So Abram built an altar there to the Lord, who had appeared to him. Genesis 12:7, 8; Genesis 13:4,18
You also are like living stones, so let yourselves be used to build a spiritual temple—to be holy priests who offer spiritual sacrifices to God. He will accept those sacrifices through Jesus Christ. 1 Peter 2:5
So everywhere Abram traveled he would pause and build an altar to the LORD. Well, as the commentators noticed not everywhere. Sometimes it doesn’t mention an altar, like when he goes to Egypt and he is all worried about how beautiful his wife is and someone might kill him so he lies and lots of people suffer and it is quite clear that he did not pause and build an altar. Because it was all about me and not about Him.
And lots of religions build altars, but Peter reminds us that our spiritual sacrifices are accepted only because of the blood of Jesus Christ. And we are living stones. To be used to be built into a spiritual temple of spiritual sacrifices to God. But Isaiah also reminds us that our sacrifices can be a huge stench to the God Almighty. That is the word from Isaiah: I hate all your festivals and sacrifices. I cannot stand the sight of them! Listen to the LORD, Listen to the law of our God. You act just like the rulers and people of Sodom and Gomorrah. From now on, when you lift up your hands in prayer, I will refuse to look. Even though you offer many prayers, I will not listen. For your hands are covered with the blood of your innocent victims. Learn to do good. Seek justice. Help the oppressed. Defend the orphan. Fight for the rights of widows.
This was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were proud and had plenty of food and lived in great comfort, but she did not help the poor and needy. Ezekiel 16:49
And it pretty much puts a damper on my Christmas celebrations, of the lights and candles and pretty songs and the long lines on Black Friday, where we shove a Day of Thanksgiving out the door after hurriedly wiping our mouth. And we talk on and on about how the King of Kings and LORD of Lords left His throne and came as a baby in a poor manger because of his great love and then we hurry off for a tasty lunch and an afternoon nap, and then rush, rush got to buy all those gifts on my list for people who really don’t need another darn thing. Not really.
And I guess the roughest moment this jolly holiday season so far has been in my homeroom class. And a student came in and mumbled something about her senior project and I didn’t even quite hear where the presents were for but it turned out to be for the Salvation Army to give homeless kids presents but please put unwrapped presents in the box by next Friday and whichever homeroom class brings in the most presents would get a pizza. And all of the students groaned and said that they didn’t have any money as they swirled their Starbucks lattes and brushed the Cinnabun crumbs off of their lips and went back to checking Facebook on their iPhones.
And the other teacher and I rushed to our wallets and pulled out money and put it in the jar and then somehow with much groaning and moaning we managed to get about 75 cents per student. And then the kids went back to their iPhones.
And I woke up so very early this morning. Crying. Crying about our hardheartedness. And what is heartbreaking is not the kids. It isn’t their fault. This is the inheritance that we their very sincere dedicated hardworking evangelical parents and teachers have passed down to them. Because the student is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like their teacher. And this is what I have taught them. This is my fruit. So when we gather blankets and coats for a homeless shelter we decorated the box with bright ribbons and paper and offer yet another round of pizza. And my freshman spent the class period discussing how they could ever tempt the students to only drink water for two weeks and take all of the money saved and build a well for a church so that an entire village could have access to clean water.
And what my freshman class understood, after only a semester at classes at Desert Christian High School where we disciple young people to make a difference in the world, is that absolutely nothing in the world would possibly come between these sixteen-year-olds and their Starbucks and QT drinks and their energy drinks. Nothing.
Not even when their King declares, I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me. Because as Rich Stearns translates Matthew 25 in The Hole in the Gospel, For I was hungry, while you had all you needed. I was thirsty, but you drank bottled water. I was a stranger, and you wanted me deported. I needed clothes, but you needed more clothes. I was sick, and you pointed out the behaviors that led to my sickness. I was in prison, and you said I was getting what I deserved.
And last night, just before I went to bed, I read a New York Times article on readit, which Dustin so thoughtfully put as my homepage when he fixed up my little computer. About an invisible girl. Just like the tens of thousands who fill our streets in our God Bless America Christian nation. Just like the thousands who fill our streets here in Tucson, and the one lucky girl is going to end up with a skinny little doll with very tangled blond hair wired to a frayed cardboard from our gift box in the classroom.
And Dasani lives in a room with the rest of her rather large hapless family.
