Pastor Steve’s Full Blog Posts
“Hello, this is Wonderful Redeemer Baptist Church.”
“Um… my name is Angie and I need to feed my children.”
“Well, we don’t have a food program here.”
“Could you recommend someone…”
“I’m sorry, but we can’t help you. Why don’t you try the government?”
“I can’t get any help from them now. I used up my opportunities.”
“Well, if they can’t help you, then we certainly can’t.”
“Could you give me a reference…”
“We don’t have any. Sorry. Goodbye.”
It is unfortunate, but conversations like this happen in churches every day in every city. Of course, we can only give what we have, but the real issue comes with how we speak, not just what we give.
Our technology has given us the ability to communicate to more people than ever before. But our use of technology has given us the ability to forget that at the other end of the phone or the internet is a real human being with real needs and desires and hopes just like we do. Our technology has given us a greater opportunity and excuse to dehumanize more people than ever before.
“Dehumanize” is kind of a technical term, so allow me the opportunity to explain it a bit. The Online Medical Dictionary defines Dehumanization as, “Loss of human characteristics; brutalization by either mental or physical means; stripping one of self-esteem.” Dehumanization is simply the reaction we have when we forget that another is a human being, and to treat them as a thing instead of a person who loves, struggles, dreams, sacrifices just like us. It is forgetting that just as we need respectful conversation, so do they. It is neglecting the fact that their needs are the equal of our own to be met. And most of all, it is forgetting that our Lord loves them just as much as He loves us.
There are two basic ethical principles by which we respond to others. The first is the one our Lord taught us, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” We are to give others the mercy, respect, forgiveness, grace and assistance we ourselves need. Not that which we deserve, but what we need, even as the Lord gives us grace we do not deserve. We all know this.
But the second principle works against this. This is the principle of security: “Protect your own against all others.” By this principle, we define some people as “neighbors” whom we love and some people as “others” whom we separate from, revile, spew hatred and, if they seem to be attacking our own, destroy.
We recognize that our churches are not to be in the destruction business. But what we don’t realize is how we can destroy people’s spirits or humanity because we see them as the “other.” We may see someone as a reprobate, one who is hard of heart, one who is helplessly foolish or who simply isn’t as loving as we are. We may see the “other” in the one who takes or who desires what we have: our money, our possessions, or our time. We know this principle is at work when someone questions our actions toward another as too harsh and we respond with, “They deserve it.”
The principle of Jesus to love gives no place to any principle which excuses dehumanization. We are never to think of another human being as the “other.” Our churches are constantly to represent the ministry of Jesus to all people, no matter who they are, no matter what they have done, no matter what they need. Should the worst child molester in the world show up at our doorstep, even if we were unable to help them, we should be kind to him, and refer him to someone who can help him.
Certainly, not every representative of our church is a counselor and not every church worker has time for everyone. A church secretary should not be required to listen to every story that takes him or her away from the work they are to do. The pastor should not have to take every phone call. However every church should be prepared to be kind and helpful to every need that walks in the door.
- The one who responds to people who are seeking help should have a list of resources that the church provides, including a person who will pray, a person who knows local resources, a person who can give wise counsel, and a person who will simply listen. And the pastor should not be the only person on this list.
- Every church should have access to a list of organizations that helps a variety of needs in their local area with ready access to phone numbers.
- We should all be asking the Holy Spirit to give us words of humility, comfort, encouragement and mercy, in accordance with the love of our Lord Jesus.
- We should all learn not to answer the phone or get on the internet when we are overly stressed or likely to lash out.
- We should all take personal retreats (even if only to our bedroom) when needed so we can be better ready to respond in accordance with the Spirit’s leading.
The very first recorded appearance of an angel is to an abused slave.
Hagar learned that God sees the plight of the oppressed and suffering and does something about it.
When we first started living in community, we invited our friends who had just moved in the area to come to church with us. One of our friends, Marcy, gladly accepted a ride to church, and attended, hoping to have a community she could connect with. That hope prevailed, although she attended the church for years, and reached out to many and got involved, yet she didn’t have the friends, the community she desired. She was smart and articulate and funny, but many people couldn’t see that because she had a lazy eye and thick glasses.
We of the church recognize that we are supposed to be a unique people. All too often, though, we misunderstand what that strangeness is supposed to be. Often we consider our uniqueness to be holiness (although it is difficult to find a uniquely holy congregation, honestly), or perhaps our love for one another. And while these aspects may be significant, the congregation Jesus had in mind was even more unique.
When talking about the make-up of his people, Jesus said that his people are to be “poor” “mourning” “persecuted” “meek” “hungry” and even hated and ostracized. These are the blessed of God, the recipients of salvation, the ones in need of deliverance. A couple of these terms Jesus is borrowing from the Hebrew Scriptures, which are translations of the word “anawim”.
Anawim is a term that is used frequently in Psalms and Proverbs and the prophets to speak of the lowly and poor who are seeking the Lord for deliverance. The anawim are those who face the most difficult social crises: poverty, rejection, hatred, and can turn to no one but the Lord for deliverance from their problems. The anawim are the outcast, those hated by society, yet still they do all they can to remain faithful to the Lord.
