Wednesday, November 14, 2007

inspred by the red letters

~By Brock

This is a recent journal entry of mine. I decided to post it because I wanted to share with anyone who is interested some awesome stuff that God has been doing. This is not unique to just our family, but is going on within the deepStream community as a whole. Each family's story is different - but here is a glimpse into ours.

Journal Entry - November 7, 2007

Not long ago Kerrie and I were on our knees committing to Jesus through tears that we are willing to follow him anywhere. We cried out to God, asking him to begin breaking our hearts for whatever breaks his heart. To help us step outside of ourselves and allow us to desire what he desires. This was a very stupid thing we did! No… it has actually been the most exhilarating thing we have done in a very long time!

We are finding that journeying with Jesus can be terrifying and exhilarating at the same time. For me, the closer I get to God, the more I realize that he is nothing like I imagined. The more I fall in love with this person Jesus, the more I become amazed at who He is and who he asks me to be. Ever since he saved me and my family several years ago (an undeserved outpouring of his grace) he continues to reveal more of himself. Sometimes I look back and see his fingerprints in my life and it all seems to make sense. But there are just as many times when I hear his voice and what he’s saying is absolute craziness. I am comforted by the fact that so many people in scripture experienced the same thing! “This is difficult teaching” is what they would say… It is this unpredictability of Jesus that makes it so exciting to follow Him.

Immediately following our reckless prayers and commitment, God started breaking our hearts for the poor. He has been showing us how critical it is to care for the poor if we are to call ourselves followers of Jesus. It is an issue that Jesus talked about often, and it is the lifestyle he lived. I find it amazing that after so many years of “growing up in church” the concept seems brand new to me. A friend of mine who lives in another country, devoting his life to helping the poorest of the poor, challenged me to go through the new testament reading only the “red letters” (Jesus’ words). The very words of Jesus regarding the physically poor, the rich, materialism, false security, the needy, the hungry, sacrifice, etc…have been ringing in my ears so loud I cannot hear much of anything else. It has been a burden placed in my heart that I cannot get away from. An awakening in my soul that, until recently, left me frozen.

Jesus refers to the poor as himself. He says when we care for them…we care for him. In fact, Matthew 25 speaks very clearly about how important it is for the hearts of Christians to be broken for the poor. Even if you have read this a hundred times, read it again - and let it sink in.

31"When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. 32All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

34"Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35For 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, 36I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'

37"Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?'

40"The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'

41"Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43I 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.'

44"They also will answer, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?'

45"He will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.'

46"Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life."

In our home, we’ve been studying and praying on this passage for a while now. All 3 kids have been genuinely impacted (and stunned) by Jesus’ words. Jake thinks of Willie (a homeless man we became friends with) and Sumon (a child we sponsor in Bangladesh). But even at 6 years old, it is obvious that he understands the deeper meaning of the passage. He wishes more people like Willie were near our house so they could stay with us. Madi’s heart is so pure and good, she cries every time we discuss it. She can’t believe so many people don’t have a place to live and don’t have food. And Brooke is frustrated…that we haven’t relocated to a poorer community already. She is convinced that it’s not fair to live where we live, and have all that we have, if Jesus meant what he said in Matthew 25. A couple days ago in the car, she broke the peaceful car-ride silence with “dad, if we don’t go somewhere where we can be closer to poor people, we are all going to be goats.”

I believe the spirit of Jesus who occupies her heart and mind gave her that thought. This must be what Jesus meant when he said “anyone who does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will never enter it.” Children don’t see the difficulties associated with moving, or the logical reasons not to “downgrade” or “do anything crazy.” Unlike us adults, their first thoughts aren’t full of concern for what others will think. Perhaps with more years of religious education, Brooke’s reaction would be to justify how we can more conveniently address this issue of ministering to the poor. Maybe she would have a more rational interpretation of Matthew 25 - one that is a little easier to swallow. When our hearts and minds get insulated from Jesus over time by a world of false security, I think we become less willing to take Jesus’ words literally.

I believe God is leading our family to into some new territory. I cannot articulate all the reasons. But at some point you just know. He has spoken to us countless times, countless ways. It is no coincidence that this all started after Kerrie and I prayed boldly asking God to disturb us. It was strange how it all happened. But we knew we were missing something big. We felt like he desired our faith to be stretched. He was revealing to us in a loud but mysterious way that we needed to get uncomfortable. Following Jesus can at times be very uncomfortable.

In Revelation 3, Jesus sends a letter to the church of Laodicea. This church is marked by its wealth and comfort, much like that of the modern day American church. In fact, as I read the letter, I am convinced that much of the American christian church is the modern day church of Laodicea. In the letter, Jesus says “you say ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and I do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, blind, and naked.” Jesus also says to this wealthy church: “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.”

Today, we can read this and argue over what it means. I am choosing to take it literally. Jesus is saying that lukewarm christians may not be christians after all. If our hearts and lives never follow what we say we believe, the letter to this church is a warning that we will be very disappointed to find that the kingdom of heaven does not welcome us, and we will be spit from the mouth of God. To me, this scripture is one of the most frightening things Jesus ever said, particularly how it correlates to what I see around me in the American christian community, and in my own life. It helps me appreciate what Paul meant when he said we are to “work out our salvation with fear and trembling.”

