A church employs the unemployed to feed those in need: Two responses to our fear of inadequacy

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A church employs the unemployed to feed those in need: Two responses to our fear of inadequacy

March 26, 2020 -

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The news broke this morning that unemployment claims in the US surged by 3.28 million last week. This is the highest number ever recorded in a single week, more than quadruple the previous record of 695,000 claims in October 1982. For perspective: the US saw barely 200,000 unemployment claims just three weeks ago.

SourceUS Department of Labor, COVID-19 Impact on Unemployment, March 2019–2020

In related news, the Transportation Safety Administration confirmed Wednesday that, on Tuesday, the agency saw a record low in the number of passenger screenings in airports nationwide. Tuesday’s screenings were an 88 percent drop from March 1.

It’s easy to read today’s news and be overwhelmed. We can feel afraid that all we can do is not all that needs to be done.

This fear can be both disabling and empowering. Let’s discuss the difference.

God’s will never leads where his grace cannot sustain

Highland Park United Methodist Church in Dallas was in the local news this week. The church identified those in the area who are in great need of food assistance. Then they focused on out-of-work caterers, using church donations to employ them.

These caterers are making more than twelve hundred lunches a day to serve at shelters. Their employer told a reporter, “I’m eternally grateful, as well as my people are and everybody working here, and we will pay it forward.”

Just because we cannot do everything does not mean that we cannot do something.

This church, despite its large size and resources, cannot feed every person in Dallas. But they can feed some people in Dallas. And they are not allowing what they cannot do to keep them from doing what they can.

Think of those most used by God across Scripture: an enslaved prisoner becomes second to Pharaoh in Egypt; a fugitive from justice leads his nation out of Egyptian slavery to the edge of the Promised Land; a small boy’s even smaller lunch is used to feed five thousand families; a prisoner in exile is given the book of Revelation.

Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “Consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even the things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are” (1 Corinthians 1:26–28).

My mentor in Atlanta, John Edmund Haggai, has made famous his life motto: “Attempt something so great for God that it is doomed to fail unless God be in it.”

Whatever God is calling you to do, God will enable you to do. His will never leads where his grace cannot sustain.

The solution to the spiritual pandemic of our day

While we must not let our fear of insignificance keep us from being used significantly by God, there’s another side to our topic.

Paul’s statement to the Corinthians continued, “so that no human being might boast in the presence of God” (v. 29). The Lord uses those who cannot do his work in their strength to show that their work has been done in his.

Self-reliance is the spiritual pandemic of our day. Our culture prizes those who depend on themselves and succeed through hard work and initiative. But human words cannot sanctify human hearts. You and I cannot convict anyone of sin, or save their soul, or do anything else that is eternally significant. Only the Holy Spirit can do the work of the Holy Spirit.

So, let your fear of inadequacy drive you to the One who is waiting to empower your service. Ask him to lead you to someone you can help in his strength. And know that he will use your ability and availability in ways you cannot imagine today.

‘I love you, I love you, I love you’

The next time you fear that you cannot make a difference in these critical days, you might return to this meditation from Henri Nouwen. It is so meaningful that I have quoted it in full:

“The voice of despair says, ‘I sin over and over again. After endless promises to myself and others to do better next time, I find myself back again in the old dark places. Forget about trying to change. I have tried for years. It didn’t work and it never will work. It is better that I get out of people’s way, be forgotten, no longer around, dead.’

“This strangely attractive voice takes all uncertainties away and puts an end to the struggle. It speaks unambiguously for the darkness and offers a clear-cut negative identity.

“But Jesus came to open my ears to another voice that says, ‘I am your God, I have molded you with my own hands, and I love what I have made. I love you with a love that has no limits, because I love you as I am loved. Do not run away from me. Come back to me—not once, not twice, but always again. You are my child. . . . I am your God—the God of mercy and compassion, the God of pardon and love, the God of tenderness and care.

“‘Please do not say that I have given up on you, that I cannot stand you anymore, that there is no way back. It is not true. I so much want you to be with me. I so much want you to be close to me. I know all your thoughts. I hear all your words. I see all your actions. And I love you because you are beautiful, made in my own image, an expression of my most intimate love.

“‘Do not judge yourself. Do not condemn yourself. Do not reject yourself. Let my love touch the deepest, most hidden corners of your heart and reveal to you your own beauty, a beauty that you have lost sight of, but that will become visible to you again in the light of my mercy. Come, come, let me wipe your tears, and let my mouth come close to your ear and say to you, ‘I love you, I love you, I love you.'”

Do you need to hear these words from your Father today?

Does someone you know need to hear them from you?

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