Friday, April 29th, 2011
Is Human Profiling – Dividing the Church
“John, this is Jeff. He is working with us today.” Jeff was a 30 something, African American man. His hair was intricately braided into rows. He seemed very quiet.
It is common to meet new people in our project oriented work group who are working in community service due to a traffic ticket or some other minor infraction of the law. So I assumed that Jeff was with us for those reasons.
During the four hours we worked together it seemed that Jeff was not so energetic about being there. He seemed lost and confused for the most part. At the end of the day our supervisor was getting ready to shut things down for the day and said he had to leave quickly so he could get Jeff to the bus stop on time. I asked where the bus stop was and it was right on my way home, so I offered to take him so as to ease the rush of closing down the shop.
I am really trying to work on embracing people without regards to preconceived ideas of who they might be or where they may be coming from in life.
I made some pretty specific assumptions about Jeff. I presumed that he was certainly a community service volunteer. I thought his lack of energy was due to a total disinterest in being in our company for whatever reasons he was there. His skin color and braided hair added to my perceptions that he was from a different and foreign life experience from ours. Our shop is in an upscale suburban location. There aren’t many African American volunteers that work with us there.
Due to my desire to be inclusive and embracing of all people I worked hard during our time together to include Jeff into the mix of conversation and our projects. Our little work group of volunteers is very friendly and completely non-judgmental so it was easy to include him. I was proud of my accomplishment of inclusion and positive attitude towards Jeff. I felt good about how non-judgmental I was.
“Jeff, get in, I’ll take you to the bus stop.” After we got in, I began to ask questions of Jeff to make sure I continued my interest in him as a person even though I had already made my assumptions about where he was coming from. “So, Jeff, were you here with us today volunteering for community service?” Jeff’s reply, “No. I am living in a half way house and I have been really bored there. I was looking for a place where I could help out and do something positive with my time.” So, Jeff rides the bus 15 miles each way just to help us out .
Well, this was the first assumption that was blown away. Jeff was there because he wanted to be there, to do something positive. He wasn’t there because he had to be there! I went on to ask him about his half way house. “Jeff, what kind of program are you in?” He went on to tell me that he wasn’t in a program, but the half way house was his prison sentence. He was in the wrong place at the wrong time and was arrested for something that was pretty minor. He had a one year sentence at the half way house. He was very forthright with me about his heart and his struggles with his circumstances.
He went on to tell me that he had been really tired lately because he has Sickle Cell Anemia. There goes another assumption! He wasn’t lazy, or disinterested, he was tired from being affected by a terrible disease. But, he wasn’t sitting at home feeling sorry for himself, he was out working for free to help someone else.
When we got to the bus stop I told him I would be in prayer for him and the circumstances he was in. I wanted him to know that I had a relationship with God and that I would pray for God’s grace upon him. “John, thank you so much. I have been praying to God for the very same things. I am asking Him to help me to handle my circumstances better and for His help to get me through all of this.” Another assumption challenged. Jeff may even be a Christian himself.
My heart was tugged towards Jeff and I asked the Lord if He was bringing Jeff into my life for some special reason. I wondered if I was to follow up with Jeff in some way. It was obvious that God was in all of this and I wanted to follow the plan He may have had for our meeting.
As he shut the door I sat just for a moment while I processed all that had just happened. I had judged a man completely by his looks. I was humbled to a point of personal embarrassment. I was so wrong.
But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7
One thing I can say that was good. I didn’t leave him with my assumptions. I asked questions and really wanted to hear his heart. Jeff was a really nice guy, decent, honorable, and certainly not who I thought he was.
Two days later I had the opportunity to talk with our supervisor about Jeff. He said Jeff would be with us for a year. I found out that he was working with Jeff to grow in personal ways with regards to his work ethic, timeliness, and development of skills to make his time with us more rewarding for us all.
We discussed how God had placed Jeff in our hands for some special reason. We prayed for how God wanted us to minister to him while being with us. Our work group is a team of people who will love Jeff and treat him with respect. That is just the way we are. I have seen our little team accept all kinds of people and welcome them into our lives.
