12.13.2008

Messy

There are 1.2 billion people in the world living in extreme poverty on less than a dollar a day. There are 38.6 million people diagnosed with HIV worldwide. There are nearly 30,000 children under the age of 5 dying each day of hunger and preventable diseases.

There are stories of abuse, neglect, and evil that freeze my heart and stories of stupid, senseless poverty that bewilder my mind. There are countless children, little treasures, knit together, inch by inch, by God - slowly undone by disease, poverty, and abuse.

And no matter how much I want to forget that these numbers represent real people, I know that each one of the nearly 30,000 children is a story of a treasure. A diamond God crafted to catch and reflect his light just so…but now kicked in the dirt, muddied, unrecognized, and abandoned.

Even though the United States is in a recession, we are still very rich. I know that’s hard to acknowledge sometimes. Even when some of us can find ourselves scrimping for groceries at the end of the month and calculating not going certain places to make sure we can make it on gas that month, we are still very, very rich in comparison. These are inconveniences, not poverty.

I see the levels of wealth and poverty in America - in my own city. And as I am uncomfortable financially at times, I know without a doubt that most of the time, I have more than a lot of people out there. And I wonder, what is God’s vision for what the world should look like?

Looking at God’s word, this isn’t the first time that question has been raised. The nation of Israel, in the times of Isaiah was faced with a similar question. The people of Israel were a good people. In some ways they were like you and me. In many ways they were better. They were pious, keeping up their religious practices. They were prosperous, enjoying the fruits of their righteous nation. They were well intentioned, regularly seeking God. They were fasting and praying. And they very rightfully asked God, “Does this not please you?” The reply…

“Is this what you call fasting? Do you really think this will please the LORD? No, this is the kind of fasting I want: Free those who are wrongly imprisoned; lighten the burden of those who work for you. Let the oppressed go free, and remove the chains that bind people. Share your food with the hungry, and give shelter to the homeless. Give clothes to those who need them, and do not hide from relatives who need your help.” Isaiah 58

I can’t help but make the comparisons…these Israelites’ religious lives sound a lot like ours. They went to Temple every day. They devoted themselves to learning about God. They prayed faithfully. Ok, so we don’t go to church every day. But when I read this, I see myself and so many Christians I know - eager for God to come near, attending church once a week and reading the bible faithfully. Good Christians. But God was not impressed with the Israelites. And I’m not sure he is pleased with my religiosity either. I can’t help but ask, “Why not, God?” He answers…

“Do you really think this will please the LORD?”

What does God want from me, from his people? What is true fasting, true religion? God says it is this: “Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress.” (James 1:27)

Feeding the poor, caring for the oppressed…that’s messy stuff. But what if what God wants is messy? What if, like the Israelites, my spiritual service is a bit too tidy? A bit too focused on me? What if what God wants from me is something completely different? Not to stay at home perfecting myself, but to go out into the world; To transform it through action, in service and in love.

(Adapted from - HOPE LIVES: A Journey of Restoration)