November 8, 2005

A Servant's Heart

I’d like to respond to a comment made on my last post, a post I wrote to explore my own feelings towards the poor. After I wrote it, and then read the comment, I went and did some research. Here’s the comment:

Where exactly do you read that Jesus tells us to feed the poor?
Jesus touched those that came into His way, His life or His walk. He never went looking for the needy. And just because He restored the sight of one blind man, didn't obligate Him to restore the sight of all who were blind. I do not believe in setting up soup kitchens under 'Christian' leadership. If governments want to head up such a project, go for it, but for Jesus Followers to invest such time and resources and grief (and it is grievous for those with their whole heart in it)...I just see it as a losing battle because Jesus already told us "The poor you will have with you always". [that sounds pretty definite]. Besides, Jesus said "My yoke is easy and my burden is light" and housing the homeless and feeding the poor is neither of those things. And it's an impossible task right from the get go when He said it would be so.
I believe that if someone, such as a Susie, asks us for help, we are obligated to do what we can do for them. In Matthew 5, Jesus was pretty clear on how to treat a non-believer, or even an enemy. Whatever they ask, give it to them and then some. [How much more so for a fellow follwer?]

Jesus’ exact words might not have said “feed the poor” (but how often did he say things directly about that sort of thing, rather than saying things like “feed my sheep” and other metaphors – if you think about it, He could be pretty confusing), but from that, two comments. First, I’m not comfortable basing my entire lifestyle about what the gospels never said in explicit detail, and second, history tells us that Jesus’ followers, immediately following His resurrection, sure thought that taking care of the poor was a part of His teaching. Paul mentions it a number of times, but even more compelling are the complaints against Christians in first- and second- century Rome. Emperor Justinian is noted to have complained bitterly against the Christians, making comments about how they kept showing up the Roman government by taking care of not only their own poor/destitute/sick/plague victims, but also taking care of those of the Roman Empire. So Christians weren’t following the law (they wouldn’t follow the cult of the Emperor by making sacrifices to him), but they still went out of their way – into considerable danger, in fact – to take care of those in need. The people who were closest to Jesus when he was actually here physically walking this earth believed that taking care of those in need was important.

Which brings me to the very character of Jesus himself. Jesus came to this universe not to make us focus more on ourselves, but for us to focus more on Him, ergo on others. Jesus is not the kind of guy who says “you are more important than your neighbor,” and it’s been my experience that faith is never comfortable, nor is it easy. In fact, I’d say that being a child of Christ is both harder and less comfortable in the current world than not being one of his children. Why? Because Jesus said lots of stuff that goes against the grain of the world; “My yolk is easy and my burden is light” is followed by things like “I tell you if you think impure thoughts about a woman, you have committed adultery” and “anyone who says to his brother ‘raca’ [a word of hate] is answerable to the Sanhedrin, and anyone who says ‘you fool!’ will be in danger of the fires of hell.” I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty sure this is not exactly an easy thing – how often is our first instinct (and the one we often follow) to say “I hate you,” or “you suck” or whatever your choice of language is … instead of showing compassion and mercy?

He said “whoever wants to be greatest in the kingdom of heaven will make himself like a child, humble and obedient” – something that human beings are often incapable of. Not only that, but are you saying we are only to follow Christ’s words, not his actions? He spent so much time in the gospels healing and aiding the poor that it’s a wonder he found the time to teach!

To extend this further, there is lots of the three years of Jesus’ ministry unaccounted for in scripture. The gospel writers only give us examples of what He did, not everything he did. There’s a verse in John (30:20) that says “Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book;” there were more we don’t even know about because the disciples and gospel writers got tired of writing down so many examples. Most of his miracles follow a pattern of healing, generosity, and dedication to those less fortunate. And if I may infer something, since Jesus is God, all of us are less fortunate than He is. He owns everything, he has been given authority over heaven and earth by God the father, and what did he do? He gave away freely to those that needed it (five thousand men and their families, for example, or think of his parable of the wedding banquet where the king goes and invites all the people off the streets instead of the people who didn’t have time for him).

