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Red Letter #1: the Poor

I keep hearing that this whole Christian thing just comes down to Jesus. But I asked myself, do I really know what he says, and do I REALLY do it? So, I recently decided to pick something each week that Jesus said and REALLY try to live by it. I’m dreading when I come to the one about gouging out my eyes. But one of the things I noticed he said was to let your light shine so others may see your good deeds and praise God. So I think I’ll record the good ones here. If you see anything cool here, praise Him!

The Poor:

The week I decided to live by Jesus’ teachings on the poor I found myself at a church about to give a ride to a deaf and mentally impaired, nearly homeless friend. We were “talking” to one of the pastors. My deaf friend had given the pastor a note that basically read, please give me some money so I can buy subway rides and stuff. And now the pastor was explaining to me that as a church they don’t give money to those who ask for it because they’ve discovered it never stops.

Now, I know that this church has programs and events that help the homeless in big ways and this pastor even gave me $20 from his own wallet to help. But I figured I guess it’s my time to figure out what I feel Jesus is calling me to do regarding the poor. That’s what I’ll be accountable for.

What kept ringing in my head whenever I remembered that pastor saying “it never stops” is Jesus saying “the poor will always be among you…” But what did that mean we were supposed to do about it!?

My deaf friend had asked for 20 bucks to do laundry the week before and all I could remember Jesus saying about it was “when someone asks for your coat, give them your tunic as well.” So, despite my reservations I gave him 20 bucks PLUS half a roll of quarters that I kept in my car for parking meters. I figured, like parking meters the laundry machines take quarters.

Up until now, as a policy I would never give money, but instead would carry granola bars in my car to hand out to beggars or if I could just go and buy someone food I would do that. But I can’t remember anywhere Jesus actually says to do this!

Here’s what I found Jesus saying about the poor:

When Mary poured expensive perfume on Jesus’ feet he said, “You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.” But now that we don’t have him anymore, what should we do?

Well, I also found in Matthew 25:40, “…whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” So maybe when Jesus isn’t here in the flesh, the closest thing to giving to him would be giving to the poor.

And then in Luke 4:18 Jesus says he was anointed to bring good tidings to the poor. And in Luke 14:13 when you make a feast, invite the poor and maimed. And in Matthew 5:3 it says Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

So my week pondering ‘the poor’ fell on the same week as Snopocolypse 2014. Most of Atlanta found themselves stranded on highways or at their houses or at work (I slept at work one night) because of the cold. The entire city froze over. But on the Wednesday night of my ‘poor’ week, I was finally able to drive home. And as I waited at a stoplight, I saw a man huddled at a bus stop with his arms across his chest rocking back and forth, as if he were freezing.

My heart was pumping. I was so close to home. But Jesus had said if we helped the poor we would be helping him. What if I saw Jesus sitting right there! And he had said, to the poor was given the kingdom of heaven. And dangit I was gonna try to live by Jesus’ teachings and this was my week on the ‘poor’. I imagined that what if, somehow if I helped out this man it would be directly helping Jesus, and if someday heaven is ruled by the poor, I love the idea of being able to walk right up to this man, now maybe a king in his palace of sorts, and I, now being lowly being able to just hang with him because I was that guy who helped him when he was needy.

I made some illegal turns and pulled up beside him, “Hey man, you look cold. You wanna get into the car and at least warm up a little bit?”

He looked up, nodded emphatically and got in. We drove around. His name was Kenneth and he told me he had been walking since 7am that morning looking for a place to stay. His wife had recently divorced him and he left his sister’s house that morning because she and her husband had some sort of blow up. He had a couple of kids around and they were what kept him going. And he kept saying he had always done right by people, and this is what God did for him.

All the shelters were full, the hospital and train station wouldn’t take him, and churches appeared to be locked. We saw other homeless trying to stay warm. We finally found a super shady hotel for 40 bucks that only had little windows at the top of the rooms. But we got him situated. And before I dropped him off he was saying, maybe I CAN trust God is watching out for me. It was probably just a way to ingratiate this naive young man who picked him up so I would continue to be good to him, but maybe that was the best I could do to bring good tidings to the poor.

A few weeks prior I met this nice, smiling middle aged lady at a party. She participates in the Special Olympics. One of my friends had invited this one who was ‘poor in heart’ to one of our “feasts”. She was fundraising for the Special Olympics by making and selling blankets. She would buy soft, printed fabrics, cut the edges into little strips and braid layers together with the little strips. She tried to sell me a blanket for forty bucks. I wanted to help her but 40 bucks wasn’t quite what I wanted to spend on a blanket I may never use because I already have enough and because it was covered in puppies or spaceships. She continued to be very sweet but a very persistent salesman over facebook.

So it was on the Friday of my ‘poor’ week, when I found myself sitting back from my computer after getting another Facebook message from my new friend. I wondered how Jesus would respond to this woman who was charging me way too much for a single blanket I didn’t need and probably wouldn’t use, but who some might consider to be the quintessential “poor in spirit.”

God, what would you have me do? I’m doing my best to listen to you.

Be creative, Ross. That is a gift you have to give.

I thought for a minute or so, and then I got an idea. I wrote her back, “hey would you sell me five for 100$? I want to give them to the cold homeless people.”

I went and picked up the five blankets the next week just in time for the next big storm that hit. And the blankets were actually pretty cool and not just puppies! Let me know if you want to buy some from her and I’ll connect ya’ll!

I absolutely love the idea of five homeless dudes walking around Atlanta with puppy dog blankets keeping them warm.

And I love this crazy idea even more. What if sometime when I see Jesus in heaven, he shoots me a secret smile and opens his robes to show me that even he is wearing some version of a cute, soft puppy dog blanket because just maybe we really can believe that what we have given to the least of these we have given to him.

Raw Spoon

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These BLOGS are usually inspired by messages I (or friends) feel we have heard from God. This is the nature of our God. Listen for how he may be speaking to you.

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