Perhaps it may be possible
to change the world
Rearrange the world
Accomplish absolute upheaval
exchangin Good for selfish evil
by extendin’ out a life-worn hand
to that grace-scattered
beaten, broken, bruised and shattered
cold-hearted shell of a man
In this age of me and mine
If it feels good do it ne’er mind
how it relates to thee and thine
Buy it, steal it
Take it, fake it
Lie your way out
just to make it
obvious that there’s not a care
‘cept for the only one that’s there
in the mirror
through glassy, empty, soul-less eyes
that’ll do most anything to grasp the prize
of recognition, affirmation,
man’s applause and commendation
sacrificing character for that
I am, quite often, asked what the Christ-like response should be when approached by someone asking for money. I’m asked because my profession by day involves working with homeless and/or financially unstable individuals. My response to these things tends to often disagree with the typical “social worker” view, settled into the heart by book knowledge and sometimes hardened by years of experience.
Let’s take the scenario where we encounter men/women standing at the busy intersections, with signs asking for money, waiting for vehicles to be forced to stop at the light or sign. There are typically 2 diametrically opposed responses for the driver seeing someone “begging for alms”. The first: <rolling up the window and looking straight ahead as if they won’t see> “Don’t give them any money. They’ll spend it on alcohol or drugs.” or “I don’t have any money. This feels awkward.” The second: <rolling down the window. clink. clink.> “Have a nice day.” <driving on, feeling accomplished/rewarded>.
Neither is a wrong… or right… response. Neither can be fairly judged by someone else as proper or improper. The reason for this is that one cannot judge the motive of the heart except the driver themselves.
However, let’s look at how the apostles responded in a parallel situation.
Acts 3:1-10 Now Peter and John were going up into the temple at the hour of prayer, being the ninth hour. 2 And a certain man that was lame from his mother’s womb was carried, whom they laid daily at the door of the temple which is called Beautiful, to ask alms of them that entered into the temple; 3 who seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple, asked to receive an alms. 4 And Peter, fastening his eyes upon him, with John, said, Look on us. 5 And he gave heed unto them, expecting to receive something from them. 6 But Peter said, Silver and gold have I none; but what I have, that give I thee. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk. 7 And he took him by the right hand, and raised him up: and immediately his feet and his ankle-bones received strength. 8 And leaping up, he stood, and began to walk; and he entered with them into the temple, walking, and leaping, and praising God. 9 And all the people saw him walking and praising God: 10 and they took knowledge of him, that it was he that sat for alms at the Beautiful Gate of the temple; and they were filled with wonder and amazement at that which had happened unto him.
When the apostles were going into the temple they were confronted by a man who, daily, sat outside the gates and begged for money. Peter looked at the man and John told the man to look up – to look at them… to make eye contact with them. Requiring eye contact, or making eye contact with someone in this type of situation, is to show them respect. To give them dignity. So the apostles’ first response was to treat the man with respect and dignify his worth as one created by God, their Father.
Scripture says that the man looked back at them expecting for them to give him money. But Peter said “I don’t have any silver or gold. However, what I do have I will give you. In the name of Jesus Christ, walk”. And the man’s legs were healed and he ran, jumping and leaping, with the disciples into the temple – all while thanking and praising God.
When Peter looked at the man scripture says that he “fastened his eyes upon the man”. Peter looked intently at the man and his eyes gripped the man. Peter didn’t see a man who needed money although that was what the man had spent most of his life begging for. For years the man had begged for something that he could see, touch, feel. Something that he could believe in…alms. Something that he could use, temporarily, to meet an immediate need. This is what had assisted the man with his survival for years. Begging for and receiving money from people who felt sorry for him and took pity on him.
But Peter was looking beyond the beggar. He looked beyond the request for money. He saw past the band-aid that would temporarily cover a gaping wound in the man’s life. Peter saw the true wound. The true need. The root cause of the man’s true poverty. Peter saw a disabled man with a wounded soul. And THIS is what Peter responded to. Out of felt compassion for the man, Peter and John looked deeply at the man and recognized that giving him money would not, ultimately, help the man. He’d been receiving money for years – yet was still crippled, was still begging, was still broken. And so Peter offered him, instead, hope and healing.
