When Jesus Meets…A Poor Person

Picture this:

Jesus is nearing the city of Jericho. A blind man is sitting there, begging by the roadside. He can hear the sounds of the crowd accompanying Jesus, and he asks what’s going on.

Crowd: Jesus of Nazareth is passing this way.

Then the man starts shouting. Blind Man: Jesus, Son of King David, show mercy to me!

The people in the front of the crowd reprimand him and tell him to be quiet, but he just shouts louder.

Blind Man: Son of King David, show mercy to me!

Jesus stops and tells the people to bring the man over to Him. The man stands in front of Jesus.

Jesus: What do you want Me to do for you?

Blind Man: Lord, let me receive my sight.

Jesus: Receive your sight; your faith has made you well.

At that very instant, the man is able to see. He begins following Jesus, shouting praises to God; and everyone in the crowd, when they see what has happened, starts praising God too.

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Generally speaking, as a country we don’t like poor people. That’s why we talk about “the bad parts of town” or “the other side of the tracks.” That’s why we support unchecked capitalism–we are okay with rich corporations increasing profits while the minimum wage is worth about 2/3 of what it was 30 years ago. When we say things like “better schools” and “better neighborhoods” we are talking in code so that we don’t have to say out loud, “We don’t want to be around poor people.”

And I know that is harsh. It is a broad over-generalization. But I think anyone would be hard-pressed to show that it is not true. Much of our lives is spent insulating ourselves from people who are in a lower socio-economic class than we are.

That is a problem than needs to be addressed. Especially for people who claim to be Jesus followers.

When Jesus meets a poor person, pay attention to what He does (The story above is found in Luke 18:35-43).

First, He notices them.

We spend a lot of our time trying to NOT notice poor people. We pass laws that make it illegal for homeless people to ask for money or sit on a park bench or walk into a library. We participate in a phenomenon called “White Flight” where middle class people, especially middle class white people, flee urban areas and live in the suburbs. Some cities put people on buses and send them to the other end of their state during fair season so that they won’t bother the good people coming to the state fair. In many urban areas, before renewal hits, developers spend a lot of money buying up property and running people out so that the “right kind” of tenant can move in without being bothered by urban plight.

(Do you realize that what a lot of us call “plight” is what a large number of people call “home”?)

The crowd in this story tried to shush the poor beggar. They told him to be quiet and not bother Jesus.

But Jesus heard. Jesus noticed. Jesus paid attention. And He stopped walking. When Jesus notices someone, He stops to talk with them. He doesn’t walk away and pretend like He can’t hear or see.

Second, Jesus overrides the will of the crowd who is telling the person to be quiet by telling them to bring the poor person to Him.

Jesus just doesn’t walk up to the blind beggar. Instead, Jesus tells the people who have been trying to shut the beggar up to go get him and bring him to Jesus. Jesus is in effect saying, “Go to the person that you are disregarding, go to that person that you are dehumanizing, and bring him to me.”

Jesus makes the shushers become ushers. (That is quite possibly the cheesiest sentence I have ever written.)

The crowd did not want Jesus to be bothered. The crowd thought they knew who Jesus should talk to. The crowd wanted to be in control. And Jesus tells them to go to the people they ignore. Not only does Jesus notice poor people, He forces us to notice them, as well.

Third, He asks what He can do.

In their book, When Helping Hurts, Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert talk about the difference in relief, rehabilitation, and development. While the most effective aid to those in poverty comes in the form of development, the overwhelming majority of aid currently is in the form of relief.

I do not want to discourage anyone from participating in relief efforts. But I do want to suggest two things: first, look for ways to be involved with development (and reading Corbett and Fikkert’s book is a good place to start to find out how).

Second, realize that too often, relief takes the form of the person with resources stepping in and telling the poor person, “Here is what you need to do; here is how I am going to help you.” The problem with that sentiment is that we never know if what we are doing is actually needed or not.

