What's worth more to you? Your neighbor? Or your possessions? Here's a challenge to deeper love from Bob Lupton.
I recently came across an amazing book called Theirs Is the Kingdom: Celebrating the Gospel in Urban America. Written by Robert Lupton, author of Toxic Charity, this small book is packed with deep thoughts, as Lupton shares lessons learned, situations observed, thorny problems and insights into what it means to live and minister in the inner city. The book's format is a collection of small, often unconnected essays that still seem to build on each other. Lupton's skill as an essay writer is impressive and I could hardly put the book down. In all honesty, I found it a much more powerful read than Toxic Charity. After each essay, I'd have to close the book a moment and ponder what I'd just read, examining my own heart and ministry and goals.
One particularly funny, yet poignant chapter deals with how we as middle class Americans try to protect our possessions, cloaking our selfishness under the phrase, "being responsible." I've included an excerpt below from "Please Sit in My Chair":
She's sixty-six, mildly retarded, dangerously overweight. She smells of stale sweat and excrement...she often hints, sometimes blatantly, that she would like to come with us for a visit...But there is a conflict. It has to do with values that Peggy and I learned from childhood. We believe that good stewardship means taking care of our belongings.
To invite Mrs. Smith into our home means we will have filth and stench soil our couch. There will be stubborn offensive odors in our living room. Unknowingly, Mrs. Smith is forcing a conflict, a clashing of values, upon me. Somewhere on the way to becoming rich, we picked up the idea that preserving our property is preferable to expending it for people.
Why should it be such a struggle to decide which is more godly: to welcome Mrs. Smith into my home or to get extra years of service from my furniture? Is this not precisely the issue of serving mammon or God? How ingenious of our American version of Christianity to make them both one and the same.
We did finally invite Mrs. Smith to have Sunday dinner in our home. And she did just as I feared she would. She went straight for my recliner. And it has never been the same.
In her more clearly than in Sunday School lessons or sermons, I encounter the Christ of Scrpiture saying, "Inasmuch as you have done it unto the least of these my brethern, you have done it unto me."
Whether or not you minister in urban areas, I'd highly recommend Theirs is the Kingdom. Lupton challenges us to follow Christ into a deeper, messier, time-consuming level of ministry that is admittedly uncomfortable. It's not very fun. And he hammers that point in again and again. This kind of ministry is going to hurt. Yet without sacrifice and pain, there will be limited fruit in our lives. How much are we willing to give? How much are we willing to live counter-culturally to middle class values? There are no easy answers. We need God to lead. And this little book can help us start asking the right questions.
Have you read it? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
Furniture photo by Pat Pilon, used under a Creative Commons license.