Monday, February 2, 2015

Out of my comfort zone

My husband and I are a little bleary-eyed from a missions trip today.  It is not jet-lag from an overseas flight, but shifting our schedule to accommodate a local need.

We were part of a motley crew from our church in the predawn darkness this morning, serving breakfast and cleaning up at a local church which also serves as a homeless shelter.  Many churches in the city take turns to provide the food and the manpower to staff this facility.  This week was our church's turn.

One of the things I love is how God pulls His people together from all walks of life and all over the city to serve His purposes. Bill and I were joined this morning by a 70 year old retired postal worker and two young men, one of whom was a Chinese mathematician and the other an engineer in a tooling factory.

We arrived at the facility at 4.15 this morning, the city streets wet and abandoned, the traffic lights blinking in rhythm without an audience. The homeless men were already getting up at that time, putting away the mattresses, dropping the sheets and towels in a laundry basket.  We set up breakfast and a pot of coffee on a long folding table on one side of the room.  The men mumbled good morning and poured steamy coffee into white Styrofoam cups.  They were polite and clean, their clothes having been laundered by volunteers.  

In addition to preparing breakfast, other volunteers had made more than enough sack lunches for the men to take with them for the day, brown paper bags with Scripture verses stapled to the top, little bits of hope hanging on. There were twice as many lunch bags as men.  One by one, the lunches disappeared into back packs and duffel bags until they were all gone.  The most uncertain men took two, and some even three, a shield against the unknown.

The television news droned on one side of the room.  The men sat in front of the screen, eating their breakfast, the crisply-dressed newscasters passionate about events that did not even translate into their world.  Commercials for car dealers and February carpeting specials might as well have been broadcast in a different language. 

Their bags bulged with extra clothes, lunch bags and fervent untold stories, their brokenness hidden under hand-me-down clothes.  One man with an aluminum walker wore a suit vest over a knit shirt and carried a tattered brown briefcase.  Dragging his walker down the narrow hallway, he asked Bill if he would button the vest for him.  He didn't want to let go of his bags. 

Another man with three layers of shirts frantically searched his pockets.  "I'm missing my good pen," he exclaimed.  One of the volunteers found a pen in the hallway and brought it to him, a ballpoint with the name of a company inscribed on the barrel.  He was joyful at the discovery.  "You don't want to lose a good one like this," he pointed out.

At one point when I walked into the room with a pitcher of water to make more coffee, I could not distinguish the volunteers from the evening guests. And I was reminded that God sees us all the same, precious in His sight.

Along with the scent of crumbly ham biscuits and brewed coffee was an air of growing desperation.  About 5 am, the homeless men became restless and anxious to get back to the main rescue mission.  "We need to get in line," one insisted to my husband.  "If we don't get there soon enough, all the places for tonight will already be taken."  It only takes one time to be left out in the severe cold to shape that kind of despair. 

"No need to hurry," replied another in a University of North Carolina sweatshirt who appeared much younger than the rest.  But just a few minutes later, I noticed this young man was the first one slipping out the door.  He didn't even wait for the church van to transport the group at 5.45 in the still dark February morning. 

As the men left to board the van, they gathered their things and thanked us.  "God bless you," one told me as he shook my hand.  I felt ashamed.  Their day had begun.  I was going home.  They were going to get in another line. And the next day, yet another.

And I didn't even know their names.

Our work was done by 6.15.  And on my heart in two short hours, God imprinted faces on the definition of "needy."  I didn't have to go halfway around the world.  Just twenty minutes from my comfort zone.  

In his book Radical, author David Platt challenges his readers to "use one year of your life to radically alter the remainder of your life."  Focus on one year, one year only, and see how God changes you. 

One of Platt's five components is to "spend your time in another context."  Do something different.  That does not mean taking up hang-gliding or another hobby, but getting outside your comfort zone.  As God changes your heart, He changes your eyes and your actions.  And "loving others" -- which we know as the Gospel -- becomes a much larger loop.

Jesus said to go into all the world. 

And that starts right where you are.

"If we are going to accomplish the global purpose of God, it will not be primarily through giving our money, as important as that is.  It will happen primarily through giving ourselves.  This is what the gospel represents, and it's what the gospel requires," Platt points out.

Not just doing the gospel, but being it, a journey that starts one step at a time.  It doesn't just mean being flexible, but being available.

I was definitely stretched this morning.  And that one little step changed my heart a little more. I look forward to the next. 

Start little if you must, but start.  One of the most distinctive marks of the early Christians was their radical love for others.  They went toward the crisis, while everyone else was running away from it.  This kind of love is not derived from obligation or duty, but from transformed hearts.

A new commandment I give to you,
that you love one another;
even as I have loved you,
that you also love one another.
By this
all men will know
that you are My disciples,
if you have love
         for one another.

             John 13. 34-35

How is God enlarging your heart this year?
Where will God take you?

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