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Thank God for the Light

Last Thursday afternoon was an afternoon like many others, for me.  The workday was winding down; I was cleaning up a few loose ends before heading home to take my daughter to the pool for swim club.  In many ways, it had been a good afternoon—nice and quiet, mostly uninterrupted, and ideal for sermon writing and reflection.

I was putting the last of my books away when I heard the front door creak open.  I watched as an old man trudged into the foyer and plopped himself down in one of our couches.  It had been pouring rain all day, so he was wet and cold and a bit dirty.  His sparse, stringy hair was plastered against the side of his head, and his face was drawn and pockmarked.  It betrayed a heavy weariness that I had not seen in some time.

I had seen this man a few hours earlier while at the gas station across the street from our church.  I remember watching him walk haltingly and uncertainly toward the store.  I figured he was probably looking for a phone or directions or some other form of assistance.  I remember thinking that he looked cold.  I remember feeling pity for him as I watched him pass by my vehicle, but I had places to go and things to do, so off I went.

And now here he sat, outside my office door.  He asked for a glass of water, which a co-worker promptly provided.  He seemed content to just sit there, but I was a bit hesitant to prolong his stay indefinitely.  We had a young girl sitting in the room waiting for her mom to pick her up, and I wanted to be careful about how I handled this strange man whom I knew nothing about.  After all, he could be a pedophile or a drug addict, right?  One has to be prudent about these things.

“Are you on your way to somewhere,” I asked, hoping to move things along.  He didn’t return my gaze, but just mumbled something about being lost and not knowing how to find his way home.  He looked confused and a little scared.  “I need to get to the RV Park,” he said.  “My wife doesn’t know where I am.  I’ve been walking around for three and a half hours, but nothing looks familiar and I don’t know where I am.”

I knew where he was trying to go, and I knew it wasn’t too far from the church.  An able-bodied person could probably cover the distance on foot in about 20-30 minutes.  But I also knew, by now, that this man was not “able” in any normal sense of the word, that it was cold and wet and miserable out there, and that he was tired.

Prior to this man’s arrival, I had been in the midst of working on a passage in my sermon where I connected Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Plain (Luke 6) to his exhortation to bear fruit in the Parable of the Sower (Luke 8).  In Luke 6:30-31, Jesus says, “Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back.  Do to others as you would have them do to you.”  Ordinarily, I can be remarkably inventive in avoiding the commands of Christ, but this one was difficult to ignore, even for me.

“Would you like a ride?” I asked the man still sitting on the couch, staring straight ahead in silence.  He looked up and nodded.  The look on his face nearly broke my heart.  It exhibited deep confusion, pain, and exhaustion, mixed with a bit of cautious gratitude, I suppose.  It was the look of a man mostly unfamiliar with even the smallest of kindnesses.

We slowly made our way out to the car.  I opened the door for him, and watched as his shaking hands struggled to negotiate the challenges of the seatbelt.  I tried to help, but it was awkward and we kept bumping into each other.   Eventually, we gave up and just drove.  I found out a bit of his story on the way.  He had mental health issues and had been at the hospital for an appointment that morning.  He thought he had the right bus fare to get home; only he must have taken the wrong bus because he had ended up in an unfamiliar part of town.  Now he had no more money left, and had spent most of his day alone in the freezing rain, trying to get home.

We made our way to the RV Park in pretty short order.  Initially he wasn’t sure which one was his, so we did a few laps around the park.  Eventually, he recognized a depressingly shabby old unit with garbage and beer cans strewn all around it.  “This is it,” he said.  “I hope my wife is home… maybe she went out looking for me….”  He looked at me, thanked me for the ride, and shuffled off toward the steps.  The door was open.  He was home.

I sat silently in my car for a little while after dropping him off.  It is always difficult to be faced with the kind of unbearable sadness that characterizes so many lives.  It makes my fine theological sermon-words like “redemption” and “restoration” and “freedom” seem worthless and insignificant.  They seem like nice ideas that we soothe ourselves with in order to make our lives seem meaningful and the world seem hopeful.  But so often, they don’t seem to make even a dent in the ordinary pain of life.  No matter what lengths we go to in order to avoid it, there is still so much sadness.

