Archive for October, 2010

Suffering and Haiti

As news comes in this week of the continuing battle against the spread of cholera in Haiti, NBC6 Miami did a short story on Brian Kelso and his recovery from malaria.  Brian is the director of Great Commission Alliance, the NGO we partner with for ministry in Haiti.  Brian has been working in Haiti for more than ten years.  This year he has travelled two or three times each month to track with the post-earthquake work at the mission there.  In August he found that he had contracted malaria.  In truth, he nearly died.  We thank God for his recovery.

There is no ministry without sacrifice.  From the first missionaries, the apostles of Jesus who went out at the risk of their lives to those who serve today and leave family and country to serve Christ, it goes with the territory.  We see this most clearly in Jesus who laid aside everything for the sake of his mission to serve his Father and to redeem us.

I hope you’ll watch Brian’s story.  His dedication to Christ and his love for the Haitian people has been a challenge to me for years.  Yes, he has suffered.  But as he says, the people of Haiti are suffering every day.

Brian plans on returning in January to continue his work there.  How can you get involved?  If you are interested in traveling to participate in the work, serving here on the team that supports the work, or giving to advance the mission, please email me.

Simply Shocking

“It’s not what I expected,” he told me marching out of church.  “I’m not lazy so I thought if there was one of the seven I don’t have to worry about, it’s sloth.”  Week after week the first response to our study of the seven capital vices has been surprise.  They just are not what we thought.  Perhaps, we’d say that we don’t think of life in these terms.  Perhaps, we do not spend much time in self-evaluation.  Whatever the reason, we’ve been caught off guard.

Take envy for example, I was shocked to remember the envy I felt toward both of my brothers when we were growing up.  We typically envy only those in whose place we can picture ourselves.  The person:

A little more gifted as a musician or

who has made a little more money than you

or who has better kids than you, or kids that got into better universities

or who has gotten more public recognition than you

or who has a bigger church than you do

or who has had the business success you set out to have

or who has the marriage you expected you would have.

The fact that you don’t have it just doesn’t seem fair or right or just.  In envy, we are willing to sacrifice others for ourselves.  It results from the almost constant game of comparison we play with others.  In the gospel, Jesus shows us the opposite of envy.  He was willing to sacrifice himself for the sake of others. His actions served to glorify God and to meet our deep need for significance that drives us to grasp for what others have.

Studying sloth was a shock to me.  I echo the feelings of the man who groaned as he walked from church thinking he was good with this one.  If anything, I’ve been called a workaholic. But busyness is no protection from sloth.  Sloth isn’t simple laziness but an inattention to my calling from God.  It is simply not caring about the things that matter most: your relationship with God, your relationships with family and community, and your calling. Rebecca DeYoung, in her book Glittering Vices, used an analogy that was very helpful to me understanding sloth:

Imagine a typical husband and wife.  In general they have a good relationship. One evening, they quarrel at dinner and head off to separate corners of the house for the rest of the night.  They find it much easier to maintain that miserable distance than to do the hard work of apologizing, forgiving, and reconciling.  Learning to live together and love each other after a rift requires giving up their anger, giving up their desire to have their own way, and giving their insistence that the situation can only be seen in one way. Saying, “I’m sorry” takes effort.  It is not the physical energy that it takes to walk to the other side of the house that each of them resists.  It might be that they’ve had the same argument over and over again through the years and they know how it will turn out.  They don’t believe it will change things. So what’s the point of going through the motions of apologizing one more time?

Do they want the relationship?  Yes. Neither wants a divorce, but do they want to do what it takes to be in that relationship? To honor its claims on them?  Do they want to learn genuine unselfishness in the ordinary daily task of living together?   Well, maybe they want to do it… but not today. This is sloth.  It’s more than laziness.  It is resignation.  It is not caring enough to do something.  To give yourself.  It is not following through on what love requires. Sloth is missing out on the opportunities God gives us to enjoy and walk with him, to enjoy our community and to fulfill our calling.  It is saying, “Whatever.”

