Identified

I am challenged by the empathy of a prophet. Even in all his distaste for Judah’s rebellion and discouragement about his nation’s future, Jeremiah refused to disconnect himself from them. Showing himself to be a true intercessor, he chose to identify himself with their sad situation. Such feelings are evident when he wrote, “Since my people are crushed, I am crushed; I mourn, and horror grips me. Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then is there no healing for the wound of my people? Oh, that my head were a spring of water and my eyes a fountain of tears! I would weep day and night for the slain of my people. Oh, that I had in the desert a lodging place for travelers, so that I might leave my people and go away from them; for they are all adulterers, a crowd of unfaithful people. “They make ready their tongue like a bow, to shoot lies; it is not by truth that they triumph in the land. They go from one sin to another; they do not acknowledge me,” declares the Lord. “Beware of your friends; do not trust your brothers. For every brother is a deceiver, and every friend a slanderer. Friend deceives friend, and no one speaks the truth. They have taught their tongues to lie; they weary themselves with sinning. You live in the midst of deception; in their deceit they refuse to acknowledge me,’ declares the LORD” (Jeremiah 8:21-9:6).

Would it have not been easier to dismiss them? To be disgusted with their practices? After all, they were the ones who had chosen to turn away from God and towards pagan idols. Were they not just getting what they deserved? Jeremiah really had every right to just be angry. He lost his land, too – even when he was innocent! Could he not have just separated himself from the crude world in which he lived – assuring that God looked at him differently. I am not like those people! To look above reproach (and safely out of harm’s reach). Think of all they had thrown away. The land of promise was now in Babylonian possession. Of all they had tarnished because of their foolish decisions. Hadn’t Jeremiah done his part in attempting to rescue them? Wasn’t he obedient in sharing the message of repentance (that Israel turn from their wickedness and return to covenant relationship with God)? They were the ones who refused to listen. They were the ones with the hardened hearts. The stiff necks. They were the unteachable. The unreachable. Yet, Jeremiah’s natural response was to . . . weep. He chose to cry for them. He chose to cry alongside them. He did not see them as hopeless . . . but hurting. He did not see them as banished . . . but beautiful (if only they would believe again). Jeremiah never saw the situation as if it was him versus them . . . he saw it as just us. He did not care if they admitted that he was right . . . he cared that they admit that they were wrong towards their Creator. He was willing to sit with them. To be seen with them. To share with them. He never compromised the message and yet he never complicated the methods – he still loved the people he was called to correct.

What would today’s church look like if only we walked beside the helpless? What would my church look like? How about yours? If only we remembered that grace is enough even for our enemies. If we chose to identify ourselves with our surrounding communities instead of hiding from them (or attempting to blend in with them). What if we just met them where they were instead of expecting them to come to us as someone they were not? Even for those who look different. Who vote different. Who have made terrible and tragic choices. Who have attacked us. Who have rejected us. Our tendency is to justify our indifference. We point out that they had chances and choices. They have addictions. They have agendas. They are beyond my expertise. Maybe even . . . they are beyond redemption and deserve to be where they are (and maybe even . . . they deserve to die). That is true . . . but isn’t that true for all of us? Christ came to give life – and life beyond what we could dream or imagine (earn or deserve). If it was not for the love of Christ . . . as hard as it is for us to admit this . . . we could be in their shoes, too. You and I, in one way or another, chose to live life the way we wanted (how we wanted and where we wanted). We could have done a whole lot of damage to ourselves and those around us. That is one reason I love to partner with the Los Angeles Dream Center every so often. No one can walk the streets of Skid Row or bring groceries to the children in the Watts without really examining their hearts. I cannot look into a person’s eyes and not find their value. I cannot escape the thought that God loves them as much as he loves me. Neither one of us can earn it. We can only accept it with gratitude and commitment. If only they would turn their allegiance towards the King . . . surrender to the fact that none of us were designed to lead our own lives. If only we as his church would think no higher of ourselves than we should . . . but grow in our presentation of truth and our extension of love. That we would identify with the world – not for what it is – but what it could be. When did following Christ become more about being right than about being righteous?