I don’t see a Jesus who thinks that the poor and “unclean” are a waste of time and energy and grief, I see a Jesus who cares for the destitute most of all – his compassion is limitless! He cares for people – all people – more than he cares for himself, i.e. the cross. He gave everything he had, even his body and his life, for those less fortunate than he. The gospel is not about me as an individual getting to heaven and not wasting my time and efforts on my neighbor (and yes, feeding the poor is part of that), it is about giving up myself and my wishes and my desires and my comforts to follow a God - in mind and in deed - who loves us all.


Alisa said...

Hey Chris,

So my comment warranted an entire post, huh? I guess I got off on the wrong foot.

What I meant to convey is that I do not have a problem with us providing a meal while sharing the anyone.

I also do not have a problem with taking care of one's one widows and orphans. If they are not 'adopted' by another family within the Body, then it is the ecclesia's obligation to oversee their care. Agreed?

What I do not see bore out in scripture is taking on the responsibility of feeding all.

[and this is where you will begin to block my comments and set out the stakes and stones :^)]

In fact, I believe it is possible that this is what is spoken of in Matthew 13 in the parable of the sower, the third group that became caught up in the cares of this world.

Where you said, " Not only that, but are you saying we are only to follow Christ’s words, not his actions? He spent so much time in the gospels healing and aiding the poor that it’s a wonder he found the time to teach! "

I say, " Absolutely not. I am only saying that we need not design programs to go looking for those to whom we need to minister. If each one of us would only be faithful in doing right by the 'Susie's' He brings in and out of our lives (not saying that you haven't, btw), then He will bring more. Jesus healed, and fed and ministered to those the Father sent to Him. Jesus and His peeps, fed, healed, and ministered to a people, and then they moved on. They DID NOT show up every Tuesday & Thursday from 10-2 to meet needs. They touched those that the Father put in their path. Agreed?

There is a difference between following the Spirit's leading by buying a meal, handing over cash, or giving the coat off your the Spirit leads, and say, setting up a program that needs volunteers whom never seem to volunteer. And that's not unique to your 'Downtown' facility. It is common at every church that has attempted human service programs. Why?

The biggest difference I seen in your comparison of “feed my sheep” and “feed the poor” is the word MY. In a relational setting where you are in intimate relationships, you KNOW one another's needs. You know those in the Body who are in need, and as a community you meet that need and thereby bring equality among the brethren.

I probably missed half of what you posted and maybe missed your bigger point. If so I will reply when I re-read it. I have been sick today and don't feel like sitting at the computer.

Anyway, I think we each need to walk out this journey as we feel lead by the Spirit and not directed by pastor's and programs, I guess that's my biggest point here. Follow closely the Leader, and not those man appoints to lead us.

Be Blessed Chris, and thanks for replying instead of ignoring me or deleting my comment entirely.

Your Sister, Alisa

Alisa said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Sarah said...

Very interesting, Chris. You guys definitely have some unique conversations. I enjoy reading them.

...on an entirely different note, I'm surprised you haven't commented on MY recent posts. I'm curious as to what you think... :-p

'later, bro

Alisa said...

Hey again.

I also forgot to say that the scripture you referenced in John is actually 20:30, not 30:20.

After re-reading the posts, I also want to add that I too don't want to base an entire line of belief on what is NOT said in scripture. So based on what IS said:

You stated, "history tells us that Jesus’ followers, immediately following His resurrection, sure thought that taking care of the poor was a part of His teaching."

I hear:
Acts 4:34 - Nor was there anyone AMONG THEM who lacked.

Acts 5: 11 - refuse help to young widows because they become wanton (unchaste, lewd, lustful, sensual, having no regard for other's feelings) and become idle, lazy gossips and busybodies.

1 Tim 5 - 3 honor widows who are real widows, 8 if anyone doen't provide for their own, they are worse than an unbeliever, 16 if any believing family has widows, let them relieve them, and do not burden the church

2 Thess 3 - 8 nor did we eat free of charge, but worked with labor and toil day and night that we might not be a burden to anyone,...10 If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat.

