Rich Christians

The controversial and overly criticized Ron Sider, author of Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger says in his book, “Do you know how long it would take to improve the lot of the poorest one billion by 50%–using just 1% of global ‘Christians’ income? Less than one year!” He goes on to say, “In 1960, the 20% of the world’s people living in the richest nations had 30 times more than the poorest 20%. B 1997, the richest had 74 times as much. But the percentage of their giving had dropped dramatically.”

This always ruffles feathers, and it always gets a few voices stirring that begin to say, “This is not helping the church to bring up shortcoming this large”; or “Stop being so critical”, etc. This is not intended to be a divisive or mean spirited post, it’s simply to continue putting out in front of us what is going on everywhere, we just don’t always see it or acknowledge it. The reality we are in is that Christian and non-Christian financial giving towards charity is very similar, around 2% of gross income.

Just saying, we need to be challenged a little bit and continue to ask what we are called to in this journey of doing justice and loving mercy. I’m certainly always challenged when confronted with realities like these, especially because I am one of the rich Christians in an age of hunger. Who’s up for being challenged this year to live radically different for the sake of displaying our great King?

 

 

 

 

 

What Happens in Vegas, Stays in Vegas

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Las Vegas is famous for many ‘riskay’ things, and this phrase has become the trademark of the city’s gambling sector: “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas”. This is implying that what you do here in Vegas won’t hurt your wife, husband or loved ones, as long as they never find out what you do here. Worse yet, there is a belief that illicit behavior won’t even hurt the person doing it.

This same thinking is wrapped up into the old adage that goes like this: “What we don’t know, won’t hurt us.” When I was a kid, I used to talk about things like, “What if the fast food worker spit in your hamburger?” or “What if your hamburger was dipped in the toilet?” You know… things that everybody worries about, right? I remember talking and thinking about this every now and then when we would eat out. The conversation always ended, in my mind at least, “As long as I don’t know, I’ll be fine.” I was a garbage disposal as a kid.

I was thinking about all of this when my brother showed me this picture of a McDonald’s sign in California. Some of McD’s food is hazardous to your health, so much so, that California McD’s, by law, must post this warning in their stores. My brother told me that even though this sign has been posted, sales have not been hindered. This made me rethink the old adage and I began wondering what it takes to change people, even though they know something will cause harm to them.

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Eating a McD’s big mac that has so many preservatives bugs or mold won’t even eat it, or going to Vegas and giving your soul away to someone who is there just to pay rent and cover their bills, have caused so much damage to our bodies, but we still do them. Seems strange that this belief of what we don’t know won’t hurt us is still allowing us to ignore dangers and toxins in our lives.

We didn’t know so many toys were made with lead, but they hurt many people. We didn’t know certain foods were infected with salmonella, but it got us sick. We didn’t know building products with asbestos were bad, but they’ve been very toxic. We didn’t know that porn was destroying our minds (it’s scientifically proven that sex addicts destroy their brains, literally), but now we have a sexually addicted culture that consumes and marginalizes predominantly children and women.

What we don’t know can and has hurt us, but what’s even more disturbing is that this McD’s picture reveals to me is that even though we know things hurts us, even destroy us and others, we still do them; we still offer them to others. Not only that, they are some of the most profitable industries in our ‘sophisticated’ culture (fast food, porn, and cheap consumable products). What we desire, we get. So the problem is that we have desire issues.

What we desire, we get. So merely saying, “I want to act differently” or “I want to stop doing those things” isn’t enough to get people to stop the foolishness. We are still eating cancer causing food, we are still performing sexually illicit, brain damaging acts, and big industries are still producing cheap consumable products for a profit only to waste our resources and environment, because we consumers buy them.

Our desires are what need to be challenged and changed, and this doesn’t happen by mere will power or behavior modification. It happens by realizing and owning that we’re all part of the problem, and as hard as humanity tries, as ‘sophisticated’ as we get, we can’t solve the problem of evil and illicit human desires.

What we need is to desire something or someone who is not corrupt, and will not corrupt. What we need is people who are willing to submit and surrender, not to their desires, but to the only One who is not corrupt, and will never corrupt.

Not So Common Grace

The Reformers in the 16th century speak of ‘common grace’, and by that they were speaking of God’s generosity and love that every human experiences. The sun rises and shines (that is if you don’t live in Portland) on the just and the unjust. Our bodies eventually fall asleep and rejuvenate no matter how harsh a situation one is in, or how hard junior highers try to stay up to pull an all nighter!

Acts of grace are offered to those who are less fortunate every day. Hospitals were started by church members who had a heart to take care of the sick among them. Cities have social services that provide for those in need; mass transit, food stamps, libraries, school programs, minimum wage, etc.  Now, in many cases, this help isn’t enough to bridge the gap of disparity that is out there in our culture, but none the less, it’s common grace, open to all, whether they want it or not.

This got me thinking about Christianity in our day. Often times in Christian circles, there is so much time spent talking about the other grace, called ‘special’ grace, grace that leads to salvation in the Christian worldview. Within this discussion, there are arguments between Christians and those who are proud not to be Christians, and the ‘special’ grace that Christians desire the whole world to know is never known because ‘common’ grace is not so common in these discussions. At times, it even seems that the majority of common grace has been relegated to the city and state to take care of. For many, it doesn’t even cross their mind that common grace in debates and disagreements may be a way to display the product, or fruit of ‘special’ grace.

