Two of my favorite fiction writers, Danielle Steel and John Grisham, have written on the subject of homelessness. Danielle Steel wrote, “A Gift of Hope: Helping the Homeless,” published in 2012, which is a non-fiction book about her eleven years of working with the homeless on the streets of San Francisco. A brief introduction to her book states:
For eleven years, Danielle Steel took to the streets with a small team to help the homeless of San Francisco. She worked anonymously, visiting the “cribs” of the city’s most vulnerable citizens under cover of darkness, distributing food, clothing, bedding, tools, and toiletries. She sought no publicity for her efforts and remained anonymous throughout. Now she is speaking to bring attention to their plight.
In this unflinchingly honest and deeply moving memoir, the famously private author speaks out publicly for the first time about her work among the most desperate members of our society. She offers achingly acute portraits of the people she met along the way—and issues a heartfelt call for more effective action to aid this vast, deprived population. Determined to supply the homeless with the basic necessities to keep them alive, she ends up giving them something far more powerful: a voice. (Quote source here.)
John Grisham wrote a novel, “The Street Lawyer,” published in 1998, where his main character, a lawyer named Michael Brock, is thrown into the world of the homeless that includes clear descriptions of what that world looks like and it should make anyone with a conscience cringe. A brief introduction to his book states:
Michael was in a hurry. He was scrambling up the ladder at Drake & Sweeney, a giant D.C. law firm with eight hundred lawyers. The money was good and getting better; a partnership was three years away. He was a rising star with no time to waste, no time to stop, no time to toss a few coins into the cups of panhandlers. No time for a conscience.
But a violent encounter with a homeless man stopped him cold. Michael survived; his assailant did not. Who was this man? Michael did some digging, and learned that he was a mentally ill veteran who’d been in and out of shelters for many years. Then Michael dug a little deeper, and found a dirty secret, and the secret involved Drake & Sweeney. (Quote source here.)
Add to these two books a third book that I found on a bargain book shelf titled, “Walk in Their Shoes: Can One Person Change the World?” (2013), written by Jim Ziolkowski, founder of buildOn, a nonprofit organization he started to break the cycle of poverty, illiteracy, and low expectations through service and education, and James S. Hirsch, a bestselling author who has written on race, sports, and the human drama behind topics ranging from the military to medicine. The inside front cover of the book states:
The story of real change can start with one person.
Twenty-one years ago, Jim Ziolzowski gave up a fast-track career in corporate finance to dedicate his life to buildOn, an organization that turns inner-city teens into community leaders at home and abroad. He set out to show not that he could change the world, but how each one of us can–through the power of service to others.
Today, buildOn students have contributed more than 1.2 million hours of service, from Detroit and the South Bronx to Haiti, Mali, and Nepal, while building more than five hundred fifty schools worldwide. Together, they are breaking the cycle of poverty, illiteracy, and low expectations in their own lives and transforming their communities.
An international chronicle of faith and the boundless potential of the human spirit, Walk in Their Shoes tells the story of Jim’s movement and the thousands of young people who have decided to step forward, step up, and make a difference. (Quote from inside front cover.)
Homelessness . . . it’s a topic most of us want to ignore, yet it is an ever growing problem across our nation and the world. In an article titled, “Do You Ignore Homeless People?”, written by Alyssa Figueroa and published on AlterNet on January 29, 2013, our own perceptions and the inability of people to identify with the homeless are the primary reasons behind why most of us ignore the homeless. In a statement in the article by Paul Boden, “who was once homeless for several years, and is now the organizing director for the Western Regional Advocacy Project, which works to expose and eliminate the root causes of poverty and homelessness” (quote source here), he states:
We have demonized homeless people so much over the last 30 years that passersby don’t think they can ever end up on the street because they’re not crazy, they’re not drug addicted, they’re not alcoholics and they’re not stupid. (Quote source here.)
The article is both eye-opening and shocking. Boden also stated in the article:
An overwhelming majority of people that walk past panhandlers ignore them or say something rude or look at them like they’re scum. And then you get a couple people that feel empathy to it and give. And then you get other people that, at the very least, look them in the eye and say, ‘Sorry dude, I can’t do it today.
