Dots

Search me, O God, and know my heart!

Try me and know my thoughts!

And see if there be any grievous way in me,

and lead me in the way everlasting! (Psalms 139:23-24)

On Friday, August 11, a few hundred white supremacists assembled in Charlottesville, VA, to express their hatred for Americans who are not like them. Under the veneer of outrage over the statue of Robert E. Lee being removed from the campus of the University of Virginia, a blatant display of racist attitudes and hatred spewed forth from the protestors. At 1:42PM, James Alex Fields Jr. drove his car into a crowd of counter-demonstrators injuring 19 and killing Heather Heyer. This is evil. It is so obvious that I cannot even imagine anyone standing on the side of such hateful people. Many leaders were quick to respond with unequivocal condemnation as soon as the news got around.

In the midst of hearing this tragic news and being horrified by the display of hatred, I was puzzled by something. This quickly became a referendum regarding the white church. There were demands that we publicly condemn and denounce this. Of course! Why is that even a question? What is it about a racist display by a few hundred people in Virginia that connects to the church? Was the church – any church – leading or participating in it? Were Christians standing on the side of these people? I don’t know for sure, but I suspect that Christians would have been standing with the counter-demonstrators. Frankly, I couldn’t connect the dots. It just wasn’t clear to me how one begat the other.

DotsNonetheless, there was a line that people were drawing between the supremacists in Virginia and the white church. I’m a linear thinker so I have to see things that connect in order to gain a bigger picture. I’m also naively committed to the idea that the people of Jesus don’t want to have anything to do with the kinds of things being said by those white nationalists. After all, to the Christian, love is central to our very being. Jesus demonstrated the love of God towards everyone with an invitation to join His family – where repentant sinners could live with an otherworldly affection for one another. But people of color who I know and respect were making the connection and I wanted to see it, as well.

An African American friend of mine simply said, “I hurt.” What was fomented in a few moments of violence and is easily condemned by most people, is suffered in silence by many of our friends and neighbors in other ways. I remember something I heard a few years back by an African America woman. She was responding to the “surprise” among white people that non-white people were being victimized by an incident of systemic racism. “I call that Tuesday,” she said. For me, Tuesday is just Tuesday. It is not right that people I love should have Tuesdays of which I am unaware.

I am an older white American who grew up in the heartland of this nation. It was not a racially diverse environment. It did not lend itself to cultural understanding because there were few cultural lines to cross. The race stuff happened “somewhere out there.” Many of us had a conditioned insensitivity to the injustices suffered by fellow Americans of color. It just didn’t touch our world. I admit this to my shame. But I don’t want to go through life ignorant about race relations in America and the impact it has on my friends. Time and again black friends have shown me what I could not see through my eyes and I was deeply moved.  One of them described a situation where he was in a restaurant with a couple of white friends. He went to the restroom and was followed in by two big men who threatened him and tried to provoke him to fight. He is not a big man and is certainly no fighter. He was sure he was going to be beaten to a pulp and it frightened him. But he prayed silently and the two assaulters grew impatient and left. Upon hearing the story I asked him what his white friends said when he told them. He said, “I didn’t tell them. I was too embarrassed.” He has the same desire we all have – to belong – but there are times in American life, like this, where he is reminded that he really doesn’t belong.

In order to connect the dots, I read article after article about the event, each of which tried to explain the connection between Virginia and the white church. Political, socioeconomic, psychological, and academic explanations laid out cases for the church being part of the problem that lead to what happened. While I found some of the articles frustrating and their arguments tortured, I did begin to understand how many people see the dots connecting. As another friend said, “first seek understanding, not agreement.”

