People Are Living Under The Bridge While I Sit In Traffic

I didn’t go to church today.

I didn’t go last week, either.

The truth is, I’m feeling a little bit like an outcast who has been wallowing with the lipsticked pigs — not at my church, specifically…but in the Church in general.  Something in the American church is desperately missing, and I’m part of the problem.

Many people I’ve run into are attracted to Jesus…but they don’t want to have anything to do with “Christians” or with “religion” or “church.”  And many people brought up in Christian homes desert the church as they leave home.  Why?

Remember those bracelets all the kids used to wear that asked WWJD (What Would Jesus Do)?

Faith is so much more than a cheap rubber bracelet, yet many of our churches today are as plasticized and constricting as the band they hand out to children during kid’s church. As a recent religion writer for CNN stated:

You can’t hand us a latte and then go about business as usual and expect us to stick around. We’re not leaving the church because we don’t find the cool factor there; we’re leaving the church because we don’t find Jesus there.

We.Don’t.Find.Jesus.There.

Take a moment and let those words roll around in your head.

WeDon’tFindJesusThere.

If Jesus isn’t at church, then what are we there for?

For a goosebump experience?  To hear great music? To see our friends?  To take in the Word?  To get refreshed?  To worship…who? To receive blessings?

The more I read scripture, the more aware I become that God sees through phonies — even those that we don’t realize are fake.  He sees our every motive.  We build multi-million dollar houses of worship with sparkling floors and freshly painted walls, the latest computerized powerpoint technology and blaring sound systems.  Yet all these amenities are FOR US.  God doesn’t need a large screen or a coffee bar.  Those are things we added to our churches for our own convenience and comfort.

bridge

Meanwhile, people down the road from our church LIVE UNDER A BRIDGE.  With hungry bellies and arms wide open, they stand ready to feel the love of Christ poured into their lives, meeting their essential needs, followed by message of His beautiful, merciful grace. What good is it to tell a hungry man that Jesus loves him while allowing his belly to remain painfully empty? Far better to show him with a sandwich and a cool glass of water on a hot day.

hands

And we offer them a cup of joe, provided these who have no transportation can figure out how to get to our building.  It’s not that we are intentionally evil to the poor and downtrodden but that we live our lives inside a suburban bubble.  Do we think that never running across the poor excuses us from intervening directly into their lives?  Do we believe that it suffices to open our wallets and send money to the shelter?

Here’s what God says to us through the fruit-picker and shepherd-turned-prophet Amos.  God spoke through Amos at a time when Israel was outwardly full to the brim with wealth and prosperity, but was inwardly crushed with corruption and evil, especially towards the poor: (The Message, Amos 5:21-24)

“I can’t stand your religious meetings.
I’m fed up with your conferences and conventions.
I want nothing to do with your religion projects,
your pretentious slogans and goals.
I’m sick of your fund-raising schemes,
your public relations and image making.
I’ve had all I can take of your noisy ego-music.
When was the last time you sang to me?
Do you know what I want?
I want justice—oceans of it.
I want fairness—rivers of it.
That’s what I want. That’s all I want.

Where is justice and fairness in America’s vernacular?  The American Dream of buy-m0re-stuff leads us down a road that blatantly ignores the reality of harsh life around us — or, even worse, blames the people for their condition. We are mired in a pit of death, of blackness disguised as light as marketers convince us that we “deserve” the best “money can buy.”

Would Jesus buy into that American Dream of work-work-work-spend-spend-spend-every-man-for-himself-let-the-government-handle-it mentality?

I am the poster child for that American Dream.  My tiny family lives in a house that would be a mansion by third world standards — even by American standards.  I have all the luxuries…food in the pantry, the trappings, more bedrooms than people, multiple televisions, bookshelves groaning under the weight of books, air conditioning, working toilets, computers, phones, more cars than drivers, multiple musical instruments, clothes, coats, shoes, sheets, and blankets galore. Are all these possessions gifts from above?  Are they blessings from the hand of God, or can Satan use them to blind me to the reality of those in need around me? Have I become ensnared in a web of my own American Dream?

Compare my life to the life of Jesus. After being baptized by his cousin, Jesus opened up for business in a dramatic way in his hometown.