When I arrived for another day of working with our team Jeff was busy at work painting and didn’t stop until his job was done. At the end of the day our supervisor was looking for his keys to take Jeff to the bus stop and once again, I joyfully agreed to take him. In our time together we talked further about his living situation. He poured his heart out about some of his hardest struggles in being there. I was glad to be a listening ear for him. He talked about some of his values in being honest and honorable in his behavior. “John, I am not a trouble maker. I really try to do the right thing.”
As we stopped I reached over to shake his hand to say goodbye. Of course, I began with a traditional white American handshake and it quickly got all discombobulated due to his trying to go through a “brother’s” hand shake. I said, “Jeff, I don’t know how to do all of that stuff.” Jeff replied, “Yeah, I know, you got me all confused.” We broke out in a hearty laugh and it was so good to see Jeff smile for the first time.
Jeff followed up giving me a lesson in how to shake hands like a “brother”. I told him it may take more practice. I have a suspicion that I have more to learn from Jeff and how my original “profile” of his life, without knowing his heart, was not only wrong in the nature of the information, but wrong in my judgment of Jeff’s heart.
In our country profiling of African Americans causes major racial divides. Racism divides the church keeping our body broken and dismantled.
I write a lot about homosexuality. I wonder how often we judge homosexuals without knowing them as people? Do people profile them wrongly too?
As Christians are we missing out on many parts of the body due to our wrong assessments of the hearts of others? Do we think we are better than someone else? Do we have it right and others are wrong?
For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. Romans 12:3-5
Saturday, April 23rd, 2011
As some of us think about Easter Sunday, I wonder if we are asking Jesus some questions about our own lives and what this celebration is all about?
Christ has risen, He has risen indeed.
Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Sunday; what is this all about?
Secret Church, candlelight services, sunrise services, eating lamb, ham, and lots of deviled eggs. Celebration abounds, life evaluation goes deep for some and for some it is just about having a new dress or a freshly cleaning suit of clothes along with pretty corsages and shiny shoes.
Easter Sunday, one of the most heavily attended church services of the year. Folding chairs in the aisles to accommodate the surge of guests that are expected. Carefully administrated plans for the parking lot attendants, greeters, alter call prayer teams and information cards. All designed to try to get some of the guests to come back next Sunday.
What is the focus of all of this busyness and planning? As I contemplate the celebration of Easter this year I am asking Jesus some questions. We had our annual Passover Seder. There were two homes where friends gathered underneath one invitation list. People sat together with us in our home. They were friends and family. Nothing fancy really. We got out our simple china and shared a wonderful Passover Seder Haggadah and a lamb meal together. But other than that, I am enjoying “simple” Easter this year as I ponder some things.
Last year was a cathartic Easter for me. On Sunday morning our little poodle, Spencer, was killed. It brought to my mind one of the most vibrant examples of what it would have been like to have killed the lamb for Passover and eaten it. this of course brought a very personal reflection on the life, death and resurrection of Jesus that I had ever experienced. (to read the story you can click here )
This year, I want to think, to pray, to ask Jesus “What would you do?” How would you celebrate? What would you be doing this year to celebrate the abuse, the hanging, the death and resurrection of your Savior? Would you have special planned events, web seminars, candlelight services? How would you have responded to the millions that would come out of their homes to attend the “once per year” celebration service to somehow satisfy their motivation to go to “church” at least for Easter?
I was talking with some friends the other day about Easter church. They were discussing their plans for Sunday. A couple of them said they were not going to church on Easter. I remember one in particular who said, “I spent my whole childhood going to church because I thought I “had” to go. This year for Easter, I am not going to church because “I don’t have to.” Some other friends were going to spend special time with their families. Then there were those friends whose lives were so brutally busy with church life they couldn’t wait until Easter was over.
