Broken Over Brokenness

A few days ago I was driving home, like any other day, and spotted a man up ahead. As I got closer I noticed that he was begging for assistance. His sign said, “Anything Helps”. His clothes were haggard, equally matched by his warn, wrinkled, and sun-scorched skin. His appearance told a story and it must have been far from a fairytale. It was hard to tell the man’s age but I’m sure it was well past mine. Life plays tricks on a person’s age. Our experiences can make us look beyond or behind of our actual age. For this man, I have no doubt it was the first.

I’ve had a high level of empathy for the downtrodden for most of my adult life, especially since developing a deeper relationship with Jesus. But for some reason, this particular occasion made me want to burst into tears. This man appeared broken by life. I know, I know, some readers may be thinking that we can rise above life’s circumstances and don’t have to allow them to break us. I would agree that we always have a choice on how we react to everything in life. But I also believe that we don’t all have the same resources to help in the time of need. I’ve been very fortunate to have the life that I’ve had. I had a good home life with two parents who were present in my life. I’ve always had a handful of friends. I have a great church family now. My wife and kids are amazing. Life, while difficult at times, is pretty easy to make my way through because I’m surrounded by so many great people.  That’s not the case for many people in this world. I’ve never known poverty, except for when I was in college. But that wasn’t actually poverty as most of the world experiences it. Yes, I’ve faced some of the worst things that life can deal a person, but I’ve always had those loving people help walk with me. I’m guessing, for this man, that was not the case.

I don’t know the man’s story. I wish I would have had a chance to talk to him. Caught in the wave of fast-moving traffic in a crazy busy thoroughfare, I had no opportunity to pull over. I only wish that he had been in different part of town. He’s been on my mind ever since that day and I’m hoping that I get another chance to run into him. I can’t help but think of the fact that he has to have a mom and dad somewhere. If not now, then at some point he did. Who knows if that too isn’t a sad story. Being a father of two little girls, I can’t help but think of them being in this man’s shoes. How could any father allow his child to grow up and become homeless? What has gone wrong in this man’s relationships? Does he have anyone who loves him? Does anyone know that his life has come to this? Have people tried to help him but at no avail? I was heartbroken.

Many people look at the homeless and see nothing but dirty clothes and a begar who will probably waste their money on alcohol. Sadly, I think that’s how most people see them. Coming from someone who has spent a lot of time with homeless people over the last six years, I can tell you that they are so much more than that. They are the culmination of a sad tale. I am fully aware that many of them choose to remain where they are but a lot plays into that. Things like fear, rejections, not knowing a way out, being surrounded by apathy, accepting a view of themselves that many portray to them, and being caught in a downward cycle. I’ve seen some come out of it, but sadly, most do not.

A few months ago at one of the local parks, I spotted a new sign that read, “don’t help the homeless”. It’s part of a new city campaign aimed at stopping individuals from giving handouts to homeless people. I understand the motive. They want people to push them to go to assistance organizations rather than depend on aid at the micro level. That sounds great, except, it won’t work, and in essence, it’s absolutely heartless. These are broken people…very broken people. They need help now. Immediate, short-term, and long-term help. Ever hear the slogan, “Give a man a fish, feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, feed him for a lifetime”? Well, to teach a man to fish, you have to buy him a fishing pole, tackle, bait, and invest the time in their life to help them learn. Most people I know want to pass the buck along to someone else. They want to complain about “those people loitering in the park” yet they won’t go out of their way to show them some love. If there’s one thing that broken people need, it’s love. Judgment never helped anyone break free from anything.

I will be quick to admit that most of the time the homeless reek of booze and tobacco. They can also be very crude. Some of the people I meet with today, I’ve been hanging out with in parks for the last six years. But they are created in God’s image just the same as I am. For that reason alone, they deserve the same love as anyone else. They don’t deserve to be overlooked and cast aside. They’ve probably been treated that way most of their lives. We can either be one more voice of love and truth, or we can add to the resounding negativity and hate that gets thrown at them day after day.

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person?Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.

1 John 3:16-18 (NIV)

I want to be more broken for the broken in this world. Homeless or not, there are so many people around me that need my love and compassion. I don’t want the people in my life to have the same story as the man on the side of the road in the busy intersection. I want to do everything I can to speak life and hope into the lives of my family, my friends, my students, and my community. I don’t know what happened in this man’s story but I do know the stories of well over a hundred homeless people I’ve met over the last six years, and they are not filled with life and hope. If a third of the world claims to be followers of Jesus, how could that be? How can there be so many desperate hurting people filling our parks and intersections with cardboard signs? Lord, forgive us for all the times we’ve scowled and turned our heads. Lord, forgive us for ever thinking we were better than them. Lord, forgive us for not acting out the love we say is inside us. I count myself among the multitudes who need to do more, love more, and give more because my King gave everything.