Now I get sensitive about the church being blamed for injustice, because the pure church – the one God intended – cannot be a participant in injustice. However, it is undeniable that the church in America has not always stood on the right side of justice.  Furthermore, my friend hurts. If we love Jesus and want to be reconcilers, we, the white America church, need to submit ourselves to the revelation of the Holy Spirit (Psalms 139:23-24) so we can correct flaws in our very character. So I can argue about the connections of which I disagree. But it is better for me to be open to considering how the dots get connected by my brothers and sisters. Which of the dots that were being connected are ones I stand on – even if tepidly so? Some things that we should ask ourselves:

  • Am I insensitive to what my brothers and sisters live with every day?
  • Do I get angry at injustice and respond with words and action? Or do I dismiss it.
  • Do black lives really matter to me? For instance, when a young black man is killed in a part of the city where I don’t go, is he nothing more than a statistic from “out there?” Or do I get on my knees (my pants should have holes in them by now).
  • When a court decision is rendered that leaves my black friends to question the equality of justice in America, do I sit in silence? Do I even know the impact this has on them? Have I asked?
  • Do I make excuses for the inconsistency and the ultimate trajectory of political positions I hold?
  • Do I see children of color in America as our American children, or do I have dividing lines?
  • Am I trying to understand how dots get connected or am I connecting different dots and standing in opposition?
  • Do I love like Jesus loves?

I don’t like being exposed, but these recent events reminded me of an insipid form of racism for which I bear responsibility – insensitivity. Galatians 6:2 says that we are to bear one another’s burdens. How am I to bear burdens if I don’t hear the cry of my brother when he says, “I hurt.”  There is a straight line connection between dots I cannot deny.

Dots 2

Am I willing to be crushed in the crucible of truth? Do I see my complicity? The good news of Jesus condemns racism in no uncertain terms. We need to listen. I need to listen.

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Genuine

So Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. For a whole year, they met with the church and taught a great many people. And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians. (Acts 11:25-26 ESV)

genuineIt is a normal impulse to check something for its genuineness. We look at brand names with a different expectation than a lesser brand or a knockoff. Sports equipment, furniture, craft, art, mechanics, electronics – we don’t part with our dollars without some assurance that we are buying the real thing – that it is what it purports to be. Genuineness matters because over time the quality of the product will be tested. A product is known by its brand – its name. We want it to deliver. We want it to last.

So, what do we do with this word Christian? Churchgoers use it. Jesus-followers use it. People who hold a non-biblical view of Jesus use it. Charlatans use it. Non-westerners describe our culture by using it. Atheists even use one of its symbols (though the fish goes through a few transformations along the way). The word Christian encompasses a crowded field. What does the brand describe? What is it supposed to describe? Does it need to be abandoned as some suggest? Or can it be redeemed? Does anything need to change at all?

Christian is a word that comes from Greek and means “like the Messiah” or “followers of the Messiah (Jesus).” It is mentioned in Acts 11:26; 26:28; and 1Peter 4:16 and was first used in Antioch. Another widely used name was those belonging to The Way. It is likely based on Jesus’ own self-description as “the Way” (John 14:6). It is used repeatedly by Luke, the author of Acts (Acts 9:2; 19:9; 19:23; 24:14; and 24:22). Paul even referred to himself as a follower of the Way when he came before Governor Felix (who knew a lot about the Way) and was accused by the Jerusalem leaders of inciting riots…

But this I confess to you, that according to the Way, which they call a sect, I worship the God of our fathers, believing everything laid down by the Law and written in the Prophets, having a hope in God, which these men themselves accept, that there will be a resurrection of both the just and the unjust. (Acts 24:14-15 ESV)

Paul was doing nothing more than living like Jesus. Living thus will draw the attention of the world around you. Sometimes that attention will be good and sometimes it will be bad, but it will get noticed. It is radically counter-cultural. It is Christian.

The word Christian suggests a lifestyle that is different — a transformed life that is evident to those around.  In the Bible, people who lived according to “the Way” were known for “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23 ESV). These things are called in Scripture the fruit of the Spirit, which “against such things there is no law.”  They stand in stark contrast to a world that is self-loving, angry, cantankerous, in a hurry, unkind, self-serving, disloyal, rude and out-of-control. Yes, it is a normal impulse to check something for its genuineness. Rather than abandon the word or try to contend with other definitions, perhaps those of us who long for a genuine expression of Christianity should simply rise to its implications — humbly — because over time the integrity of the claim will be tested.

