Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed


Letters to Emerging Christians

posted by xscot mcknight

Dear Matt,
Your question is being asked in all sorts of ways.

Myself and some friends are attempting to ask questions and eventually act on the homeless situation in downtown [city]. But as we’ve been discussing it, there are a few questions that we feel that we need to tackle so we can all be on the same page. Here it is: “What is our intention in simply desiring to fight systemic injustice? Should we do this with the intention of some larger plan of salvation for those we are trying to help? Or should we simply do it with no agenda just because systemic injustice is wrong?”

I find folks usually ask this question because they’ve seen so many Christians do things with secondary motives — instead of helping the poor out of love for the poor, they help in order to get a chance to hand them a tract; instead of fighting against injustice in Darfur because injustice is wrong, they hope they’ll get a chance to share the gospel; instead of mowing their neighbors’ lawn because their neighbor is out of town this weekend, they do this so they’ll get a chance to take them to church.
First motive: evangelism; secondary and apparent motive: helping out. Some see through the thin skin of that secondary motive and think they’ve been used or had.
There are two possibilities here as I see them: either one does everything for a chance to evangelize or one sees all acts of kindness “a new kind of evangelism” or “the goodness of the gospel itself.” Let’s add a third: do all things with the hope that one can evangelize but waiting patiently for that chance. Let me suggest something and it comes from this Christian conviction: God redeems in Christ and our vocation is to live in that story of Jesus by performance and proclamation.
Matt, here’s a fundamental reality for all Christians: everything we do is to be done in the name of Jesus; there is nothing we do apart from the name of Jesus. We don’t do things “in the name of the USA” or “in the name of the US Constitution” or “in the name of the State of California.” Those motives are idolatrous for us.
What is justice but what is right in God’s eyes — and that means that everything done that is right — helping the poor, fighting against the injustice in Darfur, or helping a neighbor — is “gospel work” or is work done “in the name of Jesus.” One need not be “evangelizing verbally” in every situation to be “evangelizing in the name of Jesus.”
Sometimes we brush by folks with goodness and they say, “That was the love of God.” Othertimes we get to sit down with others and tell our story and the story of Jesus. But, whether we just brush by someone or whether we tell them our story, we know who we are and that shapes everything we do and are.
Blessings,
Scot



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Ted Gossard

posted March 28, 2007 at 4:07 am


Scot, I still have some difficulty seeing doing good works as gospel work. That comes from my evangelical background, I suppose. I think your book,”Embracing Grace” helped me move from the idea that proclamation alone is evangelizing. The good news in Jesus, as we see in Jesus is to bring God’s kingdom to earth with acts of justice and goodness, compassion. When people think of Christians, they should think of those who act and live, as well as speak, like Jesus did. So that would mean for me doing the good works, like William Wilberforce did. And maybe writing a book on the gospel as he did, as well. Certainly telling others our story and in that the story of God in Christ.
Good stuff. Thanks.



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brad brisco

posted March 28, 2007 at 6:50 am


Scot, I think your words are a very good corrective to the “lets serve others so we can have the chance to evangelize.” I am afraid that some times the care for othrs so we can invite to churh comes off as a kind of “bait ad switch” instead of a real concern for the other. I think there are times we are to simply bless others because we have been blessed. (Gen. 12:1-2)



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Diane

posted March 28, 2007 at 6:50 am


If my friends who are atheists see a person they know is a Christian do good works (if that person is not “pushing” the faith) they will say in admiration: “That person is a real Christian.” The implication is that most Christians aren’t really Christians, and I think we need to listen to that. Being the faith is the essential thing, that IS evangelism, that IS becoming Christ.



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Diane

posted March 28, 2007 at 6:53 am


I think prison ministry is a model: You are not going to them for the money they can provide, or to get them “into” church or to get them running committees, because that’s never possible … you are simply there for them with no expectation of return. I agree Brad, that the seeming bait and switch is a turn-off, especially as you are dealing with people’s souls.



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Matthew

posted March 28, 2007 at 7:14 am


Diane,
I agree about prison ministry. It isn’t glamorous and you won’t get rich doing it. You have to help people who have created all kinds of problems for themselves and probably deal with many unhealthy and addictive tendencies. It’s kind of like what Jesus did for us; he left his home and came to ours in order to show true love.



