Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Jesus draws a crowd

As Mike (campus staff at UNCC) and I walked towards Belk Tower on the campus of UNC Charlotte, the sound of “Hells Bells” by AC/DC drifted through the air. There was an international studies fair planned at the tower, and we knew that a controversial open-air preacher was there as well, but where AC/DC fit into that was beyond me. The answer became clear as we approached the tower, which has a small hill at its base. The preacher, Bible in hand and wearing a baseball cap that read “REPENT”, argued with a crowd of students, while above him on the hill, a student played heavy metal on his guitar, amp cranked to “11.”

It was a chaotic scene to say the least. The preacher hollered about homos, and the students hollered back and even videotaped his rants to post on YouTube. Some laughed, others seethed. Cell phones were out, snapping pictures and calling friends to come and see the show, and over it all, the student dressed in black whaled away, moving from Jimi Hendrix back into AC/DC, this time playing “Highway to Hell.”

Admittedly, it was entertaining in its circus-like nature. But it also broke my heart. Here were students that were eager to talk about Jesus, to engage religious ideas, but they were being taken to places of anger, cynicism and untruth. They were being yelled at and condemned and the beauty of Christ was being distorted into a crude caricature. Occasionally, in moments of calm, the preacher would say something that was spot-on, and he even said it with respect. But mostly it was a saddening chaos.

I tried to talk with some of the students in the crowd, and most of them professed to be Christians (not a surprise here in the South). One guy that I talked with attended church sometimes, kind of on an as-needed basis, and seemed reluctant to consider that his need might be greater than he suspected. He was much more interested in laughing at the preacher than talking with me.

This was the fourth day of the preacher-show at the tower, and I think that for many there, the novelty was wearing off. Besides, he was merely confirming their stereotypes of fundamentalist Christians anyway.

But what if someone had stood on that hill and yelled at people as they walked past, “You! Young woman – you are created fearfully and well by God! You have been made beautifully!”

“You, young man – you have been loved from the beginning of time. You have a good Father who adores you!”

“You, who struggle with sexual brokenness, there is healing and wholeness available for free!”

“Rejected, unloved, confused – there is peace and freedom and acceptance. It will cost you everything but will give you so much more than everything!”

“Hey, you who are burnt out on religion, burnt out on life – there is another way to connect with God, a way that is real and true!”

Would this draw a crowd? Would people stop to hear more? Or would they walk away, averting their gaze from the crazy guy with a weird message?

It seems that Jesus can still draw a crowd, but doing it in a way that is refreshing and surprising, filled with hope – that is a skill we need to learn, providing an alternative to the caricature.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Help Me, Obi-Marshall, You're My Only Hope!

"Dear Marshall, please do me this favor and bail me out for $100... I could be here from 3-5 months and I receive a monthly social security check, and I'm afraid that if I'm not there, someone may help themselves to my money....Please, I really need your help. I have nobody else to depend on, please."

"I would like for you to check in on my daughter. She just got her place. She doesn't have any furniture or pots and pans. She has three girls, 2 yrs old, 1 yr old, and 3 months old. I know that Christmas time is coming and she'll need help in that department, too."

Diane and I received each of these requests in the same envelope, sent to us from the Greensboro jail this week. Both people who wrote have known me and Diane for years, and we have tried to help them in various ways from prayer to food to money. As I read, I felt overwhelmed; I mean, one of them has no one else to depend on and if I don't come through, they are going to be in jail for months and lose their money. If I don't come through, this single mom with 3 kids will be in a house with no furniture or pots and pans.

Everything in me wants to respond and fix these things, but not for the right reason. I'm driven by a voice that says, "You have the $100. You have plenty of household things. You owe it to the poor to help them every time that you can. You're a Christian, for crying out loud. You have the resources, so help them. Now!"

But is Jesus leading me to help? While I have known these two for years, I have little to no ongoing relationship with them. One of them I saw for the first time in 5 years this summer. The other only comes around in times of need. Will transformation happen if a band-aid is applied without ongoing commitment and care? Can I provide that? Do they want that? Why is the first person in jail and is it better for them to get out right now and be saved from consequences or could the Lord have something He wants to do in them by making them face their choices? My church has worked with the single mom before, to no avail, no transformation.

I know that there is a time and place for emergency help, for RIGHT NOW aid. But so many needs that we see seem to be RIGHT NOW, and you just can't go around putting out fires and trying to stem the tide by putting a piece of chewing gum over the leak. Yet saying no seems mean and un-Christian. I have to remember that there is one Savior, His name is Jesus Christ, and my call is to follow His voice, not my guilt or others' needs. There is plenty of work to be done, and in His timing, He will lead us to it.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The Courage of Reconciliation

Reconciliation is a nice word. It’s a happy concept. Lately in the Church it’s often been linked to crossing racial or cultural lines. But when the rubber meets the road, when it’s time to move reconciliation from concept into action, reconciliation requires courage.

