Yesterday was Compassion Sunday at Elston Family Church. It started out with a simple e-mail to my pastor, asking for permission to do a small, quick presentation about Compassion International and set up a Sponsor Display in the lobby. He granted permission without a moment's hesitation. Within a week or two, Compassion Sunday @ EFC had grown into a much larger event. Instead of a five minute presentation, Pastor Randy asked me to help him coordinate an entire service focused on God's Heart of Compassion for the world.
We ended up presenting a *ton* of information yesterday. I talked about Compassion International. Two families in the church talked about their adoptions, which are in the final stages. They introduced their new children (Welcome, Micah!! Welcome, Addai!!) to our church family. And then a good friend and I talked about our upcoming trips to Haiti.
Leading up to yesterday, I felt uncomfortable. I had really planned on giving a quick five-minute presentation that people would be able to easily ignore, if they so desired. Instead, it ended up being a 90 minute service focused solely on certain realities and what we, as a church family, can do. It seemed a little harsh.
It didn't feel very easy to say things like,
"One-third of the world's children live in extreme poverty. One out of every five people on this planet live on less than $1 per day. That's an annual salary of $365."
It felt a little inappropriate to say things like,
"Each year, 1.2 million children, children, are trafficked for sexual slavery or cheap/free labor."
It felt mean to say things like,
"Today, 1600 women and 10,000 children (mostly infants) will die from diseases and complications that could have been easily prevented by an antibiotic or an immunization."
I mean, what if there were visitors in the crowd? And what about the new Christians? The "baby" Christians? Wasn't this a little heavy for them?
It felt cruel to say things like,
"By spending $40/month, Mike and I are able to keep Pracidia from being one of these statistics. I know that seems steep, but it's less than your cable bill. It's less than two trips to the restaurant each month."
And, to rub salt in the wound, I showed them her picture.
I was especially mean to the first service. Without any warning, I was overcome. I just started bawling. And I said, "I feel silly, because I've never met her. And I probably never will. But I just love her so much."
I was so careful to tiptoe around. I was so sensitive not to hurt anyone's feelings or offend anyone's senses.
And, at the end of each service, I stood next to my Sponsor Display. People walked by to look at the pictures. Some even took brochures or asked questions. But at the end of the day, my table still had the pictures of fifteen children sitting on its surface. Not a single child had been sponsored.
To say I was disheartened wouldn't be false, but it wouldn't be completely accurate either. I was simply a little less hopeful. I planned to set up the display next week, as well. And I was still hopeful that at least one child would be released from poverty in Jesus' name.
I had no idea what God had in store for the afternoon.
I already felt drained. I already felt like I was lying on the floor in a million pieces, my heart hurting for the lost. My heart beating for the poor. And I felt so alone. Out of 200 people who attended yesterday's service, not one could sponsor a child in need? I felt a little crazy. Am I just an extremist?
We came home and hosted our small group, led by the Skidmores. Sarah told us that she had a video series that she'd like for us to do as a group, but she wasn't sure if we should do it or not. She warned us that it was heavy, and she told us it was called, "What the Gospel Demands."
We told her that we'd at least like to start it.
He said some really hard things, and you could tell it weighed on him. Things like:
"There are over 4.5 billion people today on a road that leads to hell."
"Today, over 30,000 children will breathe their last breath due to either starvation or a preventable disease."
"We are not inconvenienced by extreme poverty because those stricken by it are not only poor...they are powerless."
From the screen, he obviously could not tell that I was in tears and barely breathing, because he went on to say things like:
"If I believe it [the Bible], if this Book is true, then that has radical implications for my life."
"God measures the integrity of our faith by our concern for the poor."
"It is hard for the wealthy to get to Heaven...and we are rich. Everyone in this room is rich."
"Jesus said, 'Anyone who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.'"
When he finished preaching, the room was very quiet, and Sarah said, "So, what do you think?"
And I said, "Can we meet every week instead of every two weeks?" And then I got self-conscious. I mean, obviously, this resonates with me. I've been thinking and praying on these things for months, if not the past couple of years... So, in my insecurity, I said, "I mean, it's okay if the rest of you don't want to do this. It may just be where I'm at right now. I don't want you all to feel like I'm pushing you toward it."
And my dear friend, Tim, emphatically stated, "I NEED THIS! I want this. This is what I'm searching for. I mean, there's got to be more than this...more than just paying the bills and going to work."
And, all of a sudden, I knew I wasn't alone. But this wasn't even the greatest revelation of the afternoon.
Just a few minutes after this exchange, one of our members said, "So, are you telling me that I have to give everything up to follow Jesus? Is he saying that all Americans are going to hell?"
And I said, "I don't think that's the point of what he's saying. I think he's saying that, those who are truly seeking after the heart of Jesus, truly seeking to follow him, they won't be rich, because they'll be giving it all away."
"To what extent?" he asked.
And I said something that seemed totally practical at the time, "I don't know. God will tell you that. When you're following him, he'll tell you when to give and what to do. This isn't something that we'd challenge a new believer with. This isn't a message for "baby" Christians."
And that's when Revelation came. That's when a shift happened in my life. That's when Jesus spoke to me more powerfully than he has ever before. (I'm not exagerrating. This has radically changed my thought process in the past 24 hours.)
Tim looked at me and said, "Why not?"
He continued, "I mean, Jesus didn't do that. Jesus didn't save this stuff for the 'mature' followers. These are the things he said to the huge crowds. This is what he said to people who were coming to him and asking to follow him for the first time."
My goodness. What have we done to our faith?? What has "Christianity" done to the following of Jesus Christ??
He was so absolutely right. This is not a graduate level course in Christianity. This is a BASIC principle of following Jesus Christ...being willing to give it ALL up for Him and His purposes.
You see, it's not about the poor. It's not about charity. It's about following Christ wherever He goes...following Him wherever he tells us to go.
And that's probably not going to be pretty or comfortable. I mean, look at the first move Jesus ever made:
He chose to leave beautiful, perfect Heaven and come down to despicable, imperfect Earth for the glory of God...so that God could be made more famous.
Am I willing to go there? Are you willing to go there?
We've gotta answer that question before we can go *any* further in following Christ.
And I know my answer. My answer is, "Hell yes!" Am I scared? Infinitely so. Am I concerned about what it will cost me? Absolutely. Do I think I might be embarking upon the absolute hardest time in my marriage to date? Without a doubt. Am I afraid that people will think I'm radical/extreme/foolish/etc...? A little bit.
But I truly, truly care more about going after Christ. I truly, truly care more about getting connected to His heart more and more...all for the glory of God.
And I am unapologetically radically changed forever more...
Would you like to do this study with my small group? If so, let me know. I'd be willing to figure out how to start up a chat board or a message board on this site so that we can go through this series together. If you wanna follow Jesus like this, I wanna help you in that endeavor. Just let me know.