The generous soul is welcome to all kinds of sinners, and is ready to forgive them all.
The generous one is merciful and provides for any who have need, no matter what evil they have done.
The generous ones are not concerned with being infected or harmed, for they trust in Him who protects them.
The generous one does not mark time, only the ability to love.
The generous one is honest, laughs, and takes joy in those around him, for in experiencing joy in those around him, they experience joy in themselves.
The generous one does not give by the handful, but by the truckload.
The generous one does not believe in scarcity. She never fails to give out of her stores of goods or of soul, for the Lord will always provide more.
Last night I was at the store buying milk and a precooked chicken dinner. I had just finished the transaction when I noticed that the uniformed store security had surrounded some one in the area where the grocery carts were kept. I snuck a peek over the shoulder of one of the guards expecting to see one of my flock. What I found was a young man maybe 19 or twenty years old swaying and singing. The guards didn’t know what to do because the only thing this tall strapping young man was doing was singing, loudly.
What was he singing? A hymn.
What can wash away my sin?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.
It was his volume that was the problem. So I set down my milk and chicken and stepped over to him. He became nervous and began swaying more radically. I said, “Hi I’m Pastor Jeff, whats your name?”
“Mike,” he said.
“Hi Mike. You have a great singing voice and I really love the song you are singing but………I was wondering if you could sing it quieter.”
Mike unzips his coat, pulls the left side open and grabs and invisible knob and making noise like a turning knob makes several turns. Then begins to sing in a softer and quieter voice.
I turned to the Guards and said is this okay and smiling they nodded and dispersed.
I stayed with Mike for about 20 minutes when his mother showed up asking if he had caused any trouble. “No,” I said, “no trouble at all, at least not in this realm.”
His mom explained that she has to leave him out of the store or he begins to sing hymns loudly and people get upset.
“I can imagine,” I said. “Nothing people hate worse than having their need for Jesus presented to them.”
I gathered up my stuff and walked with Mike out to their car. I invited him to come visit my church any time he wanted. Especially since they only live about 10 blocks away. Mike was very happy for the invite, but I didn’t see the same response in Mom.
But ya know, all things are possible.
A month and a half ago, a policeman in his car drove onto the park behind our church, where we serve the homeless. He spoke to a number of homeless people, and then spoke for 45 minutes to our co-pastor, Jeff. The policeman was dissatisfied, so he asked to talk to “someone with greater authority,” so he told him to go to the church and talk to me. I was going to open in about ten minutes and was very busy, but it was polite to give him a bit of my time. This was our conversation:
PD: You are letting people stay in the park.
Me: No, the park is public and they can stay there.
PD: You should tell them to move.
Me: I will absolutely tell them to move. As soon as there is a legal option for them to sleep somewhere else.
PD: They could go to Dignity Villiage (a local, legal tent city).
Me: DV has a year-long waiting list.
PD: Why are we getting so many complaints about them stealing, breaking into cars?
Me: I’m not sure. Do you know the neighborhood stats for stealing?
PD: I don’t know them offhand, but I could get them…
Me: That’s okay, I know them because I look at them every month. Our neighborhood with all the homeless people has pretty average theft. But two neighborhoods down, the theft rate is much higher. So the homeless aren’t causing the thefts.
PD: Why do the citizens keep complaining about…
Me: (Interrupting) The homeless are citizens.
PD: Why are the hard-working…
Me: The homeless work hard to survive.
PD: Why do the residents…
Me: The homeless are residents.
PD: They don’t have an address…
Me: Yes they do. Here. This church. The homeless are also tax payers. The homeless are our neighbors.
PD: You can play with semantics…
Me: I’m not playing withe semantics. You are trying to separate the homeless from the rest of the community and I’m telling you that there is no difference from the homeless and the rest of our community. The homeless are people.
PD: Then why do I get so many complaints? What about the trash?
