vivian

‘JESUS!’

What would happen if you screamed the name of our sovereign God at the top of your lungs in your street? Would it be met with equally loud yells to keep it to yourself? Perhaps everyone would just ignore the weird Jesus freak on the street? I know some of us have neighbors who would echo the sentiment of screaming our Savior’s name at the top of our lungs with pure joy. In Haiti, most likely, someone would yell it back, start singing a worship song, pray or yell ‘Amen!’ In Russia, you would get weird looks, but not because someone disagrees, more due to the fact your relationship with Jesus is private and not for everyone to see. However, for many places in the world it would be outright dangerous to yell the name of Jesus in a public place.

Her name was Vivian, and for whatever reason, God brought her to mind this morning in church. We were worshipping and her named popped into my head, soon followed by images of my time sitting in a concrete dorm room in China with her. I had no idea why she was brought to mind, but any confusion about random thoughts was put to rest once the sermon started with 2 Corinthians 1:3-7 where I had written next to it, “Chinese Christian we cannot see…Vivian. 7-29-01”

What are the odds, right? I don’t believe in odds. I believe in a God who serves as a connector among all his people, and for whatever the God reason, I am deep in prayer for her and those like her around the world today.

I met Vivian July 29, 2001 while in China for the summer on a cultural exchange at Ningxia University. I had mistakenly used a toothbrush in the sink water and was down and out for a solid couple of days. [Haiti trip goers will identify this as why I am now hyper crazy about using ‘clean’ water for everything.] I’d gone to cultural classes in the morning and just couldn’t do it quite yet, and had gone back to my dorm room.

Then a knock came on the door.

I’d assumed it was another American checking on me, but instead this beautiful, sweet Chinese face peaked through the door. ‘Can I help you?’ I asked.

‘I am looking for the American Christians,’ she replied softly, almost in a whisper.

My world slowed to a stop in that moment of awe as a Chinese believer stood in front of me. It could have been a trap to get me in trouble for evangelizing or legitimately be a believer looking for another believer. When we’d arrived in China we’d been told any conversation about Jesus that was not invited by a question could get us into trouble with the government. It was drilled into our heads. Live and act out your faith, but don’t use words until you are asked for them. Honestly, I was relieved this was how we were expected to live among the Chinese students. I was a young believer and terrified of saying something wrong or turning someone away from Jesus because I didn’t have the relationship with them to speak into their life.

Factoring all that in a mere split second, I took the leap, and off Vivian and I went into a conversation about Jesus. She had heard there were American believers on campus and wanted to meet them. She wanted to pray with them. She sought encouragement. She wanted to take hope from the freedom we had to believe in Jesus where we came from. She wanted to feel connected in a tangible way to the American church that was not constricted to house churches or by a government that wanted to control beliefs. She wanted to meet those that live in constant security that whatever you chose to believe you would not be punished for by anyone.

God put me in the time and place to be that connection. We prayed together. Broken English, Mandarin and English blended together all in praise and petition of the one who knows. She left with plans to meet at the night market later and I would bring some friends.

I was exuberant…and I was naïve.

I was an American with no clue what repercussions could come on this sweet, young Chinese believer trying to find her place in God’s Kingdom. I had no idea the risks she took simply opening my door to ask for the ‘American believers.’ I had never known a place that believing in the sovereignty of God would put me in danger.

Our university representative heard about what had happened and approached our American staff. It wasn’t safe, for her or us. It could not happen, and we were not allowed to go to the night market that night.

I never saw Vivian again, but as today can attest…it doesn’t take a lot of time for someone to make a mark on your life. Vivian’s bravery, and thirst for the connection to believers who lived in a place where they were free to shout ‘Jesus!’ from the rooftops was contagious and inspiring.

‘All praise to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. He is the source of every mercy and the God who comforts us. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When others are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us. You can be sure that the more we suffer for Christ, the more God will shower us with his comfort through Christ. So when we are weighed down with troubles, it is for your benefit and salvation! For when God comforts us, it is so that we, in turn, can be an encouragement to you. Then you can patiently endure the same things we suffer. We are confident that as you share in suffering, you will also share God’s comfort.’ [2 Corinthians 1:3-7]

As you journey through wherever God has placed you today, remember that the Gospel is a gift to you and intended for those around you. It is truth. It is life. It is the hope of restoration of all things new. It carries freedom no matter who you are or where you chose to believe in him. It is not to be kept to yourself, and horded for simply one moment…it is meant for many moments. The beauty of the Gospel and a Savior who loves you enough to sacrifice himself is intended for you to demonstrate daily. As believers, separating ourselves from that truth separates us from the heart of God. Sink into that truth today, and allow yourself to acknowledge the majority of believers in the world are demonstrating that truth in places that will get them thrown into jail or sacrificed. That the majority of believers in the world are sacrificing everything when they chose to claim Jesus as their own.

