Government vs The Gospel

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Last weekend, I got picked up by an UBER driver.  The man behind the wheel was friendly, and had a gorgeous African accent.  Our conversation began with the normal stuff. 

You live around here?

My wife and I just moved here from Georgia. 

Wow, Georgia?  That’s far!

Just 3,000 miles. 

What brought you to Portland?

I’m a minister, and we’re looking to start a new church downtown in the next few months.

I always love to see where the conversation goes from there.  I really should write about these encounters more often.  On this particular day, my driver and I had powerful 15 minute talk that helped me fully understand the heart behind what I believe.

A church?  What kind of church?

It’s called Spring of Life.  It comes from a conversation Jesus has in the Bible, found in the Book of John.  He meets a woman who doesn’t consider herself to be religious, and He introduces her to a powerful hope.  He recognizes the thirst that everyone has, and shares that He came to be the answer.

[Usually, conversations continue on from this point.  It’s the chance when I get to share the Gospel.  My driver seemed to agree with me about Jesus.  Then, he took a left turn.]

What do you think about Christians who act greedy?

What do you mean?

What do you think about Christians who use the government to exploit the poor?

(I wanted to side-step a political debate, and get to the heart of the matter.)  I believe that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the greatest living hope the world will ever know.  I believe it’s the truest answer for dignity, life, and purpose for every soul on earth.  I also believe that Jesus cared deeply about the poor and the powerless.  They were often the focus of his ministry.  Jesus was also the toughest on people who used their wealth and advantage to exploit others.  Especially religious people.

So who are you voting for?

I don’t know yet.  I think it’s important…but only kind of.

What?

I think that years ago, I gave up on the idea that the government can do the Gospel’s job.  I think the world is so very broken, and government is limited in how it can help.  Government is focused on changing large groups of people from the OUTSIDE in.  The Gospel treats the whole person.  It begins with the hearts, but it should never stop there.

Yes…but what about the poor?  They need more than religion.

I agree.  I met a poor elderly woman this week who needed prescription drugs. She asked me for $18 to get her medicine.  She teared up as she told me about her painful arthritis.  I don’t give out cash, but I try to help when I can.  I had more than $18 in the bank, and I offered to walk to the pharmacy with her.  She resisted, and asked again for the money.  I told her I didn’t have the cash (true), but I pleaded with her to let me buy her medicine.  I pressed 3 or 4 times.  Eventually she told me, “God Bless You,” and walked away. I didn’t make the offer because I’m special.  I did it because I could, and I genuinely believe it’s what Jesus would do.  We live in a world full of people that feel like they have to rely on the government, because they can no longer trust the compassion of Christians.  

I know I’ve been guilty of that many times, but I’m trying to change. Government liberals would say that the woman I met needs help getting her medicine.  I agree.  Government conservatives would say she was looking to exploit someone’s kindness for ulterior motives.  Again, I agree.  In this tension, we have an endless political debate, resulting in a soul crushing culture war.  Here’s the problem — I think this woman needed more than a government program.  I think she needed a person who could notice the nuance in the situation.  A person who actually cared about what happened to her.  She also needs hope that only Jesus can give.

The next day, I was standing outside of a coffee shop.  A woman approached me, with similar tears, asking for money.  She said she hadn’t eaten all day.  I opened the door to the coffee shop.  I told her that we could go in, and she could order anything she wanted.  She beamed as she entered the store.  She ordered a regular coffee and a simple pastry.  She thanked me repeatedly, and I got to share with her for a moment.  A few dollars really changed her day.

Government would place both of these women in the same category —and government would be wrong.  Government programs are big and clunky.  Because of their size, they sometimes fail to help the people who need it the most, while being exploited by others who have learned to work the system.  The Gospel doesn’t have this problem, because it calls for individuals to help others in a sacrificial and intentional way.   <read more:  scriptures about poverty>

OK.  But what kind of difference is that going to make?

Not much if it’s just me.  That’s why I want to plant a church.  I believe that the same spring of life that God places in in the hearts of His children is meant to flow like a flood of justice into our cities, towns, and communities.  What would happen if 100 Christians began helping people in need, every chance they got, and used this as an opportunity to share about the hope that we have?  What if 500 Christians began to pool their resources so that they could pour them back into their communities?  What if 5,000 Christians in a city made it their mission to bring the Gospel to broken people, believing that Jesus wants lost people saved AND hungry people fed.  This is not radical.  It’s just Gospel.

[awkward silence]

And that’s why I’m glad you have Jesus. But it’s not enough to keep Him to yourself.  Christianity isn’t meant to be lived alone.

Can I have some information on your church?

————–

I got out of the car, feeling refreshed.  I process things out loud, and the conversation helped me to establish my own personal conviction and my mission in this city.  I will participate as a citizen to cast my ballot in the election process, but I am very well aware that the change I want to see cannot come from a president — it can only come from The King.  I LOVE my country, but I want more than a great America.  I want to see His Kingdom Come.

Less Shouting.  More Sharing.

Aaron is the pastor of Spring of Life, a new church in Portland, Oregon. He's the owner of Amplify Creative.