A few winters back the leadership team of the senior high group I was a part of began spending a Sunday a month serving at a local men's homeless shelter here in downtown Cleveland. Our vision with this activity was two-fold: create an environment for our students to share themselves and the gospel to others and bring the gospel into a dark place of our community.
During our first OUT Day at the shelter we saw a few issues and worked to correct them the following month: First, we served a meal in the cafeteria from behind the kitchen service window (think the serving window at your old middle school). This created an instant separation of ourselves to the pocket of people we felt called to invest in. Second, the meal itself was the standard fare the residents experienced every day. Wanting to offer something special we eventually switched to serving homemade cookies, allowing those who were already volunteering to continue serving the meal. Originally these cookies were store bought but the pre-packaged goodies felt calloused; almost lacking the depth of care for the residents we wanted to convey. And third, following the cookie distribution there was limited interaction with the residents.
Learning from our first experience, our second OUT Day looked very different: we setup tables in front of the kitchen serving window, actually in the cafeteria itself; we started asking for and baking our own cookies; and we brought decks of cards, chess and checker boards and sat down with the residents during the cookie distribution and after. The impact was immediate. Men were being engaged in conversation and prayer. It was fantastic.
The Sunday before Christmas that winter we setup shop with excitement as we had been present long enough to begin building relationships with both the staff and residents (they called us "the cookie people"). Starting at our normal 3 pm we setup and saw a line quickly form as the fellas began pushing as shoving to get first pick of the goodies. About 30 minutes into the afternoon I was in the dining area enjoying a good conversation and checking on our students when another leader grabbed my shoulder.
"Um... Need you in the kitchen. There is a very angry woman threatening to do nasty things to us." I walked through the swinging metal door to find a mass of red shirts. Turns out a local church had arrived to serve a Christmas dinner later that afternoon. And arrived they had! 25 men and women all clad in the same red t-shirts promoting their local congregation. And in the middle of the group was a visibly (and audibly) upset little old lady.
No sooner was I through the door than her eyes assaulted mine: "So this is your doing!" My buddy gently tapped my shoulder and whispered "Enjoy!" as he ducked out the door I just entered. Turns out this church has been serving dinner on the Sunday before Christmas for several years.
"Your cookies are going to ruin the meal we have been preparing for almost a week! This is Christmas!! These men need this meal! These men look forward to this meal every year! This is the one chance all year we work this hard to serve and you kids have ruined it!!"
***Side note: The men still ate their meal.***
As I endured her temper tantrum a few things struck me:
1. She didn't know any of the men's names.
2. This church family only worked hard at serving once a year?!
3. The residents look forward to EVERY meal.
4. There was a lot of red in that little kitchen.
5. I really wanted to punch my buddy in the throat.
What most struck me was the posture she and her church family were taking towards serving: they were Bringing Jesus into that place which meant they didn't need to Be Jesus in that place.
And here is the lesson the Spirit lead me too as I processed this event: If we choose to Bring Jesus then we can separate ourselves from what we are carrying (you carry a book bag, purse, books, etc., doesn't make you a book bag, purse, book etc.). We can hide behind the offering and believe that is enough. If we seek to Be Jesus then there is no possible separation. And here is the key:
We can Bring Jesus and not Be Jesus. We cannot Be Jesus and not Bring Jesus.
In Luke 12 Jesus offers a significant warning. I love how The Message translates this passage:
“You’ll protest, ‘But we’ve known you all our lives!’ only to be interrupted with his abrupt, ‘Your kind of knowing can hardly be called knowing. You don’t know the first thing about me.’"
There is an inherent danger in separating who we are from what we carry. This danger can not only create a wedge between us and the Father but also us and the mission our Father may be inviting us into. Of course we are called to Bring Jesus into the dark niches of our communities. But when we take the easy route of chosing to Bring Jesus without first chosing to Be Jesus we risk seeing the Kingdom opportunity blowup in our faces (Sceva's sons of Acts 19 come to mind).
I walked away from my conversation in the kitchen of the shelter shaking my head. Not so much towards the red clad folks from the local church (had some good conversation with a few members of the group) but at the recognition of how many times I had chosen to Bring Jesus rather than humbly Be Jesus. And how impossible it is to Be Jesus without fully submitting myself to the Holy Spirit and His guidance.