I was asked recently where I thought the churches of Christ were headed. I started thinking about the issues that plague the Kingdom. We all have an opinion on gender equality, instrumental music, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit (or not) and the general apathy that resides within our auditoriums but none of those came to mind first.
I sat at a stop light in Nashville a few weeks ago and watched the woman on the curb. Her long black hair was in dreads and her cardboard sign was held at such an angle that I couldn’t read it.
I reached for my purse and started looking for cash, pretty sure that there wasn’t any but hoping I might be wrong. I pushed back the inner thought that wanted to instruct me on my next move and proceeded to search anyway. Before I could ask my teenage daughter if she had any money, the light changed and the car behind me took that as their queue to start honking.
We rode in silence for several miles before my daughter began telling me that she had been told that we shouldn’t give money to people like that because they could use it for something they shouldn’t. We should give them food instead. I nodded. That was the same advice I had been given growing up, as well. But it never sat right with me. I silently reconsidered that popular, although I now believe false way of thinking before I shared my new view with my daughter.
Why have we become so arrogant that we label every beggar an alcoholic or drug addict? Is it because we have spent so much time serving the poor and have witnessed people taking our money and heading straight for the liquor store? Perhaps, but I’m beginning to think that it’s so much easier to label, judge and move on. It’s easy to tell myself that money given would be used unwisely. I’m not sure about you but I seldom carry a warm meal around with me. That argument, although well intended by good hearts, lets me off the hook. Every. Single. Time.
I’m tired of the belief that the poor need only to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and start managing their money better. I’m weary of Christians who follow the Jesus who turned up his nose at the poor and who preached a sermon of only helping those who help themselves. That’s not the Jesus I read about in Bible. That’s not the Jesus who came to save us. That’s certainly not the Jesus who saved me.
I remember the nights of wondering where food would come from. I remember the lights being turned off and the water stopping. I’ve been there and I wasn’t strung out on drugs and didn’t look for comfort in a wine bottle either. So what gives me the right to judge what every beggar does when I was that beggar myself?
What would happen if every act of benevolence was between us and God and not us and the world? What if our first thought was what God would do with our offering instead of what others will do with it?
I have watched the church do great things for the poor but I still believe that we have a long way to go. Where are the churches of Christ headed? I hope it is to the place where the hungry aren’t judged but are fed. I hope that we learn and accept the fact that the government system we criticize for helping the poor would not even exist had we cared for our neighbors the way we should. I hope we open our buildings to those in need of shelter and serve our communities. I pray that we will spend our lives washing the feet of those who live around us so that no one is in need. I want us to be Jesus to those living in the darkness; to stop our busyness long enough to listen to the broken stories and build relationships. Money lasts for a moment. Relationships can carry people throughout eternity.
Like Peter in the beginning of Luke 5, we love the Father and we follow with all of our hearts the God who created the Heavens and Earth. We know and love Scripture but we aren’t always ready to follow his son. The one who calls us into the broken places. God, in the form of Jesus, taught love, grace and mercy. He took his followers into the hard situations and surrounded them with people who didn’t look like, live like, love like or sin like they did. And if we’re willing, he’ll do the same with us today. Getting our hands dirty with the world while showing them Christ is the reason we’re here. Our mission isn’t to congregate into nice buildings on Sundays. It’s not to show up on Wednesday nights. It’s not about attendance. It’s not about a pulpit. That’s not our purpose.
Drop your nets of fear. Drop your nets of selfishness. Drop your nets of pride, arrogance and greed. Drop your nets of routine and tradition. Church, drop your nets and follow Jesus. Serve the poor and change someone’s world.