There you are

th-3kfd&p writes: “Some of us from our church are going downtown tomorrow morning to care for the homeless. It’s so easy to get into that ‘us and them’ comparison. And it sure makes a difference if you arrive without ‘us and them’ in your vocabulary!!”

How true.

I’m not sure who said it first, but there is a popular “Christian” statement when encountering someone in a worse state than you are: “There, but for the grace of God go I.” A search for the source of the saying comes up inconclusive. Some say it was a sixteenth century British evangelist, John Bradford, but the actual quote can’t be backed up in his writings. One search concluded it was a “twentieth century coinage,” in other words, it’s one of those sayings that everyone seems to know for some reason.

Well I think it’s time for it to die. As good as it may sound at first, it’s really a statement right out of the book of us and them. There’s me here and there’s that poor fellow over there, and I’m sure glad I’m not him.

Actually, we could probably say Jesus was the author of this quote when he put words in the mouth of a Pharisee seeing a poor sinner on his knees begging for mercy, “I’m sure glad I’m not like that guy over there.” It’s the same thing.

Based on where we ended our “us and them” discussion last week, the statement should probably be more like: “There, because of the grace of God, go I.” If there is no us and them, then we are the homeless, and we need to find out why.

Because of the grace of God, I am on the same level as everyone else in the world. There is no hierarchy of worth here. There may be social, political and economic hierarchy, but it is not a hierarchy of worth. Indeed, in many cases it can be shown that the poor are better off than the rich. Jesus backed this up by saying that the poor are blessed. In other words, they are in a favored position. He didn’t say this about anyone else. There’s something special about being poor.

So kfd&p, when you go to visit the homeless, realize they have one up on you. They are blessed in ways you aren’t. Go with the intention of being taught and encouraged by them. Go with the attitude of being in the presence of royalty. Bow before them in your spirit. Serve them. Receive from them.

This is what Marti taught me about the women without homes at the Isaiah House. Time and time again I would go thinking I was going to bless them, only to find out I was the one in need of the blessing.

There, because of God’s grace, are you. Find out the you that’s been hidden from you for so long. Find out who you are in the eyes of the homeless. For according to Jesus, you will not only find yourself there, you will find Christ.

“Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine,” Jesus said, “you did for me” (Matthew 25:40). That means when you visit what appear to be “the least” you are actually in the presence of God. Jesus beat you there. Meet Him. Greet Him. Find out what He wants you to know.

Because of God’s grace, there you are.

bm567For those new to Bill Mallonee click here for an excellent interview, and then don’t miss ours tomorrow night!

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20 Responses to There you are

  1. Dignity. Sometimes our view of having it pulls us away from others. We are bombarded with plans on how to be successful that teach us to not associate with people that will bring us down. Avoid the stinkin thinkin.
    We teach our children not to hang out with certain kids, sometimes for good reason. It’s not just the “ugly” that get put in the them category. For me most parents of cheerleaders are in the them category.
    At the first reading of the us and them blog I quickly agreed and have been quoting the thoughts from it since.
    After thinking about it a few days I realize I want some people in the “them” category. What started out as a simple principle to follow is now a bit of a challenge.
    We may have to lose our dignity (or our sense of it) to keep from robbing it from someone else.

  2. As always, there was equal ministering. Saturday we talked to probably 200 people. Our previous visit it was freezing cold. This time it was a beautiful day and many others were around offering care. With all the distractions it was a little harder to get some quality one-on-one time, but a few folks stood out and we got to have some good conversations. Often the most you can do is listen to someone’s story. And share a prayer.

  3. There is a concept among addicts that non-addicts would not understand: “I’m thankful for my addiction.” Christian addicts believe that God allowed them to have their particular addiction for a reason. Their addiction makes them weak, thus helping them to turn to God for strength. They learn to trust God because He is the only one that can help them out of their addiction. They learn to connect with others because they, too, are needed to overcome it. God makes us weak so that we will be strong in Him. “That, but for the grace of God…”

    Suffering is a blessing in disguise. Yet, when we see someone suffering, none of us say, “Wish that was me,” because no one wants to suffer. Jesus didn’t WANT to die on the cross – but look what came of that. Good or bad, no matter what comes, “But for the grace of God… this wouldn’t have happened.” God’s grace always gives us what we need.

