Monday, December 13, 2021

Itchy Ears

I have itchy ears.  Both literally and figuratively.

In both cases, itchy ears are annoying and distracting.  They are annoying because you really can't talk about and it's not socially acceptable to scratch your ears in public.  It's also distracting because there can be all sorts of good things going on and yet if your ears are itchy, that is all you are thinking about.

It is the figurative sort of itchy ear that is more challenging and that is what I have been really preoccupied with of late.

My ears are itching to hear a gospel that goes beyond a "get them through the door" evangelism, beyond "my relationship to God is the whole message of salvation," to a robust discipleship that recaptures a vision of the fullness of redemption.  I long to hear that in messages and sermons when the church is gathered, and when I don't hear it, my ears begin to itch.  It's annoying and it's distracting.  It's annoying because it feels like I'm being critical of the church, and I don't want to be critical.  It feels distracting because there still often is still a good message for me and for the church in the message being shared, but I'm distracted by my itchy ears.

Articulating the problem does help.  I'm calling out and confessing that I have itchy ears.

When I scratch at the itch a bit, I realize that there are a few things Biblical irritants.  In Genesis 3, we discover that three things were broken in the fall:  our relationship with God, with others, and with work/creation.  Yet the large majority of messages and sermons that I hear focus only on our relationship with God and largely ignore our need to be discipled and redeemed in these other key areas.  

Gary Black, Jr, in a book called Whatever You Do for An Integrated Life writes this:  

One key motivation for this lack of attention to discipleship is imbedded in a misapplication of a key biblical doctrine.  When the theological tenets of justification by faith are thought to be the beginning and end of the gospel story, then sanctification becomes a non-essential add on to the Christian life.  A biblically valid understanding and application of Christlike discipleship, and the habits of sin it seeks to address and transform, is becoming progressively lost to mainstream evangelical congregations, universities, and seminaries.  Sin, it turns out, doesn't preach very well to a consumer driven society.  In sum, Christian discipleship demands surrendering to the process of holistic transformation of character as an inescapable priority of the gospel Jesus preached.  In this way the gospel is how Jesus provides for human beings to experience the unbridles wholeness god originally intended for us to experience and share.

We know how deeply embedded sin is in our lives and cultures.  Our character can't help but be shaped by this, and when our brief times on Sundays focus on knowing better who God is, but not knowing better who we are in Christ, we come away having better head or heart knowledge of God but not transformed or sanctified further in vocations and callings.

That itch is further exacerbated when I spend time with believers who express their frustrating with work, who are unable to see God in their workplace and see their work as an occasion of serving Him.  They desire meaning in their work and yet are often frustrated by it being a form of drudgery.  This past week I had a chance to speak to some college students who asked how they can find fulfillment in their work and what path they should take to get there.  It's not unusual at that age to be hungry to find a vocation with meaning, yet we rarely hear significant attention given to the meaning of our work lives given from the church, even though work involves the majority of our awake time every week.

There are long reaching impacts of our relationship to work and how it can become corrosive to human flourishing that must be addressed.  

Spiritual formation is incomplete without this important emphasis.  And the world cannot be reached when we only grow in our understanding of God as a personal Savior, but not in personal sanctification through discipleship that reaches into every corner of life, from the home, to the workplace, to the marketplace.

So my ears continue to itch.  And while I feel bad about their itching, and while I sometimes feel like I'm a "noisy gong or clanging cymbal" (1 Cor 13:1), yet they are likely to continue to itch.  I'm beginning to accept it and recognize that there is something from God in the itching.  Some itches are meant to be scratched.  Some itches are meant to be caught as the underlying reason for the itch remains and must still be addressed.  

I'm now asking God to reveal what good can come from this.  

Are your ears itching too?

Monday, December 6, 2021

The Drought Ravaging East Africa

Last week I mentioned the drought in Tanzania, but in the advent of Giving Tuesday, it may have lost some of the importance of our request for prayer for this crisis.  Thanks to many of you, our supporters, we were able to send money this past week to our partners in East Africa to help mitigate the challenges to farmers because of this drought.  But let me share more about the situation now.

We are told that Kenya has received only 30% of their normal rainfall at this time, making it the worst rainy season in decades.  Many have lost up to 70% of their livestock and the remaining are too skinny or sick to be sold.  The price of cows has gone from $357/cow to $45/cow.

Droughts often happen on a five-seven-year cycle in this area, which allows for water bodies to fill up again.  But the last drought was just three years ago, which was not enough time to regenerate the water supply.  Women in Northern Kenya are often responsible for fetching water, and it is estimated that they now have to travel an average of 14km or 8.7 miles to get water (‘We will all die’: In Kenya, prolonged drought takes heavy toll | Climate Crisis News | Al Jazeera)

From the BBC, this short report and then a link to a video, which may be disturbing to some as it contains images of dead animals:

A t least 26 million people are struggling for food following consecutive poor rainfall seasons in the Horn of Africa.

Drought conditions in northern Kenya, much of Somalia and southern Ethiopia are predicted to persist until at least mid-2022, putting lives at risk.

The situation is already so bad that wild animals are dying in their hundreds and herders are reporting losses of up to 70% of their livestock.

The BBC’s senior Africa correspondent Anne Soy reports from Wajir in northern Kenya.

WARNING: This video contains images of dead animals which some people may find distressing.

The drought ravaging East African wildlife and livestock - BBC News

Please pray for rain for this region.  If you are a business owner or work in a business, you can imagine the devastation of watching your hard work die before your eyes.  The poor are often those most affected by the impact of climate change.  If droughts are expected to be more frequent and longer, there are things that can be done to mitigate those challenges, but they do take a lot of money and infrastructure.  But our God is also able to hear the prayers of His people and send rain where it is needed most.