I was wrestling with how God wanted me to deliver this message this week.
Ya know… we’re in the 4th week of our SOLVE7 Summer of Love, talking about removing the physical barriers in people’s lives to make way for spiritual opportunities. We’re talking about caring for the homeless.
So… maybe I should talk about how ALL of us are homeless until we find our home in Jesus.
John 15:4 - Make your home in me as I make my home in you.
Yeah… I can talk about how we try to make our homes in all sorts of things other than Jesus. We try to make our home in unhealthy relationships, in sex, in addictions, in consuming more stuff, in success in our careers… thinking that this stuff will actually bring us comfort and shelter. That’s all true.
Yeah, then I can go to the Psalms… go all OT on you guys, really shake things up, and talk about how our only real shelter and home can be found in our Lord.
Psalms 18 - The Lord is my strength, my rock, my savior; my God in whom I find protection. He is my shield, the power that saves me, and my place of safety.
Yes! That will totally work. So I started writing…
Until… I felt this tug on my spirit.
“What if we actually talked about the Homeless?”
You know… the 8,000 women, men, and children that live in and out of emergency shelters all throughout the Cincinnati area.
You know… the countless number of women, men, and children that never make it to the shelters and live unprotected on the streets, under bridges, in cars, or in abandoned houses.
What if we talked about that, Jon? What if Jesus actually meant what he said, to care for the least of these, including the homeless? What if we really looked at Isaiah 58:7 as our marching orders?
"Share your food with the hungry and give shelter to those who are homeless."
What if we actually did that?
So, that’s what I did this week. I studied. I prayed. I dug into what Jesus had to say about caring for the homeless.
The people without homes… the people sleeping in tents downtown… the people living under bridges… the people on the side of the road.
I walked the streets of Cincinnati, talked with people who were living on the streets. Listened to their stories.
Then, I decided to take it a step further. I decided to do a little social experiment.
So, yesterday, dressed like this, I walked over to the intersection of 128 and the off-ramp of 275 and sat down on the side of the road to see what would happen.
I learned a couple of things on the side of the road… things I’m not sure I would have really understood without sitting at that intersection.
It’s humiliating on the side of the road. It’s humiliating to hold that sign. There’s a loss of humanity. Loss of dignity.
People look at you like trash on the side of the road. Waiting for someone else to come by and clean it up.
As I sat there, a few people gave me money. One threw it at my head. A few people yelled at me…“Help yourself by getting a job.”
Most people wouldn’t make eye contact with me. The ones that did, looked at me with judgment and ridicule.
A couple of people from Whitewater stopped to help me. You know who you are… that was a proud pastor moment.
One of our staff members, pulled up next to me, ready to give me some help. When I looked at him face-to-face and he realized it was me, he was like… ’dude.' His face was priceless.
As I sat there, I had a lot of time to think.
The reality is we’re all about two or three bad decisions away from being in a hopeless situation, desperate to make ends meet.
We see homeless people… disheveled, dirty, unkept, but… the person on the side of the road is just my brother. My sister.
If we look past what our human eyes see, underneath the clothes is a husband. A son. A future pastor. Underneath all the mud, the dirt, the shame, is a child of God wanting a better life. Wanting dignity. Wanting to believe they matter.
Underneath all of it, we’re all just longing for HOPE.
So, what if as a community of people, trying to follow in the footsteps of Jesus… what if we slowed down to see people the way Jesus saw them? What would it look like if we sold out to bringing HOPE to a broken world? Regardless of where that journey may take us…
In Matthew 8, we read about a guy who wanted to follow Jesus, he said, “Teacher, I’ll follow you anywhere.”
And Jesus gives him this warning… like, careful what you’re getting yourself into. Jesus responds in verse 20 by saying…
Matthew 8:20 - "Foxes have dens to live in, and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place even to lay his head.”
As I’ve studied the life of Jesus, I’m fascinated by how he lived. One of the things that is fascinating, is that Jesus was homeless. Turns out, the king of kings didn’t have a cute 2 bed-2 bath in Galilea.
