How To Be The Face Of God To The Refugee

“Is the Lord among us or not?” – Exodus 17:7

Well, is he? The Israelites had legitimate reasons to wonder, though we tend to think of them superficially as whiners in the desert. They had been led out of Egypt, yes, and were headed towards the promised land, but they began to question that. They were hungry, tired, and probably confused as to why it was taking so long. Imagine it, you see incredible signs from God in Egypt, get your family and a fraction of your possessions ready to go, eat a hurried meal with your family, ask your neighbors for all their wealth (which they give it to you), and make a rushed exit from the land that enslaved you. After all of the miraculous things God had done for them with the finale of walking through a sea on dry ground, I’d be expecting to look up and see the promised land. Instead they saw desert.

I don’t believe this is too far from the experience that refugees are having right now in the United States. Many have escaped a dangerous homeland through a series of impossible events, whether the money for a plane ticket inconceivably came into their possession, or borders were crossed under extremely dangerous circumstances, or governments did everything they could to keep people in the dangerous lands they were meant to be governing. By the very definition of refugee a common thread runs through their stories: every one of these human beings have been driven from their countries because their dignity as human beings was under threat by war, persecution, or natural disaster. And right now they arrive in the United States only to find harsh, inhospitable desert, marked by a government attempting to keep them away and a people divided against themselves.

I too would be asking, “Is the Lord among us or not?”

This past Sunday our pastor unfolded the story of Jacob and Esau’s reunion after years apart, where Esau embraced and kissed his brother even though Jacob had stolen his blessing and birthright from him. In that story, Jacob, overcome with relief and joy, tells Esau that “To see your face is like seeing the face of God” (Gen. 33:10) And the congregation was asked, What are you the face of?

We have an incredible opportunity right now as the church to choose what we are the face of. We can remain stoic, forgetting that from the beginning God called his people to be ones who cared for the stranger and foreigner, and become the face of the desert, perpetuating the question, “Is the Lord among us?” Or we can choose to welcome those downtrodden and least of these who find themselves suddenly in our midst, and find ways to support them as they seek opportunities to live out their dreams and God-given potential. We can be advocates for them and for each other, embodying Jesus in the many ways we love and forgive one another, keeping unity in the midst of a broken and hurting nation. 

We have such a sweet opportunity to be the church right now, and can truly be the face of God to the world around us. We can be an oasis of hope, a place to find God in the midst of the desert. In order to do so, we must commit our love and our lives to each other, just as Jesus completely gave of himself so that the world might know the face of God and all that he represents. We now must re-present to the world the God who loves and cares for them, and commit to answering their question with our lives. 

“Yes, the Lord is among us.”


Note: In order to do this we must act, not simply speak. I encourage you to find organizations in your local community that benefit and aid the refugee population in your city. In San Diego I have come into contact with both Refugee Tutoring and the IRC, and would recommend both of those organizations to you (They can be found in many cities across the country). Comment below and share the best resources for refugees and community involvement that you have found in your city.


Photo by Megan Burgess

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Why Christians Should Go Barefoot More Often

Exodus 3 – Holy Ground

““Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” Then he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God.”‭‭Exodus‬ ‭3:5-6‬ ‭NIV‬‬

When was the last time you entered a room and felt compelled to take your shoes off because the space you were in was inhabited by God? When was the last time you walked into a place and did not dare speak because you did not want to disturb the working of God that was happening there? When was the last time you sat down as gently as possible in a seat at church because you were encountering the extraordinary? 

Maybe those examples are a little too lofty. How about this: When was the last time you went to church and actually expected to meet with Jesus there? Actually anticipated encountering the Holy Spirit? Actually believed you would hear from God?

God commanded Moses to take off his shoes because he was standing on holy ground. There was nothing special about the ground that he walked on or the sand under his feet, but rather the space gained holiness, or should be set apart from the ordinary, because God was there. In a space that God inhabits, measures should be taken to treat it as special.

This burning bush moment wasn’t the norm for Moses, I don’t believe. He spent his days in fields with sheep, working strenuously, daydreaming frequently, praying occasionally. If he regularly spoke with the living God (and that God spoke back) I believe we would hear about it more than just once in Scripture. So can this singular encounter with God be considered normative for Christians today? Probably not, but I do think it should be happening much more frequently than it currently is.

