Obvious Obfuscation

Why outreach doesn’t work

Have you ever spent so much time looking at something that, even though it was right in front you, you couldn’t see it? Or like last night I was watching Jeopardy! (I love Jeopardy!, but it’s not as much fun if there isn’t someone else watching who can hear you shout all the right answers) and a question was asked and I thought of the correct answer but I doubted I had it right because it was too obvious. The verse I am looking at today is kind of like that. We treat it like a gut check, like: “are you doing hard things for God?” but it’s really not like that at all…in fact it’s just the opposite. From the time I wrote my post called Pearls Before Swine, (which if you haven’t read you really should go back and read not only is it delightful and entertaining, it also is a primer for this post) I’ve really been thinking a lot about the sheep and goats verse I quoted, so this post is really a continuation of that post. Our pastor used the sheep and goats verse a few Sundays ago in a sermon and, alas he used it incorrectly, I have considered talking to him about it and I believe I will, but I haven’t yet. You see, we need to carefully look at this verse, because it really is a more effective model for outreach than most churches across the country follow.  Let’s look at the verses…

 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right,

Alright let’s stop there: These verses are, of course, talking about Christ’s second coming, no matter what your eschatology is, that’s when the events in these verses take place. Now read the verses again, are the sheep and goats separated by what they are or what they do? Let me answer that, they are separated by what they are (sheep or goat) not what they do. Keep that in mind for later…

‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me,  I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’

Okay stopping again…notice the sheep are completely unaware of when they did the things Jesus is mentioning here. They ask: “When did we…yada, yada, yada?”  The sheep are unaware because a) they didn’t see Jesus when they did these things they just saw a brother in need and b) sheep, by nature, do sheep-y things.

And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’

Time out Skippy…the two word phrase most often overlooked in these verses is this: my brothers.

 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

Most pastors in the churches in America today incorrectly use these verses as a way to brow beat the congregation to make sure they are doing good works. In fact even a very popular pastor who shall remain nameless here (but not Joel Osteen) “You are only as deep as the last person you served.” But this sentiment is entirely 180° backwards from what these verses and others indicate. While these verses do not at all negate Christian service and acts of kindness…my question is with whom does our Christian service begin? It begins with other Christians…that two word phrase “my brothers” indicates that the people we are to primarily concern ourselves with serving are our brothers and sisters in Christ. Are there not brothers and sisters in our own churches that have needs? Physical needs? Spiritual needs? It is here that we start “outreach” This is what the early church did, it met the needs of the people within the congregation first. From there these simple acts for our brothers extend out like ripples on a pond.

Suppose Brother Steve (I realize saying “Brother Steve” makes me sound very Southern Baptist-y, just bear with me) has a need, say he needs his furnace repaired…a simple thing. And he knows Brother Mark works as a HVAC man. Brother Steve contacts Brother Mark about his need and Brother Mark comes over after work and fixes Brother Steve’s furnace for free because he is a Brother in Christ and doesn’t feel right charging him.

Then suppose Brother Steve has an unbelieving friend at work that has a need and Brother Steve helps fill that need and maybe even gets some fellow Brothers and Sisters from church to help out as well. This out pouring of kindness will be met with gratitude by the unbelieving friend making the unbeliever think a little harder about all that crazy Jesus stuff that brother Steve goes on about sometimes.

I know the scenario is rather simplistic…but my point is that Brother Mark didn’t do anything out of the ordinary to help Brother Steve…he used his abilities and didn’t think anything more of it. But in the scenario Brother Steve was cold and Brother Mark provided him warmth. Brother Steve was touched but the outpouring of generosity and saw another person’s need, even though the person wasn’t a Brother, and felt compelled to fill it…simply because he could. The man, simply because he had received generosity from a friend at work when no one else would show him any, realizes that maybe there is something to Christianity than an empty religion…and a seed has been planted. Could Brother Steve have simply done a good deed for someone regardless? Perhaps…but maybe because he was cranky from not sleeping well the night before because he was cold he didn’t notice his friends need at work.

Okay…maybe imaginary scenarios aren’t your thing…sure you can make-up any scenario, I mean what if the Titanic didn’t sink but was abducted by aliens…then I have a question for you…

Whose feet did Jesus wash? Was it some random stranger, a beggar on the side of the road, or His own disciples? It was His own disciples…the same way our “outreach” begins with our own fellow church members.  This Christian Brother first approach would be considered absurd in some, if not most, evangelical circles. After all wouldn’t we just be telling the world it can go to hell? Shouldn’t we be reaching out to those outside the church? Well, ‘yes’ and ‘no’…’Yes’ we should be reaching out to those outside the church and ‘no’ we are not telling the world it can go to hell, but does it really matter what your “telling the world”? You can tell the world “I believe in the flying monkey fish” and they’d be like “that’s cool” and go on about their day. “The world” isn’t really going to get it no matter what WE say. I know that sounds harsh but as I said in my last blog entry, The Gospel=Crazy Talk, Christianity is really hard to really believe without God’s grace and the work of the Holy Spirit. When our outreach begins with those in the church we are fulfilling the great commission to go make disciples. When our outreach begins with those in the church…

…we are following Jesus example of service.

