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Sesame Street vs. The Church

I read this headline on Yahoo News yesterday, “New ‘Sesame Street’ Muppet for special on hunger.”  I was intrigued, so I checked it out.  Here is the heart of the story:

Lily is a 7-year-old who talks to viewers about insecurity over whether her family will have enough to eat. The puppet goes to a pantry for food and also volunteers there.

I think this is actually pretty awesome.  God has given me a heart for those less fortunate, and in the last year he has really set that heart on fire for the needy.  It started when I read the book Radical by David Platt, and the flames exploded when I read The Hole in Our Gospel by Richard Sterns (the president of WorldVision).  A God keeps fanning the flames as I read through the Bible (it is an overwhelming theme).  A kids show to help them understand what some people go through on a regular basis is a really good thing.

However, the more I thought about this the more something started to bother me.  Why is Sesame Street doing a better job of inspiring compassion than the church?

I know, I know.  Sesame Street has been trying to help students learn about life for a long time.  And I know, the Church has been reaching out to the poor since the beginning.  I agree to these sentiments.  But…

I do believe that the Church has dropped the ball.  If we are living out what the Bible (both Old and New Testaments…but especially the words of Jesus himself in the New), then we should own this issue.  The Church should be looked to as the heart of compassion for the poor and needy, not Elmo, Big Bird, and Oscar the Grouch.

I know some churches are the exception to what I am saying, and I would hold mine out as one of those kind of churches.  At the same time, I can’t remember the last sermon/teaching I heard on giving to the poor.  When was the last time I was reminded that God’s focus has always been bent towards giving mercy to those who need it?  Sure, we have our programs that urge us to reach out to others.  We can bring money, school supplies, and shoeboxes full of Christmas…but when have I been last asked to leverage something in my life for the sake of the poor, hungry, orphans, widows, and prisoners?

What are our children learning about God’s heart for the needy?  They are learning the Bible.  Which is awesome.  They are learning worship songs.  That is great.  But what are they learning about giving up things that they might like in order to sacrafice for the needy?

I think the Church may have dropped the ball a bit on this one, and a bunch of puppets have picked it up and are running with it.

I realize that I may have a bit of extreme bent and I am talking a bit tongue-in-cheek, but there are some serious things to consider here.

  • Are we really living out God’s heart for mercy to the poor as the universal group of believers…and I am talking all of us, not small pockets and groups?
  • Does the world look to the Church as the center of compassion and generousity?
  • Are we leveraging anything in our lives for the sake of the poor and needy (both here and throughout the world)?
  • Do we make daily decisions in my day-to-day life that affect the lives of anyone else in need?
  • Do we teach our children the art of sacrafice for the sake of others?

I have to defer to Jesus himself here.  The parable of the sheep and goats is often referred in these types of discussions, and rightly so.  So I am going to go there.  I am not going to quote the whole passage here, but go check out Matthew 25:31-46 really quick and come back.

You back?

Jesus is obviously talking about the final judgment.  It is when he will come back and pretty much separate people based on if they are going to Heaven or Hell.  And what is his standard?  “For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.”  Those on the “good side” asked when they did this, and Jesus said it is when they did these things for people in these circumstances.

What did Jesus hold against those not joining him in Paradise?  Was it lust?  Was it gluttony?  Was it hatred?  Homosexuality?  Even murder?  No.  It was how they treated the “least of these.”

Then the King will turn to those on the left and say, ‘Away with you, you cursed ones, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his demons.  For I was hungry, and you didn’t feed me. I was thirsty, and you didn’t give me a drink.  I was a stranger, and you didn’t invite me into your home. I was naked, and you didn’t give me clothing. I was sick and in prison, and you didn’t visit me.’

Am I proposing that we get into Heaven by works?  No, of course not!  It is quite clear from the rest of the New Testament that it is by faith alone that we are saved and allowed to live in the presence of God.  It is faith in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  However, our faith (and the Spirit living in us because of our faith) will show itself by what we do.  It will show by where we spend our time.  Where we spend our money.  Where our heart is.  In James 2:26 it is quite clear, “Just as the body is dead without breath, so also faith is dead without good works.”

