PANHANDLERS AND GRACE

I’ve been reading online comments about the people who stand on street corners asking for donations. Often it’s a family with a sign pleading for some help. The online comments usually list all the reasons why we should not give these panhandlers money.

Some say ‘they drive BMWs’ or ‘they live in nice homes’. People have actually followed them to their supposed houses. ‘They are ripping us off’, or ‘they are part of a scammer gang’, I read. ‘They use their children to play on our sympathies,’ one person suggested. ‘They should get jobs, like the rest of us’, or ‘we shouldn’t reinforce their behavior.’ And there are some good-hearted folks who suggest that people give to a rescue mission where one can know the ‘needy’ are being taken care of. Good idea.

I recall Jesus words, ‘Give to everyone who asks of you.’ (Luke 6:30). I like the MESSAGE VERSION: ‘If someone takes unfair advantage of you, use the occasion to practice the servant life.’ How many people ‘used’ Jesus for their miracles? Remember the lady who stole a miracle when she snuck up and touched the hem of Jesus’ garment? And there are still people using Jesus like a vending machine. ‘Cheap grace’ is what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called it.

I am embarrassed to recall an incident in NYC when a street person asked me for money and I took to the time to explain to him how he would probably use the money for drink or drugs and such. Was I a jerk or what?

Here’s what I think. Giving is good, not just to help someone but for the building of our own character of grace. It’s probably why Jesus said, ‘Don’t let your right hand know what your left hand is doing.’ (Sermon on the Mount) It means that we are not to keep track of how we give money. Certainly stewardship is a good thing. But grace is even better and it may cost us a dollar or two. Grace has even cost people their lives. That’s what happened to our Lord. If he had been more earthly sensible he would have moved to Galilee and set up shop for the rest of his life.

I’m thinking of a scene in the final judgment when God looks over my life and says, ‘George, you were so wasteful for giving $10 to that so-called family on the street corner or that supposedly homeless man who begged some money from you.’

I know that we can find some creative ways to help those in need but remember that grace comes in the giving, not in any form of judgment on our part. Listen, God knows how wasteful I have been in spending money for myself. And while I am not deliberately trying to be wasteful on ‘panhandlers’ it is a good lesson for my soul to just give ‘without asking for anything in return’.  And please let’s not judge the people who are asking. In this past year those people have been some of us.

Just maybe, out of all the money we give away in such instances, someone’s life is touched by the love of God we show. And by the way. Offer a blessing of God to those in need. You are the one who will be truly blessed.

Parkland, Florida. Wednesday February 14, 2018

Remember how Jesus took the little children into his arms and blessed them? I believe that the same eternal Jesus is holding these children whose lives were shattered by gunfire on Wednesday. The question is not as some Christians phrase it, ‘Did they know Jesus?’ The question is ‘Does Jesus know them?’ The resounding answer from the heart of God is ‘Yes’.

And as much as these children are loved by their families, Jesus loves them even more. While God allows more freedom and destructive free will than we can understand, we can know that from the horror and sorrow of Jesus’ own death, he gently and often quietly moves into our horrors and sorrows. And as the one who took in himself our infirmities and sorrows he bears the pain with these children and their families as well as their friends.

And recall how Mary, the mother of God, ached at the death of her own child. Yes, the myriads of heaven’s angels, saints and the Holy Trinity through their prayers and presence are with those now whose grief is unbearable.

The Good Shepherd has found his sheep and none are lost. Because he lives, they too live.

But for now there are mournful tears in heaven.

 

 

SOME THOUGHTS ON BAPTISM

I am of the reformed tradition where as part of covenant theology we baptize children of believers. Sometimes it’s call ‘paedobaptism’.

I believe that children are a part of the new covenant in Christ as much as the children of Abraham are part of that original covenant of identifying God’s people. And even though some turned their back on the Abrahamic Covenant the children were all baptized.

I realized there is little if any evidence in the New Testament of a child being baptized. The faith of the first century was an adult faith amidst an adult society and there is no particular reason for children being mentioned. Or is there?

Jesus took the children into his arms and blessed them conveying I believe God’s particular grace upon and within that child.

Jesus told people that unless they had faith like a child they would not enter the Kingdom of God.

When we see John the Baptist graced by God (filled with the Holy Spirit) (Luke 1:15), while still in the womb I would say he is part of the new covenant in Christ Jesus.

When Paul writes that the children of believers are holy, separated to God (1Cor. 7) I believe they are part of the covenant.

See if God’s covenant is a covenant of grace and not works and none of us deserves it then children most of all are the trusting recipients of God’s love and thus candidates of baptism.

As far as faith, confession, belief are concerned they are all part of the process of the new covenant, covenant theology. No one is saved without grace through faith. Children at birth are forgiven, not innocent. They too can come under the understanding of dying and rising with Christ through baptism and then faith.

And I love the passage in Psalm 139:

You are the one who created my innermost parts;
    you knit me together while I was still in my mother’s womb.
14 I give thanks to you that I was marvelously set apart.
    Your works are wonderful—I know that very well.
15 My bones weren’t hidden from you
    when I was being put together in a secret place,
    when I was being woven together in the deep parts of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my embryo,
    and on your scroll every day was written that was being formed for me,[b]
    before any one of them had yet happened.[c]
17 God, your plans are incomprehensible to me!
    Their total number is countless!
18 If I tried to count them—they outnumber grains of sand!
    If I came to the very end—I’d still be with you” (CEB in Gateway)

If this is how God’s grace impacts and surrounds the unborn then it is my humble opinion these little ones should be baptized as a was of showing they belong to Christ.

Children in the early church were part of the family’s interaction of faith and community. Most likely in the first century at least they would grow up to be believers. The problem today is that we practice ‘cheap grace’ willy nilly baptizing anything that moves. Parents who are not faithful have their children ‘done’. I had one woman tell me that her child’s baptism had to be on a certain date because the great grandmother’s dress would not fit otherwise. I have been guilty of that cheap grace, God forgive me. There should be strenuous testing of the faith and fruits of parents who want their children to be baptized.

Some ask ‘Why not baptize all children into the covenant?’ It’s a good question that could be answered in the affirmative if we sought to disciple people. Jesus said go and baptize all nations and ‘disciple’ them.

Well, I expect to hear from some folks and that’s good. I can always learn.

Grace and peace

george