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Bob Robinson

posted March 28, 2007 at 7:28 am


Scot,
I think that evangelicals are fearful that if everything we do is seen as “evangelism,” especially our actions to stop injustice, then we will lose the importance of proclamation. So we have insisted (especially in light of the social gospel movement of the past century) that there are two categories: “Gospel proclamation” (telling people about Jesus), and “social justice” (doing Kingdom work). Ron Sider even makes this distinction in his book, Good News and Good Works.
What we need, however, is a bigger view of Kingdom living. The purpose of living as a Christian is to live authentically as Christ’s disciples in every aspect. We need to rid our lives of the dualist thinking that one thing (gospel proclamation) is what’s really important and everything else is some sort of second-tier Christian living.
Of course, our sinful nature will tend to push us toward thinking that “if all I do is help people, I’m doing gospel work,” and then quote Francis of Assisi to rationalize our point. That’s a legitimate fear. That is not a holistic Christian life – it is not living the fullness of what it means to live as Christ’s disciple.
But the other side of the coin is just as illegitimate. We may think, “if all I do is proclaim Christ to people, then (and only then) am I doing gospel work.” That separates one part of my gospel-living life in a way that makes it lose its power.
I want to drive home this point: When everything that we do is seen as gospel work, then evangelism by proclamation becomes a natural part of who we are. It no longer feels forced; it no longer feels like an imposition on others; it flows from the core of who we are. We live it; we share it.



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Scot McKnight

posted March 28, 2007 at 7:34 am


Preach it Bob.



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RJS

posted March 28, 2007 at 8:06 am


I agree Bob – except the core of Evangelicalism as I have experienced it has combined the two for the last 50 years. In fact this dichotomy between social justice and gospel proclamation, emphasized so often on this blog, shocked me when I first heard it.



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Stephen Thompson

posted March 28, 2007 at 8:21 am


Scot – perhaps you would be willing to elaborate on what you mean by our fundamental reality (“everything we do is to be done in the name of Jesus; there is nothing we do apart from the name of Jesus.”)
What exactly do you think it means to do something “in the name of Jesus”? The fundamental question seems to be whether we are somehow unmistakably attributing our work to God in other’s eyes, or merely doing it in the Lord’s name in our own heart.



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kent

posted March 28, 2007 at 8:23 am


ditto Bob



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Scot McKnight

posted March 28, 2007 at 8:26 am


Stephen,
I mean both … sometimes verbal and sometimes not … but always in order to extend the love of God to others.



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Allie

posted March 28, 2007 at 8:36 am


Exactly, Bob. St. Francis was right: “Preach the Gospel. If necessary, use words”.



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Jamie Arpin-Ricci

posted March 28, 2007 at 8:42 am


Scot,
Excellent! This is what we have been wrestling with as we develop the our missional bookstore here. We seek to first make the space neutral enough to build authentic relationships (meaning mutual openness to the other, which is lost in both typical “evangelism techniques” and market-driven situations). Then we seek to serve out of love and to stand against injustice. It is out of these that relationships and circumstances naturally emerge where the incarnational and verbal “proclamation” of the Gospel is less forced or “sales” oriented.
This is not to say that this is a formula nor an absolute pattern. There are always exceptions, as we see again and again in Scripture. However, we need to unlearn this perceived dichotomy that suggests that to have the intention and desire to see people embraced in the Gospel is incompatible with our commitment to service and justice. Rather than one fueling the other or being the subversive intention of the other, they both move side by side fueled by our love for God and others.
Great discussion!
Peace,
Jamie



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Jamie Arpin-Ricci

posted March 28, 2007 at 8:48 am


Allie,
On a side note, I love the St. Francis quote too. And while he certainly would have affirmed the sentiment, did you know he actually didn’t say that? He said:
“But as for me, I desire this privilege from the Lord, that never may I have any privilege from man, except to do reverence to all, and to convert the world by obedience to the Holy Rule rather by example than by word.”
It has only since been paraphrased into its current wording. Just thought you might find it interesting.
Peace,
Jamie



