Monday, July 22, 2013

Holding a Sign

Most every day we see them, there on the concrete median, slowly trodding back and forth beside the row of cars. Usually there are no words spoken, no tapping on the window, just a few words scribbled on a piece of cardboard. I'm sure that every sad face has a story to tell if we ever stopped to hear it, some more believable than others.

Being busy commuters trying to get to work, we are focused on the tasks of the day, and not easily distracted. And on the way home our emotional energy has waned. We have already checked out mentally from the demands of the day. So, the man with the sign is often invisible, just part of the morning rush or the evening hassle. Such people are part of the urban landscape, a detail we would rather not notice or think about.

When the person holding a sign does catch my attention, I am torn between my heart and my head - a heart that feels compassion and seeks to intervene and a mind that immediately begins to ask tough questions. 
  • Is this person genuinely disabled, a veteran, homeless? 
  • Is this really end-of-your-rope desperation or someone's small business opportunity?
  • If I give, am I buying booze or groceries?
  • Am I just feeding someone's addictions or giving someone a second chance? 
  • Am I helping or am I enabling?
  • But what if the need is real, genuine, and urgent?
  • Is it my place to be the judge or my job to be generous?
I guess there are always good reasons to give and good reasons to pass. Nobody wants to be a heel, but nobody wants to play the fool, either. Our conscience must be our guide. Can we believe those words hand-printed on the cardboard?

This morning I saw a nice lady in a Lexus hand some cash to a man on the median. He was holding a sign with the message, "Out of work. Homeless. God bless you." He smiled and thanked her, tucking the bill in his pocket. I thought about how humbling it would be to find oneself reduced to this form of asking for help, legitimate or not.

Then it struck me that perhaps in God's eyes we are all carrying our own cardboard sign. We are all in desperate need of what it takes to live, really live the life God desires for us. And it doesn't matter whether we reside in an affluent area and possess all the trappings of a successful life. God sees the heart - the hunger that no meal can satisfy, the pain of broken relationships, the old hurts that won't heal, the futility of being possessed by our possessions, the despair that comes from dreams that don't deliver.

Even if we would never get out of our car and walk the median, God sees the signs we carry. Even if nobody else cares enough to notice, even if by all outward appearances we are sitting on top of the world. And maybe that's a good thing, a very good thing, because God always seems to respond with His heart first. I know, He will one day be our Judge, but for today, here and now, He always chooses grace. When I stand humbly before Him with my sign in my hand, I can always get His attention. He never turns away. He will not pass me by. Of course, He won't. I'm a child of God, you know. But, come to think of it, so is that guy on the median.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The Courts, Our Culture, and Our Calling

Last week's Supreme Court decisions have certainly generated lots of conversation and concern. The opinions rendered on voting rights and gay marriage as well as the debate in Congress over immigration reform causes people of faith to struggle with how to apply the Gospel of Christ in our polarized and changing culture. And no doubt, even among Christians there is a wide range of sincerely held convictions as to where the Church of today should stand on these issues.

One of the things I love about Memorial Baptist Church is that there is always room for devout people of faith to discuss openly, to disagree agreeably, and to refuse to let our different perspectives divide us or distract us from our mission in Christ.

Maybe the wisest path for us these days is to focus our attention on what we know, not just what we think. Here's what I know with a bedrock certainty, truth for which I would go to the wall:
  • The Gospel of Jesus is for everyone. "Whosoever" is a big word. God so loved the world - no exceptions.
  • The Church of Jesus is for all people as well. There is no room for exclusion or favoritism in the fellowship of Jesus. We are all prodigals coming home, not elder brothers guarding the door.
  • As followers of Jesus we must seek to live out our faith in the tension between truth and grace, staying true to the integrity of the Gospel and yet never failing to live out the compassion of Christ.
As has always been the case, sometimes the Church will get it right and sometimes the Church may get off track. Sometimes we make God smile with pride and other times we must cause Him to wince and blush. But by His grace we keep going, we keep trying, we keep serving, we keep loving. And by His grace, the Kingdom comes.