When he stood up to read from the Scriptures, he was given the book of Isaiah the prophet. He opened it and read,

“The Lord’s Spirit
has come to me,
because he has chosen me
to tell the good news
to the poor.
The Lord has sent me
to announce freedom
for prisoners,
to give sight to the blind,
to free everyone
who suffers,
and to say, ‘This is the year
the Lord has chosen.’”

Jesus closed the book, then handed it back to the man in charge and sat down. Everyone in the meeting place looked straight at Jesus.

Then Jesus said to them, “What you have just heard me read has come true today.”

Good news for the poor. Freedom for the prisoners. Sight for the blind. Freedom from oppression.

That was Jesus’ mission statement.  Then he proceeded to live a life that radically changed the status quo as it brought good news to those who society normally scorned…the prostitute.  The leper.  The tax collector.  Those bad sinners!  Jesus would have marched right up to the people living under the bridge.  He would have healed their hurts with a touch, a word — restored their dignity, forgiven their sins, and lavished merciful grace on their starving hearts.

Before Jesus left this world, he left his church with simple instructions.  Peter, “The Rock” who would go on to lead the early Christians, received these specific to-do’s from Jesus himself (John 21:15-17):

After breakfast Jesus asked Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?[e]

“Yes, Lord,” Peter replied, “you know I love you.”

“Then feed my lambs,” Jesus told him.

Jesus repeated the question: “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

“Yes, Lord,” Peter said, “you know I love you.”

“Then take care of my sheep,” Jesus said.

A third time he asked him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

Peter was hurt that Jesus asked the question a third time. He said, “Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Then feed my sheep.

What is a person who loves Jesus supposed to do?  It’s so simple even a three year old can understand it, yet many of us have forgotten its simplicity amid the collection of houses we’ve build on top of shifting sand.

Feed His lambs.  Take care of His sheep.  Feed His sheep.

The people who walk this earth are all lambs and sheep.  Many pastors use that “sheep” language to describe themselves as shepherds of their own flocks.  But I think Jesus had a much larger flock in mind. (Matthew 25)

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’

“Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’

“And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters,[f] you were doing it to me!’

How many times have I directly engaged the poor, the weak, the blind, the oppressed, the captive in the past week?  I’m talking about aside from tithing or giving money to the church or a charity event — how many times have I reached out and literally gotten my hands dirty, touching the least of these? I can tell you that this past year I have specifically walked under the bridge and reached out to the poor and downtrodden, the blind, the oppressed, and the captives exactly zero point zero times. My bubble hasn’t touched theirs, through no fault of theirs, but of mine.

This lack of service, lack of giving up of myself, is creating anguish within my heart and my mind.

Why didn’t I go to church?  Because the church today is abridging the truth Jesus taught and has become too much about ME and YOU, and feeding my soul, and recharging my spiritual batteries and giving me music I like to listen to and messages that are relevant to my life and coffee that wakes my husband up and friends that tell me hello…and too little about the hungry people, the abused women and children hiding out in shelters, the refugees trying to make a new life, the thousands of people who will die today because they have no access to food or clean drinking water — maybe even some of them those people living under the bridge down the street.

As is often the case when God is teaching me something, references to this topic keep popping up all over in my life. For example, our family went to a Mumford and Sons concert last week.  Ironically, it was while we drove the streets of Dallas on the way to the concert that I saw scores of people living under a highway bridge. Trash bags, grocery carts, cardboard boxes, blankets, and trash littered the expanse as far as my eyes could see. Whole families staked out life under that bridge on a hot afternoon while I sat convicted, stuck in traffic in my air conditioned truck with a full belly and a bottle of water at my side. A chain link fence further delineated the differences between us, worlds apart. On the radio was one of my favorite songs from Mumford and Sons, “Awake my Soul.”

Awake my soul
Awake my soul

How fickle my heart and how woozy my eyes
I struggle to find any truth in your lies
And now my heart stumbles on things I don’t know
My weakness I feel I must finally show
Har har, har har, har har, har har

In these bodies we will live, in these bodies we will die
And where you invest your love, you invest your life
In these bodies we will live, in these bodies we will die
And where you invest your love, you invest your life

Awake my soul
Awake my soul
Awake my soul
For you were made to meet your maker

Yet Marcus Mumford, the lead singer for Mumford and Sons, declines to accept the label of Christian on his person.