Unlike Moses, we have been gifted the very presence of God in the person of the Holy Spirit, and that Holy Spirit lives in every follower of Christ, revealed especially when two or more are gathered (Matt. 18:20). That was a promise given to us by Jesus, that he would be with us. Now he did not say that every time he was with us it would be an incredible, awe-inspiring display of his power, but he did promise to be there.

So I think we’re missing moments with God more frequently than we should be, and I think that is because we are waiting for bushes to catch fire, or a booming audible voice to shake us to attention, or for the wind to howl and the building to shake and for the pastor to inform us that God is here. Then we’ll take off our shoes. But if Jesus is one who keeps his promises, then every time we gather is a moment worthy of our attention, because the presence of God is in fact already among us.

So instead of looking for the extraordinary with desperate longing, maybe we should be acknowledging the constant reality of God’s presence among us and acting accordingly. Instead of hoping one day God will sweep through our church service or Bible study or youth group, maybe we take off our shoes every week, because we know he is already there. I wonder if we would encounter our God more frequently if we acted like he is already among us. After all, he promised he would be (Matt. 28:20).

Photo by Megan Burgess

When Faith Becomes Sight

Mark‬ ‭10:46-52‬ ‭- Bartimaeus Recieves His Sight

He had been awoken this morning, much like any other morning, by the squeaking of cart wheels and the thickness of dust filling his lungs. As he sat up coughing, his ears rang with the sounds of donkeys braying and merchants greeting each other in the early morning. He pulled his cloak over himself, feeling the chill of the morning through the hole in the shoulder of the garment. Maybe today I can collect enough to have that repaired, he thought to himself. The sun began to rise, which he was informed of by the heat gradually making its way down his body. His world was still in darkness though, and had been that way for as long as he could remember.

The voices and commotion slowly increased on the road throughout the morning, and he stayed in his spot for a time, knowing that it yielded the most return for his pleading at this time of day. He held out the old chipped dish he had found two nights ago behind a home nearby, and began calling out for money. He had been at it for quite a while and his stomach began to ache, but soon a firm round object fell into his lap. “Thank you, thank you!” he called out. “You’re welcome!” called a fading voice to his left. As the crisp fruit filled his mouth with sweet juice, he thanked God for his breakfast. Once he had finished his meal he relocated himself, since this road was mostly used early in the morning by the locals, but the one through the center of town brought many travelers through it as the day progressed.

The day grew hot and his dish remained fairly empty, promising him a meager dinner at most and no hope for the repair of his cloak. He sat down next to a local merchant’s tent, scooting in just close enough to benefit from its shade. In moments like this, especially lately, he let his mind wander, but only so far, because he knew if he let it go completely he would begin to despair of his situation. It was easy for him to start growing depressed about having to feel his way through life, knowing that it would be nothing to God to heal him and change everything. He would think about how he would see all of the people who passed him every day, ready to sell them dishes and utensils that he had formed himself, having spent so many years training to work primarily with his hands. All it would take would be an opportunity, a chance to train as a worker of clay, but one that had been rejected every time he garnered the courage to pursue it. But he didn’t let himself think like that anymore, and hadn’t attempted anything so silly in a long time.

Shouting voices and footsteps running down the road to his right startled him out of his thoughts. He stood up, listening intently but not making out words, and decided to walk towards the source of the commotion. But as he turned to go he was knocked down by a group of young people with the same idea who had sprinted past him to discover what was going on. Rubbing his back where he hit the table on his way down, the man sat up on the ground and realized that the mass of people had grown so large that it was crowded in front of the spot that he sat, and he began to hear a word repeated throughout the hoard of people.

The word was a name, a name who had been the reason his mind had wandered more lately, and who had caused him to think of what a life full of light would be like. Rumors had traveled along this very road, more and more in recent days, about a man who was traveling throughout the region, upsetting the rulers of the synagogues and speaking in ways about God that hadn’t been heard ever before. But these things were not of most interest to the man, who always asked about the same thing when travelers were telling their stories: “Did you see him heal anyone?” With so many affirmative answers it was hard for the man to push away his hope, and began asking God to bring this man of God through his town. Today this man, Jesus, was there.

Before he knew what he was doing, the man was screaming. Screaming like he had wanted to all his life. Screaming as one who had never had a chance to scream before. Screaming all of the hope and all of the anger he had inside him into the world. “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

He kept at it with all of the strength he could muster, unable to stand because the crowd had now engulfed him. People began rebuking him: “Be quiet!” “Stop embarrassing yourself!” “The teacher has no time for you!” But with every discouragement he screamed louder and louder and louder, until they began saying something else to him.