The article also states that one of the obvious reasons people react differently to panhandlers is their varying perceptions of homeless people:
“People have these attitudes — that they’re lazy, that they deserve what they get, they haven’t worked hard, they’re just looking for a handout. … and people with these attitudes lack compassion,” said Paul Toro, a psychology professor at Wayne State University who studies the public’s perception of poverty and homelessness.
In his research, Toro found that compared to other countries, people who live in countries like the United States and the United Kingdom that have more capitalistic economies and offer fewer social services, are more likely to believe personal failings are the primary cause of homelessness and feel less compassion for homeless people. Meanwhile, these countries have higher rates of homelessness than, for example, Germany, where there is a guaranteed minimum income, more generous unemployment benefits and more rigorous tenants’ rights.
Still, Toro said, the majority of people in the United States have compassion for the homeless.
“There is no compassion fatigue like there was in the media for awhile,” he said. “The media has compassion fatigue starting in the ’90s, and then their interest in homelessness gets kind of leveled off, but the public hasn’t.”
Toro also found in his research that most people — about 60 percent — state they are even willing to pay more taxes to help homeless people. (Quote source here.)
Still, most people pass by the homeless and look the other way when they encounter them. Ambiguity is part of it–from people who don’t believe they could ever end up like that (e.g., homeless) to those who are all-too-aware that it could happen to them and they just want to ignore the issue. Regarding the latter, the article stated, “nearly 40 percent of Americans live paycheck to paycheck, and thus can be homeless in a matter of months if laid off.”
Homelessness in America is a “revolving-door” crisis. Many people exit homelessness quickly, but many more individuals become homeless every day. During a given year’s, four or five times as many people experience homelessness as are homeless on any particular day. On any given day, at least 800,000 people are homeless in the United States, including about 200,000 children in homeless families. Calculations from different sources show that at least 2.3 million people experienced homelessness at some time during an average year. Because more families with children than unpartnered people enter and leave homelessness during a year, families represent a relatively large share of the annual population. As a result, during a typical year, between 900,000 and 1.4 million children are homeless with their families. (Quote source here.)
According to Urban Street Angels, a volunteer-driven, non-profit organization that provides care to the homeless community in San Diego, the number of homeless people in the United States by age breaks down as follows: Under 18: 23.5%; 18-24: 10.1%, and 25+: 66.4% (Source: U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, 2014 Annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR) to Congress (October 2014). Of that number, 17% of the total homeless population are military veterans (source here). The Disabled Veterans National Foundation states that “The vast majority of homeless veterans (96%) are single males from poor, disadvantaged communities. Homeless veterans have served in World War II, Korean War, Cold War, Vietnam War, Grenada, Panama, Lebanon, Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan), Operation Iraqi Freedom, and the military’s anti-drug cultivation efforts in South America” (quote source here.)
As if this news is not shocking enough, enter into it the growing criminalization of the homeless that is happening in various cities around America. In a July 18, 2014 article published in Al Jazeera America titled, “The Growing Criminalization of the Homeless,” the author, Aaron Cantú, states the following:
As the number of homeless people in America’s major cities has increased, so have ordinances criminalizing homelessness and pushing homeless families and individuals into the criminal justice system. Criminalization has become a tactic with which politicians have reconfigured cities to serve wealthier citizens and tourists, at the considerable expense of the poor. These politicians are rarely challenged, and developers, businesses and city officials have partnered with police and private security forces to “cleanse” urban spaces by any means necessary.
A new report from the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty found the number of cities imposing penalties for camping, begging, sleeping, sitting or eating in public has risen sharply in the last two years. There are now laws against feeding the homeless in over 50 cities. Ordinances prohibiting sleeping in cars — specifically targeted at the destitute — have more than doubled nationwide since 2011. In Denver the City Council passed a controversial “urban camping ban” in 2012 to clear space for the continued development of its downtown into a “millennial playground,” complete with nightclubs, restaurants and a miniature-golf course. Honolulu’s mayor told The New York Times he had renewed a crackdown on the homeless because tourists “want to see their paradise … [not] homeless people sleeping.” And Phoenix announced the creation of “a new organization focused on downtown’s revitalization,” while at the same time launching an initiative to arrest street people with misdemeanor warrants.
