Archive for the ‘the poor’ Category

“We do not have time to waste our lives coasting out casual, comfortable Christianity.”

— David Platt, author of “Radical,” addresses the Urbana 2012 conference.

“What plan or dream will you give your life to that is more significant than this?”

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What in the World are We Looking For?

Posted: September 30, 2012 by Jim Killam in nature, the poor

The Celtic spiritual term, thin places, refers to where the veil between heaven and earth seems thinner, more transparent.

These may be physical places or particular circumstances. They’re different for everyone. But whether we realize it or not, we all look for them. Sometimes we seek desperately, without a clue as to what we’re really looking for.

When John Denver wrote the line, “Talk to God and listen to the casual reply,” he was talking about thin places.

So was Geoff Moore in his song “Out Here”:

I’m high above the timberline
Where the sky and mountains meet
Up where the air is very thin
Somehow it’s easier to breathe

These are a few thin places for me:

  • Hiking along the edge of the Continental Divide in Montana. Being enveloped in God’s grandeur.
  • A really fun wedding feast, because it foreshadows the ultimate wedding feast.
  • Any close encounter with wildlife: a grizzly bear, a moose, a bald eagle.
  • And surprisingly, after great tragedy. My wife and I spend a week working at an orphanage in Haiti following the 2010 earthquake. Amidst unfathomable pain, surrounded by kids missing assorted limbs, we saw Jesus more clearly than we ever have before or since.

I believe people are wired to seek God. When we encounter thin places, we’ve come a few steps closer. And that is why we explore.

What are your examples of thin places?

So a rabbi walks into a synagogue, and he says to the guy in charge …

If only the scene in Luke 4 could have been all Disney-like mirth and happiness. It started out in Hallmark Hall of Fame territory and almost ended in Quentin Tarantino Land.

A dear missionary woman I met in Manila — a firebrand of a woman, a brass-tacks woman — once called Jesus’ revelation of himself in Luke 4:14-30 the Nazareth Manifesto, and it’s stuck with me. It was the grand statement of Jesus’ grand purpose, taken directly from the book of Isaiah. The folks listening to Jesus that day should have put 2 and 2 together; but instead, they heard Jesus tell them exactly the opposite of what they wanted to hear. Jesus told them that he was the hoped-for Messiah, and that he came to release prisoners, give sight to the blind, preach good news to the poor and send the oppressed away into a new life of freedom.

In other words, the meat of the gospel.

That wasn’t what people were hoping the Messiah would deliver. They wanted a hero, a conqueror. They thought they were God’s chosen people because they were better, and therefore deserved a superior place in the world. Jesus essentially said that they weren’t any better than their Gentile neighbors and enemies, and that in fact, God had never thought of them that way, even when Israel still had the prophets and a kingdom. He simply loves whom he chooses to love, and expects us to follow suit. Period.

Ouch.

I often fear that I want the wrong things from God. I fear that what I’m aiming for has nothing to do with God’s priorities and everything to do with pressing forward with my goals, my priorities. If the Nazareth Manifesto, and the ensuing riot, teach me anything, it’s that I would do very well to search hard for what God wants and not let my disappointment at not getting what I want cloud my view of him.

Christmas is for losers

Posted: December 6, 2010 by Lincoln Brunner in Christ's example, pop culture, the poor, Uncategorized

Consider the life of Jesus.

He was born to nobodies in a small, backwater town, in an animal shed that stank of urine. His first bed was a hay basket. His first visitors were people who only added to the stink of the place.

This was not an impressive person.

This Jesus went on to a life of lower-class woodworking before setting out on a life of itinerant preaching that drew other lower-class (and miserably needy) people. They were beggars, cripples, lepers — people we warehouse in homes and shelters and hospitals. We don’t want to be around them any more than their peers did.

This was not an impressive crowd.

And the people who tagged along with him — including common fishermen (led by an immature bigmouth), a thieving tax collector and a sworn rebel against the Roman empire — had less-than-stellar social skills.

This was not impressive following.

This was a case of a loser being followed by losers, catering to losers.

