Sunday, May 29, 2011

Treasures Worth Finding, Part 2

June 1 - An update on David. I've been able to spend some good time with him over the last week and took him to an interview on Monday. Please pray that he'll be shown favor and that things will line up for him to be able to work and possibly move to a different homeless shelter.

Read Part 1.

A homeless man that I met in Columbia, SC several years ago summed up this skewed view of the Body of Christ quite well and without effort. He was among a group of several others and my friends (far more seasoned and comfortable with interacting with those unlike themselves than I at the time) were talking with them. We all stood across the street from, and facing, an elaborate church building. It had a huge parking lot with a “family life center” (whatever that really means), stained-glass windows, a spire reaching up to the heavens… you know, the epitome of what comes to mind when one thinks of church. As we asked him what came to mind when he thought of Christianity, he pointed over to the building. “That,” he said with immediate disgust. (I remember it clear as day.) “All that… stuff. That ain’t for me. I’m not welcome in there no matter if they say I am or not. I ain’t stupid. I don’t have nothin’ to offer, so why would they want me? All that stuff…. all that stuff is for you, sitting there empty all week long… for you.” (All he knew is that we were Christians who wanted to pray and talk with them, so he automatically assumed we too were from a “church”.) That hour or so walking the streets in Columbia and hearing people speak of what they know the church to be came right back to mind today as I spoke with David.

So what do we do? How do we change this saddening stereotype? How in the world do we even begin to leave behind the current reputation that the church has for so many of those who are in need? Well, as much as I hate to even mention it, money is often at the heart of the issue. To start with, most all of our lives are teeming with unnecessary luxuries. When I’m going throughout normal life, I’d far too often choose to buy myself something useless than help someone in need. A lot of Christianity excuses this away as being “blessed” but we might as well call it what it is, selfish indulgence. The next time we want to buy the latest iPad, sportscar or high-end gadget, perhaps we should set that money aside and ask the Lord to allow us to cross paths with someone in need that we can share it with. When paralleled with those who only have a plastic bag and one change of clothes in their possession, all that we have far exceeds our needs.

Another issue that needs addressed, that few want to even discuss, is that the organized church is a money-generating machine. It would do the Body of Christ well to study the Scriptures and know what we’re instructed to do regarding giving. The mandatory 10% myth (to your local church of course) emaciates your giving heart by having a predetermined limit of what is “God’s” and what is “yours.” Weekly, ritualistic giving generally removes all creativity and spontaneity that awaits the one who is always looking to give freely. I’m in no way suggesting we just throw money at people blindly. In fact, I’d encourage us all to venture out and develop relationships and give in all areas, not just money (time, possessions, etc.).

Perhaps if the Body decided to forgo outlandish pastoral salaries, million-dollar building funds and all of the other fluff that’s entirely irrelevant to the gathering of the Body, She could feed, clothe and house those in need. The fact is, millions of acres of church-owned land cover this nation, claiming to be peppered with the “houses of God”, yet they’re primarily vacant 75% of the week. Through the eyes of one in need of shelter, this is exponentially ridiculous.

Go. Don’t wait for a youth rally, street evangelism team or church-wide outreach to befriend someone on the street (the latter part I’m speaking to myself). So many people seem so riddled with fear to approach anyone that “looks homeless.” I’m in no way encouraging one to be unwise regarding the who, when and how’s of it all, but they’re people of worth and should be loved and embraced accordingly as the Lord leads. Christ gave His life for all mankind. That includes people who are your clone as well as those who disgust you. Chances are, the ones that you feel most compelled to ignore will be the ones who God calls you to use to touch their lives.

Lastly, when you get to know someone in need, truly help them. Money is not always the only (or best) solution. To get back to David, I did give him money, but we’re already looking into searching for a job opportunity for him. Every time the Lord calls me to pry open my wallet, a calculator begins to run in my mind. Knowing this, I’ve learned throughout the years to choose whatever I feel comfortable with and then give more than that. It’s not a self-promoting thing, in fact, it’s the exact opposite. When I say that all that I have is the Lord’s I want to mean it. All that I have I desire to keep in open hands. I still struggle with letting it go, most of the time right up until I do. All that I can do is start with me as I’m as guilty as anyone. This is not a new challenge and therefore will never be completely eradicated. What we can do is spur one another to good works.

