Archive for August, 2010

Marx and Jesus – Very Strange Bedfellows (A Conversation)

Below is a FB conversation that I have moved over here so that others can participate in it.  Feel free to comment and get in the conversation.  It stemmed from the quote below.

Max ‎”When I fed the poor, they called me a saint. When I asked why the poor had no food, they called me a communist.” – Dom Helder Camara, Archbishop of Sao Paulo

Top of Form

Person One now that is killer….

Person Two Wow! This will make you think!

Person Three Don’t you love Beck’s (I think it was him) comment that Obama is a Liberation Theologian.

Person Four when you rock the boat you know you are doing the right thing

Max

‎@Person Three – the only Beck I pay attention to is Jeff Beck. That being said, Liberation Theology tied its cart too tightly to socialism. I think Mao and Jesus make very strange bed-fellows. I don’t know what the solution is. But I do think …we need to encourage courageous conversation about why few have much and many have nothing. I don’t think that increasing disparity is really God’s plan of redemption. Like Carson Brisson used to say, “Don’t give in to the lie that says that this world isn’t broken. And don’t give in to the other lie that says that God is finished with it.”See More

Person Three Like Carson’s thoughts.

Person Five oooo, i like jeff beck

Max Hmm, does that mean that Carson is really Jeff Beck?!?!

Person Six This idea occurred to me last year in my AP Comparative Government class: Mao’s brand of communism/totalitarianism wasn’t what Marx wrote about in the Communist Manifesto. Likewise with Lenin and Stalin.

Max

‎@Person Six – Thanks for jumping into this. You really are making me think this morning. You are right in saying that Mao, Lenin, and Stalin all co-opted Marx’s theories on industrial economics and imposed them on essentially rural, agrarian …societies. Even though that is true, I think Marx and Jesus would also make strange bedfellows. Marx said that religion is the opiate of the masses. Marx believed in an externally imposed paradigm. Jesus said that the Kingdom of God is within. Marx said that industrial Capitalism would collapse because of its own internal inconsistencies and contradictions, and would eventually and inevitably be replaced with a “communist” utopia. Marx never took into account the realm of the spiritual. The spirit, Marx believed, is an invention of those in power that is used to create a false consciousness among the masses. Jesus taught that we ARE a soul or a spirit – we are made spiritually in the image of God, and that the things of this world will pass away and will reveal God’s present Kingdom. Jesus spoke of a Kingdom of God where conscience rules, and that nothing of this world will ever be fixed or made whole until every knee bows and every heart is surrendered to God. Jesus believed and taught that only God can rule this world or any world justly.

Marx seems to believe that the right economic system will lead to utopia. The correct economic system will bless all of humanity. I believe that God alone blesses humanity. Jesus believed that goodness lived out on earth will transcend any economic system – right or wrong. For Jesus, it wasn’t about being “right”. It was about being “good”. The problem in the Gospels wasn’t this system or that system. That was the thinking of the zealots and the Pharisees who saw all of their problems as stemming from Roman Imperialism – a precursor to capitalism. Jesus taught that the problem lies, not in the Romans, but in the hearts of humanity. Hearts surrendered rightly to God are filled with grace and compassion, and goodness flows out from them. The problem with Marxism is that no matter how you spin it, fallen and sinful people who reject the presence of God are always leading the revolution. The problem for Marx was broken economic policy. The problem for Jesus was broken relationship with God.

No matter how you spin it, in Marxism humanity is always storming heaven and taking the revolution away from God and making it happen themselves, usually with great bloodshed and tremendous loss of life. Marx espouses the proletariat beating their plowshares into swords. Jesus taught that those who live by the sword shall die by the sword. Those who overthrow shall be overthrown. Jesus espoused all people beating their swords into plowshares. Marx taught that the least should rise up and make themselves great through revolution. Jesus taught that the least are already the greatest, and that the path to salvation leads straight through humility and surrender. That dissonance cannot exist in the same space. And as long as humanity (be it guided by Marx or Pancho Villa or Mao or Pol Pot or the Tea Party) is the author of revolution, the poets will always fall in love with the Marxists. The Marxists will overthrow the dictators. And the Marxists will become dictators themselves. “All pigs are equal, but some pigs are more equal than others.” (Orwell – Animal Farm) I am attaching my cart to God’s revolution and to the Way of Jesus knowing that I will not see utopia in my lifetime except in brief glimpses of the present Kingdom of God. It is about a Kingdom of Conscience or it is about nothing.See More

