But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? 1 John 3:17
Sweat dripped off our bodies as we all jumped in the car, and I impatiently waited for the air condition to put me back to comfortable. I sat with my face nearly pressed to the dash allowing the air to blast at full speed. 98 degrees and I are not friends. Neither are 48 degrees and I. I get along best with about 72, but in North Carolina you pretty much go from winter to summer with only a few glorious weeks of spring in between.
Jacob and Zachary clambered into the back. “You know, that was more fun than if you had taken us to a movie and bought us popcorn, cokes, and candy.”
I waited for the “Yeah, right” but it never came. Turning from the arctic blast, I looked at Zachary. “Are you serious?”
“Yes, mom, I’m so serious.”
Then it was Jacob. “Yes! It was so awesome. I want to do it again. When can we?”
Those were not the responses we were expecting, but isn’t God good like that? It’s in those moments I wonder if He is saying, “Renee, trust me more with your time. Watch what I can do and grow if you give it to me.”
Time. That’s really what it comes down to. I want to serve more, but that time thing always seems to get in the way. Honestly, the time issue would have stopped us from feeding the homeless that day as well if Steve hadn’t encouraged us to intentionally take the time before the time took us. When he saw the opportunity to serve, he asked that I schedule the date and make it a priority. That meant we declined playing in a baseball tournament double header. That meant we didn’t attend the free festival in our neighborhood that our kids had been asking to attend. That meant I had to decline an invitation for lunch.
Time. I really don’t need more time, I just need to be intentional with the time I’m given. Isn’t summer a great time to refocus?
Given the choice to give money or time, many of us choose to give money. In the culture we live in, our time has become almost more valuable to us than our money. We are running frantic daily, we are squeezing in as much as we possibly can. When we see pockets of time, we want to guard it, hold it closely, protect it with everything in us. It’s the world we live in, but our model did the exact opposite. He gave it all away, including his very life.
If we want grateful kids, we train them to serve. If we want respectful kids, we train them to value others above themselves. Will this happen overnight? No. Will we see these traits daily in our kids? No. Parenting isn’t for the short-sighted. We parent hard daily to produce adults that love the Lord with all their heart and love others well. This takes time. It all comes back to time.
Several summers ago we began what we called Mission Mondays. You can read about it here. Mondays were reserved for serving others in various ways. Many of our mission projects, while wonderful in so many ways, were projects where we served from afar. We collected money through our hard work and sent it overseas. We created packages for homeless children and sent them away. We sponsored children in poverty stricken countries and sent gifts and letters. While these are vital, we could do them from a distance, we could feel good about what we did, we could remain in our comfortable world, and life for us went on.
I began to ponder something. The people I know who serve with everything they have to give, have a deep love for others. A love for others I wish I possessed. The people I know who love others well usually step right into their lives.
So I wonder if to truly love others deeply, do we need to enter into their world?
When we enter into the life of the poor, the orphan, the widow, the homeless, the needy, the sick, something else happens. We see into their eyes. We see the person created in God’s image. Sending a check or serving from a distance, we miss the eyes, we miss hearing a voice, we miss a story told firsthand. We can’t stop serving from a distance, but we can do both.
Last weekend we served with Bread of Life with other members of our church. Volunteers boxed up lunches, loaded a trailer, and we headed to a grocery store parking lot in downtown Charlotte. We opened up the doors, opened up the window, and within seconds the homeless and poor made their way for refreshment. We took Jacob and Zachary with us, and they were put on drink duty, which they took very seriously. Filling cups of lemonade and water as we prayed each individual would come to seek living water.
Before we passed out food, we gathered across the street in the parking lot of a restaurant, we joined hands, and we were led in prayer and worship by Freddie Powers of Keeping Hope Alive Ministries. Bread of Life goes to this area a few times a year, but apparently Freddie goes every Sunday. The homeless and poor in the area knew her. Someone was investing in these people who might otherwise be looked over all day long. Someone was telling them they are loved and cherished and they have value in the eyes of God- these people who feel devalued because of a society who can judge a person’s worth based on their surroundings. These people who live in a world most of us can’t imagine.
Afterwards, we served food, drinks, and Bibles. Volunteers prayed with each person who was willing. It was hot, so very, very hot. We are in a 2 week stretch of high 90’s reaching 100. All I could think is how these people who either lived on the streets or possibly in homes with no air this is their reality. These people who are dearly loved by God. I don’t understand the why’s of this world, but I do know that it isn’t simply because of my hard work that I’m not in the position they are in. It’s not that God favors me over them that I’m not living on the street. It’s not that their life holds less value than mine. No, but our society can be quick to say, “Well, I’ve worked hard for what I’ve received.” Yes, maybe, but the hardest work can sometimes turn upside down and inside out. What we do know, is the Lord loves the poor, and the Lord desires we serve the poor, and the Lord is near to them.
When the poor and needy seek water, and there is none, and their tongue is parched with thirst, I the Lord will answer them; I the God of Israel will not forsake them. Isaiah 41:17
You shall give to him freely, and your heart shall not be grudging when you give to him, because for this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake. For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.’ Deuteronomy 15:10-11
Later that night our family sat on the lawn in our small town listening to music, throwing a football with friends, eating food we had of plenty. It was just me and Jacob sitting there at the moment. He was quiet, looking off. I placed my salad on the blanket and watched him for a minute. “Hey, Jacob, are you ok?”
He looked back at me and smiled. “I’m fine. I’m just thinking.”
“Everything ok? Just thinking or worrying about something?”
“I’m just thinking about all those people we met today. That’s all.”
Me too. It’s hard not to think of them. Several of their faces continue to scroll through my mind. I see toothless smiles and grateful eyes. I see a mom’s face with her 2 daughters, all took a Bible and food, and I can’t stop praying they will come to know the Lord if they don’t yet. I think of the family that brought their 3 young children. Those sweet, precious, innocent eyes that met ours as they each said thank you. I see the man on the bike who told Steve he’d biked a great distance to come. I watched as he drank 2 cups of liquid in record time. I’ve thought back as well, my boy.
Entering into their world was a completely different experience for us. Seeing into their eyes, hearing their voices, it changes you. And you see Jesus. That’s it. That’s how we love more deeply in order to serve wholeheartedly. We see Jesus.
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