Thursday, January 27, 2011

From Jesus, With Love

There is nothing more important than the Gospel.  Sharing the love of Jesus is more important than anything on earth we can do.  It is our Great Commission to share the Gospel and make disciples of all the nations.  It is the reason why we are not just raptured to Heaven after accepting Jesus.  It is our reason for living.  Preaching, though, is more than words, it is meeting the needs of those we preach to.  We often err to one extreme or the other in this area.  We have some ministries that make the mistake of diminishing the Gospel until it is secondary to whatever social program they are trying to foster and the Gospel is never even preached.  We have others where they are too busy preaching that they never take the time to listen and no needs are met, including their eternal one.  A rightfully balanced ministry will perform whatever works they are performing openly in the name of the Lord and as a means to have the opportunity to share Jesus.  We show the love of Jesus through our works and preach the Gospel of Jesus with our words.  Both are important as we see in Paul recounting his charge before being sent out.
But on the contrary, when they saw that the gospel for the uncircumcised had been committed to me, as the gospel for the circumcised was to Peter (for He who worked effectively in Peter for the apostleship to the circumcised also worked effectively in me toward the Gentiles), and when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that had been given to me, they gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. They desired only that we should remember the poor, the very thing which I also was eager to do.  Galatians 2:7-10 NKJV
Paul was sent out to preach the Gospel to the gentiles with the express concern that he does not forget the ministry to the poor.  We also know that Jesus and the Apostles took a collection for the poor.  There are many other examples as well of God's concern for the poor.  There can be no dispute that as Christians we have that responsibility.  What we need to find, though, is the balance between the Great Commission and the commission to ministry to the poor. 

First, I will address the extreme of forsaking the Gospel for the ministry to the poor.  What I mean are those so-called ministries who have no part in sharing the Gospel, only in social programs. Let me begin by sharing a story about a church I once attended.  In fact, it was the church I was saved in.  I have to say that my pastor Brother Bell was a solid man of God with many years as a faithful servant of our Lord who I am sure is enjoying beyond measure his eternal reward.  I also want to say that the church was a great church and so when I tell this story, I do so as sharing but one example of an error that was made and not in any way a judgment on the church.  There is no such thing as a perfect church and mistakes will be made by all of them.  This is one example of a rare mistake made by an otherwise wonderful church.  There was a local group run by the Unitarian church that if I recall had a home for people with AIDS.  That leader of the group was invited to preach from the pulpit and Brother Bell pledged our church's support for the organization.  People with AIDS are, except in the rarest of cases, terminally ill.  If anyone needs to hear the Gospel it is them, but a Unitarian outreach is only going to share the gospel of destruction leading those poor souls from a sinful life to a dreaded disease to eternal judgment.  The church was putting a social program above the Gospel and that was wrong.  The correct response would have been to start our own or find another Christian home to support where the Gospel is preached.  It is right to minister to the physical needs of someone with AIDS, but it must be done as a means to share the Gospel. 

A more glaring example of a ministry that is working in error is Habitat For Humanity.  As much as they promote themselves as a Christian ministry, I have a real hard time believing it.  This is from their website. 
Habitat is a partnership founded on common ground— bridging theological differences by putting love into action. Everyone can use the hammer as an instrument to manifest God's love. Habitat’s late founder, Millard Fuller, called this concept "the theology of the hammer." "We may disagree on all sorts of other things,” said Fuller, “but we can agree on the idea of building homes with God's people in need, and in doing so using biblical economics: no profit and no interest." Habitat for Humanity welcomes all people to build with us in partnership. "The Bible teaches that God is the God of the whole crowd," explained Fuller. "God's love leaves nobody out, and my love should not either. This understanding drives 'the theology of the hammer' around the world, steadily building more and more houses in more and more countries."   --
Habitat allows anyone to volunteer as part of their ministry.  You can be Christian, but you can also be Wiccan, Atheist, Muslim, or anything else.  It is not about Jesus, it is about making and selling homes.  They are a failure in the Great Commission in that you are building houses for people who are still going to Hell.  Jesus told us to make disciples not to build houses.  If we are building houses it needs to be in the context of making disciples, otherwise it is not a Christian ministry.  On a side note, they say they use "biblical economics"  of no profit and no interest.  However, as Christians, the Bible tells us to lend without the expectation of getting anything back.  Habitat makes sure you can pay it back, otherwise they will not help you.  I find it offensive that they call themselves Christian while ignoring the needs of people deemed "too poor" for them to help.  While tending to the needs of the poor is important, ministering the Gospel must take priority. 
Now in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplying, there arose a complaint against the Hebrews by the Hellenists, because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution. Then the twelve summoned the multitude of the disciples and said, "It is not desirable that we should leave the word of God and serve tables. Therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business; but we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word." And the saying pleased the whole multitude. And they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch, whom they set before the apostles; and when they had prayed, they laid hands on them.  Acts 6:1-6 NKJV
Here we see a perfect picture of the preeminence of the Word.  Ministering to the widows was important as we see a group of solid believers appointed to oversee that ministry when it came to light that it was being neglected.  We also see that even though it was an important ministry, it was not as important as the Word. 

