Thursday, September 17, 2015

life after reading the headlines

How do we go on with life when the CNN headlines say, "War has forced 1 in 2 Syrians to flee," and, "Finding little welcome in Europe, refugees ask unanswerable questions," and, "Building blast kills dozens in India," and, "Houses swept away, residents stuck on roofs in Japan"?

This is the question that haunts me.

How do I, as a person who believes that good overcomes evil, hear this news and read these headlines? How do I read an article about Syrian refugees overwhelming European countries and then close my computer, walk into the living room of an air-conditioned, well furnished, safe home and keep going?

I don't want to just keep going, I don't feel like I can just keep going, but at some point I have to. Little boys want me to read Curious George to them while their mom is taking their siblings to school and they want me to give them a snack and dishes need to be washed and I have to choose which pair of pants to wear and I don't think that so many other people's lives falling apart means I can bring my life to a halt, even though it just doesn't seem fair to keep going. I don't think stopping is the answer. I don't think not reading Curious George and not slicing peaches for snack time is the answer.

But what is?

If I can't just stop, how do I keep going? If I can't just keep going, how do I stop?

I accidentally came across a list of things I want to do this fall and on the list was to have my mom teach me her cooking skills. When I read those words I actually shuddered. How can I be so concerned that I know how to cook a good meal when these people don't have any meals at all, good or not? But does this mean I should scratch that off the list? Is it wrong to want to learn how to cook good food? Maybe I should only eat rice and beans for the rest of my life because it simply doesn't seem right to enjoy chicken salad and lasagna.

If I ever buy a house should I be sure it doesn't have air conditioning or electricity or comfortable mattresses because it just doesn't seem right to have those things when these people don't even have a roof to sleep under?

Should I quit my job because I feel guilty about having a good job when they have no job at all, and probably won't ever have another job for whatever time is left of their lives?

I don't think I can just stop.

But how do I eat grilled chicken and wear warm jackets and sleep eight hours every night and wash my hair every day and post pictures of my Mom's birthday party on Facebook and buy a cool gift for my sister-in-law just because it made me think of her?

I don't think I can just keep going.

But if I can't just stop, how do I keep going? And if I can't just keep going, how do I stop?

I think they go together. I think part of keeping on going is stopping and I think part of stopping is keeping on going. My response to this kind of news is to stop because life can't be normal anymore. And then my response to this kind of news is to keep going because, practically, I have to live life and because, lovingly, I have to do something about it.

Let me explain.

In order to be able to stop it often requires that I keep on going, I keep on moving. If I completely just stopped my life and threw everything out the window, literally and figuratively, how much would that help Syrian refugees? If I literally throw away everything I have - clothes, food, opportunities, experiences, relationships - because I feel guilty about having it when they don't, will it help them?

I just finished reading a book about the persecuted church and the author told a story of a conversation he had with an Eastern European believer. After a lengthy discussion about the persecution his family had endured he said, "I took great joy that I was suffering in my country, so that you could be free to witness in your country. Don't ever give up in freedom what we would never have given up in persecution! That is our witness to the power of the resurrection of Jesus Christ!"

When I asked myself that question - if I throw away everything I have will it help them? - I thought of this man and these words. His persecution did not make him bitter towards those with freedom but rather made him excited for them, hoping that they wouldn't take it for granted. I don't think those who are suffering desire that we throw everything out the window. But don't miss this: I think their desire is that we do not take for granted what we have and then that we use what we have well.

Don't dump everything out in a rage of pity and in a drowning sense of guilt. Instead, take what you have, the freedom that you have, the time that you have, the friendships that you have, the clothes that you have, the money that you have, the food that you have, take it all and use it well. Be intentional with it, with all of it. Think of the Syrian refugee and decide how you can use all of those things you have to bless them. I have freedom - how will I use it to love the refugee? I have friendships - how will I use those to impact the lonely? I have clothes - how will I use those to bless the poor?

