Jesus will be here on Friday

“When you put on a luncheon or a banquet,” he said, “don’t invite your friends, brothers, relatives, and rich neighbors. For they will invite you back, and that will be your only reward. Instead, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. Then at the resurrection of the righteous, God will reward you for inviting those who could not repay you.”

We are having our 3rd annual New Year’s Day Jubilee Party on January 1st where we pick up some of our friends under the Steel Bridge in Portland and drive them back to our home to get a hot shower, wash some of their clothes, get a healthy meal, play some card games, watch some college football, or just take a nap.  Pray that our guests feel blessed and loved, not only by our attempts at serving them in humility, but by them seeing Jesus in us.

We checked out an audio recording of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever at the local library and listened to it in the car on our way to celebrate Christmas with some of our family.  To be honest, by the end of the story I was almost in tears, joyous tears!  If you don’t know the story, the Herdmans are a rough family.  They’re not really sure where their dad is, and their mom works two jobs so she doesn’t have to be around her children.  They cuss and smoke and burn down stuff.  They are dirt poor and only started coming to church because they heard they served cookies at Sunday school.  But then they decided to take part in the annual Christmas pageant, the boring run-of-the-mill Christmas story.  The one where the pew-sitters smile because Mary is so angelic and the choir of angels hit all the right notes and the kid playing the donkey does something cute and funny.  But the Herdmans, who had never heard the story, have a slightly different interpretation, one that is a little rough around the edges — which makes it so much better.  Actually, the audience ends up liking this version better.  Why?  Because it included the Herdmans, these imperfect people made the pageant perfection.  It would have been much easier putting together a play with the usual actors, but it is a lot more fun and a lot more interesting to include the rough kids.

This is what Jesus did, He invited the tax collectors and prostitutes to walk along side of Him, not the pharisees.  And this is what He calls us to do — include the marginalized, love the un-loveable, it’s usually a lot more fun, and you will be rewarded during the resurrection of the righteous.

I pray not only that these men and women see Jesus in us, but more so that we see Jesus in them.  The often quoted scripture on this blog, Matthew 25:40 “whatever you do for the least of these brothers (and sisters) of mine, you do for me” is the only true way we can serve these folks in a Christ-like way.  As Mother Teresa said,

“The yesterday is always today with God, therefore today in the world Jesus stands covered with our sins, in the distressing disguise of my Sister, my Brother.”

Can we see Him in the homeless man on the corner?  Can we see Him in our neighbor?  In our boss?  Until we do, we cannot truly love.  This Friday we are not serving homeless folks who live under a bridge in Portland, Oregon, we are serving our Redeemer, the Messiah, Immanuel — “God with us.”

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Jubilee Pantry

We came up with a name for the food pantry, the Jubilee Pantry.  You can read about the Jubilee in Leviticus 25, but a couple of key words that sum up this concept of the Jubilee are redistribution and reconciliation.

Our heart for this ministry is simply that.

Redistribution of what the Lord has blessed us with as well as others who donate.  And reconciliation, which is two fold, 1) reconciliation with God and 2) reconciliation with our neighbors.

We don’t want to simply be a para-church organization that distributes food to the needy.  We want to be known as that peculiar family down the street that gives food away, invites strangers inside and talks a lot about Jesus.  Many food distribution ministries unintentionally end up with a strange dichotomy of haves and have-nots, those serving and those being served.  As Clarence Jordon, founder of Koinonia Farm said, we want our home to be “a demonstration plot for the Kingdom of God”, not simply a place where folks come to get food.

This past week we built the first set of shelves out of some wood that was literally donated by God.  Then we had another donation of $300 that was designated specifically for shelving.  Yesterday we had some high school kids come over and volunteer their time putting the shelving together.  We could still use two more shelving units on the interior wall side, but for the most part we are in business: we have more shelving than we do canned food!   Serenity is going to paint Fritz Eichenberg’s Jesus in the Breadline on the interior wall, she is an amazing artist, and I’m really excited to see how it turns out.

The next step is to develop a sustainable model for consistently filling the Jubliee Pantry with food that folks in the community truly need.  This would include developing relationships with local churches and schools, with grocery stores and farms.  Connecting with leadership and community development groups and determining how we can help each other.

So we continue to progress, both in the flesh and philosophically.  Here are a few photos of yesterday’s work crew.

