Today's chapter was so good that I thought I would share it directly with you! Soak up David Nasser's convicting words--you may just learn a thing or two!
You and I are at the banquet table of God's presence and truth, but too often we are so full of junk that we're not hungry. In actuality, spiritually, we are starving to death. We have settled for garbage instead of feasting on the nourishment God richly provides.
Chris Heurtz is a young man who is the head of Word Made Flesh Ministries in India and around Asia. This ministry provides shelters for homeless people, those with AIDS, and those inflicted with other diseases. Years ago when he was a college student, Chris went to Calcutta to work with Mother Teresa at the House of the Dying. Calcutta and Mexico City are the largest cities in the world, but Calcutta is the poorest. Most of the thirteen million people there are destitute. Air pollution is oppressive. Poverty and disease are the way of life--and death--for most people. Every morning city maintenance workers find bodies on the sidewalk and in the street of those who died during the night. At the House of Dying, Chris' job was to look for dying people on the street and and bring them in to give them a place of dignity to die. Chris and his workers lovingly cared for them, gave them a good meal, and shared the Gospel with them so they could die in peace.
In Calcutta, 70% of the homeless population have the lung disease of tuberculosis. When you walk down the street you fin thousands of old men and women coughing up there lungs. Day after day, hour after hour. Chris' ministry was to find those who only had hours or days to live and invite them, "Come with me. I'll give you a place to lie down." Upon arrival their heads were shaved, and they were given a shower and a bowl of hot food. Chris replaced their ragged, soiled clothes with clean ones. There, these men and women sat with other dying people who coughed their lungs out into a jar that was passed around. When it was full, the jar was thrown into the garbage with the soiled clothes and infested hair.
Lepers came in with their flesh rotting and their noses, fingers, and toes missing. Their clothes had the stink of rotted flesh. At the House of the Dying, Chris and the other ministers washed these lepers skin and gave them clean clothes to wear. The job of one of the workers was to stick a syringe into their pus-filled sores and extract the poisonous disease. Each syringe was used for person after person and day after day until it was too dull to pierce skin. Then it was thrown into the garbage can.
Children infected with AIDS, usually girls about four or five years old, were brought to the House of the Dying. How did these little girls get AIDS? By a blood transfusion? No. The dominant faith in India is the Hindu religion. One sect of Hindus believes that their men can get rid of sexually transmitted diseases by sleeping with a virgin--that means a four or five year old child. Many children older than this are already prostitutes. Chris Heurtz brought these children from the streets, and he listened to their screams and weeping. Chris once said, "We prayed the crying wouldn't stop, because their crying meant they were still alive." Lepers, children with AIDS, men and women with tuberculosis--these were the ones Chris and his partners at the House of the Dying looked for each day. That's a far cry from our neat and clean existence, isn't it? At first, the disease and death would gross anybody out, but after a while, Chris saw hurting people in desperate need, not ugly people who interrupted his life.
Chris said, "One thing I begged not to do was taking out the garbage. The stench was almost unbearable. Can you imagine the disease, ragged clothing, and half-eaten food? I begged them not to ask me to do it. It haunted me forever after the first time I took out the garbage. As soon as we walked out the back door toward the dump, children came out of the alleys and ripped open the bags to get whatever was there. I yelled, 'Don't eat this garbage! It's full of disease and death!' But they were so hungry that they ate garbage because that was all they could find. They had no other choice. I wept as I saw them scramble through the spilled jars of disease, the clothing stained with rotten flesh, and used syringes, trying to get a scrape of last night's dinner that a dying person didn't eat." Disturbing image, isn't it?! But in all honesty, how far are we from this spiritually? Can you see yourself feasting at the dumpster of this world?
Many of us are like those kids scrambling for garbage. We elbow each other at the mall, at the theatre, in the back seat, at home, at work, on the net, and at school in our hunger for food, but the food we lunge and fight for is rotten and diseased--and we eat it. We eat it every time we fill our hearts and minds with sexually suggestive movies or music, every time we make fun of somebody for whom Christ died, every time we value the praise of people more than the praise of God, every time we live to get revenge on someone who has hurt us, and every time we try to put things in God's place in our hearts. We are so full of this junk that we aren't hungry for the food that really satisfies and nourishes. Sure, we may listen to a message or a song about God, and that message has as much appeal as another bite of pizza when we are so full we're about to explode. Our souls are full of so much garbage that we don't even recognize our need for God's food.
It is a spiritual paradox that when we are thirsty for God and we drink, He satisfies us and yet leaves us thirsting for Him even more. When we are hungry for God and eat His nourishing word, we are refreshingly satisfied and yet we are hungry for much more. Augustine said, "You have made us for yourself, O God, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you." This is the same perspective the prophet Jeremiah spoke:
"When your words came, I ate them; they were my joy and my heart's delight, for I bear your name, O Lord God Almighty." (Jeremiah 15:16)
Eating requires intention, selection, and effort. We don't eat by being in the same room with food. We don't take the in the grace and truth of God by being in a sanctuary or at a retreat. We have to take initiative to eat because we recognize our needs for the Spiritual nourishment it can provide. We also need to be very selective when sifting through the options given to us by the world. Think of how many food there are in the grocery store. You have lots of options! You have lots of options to eat spiritually too--but remember, some of the foods you eat will poison you. It takes effort. Hear, read, study, memorize, and meditate on the word of God.
Jeremiah had one other insight about "eating God's word." He realized that it only made sense for him to eat it because he bore God's name. We are God's. We call ourselves "Christians." We call Him Lord, Savior, Father, and Friend. In many places in the Scriptures, we read that God provides a banquet for His people. God's banquet doesn't have flat Coke and leftover Spaghetti-O's! It has the finest, richest, and most delicious spiritual food we can ever eat! When we eat it, we are filled with the love, peace, joy, and strength God richly provides. Nothing even compares!
So why are we so content to keep running out in the alley to rip open the garbage bags of this world to eat that poison? It just doesn't make sense.