Instead, he slept in all different places, sometimes it was a tent-like structure, sometimes in the home of a stranger, or a new follower.
Jesus depended on the kindness and compassion of others to find shelter. Technically, He depended upon His Father in heaven to provide all he needed, but, that was typically done through the mercy and compassion of others.
I often wonder if you and I could do that. Just set off, no money, no smart phone. Just walk town to town. Meet people. Talk to them about their lives, share stories, tell them how much God loves them. Hopefully, find a place to sleep each night.
Maybe I could find some new friends with boats, so I can be more like Jesus… ya know, take naps on boats. Any boat people here? Can we be friends? I just wanna be more like Jesus.
The question that is breaking my heart is: How can we worship a homeless man on Sunday, but ignore one on Monday?
Some of you may think, me dressing up like this, or sitting on the side of the road is too dramatic. Or… my favorite word that gets tossed around… too theatrical.
Maybe… but I made a promise to God to use everything in my power, every ounce of creativity, every prop and goofy idea, every ounce of talent HE gave me to bring as many people into His presence as possible. To offer them Hope in the name of Jesus.
And, truth be told, I’m not the first pastor to do some crazy things for Jesus. David’s done some way crazier stuff than me, but way before that Jesus was one of the best teachers at using props and illustrations to get his point across.
His props were a little more agricultural and 4H friendly… a mustard seed, a fig tree, goats and sheep… and illustrations he called parables.
Like the one he shared in Matthew 25… Jesus’ words not mine:
Matthew 25:31-33 - But when the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit upon his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered in his presence, and he will separate the people as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep at his right hand and the goats at his left.
Matthew 25:41-45 - 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."
Then they will reply, "Lord, when did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and not help you?" And he will answer, "I tell you the truth when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me."
I’m wanting us to really wrestle with what God is asking of us. I’m wanting us to bend our ears to what the Father is saying. To posture our hearts like His. I’m wanting us to really take a look at what it means to follow him. To love like him. To humble ourselves before the Lord and honestly ask "What would you have me do?"
I think it’s hard to talk about loving the homeless because many of us have never truly been living on the street. Some of you have. For some of you, this is very real. But for a lot of folks, this is way outside of what is in their reality.
See, it’s a little easier to love those who look like us and live like us. It’s easy to love those who are close to us… even those who struggle like us.
So, what about everybody else? What about those that don’t live and look like us… those who struggle differently than us? Who’s called to love them?
The same grace and goodness that we swim in every day is the same grace and goodness we are called to share and extend to those different than us… to those whose struggle is different than ours. To those, it is the hardest for us to love…
Jesus is calling us to love like him. To show compassion like him. To show mercy like him. To care for the least and lost… like Him. He didn’t exclude. His grace… His HOPE is for everyone.
What kind of faith do we have when we limit who we show grace and hope to?
James 2:14-17 - What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone? Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, and you say, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well”—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do? So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless.
James 2:26 - Just as the body is dead without breath, so also faith is dead without good works.
We can’t just sit in our beautiful facility, full of all the comforts you can think of, and talk about how Jesus cared for the least and lost. We can’t just sit and listen and sit and read and sit and learn. We have to go.
We can’t just see the problem. Everyone sees the problem. We have to step into the problem. Step into the situation. Be a part of the solution. Make ourselves known as ambassadors of HOPE and make those struggling known to us as our friends. To let them know that they matter.
Jesus is calling us to love, to extend grace, kindness, mercy, and compassion not just when it’s convenient, but whenever it is needed. When it’s messy. When it’s hard. When it’s not our favorite. When it doesn’t fit into our schedule. When it requires sacrifice. When it doesn’t benefit us. When it doesn’t enhance our own portfolio of awesomeness.
I want to let you in on a little secret. Ever since the elders affirmed me as your next Senior Pastor, I’ve been praying for God to break us. Seriously.
As a body of believers, I am praying God crushes us. I am praying he just destroys our hearts. That he breaks ALL of our hearts for what breaks His. Breaks down our walls of comfort. Breaks down our pride. Breaks down our preferences.