If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t love, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate. If I speak God’s Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, “Jump,” and it jumps, but I don’t love, I’m nothing. If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love.

1 Corinthians 13:1-3 (The Message)

Advertisements

Haircuts for the homeless

I found it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay… small acts of kindness and love.

-Gandalf (J.R.R. Tolkien) from “The Hobbit”

heart-in-hands1-300x212Brennon Jones is a 29 year old, ordinary folk, doing his part to show love to those who rarely experience it. He is a former barber who spends a lot of his free time driving around neighborhoods known for high number of homeless people. He goes with personal mobile salon, his arsenal of love, that consists of merely a tray and hair cutting clippers.

It’s not complicated. Jones strikes up a conversation, gets to know them a bit, then offers them a free haircut. Jones is not wealthy. He can’t give everyone he sees a home, clothes, or money. But he has a talent. He has a heart of compassion. That combination is all we need to make a difference in anyone’s life.

The Lord is rewarding Mr. Jones for his service to others. Sean Johnson, a barber and business owner in Philadelphia, has given Jones his very own barber shop. That’s right; just gave it to him! Wow! For the full article check out Today.com.

How are you gifted? Do be falsely modest and say that you have no gifting. God has made each and everyone of us unique, with passions, and talents.

What resources do you have? Hey, I’m a high school teacher, so I understand being limited financially. But that’s not the point. No matter how little or how great our resources, we all have something we can share with those in need.

What time do can you spare? If we think about all the time spent on our phones, watching TV or movies, or playing around with our hobbies, we can all spare some time to be with those who have no one.

Look around your community, your school, your place of work, your church…anywhere…everywhere. People are going down all around us. People are people. No one deserves to be ignored or overlooked.

For who makes you different? And what do you have that you did not receive? But if you did receive it…

1 Corinthians 4:7a (ESV)

We are all one step away from being in a desperate situation. We’ve all needed the help of others. No one has made it to where they are on their own. Behind it all is a good and gracious God who intends us to be good and gracious to others.

Generosity that costs nothing, can be absolutely priceless.

Check out this video and try not to cry.

Weeds and Roses

4bf7993cef7e6e71ba48e654c4c39b45--beautiful-red-roses-red-rose-loveWilliam Jennings Bryan, a former presidential candidate and outspoken progressive, once compared American society to a garden. Here’s a quote from one of his speeches:

In a garden, you don’t let the weeds triumph over the roses simply because the weeds are stronger. You protect the roses from the weeds. And if you want a society where you have good people, kindness, charity, and equality, you have to do some weeding.

The late 1800’s and early twentieth century in America saw many movements to reconcile a rather lengthy list of wrongs. Social inequality, in all of its various forms, was chief among them. That’s something I believe many of us can relate to, or at least recognize as visible in some ways in the 21st century. So his quote can be every bit as relevant in our day, as well as any other period in human history. So it begs the question, who are the roses and who are the weeds?

Roses are absolutely beautiful. I know that may be weird for a man to say, but I love flowers and roses are high up on my list. The rose has long been a symbol for love and friendship in many cultures, including our own here in America. A rose speaks of something of value and worth. To label something, or someone, a rose means that they are precious in your sight. Weeds…even saying the word creates a bit of anger and frustration in the hearts of anyone who has a yard to tend. Weeds are a classic reminder of the fall of mankind. I’m fully convinced that weeds did not exist in the garden before original sin entered the world. They are relentless, powerful, hard to kill, and they will choke the life out of every living plant in your yard if you let it.

So, with this less than eloquent description I lay before you, who do you think the weeds and roses are in the society you live in? Those that Bryan sought to endear our hearts to are not whom many would expect. They were the downtrodden, the outcasts, the homeless, the immigrant, the orphans and widows. Jesus would describe them as ‘the least of these’.

When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.

Matthew 25:31-40 (ESV) [my emphasis]

God loves everyone, that’s fact. Yes, even those you don’t like. God still loves them. God loves the superstar and the homeless man alike. God doesn’t show partiality with His love. For that, I am extremely grateful. For there were moments in my life when only He could love me. But tendered to God’s heart are all those who are helpless, hurting, lost, broken, and blemished. Societies have a funny way of determining the value of a person, and it’s not at all the way God does. Money means nothing to Him. Fame is futile in God’s kingdom. Who really cares what we drive or what the square footage of our home is? Do we think any of that lasts or has any eternal value? Zero. God’s eyes are fixed on His people. He sees the homeless man at that stop light that we pretend not to see. He sees all the abandoned or neglected children. He sees the abused wife and emasculated husband. He sees the exploited and abandoned. And to Him, they are roses. They are beautiful. they have unlimited value and worth. And so do those who take care of them.

