A Fish Story of Life-Changing Proportions

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A Fish Story of Life-Changing Proportions
The saying goes, “If you give a man a fish, he’ll eat for a day. If you teach a man to fish, he’ll eat for a lifetime.”
What if the process went like this … ?
GIVE a man a fish, which can PROVIDE a NEED & SECURITY
TEACH the man how to use a fish, which can SUPPLY INSTRUCTION & KNOWLEDGE
TRAIN the man to fish, which can FOSTER a SKILL & COMPETENCE
EMPOWER that man to give a fish to someone else, which can INSTILL OWNERSHIP & SIGNIFICANCE
Then, how different might our world be?

© 2002, 2010 Kat Kreations – artist/designer/author http://www.katkreations.org

Affecting Lives Beyond Just Today

As Peter and John were headed to the temple, they encountered a man with a physical problem that he’d had since birth (Acts 3:1-2).  Every day someone took him to the temple gate where he begged everyday.  That “someone” seemed to think that was the best that could be done for the man.  The person helped him “manage” to get through life.  The man sought assistance from others that would get him through the day and meet his short-term needs to get him through again in order to do it all over the next day.

“When he saw Peter and John about to enter, he asked them for money” (v. 3).  Peter and John broke into this man’s cycle and changed everything.

“Peter LOOKED straight at him, as did John…” (v. 4).  Who knows whether this man ever got any eye contact from others?!  How many times do people see someone panhandling and try hard not to see him or her?  However, in this situation, on that day for this man, two people “looked straight at him.”

“…then Peter SAID, ‘Look at us!’” (v. 4).  They not only gave him eye contact, but they SPOKE to him as well.

“So the man gave them his attention, expecting to get something from them” (v. 5).  Still in his usual frame of mind, he was looking for what he’d always been looking—something to get him by for that day, his short-term needs.

“Then Peter said, ‘Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I GIVE you.  In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk’” (v. 6).  Peter didn’t worry about not having that for which the man was asking.  In fact, Peter chose to give what would have a long-term effect on the man’s life—in this case, an eternal power entered a finite moment and brought physical change.

Affectling Lives Beyond Just Today

“TAKING him BY the right HAND, he helped him up, and instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong.  He jumped to his feet and began to walk” (v. 7-8).  In Peter’s interactions with this man, he touched the man—another possible rarity in this formerly invalid man’s life (aside from whoever took him to the gate daily).  How easy it can be to avoid offering the simple act of touch to others, especially to those most in need among us.

“… Then he went WITH THEM into the temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God” (v. 8).  This man hung out with Peter and John, getting a bit of social life.  From what we read about the man, this may have been one of those very rare moments in his life when someone welcomed his company.  They even were okay with him touching them: “While the beggar held onto Peter and John…” (v. 11).

“When all the people saw him walking and praising God, they recognized him as the same man who sued to sit begging at the temple gate called Beautiful, and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him….all the people were astonished and came running to them in the place called Solomon’s Colonade…” (v. 9-11).

The gift that was given to this man that affected his long-term needs also affected the entire community.  No donation given to him on any of those other day-after-days to meet his short-term needs had such a widespread impact on the community.

Consider how this man’s life and community were affected by the choice of two men who gave from the resources to which they had access to meet his long-term needs.  His physical health was the most obvious effect.  Yet, his emotional and mental health were improved through the way Peter and John looked at, spoke to, touched, and spent time with him—boosting his value and affirmation.  His social health surely saw improvement with that time spent with them too.

The community saw the change in him.  They were in awe and amazement.  Peter and John took the opportunity to sue what happened as a teachable moment, explaining God’s role in what had happened and tying it into their own eternal needs.  Even though the two of them were put in jail later by the temple leaders, “many who heard the message believed” (4:4).

Often, it can seem so much easier to accept the way things are and never wonder what could be better if something were done differently.  Those who took the man to the gate daily were only seeing his symptoms, his current situation.  Peter and John looked at the root cause of his begging and did what it took to set him on a new course toward ending his crippling condition.  They didn’t just do a little something to feel like they helped at least in some way; they made a big something that had far-reaching results.

When it comes to addressing big issues in our communities like poverty and homelessness, will we do things that allow us to “manage” the problems and feel like we’ve at least done something?  Or, will we examine the root causes—the entire gamut, not just the typically attributed—and seek ways to work together to “end” homelessness and poverty?

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“The church that develops long-term, trusting relationships with the community is the one that has an opportunity to influence its culture.  The most effective way to do that seems to be in the context of serving.  In meeting the needs of others and serving alongside them, we cannot help but create relationship.  Relationship is key to building bridges into the community.”

