Today I want to begin to share three lessons that I learnt while in the US this summer. As I do, I'll spread the lessons out over several weeks. I went to Portland, Orgeon with my mum and her partner and got to get a little taste of the city. It was a good summer, bought a lot of books, went to some good churches, went numb to the point of pain because of the seawater. Good times.
But there was something that really got to me on three separate occasions during the summer. It was the homeless. If there was ever a time that God spoke to me about those in need financially, it was during the summer. I hope the three lessons I share will hopefully reshape or inspire the ways in which you view those around you who benefit less than you do.
The first lesson God taught happened while I was on my way to the bookstore. I'm telling you, this was a massive bookstore, about five stories high and consisted of an entire block in the city. To understate things, it was a cool place.
On the way there, I was walking down the streets of Portland and noticed people with signs on the side of the road. What didn't strike me was the people nor the fact that they were homeless... but what they were asking.
On all of the signs I passed, they were asking for one thing.
That's all it was. A dollar. And here I was walking down the road, heading to a fairly priced bookstore with roughly US $600 dollars in my pocket. We all know the terms ten-fold and such. I had 600-fold the amount they were asking for.
I want to pause for a moment and reflect on what Christ said about giving to the poor.
Matthew 6:1 NIV says, "Be careful not to do your acts of righteousness before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven."
This says a lot about pride. At the time Christ said these words, the Pharisees were experts on pride. They would demand respect wherever they went, imposing their power on other people, completely full of pride.
I wonder how many people are like that today. Not by imposing their power... but by how they give to others. Sure, they give. But they boast about it. They brag and say "That's what you did yesterday? I gave $700 dollars to a charity. Beat that!"
I'm not sure many would phrase it like that, but you get the point, and I see it in my own life. I don't talk like that but I'll mention what I've done to a couple of friends and as soon as I do, the God-given joy disappears, and I end up feeling hollow by having told my friends.
Pride puffs up, just like a balloon, but tt only takes a needle to show how hollow it is.
Whatever you do with regards to giving to others, do it in secret. Not with the intention of hiding the light Christ has given you, but to give the glory to God and allow Him to work through what you have given and He will reward you in return.
So, I kept this in mind. But I had other intentions regarding a damaged pride at having stopped and taken the time to give money. I would probably call this the exact opposite of the previously pointed out but is just as dangerous.
How many times are we hindered from doing good because of a fear of looking like a fool? I think many of us face this fear but here's a better question: would you rather be a fool to the world... or a fool to God?
So, I was partly a fool and partly following Christ's teachings. I went around the corner, stopped, pulled out two twenties I had in my wallet, took them in my hand, turned around and gave one to each of the people on the side of the road.
I got to tell you, and I'm not telling this for the sake of pride, I'm doing this for the sake of how awesome giving is. The guy saw me give it, look down and then burst into joy. He stood up, gave me a man hug and started spouting happiness. I was surprised by his reaction but also glad because of the joy of giving that God had given.
Acts 20:35b NIV says, "Remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: 'It is more blessed to give than to receive.'"
Giving is an amazing thing. Its even more awesome when the rewards we get in return are not material, but spiritual. Now's that's awesome.
But God took me a step further after this. I had just given money, seen their joy and shared it. But I had no twenties left and there was more person I felt God telling me to give to. Again, I don't want to share for the sake of pride but because of how this next act humbled me.
I had only hundred dollar bills. So, I paced back on forth (in a subtle manner, I didn't want to look nuts) on the sidewalk, debating with God. I felt Him telling me to give, I didn't want to give so much away. What would people who didn't share the same views think of me? Finally, God won. I took out the money, walked over, bent down, gave it to the girl (she was probably in her early twenties) and walked away without seeing her response. I didn't want to see her response but by having walked away, this humbled me. I had just given away what I considered to be a fair sum of money and I didn't know why and I wasn't sure of myself, but I knew God knew. That's what really mattered.
Remember, God knows what He is doing when He asks you to give, and He is fully capable of providing so we are not left in need and so we can, in turn, bless others again. He is good like that.
But I want to raise, what I think, is a more important point, in a more sober part of Scripture. This passage is found in Matthew 25. Here Christ compares the sheep to the goats and gives numerous everyday scenarios like taking care of people, giving and taking the time to see people. First, the righteous respond:
Matthew 25:37-29 NIV, “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’"
Matthew 25:40 NIV, "The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’"
That's a nice thought. The thought that whatever good deeds you did out of grace and love for a complete stranger or someone who didn't seem to deserve it, you did for Christ Himself! And to hear Him say that He knew what you did and will reward you in turn though you were not seeking such rewards. That's pretty awesome.
But before we get too excited about this, let's take a look at what Christ says to the other group, the goats, after they ask Him, when did they ever see him in such need at such times?
Matthew 25:45 says, “He will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’"
Now, notice this isn't a 'He may reply' or 'He could reply assuming that...'. No, it says 'He will reply'. The choices you make with regards to those around you when they are in need; those choices have eternal consequences.
But, you might ask 'Since we are saved by the blood of Christ, its okay if we've stuffed up, right?'
Well, of course. God has mercy, but remember, if you're not only worried about that, but its also a recurring issue in your life, then you have to ask yourself 'How well are you imitating Christ?' Because that's what the Christian walk is all about, isn't it? Imitating Christ. Following Christ. Obeying Christ.
These are His very words, if we do not obey then I think we have very good reason to be afraid because if we are saved, He will still discipline us while here on earth and I doubt many of would like to take it to that extreme where He needs to intervene to such an extent that it not only grabs our attention but shocks us.
But, before we get too carried away. Not only does Christ point out the flaws of those who had chosen to neglect the needy. His following words condemn.
Matthew 25:46 says, “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”
Be careful whom you neglect when you help others. Listen to what God is telling you and follow with regards to how you help others. Be very careful to listen to Him, not only as to not miss out an opportunity to serve but so as not to overload yourself with work God didn't choose for you to do.
Because we have a tendency to do that, don't we? We'll overload ourselves with ministry work and volunteering and Bible studies and pile up our 'good deeds', and though we may have godly intention and conducting these deeds out of faith, we may not be listening to God.
As the preacher at last's night's service pointed out: sometimes we need to slow down and receive a new, refreshed revelation from God about where He wants us to be and what He wants us to do.
The preacher also pointed out that, we all need to take that time. Don't wait for God to make that appointment, go to Him and listen.
I couldn't agree more.
"May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit." Romans 15:13 NIV