It’s imperative that the Body of Christ ventures outside of her bubble. She’s so busy worrying about being infected by the world that She’s quit infecting the world Herself (with Jesus anyway). And one more thing, and I’m pretty sure I can freely speak for the handful of those we deem homeless when I say this (based on aforementioned conversations and others), stop just inviting them to church services and telling them how you can “change them.” Perhaps we’re the ones who need changed.

So, thank you David. You, my new friend, see the eternal Kingdom that Christ Himself desires us to get to building. This is a truth that is far more valuable than any earthly riches that any man could ever possess. I look forward to seeing you again soon.

Proverbs 14:31 He who oppresses the poor reproaches, mocks, and insults his Maker, but he who is kind, gracious and merciful to the needy honors Him.


Andrew said...

Joel thanks for being an excellent example of how a Christian should act. I'm glad you listened to the Spirit and took time to listen. I think sometimes the church does a great job working as a mouth; spewing useless junk at people and not enough work as the hands and feet (yes cue the cheezy Audio Adrenaline song) so for thanks for setting an example that hopefully more Christians will follow in the future. James 2 says so much about this: 14 What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? 15 Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?

So Joel I pray that you will continue to allow the Spirit to move you much like Philip in Acts 8 when the Spirit go to that chariot he went, you likewise need to be doing that and I pray that you will teach these values to your son because Joel you have so many great things to teach him, not just how to keep a car looking awesome. But how to live in an upright manner before God. So thank you for sharing this and I hope people become uneasy about what their own churches are doing and go do something to reach out to those who need it most

Joel Spencer said...

Andrew: Well I appreciate your kind words but I've got miles and miles to go. On a side note, I went to see David last night and we've got him an interview lined up at K's workplace today. Please pray for favor for him.

Anonymous said...

The problem with this article is that homeless aren't the churches problem, they're the governments. Separation of church and state demands we take care of the church (that you somehow seem to think is a waste of money) and the nation takes care of the people outside of the church. Tithes and offerings were never intended to care for the lost, but for God's house. If you really lived the life that you say you do as a Christian, you should know that.

Andrew said...

To Anonymous I would love for you to explain to me where in the Bible it says that we aren't supposed to take care of those who are in need? Secondly I would love for you to tell me where in the scriptures the church is ever classified as a building and not the people. A building is nothing but stone and mortar - nothing else. The Church to which we refer is the true Body of Christ which is made up of it's members not it's buildings. As to your claim of the government being responsible if the government would stop spending our money on worthless things and help with the poor and homeless THEY have created that is one thing, but since they refuse to do that someone needs to do that. Last time I checked Jesus didn't care how much money people had or whether or not they were poor he took the time to love them. So unless you are willing to step outside your cushy pew and help people and maybe get dirty or you can stay there and turn a blind eye and blame the government, the choice is yours

Joel Spencer said...

Anonymous: Thanks for your honesty, despite how avidly I oppose your view. In fact, I'd go as far as plainly stating it is simply not biblical. Sadly, you've stated what many in majority Christianity would rally behind. What then of verses such as James 1:27 that tells us "Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress"?

The Body of Christ has defiled religion and made it all about Herself. I'll choose to refrain from once again rattling off the innumerable ways that the average "church" wastes funds, energies and giftings on themselves.

To state that tithes and offerings were somehow instituted by God to "take care of 'His' house" is just ridiculous really. Is "His house" contained within the walls of your sanctuary?

I personally believe that this arrogant, self-sustaining approach that you're presenting is exactly what continues to paint The Church (big "C" please) as ones who actually live in opposition of the teachings of Jesus who epitomized going into the world and giving all that He had... literally even unto death.

Today, far too many who say they represent Him would rather write a check to fund their buildings and programs and maybe give away some old clothes and bags of 99 cent spaghetti to the hungry.

Despite the Body's actions (or lack of them), I take solace in the fact that God Himself "will maintain the cause of the afflicted, and justice for the poor." (Psalm 140:12) In the end, all I can do is strive to be responsible to live carrying out what he's called me to do.

lioneagle said...

Hi Joel -

I immensely enjoyed this read. Deep message indeed.

Particularly, I love this that you expressed, "...stop just inviting them to church services and telling them how you can “change them.” Perhaps we’re the ones who need changed."

Ain't that the truth!!!