the weblog of Alan Knox

Justice, Kindness, Mercy…

Posted by on Feb 21, 2007 in community, missional, service | 13 comments

The early church was known for its justice, kindness, and mercy – both towards those who were part of the church and towards those who were outside the church. Though they were not rich by worldly standards, they took care of the elderly, the poor, even unwanted babies. This seems to be consistent with biblical teachings:

Thus says the LORD of hosts, “Render true judgments (justice), show kindness and mercy to one another, do not oppress the widow, the fatherless, the sojourner, or the poor, and let none of you devise evil against another in your heart.” (Zechariah 7:9-10 ESV)

Then the righteous will answer him, saying, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?” And the King will answer them, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” (Matthew 25:37-40 ESV)

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and 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. (James 2:14-17 ESV)

Well, there are many who suggest that the church has given up its service to the poor, the fatherless, the widow, and the foreigner, by allowing the state take this on. Here are a few blog posts that examine this issue:

  1. Ray at “Observations and Opinions” asks “Programs or People?
  2. Ben at “Complete Unity” discusses his “Connections“, even with the homeless.
  3. Geoff at “Along the Shore” asks if “Too Much Structure” can hinder our service to those in need.
  4. Ted at “the Jesus community” discusses “being poor in America“.
  5. Scott at “Turning it Over” suggests the church should be “Taking it to the Streets“. (By the way, Scott was homeless until a week ago.)

So, what is God doing here? He keeps reminding me that he wants me to care for the poor, the fatherless, the widow, and the foreigner. I know how to care for those within the body of Christ, but what about those who are poor, fatherless, widows, and foreigners who are not part of the church? This is a lesson that I want to learn, but also a lesson that I’m not sure how to begin following. I haven’t had this modelled for me. Instead, I’ve been taught skepticism and doubt. I’ve been taught to question anyone’s motives if they ask for money or food. I’ve been taught that there must be something wrong with someone who is less fortunate than me. (I was not taught this last point verbatim, but it was certainly intimated.)

I have been encouraged by the path that God is leading Brandon and Heather in the Atlanta area. He is showing them how to serve those who are in need. I’m not sure how God will lead me and my family down this same path. At times, I’m concerned about it. At other times, I’m ready to dive in head first.

More than anything, I desire to follow God wherever he leads. I confess that I have not done “for the least of these”. So, in fear and trembling, I ask God to change my heart in this area.


13 Comments

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  1. 2-21-2007

    Thanks, Alan, for the link. And your good thoughts along with opening your heart, on this issue. Most of us, including myself, are definitely in a heavy learning mode now.

  2. 2-21-2007

    Alan-

    Thanks for the link. God is really turning our world upside down right now and, as Ted said above, we are also in a heavy learning mode now. As you know we’re learning a lot about love and how to love people, truly love them. There are so many facets of love, but they all work together, beautifully.

    People … God loves us all and there are no exceptions in the Bible, ya know? It doesn’t say, “Love your neighbor as yourself … unless he’s homeless or unless she’s a prostitute”. It doesn’t say, “Love never fails … unless your dealing with a drug addict or a drug dealer or a gang member.” No, God included no exceptions in His Word.

    One of the great things about our trip to L.A. was that there was no turning back. That was good for me. I was plunged completely out of my comfort zone and there wasn’t a thing I could do about it. I was forced into a world that, quite honestly, I wanted to insulate and isolate myself from. The first day when we went out with the food trucks to inner city neighborhoods to deliver food to the hungry of the city … all of a sudden there I was in the midst of somewhere I never (just being honest here) would have chosen to be. But in that moment of that very first day God began to speak to me James 2 — “If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that?” … over and over I kept hearing “What use is that?”

    God transformed my heart right then and there. When we spent the afternoon on skid row in downtown L.A. with the homless, prostitues, hurting, drug addicts … we were face to face, hand to hand … EYE to EYE. These are people. And honestly they are no different than you and me. We need to treat them as people, God created them and He loves them with an everlasting love … just like He loves you and me with an everlasting love!

