These people (above) are my people.
#12 Community: God Cares, Do I?
I love how all through the New Testament when we read the stories and accounts of Jesus’s interactions with others, Jesus rarely responds directly to the questions that He is asked. Instead, in His supreme wisdom, He responds by addressing what that person needs.
A huge question surfaced multiple times in the Bible where the disciples, various religious leaders, and others would want to understand what the most important aspect of the law was, or rather what element of their religion itself was of the utmost importance to God. Jesus’s response in Mathew 22:33 sums it up nicely: “All the law in the prophets hang on these two: Love the Lord your God, and love your neighbor as yourself.”
In Luke’s gospel account, a Lawyer approached Jesus and wanted to know what he needed to do in order to obtain eternal life. Jesus responded to his question with a question: “What is written in the law? What is your reading of it?” So he answered and said to him, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and, ‘love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus said to him, “You have answered correctly. Do this, and you will live.” Luke 10:25-29
(Here the lawyer was referencing the Old Testament scripture in Deuteronomy 6:4-9 that says, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.”) In the next chapter of Luke, the lawyer went on to prod Jesus more in order to indirectly justify himself, by asking, “Who is my neighbor?” He was looking for a checklist so that he could be “clean before the law.”
Keep in mind that before Jesus’s subversive message of being saved by faith alone, earning salvation was understood to be earned through the strict adherence to the Torah which literally means the law. So when questions arose like this, at the center of these questions was really a religious/cultural battle with comprehending what it looks like to simply accept Christ’s message that accepting God’s love for us through faith is enough!
Knowing the heart-posture of the lawyer, Jesus began the story of ‘the Good Neighbor’ or the Parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 11 in order to get at the heart of the matter. Jesus tells him the story of the man who was traveling on his way to Jericho when a band of thieves beat him, stole all he had and left him for dead on the road. Other passed by this man in his poor state with no concern, but then a Samaritan man came and cared for him in incredibly nurturing and sacrificial ways. This was unthinkable in this era because at that time, the Jews despised the Samaritans. They were the “others,” in society. The Good Samaritan was the only man who had mercy on this Jewish man, and he essentially bandaged up his wounds, took him to a hotel, and left him his credit card.
The idea is that whatever the man needed, the Samaritan took care of it. Jesus then told the lawyer that, “The one who had mercy on him” was his neighbor. Then he concludes their conversation by saying, “Go and do likewise.” Jesus for the win here and every time by not allowing the dissection of their law to answer their deepest questions of their own justification and eternity, but to instead get to the heart and the motivation of the issue for the person he is speaking with. He distinguished that the question was not “who,” but “what” a neighbor is. The neighbor is the one who took care of the other.
So often we, just like the lawyer of the New Testament, we get ourselves caught up in the details of the perceived rules instead of aiming our eyes at the heart of God. Jesus is always after our motivations, or our heart-posture, and His unique way of calling out the misguided and realigning them to the heart of God is simply profound to me. He doesn’t want us to miss the point, or to miss the heart of God for His people.
Community: The neighbor, the needy, and Christ
Stories like these above are so telling of the nature and the heart of God. Through Jesus, we see that God has a deep heart for the needy, and that He is the one who is going to rise up and protect them. He also calls us to do the same.
Psalm 12:5 says, “Because of the oppression of the weak and the groaning of the needy, I will now arise, says the Lord. I will protect them from those who malign them.”
Frankly, this should render a healthy fear in us, to understand that God takes seriously the oppression of His children, particularly of those that are weak or are the more needy amongst others. This is precisely why this sphere, meaning our role as believers in our communities, is so darn important. Our care and concern for the needy, the poor, the widows, the orphans, the outcasts in society, and plenty of others is a direct reflection of the quality of our relationship and understanding of God. This care is to be our mark left on our culture, and is to be our heritage we leave behind us. If at the end for our lives, if we have not been known as someone who cares deeply for those in need, we have flat out missed the point.
