If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? (James 2:15-16)
There is often far too much division between the spiritual and temporal within the contemporary church. We consider our primary interest the former and reserve the latter focus for occasional emphases (national disasters, annual service projects, or special holidays). A Misfit Ministry recognizes, however, that practical care is part of the regular life of the church.
James is pointed in his illustration of caring for the poor and needy. The wishful thinking and spiritual blessing of “Go in peace, be warmed and filled” means nothing. There is no care given or received if you do not accompany blessing with tangible hands of ministry. What is perhaps more shocking, however, is the reason James is using this illustration. He highlights the contrast of empty blessing and practical help to demonstrate another contrast: living faith and dead faith. For James true faith has a tangible outworking. It displays itself most keenly in love and help for others. So, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father,” says the apostle, “is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (James 1:27).
Far too often the church is more than willing to pray for the needs of one another, but we are reluctant to actual be the answer to that prayer. We are happy to pray for Jane Doe’s financial troubles, but reluctant to pool our resources to help out. We are happy to pray for John’s housing needs, but reluctant to open our own homes. The early church, however, understood that the spiritual and physical were interrelated. To care well for one another meant not only to provide spiritual care and encouragement, but it meant also to meet real needs. So we read in Acts:
And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. (Acts 2:44-45)
The church was more than just a spiritual house, it was a central network of resources for the people of God. The spiritual and the temporal both mattered.
We recognize, of course, that not every church is equipped to solve every problem. So one single congregations may not be able to meet all the financial needs of an impoverished community. Yet, there are practical ways that we can all help one another. Practical help ought to matter to the church and be an important aspect of our ministry as the church.
I learned this most profoundly from watching Revolution church back in its infancy. As a young church we wanted to make a difference in our community and were often seeking ways to impact others. Our small groups would volunteer to feed the homeless and food insecure on alternating weekends. Our annual Free Market pooled loads of resources to give away to those in need. And our church Facebook page lit up weekly with requests on behalf of others (“someone needs a washer,” “can anyone help a family move today,” “can we collect Wal-Mart gift cards for a family who lost everything in a fire”). It was one of the first times in all my Christian life that I had seen a church whose love for the gospel so regularly and dramatically impacted their service to one another, and to the broader community. There was an interest in offering practical help both because it was kind and because it modeled the practical ministry of Jesus and the Early Church.
This, of course, requires us to know one another’s needs which requires, of course, that we be in deep community. The commitment to one another is foundational to this kind of compassionate and practical care. It requires me to express my needs and ask for help, and to be ready to be inconvenienced in order to help others. Misfit Ministry values are all inter-related.
Misfit Ministries care about practical needs. We are not simply spiritual beings, we are flesh and bone living in a concrete world. We have financial burdens, physical limitations, housing complications, and hundreds of other concerns. The church that wants to truly demonstrate love, and wants to truly reflect the compassion of God will not simply offer spiritual blessings. They will, instead, connect those spiritual blessings to practical help.
Misfit Song of the Week: “Even When I’m At My Darkest” by Ascend the Hill
Ascend the Hill is an indie rock worship band, hailing from Tampa, FL. The band’s name comes, presumably, from the Biblical concept of ascending the hill of the Lord, the place of the physical temple and the metaphorical dwelling place of God on earth, for worship. All three of the records reflect a trend towards lengthy tracks and spontaneous worship. So, their self-titled debut album includes on track that is fifteen minutes long, and their latest album includes and 11 minute track. They sing with passion and conviction, and their lyrics reflect a strong theological awareness. Their Hymns project in particular drew my attention – there was something amazing about hearing the hymns you grew up with played with passion, conviction, and rock.
“Even When I’m At My Darkest” is the eighth track off their 2012 release O Ransomed Son, and features Dustin Kensure – former vocalist of post-hardcore band Thrice, now turned worship leader. The song features references to the album’s title and includes a prolonged musical breakdown in the middle of the song.
The song’s theme of God’s astounding grace is belted out from verse to chorus to verse again. In a myriad of ways the band emphasizes our unworthiness and yet also God’s magnanimous love. So the song starts with a reference to God’s loving knowledge of us, from before creation and at worst moments. We hear:
Before I took a breath, you knew me
You called me by my name
And even when I’m at my darkest
You know me all the same
And every hair on my head you’ve numbered
And every thought within
And even when I cannot see you
I feel you closer than my skin
God knows us in more intimate and detailed ways than perhaps we are even comfortable with. And as unsettling as that my feel still His response to us is one of welcoming love and grace. So the chorus encourages us:
Lift up your head (you won’t let me go)
Lift your head, cause help has come
Lift up your heart (you won’t let me go)
Lift your heart, his will be done
Lift up your hands (you won’t let me go)
Lift your hands and praise the One
Lift up your song (you won’t let me go)
Lift your song, o ransomed son!
Though we are a “broken image of creation,” we have a Savior who comes to “breath life” into us and to “destroy every fear.”
The song booms of hope in the face of our own insecurities. It beckons us to believe that we are loved, even at our worst, even at our darkest. We are ransomed sons and daughters, so lift up your head. “Even When I am At My Darkest” is a beautiful and passionate plea to hope in the face of our sinfulness. It may not be a Westminster Confession of Faith, but it’s good Misfit theology.