In the World, Not Of It

lovingourcity

Through the twists and turns of life, God has brought me to work in a clinic for people who have limited access to healthcare in Collin County. Hundreds of families come through every month because life has hit them hard at some point or another.

In this rapidly growing metroplex, I see hidden, expansive pockets of poverty on a daily basis. My patients include the single mom working two jobs in the shadows of restaurant kitchens. They are the white collar worker who got laid off and hasn’t been able to land another job in the past year. They are the unseen employee working for 10 hour shifts without breaks or workers’ rights. They are enduring laborers on construction sites in the unforgiving summer Texas heat.

Recently, God kept bringing one story to mind – a patient who had a sore throat for an entire year. It turns out they had strep pharyngitis, which is easily diagnosed and treatable with penicillin. We live in a first-world country and a person in our affluent city had strep for an entire year. AN ENTIRE YEAR.

Over the past three weeks, I have been buzzing with indignant anger when God brings this story to mind, and God kept pushing me to write about it. My mind goes fuzzy when I want to remind myself of some key Bible verses that speak of raising up the poor but I realized God doesn’t work that way. He doesn’t want us cherry picking through the living Word so we can justify our anger. He has already written an arc of a story that resonates and shakes of His unchanging feelings about injustice and oppression. He’s already been sitting with us in our mess since our fall from Paradise.

I’ve dug through all the reasons why my patient had strep throat for a year and found a mountain of seemingly unforgivable trespasses — to blame my patient for not trying harder, for their life choices, and every political/social/religious institution that failed them. Aren’t these our defense mechanisms when we want to pardon ourselves from listening to God in these complicated situations?

If we forget that we have all been a lost sinner in a desert place, shackled to chains of sin, we will all forget that we have been rescued by the grace and mercy that God freely offered us. With this spiritual amnesia, we will feel it appropriate to dangle our righteousness over those who have less than us. We will sit on our air conditioned, middle-to-upper class thrones and point fingers at everyone who has made a mistake, cheated on a test, crossed a border, stolen a candy bar, had a lustful thought, followed through with an abortion, acted in anger, saying that we know best about political rules and religious laws that keep society in check.

However, because God has rescued me from slavery AND the desert place AND death, numerous times over, I am called to a different life marked by grace, at the foot of HIS throne. HIS cross. My soul remembers love.

Then, my mind is jarred back into all that continues to bombard my mind throughout the whole day. News about suffering friends and family, injustice, death, oppression, shootings, wars, poverty here and abroad. 85% of the time my body is tired. My mind is battered. Weekly, my soul numbs out before it realizes it needs living water. I can go through an 8-hour clinic day checking lab results and prescriptions, treadmilling through the schedule of 30-minute clinic appointments without acknowledging God’s heartbeat in the person sitting across from me. How do we process and contain, grieve and feel, amidst the pressures we have to sustain throughout the day?

A mentor recently told me, “If we did what God wanted us to do for the day, we would have enough time. If we try to fit in everything we want to accomplish on our own along with what God wants us to accomplish, we’ll always run out of time.”

In the 15% of days when I actually rest in Jesus and only do what He calls me to, I can more readily engage in our culture with God’s Spirit and Power. I grasp the concept that our decisions, political opinions, theologies, and actions are not the end goal — rather, all of history and nature long to speak for God’s persistent story of love (Romans 8 comes to mind).

So I share the following tangible steps and encouragements as Gospel light amidst our daily struggle of sin in a fallen world.

Remember and confess

Remember that you were redeemed from the filth of sin, and that God continues to do so. Although we do not live in condemnation, we remember we have not earned any of what God has given us. Receive God’s dance of grace and mercy for yourself first, then you’ll have enough to give others.

Practice the Sabbath

Keep taking rest from all that is loud and unrelenting in the world for at least a 24-hour period every week. God might be telling you to pull back from constantly being plugged into the news or social media.

Prayer

However, God might be asking you to keep reading the news, bringing every headline to Him in those moments. When someone intercedes for me or when God reminds me to just BE with Him, it awakes a part of my soul that gives me sustenance for the next minute, the next hour, the next day. Keep that line of communication open with Jesus – even if it might include despair, grief, confusion, doubt. He has suffered it all and in seasons, He gives us new light through prayer.

My exhortation is that prayer doesn’t stop there. I believe God uses these prayers so that grace can spill out to the oppressed in our communities. As much as the world is spinning into an unsalvageable mess, Jesus’ death and resurrection proclaims that He has boundless amounts of love to salvage it. No question. It’s there already; we just have to be listening.

He is calling you out of apathy to serve the poor, the widow, the orphan.

He is asking you to pause and give a listening ear to a coworker who is oppressed in their own lives.

He is beckoning you to stop feeling condemnation for not ‘doing’ enough.

He is giving you the strength to fight apathy and learn compassion.

Every time we speak up for someone who is oppressed, love the unlovable, vote in an election, make the extra effort to pursue our spouses, or teach our children well, the world sees our missionality and an alternative to living in the ways of the world. Because of you, brothers and sisters, unbelievers see that God has an expansive heart for human beings, made in his image, in any given sociopolitical issue. They see that we are not apathetic and isolated just because we have an eternal heaven waiting for us. They see that our faith brings about hope for God’s kingdom here on Earth. They see that Jesus’ love for us begets more love.

Ministering to the Homeless

lovingourcity

“It’s complicated!”

This is often what we say when we are unable to give a clear response to a question, or when we are unsure how to navigate through a situation.

Consider the subject of homelessness. Broadly speaking, the homeless community is one of the most misunderstood and marginalized community groups in the States. And in the Dallas – Fort Worth area, it is difficult not to see or run into a member of the homeless community.