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Kate Johnson

posted March 28, 2007 at 9:02 am


“First motive: evangelism; secondary and apparent motive: helping out”
I must admit, I have never understood this mindset. But I see it all to often. An example is at my church. We are located in the middle of what the locals call “crack alley”, with prostitute pick ups and drug deals going on literally at our doorstep. Why? Because the church is never opened, except on Sunday mornings, and so they have free reign. What a difference if we were there every day, reaching out to those people, not with the message of Salvation, but with the message of Love and acceptance. But we (my husband and I) tried. We had people lined up willing to just be there and go in front of the building and serve coffee and bagels each morning to the homeless who sleep by our a/c unit, the people sitting at the bus stop in front, and the prostitutes walking the street. Just serve them coffee… no formal evangelizing. Just love and acceptance. But the answer from the pastors? Well, that is not our “gifting.” HUH? They believe they are better suited to reach the middle and upper middle class… the money people. That is not a gifting, it is a demographic choice! And now they have decided to sell the building and move to a “better” neighborhood. If we had the money, we’d buy the building and do the ministry ourselves!!! If it grieves my heart, how much more the heart of God?
We are to live as Christ, meaning reaching out to the poor in Spirit and the needy, which is often the same person, through feeding the body BEFORE the Spirit. When we do that, they often come to Christ, not because of anything we’ve said, but because of the love we’ve shown. Jesus knew that he came to save, but that He only had to be Himself. Live out the message of our Redeemer, that’s all He asks. Why is that so difficult?



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John

posted March 28, 2007 at 9:09 am


Scot,
I have not heard anything that rings as true as your words today in a long time. Your soft way of saying that it is both actions and words, it is pure motive (love) not an agenda that we need to meet people with.
Thank you for as usual being very articulate in the face of a subject that can polarize people. Jesus came to restore people physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
Peace be with you,
John N.



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John Frye

posted March 28, 2007 at 9:48 am


Scot,
I like your comment: “One need not be ‘evangelizing verbally’ in every situation to be ‘evangelizing in the name of Jesus’.” If the “name” of Jesus is a term for his life and character, then demonstrating acts of kindness, love and service to others as Jesus himself would do is evangelism. It is “good news-ism.” Now this makes some jumpy because they think it’s merely a social gospel, i.e., not the whole gospel. I would factor in the Holy Spirit who knows the motive(s) of the Jesus-followers who are serving in his name from those who are serving for who knows whatever reason. An act of kindness or service in Jesus’ anme is evangelism because it is Jesus-branded “good news” to the recipient.



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John Frye

posted March 28, 2007 at 9:49 am


Oops! “anme” should read “name” in above comment.



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dan h.

posted March 28, 2007 at 10:17 am


My son helps lead a homeless outreach. Once a week they buy pizzas and don’t just ‘feed’ people, but use it as a time to actually eat ‘with’ them. He says most of these people know as much Jesus “talk” as anyone, but they’ve just not seen a lot of Jesus “love.” So it’s not about giving them something to get something, it’s not even about earning the right to be heard; it’s more about just letting people know that they matter to someone. I think that’s about as good as news can get to most people.



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CAS

posted March 28, 2007 at 10:31 am


My husband and I lived with the homeless for four months this year. That’s a sure way to be cured of any romantic notions about either doing justice alone, or preaching the gospel alone. In loving community, one earns the right to be heard. And, you can’t fake genuine concern for long when you live together.
As we left this ministry, the men told us that what they would miss the most was my husband’s daily chapel service, where they learned about how to live a new life in Christ.



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CAS

posted March 28, 2007 at 10:33 am


In other words, I too echo what Bob said.



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Jay Lewis

posted March 28, 2007 at 10:45 am


What a refreshing time we live, when the church finally sees itself as agents of God’s love and care, not some organization with an agenda of filling our pews and offering plates. I agree with most of my fellow contributors, we cannot separate our love into categories of verbal and non-verbal acts of love. Unfortunately we pastors have had to apologize to those the church has attempted to engage by our carnival tactics.
Our church is engaging our community this Easter with an event designed to love, no strings attached! We will serve them, feed them and play with them and if the opportunity should arise we will tell them about the amazing love of Christ. Our goal: Simply to love them!
Never do we love people more than when we show them the awesome love of Jesus!