“I don’t really like that word. It comes with so much baggage. So, no, I wouldn’t call myself a Christian. I think the word just conjures up all these religious images that I don’t really like. I have my personal views about the person of Jesus and who he was. … I’ve kind of separated myself from the culture of Christianity.”

His spiritual journey is a “work in progress,” Mumford said, adding that he’s never doubted the existence of God and that his parents are unbothered by his ambivalence toward the Christian label.

Mumford was raised the son of evangelical parents who are leaders of The Vineyard Church in the U.K. and Ireland. Mumford sings of Biblical themes yet has separated himself from the “culture of Christianity.”

Martin Luther separated himself from his day’s “culture of “Christianity” when he nailed his 99 theses to the door in defiance of the then-Catholic church and moved on to form the beginnings of the Lutheran Church, branching out into the Protestant Church.  Notice the word “Protest” is even in the name.

I sense a similar awakening in my own heart.  I recently read Jen Hatmaker’s remarkable book 7:An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess and am finding myself clawing up from the depths of the “American Dream” for a breath of air so clear it burns through to my soul. In discussions around the dinner table, I learned my family has felt the same sea change stirring, and suddenly it is everywhere we look.

Even in Disney movies.

I leave you with this clip from The Hunchback of Notre Dame that my daughter brought to my attention.  The song speaks so much more eloquently than I.  Note the attitude of the poor, oppressed gypsy girl in comparison with those of the church attenders.

 

 

The church-goers’ praise and worship song was all about…them.

“I ask for wealth. I ask for fame. I ask for glory to shine on my name. I ask for love, I can possess. I ask for God and his angels to bless…me.”

Meanwhile, the outcast humbly sang:

“I don’t know if you can hear me or if you’re even there. I don’t know if you would listen to a gypsy’s prayer. Yes I know I’m just an outcast. I shouldn’t speak to you. But still I see your face and wonder, were you once an outcast, too? God help the outcasts, hungry from birth. Show them the mercy they don’t find on earth. God help my people, we look to you still. God help the outcasts, or nobody will.

I ask for nothing. I can get by. But I know so many less lucky than I. Please help my people, the poor and down trod. I thought we all were the children of God. God help the outcasts, children of God.”

So…I’ve crafted these words and edited them and prayed over them.  What now?

One day at a time, I will look for ways to fulfill the mission Jesus gave us, for all those outcasts, those children of God: Feed His lambs, and take care of His sheep, no matter which bridge they live under. I pray they WILL find Jesus right there, under the bridge, through the love of people sent to care for them.

2 thoughts on “People Are Living Under The Bridge While I Sit In Traffic

  1. Christie, awesome how God has used his word to speak to both of us. About a month ago I stood in line at Subway in a Walmart with my 3 kids as a young homeless man stared at me with hungry eyes. STARVING EYES. He would not look away..every time I glanced his way, I saw him looking right at me. So I walked over “are you hungry?” I bought him a meal. Sat in the booth adjacent to his. My 8 year old daughter’s eyes looked at me as to say “what are you doing, dad??” The young man had no bag. No nothing. I asked him if he had a change of clothes or a bag, “no, I did but someone stole it a while back.” So we all shopped. Razors, soap, toothpaste, toothbrush, deodorant (he obviously hadn’t showered in a while). Backpack, a change of clothes. “So where are you sleeping Brandon (his name was Brandon).” I don’t know. He said he didn’t know. And all I could think about was Jesus’ words about the least of these.
    I took him to a truck stop and paid for a shower. Took my kids back to their mother (it was my visitation evening with them). Came back and got him, and took him to a hotel for a couple of nights, wishing I could do more. I spoke of Jesus to him, and prayed for him. Then I left. Vowing to myself to not look past hungry eyes.

  2. Reblogged this on Focused and Free and commented:
    This ties in perfectly with my post about MAINSTREAM CHRISTIANITY.
    “For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” –Hebrews 4:12

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