bumper sticker

On my way into work this morning, I saw a bumper sticker on the back of a camper that made me laugh:

Don’t insult farmers with your mouth full of food

That’s just funny, no matter where you’re coming from.

Advertisements

remembering guatemala

Santa Catalina Arch in Antigua, Guatemala
Santa Catalina Arch in Antigua, Guatemala

In early December, I had the great opportunity to travel to Guatemala.  We spent less than two full days in country, intentional because of the nature of our trip:  we were taking gifts and supplies to Casa Shalom an orphanage our church supports just outside of Guatemala City (you can read an up-to-date blog about Casa Shalom here) and were headed to Nicaragua the following week with a similar objective.

More or less, we served as pack animals (in a good way) but were rewarded with a plethora of memories.  Here are but a few:

  • We were told a story of a certain woman on a mission trip who was attempting to understand Spanish.  Having evidently no training in Spanish, she asked one of the staff members at Shalom for some “porko”.  “Don’t you just add an “O” to the end of words?” she asked?
  • Another team who helped them had a fantastic idea to have the children in their church write cards to the orphans living at Casa Shalom.  Unfortunately, no one proof-read the cards before handing them over to the staff.  Two stick out in my mind:  on the front of one card simply said, “To Orphan“.  Classy.  Another had a picture (no lie) of a UFO on the front.  Inside was written (evidently by someone in the same considerate family as the child above):  “Someone wants you somewhere“!  Brilliant.
  • When going into a Guatemalan Wal-mart (they’re really owned by Wal-mart, though they don’t go by that name) and looking for a refreshing drink, read the labels as carefully as possible.  Don’t simply go by the pictures.  Small pictures of unshucked coconuts look suspiciously like limes, and when you’re expecting a refreshing swallow of lime-infused water, coconut water tastes awful.
  • Showerhead water heaters.  The good news:  as long as the electricity is on, you’ll never run out of hot water.  The bad news:  if you accidently touch the professionally-wired showerhead during a shower, you may need resuscitation.
  • Get your Christian music and fake ID's here!

    Get your Christian music and fake ID's here!

    Antigua.  Antigua (not the island) is the oldest city in Latin America.  It’s also surrounded by several volcanos.  Yes, several volcanos.  The architechture is beautiful; walking around it is a must if you visit.

  • Antigua markets.  My two favorite experiences:  J running into and knocking an old woman down (ok, to be fair, he didn’t knock her down, he only knocked the huge back of sticks off her head and spent an awkward minute trying to help while I stifled hysterical laughing.  And in his defense, this woman was only about 4 feet tall.); and finding a vender who specialized in two things:  selling Christian CD’s, and fabricating fake Guatemalan ID’s and driver’s licenses.
  • The Jesus chair.  Lots of questions on this one...

    The Jesus chair. Lots of questions on this one...

    The Jesus chair.  Really, I have no explanation.

  • Airport toilets.  Guatemala City’s airport is very, very modern.  It has a clean industrial architecture feel without being cold.  Even the bathrooms were clean and very modern.  Well, almost modern.  In both bathrooms that I attempted to utilize, only one of the toilets had a toilet seat.  Guess which stalls were occupied when I was in no small emergency…

keep christ in…

Let’s be honest.  People are not going to decide to follow Jesus because of our merchandise that say, “Keep Christ in Christmas“.  That just offers one more opportunity to pigeonhole Christians. I mean, seriously:  do we really need to gift-wrap  ammunition for people already antagonistic towards Christians?

In fact, it seems that the more one publicizes pithy little sayings and reduces the gospel to “Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven” soundbite (or my personal favorite, “In case of rapture, this car will be unmanned” [are women not included?!  Ok, that was a cheap shot]), the more the Gospel (that is the good news of God’s love!) gets diluted.

Yes, we water down the Gospel, this phenomenon that has changed the world and still holds hope for the world.

Christmas wasn’t instated by Jesus Christ.  In fact, his birth was not central to many early Christians’ faith.  The fact that only two books in the Bible (Matthew and Luke) begin (or include) the story of Jesus’ birth certainly doesn’t mean that His birth was not important; on the contrary!  But it does mean that many thousands (at least) of people trusted in Christ without political ambition, without trying to coerce people who are not “called by His Name” to celebrate Him.

