Tag Archives: Bread and Cup Ministry

Doing the “right” thing for the “wrong” reason

Modern day “Pharisees”  in our institutional churches  still do  what their predecessors did in Jesus’ time—they do “the right thing”  for the “wrong reasons”.   Jesus,  in the Sermon on the Mount criticized the Pharisees of his day in these words:   Woe to you scribes and Pharisees,  hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law:  justice and mercy and faith.  ...”  (Matthew: 23:23)

Today we erect buildings  we need to produce  worship services.  Today we collect tithes and offerings in those churches.   Today we seek to increase membership in our churches.   All of these are  “right things” to a point.   The point to question is  what is our reason for doing these things?  Are we doing the “right things” but for the “wrong reasons”?    What is the reason for all of the above?    Too often the reason is to build for the comfort of the congregation.   To provide educational and enrichment programs for  the congregation.   To spend the money from the tithes on the buildings and equipment and programs that are meant for “members only.”    When this happens, I think Jesus  says:   Woe to you, Pharisees!

I don’t deny that it  is good to pray, but do we need a beautiful church to do it in?  Or is it better, as Jesus taught, to “pray in secret, and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.”I don’t deny that it is good to sing praises to God, but must it be with a $50,000 organ while we sit on cushioned seats in an air conditioned sanctuary and watch the words on an expensive video screen and sound system?     It is good to give gifts to the church, but to do so in expectation of being memorialized with a plaque, etc. is the wrong reason.   Woe to us, scribes and Pharisees!   Hypocrites!   We are doing the “right things” but for the “wrong reasons”.   

Jesus’ reason for doing things is found in the words of the Shema he is quoted as saying in response to a lawyer’s question as to which is the greatest commandment:   “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?  Jesus said to him:  “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.   This is the greatest and first commandment.   And a second is like it:  You shall love your neighbor as yourself.   On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”  (Matt. 22:36-40)   These words were the guiding light for Jesus’ ministry.   They also should be the same to us if we are followers of him.

My final interim ministry serves as an unfortunate example of doing the “right thing” for the “wrong reason.”   While I was there a woman in the church who had a passion for the poor, needy and homeless started a program  at the church for  a Friday night meal, called Bread and Cup, served every Friday of the year.   It was a great program for the needy and homeless and was attended by over 100 persons at times.   In addition a food pantry was maintained for emergency use during the week and a clothing closet full of donated clothes was maintained.   The church was located in the downtown area where many of those who needed such help were located.   This was the right thing to do!   It was what Jesus led us to do!   But alas, it is no longer at that church.   The church members were afraid these people would do something to their beautiful sanctuary.  They also voiced their concern that if they fed people and helped clothed them they should attend church and add to their membership numbers.   Too many of the membership did the “right thing” for the “wrong reason” and when the opportunity came after my ministry was finished and the guiding person who founded the ministry  also moved away, the church, with no notice, informed the Bread and Cup ministry that their building was no longer to be used by them.  

In my ministry to the poor and needy, I have found many churches with beautiful buildings, lots of members, a large budget,  but with a policy that  informed those approaching them for aid:   “Sorry, you have to be a member before we can help you.”    Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees!

The Apostle Paul, in I. Corinthians 13, summed up the problem well for our churches  in these words:   “If I speak in the tongues of mortals, and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.   And if I have prophetic powers and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.  If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing….” (I. Cor. 13:1-3)

The church today exists to transform people by bringing them into a loving relationship with God.   It exists today to carry out the Great Commandment of loving God and our neighbors and ourselves.   All that the institution of the church is in terms of building, worship, and day to day action should follow that Great Commandment.   Every thing else the church is  and does  is really on the periphery.   Our ministry is to the ones that Jesus sends us—-the poor, the marginalized, the spiritually empty who need to be transformed and  filled by God’s love, the physically hungry who need to be filled in the name of that loving God—–that is the “right reason” for the institutional church’s existence.     Unless that is reason for the church’s existence, they will always do the “right things” for the “wrong reasons.”