It’s a messy business, because there is no reconciliation without brokenness coming first. No two people see their brokenness the same, and the layers of hurt and interpretations are deep and intertwined and confusing.

It’s a risky business, because parties on both sides are opening themselves to being hurt again, giving one another permission to wound. You risk reputation as people who are not ready to forgive call you reckless or uncaring.

It requires humility, admitting wrongs and relinquishing the right to be right.

Frankly, it’s easier to be cynical or bitter, to believe that you are right and the other is wrong, and to live as though there are some things that the cross of Jesus Christ cannot handle this side of heaven. It’s easier to move on, pretend the hurt doesn’t matter, to not bring things up again. It’s easier to let relationships just fade away and find a way to make life work.

Reconciliation requires courage, believing the cross of Jesus Christ to be bigger than all sin, and that its power extends to the deepest and crappiest places of our hearts. It requires us to believe that as we walk in faith towards the life and forgiveness of Jesus, He will meet us’ to hope that He will show up in our places of fear; to trust that He will supply the many things that we lack.

But as we walk courageously towards one another, with Christ as our guide and anchor, God is glorified and Christ is revealed, and we have the opportunity to not just talk about the power of the cross but to live it, to experience it, and to meet Jesus in ways we never dreamed. Courage has its rewards.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Normal for Glenwood, Weird in General

On Saturday I spent a few hours outside in our neighborhood painting our fence and then taking my kids to the park with my father-in-law. The things that occurred all around me were normal things for Glenwood, and it was surreal in the way that it seemed normal to me. Across the street at a house that is home to at least one prostitute and several drug users, one guy talked on the phone to his mom, handing it off to one of the prostitutes for her to talk for a few minutes ("Hey, mom," she said, "nice to meet you over the phone.") My neighbor from across the street, who reminds me a good deal of the lead guitarist for the Muppet Band, shuffled home, and both prostitutes and addicts were coming in and out of his apartment (he talks with me a lot about all the people that have come to Christ through his preaching and healing ministry, but I am not sure that he is not addicted to crack himself). A man that I could not see yelled for about 5 minutes around the corner, hidden by the bushes, telling someone that this was "his bleepin' 'hood", and continued to drop f-bombs by the dozen, as another addict made calls on his cell phone and paced the sidewalk. My friend Ben, who makes his living by going through garbage cans and recycling the metal he finds, stopped to give Joe some vienna sausages that he dug out of the trash up the street. A young man who had been kicked out of his house for the third time in three months stopped by with the car that he had bought for $100 (not having plates for it, insurance, or a driver's license) and asked for a couple of bucks to buy a burger at McDonalds. As we walked to the park, we passed lawns that were immaculately groomed and even decked out with artificial flowers, houses that were boarded up or trashed in the front. We passed a houseful of Hispanic workers having a beer and hanging out. On our return route, we had a drug deal go down right in front of us, passed a Latino man heading to the store (as a prostitute called out to him, "Hey, Amigo!"), were asked about the tutoring program by a guy who was drinking a 40 with his buddies, and passed a houseful of college students who would later have a party that went into the wee hours of the night. As we walked up the hill to the house, I said to my father-in-law, "My neighborhood is so weird." Where else do you find all these people and contrasts? And not only is it weird, but when I think about it, it is broken and sad, and I wonder what more we could be doing, need to be doing. And in some strange way, I am thankful for this "normal."

Monday, September 10, 2007

Why We Have Tutoring

Our Glenwood Tutoring Program kicks off its 6th year today, with over 30 kids signed up and over 40 volunteers at the ready. This is something I shared last night at our volunteer orientation meeting.

Why do we do we have this tutoring program?

First off, you and I are not hear to save these kids. I was meeting with a friend and talking about" saving the Glenwood kids", and he said, “Marshall, what if God sent you to these kids so that they could save you?”

And they have. From selfishness and pride, from impatience and a hard heart, from stereotypes and racism. These kids have shown me love and Christ, and have been used in powerful ways in my life.

Tutoring is an opportunity to give and to receive.

There is a principle in science called the principle of equilibrium. It says that If a chemical system at equilibrium experiences a change in concentration, temperature, or total pressure; the equilibrium will shift in order to minimize that change. The principle is used by chemists in order to manipulate the outcomes of reversible reactions, often to increase the yield of reactions.

A practical example is that when you exercise, your body generates a high concentration of heat and energy inside. It wants equilibrium, so you sweat, releasing that heat and cooling the body until its temperature returns to 98.6 degrees.