Me: Our homeless make the trash and they also clean up the trash. The reason you get so many complaints is because the neighbors in houses don’t like them camping in their neighborhood. But until they have a legal place to sleep this won’t stop. This isn’t our ministry’s problem, it is ALL of our problem, the whole community. A group of us are getting together in Gresham trying to do something about it. We would love to have you or a representative of the police department meet with us to try to come up with solutions so we could get places for people to sleep in our community. Would you like to come?
PD: We are very busy doing our jobs….
Me: (Yeah, like spending an hour berating us for helping the homeless) I know what you mean. I spend 60 hours a week doing mine. Well, we need to open. I’d love to talk to you more if you set an appointment.
Tenderly love your spouse better than you did last month.
Treat cashiers better.
Be kind to panhandlers and beggars.
Complain about your coworkers less.
Be kind to your children more than forming them who you want them to be.
Speak kindly about and to your political/theological sparring partners.
Open your house to the hungry and feed them.
Have a polite conversation with the person who irritates you.
Give to the poor to meet their needs, not yours.
Use your prayer to build up your love for others.
If you want to be a better church, love better.
Work on correct love more than correct theology.
Shape your worship service based on the spiritual needs of those who come.
Open your building to those who have no place to go.
Don’t be hospitable to “everyone”, but to those who are rejected by the world.
Be known for being merciful to those judged by others.
Goal: every member be gentle and kind in board meetings.
Let the outcast have a full voice in every denominational meeting.
Zero tolerance for killings by the police.
Every person, no matter how poor, how colored is treated like a full citizen.
Make every homeless person legal.
Welcome and meet needs of every immigrant.
Spend more money on meeting needs than harming criminals.
Train your police to be community servants of peace.
“Love, and do what you want.” -Augustine
I get it. When someone is going through suffering, it makes us uncomfortable. We don’t want to see people suffer. We understand when someone has an open wound or bruises to show, but when someone is suffering internally, we don’t know what to say, we just want to say, “Stop suffering! You don’t have to!”
Of course, they have no choice but to suffer. Their depression, their internal pain, their grief, their internal oppression won’t go away because we want it to.
And why do we want it to go away? Because we experience some of their suffering with them. We have a natural ability to empathize, and when someone we care about is suffering, we feel it too. We don’t feel the depth of how they feel, but we take on some of their suffering by watching them suffer. Honestly, it can be overwhelming at times.
The problem comes when we use our theology to try to stop them from suffering. We are telling them that God doesn’t want any of us to experience pain or grief or sorrow. That the salvation of God requires us all to live in contentment with what God has given us. This is what Job’s friends tried to do. They were telling him to repent of his sin, because God wouldn’t have him suffer so for any other reason. They used their idea of God as a wedge to force Job out of his suffering, so that they might have some peace.
But isn’t this a selfish way of using theology? To tell people to step up, to get right, so that we could all be a little more comfortable? To force others to be the way we want them to be, and to use the Bible or made up theological concepts to make them a bit easier to be around?
As opposed to our uncomfortable friends, God understands our depression. God knows that we are suffering, and it is okay, it is a part of life. Moses, Elijah, and even Jesus suffered from depression, and expressed it openly. But Job best expresses his anguish again and again. Job, the righteous, the one whom God boasts about to Satan. Job is allowed to express his depression long and creatively. Yet we don’t want to talk about depression in our churches, and we want to tell people who are depressed that there is something spiritually wrong with them.
Depression is not a spiritual crime. It is an honest assessment of our inner life. God looks at the depressed one, and admits that he created depression so we can deal with the grief that our bodies carry. God takes joy in depression, for it is a stage of healing.
But to those who condemn the depressed person, God has the most severe language. “My wrath is kindled against you because you have not spoken of Me what is right as my servant Job has.” When we manipulate others with our theology, we lie about God. We lie about God’s judgment and his mercy. God forgive us.
May God give us the ability to be honest about our internal suffering and to comfort those afflicted with it.