I could go on, but I won’t.  I think you catch what I am throwing at you.  But where does that leave us?  Where does this leave me?

There is a song by a band called Shaded Red.  They have a song called “Revolution” that has a lyric singing to me as I write about this, “There is a revolution, it starts with me and ends at the back of the church.”  I am going to have to close this by just dealing with me.  You can deal with you.  And then we can all deal with each other.

I can only quiz myself and do some reflection.  What does my faith show?  What are my works showing?  Is my heart the same as God’s for the poor, widows, orphans, and prisoners?  Do I leverage anything for the sake of the needy?  Do I sacrafice anything in my daily life for the causes that hold people down?  Do I teach my son to live a life of sacrafice for others?  How will I do when I stand before Jesus and he is separating people?  Am I a sheep or a goat?

Now what about you?  How are you doing?  Are you a sheep or a goat?  Are you teaching your children about sacrafice for the sake of the needy?

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The Christian F-Bomb: Forgiveness Challenge

This morning I stumbled upon this blog post about the Christian F-bomb. As I read this 140-word (or less) blog, two things occured to me. One is that I should probably try to do quick blog posts like this from time to time. More importantly though, is thing two: I did not come upon this blog by chance, I was probably going to need to forgive someone today and not want to.

What this spurred me to do was to pray this morning that I would be challenged to forgive. I actually prayed that I would need to forgive. What I prayed was, “Please give me opportunities to have to forgive today…and make it hurt, make me have to trust you to forgive.” I have no idea what made me pray for that!

When I got to school I was greeted by the power being out! It was out for about an hour, and craziness filled this time. I was expecting to have to forgive people (which I did…I am a teacher…we have to be forgiving), but what I found that I needed most was a forgiving attitude.

Forgiveness as an attitude changes your perspective on things. You are not rushed. You listen more. You talk less. You serve others more genuinely. Basically, you love more.

The challenge was just that. A challenge. I had to trust the Spirit to help me to be forgiving. It changed the way I approached others all day. I trusted God. Just like I should.

Will you take the challenge?  Will you pray tomorrow to have to be in situations to forgive?  Will you pray and ask the Spirit to help you to have a forgiving attitude?

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Something Better Than 5 Hour Energy

I am tired. Very tired. So tired that I can’t believe my eyes are still open.

Last night I stayed up late working on a video for my students (I am a middle school teacher). Did I have to do this? No and yes. I did not have to make this video. However, I felt like it was something that my students needed to help them understand what I am teaching, and therefore I needed to do this.

I am a perfectionist, of sorts, when I do projects like this. This fact, coupled with a slow computer that kept crashing the editing, kept me up to WAY past my bedtime. I was able to talk LA into getting ready first, and this let me get a whopping 4 hours of sleep (I need at least six to feel functional and 7-8 to feel rested). So, like I said, I am tired.

Usually, given these type of circumstances, I would turn to the help of an energy shot like 5 Hour Energy, or the like. For those that are skeptical, they do work. You have non-jittery energy for about five hours with no crash at the end. When it is over, you feel tired like when you started, but no crash. At least this is the experience for me. I do wonder about the side effects. This stuff is too good to be true. I keep waiting for a study to link it to something bad. That is why I try to use it sparingly.

Today I did not have time to buy any. So I have spent the day on the rest that comes from four hours of sleep. And you know what? To quote REM (rest in peace…they announced their break-up today), “I feel fine.” Though, I did barely get through our faculty meeting after school.

As we were driving to get NB from daycare, my wife and I were talking about this. The thought came to me that the times that I stay up late or use my energy in serving others, somehow I have just enough energy for the next day though I shouldn’t. I thought of several other times when I had the same experience.

The Spirit started to speak to me with the idea that this is the way it is supposed to be. We are supposed to pour ourselves out in service of others, doing what we know is right, and then rely on God through the Spirit to give us strength to keep going. We are supposed to offer ourselves up for the cause of others and wear oursleves out for them. This, in turn, should turn us to the Spirit in trust that he will give us the energy that we need for our daily lives.