I preached my sermon-words on Sunday morning.  I called us to do what Jesus said, even when it is hard.  I challenged us to bear fruit. After the service, a woman came up to talk to me.  She works as a counselor in the public school system and often finds herself dealing with incredibly difficult situations of abuse, neglect, misfortune, etc.  It was she who had called me just over a year ago with a request to see a suicidal young man looking for a priest (I reflected on the experience a bit here).  It was she, among others, who had helped me through a difficult experience I was utterly unprepared for.  The boy had made it through the suicide attempts to a place of relative peace and health in large part due to her love and commitment and dedication to being a light in dark places.

And now, she had an update for me.  She had been talking to another suicidal student—this time, a young woman.  She wasn’t entirely sure what the best approach would be, so she brought in the young man from a year ago.  She thought someone who had struggled with suicidal feelings might be able to offer some perspective.  “He came in, and you know what one of the first things he asked her was?” she said.  “He asked her if she believed in God!  ‘Because you need God to get through it.  I wouldn’t have made it through without God.’”  “You see?” this woman said.  “There’s fruit.”  Amazing.  This frail, timid, confused young man who knew virtually nothing about and seemed to have little interest in God a year ago was now reaching down into the dark, shining what light he had.  There’s fruit.

God’s timing can be remarkable.  It was a good reminder for me.  There are times when God seems absent in the wasteland of human pain and sin and misery, but there are cracks of light as well.  It is good to keep our eyes open for both.

But thank God for the light.

32 Comments Post a comment
  1. Naomi #

    Thank you for this story. Thank you for reminding me that there are many hurting people around us and we need to keep our eyes open. I have heard this story before, but reading it this afternoon really touched me. You have a gift with words and telling stories that resonates with me, and I am sure many others. Thank you.

    January 19, 2011
    • Well said Naomi! Thanks for sharing this Ryan. Brought tears to the eyes of this theological student…

      January 20, 2011
  2. Ken #

    The pastorate is a sadness magnet, and yet, if it is true to its faith, it must disperse joy. That, the joy, is the inheritance of those who wait for God.

    I have been meditating on one of John’s visions lately. Revelation 12. A woman, Israel or Mary or the church she may be, pursued by the dragon that is the devil, mounts up on the wings of an eagle. She is clothed in the sun.

    I am glad you survived your kindness to the man you helped. Mental illness, as we know, is a dragon. It represents a serious threat to the life and well-being of the ones its afflicts and to the ones who try to help.

    January 19, 2011
  3. Tyler Brown #

    ” It makes my fine theological sermon-words like “redemption” and “restoration” and “freedom” seem worthless and insignificant. They seem like nice ideas that we soothe ourselves with in order to make our lives seem meaningful and the world seem hopeful. But so often, they don’t seem to make even a dent in the ordinary pain of life. No matter what lengths we go to in order to avoid it, there is still so much sadness.”

    They are nice ideas, but when people put them into practice they become infinitely powerful. I may not be religious in any strict sense of the term, but at times when I do perceive events that I would call divine (in a loose sense of the term), it is stories like this. Brothers and sister being there for each other.

    Thank you for this inspiration. You gave meaning to the words on the page.

    January 19, 2011
  4. Tanya Duerksen #

    Thanks Ryan. This brought tears to my eyes as your words brought a very real picture of the man in your story to my mind. I pray I will be willing to reach into the darkness and further his Kingdom.
    I will be praying for him.

    January 20, 2011
  5. Thank you, everyone, for the very kind words. I really do appreciate the encouragement of friends on the journey.

    January 20, 2011
  6. Ken #

    I kind of think this story should come with one of those warnings that accompany the performance of dangerous things on television: don’t try this at home, you could get hurt.

    You were lucky this time. Or you made the right judgment. We don’t know.

    One person, mentally ill, that my father once tried to help battered him. He did not stop trying to help others, but he became more cautious after that happened.

    Another person, mentally ill, that I helped several times, became paranoid on one occasion. I was not hurt, and I had the backup of mental health professionals at the university at the time. They understood my compassion or pity for this man, one whose condition broke my heart, and such feelings played a part in their own decisions to become practicing psychologists, but they warned me of the danger and coached me.

    My seminary education touched on what is involved in helping persons in distress of various kinds, but the training was inadequate there and in the church. Fortunately, I had the resources of the university to support me in ministry and a wife with a background in counseling. But most of us do not have such resources.