– Rusaw/Swanson

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“…poverty and despair can become so internalized that it can take generations to heal.  There is a family…with four children… No member of this family has had a meaningful job for two generations, and both parents and some grandparents have been in and out of jail.  Getting a minimum wage job will not fix this.  Just giving them enough to keep starvation at bay is not enough.  Poverty is not just a lack of cash, medicine, or technology.  It is also about the confidence, skills, and belief that people can use what they have for the community’s good.  Surely poverty is as much about identity, meaning, and belonging as material goods.  Surely God’s hope needs to be involved to change the world and rid it of poverty.”

– Ash Barker, Make Poverty Personal


Conveying His Compassion Passionately

“The Lord provided a deliverer for Israel, and they escaped from the power of Aram.  So the Israelites lived in their own homes as they had before” (2 Kings 13:5 NIV)

This verse describes a time when Jehoahaz was king of Israel.  He had not been faithful to the Lord, so God allowed the king of Aram to oppress Israel.  Verse four notes that Jehoahaz “sought the Lord’s favor and the Lord listened to him, for [the Lord] saw how severely the king of Aram was oppressing Israel.”

An entire nation (communities, neighborhoods, people) experienced circumstances which left people without “their own homes.” The Lord “provided a deliverer” to free them from their situations and they became housed again.  They reached their destination: home.  Regardless of other things that happened (as recorded later in this passage), even to the Lord … housing matters!

Various suggestions have been made by scholars for the identity of this “deliverer.”  Still, the passage leaves that part a mystery.

When it comes to people in our community, our neighbors, who are without homes … the 400 or so people each night who are temporarily sheltered, the other 30-40 living out in the elements, or the countless families finding expensive “shelter” in run-down motels or staying with friends or family … WHO will be their deliverer?  Who will get to know them – their situations, their needs, their personalities, their lives?  WHO will help them to be able to “live in their own homes as they had before”?

The Lord speaks to each of us in 1 John 3:16, 18: “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down His life for us.  And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers … let us not love with words or tongue, but with action and in truth.

Congregations in this city/county are comprised of believers who are often seeking to serve the Lord through serving others, ministering to both the tangible and eternal needs.  Oftentimes, members of the faith community are already employees of this area’s social service organizations and parachurch ministries.  The ministry of the Church can be linked with the services in the community in order to maximize resources of time, talent, and treasure toward the common goal of helping others in need.

Through compassionately connecting with others in need, as well as others in the community already serving those in need, believers can open doors for their church families to carry out “good deeds that create good will that forms the platform for sharing the good news” (Rick Rusaw & Eric Swanson, The Externally-Focused Church).

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“My people will live in peaceful dwelling places,in secure homes, in undisturbed places of rest.”

– Isaiah 32:18 NIV

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“Edith is a mother of six who lives in a government housing project and buys groceries with food stamps.  I’ve played with Edith’s children in the park, shared meals and phone calls with her and her family, and introduced her to mature Christians outside the community who are committed to Edith in the form of friendship and a weekly Bible study in her home.  Because of our willingness to reconcile our lives with Edith and to share our resources with her by relocating to her neighborhood, Edith has become a disciple of Christ.  She has been baptized at her local church, regularly shares the gospel with her sister, mother, and neighbors, and now leads family prayer times every night with her children.  She is now asking God to show her how she, too, can fulfill the Great Commission in her community.”  — Jo Kadlecek

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Reflecting God’s Heart

Jesus notes very basic, specific and tangible needs as He points our focus to those who are hungry, thirsty, strangers (or “homeless” in The Message paraphrase), naked, sick and imprisoned.  Could these also point to deeper needs of a person and call us to offer care, concern, and help for the whole person?

“Hungry” can represent physical needs.  Hunger pains in our body create a realization of need.  These are the needs a person can feel and often articulate.  These are sometimes the needs more readily met, but can sometimes be short-term, aiding in survival today, unless we also look at long-term solutions for meeting physical needs.  Those solutions can involve aiding the person in need to develop skills to improve his situation, advocating for changes in what the community has to offer, defending the needy from exploitation, and/or working for changes in social or governmental policies that keep the needs from being met.

“Thirsty” can symbolize spiritual needs, those “real needs” that have been designed into us by our Creator.  Just as our bodies need water to survive, whether one knows he’s dehydrated or not, our souls need the Lord to be satisfied thoroughly.

“Stranger” can point to social needs.  We were created for community and have an innate longing for acceptance and a desire to belong.  The Amplified Bible renders Matthew 25:35 as “…I was a stranger and you brought Me together with yourselves and welcomed and entertained and lodged Me.”  The verse suggests seeing to housing as well as to the hospitality of genuine fellowship.

