14 But the gateway to life is very narrow and the road is difficult, and only a few ever find it.
- Matthew 7:14 NLT
In August of 2008 I started a new job, Amy and I were on a better relational path, and the last 2 girls were entering their senior year of high school. Life was good, or was it? I felt like something was still missing in my life. There was a void or emptiness. Was it success? The American dream? Whatever "it" was that was missing, "it" seemed so close, but yet I couldn't quite obtain "it". The world's standards kept telling us to buy more, bigger, shinier stuff and then we would obtain "it". I remember thinking there's got to be more to life than just buying stuff, going to work to earn the money to pay for the stuff, going to bed and getting up the next day to do it all over again. I felt worn out and tired, all the time. There just had to be more. Life had to have a purpose. This can't be it...I hoped. Sound familiar? (This is where I would urge EXTREME CAUTION when questioning the meaning of life, because I was not ready for the answer that God was going to bring us.)
Up until this point in our lives we had played the "Christian" role for years, Amy much better than myself, as I often played the pagan role with a dab of Christian thrown in for good measure. We did our Christian checklist. We went to church on Sunday for our 60-75 minutes, check, we told everyone things are "great, just busy" so we didn't have to make much conversation because we knew it wouldn't be real or authentic, check, we went to our small group(s) because if you're a Christian moving forward that's what we're supposed to do, check, and then we went on with life the rest of the time with no REAL connection to God, check. Sound familiar?
I remember being told over and over again that if I wanted to fill the void in my life I needed to fill it with God, but nobody showed me how I was supposed to do that. People would talk about a personal relationship with God, but I never could grasp what that looked like. Then, God in all his infinite wisdom and incredible sense of humor decided to take the blinders off of Amy & I. It was just like in the song Amazing Grace, "I once was blind, but now I see". For some reason, I hope to find out in eternity, he picked us to host a Thanksgiving dinner for those that were homeless or living in weekly and extended stay motels. His prompting came at only 2 weeks before Thanksgiving. At a time when the economy was tanking and people were losing their jobs. I certainly did not want to give our perfectly good money away for something like this, with the looming "unknown" right around the corner, but it was like I had no control. We ordered food. We bought socks, coats, gloves, mittens and more to give away. The people came, we ate together, we visited and then we....cared. That was it. It was clear that God was now in control of our lives.
We then read a book called "Irresistible Revolution" by Shane Claiborne and in it he talks about being able to see and meet a visible, fully alive God by serving with and among the poor or less fortunate. I wanted to meet this God. This is the God I longed for at church and in my life. We knew we couldn't wait another year to do another Thanksgiving dinner, we had to do something now. Shane Claiborne said to "just do something" so we were going to do just that. We landed on serving a sack lunch style meal every week to those living in weekly & extended stay motels and homeless camps. What started as 48 meals a week in our kitchen has now become 510 meals per week with hundreds of volunteers. This is where I began to see God, meet God and build a personal relationship with God. This is where the blinders fully came off. This is where I became aware of who God really is. This is where my life became full. This is where my void was filled with God. This is where life began to have purpose.
"There are 2,000 verses of Scripture that tell us we must be committed to protecting the poor and the oppressed...
There is no concern of Scripture that is addressed so often and so powerfully as reaching out to the poor."
- Tony Campolo
I often wonder if I would have found God sooner if someone had been telling me and then showing me the importance of serving. If someone had really hammered home the importance of following Jesus and not just talking about him, but actually copying what he did. Francis Chan has a great example of this in his video "Follow Jesus". If he told his daughter to "go clean her room" would he be satisfied if she came back later and said "Ok dad, I memorized what you said about cleaning my room". No. Or if she said, "Ok dad, I heard what you said so I studied it and now I can say "go clean your room" in both Greek and Hebrew." No. Or if she came back and said "Ok dad, a group of my friends and I are going to meet each week and discuss what "go clean your room" looks like. No. He would say "do what I said and go clean your room." Wouldn't Jesus say the same thing? He said to feed the hungry, not to memorize it. He said to love your neighbor, not learn how to say it in different languages. He said to take care of the poor, not discuss it week after week. He said to "do what I do."
We live in an area that claims a 95% Christian belief, yet I'm not sure if an outer-space alien visited, it would recognize the difference between the Christian and non-Christian other than by the church attendance on Sunday. So why is that? I think we have been lied to by the Enemy. We tell ourselves and others, "As soon as I get my "junk" in order I will volunteer. How can I help someone else when I'm a mess." Or, "I'm just so busy as it is I can't put one more thing on my plate." Or " I just don't have the energy." Sound familiar? It should. I used to say the same things for years. The truth is, we need to be serving others to "get our junk in order." We need to get out of our own selfishness to organize and prioritize our own life. It was amazing to see how my life started coming together once I started serving, meeting God, and depending more on him each day. No matter how busy we are, we will make time to do the things that are important to us. If we want to see a movie, go to a ball game or meet friends for a cocktail, we will re-arrange our schedule to make it happen. Typically, serving opportunities are less than the length of a movie. I've found that I have so much more energy from serving. God gives you the strength to do His will and more.
Amy and I's greatest desire is for the people of our community to get "it" for their lives. So how do you get started. Begin with your church if you have one. If they won't let you serve in a way that you can use your spiritual gifts then find another church. I also think people now days want to see "it" in action and not just be told about "it". They want to see "it" from the leaders of their organizations and churches. I know, I know, leaders are already over worked and under paid. It's not like they need one more thing on their plate, but I believe if they truly want to grow their church or organization, serving is a great opportunity to build relationships with people that are broken, hurting, church damaged, and ultimately lead both them and their congregants to a deeper relationship with God.
There is a tremendous opportunity for organizations or churches in our local area to "be the church" and grow exponentially by doing so, but it will require being out in the community on a regular monthly basis and serving those in need with love and no other agenda. It's a difficult task and one that takes persistence and consistency. It's not a one-shot event. To reach people that are far away from God, they've got to experience a God that will make a difference in their life now. They've got to see the authenticity from someone that cares. Don't let the fear that someone might ask you for money or assistance stop you. In our experience, most people just want someone to listen, laugh, cry or hug.
Our prayers are for every church member, leader and organization in our community to get what God gave us, to remove the blinders so that they may see a broken, hurting world of people who need a God of hope and love.
2 These were his instructions to them:
"The harvest is great, but the workers are few. So pray to the Lord who is in charge of the harvest; ask him to send more workers into his fields - Luke 10:2 NLT
We'd love to hear from you. Let us know if you have a heart to serve. If you agree or disagree. How you're serving or if you want to get involved with us. Give us your suggestions, comments, and feedback.
Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org