This crackdown is happening without equally forceful measures to develop the nation’s supply of affordable housing, which has fallen by 12.8 percent since 2001 because of fewer subsidies for federal housing. The U.N. Human Rights Committee even condemned the trend as “cruel, inhuman, [and] degrading” in a recent report on the United States.
What’s behind these cruel laws? USA Today suggested that the trend toward criminalization was a result of “compassion fatigue,” a gradual receding of empathy for the poor. But there’s a more practical reason for it: As recession- and austerity-battered cities look for ways to revive their economies, they’re offering huge tax incentives for companies to build entertainment complexes, hotels and retail chains in their downtown districts in the hopes that the relocation will spur a renaissance. Statutes criminalizing homelessness have been outfitted specifically to clear out these areas. The New Yorker called this process “Manhattanization,” defined as “turning a city into a playground for the wealthiest inhabitants, even as [the city] forgets about the poorest.”
An interesting item found further down in the article was this rather telling fact:
Utah began giving away apartments to homeless individuals after realizing how much money could be saved. Policymakers realized that, on average, it costs about $16,670 a year to jail a person and $11,000 a year to set him or her up with an apartment and social work. Since a program called Housing First was launched in 2006, homelessness in Utah has decreased 78 percent, despite a recession-fueled plunge in median income. The state estimates that all Utahans will be housed by next year. (Quote source here.)
Imagine if the other 49 states in America would only follow their example. . . .
As a Christian, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention what the Bible and Jesus have to say about caring for the poor among us. GotQuestions.org makes the following statement about what our commitment to the poor should be:
There is no doubt that poverty’s reach is both widespread and devastating today. God’s people cannot be indifferent toward those in need, because His expectations for us in regard to taking care of His poor are woven throughout the entirety of Scripture. For example, look at the Lord’s words about the goodness of King Josiah in Jeremiah 22:16: “He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well. Is that not what it means to know me, declares the LORD?” And Moses instructed his people how to treat the poor and needy: “Give generously to [them] and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the LORD your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to” (Deuteronomy 15:10). This sentiment is perfectly captured in Proverbs 14:31: “Whoever is kind to the needy honors God.”
Conversely, there is another part to this verse: “He who oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker.” Proverbs is, in fact, filled with Scripture clearly showing that God loves the poor and is offended when His children neglect them (Proverbs 11:4; 17:5; 19:17; 22:2, 9, 16, 22–23; 28:8; 29:7; 31:8–9). The consequences for ignoring the plight of the poor are also made clear in Proverbs: “If a man shuts his ears to the cry of the poor, he too will cry out and not be answered” (Proverbs 21:13). And note the strong language in Proverbs 28:27: “He who closes his eyes to [the poor] receives many curses.” Among the many sins of Sodom described in Genesis 19, her people were “arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy” (Ezekiel 16:49).
The New Testament is equally clear as to how we are to take care of the poor. One verse that nicely summarizes our expected charity is found in the first Epistle of John: “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with action and in truth” (1 John 3:17–18). Equally important is Matthew 25:31–46. Now, this judgment precedes Christ’s millennial reign and is often referred to as the “judgment of nations,” in which those assembled before Christ will be divided into two groups—the sheep on His right side and the goats on His left. Those on the left will be sent to the “eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (v. 41), whereas those on the right will receive their eternal inheritance (v.34). Noteworthy, however, is the language Christ uses in addressing these separated groups. The sheep are basically commended for taking care of the poor, the sick, the imprisoned, and the vulnerable. The goats, on the other hand, are chastised for their lack of concern and action toward them. When the righteous ask Him when they did these things, Christ responds by saying, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.”