Max

Here’s two quotes that Marx would definitely choke on:

“You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them. But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a l…eader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must be the slave of everyone else. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:42-45)

“My Kingdom is not an earthly kingdom. If it were, my followers would fight to keep me from being handed over to the Jewish leaders. But my Kingdom is not of this world.” (John 18:36)

Now all of this being said, Jesus also commanded his disciples: “You give them something to eat.” and “Feed my sheep”. Jesus said, “When I was hungry you fed me. When I was naked you clothed me…” So how do we get better at caring for the dispossessed and hungry and vulnerable in a Kingdom that is not of this world…that is governed by God in spite of people who claim that throne, knowing full well that the poor will always we with us?

WHAT DO YOU ALL THINK?  PLEASE JUMP IN.  I LEARN FROM EVERYBODY AND FROM EVERY PERSPECTIVE.

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Alligators (sorry, this one’s a little long)

‎”When I fed the poor, they called me a saint. When I asked why the poor had no food, they called me a communist.”– Dom Helder Camara, Archbishop of Sao Paulo

Jesus said, “The poor will always be with you.”  And at the same time that I embrace that reality, I can’t help but ask if we can’t do better at making the Kingdom of God more evident in the here and now.  My mission occupies two spaces, and a part of that mission is trying to bring those two spaces into closer relationship because each space holds the keys to the Kingdom for the other.

In one space, I serve Christ among the poor.  I find the face of Christ among what society considers the least of these every day of the week.  I have very few illusions left about the poor in my mission field.  Not all of them are “victims of the system”.  Many, if not most, are consumed by the demons of addiction and instant gratification.  I say this without judgment because there but by the very grace of God go I.  But these addictions and illusions and irresponsibilities do not occur in a vacuum…they are not learned on a level playing field.  The values that sustain poverty are often self-perpetuating.  When you don’t have enough, and you have no hope for ever having enough, instant gratification makes sense in your paradigm.  When gangs and drugs and teenage pregnancy are three and four generations deep in a family, where are the fruits of an alternative evident enough to be motivation to live differently?  And even in midst of that, I have to ask, why are the poor poor?  Why don’t they have food? If it were so simple as to just work harder, does anyone with a serious mind really think that the problem of poverty wouldn’t already be solved by now?

And in another space, I serve Christ among the most financially-blessed demographic in my area. I find the face of Christ among people of incredible giftedness and blessing who nonetheless humble themselves before God and personally know God’s grace in their lives.   And yet here among the most financially-well off and socially powerful people, there is a poverty, too.  It comes in two forms.  The first comes in the hell that is created when a person doesn’t realize that the only real wealth is in knowing that what you have is enough.  And so there is a constant need to consume and yet a constant and overwhelming hunger for more.  Coupled with the half-truth that you get what you deserve in life, and that the future is in your hands, the door to that hell can be very hard to unlock.  There are more kids in the high school in the suburb that use drugs and alcohol than there are that don’t.  They have never found what is means to have “enough”…enough meaning, gratification, excitement, importance, control, or whatever.  And they have become numb because they have forgotten that what it means to be important has nothing to do with your athletic or intellectual giftedness or who is on your arm come prom night.  It has to do with your connectedness to things at stake in this world that are more important than you are.

The second poverty is a poverty of security – a fear that streams just under the surface of everything.  The fear is that there are “alligators” out there that are hungry and are looking to take what they have worked so hard for.  That fear is a constant hell, a constant fear, a constant insecurity.  Many of these people sit in churches every Sunday thinking that if they get their faith just right, then God will protect them from the alligators.  Most can’t even name what the alligators are, but I think I can name some of them.  Among them are ignorance, violence, unimportance, and poverty.