Matt 25:40 - 'Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did to one of the least of these, MY BRETHREN, you did to Me.'

Also, I see similarity between this and when Jesus called the disciples (Matt 8:22) to move the boat to the other side, one said, let me first go and bury my father, and Jesus answered him to "Follow Me and let the dead bury their own dead." I see that Jesus may have left a principle that the world should care for their own while we care for the Body and those the Father sends us. (that's just my opinion)

Where you said, "since Jesus is God, all of us are less fortunate than He is. He owns everything, he has been given authority over heaven and earth by God the father, and what did he do? He gave away freely to those that needed it..."

My immediate thoughts when I was reading this was "Christ in us and us in Him and He in the Father and that whole twist'em up in a ball thingy...; God gave us dominion over the earth; the Holy Spirit gives us power; we are joint heirs in the kingdom; we are a nation of priests and kings; and your last sentence there, that Jesus gave away freely to those that needed it, is more acurately stated that He gave freely to those the Father sent Him, Jesus repeatedly states this in John 17: vs 2, 6, 9, 11, 12, 24.

Also, that whole 'God loves a cheerful giver' and 'they gave as each purposed in their heart' I think answers your questions regarding..."And the question remains, if my motives are entirely about obedience and/or guilt, do I stop going? At what point are my motives “pure” enough to serve? "

If you are 'downtown' serving, but have said in your heart, "gripe, gripe, murmur, murmur" then you are NOT a cheerful giver. You have NOT purposed in your heart that what you are doing is good. You said yourself that you feel NO genuine compassion for these folks. To quote you, "And I came to the conclusion that I really don’t feel much of anything for those people; no compassion, no kindness, no mercy … not really even pity. In fact, I feel disdain towards many..."

Motive is everything. To feel nothing and go through the motions anyway is hypocritical. If you are doing it because it is what you think you ought to do, then find out WHY you think that way. Usually it is because that is what the church has always taught and we grow up believing that what we are taught through church teaching is bible based, when in fact it could be just slightly off or even a total error. Trust 'Christ in you' and the Holy Spirit enough to find out why you really aren't feeling lead to be there. Maybe the Father is trying to show you something other than what you have been taught to believe.


Kelli B said...

Hey. Im a random blogger, found your site and got interested in this friendly discussion! I wanted to interject a comment here:

My father-in-law works for Hope Ministries with homeless men, women and children. It's a "program" geared towards clothing/feeding/providing shelter for people in need, but more than that for sharing the gospel with them. They have a program set up that anyone can come in; if they want to seriously commit to changing their lives and having a place to stay-they have to sign up for the program.

Daily, there are men and women surrendering their lives to Christ and beginning new and better circumstances for themselves and often their families. I have met many of these men and PRAISE GOD that He uses "programs" to serve the needy and draw others to Himself.

I agree about following the Spirit, but serving through a program or organization is in NO WAY against God's desire. I dont think anyone has the right to state that.

Chris...thank you for your thoughts. You have a gentle and patient spirit and I appreciate reading.

Chris said...

Thanks both of you, Kelli and Alisa, for your thoughtful commets. I suppose I'd tend to agree more with Kelli about programs - Downtown is the same way, we use it for outreach and evangelism, but frankly because the community needs it. We don't expect to feed and clothe everyone; if we did, we'd go out to the ghettos of the city and hand them our wallets and the very clothes off our backs. Which wouldn't guarentee anything, except that we too would be naked and poor, which would leave us able to help nobody.

However, Alisa, you're right in citing motivations - they're everything, but I think that's kind of my point. I worry my own motivations are not pure, that they're somehow guilt motivated and not motivated by God's spirit moving in me - hence my first post. I guess that post was just me being transparent about it ... think of it as a prayer, "God I know I suck, change me." And I must say, God might (and has) use my guilt to show me my faults. He's good at turning bad stuff into good stuff.