As I have been reading through the Bible, it has become very clear that one of God’s main “deals” is service to others and justice for others. Doing what is right and fair for the sake of others. It is talked about constantly in both the Old and New Testaments, and it is exemplified in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Becuase Christ died, was raised, and went to live at the right hand of God the Father, the Spirit was poured out on us. As we pour our lives out for others, the Spirit sustains us. He fills us back up. Once we our full, we can pour ourselves out again and start the cycle over.

Paul said it best in Philippians 2, in verses 14-18.  He was talking about how there should be joy in the fact that we are wearing ourselves out in service to others. We shouldn’t complain about it. There is joy in this that comes from the Spirit (I added this part, but it where we get our joy). He said that even though he could die, he doesn’t think it is in vain because it was in the service to others (the Philippians and other churches like theirs). The “drink offering” is a referance to the Old Testament laws that governed Temple worship. Wine was poured out as a offering of worship to God. And this is what we do now. We pour ourselves out as a drink offering…we pour our lives out in service to others.

Being refilled by the Spirit, getting my strength and energy today from him, is WAY better than a 5 Hour Energy! I am tired, but I feel great. I will get some sleep tonight, and then pour myself out again from my students and coworkers tomorrow! I can’t wait!

What about you?  Do you know what I am talking about when I talk about getting strength and energy from the Spirit?  Do you pour yourself out for others?  How?  Do you feel energized by this because you know you are pouring yourself out in worship of Jesus, who poured himself out for us?

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September 12th

This picture is permenantly burned in my memories from 10 years ago.  I am not sure if the flag was raised on 9/12 or not, but this is the image I think about when I think about the day after the 11th.  I believe this is even more powerful to me now than it was then.  There is just something about the flag being raised over the wreckage by some of the men who were there when the buildings fell.  This was a message.  It said to those who planned the attacks, “We are still here.”

After NB went to bed last night, my wife and I watched a special about 9/11 on CBS.  It was called, 9/11 Ten Years Later.  It was amazing.  It really was.  It was pieced together from the footage from two brothers who were filming a documentary about a rookie firefighter along with the interviews in the time since.  It was almost unbelievable that there just happened to be these two guys filiming these guys at the very moment the first plane crashed…and they were only a couple of blocks away from the World Trade Center!

The firefighters were some of the first to the scene, and their chief was the first chief there and he allowed the filming brother with him to come into the building.  It was surreal to see this footage from inside Building One.  You are walked through the events from the perspective of the crew from this one firehouse.  Everything was filmed.  You feel like you are there when the buildings fell, because the camera was rolling.

It was a little hard to relive everything from that day, but I am so glad we watched until the end.  What stood out most to me was what happened following the buildings collapsing.

The firemen from the house were separated in the confusion running from Building One and it coming down.  The brother that was not at the WTC was at the firehouse.  He filmed everyone as they came back.  One by one they all returned, even the rookie who did not get back for six hours.  Everyone got back.  They were happy, but they took it hard as well.  They were one of the only firehouses that did not lose one person.  In a lot of ways, they felt guilty.  They were still here, while so many of their brother firefighters were not.

I was not ready for what came next.

After going home for a few hours, all of them came back to ground zero.  They felt like it was their duty to go and start digging and looking for people in the rubble.  They were still here, and they owed it to those who weren’t to go look for them.  Hundreds of firefighters, and others, came and dug.  They were on 24 hour shifts.  The first shift ended and they only found one person alive, but they came back again to look for more.

There was more to the show, but this is where I want to rest.  How beautiful is that thought in the middle of the tragedy.  They were still here, and they owed it to those that were not to risk their own lives to go looking.  In a lot of ways, the firefighters in the documentary should have died.  Most of them literally made it out of the building only minutes and seconds before it fell.  They survived though the odds said they shouldn’t have.  Instead of resting in that, though, they put themselves back into danger to look for others who were dying.

Isn’t this the story of how life should be?  Isn’t this how Christians should view life?

We were dying in our sins.  We were helpless from saving ourselves.  The world was crashing around us and we should have been caught up in the debris, but we weren’t.  Someone took our place.  Someone died in our place.  Jesus died the death we destined for.  The building fell on him, not us.  We were saved.  We are still here.  We are still here.

