The Elephant in the Room

pexels-photo-296881 (1).jpg

Can you imagine living in the 16th century and hearing for the first time that the earth is moving around the sun? What a preposterous claim! Every morning you woke up and watched the sun rise over the eastern horizon, move across the sky, and finally set over the western horizon. 

How can the earth be moving? Doesn’t the Bible say that “the world is firmly established; it cannot be moved” (Psalm 96:10; see also Ps. 93:1)? What was claimed real contradicted your experience. This incident has much to teach us today.

All over the news media, social media outlets, and now the NFL are conversations about systemic racism that doesn’t match our experience in Whitley County.

“There’s not systemic racism in our country because there isn’t any signs of it here where I live, work and play.” Or maybe we aren’t representative of much of America. 

According to the 2010 census, 97.6% of our Whitley County is Caucasian. There isn’t systemic racism against African-Americans where we live because there isn’t a large sampling of them! I suggest we exercise a little bit of caution before weighing in on what is and what isn’t real in other places. A lack of something “here” doesn’t mean there isn’t any “there.”

The book of James gives us Christ-followers the prescription for the present dialogue about racism and racial inequality in America. He says, “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires” (1:19-20). All sides of the conversation seem to be violating James’ explicit command to do more listening and less talking, being filled with more compassion and less anger. 

We should expect those without the Holy Spirit to not want their rights infringed upon and to “have to win the argument.” But those who follow Jesus march to a different drumbeat. Jesus said, “You know [those in power] lord it over [others]…Not so with you…whoever wants to be first must be slave to all” (Mark 10:42-44). Then Jesus gave up his own life so that we could have forgiveness of our sin and a reconciled relationship with God and others. 

Notice how Jesus didn’t ask us to do something he himself didn’t do. He sacrificed himself and then told us that we’d change the world if we did what he first did for us. That hasn’t changed for 2000 years. What has changed is the idea that being a Christian comes without a cost to those who dare follow the King. And the world is unsurprisingly not impressed.

G.K. Chesterton said, “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried.” It is hard to listen to the pain of an African American and realize that my skin color prevented my feeling the same kind of pain. It is scary to realize that I may need to give up something so that others may gain from my sacrifice. That is one of the “untried” ideals of our day. 

I suggest we do more listening and less minimizing others’ experiences. I suggest we replace anger with compassion. I suggest we stop insisting that the sun revolves around the earth just because our experience is limited to what we see and not what is real in other places. It is not our fault that our county is overwhelmingly Caucasian; it is our fault if we refuse to look again at what is happening in other places and contribute to the solution. Slavery may have been abolished a long time ago, but that doesn’t mean racism is gone. 

“Lord, help your people to listen to the message that we need to hear even when we do not appreciate the method used to communicate. In Jesus’ name. Amen.”

Scaling Barriers

pexels-photo-277013.jpeg

Where would you go if you found yourself homeless? The kinds of things that would contribute to your plight might be that you were fleeing an abusive relationship, you were hooked on drugs or alcohol, you had a mental illness, or you had a developmental or physical disability. Take a second to imagine the phone call you would make to a family member or friend you were asking to take you in off the streets. You would probably feel ashamed, wouldn’t you?

What are the kinds of things you would expect to hear? Would you be reminded of your past choices? Would you be told you were beyond hope? Would you be told you are getting what you deserve? You might even begin to believe these things, which would make matters worse. 

In reality, homelessness is usually a combination of unfortunate circumstances and poor choices. But if no one gives you a helping hand, you will probably end up in a worse spot. So how do you break the cycle?

The Lighthouse is Whitley County’s only transitional housing facility for those who can’t get over life’s barriers on their own. The good thing about barriers is that they can be scaled over—with time and passionate assistance. So what are the barriers that often lead to homelessness:

  1. Mental Illness
  2. Drug/Alcohol Abuse
  3. Developmental or Physical Disability
  4. Domestic Violence

 

For those who have never had one of these four barriers invade their home, count yourself blessed! The truth is that these barriers affect everyone inside a home. Little children do not ask for an abusive dad. Teenage children do not ask to raise their siblings because mom is addicted to drugs. A wife does not ask for a husband who develops an undiagnosed mental illness. No one asks to be unable to work because of a physical disability. Yet these are real circumstances for too many families—even in our own community. So what do you do?

We roll up our sleeves and get busy providing tools and infusing confidence into those who don’t believe they can scale the barriers in their lives. That’s what The Lighthouse does every. single. day. 

