A few months ago, CBS Sunday Morning ran a feature on Peace Fellowship Church, the church I work with as interim pastor. This was a completely unexpected honor, and I’ve since been scratching my head, asking myself how this all came to pass. I’m tempted to answer that it was the result of a lot of good decisions and hard work, but it’s really not. If anything, it was the culmination of a series of rather foolish choices.
It all started in college, when I decided to forgo medical school for divinity school and become a pastor rather than a doctor. In terms of prestige, income, all that good stuff, that was a pretty questionable decision. Then, my wife and I decided to move into an overwhelmingly African-American neighborhood to live and plant a church. This may not seem like such a strange choice, except for the fact that we are Korean-American, and there is a painfully history of racial tension between Koreans and African-Americans, especially in the city of Washington D.C.
But if that was a strange decision, then our decision to remain here for four years after repeatedly being targeted for crime was downright foolish. Our house has been broken into twice, our car more times than I can now count. To be honest, I have wanted to move several times, but my wife repeatedly persuaded me not to, convinced there was some reason for us to remain. And so I conceded, not so much because I thought it was a wise course of action, but because I have learned to always trust my wife’s convictions over my own doubts. I even turned down a great job offer that paid more and offered health benefits in order to stay at Peace Fellowship.
But oddly enough, these very decisions provided the foundation for everything that has transpired in my life over the past few months. The decisions to move into a challenging neighborhood and then stay in that neighborhood in the face of crime were what attracted the attention of various news outlets in the first place. And had I accepted that amazing job and left Peace Fellowship last year, I wouldn’t had the opportunity to be interviewed by CBS Sunday Morning. Strangely, some of the most amazing and inimitable moments of my family’s life have been the result of what ostensibly look like questionable, if not straight up foolish, choices.
This is not the only time that a foolish choice ended up being a very good one. A few years ago, my wife was diagnosed with cancer, and while on her way to surgery, also discovered she was pregnant. Specialists around the country recommended we terminate the baby, because the baby would not survive the rigors of chemotherapy, and my wife could not afford any delay. But we felt certain God had given us this child for a reason, and so politely rejected their advice, deciding instead to keep the baby while moving forward with chemo. We knew we were taking a gamble with two lives when we made that decision, that there was a chance that any delay would kill my wife, and the chemo drugs would kill the baby. And yet that baby survived and will be celebrating his third birthday this fall, and my wife survived as well, and is still cancer free today.
If I have learned anything from these experiences, it is this: Sometimes we need to be willing to make stupid decisions. I know that sounds like bad advice for a pastor to give, but hear me out. Throughout Scripture, we hear writers talk about the difference between the ways of God and the ways of man. Isaiah tells us God’s ways are not our ways, and that as the heavens are high above the earth, so are God’s ways higher than the ways of man—in his mind, there is really no comparison between the two. Paul states this same principle in a more adversarial light, saying God’s ways are foolish to the world, even though in reality, they are the very power of salvation.
The events of Scripture also illustrate this dynamic: God sending bread from heaven so unexpected and surprising that the people called it “What Is It?” bread. God commanding Joshua to execute what could possibly be the stupidest military maneuver of all time: to march around the city of Jericho with their most prized religious relic, and after a few days of that, yell REALLY LOUDLY. And most importantly, God sending a Savior to earth to deal with sin—not an angel who came to punish sinners, but His own Son who would die for them. Clearly, God’s ways are often not the ways we would typically choose for ourselves.
For us, this means we must be willing to entertain foolish decisions that make sense to hardly anyone. We don’t do this to simply set ourselves apart or be counter-cultural, even though those are not terrible ends unto themselves. No, we do this because we believe God is wild and mysterious, and often moves in ways we cannot begin to understand or make sense of. If we only limit ourselves to making decisions that make good logical sense to us and to other human beings, then we very well may miss the movements of God in our lives.
We are like the rich young man in the gospels, who simply cannot take Jesus’ patently foolish advice to sell all his possessions and follow Him, and as a result, misses an opportunity to become one of the disciples of Christ. We must entertain the stupid, the foolish, the improbable, because very often, that is where God is found. As marvelous as our logical minds are, we must hone our ability not only to make sense of life, but also to discern and faithfully follow the movements of God, no matter how strange those movements may appear to us.
Don’t get me wrong, one can take this too far. Surely not all foolish impulses we have are from God. And God is also allowed to make perfect sense, if He so chooses. But think about it this way: If all the ways of God made sense, and if the most logical decision was always the best one, then what need would we have for faith?
Peter Chin is the husband to a courageous breast cancer survivor, father to four children, and a pastor at an inner city church of Washington D.C. You can read more of his writings at www.peterwchin.com, or follow him on Twitter at @peterwchin.