homeless people who want big macs

Tonight I learned about sin.

Because of sin, “We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment” (Isaiah 64:6). Not only are our sins ugly to God, the ways we try to measure up in good deeds are ugly to him too–like a polluted garment. Self-righteousness, the way we so often convince ourselves we’re better than another, is as disgusting as long-unwashed laundry (Romans 2:5). 

Tonight the ugly head of self-righteousness reared its head in every person at my dinner table.

I went out to dinner with my parents and some of their dearest, funniest friends. They are wonderful people. All four of them are quick to support me and teach me–for this I am grateful. But sin is still alive, at work, fighting for each of our hearts.

At one point, the conversation turned to homeless people. Story after story was told to support the point that “if you give homeless people money, all they’ll use it for is booze or drugs. If you try to give them food, they will be ungrateful and picky.” One story depicted how when trying to offer a hungry homeless man leftover food from a nice tapas restaurant, he replied, “I was really in the mood for a Big Mac.” Another story was of a woman who denied Mexican food because she “couldn’t handle spicy food.” Behind each of these stories was the subtext of, “If I’m giving you something, just take it and say thank you.”

I kept thinking,

Why does someone being homeless automatically take away his or her right to food preferences?

If I told someone I was in the mood for a Big Mac or couldn’t handle spicy food, that person would probably respect my preferences. It’s just a hunch, but I feel like this has something to do with the fact that I have proved I can provide for myself: I am in good health, I worked hard to get into Vanderbilt, I work hard to get and keep jobs.

In reality, all of those things are gifts from God (James 1:17). If my health were suddenly compromised by a disease, or I hadn’t been accepted to Vanderbilt, or I were fired from a job, I’m pretty sure I would be consoled by others in ways that emphasize my strengths:

“You’re strong enough to get through this.”

“They don’t know what they’re missing.”

“They let you go unfairly.”

We are quick to attribute situational traits to a person’s character. If I am seen as a person who can provide for herself, people will be quick to affirm me in this. But the Lord giveth and taketh away (Job 1:21), and any argument for my personal achievement besides this is self-righteousness. We are quick to attribute situational traits to a homeless person’s character, too. Homelessness and begging are so often seen as a result of laziness on the individual’s part. This breaks my heart. I pray that arguments for laziness are replaced with compassion for the situation of the individual, and a desire to help, without expectations.

I appreciate our friends’ willingness to give away what they have when a need arises. Generosity is a Biblically valued trait, a fruit of the spirit. However, generosity laced with self-righteousness is not a fruit of the spirit.

The Message translation of 1 Peter 7-11 says this:

Everything in the world is about to be wrapped up, so take nothing for granted. Stay wide-awake in prayer. Most of all, love each other as if your life depended on it. Love makes up for practically anything. Be quick to give a meal to the hungry, a bed to the homeless—cheerfully. Be generous with the different things God gave you, passing them around so all get in on it: if words, let it be God’s words; if help, let it be God’s hearty help. That way, God’s bright presence will be evident in everything through Jesus, and he’ll get all the credit as the One mighty in everything—encores to the end of time.

“Be generous with the different things God gave you, passing them around so all get in on it.”

“That way, God’s bright presence will be evident in everything through Jesus.”

“He’ll get all the credit as the One mighty in everything—encores to the end of time.”

To give God the encores to the end of time that he rightfully deserves, we are to be generous with everything we have been given. This is to be done without self-righteousness, without acting as the Savior of people less fortunate. If the Lord takes away from me, that less fortunate person could be me in an instant. The good news in all this is that God is good. God is good, he loves each and every one of his children, and praising him is what we were made to do.

I want to say that I learned about my own sin tonight too. After reading once that “judging judgy people is judgment too,” I knew I had found my sin. I want so badly to be like Jesus that I take it to the extreme of self-righteousness. Often. Sitting at dinner, I knew that sin was attempting to control my parents’ lives and our friends’ lives, but my own as much as theirs.

