Caring. Why is caring necessary to our faith as a Christian? How do we care for others? These questions have been lingering in my heart and mind for the past year or so, and I feel that the Holy Spirit has revealed some portion of an answer as our family has had the opportunity to be involved in a couple of ministries. One is a weekly feeding of the homeless and the other is being involved in the Safe Parking Program. In these are answers that I would like to share.
In Matthew 22:34-40, we read about the Pharisees trying to trick Jesus by asking Him which is the most important commandment. It reads:
Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.”
What’s striking to me is the importance of loving our neighbor and how Christ commands us to do this with all our heart. The more I learn about Christ through reading the Bible, listening to sermons and doing homegroup studies, the more I see how much of Jesus’ ministry was on a relational level. Christ not only preached and taught; he also expressed His love through practical caring help. Christ was interacting with people from the top down. He didn’t shy away from the lepers and the outcasts. He was in the trenches. Christ not only did this, but He commands us to do the same. So what do we do with this?
Our congregation is over a thousand strong. We have a large capacity for caring. It is exciting to see how much is going on. We are caring for foster kids, we are adopting kids, we are loving kids through Kids Club and YoungLife and the list goes on and on. But I believe we can do more. I know for a fact that we are all busy. I know that we are over-extended. Yet, we have just this one life to live. I think many of us believe that we don’t need to be involved because, they say, that someone else will help out with ministry “X.” Or, “I can’t do that because that isn’t my gift.” Caring, though, shouldn’t be thought of as something we either have the capacity for or not. It should be thought of as a muscle. The more you exercise that muscle, the stronger it will get.
Maybe you are asking yourself, “What exactly is caring?” I believe caring is this: “Compassionate Actions that are Relational and Enduring.” It’s a cheesy acronym but it gets the point across. Caring is, first and foremost, an action. It is not telling someone something or giving them advice. It is an action of grace and humility. It’s also relational, which means that it involves building a friendship. Lastly, it is enduring. Caring is not a one-time action. It is being involved in someone’s life for a season and maybe a lifetime. My experience has been that caring for people creates a unique bond of love that takes birth in seconds or minutes. Some people strive to foster a relationship like this and it takes months. Caring goes straight for the heart. It cuts out the chit-chat and replaces it with a humility and vulnerability that, while awkward for the giver, puts the recipient at ease. It shows that you are meeting people where they are. You are making the effort.
Someone recently told me that they couldn’t relate to caring and it was not something they could grasp. To this I replied, “Think about the people who are close to your heart. It may be your spouse, your mother or father, brother or sister, son or daughter, or maybe your best friend. Now think of that person becoming very sick. Wouldn’t you do anything for that person? Wouldn’t you give them your time, your money or whatever they needed?” They said, “Of course,” to which I responded, “Everyone is someone’s son or daughter, brother or sister and most of all a child of God. They deserve and they have the right to be cared for.” As Christians, we are held to a much higher standard than the world. I kind of think God will be disappointed if, when we meet Him He says, “Look at all the opportunities I put in front of you. And you passed them by.”
A bi-product of caring is evangelism. Caring creates trust and forms a relationship that allows us to speak the truth and share the gospel. I’ll be the first to admit that when it comes to sharing Christ, I would rather my actions speak for me. However, I will also be the first to report that, if you speak up and share the gospel, the Holy Spirit will guide you and give you confidence. All you have to do is listen to God speaking to your heart. About a month ago, I was talking with a new friend I had met through the Safe Parking Program. I invited him and his family to church. He asked, “Is your church open? Because I believe that there are several ways.” I pondered this for a few seconds and then replied, “Yeah, we are pretty open.” All of a sudden, I felt this huge wave of, “What are you talking about?” come over me. I froze like a deer in headlights. I got the cold sweats. I knew I said the wrong thing. Then suddenly a surge of confidence and peace came over me, something I have never felt before. I piped up, “No. We aren’t open. We believe that there is only one God. And that God sent His son to die for our sins. And it is only by that grace that we are saved.” I then pointed to the church and said, “Everyone in that building is messed up. We are all human and we are all sinful. In fact, some of us are worse off than you. We pretend and we hide it well. So, don’t think we have it together, because we don’t.” To which he responded, “Wow. That’s cool. I think that we will come.” Now, he never called me back nor did he and his family come on Sunday. The Holy Spirit, though, spoke to them. I think that is what is most important. A seed was planted. Someone else will have the opportunity to water and help it grow.
There are many ways that we can be involved in caring for others. I would like to highlight two that God has used to teach my family and me. One is a feeding that occurs on Wednesday night. Chase and Cassie Koop, James and Carrie Daly and our family have been able to minister to the homeless through caring for one of their basic needs. Food and water. It has been a blessing to not only provide for them but to form friendships. These are people that are looked down on, judged and often despised. At the most basic level, though, they are just like you and me. God provides for us regardless of how we spend His money. We should do the same. At the end of the day everything comes from God. It is not ours to decide who we should withhold it from. For me, the most rewarding experience is to see our friends on State Street on a busy night, stop and talk with them and see a smile on their faces. This is mostly what they yearn for. A relationship.
The other ministry is really close to home. It occurs in the parking lot of our own church. The program is called Safe Parking. It allows people who are living out of their cars to have a safe haven to park without being hassled by the police, or worse, vandals. (Sleeping in your car in Santa Barbara is against the law.) Without us providing a safe place these people would be constantly on the move throughout the night. It has been awesome to see these people come to “Space” services and to church on Sunday morning. Let’s continue to show Christ’s love to them.
So, my hope is that this will stir us and make us uncomfortable. I hope we wrestle with what this looks like for our own lives. Most of all, I hope we just start. Start by caring for those around us. Our families and friends. Then next, our homegroup and our church. From there, our non-christian friends. And then… Total strangers. I know that as we start, God will meet us. He will send the Holy Spirit to give us courage, peace and grace. He will honor our efforts as we care for others as He has cared for us.
God, give me grace and humilty
to care for those that are close to me.
When I feel that my work is done
reveal your children, one by one
If my heart swells with pride and arrogance
remind me of your compassion and elegance
When the relationship is full of love and trust
remind me to let the Spirit speak, yes it must