Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Cause Within You by Matthew Barnett (Commonality Despite Differences)

I was inspired not only by the individuals Pastor Barnett described in his book, but by the commonality I saw in our Christian faith. He and his father come from the Assemblies of God, which is a denomination quite different from any church I’ve ever attended. I’m quite confident that Pastor Barnett and I would disagree on a number of theological points. But I was so encouraged that those points are not ones that he focused on in his book. Instead of emphasizing theology that might be divisive, he emphasized the tremendous needs of people and the imperative of trying to meet those needs. He takes seriously the call to be the hands and feet of Christ.

In his ministry, Pastor Barnett works with gang members, felons, people who use drugs, prostitutes, undocumented migrants and a host of other “outcasts.” Many in society look down upon such people. Sadly, many Christ followers mirror that same disapproval and condemnation. I was encouraged that Pastor Barnett did not seem to share that type of attitude. Instead, his writing seemed to evidence over and over again a tremendous compassion for such individuals. He describes heartbreak, not revulsion, when he is on Skid Row and a prostitute propositions him. He tells the story of a young gang member who used drugs, but in whom he saw leadership potential in ministry. In describing the story of Jim Bakker, Pastor Barnett did not go into the gory details, but simply talks in generalities of Mr. Bakker’s fall from grace and incarceration. The focus is not on the sin, but the redemption. I really admired that attitude.

I was also tremendously impressed when Pastor Barnett wrote about evaluating one’s ministry based on God’s metrics, not society’s. With humility he shares that when he moved to Los Angeles, he initially focused on building a great church with masses of people. He realized the futility of that goal when the small congregation he inherited shrunk to zero attendance! Hitting rock bottom in his ministry made him realize that he was focusing on his own goals, not God’s. Pastor Barnett had an epiphany that he needed to serve the many people in Los Angeles who were struggling and suffering. That was his calling, not building a church with huge numbers.

Pastor Barnett also wrote that when celebrating the 15th anniversary of the Dream Center, he sensed that the party the staff threw was not the appropriate way to mark the milestone. He knew that was the world’s way of celebrating—feasting and patting themselves on the back. As a more appropriate way to mark the milestone, Pastor Barnett felt moved to spend time (day and night) on Skid Row. He felt moved to be with the people he was trying to serve to better understand their plight. Those around him feared for his security, but he was undeterred. It was a moving experience once the initial terror wore off. I respect and admire his approach to celebrating. It is an example of radical love and courage to follow Jesus. It is also a reminder to reject the world’s values in favor of God’s. Being a Christ follower is supposed to be a counter cultural endeavor.

I sometimes get very discouraged by the great divisions in the church. And I am depressed at how Christ’s message gets warped to support politics and policies that to me are the antithesis of what Jesus would advocate. I feel hopeless at the attempts of fellow Christians to impose their own view of Christianity on secular society. But my faith in the church is restored to some extent when a Christian like Matthew Barnett, who I is so different in theology and social attitudes, clings so tightly to what I understand to be Jesus’s core teachings—loving and serving all of God’s precious children without judgment no matter what they have done in their lives.

Romans 14:10

You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister ? Or why do you treat them with contempt? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat.

No comments:

Post a Comment