Monday, April 7, 2014

When the Gospel Calls for Tangible Compassion

In Luke 4:18, Jesus declared that He had come to "preach good news to the poor."  He was fulfilling the prophecy from Isaiah 61, which says, "The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.  He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners..." 

I grew up in the Bible Belt of Texas, surrounded by church camps and Sunday school and a Christian bubble so impenetrable that it may as well have been made of iron.  There were great benefits to this, such as receiving a strong foundation in my faith, as well as Biblical knowledge that has helped me so much in my personal growth with the Lord.  But there were also limitations to living in the Bible Belt.  "Sharing the gospel" often meant something along the lines of going to the park and talking to neighborhood kids, giving away tracts, and altar calls.  As a young Christian, I understood sharing my faith in less of a discipleship context and more of a "Here is what Jesus did for you; want to pray the prayer now?" context.

I found my faith in Jesus over the summer before I entered high school, and people continually asked me afterward to reduce my experience to a single prayer.  "I understand you know Jesus now, but when did you pray the prayer?"

Looking back, I cannot recall the single prayer or instant when I became saved.  I realize there was an ultimate decision that was made at some point during that summer; I just don't know when.  However, I can clearly remember a transformation in my thoughts, actions, and heart.  I was no longer my own.  I felt both the freedom and calling that came along with that revelation.  Joining the kingdom of God did not come down to a simple recitation or a repeated prayer for me personally, but it changed every aspect of my life, and everything I once valued above all else was turned upside down.

"Good news" was a term I heard over and over again growing up.  Jesus is the Good News, and this is true.  But placing a "Good News! Good News!" tract in the hand of a hungry homeless man on a street corner before hopping back in my air-conditioned car and driving away felt a lot less joy-inspiring than expected.

In forgotten corners and impoverished places, good news can be hard to find.

The United Nations Development Programme reported in 2008 that there are three billion people living in poverty.  Half the planet.  What good news has the hands and feet of Christ brought them?  What gospel has the 147 million orphans in the world yet seen?

Good news comes from Christ alone, yes!  But He has commanded His Body to break chains of slavery, to feed the hungry in His name, and to live out our faith with actions and not only words.

Richard Stearns said, "Christianity is a faith that is meant to be spread- but not through coercion.  God's love was intended to be demonstrated, not dictated.  Our job is not to manipulate or induce others to agree with us or to leave their religion and embrace Christianity.  Our charge is to both proclaim and embody the gospel so that others can see, hear, and feel God's love in tangible ways."

The gospel that is all too often embraced in my Christian, American, comfortable community is missing a chunk of Christ's call to bring good news to the poor.  In Matthew 6, Jesus tells His disciples how we ought to pray.  In verse 10, He prays, "Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven."  We are not only winning souls for heaven.  The kingdom of God is eternal, but it is also right here, right now.  We have been called to extend revolutionary love and mercy to the earth.

Let us allow the poor to experience the gospel through tangible compassion along with spoken truth of what Christ did for them.

I want to share my faith in boldness and in truth.  I want to proclaim from the mountaintops that my Savior loves unconditionally and paid the price for our sins.  But I also want to live the gospel.  I want to preach with my hands and feet, with all that I am.

In my own town, I don't just want to stand on the corner and share my faith; I want to live alongside people and love without condition.  I pray that they will see the good news of Christ through how I live just as clearly as they hear about Him from what I say.  And when I go to the nations, I want to bring good news with my actions just as much as with my words.

Feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, serving the widow and the orphan.  This is demonstrating the good news of Christ's radical love.

Let's share the gospel with both words and action.  Let's bring good news.

"If the gospel we preach is not first and foremost good news to the poor, then it isn't the gospel of Jesus." -Brian McLaren

Two years ago: My Letter Box
Three years ago: Are you alive?

No comments:

Post a Comment