  4. Gary says:

    OK well, the first place I heard this quote was at an AA meeting. I took it more to mean , In spite of all the bad choices I’ve made in my life, God was watching over me. There were consequences to my bad choices but there was forgiveness and grace all the more. It all came down to me thinking I’m a “Christian” to me finally becoming a follower of Jesus.

  5. KaT H. says:

    ^ Ditto! What Gary just typed!

  6. Bob Souer says:

    Hello John,

    I agree emphatically with your point about removing the “us and them” stuff from our vocabularies and thoughts. However, I would like to offer a slightly different view of the phrase “there but for the grace of God go I.”

    British-born evangelist John Guest told me the origin of that quote came from a sermon being preached in the open air during the 18th century by the great evangelist George Whitefield. As it happens, on this occasion, the field where Whitefield was preaching was right next to the gallows for that community. As Whitefield was preaching to the crowd, he could see a condemned man being led by his executioners toward those gallows, from behind the assembled masses.

    As he was preaching to the crowd about God’s grace and our sin, he timed the climax of his message to the moment when the condemned man crossed into the view of the crowd as he was being led to those gallows. Pointing and the man walking to his death, Whitefield said “There, but for the grace of God go I.”

    Whether that’s a true story or not, I think it makes a powerful point. From the preacher in the pulpit to the derelict on skid row, every one of us is a condemned sinner if we refuse to accept the grace of God. We are all, every one of us, doomed to die.

    Except, God has intervened on our behalf. So we, the formerly condemned, are now forgiven and free.

  7. Sherri Johnson says:

    I agree fully with your comments & their intent. However, (you knew there was a “however” didn’t you) there is a “us” and “them” in that by God’s Grace I am saved and there are so many out there who have yet to experience God’s Salvation. I was “them” (love the improper English) & would love for more of “them” to join me in my position of Grace.

  8. Mark Seguin says:

    This made me think of the homeless woman I had the pleasure of helping her out for a while by staying @ my place for a couple of weekends, I once had Kim’s cell phone number stored on mine, yet a while ago I had a power surge and lost all of the phone numbers – I used to call her jus to check in and “see” how she’s doing. I haven’t been able to do that 4 a long time now – So let me ask, plz consider whispering a prayer for her. I’ll thank-you in advance…

  9. TimC says:

    In the past few years I switched groups. I went from having enough, to not being able to earn enough to cover the needs. It’s been eye opening and hard. But the hardest part is the pervasive feeling that I am no longer included the group that owns the phrase, “blessed by God”.

    Thank you for the reminder that the poor are blessed. I’m working hard but every month I’m still sweating out how to pay all of the bills, and indeed some medical bills have gone to collections. So, it’s kind of hard to understand what the blessing of God actually is.

    • Mark Seguin says:

      Dear brother TimC: let me plz try to supply an answer to consider of your last sentence: “So, it’s kind of hard to understand what the blessing of God actually is.” For I too have had some medical bills gone into collections. And for me, a few of the answers are: to start with I am still alive, and still can do things, plus no-longer in a coma, or years later laying flat in a hospital bed having to look up after a stoke, therefore, so I can still work to try and improve my life and those around me and find something to be grateful for…
      And even thou I’m surely not happy for the things that have happened to me, I still try to look the many blessings in my life, plus understand I think Job in the Old Testament may have had it a bit rougher…
      PS in fact one of my favorite verses is: Job 23:10 “But he know the way that I take: when he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold.”
      So someday you & I brother will come forth as gold too!

      • TimC says:

        Mark: Thanks for your reply.
        I like to ask questions and search for answers. At this point, I still have more questions than answers.
        But I have found that this is a very safe place to ask questions, to leave things un-resolved, and to enter into discussion with open eyes, ears, mind, and heart. I don’t think that I need to argue a point that says “I’m right” and “I win this one.” I have found a partial answer to a question that I posted last week; but I’m still not sure of that one either.
        As for this one, I think you have provided a couple pieces to the jig-saw puzzle, and I think I know another piece, but at this point, I’m not sure that I like the answer. Right now, I think that the answer is that I don’t have an answer. I think this is one of those things where it is far more important to seek God continuously rather than to arrive at an answer and stop seeking.
        The world around us wants us to believe that the “blessing of God” is to have a “wonderful life”. I think that’s wrong. I think that the blessing of God is to seek Him continually. And we don’t go there unless we have a reason – which is usually something difficult. So the difficult thing is actually a blessing from God. Unfortunately, we rarely recognize those kinds of blessings because of their disguise. And so I replay one of my favorite songs. And keep on seeking.

