I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard, “why don’t they just get a job?” It’s that simple, right? The quote, of course, is a visceral response to seeing someone in deep poverty and perhaps experiencing homelessness. Putting people in a box and labeling them “homeless,” “bum,” or “deadbeat” is the opposite of what we are called to do as Christ-followers.

The main problem with “why don’t they…” is our insensitivity to the person we are referring to. There is no “they” in the population of people struggling with addiction or homelessness. “They” are individuals made in the image of God (see Imago Dei). The God of the universe, the one we profess to serve, was willing to send his son to us as a baby, fully God, fully human, and subjected himself to our depravity because he cares that much about each individual. “They” are hurting. “We” should love our neighbors (not my original idea).

Proximity Matters

Each morning we circle up and go over some details for the day. Part of this time of worship includes reading a daily devotional by Bob Goff. When HOPE Missions began, we had each board member read Bob Goff’s book, Everybody, Always. It wasn’t an academic exercise. I highly recommend reading the short book. Bob provides many keen insights that help guide this discussion. In the opening chapter, Bob confesses that “What I’ve come to realize is if I really want to ‘meet Jesus,’ then I have to get a lot closer to the people He created. All of them, not just some of them.” (p.5) And “What I’ve learned following Jesus is we only really find our identities by engaging the people we’ve been avoiding.” (p.7)

Andy Stanley’s brilliant sermon, Like Stars in the Sky, hammers the point that I’ve quoted more times than I can count (at about 35:50 into the video) (Note: the concept is part of his recent book, Not In It to Win It):

The farther you are from the problem, the simpler the solution appears to be.

Andy Stanley

When we keep ourselves at a distance, the answer appears to be simple: just get a job, and everything will be fine! But when we sit and talk to those we serve, the human created in God’s image, we know it’s more complicated than that. No one grows up hoping to be the guy outside of Walmart with a sign begging for money or a meal. No one. Someone in this position has arrived after significant emotional events in their lives, including poor choices and bad decisions.

…Jesus saw loving God and loving our neighbors as one inseparable mandate. They were tied for first in Jesus’ mind. No one expects us to love them flawlessly, but we can love them fearlessly, furiously, and unreasonably.

Bob Goff, Everybody, Always, p. 19

We must make a choice. We can sit in our elevated positions and cast judgment, “they should just get a job!” or we can meet some of the “they,” listen to their stories, develop empathy for the trauma in their lives, and learn to love our neighbors as ourselves fully. I’m not about to pretend this is easy. I can almost guarantee you’ll be hurt emotionally, and it’s quite likely to cost you financially and in terms of time (the latter more than the former). There will be times when you question your motivations and might even be scorned by family and friends. And, here’s the hardest part, you may never see the results directly. But it is worth the effort. You will grow in your faith and maturity in Christ.

How to Get Close

Moving from spectator to participant was one of Jesus’ primary mandates.

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Matthew 28:18-20

Teaching point: make sure you read the full context of the above quotation. You’ll notice that even at this point, “some doubted.” That doesn’t give us a license to doubt; instead, it merely shows us that God understands our reluctance to get involved — he understands our fear. Go anyway.

There are several places to get involved and get closer to our area’s deep needs (see the Community Resource Guide for ideas). You might start helping out at a local food pantry or feeding ministry. You could end up serving at an emergency shelter or agency that provides showers and laundry services for those who have no access to water or can’t afford to wash their clothes.

Find something that speaks to your heart. Choose to get your hands dirty by exercising my wife’s super-power of “just showing up!” When we humble ourselves and serve one another, our hearts will soften. We will walk away with a fresh perspective on the complexities of systemic and personal issues. It’s my sincere belief that once we’ve invested hours into humbly serving others, we won’t simply quip “get a job” anymore. And I assure you you’ll make some incredible friends along the way. I pray you’ll take me up on the challenge!

p.s., This is a re-write of my New Year’s Day post here.

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