 

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What I learned about God from a homeless man…

They came alone, by two’s and three’s, families with young children, from elderly to babies and everyone in between—380 of the homeless and needy of Wichita came to be fed at the Lord’s Diner last Friday evening.     And those who serve there permanently said it was a slow night!

The Lord’s Diner is a bright, cheerful, spotlessly clean facility founded by the Cahtolic Diocese of Wichita and supported with volunteer labor from many churches, both Protestant and Catholic.   Riverside Christian Church where my wife and I attend is one of the churches that sends volunteers and my wife and I were two of the volunteers.

As my wife and I checked  in all of these people  and greeted them, we realized how much we missed our work with the Bread and Cup Ministry to the homeless in Hutchinson that we had instituted during my pastorate at First Christian Church there.  These folks are a special group of God’s children—the group that Jesus worked with the most in his ministry.  And yet, while I enjoyed our time with them, I also was filled with a deep sadness about the large numbers of the homeless and needy, and especially the large numbers of children.   I wondered to myself as they approached me about the untold stories of hardship, of loss of hope, of discouragement and of sadness that were written on many of their faces.  However, we were verbally blessed by many of them as they signed in and we ireturned God’s blessings to them.

One man stands out that I observed while  eating my own dinner.   I was at a table  where I could watch my wife who was alone checking in the last few people, I saw this very tall, lean man, with a kerchief over his long hair enter and sign in, and I remember thinking to myself “that is one mean-looking dude.!   That man soon joined me at the table and taught me a lesson I will never forget.   The first thing the “mean-looking dude” did was to bow his head, close his eyes and give thanks for his food—lips moving but inaudible.  Then we struck up a conversation.   He told me about a friend of his who had died and how he would miss him.   Then he told me how he, himself, was blessed because he had found a place to live—a garage.   He then told me how he felt that God had led him many times in the past to people on the brink of suicide and how he felt he was able to prevent them taking their lives by talking to them and taking them in for a time at  his place of shelter.   He felt it was his God-given mission and I assured him that was very true.

What a lesson that man was to me!    Besides a reminder not to judge by appearances, the major lesson this man gave me was:   God uses all  kinds of people to fulfill and work his purposes of love for God’s children.  This “mean-looking dude” was God’s Exhibit #1 for that lesson. 

I pray God’s continued strengthening and protection for this man and I hope to see him again and tell him what a blessing he was to me!

Homeless Heartbreakers!

Caring about and loving homeless people can lead to heartbreak.   Let me share several reasons by telling you about “Joe” (not his real name), one of my homeless friends.

I first met Joe at the dinner called Bread and Cup held for the needy and homeless every Friday  at the church I was then pastoring.   He and his brother showed up the first time we opened the program,  almost two years ago now.   Joe was living in a shelter apartment provided by a program called New Beginnings.   He felt the program was too restrictive, required to much of his time, etc. etc.,  but he was progresssing toward getting his  life back together.   Joe was a graphic artist, and a talented and well educated man.   He’d made some terrible business and personal decisions and lost his shop he worked out of and ended up on the streets.  He almost made it—and then he fell back into the pattern that I now know he has followed for several years—-live on the streets—get into a program and almost make it—–get a job and make some money—-get drunk and thrown in jail—-back on the streets again.   I watched him follow this pattern three times while I pastored that church and it broke my heart each time!

My wife and I  tried to break the cycle.   Joe needed psychiatric counseling as well as rehabilitation for alcoholism.   We found a great program in the midwestern town he was in—but they did not accept Medicaid and only accepted private insurance or payment up front in cash which we could not afford.   We finally found a program that sounded good , sponsored by the state.   We packed up Joe and took him  60 miles to another city.  He was really excited to try and start a new life with some real help!    They kept him one day and released him.   He was so disappointed, but he had lied to them and told them he hadn’t been drunk for a week and he had been drunk the day before we took him!   They said they had to, by their rules, believe what the patient told them and not what their sponsors told them..   It breaks my heart that help is not available for folks like Joe.

