The best sermon you can ever preach is one you preach to yourself.
By Kathryn Jump
Sometimes facts can ring so true they’re almost physically painful.
I am currently reading the book “Half the Sky: turning oppression into opportunity for women worldwide” by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, a husband and wife journalist team who have spent years travelling the world to collect the stories and statistics for this book. They detailed the horrors of human trafficking, maternal mortality, rampant cultural rape, female infanticide – hot topics in current humanitarian efforts. I began to see the faces behind the terms as I read the stories of countless women who have experienced these things. The book was almost too much to take in at points, but it seemed shameful that I would have a weak stomach reading TRUE stories of women who LIVED through these atrocities every day.
One page impacted me specifically, concerning the numbing effects that statistics have on people’s propensity to respond.
“A growing collection of psychological studies show that statistics have a dulling effect, while it is individual stories that move people to act. In one experiment, research subjects were divided into several groups, and each person was asked to donate $5 to alleviate hunger abroad. One group was told the money would go to Rokia, a seven-year-old girl in Mali. Another group was told that the money would go to address malnutrition among 21 million Africans. The third group was told that the donations would go to Rokia, as in the first group, but this time her own hunger was presented as part of a background tapestry of global hunger, with some statistics thrown in. People were much more willing to donate to Rokia than to 21 million hungry people, and even a mention of the larger problem made people less inclined to help her.”
This is me. I do this. I let statistics roll through my brain and crush my empathy. I can conveniently ignore the heart and soul and life of each number.
It reminds me of when the picture of little Aylan, the three-year-old Syrian refugee dead on a beach in Turkey, instantly brought a world-wide flood of outrage…to a situation that has been going on for years. I, myself, learned more about the Syrian refugee crisis the day I saw that photograph than in all the months before.
We need logic and reason. Without them we would, eventually, be driven mad by the unchecked flood of emotion influencing our actions. We can’t exist on empathy; we have to take action. But God created us to respond to individuals for a reason. And it is consistent with the way Jesus taught.
Love your NEIGHBOR.
This is singular.
This is the man on the side of the road in the parable of the Good Samaritan. The blind man at Bethsaida. The paralyzed man who came through the roof. The woman with the bleeding illness. Nicodemus, seeking out Jesus at night. The man with the crippled hand. The woman from Syria-Phoenicia whose daughter was demon-possessed. Zacchaeus up in the tree. The thief on the cross. Mary at the tomb.
Jesus taught thousands of people, and healed more people than we will ever know. He came to all the world. But he saw the INDIVIDUAL, and he calls us to do the same.
Who do you see? Who do I see today? How do I put myself into the shoes of an individual and love him with the focus and extravagance that God offers each of us. It’s an impossible challenge, but as close as the nearest human.
Early this morning, like 3:30am, we were woken by sirens. Before I could figure out that it wasn’t a dream, Jacob was flying down the stairs to get the scoop. I was collecting details. Detroit where a lot happens, flashing lights and sirens, right outside our window, 1st floor Loft, kids beds next to the windows, smell of melting plastic. Fire! Inside? No. Jacob started shouting for everyone to wake up and get away from the window, because our church van (seconding as our family vehicle) was being devoured in huge flames.
When I got to the window, to collect my 3 babies, the flames were bigger than the van itself. Every window and door handle had billows of fire coming out of them. I couldn’t move for a moment, and then I imagined there could be a large explosion. Still collecting information I realized the only thing between us was a few feet of sidewalk and a wall of windows. I haven’t measured, but we were less than 3 yards away.
We went to the back of the loft and I snuggled my girls. I started to process what was happening, and trying to discover how I should be feeling. I was feeling peace. Was that right? I recalled two moments in my recent years of life. First was when we snuggled as a family in our 3rd floor apartment while hurricane Sandy flooded first floors with raging ocean waters and scooped up cars. Sirens, car alarms, and fire. We were so close to great danger, but I felt protection. Something assured me that night that I would be safe. I remember the way I pushed away the fear. But right now I couldn’t find the fear to push it away. Was I numb? No.