Many profess a trust in God but are working as hard as they can to feed other people’s children to the alligators in the hopes that the alligators will get full before they get to their children.  We seem to not realize that alligators never get full.  It is their nature to consume and consume and consume.  It is what they do.  Just like literal alligators; ignorance, violence, unimportance, and poverty consume people…it is what they do.  These alligators are real, and they are hungry.  The trouble is that in order to save our own kids, the solution is not to feed other people to them, but rather to kill the alligators.  I watch well-meaning people throw other kids under the bus and feed them to the alligators in order to gain an advantage for their own kids in school, in sports, and even in church youth groups.  It’s insane.  Throwing other kids to the alligators won’t save anyone.  In a way, it just tells the alligators where to come to get fed…like breadcrumbs that lead to the bakery.

The same people who work so hard to make sure that the alligators are fed well enough with other people’s kids to leave their children alone, send their kids to work their first jobs in fast-food restaurants and convenience stores.  Those places are robbed are gunpoint by the very young people who have been thrown to the alligators to keep them at bay.  It is these very suburban kids who are robbed and murdered while buying drugs on the Southside by the kids who were thrown to the alligators and are selling those drugs chasing the very same illusion of what it means to have “enough”.

Until we reduce ignorance to whatever degree we can, the ignorant will seek the blessings of others thinking that that is the path to blessing. They will not know that blessings can only come from God, and that God blesses everyone according to God’s purposes.  Until we deal with the reality that many people do not have enough food to eat or clothes to wear, those that do not have enough will seek to take from people who do have enough…sometimes by violent means.  Until we embrace the Kingdom of God where every single person is important to God, then those that society deems to be unimportant will seek to gain social gratification through destructive behaviors like gang participation and drug dealing.  And, by the way, the drugs that are bought and sold in the suburban school that aren’t stolen from parents who use, are bought and sold on the streets of the inner city where the money goes to support prostitution and gambling and addiction, and to buy bullets that kill kids on our streets nearly every week.  Tragically, and all to often, what connects my two mission fields are the two ends of a gun.  The connection of both mission fields is undeniable, but the only connection that yields life on both ends is God’s Kingdom.

Some of the most spiritually alive and committed people in our missions live and work in the suburbs.  They give from the bounty of their blessing, not just to keep the alligators at bay, but to find creative ways to kill them off.  And yet, in the same breath and moment, a bitter irony of life in my mission field is that many of the people who donate funds and goods to the greatest degree and upon whom we rely in order to do what we do, are giving to our missions as a means of feeding the alligators.  The unspoken motivation is that, “If we just keep them fed for a day, then maybe they’ll stay down in the slum neighborhoods and hell-holes of the inner city and won’t come out to feed on the suburbs”.  I am grateful for the generosity of everyone who gives even a dollar to our missions.  And I, nonetheless, pray for the souls of even huge givers who have missed the point of the present Kingdom of God.  I pray for them because the fear that is always just beneath the surface of every conversation and interaction is still a subtle master in their lives and fear causes tremendous anxiety and suffering.  I pray for them because I love them and God loves them.  It is frustrating, though, that every time I speak to them about addressing the root problems of poverty, homelessness, and real justice; I immediately become suspect to them. It is as if I immediately become a threat.  By simply asking why the poor do not have food, it is as if I become one of the alligators.

Object to Subject – Born Anew from Above

This is an amazing guy who God snatched out of hell, gave a new vision to, and sent back out into the harvest.  He now site manages Despensa de la Paz and is a blessing to many, many people.

Another Point Along “The Way”

Again, I am not a fan of labels because they smack of fad. “Missional” has become another label that a lot people are trying to stick on whatever it is they are doing.  If it gets us closer to the Kingdom, then cool.  If it’s just a hipper angle on “branding” this church or that church, then it’s not cool at all.  Maybe a better conversation is “What does being like Christ Look Like?”  Even that seems arrogant.  I don’t know what to call this journey other than another point along The Way.

