Monday, August 22, 2016

Why the Gospel is the Best "Help" You Can Give Someone

As a pastor, I have seen great need come knocking at my door.  It is one of the things that I honestly wasn't prepared for.  Maybe not so much the need itself, but the sheer magnitude of the need and the consistency by which the need has presented itself over the years.  The homeless, the sick, the stranded, the single mothers financially struggling, the hungry, the relationally shattered and the desperate have all visited my office.

They have all come for one reason:  We are the church and this is supposed to be a place of help and hope. 

At the church, the need seems to come in waves.  There are sometimes whole seasons with very few needs presented.  Then, there are times where days and even weeks are filled with encounters of these heart wrenching stories from men, women and families who have come seeking a hope of relief.

I wish that I could say I have always met these needs the way that Jesus would want me to, but I am sure that I have failed about as many times as I have succeeded.  Don't get me wrong!  I am not being too critical of myself.  An education like this comes with its fair share of failures, if we are truly going to learn.  And my failure may not be what you think...

So what I would like to do is share with you an education that has taken me 15 years to learn concerning "helping" someone.  To be sure, there may be many of you who have already learned this lesson before me in less time.  To them, I can only hope to promise to be a better student in the future.  But I share this in the hope that it may lessen the "learning curve" for those who have begun to struggle with this problem.

The Gospel is the Reason We Help

I could have said "Jesus is the reason we help", but in reality we help in hopes to share the good news of Christ.  Our motivation for helping is because of the incomprehensible love of Christ that we have experienced ourselves and wish to tangibly share that love and hope with others. 

Sometimes we are too hard on ourselves.  Think about how different our culture would be if we took the Christian footprint out of our society.  Think of all the hospitals, soup kitchens, homeless shelters, abuse shelters, sex slave rescue missions, schools, third world child sponsorship programs, orphanages and a myriad of other programs and institutions that have been created simply as a means to advance the gospel of Christ and obey His commands (see Mat. 28:18-20; James 1:26-2:7; 1 John 3:16-18; Mat. 10:40-42). 

This doesn't even begin to consider the daily acts of kindness done by individual believers simply for the sake of planting a seed for the gospel of Christ (1 Cor. 3:1-15).  I mean, how many of you have, out of compulsion from the Holy Spirit, been lead to give of your time or treasure for the opportunity of reaching a family member, a friend, a co-worker or even a stranger, with the love of Christ...not for any glory or recognition, just because of a quiet obedience to the One you wish to serve (Mat. 6:1-24)?

How dark would our country, city and community become without this life giving presence of individuals and institutions motivated to do their good works because of the gospel!  

Our hope with this outreach is not just to meet an immediate need, but to present to those whom we are helping through our good works their true need and the good news that that need has been fully met in Christ and His sacrifice on the cross.

How Good Intentions Begin to Go Awry

However, many a believer is often overwhelmed with the sheer magnitude of the need before them, once their eyes are open to it.  Whether it is a person who has gone on their first missions trip or inner city excursion where the culture shock of the atmosphere can shake even the most stoic or it is a person who has reached out to a neighbor or family member in need and discovered the tangled mess that broken relationships and circumstances can lead, the situations faced can often engulf a good intentioned believer.

Even though we have been told by Jesus Himself that we will always have the poor among us (Mat. 26:9), we seem to think that if we work hard enough, give more, create more opportunities for relief, we can eradicate this need where Jesus could not.  And it is at this point, whether looking at the multitudes that we want to help but can't or looking at the one that we are helping, but the need is so beyond us...we begin to take on the responsibility ourselves and out of the hands of Jesus.  I have done this often and has been the cause of many of my failures to serve Christ (even as I was "serving" Christ).

We begin to think that we are the only hands of Jesus for the need placed before us, rather than the view that Paul had that he was one who planted (not the only one who planted) that Apollos was the one who watered (but not the only one who watered), but God, and Him alone, gave the increase.  We stop seeing the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12) in our everyday interactions with the needs that we face and erroneously believe we are the only part of the body that will have any effect.

But when we divorce Jesus from the solution, and make no mistake that is exactly what we are doing when we take on these needs ourselves without acknowledging our limitations, we end up hagridden, losing the joy of service and freedom of giving that Christ blessed us with to begin with.  We give, not out of joy, but compulsion and we begin to resent the "service" that we are doing for the Lord because of the lack of tangible results (the opposite of what we are commanded in 2 Cor. 9:6-15).

