Sunday, June 30, 2013

A Puff of Smoke

When I think of something that makes me feel good, it's usually the idea of sitting somewhere on a beach finding peace and quiet--away from the normal concerns of life. But a recent lesson reinforces the idea of something better--at least on a regular basis. It's the main reason I don't see myself ever retiring on a beach in the Caribbean.

A few weeks ago my HP Laser Jet printer broke. It kind of broke my heart. I've had that printer for more than 2 decades and it was "old reliable." I only had repairs maybe 3 or 4 times and at least twice the repairmen wanted to buy the machine saying, "they just don't make them like that anymore." A couple of years ago, I put over $100 into it, and I would have spent even more this time, but this past week my hopes for it went up in a literal puff of smoke. It was done. Kaput! Finished. I was not happy until I found out that a new faster one would only cost $249.00. Plus Staples kicked in a free case of paper! 

That incident reminded me of a pastor's sermon a few weeks ago. He said something to the effect of "don't let the familiar keep you from something good." I've thought about that a lot over these past few weeks. I wanted to keep my familiar printer, but a new one turned out even better. If it only lasts a few years I can buy quite a few of them before spending the $1200, I paid for my old one.

That concept becomes even more important when I consider how I spend my free time. Do I stick with familiar television shows, entertainment choices, or leisure activities? Or could  there be something better?

Today I read an interesting article in the July 1st issue of Time magazine. It was about how performing some type of service has been healing vets from post traumatic stress syndrome. The article went on to report that there is a wealth of evidence on the physical and psychological effects of service by the elderly. "Community service provides clear health and psychological benefits, including greater longevity, reduced depression, and a greater sense of purpose."

This past week I interviewed a Viet Nam vet in his late sixties who still travels into jungles in places like Cambodia and Honduras to help the poor. He has a zeal for life and adventure that's rarely found in those whose best days are spent sitting on a beach. Gary (from Rescue Task Force) told me a story about how an extremely poor couple might take out a loan to start a business. But they don't factor in the exorbitant interest charged by unscrupulous men. When the couple can't make the payments, these men give them a choice--"we'll cut off your arms or you can give us your daughter!"

Poor people often have only poor choices; no choice at all really. And, their daughters frequently end up in Southern California as sex or domestic slaves sold to the highest bidder. What if we exchanged some of our free time helping the poor instead of looking for the next thing to make us feel good? (I'm in no way saying we don't all need some down time.)

In his book Fast Living, Scott C. Todd, PhD, builds a case for how the church can end extreme poverty in our lifetime. He retells the story of the little boy on the beach who is picking up starfish and throwing them back in the sea. An onlooker stops him and asks "Do you really think you can make a difference? There are thousands of starfish on the beach as far as the eye can see." The little boy silently picks up a starfish and tosses it back in the water. "Made a difference to that one," he said.

Today, says Todd, this story takes on new dimensions. A child might look at all those starfish, grab their phone and tweet the need. Thousands of children might come and save them all. 

So what if Christians decide to respond to the need and take a fraction of their leisure time-- exchanging the familiar for something better, more satisfying, maybe even healing. Perhaps that's why the God of the Bible calls His people to service. Because it not only benefits the recipient, but also the person who serves them. 

Whatever we do to end poverty can also make a difference when it comes to ending modern-day slavery. My friend Aleece is currently in the Caribbean, but she's not sitting on any beach. As she helps meets the basic needs of children in orphanages, they become far less vulnerable to being trafficked. 

And, what about poverty in Southern California? Though it may not be so extreme, there are ways you can make a difference. We'd love to know what familiar thing in your life could go up in a puff of smoke and how that might lead you to something far better?


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