Wilfredo Choco De Jesús: Paying the Cost of Reconciliation (Catalyst Notes)

Wilfredo Choco De Jesús was one of Time’s 100 most influential people in 2013. The senior pastor at New Life Covenant Ministries in Chicago, he is a man not only of the Word but of action. He started his talk with Luke 19:10: “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” This, he said, is why Jesus came. This is what we are called to: to seek and to save the lost.

How do we lead in a drifting culture dominated by fear? First, we must realize that nobody drifts towards holiness. Holiness is intentional. Therefore, a Church that offers transformation in a drifting world must be an engaged, purposeful, responsive Church. Prayer is not a crutch. It is the start of something, not the end of it. Revelation calls for a response. Understanding can wait, obedience to the revelation of God cannot. “When my Father says do something, I do it.”

Remember: God uses unusual people to do extraordinary things. It’s all over the Bible. Wilfredo De Jesús, also known as Pastor Choco, felt called to buy a farm and amazing things took place to make it happen through all sorts of crazy turns. That farm has, to date, rescued 625 girls and women from prostitution. There is a cost to reconciliation, but we, the Church, should be happy to pay it. He told a story of buying five prostitutes for one hour. They brought them to a place where they laid out a beautiful banquet. They spoke truth over them, that they weren’t born a prostitute and they were loved. Those women walked away from their path and, through the sacrifice and support of the church, ended up becoming leaders in the church. It’s just like in the parable of the lost sheep: the sheep is not rebuked for being lost, it is celebrated for being found.

Or the prodigal son. The son who basically told his father, “I don’t care about your status, I wish you were dead.” He demanded an inheritance he wasn’t even owed and his father gave it to him, sacrificing his status for him. Then that son leaves and squanders it all. Eventually he came to his senses and returns humbled. What does the dad do? He RUNS to the boy. Men didn’t run in the first century; children and women ran. But again, the father disregards status and runs to the son. He embraces and covers the boy, showing that his protection is over him. He gives him jewelry which is a symbol that tells the son and others that he has complete authority to negotiate on behalf of the father with the assets of the family. That’s some crazy sacrificial love.

Why is the older brother upset? Well, this was all at a cost to him, in his mind. The inheritance was rightfully his, and already the father had allowed his younger brother to squander half of it. Now, he was paying for this celebration as well as giving the prodigal son his status back. You see, someone always pays the cost of reconciliation. There’s a cost to bringing others to the table, to gather those that Christ calls us to. The question is, what are you willing to pay so others can be reconciled to God? Are you willing to stand in the gap?

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The Process of Discernment

About a year or two ago, I had this idea, this burning vision, that I was trying to understand. It mobilized me so much that I wrote people, met with organizations and even pursued a grant. But then I had this sense of not now, not yet. Today I remembered that vision and asked myself, “Had I just misunderstood it?”

You see, this vision was this big room, and each Cincinnati neighborhood was represented by the a 8′ tower that looked like a building. There’s 52 neighborhoods in the city, and there were 52 pillars in this vision, laid out in a grid pattern, so as you walked through it, almost as if you were walking the a city.

Each tower had the name of the neighborhood and a couple infographs telling the story of racial and economic disparity through the decades. On the other side of the towers (in the “windows”) were pictures of people from the neighborhood as well as the places they took pride in or that served as the heart of their community. Lastly, there’d be some kind of audio that would share people’s stories, but only if you were close to their “neighborhood.”

On the other side of this installation, we’d have a video sharing a few stories of what it’s like to be in Cincinnati and some of the big obstacles we are facing.

So, that was the vision. Today I suddenly recalled that vision and thought about where God has put me, in a role where it is possible for me to potentially engage with people across the city, possibly from every neighborhood. And as I work through the classes I’m in right now and ask myself what this vision meant, I’m beginning to wonder if the dream wasn’t some massive project for me to create, but instead it was a visual expression for what my path would look like. This vision was meant to be a means of education: to reveal the HUMANITY that exists in every single neighborhood (give them faces), to recognize our successes while also opening our eyes to places of total failure. To stir hearts to become reconcilers in this city (not necessarily the same as peacemakers).

I really don’t know yet but I do feel as if I’ve gained some kind of understanding around all of this. It’s as if a fog is lifting and I can discern shapes and movement but none of the details.

Reflection on Love

“…A bad person can receive the sacrament of the body and blood of the Lord, for is said, “All who eat and drink unworthily, eat and drink judgment on themselves.” [1 Cor. 11:29] A bad person can have the name of Christ and be called a Christian. Such people are referred to when it says, “They polluted the name of their God.” [Ezek. 36:20] To have all these sacraments is, as I say, possible even for a bad person. But to have love and be a bad person is impossible. Love is the unique gift, the fountain that is yours alone. The Spirit of God exhorts you to drink from it, and in so doing to drink from himself.