When we live within an easy, friendly Gospel we are not projecting the truth of that Gospel. When we present God as tame, where is the God who fights against the injustices in the world? Where is the God who died on a cross for the sins of ALL of us? Where is the God that fervently, relentlessly pursues us with unstoppable love? Where is the God that tossed the tables in the temple with every aspect of righteous anger he had?

As a good friend reminded me recently, God is not a tame lion. Here’s to finding the risk in our belief of the God who calls us to love deeper as I am burdened to pray for those that choose to believe in places it will cost them everything.

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contagious

I made it until I was about 11 until I had chicken pox. Itchy, splotchy and nasty. I contracted it through my extremely contagious little brother, who conveniently had it at a young age since he is 9 years younger than me. Thanks, bro. (sarcasm intended)

We learn about contagious things from our childhood. Wash your hands. Use sanitizer. Don’t cough on me. Don’t wipe that there. Don’t touch that. No, you can’t share my drink…I don’t want to catch what you have!

With all of those negative commands about things that are contagious, and the order to stay away from them, what happens when we want someone to catch what we have? When we want our passion to be contagious for a mission? A ministry? A country? For our Savior…

It’s no secret that I am a Paul junkie…if I’d lived in Bible times, there’s no doubt I would have been one of his groupies. Of course, only after I got over the fact he wasn’t killing Christians anymore. But you see, that’s the story. The contagious part. He was a transformed man on that road to Damascus, and his words came out of that transformation.

Then they couldn’t get him to shut up.

Saul spent a few days getting acquainted with the Damascus disciples, but then went right to work, wasting no time, preaching in the meeting places that this Jesus was the Son of God. They were caught off guard by this and, not at all sure they could trust him, they kept saying, “Isn’t this the man who wreaked havoc in Jerusalem among the believers? And didn’t he come here to do the same thing—arrest us and drag us off to jail in Jerusalem for sentencing by the high priests?” But their suspicions didn’t slow Saul down for even a minute. His momentum was up now and he plowed straight into the opposition, disarming the Damascus Jews and trying to show them that this Jesus was the Messiah. [Acts 9:19-22 MSG]

Now somewhere there is an old-school, cynical believer who would think, “That’s how it always happens with ‘new believers’ they catch that Gospel fire and won’t ever let up. It fades eventually.”

I remember getting told that when I was a new believer. And it pissed me off.

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As I sit here writing this…I find myself confronted by that young woman who was so passionate about her Savior that she made some radical choices to follow him. She definitely made some choices that didn’t sit well with people in her life. And the sad part? I think she’d sit across this desk from me and say, ‘What the hell is wrong with you? Do I need to come give you a kick in the ass? What the hell are you fighting for? We have more fight than this…’

Then the 14-years-older version of me says, ‘You are going to get worn out. Eventually too many people get into your head…and then you start giving credence to some of those voices that you probably shouldn’t.”

When the only voice you should be listening to is that of the One who created you. The One who calls you. The One who you answer to.

The same Paul they couldn’t get to shut up wrote in 2 Corinthians 4:13, “It is written: ‘I believed; therefore I have spoken.’ Since we have that same spirit of faith we also believe and therefore speak.”

Here are the contagious truths I am choosing to believe and speak…

God’s word should be contagious. Be in it. If your Bible has a layer of dust, there’s a problem. Get started now, and no one will notice you had a layer of dust.

God’s story should be contagious. Tell it. If you don’t know how to talk about God’s story, start practicing. His message was spread by the disciples only because they were passionate about telling what they had LEARNED from Jesus and what they had SEEN in him. Tell those around you how your story merges with God’s story. If you don’t know, figure it out, because I guarantee it merges.

God’s community should be contagious. I once heard Michael Frost talk about movie trailers and Christianity. How in the theatre, before the actual movie starts there are these teasers. By the reaction of those around you to the trailer you know immediately if they ‘HAVE TO GO SEE THAT MOVIE’ or ‘wouldn’t be caught dead seeing that.’ Which version of Christian community do others see in you, your family & the people you are with?

God’s people should be contagious. This is where we all need to channel a bit of that new believer enthusiasm, and not be afraid of it. Do you love others with that newborn Spirit-filled love? Does your voice inflection channel wonder and excitement for who God is? Do your words speak to the heart of God, or do they berate, belittle and judge those around you? People are not drawn to  judgers…but they do want to be around those handing out God’s unconditional love, mercy and grace.

People are drawn to the purest form of the Gospel…we just tend to dilute it and unintentionally make it ugly through our own sin. Shame on us.

Every single one of these makes God something that others want to catch and be infected with. And before you know it…you are spreading the Gospel in ways that you never imagined. Go be contagious…in a good, non-hand sanitizer way.