Now, we are not to misconstrue this as meaning the good works of the sheep factored into their gaining salvation; rather, these good works were the “fruit” or evidence of their having been saved by grace (Ephesians 2:8–10), further evidencing that a commitment to Christ will indeed be accompanied by undeniable evidence of a transformed life. Remember, we were created to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do, and the “good works” Christ speaks of in Matthew 25 included taking care of the poor and suffering.
Now, with all of these scriptural truths in mind, we are to obey them and act on them, because “faith without works is dead” (James 2:26). As James stated, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says” (James 1:22). Similarly, John said, “The man who says, ‘I know Him,’ but does not do what He commands is a liar and the truth is not in him. . . . Whoever claims to live in Him must walk as Jesus did” (1 John 2:4, 6). And the words of Christ Himself: “If you love me, you will obey what I command” (John 14:15).
Jesus commanded us to love one another (John 13:34–35). And what better way to demonstrate the love and kindness and compassion of Jesus Christ than by reaching out to the “least of these” among us? (Quote source here.)
So let’s go back to the question at hand . . . Can One Person Change the World?
The answer is YES . . .
With compassion and kindness . . .
One person at a time . . . .
YouTube Video: “Give Me Your Eyes” by Brandon Heath:
If there is one thing that is hard for me to do it is to “be still” for any amount of time. Even when I was a kid, my mother told me I was a bit restless even when I was sick. And in today’s world, we live in such a fast paced society that nobody really knows what it’s like to “be still” for any length of time except when we are asleep at night. Of course, that can all change if one’s circumstances change, like losing a job and still not finding another one after six and a half years. But even in the midst of unemployment and financial challenges, I find it hard to “be still” for any length of time.
However, when it comes to God, it is something we are admonished (in a good way) to do. He knows best, and we don’t know anything compared to Him. And I was reminded of this very fact when I read Job 38-42 this morning. It was humbling to say the very least . . . . And if you want to be humbled, read it. It might even make you feel better if you are going through a really hard time right now. If nothing else, you will get a picture of just how big God is and how little control we have over much of anything in our lives.
For the past couple of months I haven’t written very many blog posts. I was traveling a lot in October and early November, and I guess I’ve reached a point where I am just very tired of my circumstances, living in hotels I can’t afford, and wondering when this particular script in my life will finally take an upward turn. To say it is getting old beyond words is putting words to something that there are just no words for anymore. However, that is not to say that I am disgruntled or down by saying that. Absolutely not! Regardless of my circumstances, I am “up” 98% of the time. God is still in control, and that never changes.
Back to the issue of “being still”–now that the holiday season is upon us (and it’s the busiest season for the entire year here in America), if we ever plan on “being still” for even a moment, it’s not likely to happen right now. Maybe we can put it on our list of New Year’s Resolutions that we probably won’t keep for very long (as New Year’s Resolutions tend to go). Our intentions may be right, but our “flesh is weak” and time never seems to be on our side.
In a few days we will be celebrating Thanksgiving. And following quickly on its heels will be Christmas and New Year’s. In the midst of all of this activity, let me interject a psalm for us to contemplate during this incredibly busy season. It’s a reminder to “be still.”
I’ll keep this post short as that way you’ll have more time to contemplate the psalm. And here it is . . . Psalm 46:
God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging.
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy place where the Most High dwells.
God is within her, she will not fall;
God will help her at break of day.
Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
he lifts his voice, the earth melts.
The Lord Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.
Come and see what the Lord has done,
the desolations he has brought on the earth.
He makes wars cease
to the ends of the earth.
He breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
he burns the shields with fire.
He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth.”
The Lord Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.
Here’s wishing you and your family and loved ones a very happy Thanksgiving. And in the midst of the activity, find a few moments to just “be still” . . . .
Be still . . .
And know . . .
That I am God . . . .
YouTube Video: “Be Still and Know” by Steven Curtis Chapman:
The current controversy over Starbuck‘s red cups for the holiday season 2015 has grown to gargantuan proportions on the internet; however, I’m not going to add to the discussion. In fact, I wasn’t even aware of it’s existence until this morning when I fired up my smartphone and a headline regarding the controversy over the cups was on my news feed. I Googled it to see what I had missed and, fortunately, ran into an article that pretty much sums up my feelings about the controversy, written by Laura Turner, and titled, “Starbucks Red Cups, and the Internet Outrage Machine,” (published on November 10, 2015).