…we are not throwing our pearls before swine.

…we are strengthening and building up the body of Christ.

…we are not leaving anyone in the church behind…not those who want to go deeper into God’s Word, not those who are new to Christianity, not the young, not the old. The phrase “we do church for the un-churched” will never be uttered.

…we are taking care of the sheep.

…we are feeding the poor, even if it’s just the poor in spirit.

In the end when Christ returns, he’s not coming back for the world…he’s coming back for His bride…the church.  All the spiritual gifts we are given are for the building up and edification of the church, and that is what we, as Christians, are to concern ourselves with doing.

It doesn’t take much to serve a random stranger or give money to charity…even the unredeemed do this on a regular basis…grant it, they do much patting of themselves on the back afterward…but they still do it. These are the goats these verses are referring to. The ones who announce that they are helping someone…the ones that announce that they are doing a good deed…they’re goats. They write books bragging on their good deeds and chide others who aren’t as good as they are. They have received their reward.

It takes lots of humility and brotherly love to serve someone you see on a weekly or even daily basis. What’s more, it takes a lot more humility to admit that you need help with something, and that maybe the hardest obstacle to overcome…our pride. At church we have a bad tendency to put on the “happy face” and not be real with each other. I’ve done it…more than I care to admit. If we can’t be real with our brothers and sisters in Christ, than who can we be real with? Really, if you’re engaging in this behavior you’re just deceiving yourself…which is the worst kind of deception.

The sheep and the goats…one goes into eternal security and one goes to eternal punishment. Who do we think of first when it comes to “outreach”? Our brothers and sisters at church or the random stranger…naturally we think of the random stranger, and that is why our outreach doesn’t work. What do you think? I’d love to har your thoughts on this in the comments section below.

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3 thoughts on “Obvious Obfuscation

  1. I must say it is very true what you say…in that it is easy to think of ‘outreach’ as outside of the church, whether it be in our community or charity.

    But you are right, unless we become caring individuals ‘within’ our church and help each other spiritually or otherwise, how can we become an outreach to those outside our church family.

    I had, at different points of my life when I suffered from depression, many of my church family come to visit me and talk to me, spend time with me and me feel the love of Jesus, which I needed very badly because I was being very hard on myself feeling the weight of the depression and thinking…here I am a Christian and look at me!

    Later I was to do that same type of consoling to others, some Christian and some not.

  2. I agree with you that outreach should begin in the church… it hasnt, far too many get left behind, and then we wonder why things arent working as hoped.

    However, I think that limiting the word brothers in Matthew 25 to those within ones immediate Christian assembly is far too narrow. More so, such a stance may lead to making kings and queens of the assembly, while the poor man of another religion starves on the church steps. Defining brothers to be immediate church folks has resulted in much evil through out the world.

    Remember, Jesus does define his brethren as to those who do the will of his Father. Likewise, Paul talks about the gentiles following natural law, which would also seem to equate them as brothers. If we think about legalism and other bits in some churches, it could well be those outside of said churches are more so doing the will of the Father than those within, and thus would be the real brethren rather than the goats.

    That being said, I again concur with pride and serving one you know and the humility on both sides of the coin…. its just how you got there I have an issue with. I’m thinking there have to be a number of supporting scriptures for what you present, I just cant think of any right at the moment.

    • Thank you for your response…and please don’t misunderstand me, our christian service starts at the church, but it doesn’t end there, it goes out like ripples on a pond.

      It seems to me what you are implying is that just because someone does a good deed for the benefit of their fellow man they are doing the will of the Father, and in a sense that is true, however, the question must be asked: What is their hearts motivation for that good deed?

      Is it so they can feel good about themselves for having done a good deed?

      Or is it for the glory of God and to make His name known among the nations?

      Or is it because they mistakenly believe they can do enough good deeds that they’ll get a free pass into heaven?

      Or is it because they have been redeemed by Christ and have come to the knowledge of salvation, they have repented of their sins and trusted Christ alone for salvation and out of their eternal gratitude they know no higher honor than serving man and spreading the good news of salvation offered by Christ.

      Only God knows the heart and can and will judge it accordingly. as the Westminster Shorter Catechism says: To escape the wrath and curse of God due to us for sin, God requires of us faith in Jesus Christ, repentance unto life, with the diligent use of all the outward means (the Bible) whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of redemption.

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