Several people were yelling at him, trying to make themselves heard over his hoarse cries. “Cheer up!” they cried. “On your feet!” said a voice, “He’s calling you!” But the man did not hear their words as he screamed out for the one he longed to meet. The man felt himself pulled to his feet and began struggling, determined he wouldn’t let a minor embarrassment keep him from doing everything he could to meet this man Jesus. But they kept crying “He’s calling you,” and as the words sank in he stopped. Immediately he threw his worn cloak aside and ran, tears streaming down his face and hands pushing him in the right direction. And before he knew it, he stumbled into a clearing with his hands feeling nothing in front of him. There were no more voices crying out to him, no more hands guiding the way.

He wanted to say something, but his lips would not move and the silence sat heavily on his shoulders. He knew the man stood before him, the man he had been praying to God for an opportunity to meet. The man who, if the rumors were true, could finally bring him into the world everyone around him knew. If only he could find his voice and tell him all the things he had been dreaming of, hoping for. He didn’t know how long he had been standing there when he heard footsteps coming near him. And Jesus spoke.

“What do you want me to do for you?” That was it. The man was almost offended, because wasn’t it obvious, with his hands outstretched and groping nothingness, staring in the wrong direction, unable to make eye contact with someone standing feet away from him? But he couldn’t be angry, because the voice was not what he had been expecting from a powerful and authoritative man of God. It was gentle, and certainly strong, but filled with a compassion that made the man’s heart break, because he knew Jesus truly saw him. And it might have been the first time he had ever felt seen in his whole life.

“R-R-Rabbi,” came a dry, ragged whisper from his lips, “I want to see.” Tears fell silently down his dusty face.

“Go,” said Jesus. The man’s heart dropped to his feet and his mind raced. How could this be, after all of my suffering and all of my prayers and embarrassment and shame and sorrow and rejection and hopelessness and darkness? How?!!! But before he could voice any of his fears, Jesus spoke again. “Your faith has healed you.”

Immediately he was blinded by white light, brighter than he imagined a light could ever possibly be. He closed and rubbed his eyes, but it wouldn’t go away, and he squeezed his eyelids together until more tears streaked down his face. Rubbing his eyes, he opened them. The light was gone, and instead there was a face before him, a face that looked gentle, certainly strong, but filled with compassion that made the man’s heart break, because he knew this face truly saw him.

The man immediately wrapped his arms around Jesus, crying and thanking him over and over and over again. He let go and spun around, taking in every face that surrounded him and now smiled and cheered and gasped and wept. He saw the buildings he had been feeling his way past all of his life, and the tents and the merchants therein. He would have wished he could see and know every face who had ever been kind to him to thank them, but in this moment he wanted to thank and hug everyone, even those who had looked down upon him before. But he couldn’t do any of that, he just wept and laughed there in that spot until he thought to look to Jesus again.

But Jesus had moved out of the circle, and the man could see the crowd moving along the road after him. The man immediately ran after them, intent on following Jesus wherever he would go, telling everyone he possibly could of the wonderful miracle given to him. He would look everyone he met in the eye and tell them “Jesus gave me sight! I once was blind but now I see!”

And as he followed after the crowd the man began screaming again. This time the people around him did not rebuke him or tell him to be quiet, and some even joined in. The man screamed and screamed until his voice was gone, and even then he continued to scream, determined to cry out this way for the rest of his life. “Jesus, Son of David, thank you!”

The Day Jesus Marched With Women

Mark 5 – A Woman and A Girl

On his way through a town, Jesus is confronted by a man whose daughter is dying. This man pleads with him to heal his daughter, and Jesus agrees. As he is making his way through dense crowds who are pressing in on him from all sides, a woman who has been bleeding for years finds her way through the crowd. She has been ceremonially unclean under Jewish law, separated from society because her condition, but in this moment pushes her way through the town to touch the edge of Jesus’ cloak, hoping beyond hope that healing could be hers. And her hopes are fulfilled.

Jesus notices that healing power comes out of him, seeks out the one who has touched him, and, upon hearing the woman’s explanation of the moment, blesses her, saying, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go and be freed from your suffering.” (V34)

As he turns to continue to the sick little girl, he and the girl’s father are informed that the girl has died. When he hears this he responds, “Don’t be afraid; just believe,” (V36) and continues towards the home where the girl’s body lies.