There is a spiritual application to this as well. God has given people high concentrations of some things, that they might flow into areas of lower concentration, an opportunity to give.

I believe that our volunteers have been given a high concentration of love, of opportunity, and of education, and that our kids often have a low concentration of those things. This is an opportunity for you to bring balance, equilibrium, justice. Our kids have a high concentration of energy, potential, and smarts, and we need to channel those things so that they flow into positive, productive places, like college, like learning to volunteer and love others, like into their families.

Equilibrium also presents an opportunity to receive. Our kids also have a high concentration of struggles, from families who are poor to parents who struggle with addiction, to peer pressure that encourages them to settle for less. As you love them and spend time with them, those sufferings will flow to you, and as you receive that, God will develop in you compassion, love, patience, and humility.

Our kids have a high concentration of love to give, but there are few safe outlets for them to give it. Your presence in their lives, the trust that you build allows them to take a chance to love you, to trust you, and to let you be their friend. That is a gift, to receive their friendship and love.

Lastly, we do this because we believe that this principle of equilibrium was modeled for us by Jesus Christ. The Bible says in 2 Corinthians 8:9 For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.

God looked at each person in the world, saw us in our place of need and poverty without Him, and He came to earth as man, giving up all the glory and power that was His in heaven, lived a perfect life, died an innocent death, and was raised so that we might know God and have true life. God did not hoard His love, but gave it away freely to us. And so this program was begun as a response to that love which was given to us first.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Finally, Back to Giving

Well, you may not remember that way back in June I posted a couple of times about giving. (For review, you can check them out here and here.)

I've written several times about my struggles with consumerism. Its rampant in our culture, and I fall prey to wanting the same things that everyone else does. There seems to be very little motivation to live any differently from the rest of the culture and very few of us live counter-culturally with great joy. I know that often times when I make decisions to live with less, I think more about the sacrifice than the benefit.

But God is not bound by our culture, and He has something to say about what we do with our resources. His Word reorients us to understanding how to see our blessings appropriately, and I think that His Word is an anchor for us when everything in us tells us to take care of #1. Remembering that the Spirit leads us in joyful giving, giving throug us, let's take a quick look at a short Old Testament passage (we'll check out a New Testament passage next week).

Genesis 12:1-3 The LORD had said to Abram, "Leave your country, your people and your father's household and go to the land I will show you. 2 "I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you."

Simply put, we are blessed in order that we might be a blessing to others. There is a Hebrew word picture associated with this passage, and it is of a camel kneeling to receive a burden. The camel has no use for the spices, gold, and other goods that it is carrying, but its job is to take those things somewhere else for someone who needs them. Abraham is receiving blessing, but it is not for him. It is to bless others, to be given away, that all the nations will be blessed through him. Next up, the principle of equilibrium.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

A Post for Mommies, in honor of Diane

My wife doesn't get weekends off. The life of caring for our children, loving them and instructing them, molding us into a family, doesn't take a break between Friday and Monday. The weekend simply means that I am more readily available to help and ease the load (unless I am preoccupied with moving furniture or re-routing plumbing, as I was this weekend). And I know that for her it is easy to see her work as menial, ordinary, and having little or nothing to do with "building the Kingdom." In her head she knows that's not true, but in the midst of day-to-day "clutter control" and diaper duty, the eternal gets a bit lost in the shuffle. That is why I am so thankful for a song on the new Caedmon's Call album (Overdressed), called Sacred. The lyrics are below, and I hope that it encourages moms (and dads) out there to remember and see the holy work before us each day as we care for our kids. Diane, if you're reading, thank you for the holy work you do each day with such grace and love, even when you feel like you've lost your patience too many times or just can't pour another glass of juice. God is using you in a great and wonderful way.

"Sacred" by Caedmon’s Call

This house is a good mess, it’s the proof of life
No way would I trade jobs, but it don’t pay overtime
I’ll get to the laundry I don’t know when
I’m saying a prayer tonight cause tomorrow it starts again

Could it be that everything is sacred
And all this time
Everything I’ve dreamed of has been right before my eyes

The children are sleeping, but they’re running through my mind
The sun makes them happy, and the music makes them unwind
My cup runneth over, I worry about the stain
Teach me to run to You like they run to me for every little thing

'Cause everything is sacred And all this time
Everything I’ve dreamed of has been right before my eyes

When I forget to drink from you I can feel the banks harden
Lord make me like a stream to feed the garden

Wake up little sleeper
The Lord God Almighty
Made your mama keeper
So rise and shine, rise and shine, rise and shine

Cause everything is sacred
And all this time
Everything I’ve dreamed of has been right before my eyes