Ever heard someone lash out with the words “Religion is a crutch!” Most of us have heard it more than once. Many who say they have a faith in Christ get offended, or highly defensive, when they hear this popular criticism. They tend to argue about doctrines, scriptures, and beliefs in an attempt to convince others that their religion is anything but a crutch.
Well, hold on to your pantyhose. This Christ-follower fully agrees. Religion IS a crutch.
Now before you throw those blasphemy stones you’ve got clenched in your raised fists, read on….
A crutch is defined as: “anything that serves as a temporary and often inappropriate support, supplement, or substitute; a prop”
Perfectly defines religion. Temporary. Unable to truly support. A poor substitute. Something that props you up… which, by the way, when removed will trigger a fall.
The definition of religion is “the practice of religious beliefs and/or ritual observances of faith”.
In scripture, Christ and those who mechanically practiced religion were not fans of one another.
The religious measured others according to their index of proper acts, acceptable behaviors, respectable lifestyles, and appreciable knowledge. If one didn’t conform to their preconceived notions of tolerable conduct, the religious would judge them as unworthy, unfaithful, even deplorable.
Christ measured others according to His Father, Whose heart knew of every decent and scandalous act ahead of their committal. Whose eyes saw every righteous and unrighteous behavior before they came to pass. Whose ears heard every respectful and shameful word before they were spoken. Who knew the measure of every lifestyle, deemed successful or unsuccessful by the fellow man, prior to the first breath of life. Yet His Father continued to love them, understanding their humanity, yet knowing that He created them with incredible potential and giftings for good.
Christ demonstrated what true faith should resemble, and those who counted on religion were considered inferior and judged harshly by Him for their false teachings and man-centered standards.
Sadly this seems to have been forgotten today. Today it seems so many still boost themselves up by bracing their lives on pompous practices and spiritually-superficial rites.
Obeying a list of “holy behaviors” will prop one up on a self-righteous and ego-aggrandizing pedestal. The problem is that this narcissistic truss will only provide a deceiving facade of support. With the first stumble, or deviation from the tally of rights and wrongs – like an injured man whose crutch is yanked from under him on a slippery surface – the pseudo-holy foundation tumbles, taking the soul bound by religion with it.
Unfortunately, those who have allowed themselves to be crippled by the demanding and unrealistic checklist, tend to reach for that same list of do’s/dont’s – making excuses for their own fallings, and holding others hostage to their deformed expectations of virtue. They find a strange sort of comfort in their religious list.
After all, adhering to a series of hallowed intentions takes less faith and diligence than building a relationship that is truthfully spiritual and real. The rules, regulations, and human-ordained practices of religion are a poor substitute for living with an honest and faith-filled relationship with the agape loving, grace-permeated Christ.
Religion is a crutch. It is an inappropriate prop for the self-righteous. Religion provides a false sense of support and stability and is a temporary aid to bolster the ego. It is a weak, ugly, foolish crutch that Christ would snatch away in a second to prompt our reliance on Him instead of ritualistic nonsense.
Stand up. Allow Christ to strengthen you as you choose to follow Him… Listening for His voice, obeying His promptings, and walking – unaided by man-made rules of legalism – with Him. Drop the crutch.
Oh… and drop your stones now also, please and thank you.
Ever read a scripture passage that reached into your soul a grabbed hold with an iron grip as if to say “Pay attention to me! I have something for you!”?
This past week I was reading and came across a passage like this. When the women had gone to the tomb to anoint Jesus’ body, they encountered a man who told them “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell His disciples and Peter ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’” – Mark 16:6-7
Go and tell His disciples…. and Peter. In my mind this implied that Peter was being mentioned separately from the disciples possibly due to his sin of denying Christ 3x.
However, every Commentary that I read indicated otherwise. They all agreed that Peter was not be distinguished from the disciples, but instead was Peter was being singled out to assure that he was informed along with the other disciples… to guarantee that he was included in this report of Christ’s resurrection and His promise that He would come to them again.