Identified

Spaces

I have been thinking a lot lately about hospitality. When did someone extend loving hospitality to you when you needed it the most? How so? While I was in fifth grade, my parents opened up our home to a mother and her two children (one in fourth grade and the other in kindergarten). The husband had gone on an alcoholic-holiday binge and resorted to punching her in the face. We thus gave up our rooms so that they had a place to sleep. Our family invited them to our table to share several meals. Presents mysteriously showed up under the tree with their names on them. My father even purchased a Santa costume, having the little ones on his lap, and then asking them what they wanted for Christmas. That year is still one of my most memorable . . . largely due to the fact that my family opened up their space as a tool to treat guests with warmth, friendliness, and generosity.

Stories like this seem to be the exception rather than the norm. When did we begin using our personal space for privacy rather than hospitality? Just take a look at modern architecture. Small porches have been replaced with large back decks. Garage doors have been installed to ensure that we can drive right into our homes without risk of being seen outside. Fences have been erected around our yards and blinds have been hung in our windows. Our idea of social interaction has been reduced to networking sites such as MySpace and Facebook where we largely pretend to be someone we are not and call compete strangers our best friends. Charity has been replaced with mere donations . . . sort of like a payment for someone else to do the caring on our behalf. Please do not misunderstand me – giving is an important part of the mission – but it cannot be the entire mission. Supporting food banks and homeless shelters is vital . . . but not as an action to avoid getting uncomfortable or unfamiliar ourselves.

The issue of space-management as been an issue that has hindered the church from the beginning. Our local church has been taking a road trip, of sorts, through the letters of the Apostle John (all written around 60 A.D.). Our hope has been that this inspired instruction would ensure that our community of Christ-followers would continue in the right direction and eventually end up in the right destination (of extending love and truth to our neighborhoods). John’s concern was similar . . . that the surrounding churches of Ephesus (modern-day Turkey) would display discernment and devotion, protecting their unity and survival, and above all else that they would obey Christ through their beliefs and behavior.

How does the church protect the message and still personify the mission? John would say, “Dear friend, you are faithful in what you are doing for the brothers, even though they are strangers to you. They have told the church about your love. You will do well to send them on their way in a manner worthy of God. It was for the sake of the Name that they went out, receiving no help from the pagans. We ought therefore to show hospitality to such men so that we may work together for the truth. I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first, will have nothing to do with us. So if I come, I will call attention to what he is doing, gossiping maliciously about us. Not satisfied with that, he refuses to welcome the brothers. He also stops those who want to do so and puts them out of the church. Dear friend, do not imitate what is evil but what is good. Anyone who does what is good is from God. Anyone who does what is evil has not seen God. Demetrius is well spoken of by everyone—and even by the truth itself. We also speak well of him, and you know that our testimony is true” (3 John 1:5-12). Mother Teresa hit the nail on the head when she said, “If you cannot feed one hundred people – just feed one.”

God has called his people to give the best we can with what we have and where we are. The Apostle John encouraged Gaius on his hospitality. He was famous for opening up his home to traveling teachers (a common practice in Western Asia at the time of writing). John had warned the church, in a previous letter, to refuse some messengers when necessary (in the cases of heresy or corruption). Yet, people were reminded not to turn away the legit and loving ones. Receiving these church planters and missionaries into the home was an honor and privilege . . . offering them food and shelter was like giving food and shelter to Christ himself. The host was showing the teachers, as well as all those watching, that they were worth the time and expense. By opening his home to traveling teachers, Gaius was risking relationship and identity with his church community. The good news was that he had become widely known and accepted as a partner to the mission of connecting his world to the love of Christ. Opportunity and demand increased as time passed. Guests had expressed their gratitude and praise for the safe place to stay along the difficult journey.

