Pastor Steve’s Full Blog Posts
Would you do me a favor and watch the first forty seconds or so of this video?
Wasn’t that cool?
You know, when I first saw this video on Facebook, I couldn’t even tell what was in that hole. Just black crawly things. They could be crabs or bugs. Turned out they were turtles. You probably know that already because you saw the title, but I didn’t have the title. I just saw a hole swarming with something that looked gross.
To me, this video demonstrates how to help the homeless, and how wrong-headed most of our approaches are.
The homeless are stuck in a hole of oppression and poverty and they can’t get out. They are desperately trying to get out, to get to a better place, but they can’t escape, no matter how they try.
Some people, like my initial reaction to this video, see them swarming in their poverty and are disgusted or fear them. They see them as blights on society and as something that should be gotten rid of. They might yell into the hole of poverty and tell them to get out. They might fear them and so avoid them. They might want to hide them, to pretend that they don’t exist. Some might secretly wish that they would go away by any means possible.
Other people might look at the hole and pity them, They would baby them, and give them food and water them and make sure they survived. But for all that care, they are still in the hole of poverty and oppression, no better off than they were.
Others want to do something for them more seriously. So they will take the effort to pull one of them out of the hole and lift him up and take him to the ocean. Then they will walk back to the hole, pick up another one and walk him to the ocean, placing him carefully within. After a few times of doing this, someone will get tired and go back to the hole, saying, “I’m sorry, but I don’t have the resources to help all of you. I can only help so many. The rest of you will have to stay in poverty and oppression. I wish I could do more.”
The man of wise compassion, like in the video, didn’t take any of these approaches. He broke open the hole and he watched them all instinctively crawl, over time, painstakingly, toward their place of comfort and growth. He didn’t coddle them, he just provided an opportunity. If one of them wandered in the wrong direction, he didn’t correct them, or put them on the right path. They figured it out on their own. He didn’t tell them how stupid they were for being unable to get out of the hole on their own. He just provided the opportunity of freedom and got out of the way.
Churches didn’t create the hole of poverty and oppression that the homeless are in. That is created by society as a whole, by citizens who call the police on people who aren’t doing anything wrong. By cities that make it illegal to be homeless and prevent them from helping themselves and use their police force to oppress the poor. By individuals beating and stealing from those who are trying to survive.
Churches usually pity the homeless and feed them in their cycle of poverty and oppression. There is a place for that when there is no opportunity to escape the hole.
But the real solution is to provide opportunities for the homeless to help themselves. The homeless cannot provide these opportunities themselves. What do these opportunities look like?
-Provide jobs that reflect the skills and work abilities of those in need.
-Provide places for people to sleep and store their possessions without harassment.
-Provide safe places for people to be during the day where they can cook, clean and help themselves.
If we provide these kinds of opportunities, then we can stand by and watch the homeless escape the hole themselves. It won’t happen immediately. It won’t always be easy to watch. But it will happen.
Right now, Anawim is in the process of changing from being a place that provides services to those in the hole to providing opportunities to get out of the hole. It’s not easy, and it will take some time. But we are committed to making transformation, not just comfort.
“So there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God. For the one who has entered His rest has himself also rested from his works, as God did from His. Therefore let us be diligent to enter that rest…” (Hebrews 4:9-11)
At one period of my life, I would awake early to ride the bus across town to work at a book binder, picking up and delivering tons of paper, then spend time in God’s word and afterwards spend the evening with my small children. In between, once a week, I would go to the Grotto to spend time with the Lord, walking through the gardens, praying.
At the edge of a cliff is a beautiful chapel, overlooking NE Portland. I might stand there and pray over the city, or seek God’s wisdom. But occasionally, I would sit in the comfortable chairs and rest, allowing God to speak to me, should He want to.
In the midst of this busy life, I would often fall asleep in the middle of my prayers, coaxed by the softness of the cushions. At times I would startle myself awake and apologize to the Lord for sleeping during our time together. At one point, waking myself, the Lord said quietly to me, “Go ahead and sleep. This is my gift to you: rest in me.”
Prayer is hard work, and those who strive in this obedience know the difficult effort of it. But God also gives us a Sabbath, a rest in the midst of our labors. This rest is God’s mercy upon us, and who are we to deny God’s mercy? In the midst of our prayerful work, we might very well find ourselves coaxed into resting in God’s hand, a child at his mother’s breast.
