Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Are We Serving or Helping?

Jesus is a helpful guy - not in the sense of taking out the trash for me, or giving me tips on what to buy my wife for her birthday.  But his very nature, the bulk of his ministry, was helping people with some problem or another.  He healed a lot of sick people.  Raised a few dead.  He gave some free meals.  He provided a lot of practical life advice mixed in with his teachings about the "kingdom."  He helped people in practical ways.  He changed lives for the better.

It seems like as his followers we should be helping people.  He kind of made that explicit in his teaching: love your neighbor (Matt 22:39), give to anyone who asks (Luke 6:30), heal the sick (Luke 10:9).  He expects us, his body on the earth, to do what he did.  

Recently my church took part in a day of service in our community.  I learned that we do this every year at about the same time.  People in the lower income neighborhoods we serve have come to expect us.  They usually have some ideas of projects that need to have done when we come around.  One landlord told his tenets he would not do needed repairs, because he knew the church people would be around soon and they could do it.

I was discussing this with some friends afterward.  There seemed to be a consensus that we were not making a difference in the community.  The same people were in the same pitiful place as they were last year.  Some people were growing weary of returning year after year and not seeing any progress in the community.  It brought a smile to faces for one day, but if anything, the community was in worse shape than it was the year before.

Why on earth would we expect a community to change form a one-day-a-year service project?  I think if you had asked us what we expected to happen before the first time anyone went into that neighborhood, we would have said something like, "We expect to serve God by serving others."  or, "We expect to live out the love of Jesus."  If that is all we really went out to do, then we succeeded.  We showed people the love of Jesus in a practical way.  We served them like Jesus said to when he washed his disciples feet.  We succeeded!

Somewhere along the way we developed new expectations.  We expected to not only serve people, but to help people.  We expected to heal people, to feed people, to make their lives better.  And we failed.

My group of friends has recently decided to adopt a neighborhood where a couple of us live so we can spend the time to really help people.  We are going to be spending time there, getting to know people, and doing projects with the people of the neighborhood.  We realize helping and serving are not the same thing.  Serving is a single act.  Helping is a process.  It is a process that is often messy, and difficult to measure.  Helping is a relationship that takes time to build.  To really help, you need to find out not only what a person or community is lacking, but what a person or community has to offer.  Then you have to empower them to use what God has given them to change their situation.

I think a lot of Jesus' followers have wrapped their minds around serving   We can go in, do something, leave,  and feel pretty good about ourselves at the end of the day.  Most of us have not really invested enough to actually help someone, let alone to help a community.  I think Jesus wants us to do both.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Why not Sunday?

Starting a blog has been a long time coming.  I have a lot of things to say.  Most of them are foolish conjecture  some just plain wrong.  But every once in a while I have a little nugget of insight that has some merit and a desire to share it with someone besides my two year old daughter.  So here we are.

I always knew being a Christian was a seven day a week thing.  I really believed I lived that way four years ago.  But in reality my life, and especially my faith revolved around Sunday.  Sunday was my day to shine, as the worship leader in a small church.  Sunday was my day of feeding, drawing form the deep well of a commendable teaching pastor.  Sunday was my day to fellowship, the day I wold try to impress people into liking me and thinking me a spiritual, mature person.  Sunday was probably the day I sinned the most the whole week, because Sunday was the day I put on my veneer of godliness in order to worship myself.

Then I was whisked off, half-way around the world on an adventure I was sorely unprepared for.  I lived in the Sultinate of Oman for two and a half years.  The interesting thing about living in the Middle East, in a predominantly Muslim country, is that Sunday means nothing there.  The work week is either Saturday through Wednesday or Sunday through Thursday across the Muslim world.  On Sunday I resumed my normal duties as a student or an English teacher.  I lived in a town of 70,000 people and not a single church.  A handful of expatriates met together for worship in their homes, usually on Thursday or Friday, and that was our church for two and a half years.

I find it interesting how little in the Bible actually happened on a Sunday.  Jesus was resurrected from the dead on a Sunday.  That's a pretty big deal.  Seven weeks later, The holy Spirit came down and started the Jesus movement, likely on a Sunday.  Another time a guy fell out of a window, and that's pretty much it.  Every other event of Jesus life, and the life of the early church happened on Monday through Saturday (or the day it happened was inconsequential and not mentioned).

I have discovered that over 85% of the Christian life doesn't happen on Sunday.  A lot of people are talking about Sunday: sermons, music, seekers, church structure, church buildings, programs - the list goes on. When I read the Gospels, and the Bible in general, I see a lot more about issues like: how do I treat my neighbor?  How far should I go out of my way to help someone?  How should I handle my money?   What does God want me to give up in order to have a better relationship with Him and with those around me?

That is what Monday Through Saturday is about.  I want to take these revolutionary truths and lay them over the patchwork of our messy, complicated, everyday lives and see what happens.  Yes, it is a purposely vague theme that I can manipulate to address whatever rant I happen to be on. It will probably include some social issues, some scriptural analysis, a book review or two, and perhaps an occasional poem.  My goal is to get people thinking and talking and living these great truths in the nitty-gritty of everyday life.  Perhaps the fact that I am getting these ideas out into the public sphere of cyberspace will encourage me to live them out in the nitty-gritty of my everyday life.  That alone would be enough to make this worthwhile.