I see a gracious attitude in many missionaries today. Many of them, especially in our affiliation, rely heavily on the support of the American churches to fund their ministry and methods abroad. Our own church’s reputation has exceedingly grown to be known as a generous one. Missionaries have realized that they can count on our people when an unexpected need arises. For example, while at a men’s conference in the Tri-Cities, I was approached by a friend and missionary who wanted to thank our students for their Speed-the-Light giving (funds which equip missionaries with technology and transportation) in the previous year. I closed the conversation by asking him if there was anything else that we could do for him. There was. He and his family are just months away from returning a region that is war-torn and as unpredictable as any in the world. His wish was to offer his children as much security and stability as possible in a very tumultuous time. However, in this part of the world women are not allowed to participate in any athletic competitions whatsoever . . . a problem considering two of his girls are heavily involved in gymnastics and soccer. He hoped that our church would assist his family by purchasing some simple (but expensive) pieces of equipment for their private backyard (such as cones, pads, balls, and science kits). Working with the missions coordinator, lead pastor, and board of directors, our church was able to give this family $500 for buying and shipping purposes (this was above and beyond the monthly support they already receive). I am so proud of our leadership’s heart for the global mission (both for giving and going). While harboring false teachers is flirtation with wickedness, just see 2 John for more details. caring for missionaries is truly furthering God’s goodness.

John also took some time to confront Diotrephes‘ hostility. Tragically, Gaius‘ generosity was overshadowed and even threatened by his own pastor’s focus on personal power rather than the corporate purpose. Like many Christ-followers in the present, Diotrephes suffered from a bad case of individualism. He had begun to reject the teachings of the last-living apostle and thus even the inspiration of the Scriptures. In his arrogance and insecurity, he chose to ignore the wisdom passed down from the leadership (why can’t we bring ourselves to honor authority) as well as their legacy (we can’t we bring ourselves to learn from history). There really is nothing more frightful than a leader who detaches himself from all accountability (how many pastors have we watched fall because they were isolated?). Diotrephes had even resorted to such tactics as spreading malicious gossip and refusing missionary guests into his home. Imagine a pastor so stuck on his own agenda that he was willing to deceive his own people. John’s third letter even implies that he might have even threatened to remove Gaius from their community because he refused to follow these ridiculous wishes.

The final portion of the passage was an endorsement for Demetrius’ honesty. What made John so sure that this man was worthy of being sent and supported by the church? This is a necessary question for any pastor, church, and Christ-follower as we discern, “Should I allow this person to speak into my life and shape my understanding and response to God?” Such questions might help us decide between everlasting truth and passing pop-culture. First, the missionary clearly centered his message and methods around Jesus Christ. Second, his behaviors matched his beliefs. Third, he had a sterling reputation. Fourth, he associated himself with the necessary accountability structures (unlike Diotrephes).

Mother Teresa’s words are gripping, “If you cannot feed one hundred people – just feed one.” How are you using your space (your property and possessions)? We all fall a little short when we compare ourselves to the great Mother Teresa. Born as Agnes in 1910 (modern-day Macedonia), she saw her father die when she was only eight, was given a healthy Catholic upbringing, and showed an early infatuation with the current missionary movement. She left home to join the Sisters of Loreto at age eighteen (never to see her family again). In 1946, she was able to start the Missionaries of Charity in Calcutta, India. She dreamt of a place where Christ-followers cared for the hungry, the homeless, the crippled, and the lepers. What would it look like to truly accept the unwanted, the unloved, and the uncared for? The ministry began with just thirteen – but is now, even after her death, housing well over four thousand people.

The example of Mother Teresa is a bit overwhelming. Why not learn from the example of Jesus? Matthew 9:9-12 tells the account of when Christ saw a man (named Matthew) sitting at a tax collector’s booth. A real-life IRS agent. Very unpopular. Very corrupt. The Son of God actually had the audacity to tell the man, “Follow me.” The thief actually got up from his seat, leaving his lucrative business behind, and followed him. The story gets even more intriguing. Jesus then had the questionable taste to actually have dinner at Matthew’s house! A meal shared with all of his rebellious and unpopular friends nonetheless. All of his buddies were equally sinful of not more! As always, the religious leaders were appalled and questioned Jesus’ closest disciples on how their leader could justify such detestable company. Jesus overheard and chose to interrupt their conversation with a strong statement, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor but the sick. I desire mercy rather than sacrifice . . . and I have chosen to call sinners.

