Thursday, June 25, 2009

God's Gold

The mood on the bus turned slightly somber yesterday afternoon as we pulled up in front of the church where we would be ministering. The members of our Wright State XA/Belding family team started sorting through their things, storing cameras and other flashy items that weren't wise to carry in this area. We had spent the morning in one of our LACC schools, where the people struggle to feed their families, but somehow manage to get along and eek out existence. There, it is more desperate. On the very edges of Lima, there are mountains of dirt where nothing grows. It is almost like a prophecy over the people who live there. Life is lived on the edge. Food for tomorrow is a maybe.

We were quite the show. About 2o gringos walking the streets, inviting people to the service in the evening. Broken Spanish and awkward attempts at communication could not hide the earnestness with which our team extended their invitations. They so wanted to share their faith. I am always touched when our teams come, and the desire to reach into the lives of the people and give them Jesus is just so intense. That communicates.

As the starting time approached, people began to filter in. A few kids who were hungry asked for food, and the pastor gave them some little sandwiches. We started, and the kids WENT NUTS over Patty's "illusions." They loved it. As the testimories came, there were thoughtful expressions on the faces of the adults present. You could see them thinking. If God can rescue her from the pain of a broken family, maybe He can do the same for me. Maybe I don't have to be so angry all of the time, either. Rescued from drugs. Wow. Maybe He could do that for me.

Different stories, but just people. I think they were surprised how much our stories are just like theirs. One of the members of the team felt impressed to share what was on her heart-- that it was from the Lord. She said that she felt that God wanted them to know that they were treasures. That they mattered to the Lord, and that there were people there that really wanted gold, but that they were the gold to God.

Different lives, but just as loved by God. What a privelege to come to share this Good News with them.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

The Kid You Just Can't Stop Quoting

I have to say that our son, Will, is a riot. He is sunshine in our day. When he eats, he does it with gusto. Of all my children, he is the one who says, “Mom, that was GREAT!” He lives with all of his heart, and inspires us all in the family to have a little bit more fun. And we quote him a lot because HE IS JUST SO FUNNY.This is one of the latest conversations I had with Will in the car with one of his friends:

Will, to his friend: My mom is SO beautiful! She would, like, win 2nd place in the most beautiful mom contest!

Me, unable to resist: Oh, honey, that is so sweet that you would say that. But I have to ask, Who would win first?

Will, pensive: Well, I don’t know.......... but you for sure would win 2nd!

Man, do I love my boy.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The point of the Good Samaritan

Years ago, a XA student asked me about the point of the story of the Good Samaritan (Lk 10:25-37). The story ends with Jesus saying, “Go and do likewise.” The student asked, “Go and do what?” I said, “Be the Good Samaritan – have compassion on people who don’t like you.”

The student said that the story was answering the question of who is my neighbor, not about being a good person. Therefore, what are we supposed to do?

I was really confused by the conversation. It was one of those times when Bill (the wise and intelligent Bible scholar) was completely stumped by something in the Bible that should have been obvious. The student was right. The passage was not about being a good person or about having compassion on bigots. There are other passages that teach those things. So what is Jesus telling us to go and do?

I preached on this subject this past week. I was asked by Colton’s teacher to speak at a camp meeting for kids. The topic was clicks – exclusive groups that lord over others in a hierarchy of prideful put-downs. (Most clicks in grade school are really just one loud mouthed bully and his or her posse of weak willed kids who lack the guts to tell him to shut up!) I was happy to take on the topic, because it makes my prophetic spirit rise up in anger. I was the 2nd most unpopular kid in grade school. My sole friend was the most unpopular kid. As such, we were the excluded victims of many cruel kids and their popularity clicks. The time when clicks become really obvious is gym class or recess, when it was time to pick your team-mates for baseball or volleyball. I and my sole friend (the most unpopular kid in school), were both good athletes. I was one of the best baseball players in my grade. But when it came time to pick teams, we were the last kids left. Why? Because the team captains were more concerned with popularity than they were with winning the game. Once the game began, I’d start scoring points. My team was glad to win, but when the game was over, they all ditched me like a stinky diaper. They preferred image over substance. What’s really amazing is that the unpopular kids in school wanted to be associated with the popular ones—even though the latter were not nice people.

