When I was a school teacher, I often joked that the job would be a lot easier without all the kids…and private school parents for that matter. I’m sure doctors often feel their profession would be much simpler without all the whining, sick patients. I guess most jobs would be more fun without the work. And participation in God’s work of redemption would be far more appealing in a perfect setting and with people who didn’t really need to be redeemed.
But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Rom. 5:8
When Terrell called yesterday about our car window being smashed and his wallet stolen by kids he’d just corrected Chad from thinking looked like “bad guys” because that was playing into a stereotype, I just cried and cried. I cried because I’m tired of crime and trash and entitled bullies and boarded up storefronts and houses with overgrown yards and kicked in front doors. I cried because I was mad that those kids just totally reinforced their own worst stereotype. And then I asked the question that is always the elephant in the room, for others before we came and with each moment of discouragement, “What are we doing here!?”
Of course, that is entirely the wrong question because it is based upon a false presupposition or two: 1) that engaging in reconciling work won’t actually require work or anything that actually is broken and in need of restoration and 2) any evidence that stereotypes of angry black men, dangerous street thugs, and boys in hoodies with nothing to lose might actually have arisen honestly will somehow undermine the redemption efforts…that sinners in need of redemption shouldn’t actually be sinful, wicked, corrupt, full of bitterness, division and self-serving wrecklessness. I seem to want a redemption story in Scripture that is anemic, that omits the darkest, most violent, wicked realities of humanity. I mistakenly continue to assume that Jesus came to folks who just need small adjustments not total regeneration.
Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross! Phil. 2:1-8
It is the sick who need a physician, not the healthy. It is the dead who must be resurrected to live. It is I, united with Adam and Eve, who chose enmity with God and alliance with the serpent and will never move toward God until He declares my enmity to be with the serpent as He allies me with Himself after drawing me out from behind the tree. It is God who seeks and saves the lost sheep…the wandering, clueless and stubborn sheep. If He did not love me first, I would never love Him.
What am I doing here? For starters, I am here for the very same reason His image has been sent to all places, neighborhoods, communities and nations since He made man in His image to begin with in the Garden. He made us to image Him, in all creation, and then He lived, died brutally and conquered sin, selfishness, destruction and death so that He could image Himself through us. There is no white middle class mother, thieving black kid on Johnson Road, grumpy old man at a Buckhead library, wide eyed child, award winning philanthropist, midwestern farmer or college professor more deserving of His grace and mercy nor outside the reach of His life giving, redemptive arm of total restoration. It is in this place that I see a bit more of my truthful condition before God…I am no less self-serving, no less poor, no less needy, no less angry, no less distrustful and yet He left His home in perfection to move to what had become “the projects” of His creation. In this place I see more clearly my need for Him, my dependence upon Him, and the incredible need outside of myself that only He can meet. What am I doing here? I am just beginning to take Him at His Word, all of it.