How can our churches (the people who make up the body of Christ) utilize our space (not just our buildings – but our time, energy, and resources – our lives, really) in reaching out to our communities? As stated before, we must give globally (monthly pledges happen to be our church’s strategy). We must also give locally. I am excited about our newest method of carrying this truth out. Beginning on September 27th, our church has now designated the fourth Saturday of each month ServeSaturday. This day will be devoted to going out into surrounding neighborhoods and providing an act of kindness with absolutely no strings attached (whether it be passing out beverages on a hot summer day, raking leaves for free, or giving out thank-you baskets to high school teachers). Not only will such compassionate actions build a strong and healthy reputation in town but it will also change the mindset of many of our people to the point where they just might begin seeing the mission as more than an event . . . but an actual lifestyle.

I long for the day when our people will just take the initiative to care for their neighbors. Why not open up our homes to people in our apartment complexes for opportunity to connect over coffee or even study the bible? There is a passage of the bible which has been often preached on but often misunderstood. Acts 3:5-7 tells of a time that Peter and John (the author of the very letter that we have been focusing upon) were heading to the temple to worship. They were stopped by a crippled beggar who was asking for food or finances. Peter answered his request with this curious reply, “I have no money . . . but what I have I give you.” He then prayed in Jesus’ name, took the man’s hand, and lifted him up. The onlookers watched as the man’s feet and ankles instantly grew strong and were able to take one step after another. Amazing. However, Christ-followers have tended to apply that Scripture by offering salvation to people (a necessary task and our primary purpose) but neglecting the physical need of food or shelter. Peter and John did not have much. We in today’s Western world have plenty. Let’s give as God has done. Jesus opened up his space to whom he could with what he had and where he was . . . whether they deserved it or not. He gave his life away . . . .

Spaces

Geese

I would highly recommend Mark Batterson’s latest book titled, Wild Goose Chase. I was fortunate enough to receive two copies in a special pre-release (I have already given the second copy to my lead pastor in hopes that he might consider going through the book via a series in Spring of next year). You can read more about the book at http://www.chasethegoose.com/. The site also includes Mark’s “10 Steps to Setting Life Goals.” Copies are available at Tower Books for under $9.00 a piece (http://www.tower.com/wild-goose-chase-mark-batterson-paperback/wapi/107264129). I loved the book enough to already pre-order enough copies for my entire student leadership team.

Chapter five, titled “A Rooster’s Crow,” makes the book a must-read just by itself. Batterson challenges the reader to come out of the cage (anything that keeps us from pursuing our adventure with God) of guilt. Drawing from Pavlov’s psychological hypothesis of conditioned reflex, the author proposes that certain situations and sinful decisions have conditioned unnatural and unhealthy reflexes in our lives (sometimes minor idiosyncrasies and at other times serious personality traits). Such reflexes vary in each of us . . . for some it is alcoholism, for others it is a critical spirit (ouch), and still others struggle with their own insecurities. Guilt (whether unconfessed towards God or unforgettable within ourselves) dulls our sensitivity to the Holy Spirit and keeps us from living the life that we were designed and destined to experience.

One only has to look to the experiences of Peter to discover this truth lived out . . . “Then seizing [Jesus], they led him away and took him into the house of the high priest. Peter followed at a distance. But when they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and had sat down together, Peter sat down with them. A servant girl saw him seated there in the firelight. She looked closely at him and said, ‘This man was with him.’ But he denied it. ‘Woman, I don’t know him,’ he said. A little later someone else saw him and said, ‘You also are one of them.’ ‘Man, I am not!’ Peter replied. About an hour later another asserted, ‘Certainly this fellow was with him, for he is a Galilean.’ Peter replied, ‘Man, I don’t know what you’re talking about!’ Just as he was speaking, the rooster crowed. The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: ‘Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times.’ And he went outside and wept bitterly”(Luke 22:54-62, NIV). Peter’s betrayal was marked with a rooster crowing. Every time he heard that common sound (nearly every morning, I am sure) he was reminded of the terrible moment when he let his beloved Master down in his greatest hour of need. Batterson reminds us that Satan prowls around like a roaring lion . . . but maybe he is also crowing like a rooster. Isn’t that just like the Enemy to remind us of all of our past failures over and over again (even when God has graciously forgiven us)?