In the context of establishing a comprehensive Biblical worldview on this sphere of community, we need to accurately define who are in fact “the needy?”
Who does the Bible identify as those who are needy?
The orphans, the widows, the sick, the prisoners, the afflicted, the outcasts, those who are mocked, laughed at, ignored. Those who are unpopular, neglected, left out, the homely, the last. “They” are everywhere in a sphere that we so easily neglect, or sometimes, that we just hire someone else in order to take care of it/them for us. Do we really see these people as God sees them? In America particularly, we need to be ever on our toes as followers of Jesus for the ways that we are prone to overlook our job with these people because of the nature of our cultural tendencies to delegate or just hire someone to take care of “it” for us. This is not to shame us as a culture, but more so to recognize that with any degree of wealth comes the ease of just throwing money at the issue instead of throwing ourselves into the wound to be the actual healing hands and feet of Jesus. This is why government will never be able to do for others what a healthy total church body can.
What Does This Look Like?
To me, this begins with training our eyes and ears to identify the needs. From there, it requires a boldness of spirit and a resolve to not leave them/it for someone else to take care of. Typically this will mean a sacrifice of some kind for us, as well as requiring a step out in faith. When we intentionally remove enough distractions from our lives in order to even see beyond our own circumstances, AND at the same time we ask God to give us a renewed ability to see where His presence is needed in our communities in our specific spheres, THEN we begin to have the actual ability and framework to begin to do this work we are called to do.
You’ll know you’re doing the right work when it begins to sting a little bit- when it requires more of you than ‘feels’ comfortable. That’s the good stuff, right there. To that end I also just want to add that it’s likely that you may not get the response from the person or thing that you’re caring for that you may have hoped to get. But like Mother Teresa says, “Do it anyway.” The key here again is the heart motivation, and its God who sees you doing your part in loving and caring for others that matters. So even if you become discouraged if the response to your help or care is not what you had thought it may be or should be, just know that love is never in vain. Its equally prudent to understand for yourselves and ask God about where the boundaries need to be set in different relationships when it comes to serving them and helping. There is certainly a fine line between allowing yourself to be taken advantage of and simply getting out of your comfort zone in order to help someone else. No matter what, God knows your heart, and blesses your effort for His name’s sake.
In serving others, you’re serving Christ. Obeying the call on your life to be Christ’s ambassadors, which means both bearing His image and His name, and it also means using your hands and feet and eyes and ears in the ways that He did in order to serve those who need Him most. This can also look like thinking of the ones who are left out, and bringing them in. It’s finding the “one” lost sheep, forsaking the herd so that not even one is out of sight. Even in church, theres plenty of people who feel like outsiders, let alone in our communities. Find them, and include them in a genuine way. I feel like we also need to offer a thorough treatment of this concept with our children so that they learn and develop an empathy that is rooted in God’s concern for others, training their eyes to identify those who are the left out. We observe it all the time how we (humanity) can destroy someone’s life when we begin to treat them like an outcast. Thinking of the ones left behind or left out is the heart of the Father. Although eliminating the weak is the tone of the survival of the fittest, we are called to go against that grain.
Who is this God, the one who deals with the affairs of the lowly?
“He saved the needy from the sword in their mouth; He saves them from the clutches of the powerful.” Job 5:15
“He will defend the afflicted among the people and save the children of the needy; He will crush the oppressor.” Psalm 72:4
“The lowly He sets on high, and those who mourn are lifted to safety.” Job 5:11
“Though the Lord is on high He looks upon the lowly, but the proud he knows from afar.” Psalm 138:6
“My whole being will exclaim, “Who is like you, O Lord?” You rescue the poor from those too strong for them, the poor and needy from those who rob them.” Psalm 35:10
Think of the ways that this God, Yahweh, is so different in contrast with the Gods of every other religion, and more, how opposite He is of the “Gods” of this world that crush the weak? By that I mean the crushing systematic sin in the form of our nations idols that leave the oppressed more oppressed to the benefit of the strong, and the needy without hope. Before potentially allowing that to get hyper-political in your own mind, ask the Lord for His perspective on what you know to be the oppression in our society, recognizing that oppression is layered sin upon layered sin that has been decades in the making.