    The next person-in-need you help may hurt you.

    January 20, 2011
    • Ken #

      If I may add a question to my last comment: Why didn’t Jesus or Luke say that too?

      January 20, 2011
    • I don’t want to consider the matter too simplistically, but as I read the gospels I do not get the sense that Jesus is asking me to help others only when there is no personal risk or discomfort involved. In fact, I almost get the opposite impression. I sort of assume that at some point followers of Jesus will be hurt—that’s what happens when you love and give sacrificially the way Jesus taught and modeled.

      Having said that, I have a very difficult time construing the experience I describe in the post in these terms. I gave a tired, lonely, and confused guy a ride home. End of story. There was no risk involved here. In fact, I probably ought to have done more.

      January 21, 2011
      • Larry S #

        Thanks for this post Ryan especially the story about the elderly, disorientated fellow with apparent mental health issues. Your compassion had feet. I also resonate with Ken’s post, but assume that while engaging with the gentleman you were conducting ongoing ‘risk assessments’ of some sort. Ken’s statement stands: you were lucky this time. Buddy could have had a knife. [and thinking back to your homeless Pockets story – people in corrections/policing tend to assume that every homeless person carries some form of protection. Apparently most homeless folk have something to fend off the sharks.]

        In a more perfect world perhaps your old guy scenario could play out like this: you phone the police, who drive him home, the police alert the community health authorities to an elderly couple who are ‘at risk.’ The Community health nurse/supportive staff engage with the couple and provide them with appropriate services. You engage with the elderly gentleman, meet his spouse, lead them to Jesus and they are enveloped into the arms of a supportive community ………. (the perfect evangelical story – of course they quit drinking/smoking).

        Your story got me thinking about “compassion fatigue” and burnout (have you ever put up a post about those subjects?). I wonder how we, who see and hear the real pain people’s lives, keep from becoming overwhelmed by issues which took years (decades) to develop but reach a point of crisis and they appear before us with the expectation that somehow someone else will quickly solve problems that took so long to develop.

        I was shopping yesterday and watched an elderly lady (she must be in her 80’s) with one of those little hand held shopping carts trembling and shaking as she made her away along the aisles. She was dressed to go out with a nice hat and warm coat. But it was raining hard. I watched her knowing that the grocery store I was in was blocks away from any residential housing. I could have approached her, offering her a ride and some assistance. Would she have accepted? Would she have thought I was a predator? But I was pretty exhausted having dealt with numerous situations throughout the day – painful situations where I saw people whose lives were changed forever due to their own actions. And I left the store, got into my car and drove home through the rain…….. I’m troubled.

        January 21, 2011
      • Tyler Brown #

        Now its never wise to go into a situation like this recklessly.

        However, people are perceptive. Approaching them with nervousness and fear, treating them as a potential threat, always questioning intentions, showing pity and even mild disgust, etc. puts people on the defence and alienates them.

        Yes, some people may harm you. Yes, there is always a risk. However, friendship, peace, compassion, and love are very powerful forces that frequently dissolve feelings of defence and alienation. There is no better example of this in action than of Christ.

        Larry you spoke of a more perfect world, but how much more perfect would this world be if we loved each other as Christ did and relied less upon institutional frameworks and establishments to deal with societal problems. If only we more often showed faith in each other and ourselves to overcome the problems that plague us all.

        January 21, 2011
      • Ken #

        I think you are right that the gospels tend to convey the impression that we should risk our lives for others, even strangers. Or, at least, that is how they have been read by many for centuries. And many Christians have felt like they were not living up to God’s expectations unless they are offering themselves to others in a sacrificial way.

        If someone minimizes risk, are they lacking in piety? Is one who takes frequent or large risks more pious?

        Larry has described a way our society provides care for persons in distress. Does it fall short of what is appropriate? Does it involve too much risk avoidance?

        January 21, 2011
      • I don’t quite know how to respond to these hypothetical questions, Ken. My thinking and reflecting upon this experience has mostly been around the question of what Christ was asking me to do in a very specific situation. In general, I am not a person who is prone to risky behaviour so it feels weird to be defending it. My position is not very sophisticated or especially original—I am grateful for the work done by institutions to care for the vulnerable, and am happy to work within “the system” as well as to offer what meagre contributions I can outside it.

