Not Just a Social Gospel Cause
When my cousin Ed in Las Vegas suffered a heart attack last month and had triple bypass surgery three days later, it was a warning call to me that it is in the family genes that all of our men and most of our women have had heart attacks and/or strokes and I’d better be taking care of myself on a consistent basis. Ed’s cardiologist told him that it was his daily walking for the past 30 years that saved his life because his having a heart attack was inevitable what with the Roberts family history. To me, of course, is the issue of always being ready to go Home whenever the inevitable happens.
While it might seem like an unfair question, I asked my own cardiologist last month how long he figured I had, barring accidents, etc., on the basis of his observations and expertise with heart disease. He said that I could probably count on another ten years, minimum, because my heart is in good shape, the angiogram they did in January showed my arteries were all clean, my blood pressure has always been perfect and I walk, weight lift and swim as often as I can. Also, I’m working on keeping my weight down and watching fats and salt. The reason I asked him about it at all is because I wanted to assess just how much more I should try to expand our ministry and its facilities so that I don’t suddenly up and die and leave the ministry or a co-owner in a larger house somewhere in a lurch. It’s called counting the cost and I don’t mean just money, I also look at it as an issue of time. And time, at my age (57) is worth as much as money. In fact, it’s one thing that people who are dying often wish for more than anything -- more time.
I don’t long for more time; I long to go Home to be with the Lord, but I want to make the remaining time here count as efficiently as I can to the Glory of God. Of course, while I talk about how much more the ministry should or should not expand, I realize that it’s going to expand on its own anyway, with or without my help, because the Bible says that it is the Lord Who gives the increase. True. And He has been giving us an increase. I’m trying to plan wisely on how to accommodate it. If I know I have at least another ten years, (barring accidents or the unforeseen), it will help me to plan accordingly.
For example, two things have come to my attention, thanks to an article in a local newspaper as well as an issue of World magazine recently.
The local paper carried a tragic article on the plight of illegal immigrants in the USA. While it was all stuff I had known before, because I’ve gotten to know a number of them over the years, the article served to remind me that these are real people who are only trying to make a better life for themselves. I’m not talking about the jerks from some country that come here illegally to continue criminal behavior. I am talking about the people who are doing the grunt work we see around us that our own people are too spoiled to do. Every one of these illegals I’ve known have told me that they intended to return to their native countries once they had enough to provide for themselves and their families back home for years to come. They work hard and live in ghettos of fear and potential violence and have little opportunity to learn English.
While I am not condoning illegal immigration, I am not so naive to believe it is going to go away. They are here and it is my question that, as a Christian man and a minister, what should be my response to them? Other than their right to be here, they are not breaking any other laws and, if anything, basic human rights are being denied them by employers who exploit their fear of discovery and deportation. I’ve wondered, therefore, about some ministry to assist them in some basic needs. Not one of these people is lazy. They’re usually here because they desire to work and they love and care enough for their family back home that they would take these risks. Would you do the same if you were in an impoverished nation with no hope of bettering the life of your loved ones? I would.
Several issues back World magazine, (a Christian news journal that I think is the best thing since saag paneer*), carried a tragic series of articles on discarded newborns. I barely got through the articles, one after another, describing newly-born infants being left in airport toilets, dumpsters, plastic bags on playgrounds, etc. and the current pending legislation to allow mothers to anonymously leave their newborns at hospitals with no questions asked, rather than to just discard them. What was a scourge of ancient Rome and not so ancient India and China, of putting unwanted infants out to die is now with us.
The articles in World went on to describe how the underground Christians in Rome had a whole complex of adoptive parents networked together to receive these little ones. The Christians would go to the walls where babies were deliberately left in holes for the animals to devour and rescue them, turning them over to the waiting recipients in the underground Christian community. Evidently, there are Christian groups doing that today in some cities who are letting it be known that you don’t need to discard your baby in a dumpster -- they’ll receive it from you with no questions asked, and see that the baby gets a good home.
Without wanting to sound like a bleeding heart, I had wished at the time I was reading the article that I had the resources and the personnel to set up such a place in Salt Lake City because it undoubtedly happens here too. But, at my age and with my limited income and lack of experience in the matter, it would be an unlikely form of outreach. But I’ll be honest: I would rather see some churches that are focusing on building bigger and flashier facilities around the country use those resources to save lives such as the early Christians did in the hellish period under Nero. It is Biblical to reach out and save those who are perishing but so many of the ministries I see hyped about in the zany world of charismatics would rather rush between spiritual goose bumps and “conferences of the century” which host self-aggrandizing personalities rather than to reach out to the lost, suffering and dying.
Jesus’ coming to us in the form of the poor, naked, hungry and helpless is Biblical.
Matthew 25: 31-46: “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.
“Then the righteous will answer him, Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you.
“The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.
“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.
“They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’
“He will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’
“Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”
And you can be sure of this: We will all be questioned by God about it.
*Saag paneer: a pureed spinach dish native to India and Pakistan currently appearing in curry restaurants everywhere