So, let’s not abandon it. Let’s redeem it.

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Blue

Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.“ (John 4:10)

BlueBlue… for as far as the eye can see… air, water and the occasional green dot as mountains spring from the deep. The South Sea Islands are glistening jewels immersed in sea and sky. Outside the airplane window from 36,000 feet it seems endless. Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Fiji — it is almost inconceivable that human migration would discover such places. Yet the Melanesian people who call the vastness of Oceana their home occupy every livable rock.

Water… this region has more annual overall rainfall than any other in the world. The ground soaks it up like a sponge and it spills down mountains in cascades and ribbon rivers.  Even the clouds that splash the sky explode with it.  Rain water and salt water are abundant, but fresh drinking water is another story. It never seems enough to meet the needs of the people who live here. 60% of the people here do not have access to clean drinking water.

IMG_7559I spent the past week in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea (PNG). I was the guest of Pastor Magi Goro (pictured here with his daughter Corey Joy).   Magi is a well-driller, a pastor, the Southern Region Supervisor of the National Church of Foursquare in Papua New Guinea (PNG), and a National Executive Council member.  He leads the church in this region. One of the most effective ways he does this is through water ministry. He reaches the communities that were displaced by development in the city.

Over the past decades, the Port Moresby slums were known for their extreme poverty. Life was cheap.  Desperation made for brutal life in a community where everyone had to fight for daily survival. 400,000 people lived there — resettled from the primitive villages throughout PNG. There are over 800 languages spoken in this island nation, so people tended to settle in the slums by clans to create safe zones for living. In a stunning example of human resilience, people made these slums their homes. Until they were displaced.

SlumsIn May of 2012, the first advance on the settlements was conducted on the Paga Hill community. Paga Hill is a rock that rises above the city with panoramic ocean views. It held promise for upscale homes and businesses. A developer who had won rights to the area* attempted to force the eviction of its 3,000 residents. There was armed revolt and many people died in the conflict. That attempt failed, but the business community learned from it and it paved the way for subsequent cooperative efforts by the city, police and developers to force the people out of the slums in Port Moresby. In the next 3 years, over 400,000 people were evicted from what had been legal settlements in Port Moresby. It was hailed as a big success for the revitalization of Port Moresby and an end to urban blight. There are signs proclaiming the victory “We did it!”

On Tuesday, I drove up Paga Hill. What I saw was abandoned homes and building and a chain link fence to prevent anyone from returning. Already, there are beautiful homes in some parts that enjoy a view that takes your breath away. This is gentrification — the confiscation of land by the wealthy and the forced removal of the existing residents who are poor, defenseless, and in the way. The former residents have suffered because of it. It is tempting to say that it is a good thing. There is prosperity and the result is a cleaner, safer Port Moresby. If you don’t have to encounter the displaced people, you might think it was the success the politicians claim.

But consider this — a plan was hatched by developers and the city to forcibly remove people from their homes in order to increase property values and make a lot of money. The meetings that were held by city planners, investors and developers did not include the current residents. How many ways could this have been done that would have been just?  Perhaps they could have been invited into the discussions and given a chance to participate. Perhaps they could have asked for jobs building the new area. Perhaps they could have asked for help with resettlement. Perhaps they could have said no and made sure there was no errant relative selling them out. It doesn’t really matter now — they were never given a voice at the table. The impact of their plans on marginalized people remains invisible to the new residents.

The victims of this gentrification scattered to the surrounding hills in makeshift jungle villages. The transition to rural life was hard and there were those who died from disease and violence. Dysentery, typhoid, cholera and other water-borne diseases continue to take their toll, especially among infants. To add to the challenges they faced, there was a drought when we arrived in May of 2016.