That was exactly what was going on in the parable of the Good Samaritan. The Jews hated the Samaritans because they were half-breeds. The Samaritans were the remnants of the Northern kingdom of Israel. Over centuries of occupation and forced dispersion, they had intermarried with pagans. As such, they had a little bit of the real faith mixed in with pagan concepts. They were like a lot of people in the United States and Peru, who have a Judeo-Christian vocabulary, mixed in with Eastern mysticism, humanism and witchcraft. To the Jews who really took their faith seriously (the Evangelicals of the day), the Samaritans were a despised minority. When Jesus tells the story, it is assumed that they bloody victim was a Jew. As such, it was horribly discourteous and offensive for the Priest and Levite (religious leaders who should have shown exemplary compassion) to leave the guy in the street. Then Jesus does the unthinkable by bringing into the story a Samaritan. Nobody would ever want a Samaritan to touch them. It would be unthinkable. Yet, the Samaritan is the one who “took pity” on the Jew and “bandaged his wounds.” (Lk 10:33-34)

Jesus painted a stark picture. The people that his listeners would have normally applauded (because of their public influence and authority), turned out to be the bad guys. The Priest and Levite were members of the exclusive group that lorded over the Samaritans in a hierarchy of prideful put-downs. Then the Samaritan shows up and does something that was truly remarkable. He was compassionate, generous, loving – exemplary.

This whole story begins with a question. An expert in the Jewish law was trying to justify himself by taking on Jesus in front of a big crowd. He had just listed the two most important commandments in the Bible—to love God will all your guts and to love your neighbor as yourself. Verse 10:29 says, “But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’” That question is the key to the whole passage. Who am I supposed to love in the same way that I love myself? You usually would think that your neighbor would be the people in your close proximity. But what if they’re people that are religiously or culturally offensive? The question then becomes, are they willing to have a relationship with you? Are they willing to show you compassion, even though they know that you don't agree with their lifestyle? Years ago, we lived next to a lesbian couple. It would have been easy to diss them, except that they were so helpful. I remember one morning when they helped dig our car out of the snow, so we could go to church. They were really nice about it. They knew I was from a religious perspective that did not agree with their morality choices. The overlooked it and helped eagerly. There may have been evangelicals on the street that morning. I’ll never know, since they didn’t come out and help. (They may have already left for church.) The point is that it would be crazy for me to withhold love (which is not the same as moral approval) from people who were reaching out to me, while I pursued relationship with people who were religiously similar, but were playing some kind of better-than-thou game of moral superiority. The “expert in the law” wanted to be justified because he wasn’t hanging out with the wrong people. Ironically, he was!

So, when Jesus says to love your neighbor, he basically means to see the people in your life not by their power or popularity, but rather by their willingness to be your neighbor. He especially wants you to do this with the people that you would otherwise overlook.

There are some obvious lessons/applications here:

1. Don’t be a jerk.

2. Beware of justifying yourself – especially when it has to do with the purity of your associations.

3. Open the doors of your click to include geeky kids who are unpopular, but who can hit a home run.

Some final thoughts:

1) God loves people who are morally bankrupt and lead corrupt lives. He selflessly lavishes them with love, while saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand!” Love and kindness do not mean that we compromise the holiness of God or that we approve of other people’s life choices.

2) When I preached this message on another occasion, I included two verses: James 3:9, “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness.” And, 1 Cor 12:21-26, specifically verse 21, “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you!’ And the head cannot say to the feet, ‘I don’t need you!’” It is imperative to recognize that all people (even the ones who are public sinners or self righteous jerks) are made in the image of God and continue to reflect a part of His glory. To value these individuals and to value their gifts (the skills they bring to the game) is to be like Jesus.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Lima in Winter

Please see the picture in the blog post, below, to get an idea of what it looks like in Lima this time of year. We are in Winter and I'm freezing. On June 8, the Chicago Tribune posted an article on Lima. Here's what they said:

"The best time to go is the Peruvian summer, December to May, when it's usually 80 degrees and somewhat sunny. Lima's winters are pretty depressing: The overcast skies and weak drizzle are unrelenting, and the humidity makes the 50-degree chill sink into your bones."

You would think that 50 degrees sounds pretty good, when the folks at home are accustomed to below freezing. The picture changes dramatically, when you don't have heat in your home. Some of our friends don't even have hot water. I want to officially thank God for our water heater and hot showers!

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Camping with Colton's Class

I was out of town for four days this past week. I served as a chaperon and worship team member on a field trip for Colton's school. It was an educational camping trip for the 4th, 5th and 6th graders, located at a christian beach camp about 2 hours south of Lima. I volunteered to go with the class because we don't have a Royal Rangers program in Peru. As such, I miss the camping oportunites I used to have with Colton in the states. The trip was fun and gave me a chance to see the kids in Colton's school interacting with one another. I also got to see how the teachers interact with the kids. It opened my eyes to the value of a Christian school. The first night, around the camp fire, I helped to lead worship and preached a message on valuing the gifts that God has put in others (based on 1 Cor. 12:21 & the story of the Good Samaritan). Many of the kids were open during worship and enjoyed the experience. Many were closed and did their best to ward off the presence of God. I was impressed by the teachers, who took their roles seriously--teaching the kids spiritual principles as well as reading, writing and arithmetic.
(One of the competitions was to build the largest sandcastle. The picture at right is of one of the teams and their Aztec temple. The grey skies and dreary weather is a picture of what winter is like in Lima, Peru.)