God at work: $100,000

This past year, I’ve had a front row seat–indeed, I’ve been fortunate to be in the thick of the action–as God’s been at work: in my life, in the lives of those around me, and in The District Church. Here are some examples:

  • God’s been at work through prayer in my small group, where we’ve prayed for jobs for four guys (including myself)–each of them is now employed; and we’ve prayed for housing for four more (including myself)–each of them now has a place to live.
  • God’s been at work in my small group period, where today we commissioned three new small groups out of the one I’d been leading. I felt blessed to have so many servant leaders in my group, and am so excited to see all of them stepping into what God has for them.
  • God’s been at work in our church, growing our small community until we’re now stretching the space we’ve been meeting in. We wanted to find a larger space but none of those options worked out, so starting on September 25, we’ll begin having two services on Sunday morning! This is such an exciting time and we believe this is a time God is calling us, to use an analogy from 2 Kings 3, to build ditches in preparation for the rain.

And most exciting of all …

Last Sunday, we commemorated the 10th anniversary of 9/11 at our church, and in his message, Aaron spoke about how “True Awakening Leads to Reform” (we’re currently doing a sermon series drawn from Habakkuk and Acts, entitled “Awaken”). He expanded on the op-ed he’d written in the Washington Post to mark the occasion, in which he’d written to the Muslim community to apologize for the ways that we as Christians had allowed our pride and prejudices to cloud our witness. And so on Sunday, as a small act of reconciliation, we took up an offering for our Muslim brothers and sisters who are suffering from the famine in the Horn of Africa–Somalia, hardest hit, is 99% Muslim. Through various other movements of the Holy Spirit, we had offers to match whatever we raised by up to 7 times. Still, we were conscious of our size–we’re only about 150–and so we were ready to be thrilled regardless of the amount raised.

I suppose I should have left this email untitled to maintain the surprise. But when all was said and done, we as a church raised almost $15,000, and with the matching donations, we were able to raise $100,000 for famine relief efforts.

$100,000!!

This was such humbling and spine-tinglingly exciting news, such an encouragement for me as a leader of a community of such amazingly generous people, and such a reminder that God is at work, doing great things even in the face of great suffering and tragedy.

May we all (continue to) see God at work in all things.

Whose side is God on? A outsider’s perspective on American Christianity

Original post: October 22, 2008; repost: March 30, 2010.

I don’t tend to react very well when a person claims God for their agenda or their side or their country. As an American citizen, born and raised in Hong Kong, and educated in London, I have somewhat of an outsider’s perspective on the role of faith and American politics, notably in how many view America’s affiliation with the Christian faith with caution and even outright hostility. I remember following the effects of 9/11 and the subsequent Iraq War with my English friends, Christian and non-Christian, wondering—and at times, cringing—at the ease with which President Bush claimed God for the American ‘side.’

In The Irresistible Revolution, Shane Claiborne describes what he saw in America after the events of September 11th, 2001:

Conservative Christians rallied around the drums of war. Liberal Christians took to the streets. The cross was smothered by the flag and trampled under the feet of angry protesters. The church community was lost, so the many hungry seekers found community in the civic religion of American patriotism. People were hurting and crying out for healing, for salvation in the best sense of the word, as in the salve with which you dress a wound. A people longing for a savior placed their faith in the fragile hands of human logic and military strength, which have always let us down. They have always fallen short of the glory of God. (2006:199)

The Christian faith became too easily subsumed into American patriotism, and there were many in the American Church too easily persuaded to support the war in Iraq. Yet Obery Hendricks Jr. argues that this is not an isolated incident but a cultural phenomenon: “in the strange calculus of American political culture patriotism has come to be virtually equated with Christianity. Love of country is extolled in the same breath as love of God” (The Politics of Jesus, 2006:324).

Such an attitude is not only unbiblical, but it undermines the global and universal nature of God’s invitation and salvation. As Jim Wallis comments, “Nationalism doesn’t go well with the kingdom of God. The church is the international body of Christ, and “God bless America” is not found in the Bible” (The Great Awakening, 2008:74). In Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address in 1865, he acknowledged the tragic irony of asking God to be on one’s side:

Both [sides] read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces; but let us judge not, that we not be judged. The prayers of both could not be answered—that of neither has been answered fully. (quoted in E.J. Dionne, Souled Out, 2008:186)

His advice: “Do not say that God is on our side. Let us hope that we are on God’s side” (quoted in Hendricks 2006:193).

It would be easy, especially in a country where Christianity—or some semblance thereof—is so ingrained into the cultural identity and where national pride is so encouraged, for Christians to allow their faith and their love of country to become intertwined, for God to be seen as promoting their agenda—whether conservative, evangelical, liberal. When this does happen, as has happened in part already, the American church’s mission to the world—to demonstrate the love of Christ and the power of the gospel—is hampered by her association with all other things American: “For many in America and around the world, the American flag has smothered the glory of the cross, and the ugliness of our American version of Caesar has squelched the radiant love of Christ” (Greg Boyd, The Myth of an American Nation, 2005:14).

I wish we’d listened to George W. Bush …

… when he said, on October 12, 2000:

If we are an arrogant nation, they will resent us. If we’re a humble nation, but strong, they’ll welcome us.

He was right.

In fact, I wish George W. Bush had listened to himself, as Jon Stewart points out in this clip from a few years ago (thanks to Eric for the tip):

9/11 changed a lot of people in a lot of different ways. I wish it hadn’t changed 43 in the way that it did.

Leonard Cohen's "Democracy"

H/T to Ryan.

It’s coming through a hole in the air,
from those nights in Tiananmen Square.
It’s coming from the feel
that this ain’t exactly real,
or it’s real, but it ain’t exactly there.
From the wars against disorder,
from the sirens night and day,
from the fires of the homeless,
from the ashes of the gay:
Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.

It’s coming through a crack in the wall;
on a visionary flood of alcohol;
from the staggering account
of the Sermon on the Mount
which I don’t pretend to understand at all.
It’s coming from the silence
on the dock of the bay,
from the brave, the bold, the battered
heart of Chevrolet:
Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.

It’s coming from the sorrow in the street,
the holy places where the races meet;
from the homicidal bitchin’
that goes down in every kitchen
to determine who will serve and who will eat.
From the wells of disappointment
where the women kneel to pray
for the grace of God in the desert here
and the desert far away:
Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.

Sail on, sail on
O mighty Ship of State!
To the Shores of Need
Past the Reefs of Greed
Through the Squalls of Hate
Sail on, sail on, sail on, sail on.

It’s coming to America first,
the cradle of the best and of the worst.
It’s here they got the range
and the machinery for change
and it’s here they got the spiritual thirst.
It’s here the family’s broken
and it’s here the lonely say
that the heart has got to open
in a fundamental way:
Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.

It’s coming from the women and the men.
O baby, we’ll be making love again.
We’ll be going down so deep
the river’s going to weep,
and the mountain’s going to shout Amen!
It’s coming like the tidal flood
beneath the lunar sway,
imperial, mysterious,
in amorous array:
Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.

Sail on, sail on …

I’m sentimental, if you know what I mean
I love the country but I can’t stand the scene.
And I’m neither left or right
I’m just staying home tonight,
getting lost in that hopeless little screen.
But I’m stubborn as those garbage bags
that Time cannot decay,
I’m junk but I’m still holding up
this little wild bouquet:
Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.