Jesus asks the blind beggar, “What do you want me to do for you?” He doesn’t assume the person wants sight. He doesn’t provide food or money. He asks what the person needs.

When Jesus meets a poor person, He treats the poor person with same dignity, respect, and humanity He would offer anyone else.

Fourth, He does what He can without qualification.

Many states are trying to add (or have added) drug testing as a requirement to receive government aid. Although multiple studies have shown this type of drug testing to be a waste of money because such a small number of people fail the drug tests, people insist on continuing to use them.

Why? Because we want to put requirements on people getting help. We want to tell people how they should live and act if they should find themselves in a situation where they need assistance.

We want people to earn our charity.

But Jesus doesn’t. Jesus says, “I will help and I won’t ask you to jump through any hoops to get it.”

What will it take for us to notice the poor people around us in the way that Jesus notices them?

How Not to Kill a Muslim, Book Review

“The relationship between American Muslims and Christians is arguably one of the most pressing issues of our time.”

With this statement, a “simple, local church pastor” begins an exploration of how Christians can follow the command and example of Jesus to love our neighbors. And even more than loving, or maybe before loving begins, Josh Graves reminds us we must see our neighbors.

In our post-9/11 society, with our seemingly never-ending need to have an enemy and a 24 hour news cycle that breeds on fear and distrust, the relationship between Muslims and Christians is often tenuous, at best. With misinformation, conjecture, and a sensationalistic media, many people who claim Christ treat those who are Muslim as the “other.”

Graves calls us to get past that.

The book begins by laying a foundation of understanding story. Additionally, Graves provides a brief overview of how immigration policies have changed over the past 100+ years and how that has led to a growth in the Muslim population in our country. He starts with 4 assumptions that explain how we (American Christians) arrived at a point of distrust. Essentially, it has a lot to do with relationship, or lack thereof.

Using the parable of the Good Samaritan as his backdrop, Graves leads to a call to become passionate and engaged. We need to see, know, and love our neighbors. All of them. He quotes N. T. Wright who said, “The church doesn’t need to provide nineteenth-century answers to sixteenth-century questions. The church should offer twenty-first century answers to first century questions.”

Graves is providing the groundwork for churches to have the necessary conversations regarding the way we treat our Muslim neighbors. He details the specific work his church went through. One of the greatest conclusions to come out of the class the church participated in was that although information is vital, relationship is even more important.

As far as information goes, Graves provides a lot, even in such a short book that is extremely accessible to all readers. His three appendices include an Islam for Dummies (Like Me) guide (jihad is NOT one of the five pillars of Islam), a blog post Graves wrote regarding a mosque being built near ground zero of the 9/11 attacks in NYC, and the results of a stereotype study. In other words, there is a great deal of information. It is vital for all Christians to read and deepen their understanding.

But beyond information, Graves writes from a deep place of love and concern for God’s children. It is apparent reading the book that he has built relationships with people whom he views as just that—people. He talks about the fire in his belly that compelled him to write this book. That fire is visible on every page. Although he calls himself a simple pastor, there is nothing simple about his love for God and God’s creation.

At the end of this book, I felt a great sense of hope. (Which is part of the subtitle of the book: A Manifesto of Hope for Christianity and Islam in North America.) As long as there are people like Josh, who are willing to practice the radical hospitality they write about, relationships can be built and restored.

I also felt a sense to study even deeper. I want to go back and review what I learned in my church history classes; to try and discern why Christian culture attacked Islam from the start with no attempt at building relationship, or even evangelizing. I want to study more about how the end of the Cold War affected our relationship with Muslims. It is as if our need to have an enemy worthy of a Tom Clancy novel or a James Bond movie necessitates that we demonize some group of people.

Those are two things Graves does not address in his book, but he did not need to. He provides us with a conversation starter. He provides us with his heart to love our neighbors. He provides us with an example of how to do that.

And he tells us to go and do.

This book is definitely written to a Christian audience, and I would encourage all who claim the name of Jesus to read this book. I would also hope that Muslims read and add their insight, as well. And for people who have no specific religious or spiritual identification, I would ask that you read it so that you can see one person’s story of what it means to love like Jesus.