In fact, I wonder if Jesus cares as much about the arguments we make.  We often say it ourselves, that Jesus wasn’t born on Christmas.  So, why do we get all bent out of shape this time of year when people who aren’t Christians don’t want to celebrate his non-birthday?  Why is it that only one day in the year we remember God who came to be human?  Should not the advent of our Lord be celebrated and shared more than during the winter?

How many abuses have been done to others by Christians?  How many in the name of the babe in the manger?  How many have we, today, participated in, excluding others?  How often have we Christians been unloving or indifferent?  Not just to those who do not believe as we do, but to those who are our brothers and sisters, those who also claim the name of Jesus?

I’m all for celebrating Christmas.  This is probably my favorite time of the year.  But I can’t help thinking we’re fighting the wrong battle by trying to “keep Christ in Christmas.”  After all, is it really our job to keep Jesus somewhere, all neat and tidy?  It’s like we’re trying to appease the gods, relegating Jesus to His one time of year.  Maybe we should be trying to get Christ out of Christmas and into the rest of the world.

Perhaps instead of fighting to “keep Christ in Christmas” (or prayer in schools, or the 10 Commandments outside courthouses, or God on our money or in the Pledge – insert your Christianese battle here), let’s do something that really will impact our world:

Let’s put the Christ back in Christian.

That’s something we can control a bit more.  And it’s something surely more pleasing to God than trying to “take back” Christmas.  After all, what are Christians supposed to be known for, fighting and winning political battles over our rights, or pursuing justice and mercy for the oppressed, setting the captives at liberty, loving their neighbor??

Should we be known for making enemies by making the Gospel as offensive as possible, or realizing that the whole Gospel can be reduced to one statement, “to love your neighbor as you love yourself“?  To be sure, the Gospel is scandelous – who else’s god is celebrated as coming through an unwed teenager?  It can be offensive.  Unfortunately, Christians today have taken that job upon themselves, making ourselves offensive in an effort to claim the right to our own “pursuit of happiness.”  Christian has become a descriptive of culture instead of transformation.

Let’s decide to put Christ back in Christian.

That seems to be a better use of our effort.

us

Where is God in all of this?

How many times have you heard this?  Let’s be honest, how many times have w questioned it ourselves?

Go ahead and fill in the blank:  where is God when ______________?  Why did God allow ____________?  Is God responsible for _______________?

It is not evil to question, to wonder, to beg for answers to our deepest hurts, to the world’s shameful deeds; to wonder why God did not put an end to this hurricane or that war; why children and women are still sold as slaves into the sex trade, why good people get cancer, lose spouses, children, houses.  After all, we are given good precedent:  David and others cries out in the Psalms – our sacred scriptures!  He is unafraid of questioning, of showing his weakness in attempting to rely on God in the middle of turbulent circumstances.  Look at Psalm 5 and 6 and Psalm 10, on and on through these songs.  We have a rich history of tears, frustration, fear and hope, beggars of God’s mercy for salvation from oppression and illness, questions without answers.

And yet someone comes to me with such questions, I’m tempted to offer answers.  I want to relieve burdens, to bandage wounds, to heal deep hurts.  I want to defend God against accusations of distance and disinterest, to give God an “out” and try to reason the world and other un-understandable things.  Then, when I watch a special on Children for Sale and see the young children around the world who are in slavery to those who pimp them out for a few dollars, I can’t help but wonder where God is in the middle of this.  So I try to rationalize Him yet again, and make excuses for the perceived absence.

But we don’t need to defend God.  God is God and big enough to handle Himself. Does He need our defense?  Perhaps in all our asking, we’ll find God in our questions; if we listen closely, maybe we will hear him tell us the answer: 

You: you’re the answer to your prayer.  I am at work within you.  I will always work through my people.  The fields are white for harvest, the needs are huge and the risks real, so pray that I will send workers to the fields.  In the meanwhile, you go.  Remember, I am working through you.

Maybe we are the answer to our own prayers.

Maybe God is stirring us to act.

What will we say?