This was, and is, our Savior. This is our Lord. This is our Jesus.

As I ponder the celebration of his birthday, I have to admit that I have aspired to something far different from what Jesus embodied. I have chased status and impressiveness (to no avail). I have embraced technology and the culture’s idea of legitimacy-through-savvy. I am less for doing so.

All Jesus had to do to change the world was embrace people who nobody else would, the losers. He loved losers by becoming a loser who lost everything in his wild pursuit of glorifying his Father by serving everyone else with everything he had.

Today I am struck anew that Jesus didn’t seek to impress people with grandeur. He could have. Instead, he impacted people by loving the lowest. How counter-cultural can you get?

I can only hope to do the same in an unloving world that tends to brush past and even crush the meek while praising and chasing the mighty. That’s not Christian. That’s something else I don’t want to be.

This Christmas, I want to know better this God who became a loser for my sake. On his birthday, I want to celebrate him for what he was — the king who became a loser so that we all could win.

So Merry Christmas, all you losers. Keep embracing Jesus.

“We do not have time to waste our lives living out a Christian spin on the American Dream.”

— David Platt, “Radical”

God has indeed blessed us, as Americans. He certainly has blessed me. But maybe not in the ways we’ve been taught to think.

My friend Nate, a disillusioned but deep-thinking Christian, says the idea that God wants to provide us with material blessings is heresy. Here’s a quick excerpt from an interview I did with him a couple of years ago:

“While most of us reject the lure of the traditional prosperity gospel, the truth is we just find the crass materialism distasteful. But we DO believe that if we do certain things – like ‘accept’ Jesus, tithe, go to church, keep our noses clean) – then God is obligated to place a hedge of protection around us and ensure that we’re happy and satisfied with our lives. I don’t know where that promise is written, but it’s just the ‘magic words’ mentality of the prosperity gospel dressed up in more acceptable terms. Instead of getting health and wealth from Jesus, we get satisfaction, happiness and fulfillment. Where is there any decent teaching on suffering and its role in the Christian’s life? Nowhere. Because North Americans don’t have to suffer; we live in comfort and we’ve twisted the Good News to suit our desire to remain comfortable.”

Uh, yeah ...

I’ll disagree with Nate a little and say there’s some terrific teaching out there on suffering. See Philip Yancey, Brennan Manning, Henri Nouwen and C.S. Lewis, just to pluck from the top of the list. But I do agree that this kind of teaching doesn’t sell millions of books or get the author’s prosperous teeth and hair on the cover.

God’s blessings are not always material; in fact, the best ones are not. Either way, that’s not the ultimate point. As my pastor, Dan, said recently: The larger question is, what am I doing with the blessings God has already given ne? Am I keeping them for myself, or am I giving them away – using them for the benefit of others who need help?

Platt writes in “Radical”: “Why not begin operating under the idea that God has given us excess, not so we could have more, but so we could give more?”

What if I gave myself a salary cap? And anything above that, I gave away? What if I sold or gave away a lot of the luxuries surrounding me? What would it look like to take Jesus’ advice in Mark 10 to the rich young man: “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

I know, I know, Jesus wasn’t necessarily saying all of his followers should give away everything they have, become missionaries and move to some Third World country. The real question is: Am I willing to do something like that? To forsake everything for the cause of the gospel?

It’s interesting: The more stuff I have, the more likely I am to say, “Jesus wasn’t talking to me there.”

But what if he was? Would I be able to hear him? And then, what would my answer be?

Slavery in the 21st Century

Posted: November 1, 2010 by Lincoln Brunner in missional church, missional living, the poor, Uncategorized
My friend Sam sat on a balcony overlooking a deep ravine, talking about young children in India who get bought and sold like cattle among perverts and criminals.
Sam said that these kids suffer unspeakable abuse in the brothels of big cities like Kolkata. The rape and loneliness — and finally the diseases — that run rampant among these sex slaves gives them a life expectancy of three to five years, eight on the outside.
AIDS is a horror, but many times it is merely a consequence of a greater one — the slavery of young children at the hands of animals who know nothing of human dignity.
If there were any one issue on which the church should stand united, it is this one. Where is the outrage? Where is the digging deep for answers to the poverty and hopelessness that drives parents to sell their own children?
Read this article, and think about it.