What is it about the nature of God that makes himself want to reveal himself, or reveal His heart to us?
“I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me. I was found by those who did not seek me. To a nation that did not call on my name, I said, “Here am I, Here am I.” All day long I have held out my hands to an obstinate people, who walk in ways not good, pursuing their own imaginations.” Isaiah 65:1-2
The Heart of God:
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” Mathew 11:28-29
The Gentle and Humble God
“And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, and ever being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” Corinthians 3:18
“He has performed mighty deeds with His arm; He has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble.” Luke 1:51-52
“But He gives us more grace. God is opposed to the proud, and gives grace to the humble.” James 4:6
“Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will lift you up.” James 4:10
As an ultimate leadership move, Jesus went around and washed His disciples feet on the night of the last supper. Honestly, how incredible is that? This is the God who sees you, loves you, and meets us right where the need is, and how counterintuitive to our cultures understanding of status and what it means to love.
In John 14:4, the scene is that Jesus is with His disciples just before His death, comforting them and answering their questions. Thomas said, “Lord we cannot know where you are going, so how can we know the way? Jesus answered, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well… From now on, you know Him and have seen him.” Philip said, “ Lord show us the father and that will be enough for us. Jesus answered, “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you for such time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.”
Because Jesus had just shown them one of the greatest signs of humility in washing their feet, when He said that ‘if you’ve seen me you’ve seen the Father,’ the disciples were finally beginning to realize that the God they serve is a God who has a humble heart.
Why does God call us to be holy? Because He is holy. Why does He ask us to be perfect? Because He is perfect. Why does He tell us to be humble? Because He is humble. He is a servant-leader, a servant-King to His core, and this is the foundation of His effectiveness as well as the totality of why this God is completely contrary to any other notion of a God that we can contrive or make up for ourselves. This sort of love falls so far beyond our natural capabilities that any other version other than Him will always fall short.
When He asks us to be humble, we have to recognize that humility is not the same thing as timidity. In fact in 2 Timothy 1:7 it says that “God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love, and of self-discipline.” This is the kind of life He is asking us to live out; a powerful one, a loving one, and a self-disciplined one that finds it rest in walking, talking, breathing, and living in the total rhythm and life of Jesus himself.
The Man of Steel And Velvet
Jesus was meek, gentle, and humble in heart. Yet He was also (equally) the one who took the whip and the flagellation. He was not timid. Think of the degree of fear and pain that He would have to mentally and physically overcome in order to submit Himself to that punishment for us. That is called love, so beyond measure that language will always fail us in explaining that magnitude of love. Jesus was anything but timid, but He was as humble as could be. Look at what the fruit of the Spirit is, because that is what Jesus embodied: It is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. We are given these things in the Spirit too. That is the heart of God, to give gifts to us through the Spirit working in us that produce a life of love and effectiveness for Him.
Mathew 22:37-38 says, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and with all of your mind.” This is the first and the greatest commandment. Then, it is “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
The very next in line in importance, the next most imperative command is to steward these relationships that we build with our neighbors. We cannot fully grasp the depth of this command until we gaze upon thee face of God by studying and walking in the same path of Jesus. That gaze, where we lock eyes with the architect of our souls, is where we will be transformed by Him in new ways, in order to see with fresh eyes the needs that He sees in the world around us so that we can move into them.
What is the difference between Christianity versus philanthropy?
The answer is in the view of the human person. When the Christians confronts a human need, the call is to do so with a sense that the being that stands before us is an eternal being, made in the image of God. This renders an honor present and a dignity that is assumed because we believe God at His word when He declares worth and value over us. We then are called to ascribe the same dignity and honor to others.
