Where Do You Find God?

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The writer of Hebrews says “God rewards those who sincerely look for him.”

All human beings have one thing in common.
It’s to connect to their creator.

That’s why humans can act extremely strange and erratic.
They may act in destructive ways to deny that desire or they may act in strange ways to try to fulfill that desire to connect.

There’s an old song “Looking For Love In All The Wrong Places.”

I think that in our world, in religious circles and even in my own life, we are many times looking for God in all the wrong places.

Sometimes I’m looking for God in a worship experience or in a teaching or in a class or in a particular religion but I am reminded of the words of Jesus:

“I was hungry and you fed me,
I was thirsty and you gave me a drink,
I was homeless and you gave me a room,
I was shivering and you gave me clothes,
I was sick and you stopped to visit,
I was in prison and you came to me.’
Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.”

The words seem so simple, the instructions uncomplicated.

I was just recently in Seattle and I saw a bumper sticker that said, “Jesus called, he wants his religion back.”

Embarrassingly, religion spends billions of dollars every year on buildings, politics, programs, rituals and war, trying to find God when the truth is God is around every corner.

He’s the homeless person needing shelter.
She’s the abused mom looking for safety.
He’s the dying aids patient hoping for someone to care.
She’s the prostitute begging for intimacy.
He’s your neighbor wondering what life is all about.
It’s your co-worker fighting depression.
It’s the forgotten elderly couple who children never visit, barely getting by on their social security check.

Tradition says that when St. Francis of Assisi turned his back on wealth to seek God in simplicity, he stripped naked and walked out of the city. Now I don’t recommend the stripping naked part, but the story says that he soon encountered a leper on the side of the road. He passed him and then went back and embraced the diseased man.  St. Francis then continued on his journey and after a few steps he turned to look again at the leper but no one was there. For the rest of his life he believed the leper was Jesus and I think he was right.

JESUS IN ALL HIS DISGUISES.

Author Max Lucado says, “Jesus lives in the forgotten. He has taken up residence in the ignored. He has made a mansion amidst the ill. If we want to see God we must go among the broken and beaten and there we will see them, we will see HIM.”

If that is the case, then it’s easier to find God than we think.

From Charity to Justice

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St. Francis once said, “There is no exercise better for the heart than reaching down and lifting people up. For it is in giving that we receive.”

Being involved in charity, which is not a bad thing, means to give to a person or an organization who will be doing the reaching down and the lifting up of people.

They are what you would call, a middleman, buffering you from the actual experience of reaching and lifting.

Charity allows you to help someone or a group of people without having to experience the pain or discomfort or inconvenience of what they are going through. Charity protects you.

But charity also robs you. It robs you of depth, purpose and the joy that can only come from reaching down and lifting up the people that your charity has actually protected you from. Charity can actually distance you from God.

Did I say that charity is not bad? I think I did. And it’s true. We need charity. We need generosity. We need to give to causes that we cannot personally be involved with.

Organizations that are on the front lines of war, disease, hunger and extreme poverty need our charity.

Yet…ultimately, God is not a God of charity but a God of justice. And because God is a God of justice, then so must we.

Justice is about a young girl in Africa having the same rights and opportunities as a young girl in the United States.

Justice is about a mother in Guatemala having the same access to medical care as a mother in the U.K.

Justice is about an inner city student being given the same quality education as an upper class suburban student. Bill Gates has said that “Until we’re educating every kid in a fantastic way, until every inner city is cleaned up, there is no shortage of things to do.”

Justice is about a foster child in America receiving a family support system that will propel them towards a sustainable future.

Justice is about a hungry belly at the bottom of the caste system in India having the same access to food as the bulging bellies of the upper caste system.

Justice is harder than charity.
Justice demands results.
Justice requires skin in the game.
Justice means sometimes eliminating the middleman.
Justice means we have to get our hands dirty, our knees skinned, our ego’s humbled and our comfort shaken.
Justice means we must learn to get along with each other so we can accomplish a greater good.

Justice is harder than charity, but it is exactly in these hard places that we see and experience the heart of God.

Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable… Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.”

He also said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”, which reminds us that we must be involved in local and global justice.

I am not sure if you will meet God in a worship service and I am not sure you will meet God in a sermon(there are some bad ones out there), but I am sure that you will meet God when you get involved in justice.

Shane Claiborne says “Charity can function to keep the wealthy sane. Tithes, tax-exempt donations, and short-term mission trips, while they accomplish some good, also function as outlets that allow Christians to pay off their consciences while avoiding a revolution of lifestyle. People do their time in a social program or distribute food and clothes through organizations which take their excess. That way, they never actually have to face the poor and give their clothes, their food, their beds. Wealthy Christians never actually have to be with poor people, with Christ in disguise.”

This is counterintuitive to our segregated, protected, “stand at a distance” kind of church life, but we must not just care about the poor, or give to the poor but we must meet, hang out, know, befriend and touch the poor.

Shane Claiborne goes on to say, “But when we get to heaven and are separated into sheep and goats (Matt. 25), I don’t believe Jesus is going to say, “When I was hungry, you gave a check to the United Way and they fed me” or “When I was naked, you donated to the Salvation Army and they clothed me.” Jesus is not seeking distant acts of charity. He is seeking concrete actions: “You fed me, … you visited me, … you welcomed me in, … you clothed me.…” If we are to truly be the church, poverty must become a face we recognize as our own kin.” http://www.thesimpleway.org/resources/content/downward-mobility-in-an-upscale-world-by-shane-claiborne/

When Jesus says feed, shelter, comfort, visit, clothe,  you are doing justice and it can be difficult but that is where you will meet him and you will experience a joy that cannot be taken away.

When the prophet Isaiah says to defend the defenseless and to fight corruption and abuse, you are doing justice and it can be painful, but that is where you meet the God of Justice and your legacy will be as a rebuilder of walls and a restorer of cities, and you’ll experience a sense of fulfillment that you have been  searching for.

When the writer of Proverbs says that when you give to the poor, you are lending to God and he will repay you well, you are doing justice, and it may be cause you to have to change your lifestyle, but you will learn to trust the God who will provide for your every need and you’ll experience a spirit of generosity that will set you free.

God simply asks us to show up, for a grieving mother, a lonely elder, a sick child, a hungry family, a struggling addict, a lost soul, and as we show up, though we can’t solve everyone’s problems, somehow God uses us as agents of healing and miracles happen.

I see it all the time, by just showing up.

A few Saturday mornings ago, 250 people showed up to my church campus at 8am in the morning. All in glow-in-the-dark t-shirts.

What were they doing? Where were they going?

They showed up to love forgotten seniors by fixing abandoned decks and to build liberating wheel-chair ramps.

They showed up to plant 1600 life giving vegetable so that hungry families can eat nutritious food this year.

They showed up to bring dignity where there was too little and hope where there was only despair.

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250 people.

Saturday morning, 8am.

What were they doing?

They were doing justice.

They were meeting Jesus in disguise.

I challenge people who call themselves Christians to show up.

Show up in your own backyard where orphans are called foster children, to the jungles of Peru where mosquito’s kill children, to the slums of India where young girls are violated, to the famine deserts of Africa where bloated bellies scream for nourishment, to the inner cities of America where young men are growing up fatherless and drug dealing is the career of choice, I challenge you to show up.

For big causes of justice and small causes of justice, show up!

Albert Einstein said, “In matters of justice, there is no difference between large and small problems, for issues concerning the treatment of people are all the same.”