As I think about Jesus this year. I am asking Him, “What is your desire for me?” Does Jesus want me to go to church because it is the thing to do as a Christian? I thought about what many Sunday service topics on Easter would be. In my own experience, typically the entire service is designed to be “evangelistic.”
There will be sermons on sin, sermons on forgiveness, sermons on The Cross. Some churches may have well thought out music, presentations, drama and other cleverly designed ways to present the gift of eternal life to those who may only darken the door of a church once this year. The main focus us usually to reach the “lost.” To be honest, most of those who will go to their infrequent church service already know the gospel. They are there because they have heard about Jesus gift but either have lost sight of it, or rejected it at one time or another but still think it is a good idea to give God some attention at least on this holiday.
But what about all of those who will not celebrate Easter in any way this year? What about the millions who will NOT crowd into a Sunday church service? Some may be bitter. Some may not feel welcome. Some, may have no interest. There are many who are so distant from the message of grace that celebrating God’s sacrifice is the furthest thing from their mind.
You know, I think Jesus is very excited about all of those who love Him and make this a special event to let Him know how thankful they are for what He has given them. I think he is looking upon those of us who know Him intimately and love Him deeply with a grateful heart. Jesus loves His family for sure.
But, I think Jesus may also be very interested in all of those whom have not allowed Him into their lives.
Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:19-20
As I think of the millions in church this Sunday, this comes to my mind.
Then Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent. Luke 15:3-8
What would Jesus do this Easter?
What is the answer to my question?
“Jesus, what is Your desire for me this year?”
Friday, April 8th, 2011
Fear Turns Into Freedom:
Jacob’s Encounter With His Brother Esau
by John J. Smid
In our human life experience, we can go about life seeking significance in our own strength coming up empty handed. Salvation at its core is recognizing we cannot please God without faith. It is a deep recognition that we cannot save ourselves but must repent of our own self will and receive His gift.
Throughout my own life, I always felt desperately insignificant. I remember the questions ringing in my ears often; “Do you hear me?”, “Does anyone care about what I am going through?”, “Do I have any value here at all?” But I often felt pretty smug about my own ability to support myself. I could do it without anyone’s help. I had developed a pretty strong sense of independence. It felt too painful to depend on others and find that I didn’t think they were there for me anyway.
I thought it might be good to talk about a story like mine that was revealed in the book of Genesis chapters 32 & 33. The relationship between Jacob and Esau is one that has brought many controversial discussions and queries to the table of discussion. But for me, Jacob’s story showed me just how much God reached into my own life. God moved me to a personal honesty that brought about my own transformation from self will, to dependence on God, and a new way of relating to others.
Stop for a moment and think about Jacob’s childhood. He was a young man who was hungry for the blessing of his father. He was so hungry that rather than accept life as it was, being the younger brother, he went after the blessing of his father in his own strength.
Being encouraged by his mother to deceive his father Isaac, he manipulated his way into his father’s blessing and stepped all over Esau’s birthright. The cloud of guilt hang over him and undoubtedly, he carried this deficit into his everyday life. I feel confident that he was often looking around the corner for the boom to drop and the truth to hit him between the eyes.
Many of us have attempted to gain the benefits of a blessing the wrong way. Some of us have manipulated favoritism from our parents, or emotionally separated from them when we felt as though another sibling was specially favored. What are we likely to do when we live under these family circumstances? We attempt to find a good cover up, living in deception. We can even enter into things that come to a painful end.
Some of our cyclical behaviors can actually come from seeking our own significance the wrong way and coming up empty handed, searching to answer the questions; Am I loved? Am I significant? Does anyone care?
We move on with the story. Jacob was facing a meeting with this brother that he had betrayed long ago. Esau had announced to him that he was in fact going to pay him a visit, not alone though. He was bringing 400 men with him. Jacob was so fearful he began to pray, (my paraphrase) “Oh, God, Lord of my life, you promised that if I went back to my family, you would bless me! I am calling in my ticket right now! Save me from the hand of my brother, surely he will attack me!” (Gen. 32:11) The call to obedience now beckons him. God said he must go back to his family.
