As third millennium American Christians, we often find ourselves distant from the stories told in the New Testament. Think about it, how many Christians would still follow Jesus if he told them to sell all their possessions, leave their families, and live a life as a homeless disciple? Jesus warned his disciples that they would have no place to lay their head, That they would have to pick up their cross and follow him. I would venture to say many would decide that the radical life change brought by following Christ would be a bit too much.
Yet this is the example we see in scripture. The church of Acts "sold their possessions and belongings and distributed the proceeds to all, as any had need." Few churches discourage helping others. We are all for the idea. Everyone wants to give to charity, to make their "difference", feel good about themselves, and not have to get dirty in the process. I was raised in a Southern Baptist church, and was told that we all fulfill the Great Commission by giving to the Cooperative Program. After seeing how CP money was spent, I soon realized that was a poor excuse for missions. Short-term mission trips can be another way American Christians can get their do-gooders rush without any real commitment or life change. I'm not saying all mission trips are useless, but it cannot be a substitute for missional living.
We must be willing to live missionally. This goes beyond charity and forces us to become friends with the poor, the down-trodden, and the oppressed. Charity is popular, it is even used to sell merchandise. (Think (RED) ) The celebrities are constantly toting their own charity, even playing charity gameshows, but they rarely get into the trenches with those the money goes toward. This is a higher standard we are called to as Christians. Jesus was mocked by the religious leaders of his day for hanging out with tax collectors, lepers, and gentiles.
So find a simple way to get involved in the lives of your neighbors, and the oppressed. Rather than just flipping a coin to someone less fortunate, invest your time into their life. Take an interest in those around you. There is not one set way to go about this process. The stories in the Gospels and Acts are a great starting point. You may also want to check out the following: