Monday, November 23, 2015
I Am Not Afraid #100ThankfulWeeks
It’s almost Thanksgiving. It’s the day that commemorates the thankful celebration between European settlers and the original native peoples who graciously showed hospitality to the immigrant settlers. And for many of us, Thanksgiving is the one day a year dedicated to remembering all the blessings in our lives.
I personally have a lot to be grateful for:
I have a home with four insulated walls, a roof without leaks, a working heat system, modern plumbing, running water, a bed to sleep in every night, and more food than I can eat. My family all live in safety and at last count, we are all employed. I even have a church family who loves me.
Then there are even bigger things. My niece Harleigh is still brain-cancer free and has come so far in her recovery. My new little nephew survived multiple complications and continues to thrive more and more each day. My sister and her husband successfully sold their old house after years of waiting and hoping. My other sister and her husband returned safely to the U.S. after a multi-year assignment overseas. My mom fulfilled a dream and finally saw the islands of Hawaii with and her husband. And my other half and I found a new home that checked off every requirement - and still came within budget.
If anyone has reasons to be thankful this Thanksgiving, it is definitely me. Look how sleek and gorged I am on all these blessings.
I’m just going to come right out and say this. I am extremely uncomfortable with all the blessings in my life when so many in the world have so very, VERY little. I’m actually disgusted with myself because I have so much and yet I part with so little of it. And I keep accumulating. Another piece of Pyrex, another cookbook, another blu-ray, another smartphone, another piece of furniture. I’m bloated with blessings and yet I share so very, VERY little.
I’ll be blunt again: all I need to survive is food, water, shelter and clothing. Everything else is extra niceties. And the niceties are not necessities but luxuries. On Thanksgiving, while I’m eating turkey and pumpkin pie and murmuring thank you’s to God for all he has blessed me with, millions of humans just like me will be without food, water, shelter or clothing. And some of these same people, who have never celebrated with a feast of food and blessings, will die still thanking God for his mercy and love.
Should we feel ashamed of all we’ve been blessed with? No. We should feel ashamed because we refuse to part with our blessings. You and I are no more deserving of these blessings than the people who do not have them. None of us deserve what we have. Do you work hard for what you have? So do the people who have so little. Did you have to scrimp and save at every turn to arrive at your life today? So do the people who have so little. Do you love God and trust him to provide? So do many of the people who have so little. And what about those who don’t share your faith? Are they any less deserving than you?
You and I should not be clinging to our possessions and money. We should not be obsessing over our retirement accounts, our pensions, our healthcare benefits, our stock portfolios. Same with homes, cars, education, gadgets or any other STUFF, whatever it is. And we should not be clinging to safety and security. All we have - all that ANYBODY has - is provided by God and it is not ours to do with as we choose. What you and I have been given is meant to enable us to be a blessing to others. If we have much, we have much to give.
Those of us living in first world countries have been given much. We should be bursting with generosity to share these blessings with the millions who don’t have food, water, shelter or clothing.
And this should be especially true of those who believe and follow Christ. So if, like me, you believe in Christ, you should be bursting with generosity. Nothing should be holding you back. Who are we Christians called to share the good news with if not the poor, the suffering, the oppressed, the unwanted? And how can we share the good news without also sharing all we have in service to these very people?
Yes, I’m disgusted and ashamed of myself. Hoarding all these blessings has become a curse. Instead of joy at the opportunity to be of service with so much at my disposal, I am cursed with the fear of losing it. I am a Christian. What can I possibly need that God cannot provide? Can I give away more than he can? Can I be more generous than God? And if I end up poor and destitute after giving so much away to others, won’t my riches Christ’s kingdom still be secure? In fact, is there anything, ANYTHING, I want more than to be part of Christ’s kingdom?
It is truly perverse for us who are Christians to cling to anything other than Christ.
Do you and I want to be a good stewards? Then we must invest everything we have in others so that when our king asks us to return what he as given us, we will have an enormous harvest of new believers to return to him. We won’t just bring ourselves and our hoarded possessions - we will instead bring millions of people with us. Those same millions we eagerly welcomed with open arms, open homes, open wallets, open retirement accounts, open tables, open pensions, open beds and pillows and blankets.
But we Christians don’t stop with showering love just on the deserving. We shower our enemies with love. Because we Christians do not consider anyone to be our enemy. Do they disagree with our faith? We love them. Do they hate our way of life? We love them. Do they take our jobs? We love them. Do they strike us, beat us, enslave us, kill us? We love them.