Still Farther Along the Road – More Street Ministry Video

Here’s another clip from street ministy on the Northside of Milwaukee.

Farther Along the Road to Emmaus

A brief video of street ministry on the Northside of Milwaukee. We learn as we go.

Tarzan Faith

Tarzan Faith

Born in 1962, I was raised in the low Episcopal Church, and my father was a “minister” (Back then the only “Priests” I knew were Catholic.).  I grew up inundated with “Christianity” as a part of everything in my household.  Being a “PK” is somewhat unique, I think, in that I did not see church as something one did on Sunday, as some disconnected activity or situational posture.  I grew up literally “in” the church and “in” faith.  It was where I often went after school or on Saturdays.  The graveyard was one of my favorite places to play.  I knew every hiding place, every toy of even the remotest applicable play value, even which drinking fountain sprayed me in the face and which was safe to drink from in my church clothes.  The church was an extension of my house, and its members were like extensions of my family.  Talk around the dinner table was about the church and the people in it.  We were privy to all sorts of non-repeatable information.  I learned early how to keep my mouth shut, but my young mind was not kept from thinking of the people in my church the way I had heard my parents speak of their concern and care for them.  My parents did not gossip.  But they spoke of people and things out of their vocation of care.  And I often overheard my mother’s daily prayers for them.  But a young mind goes places that the burden of information takes it. “Oh THAT’s Mr. Smith.  I wonder what he actually looks like drunk and in jail.”

I was the only kid in my third grade class who knew second-hand what spouse abuse, chronic alcoholism, suicide, and adultery were, though I know that many of my young playmates knew what they were first-hand.  I was the only kid on my block, and maybe in my church that knew what abject poverty was, and could discuss the problem of racism with adults.  But church talk was earthy and practical and kind, like my father.

My father was a doer, a believer in living what he believed.  He was a believer in the present Kingdom of God.  He was a believer in the real power of God.  And he was a believer in the essential goodness of people, even those who regularly did him wrong. He was uniquely just and patient.  I would describe him as even-handed and even-tempered.  I knew him to be an introvert, but oddly I would not describe him as terribly introspective.  I could no more have told you what a cogent “Doctrine of God” was than flap my arms and fly to the moon.  I’m not one hundred percent sure my father could either.  But he had an eighty-mile-an-hour fastball and that carried more freight with me.  Faith, or in the paradigm of my father’s house – following in the footsteps of Christ, was about what I believed, but it was more about what I did with what I believed.  My father frequently reminded me that great thoughts are just thoughts.  People DO what they believe.

Church itself, the Sunday part, always seemed anti-climactic.  I mean, what was this kneeling, and praying all about?  It was just what you did.  Some people would pray, and some people would read, and I could just read along in the prayer book and that seemed to be the extent of it.  There was a lot of critical banter among parishioners that I overheard about how poorly this person had read, or how this other guy had just gone on and on with the prayers, as if one’s Christian walk was judged largely by one’s reading level.  Read this stuff right, and one was right with God.

I grew up in the worship and sacramental life of the church, as well, even though I didn’t understand any of it.  First was confirmation.  Memorize a bunch of stuff, and the Bishop patted you on the head in a special service.  “Poof!”  Like magic, I was a Christian.  I did like that Bishop, though.  He used to come to the house for dinner and he treated me like I was somebody.  He knew my name, and spoke to me at church when he visited.  He was just a guy, and that earthiness resonated with me even at that early age.

After confirmation, I could be an acolyte.  I thought that was kind of cool – the uniforms and all – until I found out that if word got out at school that I was an acolyte, the high school kids would beat me up and steal my lunch money.  My first battle for the Lord was me and my metal lunch box holding our own in the back corner of Bus 5 on the day that the four “big kids” got wind of my Sunday vocation.  I faired pretty well in the fight, a bloody lip and torn shirt, but I blackened a few eyes, smashed a finger, and made one big kid cry (I didn’t know they did that), and the kids on the bus left me alone after that.  Of course, this pretty much soured the notion of being an acolyte, and other uniform-related church activities.