Excerpt from St. Augustine’s Love Sermon, italics added for emphasis

I haven’t figured out much of anything, but I feel like if someone were to ask me what God called us to as his children, I would summarize it thusly: Let love overflow from you; let love be the foundation of your words and your actions. Have every step be a movement born out of love.

This does not mean things like grace, truth, justice, etc. aren’t important. They surely are and we know they can co-exist; in fact to love is to be honest rather than deceive, to show grace in the face of injury, to seek justice for the oppressed and marginalized. But if we lead with justice, we often miss opportunities for grace. If we lead with truth, we sometimes lack compassion. The foundation must be love. If it is not built on love, what will lead you?

“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” 1 John 4:7-8

“And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.” 1 John 4:16

Reiterated, perhaps because it is so hard for humanity to fully understand, is the fact that God is love. It is not saying God feels love but rather that God’s very nature is that of love; that to love is to be in relationship with God and to be unloving is to not know God.

How are we to love? This is perhaps the hardest part, because we are not called to love just the people we like. Not to limit it to only our family and friends. Jesus was perfect but he didn’t love only perfect people. He spent a tremendous amount of time loving those who were seen as untouchable, despised, neglected, marginalized and cursed. What is Christ’s response to these people? To all people?

“This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.” 1 John 3:16-18

We are not meant to love from a distance because God does not love like that; God is relational and personal. It is worth noting that God is love because our God is Triune. A solitary God before creation could not be love without having another to love. Love is communal; it requires plurality. We cannot truly love in solitude and although our God is one, our God is also three.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.” John 1:1-3

“Then God said, ‘Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.'” Genesis 1:26

So we see that they were together from the beginning; that they were one but also separate (I know, it can sound confusing and we can’t fully comprehend it but think of it more as 1x1x1=1 instead of the more confusing 1+1+1=1). Most often we can understand God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit more easily through their relationship. Described by St. Augustine through the lens of love, the Trinity can be discerned through seeing God as the lover, Jesus as the Beloved and the Holy Spirit as love.

“And a voice came from heaven: ‘You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.'” Mark 1:11

“And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” Romans 5:5

Love is such a big part of this story; in fact I would say the entire story is about love. Jesus even told us the two most important commandments were to LOVE God with all our hearts, soul and mind and to LOVE our neighbor as we LOVE ourselves. To know God is to love the way God loves. It is a reckless sort of love, a love the abides even in the midst of rejection, disappointment, failure, and disobedience. It is love at a cost to oneself. A sacrificial love; an abundant love. It is a love that whispers in the darkness, “You are loved and you can love.”

 

Stepping into the “Unknown”

I recently finished an exegesis on a different part of Philippians (posted here somewhere), but another group of verses came to mind as I went through my last day at work, re-telling people time and again with a smile and a chuckle that “Indeed, time sure does fly… No, nothing lined up yet… I’m sure everything will work out fine… Yep, something more faith and/or community focused… Yeah, I’ll be spending a week in prayer and reflection trying to understand my next steps…”

Knowing that Jesus is countercultural and doing something counter to your cultural are two very different things. It can feel isolating, and yet I know I’m not alone.

Philippians 4:10-13 “I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”

I am startled at how much I related to this today. The two years leading up to this? Oh man! How I struggled. To let go of money being the thing I put my trust in and my property defining part of my identity. I asked, “What is the value of a life directed towards the pursuit of happiness?” For me I discovered it wasn’t much and it rarely brought me happiness.

No, I think God tells me that a life pursuing a meaningful purpose has the side effect of joy and happiness. Every life is worth the same, but what of the value that every life creates? We exist in a society that often idealizes selfishness, perhaps thinking the key to happiness lies within that trait. And yet the more selfish we become, the fewer friends we have per capita, the more isolated we are, with higher rates of anxiety, depression… Oftentimes we can’t even gain a sense of our own identity anymore.

Yet here I sit in a place with God where, when I talk about where I am it clearly stirs up anxiety in the hearts of some people; it makes me realize how good God is that he brings me here to this place to sit in this struggle and grow with Him. A man called Father Mike posts videos on Ascension and in one of them he talked about the difference between patience and rushing towards the next thing. He used the example of building a shed. They had put a foundation down but it wasn’t level and his answer was to just drill all new holes for the shed but the man leading the project insisted they do it right so they disassembled, leveled the foundation, and easily assembled it so it was built right.  This is how God sometimes operates.

I went down a path for 14 years that excluded God from the equation and God, in His graciousness, has torn so many things down to the foundation so that we could make sure it was built right in my life. Now what He’s building is good and I can trust in His work and lean into a vision even when I don’t understand it. This is the goodness of my God.

