God's Heart for the Poor
There are countless things that my parents taught me while growing up. They taught me how to tie my shoes, my dad taught me how to drive a stick shift, and my mom at least attempted to teach me how to cook. Out of all those things, small to big, the one I am perhaps most grateful for is the way they taught me that serving the poor is part of being a Christian. They led by example and frequently served with our church in different ministries in the Denver area. It was evident, even without their words, that their service was directly connected to their faith in Christ, and was even evidence of their faith in Christ.
The Story of Ditmus
When I was 16, my Mom took me to downtown Denver to serve meals and give out clothes to the homeless population there. It was something that I did periodically growing up, and frankly, I didn’t think too much about it. It seemed like a nice thing to do. We would hand out sandwiches and clothes as people waited patiently in line. This particular trip though, I got in to a conversation with a man named Ditmus. He told me a little about his story. He had been addicted to cocaine for quite some time and told me that he wasn’t technically homeless. He lived in a weekly pay hotel, which he paid for by stealing cars and selling them for cash. The night that we talked, he was just coming down from a high. He told me how empty his life was, and how he felt that there must be something more.
For the evangelist in me, this was what I also hoped people would say, so that I could share the good news of Jesus with them. I jumped on the opportunity. I told Ditmus about the God who sent his Son, Jesus Christ, to die in order to undo all the effects of sin for those who would trust in him. Ditmus listened intently as I explained that Christ’s death would give him hope for eternal life, if he chose to believe. That night he decided that’s what he wanted to do. He felt he had spent too much of his life chasing things that left him empty, so he decided to place his trust in Christ.
We prayed together and it was a really powerful to see God move that night. I invited Ditmus to church and he came! I was really excited to see him come to church, but after a couple of weeks he stopped coming and we lost contact with each other. I’m not sure what the reason was, but it was hard because I knew there were many areas in his life where God’s grace could’ve brought healing and new life.
Good News with Good Deeds
This experience has always served as a reminder to me that that evangelism and serving or mercy ministries go together. We are not to pick one or the other, but it is a both/and type of thing. We are called to proclaim the good news of the Kingdom and also perform the good deeds of the Kingdom. The first time Jesus sends out his followers he sends out them out to proclaim the message of the Kingdom, while healing the sick, cleansing lepers, and casting out demons (Matthew 10:1-8). Their mission was two-fold, they were to proclaim good news and perform good deeds. Ditmus didn’t just need to hear that his sins could be forgiven. He also needed to see that the pain from sin could also be alleviated. Our calling is to be both proclaimers and doers. The response people have to the gospel doesn’t depend on us, and our serving others can’t be dependent on their response to the gospel. We are to be faithful and love all others in word and deed. A helpful analogy I heard recently puts it this way: think about a ship. The front of the ship is the good news proclaimed, while the cargo of the ship is the good deeds that are done. As the good news moves forward, it brings “goods” with it.
This commitment to evangelism and service has led me to my current position with inCOMMON Community Development in Park Ave. Our mission is “to alleviate poverty at a root level by uniting and strengthening vulnerable neighborhoods.” We want to see neighborhoods become better places to live, and we want to see neighbors be the driving force in that change. We work with many people who live in poverty, and our job is to give them every opportunity to get out of poverty, so that future generations will grow up in stronger and safer neighborhoods. Often this looks like us doing “good deeds” to help people in hard circumstances. We do community meals, adult education, help people find jobs, and connect people to housing opportunities. Yet, our end goal is a discipleship of sorts: we don’t want to just see people achieve their individual goals, but we want them to see that they also have something to give. We want people to see how their gifts and passions can benefit their neighbors. And all throughout this process we have opportunities to get to know people and to share Jesus with them. We frequently get the opportunity to pray for people and have some neighbors come to church. We are praying to see God’s Kingdom come in Park Ave, as people experience the good deeds of the Kingdom and respond to the good news of the Kingdom.
Not all of us will have a vocation to serve the poor and vulnerable in our city full-time, but every Christian must show concern for the poor. Jesus had severe warnings for those who did not (Matthew 25:31-46). It can be as simple as serving and sharing a meal at a homeless shelter once a month, or volunteering at a local non-profit. Sometimes, it might simply involve us giving to support the work, if our schedule is holding us back. Jesus himself took on the form of a servant to die on the cross, so that we could have eternal life (Philippians 2:6-11). We too should look to give up our own time, energy, and resources for the good of others and the glory of God.