Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Babyland & Peace

This picture probably means nothing to you, but it does to me. The #1092 does something for me. It speaks a word of God into my heart.

I'll get back to this picture in a moment.

First, the good news of Jesus spread like wildfire in the 1st century world because it spoke a word into people's emptiness.
Jesus was a magnet for empty people.

So, this bleeding woman approaches Jesus in Mark 5. She's been bleeding for 12 years. According to Leviticus 15, she is unclean and anything she touches becomes unclean. Unclean kept you at a distance from society. There'd be no intimacy with a spouse or lover. No synagogue. No sacrifices. No contact with a priest. Basically, life sucked for you. 7 days of this was bad...try 12 years.


Funny story. A.J. Jacobs (the author of "The Year of Living Biblically") spent 1 year attempting to follow every single command in scripture. Most of the book is absolutely fascinating because he's not a believer, but to follow every command means you have to pray and do other things that connect you with God and it really started to mess with him. There are funny stories like throwing pebbles at people in Central Park because they were breaking the Sabbath and the OT commands people to be stoned for doing it.
One night, Jacobs and his wife got in an argument. The next day he came home from work and he went to sit on the couch and his wife said, "I sat on the couch."
She was fully aware of Jacobs 1-year commitment and she knew that the OT teaches that anything a woman touches while she is bleeding is unclean.
So, Jacobs went to sit in the recliner. Again she said, "I sat there too."
Jacobs attempted to sit in one of the chairs at the kitchen table. Again, "I sat in all of the kitchen chairs."
Jacobs had no where to sit. He ended up having to buy one of those folding camping chairs, which he began taking with him everywhere because as far as he knew, every chair in New York probably had a bleeding-woman who sat in it over the past week.

Back to our bleeding-woman in Mark 5.
She knows if she can just touch Jesus' clothes that she'll be healed. So, she begins maneuvering her way through the crowd. Have you ever realized the risk she is taking by doing this? She's in a town in which most people probably know her as the bleeding lady...I mean...she has been bleeding for 12 years. I'm assuming she is veiled to cover up her identity. But anyone she touches is unclean. She touches Jesus and she immediately knows that she has been healed. End of story, right?
No! Jesus then exposes her by asking, "Who touched me?" Jesus asked a question in a public setting that exposes this woman for who she is. Is this a merciful move on the part of Jesus, or not?
The woman gives in and confesses.
Here is where it gets interesting. Jesus could have...and SHOULD have...sent her to the priest. He SHOULD have sent her to the place where she would offer sacrifices to make her right with God and with the synagogue.
But he doesn't.

Jesus skips straight to SHALOM. He goes straight to "peace."
Mark 5:34, "Daughter, your faith has made you well. GO IN PEACE, and be healed of your disease."

The peace that is found in SHALOM is more than Truitt meeting me at the front door when I go to work...holding up his two fingers while saying, "Daddy, PEACE" as a way to say, "Peace out."

Shalom meant wholeness, completeness, harmony, rest, rhythm, etc.
This is what Jesus gives Ms. Bleed-a-Lot.

Now, back to the picture up top.
I preached on "peace" this past Sunday. While preparing this sermon, I felt compelled to take a prayer drive through my city (Memphis) to think and pray about peace.

There are so many things about Memphis to love: pork bbq (yes, Rick Atchley, it actually qualifies as bbq), music, history, culture...a special place of the "King's"--Elvis, MLK, Don & BB.
There are also valid reasons that Memphis has received the reputation it has today.
-We are ranked #2 when it comes to violent crime. Thank you Detroit for surpassing us last year.
-Forbes magazine listed us as one of the top 3 most miserable cities to live in.
-Racism is still rampant.

