Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did. (1 John 2:6)
Last week I met Lucia. My first view of her was as she sprinted toward a soccer goal, leaped into the air, caught the crossbar, spun her body above the bar and then let go and balanced on the bar, spread eagle, eight feet off the ground. Wow.
And then I heard her story.
Both parents were dead by the time she was seven. She moved into an aunt’s home; an aunt who worked in a circus. Lucia was apprenticed to the circus, where she was treated no better than a servant. This was her life for five years before she came to Hope. She was little more than free labor for the aunt who was to care for her.
And she is exactly the kind of person our followship of Christ calls us to love — and that means having a relationship and acting upon that relationship. True New Testament faith that cannot be practiced in isolation. To truly love the orphan, the child prostitute, the widow, and the prisoner requires relationships, and perhaps this relationship aspect is what we have lost as a Church. Far too often, we want to hire someone to do our Christianity for us, to pay the pastors and missionaries — the “professional” Christians — to do the work we are all called to do. Our financial gifts are the salve for our consciences that tell us, falsely, that we are being faithful to our Lord’s commands. We live in comfortable homes and rarely encounter the lives of the least of these. We are practitioners of a sanitized faith.
May I suggest to you that is not the way God designed his work? Because even for God, coming face-to-face with the reality of our humanity, struggling alongside us, feeling the pain we feel, feeling need, was absolutely essential to the gift of Himself. How much more true must this be for us?
Walking as Jesus did demands relationship with those we are called to serve. Isolation, even if we write big checks to support a ministry, cannot be an option for us. True Biblical Christianity means that we get down, in the dirt if necessary, that we experience life as they experience it; that we view the world from their perspective. The New Testament knows nothing of an arms-length Christianity.
Truth be known, my experience is that those who have met the child of the streets face-to-face, those who have hugged the orphan in the slum, those who have looked into hungry eyes become far more generous. I know it impacted me that way; tithing simply wasn’t enough any more.
But true Christian charity — in the 1 Corinthians 13 usage — begins not with our pocketbooks, but with our hearts. Bottom line, you cannot be intimate with God and distant from those He loves.
And it is really more than just society not intervening: more often than not, it is the ones who ought to love the child the most who are hurting them. For the great majority of the world, orphaned does not mean parentless. In fact, just the opposite is true: only about 20% of orphans are biological orphans; the vast majority of children we call orphans have parents. But they have been abandoned, have run away to escape abuse, or have been removed from their homes because of abuse, exploitation, or neglect.
I don’t like those parents (or aunts for that matter!)—and “don’t like” is really not a strong enough phrase to express how I feel. The one critical task they have been given in life — TAKE CARE OF THIS CHILD — they have failed. And, more often than not, it is not just that they did not do well by their kids; they usually actively chose to hurt them. We all have a problem when we see this.
And so we have a tailor-made excuse to keep our hands clean: not my problem.
“… must live as Jesus did.”
Here’s the point: There are children all over the world whose lives will not change if you and I don’t change them. Lucia won’t make it unless we get serious about faithfulness to our commission as Christians. This is not clean faith; this is not easy church. It’s unpleasant; it’s difficult, but it is absolutely necessary.
Absolutely necessary that we “live as Jesus lived.”
Absolutely necessary …