Hearing the Daughters of God

Today at the Pepperdine Bible Lectures, I heard Nadia Bolz-Weber speak. Nadia attended Pepperdine, though she doesn’t remember any of it. She describes herself as being “a drug-addled 18 year old.” In his introduction, her father stated she was never a student here; although he did have to still write checks to the institution.

Bolz-Weber has detailed her life in her first book Pastrix. She talks about leaving her Church of Christ upbringing and eventually finding her faith blossom and grow in the Lutheran Church. In fact, she currently pastors a church, House For All Sinners and Saints, in Denver, CO. She is a recovering alcoholic. She is fairly covered in tattoos. She says “shit” and “asshole” in her preaching and writing. A lot!

And she knows God’s grace better than most people I know.

She is vulnerable. She is humble. She is relentless in her love of all of God’s people. Even the ones she doesn’t like very much. Her honesty is both disarming and intimidating. Disarming because when anyone is willing to share their crap you get to know them as a human being. Intimidating because when anyone is willing to share their crap you have to ask why you won’t share your own.

Nadia asked a difficult question today: Why do Christians hide from the truth so much when Jesus said it is the thing that will set us free?

We need to learn more about God’s grace. We need to remind ourselves continually that the Law does not save; God’s grace does.

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Sara Barton spoke as one of the keynote preachers today. She is the chaplain at Pepperdine after having taught at Rochester College in Michigan and before that serving as a missionary in Uganda. Her life, it seems, has been spent centered around church and ministry. She is a bold speaker willing to meddle in things that too many preachers shy away from.

What a blessing it was to hear a middle-class, white woman proclaim that black lives matter.

It was challenging to hear her tell all of us to quit arguing about who is our neighbor and just start loving them. It was challenging to hear her say that, for the Christian, we can no longer drown out the noise of God’s children who are crying out in deep anguish and pain.

It was amazing to watch her seamlessly move from talking like a university professor to talking like a prophetic voice of God.

Sara is a gifted speaker. She is a wonderful, Godly servant who speaks the truth boldly.

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The most amazing thing about hearing from these two women today is that just a short time ago, they would not have been able to speak here.

And by “a short time,” I mean 2 or 3 years; 5 at most.

In my denomination, women have not been allowed to speak for most of our history. There are some reasons for that. I won’t necessarily say good reasons, but reasons nonetheless. However, in the past few years, women are being given more and more opportunities to use their gifts to the glory of God.

So today, when a tatted-up, recovering alchoholic who has left the Churches of Christ was allowed to speak, I related. I related to her because I am a recovering alcoholic. (And I even have one tattoo!) I spent some time outside of the Churches of Christ. I have struggled with many demons and I have been honored to be invited into other people’s lives when they have dealt with their demons. I have learned to see the saint in those most people call sinner.

Also today, when a lifelong member of the Churches of Christ spoke, I could relate. I went to a Christian college, received a ministry degree, and went into full-time ministry. I have tried to speak boldly about issues of social justice and call Christians to love people over opinions. I have learned that I can no longer drown out the noise or turn my head away from the children of God who are crying out in pain.

But there was something even greater about today: my daughter will not think it is such a big deal that two women are given an opportunity to preach. For me (and most my age or older), this was huge. Daughters of God being given the opportunity to preach did not seem like a possibility a few years ago. But today it happened. And it was a big deal. And I am thankful.

I am especially thankful that this will be a more normal experience for my children. I am grateful that my daughter will have women preachers to look up to. I am grateful that she will not struggle to find or share her voice.

Because the door has been opened. Women like Nadia and Sara have accepted God’s call.

The prophet Joel said the sons AND daugthers of God would prophesy. I wish my denomination would have come around to that sooner. But I am glad for what is happening now.

I am grateful to hear God’s voice proclaimed by His daughters.

I can’t wait to hear even more…