12 noviembre, 2012

God is on the move*

*Este escrito lo preparé para compartir en una iglesia local en San Diego, CA, ubicada en una comunidad universitaria, para compartir un poco de lo que Dios está haciendo en el contexto  universitario en México. Va tejido con una breve exposición de Jeremías 1. 

I wanted to share this song, because I think that art helps us sense a little bit more than plain words. This are some of the realities that are near you, across a fence/border, and the realities in which God is also moving, and using university students and professionals for His mission. Lately there has been a lot of social uprising coming from students in many parts of Latin America, and Mexico has not been an exception. Our political, social and economic situation leaves us with a lot of inconformity, and as Christian university students and professionals, we have been challenged by God to see things from His perspective, and consider what His calling of proclaiming His kingdom means for us

To prepare for this message I felt God invited to remember a continued dialogue with Him that started more than 7 years ago, when I started my university studies in Tijuana. I took my notes from studying the life of the prophet Jeremiah 5 years ago, and what it meant for me to be called by God to the University, in my own context. Many times it is easy to be in the university and ignore the situations that are around us and affect others, but back in 2008, things became more complicated in many Mexican border cities, and this caught our attention.  The violence, poverty, hopelessness and despair became severely obvious. Ignoring our reality happens with non-Christian students, but the same with the Church and Christian youth. We are either deaf or indifferent to the realities of our society, or without hope amidst our realities.

Let me illustrate a little of what I am talking about:
  •  An average of 8 dead people every day because of the war the government has declared against drug trafficking, for the past 6 years in México. More than 175, 000 people killed. This is more than the civilian deaths in Iraq, since the war started there.  
  • A growth of 200% in suicides amongst young people in the last 8 years.
  • Only 50% of youth have access to public health and more than 70% in their first job didnt have any signed contract.
  • Only 3% trust politicians
  • Only 17% of Mexican youth in ages 19 to 23 have the opportunity to go to college.

This means we live in a context of violence that is directly linked to drug trafficking, poverty, inequality and corruption. Most people who have access to higher education are seeking this as a way for upward social mobility and to suffer less that their parents; they are not thinking on how to use this to help other.  Issues like immigration, poor wages, and poverty are also linked to things liked NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) and other neoliberal policies, which lets us see who our sin our selfishness-  is not only present within our neighborhoods, but amidst national and international institutions and governments, and this is really affecting the lives of people, including university students in México, across the border we share.

One of our secular prophets says: “…for our youth, the only framework to reference is a prolonged economical crisis that doesnt seem to end, and they observe with distrust the promises for future. This is why they live an intense presentism, because the future is an opaque reference that gives no options to solve their fundamental problems. For many, their life projects were forgotten, their hope was taken away. Their lives have been marked, as well as their bodies, their needs, their rhythms of growing old, their expectations and their possible scenarios. For them, their future is now, their future is gone. José Manuel Valenzuela Arce.

This is a little of the reality we live in, that is very challenging, but this is not mainly what I want to share with you. I really pray that God´s word will speak us, and let us see through his eyes

I believe the word of God has a lot to tell us about God himself, ourselves, and the world we inhabit. Let us dig into Jeremiah 1.

 1 The words of Jeremiah son of Hilkiah, one of the priests at Anathoth in the territory of Benjamin. The word of the Lord came to him in the thirteenth year of the reign of Josiah son of Amon king of Judah, and through the reign of Jehoiakim son of Josiah king of Judah, down to the fifth month of the eleventh year of Zedekiah son of Josiah king of Judah, when the people of Jerusalem went into exile.
The word of the Lord came to me, saying,
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
    before you were born I set you apart;
    I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”
“Ah, Sovereign Lord,” I said, “I do not know how to speak; I am too young.”
But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am too young.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the Lord.
Then the Lord reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, “I have put my words in your mouth.  10 See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.”
11 The word of the Lord came to me: “What do you see, Jeremiah?”
“I see the branch of an almond tree,” I replied.
12 The Lord said to me, “You have seen correctly, for I am watching  to see that my word is fulfilled.”
13 The word of the Lord came to me again: “What do you see?”
“I see a pot that is boiling,” I answered. “It is tilting toward us from the north.”
14 The Lord said to me, “From the north  disaster will be poured out on all who live in the land. 15 I am about to summon all the peoples of the northern kingdoms,” declares the Lord.
“Their kings will come and set up their thrones
    in the entrance of the gates of Jerusalem;
they will come against all her surrounding walls
    and against all the towns of Judah.
16 I will pronounce my judgments  on my people
    because of their wickedness in forsaking me,
in burning incense to other gods
    and in worshiping  what their hands have made.
17 “Get yourself ready! Stand up and say  to them whatever I command you. Do not be terrified  by them, or I will terrify you before them. 18 Today I have made you  a fortified city, an iron pillar and a bronze wall to stand against the whole land—against the kings of Judah, its officials, its priests and the people of the land. 19 They will fight against you but will not overcome  you, for I am with you  and will rescue  you,” declares the Lord.

Jeremiah came from a family of priests. We dont know much about his family, but we do know about the context he was called in. The word of the Lord came to him during the ruling of 5 kings of Judah, that amount to 40 years of prophetic ministry for Jeremiah. During this time, the Assiryan Empire had fallen and the Egyptians and Babylonians were fighting for power. This had a great impact on Israel and Judah, and it was a crucial moment in World History. During Josiah´s reign there was a religious reformation, because of the finding of the book of Deuteronomy, were it talked about God´s covenant with the people of Israel: a covenant of love and grace that included guidelines on how to live accordingly to God in the land that God had given them. The laws and precepts given to them are summed up as Jesus very well puts it: To Love God with all that you are and your neighbor as yourselfBut finding the book of Deuteronomy and starting a religious reformation, that reinstated religious services to God didnt necessarily change the heart of the people.

