This last weekend I was volunteering at a church being used as a #COVID testing site, in a predominantly African American neighborhood in Chattanooga. I’m grateful to my friend Bill Ulmer, the Community Foundation of Greater Chattanooga, and the many healthcare workers and non-medical volunteers who have given of their time, resources, and hearts, to administer thousands of tests to needy people over the last couple months.
As I was standing at the street directing traffic into the church parking lot for the drive-thru testing, I felt a lump under my shoe. I looked down to see what it was and to my dismay, I saw the spent shell of a 9mm bullet.
My mind went to the various homes I’ve lived in throughout my adult life, and the churches I’ve attended. Never have I ever considered that I would find a bullet shell lying outside my home, church, or place of business. It’s a reality that most of us do not have to deal with. But while that may be true for many Americans, bullets are all too much a reality for many of our citizens, who live in Chattanooga and cities across our nation.
Because we don’t see or experience something though doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. It simply means it’s not a part of our bubble. But if we are going to be people who care about the needs of others, and the fears they deal with, we must be willing to burst our bubbles, and step outside our insulated world, to better understand the ugly realities that too many others live with every day.
So what if you stepped outside your home, or church, or business, and it wasn’t that uncommon for you to find bullets littering your street? What if your neighbor’s windows, or your own, were shattered by a drive-by shooting? What if violence was something that regularly visited your neighborhood? Would your life be different? Would you wish that others cared? Would your outlook on life change?
I believe that’s part of the message of Jesus when He said, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” And it’s also what the Apostle Paul meant when he said, “Don’t be concerned for your own good but for the good of others.” (I Corinthians 10:24)
In Chattanooga there are no shortage of churches. We often proudly declare we are the “buckle of the Bible belt.” In fact, approximately 220,000 individuals claim to be followers of Jesus in our county. A “follower” suggests one holds to and seeks to live by the teachings of Jesus. If this is true, then is it too far fetched to believe that the problems of violence, poverty, depression, broken families, inner city dysfunction, and many of the other societal struggles could be better addressed by those who claim to, above all else, 1) Love God, and 2) Love others?
Let me be clear. The ultimate goal of a follower of Jesus is to honor and glorify God. One of the ways we do so is by sharing the Good News, we call the Gospel. That good news is both eternal and immediate. If it’s real in our lives, it will have a transforming affect on how we live, how we treat others, and the Hope we share with them. While we may be able to address many of these temporal needs referenced above, ultimately the greatest need we all have is a spiritual one. But oftentimes the best way to share a spiritual message with others is to first demonstrate that message through tangible physical means. Hence, the Church should be one that ACTS: Advancing Christ Through Service.
So if bullets litter our streets, they are simply symptoms of a deeper, spiritual need by the one who fired that bullet. May we as believers not close our eyes and ears to the needs that are so abundantly obvious. May we not be like the priest and levite, in the parable of the Good Samaritan, who walked by the man lying in the ditch, even though they looked directly at him. Rather, let’s be like the Good Samaritan, who saw the need, and stopped to help. This is the true message of Jesus. Let’s love others and by doing so, we are demonstrating our love for God.