While we were sinners, Christ STILL died for us.

jesus-with-sinnersA favorite verse of mine is:

But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.  – Romans 5:8

Notice what isn’t said in that verse.  It doesn’t mention that Christ died only for the clean or the healthy, it doesn’t mention that he died only for the good looking people.  It doesn’t mention that he died for just those that have a job and live in a nice house.  He DID die for those people AS WELL as all the others on the margin of society.  He died for everyone.  Why?  Because we are all sinners.  I am, you are, the person living in a mansion is, the person living under a bridge is.  We are all sinners.

Given that….why do we not translate that to our own lives?  Do we want to only associate with those that are well off?  Do we only want to be seen around those that are clean and come from a good home?  Are we only to be seen around those that are considered “wholesome”?

Let’s look at these verses from Mark 2.

That night Levi invited Jesus and his disciples to be his dinner guests, along with his fellow tax collectors and many other notorious sinners. – Mark 2:15

Levi, a tax collector (tax collectors were not held in high esteem back then, maybe much like today) invites Jesus to a party that is also being attended by many others, including some pretty awful sinners.  There were probably thieves, murderers, prostitutes and other unsavory people there as well as just normal hardworking, honest people.  But then look at what the religious leaders say;

But when some of the teachers of religious law who were the Pharisees saw him eating with people like that , they said to his disciples, ‘Why does he eat with such scum?’  – Mark 2:16

See back then, the Pharisees and others who thought themselves “clean” didn’t want to be associated or seen with such people.  I think we often have much the same problem as today, not so much with the religious leaders, but with people in general.  I’ve seen a situation recently where some people invited some homeless people to a Christmas gathering, some of those people may even have had an unsavory past, but now they are just homeless, struggling to survive in freezing temperatures.  These people were invited, and then some friends and neighbors expressed concerns and stressed that those types weren’t welcome.  I have to think that sounds like something the Pharisees may have been thinking here in Mark 2.  “Why are those type of people hanging around Jesus?” or more likely, “Why did Jesus invite those type of people?”

But let’s see how Jesus responds,

When Jesus heard this, he told them, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor — sick people do.  I have come to call sinners, not those who think they are already good enough.” – Mark 2:17

Well there ya go, Jesus for those that needed him.  Can we be more like Jesus and help those that need help?    Are we blessed so we can be a blessing to others?  God often uses those on the margins, the insignificant to do great things.  Do we walk by them without offering even a smile?

Christ died for us, even though we were sinners and didn’t deserve his love for us.  But he loved us anyway.  It’s the least we can do, love someone that no one else will.

 

“Occupy Charity” at Christmas (and all year)

One of my favorite modern Christmas stories occurred a few years back.  I attend a fairly large church that can average 3-5 thousand over 4 services on a weekend in a relatively affluent community.  Well as expected, Christmas eve was crowded.  At the end of the service our pastor told us a story and made a call to action. 

The church sponsored an orphanage in the Ukraine.  If I recall the details properly, the orphanage is housed in a fairly large building and was important to the many homeless children in the community.  Over the years we as a church had helped with many of their needs and had even traveled to assist them with different things.  Well this Christmas time, they had a special need.  It seems, that during that particular year they had been going through an unusually cold winter, many days already in December already with below 0 temperatures and with the heart of winter still to come. This home provided the necessary shelter and food for many of the young children in the area that without a home like this, would likely starve or freeze during these cold months.  This home literally made the difference between life and death for many.

Well as so happened the boiler went out in this building, leaving it with no heat.  This would be disastrous for the very people that depended on this life saving home.  The operators of the home contacted their partners at our church and humbly asked for assistance to get heat restored.  The repairs that would be needed would require about $10,000, money they just did not have.  Without them, they would be forced to close their doors.  They asked if there was anything we could do to help them with even a portion of the money required to do repairs.

Jump back to northeast Ohio, on that Christmas eve, where we all had cozy, warm homes to return too, looking forward to Christmas morning.  Our pastor asked that we take up a special offering, of which 100% of the funds would be delivered to this home for the necessary repairs.  We made our offering and went back to our warm homes. 

A few weeks later during our normal weekend services, our pastor made a special announcement and wanted to let us know the outcome of this special offering.  As a church family, we had raised over $50,000 for this home, which would not only cover the needed repairs, but would allow for necessary upgrades and enhancements and operating expenses that would improve the ability of the home to provide for those in need.  What an unexpected blessing this was and how truly this changed the lives of many.

Changing Lives one day at a time

Our small offering, while not a great individually great sacrifice, combined to make the difference between life and death for many.  It allowed those children in the Ukraine another day of life and provisions that they would not have had otherwise. 

Another great story I love to tell, is how more local and affects many of my neighbors and friends.  Every year at the end of the football season, we play our rivals for the Blue Cup.  Unfortunately, for too long, our team has not brought the Blue Cup home.  The last two years during the weeks leading up the game, we also are preparing for another competition, the prize of which is the Blue Ladle.  What is this?  Well both schools booster organizations hold a food drive at the schools.  Students are encouraged to bring in a few canned or boxed goods.  This year for the second year in a row, we’ve won the Blue Ladle with over five truckloads of food going to our local food cupboard!

While we love to win the Blue Ladle, the most important part of the story comes next.  To help unload the food, we enlisted a handful of football players to help (five truckloads of food is a lot for us old men!).  After we unloaded we had the operators talk with these young men about their operation and how lives are changed because of what they just did.  If you watched these young men as they listened, you could see that they got it, they realized that football is just a game, played on the field, but it really means nothing in the grand scheme of things.  What they won by playing for the Blue Ladle, was not just a large blue ladle (yes their really is one), but the knowledge that they changed someone’s life.  They helped someone have some food that may have been difficult to come by.  This is what it is all about.  Changing lives, one day at a time, making an eternal difference in their own and the recipients of their charity.

That is what charity is about, it is not about taking from one (the well-off) and giving to another (the not-so-well off), it is about giving of yourself, giving a piece of your own heart and soul and sharing that with someone else that has need.  What is beautiful about that is that is not a zero-sum game.  When you take from the one to give to another, you simply move wealth around, but when you give of yourself, out of charity to those in need, you not only help those in need by providing them something they can’t provide for themselves, but you also enrich yourself.  I’m not suggesting that by giving a dollar you’ll be returned two, but giving of yourself enriches you in so many ways that once you’ve experienced the gift of giving, you’ll want to keep on giving!  Try it, you’ll see.

Missing the Point

Unfortunately, what I see today, in our fast-paced, self-centered culture is a lack of true charity.  Oh we can say that by paying our taxes and asking the well to do to pay “their fair share” (whatever that means) we can provide a kind of charity, all that really does is move wealth from one to another.  We can “Occupy Whatever” and say that capitalism is the root of all evil and is the problem that plagues our society.  But what most forget is that they have all they need to provide charity to those that lack.  How so you may ask? 

Do you see someone who doesn’t have enough to eat?  Give them food.
Do you see someone without a home?  Offer them your couch.
Do you see someone freezing in the winter?  Give them a coat.
Do you see someone without a job and willing to work?  Give them work.
Do you see someone sad and depressed this holiday season?  Give them a kind word and help them smile.

Don’t miss the point of charity.  Not to enrich others at the expense of some, but to enrich all through the gift of giving.  This Christmas season, give to those in need, of yourself and watch the wealth and good will spread far faster than any other means.