Yesterday morning was slow, but I was slammed in the afternoon.
The cities of refuge have to be one of the most intriguing things to me in the Old Testament. God commanded his people as they were establishing themselves in the promised land by tribe to each have a city of refuge outside the parameters of the city. These cities were to be a place for people who had killed another to escape. It was not a place to go be innocent and free of guilt. It was a place of protection. Why protect the murderer? These places were for them to escape those who avenge the victims. It was God's justice. Wait, what?
God knows our revenge is always more emblazened and severe. God protects from unequal severity of revenge. The murderer, though in refuge, remains under judgement for his wrong. That is until the acting priest dies. (ps, another interesting reality is that the cities of refuge were always maintained by the priestly tribe. The mission of the cities of refuge should be the mission of pastors, ministers, and followers of Jesus.) Like us, they were under judgement until our High Priest died to free us from under the burden of judgement.
Yesterday, I was contacted by a ministry to my neighborhood (Oak Park/Tahoe Park). The ministry is called, City of Refuge Sacramento. While it is not a hiding place for murders, it is a place to reach into a community to which high crime and poverty is attributed. It is a ministry which attempts to infiltrate in community to make efforts toward this freedom out from under the burden of the judgement.
[vimeo http://www.vimeo.com/58339643 w=500&h=281]
I need constant reminders of God's upside-down kingdom. Even I, a selfish man, oddly enjoy being reminded of God's kingdom, which strengthens the stumbler and breaks down the warrior. There is still a weaker side of me, which is relieved to know a God who lifts the poor and needy from the ash heap and hurls them into TBN-like chairs of gold like princes. Being reminded of that kind of kingdom with God's kind of justice makes me want to be needy. Because God sends poverty and wealth . He humbles and exalts. But he exalts the poor and humbles and breaks the wealthy and self-righteous.
God's kingdom lifts up the poor and breaks down the wealthy and self-righteous. I can only pray that God may break me down where needed, that I may be poor and lifted up some day.
1 Samuel 2:4-5, 7, 9
"The bows of the warriors are broken, but those who stumbled are armed with strength. Those who were full hire themselves out for food, but those who were hungry hunger no more. The Lord sends poverty and wealth; he humbles and he exalts. He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap; he seats them with princes and has them inherit a throne of honor.
It is not by strength that one prevails.
Reading in Mark brings me across 1:40-45, his account of the man with leprosy. Just before this passage, Jesus told his disciples they were going to move on to the next city--so Jesus could preach there also. This is where they encounter the leper, which makes perfect sense because that was where lepers belonged. They were banished because they were ceremonially and societally UNCLEAN.
This man comes to Jesus begging to be healed of the leprosy, and Jesus brings him so much more. Yes, Jesus takes away the leprosy because his compassionate healing heart was willing to do so (1:41). But then the last phrase of that verse is the greatest part to me today. Jesus says to the man, "I am willing. BE CLEAN!" This had to be some of the greatest news to this man. This shows Jesus' ability to heal more than the physical ailment.
For, who knows how many years, this man had to go among the streets of the town screaming, "UNCLEAN! UNCLEAN!" Though leprosy was not something this man chose out of his own free will, he was still seen as ceremonially and societally unclean. The shame he must have felt as an outcast is more than I can really imagine.
But Jesus did not only heal the disease, but he says to the man, "BE CLEAN!" SO to say, "Now go into the town, and know that you are NOT unclean. You are clean. You are to be known as clean. You are not an outcast! You are ceremonially and societally CLEAN!"
I cannot imagine the freedom this man must have felt to know he was no longer unclean. Yes, he was miraculously healed of leprosy, but this man has now been told that after so many years, he is NOW acceptable, valuable and approachable. He is no longer UNCLEAN.
