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Archive for the ‘Evangelism’ Category

Wow.  It’s hard to believe that it’s been almost one year since I last posted something.  What kind of blogger waits 11 months between posts, right?  Well, for the handful of you out there who actually read this here blog I hope you don’t think that I, or the others, have lost interest in these issues or forgotten the biblical call for justice in our world.  That is certainly not the case.  I can’t speak for the other contributors here but I will say that since my last post my life has become increasingly challenging and spending time recording my thoughts here has taken a back seat to other more tangible priorities–such as trying to be more active in living out the convictions I espouse here.  Have no doubt, however, that while my keyboard has been silent my heart and mind have not paused when it comes to processing how to be faithful to the Kingdom of God.   And it is with that that I continue in the same vein that I left off…

A couple of days ago I sat down on my bed to spend some time to pray and reflect on my life.  After some time I began thinking about a Sunday service I attended on July 4th at church I had never been to before.  If ever you want to get a glimpse of how in love with America a particular church community is just attend a Sunday morning service that is near a holiday like the 4th of July, Memorial Day, or Veteran’s Day!  While I was expecting to see at least a small display of excessive nationalism, I was hoping that this church was as Christ-centered as their website said they were and I wouldn’t have to be confronted with the same patriotic frenzy that I would while grocery shopping later that day.  While the people were friendly and the gist of the teaching was sound and thoughtful, much of what was discussed by those speaking was the all-too-familiar conservative, white, middle-class, quasi-facist, cultural-Christianity that is the faith of so many in this country and that manages to get at least a little air-time at almost every church I’ve ever been to.  I wasn’t entirely surprised to see people with American flag ties and dress-shirts, or to hear about how our country was supposedly “founded on the Bible” by devout Christians, but I didn’t just shrug it off and forget about it either as if it were one of those “non-essentials” of Christianity that I have a differing opinion on.  No, for some reason it has stuck with me and I continue to think and pray about this blending of the Cross with the Flag, which I’ve written about previously.  I continue to pray for that church to be marked more by a love for the Kingdom of God than for America.  I continue to pray for the American Church as a whole to love the Kingdom more than its earthly home.  And I continue to pray that I would also.

As I prayed and journaled about these things God gave me a moment of clarity that started like a pinhole in the ceiling and opened up into a gaping fissure flooding me with sunlight.  It was the realization that I am tempted to offer critiques of this American culture and say nothing of the greatness of the Kingdom of God as an alternative to it, thinking that my critique is sufficient to turn someone’s heart away from loving this sinful world and toward Jesus Christ.  I also recognized that on the other end of the spectrum there must be Christians who, wanting to avoid controversy, will just speak of the greatness of God and say nothing to provoke discontent with this imperfect world in the hearts and minds of unbelievers.  What I realized in that moment is that both are equally inadequate because the first approach, which I am tempted towards, provides no viable alternative to loving the world (i.e. “a reason for the hope within”, 1 Peter 3:15), and the second approach can end up sounding like another relativistic, this-is-what-works-for-me statement because it fails to address the evilness of the world’s culture and value system which has seduced unbelievers.  Therefore, I must try to do both.  On their own neither is adequate.

I depend so heavily on my ability–and the abilities of others–to skewer and dissect culture that I neglect giving praise to the Kingdom.  The alternative to the world which by God’s grace I have found must be clear and obvious to others both for God’s glory and for the sake of the person I want saved.  I have failed too often in this regard.  I can do better.  A good step for people like me to take is: try to end every critique whether written or verbal with an expression of the greatness of God, just as many of the Psalms do.  Let us do it with boldness, confidence, and no fear of man!  God is great, or as Muslims are known to frequently say, “Allahu Akbar.”  Wouldn’t it be wonderful if us Christians were as quick as Muslims are in saying how great our God is…and really believe it?

What kind of impression are we making on unbelievers if our love for God and devotion to the Kingdom is only on our lips and not in our actions?  Let’s “defend the cause of the weak and fatherless; maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed.  Rescue the weak and needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked,” as God has asked us (Psalm 82:3-4).  Let’s not be ashamed to say exactly why we’re doing it either.  I know I, for one, can do better at this.  Hold me to it, guys!

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“Why are we here?”

My friend and I had just gotten out of my car.  The time was about 5:00p.m.  We were in the heart of Downtown San Jose, with our backs to Oasis Youth Center.  Our eyes scanned St. James Park, which is directly in front of Oasis.  I recognized a few faces.  There was a calm over the park today, which clashed with the violence I witnessed a few weeks ago. Standing against the side of my dented Metro, I pondered the question he just asked.

This homelessness thing is a complicated matter, and the answer to such a question should not be dismissed.  Its hard to deny that although good intentions might have been the initial catalyst to propel North Valley Christian Fellowship to encourage this Homeless Ministry outreach activity (by dedicating half of a Sunday service to an introduction of the opportunity to serve the homeless at Oasis Youth Center), one must stop every once in a while and ask, or in this case be asked, a defining question that could lead to a whole new trajectory and even an acknowledgment of misguided zeal.  A haunting thought, especially after the leaders of the Homeless Ministry dedicated so much time in planning these monthly outreaches.  The sad reality is that we could actually be enabling the persistence of this social problem, not helping to abate it.