Magi couldn’t dig wells fast enough with his ailing drill rig. He spent more time repairing it than drilling. Villagers were drinking dirty surface water (polluted creeks, rivers and ponds). He spoke of being in the villages with moms who were hopeless to save their babies. Clean water is expensive to buy in PNG. People make hard choices. The alternative many embrace is to walk for miles to get water from a trusted municipal source (though our testing showed that these sources were also unclean). Even if villagers are 95% careful, they make compromises when they are thirsty and cannot make the trek.

The most encouraging thing about being in Port Moresby was to see the good work Magi and his crew are doing. A new rig is finally operational and the team is able to dig wells again at a pretty good rate. They have been revisiting wells that need repair and implementing the fixes recommended at the training we did earlier in teh year. Most importantly, they are helping people purify water from the various sources available. We noted when we first came that they are very good at getting water out of the ground, but not so good at ensuring its drinking quality. We brought test kits, filters and basic water training in methods for purifying water. Magi and his teams have acted like evangelists… bringing the good news to community after community, they are able to address water quality issue even before they drill a well.  We visited numerous communities that told us about the improved health they were experiencing. They expressed their confidence in Magi and his team. This is how the Gospel is expressed…

The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; (Isaiah 61:1-2)

* “won the rights” usually means that one resident sold the property and got out of town before anyone knew. The residents are bound by the agreement. There are numerous court cases contesting this, but they have not fared well in the judicial system.
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Inevitible

Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation. When his breath departs, he returns to the earth; on that very day his plans perish. (Psalm 146:3-4)

Friend: Did you watch the (Republican) debates?

Me: No

Friend: They were awesome!

Me: They are playing to the base, so I imagine it was a lot of fun for you.

Friend: Jesus loves us all. As a person who loves Jesus, I enjoyed the lack of dissing on their Democratic opponents.

Me: But they went after each other pretty hard.

Friend: I only watched the end

Me: I read the transcripts and didn’t think they were all that respectful of one another. Frankly, I think it is better to read their economic proposals, which tell a lot more about the candidates than the debates.

Friend: The thing that is most important to me is… do they know Jesus and listen to His voice.

InevitibleI appreciate my friend’s hope for a candidate who will have a strong moral compass — one founded on his/her life in Jesus. But I don’t expect our presidential candidates to be Christian — not in the hopeful way that my friend does. I am skeptical about the candidates. Though most of them (and most of our recent presidents) have claimed Christianity, very few have acted consistent with Jesus when in office. So when the time comes I will vote for the person who I think will most effectively lead, keep us safe and restore our economy.

I am old enough to have been through many election cycles. There was a time when I held to fairly naive views of what an election promised. I was hopeful. I was thrilled when my candidates won, but then I was disappointed when their leadership betrayed the things they said were important to them (and me). And when those who I did not vote for won, I was disappointed (but not surprised) when they did exactly what I did not want them to do. So I have become increasingly cynical and I don’t really like to be that way.

Power and wealth are irresistible magnets to men and women who aspire to wield them. Those who are in the highest levels of government in America are powerful, indeed. Even the people who orbit about them get very rich and powerful. In an essentially moral environment, conscience could provide a safeguard against misuses of power. But in an amoral environment like we have today — one defined by the survival of the fittest — the ends justify the means (which is a philosophy completely inimical to liberty). As Lord Acton said in his letter to Archbishop Mandell Creighton (Apr. 5, 1887),

Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority: still more when you add the tendency or the certainty of corruption by authority. There is no worse heresy than that the office sanctifies the holder of it. That is the point at which . . . the end learns to justify the means.”

Because there is so much money involved in politics, the stakes are high. And when power and wealth are so clearly attainable, corruption is inevitable.