Sunday just wasn’t it for me.  For some people, linking church life to the notion of an active Christ-like faith out in the real world is the challenge.  But for me it was the other way around.  For me, church and “Christianity” didn’t really get exciting until the late 1960’s.  We lived in Kansas City in those days, and there was a great deal of civil rights activity there at the time.  I was largely sheltered from the really “cool” stuff, but I remember to this day the energy in our house when things would start happening downtown.  There would be a bunch of ministers in their black shirts and collars (to this day I think of them as “riot clothes”) gathering in the kitchen around the table, talking in low voices so as not to disturb the family.  You could almost smell the adrenaline in the room.  They would go out after a serious phone conversation, and wouldn’t come back until very late, if not the next morning.  It was not unusual to have the radical Catholic priest whose name now escapes me, long hair and beard, short sleeve black shirt with the white collar peeled back, drinking coffee at the breakfast table with my dad.  I knew what a post-adrenaline euphoria looked like, even though I could not have told you then what it was.  But it was exciting.  What do you know?!  Christianity had some action after all.  I was a “Johnny Quest” and “Tarzan” kid, and this kind of excitement and activity just made the “Christian Life” irresistible.  It made me feel ten feet tall when I walked downtown with my dad because he had “stood up” in the riots (whatever that meant).

I remember one particular early-summer night in 1968; school was out, it was right after the Martin Luther King, Jr. assassination.  My dad and a bunch of clergy had gone out to do whatever it was they did when the National Guard had been called out.  The TV, such as it was, was on with lots of excitement and news flashes.  Word of a “riot” was all over the neighborhood.  I still remember the sound of the ticker tape they played for a “news bulletin”.  Mom was very upset.  Mom and dad argued before the “crew” left the house.  My mother’s way of expressing worry was misdirected anger and so I knew to stay clear of her.  My sister and I were told to go to bed, but we sat at the top of the stairs and listened.  The crew came back late, or seemingly so.  There was rushing around, and laughter.  I came later in life to recognize this laughter as post-ordeal laughter.  I snuck downstairs to have a look.  Of course I snuck downstairs.  This kind of action was just too much to resist.  Apparently the crew had gotten between the National Guard/prison guards and the rioting prisoners or the “poor” folks in the surrounding neighborhood (the prison riot had spilled over into the surrounding neighborhood), and they had been gassed by the police and beaten up by both sides.  I remember them looking pretty roughed up.    They were a damn proud sight.

This episode, and many others like it, were the experiences that shaped my spiritual life.  Prayer wasn’t spiritual to me at that age.  This stuff was exciting, and this kind of excitement and connection to things more important than us was spiritual.  Following Christ wasn’t just reading out of the Prayer Book on Sunday anymore.  It wasn’t just Sunday School class where you got yelled at, and did silly games that made you look goofy in front of the girls.  To me, the spiritual life was “doing Christianity”.  It was action and it was adventure.  And to a young boy of my temperament, there was nothing else of meaning.  And “Christianity” was all of a sudden big.  I did not understand that it was the times that made “Christianity” what it was then.  And when those years came to an end, and “Christianity” once again became Sunday school and Prayer Books, I lost the excitement of what being a Christian was to me.  It was fifteen years before “Christianity” was anything like that to me again.  It was as if the Church of the Living Jesus Christ had simply gone back to sleep.

It’s Only the Wind

It’s Only the Wind

I can’t tell you how many times our missional faith community has found itself battered and beaten by conflicts started by little whispers, by financial woes (that are sometimes fueled by those conflicts and whispers), and by a myriad of accusations and difficulties.  Many things have come against us with the message, “Turn back. It can’t be done. You’re going to die.”  The important thing to realize is not WHAT comes at us, but WHEN it comes at us.  It almost always happens just before the Lord of Lord’s is about to use us to do something huge and amazing among the lost.

