Day 3: Looking Inward So We Can Look Outward (Repeat as Necessary)

Yet the news about him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses. But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.  Luke 5:15-16

Throughout the Gospels, we read of Jesus’ withdraw from the crowds, and from his disciples, to go away from people and pray. I’ve often heard sermons where a pastor (typically an extroverted person) would present this withdrawal as a time for Jesus to take a moment to rest and re-set himself spiritually so that He could rush back to the crowds with renewed energy. Because the crowds are where it’s at!

Now, I tend to see something else at play here: Jesus, as the perfect Son of God, would likely be the perfect blend of extrovert/introvert. Let’s assume he needed his alone time just as much as he needed to be among people. In the passage in Luke, we see Jesus speaking to great crowds, and healing the sick, and then withdrawing. And not just once; he “often withdrew.”

So there is hope for us introverts! Jesus also loved lonely places, safe places, places where He could think and ponder and decompress.

Author Susan Horowitz Cain has written extensively about the often misunderstood personality trait known as introversion in her book “Quiet Revolution: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.” To the introvert, being naturally quiet and reserved can seem like a debilitating flaw. In many fields, extroverted personalities excel, such as in business and politics and media/entertainment. We can also see this in churches, where we like the pastor who can socialize and mingle and laugh and slap backs and shake hands and never grow tired of it.

In such a culture, is the thoughtful, shy introvert doomed to life as a second-class citizen? No, says Cain. In fact, she offers numerous examples of how introverts can utilize their natural traits to make a significant impact. Introverts may not talk a lot, but when they do, their words are typically appreciated as wise and nuanced, the result of thoughtful reflection on a situation or a decision.

Cain encourages introverts to embrace the way they were created, rather than feel like they are doing something wrong when they struggle at parties or find small talk terribly awkward. And I believe Scripture reinforces the principle of “less is more” when it comes to communication; certainly the Proverbs talks about the wise man who uses few words, and the foolish man who uses many words.

Prayer: If you need time and space to think, thank God that He has made you that way. And know that Jesus needed such time as well.

Further Reading: Luke 5

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Day 2: Show Me the Money

Labor-union-strike

“Then I will draw near to you for judgment; and I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers and against the adulterers and against those who swear falsely, and against those who oppress the wage earner in his wages, the widow and the orphan, and those who turn aside the alien and do not fear Me,” says the LORD of hosts.  Malachi 3:5

In the spirit of the wild-eyed, fist-waving, in-your-face Old Testament prophets, I will be blunt: the current federal minimum wage is an absolute, unjust abomination that is nothing short of a stench in God’s nostrils.

There was a time when we could tell a young person that “a job, any job, can help you get ahead in life, if you just work hard enough.” Now, only the most dim person would offer that advice.

The math of modern employment for many people simply doesn’t work anymore. Forty hours at the current minimum wage will not provide enough income to rent an apartment, buy groceries, pay utilities and furnish transportation to the job. Also, day care. And if you were thinking about loftier goals — savings, college for yourself or your children, or retirement accounts — your paycheck is an even bigger joke.

Dig deeper, and it gets even crazier.

How do we cope with so many people working for poverty wages? Well, the only choice is to help them, because helping them is preferable to mass starvation or widespread riots. State and federal governments provide assistance like food stamps and other aid that helps the working poor to at least eat.

Isn’t it weird that many of the country’s largest employers — retailers and fast food companies — pay low wages, bank massive profits, and yet someone like me is subsidizing their unsustainable business model with my tax dollars that keep their employees alive? Not one of them has sent me a thank you note!

Being stingy, then, is not only immoral; it’s inefficient. It creates the very thing conservatives say they hate: government dependence. Yet they twist themselves into logic pretzels to defend such pitiful wages. And the most radical among them have even suggested that there should be no minimum wage at all. Everyone get in line for those $1.25 jobs!

Allowing the minimum wage to steadily decrease in purchasing power over the course of four straight decades, even as national productivity has increased, is a sign of a society with a twisted moral compass.

I believe the Christian has been called “for such a time as this”, advocating for better pay and an economic system that once again rewards work, believes everyone should be treated with dignity, and provides clear paths out of poverty. When only the wealthiest benefit from the productivity increases that all of us have helped engender, the society is corrupt to the core. And eventually it will crumble and die. Let’s insist on justice before it’s too late.

Prayer: That God would give us the strength to win this battle for justice and fairness even as powerful forces align against us.

Read: Proverbs 29

Day 1: Welcome the Stranger

“And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt.”  Deuteronomy 10:19

The verse can’t be much clearer. And it’s not like that verse is some kind of outlier; you can find many other encouragements throughout the Bible to be live in harmony with people who are different than you.

I started working in refugee resettlement in 1990. I was hired as a young marketing writer for a major U.S. charity that did refugee resettlement in a couple dozen cities from coast to coast.

One of my first big assignments was to ride on a plane with a large group of refugees who were being flown from Moscow to Chicago. These were victims of persecution that was still present even in the waning days of the Soviet Union — Christians who found themselves at odds with local and national leaders.

A young father, a thin man with hollow cheeks and hurting eyes, talked to me through an interpreter. “My children cannot even eat an apple,” he said. “We are close enough to Chernobyl that everything is contaminated. Yet we cannot move.”

Like the others, he had appealed to authorities, made his case known to people in embassies, and had waited and filed forms and waited some more and finally heard that he and his family were permitted to enter the United States as refugees.

Other times, I met refugees in their homes. An older man from Vietnam welcomed me into his modest home in Binghamton, New York. He related his experience after the war in his nation ended, and the misery of re-education camps and forced labor, and ultimately finding new life in America. Another family, also Vietnamese, invited me into their one-bedroom apartment, where the cluttered living room featured adjoining desks for the two daughters who were earning straight-A’s at the local high school, and somehow completed their homework despite the blaring TV.

And also in Binghamton, I met beefy Vietnam vets, dressed like bikers, who had found healing and closure by working with the refugee resettlement agency as mentors and volunteers. These huge men cried and hugged easily; whatever trauma they had endured in the war was now channeled toward service and love toward Vietnamese refugees making new lives in New York.

Welcoming the Stranger is simply one way we model the unconditional love of Christ. I’ve seen how both the recipient and the giver of good deeds can be transformed by such selflessness. Privately, we should not pass up opportunities to help those who have arrived in our cities and towns; publicly, we should insist that strangers should continue to be welcomed and respected.

My prayer: That I will be open-hearted, open-minded, and open-handed to those different than myself. And that God will lead me in times of misinformation and overt and covert discrimination to stand up for those who are marginalized.

Further Reading: Matthew 2:1-15