Peter’s name was called out to make certain that he knew he was included in the invitation to meet with Christ once again.
I can only imagine how his heart must have skipped when his name was called. Such a mixture of excitement, anticipation, fear, and guilt. He had, after all, sworn and uttered curses as he denied even knowing who Christ was in the midst of the God-man’s most physically/emotionally demanding… potentially damaging… days on Earth. He had abandoned Christ. Turned his back on the Christ that he had walked with, talked with, ate with, slept beside, been taught by, and even been called by. Peter had refused to acknowledge the One Who had – with all patience and understanding – seen the potential in Peter’s strong-will, brash personality, and impulsivity.
Peter had sworn he knew no such man called “Christ”. Three. Scandalous. Times.
And yet, Peter was being called out by the same, Christ, and acknowledged as His in the presence of all the other disciples… who, most assuredly, knew of his shameful denials.
Scripture later records that Christ appeared to the disciples when they were fishing and John recognized Who was on the shore. And rather than waiting for the rest of the disciples to row there in their boat – for that would take to long – Peter jumped from the boat and began to swim to shore (is it any wonder with his impulsive nature?). He wanted to be in the presence of Jesus.
Christ waited until all the disciples were together and had shared a meal. He then called Peter’s name again. He singled him out once again in the presence of the others. Imagine… “Peter?”
Was He going to rebuke Peter for his sinful, slap in the face, spurning? Would he point out how Peter had denied Him and then, publicly, announce that he was no longer chosen to represent Christ? After all, how could he?
How could Christ, in all good conscience, allow Peter to represent Him and His cause knowing that Peter had stood before many and, cursing and swearing, joined in His ridicule and refused to acknowledge his relationship with Him ? How could the hand of God continue to anoint Peter’s life with such a blatant rejection? So many thoughts and emotions must have been leaving footprints on Peter’s mind and heart.
“Peter” “Yes, Lord?”
“Do you love me?”
Three times Christ asked if Peter loved Him. Scripture says that Peter was hurt because Christ asked him the third time. Could it have been another painful reminder of Peter’s 3 rebuffs?
“Lord, You know all things. You know that I love You”
And Christ, for the 3rd time, reaffirmed Peter’s calling to “feed My lambs”… to minister to those who are lost and hurting… to those who have no Shepherd.
“Lord, You know all things”…..
Indeed He does.
Christ knows all things. He knows that we are human. He knows that we make mistakes. He knows that we even, at times, reject or spurn His place in our life with our actions and/or words. He knows.
And yet, just like Peter, He continues to call out our name. He continues to let us know that if our heart is still trying to find Him through the dense fog of shame that can cloud our view of Him… if we are still seeking His light in the midst of our own mental and emotional darkness… if we are willing to jump out of the boat and “swim” towards Him – not waiting for things to be just right or others to come along with us… if our response is that pain-filled, guilt-ridden, cry of “Lord, you know all things. You KNOW that I love you”… then, in spite of our sin, He calls out our name and reminds us that we remain called, appointed, chosen, His.
Such marvelous Grace.
I’ve got it and I’ve got it bad.
No, it’s not split personality disorder. Not a sad case of the blues. I’m not madly in love with someone other than my husband… well, except for myself sometimes.
I’ve got a messiah complex. A ridiculously inaccurate messiah complex.
It’s my responsibility to save things and fix people. Every. Single. Day.
The world can’t survive without me. At least that seems to be what I subconsciously tell myself at times.
My students and co-workers will be lost if I take a day off. Things at church might not go smoothly if I miss a Sunday… or a leaders meeting. If I say no to an invitation with family it might upset things. My input is important in most any situation. My opinion valid. My perspective pretty awesome and accurate. My way, quite often, the most reasonable and practical – the wisest way.