In a similar train of thought, God has been opening my eyes to the biblical concept of suffering. I have never been more challenged to sacrifice for Christ. I am guilty of reading the many pages of scripture regarding my responsibility as a believer to glorify God through sacrifice and suffering…without really considering what that means for me. In some way I am frustrated that I never heard this in church - despite the fact that Jesus, Paul, the disciples, etc spoke of it often, and clearly lived it out in their own lives. But it is not anyone’s fault other than my own. I choose not to meditate on the scripture that is harder to accept. I lean towards the feel good stuff, and press back against the scary stuff. Sacrifice, suffering, selflessness, giving of everything… this is the more difficult teaching.

Paul said at one time that if Christ didn't rise from the dead (or in other words, if none of this stuff is true) we christians should be pitied more than all men. I recently realized that the reason he said that is because of the difficult calling christians have to endure suffering. To take up our crosses. To do the tough stuff, take on the challenges, even when it seems nuts. Paul is saying that, from a worldly viewpoint, his life has been extremely rough. But since he lived without forgetting that his life was only a vapor - a blink of an eye - he knew the sacrifice was "nothing at all" from the view of eternity. And with that in mind, he was full of pure joy.

As I fall more in love with Jesus and my heart longs to know him more, it seems like he is steadily removing clumps of mud from my eyes. (Although I seem to have an unlimited supply of new mud clumps that appear.) But this time, the cleansing of the mud is helping me to see that in my own life, abundance…means obstacle. Luxury…equals hindrance. Wealth…leads to lukewarm. And my reluctance to notice the hungry…is ultimately a reluctance to notice Jesus.

Apparently “taking up my cross and following Jesus” didn’t mean proclaiming my faith by wearing a cross shaped necklace charm and slapping a fish decal on my bumper. Much more than that, I am called to represent an extension of the cross by sacrificing my own life for Christ. How can it make sense that suffering would glorify God? I guess in the same way a bloody cross did.

~If they persecuted me, they will persecute you.
~Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.
~To live is Christ, and to die is gain.
~Paul lived “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything.”
~Momentary affliction prepares us for eternal glory.
~We are burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves, but on Christ who raises the dead.
~Whatever you did for the least of these you did for me.
~It is easier for camel to walk through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.
~The poor, humble, will have great reward in heaven. Those praised in this world will not be highly regarded in the next.
~Those exalted in this life, will be humbled in the next. Those who are humbled here on earth will be exalted in heaven.
~The lust of money and possessions is the root of a thousand evils, mostly running away from God.
~It is nearly impossible for the rich man to get to heaven.
~Of the materialistic Babylon: Give her as much torture and grief as the glory and luxury she gave herself.

The biblical passages on suffering and sacrifice go on…and on…and on. To be clear however, the idea is not to pointlessly throw myself into unfortunate circumstances that lead to suffering. To flippantly invoke suffering on myself may appear spiritual, but would actually be quite selfish.

My suffering for Christ can only be born of my desire to glorify God, not myself. According to the scriptures, truly following Jesus will inevitably lead to a life of sacrifice and suffering. In genuine instances of taking up our own crosses for our Lord Jesus, the motivating heart is one of love for people, love for God, and a willingness to deny ourselves in the process. Jesus said “whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it.” And yet through all of this we will receive great joy! How crazy is that?!

This leads to where we are on our journey. In the last couple of months, God has helped me realize my own abundance, comfort, wealth, etc. And I think he is beginning to teach me what sacrifice means. (Not that we have yet to sacrifice in the slightest, but we are committing to at least begin that process.) We thank him for helping us see that by making less of us we can make more of him. And it is nothing short of answered prayer that he is beginning to break our hearts for the poor community. Those who are not only spiritually poor, but who have literal daily needs of hunger, shelter, and clothing. I am excited to be closer to them, to have daily interaction and opportunities. While I anticipate struggles and frustrations, I am eager to give up my extras in order to help those who lack necessities.

When I read Jesus’ words “whatever you did for the least of these, you did for me,” I envision myself before the throne being asked what I did for the least of these. And lately I have been floored by the close proximity between my neighborhood and a world of poverty that I didn’t know existed. St. Augustine, Jax Beach, downtown Jax, the Northside. There are literally thousands of the “least of these” all around me.

At this season of my life, I do not hear God calling me to the mission fields of Africa or China. Maybe someday he will do that – and it would be an awesome opportunity. But for now he is leading us to the poorer communities right around us.

God is not whispering to us that its time to depart from our comfortable bubble. He is screaming it loud. While Kerrie and I know that he led us to our current neighborhood (and specifically to this home) he reminds us not to get too comfortable. That all of this is temporary, there is much to be done, and everything we “see” will be gone in the blink of an eye. We are thankful that he continues to press us forward – towards another step in our journey of following him. While there are times I agonize over the idea of leaving (neighbors, home, schools, etc), I remain so excited to follow where Jesus leads! I am honored to be stretched, humbled to be used, and thankful that God prefers we do not stay still for long.

Jesus - I pray that you will never stop stretching me. Thank you for doing it again! Continue to strengthen my love for you and for people. Widen my view of you. Help me not limit you in any way. Help me not to doubt what you can do through me and my family. Please break my heart for the poor. Give me a soft heart that thinks of others ahead of myself, especially those that are difficult to love. Help me think and live eternally. Strip me from my distractions so I can grow closer to you. Help me to provide an uncommon example of selflessness for my kid’s to emulate. Lord, if I want them to avoid becoming like the Laodecian church, I must in my own life detest every single hint of it. Help me extinguish any aspect of my life that reflects unnecessary abundance. Give me strength to remain on fire for you. Help me sense any sign of lukewarmness well before it gets to me. Dear Lord, help me live my life with one goal alone: that when I finally meet you face-to-face, I will be able to say “I gave you everything.”