  10. Mark Seguin says:

    TimC: I’ll add an a very big YES and Amen to this: “Unfortunately, we rarely recognize those kinds of blessings because of their disguise” and for me having the stroke, turned out to be a great big ‘blessing.’ Becauz has one college athletic trainer told me a while ago – (his comment was about a pic of myself on the back of a post-card) You showing a pic of yourself in a power wheel chair and stating under it: “Double X is Guaranteed to Help Your Student Athletes! Help me by Becoming a Customer & I promise to give exceptional service in Return!”

    He commented that puts you head & shoulders above all of the vitamin/supplement salesmen I talk to! Not only because my product XX is un-conditionally guaranteed to help add to his student-athletes performance, or their money back and I promise to give excellent customer service, plus he gets the satisfaction of knowing he is helping me to work my way off of disability income. (A double win!)
    PS XX is Amway/Nutrilite’s® World’s selling multivitamin

  11. Andrew P. says:

    I take your point, John, but I think you’re falling off the knife edge of balance on the other side.

    “There, because of the grace of God, go I.” Well, in some sense, perhaps. Perhaps in the sense of “because of the grace of God, now I understand that this man is still my brother, and I need to not just looking at him and feeling pity but relief that it isn’t me. He is, in a sense, me.” That statement I think I could get behind.

    “[T]he poor are blessed. In other words, they are in a favored position.” Well, that might be right, if that’s the correct interpretation (yes, I know it’s the majority position) of the Beatitudes. “He didn’t say this about anyone else.” I don’t follow you here. Jesus said those who mourn, those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, etc. are blessed. What are you trying to say?

    And it’s quite an important question to ask if the traditional interpretation of the Beatitudes is correct, anyway. I find myself in agreement with Dallas Willard (see “The Divine Conspiracy”) that we’ve missed the boat on that one. Jesus isn’t saying these things are necessarily favored spiritual positions, but that regardless of your position, in the kingdom of God you are blessed – your circumstances don’t determine your blessedness! (In short, this alternative interpretation is that some of these things Jesus mentions are spiritually meritorious in themselves, others aren’t; what they have in common is that that they were situations despised in the culture in which the original audience found itself. The other thing they have in common is that none of them preclude blessedness. Your situation may be despised by the culture, but in the kingdom of God, you are nonetheless valued, and blessed.)

    If we have a real conviction that the poor are more blessed than we who aren’t poor, then we should make ourselves poor. Is that what Jesus really intended? Willard would say no, and I would join him. This isn’t health and wealth gospel in any degree; it is asking us not to attach spiritual merit to things that may be spiritually inconsequential. It is to hear Jesus telling us not to necessarily strive for these situations (some are meritorious; take “peacemakers,” for instance, do strive for that one; we get this from other scriptures), but to realize that no life situation that is despised by man is despised by God. In the kingdom of God, we are blessed wherever we find ourselves!

    And that is a hopeful call. That is why, when we assist even in the smallest way even the “smallest” of people, Jesus says we have done it unto Him! So, kfd&P, when you minister to the homeless, don’t think they have one up on you, but do see them as your brothers (“they are us,” remember), and see in them the face of Christ!

    And no, you certainly aren’t required to agree with me on this, but to me it makes better sense of the New Testament message as a whole than the typical alternative.

    • Mark Seguin says:

      wanted to thank-you Andrew P for you very entertaining, thoughtful and well written post – i throughly enjoyed reading the very good point i found in it! 🙂

    • jwfisch says:

      I stand by all my statements here, Andrew, because the point is that it is through our need and our poverty of soul that we find God. This is precisely why it is harder for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God (through the eye of a needle) because a rich man is deluded by his wealth into not realizing his real need. Jesus literally means the poor are blessed because they get it faster than anyone. In Luke, Jesus doesn’t even spiritualize the Beatitudes. There it is simply blessed are the poor and hungry, period. And conversely, woe to the rich. They don’t get it because their stomachs are full. It’s not the “spiritual merit” of the poor I’m talking about, but the ability to see and understand. Blessed are the poor in spirit because they have a shorter distance to go to get to God. The rich have too many distractions. Thus American spiritual poverty in the face of so many churches and so much wealth. We think we are so blessed and we are so far from it. Wealth is not a “blessing” it’s a huge responsibility.