        Knowing what I do about your view on such words, I’m uncertain what to make of terms like “pious” and “piety,” much less to comment on what one’s risk-taking (or not) says about their status. I certainly don’t think that I am more “pious” than anyone because I took a (very minimal) “risk,” nor do I think that the more pious someone is the more risky their behaviour will be. I think that’s pretty silly, actually. I do, however, think that followers of Jesus ought to be open to obeying his commands in concrete situations—even when it looks foolish or risky to do so.

        I am nearly finished an excellent biography on Dietrich Bonhoeffer and one thing that comes through again and again, both in this bio and in Bonhoeffer’s own work, is that Jesus must be obeyed in the ordinary events of life. Bonhoeffer had no use for principles or ethical systems as templates that could be applied to life in a nice, easy, universal way. For him, the question always was: “What is Jesus asking me to do here and now?” It was this conviction that made him so difficult to pin down theologically (liberals and conservatives are equally unsure what to make of him at times), and which motivated him, as a near-pacifist, to become involved in the plot to assassinate Hitler that eventually cost him his life.

        It would be the absolute pinnacle of silliness to compare giving a guy a ride home in the rain with the actions of Bonhoeffer, but perhaps reading about this man has reminded me of the fact that Jesus still does confront his people, and that we still do have the opportunity to hear and respond to his voice in the most basic situations of everyday life. Surprising, perhaps, that I should need that reminder, but there you have it…

        January 21, 2011
  7. Larry S #

    Tyler and Ken

    I think my more perfect world (which by the way would require happy taxpayers) is informed by my own experiences working within the system and Dr. Stackhouse’s “making the best of it” book. Not standing out over against structures and not letting the structure do everything. But doing the hard work of learning how to work within the very flawed systems available.

    Tyler’s mild ‘push-back’ at my little scenario uses the phrase “relying less on institutions.” I’m trying to envision Christians working within the systems which are available.

    The flip-side can be Christians setting themselves up as “experts” and getting involved in situations where they have limited knowledge (i.e. access to police reports, criminal histories, etc) where they are in way, way over their heads. For example I know of instances where pastors / church people put children at risk by befriending sexual predators and bringing them into homes. So “the system” ends up having to protect the “do gooders” and clean up after them.

    January 21, 2011
    • Tyler Brown #

      I do agree their are occasions where the experts or the institutions that have been created should be called into deal with what they were created for. Also, I am fully aware of the dangers that we can put ourselves in and others (such as your example) in. However, I would argue that in the case of offering a PERSON a ride home, that to call in others to do such a simple task is an over reliance on ‘the system.’

      When we begin to have this over reliance, that patches up where we went wrong, our problems, anti-social behaviour…. whatever you want to call it, one should begin to wonder that if maybe everyone took a little more care for each other rather than always looking out for numero uno these systems would need to be in place at all, or at least to the extent we rely upon them.

      “Larry has described a way our society provides care for persons in distress. Does it fall short of what is appropriate? Does it involve too much risk avoidance?”

      Risk avoidance? Or compassion for other human beings?

      January 21, 2011
    • I think that Larry points to the danger of getting involved where we are not able/well-suited to help. I think that Tyler alerts us to an equally common danger (if not more common) of ignoring real people due to a combination of apathy or some vague sense that “the system” will take care of it. Somewhere in the middle, is where we must live and decide what to do.

      I referred to this above, but I’ll repeat aspects of it here (the various threads in this conversation are getting a bit tricky to navigate). I’m nearly finished a biography by Eric Metaxas on the life and thought of German pastor/theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer. One thing that reading this book has reinforced for me is the importance of what he calls “responsible action” in obedience to God. Bonhoeffer was well-trained in philosophy and theological liberalism, but found both to be inadequate in the face of genuine evil (i.e., the Third Reich).

      In Bonhoeffer’s view, ethics was not about coming to universally valid principles which would then be applied to real-life situations; rather, it was about answering the question of what obedience to Jesus looks like right here and right now. For Bonhoeffer, it was possible that the demands of discipleship could look somewhat different for different people at different times and in response to different situations and pressures. This made ethical reasoning much more difficult because it required listening, discerning, praying, etc. Above all, it meant continually asking, “What is God asking me to do in this concrete situation?”