This past Sunday Shawn Ellis, Executive Director of the Lighthouse, shared with us about the work being done in our own community. This work is truly a calling from God, but for Shawn it’s just a way of giving back. Her story is one of redemption. She grew up with barriers in her family. Yet it was Christians in her life as a young person who showed her a different way. Now she has devoted her life to helping others scale the barriers and find healing and joy in their lives. Her passion is for The Church to help “loose the chains of injustice” (Isaiah 58:6) for the many children served who didn’t ask for their circumstances and the many adults who desperately want to see the other side of those barriers. 

If you want to find out more about how you can help the shelter, call (260) 244-5266 or email Shawn at sellis.ifmlighthouse@gmail.com. God is at work and you can be part of it!

The Gospel is Everything

pexels-photo-558797.jpeg

I remember a basketball t-shirt that I saw other boys wearing when I was a preteen that read: “I would rather score 50 points and lose than score 0 points and win.” There’s a side of me that honestly agrees with that perspective sometimes. I like my team to win, but I like the spotlight on myself even more. God is still working on that in me.

We followers of Jesus need to be mindful of this same trap when we consume the news and pick sides on political and social issues. Our personal preferences about the way things ought to be and the solutions we think are best may be more rooted in our own personal desire to gain more for ourselves than a reflection of God’s call on our lives. Yes, I’d like everyone to talk about me scoring 50 points sometimes more than sharing in a team win. But I’m wrong when I think this way.

How does this play itself out in our current environment? My personal preference for the 2nd amendment can callously usurp the grieving we ought to feel when yet another awful mass shooting occurs. My personal preference for a certain immigration policy ought not de-humanize those who are affected in life-altering ways by my views. My personal preference for certain economic policies ought not assume that redistributing someone else’s money is the final solution to fixing our culture’s deepest problems. Often we don’t separate personal preference from the Kingdom of God’s calling in our lives. 

The Apostle Paul had some very clear corrections for the church in Galatia because there were Christ-followers coming out of a Jewish background who wanted to impose circumcision upon non-Jewish Christ-followers. It never occurred to these Jewish folk that non-Jews may not want to become more like them. Furthermore, requiring Jewish identity markers upon Christ-followers undermined the entire purpose Jesus came to die, rise again, and call all people to a relationship with Himself through faith without regard for culture. 

Paul says to the church: “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ” (Galatians 1:6-7; NIV).

To impose requirements upon others to become more like you before becoming a “real” Christ-follower is a perversion of the gospel. Strong words. And a real danger today if we aren’t careful.

So do people think we believe that Jesus really came so that all people could be part of His family forever because of the way we talk about the pressing social issues of our day? Do they think we are willing to give up benefits for ourselves so that others may share God’s desire for justice and healing? 

Jesus did not come to assume power over others; he came to serve so that we may gain at his expense. He told his followers (and us!): “…whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even [Jesus] did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:43-45; NIV). This clear admonition of Jesus is often lost in the rhetoric Christ-followers find themselves expressing. Myself included. 

Paul tells the confused Galatians what our marching orders are: “serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other” (Galatians 5:13-15; NIV).

I fear we are often biting and devouring one another at the expense of the mission Jesus gave us. He told us to forfeit power, just like he did at the hands of the jealous Jews and oppressive Romans. He did it so that we could have a new life. He gave up everything, so that we could gain. Everything.

May God, through the power of the Holy Spirit, open the eyes of His Church in America to things yet unseen. The gospel is more important than our personal preferences. It is more important than imposing our own form of “circumcision” on those not like ourselves. It is more important than scoring 50 points and losing the “game”. 

The gospel is everything. Do the people around us know that?

 

People Are Not Property

pexels-photo (2).jpg

Forty-five million. That is the estimated number of people in our world today who are slaves. Treated as property, not as people. I would rather ignore this statistic and get on with my life and my own problems. I want to tell myself that “we” dealt with slavery a long time ago. What can I do about all those people “out there” anyway?

A lot, actually. This past Sunday we participated with thousands of other churches around the world in “Freedom Sunday.” This annual day was created by the International Justice Mission (IJM), a Christian non-profit responsible for rescuing thousands of people out of slavery and protecting millions more from systemic oppression.

IJM has rescued more than 32,000 people from oppression around the world. That’s a large number, but still a small percentage of people still caught in the web of slavery. That’s where the Church is called to be—where injustice rears its ugly head.