The logic of this argument, which I coin here the enablement argument, generally takes the following course:  If we weren’t helping to feed the people that lined the entry of Oasis Youth Center, while the food was being aligned and organized, would these people actually die?  Is it absolutely necessary for their survival?  They might certainly be uncomfortable, but wouldn’t that just be a stimulus to get out there and work for their livelihood (or work harder to ensure their income incorporates the ability to at least rent housing)?  This particular set of reasoning has entered my mind and has no doubt entered the mind of most people who have always been housed.  Let me illustrate the point further with a story of a recent experience.

It generally costs about $200 to supply food for the 70-100 homeless people who show up on Sunday afternoons to Oasis.  A fundraiser was held by the young adult ministry at North Valley Christian Fellowship about a couple months ago.  About $1,200 was raised (half of which was immediately given to the leadership at Oasis).  This seed money has since almost run out through our various outreaches to the outcasts in Santa Clara County.  This sparked the need for a new and fresh way to raise funds.  I decided, in a moment of inspiration, to create cardboard signs and suggested that we should beg for the money on the streets.  On June 6th, myself and three others, made our first attempt to raise funds through this method.  Each of our signs were different, but essentially each got across the core message that we were not homeless, but we had friends who were and we just wanted help so that we could continue to feed them.  We raised $40 in about 20 minutes.  About 5 minutes before we were kicked off the streets by a police officer, a women was set off by our signs.  Through upturned fingers and vulgar language, she explained to one of my friends that she held two jobs and that he should get a job (which he did have) and there was no excuse for him to be out begging for money.  She apparently missed the point completely, but upon being confronted she utilized a core belief within the enablement argument as a weapon to discourage us—that is, laziness is why we are like we are, and why they are like they are.

And yet, knowing the power of the argument (blasted at us just the day before), here I was once again outside of Oasis, anxious to get inside and meet the rest of my team before we began to serve the food.  I even coaxed my friend to join me on this latest excursion to Oasis.  To top it off, the Homeless Ministry, sprouted through a very unorthodox set of circumstances (longer story there), has actually grown.  The enablement argument would seem to have had absolutely no effect on our zeal or our desire to potentially enable a serious social problem.

The question of “why are we here,” is better summed up as, why does this set of actions that are about to take place make sense according to the Christian faith.  Why is this loving our neighbor?  This is really the only thing that I am concerned with in my own personal pursuit to become more like Jesus Christ.  Here is my counter to the enablement argument.

In the book of Matthew it says while Jesus was in front of a crowd, and his disciples, He said the following:

11The greatest among you will be your servant. 12For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” (23:11-12).

Jesus said, also recorded in the book of Matthew:

“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 26Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 27and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— 28just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (20:25-28).

Serving the poor will undoubtedly build humility in the deepest parts of your heart.  It doesn’t guarantee that you will love those who you serve, but it will humble you.  Holding a sign and begging for money builds humility in your heart.  It is an awkward, embarrassing, and a confrontational method, but very effective at building up a humble heart.  The enablement argument doesn’t recognize the change that happens in the individual doing the serving.  It neglects humility all together and instead perpetuates the inaccurate assumption that if you are begging for money or for food, then you are not entitled to the money or the food.  If you have done nothing for the gift, then you should not have it.

Jesus makes it clear that this assumption is not true.  Everything Jesus is, His entire being, His entire reason for coming to earth, was an attempt to give a gift the world did not deserve.  Jesus says, “ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you” (Matthew 7:7).  Jesus is talking about eternal life in this instance, but my point is just simply to acknowledge that if Jesus was intentional about giving gifts that people did not deserve, then why should I be any different.

Furthermore, Jesus makes some of the most harrowing promises to those who refuse to feed the hungry, refuse to provide for the thirsty, and who refuse to clothe the needy:

“ 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.”

The only way to tangibly feed the hungry, to quench the thirst of the needy, and to provide clothes to those who ask, is to make yourself available.  Becoming more humble often involves an element of lowering yourself, on pride levels, on submission levels, and especially on socializing levels (humility is deep and will not be summed up in this brief exploration).  If you are not among the poor, then it makes it more difficult to love the poor and needy as Jesus did.  Jesus built His entire ministry on the foundation of healing the sick and feeding the poor (Matthew: 5:23-25, 8:1-17, 8:28-34,14:13-21, 15:21-39, 17:14-22, 20:29-34).  Therefore, that is where I will build mine.

***

These things and more were explained to my friend as we talked outside of Oasis.  He smiled and shook his head up and down.

“I get it,” he said.

“You are like that character on Hero (somehow I actually knew the T.V. show he was referring to).  The one who is so hungry to draw the other characters special powers.  They cast him as a villian, and he is, but that hunger thing is true of this.  The characters mission is to get more power, and your mission is to get a bigger heart of love.  So you continue to throw yourself into various acts of love  so that you may draw a new love for those people. ”

I couldn’t help but laugh.  “Yeah, its kinda like that I guess.”

Blessings upon all you righteous out there.  And blessings upon all you unrighteous…for there is still time to “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near” (Matthew 4:17).

Much love,

-brish

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