The picture at the top of the page is of Robert Reirden, a Nashville man who died in December. He had no constant source of housing and attempted to keep warm on a bench not far from the Tennessee State Capitol building (seen in the top right corner). You can read what was published in the Nashville Scene about him here. I visited that bench over spring break, because it was spent in part learning about how homeless people live. They are some of my favorite people. If they want Big Macs, I think Jesus would want them to have Big Macs.

Jesus, my prayer is this: Continue to break my heart for what breaks yours, including the state of my sinful heart. Help me to flee from self-righteousness, running straight to you. Show me how to be generous so everyone is included at the table. Show me how to die to myself so your bright presence shines through it all. Show me how to truly live 1 Peter 7. Amen.

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when our worlds overlap

When I was in high school, one of my Young Life leader’s best friends had a blog called “Overlap.” The phrase behind it was “the highlights of my life are anytime our worlds overlap.”

Although it’s been probably four years since I’ve read her blog, I think about that saying all the time. I think about it when I pass a businessman and homeless man on the same block. Will their worlds overlap? I think about it when I spend too much time scrolling through other people’s lives on Instagram, those who come up “based on people you follow”. Will our worlds ever overlap?

Thankfully, God’s hand is in who our worlds do overlap with. Realizing this makes me grateful.

I had no idea what to expect from sophomore year of college. After this year, I now know to say, “I have no idea what to expect from God in this time.” Sophomore year was a hard and good year, one that brought me leaps and bounds closer to God, something I so desperately needed. Although I am quick to remember the hard parts of this year, a closer look reminds me that the people I know at school brought me to the feet of Jesus over and over again through their friendship. I’ve been home from school for a week and a half now, which I hope is enough space to be able to write this without crying.

For two years, our worlds overlapped. They overlapped in the places we lived and the routes we took to walk to class and the places we chose to study and to eat our meals and to worship our Jesus. They overlapped in ways that fostered deep understanding of who she is and what God is doing in her life.

To the girls who my world overlapped with this past year:

Thanks. Thanks so much. Thanks for the conversations and studying at Edgehill and the Well, for the walks to class, for letting me pretend to play uke on your bed, for letting me cry in your bed, for jumping on my bed in the morning, for sharing Fido cake with me, for texting me well-timed Bible verses, for texting me from the next room over, for sharing your love of chocolate covered bananas with me, for going to Sanctuary with me, for spontaneous birthday trips to Target, for necessary conversations about misunderstandings, for beginning and ending our semester with IHOP, for helping me learn how to be inclusive, for letting me externally process, for letting me play rap really loudly, for relentlessly pursuing my friendship, for sitting on my floor, for reminding me that we are the “Messfield,” for going to church twice in one day with me, for being so invested in our missing air plant, for making a megabed in our common room, for making time for discipleship every week, for being my inspiration to climb into a waterfall, for telling me when I’m wrong, for forgiving me when I’m wrong, for taking grandma walks with me, for making new friends so late into our second year, for showing me Jesus. Thanks for believing friendship is worth it and thanks for loving me.

As of this summer, all our worlds will not overlap in the same way until senior year, our last year. Our worlds overlapping will look less like trips to Cookout for milkshakes or blasting the White Album in the common room or studying in MRB for finals and more like sporadic texts and Facetimes from faraway countries.

I won’t know what it is like to spend a semester in New Zealand or France or South Africa or anywhere other than Copenhagen. I won’t know what junior year at Vanderbilt looks like. I won’t know what a semester at home is like. I won’t know what it’s like for me to miss sophomore years and senior years of people I care about.

This worlds no longer overlapping stuff is scary. But I recently read that leaving is brave and staying is brave. There is a divine author to our stories. Sometimes he writes them to overlap with the people we love and often he writes them so the comfort of people we love is taken from us, to learn bravery. I wish we could all always overlap, but then I think we would miss the beauty God has written all through our stories. And through it all, Jesus is constant.