Unfortunately, those weeds that are choking the life out of them are the one’s that popular culture loves to elevate. Lets not be guilty of that ourselves. Look into the eyes of the innocent child, the dust covered face of that man on the street, the newly arrived alien who does not speak your language, and know that they are roses in our garden. Life began with God, and all life has immense value to Him. It should be the same for each of us. All people need to know their worth, and we have an important role to play in that.

Dear Church, Stop Giving Your Crap to the Poor 

John McDermott is a Formerly Homeless Man Who Now Has Housing

Re-posted from faithit.com

I was getting ready to leave for a trip to Kenya a couple of years ago, when a church emailed and asked if Mercy House had any specific needs. I quickly responded and told them I wanted to give Maureen, our Kenyan Director, an iPhone, so we could communicate during (almost weekly) power outages. I told them if they would buy one instead, we could use the money for other needed items.

On the church’s Facebook feed a few days later, I saw an appeal that said something like, “We want to support a ministry with a used iPhone. If you have an old one you can donate, please let us know.”

 I was given an older iPhone a week later. On the ground in Kenya, I realized it wouldn’t hold a charge for more than 10 minutes. The phone was junk.

So, when I left Kenya, I gave Maureen my used one that worked.

The church contacted me after the trip and asked how Maureen liked her new phone? I told them it was useless and said, “Don’t worry about it. I gave her mine.”

“Oh, we feel badly, please let us replace your phone! We want to buy you a brand new one, an upgrade. You deserve it,” I told them I used my husband’s upgrade and already had a replacement phone. “OK. Instead we would like to write you a $500 check for the inconvenience.”

Give it to Maureen, I said.

And they did.

While the church tried to make it right, I was bothered by the fact they were more than willing to buy me a new phone I didn’t need. I have noticed this mentality permeates the church as a whole: The poor will be happy with our leftovers. They don’t know any better. They live in Africa or Honduras, they don’t need the latest technology or the best brands like we do. They will appreciate anything we give because something is more than nothing.

Why do we give others—often those in service to the poor or the poor themselves—something we wouldn’t keep or give ourselves?

Somehow collecting clothes for immigrants has become the perfect opportunity to get rid of stuff we don’t want and gathering baby items for new moms is the perfect excuse to toss out stained and worn clothing we wouldn’t dare use again. I’ve packed suitcases with beautiful donations, but mostly I’ve pilfered through piles of junk donated in the name of Jesus.

It’s time to stop giving our crap to the poor.

There’s nothing wrong with used or second-hand. It’s often my first and favorite choice. Many organizations and ministries depend on used gifts. But if we give used, it should be our best. I’m not saying when we clean out older clothes or toys or things we don’t use any longer and donate them—that this is wrong. I am saying if we give it away, it should be something we would use ourselves.

The poor may not have wealth, but they have dignity. I’ve met people without electricity or running water who swept their dirt floors daily, pressed their clothes neatly, walked miles to work on muddy roads, dodging sewage, and never had a speck of dirt on them. They value their own worth, we should too.

I’ll never forget meeting a woman in Africa who supported her large family by reselling used clothes from America. But when she held up clothes to show me what was for sale—clothes Americans had donated in clothing drives—they were tattered and stained. I was embarrassed.

Her best depended on our worst.

Just because our donation feels like we are helping, in reality, we could be hurting. Bales of used clothes are sold to African countries for resell and they end up flooding the market and often put local textile businesses and seamstresses out of business.

It’s time to think about not only what we give and how we give it, but also why we give it. Just because it makes us feel better (and cleans out our garage at the same time) doesn’t mean it’s the best for those in need. Perhaps we should look a little deeper into our hearts and wallets when we can say, I don’t have money to give to the poor, but I have a lot of stuff. Maybe we need to buy less stuff, so we have more to give?

“We’re not giving what we’re called to give, unless that giving affects how we live—affects what we put on our plate and where we make our home and hang our hat and what kind of threads we’ve got to have on our back. Surplus Giving is the leftover you can afford to give; Sacrificial Giving is the love gift that changes how you live—because the love of Christ has changed you. God doesn’t want your leftovers. God wants your love overtures, your first-overs, because He is your first love.” Ann Voskamp

There have been times over the years I’ve gasped and grinned at the beautiful items I’ve sorted and packed  for the impoverished. When we give our best, we are living our best. We are saying with our donation, you are valuable. We are whispering with our gift, you are worthy of the best. We have the opportunity to speak self worth when we give generously.

It’s a promise for them.

It’s a promise for us.

Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will repay him for his deed.

Proverbs 19:17

The next time we have the opportunity to share what we have with someone who is in need, let’s give from the pile we want to keep, not from the one we want to throw out.

by: Kristen Welch