Archive for January, 2009

Haiti–Taking a Look

Orphan Home in Haiti

Orphan Home in Haiti

Some things have to be seen to be believed.   Lack of faith is not the problem.  It is understanding that falls short.  This is the nature of Haiti.  This small island country lies no more than 500 miles away from the US.  Yet, it is the poorest country in the western hemisphere.  The needs shock the soul and stretch the imagination.  This past week I had the privilege to visit and survey the work of a mission that operates churches, orphanages, and schools.  It was my desire to find ways we could partner with them and get involved in the work.

First, I’d like to provide initial impressions.  The landscape and the people of Haiti are naturally beautiful.  But, both have been spoiled.  The land lies devastated by pollution, deforestation, and lack of sanitation, and over-population.  The land that well could provide some of the best resorts locations in the Caribbean is avoided by tourists.  Corruption and political instability has discouraged businesses from establishing a presence there.  Years of joblessness, poverty, hunger, disease, and animism robbed the people of hope.

My impression is that where life has become the darkest, the love of Jesus shines most brilliantly.  This is true of Haiti as well.  Case in point is the mission of Lewis St. Germain in the area around Cayes.  Over 1400 orhpan children have a home and school and a church, and also hope.  They are learning that though the way seems dark, they have a heavenly Father who loves them.  The mission provides this and also training for work when they become adults.  All of this work is being done based on the gospel love of Jesus.

Note: 1st in a series on work in Haiti.

  • Two Visitors

    You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? –Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount

    I had a interesting experience. Some time ago we had two Muslim university students pay me a visit.  One who had visited our church a few weeks before contacted me by phone to ask if he could stop in. He arrived with a friend bearing gifts, and information about the Anatolia Cultural Center in Broward County that they are part of. I felt the visit merited sharing. Why? We’ve been so prejudiced by stereotypes and fears have been so cultivated that we’ve missed people created in the image of God. Are there violent acts being perpetrated? Yes, there are. Does every Muslim support these acts? Not at all. Actually, Islam is quite diverse. I was delighted to hear that the two men I met come from a sect of Muslims called Sufis. We’ve heard all about Sunnis and Shiites, but little about this peaceful group of poets and mystics. They oppose violence against any people, and they believe that Allah has commanded them to live in love. They were the first Muslims to repudiate the September 11th attacks, and they are outspoken in their objection to suicide bombings or any other acts of violence against others. I was first exposed to Sufis while a student at Princeton Seminary. You may have heard of them because of the well known whirling dervishes who were actually teachers of their faith. Today large numbers of Sufis live in places like Turkey and India. (There are as many as 100 million Sufis in the world today.) Some Sufis also reside in South Florida and are our neighbors.

    Now why am I telling you this? If they are our neighbors we have the opportunity to serve them, and be children of our Father in heaven. Actually, they came to me asking how they might serve us. Christians have for years lived in peace with Sufis. Actually, many historians believe that Sufism, though distinctly of Islamic origin, developed out of a collision between Persian Muslims and Greek Christians that took place in Turkey a thousand years ago. Whether this is true or not I do not know, but I do know how Jesus has called us to treat our neighbors. Its good to learn more about various religious sects in our community. But even more, we need to know more about Jesus to understand our mission. Jesus came because the problem with sin was far worse than people would ever admit. All people have tried to apply the Band-Aid of religion to cover the huge wound of sin. All efforts at healing having failed. Then Jesus came showing us that only through His death could peace and life come. The deep truth is that we all need Jesus to give us a new heart, to bridge the gap between us and God made by our sin, and to heal our deep spiritual wound. No religion or movement on earth can do this, only Jesus. Every man and woman on earth needs his cure, American or Turk. I would ask you to pray for these guests living here in the United States and also pray that we will bring the grace and love of the only savior Jesus to share with them.

    Need to Change their Own Ways

    She was 86 years old and struggling with arthritis when she retired from her lifetime career as a washerwoman.   Her family forced her out of school when she was in the sixth grade because they desperately needed the little money she could earn.  She never finished school. But, that was okay because her life was her family, her work, and her God. Osceola McCarty often worked into the wee hours of the morning finishing her ironing, and without complaint she walked to do her errands.  Whenever she was paid, she’d  tuck just a little bit away into her savings.  As she grew older her friends encouraged her to plan for the future and how she would take care of herself.  When she set to planning she said that she wanted to leave some money for her family and her church, and to a local university.  Soon a trust agreement was signed.  To the astonishment of her friends and people far and wide, this simple African-American washerwoman with a sixth grade education managed to save over $280,000 and was giving $150,000 to the university.  “Some people make a lot of noise about what’s wrong with the world, and they are usually blaming somebody else.  I think people who don’t like the way things are need to look at themselves first.  They need to get right with God and change their own ways,”  said Osceola.

