Listening to: Keith Green
Reading: An endless chain of books about social justice, with an endless chain of good ideas that are mutually exclusive
Writing About: Helping, Hurting, Helping without Hurting, Not Helping (and Hurting), Hell
I am a ‘Missions Pastor’
That title warrants an explanation-
At least once a week I end up saying this:
“I help lead our church’s international mission projects
and all of our efforts with the local poor”
That is the long and short of it.
It’s a pretty great job.
I am not the King
Before I really get into it, I want to make something clear
All of the good work that I am responsible for is done by an army of volunteers
They provide insight, vision, ideas, and all of the heavy lifting –
they are the ‘boots on the ground’
So, it’s not my work
However, as the person responsible for steering,
I feel a constant burden about what we do with the local poor.
I may not be ‘doing all of the work’ but I am trying to guide how we do it.
So, it’s my fault.
And that is why, I feel pretty confident that I could be in danger of judgment.
Someone is going to Hell
When I did Middle School ministry I would regularly get asked
about who is or isn’t going to Hell.
The answer I always used, and truly believe, was this:
“I am not the boss of what God does and why,
but I know that living for Jesus is the best way to live right now”
And then the concrete thinking 11 year old would say
“yeah, but really, what about ______”
And I woudl say “I don’t get to decide”
And this would go on until they were tired of me.
But far be it from me, then or now, to sit on the throne – I’m not the decider.
Jesus seemed pretty clear though –
that what we do or not do to the least of these
has a direct effect on God’s judgment.
Food, Clothes, Prison visits: Jesus was specific.
In the Sheep and the Goats story Jesus only uses one criteria for “who is in”
What we (the nations, in the story) did or did not do.
No “saved by grace”, no “saying the prayer”, no “blood of Christ”,
just “what we did or didn’t do”
There are other stories, I know!
It’s not fair to create an entire theology from a single passage.
But Jesus said it, as clearly as he could.
#1 Reason I may go to Hell
I recently shared an opinion piece about feeding the Homeless
from an Atlanta news program.
It pretty well outlines
the direction I am trying to steer our poverty related programs.
I have written about this a million times :
The time I begged for something stupid
The last time I talked about being haunted by the Sheep and the Goats
The time I complained about people bringing garbage to my office, because “mission”
You didn’t watch that video, though.
And you didn’t follow those links.
Here is the short and rude way to explain the philosophy:
When we do for others, things they can and should be doing for themselves –
We feel good about our efforts,
but we are ultimately doing harm
(to the people we want to ‘help’)
I feel dirty after writing it that way.
It’s more complicated than that:
It’s also about building capacity, recognizing and celebrating gifts and skills, boundaries, sustainability, and dependancy
But it’s also about Not Helping.
I am leading our people in this.
Jesus told me not to.
That is the #1 Reason I may be a goat.
(you didn’t follow the Bible link – Goats go to Hell)
There are no two ways around it:
There are poor people in my town
who did not receive material help
as a direct result of my leadership.
That is heavy. I don’t get credit for all of the great work we do:
But I bear the responsibility for that fact – Hell.
#2 Reason I may go to Hell
If, by the grace of God, the direction we are moving is truly the ‘best way’
Then in a long-term, complex way
Our hard nosed decisions are, in fact, helping do the things Jesus asked us to do.
It requires some patience, and hermeneutical gymnastics, but it could be true.
So, if the long-term development game is working.
If we are helping identify and build capacity
in people who have been given power and gifts by God almighty
(who are, in that sense, just like anyone else on the planet – gifted with power by God)
Then, when we do all of the ‘relief’ work that we are involved in
– and there is A LOT of that kind of work going on –
We are going backwards, away from the things Jesus asked us to do.
The thing that, apparently, will result in moving to the left or the right
on judgment day:
sheep side – goat side
Heaven – Hell
I can imagine, with my self-serving imagination,
A revision to the Sheep and the Goats story:
And the goats will reply
“Lord, when did we see you sick or naked and did not help?”
Then the King will reply with Holy Sarcasm:
“Oh, you did. You gave me an aspirin and your old shoes and kept walking.
Thou should have kept your stupid Goaty shoes -that’s not what I needed!”
#3 Reason I may go to Hell
That loose, imaginary paraphrase of the Sheep and the Goats story
may not bode well for me,
in the end.
Let’s Get Real
I don’t want to turn the ship back
I don’t want to focus on relief
I don’t think relief works, long term
I do think it causes harm, long term
However, if I refuse to negotiate with Jesus in the Goat story
(the real one, not the one I made up)
It seems pretty clear
I’ll be going to Hell for the first one, not the second.
I hate that story.
I am glad it’s not the only story Jesus told