Tag Archives: the sheep and the goats

Sesame Street vs. The Church

I read this headline on Yahoo News yesterday, “New ‘Sesame Street’ Muppet for special on hunger.”  I was intrigued, so I checked it out.  Here is the heart of the story:

Lily is a 7-year-old who talks to viewers about insecurity over whether her family will have enough to eat. The puppet goes to a pantry for food and also volunteers there.

I think this is actually pretty awesome.  God has given me a heart for those less fortunate, and in the last year he has really set that heart on fire for the needy.  It started when I read the book Radical by David Platt, and the flames exploded when I read The Hole in Our Gospel by Richard Sterns (the president of WorldVision).  A God keeps fanning the flames as I read through the Bible (it is an overwhelming theme).  A kids show to help them understand what some people go through on a regular basis is a really good thing.

However, the more I thought about this the more something started to bother me.  Why is Sesame Street doing a better job of inspiring compassion than the church?

I know, I know.  Sesame Street has been trying to help students learn about life for a long time.  And I know, the Church has been reaching out to the poor since the beginning.  I agree to these sentiments.  But…

I do believe that the Church has dropped the ball.  If we are living out what the Bible (both Old and New Testaments…but especially the words of Jesus himself in the New), then we should own this issue.  The Church should be looked to as the heart of compassion for the poor and needy, not Elmo, Big Bird, and Oscar the Grouch.

I know some churches are the exception to what I am saying, and I would hold mine out as one of those kind of churches.  At the same time, I can’t remember the last sermon/teaching I heard on giving to the poor.  When was the last time I was reminded that God’s focus has always been bent towards giving mercy to those who need it?  Sure, we have our programs that urge us to reach out to others.  We can bring money, school supplies, and shoeboxes full of Christmas…but when have I been last asked to leverage something in my life for the sake of the poor, hungry, orphans, widows, and prisoners?

What are our children learning about God’s heart for the needy?  They are learning the Bible.  Which is awesome.  They are learning worship songs.  That is great.  But what are they learning about giving up things that they might like in order to sacrafice for the needy?

I think the Church may have dropped the ball a bit on this one, and a bunch of puppets have picked it up and are running with it.

I realize that I may have a bit of extreme bent and I am talking a bit tongue-in-cheek, but there are some serious things to consider here.

  • Are we really living out God’s heart for mercy to the poor as the universal group of believers…and I am talking all of us, not small pockets and groups?
  • Does the world look to the Church as the center of compassion and generousity?
  • Are we leveraging anything in our lives for the sake of the poor and needy (both here and throughout the world)?
  • Do we make daily decisions in my day-to-day life that affect the lives of anyone else in need?
  • Do we teach our children the art of sacrafice for the sake of others?

I have to defer to Jesus himself here.  The parable of the sheep and goats is often referred in these types of discussions, and rightly so.  So I am going to go there.  I am not going to quote the whole passage here, but go check out Matthew 25:31-46 really quick and come back.

You back?

Jesus is obviously talking about the final judgment.  It is when he will come back and pretty much separate people based on if they are going to Heaven or Hell.  And what is his standard?  “For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.”  Those on the “good side” asked when they did this, and Jesus said it is when they did these things for people in these circumstances.

What did Jesus hold against those not joining him in Paradise?  Was it lust?  Was it gluttony?  Was it hatred?  Homosexuality?  Even murder?  No.  It was how they treated the “least of these.”

Then the King will turn to those on the left and say, ‘Away with you, you cursed ones, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his demons.  For I was hungry, and you didn’t feed me. I was thirsty, and you didn’t give me a drink.  I was a stranger, and you didn’t invite me into your home. I was naked, and you didn’t give me clothing. I was sick and in prison, and you didn’t visit me.’

Am I proposing that we get into Heaven by works?  No, of course not!  It is quite clear from the rest of the New Testament that it is by faith alone that we are saved and allowed to live in the presence of God.  It is faith in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  However, our faith (and the Spirit living in us because of our faith) will show itself by what we do.  It will show by where we spend our time.  Where we spend our money.  Where our heart is.  In James 2:26 it is quite clear, “Just as the body is dead without breath, so also faith is dead without good works.”

I could go on, but I won’t.  I think you catch what I am throwing at you.  But where does that leave us?  Where does this leave me?

There is a song by a band called Shaded Red.  They have a song called “Revolution” that has a lyric singing to me as I write about this, “There is a revolution, it starts with me and ends at the back of the church.”  I am going to have to close this by just dealing with me.  You can deal with you.  And then we can all deal with each other.

I can only quiz myself and do some reflection.  What does my faith show?  What are my works showing?  Is my heart the same as God’s for the poor, widows, orphans, and prisoners?  Do I leverage anything for the sake of the needy?  Do I sacrafice anything in my daily life for the causes that hold people down?  Do I teach my son to live a life of sacrafice for others?  How will I do when I stand before Jesus and he is separating people?  Am I a sheep or a goat?