The chapter goes on to instruct Christ-followers in this . . . maybe God does not only teach us – maybe he spends more time re-teaching us? Maybe he is not always making things new – but making us re-newed? The greatest challenge might just be that he as to re-condition us so that we “re-act” in the image of our Lord and Savior rather than settling for “acting” like someone we are not. How many of us as self-professed disciples of Christ actually pray for those who bully us? Love our enemies? Bless those who curse us? Go the extra mile for those who force us to go the first one? How many of us actually turn our cheek when someone strikes us in the face? Everything natural within us wishes to fight back. Everything supernatural (the re-newing within us) wishes to absorb the rebellion and extend reconciliation. Imagine that, with God at work within us and through us, hatred can actually inspire love. We can actually transform a curse into a blessing. Talk about changing the world.

Do we really value loving people when they least expect it and least deserve it? I wrestle with this kingdom principle nearly every day of my life. I have a family member who hurt me in many ways for many years. There are times I am frustrated with their attitudes and actions . . . so much so that I am guilty of sometimes disbelieving that this individual will ever be redeemed. Yet, I know that Jesus has taught that we forgive seven times seventy. I also understand that forgiveness is really the only way that we ever are able to disconnect ourselves from the past. So many of us are trapped by our own bitterness . . . lost in our hurt to the point that we can no longer enjoy life. Where is our adventure? Where is our journey with our Creator? Forgiveness actually liberates us . . . and our hearts end up being re-conditioned in the process. Forgiving someone else helps us receive forgiveness from God.

Releasing our offenses towards another is nearly has refreshing as receiving restoration from Christ. The roosters were making Peter feel pretty guilty. He probably thought that his commission as a Christ-follower was null and void. That is probably why he returned to his original vocation of fishing. He had failed too many timed to be re-instated. Failure, all too often, pushed us right back into our old ways. Guilt shrinks our dreams. Grace brings about the opposite result . . . it re-vives our hearts and vision. John 20:15-17 tells the true account of when Jesus searched for Peter . . . not to reprimand him but to re-commission him. The ironic part was that the “ceremony” took place in none other than in the morning (probably right after another rooster crowed). Mark Batterson is a gifted author and pastor . . . but he also is a pretty talented mathematician. He alleges that sin without grace results in guilt while sin plus guilt becomes gratitude. The choice is ours . . . will we drown in our own guilt (past failures and hurts) or will we swim in the re-freshing waters of gratitude and forgiven es? Take some time to read the book and then go out and chase some geese . . . .

Official Summary: “Most of us have no idea where we’re going most of the time. Perfect. ‘Celtic Christians had a name for the Holy Spirit – An GeadhGlas, or the Wild Goose. The name hints at mystery. Much like a wild goose, the Spirit of God cannot be tracked or tamed. An element of danger, an air of unpredictability surround Him. And while the name may sound a little sacrilegious, I cannot think of a better description of what it’s like to follow the Spirit through life. I think the Celtic Christians were on to something . . . . Most of us will have no idea where we are going most of the time. And I know that is unsettling. But circumstantial uncertainty also goes by another name: Adventure” (from author’s introduction).

Offical Bio: Mark Batterson is the lead pastor of Washington, DC’s National Community Church, widely recognized as one of America’s most innovative churches. NCC meets in movie theaters at metro stops throughout the city, as well as in a church-owned coffee house near Union Station. More than seventy percent of NCCers are single twentysomethings who live or work on Capitol Hill. Mark is the author of the best-selling In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day and a widely read blogger (http://www.markbatterson.com/). He lives on Capitol Hill with his wife, Lora, and their three children.

Geese