Shepherd of the Streets

Posted: August 17, 2010 by Jim Killam in Christ's example, the poor
Tags: ,

I attended the funeral service last Friday for Gerald O. Pitney, a man who devoted most of his adult life to serving the needy and homeless through the Rockford Rescue Mission. G.O. (as he was commonly known) and his wife Nadine, who died two years ago, together might have been the closest thing my community has ever seen to Mother Teresa.

Gerald and Nadine Pitney

“Jerry and Nadine gave all of themselves in a way that few people have ever experienced,” said speaker and longtime Mission staffer Gene Covault.

The Pitneys didn’t start the Rescue Mission, but by the end of its first year of operation in 1964, they were running it. Their names remain synonymous with the Mission and its very basic work: providing food and shelter, in the name of Jesus, to those who have no place else to turn.

For a couple who earlier had set sights on being foreign missionaries, this was as unglamorous as ministry could get. Working with alcoholics at street level can get violent and ugly. G.O. routinely would break up fights; both regularly cleaned up vomit and worse … and all for barely a salary and certainly no glory at the time. “This work is a killer, and not for the faint-hearted, G.O. once wrote. “It’s where heaven meets hell every day.”

A few years ago, I had the honor of co-writing a book about the Rockford Rescue Mission with the Pitneys’ eldest son, Perry. I got to spend many hours with G.O. and Nadine in their living room, listening to stories from their decades of running the Mission. Every time we’d finish for the day, they’d apologize for wasting my time. Hardly. These were two of the most Christ-like people I’d ever met, and what those stories were doing was letting me see inside their hearts. Virtually every conversation would include their tears of compassion for hurting people – whether we were talking about something that happened 40 years ago or a week ago.

 “The main qualification for working at a rescue mission is a servant’s spirit,” G.O. told me. “Jesus told His followers, ‘I came not to be served, but to serve and give my life as ransom for many.’ Mark 10:43-44 says, ‘If anyone be great among you, let him be a servant. Anyone who aspires to be chief, let him be servant of all.’”

In the 1960s, a local businessman asked G.O., “Why do you operate such a place for those drunks? They are all no good. You’re just wasting your time.” Because others were saying the same kinds of things, G.O. responded in The Rescuer newsletter: “In case someone else might wonder, let me state our purpose. We are here carrying on the unfinished business of Christ who said, “As my Father hath sent me, so I send you.” It was the main business of the Master to seek and save lost humanity, and we are simply making His business our business.”

As the church, there’s much we can disagree on, different priorities and ministries we can pursue. But if we neglect this one, I’m not sure we’re the church any more. We’re a country club. The poor were a huge priority for Jesus. They had better be the same priority for us, his followers.

It was interesting at the funeral service for Rockford’s “Shepherd of the Streets” to hear from some of the most successful business people in the community, and some of the least successful. All stood on equal footing in talking about a truly great man who made a larger impact on the city than just about anyone else.

One speaker told of a city council meeting when G.O. gave a hellfire and brimstone presentation against the idea of granting of additional liquor licenses. Never the most fashionable man, he wore his trademark cowboy hat and suit.

After G.O. left, some of the aldermen poked fun at him.

One alderman, Frank Beach, took his colleagues to task. This man has devoted his life to serving the poor, Beach told them. He cleans up their vomit. He does things that we, the city, should be doing, too.

That ended the mockery.

It’s ironic how people who are obsessed with building their earthly legacy so often end up either humbled or shamed … while people like the Pitneys, who quietly serve the least in society, end up looking the most like Jesus.

“This man lived out the Sermon on the Mount,” the pastor at the funeral said. “He was a person devoid of pride.”

It was hard not to think about the standing G.O. and Nadine now enjoy in heaven, and about Jesus’ words: “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”