At some point in our life God may ask us to return to our family of origin to deal with those relationships that have so often felt negative or broken. Sometimes our personal blessing has to wait until we have reconciled our past.
Family gatherings are often like this potential meeting for Jacob and Esau. Prayers going all over the place based on our relational breakdowns. We experience fears, insecurities and barriers, all because we have unsettled business with our loved ones. Mom, Dad, brother, sister, where do you stand with each other? Are you living a life of separation, or walking on eggshells because you haven’t been honest. Have you reckoned with the truth?
Jacob had no idea where his prayers would land him. But, he was hanging on to the promise that God had given him. He needed the blessing and knew he had the counterfeit in his hands. He carried on as an impostor all of his life. Knowing he had robbed Esau he had developed a pretty large barricade between him and his brother. Paranoid of the potential of doom he had found himself not only praying deeply from his heart but also, in his self will. He had set up his own personal protection.
“Wives, children, concubines, all of you go forth and protect me. I will be destroyed and I need you to become my front.” (my paraphrase)
Deflection, dishonesty, artificial and barriers all in place to protect this poor man. Poor man? What about these poor women and children?
If in fact Esau was angry and in attack mode – who was going to protect them? Maybe all the gifts he had arranged would stave off this potential for harm. All sorts of goats, ewes, camels and peace offerings – yes, maybe these will hold him back! He was determined just like years ago – he would conquer this in his own strength. Little did he know what God would do. Little did he know that he was about to embark upon one of the most significant events in his life. God was about to break his will and finally show him His severe mercy.
At my most desperate place I gathered serial promiscuous relationships around me. I was hungry to find that one person that would say to me, “I care.”, “I will never leave you.”, “You are the most important person in my life.” In my own angst, the cycle became my focus but it just didn’t seem that I could find what I was looking for so the desperation didn’t go away, it actually increased.
Coming into a living relationship with God requires us to let go of our way and embrace His way. As humans, we often have developed a fine system to cover up – to protect our lives from being hurt again. We have set up fortresses to protect us from our fears. We have often used people or substances as barricades, comforts for our own insecurities. When are we going to get honest with ourselves and admit our shortcomings? Sometimes this comes when we least expect it. At times, it comes as a result of our deep cries to the Lord in our distress!
As a matter of fact, the most significant freedom we have ever received was just after Jesus Christ Himself cried out in blood sweating distress!
So, the move was on and Jacob had sent his family on ahead of him. He was now alone. One point I want to make about Jacob being alone, having left family, friends, work mates, and away from all the familiar comforts he had placed around him, he came to a place where maybe God can finally get in. Have you ever been alone like that? When you were alone, did you do some personal thinking, some life evaluation?
When a very painful but desperate relationship ended, I was alone. I was in a very poor place with all of my family and now I didn’t even have this man in my life. I felt incredibly alone. I had no one that I could turn to. I had been thinking about God and in my own despair, I finally grabbed on to God through a small but heartfelt prayer; “God, get me out of this. Can you help me?”
Jacob was getting ready to sleep and before he knew it he was wrestling with “the man” This is the term used in the NIV bible. It has a mysterious ring to it. Jacob was winning in the battle. Jacob had built himself up to a high level of accomplishment in his self will. He was strong in his own way. But “the man” found a way to put him down. He would break Jacob’s hip. Jacob fell to the ground in pain and no longer could battle. So he did what seemed best.
In this position of humility, he grabbed onto “the man”. He held on so tightly, and for such a long time, that in the morning “the man” had to ask him to let him go. “No, I won’t let you go until you bless me”, Jacob said. God was at work answering his prayer from the other day.
“The man” responded with a question, “What is your name?” In the Old Testament times this demanded a confession as a response. In giving his name, Jacob would have to tell his story. “My name is Jacob” One of the biblical meanings is ‘heal chaser”‘ He had been chasing the heal of his brother all of his life. In this wrenched position, Jacob had to get honest and literally confess his sinful cover to “the man”.
