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If you every came to a Sunday School class for the sr. high at Marshall First Christian about 4-6 years ago, there’s a really great chance that you were taught a lesson from the book Theirs Is The Kingdom by Robert D. Lupton. You might remember everyone ridiculing Tim about teaching from this book and whatnot. This is one of Tim’s favorite books (or so I believe), and the truth is that the book is really quite good. I think we were all just giving him a hard time because that’s what you’re supposed to do to your youth minister.

Anyway, so I’ve been reading through Theirs Is The Kingdom this week. And I came to a very interesting chapter. The title is An Invitation To Suffering. It’s only about a page long so I’m going to put it on here. So here it is:

                I do not like pain. Not in any form. Loneliness, sickness (my own or another’s), anxiety, frustration, disappointment, hurt-these are not the companions with which I choose to share my life. I actively avoid them. I buy drugs from my pharmacist to shield me from physical pain. I surround myself with people like myself who dispel my loneliness and reassure me that I am OK. I control my contacts with people who take more than they give. I schedule my days to eliminate disruptions and to accomplish the things I think significant or pleasurable. A theology of abundance, peace, and health has enormous appeal to me.

                Recently I witnessed a small act in the drama of city life that both moved and troubled me deeply. It was a familiar situation. A family with three small children was evicted again for nonpayment of rent. Their ritual “put me up for just tonight” had been used once too often. With no money for bargaining, the only place they could find to stay was a front porch. The father slept under a bush. Although I was quite unwilling to give them any more, I wondered what would become of them.

                Then an unbelievable but predictable event occurred. An unemployed brother whose own family was barely surviving took his evicted relatives in. Once again it was those who could least afford extra mouths to feed and were already crowded to the point of eviction who found it in their hearts to help. Even more disturbing to me was the cost of caring: increased hunger; hot, sleepless nights made even more unbearable by crying babies and wall-to-wall bodies; the stench of inadequate sanitation; short tempers; constant confusion.

                This picture still burns in my mind. It is a haunting reminder of the energy I spend avoiding the cost of loving others. I establish an emergency relief fund instead of inviting hungry families to sit at my table. I develop a housing program to avoid the turmoil of displaced families living in my home. I create employment projects that distance me from the aggravation of working with undisciplined people. As a counselor I maintain some detachment with a fifty-minute hour and an emphasis on client self-responsibility. And even as I share the gospel with the needy, I secretly hope that God will handle their problems.

                Of course I don’t allow myself to think this way very often. I choose rather to concentrate on the positive things I am doing for people, helpful things, right things. But when I am honest with myself, I must admit that I cannot fully care for one who is suffering without entering into his pain. The sick must be touched if they are to be healed. The weak must be nourished, the wounded embraced. Care is the bigger part of cure.

                Yet I fear contagion. I fear my life will get out of control and I will be overwhelmed by the urgent affairs of others. I fear for my family. I resist the Christ who beckoned his followers to lay down their lives for each other. His talk of a yoke, a cross, of bearing one another’s burdens and giving one’s self away is not attractive to me. The implications of entering this world of suffering as a “Christ-one,” as yeast absorbed into the loaf of human need, are as terrifying as death itself. Yet this is the only way to life. The question is, will I choose life?

As I read and reread this chapter, I can’t shake the feeling that God is saying something to me. I find myself falling into the same mindset that Robert Lupton writes about. I don’t want to feel the pain and sorrow of others. And I find myself believing that I can help people from afar. That I can keep them at arm’s length and do them good. And the sad fact is that I’m kidding myself. Keeping people “out of my bubble” accomplishes nothing. In fact I believe that it might be tearing down the Kingdom rather than raising it up. Don’t get me wrong, organizations and projects are great. Heck I wouldn’t be where I am now if I thought that way. But we must remember that we need to be AMONG the people to really help them.  The hard part is we know that this won’t be easy.  We will have to CHOOSE to take the hardships and pain to truly be part of the people.

I think the last paragraph really says it all. So I encourage you to reread this paragraph daily. Take it to heart and start living it out. I’m also challenging myself to do the same thing. And once we do that, we can really start living!  Any takers?