Saturday, January 24, 2009

Creativity and God

Invariably, whenever we would speak at a church, someone would come up to us and say, "Have you heard of the ____ method?" They would go on to tell us about how many people are being saved using that method... Lol, can you think of anything more American than a process for the Gospel?

Before He was anything else to mankind, God was Creator. He created everything we see, yet people think He would be willing to use the same method over and over again to save people? That would be so boring for Him - 2000 years of the same thing...

As it is, I've never run into two people who were saved the same way. Even here in Africa, where mass conversions are all the rage, each person has a different story about what brought them to the point of raising their hands. It's important to realize this so we don't judge others. Few Christians have problems with miracles happening in Africa; many more have problems with miracles in their backyard. If we think the only way God is going to reach America is through many years of Sunday School meetings and youth camps, we will never be looking at how God wants to use us each day. Similarly, if we think the Gospel can only go out through the Romans Road or the Spiritual Laws, we'll be flat out missing countless opportunities to show love, bring hope, or demonstrate God's power. And if we're always looking to demonstrate God's power, we can miss the smaller times He just wants to show his grace, mercy, or love.


I just wanted to talk about grace for a second because God's been teaching me a lot about it. Not grace for me, but grace for others. For us in the church, I think we understand grace when it applies to us but not to others.

Grace is God's love for you. It's why Jesus died for us. It's forgiveness when you've messed up. It's also when you save up your money for 5 years to buy a car and someone gives your neighbor a Lexus for free. Matthew 20:1-16 - the Parable of the Vineyard Workers:

1 "The kingdom of heaven is like a man who owned land. He went out early in the morning to hire people to work in his vineyard. 2 He agreed to give them the usual pay for a day's work. Then he sent them into his vineyard.

 3 "About nine o'clock in the morning he went out again. He saw others standing in the market place doing nothing. 4 He told them, 'You also go and work in my vineyard. I'll pay you what is right.' 5 So they went.

   "He went out again about noon and at three o'clock and did the same thing. 6 About five o'clock he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, 'Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?'

 7 " 'Because no one has hired us,' they answered.

   "He said to them, 'You also go and work in my vineyard.'

 8 "When evening came, the owner of the vineyard spoke to the person who was in charge of the workers. He said, 'Call the workers and give them their pay. Begin with the last ones I hired. Then go on to the first ones.'

 9 "The workers who were hired about five o'clock came. Each received the usual day's pay. 10 So when those who were hired first came, they expected to receive more. But each of them also received the usual day's pay.

 11 "When they received it, they began to complain about the owner. 12 'These people who were hired last worked only one hour,' they said. 'You have paid them the same as us. We have done most of the work and have been in the hot sun all day.'

 13 "The owner answered one of them. 'Friend,' he said, 'I'm being fair to you. Didn't you agree to work for the usual day's pay? 14 Take your money and go. I want to give the ones I hired last the same pay I gave you. 15 Don't I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Do you feel cheated because I gave so freely to the others?'

 16 "So those who are last will be first. And those who are first will be last."

I think this is one of the best places in the Bible to look to understand grace, because it's talking about grace for others. If Eminem, your gay hairdresser, a child rapist, or an islamic terrorist accepts Jesus as their savior right before they die, they will be your neighbors in heaven. They may even get the same reward you do, according to the parable! Think about it - a missionary who gives their entire life to Jesus could get the exact same reward as Hitler if Hitler turned from his ways.  That's Grace! Ugly, revolting, raw grace, at least as far as our flesh is concerned!

When faced with this grace, I think most of us would react like Jonah or the son who was loyal to his father when the prodigal son returns, "It's not fair!" And just like Jonah, we won't be able to be the workers God wants us to be unless we understand that grace.

I think it was the same with the Pharisees. They were just fine with sitting back and judging sinners, and were disgusted with the fact that Jesus chose to make his best friends out of tax collectors, sinners, and petty fishermen. I think most of us are afraid to admit how much Pharisee we have in us. When was the last time you actively sought to spend time with a beggar? When was the last time you reached out in compassion to the person at work that everyone else hates? Grace is a crazy thing. It can even touch the lives of Pharisees.

It's the same thing here, for us. Beaten, broken kids are easy to reach out to. Not so much with the person who just charged you double for a ride because you're white, the person who just hit on your wife, or the person who just stole money from you. But if it were easy, we wouldn't need God's love to do it. Please be praying for us that we can even reach out to the people who we don't want to help, and that we can extend grace to the people don't think deserve it. God Bless! And feel free to add your own comments etc about grace!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

No pretending allowed

"Don't just pretend to love others. Really love them" (Romans 12:9, NLT).

This is me being gut-honest. You wouldn't believe how hard that is sometimes, to really love people and not just pretend. As much as I want to think I have the mind and attitude of Christ, as much as I like to think I view all others as exactly equal to myself, as much as I want this to be so, I find myself slipping unintentionally into feelings of superiority. From my affluent and well-educated background (compared to 95% of the people in Mozambique), I sometimes feel entitled and, well, better than the people around me. It doesn't help that they perpetuate the feeling by acting like inferiors. It doesn't help that we keep everything under lock and key with the assumption that if they have the chance to steal anything, they will. It doesn't help that most of the time you have to assume they are lying to you to get what they want. It is a challenge to stoop down and treat someone as an equal who is coming to you as a servant.

I always had a closet and dresser full of clothes growing up—they are lucky if they have more than one outfit. I always had food on the table in abundance and variety—they are considered fortunate if they have one meal a day, and likely the same meal every time. I had loving parents and endless opportunities stretched before me—most of them are abused, neglected, and without any hope for their futures. I have an Associate's degree in Biblical studies and a Bachelor's in English and Education—most of them can't even read and write. I have always grown up with a computer in the house—most of them don't even have electricity, much less anything that would run on it. But does any of this matter in eternity?

When I envision myself stripped down to my raw, naked soul, I realize I am no better than them. The child with the boated belly, the woman with AIDS, the man with no legs, the blind beggar, the toothless hunchback… we each amount to one soul. And I am called to love—really love—each and every one of them.

It's easy to pretend to love. It's easy to give a handout of money. It's easy to show pity but not compassion. It's hard to really love them. To get past all of the cultural, financial, racial, linguistic, and educational differences. To sit and learn from them, let them be the superior teacher and me the inferior student as I learn the language so we can even communicate, learn the culture so I can honor and not offend them, learn how to dress, learn how to eat, learn how to go to the bathroom. To become weak as they are weak (1 Corinthians 9:22) to win their hearts over to a God who came down to identify with our weaknesses (Philippians 2:5-8).

I'm learning, slowly, to view each life as though through the eyes of the Father. He really does love them all as much as He loves me, if not more since they are so given to reckless, wholehearted abandonment to Him when they hear and accept the gospel. Sometimes I feel like my worship is so apathetic and stale compared to their lively, jubilant dancing. My sacrifice is nothing compared to the ones who have been stoned and hacked with machetes for preaching. My faith is so weak compared to the ones who sit and pray next to a dead man for four days until he finally starts to breathe again. God really loves the Africans. So why is it so hard for me?

I'm learning to love—really love—the African people as much as I love my husband, my family, and my dearest friends. I'm learning to value them far above what other people of my wretched race have done in the past—and learning to value them even above myself. When I am willing to forgive all injustices of corruption and people taking advantage of us, when I am willing to lay down my life and die for the sake of one person, any person, then I will understand the mind and heart of Christ who forgave us when we were still His enemies, and died for us even though we deserved His suffering.