Back to our response. I can’t tell anyone how to respond to someone who they see asking for money. One’s response to these situations is, entirely, between them and their God. However, based on the apostles’ response, I can offer these words…
Outside of all else our heart should be moved with compassion for the one who is beaten down and broken in such a way that they must rely on others, or “the system”, to meet their temporal needs. The Spirit of God on the inside of us should be pained when one of God’s masterpieces finds themselves in a situation where “begging for alms” is how they have come to survive. Our first response should be compassion. Our motivation, whatever our response, MUST be compassion when we see one who is broken and “poor” in spirit. (Luke 10:29-37)
Then, our response must be coupled with wisdom and discernment from the Father. Like the man at the Gate Beautiful, quite often the true need has nothing to do with giving alms or money. We may be approached by one who may, indeed, have an immediate need for sustenance of some kind. If we have the ability to meet this need – whether we offer alms or not – that is between ourselves and God alone. However, the question begs to be asked. Will giving money satisfy our own immediate need for justification and self-satisfaction? Will giving money ultimately help? Or will it add to the band-aids that have been applied by so many before us, to poorly cover a much deeper wound?
If we, as Christ-followers, simply apply band-aids by giving money to everyone who appears to need it, are we following the example of Christ and His apostles? Jesus, Himself, encountered people with immediate, “felt” needs constantly. He met their needs, however then He shared hope with them… and CHALLENGED them to live life, to do life, differently. (Note: there are no accounts of Jesus giving money to meet an immediate need, but instead healing of all disease, delivering from oppression, etc.) Even when Christ fed the 3,000 and the 5,000 it was to provide sustenance in order that they could continue to receive His teachings after a long day.
In the story of Peter and John, they reached beyond money and alms into the real, soul and spirit needs of the man. They offered more than a gift of money, but a gift of healing, restoration, and hope. Not only could the man walk after receiving the true gift that Peter and John offered, but he ran, danced, rejoiced, and celebrated. From a beaten and broken man with wounded pride, unable to lift his eyes to a smiling, leaping, whooping and hollering individual who infected other people with his joy. All because Peter and John saw beyond the immediate, temporal, perceived need and responded with respect and dignity, true compassion, and wisdom.
For the person who has adjusted to living life relying on the generous – or guilt-ridden – gifts of others, money may seem to be what will solve their problems. Money, or alms, may seem to be what they need most. It may seem to be what will satisfy their “felt need”. However, if we fasten our eyes upon them, and our heart is moved with compassion and wisdom from our Father, then we will recognize that this is a superficial fix to a deeper need. Our giving will not just be about handing out a few dollars. We will go beyond money and we will remove the band-aids to address the oozing, gaping wound that is the root cause of their poverty. We will offer them dignity. We will restore their pride. We will offer the hope that is in us, addressing the deeper need, and a extend a hand with a challenge to do differently and “rise up and walk”… willing to walk beside them when the challenge is accepted.
I HATE the phrase “Everything happens for a reason” – especially when it is used to placate others in tragic, or difficult, situations.
No, there is not “REASON” for everything that happens.
However, THE reason that tragic/difficult/evil things happen is because we live in a world that is the target of the enemy of God…
A world where political courtesy
has taken the place of right and moral fidelity…
Where saying “the right thing” for approval and status
has taken the place of DOING the right thing because the other person matters…
It’s a time when popularity, fame, and prosperity,
trump character, honesty, and integrity…
where Jerry Springer, Judge Judy, and Maury
capture fascinations while humanity scorns a righteous man’s story…
So yes, there’s a “reason” for all that happens. For every tragedy, every disaster. Every bad, sad, mad thing that’s occurred.
Simply put, we live in an immoral and corrupt world.
A world where faulty women and men ruled by selfish ambitions
put themselves on a pedestal over God and fellow humans.
Now, don’t get it twisted. Don’t make a mistake. Don’t under-estimate it.
The God of the Universe can take any situation, that is entrusted to Him –
given to Him,
and work in and with it.
He can “IN all things…work for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose”. He can.
He will. Yet this doesn’t mean that He causes all things that happen to man.
He ALLOWS us to make choices. To exercise our will. To DO as we like.
We seem to forget that there are natural consequences to every choice that we make.
Perhaps instead of casually stating “everything happens for a reason”, one should stop
Perhaps, just perhaps,
the continuing deterioration of morality –
the slap on the wrist for blatant criminality –
the open acceptance of crass and obscene behaviors and words –
or the fascination with the violent, the ridiculous, the shocking, and the absurd –
could be “the reason”…
And along with that REASONable conjecture
stop and think what part YOU play in this juncture.
Self-examination and growth is much more fruitful and mature than placation.
Suitcases opened all around with clothes strewn about as if the bags had been carelessly dropped and everything had tumbled out. Clean and soiled mixed together. Wrinkled blouses and useless jackets. Ripped jeans and hemless skirts. Dirty unmentionables and odiferous socks. Mismatched Shoes. And in the midst of the mess I sat.
