Sunday, April 12, 2009

Big Love or Just Big Talk?

"A generous man will prosper; he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed." Proverbs 11:25

I just finished reading Under the Overpass by Mike Yankoski, a true story of two college guys who want to experience life as homeless people. They spend months on the streets of cities like Denver, Washington D.C., Portland, San Francisco, San Diego and my hometown, Phoenix.

What they learn is that "street people" are at best invisible and at worst reviled. They attended church every Sunday and were not very warmly received in most because of how they looked and smelled. They were even thrown off the property of one church lawn in my own city.

Of Phoenix the author says, "We experienced big programs, big churches, and big talk, without much love in action, at least for two unappealing transients like us."

I don't think any of us sees ourselves as unloving or unwelcoming but I'm not sure how excited any of us would be if two dirty, foul-smelling men wanted to occupy the seat next to ours in church or at a restaurant. I'll admit I've been the first one to move away.

We may judge them as being lazy or drug addicts and almost always try to escape before they ask us for something. Yankoski points out that the people he met on his "experiment" didn't suddenly become homeless panhandlers. It happened slowly over time and was typically precipitated by events that damaged their lives horrifically.

The point I'm heading toward is that, on Easter as we celebrate Christ's resurrection, we need to also remember the sacrifices He made leading up to that glorious day. I'm not just talking about the Big One (His own terrible, painful death), but the time Jesus spent with the smelly, unappealing people He encountered every day. He talked with them, ate with them, touched them and genuinely cared for them.

Do we really want the reputation of Big programs but Little compassion? Whether it is someone who is malodorous or just has a stinky disposition, we need to walk toward them, take a moment to listen, encourage them and see how we can help meet an immediate need. A granola bar, a smile, a kind word or a listening ear may feel like the love of God to someone who isn't used to being bestowed those gifts.

Will people we meet know we are Christians by our love? Do you need to make a few changes so your identity in Christ is more apparent? Comments?

Diane Markins


Anonymous said...

Loved the devotion about the unlovable. If people would spend time in soup kitchens they would find that most homeless people are just trying to get by.
Margie Winkelbaur

Linda S. Fitzgerald, M.S.Ed said...

Some years ago, a very special African friend taught me a valuable lesson. Isaac, a Nigerian student, picked me up after work in downtown Indy many days of the week. This particular day, as we walked to the parking garage, a man approached us. He appeared to be homeless & he asked for money so he could get something to eat. I didn't make much money in those days (still don't, ha), but I reached into my purse to hand him a $5.00 bill.

Isaac stopped me. He walked to the fellow & looked him squarely in the eye (and close enough to smell his breath).

"Fellow," he said, "we won't give you money, but if you'll go with us to the deli on the corner, we'll buy your meal and chat with you awhile."

The man smiled, nodded and walked to the corner with Isaac in the lead. We bought his meal, chatted a long time and then we all went on our way.

On the ride back to the home where we were both guests, Isaac said I should never just hand out money as oftentimes the person simply wants to buy "booze". "Do what I did", he said. "But only if you are not alone!"

I've never forgotten that lesson. I never hand out money and I certainly don't take them to eat if I'm alone. But my friend Harold & I have done it on several occasions.

The moral of what Isaac taught me is that until we learn what is meant by "love from DAD's perspective", we may do more harm than good.

Just another way of looking at the scenario.

I certainly agree that what should be the first place a homeless person would go for compassion & love, is probably the last one where he/she would find it!

And I could tell a story about that as well - but for another time.

Anonymous said...

Great subject Di, this is right up my alley. I have read the book by the way and I was so deeply
Challenged by their insights. It makes me sad and motivated all a once. Keep on writing Di. God is using You mightily. Happy Easter to you and your family. I am so blessed to know Jesus.
Blessings to You!
Street Ministry Leader

Anonymous said...

I was thinking about you this morning and remembering your telling me about the homeless man in San Diego whose clothes were filthy and he looked pretty ripe too. You thought about giving him some clean clothes and debated about what to give him from the clothes you had with you at the beach. You had a pair of sweats that you really liked and thought about giving him something else instead but decided that you should give most what you want to give least. You do walk the walk.

Happy Easter Diane


--jeff said...

as i was reading this post God let something divine happen.

we help a homeless man named manuel out by letting him take out the trash in the warehouse 2 times a week for a sandwich and a few dollars. a while back he spent some time in the hospital and jail. while he was gone another man named jimmy started coming around so we let him have manuel's job temporarilly.

manuel has been back for several months now but we've made a connection with jimmy (and his girlfriend).

well as i was reading this blog post manuel showed up to start doing the trash. 5 minutes later jimmy showed up asking for help because his girlfriend is sick. it brought a smile to my face as i saw them together to think that god has let me be a part of their lives.

i found out about 2 months ago that jimmy is manuel's nephew.

god bless the people who persevere!

Diane Markins said...

I've seen you with both these men. They appreciate and respect you because you don't give them a "handout" you preserve their dignity by letting them "work" consistently for a little income and food.
I've also known you to pray with them, ask about their lives, but let them know they are expected to complete their "jobs." You certainly demonstrate what it means to be a servant-leader.

Anonymous said...

Greeting Diane,
Thanks for this. I admit I am one of those ones who are guilty of such wrong. “Oh Lord, please have mercy on me”. Honestly, it’s really hard to practice the ways and the teaching of Christ Jesus, our Lord. It is the biggest challenge of all challenges.
Bless you,

Joseph, Suva, Fiji

Anonymous said...

Hi Diane,

I read with interest your devotional in today's Spirtual Life section on the CBN website.

Interested, but also very saddened that this attitude exists among churches in the States, but also I am sure very prevalent in the UK and in the West! I wonder what Jesus' words would be to such as those who showed little or no love and kindness to the two homeless people mentioned in your article? I am sure that God would not be impressed by the 'big programs' that many churches have but fail to show love to the least of his brethren? His words of "you call me 'Lord, Lord', but do not do the things I ask you" very much spring to mind.

Thanks again for your timely exhortion to 'love the unlovely' and so fulfill the commandment to 'love our neighbour as ourselves'.

May God richly Bless you...XX


Bridgend, South Wales, UK