Friday, October 27, 2017

Messy lives, effective ministry

This past Sunday I preached at the opening of a missions conference at a church in the suburbs of Chicago. The passage I preached on was Luke 10:25-37, where Jesus answers an expert in the law's question about how to inherit eternal life. He taught on the parable of the Good Samaritan in response to the man's question about who his neighbor was. The point Jesus was making was that to gain eternal life, one had to love God wholeheartedly (Deut. 6:5-9) and love his neighbor as himself (Lev. 19:18). They are two separate commands in the Law, yet Jesus puts them together as the two most important commands to obey! Problem was, no one could do either of those perfectly. Put them together, it seems even more impossible! That's why we needed a Savior! Jesus IS that Savior, thankfully! He fulfilled the Law's requirements on our behalf!

Problem is, today we tend to either "spiritualize" our walk with God to the point that we ignore the practical needs in society, or we make it all about the "good works" we do, and fail to recognize the need for us to rely on the power of God's Spirit. Jesus makes the point through this parable that our walk with Him in this world isn't only about the life we'll have with Him after death, but the life we have with him NOW! He was teaching that eternal life starts here on this earth when we accept Him as our Savior! There is no dichotomy in our spiritual/physical walk. Eternal life is lived in the spiritual realms as well as the very mundane things of this world.

Hillside erosion

This reality is why Creation Care ministry is so crucial to our witness in the world. As we care for very mundane things, such as improving soil fertility in impoverished communities, reducing pollutants entering rivers and oceans due to hillside erosion, or actively doing reforestation efforts, we are caring for people's very basic needs (as well as doing our job as good stewards of God's creation). But as we do this, we are also entering into relationship with the same people those issues affect.

By the way, how do we most effectively share the gospel? By preaching on a street corner with a bull-horn? No, not really. It's by being in relationship with people--genuine, real, messy, relationships. That's where people see Jesus, that's where they see God's love, if it is indeed in us.

It's so easy for us to do what the priest and the Levite did in the story of the Good Samaritan...real ministry is uncomfortable at times, awkward, messy... That's part of the point of the story I believe. We all need to get into the mess--we are not perfect people, yet we are being sanctified as we walk with Jesus and in genuine relationships with others. Because of Jesus, we CAN love God and our neighbor as He asks us to.