Monday, January 14, 2008

The problem with Jesus...

I am perpetually concerned about the responses I get when discussing the current state of our world and the role of the church in this time. I heard Bebo Norman at a recent concert say something to the effect of: its not the responsibility of the governments of the world to feed the hungry, clothe the naked and take care of the sick--it is the responsibility of the church. I heard people clap and cheer when he was done speaking. Then I watched as hundreds of people filed out past a coatless, homeless man who was barely able to walk that was begging for money outside the theatre. Avoiding eye contact. Pretending like the couldn't hear him pleading for help. Ignoring Jesus.

I have been told on several occasions that if you take care of the marginalized of the world--feed the hungry, clothe the naked, provide clean water to people that have no access to it, send medicines to those who can't afford them, loan people money to help start their own sustainable business--I have been told that if you do these things, and don't "share the gospel," (ie, verbally, Romans Road, 4 Spiritual Laws, etc) then you aren't doing anything. You aren't doing anything for these people. You aren't doing anything for the kingdom of God.

I wonder what Bible these people are reading.

I know, its rare for me to be talking about Scripture. Rare to be quoting, but I feel I must...

Isaiah 1:13-17 talks about God hating religion and ritual practices that mean nothing. He then precedes to instruct the people to "Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow." A faith that loves God but disregards man is a worthless faith.

Isaiah 58 talks about the reasons that God set his people free: "to divide your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into the house; When you see the naked, to cover him; And not to hide yourself from your own flesh" To me, its an echo of "love your neighbor as yourself." We are free so we can do the tangible things for those in need. We aren't free to hide from those in terrible situations. That'd be ridiculous. Yet, its what WE do: ignore our own flesh--other humans.

Luke 6-- Jesus says "blessed are the poor."

Matthew 23:23-- Jesus is talking to the Pharisees. Telling them "Woe to you!...(You know, making friends and influencing people 101 with Jesus) And talks about how they tithe a tenth of their spices. That's how serious they were about following God's laws. They even tithed a tenth of extremely expensive spices. Think about this with me... if its spice, you wouldn't have a lot. Anybody who's ever been in a kitchen or watched a cooking show knows that spices come in very small amounts. On top of that, the spices Jesus lists are the rare and pricey ones--so you'd have even less. So they are making the effort to tithe a tenth of these tiny, tiny amounts of spices. And that's great. But then Jesus says: "But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness." Not me. Not some other blogger with a chip on his shoulder. Not some post modern pastor. Jesus said this. Justice, mercy and faithfulness: the more important matters.

And the cherry on the sundae:
Matthew 25

Jesus is talking about standing before God one day as he judges humanity. He then separates everybody on the basis of "loving your neighbor as yourself."

34"Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'

37"Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?'

40"The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'

41"Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.'

44"They also will answer, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?'

45"He will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.'

Kinda says it all, doesn't it?

I realize the importance of building the infrastructure of our local churches. I do. I just don't think that's our purpose. I pray we all seek to understand our purpose--our reason for being here now.

"Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words."--St. Francis of Assisi


TJZ said...

It's surprising to hear a logical and real life Biblical addaptation that, in my opinion, reduces the church by someone who works for a church. It's always good to here how to adapt Biblical content to everyday life that doesn't include forcing the word on people or bringing more people to your church in hopes their tithe will increase somebody's salary or build temples to lure the lost with gems and pomp.....I have to dig when I can.

If more people would "do the right thing" without ulterior motives beyond helping other people and/or our environment(which by the way God provided for us) more people would buy into christianity as a lifestyle rather than a dollar driven cult....or maybe it would just prove to me alone that this isn't the case.

Loving everyone and everything is hard, but there has to be something to it if that's what Jesus does. I'm simple minded when it comes to christianity though.

Saintdoc said...

John David you are right on when you talk about helping those in need. This past summer I watched as thousands of men filed out of a Promise Keeper event passing a homeless man as he begged for help. I stopped and talked with the man and I was able to share the gospel in word as well as in deed. To me these two go hand and hand.

We must help those who are hurting around us but if we simply help their physical needs we will miss the spiritual opportunity. If a man gains everything the whole world has to offer and loses his soul the result is tragic.

I love you my brother and I am thankful God has placed the burden for the needy on your heart. Showing the love of Christ to the world is never wrong but it doesn’t absolve us from our responsibility to lead people to the source of that love.

