Day 3: back to the heart

April 14, 2010

This morning God brought me back to the heart of why we’re doing this. His heart.

His heart beats with so much love for each person, whether rich or poor, whether here in Canada or elsewhere in the world. His heart is that people would come back to Him, would seek Him, would cry out to Him and find healing in His name. The Bible says, “The LORD is faithful to all his promises and loving toward all he has made.” (Psalm 145:13)

God is not just a far-off deity or some great ideas written down on paper. He is real. I know because I have encountered His presence; I have experienced His healing; I have seen Him miraculously answer prayer.

I also know because of the Bible, truly the most incredible book ever written: it is ancient, but still speaks directly into people’s lives; it is historically accurate and verifiable; its archaeological evidence includes more manuscripts than any other ancient book; it has been studied by thousands of scholars over thousands of years and yet its content has not been exhausted; it is a subject of unparalleled controversy, yet cannot be disproved; it was written by over 40 authors, who lived at different times (over at least two thousand years) in different places, and has been translated into thousands of languages, but its message remains the same.

And the message is this: God is real, all-powerful, and good. He created and loves all people, and calls them into relationship with Himself. People ran away from God and chased after evil, which destroyed them. Because of His deep love for all people (and all of creation), God came to earth in human form — Jesus Christ — to bring people back to Himself and free them from evil’s grasp. No matter who you are or what you’ve done, you can have forgiveness and restored intimacy with God if you call out to Him and believe in Him. God calls everyone who believes in Him to love Him with all their hearts and lives, to love and forgive everyone around them as much as He has loved and forgiven them, and to be humble and truthful.

That is the heart of the matter.

I want to be clear about the purpose of the one dollar a day challenge. I’m not aiming to become a “better person” or “get good karma” or “gain enlightenment” by doing this challenge. I’m also not trying to appease God, punish myself, make myself holy, or make you think I’m a good person. The goal is not even to fundraise or raise awareness, though that would be great. The goal of this challenge is love.

Love for hurting people; love born out of empathy and community, leading to intercession (bearing someone else’s burden as an act of mediation/prayer). That’s the kind of love God first showed us through Jesus.

Today God dealt with some ugly pride in me. He reminded me that this challenge is merely a warm-up lap or training exercise for a marathon. The value of the warm-up will only be determined by how I run when the warm-up is done. You see, the difficulty in doing this challenge again is I feel a greater temptation to become lazy in the familiarity of it, depending on myself and my past experience rather than on God. Because of that struggle, I’m realizing the danger of having a little bit of knowledge; it’s easy to grow proud and overconfident, to think I understand and respond to poverty better than I do. In fact, doing this challenge may be a dangerous patch for the serious problem of poverty, if I allow complacency to tell me that the challenge alone is enough of a response.

Eating like a poor person doesn’t improve my character or help poor people; it just makes me hungry (and possibly more irritable). True, it alerts my senses to the plight of the world, but if I don’t follow through, that empathy can rot into a false sense of understanding and helpfulness while the world’s cries remain unanswered. My life has changed a lot since the first one dollar a day challenge, but now I feel compelled that it must change even more. To be completely honest, that scares me.

Have I let my heart break for the world? Then my actions will show it. So call me to accountability, friends!  🙂

1That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. 2The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. 3We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. 4We write this to make our joy complete.

5This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. 6If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. 7But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.”    …

16This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. 17If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? 18Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. 19This then is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence 20whenever our hearts condemn us. For God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.

21Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God 22and receive from him anything we ask, because we obey his commands and do what pleases him. 23And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us.” – 1 John 1:1-7, 3:16-21

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Before I read Yohannan’s book, I had a much different view of this question.  I had thought it was arrogant to offer people the hope of Jesus when they were starving and in poverty.  I had thought poverty was primarily a physical need, not a spiritual one.

But Yohannan, who himself grew up in poverty, doesn’t respond the way I’d expected.  Moreover, what he says is so convincing, it changed my set-in-stone opinion.  I’d encourage you to read his book for an in-depth response — you can order a free copy of it from Gospel for Asia’s website: http://www.gfa.org.

By the way, I’d just like to note that I’m not affiliated with GFA; I’ve just been inspired by their ministry and I’d like to encourage you to check it out.

As Yohannan emphasizes, poverty is a spiritual problem.  He has a chapter called “The Real Culprit: Spiritual Darkness.”  Perhaps from an outsider’s view, or a non-Christian viewpoint, this statement seems quite bold.  But he has evidence to back it up.  My own scepticism at first revealed to me that many of us in the Western World are ashamed of the Gospel of Christ, because we ourselves have not understood it.  We are afraid of the words “demonic oppression” and we make light of spiritual warfare and witchcraft.  Yes, those words have been abused in some circles and manipulated and contorted by the media — but you can’t read through any of the 4 Gospels without encountering numerous references to them.  Spiritual darkness runs rampant in our nation, too — and, dare I say it, in our churches.  Our own spiritual darkness comes in the form of selfishness, greed, materialism, and pride.  Maybe that’s why two thirds of the world is starving while we’re buying more stuff.

I also think Yohannan is saying is that it’s time for us to recognize that food and money alone cannot break poverty on a national level.  We have to share the hope and freedom that Jesus brings first, because it is of eternal value.  Then we need to give food and clothing and aid, because it is of value here on earth.  He shares stories of people who have received physical healing from the name of Jesus.  And he shares many stories of a vibrant, active, praying and persecuted church like the one in Acts, where miracles happen daily.