So, if I can't just stop and throw it all out the window, if the answer is no, I must keep going. In order to stop and care about tragedy in Syria I have to keep going. And in my going, I send practical help to them. In my going, I pray for them. In my going, I make others aware of the hurt that exists. In my going, I use their hurt to open up conversations with my neighbors about their own hurt. I must press on, I must wake up in the morning, I must buy ingredients for dinner, I must show up at the lunch appointment I made with my friend. And in doing all of those menial, daily tasks I love a Syrian refugee. How? Because of the way I go: the way I give, share, pray, love, and expose while I go.

In contrast, in order to keep going, in order to run in the race, in order to press on, it often requires that I stop, not just once, but that I stop often: that I purposefully stop my mind from thinking about what will be for dinner, about sending a text message, about adding things to a to-do list. I stop my mind and I close my eyes and I talk to my Father. I pray for those who are hurting. I pray for those who are helping the hurting. I don't bring my life to a complete halt but I bring my mind to a complete halt.

I'm standing at the kitchen sink, scrubbing pots after dinner, and I rest my thoughts - and the only reason I can rest is because I have a good, sovereign God who neither slumbers nor sleeps. And so I put my mind at rest, and put my to-do list at rest, and I talk to that God, the very awake and always aware God, the never slumbering and never sleeping God. I talk to Him about what my part will be, not about whether or not I will give but about how much and what I will give. I weep with those who are weeping; even if I'm not sitting with them or holding them, I am weeping with them.

And so part of the pressing on in life and the keeping on going happens when I stop and I pray and I weep for them and with them. I stop, I clear out a few hours in my schedule, to sit down with peers and mentors to pray and to discuss how we are going to help. I stop, I close the Instagram app and instead find an organization that is giving help to Syrian refugees and I sacrificially give.

See how they go together? How if I stop I am actually stopping to do something? And how if I keep going I am actually going so that I can stop from the normal routine?

My responsibility, according to Romans 13, is to love. "Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law."

So when I stop to keep going to love these people, one important way to love them is to love the Christians close to them. If anyone is going to show them that they are loved far more than they are hated, that good triumphs greatly over evil, that the One who made them also deeply cares about them, it will be the Christians close to them. If it is the duty (and privilege) of Christians to love them and if I cannot literally sit beside them and be that friend for them, the ones who are going to do that will be the Christians around them.

So I stop and keep going to love the Syrian refugees by loving the Christians among and around them. And I stop and keep going to love the Christians among and around them by praying for them: praying that their witness would be bold, that their love would be strong, that their compassion would run far and deep, and that their attitudes would conform to the selfless attitude of Jesus Christ.

But then here is where it gets real, gets personal.

When I pray that for them, loving them and loving refugees in the process, I hear it for myself. I wonder if someone, maybe someone on the other side of the world, is praying that my witness would be bold, that my love would be strong, that my compassion would run far and deep, and that my attitude would conform to the selfless attitude of Jesus Christ.

I wonder if maybe someone far away heard about the struggles in America regarding homosexuality and they are praying that I would be bold to show love. I wonder if maybe someone who doesn't know my name was told that there is poverty in America too and they are praying that I would have the selfless attitude of Christ. I wonder if maybe someone who doesn't know much about America but knows that sex trafficking is actually an issue there is praying that I would have compassion to reach those slaves. I wonder if maybe someone who once visited America found out that oftentimes Americans' wealth and instant gratification leads to pride and complacency and is praying that I would pursue relationships with people whose hurt is hidden deep and whose pain is surprising.

Am I doing for hurting people around me what I am begging European Christians to do for Syrian refugees?

If only I lived the kind of life I pray for others to live. If only I loved the way I pray for others to love. If I only I had the kind of compassion I pray for others to have. If only I was the kind of person I pray for others to be.

So as I pray for Syria, as I pray for refugees, and as I pray for Christians, I look at my own heart and life. Will I be the answer to someone's prayer? Will I stand up to display the way good triumphs over evil?

