Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Life in the Margins

Where we live, (in Michigan), the economy is not doing so great right now. The auto industry as a whole is down. In our area, if you don't work for one of the Big Three automakers, you work for their suppliers. Or you teach their kids, or you supply their food, or you sell them electronics, houses, or clothes. Or in my case, you pastor their church.

So when things are down for the Big Three, things are down for all of us.

I have a couple of friends who are going through tough times right now. And my heart goes out to them. And my mind begins to wander...

In this setting, one wonders what it means to be a person of faith in such difficult times.

A single mom is unable to go to work and hoping to not lose her house. A father of five has been downsized and is struggling to keep clothing on the backs of his kids. What difference does MY faith make in THEIR difficulty?

I came across a verse this morning that seems applicable. It takes place in the fourth chapter of the Book of Daniel. Daniel is God's chosen instrument for interpreting dreams and delivering messages to several kings who have invaded Daniel's home country.

In this particular chapter, Nebuchadnezzar, of Babylon is the reigning monarch. And while the God of the Hebrews has used this gentile king to discipline the Jewish people, right now it is this very king who is receiving some correction and a threat. He's about to lose his mind and wander in the wilderness with the wild animals until he remembers from whom all his success has come.

Though he's the chosen instrument to bring the bad news, Daniel seems to have a soft spot in his heart for the king. He tells Neb that he hopes the dream is about the king's enemies and not the king himself. Daniel gives the interpretation, and then urges the king to "please accept my advice: Renounce your sins by doing what is right, and your wickedness by being kind to the oppressed (Daniel 4:27)."

Isn't that an interesting instruction?

The prophet does NOT say "be morally pure" or "tell the truth" (though both instructions are given other places).

Instead, he instructs the one in power to "be kind to the oppressed".

I wonder if we in the American, evangelical tradition have forgotten that instruction. Another prophet tells us what God really requires of us:

"Do justice. Love mercy. Walk humbly with your God."

It is so easy to be convinced that being religious, being spiritually sensitive, being Christian, is all about personal ethics and morals. That misses 1/2 of the story though, doesn't it?

My prayer for us is that we will take advantage of the opportunity to "do justice" when it approaches us; that we'll go out of our way to "be kind to the oppressed"; that we'll see this as a chance to live out our purpose on this earth rather than feeling bothered or greedy or irritated.

Maybe we can help bring grace, faith, hope, and love to the places where they seem to be most needed. Maybe we can bring God into the margins. Maybe this Christmas we'll begin to live out our destiny, bring peace on earth, and experience goodwill to men.

Grace & peace.

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