      With Bonhoeffer ringing in my ear, I think Tyler’s questions here are very appropriate (even if I know he wouldn’t frame them in terms of “discipleship” or “obedience to Jesus” :)). In the story which motivated this post, I was not thinking in terms of “what principle with regard to risk-management ought I to employ here?” or “is this is a situation that falls into the realm of the institution or the individual?” or “is risk-taking an indicator of piety?” or anything like that. It was simply “How is Christ asking me to respond to this person, right here, right now?”

      I fear I am not doing an adequate job of explaining Bonhoeffer’s thought here or how it has factored into my thinking over the last few days… In order to address the inevitable confusion that may arise from my comment here, I will simply enthusiastically recommend Metaxas’s book to you all to make clear what I have undoubtedly blurred here (I’ll be reviewing it on the blog sometime in the next few weeks, incidentally).

      January 21, 2011
  8. I appreciate the responses here, even if the conversation is veering off into a bit of an unexpected direction (at least for me). That’s one of the delights of the blogosphere, I suppose…

    Larry, I think your perspective as someone who works in corrections is valuable. It’s good to be wise and to learn from past experiences, just as it is crucial to acknowledge our limitations. I appreciated your comment about how people appear before us with the expectation of immediate solutions to problems that have been lifetimes in the making. And I agree, the best course is to work within/alongside institutions in providing help for people in need. I certainly don’t want to create an unnecessary mess for “the system” to clean up.

    Still, though, I can’t get this idea out of my head that “risk-management” would have been a pretty foreign idea to Jesus. In the case of this story, I obviously did some form of risk-assessment. It was pretty obvious to me that he was just a tired old man with pretty limited physical abilities. Could he still have surprised me with a weapon? Sure, I suppose so. But Luke 6 was echoing in my head… “Give to everyone who asks… if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that?” I think that, in this specific situation, Christ was calling me to respond. And so I did. I see it almost that simply.

    I have not posted about compassion fatigue or burnout—probably due to, a) my lack of reading/thinking in these areas; and b) my experiential distance from this reality. I fear I do not exercise compassion concretely or frequently enough to be fatigued by it :).

    January 21, 2011
  9. Larry S #

    Tyer wrote “I would argue that in the case of offering a PERSON a ride home, that to call in others to do such a simple task is an over reliance on ‘the system.’”

    Tyler is looking at this as only a moment in time. Buddy gets home – nothing else. Playing out my scenario is actually more hopeful/helpful – the couple gets ongoing care. (Worst case scenario: Ryan left a mentally incompetent person alone to fend for himself. You could even push this into almost an absurd scenario: the last person who saw the old gentleman was a professional caregiver (pastor) who left an at risk-person who then hurts himself. Would Ryan carry any legal/moral responsibility? That way of thinking is what we find in the USA where everyone sues everyone – yuke!).

    “Risk avoidance? Or compassion for other human beings?” is a false dycotomy. I’m not talking about avoidance. I’m talking about the need to be or to become aware. I’m arguing for ‘risk assessment.’ Assessing risk helps one make informed decisions. Our Lord tells us to be ‘wise as serpents, harmless as doves’ – not foolish (i’m not implying Ryan was foolish).

    Tyler’s capitalization of the word, person (given that online discourse equates caps as shouting is offensive). The individual’s personhood is not in question here at all. There is no need to shout. All I’m doing is building on Ken’s post which responds to Ryan’s story, building on my own real life experiences and reflecting on some very naive Christians whom I’ve encountered.

    January 21, 2011
    • Tyler Brown #

      Sorry if it came across as that offensive, merely trying to highlight the importance of human connection.

      I am not looking at a moment in time, I am looking at the entire scenario that played out. We can dream of other scenarios, like the one’s you described.

      “Risk avoidance? Or compassion for other human beings?” is a false dycotomy. I’m not talking about avoidance. I’m talking about the need to be or to become aware.

      It is not entirely a false dichotomy if ‘risk avoidance’ is part of larger picture of selfishness.
      As in, ‘I evaluate the risk of helping other to be to big of threat to my personal welfare.’

      Awareness is a wonderful thing and I agree with you 100% that we should cultivate it and many bad and tragic things can happen from a lack of awareness. However, I was attempting ponder the idea that maybe that too much awareness and emphasis on the negatives that can happen stop us from doing something positive. Jesus died for our cause. I’m sure he was fully aware of all the risks.

