I like being comfortable. A few weeks ago my husband and I were cruising the aisles of Big Lots (this is how we roll), and happened upon some memory foam pillows. Name brand! $12 each! Well our current pillows had pretty much had it...so we took a chance. And every night since that fateful day, we've been sighing with satisfaction as we hit the hay. These things are AWESOME! Comfy bed....comfy jammies...comfy pillow...it's a good way to end a day. I've been waking up right before the alarm, well rested. The pillow may not be 100% responsible, but I think it's been a huge factor. (Did I mention it was $12???)
We may not live in the nicest home or drive the nicest cars, but we have a home and two cars in a quieter neighborhood by a school. Frank has a good job. We have plenty to wear and plenty to eat. We have three healthy, smart and beautiful children. We have a dog...a cat...two guinea pigs. We even have some luxuries, like our stash of musical instruments and more than 100 channels at the press of the remote button. We have fantastic families and friends and we're starting to realize how wonderful our new church family is. We are blessed. We live a comfortable life. And there are many around us who do the same.
However, just a few minutes away, there's an elementary school where almost 90 per cent of the kids participate in the free lunch program. Yes, 89.4% to be exact during the 2011-2012 school year. The most recent census says that 19% of the people in my county live below the poverty line, but the poverty rate among children is over 25%. According to the CASA website, there are over 300 children in my county in foster care on any given day. Recently, there has been over 300 inmates in our county jail, not to mention the hundreds in the federal penitentiary in our community and the three state correctional facilities less than an hour's drive from here. I couldn't find statistics on the poverty rate for the elderly in my county, and that is both interesting and sad to me. Add in many living in facilities to care for mental health, physical health, juvenile detention centers, group homes, homeless shelters, addiction treatment centers....
Why all the depressing in-your-face stats? Well, besides proving that I indeed am related to my economist brother, a plain fact emerges. There are many that are not comfortable. In MY county. In yours. In my country and yours. And millions around the world living in circumstances we cannot imagine. This is overwhelming. We know this. The collective Church and local churches here do some amazing things to try to minister to people and meet their needs. Locally and globally. I don't want to downplay that. And yet, there seems to be a frustrating lack of change as we see generation after generation in physical, emotional, and spiritual poverty.
Here's the truth. I don't know the answers to these big needs. I have a few clues and hunches based on my work with non-profits, churches, schools, and workforce development in the last 12 odd years. But this is what I read:
Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ (Matthew 25:34-40)
Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.(James 1:27)
I see in these verses an active relationship with those who are the most vulnerable and have the most need. I don't see a check being written with a quick photo op. (Believe me, those working in non-profits see this a lot.) Yes, giving to the church you attend is important. Giving to charities we love is good. Be obedient to God and do that, please! But I think we've missed a crucial element in Christianity if we fail to get to know those in need. How do we even know WHAT they need unless we're willing to get to know them? Did Jesus give his disciples a big fat purse of silver and tell them good luck in life? Did hey say to Mary and Martha, "So sorry your brother died; here's a pamphlet on grief and we hope to see you at church next Sunday!" Maybe this is a little harsh. There's a lot of Christians who get it. But I think there's still many who don't. Jesus got to know those in need. He died for each and every single one of us. We are valuable enough for him to have a personal relationship with us. So why is it so difficult for us to build relationships with "others"? Why do we always say that doing this type of serving is out of our comfort zone? I feel like we treat it like it's only for certain brave and bold Christians with a certain skill set or spiritual gift. Shouldn't it be the norm for a Christian? Do people with great need remind us a little too much that we have great needs that only God can fufill?
We had a gal at church last Sunday share about her experience going on mission trips to Nicaragua (Thanks, Kathy, for allowing me to share your story!!). She said that she was a happy wife, mom, volunteer, and church member who was actively involved. She said yes to going on a trip to Nicaragua and was unsure if God could even use her in a strange and scary capacity like that. But she said that instead of it being outside her comfort zone...she felt like she had, for the first time in her whole life, FOUND her comfort zone. She could be used by God to help those in desperate need and she loved that! This just resonated with me. What is my true comfort zone? What have I accepted as my comfort zone that might be a poor substitute for my real comfort zone in Christ? Who is God placing in my path that I can get to know and meet his or her needs?
So I end with lots of questions. But definitely questions worth working through. There is not a person on this earth in all of time that Jesus wasn't willing to give his life for. While I usually find it easy to love those in the margins of society, I still tend to get hung up on who is "worthy" of my time, money, and my help. Everyone is worthy. Every one. I just need to stay off my high horse and cling desperately to God in order to clearly see my true comfort zone.
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