We tried to get Joe on Medicaid before we left that pastorate.   We helped with the paperwork and took him to SRS numerous times.   There was always one more form or one more interview or one more doctor’s exam that was needed.   I’m afraid he finally gave up.   That breaks my heart, because he needed medical attention.

The last time I saw Joe he was back on the streets.   Since them I’ve left that pastorate and moved to another city.   It breaks my heart to see people like Joe, children of God,  waste their lives  and talents because they  can’t get the help they really need to break the vicious cycle of life they are caught in.

When will this society begin to “love their neighbors as they love themselves?”   Joe is your neighbor.   You may not see him, because to remain invisible to society is one of his well developed ways of self protection.   But he is there.   He’s on the streets of our towns and our cities.   There are so many Joe’s and Janes, including children who are on the streets.   It breaks my heart!!   Is your heart broken?   Do you care?   If all the people who say they are followers of the one who said—“Love your Neighbor as Yourself”—really cared, then steps would be made to solve this problem.   God’s heart is broken, I’m sure, because of  our LACK OF HEARTBREAK!!!

Faceless, Nameless, Homeless

Every time I see the Kansas Secterary of State, Chris Kobach grinning and crowing about how easy it is for everybody to obtain necessary identification to vote, I think of this story….

It’s a story about a young, homeless man we’ll call “Don” (not his real name).   About a year or so ago,  I met Don when he came to the dinner the church I was pastoring served every Friday to the homeless and needy.    He was a pleasant, rather shy, thin  young man.   He had fled New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and somehow ended up being laid off and jobless and on the streets in Hutchinson, Kansas.   As I talked to him and asked if there were any way I could help him, he asked if I could help him get a driver’s license in Kansas.   He had a recent job offer, but he was required  to have a Driver’s License to be hired and the only picture I.D.  he had was a Louisiana Driver’s License that had expired a couple of years previous to the current time and when it expired he had no money to renew it.

Actually Don had several problems:   First, he had no permanent address to give—the streets of Hutchinson, Kansas would not qualify.   I had the solution to that problem—we could use the church’s address as his permanent address.   Second, and more serious, to get a Driver’s License from Kansas required a current picture I.D., a birth certificate, or a passport.   That was a problem, as Kansas  would not accept Don’s Louisiana Driver’s License as picture identification.   So we sent to Louisiana to get his birth certificate, sending the fee and the necessary paperwork, including his old Louisiana Driver’s License.   Back came the reply, minus the fee sent, that they couldn’t furnish a birth certificate without a picture I.D. that was current, like a Kansas Driver’s License.   Here’s the problem:   to get a Driver’s License in Kansas, Don needed a birth certificate or passport, etc., but to get the birth certificate from Louisiana, he had to have a valid picture I.D. from Kansas.   They wouldn’t accept his old Louisiana Driver’s License that had expired as picture i.d. for his birth certificate.!   In a nutshellno birth certificate, no driver’s license in Kansas—-no Kansas Driver’s License, no birth certificate in Louisiana.   It was an impasse that all my letters and phone calls could not overcome.

The last time I heard from Don he was in Nebraska, had a job offer–again depending on a driver’s license, and called to see if I had been able to break the legal  Gordian Knot—-I was so sorry to have to tell this young man that I had not been able to get his birth certificate!!    It wasn’t a problem of the bureaucracy, it was a problem of the laws passed.

This barrier  to re-entry to our society is only one of many  that the homeless face.   Don didn’t just want to get his I.D. to vote, he needed a driver’s license so he could work!!

Don is one of many, many faceless, nameless, homeless people in the United States.   We should be ashamed!!

Concern or Compassion—the difference!

We read the statistics of the number of children in Wichita public schools who are homeless and we are shocked and concerned about the large numbers—but how many of us know, personally, any of these homeless children?

