I grew up in San Bernardino, and after last week’s events, I’m guessing you know exactly where that is.
Minus the blonde hair and a tan, I’ve been a California girl all my life. But to be honest, there are a hundred other places I’d rather live. I’ve often dreamed of green terrain, wide-open spaces and a slower pace of life. Most days, my husband and I would prefer to raise our son in a small town anywhere east of here.
It’s trendy to hate California. In fact, you’re considered hip if you’re from California but you loathe it enough to finally leave. The liberated find land elsewhere and recall their days of bondage with sighs of relief.
There are plenty of legitimate reasons to leave. Our crime rate is a crime in itself; the traffic turns even reserved personalities into road-ragers; we’re in the midst of a severe drought (if you thought California looked brown before, you should see it now); our cost of living makes grown men cry; and yes—we just had a terrorist attack, a mere nine miles from my house.
But here’s the crazy thing: despite a hundred reasons not to, I’ve grown to love this place. God is still at work here. This is a mission field ripe for the gospel harvest.
Remember Nineveh? A “great city” of 120,000 people, it is described as evil and wicked with a wickedness that came up before the Lord. Without a second thought, God could have destroyed the city as punishment for its vileness. Indeed, he threatened to—but out of his great mercy, he decided to give the people an opportunity to repent. The prophet whom God sent to preach to the Ninevites was bitter and begrudging. To Jonah, God’s compassion “seemed very wrong, and he became angry.” But God responded,
“Should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and also many animals?”
Can you believe God restrained his righteous wrath long enough to care about the number of people (and take note of their animals) in a city that had shaken its fist in his face? So, does God have compassion on the almost 39 million people in here too? And what about all of us who make up the United States? Does he have compassion on you and me? All of Scripture gives reason to shout a resounding “Yes!” The apostle Luke summarizes it this way:
From one man God made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us.
God didn’t commission us to go and procure safe and comfortable places for ourselves where we can make a nice life. Like you, I’m prone to consider this world my home, my permanent residence, so everything from traffic to shootings disrupts my tidy little existence. (How dare someone hinder my happiness!) But God appointed us to the very places we live, to spread his fame in our corner of the world, and we don’t have long to do it. This is going down so fast it’ll feel like we barely blinked when we’re finally with Jesus.
What are you doing with this blink-of-an-eye?
While it may seem like I live in a God-forsaken state, I’m seeing daily evidence to the contrary. I know many Christ-loving Californians who are living out the gospel in their families, neighborhoods and workplaces.There are even those who deeply love and care for the Muslim community here.
By the Spirit’s power, these believers are reaching out of their comfort zones, past their fears and into a godless culture to do the work of God:
to proclaim good news to the poor
to bind up the brokenhearted
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners.
It only takes one step outside our front door to remember that we live among the poor, the brokenhearted, the captives, the prisoners. But these are the very ones God came for, wrapped himself in flesh-and-blood for, lived among and suffered alongside, and died for in order to save. Not long ago I was that poor, brokenhearted prisoner taken captive by sin. And so were you.
When I am tempted to fear or to join in the dialogue of disgust over California and our nation, this is the strong reminder I speak to my heart: Lay down your dreams of an idyllic place elsewhere. Stop whining about the conditions. Cry out to God for our country, our states, our cities, our neighborhoods, the Muslim community. Speak the truth and love loud.
Because God is still here, and He is doing a great work that you don’t want to miss.