The other extreme are those who neglect the needs for sake of the Gospel.  I will again share a story.  For a time, I served in a food ministry and as part of that ministry we would deliver food to the tenants of a local Welfare Motel.  We generally worked in teams of two delivering food to the individual families who resided there.  One such occasion I was partnered with someone who had his Gospel script in his head and nothing in heaven or on earth was going to shake him that script.  We would get to someone's room and as soon as the door opened, he would begin.  The person would try to interject prayer concerns or other things they were going through, but it was basically ignored.  You could see the faces gloss over as they heard the same exact script they heard last month and the month before and on and on and no one paid any attention to their needs.  People are not going to hear the Gospel if they think the person presenting it really does not care about them.  What I mean is that we are the ambassadors of God, and the love we show them is the love they will perceive God shows them.  We know God loves them, we must love them too.  Loving them is more than holding out food to bribe them to open the door to hear the Gospel.  It is about listening to their needs, which generally go way beyond food.  That is not the example of Jesus.  People came to Jesus will all kinds of needs and while Him being the Messiah was the single most important message, he also met all those needs.  He healed, resurrected, loved, ministered, listened, and answered those who came to Him.  We must do the same.  We must love those we reach out to as Jesus did.  It is not enough to tell them Jesus loves them, but we must show them the love of Jesus through us.
"And the second, like it, is this: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no other commandment greater than these."  Mark 12:31 NKJV
Finding the right balance in our ministry is essential in our following the Great Commission of the Lord and in His example.  We can not put meeting the needs of others over the Gospel, but we can not neglect the needs of others when sharing the Gospel.  We know that the most important need is their eternal need, but they do not know that.  We know that Jesus is ultimately the answer to their problems, but they may not even know truly who Jesus is.  We know that their greatest hope in this life is the eternal life in Christ, but all they know is this life and the cares and concerns it brings.  We know they are starving for the Lord, but they think they are just plain starving.   I will close with a story of one man who came to Jesus for healing and at first did not get what he came for but got something better.  I am sure he was confused.  I am sure he was thinking "thanks Jesus for forgiveness, but I still can't walk."  Jesus provided his eternal need first, but he still remember his physical one and healed him not just as a sign to that poor paralyzed man but to those around him.  The message in the Scripture I am closing with is that our goal is the show them the answer to their eternal needs, we need to show them by allowing Jesus to show through us in our love for our neighbors.  Jesus healed that man as a sign to His authority to forgive sins.  Our ministry to others is a sign to the truth behind our message.  Jesus loves them immeasurably, but it up to us to show them that love.  We are the light and salt of the earth.  We are the ambassadors of Christ.  We are who the world looks to to see Jesus.  So understand, the Jesus you show them by your actions is the Jesus they will believe in, for better or for worse.
Now it happened on a certain day, as He was teaching, that there were Pharisees and teachers of the law sitting by, who had come out of every town of Galilee, Judea, and Jerusalem. And the power of the Lord was present to heal them. Then behold, men brought on a bed a man who was paralyzed, whom they sought to bring in and lay before Him.And when they could not find how they might bring him in, because of the crowd, they went up on the housetop and let him down with his bed through the tiling into the midst before Jesus. When He saw their faith, He said to him, "Man, your sins are forgiven you." And the scribes and the Pharisees began to reason, saying, "Who is this who speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?" But when Jesus perceived their thoughts, He answered and said to them, "Why are you reasoning in your hearts? "Which is easier, to say, 'Your sins are forgiven you,' or to say, 'Rise up and walk'? But that you may know that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins"—He said to the man who was paralyzed, "I say to you, arise, take up your bed, and go to your house." Immediately he rose up before them, took up what he had been lying on, and departed to his own house, glorifying God. And they were all amazed, and they glorified God and were filled with fear, saying, "We have seen strange things today!"  Luke 5:17-26 NKJV

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