Friday, June 01, 2007

"So, do you believe in Jesus?"

Lots of people who visit Central Dallas Ministries ask us, even after a two-hour tour, "So, where does the ministry take place?"

Or, "How do you work the ministry into your programs?"

By that they mean where and how does "the call to conversion" or the invitation to "accept Jesus" come into play in what we do.

We are a faith-based organization. So, I try to explain that we consider everything we do to be "the ministry part."

Whether it is providing food, housing assistance, legal counsel, medical and dental services, pharmacy benefits, after-school programs, employment training, technology education, community organizing and leadership development, counseling services or the activities of the Central Dallas Church: it is all "the ministry part."

Many church people believe that the most important thing, for many the only thing, is to get to "the eternal salvation" issue as quickly as possible.

"How do you witness to Christ?" is another way the question is often put to us.

Often I will try to explain our approach by quoting Saint Francis of Assisi, who once said, "Preach the gospel at all times. Use words only when necessary."

The fact is, we tend to approach our neighbors as the embodiment of the Jesus whom we follow. We take Jesus seriously when he said that whatever we do with and among "the poor," we actually are doing with and to him.

We believe that we meet him in our encounters with the hurting, the excluded, the prisoners, the homeless, the sick, the hungry and the immigrant stranger.

Why would we be too concerned about asking these friends of ours if they believe in Jesus when it is clear to us that they bring him to us?

Yesterday, Dan Hopkins (my good buddy and board member of the Central Dallas Community Development Corporation) and I were running out at White Rock Lake early in the morning. As we cut through a wooded area, a man emerged from the trees. He obviously "lived" among the trees.

We greeted him and stopped to take a breather as we visited with him.

He really wanted to talk.

So, we spent a few minutes hearing his story. In the course of our conversation we explained to him that we had some new apartments to offer folks who had no place to call "home." I gave him our contact information, and he said he would call.

As we finished our run, Dan said, "I've noticed that you never 'hammer' people with the Jesus speech. You don't lead with 'Do you believe in Jesus?'"

Reflecting on his comment as we continued our run, it hit me, in spite of my oxygen deprivation, that the most important question is not, "Does John believe in Jesus?"

The real question is, "Does Larry believe in Jesus?"

Answered correctly, that question gets us much further down the road to the kind of world we really want to build. Because if I do believe in Jesus and if I take him at his word, I will never pass by a guy like John, nor will I dismiss people from my life who are broken or in need or strangers or marginalized or different than I.

"Larry, do you believe in Jesus?"

Yep, that's the right question.

As I think about my brief meeting with John, that was exactly the question he was asking me.

Oh, he didn't put it that way in what he said. But, it was written all over his face and his life circumstance. It was as if in his story and presence, Jesus emerged from the woods at the lake to ask me where I was really headed with my life.

Oh, and just for the record, John called me yesterday morning. We're working on a housing plan, among other things.



Amy Boone said...

This is good. I am sensing a small tear of conviction in my eyes.

Anonymous said...

"Does Larry (Do I?) believe in Jesus?" is the important question and I had not heard it expressed exactly that way before. Thank you for fresh perspective. Your writing always gives me new insight.

Amy S. Grant said...

Wow! What a refreshing perspective. I don't know if I have thought about the question reversal quite like that: "does Amy believe in Jesus?"

Stan53 said...

Use words only when necessary. I like that. it is true. I actually read a comment by Norman Grubb. It went along the lines that we meet Jesus everywhere and in everybody. We don't treat everybody like Jesus.

Jim Clark said...


In my limited experience in leading a ministry to the poor, I've wrestled with this whole issue of evangelism and meeting people's needs. Of course I want to help people who come to the Christian Service Center unconditionally. And yet I want them to most of all know Jesus, to be found in Him, to experience that eternal life that begins now for those how believe in Him.

I don't want to assume that just because they're poor that they must not know Christ. As you say, we have so much to learn about Jesus from those who come for help. I certainly have.

And yet, when I think about the cross -- the atoning death of my Lord on the cross -- and the power of His resurrection and how He has filled my with the Holy Spirit, I cannot not be passionate about sharing the gospel with our neighbors whom we assist with basic needs.

That's why I loved how my mother-in-law did ministry at CDM years ago. Every person she interviewed she shared her testimony and talked to them about Jesus as she gave them a Bible. Not in a pushy way, but in love.

I just think it's vital that if we're going to let Jesus Christ be Lord over our ministry to the poor, we must make it clear to everyone -- donors and the neighbors we assist and work along side of us -- that we're doing this in the Name of Jesus and for His glory.

Some organizations, foundations, the government and individuals may not support us if we're that adamant about putting the Name of Jesus Christ in the forefront in all we do. That's okay. God will provide in other ways.

Jim Clark

Larry James said...

Jim, thanks for your post. I've responded to you at June 13, 2007 as well as here and on your own blog.

One last thing. Your comment, "Some organizations, foundations, the government and individuals may not support us if we're that adamant about putting the Name of Jesus Christ in the forefront in all we do. That's okay. God will provide in other ways."

I just want to make it clear that our approach to our community has nothing at all to do with funding sources. We attempt to do our work by our philosophy and in line with out mission and we let donors decide if they want to be with us or not. Actually, I expect we lose more funding by being like we are than by being more overtly evangelistic.