Jacob then asked “Who are you?” He was fully aware of who he had been wrestling with. “Why would you have to ask that, Jacob?” “the man” said. In this battle, Jacob had come face to face with the living God. God had given him what he had asked for. Jacob confessed his sin and began an amazing heart change. He now saw God’s severe mercy at work in his own life. He knew that God could have just smashed him like a bug on the sidewalk. He knew His vulnerability. He left that night a changed man with a significant limp.
This became a reminder of the breaking of his self will and his self protection. God was in the process of building a new creation. He gave Jacob a new name, “Israel” In our walk with God, He may bring us to many significant battles but for many of us the most important one will be the one where we find His mercy for the very first time.
After my own prayer, God came in and gave me some relief from the pain and I saw for the very first time that He in face, was real. He also cared for me. He had heard my voice. This was the beginning of a very personal relationship with Him that began a process in my own life of the heart changes I needed.
We must come so close to the face of God that we will never forget that He spared our very lives. We surely would have died if it were not for the forgiveness of God through Jesus Christ. If we are still trying to sustain ourselves our own way we will never really experience true freedom. It isn’t until we experience the breaking of our own hips that we will get past our broken cover-ups and let God finally become our Lord!
So, what happens to Jacob after this horrendous event? He still lines up the barricade and peace offerings, but after the line-up he does something unexpected. He goes to the front of the line and bows to the ground as he sees his brother and 400 men coming his way. This is not the Jacob we saw just a few lines earlier. This is a new Jacob walking in a strength that is not his own and in a humility he has never known.
For some, repentance comes from an experience of seeing God face to face. This does not mean that we are free from the problems we had going on, but rather we are new creations with some of the same problems, only now have new ways of facing them. Esau was on his way just like we thought, but Jacob has had a paradigm shift in his perspective.
After my own “face to face” with God, I knew that I had much more work needed in my own life. I could now face the deeper problems with a newly found humility. I no longer tried to make excuses for my choices and mistakes. It was hard, but underneath it all, I understood my own human frailty.
With a greeting that included a few hugs and kisses – that most dreadful Esau met Jacob. Things did not go as he had thought. Why not? Well, probably a combination of reasons but does it really matter? All we know is that Jacob made it through this with flying colors and Esau and Jacob have reconciled. So much so that Esau invited Jacob to go with him. The new found humility made a difference. Maybe Esau wasn’t even mad, but none the less, they were brothers once again.
Something else came about here. Jacob finally sees the value of their lives. He turned down the invitation to go with Esau because he had something much more important to take care of – his family. He now is walking in the discipline of protection and provision of those who deserve it. Not like before when he was using them to manipulate his potential enemies and possibly even as a sacrifice to protect his own life.
“It’s time for me to set up shop and make a place for us to live. I am at peace now with my God, my brother, my past. I can now live in peace with my present.” (my paraphrase)
At this time in your life, what is the temperature of your family relationships? Sure, it is wonderful to share a cup of coffee with neighbors or work mates. But, think about what would it feel like for you if you were sharing these warm experiences with your sister or brother. Sometimes our work mates are closer in relationship to us than our own blood family.
How long has it been since you felt at peace with sister, brother, mom, dad? Will you wrestle with “the man”? Are you willing to let go of your pride and let God in to your fears? Do you see these relationships with fear and trembling? Are you afraid you will surely be attacked, manipulated, used?
Ultimately, how is your relationship with God? Do you perceive that He has failed you? Do you think that somehow you missed out on His blessing?
Seek Him with all of your heart and He will be found. But, it may be through a very challenging “battle” where you have to get honest with yourself and with Him. In that honesty and humility, I believe He will reveal to you how amazing His love is.
No matter who we are, or where we have come from, God deeply loves us, desires a very personal relationship with us. He will hear our prayers but don’t be surprised if they come to a place of intense aloneness. And get ready for a battle of the wills that will be very challenging but in the end, freedom will come.