Second, I was reminded of one specific night, several months ago, where I woke up feeling nothing described as anything else but the presence of fear. It was as though something dark and scary entered the room, and startled us awake. Brooklyn, who was 2 at the time and had just crawled into my bed, started yelling and crying, as though something was going to get her. I felt what she felt, so I called out “Jesus”, knowing the power of that name, because of the way that He defeated everything dark and dead when he died on the cross. The darkness left instantly. We were left a little shook up those nights, but it began a restoration.
In this moment, I couldn’t find this feeling, that presence of fear. It was as though I was in a bubble, that was fire proof, fear proof. Protection! An army of angels that I asked God to keep on night watch over my family. They were hard at work, protecting us. It went so much bigger than physical protection. I was smiling and hugging my girls. In years past, I would have been crying, 911 calling on Jesus.
When I listened to the words I was saying to my girls, I realized that I have been recently praying for moments like these. And I was recently prompted to pray more specific protection, by a horrific dream. I’ve been asking Jesus, every night when I put the girls to bed, every morning when I drive them to school, to protect us and “keep fear far from us”. I think I say this phrase 2-3 times a day. Not because I fear bad things, but because I realized fear is the most harmful thing I can feel. It lies to us, telling us that God doesn’t care about us, or have a purpose for every breath He gives us. It leaves us drowning in uncertainty. All these things are lies, and drag us away from the presence of God, and the love He has for us.
I can’t help but toss the promises around my head, that I journaled back in January. These things, God has been doing in me before we even knew we would move to Detroit, and be Pastors over Courage Church:
Isaiah 51:13 “You have forgotten the Lord your Maker, who stretched out the heavens and laid the foundations of the earth, that you fear continually all day…”
Stop this fear! Remember who God is!
Isaiah 54:14,17 “In righteousness you will be established; you will be far from oppression, for you will not fear: and from terror, for it will not come near you.” v17 “No weapon that is formed against you will prosper … this is the heritage of the servants of the Lord… Declares the Lord!”
“Isaiah 32:17-18 “The work of righteousness will be peace, and the service of righteousness quietness and confidence forever. Then my people will live in a peaceful habitation, and in secure dwellings and in undisturbed resting places”
This, that. These promises, those truths. It’s what God has promised and now pushed fear out of my life, and given me confidence, forever. That we will be safe and fear can not touch us. God will protect us. After all, He did design my life. When I trust Him with that promise, I live in peace. I can’t describe how protected I feel, and how I watch the raging fire, but feel a deep peace and great confidence, in how big my God is, how much my God loves and watches over my family – all in the same moment. So great that we are not only protected, but couldn’t find fear if we looked for it, as it stares us in the face through our loft wall of windows.
The hard part is not living here, but getting here. To this place far from fear. It’s all about longing for God, and taking refuge in Him. Knowing His deep love for us.
Jeremiah 39:18 “For I will certainly rescue you, and you will not fall by the sword; but you will have your own life … because you have trusted in Me,” declares the Lord.’”
In some of my darkest moments, of uncertainty and fear, I wrote about taking refuge: “How I long to stay in the refuge of God. My whole life wading through His presence. God shows His love to us through His Holy Spirit. And that brings us Hope! And hope does not disappoint! (Romans 5:5) If we can rest in Him, we will never be deeply disappointed. It’s all about LOVE; our lives, our purpose. In the end, it’s a love thing.”
Find yourself there. When there’s fear, turn to God. When you do, you will continue on and look back wondering when the fear departed far from you, and how you ever felt so sure of God’s love.
So what happened? Who did this? We don’t exactly know. Jacob ran outside to discover something. Two witnesses reported to the firefighters that they saw two cars stop at the van. Both drove away, but immediately one came back and set the van on fire. That’s all we have. By morning the van was towed, and arson investigation had already started working. Whoever it was, it’s seemingly random. It was Friday the 13th, and this is a neighborhood of Detroit that seems to have random types of crimes happen.
Where does that leave us? We don’t know, except that God is orchestrating every detail of our lives, and we have full confidence in His design. We will walk in this truth, and carry on without delay. God prepared us for this, in so many moments of our lives. We are undisturbed, thankful for protection, and full of hope.