Missional empathy

Jesus had compassion on the crowds who followed him in his journeys. His attitude wasn’t mere sympathy or feeling sorry for them. It was tangible love made manifest by his interactions with the masses. The blind gained sight, the lame walked, the deaf received hearing, the leperous received respect and healing, the Samaritan woman received forgiveness, as did so many others with whom he came into contact. He became a regular among sinners and the outcasts. 

His empathy was not/is not/will never be symbolic. It is real, just as he is real. And greater works than these will we do if we are willing to lay down our lives, our distractions, our perceived needs, our willfulness, and follow the way of Jesus, the way of missional empathy.

Time to go. I need to practice what I write here in southeast Portland amid the decaying squalor of heartbreak. Pray for me. Sometimes my needs distract me from considering the needs of others.

Break camp and advance…

homelessness: connecting where others fear to tread

She trudged slowly ahead of me and to my left in the margin of the busy road, token cardboard sign in hand. Her body language indicated discouragement, even a hint of despair. Before the signal light could turn green I opened my truck window and reached out with a fresh banana in hand. She turned around. She lit up with a radiant smile which outshone her colorful traditional clothing. 

“Would you like a banana?” I asked. 

“Thank you. God bless you!” 

I smiled, as well. “God bless you, too!”

As I drove ahead, I noticed her continuing smile in the rear view mirror. It was real. Sincere. Grateful. I don’t know her name or her story. I may never see her again. But I pray for her, asking God to help her both practically with food, shelter and provisions, and spiritually. I hope I do see her again. I want to continue the conversation.

I don’t share this brief encounter to ask for congratulations or to impress you. I share it to illustrate that folks without shelter are not state enemies, even though they are often treated that way in the Portland metropolitan area. Yes, there is a criminal element among the unhoused population.Yes, there is a high rate of drug addiction and mental illness. It’s a complex set of issues. 

But can’t we advocate for them and help them practically? Find out who is doing this important work in your neighborhood. Support them. Volunteer. Befriend folks who live outside and listen to their stories, their dreams. And even if they don’t choose to get help with an addiction or mental health ailment, are we brave enough to love them anyway? Are we courageous enough to recognize our own brokenness and need for help as easily as we notice the perceived shattered circumstances of another who may or may not be less fortunate than us? 

Maybe connecting in this way seems hard, even impossible. If we don’t try, then we prove it. On the other hand, when we do try we may find ourselves navigating a brand new friendship where others fear to tread.

Break camp and advance…

What if there really is a purpose to your life?

Imagine that. Purpose. You. Your life. Is it possible? Will you dare to believe it? Explore it? Live it?

Anyone can wander through his daily existence pursuing desires. That’s not what I’m talking about. I mean God’s purpose for you wherein your desires conform to God’s will for his glory. John the Baptizer lived this out first-hand. Before he was born his ministry had been prophesied through the prophets, specifically Isaiah and Malachi. And having fulfilled his purpose, which always was to prepare the way for Jesus, the Christ, John emphasized that he must then decrease while Jesus increased. 

John understood his role, even if he understandably struggled with a measure of self-doubt while imprisoned in the days before his capricious beheading by a spineless dictator, subject to the whims of Herod’s wicked, unlawful wife and her daughter. John always had first in mind to glorify God, to glorify Messiah, to prepare the way for The Lord, to fulfill God’s purpose for his life, especially in the face of personal danger. 

What about you? What’s God’s purpose for your life? What will it cost you? In what ways and to what degree must you decrease so that God may glorify himself through your life, even if in the natural your impact is little known or appreciated?

Imagine that. Purpose. You. Your life. Is it possible? Will you dare to believe it? Explore it? Live it?

Break camp and advance…

Mission happens on purpose

It’s no accident when a smile blossoms into conversation, later segueing into deepening layers of friendship. It happens on purpose, the way a flower responds to the sun’s attention. We are drawn in by kindness. By sincerity. By an attentive listener.

I often don’t know what to say initially to someone who is confiding in me, but I am learning to listen more deeply. It’s easy to talk; it’s hard to listen. Talking is often a Pavlovian response to our need to control situations. Listening deeply on purpose is the act of giving oneself to the privilege of growing in understanding another person in her context, not our assumptions. It’s intentional. It’s the basis of mission. It lays the groundwork for sharing the gospel on fertile soil.

Make no mistake, talking is important in its appropriate context, but not nearly as often, and definitely not with the typical strident tones displayed in the public religious/political square. 

This is not to say its necessary to become confidants with people before you can share with them the good news of Jesus Christ. I am suggesting taking a long term perspective of relationship building, rather than strictly relying on driveby soundbites which more often come off as cowardly and arrogant, rather than loving. 

It’s not easy. It takes time. It happens purpose. It’s far easier than you may think. Ask yourself, who do you come into contact with on a regular basis, whether it’s daily, weekly, monthly…?

