Tuesday, July 26, 2016

A culture of beggars

A few years back, there was a small movement in christian circles that had people wearing bracelets that said "WWJD" for "What would Jesus do?" It was geared toward works of service for others, ways to treat others, etc. As I draw closer to Jesus, I find myself not asking Him WHAT He would do; I KNOW what He would do (He would love unconditionally. Period.)  Instead, more and more I ask Him HOW He would do something - and I look to scripture whenever I can to give me guidance on things ... things (and especially religious traditions) that for years I just accepted as the way things were done.

Recently, I have noticed that the way we pray for people is not the way He prayed for them, and the way we deal with the sick is most definitely not the way He did.  In case I was mistaken and the idea came up that "Well, that was Jesus. Of course! He had the authority to do that as God the Son!" ... I looked at what He authorized us (as His disciples) to do on His behalf. What I saw shocked me.

Before I share that with you, let me share what I see happening in the church when someone gets sick ... especially very sick.  People start to pray. But they don't pray the way the disciples did.  Here's what I hear typically when Western christians pray for someone who has any kind of need (minus all the "oh Jesus"es, and the endlessly repeated words like "God" and "Father" - He knows Who He is...):

"Would You just touch his body and heal it?"
"Just wrap Your arms around that family (that person) and bless them..."
"Have Your will in their lives, just hold them close..."
"Just pulverize that sickness."
"Just be with the doctors as they operate, just guide their hands..."

Did you catch the word "just"?  Do you know what that is?  It is a beggar's word.  "If you could give me a quarter. Just a quarter. It's not much, it's all I'm asking for."  It conveys the message that the person you are asking is not generous, not compassionate, that you have to work hard to wring even that much from them.


Now let's look at what Jesus did and HOW He did it.  We know that He healed people.  But HOW?  

Jesus didn't pray to the Father for people to be healed.  He did it Himself, and in a very specific way.  He spoke - not to the person, but - to the sickness. The sickness was invading that person's body (or spirit) and He told it to get out.  Plain and simple.  And it left. No ifs, ands or buts.

Now before you raise your objections, (because I had the same ones!) let me remind you that Jesus divested Himself of His divine powers when He became human.  He only operated in His ministry by the power of the Holy Spirit, and in doing so, He demonstrated that any other human being on the planet can do it too.  And then (get this) He explicitly authorized His disciples to do the same.  Look at Matthew 10:8, which is near the beginning of Jesus' instructions to the disciples to go out and preach the good news to the towns and villages surrounding them.  "Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons; freely you have received, freely give."  

Photo "Boy Patient In Hospital"
courtesy of Sura Nualpradid at
He didn't say, "Pray for the sick to be healed, pray for the dead to be raised..." and so forth.  He said, "Do it."  He implied that they had the authority to do it (in His name.) And so they did.  They had every authority over sickness, leprosy, demon-possession and death that Jesus had as a human being filled with the Spirit.  He gave the same authority to the seventy whom He sent out two by two.  And on the day of Pentecost, He ensured that the same dynamite power - the Holy Spirit - who was in Him, now could inhabit and control us the same way He did for Jesus ... with the same results! 

What the western church tells us is that we are so unworthy, such worms, that we don't have the right to raise our eyes to Heaven.  We need to smash that idol of self-hatred and unworthiness that we have fashioned in the name of spirituality and humility. It is NEITHER.  And we christians have forgotten our heritage as sons and daughters of the most high God.  We aren't to use that heritage to selfishly amass fortunes for ourselves, but rather to stand - loved, freed, and holy in His sight - to stand on behalf of those who are laid aside through sickness, oppression, and yes, even death. We are authorized to speak to that problem - directly TO it - and know that it will go because He has authorized us to be His voice, to be His hands extended. 

Look through the gospels. Look in the book of Acts.  It is there, over and over again.  Speak to the problem.  Command the sickness to go.  

