Valentine’s Day and every day since we watched the news coverage of the Parkland Florida high school shooting. My heart, along with the hearts of millions across our country, broke watching yet another mass shooting carried out by someone who should have been in class with them. A teenager.
I’m not here to debate the 2nd Amendment. No interest in discussing elections or politics or who’s paid what to whom. Those are all important discussions and we absolutely, ABSOLUTELY, should be having them. The minute we get used to this violence, the second we turn the TV off instead of standing witness, the day we shrug our shoulders and think, well, it’s not my child, is too sad to comprehend.
But that is not what I want to discuss today.
Right now, we need to decide if we, as the Church, the beloved bride of Jesus Christ, are willing to take up the call to minister with and to the Leftovers.
The Statistics of Leftovers…
My friend is a medical clown. Yes, that’s a thing. Normally, she visits kids in the children’s hospital fighting things like cancer or genetic diseases. But the day before the shooting, in a way only God can orchestrate, she spent a day bringing laughter to the lives of children in the pediatric psych ward.
“Pediatric psych ward” might just be some of the saddest three words strung together in all human history.
According to the National Alliance of Mental Health (NAMI), 1 in 5 children ages 13-18 have or will have a serious mental illness. Also, 70% of children in juvenile detention centers suffer from mental illness.
The US Department of Housing and Urban Development reported the homeless population in America rose last year to 554,000 people nationwide. HUD also says of that number, on any given night in America, just over 39,700 are homeless veterans. The US Department of Veterans Affairs cites that up to 80% of homeless veterans suffer from mental illness and/or substance abuse.
What’s the point of all those statistics?
These percentages, the numbers, represent the Leftovers of our society.
Those suffering from mental illness, homeless, substance abuse, foster kids, children in juvenile detention.
And that’s just the beginning.
There are men, women, and children dying as slaves in the sex industry. Families shattered by domestic violence. The working poor, people with jobs, full-time jobs, above-minium-wage jobs, who cannot afford housing, food, transportation, and healthcare.
The Leftovers of society.
The Provision of Leftovers…
But there are two types of Leftovers in our lives.
The Leftovers of society we often don’t know how to love and serve simply because it just feels so overwhelming.
And the Leftovers of believers, we might not even realize are there to help us serve.
Sometimes, we feel like Elijah running to the wilderness to escape Jezebel. When God asks him why he’s there, he says (and I’m paraphrasing), Lord, I’m the only one left! No one else believes in you!
But God says, Nope, I have reserved a remnant, a leftover, of 7,000 believers! Take heart!
God gives us the leftover believers.
He reminds us now just as He reminded Elijah.
In these days when hearts can easily be calloused simply by the number of disasters and tragedies hitting our screens every hour of every day, He consistently sends us people to walk alongside us, encourage us in our walk with Him, hold us accountable to being in His word, giving of our resources, joining together to care for each other and the people in our lives. His Leftovers, you and me, minister to each other, spur one another on to run our race with perseverance.
God gives us the leftovers of society.
He selects people to cross our lives like Boaz provided stalks for Ruth.
In these days when our hearts swell with empathy and brokenness and longing to serve our neighbors, He consistently send us people we can walk alongside, encouraging us to seek Christ and His kingdom first, holding us accountable to being in His word, being able to cheerfully give of our resources to them, joining together with them to meet their immediate needs and pointing them to Christ as we do. His Leftovers, the people we often don’t know how to help, there to love on and feed and offer them the Living Water of Christ knowing they are worthy because we are all image bearers of God.
Our Instructions for Leftovers…
Scripture overflows with specific directions to love God and love others. But the passage from Matthew about what we have done for the least of these, we have done for Jesus? It’s been running through my heart on repeat.
The Message says it this way…
“I was hungry and you fed me,
I was thirsty and you gave me a drink,
I was homeless and you gave me a room,
I was shivering and you gave me clothes,
I was sick and you stopped to visit,
I was in prison and you came to me.”
The hungry, thirsty, homeless, shivering, sick and imprisoned.
The Leftovers of society.
And to believers feeling like there are no other Jesus-followers as far as the eye can see, I wonder if we sometimes feel this because we have neglected the local church body. We have fled to our own, self-inflicted wilderness, opting for online services and singing worship music in our cars over being a devoted part of a church. Making our small groups a priority when nothing else is competing for that space.
But the first church, the Acts 2 church, Luke tells us how they valued their time together.
“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” ~ Acts 2:42 (NIV)
Perhaps we find the Leftovers of believers inside a local church where there is Bible-centered teaching, fellowship, a few potlucks, and prayer.
Our Grateful Ministry of Leftovers…
As we watch tragedy after horrific tragedy flash across our screens, we have to decide if we believe what God’s word tells us about the Leftovers of society and the Leftovers of believers?
Do we care for the least of these?
Do we join a local church of believers?
And how do we start?
We take our every day, ordinary, walking around life and gratefully offer it to Jesus as a living sacrifice.
In our homes, our own children, each other, and the friends of our kids cleaning out our pantries and the guests we invite to dine at our table.
In our local church body, tithing to our church every month and giving from our abundance when God shows us a need.
In our cubicles and soccer fields and PTA meetings and band rehearsals and basketball games and dance studios, where we can put down our phones and speak to the person sitting to the left and to the right of us for small talk…that might turn into conversation…that may grow into a relationship…that might reveal a need God put you next to them to meet.
And maybe, just maybe, in the middle of your faithful service to the people God has already given you, He might show you where He needs you to serve the least of these, the Leftovers, in a more intentional, sacrificial, Jesus-glorifying manner.
At a shelter, as a foster parent, in our schools as a mentor, in a prison ministry, in our neighborhoods with ice cream socials, by serving the single mom in your small group.
And when He calls, we will gratefully accept the ministry of serving alongside and sacrificially His Leftovers.
Where has God placed you to be in community with His Leftovers of believers?
Who has God given you to love of His Leftovers of society?