Wednesday, February 25, 2009

the next best thing

Last week, Ron Hall and Denver Moore, co-authors of Same Kind of Different As Me, were guests at Pantego Bible Church. Not surprisingly, their reflection on the journey that God placed both of them on was an incredible inspiration to everyone who heard them.

One comment that stuck with me was the charge not to simply "tell people about God, but show them God!" Without minimizing Gospel proclamation, the speakers reminded me that the greatest Gospel is the one with flesh on it. The message of Jesus wasn't just words, but life.

This week, preaching from Micah 6:6-8, we will conclude our "Down & Out" series with several practical tips to reach beyond to our neighbors in need. The most important principle is "Do the next best thing." I mentioned this several weeks ago. It's a motto that sums up my limited research and experiences among the poor during the last several months. I've learned that there are very few rules, no sure-fire fixes, no tidy protocols, very little that any of us can count on. Each person and problem is unique. Therefore, my response can never be prepackaged or pat. To be a true blessing, I must discern the best thing, relying on the wisdom of God who sees all. I must not attempt to see to the end (how can I fix the problem) but just look to how I can help in the "next" thing. Then, I just "do it."

I am moved by the words of Gary Haugen, president and CEO of the International Justice Mission. In his book, Just Courage, he writes, “It seems that we cannot rid ourselves of this primal, unquenchable yearning to make our lives matter. By divine hard wiring, we desperately want our lives to count—really, significantly count— for God’s rescuing work in the world." He continues later, "I believe many Christians are yearning to walk in a pathway to courage. They yearn for liberation from small and trivial things and to experience the passion and power of God on the more jagged edges of faith, where true glory lies.”

I have a yearning, an aching to make a difference. I don't want to leave a tiny legacy of insignificant things. So, I am trusting God to give me courageous faith to go beyond. To not just preach Jesus but proclaim Jesus with my life. I don't know where this leads. But, I look forward to doing "the next best thing."

Thursday, February 12, 2009

justice for all

In my study of "justice" and trying to better understand Jesus' charge of meeting the needs of the poor, I have wrestled with the concept "distributive justice" [see a good, but technical article in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy]. The phrase means, basically, "fair distribution among all people." Distributive justice explores the social welfare topic of what equality means, who should be equal, how equality is expressed and what the measurement of equality is. More simply, distributive justice seeks to address questions such as, "How much should I help the homeless man on the street?" and "Should I feel bad about my higher standard of living. I did, after all, work hard to get here" and "What basic services should everyone be entitled to?"

If we're not careful, we can swing the social pendulum too far in either direction. Extremely far to the right and we conclude that, as free people, living in a capitalist state, every person has equal chance to provide for themselves and succeed. The only limiting factor is human will and determination. After all, you can be President if you just put your mind to it! So, society/government shouldn't step in to interfere with the progress of free individuals. Of course, this extreme position doesn't account for the uncontrollable factors that can limit an person's ability to reach their dreams [download "The Downward Spiral of Poverty"].

Swung too far to the left, socialism comes to light. Equality is ensured through government intervention in health care, income, housing, etc. This neutralizing force destroys the entrepreneurial spirit and rewards those who self-limit themselves through bad decisions.

I appreciate the insight of Ronald Nash in his research, Social Justice and the Christian Church. Nash explores both sides of the issue and concludes that distributive justice means "equal opportunity, not necessarily equal outcome." It is equal means, not equal results. This is a significant reflection. Because it it shows me where I fit into alleviating the problem of poverty. Justice means that I practice and promote equality among people--the kind of justice that meets the basic needs of freedom, food, shelter, clothing and dignity. My job isn't to raise all people up to a particular standard of living. I can't be responsible for the outcomes of my assistance. All I can do, in the Spirit of Jesus, is seek to level the playing field of the poor around me by helping them enjoy the basic opportunities I enjoy. Beyond that, I trust God to be in charge for the outcome.

Monday, February 2, 2009

the shadow of spring

On February 2, Punxsutawney Phil comes out of his burrow on Gobbler's Knob--in front of thousands of followers from all over the world--to predict the weather for the rest of winter. According to legend, if Phil sees his shadow, there will be six more weeks of winter weather. If he does not see his shadow, there will be an early spring.

This notable event reminds me of Peter's ministry in ancient Jerusalem. The writer notes, “people brought the sick into the streets and laid them on beds and mats so that at least Peter’s shadow might fall on some of them as he passed by” [Acts 2:15]. The word for “shadow” here is also used by the writer in Luke 1:35 when the Holy Spirit "overshadowed" Mary so that she could miraculously conceive the Messiah and Luke 9:34 when a "cloud overshadowed" the disciples at Jesus transfiguration. So, the "shadow" of Peter was nothing less that the power and presence of God working through Peter to heal the sick and set people free.

As I think about the ministry of compassion, I am reminded from this text: The church is the shadow of God’s presence and power in the world. As we are changed by God's Spirit, He sends us into our neighborhoods and unto the nations so that we might overshadow others with the glorious life-changing majesty of our great God. Then others might enjoy the newness of Spring. Then God might be worshipped by more and more.

Happy Groundhog Day.