      January 21, 2011
      • Larry S #

        Tyler – apology accepted 🙂

        and of course I don’t completely disagree with you. I bet if blog debates occurred face/face there would be far less misunderstanding but way less fun.

        “Jesus died for our cause.” yep. Within the context of pastoral work (something of which I have more than passing personal experience) within the evangelical subculture there is the notion that the pastor is meant to sacrifice without thinking of him or herself and their families get sacrificed. but i digress. i hope ryan posts about burnout etc.

        January 21, 2011
      • Tyler Brown #

        Yes it is always troublesome to have dialogue through non face to face methods. It is most likely that most or differences are occurring over semantics and that our intent is very similar.

        On the last point regarding burn out, that is really too bad that expectations and demands can be so high. This furthers my belief that if more people did do the little things there would be less pressure on positions such as pastoral work.

        January 21, 2011
  10. Larry S #

    Ryan wrote “I have not posted about compassion fatigue or burnout—probably due to, a) my lack of reading/thinking in these areas; and b) my experiential distance from this reality. I fear I do not exercise compassion concretely or frequently enough to be fatigued by it.”

    Just give yourself a few more years in pastoral work. 🙂
    I’d appreciate you reflecting and posting about it. Specially since you are in a care-giving profession. Think of it as preventative care. (and now people will argue with me, that faithful Christians don’t have to deal with burnout 🙂 )

    January 21, 2011
    • Perhaps I will write about these things at some point—hopefully personal experience will not need to provide the requisite push :).

      January 21, 2011
  11. Ken #

    The way Larry described how to handle a situation similar to the one you described is the way the University wants these encounters handled for exactly the reasons Larry described. My natural inclination in such situations is to do what you did and what Tyler admires, but everyone I have worked with at the University in such situations is full of compassion and it is compassion more than any other factor that has shaped its policy that discourages acting on such instincts.

    Does following the university’s route fall short of what is appropriate for a Christian when helping a stranger in distress?

    Re: “as I read the gospels I do not get the sense that Jesus is asking me to help others only when there is no personal risk or discomfort involved. In fact, I almost get the opposite impression. I sort of assume that at some point followers of Jesus will be hurt—that’s what happens when you love and give sacrificially the way Jesus taught and modeled.”

    I know a woman who says that she feels closest to God when she is helping someone, and the more desperate the situation and the greater the sacrifice she must make, the closer she feels to God. Talking about it brings her to tears. In her assessment, the greater the sacrifice, the greater the piety. Is she wrong?

    January 21, 2011
    • Does following the university’s route fall short of what is appropriate for a Christian when helping a stranger in distress?

      I doubt there is any one-size-fits-all answer here. At times, I am sure what you call “the university’s route” does fall short. People fall through institutional cracks all the time. At other times, I am sure that great good is done through institutions. But as I see it, how we answer these questions has little bearing on the choice I was presented with last week.

      I’m not sure what to say about the woman you speak of. I’m extremely hesitant to derive universal principles from individual cases. I think it is entirely possible that, in this case, greater sacrifice is a sign of greater piety. It is possible, that is, that the implications of following Jesus for this woman entail the behaviour she is committed to. That doesn’t necessarily mean that there is a universally valid correlation that we can extract out of this situation.

      January 21, 2011
  12. Paul Johnston #

    What Naomi said…with regard to the conversation, perhaps as Ryan’s post infers the more threatening aspects of the story are sometimes found in our responses.

    I’m reading,” The essential Pope Benedict XVI his central writings and speeches”. From, “Deus Caritas Est” ( God is Love )….”Practical activity will always be insufficient, unless it visibly expresses a love for man, a love nourished by an encounter with Christ. My personal sharing in the needs and sufferings of others becomes a sharing of my very self with them: if my gift is not to prove a source of humiliation, I must give to others not only what is my own but my very self; I must be personally present in my gift.

