(note: this is a longer than normal post, but worth it!)
A leper healed after being touched by Jesus.
A blind man's face, met with mud and spit, given sight.
A man dead for days wakes up as if he had been sleeping overnight.
Thousands of hungry people fed from a few fish and some loaves of bread.
My heart resonates more with the attitude of those who are afflicted in scripture ("If you are willing, please heal ____" Matthew 8:2) and Jesus' response ("I am willing, now go and be healed" Matthew 8:3) than it does with the attitude of serving in hopes of gaining a reciprocal advantage for ourselves.
So often, serving and hand outs get mixed up in our culture. Many have made the mistake of saying that in order to serve people we must give them stuff, whether that be money to pay a bill, clothes to keep warm, or food to eat, while disregarding that it must first be about the heart of the matter before it can be about anything else. Don't mishear me; Those things are good and the church should be a place of refuge in people's time of need, but I think that we've made 2 distinct attitudes of heart one big conglomerate of thought, and that leads to a few problems:
Problem 1: We have created a culture where people expect a handout to alleviate the symptoms instead of allowing Jesus to cut to the core of the problem.
You've seen this. We all have. There are intersections in our city where people know they can run to a get quick money to solve needs. There is one intersection in particular that I see people asking for money at daily. My wife worked in healthcare for a long time, and one of those times she placed a wrap on a teenage boy's foot after rolling his ankle. The next day we happened upon his mom, with one crutch in tow along with the young boy and his sibling, using the same wrap as a fake sling soliciting money from those who would give it. I heard a story today about a couple in NJ who faked a cancer diagnosis on their young son in order to ascertain money to pay for who knows what.
This comes not only from a culture that is selfish and sinful, but is born out of the system of people living off of and receiving handouts as a means of living. This fails people because it allows them to stay short-term in their goals and vision of their future because their current state has more than likely stolen those dreams from them, and there are very few pathways out – including, in their mind, the Gospel – and when we remove the Gospel of hope from people's hearts, we lose the true purpose of serving others, which is to point them to that very Gospel to bring the change that would give them a new life and new heart and redeem not only their eternity but also there present state of today as well.
Problem 2: Because of this subset of culture, it has placed a skeptical nature on the hearts of those who could help because there simply is no trust that the person is legitimately trying to get on their feet and make life better, so we operate in that lack of trust, while saying and hearing things like:
"He's probably just trying to get money for more alcohol."
"I'm not paying for his next crack rock."
"How about not being lazy and getting a job!"
It breaks my heart to even hear these statements, but it breaks it even more that I myself have thought them. Some of you may be saying, 'Well Pastor, for some of those struggling it's true!' and while you may be right, I do not remember reading anywhere in scripture about qualifying people to have their needs met first.
The reality of it instead is that it forced many people into a place where to give of ourselves first has to be rationalized; we've already discovered that most of the cases we can't trust, and if we make a misplay on the way we give to people it means we've helped feed the fire instead of fan the flame – so it is easy for us to not give at all for the sake of not messing up instead of serving for the sake of placing hope in the hearts of people.
There is, however, an answer for this serving debacle, and its found in Acts 3:
"Now Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour. 2 And a man lame from birth was being carried, whom they laid daily at the gate of the temple that is called the Beautiful Gate to ask alms of those entering the temple. 3 Seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple, he asked to receive alms. 4 And Peter directed his gaze at him, as did John, and said, “Look at us.” 5 And he fixed his attention on them, expecting to receive something from them. 6 But Peter said, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” 7 And he took him by the right hand and raised him up, and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong. 8 And leaping up, he stood and began to walk, and entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God. 9 And all the people saw him walking and praising God, 10 and recognized him as the one who sat at the Beautiful Gate of the temple, asking for alms. And they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him."
Pardon the wall of text there, but each verse is important. Peter and John were met with a man who was literally carried and laid by the gate to the temple called 'beautiful' (isn't that awesome?) who spent every day hoping that people going to worship would pity him enough to give him money so that his family wouldn't consider him useless. He goes out of his way to get their attention and ask for money, and Peter and John look him dead in the face and tell him "look at us" as if to infer that simply by looking at them it would be clear they didn't have any money to give.
Peter then cuts right to the heart. He doesn't give him money to get by the day or even the week, but instead he restores him to a place where he now has value. He has purpose and hope. Peter and John take what was broken and through the powerful name of Jesus (vs 6) he gives the beggar more than he could ever hope for: completion.
Peter doesn't ask him how long he's been sitting there, or how many empty pitiful gazes he's received. He meets his ACTUAL physical need long term instead of a short term symptom. You see, money would have helped the man, but he would have just been back there tomorrow. Instead, Peter restores him fully to a place where the beggar is no longer a beggar- and in turn the beggar's title goes from inept to fulfilled; from laying at the beautiful gate to dancing in the beautiful temple.
When our hearts align in the way of Peter and John, we also will see the same thing. Can we meet physical needs? Absolutely. We are called to. Food banks, clothing shelters, meals...all of these are great things, but without the power of the Gospel behind them, all we are doing is treating a symptom that will have a need the next day.
It is the same reason so many places have given up on the church being anything more than a simple one time solution to a problem in the immediate; so we are going to do something about it in the long term.
This Saturday we are going to be beginning our "Second Saturday" movement. Each month we are going to have teams dive into a relationally driven atmosphere where we are going to serve people in the same locations every month in hopes that through the meeting of a physical need they would gain a long term vision for the future need of eternity and wholeness, and we would love for you to be a part of it. You can sign up on our site here, on our facebook page, or by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Our hope is that we will be able to see lives and eternities changed not so that we can have more people in our church, but so that we can have more people meet Jesus. We want to see the beggar at the beautiful gate move into the redeemed dancing in the beautiful temple, and I hope that you'll consider coming along as well.