And before you cite the case of the demoniac child whose father cried, "I believe! help my unbelief!" where Jesus said, "This kind does not come out except by prayer and fasting..."  Think.... had Jesus just been fasting?  Did He pray to God right there for a half-hour or two hours and ask for God to cast out the demon?  NO.  It's clear that by this He meant a lifestyle of prayer (that is, communion with God in intimacy) highlighted by fasting - which is meant to focus the person on pressing in to God, not to get something out of Him but to feel closer TO Him.  

It is time for us as believers to put the big C back into the word Christian. To remember that "as He is, so are we in this world." (1 Jn. 4:17).  We need to realize just how deeply, just how intensely and unconditionally He loves us, to shed our dragon-skin of religious self-demeaning ritual, and that beggar's mentality that dares not ask for more than scraps. We need to rid ourselves of the "oh please please please please please" - endless repetitions that essentially say that we don't believe that God is good.  Or that He loves us unconditionally. Let's rise up to our heritage and to our calling as believers.  Let's go about doing good.  Let's change our culture for the better ... not only for our own good but for the good of the people who so desperately need GOOD news.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Straight trade

I trudged up the hill, towing my two suitcases, with my computer bag balanced precariously across the slide-out carrying handle of the largest bag, and my purse slung over my head and down my right side.  Every 20 to 30 feet I would stop, winded by the hill, the extra weight, and the altitude - 3500 feet above sea level doesn't sound like much unless you're from sea level - I could feel myself perspiring heavily. My hair stuck to my face. Fortunately ... it wasn't raining. 

Someone had given me these directions and I was following them to the best of my ability. I hadn't reached the top of the hill when I saw a man carrying a blue, lightweight tote on the other side of the road, going in the opposite direction. I was puffing and panting by this point. All sense of dignity had been lost. I was in refugee mode - quite literally - fleeing a situation of my own making which had gotten wildly out of control. 

The man slowed down. He stopped. "Could you use a hand?" he called to me. 

 My pride was nil.  "Wow! I sure could!" I stopped and rested my bags on their wheels on the concrete sidewalk.

He came over and asked me where I was going. "Student Residence B" I said, indicating my first stop: residence services where I would get my key.  He took the heaviest bag with the computer bag resting on it.  Then he gave me his tote bag - it literally weighed only a few ounces. I hitched up my purse and reached for my wheeled duffle bag. "No, you've carried that long enough," he said. "I'll carry your bags and you carry mine. Let's enjoy the rest of this walk."

I was so flustered and grateful that I knew that if I wasn't so exhausted I would have cried... I just didn't have the energy; it had been a tumultuous week.  Meekly I let him carry my load - some good thirty-five pounds worth of it - while I walked easily beside him.

He made conversation, asked me where I was from and when I told him, he said that he had lived there for 20 years and started a company there.  I had heard of the company!  He asked about my family (this happens all the time where I live, it's called "who's your father?") and it turned out that he knew of some people who were related to my husband.

When we got to the destination, he opened the doors for me and set my luggage back down on the floor, and asked for his tote back.  We parted ways and I thanked him once again for having compassion on me.  And after he was gone,  I thanked God for the kind detour this man took because he saw I was in distress. (By the time I got to my residence, I was beet red in the face from exertion.) 

That was the first of many kindnesses I was shown that day. A kind cabbie who took my bags, another who helped me with my groceries and gave me a discount because he got lost and I didn't have the precise address, etc.,  but the thing that sticks out for me is this man who traded his light package for all of mine.  He did so, in order that I might enjoy the walk.

Photo "Loving Father And His Baby" by
David Castillo Dominici at
I could not help but draw parallels between that experience and the invitation of Jesus: "Come to Me, all you who labour and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke (my helping, my partnering with you) upon you, and learn from me, for I am meek and lowly, and you shall find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." (Matthew 11: 28 - 30)

Can it be that simple? giving Him our burden in exchange for His? Apparently so.  He can understand the most anguished cry, the smallest whimper, the silent pleading, tears in the dark, everything. And He invites us to trade that load for His, which is easy, because it doesn't burden people with shoulds and rules; His load is simply love. He invites us to come to Him and - if we need to - fall apart in His arms; He will hold us. He already took all that hurt away anyway.  Let's let ourselves be loved. It's okay. It is really okay.