Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Into the Furnace

Our church goes to Mexico twice a year through a ministry called Corazon (heart) to partner with people in the communities of Tijuana and Tecate to build homes for people suffering poverty. It's really a powerful experience even though it only takes us one day. Handing over the keys of a new home to a family in need never gets old. Corazon has traditionally been one of our church's favorite missions but lately there have been a lot of people concerned about our traveling to Mexico. "It's just too dangerous now," they say. And I usually respond with "it's too dangerous to vacation, but if your going there to help meet need then this is the best time to go because the need it greater... isn't that what Corazon is all about?" Sometimes I will respond, "I'd rather die young, helping my brothers and sisters than live forever in my comfort."

I know I am young and idealistic, but take this opportunity to listen to someone who hasn't yet learned how to sacrifice comfort for human life. Jesus said, "Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell." This is not so much a verse about eternal damnation as it is about putting things into priority. This passage is about the risk of following Jesus. Basically what Jesus is saying is, "if you're afraid of getting killed, you should be more afraid of losing your soul."

You probably know who Shane Claiborne is (if you don't, read Irresistible Revolution now!). When Shane is asked if he's afraid of living in the inner city he usually responds, "we're more afraid of shopping malls." He says in his book, Becoming the Answer to Our Prayers, "while the ghettos may have their share of violence and crime, the posh suburbs are home to more subtle demonic forces--numbness, complacency and comfort. These are the powers that can eat away at our souls." If we're afraid of going to Mexico, we should be more afraid of losing our souls to the suburbs.

When Jesus associated himself with "the least of these" by saying, "whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me" (Matthew 25:31-46), perhaps part of what Jesus was doing was showing us the idolatry of comfort. If we choose not to clothe the naked, feed the hungry, or house the homeless we have actually chosen to neglect Jesus. If we choose to neglect Jesus for our own self preservation, that's idolatry. To sacrifice someone's well being for your own safety is to bend your knee to something other than Christ. To neglect the needy in the name of self preservation is to offer up human life as a sacrifice to the god of comfort.

Let us take a lesson from the book of Daniel. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were commanded, at the sound of instruments, to bow down to the god of the empire but they consistently refused. Now why would they do that? Couldn't they have faked it? Couldn't they have bowed down in order to dodge a bullet and just pray to the real God in their hearts? No they couldn't have. I think they understood what Jesus meant when he said, "Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul." They understood that it wasn't about bending a knee, it was about what happens inside your soul when you choose comfort over God's Kingdom. It wasn't that God was going to smite them if they bowed, it was that if they were to bow it would only be for their own good and they knew what that kind of selfishness does to someone. So rather than offering their allegience--real or fake--to their own comfort, they chose the furnace. "I'd rather die in a furnace than live forever in the suburbs." Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were thrown into the furnace at it's highest temerature. But they did not burn like everyone thought they would, instead they danced. Moreover, they were joined by the God who trades his own life for his friends.

If your afraid to go where the suffering is, be more afraid of staying at home. As Shane Claiborne and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove wrote, "Perhapps the most dangerous place for a Christian to be is in safety and comfort."

3 comments:

The Thief said...

When I went to Russia as a college student, people frequently asked me, "Isn't that dangerous?"

When I got to Russia, however, and told my new Russian friends that I lived in Chicago, their response was universal: "Isn't that dangerous?"

I suppose it's all a matter of perspective.

WES ELLIS said...

haha. true, true. Sounds like when I went to Israel...

The Thief said...

Truth is "dangerous" places are dangerous, but so are "safe" ones. The center of the will of God is the most dangerous place to be for a couple of reasons; one is because we will encounter resistance there' the message of the cross is offensive to those who don't know Jesus. The second reason it's dangerous is because it's dangerous to me. I keep dying when I'm in the center of the will of God. Self keeps dying. My goals keep dying.

But thank God that in the center of His will is LIFE - REAL LIFE (yes, I meant to shout that), the life of the Holy Spirit.

So bring on the danger.