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CAS

posted March 28, 2007 at 10:48 am


Sounds wonderful Jay. Wish I could go!



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Eric Hogue

posted March 28, 2007 at 11:26 am


Scot, I’m lovingly stealing your latest blog content, for a topic on my show. Recently, during a show, we raised $29,000 for HIV/AIDS orphans in Zambia.
One of the callers (I do talk radio) asked me, “Are you sure these kids will hear the gospel of Jesus?” My only response was, “I’m sure they’ll feel it.”
Shameless plug: http://www.crosswalk.com/blogs/erichogue/



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Matt Stephens

posted March 28, 2007 at 11:28 am


Scot, I’m completely on board with your 3rd suggestion: “do all things with the hope that one can evangelize but waiting patiently for that chance.”
We all know that the ultimate form of love is communion with God, and that our ultimate “goal” in everything ought to be to love God more and help others experience His love more. I get very frustrated with evangelistically driven people who say that we (who believe in relational evangelism and letting the Spirit do his part) are not up front about Christ in every instance because we’re cowards. Some of us might be scared to ever say anything to anyone about Christ even if a divine appointment was right in front of us, no doubt. But this fixation on “harvesting” poses unnecessary stress on relationships as God intended them. I’ve come to realize that God’s wired me more as a sower than a harvester. The times when I’ve attempted to “harvest” have usually ended up very awkward and forced. I regret handling them the way I did.
Bob Robinson (#6) nailed it in his last paragraph. The key to evangelism is, first of all, making sure we are full of the Spirit, walking close enough to God to hear Him whispering in our ear, “Tell him/her the Good News”, and second, showing them the Good News. I honestly believe that if church leaders would quit guilting people into evangelizing, then we might actually see more people coming into the Kingdom. If people have been genuinely transformed by Christ and are genuinely moved with compassion for others, they won’t be able to help but live and speak the Good News. What we as ministers ought to be doing is recognizing that a lack of lay participation in “personal evangelism” is not primarily the result of a lack of apologetics training. It’s the result of a dead heart. So our goal should constantly be to awaken the hearts of the people, not merely enlighten their minds.



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Matt Stephens

posted March 28, 2007 at 11:41 am


Gee, I forgot that I wanted to comment on the original question of the post– ministering to “difficult” populations, such as the homeless.
I think the answer to this goes far deeper than a surface answer can relate. The church has dealt with the homeless situation all across America in much the same way: send a few committed folks down there to run a “mission”, and then send in financial support from a safe distance. Or, even worse, work to pass legislation that will provide for their needs, so the Church doesn’t have to be burdened by it. Here’s my solution: we need to be moving in among the homeless in much larger numbers, and establishing visible Christian communities in areas where the destitute gather. I’m sure many of you are familiar with the “farm” concept, where the homeless (and many times ex-cons) are placed on literal farms, where they can develop real-life skills to help them break the cycle of poverty. Well, I don’t think this has to be a merely rural phenomenon. There are plenty of run-down projects that, with a few decrepit buildings out of the way, could have room for a centralized garden, and lots for a few small animals. And if the local Christian community took the initiative to launch and sustain this type of effort, then it would truly be holistic in the fullest sense. This is obviously a simplistic version of the scenario, but there’s plenty of research out there on the idea, and the truth is, it works. But only if people like you and me risk putting our careers, financial future, and even safety on the line in order to be an instrumental part of it. I pray that when the time comes for me to “go out into the fields”, I will be ready to throw my life in God’s hands, whatever “foolish” thing he calls me to do.



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Bob Robinson

posted March 28, 2007 at 12:10 pm


Allie and Jamie,
My point (which is easy to miss sometimes!) about mentioning Francis is that we think that if we “do the gospel” we may not necessarily need to “speak the gospel.” That is what I understand some Christians’ intentions in saying, “Preach the Gospel, and if necessary, use words.” It’s not one over against the other. It’s both.
It’s a cop-out to say we do not need to use words if we are preaching the gospel with our actions (just as it is a mistake to think that preaching the gospel with only words is enough, without a holistic life that lives it out).