When he arrives, he shoos out the mourners, who laugh at his faith in the girl’s ability to be awoken from death. He takes the dead girl by the hand and says, “‘Talitha Koum!’ (Which means ‘Little girl, I say to you, get up.’)” And she immediately stands, raised to life by the encouragement of Jesus to get up.

Jesus breaks a host of societal norms in order to love these two, the woman and the girl:

1. The woman who was bleeding was ceremonially unclean, meaning that nobody wanted to be near her nor touch her, for then they too would become unclean if they made contact with her. Not only did Jesus interact with her, he allowed her to touch him and be healed by their contact, with no reaction as to what their contact would mean for his cleanliness. He cared not.

2. Jesus went in to the room where the little girl was and raised her to life. He does so by taking her hand, and touching a dead body would also make him unclean in traditional Jewish law.

3. He goes in to heal a child. Children were not valued highly in the Ancient Jewish custom, and even the disciples attempted to shoo them away from Jesus on at least one occasion (Luke 18:15-17). Sure children were loved and cared for in the home, but they became important when they started contributing the livelihood of the family through their labor.

4. This is the most important piece for our discussion today. Both the woman who touched his cloak and the little girl have something very important in common: they are women. Like children, women were not valued like men were in ancient societies and were thought to be inferior to their male counterparts, and this included Jewish culture. For Jesus to heal them both meant a major breaking of societal norms.

These two intertwined interactions show the heart of God in an incredibly important way: God is not as concerned with our societal norms or religious cleanliness as he is with our love. Jesus did not come to sit in the temple and lecture. He did not come to eat and drink with his people, Jewish people, only. He did not come to continue the norms in culture that keep people oppressed, marginalized, downtrodden, or devoid of power. He came to march directly to the places of pain and need and raise up the weak, humble the strong, and create a people who would go anywhere at anytime to love anyone.

And I mean that, anywhere, anytime, anyone. God didn’t imagine his people would avoid bars and casinos because they were filled with debaucherous people. He would never want them to avoid genuine friendship and love with another human because of their race, nationality, religion, or sexual or gender associations, fearing what those interactions might mean for their social standing. He didn’t consider that they might stay within church walls in order to avoid the sins of the world. He never intended for his people to be “us” and for the rest of the world to become “them.” And the reason he never thought this way was because he never lived this way on earth. Jesus ate and drank and lived his life with the despised, the rejected, the loathed, the lame, the poor, the confused, the self-righteous, the successful, the liars, the cheats, the lustful, the greedy, the proud, the outsiders, the oppressed, the screw ups, and everyone in between. Christ came to love EVERYONE, EVERYWHERE, and in EVERY PLACE, and to show them a God who loved and valued them all equally.

So today, as feet are marching and voices are raised around the country to speak for women and all those who need a voice, I encourage us to remember that in all of his life, not in just one vignette in the book of Mark, we see Jesus marching into every sector of society and breaking down its norms by intentionally doing what others would not, practically loving those others would not, and insodoing giving voice and power to those in greatest need. He let the impure touch him, the outcast find healing, the dead find life, the children find empowerment, and women know value from God that far surpassed any they had ever experienced from the society around them. Let us do the same.

“Go and be freed from your suffering…”

Compassion Beyond Comprehension

Genesis 50 – Joseph Wept

“When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “What if Joseph holds a grudge against us and pays us back for all the wrongs we did to him?” So they sent word to Joseph, saying, “Your father left these instructions before he died: ‘This is what you are to say to Joseph: I ask you to forgive your brothers the sins and the wrongs they committed in treating you so badly.’ Now please forgive the sins of the servants of the God of your father.” When their message came to him, Joseph wept.” – Genesis‬ ‭50:15-17‬ ‭NIV‬‬

Recall:

His brothers plotted to kill him. Stripped him and threw him into a pit. Sold him off into slavery in Egypt. Lied to their father by dipping Joseph’s precious robe in animal blood and saying he was dead. In Egypt he serves as a slave and is falsely accused of making advances on his master’s wife. Is thrown into prison for a crime he didn’t commit. Helps another interpret a dream but then is forgotten by that person for several years, left in prison to rot.

Years and years of misery and suffering because of what his brothers did, yet when he discovers his brothers fear that he might take their lives (and rightfully so), JOSEPH weeps. He weeps over the anguish his brothers are experiencing, for the years of regret they lived through, for the fear they were now paralyzed by. He weeps not for himself and his misery, but theirs.