What love the Father has lavished on us! And how precious that he so often shows up through friendship! I love, love, love yall.

you are not promised a significant other

I looked up the amount of verses in the Bible. There are 31,103. That’s 31,103 verses, inspired and breathed by God, to shape our lives, informing us of the life-changing love extended to us and instructing us how to be more like our Maker. There are Bible verses about every topic, for every life event. It is all-encompassing. But to my knowledge, there is not a verse that absolutely promises every person on God’s green earth a significant other or spouse.

So it’s hard, then, when we act like we’re promised one.

It’s hard when it seems like so many Christian young adults are concerned with grooming ourselves to be “wanted”, whining when we’re not, and staring jealously at people who are. It’s hard when we allow our worth and identity to be wrapped up in the availability of another flawed, sinful human to love us. It’s hard when we believe a part of us is “missing” until that person comes around. It’s hard when we start to tell ourselves we will have “made it” once finding “the one.”

Wow so many air quotes because this topic is so sensationalized.

I didn’t hear about, think about, or even imagine feeling any of these crippling fears (that so many people feel and no one will talk about!) until coming to college and placing myself in a Christian community. I’m assuming this is not an exclusively female topic, but I can say that I have heard about it from girls much more frequently.

Last January, I heard Shauna Niequist speak in Nashville. Like she talks about here (y’all it’s good you should read it), she started her talk with “You are significant with or without a significant other.”

I’m glad she says that at college campuses. It is a clear statement regarding the worth we are secured in by Christ that is not said often enough. I can only speak for the Christian community I find myself in at my own school, but in my two years, I’ve found that Christians love marriage and cute couples that love Jesus and putting people together forever on earth and in heaven and for eternity amen. This is not a bad thing. Please do not think I am trying to convince everyone to live alone and actively reject any marriage proposals they might ever receive. Marriage is an incredible covenant created by God so that we may learn to make our lives more about him with another person. The obsession is just a little excessive.

It gets bad when it is everyone’s sole focus: both those who are married, engaged, or dating and those who are single. When we expect that God’s ultimate purpose for our lives is to be served a perfect, God-fearing significant other on a silver platter, maybe with some Chik Fil A or an Edgehill mocha in hand if we’re really lucky, we limit him.

We are limiting the God of the universe’s work in our lives when we set the end destination as marriage.

He can do anything, absolutely anything. I would hate so so much to live my whole life and die and talk to God and hear him say, “You really could have served me better if you and your whole community didn’t idolize marriage when you could have been experiencing the love, freedom and willful service that only a relationship with me brings.”

Not to put words in his mouth. But that would stink!

I’m starting to think it’s the easier route to complain about who God has or hasn’t put in our lives than to really attempt gratefulness. We all do it, so it’s acceptable. I, again, especially feel this around girls. It might be harder, but how much closer to God would we get by daily thanking him for all he has blessed us with? Significant other or not. And maybe then, after that, asking him his will for our lives? And then going and doing it? I hope I care more about that than a boy.

I maybe should have titled this “you are not promised a significant other you were expecting.” Because if there’s any life-changing caveat I could throw in after having written all this, it’s that we are promised a significant other. It’s Jesus. While there are no verses specifically stating that every person God creates gets a human significant other, there are so many verses (!!!!! y’all this promise is so amazing) about the covenant we share with God through Jesus. He is our significant other, collectively and individually! So no, you (and I) are not 100% for sure promised a human significant other. But we are promised so much more.

I love these lyrics from the Sisterbrother song Jealous God. They remind me of his pure, perfect and never-stopping love for us:

I love the way You came to me, so sweet
You sent Your only Son for me, so sweet
I love the way You love me, so sweet

I couldn’t imagine or ask for a better love story! So so so sweet.

exploding

A couple Sundays ago, Dave, one of our pastors at Ethos, said this in a sermon on Mark 4:

The kingdom of God is exploding in your life. You’re the only one who can’t see it, so we’re going to keep cheering you on. You’re beautiful.

He used this in explaining the parable of the mustard seed, how God’s most remarkable plans for his kingdom start with a small and insignificant beginning. But then they grow and grow, because the Holy Spirit transforming a person’s heart to do his will is a big freaking deal. It might not feel like an explosion of God, but it sure is.