I am not afraid of the term “lost”.  There are people all around us who are in hell right here on earth and are headed for one later, as well.  There are people held captive to drugs, gambling addictions, greed, power, enviousness, and any number of afflictions that keep them bound and unable to really live the blessed life that God has prepared for them.  If someone is gambling away their family’s paycheck, or sticking a heroin-filled needle in their arm, or engaging in affair after meaningless affair, I am sorry, but they are lost.  Each time we set out to reach into these populations with the Kingdom of God, someone comes into the community (or re-emerges from non-participation to all of the sudden participating hugely) and tries to create distractions and to disrupt our unity.  Unity is frightening to Satan, because when the Body of Christ comes together to do what it was created and empowered to do, the Gates of Hades cannot withstand it.  Each time that we have been beset by internal strife among believers who have not seen this kind of thing before, it has been just after we have been moved by the sight of some miracle or wonder or experience of God and are in the midst of preparing to go out to reach the lost in some new way in response to what we have seen.

I have come not only to know what it is when I see it, but have come to fully expect it.  And I now see resistance and difficulty as an honor because the presence of such supernatural attack means that we are on track with what we are being called to do.  It is just the wind rising up against us because it knows that Jesus is about to steal a soul or two or three out of Hell.  Satan knows that he can scare us, but he cannot stop us.  We can only scare ourselves into quitting.  I think of a story from the Gospel of Mark:

Mark 4:35 On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” 36 And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. 37 A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. 38 But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” 39 He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. 40 He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” 41 And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

Prior to this passage, Jesus had been teaching the disciples how to participate in the Kingdom and to reach out in mission.  They had seen miracles and wonders and were then trained by Jesus to do what he was calling them to do.  The passage that immediately follows this passage relates Jesus’ rescue of a man in the region of the Gerasenes who was possessed by a legion of demons.  In other words, the disciples having been called, gifted, and sent were going to storm Hell’s Gates and steal away someone who was suffering and bound in spiritual slavery.  As the disciples set out, a great wind rose against them.

My response now when the wind, like that faced by the disciples in Mark Gospel, rises up is “Duh”.  As a young Christ-follower, though, when all that conflict and meanness and false-accusations started to rise up, I was scared to death.  It distracted me away from what I was being called to do, and set my eyes on all these problems.  I saw mission stopped because it was resisted, rather than going forward because it was resisted.  I even stopped it to deal with the distractions.  As a new pastor, sometimes that wind was directed straight at me in an attempt to separate me from my missional community.  I thought for sure the whole community “boat” was going to come apart.  Now I know to expect the wind.  Now the pillars of our community know to expect it, too.  I pray often for a few more pillars of faith in our community, but what we have has been enough. We all now know that Jesus is in the boat with us, and that the wind only tells us that we are on the right course.  Make no mistake, the wind does damage.  We lose people to it.  But in every case, when the time was right, Jesus rebuked the wind and it went still.  Now the pillars of this community just lean in a little more, and hold on a little tighter.

Satan has thrown everything at us but the kitchen sink.  Financial hardships, little lies, big lies, broken people, divisive wedge issues, sicknesses among leaders, and resistance of every kind has blown and howled at us as it tries to get our eyes off of the far shore where the work of Christ is to be done.  Remember that the author of that wind is the author of all lies.  He is the “most subtle of all the creatures in the garden”.  When Satan is creating the wind, it will look like it is something important (hence the subtlety), but it is just wind. It is now a badge of honor to be spiritually attacked and set upon by windstorms because it means that we have moved from being a community that was absorbed with itself and thus a threat to nothing but ourselves, to being a part of the Body of Christ storming the Gates of Hades with the Holy Spirit in our boat, and empowered by all authority in heaven and on earth to do what we are called to do.

Expect the wind. Stay the course.  Something amazing is about to happen.

Less Than $10. There are no Excuses.

Less Than $10. There are no Excuses.