“When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. “Where have you laid him?” he asked. “Come and see, Lord,” they replied. Jesus wept. Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”” – ‭‭John‬ ‭11:32-36‬ ‭NIV‬‬

Recall:

It was humans who sinned, who chose not to love God, to mistrust him and do what they felt best. It was humans who rejected the Father’s love over and over again as he endlessly loved them. It was humans who ignored the son of God when he came offering a relationship with God and a life of love, joy, peace, kindness, and gentleness. It was humans who would falsely accuse him and put him in chains. It was humans who would ridicule, mock, and beat him. It was humans who would nail him to the cross and end his life.

Years and years of pain and sorrow because of sin and rejection of God by humans, yet when he discovers that just one has died and sees the pain of the broken-hearted, JESUS weeps. He weeps over the lost and hurting sheep, the pain they experience in life, and the fear they have in this broken world. He weeps not for himself and his misery, but ours.

When The Light Shines Brightly

Psalm 16 // A miktam of David

Katie is a nurse!!! She begins her career at Sharp Mary Birch this week, and I could not be more proud of her. I can say with certainty that she is going to make an incredible nurse, because if she puts half of the effort and love into her job that she pours into our marriage and home she will be fantastic.

Today is a joyful celebration, one of those days where it is easy to say with David:

Lord, you alone are my portion and my cup;
    you make my lot secure.
The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
    surely I have a delightful inheritance.
I will praise the Lord, who counsels me;
    even at night my heart instructs me.
I keep my eyes always on the Lord.
    With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken.

Yet this moment comes at the end of a long and difficult season in the Ward household: the season of schooling. Granted, Katie and I made the decision to continue schooling after college, so our misery was self-imposed, but at times it was misery nonetheless. We both enjoyed our respective educations tremendously, but they did put an incredible amount of strain on our lives.

Between Katie spending 60-70 hours a week on her program, and me taking a double full-time course load and working four jobs, we were running on fumes for the first two years of our marriage. We experienced exhaustion, irritability, frustration, sorrow, mental breakdown, anxiety, panic attacks, and more. It was a season where it took all we had to say with David:

Keep me safe, my God,
    for in you I take refuge.

Francis Bacon said, “In order for the light to shine so brightly, the darkness must be present.” We understand David’s progression of thought because we too have walked through a season of stress and struggle, but have walked through it into light as witnesses that God does not abandon his people. This light is only a season, just as it was dark only for a time, but we will rejoice in the light as long as it is here, and celebrate all that God has done and the accomplishments we have achieved by his strength.

KATIE’S A NURSE!!!

Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices;
    my body also will rest secure,
10 because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead,
    nor will you let your faithful[b] one see decay.
11 You make known to me the path of life;
    you will fill me with joy in your presence,
    with eternal pleasures at your right hand.

 

The Noble Conviction of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

“We are called to be people of conviction, not conformity; of moral nobility, not social respectability.” – Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Conviction is defined as “a firmly held belief or opinion,” and the legacy of Dr. King is an incredible testimony to the power of conviction in the hands of a man devoted to representing God on earth. The man who became the voice of the Civil Rights Movement witnessed a world that was deeply divided by ugly convictions, ones that did not allow love to be the primary mode of interaction between humans. Yet instead of letting his convictions be things that divided him from others and created boundary markers around himself, creating “us-es” and “thems,” he used his God-given human agency to break down walls and fight for justice, unity, and peace.

Dr. King made his conviction love, when around him he saw a conformity to hate.

Dr. King made his conviction unity, when around him he saw a conformity to division.

Dr. King made his conviction justice for ALL people, when around him he saw a conformity to committing and accepting injustice.

Dr. King made his pursuit the moral nobility he experienced in the life of Jesus, nailing any social respectability he might lose to the cross.

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had a moral nobility which was driven by a conviction, a conviction that the heart of God was love, and that that love was not to be reserved only from some nor held at arms length from others. God’s heart of love was meant to be actively pursuing righteousness and justice for everyone, picking up the downtrodden and caring for the least of these, and Dr. King devoted his life to showing the world what the heart of God could do if men and women decided to turn their convictions from worldly hate, division, and injustice, to God-like love, unity, and justice.

I wish Dr. King were alive on earth today, much as I wish Jesus Christ were alive on earth today. I believe they would be good friends, and in some ways to know one would be to know the other, because Dr. King let his life be conformed so fully to the life of his Savior. I pray that that would be true for all of us, that to know us would be to know the heart of love that God has for his creation. ALL of his creation.

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” – Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.