For me, I think about the trains and buses I ride, my walking routes, the grocery stores, gas stations, local businesses I frequent,  parks, hiking trails, my apartment complex, and yes, even my church. You read that correctly, some lost people attend church and need to hear and understand the gospel, too.

So what about you? What’s your list of opportunities to be salt and light in your world? 

Now go, be witnesses for Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit with go before and with you opening up opportunities and giving you wisdom to listen deeply, and when the time is right, to share clearly and persuasively the gospel of Jesus Christ.

I’m praying for you. 

Break camp and advance…

mission is where you are

Yesterday I rode the Max blue line through the Hollywood transit station. Two heroic men died defending two young girls, one of them apparently Muslim, yesterday. A third man is in the hospital with a slashed throat. I’m horrified and inspired at the same time. Horrified that a person would inflict such unprovoked hate and carnage on others; inspired that strangers would set aside their own safety to come to the aid of their neighbors.

They put their lives on the line, two of them paying the ultimate price. They responded to the need looking them in the face and did not ignore its desperate plea. 

How can I, as a follower of Jesus, ignore the needs surrounding me right where I live? Hunger. Loneliness. Grief. Poverty. Isolation. Addiction. And so on.

When I arrived home, I conversed for about a half hour with one of my neighbors about what happened, as well as her sick child and life in general. 

Mission is where you are, where you live, those spaces you in inhabit as you go about your day. It’s also where God sends you, whether to distant ports of call or to others parts of your city. 

I must go now. Mission awaits.

Don’t just sit there. Mission awaits you, too. Be bold.

Break camp and advance…

Special needs kids deserve inclusion

He came into the kids church room for the very first time last Sunday, introduced by a long-time friend and colleague. I don’t know much about his story. Slightly built, frail really, he tentatively inched his lanky fourth grade frame into the room, letting her do all the talking. Never once did he speak to me.

But we did connect. I smiled and bent low to make eye contact as he considered the merits of staying for the kids church experience, or playing it safe and sitting next to my friend in adult worship. His eyes were slightly covered by his hoodie. He wanted no one to see or make fun of his cochlear implants, apparently recently installed to help him overcome deafness. 

I said, “We would love to have you stay with us for kids church. We are going to do something really fun. In fact, I’m going to let you in on a secret that none of the other kids will know about until later this morning: each of us gets to choose what kind of fish or water animal we would want to be if we lived in the Red Sea where Moses and his people passed through as God parted the waters for them.”
His eyes slightly dilated. He reads lips like me. I could tell. He gave it some thought…

“None of the other kids know about this yet. It will be our secret. You get to choose what animal you would want to be early and you will be all ready when it is time later!” 

He smiled. Just a little. But I noticed. He ended up leaving with my friend, but just before we were ready to act out the fun story, he returned. I winked at him as I introduced the idea to the kids. They were excited. He smiled again, bigger this time. Not sure what fish he played, but play he did as together we all waved to the Israelites moving on dry ground through the  imaginary Red Sea. 

The boy is a human being just like his peers. Just like you. Like me. We want to be included even if we live with some kind of physical, mental, or emotional issue that sometimes makes it hard, especially if others treat us badly because of it. 

It’s up to us as leaders to help children navigate these difficult waters, even if those who may have taught or led us in our childhood neglected to do so. 

Contentment 

It wasn’t supposed to be this way based on my dreams from thirty years ago. That life has passed the event horizon. And I am glad; grateful really. In obscurity there is liberty to notice the hidden turnings of the culture and natural environment I inhabit, no longer as an observer, but as an indigenous patron of hope. 

Last Thursday I stopped to look out at Fanno creek just west of Summer Lake. Seven baby ducklings followed their parents in the calm waters. When they started to straggle and then spread out, their guardians squawked and flapped their wings, hurriedly bringing them back into the fold as they collectively paddled under the bridge upon which I stood. Two beavers looked on, grooming themselves upon the south bank and gossiping about the tempting growth of bushes on the opposite shore. Don’t look at me that way. I’m just reporting the facts. I lost sight of them soon after they made landfall in the aforementioned undergrowth.
Courtesy suggested that was my moment to move on. As I began walking again I couldn’t stop thinking about these creatures living their lives, struggling to survive, yet enjoying the blessings given to them by The Lord God.

They dwell, work, and play in their habitat both unpretentiously and enthusiastically. No complaints about their lots in life. No looking wistfully into human homes or businesses, thinking, “I gotta get me some of that.” They are content. 

Question is: am I? 

Are you? 

Give it some thought. 

Meanwhile I am going to move on. It’s the courteous thing to do. Also, I’m going to continue engaging the fellow beautiful but broken, even shattered, people who dwell with me in this obscure corner of our culture.