Thursday, October 17, 2013
Faith, Hope and Handouts
You've probably heard this before at some point: Faith, hope and love - but the greatest of these is love.
I have faith in all God has done for me. I believe in his promise of forgiveness. I believe he has already accomplished my salvation. He has already freed me from slavery to sin. And he has already equipped me to serve him and to live with love. I have faith that through him I am capable of love.
But without love, my faith is nothing.
I hope for God's kingdom. I hope for Christ to return and change all of us to be like him. So that I can serve him forever. I long to be included before his throne, to see him in his almighty and spectacular splendor. I long to live in his unimaginable light - where there is no darkness. I have hope in his power to complete the good thing he has started in me.
But without love, my hope is nothing.
Last Sunday, Boyfriend Javelin and I stopped at a rest area on our trip back from Cleveland. As I trotted over to the much-needed men's room, I passed a young woman wearing a somewhat disheveled coat, holding the leash of a somewhat mangy dog and clutching a somewhat limp piece of cardboard with a short message. It's the same message on all such signs: "I'm broke. I need money."
For a split second while hurrying past, I wondered if she actually might be broke - couldn't it be possible? I know, I know - I'm so gullible. It's always such a scam. Some of these "broke" people probably have more money than I do. In fact, in this case, there was even a capped Starbucks coffee cup next to her - and if you're broke, how can you afford a cup of coffee? And she clearly had made the sign with a magic marker - did she just happen to remember to grab one of those on the road to poverty?
Once I was safely back in the car, I let out a sigh of relief, happy to have to side-stepped yet another crafty scam. She certainly was a master at pulling heart-strings with that dog. And someone would probably eventually fall for it too - because if asking for handouts didn't pay, she wouldn't keep doing it.
And even if she really was broke, I don't want to risk being responsible for funding someone's personal addiction - who knows what she'd do with any money I gave her? Drugs? Alcohol? It could be why she was "broke" to begin with.
But everyone can use a prayer - and a prayer won't fund substance abuse. So as I drove away, I murmured a prayer to God. "Help her find a soup kitchen, Lord."
Do you see the love I showed her? Did you catch how my faith motivated me to put my thankfulness into action? Did you see how I showed her the riches of God's boundless love? Did you see how I generously shared all God has given me - with her? Did you catch all that?
No? Well, at least I didn't fund a drug addict. At least I wasn't just another sucker. And at least I still have my precious dollar.
Sadly, this story is 100% true. It actually happened and it happened just this past Sunday. It happened right after thanking God for strengthening my faith and giving me hope. Right after pledging to love and serve others. Doesn't my love shine bright?
Get a little closer. Let me show you just how bright my love is. You might need sunglasses for this.
Every time someone asks for money, I quote a handy little rhetoric: "Give a man a fish and he'll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and he'll eat for a lifetime." But was I prepared to equip the woman with the skills necessary to provide for herself? Was I prepared to help her find a job, shelter and clothes? Or was I prepared to even teach her something as simple as catching a fish? No - but I did have a dollar. And even that I couldn't be bothered to share.
Every time someone looks for a donation, I warn myself: "If I give money to everyone who asks me, I'll be broke!" It's true - I can't donate to everyone. But on Sunday, it wasn't everyone asking for a donation. It was one woman with one dog - and all she wanted was spare change. God has given me far more than spare change. Yet even that I couldn't spare.
When someone asks for a handout, I whisper to myself: "If I give them a handout, then they'll never want to work." But who am I to judge a woman at a rest stop? Do I know how she got there? Do I know her capabilities? Do I know the motives of her heart? And even if she is willing to work, do I have a job to pay her, a place for her to stay, clothes for her to wear? No - but what I did have to give, I didn't offer.
I puff up with my own knowledge: "I need to be a good steward of my money and I don't want to support an addiction." But God has showered worthless me with so many gifts - and I deserve nothing! God forgives every wrong I do - and I can never pay him back! He reached out with love and saved me - while I was still evil! I was an addict, I was unworthy, I was ungrateful, I was greedy, I was lazy - and God still loved me. Am I greater than God? Should I only share God's gifts with people I am 100% sure are deserving? Should I only give when I know I won't be taken advantage of? Should I only love the woman if she can prove she's not an addict?
And then there's my favorite excuse. The one I use all the time: "I don't carry cash." But I do have a sweatshirt. And I do have spare change in the car. And a bag of apples. And an unopened can of Dr. Pepper. I have all these things - yet I offered none of them.
I'm ashamed. My lack of love - in light of all I have been given - is disgusting. My quick thinking to make myself feel better - disgusting. My faith and hope - worthless without love.
If only I had stopped. Just stopped. And offered just one thing to her. I have been given so much, I have been forgiven so much, I have been LOVED so much. How could I pass up the opportunity to share the spare change of that love? Spare change - what is that to me? An apple - don't I already have enough food? My sweatshirt - don't I have more? If I had stopped, who knows what kind of ripple love might have made.
But that's not what happened. I walked away. I walked away and congratulated myself on not being a chump. I still had my dollar. And that's what God wants from me - my precious dollar.
I walked back to my car and drove away. "Help her find a soup kitchen, Lord." A little while later, still confident in my faith and sure of my hope, I happily murmured a new prayer. "Lord, give me more opportunities to love."
I can't describe how terrible I feel right now. All that talk about faith - and for what?! All that talk about my hope in Christ - and what did that hope produce in me? All my going on and on about love - I'm so terrified of being a chump, I won't even risk it for the sake of love! What is wrong with me?!
That woman and her dog - that WAS my opportunity! That was my big chance to put my faith into action. To boldly live my hope. That was my big chance to show love - to demonstrate how God's love has produced love in me. But apparently, she wasn't good enough my love. I will never see her again, never establish a pattern of behavior, never know if she really was broke. But apparently, me and my puffed-up self had already decided she was a liar. So I refused to waste my dollar - and instead wasted my opportunity to love.
Forgive me. Teach me to love fearlessly. Because you love me, Lord. Teach me to share all that I have with others. Because nothing I have is mine to keep - it is a gift from you. Teach me to love everyone. Just as you love everyone - even someone as worthless as me. Teach me to put love first. Then I will see the opportunities clearly.
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these...