Jeremiah was appointed by God at a young age (probably around his 20s). God´s Word came to him, it incarnated through his life. He didnt speak what he wished, but what God had to say to His people and other nations that He also loved. God  not only uses Jeremiah to achieve his goals, He assures Jeremiah´s identity, and purpose, and promises his companionship every step of the way. God doesnt use people, He loves them, He loves us  Jeremiah gives excuses upon God´s calling, but God doesnt accept them. As Sovereign lord, not only in word, but in reality, there is no reason for Jeremiah to be afraid, as God takes away his fear, and promises to rescue him, and to be with Him. It is interesting to think that we fear much, but God knows this, and He speaks to it. Jeremiah shall not fear, not because bad things wont happen, or he wont suffer, or everything will be fine as the false prophets of his time were saying to the people, but because God is with Him. We idolize security, but God offers a security that no person, government or army can assure us.

Jeremiahs will speak God´s word, and this wont be easy.  He will come against many He will challenge the Israelites idea of God and their way of life. And Jeremiah will not be a passive prophet; he will be asked to see, to consider, to repent and to speak. He will suffer, cry, pray and come to know God amidst all. He will discover more of who God is and how he acts in History, and by direct consequence Jeremiah will come to understand what being human is all about, as He relates to God, to His world and to others, for God´s good purposes in this World. In the whole book we can see a lot of how Jeremiah deals with God with all that is happening He doesnt become a social or political activist, or a popular speaker, nor he uses his God appointed calling to receive recognition, He speaks God´s truth into the reality of God´s people. This means talking about judgment , but also about hope. He doesnt talk new stuff, he actually is repeating what God has already spoken to Israel. Speaking words of advice and calling to repentance, but also of God´s love and mercy for all nations. Jeremiah will discover how God suffers for His peoplethe people he made, and whom He came into covenant with

Jeremiah is appointed as prophet to the nations, but He wont travel much, He will write to them. God´s Word through prophet Jeremiah will have more authority than the rulers of other nations and kingdoms, as it comes from the Sovereign Lord. As I wrote earlier, there will be words of judgment, of calling to repentance, of love, hope, grace and restoration. And God gives Jeremiah 2 illustrations of what will surely happen: 1) His Word is true, it is in Gods word that Jeremiahs confidence should rest, and 2) judgment will surely come to Israel and Judah, because they have forgotten God, and decided to follow other less demanding gods, made in their own image. This is truly wicked, and God will use other nations to bring sentence to His people. Jeremiah will live and suffer through all of this We will come to understand, with Jeremiah, that God brings his judgment out of His love for Israel and the other nations. The way He speaks to Israel are of a husband who has suffered infidelity and is trying to recover his wife, He speaks to Israel as His beloved. He speaks the consequences for their disobedience and unfaithfulness, and Jeremiahs commission speaks of God´s love trying to reach out to His people. As it turns out, every time we turn away from God, we lose focus on life: on what really matters, we become gods ourselves  we exploit others, putting our interest before our neighbors and make our own rules, which turn out to be unjust.

God affirms Jeremiah´s calling, and His mission springs directly from God´s initiative and revelation through His word. The book of Jeremiah, as the whole of Scripture, teaches us about God´s good news. As with Jesus, we see how God incarnated in History, as His word incarnated during the times of Jeremiah, and we see God reaching to us, calling us to follow him, to know him, and speak His Word, now revealed to us in the Bible. I think Jeremiah´s life and words have a lot to say to us. I think this Word´s impacted me as a university student, and I think it is similar to the reality many students are now engaging in. As with Jeremiah, God seems to interrupt our lives as we want to study and live peacefully.  God has interrupted our youth dreams, and I think He has inserted his dreams in our hearths.

I have had the opportunity to travel around México, and even  in the cities were we have been more affected by all this I have been saying there are fearless students, called by God to be His disciples, and ambassadors. I have also seen students taking God's Word as their source in life. We have a great lack of Bible teaching and discipleship, as churches have grown exponentially in Latin America the past decades, so students are also being called to love, learn and teach God´s Word. I see students asking hard questions about their faith and the reality they are living. They are being moved by God's Spirit to engage and get their feet wet with hard issues. Law students, psychology, business, economists  sociologists, historians... asking how they can serve with their careers. Many of them, I have seen their lives transformed by the Gospel, in their daily life and decisions, and how they are being intentional with their life projects, to bring glory to God.

So here are some of our challenges (which I think are also similar to yours):
  •  To respond to the realities of our context, and to live and proclaim God´s kingdom. To resist being indifferent and decide not to ignore the issues that affect our neighbors, close and far
  •   In the middle of hopelessness, to live out our hope, and to not run away from difficulties. To be close to those who suffer, and let other see our own pain, and how in the midst of all, we are learning to trust God.
  •   To not ignore our complex realities of violence, oppression, injustice and corruption, but to rediscover God´s hearth in all this issues. Because he does care, he sees and He calls us to act, speak and go...
  • To have a prophetic voice that denounces the injustice of our systems, and to love those who harm us. This is a great challenge for us in México. There are no prophetic voices coming from the churches, and people may think we are comfortable with the status quo.
  •   We are mostly challenged to seek God, to follow Him and to consider what it means to have the privilege to go to University, and how we will use this for Kingdom purposes. 

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