I have come to believe that the rest of us are “votes for sale.” We are polled ad nauseum and our behavior at the voting poll is fairly predictable.   In a national election there are a relatively small number of precincts that can swing the vote. Highly-paid experts conspire to win them. Voter fraud adds even more corruption. Do we each really get an equal vote or can our votes be disenfranchised? Once the two parties have chosen their candidates, is the result inevitable? Am I pessimistic… realistic… or both?

So what do men and women who love Jesus do in an election year? What do we want the candidates to do? Maybe we can start by recognizing that we are not voting for a Savior. We already have one. And yes it is good to vote! It is a privilege to do so, to be informed and to vote thoughtfully. But whoever wins this election will be a flawed human being. Whether or not they carry our political banner, their sin-nature is a given — it is inevitable— as is the inevitability of a certain amount of evil in places of power and wealth.

But there is another inevitability. God is on the throne. And He can change the heart of a leader in response to the prayers of His people…

The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; he turns it wherever he will. (Proverbs 21:1)

And Christians are instructed what to do regardless of who leads in our government…

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (1 Timothy 2:1-4)

I can advocate for those in power by asking my Father in Heaven to intervene. I wonder how many Christians have earnestly prayed for our current president — for salvation, wisdom, justice and good judgment? Or have we complained and grumbled about him? My own words here convict me! God’s will is not an unknown to me. Prayer for our leaders is a Christian responsibility. It can begin in earnest even during the candidate selection process. For the people of God, prayer for our leaders should be inevitable.

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Women

 

Behold, children are a gift from the LORD, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them! He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate. (Psalm 127:3-5)

How amazing it is to hold your own newborn child. This little miracle of life enters the world small, vulnerable and completely dependent. I was entranced each time one of our children were born. They won my heart immediately and permanently. And from that first breath onward God begins to unfold life to the fullest. Truly, boys and girls are a gift from the Lord.

WomenBut it is not a surprise to anyone that in many countries around the world girls are not valued the same as boys. Take China for instance, where until recently it was against the law to have more than one child. The preference for sons has had a disturbing impact on the country’s population. Thankfully, the one child policy was recently revoked. But for several decades the ratio of men to women has been skewed. In China today there are 120 boys born for every 100 girls. There will not be enough brides for one fifth of the boys being born today when they are ready to marry.

In many parts of the world it is normal for a pregnant woman to be blessed by others with a prayer for a boy. A boy has better earning power over his lifetime. A boy carries the family name forward. So cultural pressure on families for having boys in many of these nations is overwhelming. In both China and India ultrasound was used to determine the sex of the unborn child. If it was a girl, it was often aborted. China finally made it illegal to use technology to determine the sex of the child before birth. However, the practice continues in India and in other parts of the world.

In India, poor families will make a decision to send a son to school while the daughter remains uneducated. She will begin a life of labor as early as the age of 10 (which is why my church invests in a school there to educate poor minority girls Bright Hope English School). And in many Muslim countries women are treated as second-class citizens. Simply put, a majority of women enter this world without even a notion to dream of a different future.

The empowerment of women in the West has brought amazing vitality to our nations. Educated and capable women make contributions at every level of our society. But culture shifts are hard. It was hard in the west. A century ago in America it required a long struggle before the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified (on August 18, 1920). When they first tried to pass it they had plenty of advocates in the Republican and Progressive parties. But the Democratic Party and the President were powerful adversaries. Both used their power to defeat it when it was first presented in 1915. Beth Behn[1] writes about how it was finally passed in the House with President Wilson’s support…

“The National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA)… was decisive in Wilson’s conversion to the cause of the federal amendment because its approach mirrored his own conservative vision of the appropriate method of reform: win a broad consensus, develop a legitimate rationale, and make the issue politically valuable.”

Cultural challenges existed in America. Reasoned arguments were offered on both sides. There were Christians who argued for and against the amendment on biblical grounds. One of the biggest contributors to a change in the heart of America was the contribution made by women during World War I. There was a broad recognition of sacrifices made by women and their role in the winning of the war. As Behn says, they won broad consensus, developed a legitimate rationale, and made the issue politically valuable. The NAWSA persisted. Justice is not always as immediate as its advocates want. But in America, a nation where equality is one of the highest ideals, justice was inevitable.