I also see a lot of people who are ceremonially and societally unclean, and I know that homelessness is not contagious; nor is poverty, drug addiction, prostitution, divorce, jail time, and sin. I know these things are not contagious, but I have seen many of these people made to be ceremonially and societally UNCLEAN! I cannot imagine the freedom God would bring to these people through healing of their ailments and situations. But my heart aches more at the fact that these people are falsely determined and branded UNCLEAN! I believe Jesus would walk among these people, yes, healing their ailments, but not only that. I think Jesus would go beyond that to say, "I am willing. BE CLEAN!!"
Now the question is: Will I be the only reflection of Jesus these people may ever know?
1 Corinthians 9, verse 22 says: "To the weak I become weak, so that I might win the weak."
One reason I struggle so much to reach out to the hurting, broken, and weak around me is because I have not rightfully understood this passage. In attempts to reach out to the poor and weak, I commonly end up taking the stance: "Let me be strong for you. Let me reach out to you and be strong in your weakness. Let me be put-together where you are broken." This is how I have thought it should be for so long.
The problem with that approach, of course, is putting myself in God's role. God's role is to be strong in my weakness and put-together in my brokenness.
My job is to be weak to the weak and broken to the broken. This is how I am to reach the weak and broken.
It is not my job to be God. It is my job to be weak to the weak and broken to the broken and allow God to be strong where we are weak and put-together where we are broken.
I am guest blogging at whereamiwearing.com
Undergrad Graduation Day
Many pastors and ministers to be are thrilled to "go unto the world and preach the gospel". Chalk full of theology, exegesis, and confidence, and we are ready to reach the world for Jesus Christ.
Year Following Graduation
Work the backroom at American Eagle or make lattes for Starbucks while you apply for grad school or seminary.
Graduate School/Seminary Graduation
The joke that theologians are just people answering questions nobody is asking is not funny. More and more confidence abounds to will-be-pastors and ministers.
I was ready and prepared to do ministry now. I am pretty solid on where I stand doctrinally, theologically, and most importantly, I know where I fall on the T.U.L.I.P. scale.
First Month of Pastoral Ministry
I have no idea what to tell a student who comes to me fearing she may have contracted AIDS while doing missions work in Africa.
Where was THAT class?
Second Month of Pastoral Ministry
Random jibberish terms like: ministry budget, proposed budget, faith budget, overdrawn, fleeting resources, income not meeting spending, church mortgage, pay roll, etc.
"It was my understanding there would be no math."
Third Month of Pastoral Ministry
A call is made of an elderly man in the ICU who is not expected to live through the weekend. All he wants is to speak to a pastor.
You're a pastor! Your nicely framed diploma says so.
It turns out a man who has owned more cars than years you've been alive does not want to hear much from a young ministry graduate as he's preparing to meet Jesus face to face.
He asks nothing about total depravity. Too bad, I was prepared for that question.
Fourth Month of Pastoral Ministry
Another homeless addict has made his way through the doors wanting to speak to a pastor. Maybe he's in dire need! Maybe he's manipulating you for things he does not need that you do not have.
I don't remember learning about this anywhere.
Fifth Month of Pastoral Ministry
The congregation is already a bit upset with changes you have made when God continues to inspire you to new things. One person wants to talk about it WITH YOU (if you're lucky).
And it is not conflict about whether baptism should be sprinkle or immersion.
Conflict = YOU! You are the problem...always!
Where was my class about that?
Sixth Month of Pastoral Ministry
Start to wonder if your pastoral ministry degree and classes really gave you everything needed to be a pastor.
"If we had possessions we should need arms for their defense. They are the source of quarrels and lawsuits, and are usually a great obstacle to the love of God." - Francis of Assisi There is a strong connection between property and peacemaking. Most every action of violence or aggression is prompted by some form of property for which there is either a debate for who deserves possession OR someone has attempted to steal possession from the rightful owner.
For this reason, we have to always protect the things that belong to us. The more possessions we have or the more a particular possession costs, the more aggressive our defense of that item has to be. Instead of a focused attention on defending the poor and widowed that God calls us to defend, we have wasted our soul's energy defending the property and possessions we have acquired.
The more things we have, the less peaceful our hearts can be. With more possessions comes more defense, more protection. With more things comes more quarrels.