life looks like His, then how can it possibly be a private thing? Now we can say we’re saved not by works but by faith all day, but the fact is that if that salvation means anything at all, there should be some resemblance between us and Christ. Maybe if we stopped thinking about ourselves and all our stuff, we wouldn’t live in such fear as a society. You can’t fear losing what you’ve already given up, and that goes double for your life. The book of James says, “True religion that God our Father accepts is this, to look after widows and orphans in their distress, and to keep yourself from being polluted by the world.” Is this our religion, or is our religion a bowl of waxed fruit, or a couch you can’t sit on? Is our religion just a pretty (so we tell ourselves) thing, but others know that it’s a useless thing that collects dust, and everyone knows that it’s fake?
Now before you say that I’m saying everybody should go and be a missionary to ebola patients in Liberia, I’m not. Not everyone is called to do that, but everyone is called to do something. Our mission field may not be Liberia or South Sudan or Afghanistan. It might be the single mom down the street or the prisoner in the local jail. When God called Moses, he made all kinds of excuses for why he couldn’t do anything. “I stutter. I’m just a shepherd.” Etc. etc. etc. God said to Moses, “What do you have in your hand?” “A staff”, Moses replied. God told him to throw it on the ground and it became a snake. God told him to pick it up again and it again became a staff. I would challenge each person to ask themselves, “What is in your hand?” What skills and talents do you have? Even if we’re just holding a stick, God can use it if we’re willing. What gifts has God given us that we aren’t using? Why aren’t we using it? It’s time to put the excuses away and start living the life that Christ called us to. He has called us to a triumphant life in Him, and not a life of fear. I pray that He will forgive me for failing in this, and I know He will. But I on the other hand will pledge to daily give Him less reason to have to forgive me.
To close this, I’d like to quote Emperor Julian, the fourth century Roman emperor, who in writing to one of the pagan priests said the following. “Whilst the pagan priests neglect the poor, the hated Galileans (Christians) devote themselves to works of charity . . . These impious Galileans not only feed their own poor, but ours also; welcoming them into their agape . . .” Julian’s dying words were, “You have won, Galilean.”