See? I have placed myself on an imaginary pedestal without even realizing it. I unconsciously believe that I am the all-knowing, troubleshooter of the totality of what is wrong in life. The ever-wise moderator of relationships and conflicting conversations. The oracle who sees the errors of ways. The prophet who speaks the hard-hearing truth.
I have set myself in a high place in my own mind. I have assumed the position of savior of the world. … again.
There have been several times, in my life, when I have climbed up to this high and lofty mental place of honor. Times when I wouldn’t – couldn’t – say no for fear of the world stopping if I did so. Times when I had to be ever-present for everyone or things would forever be marred and scarred (at least in my own mind).
And each time I have gotten soundly, profoundly, and squarely, knocked off that pedestal and painfully back onto my reality-recognizing butt.
My mind, my emotions, my body, or all three at once, take control and say “enough is enough” and they forcefully set me off my feet and onto my kiester, or my back. This is where I am forced to recognize that the world will continue to spin – tasks will still be completed – life will go on – friends, family, loved ones, students, and co-workers will survive… and possibly even thrive – all without my influence or interference.
Although I do not believe God is the author of sickness, fatigue, breakdowns, or anything that is evil, I do believe that He allows us to crash and burn at times as a natural consequence of our own ignorance or sin. And when I have fanned both ends of the candle flame for an endless amount of time, and there is no light left in me because I have been an improper steward of the gifts/talents that He HAS given me, then He allows me to become as a scorched and melted puddle of wax.
At that point I have a choice. Refuse to acknowledge that I am not the end-all, be-all, messiah without which the world cannot flourish – and thus grow cold and hard as His glow extinguishes and I continue to believe I, alone, can save. Or remain pliable, willing to be reshaped and reused by submitting to the heat of His character-molding, mind-renewing fire and the blaze of His Spirit. Allowing myself to be ignited with the His love-shaped, grace-filled Zippo – recognizing that without Him I am nothing. And even with Him, I am simply a broken vessel of light that He has chosen to carry His spark… not to pervert His standing as Messiah and Savior of the world.
Scripture admonishes that man not think more highly of himself than he ought. Proverbs advises that pride goes before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall.
Me, Myself, and my Messiah complex struggle with this at times and forget. Ever been there?
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I’ve sat this evening and pondered on the God-given, mercy-motivated, heart-full-of-love induced, grace that has been offered to me… and to you. And I have wondered…
Where could I be? Where SHOULD I be? Where would I be without it?
I could still be neck deep in the mistake-laden quicksand that has been my past. Struggling and striving to pull myself out of the muck and mire, yet also wanting to let the depths swallow me as I give up the fight with the darkness.
I should be lying stripped and marred in the dust by the side of life’s fractured and fragmented highway. Ashamed to lift my head because of the bruises and violent handprints from the times that I’ve been beaten up by the enemy.
I would be still wounded, insecure, looking for an enemy, while plodding through the day-to-day. I would be barely able to stand from the weight of rejection and fear of the self-perceived ugliness in the mirror.
If I dwelt upon my coulda, shoulda, woulda’s, I could – realistically – reasonably – relinquish hope for a joyful, purposeful, impacting existance. There would be no shame or blame in pitching a tent and deciding to resign and retire from life… if my coulda, shoulda, woulda’s were all that there was in my earth-encumbered journey.
But for the grace of God.
The God of grace observed every mistake I would make, before I existed. He had prior knowledge of what a damaged, baggage carrying, woman I would become. He was fully aware of how hard and fast I would run away from Him because I was furious at the injustice of life, unreliability of human love, and the injurious nature of ministry. And yet He saw me as precious and worthy of Him.
His heart-borne, blood-spilled, love-filled, grace opens its gates and allows me to walk through – with my head held high in spite of where I’ve been – and rest in the meadows of His forgiveness and peace. He will repair the brokenness in my bones, and the winds of His breath will restore life to my soul. If I am willing, the rivers of His Spirit will soothe my wounds and then stir me to action with the gifts and talents that HE created within me – to lead others into this place of safety. This dwelling in peace.