    This proper way of serving others also leads to humility. The one who serves does not consider himself superior to the one served, however miserable his situation at the moment. Christ took the lowest place in the world-the cross-and by this radical humility he redeemed us and constantly comes to our aid. Those who are in a position to help others will realize that in doing so they themselves receive help; being able to help others is no merit or achievement of their own. This duty is a grace. The more we do for others, the more we understand and can appropriate the words of Christ: “We are useless servants” (Lk 17:10). We recognize that we are not acting on the basis of any superiority or greater personal efficiency, but because the Lord has graciously enabled us to do so. There are times when the burden of need and our own limitations might tempt us to become discouraged. But precisely then we are helped by the knowledge that, in the end, we are only instruments in the Lords hands; and this knowledge frees us from the presumption of thinking that we alone are personally responsible for building a better world. In all humility we will do what we can, and in all humility we will entrust the outcomes to the Lord. It is God who governs the world, not we. We offer Him our service only to the extent that we can, and for as long as he grants us the strength. To do all we can with what strength we have, however, is the task that keeps the good servant of Jesus Christ always at work: ” The love of Christ urges us on” (2 Cor 5:14)…

    So your sitting there reading Luke 6 30:31 and this guy walks into your foyer…dude that’s some serious urging!! 🙂 You did well, my brother.

    January 21, 2011
    • Thanks Paul. I appreciate the encouragement (and the great quote).

      January 22, 2011
  13. Paul Johnston #

    Maybe too our brother in this story is not as dispossessed as we might otherwise think. Providentially or not, in the end, he knew where to go to get help and he had a home and a wife that was either waiting for him or looking for him.

    And what about our other brother; from the depths of despair to affirming that “he wouldn’t have made it through, without God”. YEAH BABY! NOW THAT’S WHAT I’M TALKING ABOUT!!! SHOUT IT OUT WITH ME LARRY! 🙂

    January 22, 2011
    • Larry S #

      I appreciate Paul’s posts also (and his sense of humour).

      After this post I’ll quit flogging this topic. BUT 🙂

      Following ‘best practises’ (this is secular workplace language which Ken might recognize – it comes out of my work-a-day world), anyway playing out my scenario and linking to Paul noting the presence of the gentleman’s wife. Following ‘best practise’ procedures the ‘professional’ caregiver essentially passes over ‘custody’ of the gentleman to his wife (and of course does a ‘risk assessment’ ensuring she is competent 🙂 ).

      A little over the top – but that is the way the secular environement does its thing.

      Ryan wondered if Jesus would do ‘risk assessment’ and if i remember correctly seemed to wonder if doing risk assessments should play much of a role in kingdom work. I’m guessing Ryan’s church has insurance, I’m not sure but I’m wondering if pastor’s now carry some form of professional insurance. Churches run their volunteers through criminal record checks, in my own church I see parents having to sign their young children in and out of the nursery/ministry area. (I’m sure Central Heights Church is happy they have insurance coverage after the stage collapedes during that rock concert).

      All of this is a form of risk assessment/risk reduction.

      Its been a fun conversation which caused me to think – thanks. Ryan hope you aren’t ticked at way this thread played out. blessings

      January 22, 2011
      • Re: risk assessment, our church does similar things (criminal record checks, insurance, etc) as yours and many others. I confess to periodic feelings of ambivalence about this. At times, it feels like churches are guided by the same logic as the secular environment as opposed to modelling a truly different kingdom ethic. Sounds idealistic and naive, I know, but I still wonder…

        I’m certainly not “ticked” about the way this thread played out. Conversations that come out of what I post here can and often do go in unanticipated directions—that’s the nature of the blogging beast :). This thread has provoked questions that weren’t even on my radar, which might just be a good thing.

        January 22, 2011
    • Ken #

      If I may offer this summary:

      The risk Jesus encourages each of us to take is a good thing. And that we live in places that have the safety net Larry has described, even if it is not made of silk, is also a good thing. Sometimes it is hard to tell when to use it and when to just take a chance. It is sufficient, no doubt in the heart of Christ, that we act with care whatever we do. When we act with caution, it may just be that we have heard the voice that Abraham heard in the land of Moriah when God said “Stop!”

      It is a good thing to model Christ in our lives as best we can. He is the first born of the new creation and we are his descendants. We need not repeat, and cannot repeat, the sacrifice he made. He is the savior. We need only be merciful, as he was and is. There is risk enough in that.

      In extreme cases, like in the case of stopping Hitler, as Bonhoeffer tried to do, and as many others did in that war, acting with care and mercy comes with great risk, and we must act even without a net.

      January 22, 2011
      • A beautiful summary, Ken. Thank you.

        January 22, 2011

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