We ought not only seek to change the world through prayer, but we should accept God’s peace in prayer. Prayer is not just work, it is rest. It is not just action, but it is dependence. Let us not fail to enter into that rest.
Father, let me accept your gift of quiet and peace. Come and fill my soul like a child at rest on his mother’s knee. Come and fill my soul completely. Amen.
Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, these things the Son also does in like manner. For the Father loves the Son, and shows Him all things that He Himself is doing; and the Father will show Him greater works than these, so that you will marvel. John 5:19-20
My prayer life is not what it should be. I bet most of us can say that. I struggle to pray, even when the needs are desperate. I look at prayer warriors with envious eyes. Koreans who spend hours each morning on their prayer mountain, monastics who seek the Lord at all times, mystics who are with the Lord, even when they sleep—how I wish I could be like them! Even a single hour with the Lord seems like pulling teeth.
But I have learned something from an Orthodox proverb: “Serving the poor is prayer.” When we know the Lord’s will and do it, we are finishing our prayers. The act of loving is the true “amen” of our prayers, the action of God through us. At the end of each of our prayers, we must be asking ourselves, “Lord, am I to be the answer to my own prayer?”
In the caring for and raising of her child, a mother is praying. In the patient service of the sick, a nurse is praying. In feeding and clothing the poor, a servant is praying. In forgiving our enemies, in encouraging our brothers, in showing mercy to the outcast—in all of this we pray and seek the Lord. These acts do not replace prayer, but rather they are a part of prayer, the work of God within us that is the result of our desire, often unspoken.
Although I fail to pray as often as I should, I will take spare moments of my day, pray the Lord’s prayer, and know that I am fulfilling “Your kingdom come” with what I do. I also will sing the deceased Keith Green’s prayer, “Make my life a prayer to you,” and know that my acts of love are answers to these prayers.
Father, free me from guilt for not accomplishing the rituals that you did not ask me to do. Allow me to be content in doing what you called me to do. May I be the Mary who sat at your feet and then stood up to accomplish your work. Amen
Teach me, O LORD, the way of Your statutes, And I shall observe it to the end.
Give me understanding, that I may observe Your law And keep it with all my heart.
Make me walk in the path of Your commandments, For I delight in it.
Incline my heart to Your testimonies And not to dishonest gain.
Turn away my eyes from looking at vanity, And revive me in Your ways.
As a pastor and a teacher of God’s word, I want to do my homework. I study passages, read commentaries, analyze the original language, make a decided interpretation and apply it to our culture and context. It’s my job and I take it seriously, for it is my integrity before the Lord.
What is easy for me to forget is that God is the one who holds his word in his hand, that it is not mine to maneuver and manipulate in my skull to produce my intention. God’s word isn’t just His gift, but it is the mediator of my communication with Him, that is not a monologue, but the opportunity to discuss and learn from Him now, not just two thousand year old words.
In the passage above we learn:
The understanding of God’s word is in his hands;
The energy to obey God’s word is in his hands;
The intention to follow God’s word is in his hands;
The faithfulness of our actions in God’s word is in his hands.
Thus, we need to use God’s word as an opportunity to experience God’s continuing grace, to not just intellectually explore new ideas but to allow His Spirit to invigorate new life in us.
Father, may we pursue your word with your desire, for the sake of your kingdom by your power for your glory. Amen.
“Every city, however small, is, in fact, divided into two, one the city of the poor, the other of the rich; these are at war with one another.” -Plato
“Our world is full of terrible contradictions: Plenty of food, but one billion go hungry. Lavish lifestyles for a few, but poverty for far too many others. Huge advances in medicine while mothers still die in childbirth, and children die every day from unclean water. Billions spent on weapons instead of keeping them safe.” -Ban Ki-moon
“In a country well governed, being poor is something to be ashamed of. In a country poorly governed, being wealthy is something to be ashamed of.” -Confucius
“I choose to identify with the underprivileged, I choose to identify with the poor, I choose to give my life for the hungry, I choose to give my life for those who have been left out of the sunlight of opportunity.” -Martin Luther King, Jr.