    And then when we went to South Central L.A. — undeniably the toughest neighborhood in the country — same thing! Again, these are people. God loves people. Yes, there were gang members walking all around us. They’re just deceived and they need the love of Jesus too. My sin is no more “respectable” than anyone else’s!! No one is more deserving or less deserving of HIS love.

    Our goal? To be “Jesus-with-skin-on”. Jesus said, “THE SPIRIT OF THE LORD IS UPON ME, BECAUSE HE ANOINTED ME TO PREACH THE GOSPEL TO THE POOR. HE HAS SENT ME TO PROCLAIM RELEASE TO THE CAPTIVES, AND RECOVERY OF SIGHT TO THE BLIND, TO SET FREE THOSE WHO ARE OPPRESSED, TO PROCLAIM THE FAVORABLE YEAR OF THE LORD.”

    Someone has to go and tell them … it might as well be me! It has to be me because I have this light and a city on a hill cannot be hidden! I used to think this was such a cliche — “Love God – Love People”, but it’s not … it’s true!

    Alan, I feel I am rambling here and not making much sense. This is life for me now … caring about the hungry, the homeless, the hurting. It’s hard to sum it all up into words that fit neatly inside the little comment area :-) … And there is so much inside me that I sometimes don’t feel like I can communicate it all very effectively. And, also, I am still in a heavy learning process, like I said above.

    Sorry for the ramble! :-)

    ~Heather

  3. 2-21-2007

    Ted and Heather,

    Thank you for sharing what God is doing in your lives. It is a great encouragement and challenge to others (like me) who want to learn in this area. Like Heather said, I’m ready to see people.

    -Alan

  4. 2-21-2007

    Oooh, a post that speaks much to my heart. I haven’t seen the other links yet, but I will be reading them when I have a chance.

    I was disappointed once to see a pastor “help” a family in need by offering to take them to the county’s human services dept. I think he missed the point.

    Anyway, a book that I really like is from John Perkins, called Beyond Charity. I haven’t analyzed everything he says, but he makes a lot of good points. He has a website: http://www.jmpf.org/

    I have been so distracted by the day to day things that I haven’t given this much thought lately. Thanks for the post.

  5. 2-21-2007

    Renata,

    Someone else that we both know has mentioned John Perkins to me recently. I may need to carve out some time to read this book.

    -Alan

  6. 2-21-2007

    Alan,
    Thanks for this post.
    Like you, I don’t know what this path looks like for me or my family, yet my prayer is that I will be willing and obedient also.

  7. 2-21-2007

    grace,

    It looks like God is taking many of us down this unfamiliar path. Perhaps the Spirit is leading many to reconsider the role of the church in the world.

    -Alan

  8. 2-21-2007

    Fantastic, and not just the message. You are sharing your heart, weakness and all. thank you. Count me a part of this same journey.

  9. 2-21-2007

    Alan, I think you are precisely right that the Spirit is leading us to reconsider the church’s role. This issue is something I’ve been pondering for a while, and the more of my friends I talk to about it, the more I see that the Spirit is working in many hearts in this area. I think we may be afraid of this issue, because in the past, that’s what the “liberal” churches talked about. But it seems that the tide is changing, hopefully for the better.

  10. 2-21-2007

    Bryan and Drew,

    Thank you for taking part in the journey as well as in this discussion.

    Drew,

    I think you are correct about the “liberal” churches. Could it be that we have distanced ourselves from good things (God-things) because we are afraid of being associated with those different than ourselves?

    -Alan

  11. 2-21-2007

    To answer your question, I think that absolutely has happened. That fear is the same reason that you can find very evangelical writing on the topic of environmental stewardship. We are afraid of being associated other ideologies.

  12. 2-21-2007

    oops, i meant to say “very little evangelical writing”

  13. 2-21-2007

    Drew,

    Thanks for the clarification. I was wondering which “very evangelical” writer you were reading on environmental concerns. :)

    -Alan