 

Discipleship Is Hard

This is not an easy thing. I suppose it should never be an easy thing, one way or the other. If you are leading someone and not struggling at some points, I would wonder if it doesn’t mean the responsibility is being taken too lightly? And if it is not a struggle to be someone’s disciple, I wonder how much challenge really exists in the relationship? How much growth is being experienced?

Luke 8:22-25 “One day he got into a boat with his disciples, and he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side of the lake.” So they set out, and as they sailed he fell asleep. And a windstorm came down on the lake, and they were filling with water and were in danger. And they went and woke him, saying, “Master, Master, we are perishing!” And he awoke and rebuked the wind and the raging waves, and they ceased, and there was a calm. He said to them, “Where is your faith?” And they were afraid, and they marveled, saying to one another, “Who then is this, that he commands even winds and water, and they obey him?”

We have no idea what tone Jesus used when he asked the disciples, “Where is your faith?” But their response of fear, to marvel, to question… it is clear that they are being challenged by their relationship with Jesus.

Luke 9:49-56“Master,” said John, “we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we tried to stop him, because he is not one of us.” “Do not stop him,” Jesus said, “for whoever is not against you is for you.” As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. And he sent messengers on ahead, who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for him; but the people there did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem. When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?” But Jesus turned and rebuked them. Then he and his disciples went to another village.

Here you can see Jesus experiencing again and again the challenge of discipleship. While he has repeatedly taught about the Kingdom and the new covenant he was bringing to God’s people (and the disciples have spent a great amount of time with him hearing about it), he has to continue to tell them the most basic things, like those doing work in his name were for them and not against them, and that they should not in fact rain fire down from heaven on a village (on the scale of unloving to totally loving your neighbor, that falls a bit short).

Galatians 5:19-21 “Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. “

Paul, a standard setter of fathering followers of Christ and creating a community of believers reproducing believers, struggled with this even more.  He reminded, warned, praised, prayed for, lamented and chastised those he lead. He struggled deeply with them though, speaking harshly and threatening discipline. He took the responsibility seriously and wanted all followers coming through him to understand the reality of their salvation and necessity of their relationship with Christ.

Mark 12:24-27 “Jesus replied, “Are you not in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God? When the dead rise, they will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven. Now about the dead rising—have you not read in the Book of Moses, in the account of the burning bush, how God said to him, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead, but of the living. You are badly mistaken!”

This was the final example I reflected on when I was considering this repeating idea that discipleship is hard. Jesus, when talking to the Sadducees, emphasized the importance of knowing the Scriptures. He didn’t come to abolish it but to fulfill it. He referenced it all of the time and I don’t think it was just because people of that time understood it. It is our story with our Father, our God. It is clear in his words that it isn’t just about knowledge of Scripture, but knowing the power of God. This too must be something we strive to grow in as leaders and challenge growth in for those we lead.

As hard as discipleship is, of course I cannot shake the simultaneous image of the bearing of fruit. The purpose is for deeper relationship with Christ, with God, with the Spirit. And as we receive the Spirit and do the work to which we are called we bear fruit. To Paul, the sacrifice was sweet in that in brought us closer to Christ and the fruit it bore was in the ways God provided and could then be boasted in to others, so that they might also come to know Christ.

Matthew 7:16-20 “You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, you will know them by their fruits.”

So yes, Abba, I see this is hard. But I see the fruit for your Kingdom that comes through it.

God is Entrepreneurial

I went to a Christian entrepreneurial conference late last week,  the Unpolished Conference in Cincinnati, and it really made me think. The truth is,  I’m not particularly entrepreneurial. I would say walking away from it I’ve learned what I really enjoy and am best at is helping expand, execute and realize the ideas of others as well as problem solve. And yet I also do some very entrepreneurial things. Why is that?

I think it is because if we are in a deep relationship with God, we feel called to do things that are far beyond our current resources, require abnormal risk, and often either grows us or fulfills a need within our community. My friend, who doesn’t see herself as a home builder or entrepreneur, bought land and is looking at ways to build in the city. A man I know who is resistant to growing his business (he is a liberator of God’s people, providing transportation to the disabled) opened up to the idea of adding a person and is now seeing the abundance God provides on the other side of His promise. I feel called to do an art installation project to create a deeper sense of community in Cincinnati (a project of which I am wholly unqualified for) but it will grow me outside the corporate world.

I think if you asked any of us if these are things we particularly want to do, we would probably tell you we were instead doing what we felt called to do. That doesn’t change the entrepreneurial characteristics required of us. It just means we lean less into ourselves and more into God and our community, giving the glory to them.