We all need grace. We’ve all received grace. God has commonly allowed every human to experience a  certain amount of grace, but as a Christian, ‘special’ grace, grace to see that we are not our own gods and cannot atone for our shortcomings no matter how good we try to be, is a grace that I desire all to experience. But many are not receiving it, and frankly, many do not want to bear the fruit of those who claim to have experienced this ‘special’ grace that opens our eyes to who Jesus is, because there isn’t much common grace coming out of them.

This is a challenge I’ve been giving, and I guess I’m extending the challenge to those who are up for it, to extend more common grace, undeserved grace. Offer grace to those who don’t deserve it. Give generously not because it’s a good investment, but because it’s the right thing to do. Tip better, especially if you’re gonna throw out the “Christian” card. More common grace around the common table of fellowship these days would do a body good, not to mention, it would be displaying the beautiful God who’s idea was common grace that leads to ‘special’ grace.

So next time the theological topic of common grace vs. special grace comes up, be a doer of grace, not just a speaker of it.

A Functional Mess

That day when you get up and you move past the memories of reality for the day, telling yourself, “I’m okay. I’ve just got to get some coffee and I’ll feel better.” Or the day when anxiety sets in and you aren’t sure how you are going to get through the day with all the people who “need” things from you, be it small children, people at work, or close friends and family. Yah, that kind of day. I’m not sure what to call those days, but it seems that, if you were to “sit” in those feelings of pain and anxiety, you may not make it, so you move on, functionally at least, but like all the popular shows these days with zombies, you’re a walking dead person, numb to life, with limbs (figuratively speaking) falling off your body, “But you’re okay, because you’re functional, not like that one person from church who has fallen a part and needs a support group to survive.” You’re a functional mess.

I’ve been a pastor for almost 7 years, and I was a Young Life leader for 10 years in central Phoenix. Most of the years that I have served in ministry, I have been a functional mess, feeling like “I’m okay”, because “I’m not like that guy who I just met with. Poor guy, he’s really got to get his act together.” But inside the whole time, I knew I was just as messy, I was just better at playing the “I’m okay script” than he was.

I am very aware that this observation may just be mine, from my small world of experiences, and I know full well that there are totally different experiences, but indulge with me for a moment in this observation from life. There’s seems to be an unwritten code in many “Christian” circles that having seasons of honesty about the complete mess you’re in, often results in a Christian responding in one of these ways:

Panic and fear over what you’re going through, because you’ve been the “strong one”;
Words of encouragement to pull you “out of the pit” and left with an Old Testament verse that claims a promise that was given to exiles in Israel, then a follow up call the next day or two to see if the verse worked;

Being dodged and not addressing the pain or suffering that has caused the messy season;
Superficial engagement that acts like you never mentioned anything messy, and many people wanting you to just move on and get better. I know there are more, but these seem to be what I’ve observed in over 17 years of ministry alongside other Christians.

Now, I say these without a harsh tone, but still with an honest one, with an honest pursuit of wanting unpack the reason why it seems that many Christians (myself included on many points over the last 17 years) seem to be worse at walking through deep pain and suffering than friends that many people have who aren’t Christians. I say that comment, because it has been true many times in my experience, as well as having heard this from many a people from the inside. There seems to be confusion on what it means to truly grieve and feel pain so that you can process it, work through your junk, and really get healthy, and what it means to claim the promises of God that you are a new creation.

Maybe it’s that many of us feel that if we let on that we are really the mess that we feel we are on the inside, then our peers and those we lead might “think” we don’t believe God’s promises, or that we might be giving room for the enemy to come in and deceive us, after all, “We are children of God, brothers in the line of Jesus, co-heirs to the kingdom of heaven. With that title, I’m not supposed to feel this way.” This is all true, so in fear of acting like we don’t believe it, we pretend, we numb, we quote Scripture, but the functional mess continues and we never seem to get over the messy hump.

I guess the purpose of this blog is two-fold. One is confessional. I am confessing that I’m a functional mess and am cutting back all areas of life. I’ve gone too hard, trying to build God’s kingdom, and although I believe God has used me in many ways, I often try to build more than God’s given me the grace to build. My wife and I have also had an usually difficult season of life circumstances that have happened, and we are making changes in our life to cope, grieve, and heal in a healthy way, one of those ways, being this blog; transparency about where we are.

The second purpose of this post is to give someone who may read this, the freedom to feel again. My wife and I have been given the freedom by some friends to feel, even to the point of being uglier than we wanted to be, but none the less, we didn’t run from the reality. We didn’t anesthetize ourselves from the reality of our pain or suffering. This has brought much freedom and healing into our lives.

Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 3:17, “Now the Lord is Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is there is freedom.” This means yes, freedom to be free from sin, shame, condemnation, but free from pain and suffering? I don’t think that’s what Paul was saying here. Freedom to feel. Freedom to confess sin. Freedom to say, “I’m a mess!”, yet know that you’re radically accepted and loved. Freedom to sit with others in their pain and agony. Freedom to trip and fall. Freedom to doubt and ask questions. Freedom to say, “I don’t know what I’m doing or who I am.”

It’s my conviction that it’s at this place of honesty, when the Lord shows up in real, tangible ways, and Scripture goes from memorized, therapeutic verses that we hope work, to life changing truths that bring the presence of God Himself into the situation that we are in. This is the hope; “the presence of God in the face of Jesus”. I pray that some of you may receive this kind freedom and joy that comes from this kind of honesty. Until then, I am in the struggle with you, learning to find joy and peace in the midst of the mess.