Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Time To Speak

This week at work, on Wednesday, we took our regular morning break at 10:45. Our breaks last 15 minutes, which is just enough time for me to drive to the nearest gas station around the corner from our office. Occasionally, I hit a wall around 10 or 11, so some coffee/rockstars are often needed. Anyway, I drive up to the gas station at about 10:51, and as I pull up, I notice there are four African-American teenage boys standing outside the door, all of them wearing the same t-shirts. The shirts read something like this... "Organization to keep young kids off the streets." As I began to walk toward the door, one of the young boys stopped me, and began to give what seemed to be a speech or a pitch that they probably had been trained to give. The boy was probably 15 or 16 years old. He began to tell me about their organization, and how their purpose was to give at-risk teenagers jobs or tasks, in order to keep them off the streets. Although I do not know anything about the boys, they all seemed very troubled. Needless to say, I was ready to listen to what they had to say. They each had a cardboard box that was filled with crackers and cookies of some sort, that they were intending to sell. I did not have any cash on me, so I was unable to buy any of their cookies. I thanked him, and proceeded to go inside to get my much-needed rockstar. As I was getting my drink, I could not stop thinking about these young, troubled teenagers, and the difficult life they must face everyday. In addition to that, I could not stop thinking about the gospel, and the hope that is found in it, and how badly I wanted to share it with them. Though I wish these were the only two concerns I had in my mind at the time, I would not be speaking truthfully if I didn't tell you of the third concern I had..."I'm gonna be late." After I purchased my drink, I looked at my watch and saw that it was 10:55. I was due back in the office on the phones no later than 11:00. As I said, all I wanted to do was stop and talk to these boys, and tell them about Christ! Maybe they already know Christ, maybe they've never heard the gospel, maybe they've refused the gospel. I didn't know the answers to these questions, but everything in me wanted to find out. So as I walked out the door, the boys were there, and the only thing that came out of my mouth was a mere, "Hey, thank you guys for standing out here in the heat. I'm sure it's hot, but it's good to see you guys out here." I proceeded to walk to my car, opened the door, and sat down to turn my car on, only to see my clock that said 10:56.

Time reigned supreme. I had a responsibility; an obligation to my place of employment. The entire drive back to the office, I really struggled with this. Was I just going to let my job responsibility stand in the way of these boys' eternity? Is that even a fair question? Of course, I need to steward the job that I have been given well, but should it be at the expense of the gospel being spoken, and possibly believed for the first time? Maybe that would be the only time for some of those boys. As I drove back to work, I started to think about how often situations similar to this one occur, and how time always reigns supreme. I was frustrated, but I couldn't figure out if my frustration was toward myself for not ignoring my responsibility, or toward the entirety of this issue that we face here in our busy, one place to the next culture we live in here in America. Everything revolves around schedules, meetings, responsibilities, deadlines, obligations, and time constraints; and I think this is paralyzing for the church as well. We are not outside of this problem. No, we are right in the heart of this problem, and may not even realize the extent to which it keeps us silent.

In Romans 10:13-15, it says...
"For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!"

I have been to Africa on two occasions. We have occasionally joked about something we like to call, "Africa Time." For example, if we were to schedule some sort of gathering at 10:00, we should plan on beginning everything at 10:30, or possibly even 9:45...who knows? All of the people who are coming to the gathering will be arriving based around "Africa Time." Though on the surface, this seems kind of silly, and may possibly seem to be the result of a non-advanced culture, I think that at the heart of this issue, they are more advanced than we are. I argue this because PEOPLE should be the main motivator, and the epicenter for any sort of advancement. The problem is that, in some cases(most), we have flipped this. Advancement for the sake of advancement has taken precedence over advancement for the sake of people. What I would like to highlight is not the fact that, in Africa, everyone is almost always late. I think that we would be selling their culture short if we were to stop there. I want to highlight WHY they are late. You see, in Africa, if you are on you way to a responsibility of some sort, (which would also include your job), and on the way you ran into ANYONE you had ever met before, or even seen for that matter, you stop. But when you stop, you do not merely stop and say, "How are you?", "Good, how are you?" No, you stop and have a real conversation with that person, and it's because that person is more important than your deadline.

I once saw a video called "God Grew Tired of Us". The video was about the story of a group of "lost boys" in Sudan, who were eventually given an opportunity to move to America. The video portrayed each lost boy's story of their new life in America. I remember one story of a young Sudanese man who began to live in New York City, and he shared an experience he had faced, where he was walking along the streets of New York, and saw a lady crying loudly on a bench. He watched as every person noticed her troubles, but continued on their way as if she were not there. I don't believe for a second that no one was affected by this woman. There were probably some who could care less, but there were also probably some who did care, but cared more about their time constraints, leading them to continue walking. The Sudanese man said that he was amazed, because something like this would have never happened in Sudan. He said that every person would have stopped. Needless to say, he stopped and spoke with this woman, and was able to encourage her greatly.

Though this whole issue is frustrating, again I want to point out that I am not outside of this struggle. I often choose to walk by, but not because I don't want to speak with them. It's because I always have somewhere I have to be. Am I saying that we should relinquish all responsibilities all the time? I don't think so. As I've wrestled through this frustration, I've also struggled to come up with an over-arching solution. My aim is to make us all consider our priorities, and be certain to prioritize the gospel over every circumstance. The "How's" and "What's" will all be situational in accordance with your own personal responsibilities. The only thing I am certain of, is that in opportunities that are "missed", we better plead to the God who saves on behalf of that person. For we know that John 6:44 says that, "no one comes to the Son, unless the Father draws him first." We can find some rest in this, but that rest should NOT be a sufficient substitute for seeking a solution to our problem of time here in America. That rest cannot be a sufficient substitute for searching your heart to figure out where your priorities are. That rest cannot be a sufficient substitute for silence. Though the Father is the one who first draws, "how are they to hear without someone preaching?" Though we may not have the time to speak, I believe it's time to speak!

I will leave us with a verse to meditate on in response to this problem. I pray the Lord teaches us to overcome, and grants us the wisdom to do so.

"So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom."
Psalm 90:12

"O Lord, make me know my end, and what is the measure of my days, let me know how fleeting I am."
Psalm 39:4

"For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also the the Greek. For IN IT the righteousness of God is revealed..."
Romans 1:16-17

It's Getting Late. It's Getting Serious.

Here's the song that's been on my heart this week as I wrestle through this...