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Brad Brisco

posted March 28, 2007 at 12:14 pm


Let me share one quick example of simply blessing others and brag on my wife at the same time. Every Monday night my wife and two boys bake something, usually cookies or brownies for our three sanitation workers (or trash men, actually the driver is a woman). On Tuesday mornings they provide the bake goods along with each of their favorite soft drink. We did this with the man who collected the trash at another home in the last city we lived and after we moved to the new city we recieved the most wonderful letter from him to say thanks for blessing him and his family.



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ben

posted March 28, 2007 at 12:24 pm


I just have to disagree with a few of the comments throwing around the phrase ‘good works,’ as if it were those things we do above and beyond our normal individual responsibilities.
When a child skins his knee and a parent puts a band aid on it, do we consider that a ‘good work?’ It seems to me that would be more of a baseline, and failing to make-the-booboo-all-better would make us neglectful, or poor parents.
How is that different than our responsibility to help our neighbors and enemies across the globe? Should not fixing poverty, preventing genocide, providing clean water be standard operating procedure for us as children of God, and not fall in to some special category of ‘evangelism opportunity,’ or ‘good deed?’



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Ben

posted March 28, 2007 at 12:33 pm


Is anyone here familiar with Tim Keller of Redeemer Presbyterian church in NYC’s teaching on this issue? He has really helped me find the “balance” between social justice and evangelism. I think he basically says that the Gospel compels us to do social justice: Christ died for us and loved us not for what we did for him — therefore we should love others and serve others with no strings attached. But on the other hand, we must be wary of doing social justice acts to justify ourselves and save ourselves. If we really get our self-worth from doing good deeds and being involved in social justice, it really is just a new, sinister form of legalism. I think the New Testament emphasizes that if we have truly been “embraced” by God we must and will, naturally, love others. And ultimately we can’t truly love others without hoping that they will be embraced bty God too. But of course we offer love to others unconditionally, as God loved us.



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Matt Stephens

posted March 28, 2007 at 1:07 pm


Ah yes, Ben. Too often we love others in hopes of getting something in return, whether it be, as you mentioned, self-worth, the praise of others, an eased conscience, love/friendship/favors in return, notches on our spiritual belt. For people in vocational ministry, they can be tempted to do it for their “resume”. Someone whose ministry is “effective” could land them their dream job at a church that pays well and has all the glitz and glamour. So we’re always looking to validate ourselves.
We must beware of using God or His Gospel to achieve our own purposes!



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BeckyR

posted March 28, 2007 at 1:09 pm


I have 2 places of experience in this. My mentally ill brother would be homeless except we pay his meager rent. My brother did spend time homeless twice and I learned some things from the homeless shelter that is christian. They have classes to give the guys some of the things they need to transition from being on the street. It’s voluntary, and it is a discipling class, teaching the foundations of the christian life and turning a life around.
The second experience is with women in prison and a Bible study. Again voluntary, but some women leading a different lofe when they leave prison and continue in a Bible study with the leaders of those who do the in prison Bible study. A difference in both is there’s discipling – one on one contact.
With both large amount of the people end up back on the street or back in prison. But what I see is that bringing the gospel to these people in the way of mentoring/discipling is a piece of the best alternative. The gospel gives us a solid foundation to stand on.
Along with the classes and Bible study and mentoring is directing the people to other programs like mental health services and low cost housing and help in preparing to get a job. Skills to get out there and be independent. So I see both go hand in hand.



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Ron Jung

posted March 28, 2007 at 2:12 pm


Can one love someone without a desire to see them reconciled to God? I have found it much easier to “help” the homeless, eat with them, pay their rent or utilities, etc. than to love. Love is messy. I get let down/burned/hurt too much. If I can just focus on my acts and my own motivations rather than the actual people I am helping, ministry begins to be nice again.
But even just “helping” as a pastor or as a church gets to be tough. We become a tool of someone else’s agenda. We feel good about our service, but not because we loved real people, but because we imagined we did.
I have been out of the loving mode for over a year, though I still, help. I need to get messy again.



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Ben

posted March 28, 2007 at 2:21 pm


Ron makes an excellent point. Non-Christians can help and even be passionate about social justice. But in the end, all it really is charity. I think we see this in the current popularity of social justice causes — alot of it seems very trendy. When does charity turn into real, messy, sacrificial, Christ-centered love?