So, I went on a prayer drive because I was eager for God to speak a word of peace into my life.
My journey took me to Caritas Village.
This is one of my favorite restaurants in town. It is a community set within an impoverished neighborhood that exists to bring hope and change. You can see a bunch of wires to the left of this picture. They are in the shape of a human. If you were to count them you would get the number 147. Two weeks ago, a prayer service was held at Caritas. In the last year, 147 people were murdered in Memphis. The focus of the prayer service was to pray for peace/shalom to come to our city. Passionate prayers were prayed for God to come and end cycles of violence.

From there I went to Hope House.

Hope House is a daycare that serves families who suffer from the AIDS epidemic. To qualify for Hope House, one of your parents must be infected and you have to be under the poverty line. Walking into this place will rip your heart out. You are staring into the eyes of 6 month to 5 yr-olds...1/3 of them were infected from birth...and most of the kids either will lose their parent before they turn 16 or they will die before they turn 16.

Peace? Shalom?

Then, I went to Babyland. This picture at the beginning of this post is from Babyland. #1092 means nothing to most of you, but it represents an infant who died in Memphis whose family couldn't afford a burial. So, there is a field in Memphis where these infants are buried. Most of them don't have a name on their grave...they have a number.

There are more than 17,000 infants buried here.
If you want to read about a nurse who knew some of these babies personally, you've got to check out my friend's blog, Callie, who wrote about Babyland. You can check it out here.

One of our zip codes here in Memphis has a higher infant mortality rate than some 3rd World countries. Every 43 hours an infant will die in Memphis...and most of them die of preventable problems like no prenatal care, abuse and malnutrition.

I spent a while praying in this field.
I saw hundreds and thousands of discs with numbers.
I saw a few stones with names.

Here's what gets me...it's Jesus.

Jesus says in Matthew 5:9, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God."

He doesn't bless people who stand for peace or those who love peace or those who pray for peace. He prays specifically over people who MAKE peace.

So, if we are not creating peace among those around us, we are not being true to our baptisms, which enlist us as agents of peace.

The resurrection of Jesus has invited us into God's Shalom...we are called to join in his ongoing work of implementing the wholeness and harmony of peace in this world...here and now.

I'll tell you this, prayer-drives to focus on peace will smack you in the face and challenge your values. Enter such prayers at your own risk. Jesus might just do something to you.


  1. First of all, I am so very thankful for the man of Christ that you are, Josh! You continually challenge and sharpen me as a disciple. Thank you for that. I am blessed to know and love such a passionate, white-hot follower of Jesus. Secondly, I think I would like to spend some time in Babyland if I ever get out to Memphis. What a holy place that seems to be. Finally, I am so thankful God has placed you and Kayci in Memphis to be a sources of His light and life. Love you, brother.

  2. Josh, I really appreciate the way you have embraced a city that has been my home for most of my 51 years. People have often asked me why I live in the area. I simply tell them that it is my home. To be the man of God I know you are seeking to be you have to do exactly what you are doing, invest your life in the city that you now call home. There will never be enough time in the day to do what needs to be done, and at times the problems of Memphis can be overwhelming, but to help one person is to make a difference. Would love to share a cup of coffee some day. God bless.

  3. Amazing stuff, Josh. Having lived in the Memphis area for seven years, this brought back to some of the harsh realities that we faced there. I've been to "baby land" an the Hope House. The story that Dateline did on Memphis last year about it being the infant death capital of the US was sobering and flat out intimidating. I miss Memphis because it's a missionary's playground. So many needs...so many opportunities for God to heal, redeem, and resurrect.

  4. Thanks for this Josh, spoken from a minister who is intentionally incarnational in the community he's serving. That comes out brother. I'm glad you know about Babyland, thanks for being a peacemaker with your life. You are blessed.

  5. Incarnational ministry will totally mess you up. Hang on tight because life with Jesus is a crazy adventure.

  6. I have never been to Memphis. The infant mortality rate is so sad. You have sent a challenge to everyone who reads your blog to go into thier own communities and see how improverished families live. Every town has their areas of truely poor people' Jesus touched them and loved them on a daily basis. You have challenged everyone to do the same.

  7. Josh, this post really touched me. Thanks.