I would imagine that many folks who consider themselves to be Christian (and many who don’t, too) woke up this morning just like I did–ignorant of the controversy brewing (no pun intended) over some red cups that Starbucks is using for the holiday season this year. However, the whole matter does brings up the subject of what, exactly, does matter to us? And I don’t think red cups should be at the top of the list. . . or even at the bottom of it. Or, in fact, anywhere on the list.
In an ironic twist, I picked up a morning devotional book by A.W. Tozer (1897-1963) titled, “Mornings with Tozer“ (published by Moody Publishers; 1991, 2008), which is a book I had been neglecting for a while but not for any particular reason. The devotion I turned to this morning (which actually happens to be the devotion for tomorrow but I didn’t realize it until after I read it) is titled, “What Really Matters?” And here is what Tozer had to say:
What Really Matters?
“What does a man get for all the toil and anxious striving with which he labors under the sun?” (Ecclesiastes 2:22, NIV)
It is all but impossible these days to get people to pay any attention to things that really matter. The broad cynic in our modern civilization is likely to ask: “What really matters, after all?”
It is our personal relationship to God that really matters!
That takes priority over everything else, for no man can afford to live or die under the frowning displeasure of God. Yet, name one modern device that can save him from it. Where can a man find security? Can philosophy help him? Or psychology? Or science? Or atoms or wonder drugs or vitamins?
Only Christ can help him, and His aid is as old as man’s sin and man’s need.
A few other thing matter to be sure. We must trust Christ completely. We must carry our cross daily. We must love God and our fellow man. We must fulfill our commission as ambassadors of Christ among men. We must grow in grace and in the knowledge of God and come at last to our end like a ripe shock of corn at harvest time.
These are the things that really matter!
Prayer: Lord, the world tells me that fitness and finances are the measure for success and happiness. But I know in my heart that my personal relationship with You is the one thing in my life that really matters!
Red cups don’t matter, and they shouldn’t even be on the list of things that matter, either, at any time of the year. So what is at the bottom of our need to take up causes that just don’t matter, like red cups at Starbucks? We all do it from time to time and it’s not just about red cups, either, or the other “causes” that aren’t really causes except for the fact that they bring out the “thin skin” in all of us, which is not a very attractive feature on any of us . . . just sayin’ 🙂
Back to Tozer’s devotional book cited above–three pages later, on November 15, Tozer makes the following statement:
Answering God’s Call
“The Lord came and stood there, calling as at the other times, “Samuel, Samuel.” Then Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.” (I Samuel 3:10, NIV)
When will men and women realize that when God calls us out, He is completely faithful to call us into something better?
In his faith Abraham was against idolatry and idol making, but that was not his crusade. Because of his faith, God led him into a promised land, into possessions and into the lineage that brought forth the Messiah. The call of God is always to something better–keep that in mind!
God calls us into the joys and reality of eternal life. He calls us into purity of life and spirit, so that we may acceptably walk with Him. He calls us into a life of service and usefulness that brings glory to Himself as God. He calls us into the sweetest fellowship possible on this earth–the fellowship of the family of God!
If God takes away from us the old, wrinkled, beat-up dollar bill we clutch so desperately, it is only because He wants to exchange it for the whole federal mint, the entire treasure! He is saying, “I have in store for you all the resources of heaven. Help yourself!”
Prayer: What a wonderful God we serve! You are looking out for our very best. Lord, help me to loosen my hold on the things that are blocking the path of Your blessings.
And it is that “loosening the hold” on all of the things in our lives that we desperately cling to that is blocking us from receiving His blessings and the life He would have for us. We let the lust for power or prestige, reputation, relationships, money, possessions, accolades, jealousy, envy, coveting what others have that we want, etc., (that list is endless)–that we cling to so tenaciously–strangle the life out of our relationship with God. And we often try to manipulate our way to get our own blessings (as in what we want) because they mean more to us then God does.