This… GraceLand where He is King.
Such and amazing place of grace.
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. – Romans 5:1-2
Time to really show up for life and choose to grow up
Man up. Woman up. Pull your big girl panties up.
Rise up. Stand up. Go-on and lift your hands up
And say “I’m in”. “Here I am.
Ready to really be a man… or woman who is getting rid
of things that I did as a kid.
Like gossiping, back-stabbing, in-your-face ugly jabbing
calling names, putting down, pushing others to the ground
by elevating, lifting, raising my me-centered self
higher and higher upon a shelf
of arrogance and ego, pride and ‘follow me’ so
you can feel
lesser than, lower than, just a little slower than
I believe I am ’cause I’m the great I am
in my own eyes
When really I am nothing more than insecure and small.”
Maturity puts these things away and recognizes that every day
is one great opportunity to build, lift, uphold, and raise
another God-crafted human being emotionally,
mentally, give them a sense of dignity
instead of expecting them to measure up to
my self-serving standards that really do
have absolutely, positively, nothing to do with their true worth
M is for seeing, treating, viewing, greeting others with maturity.
It is Not. About. “Me”.
Ever been blindsided by anger from someone who has misconstrued or assumed something you’ve done or said? Unexpected, angry words hurl toward you like bullets in a drive-by, causing you to duck and cover internally in order to protect yourself. Or, your response could be as someone who has been wounded and scarred by life and abuse and so you retaliate, firing back your own volley of venom-filled verbosity while you defend your honor and pride.
Perhaps the warrior of words has been you. How many times have you been the violent instigator of your neighbor’s wounds because you mentally created scenarios of wrong-doing or imagined them aiming at target-shaped bull’s-eyes on your happiness or character? So you fire off a round of white hot insults and accusations, causing soul-trauma to the victim of your word weaponry.
Any of this sound familiar?
Most of us can identify with both. Although we’ve all, most likely, been the victim of someone’s harsh and sudden criticism or irritation, we’ve also all dealt our share of oral outrage. We’ve been both the casualty of a verbal violation and the trigger happy dispatcher of uttered ammunition – probably more than once – in our lifetimes.
Truth be told, it gives us satisfaction and gratification to get things off our chest… to spew our sarcasm or anger-laden speech all over someone else. We may even delight in the fact that our diatribe has suddenly stunned them into silence and our pride increases and ego inflates.
For some, that feeling of superior euphoria is short-lived. There is recognition that the momentary verbose vindication deflated the spirit of another God-imagined, hand-crafted masterpiece. The light has been extinguished from their eyes. Their soul is wounded. Auditory arrows have been shot into their hearts and it grieves to the core.
For others, the personal pleasure and pride continues to grow. There is refusal to admit any wrong. Dialectical damage is ignored and the journey goes on, one day at a time, leaving bruised and battered beings in the dust… behind… where they cannot be seen.
Time to put the big girl panties, or the big boy drawers, on.
Time to own it. Own the fact that we do, at times, allow ourselves to be used as tools of the enemy. Time for all of us to stop playing the marred martyr and instead man – or woman – up. Take responsibility for our own words. Admit that we have not, will not, choose to control our tongues when we are offended or anticipating attack… no matter how figmental that attack may be. Confess that we, at times, put our own need for one-upmanship over relationships and recognition of God-value in every human being.
After owning our sinful, spiteful, hateful motivations behind our agitated outbursts – and asking the God who created our targets for forgiveness – we owe a heart-felt, care-filled apology to those we’ve wounded. They deserve to have their dignity restored as we humble ourselves and acknowledge our vainglorious frenzy. No excuses. No justification-filled reasoning. No lengthy dissertations. Excessive words marked the genesis of this injured exchange. So keep it simple. Make an offering of a few honest, authentic, apologetic words. This primes us, and those around us, for maturity – and allows opportunity for restoration and healing in the souls of all involved.