IJM is helping protect more than 21 million people from violence around the world, through training and helping bring justice to bear against slave owners, rapists, and other criminals. That’s what it means to be the Church!

You can get involved and support IJM financially by going to www.ijm.org today.  Your tax-deductible gift will make a difference for someone.

We also heard a story from a person within our own church who was once caught in the web of sex trafficking and found hope and healing in Jesus, freed from the bondage of abuse. The story we heard is a testimony to God’s power to rescue and God’s people to intervene. 

The story is still being written, but God specializes in writing redemptive stories. This past Sunday’s message is not available on our web page due to the sensitivity of the topic. We’re sorry you missed it if you weren’t present. But know this: God has used Community of Hope to help “loose the chains of injustice” for a family that was desperate. And God will continue to use Community of Hope to live before our hurting world what it means to truly be what Jesus called us to be, the “light of the world” (Matthew 5:14). Where there is darkness, we must shine the light brightly!

Outrageous!

pexels-photo-397980.jpg

We are a culture that is quickly losing its capacity to experience shock anymore. Entertainment and advertising has dulled our sense of the outrageous. Think about the last time you were truly shocked by a Super Bowl commercial. I can’t remember. It might have been in 2004.

         The Church is not exempt or immune from this danger either. So how do we speak prophetically into and act biblically with all this outrage saturating our culture and, unfortunately in some quarters, our own ranks as well?

 

Let’s Have the Conversations

 

         This past Sunday, we began a new set of conversations that are not intended to be easy. However I believe they are necessary because God is not silent on the most pressing issues of our day. In fact, He’s right smack in the middle of them!

         In Isaiah 56:1 we read: “This is what the Lord says: ‘Maintain justice and do what is right, for my salvation is close at hand and my righteousness will soon be revealed” (NIV). How do we do this with the cacophony of loud, vitriolic voices spewing angry messages all in the name of “justice”?

No one said this was going to be easy.

         When it comes to justice, we know that God certainly cares about it and shouting over each other isn’t bringing resolution. So what does the Christian do? We discussed five goals for our series of topics this past Sunday that I’ll quickly recap below:

 

1)          Listen!

 

What if your perspective on an issue is wrong or incomplete because you don’t have all the information you need? Would you care? Try filing taxes without all the required documents. You won’t get very far.

James says it like this: “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires” (James 1:19-20). Try becoming more like Jesus without listening to other people’s perspectives and experiences. You won’t get very far. The point of listening is not to agree with what is said, but for a far greater purpose.  This brings us to our second goal.

 

2)          Learn!

 

Do you know how many people in the world are caught in the web of human trafficking? Do you know how many children are orphans? Do you know how hard it is to escape an abusive relationship? Do you know what it’s like to be treated differently every day of your life just because of the color of your skin? Do you know what keeps people living in generational poverty?

 Do you know how God wants His people to respond to the evil which produces these grave injustices?

We may not be personally responsible for all the evils in the world, but we need to take a look at systemic injustice and let it move us deeply. This brings us to our third goal.

 

3)          Lament!

 

When Jesus saw the loved ones of Lazarus weeping because he had died, he wept himself (John 11:35). Those were not tears of pity. Those were tears of shared grief. He felt the hurt. And I think the Church needs to shed more tears of shared grief with the plight of the suffering in our world. Not just the sheer magnitude of injustice, but also the individual persons affected. And when we are moved with emotion, it will move us to action! This brings us to the fourth goal.

 

4)          Lead!

 

Edmund Burke said, “No man made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could only do a little.” God wants each of us to courageously be willing to do something hard for Him. The results are for Him to decide. We simply obey Him with action. So who is willing to get off the sideline and get onto the field? This brings us to our fifth goal.

 

5)          Labor!

 

I don’t think that advocating for the weak, the poor, the exploited, the vulnerable is optional for the devoted Christian. I think it is part of the occupational hazard of signing on to the ridiculously rewarding work of following Jesus. He never said it would be easy, but he does tell us it will change us for the better. Frederick Buechner tells us Christians that our vocation is where our deep gladness meets the world’s deep need. God wants to connect those two because he desires justice in our world and for you to experience Him more fully than you’ve ever imagined before.

Are we ready to begin our journey exploring our calling to “loose the chains of injustice” (Isaiah 58:6)? The first stop on the journey is to engage in the contemptible topic of human trafficking this Sunday. Get ready. It’s going to be outrageous. For real.