Freely give, freely receive

In June, we came home to a house full of furniture, food, prepared homeschool room, new towels, etc.  Family, friends, and people we don’t even know came together to welcome us back by giving, cleaning, preparing and making our empty house a home.  We were so thankful and honored to receive this blessings.

This summer was then a journey of asking for help, borrowing cars, qualifying for government health care and food assistance, and finding ourselves almost ashamed to have to ask for so much.  Submerged back into a culture of many expectations and responsibilities with dwindling income, no car, and no health care made us feel irresponsible, free-loading, folks who just got back from “vacation”.  Honestly, I don’t recall anyone actually calling us any of these things to our faces or even feeling these attitudes from individuals, but being in need in a place of plenty becomes draining which can allow the enemy to sneak in and speak lies.

Our pride continues to be peeled away as our “new” car (1987 Volkswagen Vanagon) bucks down the freeway causing our entire family to be heaved back and forth as we head to church.  The Wolf  (yes, that is what we call her) has left us stranded a few times already, leaving us to rely on neighbors and/or co-workers to give us rides or let us borrow their cars.  Andy and others have spent hours already working on the van, forced to become mechanics at the drop of a hat.  It has been a frustrating inconvenience but also gives us good belly laughs.  Imagining a family of six being jolted back and forth on the freeway only brings a smile to my face.

We are constantly reminded that this is our choice.  We chose  for Andy to work only half days as a teacher.  We chose to buy an older car in an attempt to stay within our small budget.  We choose to stay within our means rather than buying on credit and building up a debt that consumes us.  But as we choose to live this way, it forces the people around us to become involved in our lives.  It has been hard to ask others to become involved, and in our culture and society it is a peculiar way to live – relying on others for help.  We are the weirdos on the street who are building something in their garage, homeschooling, stocking up food, and always asking for help.  But we hope to be the weirdos that our neighborhood can rely on and feel welcomed and loved when they are around us.

As of now we are here.  God saved our house for us and continues to provide mortgage, food, a car, insurance, health care, cell phones, internet, etc.  He does not always provide in ways we would like Him to.  It would be lovely if He poured money into one of our drawers every morning.  It would be much easier if we didn’t have to ask for help, especially when it is not a regular practice among family, friends, and culture.  But God calls us to be a Light.  A light is exposed and vulnerable, willing to shine in any circumstances.   We choose to be Light which calls us to ask for help when we know we don’t have much to give back.  Often we have been tempted to hide this vulnerability under a bushel or let Satan blow it out and steal our joy.  Jesus was a person who shared everything that He had and received everything that was given.  Love will not continue if we are not willing to receive it as well.

We have had to let the Holy Spirit work on us, remind us, and show us how much we DO have.  He shows us downtown when we visit our friends who live under the bridges, or high school kids who have just lost their father.  He reminds us of the random people (now friends) who He sends from Michigan to help us with the food pantry.  He drops large pieces of wood in the street to help with shelving for the food pantry.  He shows us all of our friends and neighbors who are constantly stopping to sacrifice time, money, cars, childcare, to help our family.  He reminds us of the beautiful gifts given to Luci before she was born.  And through all of this it has created relationships that cannot be stolen.

We have learned many of these things through mistakes we have made.  Andy and I are still learning the importance of community and loving freely.  We are learning how to throw off the shame of owing people and replacing it with the joy of being available to help and give what we have.  The spirit of Joy frees people to ask without shame and give without expectations. Joy confuses the enemy and throws his plans back at him.  Satan wants us to have expectations and agendas in every relationship.

Love gives and receives joyfully.

God gives and receives joyfully.

If we believe this, then we must take courage and step out in faith.  We must risk vulnerability to allow the Kingdom that Jesus promised us to come.  We must experience some of the shame that Jesus took on for us so that we can then put it back on Him.  Little glimpses of darkness make Him real to me, especially when I know that He can take that darkness and turn it into Light.

I love the King of kings because He saved me from the darkness that I often try to take on myself.  I love Him because He gives me the gift of Life that I do not deserve.  I love Him because He joyfully and freely gives me this gift every day.  I love Him because He does not stop loving us if we don’t know what we have, nor does He frown upon us when we choose to hide it.  I love Him because He loves me.  And the only way I can truly love others is if I know of His true love for me.

As we celebrate His birthday this month and know His love personally, we have quite a gift.   This gift has been freely given to us, let us be those weirdos who freely give back.