19 Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. 20 Human anger does not produce the righteousness God desires….26 If you claim to be religious but don’t control your tongue, you are fooling yourself, and your religion is worthless. – James 1:19-20, 26
7 People can tame all kinds of animals, birds, reptiles, and fish, 8 but no one can tame the tongue. It is restless and evil, full of deadly poison. 9 Sometimes it praises our Lord and Father, and sometimes it curses those who have been made in the image of God. 10 …Surely, my brothers and sisters, this is not right!….17 But the wisdom from above is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and good deeds. It shows no favoritism and is always sincere. 18 And those who are peacemakers will plant seeds of peace and reap a harvest of righteousness. – James 3:7-18
A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. – Proverbs 15:1
Hey Christ-follower, Ever found yourself in that in-between place where you’re not sure if the church you attend is the church where you belong?
Due to family situations, employment positions, or ministry transitions I’ve found myself swirling in the gap of longing for belonging more than once. I have also been at the place of questioning whether the church body where I have been attending is the right place for myself and/or my family. With all of the life-altering dispositions, changing conditions, impositions, and re-positions I have found myself at both of these places more than once in the last quite-a-few years.
I remember lamenting to my counselor about my self-imposed frustrations with not trusting church leadership, feeling ignored and unappreciated as a divorced female called to ministry, and carrying around the baggage filled with my hurts imposed by “church people”. My counselor listened patiently and then asked a dang good question.
She asked me if I had ever considered what my “absolutes” were. What must the church absolutely do – according to my values, morals, beliefs, and convictions? What must the church absolutely NOT do – according to the same? And then her encouragement was that the in-betweens shouldn’t swing the pendulum towards belongingor not. An impacting question followed by some needed, and balanced, exhortation.
Recently my soul and emotions have been, again, filled with that flustery feeling of restlessness with regards to life and ministry. It seems that the daylight occupation and crisis situations have demanded so much time and attention of late that life has resembled a breathless trek in a hamster wheel so much more than a meaningful journey of influence and inspiration. For me, my friends, this is not what I was created for (In fact, this is not what any of us were created for). And so, my frustration factor has increased along with my cries of “I was made for more!”
Consequently and habitually, as I have become more unsettled in my soul, I have found myself turning my dissatisfaction towards the church. Although my co-workers have long-sensed my turmoil with purposeless days, I realized I have been turning a more critical, sometimes untrusting, eye towards my community of Christ-following comrades. After all, it’s an easier target for uneasiness and boredom than the salaried situation that supportsmy family, lifestyle, and penchant for giving “just because”.
Within the last couple of weeks I have come to several realizations based on reviewing my counselor’s questions, conversation with God, and self-examination and ego-busting.
1. I absolutely, positively, was made for more than what my life looks like at this moment. However, in order to get to that “more” requires less… and more Less time focused on the mundane and mind-numbing. Less money spent on things that are pretty yet purposeless. Less energy given to emotional emergencies and perturbing pressures. More time spent on the meaningful and missional. More money focused on projects of principal. More energy invested in inspiring and engaging adventures. I WAS made for more. But making excuses for why life is less, instead of changing little things that can accomplish more, is a cop-out way of not being – doing – impacting – more.
2. Those in my community of believers are not my enemies. Nor are they my several-faced frenemies. They are friends. Associates. Companions. And, most importantly, my mission mates. Withhearts growing in God, there are few evil-hearted agents attempting to subvert the Body of Christ. So very few vicious villains with motives to distract and deter those far from the Father. Considering my Crossroads comrades, I cannot convincingly contend that they do not wish to heal the hearts of the hurting or introduce others to the Lover Of Their Soul as passionately as I do.
These are not my enemies. There is only one enemy of faith and community and he has no power where it is not given.
