Thursday, February 23, 2017


The Parable of the Persistent Widow
18 Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’
“For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’ ”
And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” [1]

Widow in the Scripture is code for “someone with nothing.” A widow had no husband or sons, and with them no land rights or ability to make a living. They were at a dead end. This is why Jesus consistently reached out to them as the poorest of the poor and makes them the hero of his stories. With one word he described a person of the utmost lowest class without the ability to rise. Not only this, but this position was not due to things under their control. They didn’t deserve to be in the position they were in. They were someone that any group of people could have sympathy for. That poor widow. This widow in particular is even more to be pitied than most. She has experience injustice.
Jesus doesn’t tell us what injustice she has experienced, just that there isn’t much question that it could be judged otherwise. Perhaps something was stolen from her…perhaps it was something else. This widow goes to get help from the only one with power to bring justice where it is so sorely missing. She goes to the judge.
The problem is this judge is not good at his job. He doesn’t want to bother with this woman’s claim, which has no financial reward for him. Jesus states twice that he isn’t concerned with God or others, so we can guess that he was in this business for the payoffs. This widow clearly couldn’t bribe him, so why would he bother with her?
But the woman keeps coming. Day after day she is there asking for justice. She pleads for justice. Each day she is sent away. Then the next morning, there she is again. Until finally the judge realizes she is not going to stop. He knows that her presence is absorbing his day and taking away from his business. So, he decides to grant her justice.
Jesus uses this story to remind people that persistent prayer in the face of injustice matters. That when we seek justice, we must be persistent. We must keep pressing even when our message doesn’t seem to be heard. Later, the Apostle Paul talks of persistence as a key part of our faith.
We are to persist. We are to seek justice. When justice is refused, we are to continue day after day to bring it before God.
There are many days that I am ready to give up. There are days when I no longer want to fight to be treated as equal. There are days when I want to stop defending people wronged by our culture. There are days when it seems that nothing I do matters.
Those are the days that I remember the persistent widow. When I remember Rosa Parks, Irene Sendler, Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Malala Yousafzai.  When I remember Dr. Martin Luther King and the Reformers of the church.
Those are the days when I pray for justice. Those are the days I persist. I weep over the sins of the world, and I pray, “How long, Lord?”
And God whispers, “Soon.”

[1] The New International Version. 2011 (Lk 18:1–8). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

Monday, February 13, 2017

5 Things to Remember when the Church Disappoints You

In the last week, I have heard two heartbreaking stories of the church disappointing someone. And it was the church’s fault. They had felt abandoned in their need.

It isn’t only care issues that disappoint us about the church. We are disappointed in the church for all kinds of reasons. We are disappointed when the church puts itself before the least and lost. We are disappointed when people complain about petty things. We are disappointed by gossip and plain old meanness in the church.  The church can be a place full of disappointment.
These are some things I try to keep in mind when I am disappointed by the church.

1.      She is full of sinners, just like me. Jesus doesn’t wait for people to have it all together before he calls them to be disciples. He just tells us to follow. That means that when we follow him into the church, we end up surrounded with people still working towards perfection, still trying to be holy. Yeah, it would be great for the church to really look like heaven, but the thing is each of us has to look like heaven before that can happen. There are some sins that are still hard for me to resist and sometimes I can’t resist temptation, even after a lifetime in the church and decades of following Jesus. I want people to have grace with me, so I need to be willing to offer it to others. After all, unforgiveness is biblically unforgivable. 

2.      She makes mistakes. #1 was really about DNA, the church’s make-up. This one is really about her vision. I don’t mean “vision statement” vision. I mean, the church is not all knowing. She doesn’t always see the consequences of her actions. She doesn’t always see the people getting hurt by her decisions. She doesn’t always know what the future holds. The church trusts God, who can do all those things, but she can’t. 

3.      She isn’t trying to be malicious. Even though disappointment can feel like an attack, it often isn’t.  When my kids are playing with their lightsabers, and one of them gets hit in the thumb, even though one of them was hurt by the other, I don’t get heavy handed with punishments. Why? Because they didn’t mean to. They weren’t hitting each other filled with hate. Sometimes that happens in the church. Gossip could have started as a misinterpretation of the facts. Complaints could have come from a desire to make church better for everyone. In our hurt state, sometimes we forget to look at the original intention behind the action. 

4.      She is still the best system for Spiritual Growth.  You can read your Bible on your own, but your interpretation is strengthened by others’ interpretation. Your resolve is strengthen when you know you aren’t the only one struggling. When life is beating you up, it’s good to have a group of people in your corner, bandaging you up, telling you where to punch it back. You can believe in God without church, but it is really hard to follow Jesus without the church. 

5.      She isn’t going to get better by disappointed people leaving. Now this might just be how I was raised, but I was taught that if you don’t like something, you should do your best to change it. If you think the church is a mess, you should try your best to change it. And you can’t change it if you’re not on the inside.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

She Called Us

It is amazing how hard it can be to connect with young adults in rural Indiana. Often they have stayed in the area because of strong family ties. So strong in fact that they really don’t need another friend, thank you very much. That was the world Nick and I lived in when our kids were toddlers. We were surrounded by people just like us who wanted nothing to do with us. People who we constantly were calling, and yet never initiated a call themselves. 

But then a couple the age of our parents introduced us to their favorite waitress, Elly. Elly was our age with kids our kids’ age. We met in the park for playdates and threw our mutual friend a surprise 50th birthday party. Elly invited us to her daughter’s birthday party. She called us. She befriended us when everyone else’s doors were shut under the guise of “busy-ness.” Even though she worked full time, she never seemed too busy for us. 

A month before we moved, Elly asked us for help. She needed a sponsor to help her become a legal immigrant to America. She spoke perfect English, was the best employee, and had taxes withheld from her check every pay period. In fact, because she was illegal and had no number of her own, she was paying for someone else’s social security. She was an outstanding citizen who welcomed strangers into her home and was active in her community. Elly’s children were US citizens. 

I told her no. We were moving and I wasn’t sure how I could be a good advocate at the distance that would separate us. 

There are few decisions I regret as much as that decision. I don’t know what happened to Elly. I don’t know if she was deported. The risk of being known was one of her biggest hurdles in trying to become legal. The process itself was a Catch 22. I don’t know if she ever found sponsors. 

She is one of the countless faces that flash before my eyes when the news brings up immigration. I pray for her every day that she can stay in the States, because I want citizens like her. I want people like her as my neighbors and my coworkers. I want my kids to be friends with kids like hers. Elly is the reason that I think immigration needs to be rehauled and why I cringe at the thought of deporting large masses of immigrants. 

So today I pray that God would watch over Elly and her family and the thousands of families like hers. I pray that God would help me advocate for illegal immigrants and clearing a better path for them. I pray that when another Elly comes into my life, I will not make any excuse to be in their corner. 

I pray God will forgive me for not doing more. 

I pray that I will never forget about Elly.