“Naked” can suggest images of being defenseless or with emotional needs.  An emotionally unclothed person can be without a healthy covering of coping or interpersonal skills. As we draw from the care and comfort of the Lord for our needs, He works through us to clothe others with His care and comfort (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).

“Sick,” in the original Greek of this verse, indicated a sickness needing long-term care.  All of us must, at some point, face our eternal need for rescue from our sinful nature.  (This is not to equate sickness with sin, but is only being used as a metaphor.)  Our Savior visited us in a way that drew us to accept His cure for our sin and He has given us the ministry of visiting with others, so they can see Him through us and find His healing mercy for their sins as well.

“Imprisoned” can symbolize lifestyle needs, especially when any of us become bound by life-controlling problems.  Whether a person is in bondage to a behavior, a substance or a relationship, true freedom comes through Christ.  Today, one way He visits those in such “prisons” is through us, His Body.  Our coming alongside others through the love of Christ allows those in bondage to see His way out and have a supportive friend along the path toward freedom when they choose that journey.

This and many other scriptures make it very clear that every believer has a call to work with the poor in some way.   Consider Christ’s account of the Samaritan who helped the man who had need.  “Like the Savior, the Samaritan brought himself near, made himself a neighbor, leapt over the walls between familiar and unfamiliar, acting like family in order to create a new family, opening the door to bring inside the stranger in need” (Thigpen).

“But if there are any poor people in your towns when you arrive in the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hard-hearted or tightfisted toward them.  Instead, be generous and lend them whatever they need.  Do not be mean-spirited … Give freely without begrudging it, and the Lord your God will bless you in everything you do.  There will always be some among you who are poor.  That is why I am commanding you to share your resources freely with the poor …”

–Deuteronomy 15:7-11 NLT

God’s Heart for the Poor and Homeless

Woven throughout Scripture is a theme of God’s concern for the oppressed.  In fact the New International Version (NIV) uses the words poor and oppressed in 210 verses.  Many of those contain commands to protect the poor and warn against exploiting them (Source: Ron Sider, “God’s Heart for the Oppressed,” Discipleship Journal, #126).

Since “all scripture is God-breathed” (2 Timothy 3:16 NIV), originating in our Heavenly Father, the very words we are able to read allow us to see into His heart and mind, aid us in knowing Him better.  Studying His Word, praying, worshipping Him, and fellowshipping with others in His Body are ways to know Him better.  Yet, in His own words, as He notes the life of King Josiah in Jeremiah 22:16, He gives us yet another means of knowing Him: “’He [Josiah] defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well.  Is that not what it means to know Me?’ declares the Lord.”

“As we build relationships with the poor, we develop a deep sense of who God is and a greater understanding of His desire for our fellowship.  Defending the cause of the poor and needy can be a powerful entrance into God’s presence.  And the more we are with God, the more we want to be with those in need—and vice versa” (Jo Kadlecek, “The Missing Discipline,” Discipleship Journal,  #79).

At the heart of Jesus’ mission on earth was bringing the “good news to the poor” (Luke 4:18-19, fulfilling Isaiah 61).  His life and message recorded in the gospels give evidence to this.  “The poor of the world today need Jesus.  They need to see that the God who sent His Son to die for their sins also cares about their poverty, hates injustice, and invites them to become coworkers in His kingdom.  Many of those who are despised, trampled, and famished will only see Jesus if we’re willing to meet their real, physical needs” (Ron Sider).

Picture Jesus as He gazes upon the city of Jerusalem—“the city He loved with fury, the city that had broken His heart (Matthew 23:38; Luke 13:34) … Do you want to see the heart of God? Then look here, upon the faces of God’s children: tear-streaked, pain-creased, terrifying in their holy need.  Behold how He loves them: fragile little creatures, weak and poor, sick and dying, hungry and thirsty, naked and lone.  The least of His brethren, He suffers with them; He cries through them; He holds them so close to His heart that whatever is done for them is done for Him (Matthew 25:31-46)” (Paul Thigpen, “Why Should I Care?” Discipleship Journal, #113).

That passage in Matthew is found in the midst of other parts of Jesus’ messages about the responsibilities of His followers.  He is nearing His own death and He provides us with greater understanding of how He desires for us to live as we follow Him.

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“Christian community development leader John Perkins believes that fulfilling the Great Commission involves three R’s:

  • reconciliation of people to God and to each other;
  • redistribution of resources and talents within the whole Body of Christ for all the people; and
  • relocation of homes, services, and ministries to live incarnationally among people in need

… if these three things happen, then disciples are won and nurtured.”

– Jo Kadlecek

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