JD said...

what are the logistics of that? can't we lead someone to the source without going through a traditional "gospel presentation?" (something stereotypical like the Romans Road or the 4 Spiritual Laws, like i mentioned?) Does that seem to line up with Scripture? Rather, does that line up with the way of Jesus?

it just seems awfully narrow...
small, i guess.
just curious for your thoughts...

Saintdoc said...

The question about logistics is easy whatever you do for the poor or needy make sure they know it is from the Lord. Otherwise the focus is on the individual and not Christ.

I also believe we should be intentional about sharing our faith, but this does not mean it has to come in the form of a memorized outline. However I would not say they are narrow because they still lead people to Jesus.

Jesus preached the message of repentance from the beginning of His ministry, “From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”-Matthew 4:17

This is a message that needs to be preached more today. We have all of these people trying to help people out with the physical when their greatest need is a Spiritual one. Joel Osteen comes to mind.

Anyway that’s my two cents for what it is worth, which is about two cents. In the end you will have to let the Spirit guide you in this matter. I know He will not lead you in the wrong direction. I love you man and I know the Lord has His hand on your life.

Josh Hussung said...

Hey John David,
First of all, I think you are absolutely right when it comes to the Church not falling in line with its duty to take care of the needy people of the world. And the scripture you use to support that is valid. And if someone helps someone with their physical needs, it is doing something. It's just not nearly enough, and insignificant in comparison to looking out for their spiritual state.
Jesus taught us to feed the hungry and clothe the naked, and take care of the sick. And there are a lot of passages that talk about that. So it is obviously important. We should do this, and we are not nearly doing enough. But the very last thing that Jesus says before his ascention is not, "Go forth and clothe the naked, feed the hungry, etc." It was, "Go forth and make disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit." I think that communicates the overbearing importance of sharing the Gospel with people.
Do I think that you have to use the Spiritual Laws or Romans Road every time? No. But I do think that the Gospel message should be shared, and I think it would be wrong to neglect to do that. Me buying a guy breakfast and just saying Jesus loves you might be enough for a guy that has heard the Gospel before, but how do I know if he has? I think we have a responsibilty to take care of the needy, but more importantly, to be concerned with their souls.
Taking care of their needs is good, and it is something. It is taking care of their needs. But I think it is wrong to take care of the temporal and neglect the eternal.

JD said...

I find it incredibly interesting how a difference is being made between someone's physical and spiritual state--even in my own writing at times. Because that's simply unbiblical. I understand what you guys are saying--completely understand.

However, I don't think there is anything to distinguish between someone's "physical" and "spiritual" state. The idea would have been totally foreign to Jesus or any of the Bible's authors. That's straight up Greek philosophy. Its a very recent introduction into Christianity. But like I said, any Jew would never have heard of such an idea. Body and "soul" or "spirit" are one. No matter what the NIV translators want you to think.

So, with that in mind (unless you wanna make a move over to neo-Platonism), isn't providing for someone's "physical" needs also providing for their "spiritual" needs?

josh hussung said...

Let's pose the question this way:
Two men, one of them is starving in Africa, the other is in a Penthouse Suite in New York, making millions of dollars. The guy in Africa is a Christian and the guy in New York is not. Clearly, there is a difference between the physical and spiritual wellbeing. The man who's belly is full is bound for hell.
And I gues this is the question that I need you to answer for me, because it will really help me understand your position.
How does a person come to find salvation? I hope that you agree with the biblical answer that you have to have faith in Christ and repent from your sins.
If I go to up to a homeless guy and give him money or take him food, I am helping him, and this is a good thing. But you can't possibly mean that he might find salvation through an Egg McMuffin if I never share the Gospel with him. How will they hear without a preacher(Romans 10:14). Faith comes by hearing (Romans 10:17).
Maybe there is a spiritual aspect to having your earthly needs met, but having your earthly needs met is not going to result in your salvation if no one tells you.

TJZ said...

Each person needs counseling for different reasons and in different ways. You speak of a hypothetical poor African man who is a Christian; is it necessary to teach him more about the word of God or possibly how to build furniture that he can sell and overcome his financial woes? With your rich, penthouse living, non-believer; is it best he be counselled on business or on the greatness of God?