Re read in our newspapers of 150,000 men, women and children who will be prevented from having Medicaid medical care because Kansas lawmakers refuse to accept the program that is a part of Obamacare.  We are concerned, but are any of us personally acquainted with any of those “statistics” on a first name basis ?  In all of the above “people problems”Christians may be concerned.   But we have no personal relationship with any of these people and therefore no compassion for them.   Jim Wallis writes , “A very wise old man told me the difference between concern and compassion.  Being concerned is seeing something awful happening to somebody and feeling ‘Hey, that’s really too bad.’  “Having compassion’, he said, is seeing the same thing and saying, ‘I just can’t let that happen to my brother.”   (Wallis, Call to Conversion, p. 49-50)

Compassion grows out of a feeling of relationship—this is my brother, my sister, part of God’s family; this is a child of God, and I must act, not just feel badly for them.

Jesus acted out of compassion many times in his ministry.  For example, in Mark 1:40-41 we read that “a leper came to him, and kneeling he said to him, “If you choose, you can make me clean.”   Moved with compassion, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, “I do choose.  Be made clean!”

I John 3:17 says “But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?”

Our lives and our cities are so structured that we seldom come face to face with poverty.   But doing that is necessary to trigger a response of compassion in our hearts.    The freeways of our cities take us over and away from the places where the poor live.   Our suburbs isolate us from the poverty of the inner-city.   We don’t see or smell or hear the poverty—we don’t hear the gunshots, we don’t see the victims of drugs and alcohol that are homeless on the “skid rows” of our cities.

I believe what Wallis says is true:     “Proximity to poor people is crucial to our capacity for compassion.   Only through proximity do we begin to see, touch, and feel the experience of poverty.   when affluent people find genuine friendships among the poor, some revolutionary changes in our consciousness can begin to tak place.”  (Call to Conversion, p. 51).

I have, in my experience found this to be very true.   At Bread and Cup ministries we make a point to sit down at tables with the poor and the needy and to listen to life stories and see needs firsthand.   Sometimes the persons  don’t smell very good.  Sometimes they don’t talk very “nice.”   Sometimes there is alcohol on their breath and we watch their struggles with addiction and think they are succeeding and then they break  our hearts when they fall back to old ways.   But we never feel  the same about them afterward.   That’s why, despite all the difficulties Bread and Cup has experienced in finding a place to locate, the volunteers keep working to provide for the needy.  That’s why Bread and Cup volunteers work their hearts out each week to provide food and clothing and fellowship.    These people  are our friends!. We feel compassion for these poor and needy and homeless people because we know them and love them. They are our brothers and sisters—and but for the grace of God, they are us! .

Practicing Radical Hospitality…

Most churches today would say that they practice “hospitality“.   They don’t!    At least not in the same sense as the early church did during it’s 1st 500 years.   Diana Butler Bass in her book, People’s History of Christianity, has researched this and points out a radical “hospitality” in the early church that we seldom see today.   She also believes that radical hospitality is what set the early church apart from the rest of society and was the reason for the large number of converts in the early years.

She says:  “Unlike almost every other contested idea in early Christianity,….the unanimous witness of the ancient fathers and mothers was that hospitality was the primary Christian virtue.   From the New Testament texts that unambiguously urge believers to “practice hospitality” (Romans 12:13) through St. Augustine’s work in the fifth century, early Christian writings extol hospitality toward the sick, the poor, travelers, widows, orphans, slaves, prisoners, prostitutes, and the dying.”   (  p.62, A People’s History of Christianity)   Lucian (ca. 160) a pagan critic of Christianity,  wrote of the lavish hospitality offered a local prisoner:  “The efficiency the Christians show whenever matters of a community interest like this happens is unbelieveable, they literally spare nothing.”   Bass tells of Cyprian of Carthage writing of the Plague of Galen (165-180 c.e.) when thousands died in the streets.  Cyprian tells how Christians proved their spiritual mettle by tending to the sick.   Because they did not fear death, they stayed behind in the plague-ravaged cities while others fled and their acts of mercy were extended to all regardless of race, tribe or religion.  And many of the survivors were attracted to Christianity because of this.