But our churches are often monuments to those who are socially accepted, to those who have it made. We are not seeking to cater to a particular group, necessarily, but since those who have the power and wealth to make a community have… well, power and wealth, then the outcast and hated and poor aren’t so much rejected as neglected. We find that without thinking about the anawim, we have created no place for them. We put our churches where public transportation cannot go. If someone admits that they can’t afford to go to the church retreat, we will treat them like charity, making them give personal information we might not require of others. Church business is done at meetings in restaurants the poor aren’t invited to and they couldn’t afford. Our worship focuses on the functionally literate, those who sing well, or who can see the words on the screen. We dress well, not thinking about how uncomfortable we will make those who cannot dress as we dress.
And so the anawim don’t feel comfortable in our congregations. It isn’t anything we said. We may have tried our best to be welcoming. We may have given them a central spot and asked them to stand up and tell everyone in the church who they were. But culturally, we are giving a message that they are welcome IF they become like us.
More congregations—not all, but more—need to consider how to best welcome the anawim of their neighborhoods. Perhaps some would rather have a church service that wasn’t located in a church sanctuary. Perhaps some would come, if a meal was offered before the service. Perhaps a number of people in the church could “dress down” to reflect the people Jesus said were blessed.
In order for us to welcome the anawim, we must change culturally to be like them, not assume that our cultural standards are everyone elses’.
If we do welcome the anawim, we may find our culture changing more than we like. We may find that we are driving away others who can’t deal with the stress of a cross-cultural congregation. We may even find our congregation sounding like this, but this is the cost of having a Jesus-like church. I’m sure it wasn’t the most orderly meal when Jesus ate with the sinners and tax collectors, either.
If you would like to take a test to see how close you come to being Anawim, or if you would like to find out more about Anawim, please check out this article
*These terms are all taken from Jesus’ beatitudes, found in Matthew 5:3-12 and Luke 6:20-24.
**The term “poor in spirit” used in Matthew 5:3 is borrowed from Proverbs 16:19; The phrase “the meek shall inherit the earth” is from Psalm 37:11. The words “humble” “poor” and “meek” in these passags are all translations of the Hebrew word “anawim”.
This is an original song we sing at Anawim:
Lord, lead me out of me
Draw me into You
Help me set aside my wants
Draw me into You
Free me from depression
Free me from apathy
Free me from obsessions
Free me from all my pain
Free me from deception
Free me from speech untrue
Free me from frustration
Draw me, Lord, into You
Make in us humility
Make in us holy wills
Make in us your mercy
Make in us pure clean hearts
Make in us your unity
Make in us faithful truth
Make in us your charity
Draw us, Lord, into You
The median salary for a family of four in the United States is about $42,000. A family of four can live pretty well on $40,000, if they spend wisely. Just a bit of care, and one can do pretty well.
You can send two kids to college with $40,000. A kindergarten teacher makes a little more than $40,000, and so does a basic graphic designer. It’s not shabby, but it isn’t excessive, either. A pretty basic amount. You can’t live excessively on $40,000, but you can survive.
Did you know that Anawim’s budget is about 40,000 dollars a year? Our total budget. Some years we get that full amount in donations, some not. Not sure you believe me? Look at how much we spent last year.
- We provide a staffed day shelter, warehouse, gardens, mail, worship for the homeless in Gresham.
- We provide about 20,000 meals a year all over Portland.
- We provide hygiene items, clothes, and sleeping gear to over 300 homeless around Portland and Gresham, even if their items are stolen or taken away.
- We provide about 4000 pairs of socks and about 2500 showers a year for the homeless.
- We provide housing for up to 10 homeless individuals at a time.
- We providing caretaking and management for a three acre property in Gresham.
- And we are open at our regular hours every day of the year, no closing for holidays, because the homeless don’t get a holiday from being homeless.
Mind you, this 40,000 isn’t miracle money. It means that our staff don’t get a salary, even if they work up to 60 hours a week. Some get housing from Anawim, everyone gets at least some of their food from Anawim.
- Our ministry isn’t able to do all we can because we have a lot of money. Helping the poor doesn’t require tons of money, just a lot of heart and a lot of commitment. And some friends who are poor.
- We’d love to have a larger budget. We’d love to provide a salary for our staff, or at least a regular stipend. We’d love to give everyone breaks and perhaps a staff retreat. We’d love to have a day shelter in St. Johns. We’d love to reopen in Southeast Portland again. We’ve got lots of plans. We are just waiting for the Holy Spirit to stir some folks to give us the finances we need to do it.
- You don’t have to be wealthy to help us financially. You hear about those organizations that say “any little bit helps.” Well, we mean it. We are so close to the edge all the time that we literally praise God every time someone donates a bit to the kitty. Occasionally it means that we get to keep the electricity on. Really.
- The average pastor of a congregation in the United States makes twice as much as our whole organization does. I’m not judging, I’m just saying. You draw your own conclusions.