Simple minded at best, my point is that different people require different help. Just because someone is a Christian, do we leave them to walk alone? No. But it's important to realize even though we are only here for a short time, we do live in the "world" at the moment and require "worldly" things to sustain our human life. Unless you plan to work for a Church or Mission, knowing only scripture and having a impecable relationship with God, you make it hard for God to provide when you don't use what God gave you sustain a human life; Your mind body, and spirit.

I love God and what he has done for me. I know without him I would not have what I have. I've never been impoverished, I've also not always been a Christian, as I am now.

I believe we should help people in more ways than spiritually. Walking up to a homeless person, handing them a coat, and pounding them with the greatness of God and scripture will not, in my opinion, make them snap out of their low. I believe showing them love and a way to a lifestyle which includes Christianity is far more productive. Showing them that good works are part of our faith and knowing God isn't only about knowing God, but knowing a way to a better life on Earth, while here(Very Osteen-like, I know).

I know I'm far left to your rightness, but what do you do say to someone who says "If there was a God, he wouldn't let me lose my children, my job, and my home?" How are they to gain faith without immediately buying into scripture?

Sorry I have no scripture to quote. I feel like I'm a lamb in a Theologian lions den, but I'm a lamb who uses seeming different tools(although God given) to navigate throug life and like to hear, as I stated firstly, real life, modern day, Biblical addapatations.

Josh Hussung said...

I appreciate your comment, and I get where you are coming from. Let me qualify myself a little.
John David was saying something to the affect of: It is ok to help someone with their immediate, temporal needs, and neglect to share the Gospel with them.
I believe that we are called to help those in need. And people do all have different needs in particular. But there is one universal need that absolutely everyone in all of humanity has. And that is they are in need of a Savior.
My point is: The salvation of a human soul is bar none the most important need that you, me, or anyone in the world will ever have met.
This does not mean that food and clothing and education are not important things. They are just not as important.

You said: I believe showing them love and a way to a lifestyle which includes Christianity is far more productive. (than beating them over the head with Scripture) I agree with this to an extent, but for most homeless people you are going to encounter, you will not see them very often, if ever again, eliminating the possibility for them to see a life that includes Christianity. So in this case, the only options you have are to share Christ with them or not.

I have plenty of friends who I know are not Christians, and I do not beat the Bible over their heads every time I encounter them. I think that in these situations, like you said, it is more productive to preach the Gospel with our lives. But you can't do it by simply walking, there has to be talking as well.

There was an imaginary guy who was a Christian. He had a non-Christian co-worker in his office. He thought that sharing the Gospel (which we should not be ashamed of because it is the power of God for salvation to all who believe (Romans 1:17) he would rather just live a life in front of this guy and he would become a Christian by seeing him preach the Gospel with his life. One day after a couple of years of doing this, his friend came up and said, "I have been meaning to ask you something. I have noticed a big difference in the way you live...are you a vegetarian?"

That guy had a lot of walking with no talking, and through all of that, he helped the guy into the wonderful world of vegetarianism.

You are right in the sense that it is situational. I can't make a broad general statement about this that will cover every single situation a person might encounter. So we as Christians have to look at our heart and ask ourselves these questions:
1. Am I not sharing the Gospel with this person because I think his worldly needs are more important?
2. Am I not sharing the Gospel with this person because I am afraid of the way that he will react?
3. Am I not sharing the Gospel because I am lazy and don't have the time?
4. Am I not sharing the Gospel with this person because I think he needs more time, and I have every bit of intention of seeing him again to follow up on it?
5. Am I not sharing the Gospel with this person because I don't believe in it myself?

Important questions, that I need to ask myself. God chose to save people, not through having their worldly needs met, but by hearing the Gospel. If meeting a person's worldly needs gets our foot in the door to share it, then great. If we meet their needs and they are unreceptive, then that is ok too. We are to go and tell, God does the saving.

Man, looking back on what I just wrote, it is a mess and unorganized, oh well.
At the beginning you said about the hypothetical African guy, if it was more important to teach him more about the word of God, or how to build furniture. I just think you can and should do both.
About the rich guy you asked: is it best he be counselled on business or on the greatness of God?
Business or the greatness of God? The priority absolutely has to be the greatness of God.
As Christians, let's help people, but in the name of God, that they might be saved.

JD said...