That He breaks us down to nothing.
Because I know He will build us back up. He will make us more into who we were created to be.
I know He’s a good Father. I know intimately what happens to someone when God does that. I know how that changes everything. I know the power of God’s transformation. I know he wants to do that with all of us.
Because transformed people transform people.
I know when he breaks us down, He builds us back up into women, men, and students who are more like Him. With new eyes to see. With new ears to hear. With new hearts to love.
So throughout this whole Solve7 Summer of Love series, I’m just praying… break us, Father. Help us to see with your eyes. Help us to love with your heart. Help us to respond with your hands and feet.
We have come so far, God has done so much through his little church in Cleves, Ohio.
But all we have to do is take a walk next door, take a walk in our neighborhood, take a walk downtown, and if we’re looking with God’s eyes, we will be smacked in the face with the tangible needs of a lost and broken world. We will be face to face with desperate eyes longing for HOPE.
So here’s what I’m asking of us this week. If you need a hug, you can come down front after service for a hug… that was amazing last week… seriously, if you want or need a hug… after service, someone from our prayer team down front here would be happy to do that for you.
But for this week, our call to action is for us to respond… to get into the thick of things.
If you see someone who obviously is struggling or homeless. Be prepared to help.
“Well, what if they’re just a con man or a drunk?”
But for the grace of God, there go I. That drunk also happens to have been created in the image of God. We don’t know the whole story. We just have to ask ourselves how we will respond when our story intersects with theirs.
I think a lot of the time, when we see someone in need, it has very little to do with how we are going to help them and change their lives and change their condition … and has everything to do with God checking the condition of our hearts.
Hebrews 13:2 - Don’t forget to show hospitality to strangers, for some who have done this have entertained angels without realizing it!
We never know who we’re helping when we choose to help.
Were we able to help… and did we? Not out of guilt. But out of love. Because that’s what we’re called to do.
1 John 3:16-17 - We know what real love is because Jesus gave up his life for us. So we also ought to give up our lives for our brothers and sisters. If someone has enough money to live well and sees a brother or sister in need but shows no compassion—how can God’s love be in that person?
Will we posture our hearts to be available and be prepared to help?
“Well, what if they’ll just use my money for drugs?”
If you’re convicted about this… don’t give them money. I don’t typically give money, I buy people food.
If you see someone in need, pull the car over and simply say, “I’d like to get you some food, are you hungry?” And if they say yes, go get them food. It’s pretty simple.
Another thing, that is great to do as a family, is put together some care bags you can keep in your car at all times - granola bars, apples, bread, bottled water, sanitary wipes, a copy of the new testament...
On a piece of paper, write down the contact information of City Gospel Mission, and then write a note or have your kids draw a picture, or write a note that simply says, "You matter, and you are loved."
If you’re a little crazy like me, you can always just ask them what they need, other than money, and just take them to the store and buy them what they need. Kelly hates when I do this.
Big ASK for this week…
For this barrier of caring for the Homeless, we have partnered with the City Gospel Mission of Cincinnati. City Gospel is a Christ-centered organization fighting to break the cycle of homeless in the greater Cincinnati area. One of their greatest needs right now is men’s underwear.
So, here’s the deal. I’m asking our Whitewater community to bring in 5,000 pairs of men’s underwear over the next two weekends. You can drop them off during the week, during business hours, or the next two Sundays. For our online community and those from out of town and out of state, you can order them online and have them shipped directly to the church.
A 5 pack of Hanes is $16.
For one night this week, I’m asking you to sacrifice ordering your LARGE Original Deluxe Pizza from LaRosa’s (sorry Mike)… and take that same amount of money and use it to help restore a bit of dignity into someone’s life.
I think all of us can step up to this challenge.
Some of us can do more than one pack of underwear. Some of us should take a break from that much take-out anyway… this is a win-win.
If we do this together, we’ll smash that goal.
5,000 pairs of underwear by August 1st.
Let’s make this happen.