Isaiah 58 (excerpts) “Loose the chains of injustice, untie the cords of the yoke, set the oppressed free, share your food with the hungry, provide the poor wanderer with shelter, clothe the naked…Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear;then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.” James 1:27“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”
John 4:35“Open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest.”
Something wonderful has been happening ever since we started prioritizing compassion for others in our approach to loving God. Serving the poor and marginalized has always accompanied genuine expressions of the good news of Jesus, serving as a bellwether for the people of God. Not that we never thought of being generous before leaving conventional church ministry, but it was always kind of an afterthought. There was just always so much going on in the church to prepare for, that there wasn’t much time or energy or money left for giving-away to people who wouldn’t have the ability to bring it back in. Just being honest. When we shifted our approach, turning the tables upside-down by spending the bulk of our time and energy and money to meet the unmet needs of others; we started seeing stories of transformation popping-up all around us…and within us. It changed our paradigm.
In my experience, there’s no expression of the Gospel more potent than serving others in non-religious settings. By donning Carhartts and doing dirty jobs on behalf of the poor for the past 12+ years, we’ve seen countless stories of redemption, revival, and regeneration out in the community. Working your butt off for people who can never repay you has a way of tearing-down walls of doubt and skepticism – in them, their neighbors, family members, and people who will hear about it that we will never meet. Those ripples are part of the current of hope that God uses to call every person back into Him.
A few weeks ago, I was among the honored guests in Shara’s small mobile home. We had mobilized volunteers and resources for a big, free renovation earlier this year – 3-days of significant, critical repairs that changed their lives. Shara’s family of 3, along with about 7-8 of her extended family, hosted 6 of us with appetizers and drinks to watch a new video we had made about the project. We shared hugs, laughter, and tears as the video replayed the transformation of her home at the hands of a group of church people being the Church. She and her little family have a faith background, but had been fairly distant from God and church in recent years….until the project catalyzed change. After the video, several family members expressed thanks to us and to God for sending us. Shara’s mother, the matriarch of the family, expressed through tears how thankful she was for the loving people who did the work, because they renewed her daughter’s faith in God…
Yeah, we were all crying…we recognized that we were conduits in a story that was bigger than ourselves! We didn’t go in there with a Gospel-presentation, but with tools and sweat for the WORK of the Gospel….the WORDS and the WORSHIP followed. Too often, in our eagerness to share our love for Jesus with others, we rush-in with the words of the Gospel without first earning right to be heard. This is the Methodology of the Gospel.
As Christians in America today, I think we often have it backward. There’s nothing wrong with big buildings, centralized resources, or hired clergy; but this is not how Jesus and the Early Church reached their known world with the Gospel….and it’s not how we will either. These are not the Church; they are useful tools and voices meant to encourage, equip, and scatter the Church! Constantly loving & serving others, leading upright lives by the Spirit in a corrupted world, experiencing miracles, shining the light of Jesus into all of the world’s dark places. When Christian individuals and institutions leverage everything we have to embody the Gospel in the world, then the fruit of the Gospel is the natural by-product.
So we’re going to keep doing a lot of free construction projects. It’s not for everybody, but it’s our thing…our vehicle for serving the poor & marginalized. What’s yours? When you and some friends invest your time and energy and money in an endeavor that God calls you to, you will unlock that part of God’s story that He has been waiting to open through you.
For more info about Catalyst’s projects, visit www.catalystnw.org