3. When I waver in my position and am constantly looking for reasons to question my “wheres”, I am a “double-minded man (human)…unstable in all my ways”. I cannot learn contentment. I will not grow in stability and strength. I am unable to make a significant impact in the lives of others when I am earnestly scoping for greener grass. I am uncommitted. If I do not plant my feet and allow God to grow and increase my gifts and influence, If I do not go “all in”, then not only will my rewards be few – but my leadership leverage decreases, and my personal potential and purpose can’t produce fruit… for I have no roots.
So I’ve committed. I’ve put on my cement shoes and I’m jumping in the water to be fully submerged in His Spirit and the sea of congregational intimacy for at least a year. And with the plantingof my feet has come peace. Contentment. Roots.
Will I ever be satisfied with my level of influence and leadership? I hope not. I hope that I continue to maintain that I was made for more, for this is a motivator to movement. However, I must learn to be patient and content with where God has allowed me to be in order to grow and learn. THIS is what will enable me to do, live, BE more.
For those who may wonder about my absolutes, they are as follows:
- The church must teach relationship with the heart and character of God – not the rules and regulations of man
- It must not twist scripture to prove man’s point – but instead teach scripture in a contextually accurate manner
- The church must show a heart for the hurting and seekers of truth
- It must accept and welcome my unique and eccentric family
- The church must extend grace and allow for all walks of life to be introduced to the unconditional, unfathomable love of Christ
- It must foster community, authenticity, and honest accountability
- And finally, the church must encourage the development and use of individual gifts and wirings of its members
We all do it now and then.
We all get frustrated with the dishonesty from those who believe they are of good character, yet they twist and turn scripture, words, and situations, to cover their behinds or advance their own selves. They do this all while standing proudly beating their chest and giving credit for their character, or lack thereof, to God. The reason? Raw, unchecked, furious emotion.
Jumping into a venture with both feet due to heightened emotions is unwise. It causes mistakes to be made, impulsive decisions to go bad, and dishonest excuses to be given in order to hide the fact that feelings were the source of these things instead of the Spirit of God.
Whether building a business, a ministry, or a relationship – if the foundation consists of a mix of emotion, dishonesty, and pride – it will, at some point, crumble and leave others damaged beneath the rubble. This doesn’t change simply because we are children of God. Actually, the cost – and repercussions – become greater when we bring Christ and His body into things.
The issue isn’t having emotions, God created us as emotional beings. The issue is when we look at a person or situation and our heart strings are pulled, so we take action – giving no consideration to how this action may affect others not directly related to the immediate face/circumstance before us. We move swiftly as if our intervention is the only thing that can possibly change things (which makes us greater than God in our self-serving eyes). Or we assume that, because our emotions are so heightened, there’s no way our decisions could be wrong – and those who don’t agree, or don’t follow our examples in word and deed – they are the ones that are wrong… they’re VERY wrong.
We step from the emotional ambulance or fire vehicle, onto a platform of ego and arrogance. And as we pile excuses, dishonesty, and pompous “words of wisdom and spirit” one upon the other, our prideful pedestal grows higher and higher.
Tall, self-glorifying props are difficult to step off. It requires the humility to admit that we’ve allowed things to become unstable due to our own emotional recklessness. It demands the willingness to admit wrong and stop using God as an excuse for why things aren’t as we said they would be. Stepping off needs help. Unemotional. Practical. Wise. Spirit-led. Help.
God the Father is ready to lead and teach us how to follow Him and not be dragged along by the leash of emotions. His Spirit waits for us to allow Him to take HIS place as The Rescuer, the “Need-Meeter”, the Wise Guide in our lives so that we can be effective servants and representatives of Him – in every area of our lives – instead of self-aggrandizing emotional callouses on the Body of Christ.
Step off the Emotions and Ego. Step into His Spirit and Leading. The greater glory comes from Him.
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.