Well it is a new year and with a new year comes a time to see new things take root. I want to take this opportunity to open up a dialog with all that read this to think creatively about new ways in which we can address the poor of our communities.
In the last year, I have heard a lot of thoughts, lamentations and complaints about the increasing number of the poor in our country. In my own context of Conway, there is not one single day in which I do not talk to a man or woman who are in need of employment, housing and other basic needs. In my context it is also apparent that the willingness and energy from many local churches is lacking. Maybe it is due to the stigma of “social justice” or maybe the fear of being taken advantage of. Whatever the case, we are not responding at the level God demands of his people in his Scriptures.
But I do not want to let our government off the hook either. What they are doing does not work either. The persons that I meet and who come into my nonprofit have unemployment, disability, Social Security and all the other types of government disbursement and they still fight to survive. A common refrain that I heard last year and it was heartbreaking is, “Obama will help me.” Please don’t zero in on that one statement. But that refrain has the possibility of producing unintended consequences that none of us may be prepared for.
So I am a solutions type of guy. What our communities desperately need-Conway and the larger U.S. - are solutions that will provoke local churches to lead in poverty alleviation and at the same time have our government be a facilitator of decreasing the number of individual who fall in the classification of poverty. I believe there exist among the Christian community and those outside my beloved community of faith, men and women who possess a great wealth and depth of knowledge and creativity to see new things occur.
I invite you to join this Facebook page, “Think-Love-Act” as the first step in harnessing our diverse gifts and ideas for the sake of others. Think-Love-Act exists to gather creative ideas and implement those ideas as solutions to alleviate poverty in our communities and specifically the city of Conway, Arkansas. Whether you are a homemaker or policy maker; college student or fighting to get back into school, there are ideas that are dormant within us that are waiting to be awakened and put into loving action.
The second action I would ask you to take is to share your creative idea on Think-Love-Act and then share that idea on your timeline to stimulate discussion. As you are communicating your idea, look through the filters of faith, politics, economics and your community. How will your idea take shape as you pass it through each of these filters? What will be the final result?
The third action I would ask you to take is that of tangible action. Take this idea to your church, political, economic and community leaders. Be a catalyst for the change that many people who are the “least of these” and do not let stop until you get a clear answer of “Yes” or “No.”
Lastly, I would ask you to do the great thing of all-love. Thinking and acting without love is nothing more than a hundred vases falling and shattering on a dining room floor. We must love one another and commit to love those who are in desperate need of having the opportunity to freely care for themselves, their families and in due time their neighbors.
As we Think-Love-Act we are indeed communicating the seminal truth that we indeed know God.
The last twenty-four hours have led me once again to be in a fit of anger. I have been angry and then down right ashamed because local churches in Conway continue to either purposely or ignorantly reject the biblical truth that we are to care for the poor. This is without refutation. I can more easily assemble a doctrinal case for the care of the poor than I can for any of the positions on the millennium or how often we are to take communion.
It is exactly eleven days from Christmas as I write this. Eleven days after we gathered and celebrated the birth of Christ. It is eleven days after we spoke to Christians and non-Christians about giving, sacrifice, God dwelling among us and declaring “Peace on Earth to men.” Eleven freaking days, and the call I get on Thursday January 3, 2013 is like many others I have received over 2012.
On Thursday January 3, 2013 at 3:52 pm I get a call from a distraught mother and wife who specifically cried to me, “We are homeless. I have called churches and I have called churches and no one is able to help us. Can you help us? The Salvation Army gave me your number. Can you help us?”
What do you say at that moment? I will be quite honest because I need for you to feel my frustration. My only thought was, “What the hell are we doing!” Am I seriously to think that out of all the churches in our supposed progressive and growing city that not one church could help a homeless family?
You need to grasp this event and understand that these are lives, real people made in the image of God who are suffering in our city. I asked her to put her husband on the phone and he explained he tried to find work; he done odd jobs all so that his wife and kid could be safe. “I just want my family to be stable.” So I found them at the motel they called from and she showed me the phone book she was working through. While we are talking, their nine year old son is sitting on the bed watching football, oblivious to what is going on and simply looks at me and smiles.
“Sir, I don’t know how you can help us but we are out of money. I want to get my son in a safe place so he can go to school. We don’t even have a car to sleep in. I just want him to be safe.”
Do you hear those words? Those words are no different than any other parent in the city yet stained on their lips and ears are the sounds of “No.” It is the word that is spoken by someone at your church who either does not know what to do when the homeless call or it is the word spoken by someone at your church because your church does not consider it a priority.
At what point will we as local churches open our eyes and see the condition of many people in our country today? We are just as oblivious to the situation of the poor as the young son is to his homeless condition. The fact of the matter is that we are not doing enough. We signal to the poor that they do not matter and that this message of sacrifice is nothing more than a hollow religious mantra.
We are oblivious to the condition of the poor and homeless as we move out of their neighborhoods and build bigger buildings on Dave Ward Drive. That’s right we signal to the community in a very passive way that more affluent parts of the city are more desirable. We have reversed and undone the holiday we celebrated eleven days ago.
We are oblivious to the condition of the poor and homeless as we continue for some ridiculous reason to flood into football stadiums looking for passion and Jesus, when he has already shown you and told you what he requires of you (Micah 6). At what point will you move out of the childlike state of looking for exhilaration and take what has been given to you-the Gospel- and put it into action?
We are oblivious to the poor and homeless because many of us right-wing Evangelical Christians just want to complain about President Obama and his desire for an entitlement culture. We complain about higher taxes and all “those people” taking advantage of the system. Yet how much money do we spend on our set designs, lights, instruments, etc., to do…what? How many bulletins are going to be thrown away? How many dollars are we going to spend on all types of cool print material-life groups, community groups, Sunday School curriculum- that will become an offering to the blue recycle bins? Are you telling me that it is not in our budgets to radically help a family? THE REASON THE GOVERNMENT CONTINUES TO TAKE MORE TAX DOLLARS IS BECAUSE WE WON'T LEAD THE WAY!
We are failing and we will be held accountable.
So this is my two-fold prayer for the local churches of Conway. I love the Church. She is to be the grand expression of Christ resurrection and ascension.
First, my prayer for those local churches who are contributing something, I would hope that you would take a more concerted effort in vocalizing the necessity of the church to do good to those outside the household of faith. Have the courage to look one another in the face and say, "We must do more."
Secondly, the writer of Hebrews states that God as a good father disciplines those he loves. If we do not experience godly discipline then it shows we are not sons but bastards (Heb 12). I am praying that God as a good father and shepherd would discipline those local churches that are not embracing the poor and homeless of our city. He has made us his own through Christ and yet we are in dire need of great sanctification. The discipline to us will appear painful but the goal is that we would share in his holiness. It is the peaceable fruit of righteousness that I pray would be revealed in those local churches- whom because of idolatry resulting in greed or indifference- would discover a new found joy in God and the poor.
My prophetic hope for the Church in Conway is that God would discipline her to enjoy God’s holiness and righteousness.