Saturday, June 23, 2012

Contributing to the Brokenness

"All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one. Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive. The venom of asps is under their lips. Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness."
—Romans 3:12-14—

Last night, I watched a small portion of the video, "Making the Bus Monitor Cry." You can watch it here. My reaction to this incident progressed through three different stages: rage, sadness, then guilt.


Karen Klein is a bus monitor in Greece, New York. Monday, she was verbally attacked in a way that can only be described as evil. At one point, this widow and grandmother of eight was told that her entire family killed themselves because they didn't want to be around her. Her son committed suicide ten years ago. I snapped. I was so angry. How could people, even seventh grade children, be so cruel? I wanted justice.


The next emotion that hit me was sadness. Ms. Klein's tears poured as she was publicly ridiculed, which only brought more humiliation. I just wanted to hug her. I wanted to pull her out of a world where she was forced to endure such heartless taunts. I wanted to warp back in time and stand in the gap for her. I wanted to shield her from the daggers that were relentlessly thrust into her soul.


Finally, I saw the truth. My words have also served as salt for many wounds. When I was in high school, there was a younger student who had a terrible home life. His father beat him. His mother abandoned him. He was alone. I tortured him publicly. When everyone else exposed his deepest wounds, I joined in. Eventually, he began cutting himself. There was another student who was mentally disabled. He tried so hard to fit in. I made his life miserable. No list that I can make could contain the names of the countless people that I have hurt.

I lashed out toward others in order to medicate my own pain and insecurities. I wanted them to feel how I felt. I wanted to escape my own inner torment by inflicting it on others. I am guilty of the crimes that I condemned. Who am I to desire justice against Ms. Klein's torturers? Sure, they deserve it. But so do I. How can I burn with rage against anyone but myself?

Brokenness and Restoration

I am a broken image of what I was intended to be. I have contributed to the brokenness of the world around me. I have played my role in distancing the world from the God who created it. I am not okay. I deserve justice, but through the cross, God offers a grace that I will never comprehend. He was angry with me. He had, and still has, every right to be. I have spurned Him, hurt others, and played the self-righteous blame game. What was His response? He unleashed upon His own Son the fury that I had stirred up in Him. Every last drop of God's wrath toward me was poured out upon Jesus. I deserve condemnation, but received redemption.

The Blame Game is Lost at the Cross

The cross displays to me my own guilt. Not my parents'. Not my enemies'. Not my government's. Not cruel children's. Mine. At the cross, I see what I deserve. 

The cross displays God's grace toward me. I, personally, have been shown undeserved grace. Because of Christ's sacrifice, alone, I am counted as one of God's children. Counted as a son.

Because God has chosen not to count such a high mountain of guilt against me, how can I extend anything but grace to others, no matter the crime? My heart breaks for Ms. Klein because she was victimized. My heart breaks for the students who taunted her because they are no more guilty than I, and my guilt was paid for by Someone else. I pray that God rids me of my own self-righteousness so that I walk in constant realization that I have no righteousness of my own.

See also: Matthew 18:21-35

Saturday, June 9, 2012

The Necessity of Luxury

"But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content."
—1 Timothy 6:8—

I thought a lot this week about the short time that I spent in Nicaragua. The picture above is of some friends and I goofing off with children from the village of Santa Rosa. The structure that we were in was a house. Not a tool shed, not a rickety car port... a house. The purpose of this post is not to encourage you to give more or to make you feel guilty about your two car garage, but to shed light on a truth that I believe is much more unsettling—the deception of necessitous luxury.

Poor Kids or Wealthy Us?

How can it be that those who have so little, by American standards, could be so happy? The first gut reaction that many people have when thinking about those who are "less fortunate" in other parts of the world is, "Those poor kids." Please don't get the wrong impression; there are so many ways that we could be, and should be helping. There are people all over the world who die from preventable diseases and starvation every day. Millions of people live their entire lives without ever hearing the gospel that sets us free from wrath and propels us into sonship. It is not merely charity for us to extend aid in these matters; it is an obligation. These children weren't starving though. Their mothers walk a mile to and from their crop fields every day to gather rice and corn to feed their children. At Christmas, they slaughter the village cow and get a very special dish: beef.

I don't think the problem is that we have something that they don't. It's just the opposite; they have something that we will probably never have. What we call necessity, they call luxury. When I used to think of the word "luxury," I automatically thought of mansions, yachts, and private islands with beach bars that never run out of good beer. Nicaragua changed me though. I went there thinking, "Those poor kids," and left thinking, "Poor us." The idea of luxury is ever increasing for those who already live luxurious lives. I drive a truck (with air conditioning), make more money in a week than most people make in a year, and live in a house with indoor plumbing. I am filthy, stinking, luxuriously rich.  For a resident of Santa Rosa, or most of Nicaragua for that matter, I would be considered wealthy beyond their wildest dreams. It is only from ignorance and arrogance that I have ever claimed to be "broke" or "starving."

Lies we are Eager to Believe

As I have previously stated, it is not my intention to promote guilt, but to offer a broader perspective. We should not be ridden with guilt about their "poverty," but should realize that the pursuit of more luxury will never satisfy, and will only push us into the depths of wanting more luxury. We are rich monetarily, but they are rich in contentedness—which is something that many of us will never attain. We always want something more. A newer model. The latest gadget. The coolest cell phone. Is it not blatantly apparent that this is nothing more than a snowball rolling down a never ending hill? In The Explicit Gospel, Matt Chandler wrote,

"The shiny distractions of new things are a deceptive part of the circular silliness. We see this play out in life over and over again. The new gadget or a new wardrobe or a new house or a new boat or a new car promises a weird relief and excitement, doesn't it? Have you ever thought about how weird that is? A new cell phone, the cool one, makes you feel better. This kind of consumerism comes with an emotional stroking, like a narcotic high. But then it wears off. New stuff becomes old stuff really quickly, and we need the next new thing."

I am writing this blog from a new MacBook Air. I bought it last week and gave Kelli my "old" one. It was an exhilarating buy. The last time I was that excited about a purchase was when I bought my previous Macbook, the old one, which no longer captivates my affections. In six months, this computer will be last year's model and there will be a bigger and better one to buy. I had, once again, bought into the lie that another shiny gadget was the cure for my discontent. I, like so many times before, allowed myself to be deceived into thinking that chasing wind could result in its capture.

Contentedness > Wealth

The people of Santa Rosa, though they have several issues of their own (all of broken humanity does), understand something that most of us with access to this blog will never grasp—shiny gadgets, new cars, and all other things that bring temporary smiles to our souls, will never satisfy us. You can't band-aid brokenness. Christ is the only source of the satisfaction we seek. During my time there, I slept in a tent, had no need for money, no plumbing, no air conditioning, and no access to sermon clips from my favorite pastors. I didn't miss any of it. I realized, that week, the difference between necessity and luxury. I no longer feel sorry for these children because they don't have all the "necessities" of American living; I envy their contentedness and freedom from endless materialistic seductions. My prayer is that I don't forget this... again.