Monday, February 16, 2009

Woe to you who laugh...

In my preparation this week of Luke 6:20-26, I couldn't get past the verse that says, "Woe to you who laugh...". The issue I have is not with Christians enjoying life and living it to the full. The issue I have is Christians enjoying life and living it to the full while ignoring the condition of the poor around the world. It is wrong for us to spend our life and energy pursuing our happiness at the expense of those who live in oppression and poverty. If our prayer is truly for the Kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven, then we can't pretend like the world is not a disaster. I compiled the following information about the condition of things around the world. I pray the Lord would lead us into the best opportunities to dance upon these injustices. This is not ok.
  • Tragically, nearly 27,000 children under age 5 die every day, mainly from preventable diseases and related causes.
  • More than 2 billion people lack access to electricity and modern forms of energy.
  • More than 1 billion (one in five) people live on less than U.S.$1 a day.
  • The annual world economy breaks down like this: Low Income, $825 or less: 37%, Lower Middle Income, $826 to $3,255: 38%, Upper Middle Income, $3,256 to $10,065: 9%, High Income, $10,066 or more: 16%
  • Approximately 143 million children in the developing world (one in 13) are orphans.
  • More than 10 million children under age 5 die each year. Two-thirds of these deaths — more than 6 million deaths every year — are preventable.
  • There are 1.5 million diarrheal-related deaths per year among children under 5.
  • An estimated 130 million of the world's 15- to 24- year-olds cannot read or write.
  • Roughly one-sixth of the world's population, or 1.1 billion people, do not have access to safe water.
  • About 2.6 billion people in the world do not have access to adequate sanitation, roughly two-fifths of the world's population.
  • Approximately 1.8 million children die every year as a result of diseases caused by unclean water and poor sanitation. This amounts to around 5,000 deaths a day.
  • The average person in the developing world uses 2.6 gallons of water every day for drinking, washing and cooking. This is the same amount used in the average flush of a toilet.
  • Approximately 21.1 percent of children live in developing countries without safe water.
  • Each day, 1,500 children worldwide become infected with HIV, the vast majority of them newborns.
  • Every 14 seconds a child is orphaned by AIDS.
  • One person in seven goes to bed hungry every day.
  • Every day, nearly 16,000 children die from hunger-related causes. That amounts to one child every 5 seconds.
  • About 5.6 million or 53 percent of child deaths worldwide are related to under-nutrition.
  • Approximately 146 million or 27 percent of children under age 5 in developing countries are underweight.
  • More than 6 million children die from malnutrition each year.
  • Worldwide, 161 million preschool children suffer chronic malnutrition.
  • Already 40 percent to 50 percent of the world's populations are undernourished and there are 50 million starvation-related deaths each year.
  • Diarrhea kills an estimated 1.6 million children each year, caused mainly by unsafe water and poor sanitation.
  • About 40 percent of the world's 400 million school-age children are infested with intestinal worms due to the lack of sanitation.
  • More than 2 billion people globally lack access to electricity and modern forms of energy.
  • 2.2 billion lived in countries ruled by dictators or totalitarian regimes.
  • Children living in areas of extreme economic hardship and social disruption are at increased risk for abuse, violence and exploitation.
  • An estimated 1.2 million children — both boys and girls — are trafficked each year into exploitative work in agriculture, mining, factories, armed conflict or commercial sex work.
  • Approximately 5.1 billion people live in the developing world. The developed world, which consists of about 57 countries with a combined population of about 1 billion, is less than one-sixth of the world's population.
  • 55 percent of all births in the developing world (excluding China) go unregistered, meaning more than 50 million children begin life with no identity.
  • Worldwide, 126 million children work in hazardous conditions.
  • Every year more than 1 million children get pulled into the sex trade.
  • An estimated 8.4 million children work under horrific circumstances: forced into debt bondage or other forms of slavery, prostitution, pornography, armed conflict or other illicit activities.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

When Enough is Enough

I was reading in Exodus this week and stumbled on to something extraordinary. In chapter 36, verse 5, “The people bring much more than enough for doing the work that the Lord has commanded us to do.”

For the first time I can remember, I'm hearing pastors talking about the reality of the economic hard times. I've heard about churches who are putting expansion plans on hold, cutting spending on ministries, and even letting staff go. Our church is experiencing tremendous growth, but our offerings have not increased significantly. Every day we try our best to do more with less, empower more volunteers, work more efficiently, and to be faithful with what we've been given. The reality is that we have a lot of people looking for work, and our church is half college students. It is exciting to see God at work in our fellowship and lives being changed, but it becomes more challenging to minister to so many more people without additional resources. I haven't heard about any provisions for young churches in poor college towns in all the talks about the new stimulus plan.

All of that is why this verse jumped out at me. Could you imagine having to cut people off because they were giving too much? I've never heard of that in any church (though I do know of one in Dallas that only takes an offering every six weeks because, and I quote, "money's the easiest thing to find around here."). I've heard of churches doing series on giving when budget's not being met. I've heard stories of pastor's pleading for more money in order to not close the doors. At a conference a couple of weeks ago I heard about churches borrowing money to keep the bills paid. All of those scenarios make me sad. Is this story from Exodus unrealistic? How far are we from that happening.

I think even in a bad economy, this could be a reality. Over and over again in this part of Exodus, the people gave because their hearts were stirred to give. They weren't giving out of obligation, they were giving out of guilt, they were giving because their hearts were stirred, and they were delighted to be a part of what God was building. We also see that they gave as they were able. People who had money gave money. People that could sew offered sewing. Construction dudes built stuff. Artists and decorators gave their services to God. In beautiful detail, we have descriptions of the fruit of their labor. We contrast this with feeling obligated to give our 10% so that we will be "blessed" or "obedient." These offerings in this passage were not their tithe. What we fail to see in our time is that tithing is not some major sacrifice for the Kingdom of God. Tithing is the minimum. Tithing is "housekeeping" according to my friend Norman. When we see the generosity of our forefathers in Exodus, we should be challenged to not be content with tithing, but we should search our hearts to see what else we can give. Some can give a lot of money, others can give what they do, others can give time. We were created to glorify and worship God, and that opportunity includes how we give and volunteer.

I'm now praying that a day will come in our church where we can say, "that's enough." We really don't need any more money. Or, what if we were able to take most of our offerings and give them away because it was too much for us? That's the Kingdom. I pray that we would listen to our hearts and respond in generosity, respond in giving. I believe that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. I believe that He still stirs our hearts today as He did then. I believe that even when it seems like we should be storing away for the tough times ahead that we would invest in the Kingdom with our money, talents, and time. I believe we could see it... "Thank you for your offerings, but we've got enough." How awesome would that be?