[#] So how do we pull it together?

Those who have been reading (and there are so many of you that I’m about to bust) the various threads over the last few weeks have been taking in the critique of Bono and the critique of African debt relief with some academic interest, I am sure. But what’s all that got to do with a blog that is supposed to be by a guy who thinks he’s the evangelist to the curious?

Here’s the first place to start: there is no action we can take that ought to be segmented apart from the Gospel. Jesus didn’t come for us to feed these ones, and clothes those ones, and comfort the other ones, but then if you get to it tell them about this cross He died on and what it means propositionally to know the Son of God, receive His righteousness, and do the will of the Father.

So in that, the matter of questioning whether anyone has done their fair share – whether they are the lions or the lemmings – is moot. The problem of poverty and pandemic and starvation in Africa is not in and of itself a materialistic problem which we solve by anointing them with carte blanche in a sacramental re-enactment of what Zaccheus did when after Jesus invited Himself over for a snack.

Yes: people are starving. People cannot find meaningful (read: profitable) work. People are dying of AIDS and of other ridiculously-simple diseases which we ought to be able to control and ultimately cure as we have done in our cul de sacs here in America.

But the question comes back: why are all these things happening? Are they happening because America is too stingy and only spent $30 billion (you can keep the change, thank you) on foreign aid to Africa last year, and the whole rest of the world came up with the same amount and only scratched the surface?

I said it yesterday, but I’ll say it again here: how can $78 billion in investments result in negative economic growth? Is the problem that we are flying food in to these people rather than building them saw mills and machine shops? Is the problem that we are sending them basic medical supplies instead of condoms and AIDS inhibitor drugs?

I ask all these questions because the answer, in its most-raw form includes the matter that we ought to feed the hungry, aid the sick, and comfort the prisoners. But the answer must also include cultural reform – and when you read those words here in this blog, you had better understand that “cultural reform” means “the invasive expansion of the Gospel message and its consequences”.

I’m not preaching a prosperity Gospel here – I’m not advocating that the Gospel means that by 2010 Africa could all be paved and landscaped so that it’s a nice drive-by. I’m saying that the Gospel strikes down the barriers between races and between tribes and between language groups – it is the message that God has made His peace to all the nations, and that means the nations of Africa as well as the nations of the West. I’m saying that the Gospel calls men to share each others’ burdens, and in that it calls those with power (read: the local political rulers) to exercise compassion and justice in carrying out their ministry which is ordained by God. I’m saying that the Gospel calls men to repent of sin – and the sin of sex apart from marriage is not a worse sin than any other sin, but it is the one which is ravaging the health and welfare of these people. I’m saying that the Gospel has already been delivered to us, and if we hand over a bowl of soup, or a pill, or a dollar, and when we do that material act we do not take a moment and preach the Gospel which has empowered us to do this work, we have failed as disciples of Christ.

Look: here’s what I mean. About 4 months ago, our associate pastor was about to go on sabbatical and as part of his last sermon before leaving, he gave me the honor and privilege of providing my testimony to the church as an example of the Gospel.

To keep it brief, my testimony is this:

I grew up Catholic, and became an atheist. I rejected God and embraced the philosophy of man. Ten years later, everything I had done to suit that philosophy of man-made priorities had proven itself to be, as Paul said succinctly, “skubalon” – dung. My life was not worth living because it was only my life – my choices, my values, my ethics. I wanted to die because of the emptiness, and planned to die, but God showed me a different plan through the Gospel.

I had to come to that lowest of low points to find out that God would go any distance to do what He planned to do – and it wasn’t just for laughs or as an open-ended possibility: God did what He did for me. “Me” who cursed the name of Jesus; “Me” who spit on the idea of church and worship; “Me” who thought that selflessness was suicide and vain. God did what He did for me – and that changes who and what I am and what I ought to be.

So now when I do something for someone, it is in Jesus’ name – the name which is above all names, who emptied himself out in order to take the form of a servant for the sake of my salvation and God’s glory.

When I finished giving that testimony, I had lunch with my brother-in-law, and he said to me, “You know, I have never been that low in my life. I can’t imagine what it’s like.” And when I hear that, I’m stunned – because he’s not the first person to ever say that to me.

If you have never been so low as to know that the only hope you have is in Christ, and in Christ alone, then I suggest you have never met Jesus and you have no idea what the power of the Gospel is. That is not to say you cannot be saved: it means that you do not understand the definition of the word “saved”. And in that, you have no idea what the gift is you have been given if you claim to be a disciple of Jesus Christ.

That gift – and its power to change death into life both in the soteriological sense and in the “I got out of bed this morning” sense – is the greatest gift we can send to the African continent. It cannot come without the food, and the money, and the medicine, and the education, and the investment – but it is possible that all of those other things could arrive without the Gospel. And the Gospel will not be delivered by those who do not realize that it is the power which gives life to dead bones.

If that happened – and it is happening right now, make no mistake – then we would be doing far worse to these people than letting them starve to death. If we do not do these things in the name of Jesus Christ, we might as well send them money to establish a porn industry, because it will no doubt be a solid way to generate cash for them and their economy. We must do these right things in the right spirit for the right goal of every tribe, tongue and nation on Earth giving praise to God.

This is really not about whether we give $30 billion or $3 trillion to Africa: this is about calling dead men out of their tombs. This is about Lazarus and whether God was careless to let him be dead or if God planned to use his condition to bring Glory to Himself.

By the way, since Jesus hasn’t come back on the clouds yet, this is about you and me getting ourselves together and doing what He sent us to do. Each with his own gifts, and each as members of one body, but each without any doubt as to why we do what we set out to do, and let our critics either be reached by our message, ashamed for their hatred, or damned.