Brian Fikkert, a leading thinker on ministering to the homeless, once remarked: “There is a lot more going on than meets the eye, so the solutions need to move well beyond ladling soup, dispensing clothing, and handing out food stamps, as important as those activities can be. Indeed, the problem of poverty is so complex that it takes a miracle to eradicate it.”

How then do we as Christians engage and understand this overwhelming and often heartbreaking subject?

Here are three thoughts to help guide the conversation, all the while remembering that the homeless are neither projects or pariahs, but first and foremost, fellow image bearers of God.

First, take time to understand your context. 

Poverty is pervasive. But it does not manifest in the same way in every place. There are some common underlying forces at work, but there are nuances as well. This requires thoughtfulness and creativity in the ways we engage.

For example, in early 2017, Dallas Morning News reported, “More people [in the homeless community] are visibly living outside in encampments and tents throughout Dallas and surrounding cities. And the ongoing shortage of affordable housing units is making it more difficult to get people off the street, forcing people to remain homeless longer. The census shows that the average unsheltered person has been homeless for more than three years.”

Local news reports like this provide insights that can deepen our understanding of the issues at hand, and remind us it is not so simple a matter as handing out a few dollars here and there, but neither should those acts be easily dismissed.

Regarding local ministries to the homeless, one of the most active and gospel-centered ministries in the Dallas area is OurCalling. Theirs is a ministry that is the result of much trial and error, yet with a steadfast, multilayered approach to bring Christ-centered discipleship to those often neglected. This is simply one model of ministry to the homeless that can be a supporting resource for those navigating through this topic.

Take time to understand your context (investigate, read literature on the subject, ask questions of those already in this field of ministry) so that you might move towards the homeless community in your area with wisdom, humility, and compassion.

Second, pursue this ministry with others, not in isolation.

Most likely, you are not the only one in your church wrestling with how to engage this subject. And because this subject is so multifaceted, it will require numerous perspectives and skill sets that will extend beyond you. See this as an opportunity to bring together members of the body to serve a community often treated as modern-day lepers. And perhaps, to also consider joining other agencies or parachurch ministries already immersed in this work.

Finally, pray!

Pray for those in your area who are homeless. Pray that God would give you courage and clarity in terms of how you and your church might engage. Pray that you would be alert and sensitive to the promptings of the Holy Spirit in this matter.

Arloa Sutter, founder of Breakthrough Urban Ministries, which serves homeless adults and youth and their families in Chicago, offers this helpful reminder:

“Listening to God and being prompted by the Spirit needs to be the basis for our action. God works in us and then out through us. In practical terms, this means… contemplation of God and God’s word…spend time praying and listening for guidance before diving into action…respond with obedience to those nudges of the Spirit when God instructs us to act. [For] it is when we are moving in obedience that God can use us effectively to care for others.”

The hope, then, for the church and the homeless is that God is on the move. And He is in the business of bringing hope where there is despair, and life where there is death. There will be many different ways for you to come alongside the poor and homeless in your context. Some will be helpful; some will not. And that is ok.

Thanks be to God that He is unlimited in His creativity and ability to use imperfect and impatient people to display His justice, grace, and compassion.

2 book resources worth reading:
When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor…and Yourself by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert
Generous Justice: How God’s Grace Makes Us Just by Timothy Keller

Loving Our City

lovingourcity

As a church body that knows Christ, we know an aspect of our faith is living like Christ. And Christ loved his people. We know that part of living our faith together is about loving our city together. LOFT City Church is a community in Richardson that sees all people as created in the image of God and longs to see them worship in spirit and in truth. We want to love the hurting people of Richardson and the rest of the world!

This is a first of a series of blog posts on how to love our cities well, especially the vulnerable. The blind, the sick, the hurting – the outcasts of society were the ones Jesus drew near.

It’s our calling to help the marginalized as well. As Jesus said,

44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ 45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ 46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

Matthew 25: 44-46

Before we can love our city well, we have to know our city well. I highlighted just a few aspects of the city so we can consider how individually and as a church, we can be agents of light, truth, and change in our cities.

  • Richardson has been recognized as a safe place for families, a great place to raise kids, and many companies call Richardson home. More than 88,000 people work in the City of Richardson each day.

  • There were 40,020 households out of which 31.9% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 54.2% were married couples living together, 10.3% had a female householder with no husband present, and 31.7% were non-families.*

  • According to https://datausa.io, 10.4% of the population for whom poverty status is determined in Richardson, TX (11,176 out of 107,196 people) live below the poverty line. The largest demographic living in poverty is Male 18-24, followed by Female 18-24 and then Male 25-34.

  • The most common foreign languages in Richardson are Spanish (13,518 speakers), Chinese (3,676 speakers), and Vietnamese (2,153 speakers), but compared to other places, Richardson, TX has a relative high number of Urdu (972 speakers), Hindi (1,463 speakers), and African Languages (1,572 speakers).

I encourage you to look up your own city if you don’t live in Richardson. Learn about its strengths and gaps and how you can have a small part in your neighbor’s life. Maybe it’s reaching out to your literal neighbor, helping host a block party this summer, or volunteering for a shelter or library. A lot of communities offer ESL or computer skills classes, or they have retirement communities that would love to lunch served or music played!

As believers, we are required to love and show mercy. The great thing is, we’re already equipped for these things! Love and mercy don’t require big gestures. Usually, it’s just about offering a hand when no else does or listening to someone who has no one to talk to.

For the summer, we’ll be reading reflections from members of LOFT about ways that we can pour into the places we live and work.

Don’t wait. How can you love your city today?

*As of the 2015 American Community Survey