A mission partner in Galveston, TX named Darren Smith (some of you may know his ministry – Streetscape Ministries. If not, you should. Google it. Support it.), taught us another really awesome $10 mission opportunity.  Get yourself a roll of quarters and go down to the Laundromat.  Laundromats are places where the “least of these” can be found on a regular basis.  Think about the last time you needed to do laundry at Laundromat.  Where were you financially? Spiritually? Emotionally?  What do you think the Samaritan woman was doing at the well in the middle of the day in John 4?  Getting water for what?  Take that roll of quarters to the Laundromat along with a load of clothes for your local clothing ministry, and while you’re doing clothes for that mission, offer to pay for someone else’s laundry who looks like they are having to save pennies to do their load. Tell them that God blessed you with the extra change, and that no blessing from God is ever for us alone.  If they are having to spend their saved change on laundry, then by you offering to pay for it for them, they can spend their change on something else they need…or even just on a treat for themselves.  If you don’t think people need to treat themselves every once in awhile, then make sure that you never treat yourself to anything ever again.  If they don’t “need” a treat, then neither does anyone else.   The change is just a bona fides – a way to start a conversation of care.  The real mission is prayer.  Learn a name and burden your heart with them for a few weeks.  Adopt them into your spirit and into your prayer life.  Listen to them.  Invite them to come and help you give out the clothes at the clothing mission.  Change a life by inviting the person into your life.  Less than $10. There are no excuses.

No Laundromat nearby? Here’s another option. Martin Luther King, Jr. Park is just across the street from the State Social Services building in the city where we do street mission.  As such, the park is often filled with folks who are down on their luck seeking a little help and a little hope.  We have been in the midst of a heat wave here, and it is difficult to imagine the value of a drink of cold water in that heat to a person who is out of money, out of food, out of options, and left out of doors.  We don’t have much money to support our mission to this park, but for under $10 we can fill a cooler with bottled water and ice, and we can take that down to the park and offer it to anyone who wants it.  It gives us a chance to learn their names, and to pray for them or even with them.  The water is just our bona fides – a way to start a conversation of care.  The prayer is the real mission.  Let’s talk for a just a second about “real value”.  That bottle of cold water cost less than $1, probably less than $.50.  But what is its “real value” to a person who has literally nothing? $.50 might as well be $10,000.00.  Cold water is not something that the homeless have access to.   John 4:10 relates, “Jesus answered her, ‘If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.’” If we pay close attention, we will notice that is in the giving of a drink of water that we finding ourselves being filled up with “living water”.  Less than $10. There are no excuses.

Finding “a way” is a Part of Finding “The Way”

Finding “a way” is a Part of Finding “The Way”

Man it’s crazy-frustrating when everything comes apart in a mission and the mission doesn’t have the dollars or people to fix it.  Believe me, I know in a very visceral way.  And if it’s happened to you, I definitely feel your pain. It used to be that when ministries and missions needed funds and people to work them, faith communities went to within their walls to find both.  And when one or both could not be found there, faith communities rung their hands and comforted themselves with the idea that God must not want them to be involved in mission because God had not provided the community with the funds and people to do them.  And then the community goes right back to just looking out for itself.  While there is some truth in the idea that God guides by closing and opening doors, it is only a half-truth.  The idea can never be an excuse for not living out the Gospel.  A half-truth is a lie by any other name.  Matthew 25:32-40 makes no such exception for communities struggling with resources.  Heck, any community worth its salt is always struggling with resources.  I will tell you now, we don’t have enough of anything to heal this world any more than the disciples did when Jesus told them to quit whining and making excuses and to go and find a way to feed those five thousand people.

