I don’t know how many of these posts I’ll end up writing. I have so much thought and emotion swirling around in this head and heart of mine, but I’m not really sure what’s for me, what’s to share, what’s to let stir and settle, or what’s to release. I guess I’ll just share when I feel I need to. I’m not even sure I can fully articulate it all, honestly. But I do have a few things I’d like to say upfront.
First, and most importantly, these words aren’t meant to condemn, but to convict. Second, these words are mainly for me, so there’s no need for you to take things personally, unless you just want to. Third, these are my feelings, my thoughts, my convictions—you may disagree, and you have every right to. Fourth, I’m not trying to change your mind or convince you of anything, I am however, asking you to keep an open mind and heart.
I thought we were doing a good thing. I thought we went above and beyond. For a split second I even thought I might change someone’s life. I was right on all three points, but not in the ways I expected. That thing we did? It was good for me. What I thought was going above and beyond? It’s what should be my ordinary. The life that was changed? Mine.
The trip we made to Kentucky to deliver the hats, scarves, and blankets we made for the homeless has shaken me to my core. And I’m grateful for it. It has unraveled my apathy; it has stripped away my arrogance; it has caused me to examine myself in the mirror of God’s Word in a way I never have before. It’s made me realize things I once thought were okay, aren’t—things like going to church every time the doors are open but never really being open outside church; things like thinking I know what it’s really like to serve Christ when, for the most part, I’ve only served others like me; things like determining who I’ll give grace or compassion based on my judgment of his/her lifestyle.
I say I have compassion for those not like me, for those hurting and dying and weak and bruised and addicted and dirty, but I really don’t—didn’t. What I had wasn’t true compassion at all; it was conditional compassion. My view of others’ needs wasn’t based on Christ’s way. I’ve been looking back through the Scriptures, and for the life of me I can’t find one place where Jesus expected people to put down their cigarettes or stop their drinking or carousing or stealing before He would talk to them or lend a helping hand. I can’t find any place He told people they’d have to commit to coming to at least three out of five messages in His sermons by the lake series before He could comfort them. I can’t find any place where He put conditions on His grace. Jesus just met people where they were. He gave comfort and grace and help and love and compassion in the moment—no matter how messy or smelly or greedy or poor or hypocritical the person was. And yet somehow, every single time, the person’s life was changed. He met the immediate need and then gave grace and hope and guidance for the future. Imagine that—it wasn’t judgment, but mercy that brought about change.
What’s so wrong with helping someone right where they are? Enablement? Are we afraid they’re going to take what we offer and misuse or abuse it? Guess what? We’re not responsible for that; we’re not accountable to God for how someone uses what we offer. We’re accountable to God for making the offer, for extending the grace, for meeting the need, for speaking the truth with love.
When we get wrapped up in church culture we forget about our responsibilities to those outside our walls. We forget that at no point has Jesus ever been interested in our comfort level. Sure, it’s a good thing to serve other Christians. Yes, it’s important to be actively involved with a community of believers. But if we get so wrapped up in our roles in the church that we can’t be the church, there’s a problem.
That’s where I’ve been.
That’s not where I’m going to stay.
I’m done using the barometer of church participation or comparing myself with other Christians as an indicator of how well I’m following Christ. It’s not accurate. My level of comfort or feeling like I’m okay spiritually shouldn’t be equated with God sanctioning my lifestyle. Truthfully, I’m a bigot most of the time when it comes to self-examination. The only thing I should be measuring myself against is God’s word, and His word is pretty clear on matters of compassion and grace and forgiveness and loving our neighbors and sharing what we have (physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually, financially) with those who don’t have it. His word gives unmistakable instruction that our priority as Christians is to share His good news with everyone—not only those we deem worthy, not just those we think we’ll benefit from, not merely those who look and smell like us or have the same socio-economic status we do.
It’s our job to extend His mercy and grace. No questions asked. No conditions or qualifiers.
I don’t know why or how many of those homeless people we met came to be in that situation. I don’t know how many of them are drug and/or alcohol abusers. I don’t know who among them is really trying to get off the street and who isn’t. I don’t know if I got played by some of them or if I didn’t. And guess what? I don’t care. All I know is that if not for grace, that could be me. And how can I—knowing who God is, knowing who I am, knowing to do good, knowing God’s word, understanding my responsibility, realizing that what I have or haven’t done for the least of these I have or haven’t done for Him—not do it and expect God to be okay with that? I will be held accountable.
So here’s what I’m going to do from here on out: I’m going to stop caring what other church people think about what I’m doing for my neighbors; I don’t answer to them, I answer to God. I’m going to stop worrying about what others do with what I give them; I’m not responsible for them, I’m responsible for me. I’m not going to keep saying, “I don’t know where those kinds of people are, I don’t know what I can do.” I’m going to quit justifying my inaction. I’m going to stop ignoring the truth: I’m guilty, and I need God’s grace and mercy just as much as the next guy (if not more).
“Now which of these three would you say was a neighbor,” Jesus asked. The man replied, “The one who showed him mercy.” Then Jesus said, “Yes, now go and do the same.” – Luke 10:35-36 (NLT)