C.S Lewis once said, “You have never met a mere mortal.” I love that.
C.S Lewis then went on to discuss how sacred the human person is. He said, “the most sacred thing that presents itself to our senses next to the blessed sacrament itself (Jesus), is our neighbor.”
God has not called us to shrink away from the hard needs that we see and face in life, in our communities, and in our relationships. We know that by looking to Him, by observing the total person of Jesus. He listens and touches. He comforts and disciplines. He dwells within us and intercedes for us. He is the vine and gives us life. He has spoken to us in His Word. He keeps us from temptations that we cannot bare. He is not apathetic. He does not abstain. He does not abdicate His responsibilities. He defends the weak and the needy. God sends rain on the just and the unjust. He doesn’t bail. He does not retreat.
That description is so loving and so safe that to me, it sounds a lot like the Father that some of us wish we had, and maybe like the parent we want to be? Or like the friend we want to be; like the marriage partner we want to be. This love is the one kind that does not fail us and is true whether we choose to believe in it or not. This is the kind of love that is available to us, this is our model, and this is who we are in the process of becoming like. If we follow Jesus, this servant-King’s lifestyle is our trajectory. He is deeply involved. In fact, He is involvement in His very essence.
The Credibility Gap
There is no question that the Christian life lived in authentic truth is very difficult simply in that it runs in almost every direction opposite of the way that our American Culture runs. Likewise, there is no doubt that our history as a church is not always a positive reflection of the gospel message. Regardless of our failings, we are challenged all over scripture to confront the culture we live in and offer up a new way to be human. But that has to be done by example. We either confront culture effectively, we abandon it altogether, or we transform it. It seems fair to say that there has never been a momentous occasion than now to begin a new revolutionary way of being a follower of Jesus because our culture needs something real to live for. Our culture is not accustomed to seeing this Christian life lived out effectively or purely. Our faith will always be one generation away from being extinct, and that has everything to do with how we handle the present and what sort of a faith legacy we leave in our community and in our own families.
For us to dive into culture and be the tangible hands and feet of Jesus that the world today can experience, we have got to have a more animated and a more revolutionary approach to the way that we live in community. We have to understand the influxes that shape the way that people think, as well as what shapes culture. To me, what this means is that we need to pay the price of studying and understanding all of the competing worldviews and social structures around us, so that we are well acquainted with both what we believe and what other people around us believe. This is essentially the study of worldview, or understanding the lens through which others understand themselves in relation to our culture.
There are very few things that all of the major disciplines agree upon, but there is one thing that they are all in firm agreement on. That is their agreement on the 4 distinct variables that shape us or define us within our various cultures. Those are:
A) The Narrative (worldview) that we believe
B) Our relationships
C) Our habits
D) Our environment
If those things are true, then we have to be students of those aspects of our own lives, as well as what that looks like for those with alternative worldviews, assessing for ourselves if the way those variables take shape in our daily lives actually reflects a genuine relationship with the Creator God. If we are doing this well, we should be noticeably different, and not in the weirdo Christian with too many lame bumper stickers sort of way. Like, our lives should reflect something oddly appealing and yet wonderfully subversive in a culture that claims no objective truth. We have something so different and so compelling to offer, the distinction by itself in contrast will draw people because of its radical nature. But if they don’t see anything different about us, or worse if our faiths remain a “personal,” thing for us and is not instead a fully integrated part of who we are in evert facet of our lives, our notions or claims about Christ have little effect on the culture at large.
It would be very difficult while viewing the whole of scripture to say that God does not care about what our culture is up to. God is continually concerned about what goes on culturally, and He has much to say about those details on every page in the Bible. He raised up leaders across every ethnic/class/gender/race/religious barrier, and called each of them to go to the heart of the most difficult aspects of culture and work right in the middle of it. I love that challenge for us too in recognizing that God has always called his people to transform culture and that didn’t end when the last book of the Bible was written. Its as much true for us today as it was in the day of Abraham.