    Osceola challenged people around her to think about what they could do to help others through their hand work, planning, and generosity.  It was this sort of generosity from the followers of Jesus that changed the world.  Why?  While everyone else seemed to be thinking only of how they could make themselves richer, the early Christians, though often among the poor, were giving sacrificially to assist others.  Some even laid down their lives out of love for Jesus.  Their radical generosity demonstrated the truth of the gospel.  Indeed, through their love and service people were able to see Jesus.

    Over the years we have haven’t talked a whole lot about money in our church.   We have seekers and inquirers with us each week and it is only as we come into life with Jesus that we reorder our lives based on his truth.  Each year I would typically preach one message on giving in the Fall as we are renewing our commitment as a church to follow Jesus in all things.  But, the more I study and pray and seek the face of God I can see how deeply our hearts have become entwined with our money, and how much our growth in grace brings about a change in our whole way of thinking.

    I believe the change that first happens is that we see all that we have as coming from God and belonging to Him.  My pride has always encouraged me to believe that what I have has come from my own hard work.  The truth is nothing I have accomplished has been done on my own.  God has equipped me for what I do.  Others have assisted me along the way.  I never carry the load alone.  Furthermore, God does not surrender His ownership when He gives to us.  He places it into our hands to be used for His purposes.  This is what stewardship is all about.   It is investing God’s resources in God’s way for His glory.  Indeed, the way we use our resources demonstrates what is first in our lives and what we believe about God.

    Of Words

    Words are vessels.  They can hold meaning like aluminum cans hold soda.  Once I purchased a six-pack of coke only to find that two of the cans were empty.  Words can be empty as well, even ones we expect to be full.  Ask Bobby McGee what freedom means.  I remember as a young man having a relationship with a young woman.  Words like “love” were used to keep each other in the gravitational pull of infatuation.  But, the words were empty.  In the end, I became wary of ever using the word “love” again.  I also remember feeling I knew what the word discrimination meant.  Then I met a man who had experienced it first hand.  He’d been denied rooms at motels, turned down for business loans, and taken a beating from some boys with minds too small for their bodies and fists.

    If words can vascillate in their meanings, why would God use them to speak to us.  Is there not the danger we will make them what we will?  Will they not be drained of their significance and emptied of their power? How will their connection with reality be maintained?  Some dictionaries provide pictures when necessary, when words won’t entirely do.  God has done the same for us.  Bruxy Cavey explains:

    Jesus provides skin and bones for elusive concepts like love, faith, and freedom.  He shows us what they look like when fully expressed in human form. God did not just use words to reveal his truth to humankind. He knew our tendency to bend the meaning of words around our own agendas.  Jesus is God’s Show-and-Tell (and not just his Tell). We learn more by watching his example than any book or sermon could ever teach us.  Jesus is God’s “Word.”

    This is what the gospel of John tells us: The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us…

    Back to the Beginning

    Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch have hit another homerun as far as I am concerned.  Their most recent volume ReJesus: A Wild Messiah for a Missional Church takes a step back from their other recent books on the missional church.  It seems that they have realized that the church needs to be missional but that without Jesus at the center, the church will be perpetually distracted from her mission.  Everything flows from Jesus.  As Blaise Pascal aptly puts it:

    Jesus is the center of all, the object of all, whoever does not know him, knows nothing aright, either of the world or of himself.

    Frost and Hirsch demonstrate how our Christology determines our missiology and how that in turn determines our ecclesiology.  Their book makes it clear that when the church is talking about being missional we often assume what that means without referring to Jesus.  They hope to push the church to be radical, to go back to the roots, the source.

    Now with most any discussion of Jesus, the difficulty lies in reaching beyond our thoughts about Jesus to Jesus himself.  Schweitzer, in his quest for the historical Jesus, wasn’t the first to seek the true and living Christ behind the veil of church history and doctrine. Many others have sought to discover Jesus afresh.  There are a whole raft of books currently in print on the subject: Chalke’s The Lost Message of Jesus, Cavey’s The End of Religion, Kinlaw’s Let’s Start with Jesus, McLaren’s The Secret Message of Jesus, Morgan’s The Wild Gospel, and Wright’s The Challenge of Jesus, just to name a few.  The question I have about each of these books is: how well do they bring the real Jesus to light?  Now I think ReJesus does well pointing out the many Jesus’ of our own making.  Hirsch and Frost present the diverse images of Jesus spanning culture and history.  You’ll have to read their book to see how well they shed light on the true and living Christ.

    One thing to be said is that the journey is worth it.  Necessary. More than that, it is indispensible for the development of the church and her mission.  Where can I begin?  Start with the gospels.  Read the text and first take what it says at face value.  Allow a portrait of Jesus to begin to emerge as if for the first time.  Ask and trust the Spirit to guide your thoughts and bring those images into focus.