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BeckyR

posted March 28, 2007 at 2:25 pm


I think what I was trying to say, well, I get mad when I see the either/or of helping or telling people about Jesus. What a strong gift we withhold from people if we not tell them that which has us there helping them materially. For me, though, the example I think of is a negative stereotype of “have you heard of Jesus,” or handing out tracts. There are many ways to tell the needy about Jesus. I mean, what the hell are we doing out there using our time and energy reaching out to these ptople because of our faith in God, if we not share that hope with them too. It isn’t an either/or. Of course it’s been used manipulativly and sure, people bumble through trying to figure out how to do it and may make embarrasing mistakes trying to figure it out. But I think it’s both – give materially and talk of the hope we have in Christ. Why the hell do we have the Hope we have if we don’t share it. Ok, off the soapbox.



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dan h.

posted March 28, 2007 at 2:49 pm


Scot said, “What is justice but what is right in God’s eyes…”
If someone does an act of justice with the wrong motive does that make it wrong in God’s eyes?



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BeckyR

posted March 28, 2007 at 3:30 pm


#28, like it Brad.



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BeckyR

posted March 28, 2007 at 3:34 pm


Oh, but Brad, I meant to ask how did the treats get put out with the garbage 1) that animlas didn’t get to them and 2) the sanitation workers knew it was meant for them? We put out our garbage cans the night before pick up and sometimes the garbage cans are picked up while sitting at the table reading the morning paper, that is, they come reeaaally early.



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brad brisco

posted March 28, 2007 at 3:49 pm


Becky, the first few times the boys took the “treats” out to the workers themselves (we homeschool) other times they put the baked goods in clear plastic bags and use a marker to write on the bags, a note like “thanks for what you do” or “thanks for keeping our neighborhood clean” and place them on top of our trash bin (which is flat and clean).



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Diane

posted March 28, 2007 at 3:55 pm


I agree that it has to be a mix of words and actions: but probably few words and much action.On thing sticks with me: the woman running a local soup kitchen said that in her admittedly not poverty-stricken area, loneliness was what needed to be fed more than hunger. I think she called it a poverty of loneliness. She said that some of the regulars can get food but crave someone to talk to and kindness … It is so much easier to buy someone a sandwich and move on … certainly for me … I am glad we are starting to see the need for relationship.



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karen

posted March 28, 2007 at 5:44 pm


There’s a terrific book, Same Kind of Different as Me, that reveals how one person’s caring can alter the course of another’s life. Loneliness is a chronic problem for Americans, no matter what their economic standing may be.



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Anonymous

posted March 29, 2007 at 12:39 am


Mission: evangelism or social action? « Bournagain

[...] 29 Mar 2007 Mission: evangelism or social action? Posted by Simon under new reformation , social action , mission , evangelism  Just read twogreat posts on this old debate over at Vanguard Church and Jesus Creed. Take a look if you have a moment.   [...]



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Bill Giovannetti

posted March 29, 2007 at 1:06 am


I appreciate the balance in this discussion. Comment #24 poses a question: Will the people [who benefit from a ministry] be sure to hear the gospel? I think that there are two ways to take that question.
The first way invalidates ministry that doesn’t preach the gospel. I doubt that this is what the asker meant, but it’s possible.
The second way asks how far on the continuum between works and words the ministry goes. That’s probably what the asker meant.
Question: if you had to choose between giving your money to a) a ministry that did good works only; or b) a ministry that did identical works, and then in a respectful way, if people were open to it, “preached the gospel” as well, which would you choose? Would it even matter?
Would it matter if the good works ministry was run and managed by Muslims? Hindus? Scientologists?
Just trying to probe the thinking, and hopefully get some greater clarification for myself.
Thanks,
Bill
shameless plug: http://www.maxgrace.com



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Chase

posted March 29, 2007 at 7:16 am


I wonder how this concept squares with early Christ folowers, the discipes as a whole, and the apostles. Not saying it does or does not- just wondering.



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Jamie Arpin-Ricci

posted March 30, 2007 at 7:50 am


Bob,
No worries. I didn’t misunderstand. In fact, I agree with you on that one, which is part of the reason why I posted St. Francis’ fuller quote.
Peace,
Jamie



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