In between those two devotions is a third devotion for November 14 titled, “Too Much ‘At Home’,” and here is what Tozer had to say in it:
Too Much “At Home”
“All these people were still living by faith when they died. . . and admitted that they were aliens and strangers on the earth.” (Hebrews 11:13, NIV)
One of the most telling indictments against many of us who comprise our Christian churches is the almost complete acceptance of the contemporary scene as our permanent home!
We have been working and earning, getting and spending, and now we are enjoying the creature comforts known to human beings in this land. You may bristle a bit and ask: “Is there anything wrong with being comfortable?”
Let me answer in this way: If you are a Christian and you are comfortably “at home” in Chicago or Toronto, in Iowa or Alberta or any other address on planet earth, the signs are evident that you are in spiritual trouble.
The spiritual equation reads like this: The greater your contentment with your daily circumstances in this world, the greater your defection from the ranks of God’s pilgrimage en route to a city whose architect and builder are God Himself!
If we can feel that we have put down our roots in this present world, then our Lord still has much to teach us about faith and attachment to our Savior!
Prayer: Lord, although I live at a local address, I pray that You will help me be a globally minded Christian and that my heart will beat with Yours for this lost world.
If every possession we have, every person we call friend, every family member, as well as our careers and/or our retirement plans, or our homes, and whatever else it is that takes up so much of our time and efforts, suddenly disappeared out of our lives, would we still believe in and cling to God (through our relationship with Jesus Christ) as the very source of our life? Would we believe that even in the worst of times He still knows what is best for us? Or do we cling to those “things” thinking they are our “proof” that He exists and that He loves us, and that we have somehow “arrived” by the acquisition of those things or during our constant chase after those things in this life? For the Christian, this material world that we live in is not our home. And the Bible makes that powerfully clear from beginning to end.
Jesus stated in Matthew 6:24, “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.”
1 John 2:15-16 (MSG) states, “Don’t love the world’s ways. Don’t love the world’s goods. Love of the world squeezes out love for the Father. Practically everything that goes on in the world—wanting your own way, wanting everything for yourself, wanting to appear important—has nothing to do with the Father. It just isolates you from him. The world and all its wanting, wanting, wanting is on the way out—but whoever does what God wants is set for eternity.”
During the upcoming holiday season with all of its festivities, activities, parties, and gift buying and giving, let’s not lose sight of what really matters . . . .
And red cups don’t matter . . .
Only Jesus matters . . . .
For God so loved the world
that he gave his one and only Son,
that whoever believes in him
shall not perish but have eternal life.
For God did not send his Son
into the world to condemn the world,
but to save the world through him.
Whoever believes in him
is not condemned,
but whoever does not believe
stands condemned already
because they have not believed
in the name of God’s
One and Only Son
YouTube Video: “Revelation Song” by Phillips, Craig & Dean:
I’ve been traveling a lot in the past month since I took off for Des Moines, Iowa, from Orlando, Florida, on October 7th to attending the wedding of my youngest nephew (see my last two blog posts titled, “A Love Song,” and “You Can Go Home Again”). I’ve covered over 3,500 miles of highways traveling through Atlanta, Nashville, southern Illinois and into Iowa to Des Moines; and then on my return trip back to Orlando I took a southern route hitting afternoon rush hour traffic in Kansas City and, again, rush hour traffic the next morning while traveling through Dallas/Fort Worth and east on I-20 into Louisiana and Mississippi with a stop in Biloxi for two nights before finishing the final leg of the trip to Orlando.
And, as if that wasn’t enough, once I got back to Orlando I decided it was time to travel to the west coast of Florida where I had previously lived for over four years to go through some boxes in my storage unit that I had put in it when I left that town to go to Orlando at the end of March 2014. I spent three days rummaging through my stuff and returned to Orlando, only to return again a few days later to that area as I decided there were a couple of things I want to keep with me that I had put in the storage unit. And that is where I am right now.
And again, as if I haven’t traveled enough lately (well, I do love road trips), in a scant two plus weeks and right before Thanksgiving I will be taking another road trip. This time it will be to Arkansas where I will be house sitting the home of my best friend and her husband while they are away for a period of time in Iowa taking care of her elderly mother.
Obviously, all of this traveling of late hasn’t left much time for blog post writing but that’s okay. With over 400 blog posts written during the past four plus years I can use a break every now and then. And I’ve been reminded of one thing over and over again during all of this traveling that I’ve been doing that I didn’t have a clue I would be doing when the month of October opened up. And that reminder is a fact that we all need to keep in mind while we are making our plans for the future–that life only unfolds one day at a time, and we really don’t know what a day may bring even with our best laid intentions and plans.
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?
“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
Lately, those last two sentences have given me pause for thought. We are, obviously, instructed not to worry about our lives. However, at the end of this passage in verse 34, Jesus states that “. . . tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” To think that each day will have enough trouble of its own can be a bit challenging. It’s as if he is telling us that there will be no easy days for us to look forward to just enjoying. However, the Message Bible states verse 34 in this way which makes the meaning a bit more clear:
“Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.”
While this entire passage is about the subject of worry (or anxiety) and that we should not be consumed by it, the verse that holds the key is verse 33:
But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well (NIV) (these things being the things mentioned in the previous verses in vv. 25-32).
The Message Bible states verse 33 like this:
Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met.
“Don’t worry about missing out” . . . . There is a big difference between being involved in “religious activities” and “steeping our lives in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions,” which extends way beyond what we “do” (as in activities). With that being said, I’m not implying there is anything wrong with being involved in religious activities. It, instead, is a “letting go” of every conception we have about how life should be lived (especially in the “religious” realm) and letting God lead the way from the moment we wake up each day until we lay our heads on our pillows at night.
We tend to put a “halo” on “seeking first his kingdom and his righteousness” and miss the entire point of what Jesus was and is saying about seeking his kingdom and his righteousness. We too often make it a “religious activity” in and of itself, and that is the opposite of what Jesus meant for us to be doing. He meant for us to be living it, not merely going through the motions of being involved in some “religious activity” in the hope of earning whatever it is we think we are earning (heaven, Jesus, etc.). Again, I’m not saying that being involved in religious activities is wrong. It is a matter of the heart and attitude, and not just the mind and/or going through the motions of doing particular activities or looking “Christian” on the exterior in order to appear “Christian” to others and ourselves.
It really does come down to the issue of love. A person can be cold as ice and still be involved in religious activities and think he or she is on the right path to God. For example, grim faces and scolding looks are a dead giveaway. And, we can even hide behind a big smile with all the right words while privately judging others harshly who we think don’t quite fit in. However, without genuine love, we are nothing. Let me repeat that again . . . Without love, we . . . are . . . nothing. And no amount of religious activities or “halo” wearing will change that. We can look and act the part, maybe even carry around a Bible, spout an “Amen” at an appropriate time, and still fool others and ourselves along the way. However, without love, it means nothing.
1 Corinthians 13 (the chapter on what genuine love looks and acts like) is not just a nice little passage on love to be read at wedding ceremonies. It is a way of life, and without it, we have no life. That is not to say that we aren’t alive (as in breathing). We, obviously, do exist and we live our lives pretty much the way we want to or according to a set of rules we think we should be following, but there is no life apart from love. Not genuine life. 1 Corinthians 13 states:
If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
And that is the Kingdom of God. It’s about love–24/7–in the good, the bad, and the truly ugly of life. The classic passage on God’s love is John 3:16-18:
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.
When Jesus hung on the cross, the people who put him there were the religious folks of his day. They had all of the appearances of “looking good” and acting religious in front of others and claiming to love God, but they were completely void of love–for God, definitely for Jesus, and for anybody else. Jesus’ worst enemies were the religious folks; the folks who thought they had it right but actually had it so incredibly wrong.
And down through the ages things have not changed. Only a genuine relationship with Jesus Christ built on love can change us, and all of the religious activities in the world means nothing without it. And if we mock or make fun of anyone, we have lost, and we do not love. And we are the losers as we have missed the entire message of the cross.