The gospel is good news not only for those struggling with sins of commission, it is also for the sins of omission.  Jesus came to heal us from the sins of neglect.  The good news is that Jesus did not step away from his mission or push away from his friends.  God never gives up on us.  He was not willing to remain on the other side of the house.  In Jesus he came to us.  He restored our relationship. He makes himself available to us.

I think that looking at the vices has really helped me love grace and God so much more.  I see the cross bigger than ever and God’s love for me in sending Jesus as a wonderful thing indeed.


Anger Management

Walking into the Middle-East is much like entering a smoldering cauldron of anger. Sandy and I were in Israel a week ago.  We began our first day in Galilee and entered Nazareth just as the sun was beginning to set.  A collision of cultures and faiths characterizes Nazareth quite well.  The city’s connection to Jesus destined it to have a Christian community.  However, the largest demographic group is Arab muslim.  It is often referred to as the Arab capitol of Israel. Our time in Bethlehem was brief.  Our driver parked below the Church of the Annunciation located at the site where it is believed the angel Gabriel visited with Mary and told her that the Lord had chosen her to give birth to the messiah.  As we walked up the hill we passed a very small park, and as the steeple of the church came into view, so did a troubling sign.  Positioned so as to catch the eye of anyone looking for the church is a sign: And whoever seeks a religion other than Islam, it will never be accepted of him, and in the Hereafter he will be one of the losers.

It is more than competition. The anger was palpable.  They want to displace the church, if possible.  Now of course, Muslims do not have a corner on anger. Jews and Christians have a franchise of their own and a business that is booming.  Each of us is a shareholder.  We have a part in the expression of anger that continues to trouble not only the middle east, but the rest of the world as well. We saw this in Jerusalem with divisions among Christians and Jews, and of course, Arabs, too.

Now I understand that to speak of this is to bring up the causes for anger. The atrocities are too many to count. And, there have been more in the last week. Jews shot by Palestinians.  A mosque set on fire by a Jewish arsonist.   No one is questioning the injustices perpetrated.  I am questioning the response that is called for.  In the New Testament we read:

19My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, 20for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires. James 1

What surprises me about the anger problem is that those most angry purport to believe in God.  James first tells us to be careful about becoming angry because anger does not bring about what God wants.  I do not believe that we believe that.  Somehow we think that our angry actions can produce good things.  But, I also do not believe we trust in the justice of God.  We cannot allow the thing to remain with God who alone can settle it.

On October 2nd, 2006, Charles Roberts stormed an Amish School in Lancaster County, PA.  He took hostage an entire class of young girls, and in the a few minutes shot ten of them between the ages of 6 and 13.  Five of them died.  Why did he do it?  He was angry.  He left his wife an note pouring out his anger toward everyone.  Last of all he turned the gun on himself.  In the wake of this tragedy, the nation was stunned by the response from the Amish community. Many members of the Amish community began to reach out to Roberts’ widow to comfort and console her.  One Amish man held Roberts’ father for nearly an hour as he wept.  They established a fund to help meet the needs of the Roberts family.  When someone began to speak with anger about the man who had shot the girls, one Amish man said: We must not think evil of this man.  He had a mother and a wife and a soul and now he’s standing before a just God.

So determined were the Amish to put away any possibility of holding onto anger that they tore down the school building months later and turned the site into a beautiful meadow.  Why did they do this?  Jesus taught them the way to respond to violence and injustice. He taught them the way of love. They believe that God alone can bring about the justice we desire.  This doesn’t mean that we don’t work for justice.  It does mean that we are suspicious of the idea that our anger can bring it about as God desires.

I’d like to keep this discussion as far from home as possible.  The problem is in the Middle-East or Pennsylvania.  But anger touches all of our hearts.  It rears its ugly head whenever I perceive injustice taking place.  It may be when someone is mistreated or abused.  More likely, it happens when my fragile ego is damaged… when someone snubs or slights me.  In each instance, we are wise to be slow to become angry, and question our own belief that we have the ability to set it right.  That’s what the gospel is all about: our inability to bring true justice. God sent Jesus to do that because we can’t. The cross proves God’s dedication to fulfill all justice, and he was willing to do it at his expense.  May we learn to trust him and his ways.  Let us pray for peace, peace for the world, and a peace that begins with me.  What are you doing with your anger?