Friday, August 14, 2009

Give It Away and a Confession

Last Saturday, Kinsey and I travelled around with Doug Sanders to deliver our old crib to a family he'd come into contact with. It was a father, mother, and young baby. The apartment was very small and in a not-great neighborhood of town. What I loved seeing was how Kinsey interacted with the couple and their baby. For one thing, Kinsey would talk to a brick wall if she thought it was listening. But she really engaged them and really got into picking stuff out at the house that Otter Creek keeps for donated furniture. It was really great to see her get that engaged.

But Doug mentioned something really thought-provoking to me on his blogpost about that day. He said:
Since my interaction was more with the father and the neighbors who were asking what all was going on, I’ll have to talk to the baby bed assembler team and see what impressions they came away with from the day. For me, I saw the potential for relationships to be built.
And that really gave me pause. Because, you see, in all this time in the last few years that I've been exploring post-modern/emergent/whatever faith, it's primarily been a theoretical exercise. Sure there have been times that Sheryl and I have engaged with people outside of our comfort zones, but the truth is that we value safety, security and comfort, and being around the poor or the homeless typically (but not always) takes us out of those areas of our lives.

It's been one of the reasons that I've been wondering if my spiritual life feels a little stagnant right now. Almost like I know what I should be doing, but not really pursuing it. And part of the reason is that I don't really WANT too. When I do something, it's almost more out a sense of duty. That because Jesus commanded to care for the least of our brothers and sisters, that if I don't do it, I'm failing Christ.

I can say that enjoyed what I did that Saturday and I enjoyed being around the couple that we helped, and while I've thought about them over the last week, I can't say that I've had a strong desire to drive back downtown and see them again. I hope they are well. I hope he finds a job and he and his wife and child can stay safe.

And it's weird. On one hand, I can feel very self-satisfied with what I did that Saturday. I didn't just give the crib to Doug and say, "I hope you find someone who can use this." I went with him myself and put it together and took my daughter with me, exposing her both to service and selflessness. But on the other, it always feels like I could do more. I guess it's one of the reasons I admire people like Doug and several of the others at Otter Creek who have devoted themselves to the service of others that I can't see myself doing yet. Maybe I'm using the kids as an excuse or my drive for comfort. I'm not sure.

So that's my confession. I want to serve the poor, but on my terms. And if I don't have to live around them, that would be great too. Pray for me, that I would seek to follow Jesus and be open to the opportunities that he provides.


Doug said...

Everyone has a gift and a calling. Most of us aren't called to be everything to everybody. Find your gift and live a life of integrity to that gift while remaining open to how the Spirit will grow and stretch you.
BTW - in light of David Rubio's sermon to our kids of being great by serving, the example you gave to your daughter may be the real pearl for that day. The reason we have to preach a sermon to our kids about the need to serve is becasue they aren't seeing it in their parents!!

Jim Voorhies said...

Once, long ago and far away (in this galaxy, though) a man said something to me that he intended as an off-hand, flippant comment destined to be forgotten. The lesson that dumb comment gave me substantially and directly led me to all the happiness that now blesses me. You never know the good you do in the lives of others that changes the world.. The Lord knows what he's doing with you, even if you don't.

mundiejc said...

Doug is right, you can't be all things to everyone.

But I like what Hauerwas says in "The Peaceable Kingdom" (paraphrased)

Step out and do one thing that alters your life as usual. You feel that call because you know in your gut that things aren't right the way they are. When Carrie and I moved to where we're living now, we were most certainly NOT prepared for it. We didn't think it through (and in all honesty I'm glad, cause we might not have done it) but our choosing to live here has been a catalyst for God to change our lives in major ways, ways that they might not have been changed otherwise.

So... step out, get a little uncomfortable. That doesn't mean move to the inner city, though that's a major catalyst. You've got the spark, so pray for open eyes to see where God is leading you. It will change your life, and your family's.

Maybe just come have dinner with Carrie and I sometime. It will be fun (and we should have done it a long time ago).

judy thomas said...

Amen to what Doug says--so true. Trouble is, not many of us seek and find our gifts. And when we find them, we aren't very happy about them--what's that about your being the potter, Lord?

Mine is teaching and writing, and I thoroughly enjoy doing both in many contexts. Phil, you serve people in so many ways--try to be objective and list what they are.

Blessings, Miss Judy

rjohns said...

"I want to serve the poor, but on my terms. And if I don't have to live around them, that would be great too. Pray for me, that I would seek to follow Jesus and be open to the opportunities that he provides."

Will do.

What you showed this family was agape love. Koine Greek has separate words (besides agape) for romantic, mushy love, and for the deep love shown to a well-known friend. So whatever agape love is, it is probably not those. Many people think agape is a love that you show when you intentionally act in someone else's interest, whether it is your natural inclination to do so or not. It sounds like that might be what you are talking about here.

I volunteered for a number of years helping the poor in the Nashville area, and I felt the same as you most of the time. My big regret, looking back on it, was that I never explcitly shared the gospel with anyone. I bought into the idea that everyone would see how different I was and would somehow absorb the gospel through my actions. I was wrong. I showed a lot of compassion towards others, and it was generally repaid with a great deal of gratitude and appreciation. However, kind of like you pointed out, when we do "good" things, it is often tainted with some underlying selfish thoughts. People, rich or poor, are generally smart enough to figure out that you don't act unselfishly all the time. They will see that you are showing them love by acting in their best interest some of the time, and they will certainly differentiate you from other people who are simply always selfish. However, there are plenty of folks out there who routinely outdo Christians in terms of their "good works." Many of them are humanists who essentially see mankind as their god, and that is their motivation for serving man. When a person without Jesus sees both of us doing the same good works, what is the difference? I think the only difference is that we have a saving message about Jesus, and if we fail to give it, we fail altogether, like I did.

The biggest problem in our world is not poverty or hunger, it is sin. That is what is sending every one of us to a literal eternal punishment when we die (and we deserve it). The only remedy was provided by God at the cross when Jesus willingly died and took the punishment for sin that we deserve. We are cursed and fatally flawed, yet he bought us for himself. If we can tell people to repent and trust in Jesus alone to save them, then we have truly loved them. Feed and clothe them, yes. But do it out of gratitude, not obligation. And the only way to do it out of gratitude is to constantly remind ourselves how we were bought and what would have happened to us if we had not been.

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