Sunday, January 08, 2006

Where does compassion lead you?

Do you ever wonder why God lets some people go through hard times? Let's bring it home: Do you ever wonder why God lets you experience difficult things in life? None of us like to go through hard times. If we liked it, we wouldn't call them "hard" times.

The good news is that God can redeem our hard times. God is all about redeeming. And the very act of His redeeming something implies that it wasn't right in the first place. It needed to be redeemed, reclaimed, made whole again. He redeems the hard times in our lives, turns our mourning into dancing, restores the years eaten by locusts. And then He expects us to turn around and participate in the redeeming process.

Have you heard the humorous story about the guy standing on his rooftop after a flood? (It sounds slightly less humorous now that that image is seared in our national conscience following Katrina.) The story goes that the man prayed to God to save him from the flood. Pretty soon, some guys in a boat come along and offer him a ride and he declines. Then a helicopter shows up and again he declines. The man drowns and, standing before God in heaven, demands to know why God didn't save him. "I sent you a boat and a helicopter," God says. "What more did you want?"

Behind the humor is a truth. God sends ordinary people--like you and me--into the lives of those in danger, those who need to be rescued, and asks us to be part of His plan for showing them redemption. In the uberevangelical world I grew up in, being part of God's plan for redemption in someone's life meant "witnessing" or "sharing the Gospel." In other words, we were here to tell others about God's ultimate redemption, the kind that involves heaven and hell. And we are here for that, don't get me wrong. But Scripture also says that if you see someone who is hungry and you give him a verbal blessing but ignore his physical issue, you've missed the point. God expects us to join Him in redeeming the ordinary, not just the supernatural.

There are two examples of this in today's print edition of The Washington Post. A front page article, "Among Evangelicals, A Kinship with Jews," caught my attention, but what really drew me in was a comment buried toward the end. The preacher featured in the article, who mobilized his congregation to help Russian Jews emigrate to Israel explained his motivation. The pivotal moment of Mooneyham's childhood came at age 7 when his parents, in the middle of a divorce, took him and his three sisters to a church parking lot in Burlington, N.C., and parceled them out to relatives for a few weeks. Those few weeks turned into years. The family never came together again. Ouch! The article then describes how he was moved to tears 45 years later watching a TV show about Russian Jews who arrived in Israel and declared themselves finally home. The pastor resonated with this, because, as he said in the article, "I know what home means."

A heart wrenching article on the front page of the Metro section, "At 'the End of the World,' Charles Residents Struggle," describes how Terawana Keys-Bowman is trying to help residents of the direly poverty-stricken town where she grew up. The article quotes her saying, "They say poverty is hard to see. Well, God dang, try living it."

Both Mooneyham and Keys-Bowman have been through hard times. God (whether either of them recognizes it or not) brought them through those times and put them both in a place where they have the ability to help others. And they are using that ability to help folks who, directly or indirectly, are in hard situations similar to the ones they themselves were once in. This is not an easy task. A friend who ministers in the inner city just sent out his monthly prayer letter and said, "Passing your life onto someone can be draining, life-giving, sad, fun, disappointing, hurtful, dangerous, risky, and a mammoth responsibility!"

But this is what we're called to do. This is what you're called to do, if you're someone who can call yourself one of the redeemed. The redemption of your soul and life has more purpose than making you happy, satisfied, and generally at peace with the world, despite the promises of the televangelists and their holy prayer rugs. The redemption of your soul and life is a sacred call to grab a cross and start being a redeeming force in the broken, torn, hurting lives of the people around you. This is what Paul was saying in 2 Corinthians 1:3-4, when he wrote, "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God."

Each of us has received a different comfort from God for a different trouble, so your call to participate in redemption may look vastly different from my call. But don't miss the call. Look at your life and try to see where God is using you to be part of the redeeming process in someone else's life. And if you can't see it, start looking around to see who and what you're missing. Let your compassion lead you.

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