What's clear is that you have a very different Christology/ecclesiology than myself. I can agree with you on the last words of Jesus, yes, but its clear that we have different feelings on what he meant.(ie..."What does it mean to make disciples?")

If I am to be honest, its also very clear to me when someone has not spent much time with the homeless and impoverished. While I haven't spent a great deal of my life working in said situations, I have spent as much time as I could in the past year or so. When you are hanging out with people underneath a bridge in downtown Nashville and its 20 degrees outside and your sharing what clothes you have so they can sleep comfortably, it seems like an awfully forced segue to say "By the way, here's why you're a sinner and you need Jesus..." If you haven't spent a lot of time around the homeless and in their communities, to be honest, you just don't understand.

Most homeless people end up teaching me more about Jesus than I do them. Friday night, for instance, a homeless lady named Lisa asked me and Brittany to not "take the things God blesses us with in life for granted--because nothing is guaranteed." Their messages and life stories are hard acts to follow.

Then too, you need to understand that an astounding percentage of homeless people have some type of mental health issue. There's a well known homeless man in Nashville that thinks he's JFK... he writes his name on many walls, sidewalks and bridges so people don't forget. He also asks people to salute him. A lot of people on the streets aren't all in the most stable states of mind. Like I said, it seems really out of place to try and force a conversation to go a certain way when these people have heard it all.

Two final things that go hand in hand: don't put words in my mouth please. I didn't say its okay to provide for someone's "temporal" needs and neglect to share the Gospel. I did say that perhaps we should open our minds up to the fact that we serve a big God, and he can do all kinds of things with our meager acts of kindness. And maybe by providing for someone's physical needs, I'm also providing for their spiritual needs. I hate even discussing the two in separate terms--the Bible speaks of them as one in the same.

I help others because I am a follower of Jesus. I love others because I am a follower of Jesus. I also try to understand others because I am a follower of Jesus.

Its hard to explain one's entire mindset and worldview in these "Blog Comments," so please don't take one as all inclusive of mine...

Josh said...

John David,
In the most respectful and kind way that I can put it, and I really do mean that.
The only way for me to respond is to say that your intuition about what I have been up to is wrong. I live in a poor community, I am constantly with people who are impoverished, and I know exactly what you mean when you say that it is a wierd transition into the Gospel message when you are talking to someone who just needs some food.

But this is, like you said, where we disagree on I guess a pretty significant level. Because regardless of a person's financial situation, they are a sinner who needs a Savior. And I tell you that it is our absolute God given duty to share the Gospel with them. You might not do it during your first encounter, or second, or third. But it needs to happen eventually.

This obviously is not a cookie cut set way you have to do things. But in Acts you see two things going on, you see the apostles taking care of peoples' needs, and they tell them to repent and believe. It doesn't matter if it makes for akward conversation. It is the truth.

This is not to say that your good works towards them couldn't give them a glimpse of who Christ is, but they won't be saved if they don't hear the message.

So I have given way too much input on this post, and for that I apologize, and I won't give anymore unless you ask me to. In fact, if you want to call me some time, I'm pretty sure my number is on my facebook. I am trying (in my prideful, sinful heart) not to make this about me being right, but about the right thing being said.

Anyway, keep up the good work, and continue to love people like you do.
In Christ

Anonymous said...

It's disconcerting to outsiders like me to see how divisive an issue as simple as helping others who need help can be. It's a silly and shallow argument.

All involved agree that it's a good thing to help the needy, so instead of pointing the "you're wrong" finger, why not just acknowledge that each person is doing good in the world?

The whole "I'm doing more good than you" thing is pompous.


Anonymous said...

Hey John David this is Collin.

Like most things you write I agree. I believe it is are responsibility to love. The love of Christ is not of this world. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, from the book LIFE TOGETHER, wrote that when Christians start on their journey their compassion must and will surpass that of the world.

We will still sin, but what makes us different is love. Scandalous love is hard. The love to turn the other cheek is not easy.

I have come to a conclusion it is open for critique of course. Some love the law of the Bible. They love that they have surrounded themselves with perfection or so they think. Others are in love with Christ the redeemer.

This narrows it down to Pharisees and Christ Followers. When we stop arguing and let go of our pride. I believe Christ will finally be allowed to work through us. I pray that we all continue to learn about Christ's compassion, and finally start to go.