~by Kyle Berg~
“Come and go with me to my Father’s house . . .”
What do I do?
“Come and go with me to my Father’s house . . .”
Should I sing?
“It’s a big, big house, with lots and lots of room . . .”
Lord, please guide me! This isn’t a vespers or afterglow service. This isn’t a church function either.
I found myself contemplating: What if I started singing? There he was, staring at me, drunk, a cigarette hanging from his mouth, singing praises to God. Pus oozed from the scabs on his lips, traces of blood speckled wounds on his cheeks. The strong aroma of his alcohol- and tobacco-scented breath attacked my senses—all beneath his hurting and joyous eyes. How could someone in such a condition sing praises? Head tilted, hands clapping, and feet stomping, Joe* raised his voice to God; his home was underneath the bridge on O Street, the main street in downtown Lincoln, Nebraska—for what did he have to praise?
What is it about homeless people like Joe that is so unsettling? Are they as important to God as someone with a roof over their head and the appearance of having it all together? Sitting in Birmingham jail, Martin Luther King Jr. wrote that Christians are, “more cautious than courageous and have remained silent behind the anesthetizing security of stained-glass windows.” As a society, we have become numb to the world around us, and that pertains to more than the homeless.
There are youth in our churches, either overlooked or looked down upon for their sins. My firsthand experience with a young adult who suffers from a cocaine addiction has opened my eyes to a great omission of our church: we condemn the ones God calls us to help. I firmly believe the church must address this omission before we can continue the great commission Christ commanded us before His ascension: “Go baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 28:19).
Sam was a student on my hall at Union College. As a resident assistant, one of my first encounters with him involved reporting him to the men’s dean for drug abuse. Our interactions afterward drastically changed my outlook on outreach. Everyone that has tried to reach him starts out with, “Don’t you know you are a child of God?” and “Jesus loves you. He died for you. Don’t you get it?”
No, you Bible-thumping crusaders for Christ, he doesn’t get it. Do you know why? Because for most of this “child of God’s” life he has been told that the longer he strays from Christ, the further Christ strays from him. Too many people have told him that through Christ he can conquer his addictions, but as soon as he relapses they leave him. He becomes too much of a burden. The only way anyone can show Sam Jesus is through longsuffering actions, not words. Remember James 2:16-17? “And [if] one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” What if we showed Sam he is a child of God by caring for him instead of just telling him we care?
One Monday night, Sam texted me: “Hey.” He often sent simple one word text messages, but it was never to just say “hey”—there was always something more to it. I told him I was going to a student senate meeting, and that I was busy, but I would leave if he needed me. He told me not to worry about it, but I felt compelled to keep pushing.
“Sam, I can leave this meeting if you need me. Don’t think you are an inconvenience to me.”
He liked to use the excuse, “I don’t want to bother you,” because he felt like a burden. He eventually broke down and admitted he was struggling with his withdrawals and needed to be with someone. I bolted from my meeting, not taking the time to explain why I was leaving, met him in the school parking lot and walked him back to the dorm. For the next two hours he sat in my room, shivering because he couldn’t feel warmth no matter how hot it was, and shaking because his cravings were controlling every muscle in his hands. I turned on the TV and sat next to him, the silence broken only by the football game and my meager attempts at small talk. Finally, he got up.
“I think I’m good. I’m going to bed,” he said.
“Are you sure?” I asked.
“Yeah, I’m cool . . . I’m sorry you had to sit through all of this,” he muttered, his hands still shaking.
“Anytime, man, I’m here for you. Just text me,” I replied.
Shaking his head, he looked me right in the eyes and said, “I don’t know why anyone would want to sit through this again.”
“I care about you, Sam,” was all I could say.
As he walked out the door God gave me the realization that I couldn’t save him. It wasn’t my job. I couldn’t tell him about God’s love either; that wouldn’t cut it. I had to show him the love of God by doing exactly what I did that night. Sitting with him as he struggled with his addiction, I didn’t need words. What if we treated those around us like Christ treats a broken and sinful human being? (That’s you and me, by the way.) Where in the Bible does it say because Sam is a drug addict he is too far from Christ to be saved? Then why is Sam treated like an outsider? It is no wonder that drug addicts and homeless people feel uncomfortable stepping foot into a church.
What if we treated broken people like Christ treats us?
Where do we place our priorities? Is it in evangelism? Why is the focus of our church bulletins and announcements centered on how much money we need for the new addition, or how behind we are compared to last year’s giving? Should the time spent in our church board meetings be monopolized by the budget and how we are going to afford a new sign that is “nicer”? Are Revelation seminars really what the church needs? How can we pray for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit if we are missing the big picture?
How can we preach the Good News in our churches if there is a lack of unrelenting love coming from where we sit? It’s easy to say, “I’ll pray for the homeless, needy, poor, and widowed.” But God doesn’t say, “Pray for them and live your life.” He demands more than just prayer. God clearly states He won’t hear our prayers unless we repent from our self-centered ways (Isa. 1:15-17). He commands us to cease evil, learn good, seek justice, rebuke oppression, and defend the orphans and widows! How can we fulfill the great commission when we have such a great omission staring us in the face?
A group of seminary students found all the verses in the Bible dealing with poverty, wealth, justice and oppression. After underlining every verse from Genesis to Revelation they cut them out of the Bible. When the scissors had been set aside the Bible was left in tatters. According to The Poverty and Justice Bible, nearly 2,000 Bible verses address the topics of poverty and justice alone. How can so many people feel abandoned by the church? How can there be people like Sam on my hall that feel like outcasts in church? Is it God’s will or an omission of our biblical social responsibility? I’ll let the torn and tattered word of God answer for itself.
As I reflect on Joe singing under the bridge on O Street, I can’t help but wonder why we all aren’t singing that song. “Come and go with me to my Father’s house. It’s a big, big house, with lots and lots of room. There’s a big, big table, with lots and lots of food.”
I finally started singing, and Joe’s smile grew wider than before as he moved to the next person and began his song again, “Come and go with me . . .”
*Names have been changed.
Kyle Berg is a sophomore secondary education: language arts major from Monroe, Washington, attending Union College in Lincoln, Nebraska.
The Bigger Picture
Deuteronomy 15:7-8 says, “If there is among you a poor man of your brethren, within any of the gates in your land which the LORD your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart nor shut your hand from your poor brother, but you shall open your hand wide to him and willingly lend him sufficient for his need, whatever he needs.” Verse 10 is even more potent, “You shall surely give to him, and your heart should not be grieved when you give to him, because for this thing the LORD your God will bless you in all your works and in all to which you put your hand.” Verse 11 brings it home, “For the poor will never cease from the land; therefore I command you, saying, ‘You shall open your hand wide to your brother, to your poor and your needy in your land.” Who are the poor and needy? James 1:26-27 reads, “If anyone among you thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this one’s religion is useless. Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.” Who are the orphans and widows? Isaiah 1:15-17 states, “When you spread out your hands, I will hide My eyes from you; Even though you make many prayers, I will not hear. Your hands are full of blood. Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; put away the evil of your doings from before my eyes. Cease to do evil, Learn to do good; seek justice, rebuke the oppressor; defend the fatherless, plead for the widow.”