It is at this point that we face a crossroads. 

Settling for "Help" without the Gospel

In our hopes for solving the problems before us, because it is easier, we begin to look for what will make the person or people we are ministering to happy.  So we either drop Jesus all together (by saying something like, "I am trying to share Jesus through what I do, not through words.") or begin to morph Jesus into a "god" who is only concerned with the fulfillment or happiness of others.  Some of our institutions founded on presenting the true gospel to a world in need has replaced it with a false gospel concerned only with a person's perceived happiness.  They, with the very best of intentions, have found themselves slowly transformed into a people who boldly proclaim that God didn't mean all that He said about morality and righteous living, even though it may very well be those things that are needed most to help those they truly wish to minister to.

The solutions that are ultimately offered without the gospel only entangle and enslave.  Like cough syrup, they only mask the symptoms of a condition and never deal with the root problem.

Single motherhood, AIDS in the homosexual community, many abuse situations, the breakdown of the family, higher drug use (especially marijuana) and all the problems that these and many other ills bring to our society is a direct result of the sin we are so enslaved to that Jesus came to set us free from (Heb. 12:1-2). 

If you don't get to the root of the problem and treat only the symptoms, you will only get more problems and none of the gospel which we are entrusted with.

Stop Giving Pearls to Swine!

Which brings us to a harsh truth that all of us have to deal with:  Not everyone wants the gospel.  Or put another way:  Not everyone wants the type of help that Jesus commanded us to give others. 

We are told by Jesus not to give that which is valuable to those who disregard it (Mat. 7:6).  This comes right after He spoke on proper judgment (Mat. 7:1-5) and commanded His followers not to judge hypocritically.  But equally important is for His followers not to waste time on those who truly want nothing to do with Jesus and the good news that He brings.  They only want "help" on their terms, not His...which is really no help at all.  And when you don't "help" that way, no matter how often you have helped in godly ways, they turn around and malign you for all the "help" you didn't give (or call you judgmental).

I can't tell you how much time I have wasted in my ministry spending my time on those who truly wanted nothing to do with Jesus.  Whether it has been the endless times of encouraging youth, adults and families to come into fellowship, or trying to help with a specific situation that needed repentance that I would dance around or confront directly, again and again, each time thinking that this time their response might be different.  My time spent on giving the gospel to those who don't appreciate it or want it prevents me from giving it to someone who does or just spending time with my family building them up in the faith.

Shortly after many of my interactions with many of these people that I have wanted to help, I see them in worse condition than ever before I knew them.  Of them, Jesus' words ring more true to me than ever that the last state of that person is worse than the first (Mat. 12:43-45).  Or Peter's words of how it would have been better for them to have not known the way of righteousness than to have known it and turned their backs on it (2 Pet. 2:21). 

And the sad reality is...there is really nothing I could do about it, no matter how hard I tried...and neither can you.  This is why I have to entrust these larger than life problems with God...and you do too.  I can't tell you how long you are supposed to be in a certain situation, not every one is the same.  But I do know that we are not supposed to be weighted down with needs that we cannot meet or disobedient hearts that cannot be made to be obedient (that is the job and burden of God).  However, when we entrust these people whom we love in the care of God, we find ourselves praying more sometimes and doing less.  This isn't a faith without action, but rather a faith that trusts God after action has been taken and trusting that our help is enough because it is what God has called us to do.

After 15 years, I am finding that my timetable for helping people revolves around two things.  First and foremost, my responsibility to share the gospel of Christ the hope that He brings and the results that an obedient life will bring to those who are hurting.  Second, is their response to the hope and help that I have presented.  If there is no obedience to instruction, if there is no repentance and no trust that Jesus is the true answer that they need, then my timetable is drastically reduced.  Because I have finally come to truly realize that the gospel is the best, and ultimately, only hope and help I have to give.

Sure people don't always understand and sometimes I might be maligned for not giving them what they want...but it is all that I have to offer and I believe it is more than enough.

I pray this revelation through a lifetime of successes and failures will help you as well.  Lord bless you all.

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