Many of the religious folks of Jesus day didn’t get it, and that is the same today. In Jesus’ statement to his disciples in John 15:18-25, he stated something that is still true today regarding his disciples:
“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the one who sent me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin; but now they have no excuse for their sin. Whoever hates me hates my Father as well. If I had not done among them the works no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin. As it is, they have seen, and yet they have hated both me and my Father. But this is to fulfill what is written in their Law: ‘They hated me without reason.’”
The Message Bible states that passage (John 15:18-25) as follows:
“If you find the godless world is hating you, remember it got its start hating me. If you lived on the world’s terms, the world would love you as one of its own. But since I picked you to live on God’s terms and no longer on the world’s terms, the world is going to hate you.
“When that happens, remember this: Servants don’t get better treatment than their masters. If they beat on me, they will certainly beat on you. If they did what I told them, they will do what you tell them.
“They are going to do all these things to you because of the way they treated me, because they don’t know the One who sent me. If I hadn’t come and told them all this in plain language, it wouldn’t be so bad. As it is, they have no excuse. Hate me, hate my Father—it’s all the same. If I hadn’t done what I have done among them, works no one has ever done, they wouldn’t be to blame. But they saw the God-signs and hated anyway, both me and my Father. Interesting—they have verified the truth of their own Scriptures where it is written, ‘They hated me for no good reason.’”
We don’t often hear messages about the world at large hating the followers of Jesus. For one thing, we often congregate with other Christians, and we are oblivious to (or look down on) those around us who are not on the same page as us. Because we still tend to think of America as a Christian nation, we live in a sheltered world of our own making that really doesn’t exist. The Gospel causes division wherever it is found (see Jesus’ statements in Luke 12:49-53 and Matthew 10:34-37 (NIV)–also in MSG version; also, click this link for a brief explanation to the question, “Did Jesus come to bring peace or not?”), and this is true throughout the Old and New Testaments, too. The apostle Paul and the disciples of Jesus along with his other followers did not suddenly have an easy life when they came to believe in Jesus Christ. If fact, some of them gave up pretty cushy lives for the sake of the Gospel (the Apostle Paul, for example). In fact, Paul, as a Pharisee named Saul before he met Jesus Christ on the Damascus Road, hunted down and had killed the followers of Jesus. And that kind of division really hasn’t changed at all today. Just look at the number of terrorists groups in our world today who are murdering and persecuting Christians (as well as others who don’t believe like they do). We only have to look as far as Syria and Iraq, and other places around the globe, to see the severe persecution of Christians by terrorist groups like ISIS.
The greatest difference between Christianity and all other religions is that Christianity is founded on love–love for others including our enemies, and a lack of retaliation for a wrong suffered. It isn’t easy to live that way; in fact, it is impossible without the power of the Holy Spirit to genuinely change us from the inside out. And if we don’t allow God his rightful ownership over our lives, we can’t mask very well our hatred for those who we don’t like very much. As Christians, we can’t say we love Jesus and hate our enemies at the same time, or treat our neighbors unjustly, or judge others without mercy. Yet that happens more then it should among us who claim to follow after Jesus. The truth is that the kingdom of God cannot be found in those who hate others, and it doesn’t matter what the reason is for their hatred. We only fool ourselves if we have no love for others, and that includes all others, even those we love to hate.
As for the issue of “religious activities,” there are a whole lot of “religious activities” going on out there today that, in the end, won’t mean anything. Again, it’s not about the actual activities but rather the motives behind the activities that count. And many folks, just like the religious folks in Jesus’ day, who are involved in them will never “get it,” either. If love is not at the core of everything we do, everything we believe, and how we treat others (as in all others–with no exceptions), in the end nothing that we do will matter. Nothing. And it’s a tragedy that existed in Jesus’ day and down through the centuries to us living today.
If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing (1 Corinthians 13:1-3).
For God so love the world that He gave his one and only Son . . . .
Without love . . .
We are nothing . . . .
YouTube Video: “Testify to Love” by Avalon: