Fall 1997 Newsletter
Greetings from the people who are Good Works, Inc. A COMMUNITY OF HOPE
AGENTS OF TRANSFORMATION
Good Works serves as an agent of God’s grace to the poor and homeless. We are one agent. One fallible, inadequate and broken agent whom God has decided to use for his purpose. We are not the only agent. We can not be effective in our work unless God’s other agents do their work. We can only do our part. Because we are so often at the point of our limitations, I try to encourage the staff to remember that we are not the savior. Jesus is the savior. We are his body. In John 20:24-28 Thomas came to the other disciples after the resurrection of Christ and said “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were and put my hands into his side, I will not believe.”
As the body of Christ, we are the ones whom God has given the grace for the ‘Thomases’ of this world to place their hands in our side and believe. Will you allow those who doubt to test you as Thomas tested Jesus? Will you permit them to put their finger and hands into the side of the body of Christ in your community? In doing so, what will they find? Will they feel the nail prints and the wound of Jesus? Is there enough there for them to stop doubting and believe? In touching you, will they have faith to trust HIM?
AS I SEE THRU A GLASS DIMLY
May I suggest that the real maturity of a local church is reflected in how the poor are treated in a given city. Are you part of a local congregation which responds to the needs of the poor in your community? Then let me suggest that the most practical response the church can make to the changes in `welfare as we knew it’ is to create jobs for the poor. I suggest that we should direct some of the money in our mission budget towards the creation of jobs. Better yet, lets each seek to create one job for one poor person and not only employ them but share our lives with them in the process. Is it possible that the highest and most successful efforts of any given church community are revealed in how we respond to (or prepare to respond to) the needs of those whom Jesus called the “harassed and helpless?” And if the poor have good quality care from people who love and serve them and who demonstrate the gospel by their lives, this reflects the maturity of the church. But what if the poor are neglected, excluded, rejected and are constantly crying out in need? This too reflects the maturity of the church.
Isn’t it time we considered what we are doing to assist the poor in our community? In terms of our strategy, our ministry has two purposes 1) to love our neighbors who are the harassed and helpless by laying down our lives and 2) to provide an avenue though which others can love their neighbors. Therefore, we direct a great deal of our time and energy towards organizing those who want to help but don’t know where to start. May I suggest that we must serve in order to grow, that this service IS one form of worship. Furthermore, if you are not serving, you are not worshipping and therefore, you are not growing. As much as the poor and homeless need our help, equally so, we need to help them.
REBUILDING THE ANCIENT RUINS
“Like a city whose walls are broken down is a man who lacks self control.” (Proverbs 25:28)
Our annual FAST FROM SHELTER revealed again the hunger in many people lives to understand God’s heart for the poor. Our theme, taken from Isaiah 58, reveals that true fasting begins when we share our food with the hungry and provide the poor wanderer with shelter. The result of a true fast is that God makes us into a people who will `rebuild the ancient ruins.’ We understand this to mean not only the ruins of a society, but also the ruins of people’s lives. “You will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings” (Isaiah 58:12). This is our vision: to help those whom Jesus calls the `harassed and helpless’ rebuild the walls of self control and discipline in their lives which have caved in. So much of our ministry with the homeless is directed towards helping them to rebuild a new identity seeing themselves made in the image of God to establish healthy habits which result in the confidence to rebuild their education, employment and relationship base.
DEVELOPING A THEOLOGY OF LOVE
We are focused these days on training others to love. Development, development, development- my heart in these days is directed towards training and equipping our staff and volunteers to riskingly touch the lives of those whom God sends to Good Works, to touch them with love, God’s. The emergency shelter, the transitional house and our Friday Night outreach opportunities serve as avenues through which we, together with others, can learn how to love. When I consider what is ultimately important in this life, I put ‘learning how to love’ as my top goal. The more I learn, the more I learn how much I need to learn.
WHO. NOT WHAT
I always present our ministry to others as something that emerges from who we are. What we do emerges from who we are. This being the case, who are we? LIVING STONES being built into a spiritual house to offer up holy sacrifices acceptable to God (I Peter 2:5). I propose that we can not fully understand our own identity apart from first understanding something of WHO God is. Said another way, we can not fully love or understand ourselves or our neighbor unless we first grasp something of the Love from the ONE who made us. We can love only because we are loved. We can share only because HE shared. We can sacrifice ONLY because He sacrificed. Shall I go on? What we are to others is ultimately an reflection of what (or who) we worship. And if you worship “things”, what you are is a reflection of the “things” you worship. If you worship the ONE who gave himself in sacrificial love for your sins, this is reflected in what you do. What we do them emerges from who we are.
“Don’t forget to entertain strangers, for by doing so, some have entertained angels without knowing it.” (Hebrews 13:2)
There are days that the Lord sends people to Good Works and I respond, “Lord, why have you sent them to us, I can not help them.” I often sense God answering me “I know, I have sent them to help you.” If I listen carefully to the voice of the voiceless, the powerless (those on the margins of society) I can often hear the voice of God. I once heard someone say “the front door of your home is the side door of the church.” At Good Works, we offer hospitality to strangers and in doing so, we mystically welcome Jesus further into our lives. Could there be a connection between opening our lives and homes to strangers and drawing near to God? Test me.
In John 4, Jesus answers for us the question of where worship should take place. He teaches us that worship is not locational but spiritual. Then He tells us that the Father seeks worshippers who will worship Him in Spirit and in truth. May I suggest that worship (which is reflected in both adoration and service) is the doorway through which we can see the multitudes with compassion. It is through worship—being naked before God, seeing ourselves as we really are and being reminded of his grace—that we gain the hope of transmitting his love to others. If I fail to enter ministry with the harassed and helpless through the door of worship, I will be destined to see the poor from a “human” point of view. When I find myself cornered into a human or worldly point of view of the poor (James 1:26), I am powerless to truly love them with more than my own strength.
May I suggest that this may be the real problem with welfare as we knew it? For too long the body of Christ has failed to enter into the suffering of those who are in the pain of separation between themselves and Christ. But through the door of worship, we are lifted up to a place where we can see those beaten up on the side of life’s roads with the eyes of Jesus, with compassion. In seeing with compassion, we learn to act out of love rather than control. Here lies the secret of the Holy Spirit: the gifts of the Spirit are not just for the worship place but are also for the market place. Through worship (both corporate and private), the gifts of the Spirit are unleashed and we are empowered to “bind up the broken hearted.” In the end, ALL that we do for those who come to Good Works, ALL that we do…is an act of worship.
LOVE AS PAIN
One of the things we do daily is attempt to stop the destructive cycles in the lives of those whom God sends to Good Works. Our daily agenda involves prayer and discussion about the needs and issues of those staying with us. From drug abuse to the addiction of sick relationships we seek God’s wisdom about the timing of placing our foot in to the revolving door of someone’s life. The first reaction we experience when we stop the cycle is their anger. Only yesterday we could not even get their attention. Now, they are very angry at us and have begun to make accusations and even threats. Have you tried to help someone caught in a destructive cycle who is very angry and who implies YOU are the reason for their intense feeling? Do you let their expression of anger smoke-screen you into an excuse to stop reaching out? I have. It is here that I understood that this kind of ministry, loving enough to stop the cycle of destruction MUST be done in community. It is in community that we can support one another in our efforts at loving with balance. Without the body of Christ I lose perspective and I am unable to carry on with God’s love. With my brothers and sisters I have courage to keep loving in the face of my own personal discomfort and insecurity. My co-laborers encourage me when I have lost perspective. When I choose to love someone who has hurt me even though I experienced the pain of their anger, I choose to enter the suffering of Christ. When you choose to love enough to stop the cycle and thus endure their reaction of anger, accusation and even threats, you enter the place where Jesus reveals not only the power of his resurrection but also the fellowship of his suffering. Enter the Kingdom of God.
I find it rather shocking that Jesus chose to directly reveal himself to a poor, outcast (Samaritan), female who was well known for her social and sexual sins. In fact He is so direct with this woman near the end of their conversation at Jacob’s well that I have not found anything quite like this anywhere among his disciples or others interested followers. At one point in John 4:1-42, this poor women stated that when Messiah comes, he will reveal everything. Jesus responded abruptly: “I who speak to you am HE.” Have you considered that God reveals himself to the outcasts of our community in ways he does not reveal himself to the rest of us? The evidence in John 4:26 is quite a revelation.
As we enter the season of thanksgiving, let me encourage you to discover how good our loving father has been to you through the door of gratitude. I truly believe we can not fully understand how good God is except though the daily discipline of giving thanks! As you realize how enriched your life has become, I want to encourage you to share something with the poor. Do it as an offering of worship in order that God might be honored and glorified. We pledge to be good stewards of your gifts to the poor. Thanks in advance for your kindness to Good Works, Inc., A COMMUNITY of HOPE.
p.s. Looking for a good gift for the homeless? Send us some pre-paid phone cards!
GOD GOES THE DISTANCE
JESUS’ ENCOUNTER WITH AN OUTCAST
(Read John 4:1-42 before your read this article)
Our story begins with Jesus, physically tired from his journey and thirsty stopping in a small village where the people were considered “outcasts” by the dominant Jewish culture. There, He crosses the line several times and speaks to a woman who was a Samaritan and quite a well known sinner. He approaches her and asks her for a drink. Jesus uses his physical need, indeed a physical need as an entry point to begin a relationship with a person vastly different from him. The fact that He speaks to a woman (who in that culture is an outcast sinner) is a wonderful illustration of how far God has gone to reach those who have been despised and rejected by most people.
Her response to Jesus is simply to dissuade him through antagonism. Her reply is first an attempt to clarify that she is socially and religiously different from him and that it is not culturally acceptable for her to help him. But God is not dissuaded by the antagonism of those who are on the margins of society and Jesus persists. He tells her that if she really knew WHO was speaking to her and what the gift of God really was, she would ask him for a drink. I really believe that this is true: When people know who He really is, they will ask him to give them that which will satisfied their deepest longings. Many times, these people don’t ask HIM because they don’t yet know WHO He is. The gospel then becomes declaring and demonstrating WHO Jesus is.
She attempts to dissuade him a second time and states that the well is deep and he has brought nothing to get water with. Many times, persons who have experienced oppression either personally or as a social group react with anger towards those trying to help them. I suspect that something emotional was happening in her which caused the next put-off. She asks what she thinks is a rhetorical question about Jesus being greater than Jacob who gave the well to her people. Notice what happens next: Jesus doesn’t answer her question about being greater than Jacob or bite on her antagonism. In contrast to how he answered the Pharisees when they asked if he was greater than Abraham, He side-steps her question and lays down his right to answer her as the God who made both Jacob and the well. He chooses not to use position or power to reach this woman. Instead, he returns her to the matter of living water and tells her that the water He gives will cause her to never thirst again. She responds as you might expect an unspiritual (natural) person would and displays curiosity and spiritual ignorance in her statement “give me this water so that I won’t be thirsty and need to come here to draw water.”
Now, Jesus appears to put some distance of time between the offering and giving of his by asking her to call her husband. This is illustrative of God’s way of testing us for our own good so that when we ask to receive HIS gift, we both understand and appreciate the sacred nature of what we are being offered. She responds with a statement about “not having a husband” and Jesus affirms her for telling him the truth as she in her alienated and rejected state defines it. Later, He will use “truth” as a lesson about worship. We too must learn to affirm people for their efforts at telling the truth as they see it.
Jesus acceptance of her at this point was critical. He didn’t minimize her sin nor did He imply she was deceiving him. His response to this ‘outcast’ was powerful enough for her to feel uncomfortable enough to change the subject. What interests me is that Jesus didn’t pursue the matters of her personal/private sins but instead used whatever subject she wanted to discuss as a vehicle to convey truth. She turns the subject to the a historical debate between the Jews and Samaritans about the proper location for worship and He continues to impact her on her terms of conversation. Here Jesus introduces the truth that worship is no longer location but spiritual. He identifies the one to be worshipped as “Father” in a culture where fathers were highly respected. He links worship to truth and implies that God is seeking those who come to him with a hunger for truth. I suspect he is affirming her for the steps she has already taken.
Near the end of their visit, she attempts to bring closure to his penetrating words about worship by saying something about her hope (and her peoples’ hope) for the coming of the Messiah. Jesus then chooses this poor, outcast, well known sinner to declare what He very rarely told the ruling class or his disciples : “I who speak to you, am He.” I am struck here by WHO God chooses to reveal himself to. Here, we see a marvelous illustration of God’s love for the “least of these.”
Later in the story the disciples return and find the fact that Jesus crossed the cultural and religious lines (talking to a woman) very disturbing. The woman, impacted by Jesus, leaves her jug (a statement she will be back) and returns to the city to tell others how impacted she was by Jesus and how she herself is asking the question “Could he be the Messiah?” The woman brings her Samaritan friends back to the Jacob’s well and they persuade Jesus to stay two days with them. At the end of two days, they conclude that Jesus is the Savior of the world (vs 42). I find it very powerful that Jesus invests himself in those whom the dominant Jewish culture thought of as untouchable and defiled. Not only does he cross the lines but also breaks the barriers with this woman. In crossing those lines, Jesus risks totally discrediting himself in the eyes of the Jews by spending two days with the Samaritan people who would later say “we not only believe because of the woman’s testimony but now we know you are the savior of the world.” IN THE END, this story illustrates how great a love that Father has bestowed upon those who stand outside of mainstream society. Jesus illustrates through his actions who far the Creator of the world is willing to go in order to touch those who are despised by the dominant culture. Does he ask less of us?
“…and he said to them, follow me.”
And they left their nets and followed him. I wonder when we decided to follow him whether we considered that Jesus asks us to lay down and give him our social lives. I wonder whether how much we truly impact the poor apart from laying down our social lives—those parts of lives which we “reserve” for ourselves. I wonder.
Let me share that I believe JOY is the mark of Gods presence in our lives. I have been asking the Lord to help me not be determined by my emotions or my circumstances. I am not saying I should not listen or learn from them, only that I should not be determined by them. As we continue to work daily with those who demand more than we can humanly give, join with us in asking God to give his more grace so that we can learn from our emotions and circumstances but not be determined by them. Instead, we want to be determined by righteousness, peace and the JOY which comes from the Holy Spirit. Thy Kingdom come on earth through the broken vessels (or as some have said ‘cracked pots’ ) who serve here.
In Jesus name.