Thursday, September 29, 2011

Faith in Action: The Good News

The countless number of things that heartlessly ravage "the least of these" in our world is overwhelming to someone reading about them for the first time, or even overwhelming to someone who has no idea how to go about alleviating the world's pain. As Christians, we must not stick our heads in the sand and pretend that the world is doing fine just because we are. We must not turn our eyes away like the priest and the Levite in the story of the good Samaritan, walking by those suffering on the other side of the road - our neighbors. We must face the brutal facts about poverty and injustice - only then can we take the first steps to respond.

There is something so much greater at work here! If you ache for a better world but are engulfed by a sense of hopelessness, I have some really really good news for you! Centuries ago there was a man named Jesus who walked this messed up world too. In a time when the Romans were running the show, hope was in short supply for the Jewish people. It was in this context that the son of a carpenter from a town called Nazareth stood up in a local synagogue and read a scroll from the prophet Isaiah.

Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: "The Spirit of the Lord is on me because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."...The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, and he began by saying to them, "Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing." (Luke 4:17-21)

Imagine that you're a Jew back then listening to your local Home Depot guy say these things. Weird right? Isaiah had prophesied that a King was coming who would usher in a kingdom unlike anything the world had ever seen. Could it be that Isaiah's prophecies were really coming true with this guy? Was is really possible that justice, peace and righteousness were about to be established forever? Would this King really bring healing to the parched soil, the feeble hands, the shaky knees, the fearful hearts, the blind, the deaf, the lame, the mute, the brokenhearted, the captives, and the sinful souls, and would proclaim the year of jubilee for the poor? (Isaiah 35:1-6, 53:5, 61:1-2) Well Jesus' answer was a YES to that, declaring that "Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing."

What a mission for one man! Of course the nature and work of Jesus Christ is much fuller than we can understand, using us now to do his work before he comes again. Stay tuned in October for a more complete picture of Jesus' mission and what it means for every human being on this planet.

In the meantime, check out a couple of really awesome books. When Helping Hurts by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert is a great book moving from the foundational concepts about poverty (Who are the poor?), to principles (Should we do relief, rehab, or development?), to practical strategies. (How can we actually help the poor domestically? internationally?) Another great book is The Hole in Our Gospel by Richard Stearns, the president of World Vision US. (If you can't get this from me already, I LOVE World Vision!) It outlines Stearns' story of how he left worldly success for something far more significant, and discovered the full power of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Stearns uses his story to demonstrate how the whole gospel was and is always meant to be a world-changing social revolution, a revolution that begins with us.

Check them out somewhere, or hit me up if you want to borrow my copies!


Saturday, September 10, 2011

Faith in Action Pt.4: Stand Up For Those Who Can't

"Defend the cause of the weak and fatherless; maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed." Psalm 82:3

Millions of children around the world live without any adult care. Many have been orphaned; others abandoned or sold; some abducted and abused. All desperately need to be connected to even just one person who can ensure their basic needs are met and remind them that they are loved. They also need advocates who will speak on their behalf, maintain their rights, and protect them from exploitation and oppression.

Jesus identified himself with the lowest of the low in society (Check out Matthew 25:40). "Whatever you did for one of the least of did for me." Think about that the next time you come across someone who you wouldn't even think about extending your hand to. See the face of Jesus in them.

As you put your faith into action  your own life will be transformed. I promise you! Seeing hope is seeing Jesus. The wonderful irony of Christ's words just leaves me in awe: "It is more blessed to give than to receive" (Acts 20:35).

Faith in Action Pt.3: When Disaster Strikes, Live Generously

"Yet I am poor and needy; come quickly to me, O God." Psalm 70:5

It only takes a few seconds for a person to lose everything. Earthquakes, floods, civil conflicts, and other disasters mercilessly reduce a person's existence to what they need to survive: food, water, and shelter. It is in one's moment of greatest need that help often arrives. God describes Himself as an ever-present help in times of trouble; He rescues the desperate and gives strength to the weary. But God does not work alone. He calls his people to join in the thrilling, privileged task of acting as His hand and feet, reaching those in need.

"If there is a poor man among not be...tightfisted...Rather be openhanded and freely give him whatever he needs." Deuteronomy 15:7-8

Around the world, compassionate people live in openhandedness toward the poor and others in need. Are you one? Your genuine faith finds expression through your generosity; your gifts are a sacred offering to God. Whether it's your time, skills, talents, or money, I encourage you to practice the highest standard of stewardship, taking "pains to do what is right, not only in the eyes of the Lord but also in the eyes of men" (2 Corinthians 8:21).

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Faith in Action

After my last post, I wanted to write some sort of follow up about how and why action in faith is so important. We can't just be inspired to think on faith, but instead need to be so inspired in order to act on faith. A key verse in all of Scripture is John 3:16. In one sentence, the entire history of Judeo-Christianity is given meaning, the love of a proactive God is displayed, and a hope - free to all who believe - is revealed. God did not stand at a distance, merely observing a world broken by sin. He instead reached out to humankind, His children, and at a great personal expense, offered new life to all who will believe.

The Bible is a record, a picture, a love letter to the world, from God, and ultimately, it is a call to action for those who have received His gift. A call to love others in the the same way that God has loved us - actively and unconditionally. A call to care for the orphans and widows, to pursue justice, to extend the hand of mercy. The message of the Bible remains absolutely relevant and critical. The message is love shown through Jesus Christ. And our response is obedience. In Jesus' words, the fullest expression of our love can be dealt and felt in something even as simple as giving a thirsty child a cup of cold water.

Dr. Robert Pierce, the founder of World Vision once said, "Let my heart be broken by the things that break the heart of God." Sound familiar? It's like the lyric in Hillsong's "Hosanna," "...Break my heart for what breaks yours..." Let this be our prayer as followers of Jesus.

During the month of September, I hope to post at least once a week addressing the different global issues present in our world. Each is Biblically significant. I pray that the Holy Spirit inspires you to see the world through God's eyes, and love others in the same way that He has loved us.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Faith in Action Pt.1: Water is Life

"He who has compassion on them will guide them and lead them beside springs of water." Isaiah 49:10

In many thirsty, desolate communities, bleak life expectancy rates have imprinted a familiar saying – "water is life" – deep into the community’s state of mind. More than 1 billion people do not have access to clean, safe water. Their only alternative is to drink from dirty, disease-infested water sources. A child dies every 15 seconds from a water-related disease. This amounts to nearly 6,000 deaths, or the equivalent of 20 jumbo jets crashing, every day. Water related diseases, including cholera, typhoid, dysentery, and guinea worm, kill more than 5 million people every year. On the other hand, the average American uses 170 gallons of water every day. Americans spend more than $61 billion on soft drinks every year. That's 15 times USAID's (United States Agency for International Development) annual budget!

This picture is from my dad's trip to Uganda. For one village, this was the water source before construction of the clean water well. It's pretty gross, dirty and unhealthy for drinking, but people had no other option before construction of the clean water well.

Jesus often used water as an illustration of life (check out John 4 for an example), and he spoke of the impact made by providing even one cup of cold water (Matthew 10:42). When a community gains access to safe water, its children's chances of survival immediately double and the outlook of the entire community is transformed. It's not just water though transforming a community. It's the redeeming power of Jesus Christ that is really at work, through us.

A clean water well, constructed by World Vision. WaSH (Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene) is one aspect of what World Vision does in its development work.

*All statistical information is from World Vision

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Faith in Action Pt.2: Feed the Hungry

"For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat." Matthew 25:35

Every 5 seconds a child dies because he or she was hungry. Every day 799 million people in developing countries – about one of every seven people worldwide – go hungry. On the other hand, Americans spend $20 billion annually on ice cream (I really do love ice cream), an amount that could feed 83 million hungry children for an entire year.

Organizations like World Vision have feeding centers that feed children and families who have either been displaced or are unable to grow their own food as a result of civil wars, famine, and drought.

When Jesus said, "I was hungry and you gave me something to eat," He was speaking on behalf of the poor and hungry throughout all generations. And no, that's not mind-blowing. Jesus is God, so he KNOWS.

Giving something as simple and a warm meal to someone in need is a tangible expression of our love for Christ. You can most definitely do that, by God's grace.

*All statistical information is from World Vision