I couldn’t get what Dave said out of my head: I wrote it in notes to friends and texted it to others and was constantly reminded of the promise that even though we might be unaware, God at work in our lives, bringing to completion the good work he started in us (Philippians 1:6). It brought back memories of time after time where friends had explained to me how they saw God at work in my life, bringing me back to his feet just like the men who bring their paralyzed friend literally through the roof to Jesus’ feet in Mark 2.

Where can our comfort lie if we are rarely able to see the work God is doing in us?

steinmetz-camel-shadows-615

This photograph, taken by George Steinmetz in Oman, is of camels crossing the desert.

Did you think the black shapes were the camels? I did at first. It’s a beautiful and exotic picture: camels, shaded black by the sun, somewhat out of proportion in the hazy desert. Actually, the camels are the smaller cream-colored lines under the black figures. The photograph was taken aerially, so the shadows are significantly larger than the camels themselves. I read Jennifer Dukes Lee’s thoughts on what this photo means and was reminded of Dave’s sermon. She emphasizes the camels’ shadows as the manifestation of the kingdom of God exploding in our lives. She says this:

You have a shadow, friend. You are walking, face forward, in the midst of a great light. Maybe today you feel rather small and unseen, walking through a desert. But God sees something else in you. You may never know, until you get to Heaven, what a difference your life made. And when you get there, imagine what it will be like when your Father takes you by the arm and says, “Child, I have some people I want you to meet. Your life made such a difference.”

I went back to my home church on Sunday. I see Jesus in a lot of places and through a lot of people at Willow Creek, but one of the most joyful places I see God’s glory on Sunday mornings at Willow is through the crossing guards. Willow is a big place, even the regional campuses, so crossing guards direct traffic while people park before the service and while they leave after it is over.

I have never seen a group of people so excited about a job that most would not choose as a way to spend every Sunday morning. They dance in the street as you pass by, offering up huge smiles to every car.

When I drove in that morning, the man directing me noticed the Ohio license plate on my car and motioned for me to roll my window down. When I did, he asked, “Are you a first-timer?!” I said no, that I wasn’t, to which he immediately replied, “That’s what I thought! I don’t forget a smile like that!” It was sweet. The part of me inside that keeps a record of all the times I feel joy–that part of me was doing a happy dance right then.

The truth is, I don’t know very much about the crossing guards at church. I don’t know whether they are paid crossing guards hired by the church every Sunday morning or volunteers from our community that attend Willow as well. I don’t know whether they stand outside all morning through each service (we have 3, so this would be about 5 hours, from 8am to 1pm), or if they come into service once most people have parked. I don’t know if they are Christians or if they could care less about Jesus. I want them to know Jesus. I desperately hope they do. By the joy they spread, I believe they do.

All I truly know about these men and women is how they spread the love of Christ. Even if they are not Christians themselves, the kingdom of God is exploding in their lives. I don’t always think about it that way: sometimes I try to guard God’s kingdom, requiring salvation first for him to work in a life. That’s laughable, because God is sovereign and his plan is perfect, calling all his children back to him–not only the ones who have been saved.

Their shadows cover parts of the world with the love of God that might not otherwise have felt it. I can only imagine how many people drive into church every Sunday morning, carrying things from the morning or night before: college kids and new parents and sweet grandmothers alike. But when the face directing you to your parking spot contains the biggest grin you’ve ever seen, practically bursting with joy because of God’s mercy and sacrifice and goodness, how can you not let the hard pieces of your heart crack a little bit?

I hope when those crossing guards meet God, he tells them, “Your life made such a difference.” Because their lives did. They pointed others closer to Christ without even knowing it.

But still, where can our comfort lie if we are rarely able to see the work God is doing in us? I’m not sure that’s even the best question for me to be asking. I would hope that in pursuing Christ, I long for comfort less and less, and for him more and more. I would hope in doing this I look more for where God is working in the lives of others than in my own.

Be an encourager, one who looks hard for where God is working in the lives of those around you.

Find the places God is exploding. Show other people the part of their shadows that cover others with love.

Tell them about it. Love well.