Saturday, July 31, 2010

Farewell to a Church, Part 6:

Last Sunday was my final day with the church that I have been working at for the past year or so.  The pastor asked me to speak and I am now posting a slightly modified version of the manuscript here in bite sized chunks.

Part 6:  The Gospel and the World

Now we can say these things, and we often do say these things, but I’m afraid, mostly because I have been very convicted of this myself lately, that we too often say these things and stop there. If this really is our faith then it has to be more than just words. And for that to be the case, it has to mean something to us.

When I was in high school I spent a couple of summers doing missions work in Reynosa, Mexico, which is a little border town right across from McAllen, Texas. So when we were in Texas, we were driving through nice suburban type neighborhoods just like what we might see in Hoover or Vestavia Hills around here. And then literally five, maybe ten miles away on the other side of the river, we were walking through neighborhoods where families of 8 or 9 were living in shacks made out of plywood and cardboard. We are so insulated in our society. My dad’s chosen occupation was a graphic design artist. So for any of you who have experience in any artistic field, you probably know how this works- there are a very few elite in the field that do quite well. Then everyone else barely scrapes by.  So when I say my dad was an artist I really mean that he worked every odd job he could find and we still at times were barely making ends meet. But even during the hardest of times then the five of us in my family still had a roof over our heads in a very sturdy suburban house outside Memphis. We still had food to eat. My siblings and I were still going to school. Eventually, my dad got tired of this and he went back to school and got a master’s degree in education and started teaching high school art. And he started off in inner-city schools in Memphis. Now Memphis is a rough little town, and let’s just say that after growing up there absolutely nothing in Birmingham really scares me or makes me uncomfortable. But even in the inner-city neighborhoods where my dad was working those families had some sort of shelter and source of food. They had a chance at going to school at least, though attendance was terrible. The point is even the worst off parts of our society have it good by world standards. The slums of inner city Memphis look like mansions compared to some parts of Mexico. A year ago last February was my British grandfather’s 80th Birthday, and so we got the whole family together and took a cruise in the Caribbean. You get off the ship at different islands and they take you to these very touristy built up areas. Well on one island we got a taxi and told the cab driver to take us to where he goes to hang out. The places he goes to eat, the neighborhood he lives in, etc. We wanted to see the real life of people on this island. And so we start driving and after about three blocks we are out of the tourist district. And about two blocks later, we are looking at shacks made out of plywood and cardboard and occasional pieces of sheet metal. And as we are driving around he is pointing out hotels to us, and apparently the way they measure the quality of the hotels on his island is by how many security checkpoints you have to go through to get to the actual hotel. He pointed out a really nice one where you had to stop for four different checkpoints with armed guards before you even got to the parking lot. I work some with a college ministry in Birmingham called University Christian Fellowship or UCF that is hosted by Mountainbrook Community Church on Highway 280- any of you youth that go to school in Birmingham, you need to check this place out, it’s a fantastic ministry. They partner with a ministry in Haiti that is working to save malnourished children whose families literally have to walk for miles to get to a clinic and have their kids looked at by a doctor to get food because they don’t have any at home. Some very good friends of mine that I just visited in Memphis a couple weeks ago founded a church there that works with crews doing the same thing in Haiti as well as in Africa. Those of you who have seen the movie Taken- the thing we don’t like to think about is that the premise of that movie is real. People all around the world really are being kidnapped and transported around the globe to be used as sex slaves. I just heard a story from a group of students in Birmingham who were doing missions work in Africa and were literally in the restaurant when a suicide bomber blew himself up during the World Cup Final that we were watching comfortably here without even knowing this attack had happened.

The point I’m trying to make throwing out all of these anecdotes is that the world we live in is broken and hurting and full of pain and misery. And we have the answer to that! We have the message that hope does exist. We have the message that God is in control no matter how crazy life seems. We have the message that God knows what our pain and misery feels like- that he has felt what it means to be betrayed or to be alone or to be overwhelmed and confused, that he has felt the agony of pain and death as Jesus died on the cross. And we have the gospel, the good news, that Christ has risen from the dead and that he is ushering in a new age when pain and suffering will be no more, when the hope that is promised to the poor and needy is finally going to come to fruition. We have hope, and we are called to share that hope, and that is what the gospel is about.

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