Matthew 25:32 All the tribes will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33 and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. 34 Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38 And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39 And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 40 And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’

In these hard economic times, no congregation has enough money or people to carry out this mission.  We will be held accountable for whether or not we lived out these imperatives.   I worship and carry out my ministry and mission in a community of working people who give until it hurts to give.  Our people have had their hours cut at work or lost their jobs altogether.  A good portion of our community lives below the poverty line and cannot give any more than they give of either time or money.  Many of our people who serve in our missions are also served BY our missions.  Every person who has a stake and vote in our community is already engaged physically and financially in these missions – that is definitional for us.  There are no “name-only” or “worship-only” people here who vote on decisions that determine our way forward.  So what do we do?  What do leaders do? Do we wring our hands and look for a job in a wealthier community that can better provide for our needs? I wonder what Jesus would have said about that?  Did a verse in Matthew get dropped that read, “When I was hungry, you fed me until it got hard to feed me, and then you jumped ship and went to a larger congregation.”?

These hard times require a new paradigm for leadership and maybe a different kind of leader than what was required thirty years ago.  Since every penny has to count and every moment spent in ministry has to bear as much fruit as possible, leaders have to draw closer to scriptural teachings about how to handle foot-dragging and divisive behavior within their communities.  Those kind of things might be an inconvenience in an endowed church, but in a church that gives every penny it has to further the Kingdom, these things cost our people their livelihood and we have a responsibility to make sure they are shepherded and protected from being wasted on silliness inspired by the same Satan who is most threatened by what we do.  There is no longer a time or place for repeated nonsense, and destructive or negative behavior.  When a community really begins to storm the Gates of Hades along with Christ, and to pull people out of hell, then we are stealing from the “strong man” who has bound them and wants to keep them for his own. That theft will not go uncontested by Satan. Anything that creates a stumbling block to what Christ is calling his Body to do in this reading from Matthew must be immediately confronted and addressed scripturally so Satan can’t get a hold of it and run your community out of time, resources, and dollars.

And leaders have to be far more resourceful in terms of getting what’s called for to complete the mission.  First of all, congregations have to free their leaders up to be creative, to work outside the congregation at least half of the time and probably more.  Congregations have to free their leaders up to be creative in drawing in resources that may have been outside of the imagination even ten years ago.  Leaders have to be willing and able to network and build alliances with a wide variety of resources and communities.  Leaders have to be willing to do a lot of things that are way outside of traditional job descriptions because the only job description that matters is found in Matthew 25:32-40, and that is reiterated in the Great Commission in Matthew 28.  The mission doesn’t care who gets the credit, and it doesn’t care where the dollars come from.  The mission is no respecter of denomination or any other line of discrimination.  Hungry people don’t read the label on the food you give them.  They don’t worry about whether the Gospel is delivered by a Baptist, an Episcopalian, or – God forbid – a Zoroastrian.

We have a saying in our community: “The mission always has to pay for itself”.  We have solidified this by telling our missions that they may only draw one-third of their funds or personnel from within our community.  If the mission becomes skewed and begins to draw too heavily upon already existing resources, the leaders of that mission will be assisted in finding other sources, and if sources cannot be found, that mission is no longer supported by the community.  Two-thirds of all dollars and all staffing have to come from the same mission field that the mission is trying to reach.  That means that we invite secular organizations to partner with us.  That means we hustle for hours every week raising funds from people who have no idea what the Kingdom of God is.  By having resources from the mission field support the mission, those people and dollars are already participating in God’s Kingdom before the mission even gets up and running.  Isn’t the point to make disciples – people who live out the Kingdom of God?  Well, as soon as a dollar is given by a secular resource, that dollar is being used by God, and that donor is participating in the Kingdom.  Where the backside goes, the heart and mind usually follow soon after.

Is this a harder way to do things? Yes.  Do leaders have to work more than fifty hours per week? Yes.  Will this take every bit of effort and creativity that a community can identify, muster, and empower? Yes.  Do leaders need skills and abilities other than church and theological knowledge? You bet.  Is there another way forward in these tough economic times? No.  We are not handed a way to live this out.  We are gifted and supported by the Holy Spirit so that we might use every God-given gift to find a way to do what we are called to do.  Finding a way is now part of finding The Way.  Actually, it always has been.  May each of you find a way in your missions and ministries this week.  Lives and souls are at stake, and every power in heaven and on earth is backing and inspiring our efforts.

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