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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hate

Hate is such a strong word. I find myself correcting others when they use it by asking, ‘Do you hate it? Or do you just not like it?’

It really has to do with a lot of emotion and passion about whatever you are directing the hate towards.

I hate the sun when it burns my skin. Hazards of being a redhead, really.

But what do I gain by directing that hatred towards something I have no control over. I do have control over myself…and putting on sunscreen. (Note: I will be putting an emergency stash in my car for extreme situations that put me on the side of the road waiting for a tow truck now.)

As believers, are we supposed to hate anything?

Could we say Jesus hated anything?

Even when Satan tempted Jesus in the desert…did Jesus slug him? No. But he probably should have. Instead Jesus stays strong, quotes scripture, keeps the focus on his Father and remains calm.

My interactive imagination would like to see a rebellious Jesus punching the air with certain fingers extended to our common foe. But Jesus knew there would be a time for the ultimate win, and it wasn’t time yet.

We also have the point when our Gospel highlights Jesus flipping the tables in the temple in John 2:14-16.

In the temple courts he found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!” 

I have had conversations with people about righteous anger verse emotional anger in response to Jesus’ anger in John 2, all leading to where your anger and hate is directed. Would anyone argue with what we see from Jesus here? Of course not. He is overflowing with righteous anger…who in their right mind argues that?

Which leads me to my own righteous anger…I hate evil, with a passion. I hate what it does to the Kingdom. I hate what it does to all God’s people, believers and unbelievers. I hate the influence it has over us without us taking time to even realizing it. I hate how it rips communities apart.

But, oh, how I love that it loses in the end.

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. [Ephesians 6:10-13]

I have seen a lot of places in this world. I’ve prayed a lot of prayers at many places in this world. I’ve felt the power of the Holy Spirit and the movement of God to make things right. I know where our struggle is and it ignites my righteous anger.

I was with a group [Fondue Crew shout-out!] this week that is reading ‘Serving with Eyes Wide Open’ by David Livermore. I read it about 6 years ago, and its second edition had caught the eye of a few in our group. Our discussion was phenomenal this week, but it was a question, off this excerpt, directed toward me that has me basking in the memories of those I have joined my prayers with to pray against the evil in this world.

Believing in a dynamic universe with supernatural powers all around compels majority world Christians to pray with a greater sense of urgency and dependency. A member in a majority world church is much more likely to expect immediate and direct provision from God that a ‘typical’ North American believer. You haven’t experienced prayer until you’ve prayed with a group of Christians in the majority world church whose very lives are dependent upon God. [p40]

I’ve prayed with a Chinese believer from a house church in China. I’ve prayed over a Guatemalan pastor who was ministering to families in a Guatemalan slum. I’ve experienced the intense prayer of Haitians who give thanks to God for safety. I’ve felt the elation of Liberians as they give all they have to the Lord.

The common denominator of all those places is that they all know intimately the fight against evil, and even more intimately know the power of the Holy Spirit joined with their belief in God conquering evil. And each one of them has changed my prayer life exponentially.

I may hate evil, but I also know what it means to fight on the winning side. What are you fighting for today? Are you aware of what is going on in your sphere of the world? What is really going on? How are you praying for those that have an everyday struggle against evil in our world? From civil wars to sex-trafficking to believers that are being martyred to children that are dying from preventable diseases to orphans that have no home…how does that stack up to our suburb mentalities? I say that not to make you feel guilty, but to make you feel like there is something real to fight for in our world.

Evil is not right. Hate is not right. And God will conquer both. Love wins.

*This post was written as a part of a blogging community among my friends using the Twitter hashtag #1word5voices inspired by RethinkChurch. It should have been posted in July…but I was a bit busy! Better late than never! Also, I normally put in photos…but it’s hard to settle on a photo for hate. So go meditate on some of the scripture instead.*

lift

Arguments, confrontation and walls so thick that a wrecking ball wouldn’t be able to break it down…it drives me crazy when believers fight.

I get that family members have fights, especially when we are passionate people. But what does that show non-believers if we can’t get along? Would you want to be a part of a movement that shows hate toward each other?

That does not draw people to the heart of God…that propels them away with lightening speed, never to look back again. And we wonder why so many Americans have an ugly view of the church.

My heart breaks the most when fights are over petty things. If it is not a salvation issue, let it go. Seriously….so many times faith gets turned into religion, the church looks ugly and the message we are supposed to be delivering is completely invalidated.

God meant it to be beautiful, and then we get in the way. Silly humans. So much for being in His image.

Many times we get caught up in ourselves, and struggle to identify what are really areas of selfishness that we refuse to deal with. Our refusal of honestly revealing those areas are causing God’s message to suffer.

IMG_3840We are meant to deliver the message of God. We are meant to be a physical extension of his truth, love and compassion…yet we verbally beat each other up just to be ‘right.’ It’s not about you. It’s always about Him. His mission. His Kingdom. His holiness.

I want men everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer, without anger or disputing. [1 Timothy 2:8]

Yah…me, too, Paul…here’s to all believers lifting holy hands, and laying down the verbal machetes. Please, for the good of God’s mission…confront yourself, and lay down the machete.