What is our response?  Do we rest in the fact that we are alive?  Or do we put this new life on the line to go search the wreckage of the world?  Do we risk our safety to dig and offer life to those who are helpless, just as we were?  Are we even trying?  Or are we taking our life for granted?  We are still here…but what are we doing about it?

I don’t know.  This really spoke to me.  I have lived most of my Christian life taking my “survival” for granted.  That is changing.  I am starting to see we need to leverage what we have for others.  To help them see that they can be saved from the wreckage.  To offer life.  It does not mean just sharing the gospel when the situation comes up, but it means loving other people.  It means serving other people.  It means giving up comfort and safety to try to make a difference in other people’s lives.  I am still here.  I want to spend my life making sure other people have the chance to say the same thing.

What about you?  What do you think?  Are you still here?  What are you doing about the others who aren’t?

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September 10th

Over the last week, there have been a lot of retrospectives on the ten years since 9/11.  I know for all of us, that date has forever changed.  It is now synonymous with the tragedy that happened.  Even ten years later, it is hard for me to think about what happened.  I watched a video timeline this morning, and I couldn’t help but cry at the end.  All of those people who died.  Their families.  The sadness.  The grief.  It is all still so real to me.  For me, though, 9/11 is not the only anniversary that I think about this time of year.

The events of 9/11 have given my heart a timeline that affects me now.  This year, God is starting to teach me through it.  There are three dates: 9/10, 9/11, and 9/12.  Each one has specific feelings for me.  And today being 9/10, I would like to reflect briefly on that day.

Looking back, 9/10 now represents innocence to me.  My life changed so much on the day after the 10th, there is now a “simpler time” nostagia about it.  I don’t remember the 10th.  I don’t know what that day was like.  However, in my mind, it looks a lot like the sunny morning of the 11th that we see when we see footage right before the first plane crash.

On 9/10, I was not as paranoid.  I was a little paranoid because that is my personality, but it was not a global paranoia.  I wasn’t worried about how our government handled security.  I was not apprehensive about people and other countries’ thoughts about America.  I was not waiting for the next “shoe to drop.”  It is a sunny day in my mind, with no clouds in sight.

I was not as willing to give up some of my freedom for security.  I was more trusting.  I was less into watching the news.  I feel like I think older generations are when they talk about the “good old days.”  The world just didn’t seem as grim.  The weight of the world is more on my shoulders now because I have an ingrained worry about what could happen.

I don’t know how to explain it better.  9/10 is just a time of deep reflection for me.  I felt safe that day.  Safe because I felt like our country was invincible.  Bad things happened elsewhere.  Not here.  Not in America.

This year, God is making me think about him in this time of reflection.  Where is my security?  What do I trust in?  What do I hope in?

I am not going to get into the whole why-would-God-let-this-happen thing.   But, God is in control.  No matter what happens, God is who we can trust in.  Bad things will happen.  Big things (like 9/11) or small things (losing my keys).  The key is, where is my hope and trust when these things happen?

The weight of the world is not ours to carry.  It isn’t.  God is the sustainer of the world.  My hope is only in Jesus.  Jesus died for my sins to make me right with God.  The proof is in the resurrection.  Jesus coming back from the dead is what tells me that his sacrafice was accepted and complete (see Action Hero Jesus).  I am right with God, no matter what happens.  This is what frees me up to not bear the weight of planet Earth.  What does this mean?  It means I am free to love.  I am free to serve others.  I am free to let go of my daily schedule to connect with others.  I am free to be Jesus’ hands and feet in the world, especialy during a time of tragedy.

Though I might not be secure in this world, I am secure in the next.  I can rest in that.  I can have a 9/10 spiritual life.  And this 9/10 relationship to God allows me to love people through tragedies that happen every day in a 9/11 world.

I don’t know if this made sense or not.  Just trying to articulate how I have been feeling this week, especially today.  What do you think?  How do you feel when you think about 9/10?  Do you have a sense of spiritual security that lets you love and serve other people without the weight of the world on your shoulders?

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