My normal Monday nights are spent in a small group with some friends from my church. Tonight though, I had the privilege to go and help serve dinner to a group of children at a local apartment complex. To say that these children are “underprivileged” would probably be an understatement. In a town full of great wealth and extreme comforts, we pull into this tiny apartment complex and feel like we are in another country. I found myself at one point sitting at the table with two boys who showed up just for the food. They didn’t want the bible story, the relationships, or anything else. They just needed some food. It made me think as I left tonight, that’s exactly the kind of selfless ministry that Jesus engaged in on a daily basis.
So then I get home tonight and I’m thinking about the church, specifically my church where I am a paid minister. I live just about 1.5 miles from the apartments we served tonight and for some reason while I’m sitting here listening to my air conditioner roar, thinking about how hot it was tonight out there with those children who don’t have air conditioners running in their homes, I’ve just tuned out the world and I’m back on my plan for the week. I just polished off a cold coke and a bunch of kettle corn, enjoying the comforts and things that I have in life while beginning to think about what I need to do to prepare for Sunday. What seems to go through my head all week long is, “what will Sunday look like?” It feels like the bulk of what we do is prepare and get ready for that one day each week. And then on the beginning of this week God sends me a reminder, or maybe more like a slap in the face, that being “out there” is really what it’s all about. Jesus and His followers made tons of disciples, but I can’t think of any instances where that seemed to happen in a worship service. In fact, the Savior I follow was called a drunkard and a glutton, a friend of “sinners”. But somehow we’ve polished up our churches and our worship settings so much so that they’re unfriendly to “sinners”.
I thank the Lord tonight that He reminded me that most of the time when we are His hands and His feet, those appendages tend to get dirty.
I heard an incredible conversation today on a video interview with a church planter. She was discussing how we in America have reversed the work of a missionary. Where Jesus has told us to go, we’ve created a space and told them to come. Its the idea, “If you build it, they will come.” She ended the interview with the statement “what if people fell in love with Jesus first and then a church emerged?”
I think it’s time the church starts to reverse the trend. I think it’s time to create and be a part of missional communities all around the areas we serve. What if Monday through Saturday became just as important as Sunday? What if Sunday became the fruit and outpouring of joy from the discipling that takes place the other 6 days? As a part of a restoration movement, this is the area I would love to see restored to first century Christianity. Thank you Jesus for the reminder you sent me tonight.
Last Sunday my wife, some friends, and I had the opportunity to help with the Help-Portrait Greenville. Wow! What an incredible experience! If you’re not familiar with what this is, it’s where a couple of photographers come together to take portraits for homeless people. I had no idea the response and the impact it would have on me. We did this at the Triune Mercy Center, which is a church that exists to serve the homeless people of downtown Greenville SC. I want to share 5 things I believe we can learn from the homeless.
1. Don’t take anything for granted – We met a man who had a 3 week old baby in his arms. He said this was the first and only picture of his baby. Based on his situation, it may be the only one he’ll have for a long time. Since having our first child a year ago, we have over 4,000 pictures of him on iPhoto!
2. A better understanding of redemption – This same man with his 3 week old baby told me that God replaced the drug addiction in his life with this child. I said, “it’s a much better trade off”. He responds, “but salvation is the best part!”. For some reason we let our pride tell us that we were never as bad as certain people were. Ephesians tells us we were all dead in our sin. Dead. Not sick, wounded, or in critical condition. This man had a clear picture and understanding of what Christ had done for him.
3. What’s really important – We met another couple who was engaged and the woman was pregnant……and they lived under a bridge! My wife and I discussed, debated, and even argued over things like what color to paint the babies room, what kind of stroller we would have, and as my friend Cole said, “which booger bulb we would use.” Here is a couple that is not even certain if their child can be fed, sheltered from the elements, or have clothes on it’s back. Wow, what a wake up call!
4. No one is beyond redemption – My wife and I met a gentleman who calls himself Ray Ray (see photo). Ray Ray had just finished serving 13 years in the state penitentiary. He had spent his life on the streets, using drugs, and making poor decisions. In fact, he almost died 3 times including once when his throat was cut. Now, he says his life has changed and he has left drugs only by the grace of God. Ray Ray is now determined to stay clean, follow Christ, and get back on his feet. As Paul tells us in Romans 8, nothing can separate us from the love of God. We are never beyond God’s grace and redemption.
5. Why the church exists – On our way out of Triune Mercy Center, my wife noticed that there were various tracts in a box by the door. This was a familiar scene as we have been members at and visited churches with a tract rack. However, these tracts were for cocaine and heroine addiction, dealing with suffering, and other real life problems. The tracts we were used to seeing were argumentative tracts about the doctrine we believed in. It hit us both in that moment how the church exists to glorify God and serve the community. However, most churches we know feel their reason for existence is to police doctrine. It reminded me of one of my favorite quotes; “the church should be a hospital for sinners, not a hotel for saints”.
What a blessing this event and ministry was to us! It was more clear than ever to me why God has such a heart for the poor and outcasted. May we all learn to have that same heart.