Dasani shares a twin mattress and three dresser drawers with her mischievous and portly sister, Avianna, only one year her junior. Their 35-year-old stepfather, Supreme, has raised them as his own. They consider him their father and call him Daddy.
Supreme married Chanel nine years earlier, bringing two children from a previous marriage. The boy, Khaliq, had trouble speaking. He had been trapped with his dead, pregnant mother after she fell down a flight of stairs. The girl, Nijai, had a rare genetic eye disease and was going blind. They were the same tender ages as Dasani and Avianna, forming a homeless Brady Bunch as Supreme and Chanel had four more children.
Two of Dasani’s half-sisters, 7-year-old Maya and 6-year-old Hada, share the mattress to her right. The 5-year-old they call Papa sleeps by himself because he wets the bed. In the crib is Baby Lele, who is tended to by Dasani when her parents are listless from their daily dose of methadone.
Chanel and Supreme take the synthetic opioid as part of their drug treament program. It has essentially become a substitute addiction.
The more time they spend in this room, the smaller it feels. Nothing stays in order. Everything is exposed — marital spats, frayed underwear, the onset of puberty, the mischief other children hide behind closed doors. Supreme paces erratically. Chanel cannot check her temper. For Dasani and her siblings, to act like rambunctious children is to risk a beating.
The Arizona Daily Star is doing a series on Arizona’s foster care crisis, on top of the CPS crisis, on top of poverty crisis as Arizona becomes the second poorest state in the Union, with poverty level of those younger than 18 at 31.3 percent, again, second only to Mississippi though tied with the District of Columbia. Nationally the poverty figure for children is 20.7 percent. Arizona also ranks first nationwide for the number of children in out-of-home care, with 15,300 removed by Child Protective Services statewide and 5,000 in Pima County. Using data from the Centers’ Adverse Childhood Experiences, or ACE, study, the National Survey of Children’s Health found last year that 44.4 percent of Arizona’s children ages 12-18, and 31.1 percent of all children 18 and younger, have experienced two or more traumatic childhood events. The national average was 22.6 percent.
Chunked in among all of the ‘Tis the Season buy one, get the second one 50% off advertisements.
And all of the angry letters to the editor sputtering about who do these people think they are, those 48.6 million people without healthcare who have a little bit of hope this Christmas season?
And we sneer at Sodom and Gomorrah. We who have the Scriptures, who know how Jesus walked and talked during His life here and works through His hands and feet, the Church, still today, sneer. And I can only think that our students have learned their lesson well. They have completely bought into our passion about capitalism and free enterprise and making money. But Jesus said, No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon. Let us remember what else Jesus said, the born-among-men Jesus who came to live the heart of God: And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? No, you will be thrown down to Hades! For if the miracles done among you had been done in Sodom, it would have continued to this day. But I tell you, it will be more bearable for the region of Sodom on the day of judgment than for you.
And at the end of the article, they have this cute little twenty-two-second video clip of Dasani. Pretty sharp contrast to this kids all bearing Christ’s names on their sports shirts, but so what.
And we can talk a lot. But what they see are our lives. As we swirl our Starbucks lattes and brush the Cinnabun crumbs off of our lips and go back to checking Facebook on their iPhones.
Do we really believe all of these songs we sing?
While it is true that teachers are held to a higher accountability. I am also called to love. And to, according to The Message version of 1 Corinthians 13,
Take pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Put up with anything,
Trust God always,
Always look for the best,
Never look back,
But keep, going to the end.
And I need to keep going to the end, to Him who was pleased as man with man to dwell. And thus, I will take some good advise from ol’ Phil Drysdale, in how to keep the season fun and less stressful.
So I decided to make a small checklist of things that I'm going to do this year between now and Christmas to ensure I have an even better time:
1. Find someone in need and buy them some food.
2. Text 3 new people every day to tell them what I appreciate about them.
3. Do something extra special for my spouse every day that I wouldn't have otherwise.
4. Pay for the person behind me in a coffee shop.
5. Try and compliment 3 random people every day in some way or another.
6. Give to 3 additional ministries/charities. (This is the hardest time of year for most ministries/charities)
7. Go out of my way to help a stranger every day.
8. Add a word of encouragement/prophetic word to at least 5 emails a day.
9. Get one extra gift this year and give it to a colleague/friend/etc to whom I wouldn't have usually given a gift.