In my hometown in South Dakota, winters are somewhat mild but can be bitter cold and snowy. It is typically considered to be a nice winter day if there’s sunshine, no breeze, and higher than 15°F outside. But heaven help us when the arctic blasts come! In preparation for these days, it is customary for all the crafty do-gooders of the community to knit or crochet hats, gloves, and scarves for the permanently displaced folks in the downtown area. But instead of donating their yarn creations to a shelter, they draped them upon the dozens of bronze statue presidents on every corner in the downtown area.
To the outsider, the site of Ronald Reagan or John Kennedy sporting striped scarves and donated jackets may seem a bit fanatical or down right odd. At one point, the city attorney pointed out to these do-gooders that it was unlawful to “decorate” the presidential statues and asked that this practiced be ceased. Fortunately, the mayor intervened to reverse and modify the law to allow winter wear to be hung on the statues between certain times of the year. If you ask me, I love seeing the statues being adorned with knitted things. But I also know the do-gooders are missing out on something infinitely more valuable than being permitted to hang their knitted things…
A little known fact about Altus, Oklahoma, it’s not a place many people are familiar with. It’s a quaint little town in the literally in the middle of nowhere whose agricultural roots and military operations are footnoted in America’s history. Unlike South Dakota, the winters in southwestern Oklahoma can be more brutal than its northern neighbors. Ice storms are more probable than snowstorms and there are no natural landforms for Altus to seek shelter from the winter winds.
In these times, folks usually band together; making sure their neighbors are taken care of and will even inconvenience themselves to be a helping hand. A five minute trip to Wal-Mart usually takes two hours – not because everything is scattered throughout the store, but because folks will stop and start conversations with you. They genuinely have an interest to know you!
The same could be said for a small group of Altusians I know who also like to knit scarves and hats for the homeless. But they don’t stop at Altus city limits. These folks purposefully drive down to Wichita Falls, TX (a 90 minute drive) and hand deliver their winter wear to the homeless, spending hours talking with them and loving on them. This ministry is called the “Church Without Walls”. The stories I’ve heard from this ministry would make your heart sink and your soul cry out for mercy. Out of all the provision bags, which contained toiletries, food, and clothing, the Church Without Walls volunteers brought, the most sought-after articles were the handwritten encouragement letters? The only needs that weren’t being met on the streets were human compassion and interaction.
If we are forthright with ourselves, we know it is far simpler and more agreeable to give out of convenience. It is convenient to make a scarf and passively hand it off to the middleman president statue than it is to drive 90 minutes and strike up a conversation with the homeless woman with two kids. It is far more convenient to stop at Wal-Mart at 9pm in order to “get-in-get-out” than to shop during primetime, least you become inconvenienced with crowded lines. But when you live out of self-conveniences, what are you missing? Honest still, what blessing are you blocking by isolating yourself?
I love what Paul wrote to us in Romans 15. It’s essentially a battle cry to turn away from our self-centeredness and to inconvenience ourselves; coming alongside those who are faltering, troubled, or in need:
1-2Those of us who are strong and able in the faith need to step in and lend a hand to those who falter, and not just do what is most convenient for us. Strength is for service, not status. Each one of us needs to look after the good of the people around us, asking ourselves, “How can I help?”
3That’s exactly what Jesus did. He didn’t make it easy for himself by avoiding people’s troubles, but waded right in and helped out. “I took on the troubles of the troubled,” is the way Scripture puts it. Even if it was written in Scripture long ago, you can be sure it’s written for us. God wants the combination of his steady, constant calling and warm, personal counsel in Scripture to come to characterize us, keeping us alert for whatever he will do next…7So reach out and welcome one another to God’s glory. Jesus did it; now you do it! (MSG)
Now before you mentally counter Paul’s call to action with self preservation-based arguments or go charging out the door with a new perspective, pray about it! Often times God wants us to do one simple act of kindness rather than take on a whole battlefront of injustice. Remember, Jesus was more intimate with the Father than He was with the people – listen with an open heart and receive Romans 15 into your spirit. Use this scripture as a mirror and let the Lord help you sort out the life you’ve lived out of convenience. It’s not too late to ask God for a change of heart! He promises that He can give us a new heart and a responsive spirit (check out Ezekiel 36:26, NLT) – just ask Him!
Abba, thank You that You first loved me before I first loved You. Forgive me for my heart of stone. I know it’s not what You had in mind for me. I release to You the things that made me comfortable instead of content. Open my ears to hear what You have for others through me in this season of caring and giving. Let me no longer live a life of convenience but a life for You. In Jesus’ name, Amen.