Unmoving. Unused. Seemingly abandoned. Void in heart.
I seemed to fit right in with the disarray that surrounded me.
Numb. Disheveled. Confused.
Legs splayed. Arms limp. Head hanging down in exhaustion and “give up”. My mind was the only thing that was moving. Rather, racing. Ever replaying mistakes and failures, words of ridiculers and critics, and images of the past.
After resting idle so long amidst the untidiness that had become my life, struggling to my feet began to seem impossible. Picking up the clutter and discarding the stained garments such an overwhelming task when thoughts echoed reruns of blame and shame day and night, casting a fog over my understanding.
And so I sat. And sat some more.
Until that still small voice that had persistently spoken from the beginning finally was heard. The whisper of goodness penetrated through the clamor of condemnation. And as my mind honed in on the words of grace, the winds of the spirit began to blow and the cloudiness began to inch away. Clarity returned… accompanied by power… and a different kind of replay resounding between my ears.
The reminder of God’s unmerited favor, His immeasurable grace, and His irrevocable call seized my attention and gave strength to my soul and soundness to my bones. And so I stood. Determined to cease the lazy-mindedness that allowed past mistakes to stun me to stagnancy. To render me immobile.
I stood and looked long and hard at the baggage around me. At the chaos I’d created, and hadn’t known how to restore to order.
I took a deep refreshing breath from His Spirit. And then I began to do away with the jumbled mess…
One soiled item at a time.
One of my best friend’s house burned this past weekend. The fire started in the rear bedroom and burned so hot that it collapsed the floor and burned everything in the basement. In the basement had been stored boxes of books that belonged to me…and books are one of the things that I absolutely treasure.
I have learned so many things from reading. In reading a book I can go places in my mind that my body may never be able to travel. Words paint pictures in my mind. I “feel” the heart of the writer when I read. And God shows me so many things – beyond the written words – in even “every day, ordinary” books… I absorb those things into my heart like a dry sponge. Words, especially written, are one of the things that speaks to the very depths of my soul. So books are a treasure to me. And now most of them were gone. Lost in a pile of charred rubble.
I went with my friend to see her home after the fire. As we stood outside and looked down through that bedroom window into what was left of the basement below, lying on top of the blackness – outside of the pools of black water – was one of the most important books in my life Heart of the Artist. It’s a book about creativity and the heart of God, worship versus performance, servanthood versus stardom, accountability, and how God can use the heart of the artist to reach into others’ souls and touch even the very deepest and darkest places with His love and His light. And there it was. It’s full-color cover was still intact and it stood out to me in the midst of the darkness surrounding it. And God spoke to me, about my life, through that image…
In the last several years, the things that had brought me feelings of security, those things that I had considered stable in my life, had collapsed. Things that had been comfortable and safe were gone. Things that I had invested my life in were no longer there. All had been lost in the rubble of a world that had fallen down all around me, charred from the fires of conflict and anger, seemingly destroyed.
And for the last several years I’ve cried… watering the rubble that was my life with my tears. Tears of shame for the marriage that I had lost. Tears of guilt for the failure that I had become to my children – not living a life that I was willing for them to follow. Tears of grief for the ministry that I loved passionately, and was no longer able to do… no longer “fit” for in my mind. So many tears in the last few years. So many days and nights weeping for things that I had lost hope of ever being restored. Unable to forgive myself. Unable to recover, rebuild, or even heal in some of the wounded places of my heart and soul.
Yet as I wept I yearned for that closeness with God again. I longed to sense Him. To feel His touch. To KNOW that He was still there. That He still heard. That He still loved. (Knowing this with regards to others was easy, but accepting it for myself – one of the impossible things in my own mind). I ached for some kind of confirmation that I was still “worth-it” to Him… that His gifts and callings – in my life – were without repentance… that my heart was still His and His hand was still on my life to minister to others – to use those creative passions in my own heart to touch the hearts of others. This has been my painful journey for the last 5 years. Tears of black water over a life of rubble.
Then today I see, untouched, The Heart of the Artist in the midst of a pile of crumbled, charred, tattered debris.
And although my heart is not untouched by the destruction in my life, God showed me – through this simple image – that my heart is still His. It can be restored. “Full-color” creativity can be uncovered and recovered by Him. My gifts and talents are still intact and He still sees me worthy to carry those gifts.
I am humbled by the reminder that in the midst of the rubble that has been my life of late, God can still use the heart of this artist to reach into – and touch – the hearts and souls of others with His love and his light.