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Back before summer hit us with temperature in the triple digits, back when the mosquitoes were just fixing to come out, a friend of mine made a request.

Let’s just call  her Brenda.

“I want you to go with me on Saturday morning. We meet at the church and we feed the people without homes.”

“I don’t want to,” I replied.

She looked at me disappointed.

I wasn’t even going to explain. I actually know the value of ministering to others. I believe in it. I certainly believe in helping others in distress. The reason I didn’t want to do it was that I just didn’t want to go. It would be hard to explain that the reason was from anything but pure selfishness.  I just did not want to go.

“I want you to go with me,” Brenda said again. And then she flashed her smile. Brenda has one of those kinds of smiles.

“It’s a good thing for you to do with me,” she said.

Crap.

I grumbled a bit where she couldn’t hear me.

And then on Saturday, I took my bad attitude, parked my car in the church parking lot at the agreed time, and hoped for some reason, no one would show up to run the ministry and I could go home. Sometimes people have good intentions and feel satisfied with the intention. I had my speech all rehearsed on how to tell Brenda I was sad we didn’t get to do it.

Yeah. That didn’t happen.

Not only did people show up but for this thing, it was run by multiple churches and had been in play for enough years that the leaders knew the individual homeless that we would serve by name. It was as organized as anything I have ever seen. Brenda had signed us up, and along with at least a 100 people we had been assigned groups, team colors, portions of Houston, and food. We listened as the leaders, whose hearts were obvious for this whole Saturday morning ministering thing, gave us instructions.

“Don’t give money. In fact, don’t bring your wallets or purses.”

“Don’t treat these people any different than if you were meeting someone at church, work, or at the mall.”

“We have long term relationships with these people. We know them and they know us.”

“We are doing this to give a warm, good meal, seasonal needs (in this case bug spray), and to spend time with them.”

“You can ask them if they have an individual need, like a new pair of shoes.”

“We have cat and dog food for their animals.”

And then we prayed.

And then we dispersed to our individual vans and cars, one truck or van in each convoy loaded with a container of hot food.

“Put on your t-shirt, Janet,” Brenda said with a grin, which is not quite her smile, but because some situations call for it, she uses her grin instead.

Us being the Gray Group this morning, I put the gun metal gray shirt over my head and felt the stickiness of the hot pressed white lettering on the front. It said:

“The church has left the building.”

How shall I explain this? The morning was one of the most moving I have ever participated in. The church that had left the building that morning had one thing on their minds: to be the hands and feet that God showed us how to be when He sent His son Jesus.

I might should explain a bit if you aren’t the church type.

It was Christ’s intention for the his followers, and not by taxes or through government programs mind you, to take care of those in need. His people are His church, not a building or a particular denomination. The reason His church would do this? Because we are so grateful for God’s grace (unmerited favor).

So if I count myself a Christian, which I do, why didn’t I want to do it? I’ve already told you. Selfishness, plain and simple.

If Al Pacino as John Milton (aka the devil) in the Devil’s Advocate thinks that vanity is the most valuable sin, I’d place my bets he does more with selfishness. (Actually, vanity could be counted as a specific variety of selfishness, now that I think about it.)

And don’t you know, the story hardly ends there.

Because God has plans that stretch across time and space and unfold in ways I never imagine.

The other day I was out running errands. I wasn’t all that dressed up (more than a slight understatement) and I was taking Mother to the neighborhood thrift shops. Her favorite one is NAM.

In every place we stopped between NAM and in NAM an odd thing happened.

I was getting looks.

Now I am just as vain as anyone and I would love to think it was my beauty they were acknowledging but that most definitely wasn’t it.

It was like the world, at least the part I was inhabiting, had gone crazy friendly.

Sitting in one of the sofas for sale, waiting for Mother to rummage through the paperbacks, I watched as a very old black man, who had a bit of trouble walking, not dressed much better than me, smiled at me.

He looked once again, and walked over to me.

“I like your shirt,” he said.

I had to look down.

Yep.

Somewhere, sometime, that man, and all the  people who had seen me that day, were acknowledging God’s power one way or another, because they too had been privy to the church having left the building.

All I got to say is thank God for friends like Brenda. Thank God for people who care for homeless. Thank God for NAM. Thank God for the community of believers.  I am glad I am part of His church, that seeks service to Him. Because I am so grateful He loves me, when I am stubborn and selfish.

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