Now what about you?  How are you doing?  Are you a sheep or a goat?  Are you teaching your children about sacrafice for the sake of the needy?

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Poverty: An Imbalance of Opportunity

Today I have the honor of a guest blogger. 

I guess the process started a year or so ago, but my friend, Joey Espinosa, felt led to pack his life and family up and move to the lower part of South Carolina to Allendale County, which is a part of the Corridor of Shame.  Allendale is, per capita, the poorest part of the state.  He was living in the upstate and the children’s pastor of my church.  God moved him in the direction of going to live out his faith and restart a Boys and Girls Club in Allendale.  The whole story is amazing, and you can find out more on his blog, Mission: Allendale.  Additionally he has another blog about faith and parenting called A Different Way.

When we think about poverty, we have to move beyond considering the lack of resources. Generational poverty is also about the lack of opportunities.

Our Basic Desire

Years ago, when I had a “real” job, my co-workers and I were having a discussion about a war going on in another part of the world. It was a divided group, with some very strong opinions from both ends of the political spectrum. As you can imagine, the conversation was going nowhere fast.

After trying to stay out of the fracas, I felt like I had to say something, to redirect the issue. “You know what I think about? That there is some dad in that country with kids my age. He really doesn’t care about which side is right or wrong. He’s just trying to provide for his family, so his kids can grow up safe, healthy, and educated.”

No matter what social status you are in, everyone has the  common bond of wanting a chance. For some of us, it’s the opportunity to buy  more and better stuff. For others, it’s the opportunity for a more fulfilling  job, or a way to better use their gifts. And for many  people in the world (including the USA), they
merely want opportunities to obtain basic needs for their families, like food,  shelter, and health care.

When I pause and reflect, something just isn’t right about many of the imbalances  we see. And it’s not so much the imbalance of consumable resources, but the  imbalance of opportunities.

Imbalance of Opportunities

This past summer, a few high school students from Greenville  lived with a friend in the Allendale area, and they also spent a handful of  nights with us.

Late in July, one of the boys came to me in the morning and calmly informed me that his ear hurt. I told him that it would probably feel  better later. But my wife (the compassionate mom) knew what it was: an ear infection.

After trying to contact his mom (unsuccessfully) and trying to figure out if he had insurance or Medicaid (“I don’t know”), my wife took him to a local clinic.

Joanna explained to the medical staff the situation, and he received the attention he needed. The payment was based on a sliding scale, and was a trivial amount (for us).

But the part that stood out was having to pay $8 for the prescription drug amoxicillin. Why did this irk us? Because in Greenville, this drug would be free at a Publix pharmacy.

So, in the most under-resourced part of the state (Allendale), people pay $8 or more for a particular medicine. And in one of the wealthiest areas in the state (Greenville), you can get it for free.

Opportunities in Education

How many more advanced placement (AP) classes do you think are available in the average school in Greenville or Columbia, compared to Allendale? Surely there are children with above-average intelligence and motivation in this area.

How are kids going to consistently develop relationships of trust with educators in this school district, with the highest teacher turnover ratio, and where half of the schools have new principals in 2011?

We are seeing a negative trend of the imbalance in many areas. Not only have suburban schools gained advantages over urban ones, but they tend to hoard these advantages. Under-resourced schools become more under-resourced, comparatively.

“I Desire Mercy, Not Sacrifice”

I am not pushing for socialism or communism. I’m not proposing mandatory wealth distribution. But I am saying that our hearts need to be stirred and softened. We need to be moved to take action when we see the scarcity of opportunity in areas of generational poverty.

Consider what your life would be like if you were in their shoes. What resources would you need? What opportunities?

Try not to think of those in poverty as a group, as in “What they need is . . .” Consider the individuals, the families. For, however much of little that you have, there is always someone else worse off, who just needs a chance.

Related Links

They’re Baaack!

What’s Our Ultimate Purpose in Allendale?

So, what do you think?  I believe there is STRONG biblical evidence that when it is all said and done, what we are going to be judged most for in the end is what we did concerning those less fortunate, specicially the extreme poor, those in generational poverty because of a lack of opportunities, orphans, and widows.  We have “pet sins” in the Amercan Church.  We like to pick on premarital sex, drunkedness, and homosexuality…but we leave out what it seems the God holds more important, taking care of each other.  Never donating time and money to helping give those in need a hand up is not often talked about as a sin, but it is.  Throughout the Old and New Testament, this is one thing that comes up more than anything else.  How did you treat the poor, widows, orphans.  What did you do about it?

I am not suggesting that everyone do what Joey and his family did, but you need to do something.  Donate some time (not just money) to a cause for those in generational poverty.  Pray about it.  Find something.  Do it.  And then see if you don’t start to see God start to change you.

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