Our predecessors have literally transformed the world because of the high view of the human person the Christian faith. There is a sanctity to human life and for caring for the needs of others because we are all made in the image of a holy and good God. That sort of dignity has been on the radar of the church since day one, and is the backdrop to any service in the name of the faith. We are the ones who began to reach out for the dignity of women, abolishing slavery, advocating for the lives of all children born and unborn as well as the orphans, funding and building the first hospitals, funding and building the first universities, and the list goes on and on. This is your heritage, albeit flawed just like every other human’s story in the history of mankind. Yet God is in the business of using even the most broken pieces of the past to make all things new and right again.
William Wilberforce is probably one of the most profound men in our history that I can think of. He was a very ill man, but nonetheless he viewed it as his purpose in life, based on the convictions of his faith, to be fighting for the dignity of others by doing the work that he could to contribute to doing away with the slave trade. Nothing moved quickly for him because abolishing the slave trade would have meant a complete uprooting of the social and economic structure of the time, and not to mention it would mean upgrading the culture’s entire honor code that they did not believe needed an upgrade. Over time he began work with various parliamentary people, and after 26 tiresome years, and they finally voted to abolish the slave trade. In that moment, Wilberforce bowed his head and wept. Then, the next year, he went for the gold: To free the slaves. His efforts were to no avail as you know for years. He came back year after year after year. He was given death threats regularly, his reputation tarnished for how counter-cultural his stance was. 46 years later, within just 3 days before his death, the bill to free the slaves finally passed. When he heard the news, he was laying on his bed dying. Again, he bowed his head and wept. The British empire that began the slave trade was also ironically the one to have ended it.
What if William Wilberforce decided that he didn’t want deal with the hostility in his culture? What if he took the easier road for himself? What was it about him that made all the difference, that in effect changed the course and reality of history.
1) His life was animated by a deeply personal faith in Jesus Christ.
2)He had a deep sense of calling that grew into the conviction that he was to exercise his spiritual purpose in the realms of his secular responsibility.
3)He was committed to the strategic importance of a band of like-minded friends devoted to working together in chosen ventures.
4) He believed deeply in the power of ideas and moral beliefs to change culture through sustained public persuasion.
5) He was willing to pay a steep cost for his courageous public stands and was persistent up to his death in pursuing his life task.
He had every reason to abandon the battle because he was a sickly man as his illness took deeper hold of him year after year. He had every reasons to say “let someone else do it.” But he chose to do it anyway.
There is a similar story of a roman soldier stationed in Antioch during the 2nd century right when the Plague had broken out. He sends word back to Rome that this place has broken out and that people were moving out of city. He reported that families were abandoning their loved ones, and even the doctors had left because the conditions had become so terrible. But he also reported one curious thing that was happening. He wrote that there was a sect in Antioch who were themselves, some of them not infected, but who were nonetheless taking care of the infected and the dying, and who claim that they do this out of love for their god. I so admire the early believers who were ready to risk their own lives in order to tend to those who were unable to care for themselves. Just as Jesus had declared to the lawyer in the parable of the Good Samaritan. Stand and take care of that which God has called you to take care of.
So What Do I Do?
The short answer is that I have no clue. But what I do know is the one who made you and gave you gifts and talents placed a passion within you. He will not forsake one of his children who are ready and sold out for him. But you should do. Love is a verb, so it calls us to action. If we make our life’s journey all about ourselves, there is no real rest in our story because our souls were made for more than just us. Luke 9:23 reads like this: Jesus says, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily…Whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”
What does that really mean? What does it mean to “find our life?”
It means to obtain rest for our souls. Let’s hear the individual call of God on our lives, and let’s go do those things that lead to rest for our souls.