“You can become so heavenly minded that you are of no use on earth.” Pastor Dan Deeble
“You can become so heavenly minded that you are of no use on earth.” Yes. Amen. Hallelujah! You must have read my mind, Pastor Dan. Or maybe my social media posts. Or listened to me speak with friends about the imperative to meet the needs of people hurting. When the hurt and marginalized cry to God asking where He is as they suffer or are alone or are oppressed, where are the Christians saying, “Here I am, Lord, send me”?
Ah! Right there. That’s me. I started my life as a born-again Christian handing out tracks and feeling pushed to preach the “gospel” and pray with everyone and anyone to be saved. No need to waste a bus ride or chance to walk door-to-door. Why? Because how could you miss a chance not to save a soul? I was taught that if you loved God and loved His people your heart would ache and your lips would not dare stay shut and miss a chance to preach “the gospel” and share the Good News.
“There’s a practical need for help in the here and now.”
But it didn't feel right. Even as a baby Christian I knew that the connection happened through relationships. The calling God placed in me led me to speak up, act, do. And in the scriptures I found a Jesus who met people where they were. In the scriptures I found a God whose heart wept for (and his anger was aroused on behalf of) the poor, oppressed, orphaned, the sojourner/immigrant. In the scriptures I found a Jesus who calls us to love one another. I have asked over and over, “How can I love you if I don't care about your earthly needs?” How do I worship a God of justice but not care about justice? My eyes are most frequently focused on the Jesus who says, “I am with THEM (the oppressed, the widowed, the orphaned, the poor, the homeless, the hungry, the marginalized).”
My heart check
Yet as I listened in church today I was reminded of how often my ministry and life is expressed in the urgency of meeting the needs of people, speaking against injustice, and speaking up against societal sin. We are spirit AND we are body. We can focus on the spiritual, or the physical. Or both. Or both?
The Good News has been shared with many of us as if there are two camps, mutually exclusive. When we focus solely on the spiritual needs, the focus is on salvation. The focus is on the individual, a relationship that is personal, focused on individual sin, a path to heaven and orthodoxy. When we focus only on the physical needs, the focus is on everybody, on the now, on providing help, societal sin and orthopraxy. A focus on purely spiritual aspects leads to the “Get Saved” camp. A focus on strictly physical needs leads to a “Social Gospel” camp focused on care, equality, injustice, and the inequities of our world.
The truth is my “Social Gospel” external manifestation of my faith IS driven by the “Get Saved” philosophy. I am, in my heart, in the middle, or better yet both. Except that it isn't until a further discussion or in answer to a question that I tell you how the Good News of Jesus frames and fuels my “Social Gospel.” Worse, I judge other Christians who are so high-minded on salvation they minimize the work of serving, advocating, seeking justice and feeding the hungry. I judge asking, “What Jesus do they serve?” “Thoughts and prayers” without action rubs me wrong. God forgive me but I raise an eyebrow (or two because I don't know how to do just one).
He met me in my bad news with His good news
“There's no shadow You won't light up, mountain You won't climb up coming after me. There's no wall You won't kick down, lie You won't tear down, coming after me.” Lyrics from Reckless Love by Caleb Culver / Cory Asbury / Ran Jackson.
There hasn't been a time I have heard those lyrics and they haven't wrecked me. Perhaps because they indicate the kind of love I know I need. Perhaps because they represent the way in which God has met me in all my bad news. Or perhaps because it reminds me of how I wish I loved others all the time. I see my parents in these lyrics. I see myself chasing my daughters in these lyrics. Each time I have been wrecked, hurt, confused, in pain, at risk, He has met me with His good news and covered my bad news.
Jesus has met me in my bad news so many times in so many ways. Jesus has met me in my depression, during workplace bullying, during anxiety and financial crisis. Jesus has met me when under attack, in times where physical safety was at risk, and during deep personal loss. And I turn to Him because He IS my savior. He IS my help and also my joy and strength. And so today while my practice has been “not just right belief but right practice” I am convicted to speak more of my right belief. Jesus forgave the paralyzed man first before healing him; I will seek to also “not just right practice but also right belief.” (Mark 2:5-11) Just as so many times he met people in their physical needs first. This is personal. For me and for you. Where can God meet you in your bad news?
The Good News is a both/and
My frustration with many a Christian is a flip response in the midst of crisis and pain with “God is in control.” But, of course, He is. And He tasked us with doing something. On a business trip back home I once checked the news to see many had died in a tsunami. When I shared the news around me, the silence was sombre. A man to my left said, “There’s nothing we can do for those people except pray.” I would be lying if I didn't confess I was annoyed at this “thoughts and prayers" approach. Yes, pray. But for the love of Pete there is something people can do and that includes us. I want to know that your idea of Christ includes speaking up for me when there is a boot on my neck. And yet, the good news includes salvation and an individual, personal relationship with Jesus. Jesus wants to fix our earthly issues AND was crucified for our eternity. It is a both/and. Funny. I teach looking for the both/and in my diversity, inclusion and belonging work. Boy, the irony.
My challenge as one whose spiritual pathway is activism is to not be so focused on action that I roll over others and forget to connect with the right belief. My invitation to you is to evaluate where you fall. You can take this assessment which will help you better understand your spiritual pathway and how you connect with God and worship. It may reveal where you lean on this continuum and what you need to balance that out.
To learn more and hear the sermon that inspired this piece you can listen to Pastor Dan's sermon in the Run to Win series on "What is the Gospel?" right here.