      • Mark Seguin says:

        Excuse me Pastor John although, I can easily admit I’ve been wrong in the past and positive I’ll be in the future and I’m glad 4 you that you: “I stand by all my statements here…” To me is kind of not very true or a bit of a pharisaical statement. One you seemly didn’t like to further explain yourself when I and I think if I am remembering correctly 3 to 4 other Catch members were utterly confused by your “Jesus could have been a communist..” statement, yet I offered an apology for my lack of people skills on that blog and have you..?

        I’ll again recommend practicing what you preach. In that you once recommended to us @ the Catch to read the best people skills book ever written: “How to Win…” doesn’t he, Dale C. recommend clarify yourself and to even offer an apology when someone doesn’t understand, or are having some trouble understanding you, yet there were a lot more then just me that were confused by Jesus could have been… and again if I am remembering correctly I think we got was: I wouldn’t have written anything differently or something close to that! In which I have been absolutely bombarded w/ emails more or less ‘saying’ how self-righteous is this guy (John Fisher) and why oh why did you let him off the hook without further clarify himself or even offering an apology? Where is this Dale C he recommends to others?

        And to me, and me alone it’s kind of being similar to a Pharisee or standing by your statements here when someone expresses it a different way, or may not completely agree w/ what you wrote – in both cases reading as you once preached here read “How to Win Friends…”

        Now let me plz comment on this not very good theology of: “(through the eye of a needle)” because I’ve been there, to Israel and jus so happen to had an excellent Jewish tour guide and he laughed over how many Christian get it wrong about the ‘eye of a needle’ while we stood before an old city gate, which had the smaller passage way built into the gate, so the bigger door, or gateway didn’t have to be opened @ night, just the smaller gate could be, in which a camel could lower itself to get through that ‘eye of a needle.’

        I’ll completely agree w/ this: “Wealth is not a “blessing” it’s a huge responsibility.” And even add an Amen to it, yet this non-sense of our “…American spiritual poverty in the face of so many churches…” Please tell me where in the Bible does our Lord condemn, as you seemly have done so here in ‘many churches’ I once had to suggest to one of my Roman Catholic friends that couldn’t get over the fact that God would or even could set-up more then one church. I had a lil chuckle because there are so many churches because of all kinds of different people and just look about you and see everyone is different and all of the different animals and stars – if that doesn’t tell you our God loves diversity. Well maybe your jus stuck into your way of thinking…

      • Mark Seguin says:

        Andrew P: you may notice Pastor John did not answer your question of: ““[T]he poor are blessed. In other words, they are in a favored position.” Well, that might be right, if that’s the correct interpretation (yes, I know it’s the majority position) of the Beatitudes. “He didn’t say this about anyone else.” I don’t follow you here. Jesus said those who mourn, those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, etc. are blessed. What are you trying to say?”

        That might be because he can not… yet i’d like to also read an answer and ADD to it by asking who are these the rich? Surely a lot of ‘us’ are here in the States – Especially when compared to say a dirt poor farmer in Africa. Yet i’m suppost to agree w/ jus because “we’re” doing well, or OK – that means we’re Spiritual bankrupt – well isn’t that a form of judgment, in which the Lord told ‘us’ to not to do in Matt. 7:1 Judge not, less you be judged…
        PS if you do as you wrote Pastor John “…stand by all my statements here,..” than plz consider answering the above two questions…

  12. Lois Taylor says:

    John- somewhere I heard that phrase is a paraphrase of a Pharisee in the Bible. Just sounds like something a Pharisee would say……

  13. Gary says:

    I guess I need to do some Soul searching. I’m not so cynical about the meaning. Though it may not be Biblical it seemed to aline me with them that wanted a real relationship with the Redeemer.

  14. Gary says:

    Oh and not that I don’t know what those how aren’t seeking that relationship are going through! I can relate to them, listen to them and accept them. I am them. But by the Grace of God and not me.He Loved me before I could Love ANYONE.

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