Picked this up from a circular email I get sent by ‘Relevant Magazine’. Thought it might provoke some discussion…?
‘Kids seem to like getting messy. Even my 3-year-old girl likes squishing her hands and feet in mud. Somewhere along the way we grow up, and for many getting dirty is something to avoid. We even try to teach our children, “Cleanliness is next to godliness.” But if Solomon was right, there is a time for everything under the sun, and it is time for most of us to engage in a messy ministry.
In John 9, Jesus and His disciples came upon a man who was born blind. While the disciples were interested in a theological debate about divine judgment, Jesus was interested in something greater. He explained to them that the affliction existed in the man’s life for the greater purpose of displaying the “works of God.” Here we have a man in need of salvation on both the earthly and eternal plains. But Jesus does not bend down to give him a tract, nor does He begin to unfold a canned sales pitch for the Christian life. Instead, He shows him redemption by getting dirty.
At that moment, the Son of God stooped down low to the ground next to a social reject and began to mix dirt and spit together with His fingers making mud. He then applied this to the eyes of the blind man and told him to go and wash in a local pool. The man felt his way to the pool with spit and mud dripping down his cheeks. He washed, was healed and could see for the first time in his life. Is the man “saved”? Well, he’s saved from his blindness. And believe it or not, this is the work of the Gospel. The Gospel invaded that man’s life, not in the form of abstract ideology, but as a work of compassion. Here the Savior showed Himself to look much different than the professional minister. He was earthy, hands-on, humble and even dirty. It was this work of grace that eventually gave real meaning to the words of grace Jesus would speak to the man at a later encounter leading to his conversion.
Unfortunately, many of our churches seldom practice this sort of “evangelism.” Perhaps its absence is the fruit of laziness (it requires real work) or impatience (it is a slower process than raising a hand or praying a prayer). But I honestly believe the main reason it is absent is because we have a small view of the Gospel. It seems as if we only concentrate on the part about going to heaven. Perhaps we don’t believe the Gospel is truly relevant to our present world. None of us actually think God doesn’t care about the pain and suffering in our communities. We are only following half of Peter’s example when he encounters a crippled beggar asking for money outside of the temple. Peter says to him, “I don’t have money to give you, but this I can give you …” and he heals the man of his affliction. We are more likely to see the poor and the dying and say, “I can’t help you, but here’s some information on Jesus.” This is a half-preaching of the Gospel. A half-truth that amounts to a fun-house mirror’s reflection of the Jesus we see in the Bible.
If we are following Jesus, shouldn’t we be equally concerned with words and works of grace? Shouldn’t we believe that the Gospel is relevant to the world today, that it addresses the social issues of our communities, that it can and must touch the temporal life because of the gift of eternal life? Shouldn’t our hands be covered in filth as we reach into the ugliness of a fallen world to show Jesus with more than words? The answer is yes, but we tend to keep our hands clean with programs and donations. It’s awesome when we embrace and support the programs and ministries that do the dirty work. It is a great way of joining with Jesus in the building of the kingdom of God. The problem is, we think by simply supporting a cause we are actually getting dirty, all the while remaining personally disconnected. Certainly Jesus wants us to be hands on. He wants us to minister with spit and mud in our own neighborhoods.
Jesus did not have to get dirty. He could have simply willed the miracle, but He got intimately involved. He humbled himself to serve, to demonstrate the Gospel in a tangible way. I don’t think there is one simple way to do this, and ministries will look very different depending on where we live. But for many of us, things need to change. What will it look like? It will depend on our community, its needs and our willingness to get involved for the glory of our Savior and the redemption of the world.
Oh yeah, and it involves getting a little dirty too.’
[Joe Thorn is Lead Pastor at Grace Baptist Church in Elburn, Ill.]
Pretty interesting, huh?