(for more info on the child sex industry and what you can do to help oppose this and save children’s lives, please see International Justice Mission)

generous

Persecuted though they were, Christians in the early church were noticed by emperors, some of whom even wrote that Christians put others to shame by serving the poor, aiding the sick, and caring for the dead and dying.  In other words, those inside the church took care of people better than those outside!

These Christians were not simply known for their beliefs, but by the actions those beliefs inspired.  Isaiah writes of this progression: “Feed the hungry and help those in trouble.  Then your light will shine out from the darkness and the darkness around you will be as bright as noon.” (Isaiah 58:10).  For Isaiah, “light” would shine as a result of good actions.  And as bearers of the Light of the World, they are truly our actions that will prove to our communities who Jesus really is.

What would our community, our city, look like if followers of Jesus became known for this again: caring for God’s creation, for fighting for all of human life – unborn and born – for peacemaking, for forgiving those who wrong us, for extending God’s love to all?

Let us be generous. Let us live life beside each other, united in God’s Spirit and serving the world God has made.  Let’s join together to live the words of St. Francis of Assisi:

Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace;
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love;
for it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.

Amen.

words

For me, the dread word “evangelism” can quickly lead to a case of the heebee-geebees.  I have memories of knocking on doors, preparing 30-second versions of my conversion on 3×5 cards, and the hardest, (in my humble opinion), tracts.  “Let’s go witnessing” was the invitation that left me cold and cringing, awkwardly fishing for excuses as to why I just couldn’t do that tonight.

It was scary stuff.

For too many years this was my only view of evangelism.  It was about words – telling someone something.

I’m not degrading the importance of words.  It is simply that for years, my understanding of “sharing the gospel” had exclusively to do with words:  saying the right things, telling people about sin and Jesus’ death and forgiveness and heaven and the sinner’s prayer.

Words.

And I was terrible at it.

I was afraid to approach people on the street, in airplanes, the grocery store, school and start talking about Jesus.  Brutally honest?  When I did summon the necessary courage, I mostly ended up talking about church.

Have you been there, or am I the only one?  My pride and a slightly-underdeveloped spidey-sense tell me it’s not just me.

But the good news is this:  sharing Jesus is more than words.  A world remains outside our church needing to know the God who loves them beyond imaginations, to see as well as hear about Jesus.  We, Christ’s body, can rediscover that fully sharing the Gospel includes speaking the hope of Jesus, but more importantly, it means the giving of our lives to those God loves.  It has been said, “Preach the gospel at all times; when necessary, use words.”

What a statement when Christians in business hold themselves to the highest ethical standards; when teachers are known for the love they have toward students; when we stand against child slavery, ethnic cleansing, and the destruction of God’s created beauty; when we honor the poor; when our “friends without homes” are fed; when life is sacred from conception to death; when the stranger and enemy become, like the story of the good Samaritan, our neighbor.

There’s something powerful about letting the Gospel permeate us so completely that our actions preach more than our words.

Matthew puts it like this:  “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” (5:16)

they like jesus

but not the church...

but not the church...

I’m disturbed.

Ask anyone on the street:  What do you think about God?  What do you think about Jesus?  What do you think about Spirituality?

Then ask them:  What do you think about Christians?  The Church?  Christianity?

I’ll bet we’d find that people – from all walks of life, religious and irreligious (with the exception of Bill Maher, perhaps) – have a positive reaction to God, immensely respect Jesus, even practice some sort of Spirituality.

But Christian changes everything.  Descriptives emerge:  bigotted, intolerant, homophobic, subculture, controlling, hate.

How in the world did we change the world to the point that the world likes Jesus (at least in their limited understanding, but like him nonetheless they do) but can’t stand His followers?  Certainly there are wrong perceptions, but the fact remains that perceptions shape people’s realities.  And as Christians, we’ve given more than enough fodder for people’s negative perceptions to become reality.

The question for us is not necessarily how to change their perceptions, but how to change how we shape those perceptions.

In other words, regardless of what narrow (and I mean this positively, not negatively) beliefs we have, how can we communicate love to our world.

More importantly, how can we communicate God’s love to God’s world.

Because as much as people may like Jesus…

…Jesus likes them more.