Thursday, September 19, 2013

A Generous People

The confused angst of my youth regarding the Church has caught up to me.  As a teenager, I heard of all the hurting in the world without any of the healing.  I arrogantly thought it was just Jesus and me.  It wasn't that I struggled with why God allows, causes or permits bad things to happen... it was: why can't we see the Church among the rubble?

In our nonprofit's work to awaken the Church to the biblical mandates to care for orphans and the families they come from, I have encountered a handful of churches whose only missional output is funding short-term mission trips with the sole objective of evangelism.  Responses such as, "Orphan care?  Seems like the trendy thing for churches to do these days." send me into a blind rage until I remember that was my response at one point too.

I tripped on orphan care as a ministry as I was maneuvering through my own preconceived notions of grandeur in God's kingdom.  It was a simple prodding from my wife, and an invitation from a woman who had no real reason of her own to get involved.  These two women virtually invited the filth at the root of foster care into their lives... and I was initially just along for the ride until the Holy Spirit moved me.

So, I've been guilty of joining in with the critics.  "The Church is an institution... a religion... full of hypocrites..."  I played both sides of course attempting to appease my cynical conscience along with the faithful one knowing all along there was something deeper happening I wasn't privy to.  At some level, I've come to believe the Church is only as sanctified as its members.  No matter how active, compassionate and knowledgeable leadership or others may be, if some remain complacent, we will always be limited from the fullness of blessing and influence.

I was reminded of this by a new friend, Alex Krutov, who came to our house for dinner one night.  Alex is a former orphan from Russia now working to sustain a multi-faceted transition center in St. Petersburg that serves at-risk mothers, orphans and emancipated youth from orphanages in that city.  He's incredibly passionate... so much so that after about 2 hours I was done listening to him and started cleaning the dishes.  But he quoted a passage that re-awakened me.

I will search for the lost and bring back the strays.  I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy.  I will shepherd the flock with justice. - Ezekiel 34:16

Since hearing that passage I have thought of it often.  Every time someone brings a need to my attention that pales in comparison with the real desolations of poverty, human trafficking, war, slavery, and the litany of others that exist in the daily routines of children and adults in the world I am reminded of it.    The more I think of it the more my cynical side is outraged.  We worry about our investments and depreciation in the market, we struggle with internet pornography, and we complain naively about our first world problems while families across the railroad tracks would give anything to trade those for their own.

And after my cynical side has had its say... my faithfulness waits patiently and is emboldened by the countless number in the flock of the Shepherd who could be sleek and strong but rather sacrifice daily on behalf of the lost, injured and weak.  These doers of good who lack the time or energy to promote their good works due to the ongoing needs around them stay focused on the task at hand.  They aren't walking the elderly across the street... they are involved in very tangible, very real trench warfare.

I was sitting in a poverty coalition meeting a month back, and one man from a prominent organization asked, "we need more churches around this table... where is the Church?"  An elderly gentlemen raised his hand representing more than forty local congregations and said, "We are here... and we were here when we built the facility your organization runs to provide housing to the homeless, and we've stuck around to ensure the maintenance of those facilities remain in good working order through ongoing financial and volunteer support."

There is nothing quite like the local church taking ownership of Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth.  It is in our DNA as a body of believers to not only speak the Gospel but live it out as well... however there are still many of us growing sleek and strong while the lost, injured and weak are left to the world.  If you are reflecting on your faithfulness as I have, I want to challenge you.

Opportunities like this take place everyday, but this day is North Texas Giving Day where over 900 non-profit organizations have been vetted and are collaborating to raise funds for their various causes.  My particular cause is Embrace Texas, and we'd be blessed to have you financially partner with us by giving $25 at  Tomorrow will be another unpredictable opportunity with an unpredictable price tag.

If we feel guilted into action... good.  There should be a sense of humility that comes along with realizing we've ignored divine appointments to live out our faith.  If foster care, adoption, and orphan care isn't your thing, no love is lost, but God has created us for something, and it isn't to store up treasures and then complain about how unreliable our storehouses are.

I pray this challenges us.  Discipleship in God's kingdom requires us to be faithful and give generously.  In coming full circle, I've found an answer to my initial question... why can't we see the Church among the rubble?  Because in many cases, not all but many... the Church has been there all along refusing to come out, get cleaned off, and be recognized when there is still work to do.  The Church is indistinguishable in many cases because they're covered in the dust and ash of the trenches.  Just as Christ took on the sinfulness of the world, the Church jumps in to bear the burdens of the afflicted and encourage the hopeless.  And so, may God continue to bless you, so you may bless others.

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