In The Crucified God Confronts Gendercide Dr. Paul Metzger says,

“The Lutheran Bonhoeffer… argued that Jesus is the man for others and the church is the community for others. Special consideration is given to those others who suffer genocide like the Jews or gendercide like so many women and girls across the globe. May we, the church, not stand aloof as we hear the cry of the victims of violence and sexual abuse (domestic abuse included). If we do, we fail to listen to Jesus’ call. Rather, may we enter their nightmare with the hope-filled advocacy grounded in faith in the all-powerful, gracious and costly love of the crucified and risen Jesus. Our Jesus is their victor.”

As long as there are women in this world who remain marginalized, we have a responsibility to actively pursue and value them. We may be hindered by culture, law and opposition, but we need to be persistent. It is the Christlike thing to do.

We are standing on the shoulders of giants. Those who have gone before us have sought and won justice. They changed the argument, won broad consensus and affected laws. Can we do any less with the freedoms and blessings bestowed upon us in Christ?

 

 

[1] Behn, Beth, “Woodrow Wilson’s conversion experience: The president and the federal woman suffrage amendment.” (PhD dissertation, U. of Massachusetts-Amherst, 2012)

 

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Future?

This is a link to 10 Predictions About the Future Church and Shifting Attendance Patterns. I thought it was worth the read.

 

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Unwanted

But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. (Amos 5:24 ESV)

Amos longed to see righteousness prevail in a society that objectified and dehumanized the poor in their midst. He could not believe that those in power would continue to take advantage of those without it. Amos wanted a just world — one where God’s goodness prevailed — and it was untenable to him that God’s own people would be reluctant to bring it about. How is it that we see this repeated again and again, generation after generation, for thousands of years?

Institute students enjoying water

Institute students enjoying water

In Honiara, Solomon Islands, there are scores of unwanted street kids who grow up fending for themselves in one of the poorest nations in the world. They were abandoned. They have neither education nor resources. They do what they can to survive….

  • pick-pocketing
  • child labor (industry, logging camps, mining camps)
  • scavenging
  • prostitution
  • live-in slaves for housekeeping and babysitting.

Their situation is not unique. All over the world there are street children who are abandoned while very young and who have to survive on very mean streets. Society has no use for them and they are treated poorly. They have no defenders. They grow up to become young men and women who perpetuate the same situation on another generation.

IMG_2291 Titus Luther came to the Solomon Islands from Papua New Guinea. He had been the Foursquare National Director of Youth there. He opened a community center to serve meals to the street kids. He offered them chances to learn to read. He shared the life of Jesus in word and deed. He found among these young men and women that there were some with pastor’s hearts. So he built an Institute outside of town and began to teach them to become pastors. When they are ready they are sent to one of the 300+ occupied Solomon Islands to bring the good news of Jesus.

Titus invited me to Solomon Islands to assist him in a water distribution project (see Water). His vision was for abundant fresh water to be available to all of the students on all corners of the Institute campus (they had neither water nor electricity). I met amazing, talented young men and women who have been transformed by Jesus at the school. No matter how marginalized they had felt, no matter how valueless they had seen themselves, and no matter how hopeless their situation seemed, there was a God in Heaven who knew them. God wants the unwanted! So while society neglects “the unwanted,” by the touch of Jesus they have become “the sent.”

O LORD, you have searched me and known me! You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar. You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O LORD, you know it altogether. You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it.

…For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.

(Psalm 139:1-6, 13-16)

These men and women were never out of God’s sight. So He sent someone with an invitation. He always sends an invitation. He condescends to use us to deliver it. These marginalized men and women saw a loving God and said yes. They were never unwanted. God wanted them to become King’s kids.

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