That love for our enemies takes action. We give them what they ask for and don’t demand it back. We turn the other cheek. We go above and beyond what is requested of us. We don’t retaliate, we don’t demand restitution, we don’t harbor resentment or anger. We forgive them without hesitation. We go out of our way to care for them. Because they are not enemies to us - they are brothers and sisters to be won over in love for Christ.
Every country in this world belongs to the world. These countries and the governing bodies are transitory, always rising and falling. But the kingdom Christians belong to is not of this world. Christ is our king, the firstborn of all Christians, and we follow him in all things. We not fighting for earthly homes or possessions or countries or a “way of life”. We are not fighting for safety or security or freedom from danger. We are not fighting to save our lives. For us, to live is Christ and to die is gain. Literally.
Do we hope to one day see safety, security and freedom from danger for all people? Yes. Do we hope to see an end to violence and oppression? Yes. Do we hope to prevent others from being killed? Yes. But we Christians strive and live for something greater than life itself. We strive to share the message of Christ and his love with everyone. We don’t let fear stop us. We don’t let threats to personal safety slow us down. We don’t cower in the face of danger or even death.
Because nothing can separate us from Christ’s love and nothing can stop us from sharing it.
The beauty of this love is how it can change the world. As we share this love by taking action to help others, new people are drawn to embrace this love. Then these new people put this love into action and it spreads again. As the love spreads, it halts violence. It ends oppression. It brings safety and security between those who share this love. As this love grows, it replaces hated and drives out fear. This love conquers all.
The love from Christ doesn’t fight like the world. It doesn’t use physical force or weapons to win battles. It doesn’t launch earthly wars. It doesn’t win through legislation or laws or security nets or military victory. Love wins hearts. It changes people from the inside out. It changes enemies into friends without a single shot fired.
But this love is useless without action. It’s pointless to claim, “I love my enemies” and yet refuse to offer assistance. Real love compels action. Love leads us to burst with thankfulness and generosity. Then generosity leads to giving and serving, making the most of every opportunity, including those who hate or despise us. Our radical generosity demonstrates louder than words the love we have for all people. And love pulls the skeptical closer, winning new hearts. Love is the weapon we Christians wield.
Some people claim that peaceful Christians wielding this weapon of radical love count for nothing. They claim that we Christians who call for embracing love of those who are enemies of our “way of life” count for nothing. These people call for bombings, missile strikes, troops on the ground, and wars. They call for eradication of “dangerous radicals” and insist that killing our enemy is the only way to ensure safety. They point to the “victories” over Hitler and Stalin as proof.
But we Christians wield the most powerful weapon and the only one capable of destroying fear, hatred, vengeance, violence and oppression. And we cannot be afraid of trusting this love to get the job done.
Embracing this love, no matter what our personal circumstances, is the cross Christ calls each of us Christians to carry. It is the cross he carried for the whole world. He called on God - while still on the cross - to forgive the very people who hated his message and hated his way of life. He didn’t call on God to eradicate them. Jesus forgave them even while they gloated over his death. He didn’t let his own safety get in the way of forgiveness. While they hated and despised him, Jesus loved them. He didn’t let his own suffering stop him from loving. If we follow Christ, we follow him everywhere.
Christians, you and I must find the courage to take up this same cross and embrace this love. We are not called to safety and security. We are not called to comfort or earthly freedoms. We are called to risk everything to share this love. We are called to face death to share this love. We called to care for the widows, the orphans, the poor, the abandoned, those without hope. We Christians will not shrink back. We will not let danger, fear or hated stop us.
Christians, we must have the courage not to fear the loss of possessions, safety, security, homes, family, friends, jobs, churches, freedoms, and even life. We must have the courage to boldly share this love no matter what the personal cost. We are not fighting to preserve our way of life - we are fighting for a new life!
And we need to stop talking as though we fear death. Death has been swallowed up in victory. When we who are in Christ die, we shed our earthly weaknesses and are transformed to be like Christ. Our life doesn’t end with death! We just shed our earthly sacks of flesh. We Christians, we are not afraid to die. We are ready - if not eager! - to die in service to Christ. Because then, at last, we will see our king face to face.
Because we don’t fear death, we can fearlessly throw open our homes and embrace our enemies. Are there risks? Absolutely. But we are not afraid because Christ lives in us. That fearless love we have been given is the gift we should be most thankful for this Thanksgiving. Let’s encourage each other to embrace this fearless love. Let’s risk everything together. Let’s show the world we Christians are not afraid.
We’ve got millions of homeless, millions of prisoners, millions of starving children, millions of immigrants, and millions of refugees to welcome. To share our love with. To lavish all our blessings on. Embrace them. Reject fear.