That’s where the rest of GFA’s mission comes in.  They send out missionaries who are native to the area, who live on $1 a day, to reach people in the 10/40 window who have never heard about Jesus.  All of the money designated towards those missionaries goes straight to them, and they are able to communicate with villagers in their own language, through their own culture.  They also face intense obstacles and persecution, and do not raise their standard of living after receiving support through GFA.

I have to go to bed, but here are some statistics for those of you who are numerically inclined:

4,845 of the world’s 6,912 languages are still without a single portion of the Bible.
In India, 40,000 people die every day without hearing the gospel even once.
Only 0.1% of all christian radio and tv programming is directed toward the unevangelized world.
More than 2 billion people have never heard the gospel or had access to it.

That’s why this dollar a day challenge is supporting GFA — because they are reaching the most unreached through the native missionary movement.  GFA has “more than 16,500 national missionaries in the heart of the 10/40 window, operates 54 Bible colleges in several nations, and heads up a church-planting movement that has planted more than 29,000 congregations.”

Peace out.  🙂

DAY 1

July 20, 2009

So here we are on day 1 of our first “one dollar a day” week. Many of you are probably wondering what I mean by that.  It’s a long story, but I’ll try to explain.

The challenge is to live on a dollar a day for one week, and give the rest of the money that we earn this week to support Gospel for Asia. Obviously we still have to pay our phone bill, rent, and car insurance, so we’re going to take those expenses from the other weeks of our monthly income.  (I’m not sharing this with you to make us sound good, so please don’t take it that way. We have a LONG way to go, and we have nothing to boast about.) Normally I would not talk about this with others, because I think giving is a private matter, but my hope in sharing this with you is that you will be inspired by the need, take the challenge yourself, and encourage all of your friends to do the same. I hear many people talking about the situation overseas and not knowing how to respond. Here’s one way you can respond. This is not the “solution” to the problem, but it is a tangible first step.

How did the idea start? Last month I was reading a book called Revolution in World Missions, by K.P. Yohannan, and it opened my eyes to how extreme the poverty gap is in the world — on so many levels.  Actually, it broke my heart.

I am a Christian; I believe Jesus Christ is Lord, and I have seen Him do amazing things in my life and the lives of others around me.  He is so real, and I see that more and more everyday.  Yet I’m realizing that when I say, “I surrender all,” or “I will follow You,” or “I love you Lord,” I really have no idea what I am talking about.

We live in a country where we (the so-called “average” or “middle class” people) gorge ourselves on food, entertainment, and resources.  That is our norm.  For the most part, we are well fed, well clothed, well educated, well entertained, well informed, well housed, well medicated, well insured, well transported, well employed, well paid, well guarded, well furnished, well accessorized, and, well, incredibly ungrateful.  It’s a bad day if we have to wait 20 minutes in a grocery store line, or if the barista at the coffee shop is out of our favorite kind of syrup.  And we think we’re pretty generous people if we give a homeless person five bucks as we walk past or have some friends over for dinner.

But we are so blind to the deep pain of the world around us, as K.P. Yohannan of Gospel for Asia points out.  He writes that two thirds of the world’s population lives on less than $1 a day. In his book, Yohannan quotes economist Robert Heilbroner’s description of what that looks like:

“We begin by invading the house of our imaginary American family to strip it of its furniture. Everything goes: beds, chairs, tables, television sets, lamps. We will leave the family with a few old blankets, a kitchen table, a wooden chair. Along with the bureaus go the clothes. Each member of the family may keep in his wardrobe his oldest suit or dress, a shirt or blouse. We will permit a pair of shoes for the head of the family, but none for the wife or children.

“We move to the kitchen. The appliances have already been taken out, so we turn to the cupboards. . . . The box of matches may stay, a small bag of flour, some sugar and salt. A few moldy potatoes, already in the garbage can, must be rescued, for they will provide much of tonight’s meal. We will leave a handful of onions and a dish of dried beans. All the rest we take away: the meat, the fresh vegetables, the canned goods, the crackers, the candy.

“Now we have stripped the house: the bathroom has been dismantled, the running water shut off, the electric wires taken out. Next we take away the house. The family can move to the tool shed. . . . Communications must go next. No more newspapers, magazines, books — not that they are missed, since we must take away our family’s literacy as well. Instead, in our shantytown we will allow one radio. . .

“Now government services must go next. No more postmen, no more firemen. There is a school, but it is three miles away and consists of two classrooms. . . . There are, of course, no hospitals or doctors nearby. The nearest clinic is ten miles away and is tended by a midwife. It can be reached by bicycle, provided the family has a bicycle, which is unlikely. . . .

“Finally, money. We will allow our family a cash hoard of five dollars. This will prevent our breadwinner from experiencing the tragedy of an Iranian peasant who went blind because he could not raise the $3.94 which he mistakenly thought he needed to receive admission to a hospital where he could have been cured.”  (Revolution in World Missions, p. 40)

This kind of situation is completely unfathomable to me.  Yes, I have seen poverty. For a week or two I’ve even had the opportunity to live among people who are poor. But I’ve never lived in poverty day in and day out, with no end in sight, and no fallback plan.

So after reading this, I felt almost paralyzed. How do we even start to respond? If you’re interested, keep reading…