The early Christians apparently took the words and actions of Jesus seriously.  They believed that the Great Commandment Jesus  gave to “love your neighbor as yourself” was what he meant.   Jesus followed this commandment himself in his ministry  as he extended  his hospitality to the poor, the outsider, the sick, the deranged,  the outsiders—unloved and unwanted human beings whom he called “the least of these” . amd took them all into his circle of care and protection.   Listen to his words addressed to those who practiced such radical hospitality in the Gospel of Matthew:   “Come, you that are blessed by my Father,  inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing.  I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me….  (Matt. 25:34-36)

How do Christians today  practice radical hospitality? Most of them don’t. When they say they practice hospitality they refer to greeters at the church door on Sunday a.m. to say hello and give a church bulletin; perhaps also to recognize “visitors” (why can’t we call them “guests” or “brothers and sisters”?) and have them stand and/or give them a small gift for attending. That’s about it! Some furnish coffee before and after church on Sundays but they are in the minority, I fear. I recently read an annual report from one of the churches in Hutchinson that had a hospitality committee report. Almost all of what they did , a fairly long list,  last year was only for their own church family.  No outreach to any of the above.

I was saddened to hear that when a community outreach program in Hutchinson, the Bread and Cup , was forced to move from the church where they originated, this program that fed 60-100+ poor and needy people every Friday, provided clothing and a food pantry  and fellowship with followers of Jesus—and was practicing the Jesus-type of radical hospitality asked 7 ( seven) churches in the downtown area of Hutchinson for a place to move to and continue their ministry and were turned down by all seven of these churches. Even the Salvation Army turned a deaf ear to them.  One church finally responded—they agreed to rent some small space to the Bread and Cup just for Friday’s—they can’t bring any of their equipment there!   

My fellow Christians—I feel strongly that Jesus meant what he said when he gave the Great Commandment:   “You shall love the Lord Your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength and your neighbor as yourself.”  

When will Christians and their churches start to follow it?

Which Side of the Road?

About a month ago, the Sunday Hutchinson News front page headline (June 30, 2013) read:  “One Door Closes, Another Door Opens.”   The article reported that the Bread and Cup Ministry to homeless and needy had been closed when First Christian Church Hutchinson refused, with only 5 days notice, to allow further use of their building for the outreach ministry the church had started one and a half years ago.

That Bread and Cup ministry not only provided a dinner for from 60-100 hungry, homeless and needy Hutchinson residents every Friday, but also maintained an emergency food pantry and a used clothing room.  It also gave laundry vouchers to homeless persons.

The door that opened when First Christian Church closed their door was at The Hub.   There, the volunteers from First Christian, Park Place Christian Church, First Church of the Nazarene,  and several other churches reopened the Bread and Cup on July 19.

Sadly, I now hear that the building The Hub rented has been sold and the new owners will not allow the ministry to continue at that location.   At present the volunteers can find no new location that will accept the ministry.   So unless the churches and pastors in Hutchinson step up to do the ministry Jesus called them to do for the poor, this program will die after about one and a half years of service to Jesus the Christ—for as you “do it to the least of my brothers”, Jesus said, “you do it to me.”

I hope all churches and their pastors will contemplate a passage in their New Testaments from the Gospel of Luke—Luke 10:25-37.  In summary, in this passage Jesus gives to a questioner what he feels is the greatest commandment:  “You shall love the Lord Your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and your neighbor as yourself.”  When the questioner asks “who is my neighbor?”, Jesus answers with the parable of a Jewish man on the road between Jericho and Jerusalem who is robbed and beaten and left for dead.   Jesus tells how a priest and a Levite, who served in the temple, walk by him on the other side of the road and leave him to die.   He then describes how a Samaritan, a race despised by the Jews, stops and binds up the beaten Jewish man’s wounds, puts him on his donkey and takes him to the nearest inn and leaves money to take care of the wounded man with the innkeeper.   Jesus asks “who was the neighbor?” and the answer is of course the Samaritan.

Shame on you , pastors; and shame on you who call yourselves followers of Jesus if this Bread and Cup program dies while you “walk by on the other side of the road.”   It is my prayer that there are “Good Samaritans” among you who will pick up the burden of this ministry to the poor and needy children of God, and nourish it and care for it in the name of the God you serve!

The question for you is:   Which side of the road are you on?