Will I keep going and press on in order to be a bearer of hope for those close to me and also for those not so close to me? Will I stop and make a conscious and intentional effort to pray for a revealing of hope to those close to me and also to those not so close to me?

Good will ultimately triumph over evil. I believe that. And because I believe that, I must keep going and I must stop. Both not only helpful, but also vital. Life must be lived. But life must not be lived the same way.

I cannot, and I refuse to, read the headlines and be unchanged. And so, when I close the computer and walk into the living room of an air-conditioned, well furnished, safe home and take the Curious George book off the shelf, I do it with a renewed sense of gratitude. Because tragedy has changed me. But hope has changed me more.

"The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and to all mankind life and breath and everything. And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for 'in him we live and move and have our being.'" Acts 17

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

UNC doesn't need me and neither does God

I have decided to take this coming semester, the fall of 2015, off of school. I'm not going to save the orphans and I'm not going to spend the entire break in an African village without running water and I'm not going to end world hunger and I'm not going through a mid-life crisis. I just want to take a semester off so I'm doing it.

I've thought pretty long and hard about it, all the pros and cons, just like anyone would do. Sometimes I make rash decisions, but not always. There are so many pros and everyone says, "Wow! That's so cool! I wish I had done that," or "Wow! That's so cool! I wish I was doing that." I can think of a million reasons to do it.

But I can't think of that many reasons not to do it. Except one that keeps coming back, running circles around me, and driving me crazy.

UNC needs me. God needs me. What if I leave? What will everyone do? What about all of the friends that I have made? What about all of the people that only hear about Jesus from me? All of God's plans for people and for UNC will completely fall apart. There are freshmen that need me to lead their Bible studies. There are girls that need me to encourage them. There are people who need Jesus and simply won't hear about Him if I'm not here. UNC needs me. God needs me.

Well, friends, since making the decision to leave I have already learned a big lesson from the semester off, even though it hasn't started yet. The lesson: UNC doesn't need me. And neither does God.

I had some sort of revelation recently that basically slapped me in the face or punched me in the stomach or something like that. Whatever it was, it hurt. Frankly, I didn't think the sun was going to continue to rise in Chapel Hill if I left. And then I realized that God's plans for UNC are so much bigger than me.

God has plans for me and those plans are great. However, God also has plans for UNC and while I can jump in and be a part of those plans, those plans will not come crashing down without my involvement in them. God did really cool things at this university before I was here and I feel confident that He will continue to do really cool things after I graduate.

I'm not leaving UNC thinking that I'm not doing anything worth my time here but I'm leaving UNC confidently knowing that God's work will go on here and that God's work can be done through me in other places as well.

I am excited to serve God and be used by God this coming semester in other areas of life. I am excited to experience things I've never experienced before, to serve Him in ways I've never served Him before. I am excited to let go of things that I think I need and to let go of things that I think need me and instead learn to glorify God in other capacities.

The fact that God doesn't need us does not give us license to sit back and relax on the sidelines and watch it all happen. The point is not that if you go to UNC you should stop trying to help God since He doesn't need you. On the contrary, you can and should serve God wherever you go; the things is, it's not so much about where you are but rather it's about who you're serving - yourself or Him. So, you need not worry whether or not God can use you in a certain location - He can. And you need not worry whether or not God can work in a certain location without you - He can.

That's the thing we must understand - God allows us to be a part of His work but He does not need us to be a part of His work.

The fact that He allows us to be a part of His work should drive our desire to serve Him because we by no means deserve to be used by Him and wow, what an awesome privilege it is to take part in that. It is a privilege to serve Him at UNC and it is a privilege to serve Him in places other than UNC.

But woe to you, woe to me, if we think God will not, can not, accomplish His purposes without us.

Friends, this is what I am trying to say: God is crazy about me. God loves me to the depths of hell and back. God has a strong desire for me. God seeks me. God pursues me. God values me. God wants me. But one thing I must remember - God does not need me.

And that, my friends, makes serving Him all the better.