Thursday, July 31, 2008

On a brighter note

by John D Ramsey

Cara text-messaged me the other day saying, “Pray for me today. I had a long restraint last night and [was] kicked in the face.” Cara works with children and young adults who need special help. As it turned out, Cara intervened in a volatile situation, and paid the price for loving the unlovely. Now Cara and Gabby have my-swollen-eye-in-July stories to share: Cara’s from a person and Gabby’s from a bumblebee. I suppose the lesson here is that in this world you can get hurt even if you are not trying to help someone. We might as well jump in and show people how much God loves them.

Cara’s black eye is healing; it was somewhat a right of passage among her peers. They told her she was no longer, “Rookie.” Cara is no stranger to pain, but violence is new to her. In her profession, enduring violence without resorting to anger establishes credibility. This reminds me of the Apostle Paul. He closed his written argument with the Galatians, saying, “Finally, let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus.” Galatians 6:17 (NASB) In his lifetime, Paul was imprisoned, beaten, shipwrecked, and stoned and left for dead. All this probably had not happened before he wrote Galatians, but Paul had credentials. He expected even people who disagreed with him to respect him accordingly. Compared to Paul, most of us are rookies. Consequently, we should pay attention to what he says and stop pretending to know better than he does.

I suppose this is part of what I find perturbing in Christianity, that is, the ease with which we dismiss the words of Jesus saying they were spoken to a different Dispensation, and the arrogance with which we ignore Paul because his commands were only culturally applicable. You can dismiss my rants, too, by the way, because I am a rookie compared to Paul and Jesus. In fact, if you are inclined to dismiss the words of Jesus for any reason, please write me off, too, because “a servant is not greater than his master.”

The other day we were exiting the highway, and we saw a man standing near the bottom of the ramp. He was holding a cardboard sign. From the back seat, Claire sounded the alarm, “Mom!”

Immediately, Lisa dived into her purse, collected a handful of quarters, and gave them to me. She was out of bills. As we approached, Lisa recognized the man and said, “I’ve helped him before.”

From the back seat Gabby sighed, “I have missed helping poor people.”

It had been a few weeks since we had seen anyone along the highway. Claire and Gabby are alert to opportunities to give.

It is true. If you give Gabby money, she is likely to put it in the Rice for Bangladesh five-gallon water bottle at church or else into a Ziploc baggy along with a we-love-you note to be given to someone desperate enough to stand along the highway asking for help. Normally, Lisa has kits stashed in the car's console containing a Gospel of John, a protein snack, some hard candy, and a crisp ten-dollar bill.

Why does my family do this? I will not take credit. We do this because Jesus said, “Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you.” Matthew 5:42 (NASB) Why ten bucks? It is enough to buy a meal. If I am giving something in Jesus’ name, I am reluctant to give less. If you want to criticize me, tell me that I am not giving enough, and be sure to include your street credentials. Honestly, I anguish over whether I do enough. Nevertheless, in my experience, a panhandler has never asked me for more than a dollar. If I give him ten, perhaps he knows that I am not giving grudgingly. If I give something, then I am obeying the simple command of Jesus.

I know that any money I give might be spent on Mad Dog, Wild I, or something worse. All my life, I have heard arguments demanding that we make value judgments before giving to the poor (What will he do with this?). Yet, I have not heard anything as simple and liberating as Jesus’ words, “Give to him who asks.” Jesus point was, do not make value judgments; just give to him who asks. Jesus wants simple obedience from us. I doubt that he appreciates the mental gymnastics that we employ to disregard his teaching.

If someone abuses my gift, so be it; he will not answer to me. We will all someday answer to Jesus Christ. When I do, I know that I will have no credentials of my own regardless of what I have done. When I fall before Jesus’ throne, I will plead only the promise of his grace and forgiveness. I have confidence in his capacity to forgive me because I know his credentials:

And can it be that I should gain
an interest in the Savior's blood!
Died he for me? who caused his pain!
For me? who him to death pursued?

Amazing love! How can it be
that thou, my God, shouldst die for me?

— Charles Wesley

Jesus' amazing love is the persistent bright light that brings me back from my perturbations. Earlier this week I anguished over feeling incongruous in a place in which my Christian friends feel at home; nevertheless, Jesus knew alienation beyond my culture shock. Jesus, the Word, was God; he created everything. When he became a man, his prime creation did not recognize him. The Jews, his chosen people, did not accept him. “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” John 1:12 (NIV)

Jesus paid the price for loving the unlovely, among whom I am. I love him for that. By his grace, I am saved, and on this bright note, my spirit calms and waits for the clarity of Jesus' voice to call me again to obedience.

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