And behold, all the city came out to meet Jesus, and when they saw him,
they begged him to leave their region. (Matthew 8:34)
Mark records it this way: Mark 5:15–17 And they came to Jesus and saw the demon-possessed man, the one who had had the legion, sitting there, clothed and in his right mind, and they were afraid. . . . And they began to beg Jesus to depart from their region. Of that man, verse 20 tells us, And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him, and everyone marveled.
Ministry is messy. And we may not be ready for the price it exacts. We shouldn't be surprised, as Jesus told us in following Him that the world would hate us, and warned that even fox and birds have homes, but He has none. Ministry is messy, and it forces us to really evaluate what it is we want. Not just the proper "Christian" response we all know we should give, but what we really want down deep.
These people saw men who had been terrorized by the devil, lives chained by Satan, and they saw them set free and in their right mind . . . and the Son of God in their midst. And they begged Jesus to leave. They were afraid. For some of them, these men being set free had cost them their livelihood.
It isn't a neat little story of men being set free that makes everyone stand up and cheer. Some begged Jesus to leave as a result of it. It cost. It made them afraid.
Years ago I heard a teaching on Proverbs 14:4 which says, Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean, but abundant crops come by the strength of the ox. Basically, if we want a clean stall, don't have oxen. But if we want fruit, expect a messy stall. The people had a choice—rejoice in these men being set free by the Son of God in their midst, or give in to fear and personal cost and ask God to leave. I am reminded of Moses, when God was angry with the people and said He'd have an angel deliver the Promised Land to them but He wouldn't go with them. Moses basically said, "If you won't go with us, don't give us the land." Moses is awesome! Oh that I might be like him. Offered all the worldly blessings and comfort He said, "I'd rather have You, God, than all of that. And if I don't have You, I don't want it."
Ministry is messy. Jesus turned over tables, fashioned a whip, got everyone angry at Him, suffered, missed out on a lot of comforts, had His own family reject Him, was lonely. And He saw people healed and set free. He saw lives restored, and people turned back to their Father.
Many years ago Mary Ann and I were so excited. We'd designed this awesome flyer we mailed to all the mailboxes in our community. We live in a very rural area, and it was a Western them—basically a WANTED poster and where the picture of the outlaw would be we listed things like jealousy, addictions, lust, broken marriages, etc. (I'll put a picture of it in this post.) We were like, "Wow! This is awesome!" It had text that talked about how all these horrible things seem innocent at first but are so dangerous as they roam, and invited people to the service and to see how Jesus could help. Instead of praise, we had people—Christians—concerned about who we were inviting into the community.
I get it. I get the fear. Everyone wants the poor and homeless and addicted taken care of, but nobody wants the shelter next to their house. I know I wouldn't. I like my privacy. I like the quiet. I like not worrying about my girls or possessions. But . . . I won't see the fruit, either, because ministry is messy.
Last night we, the elders of our fellowship, met to talk over some things and I was sharing with them my growing burden for the unborn. I truly don't believe that God will bless a nation that has a legalized holocaust in its midst. And I would hope that as believers, especially men of God, if we knew of a concentration camp down the street we'd do more than just say, "Well, it's the law of the land . . ."
But, if we really want to address the issue, it isn't enough to hold up signs and even get the law changed. What about the single teenager who is pregnant, whose family will cut her off if she doesn't get an abortion? Our we ready to open our home to her? And we can't even just stand with her until the baby is born. It's going to be a long road. Are we ready for that?
I know that on multiple occasions we've opened our home to people in a really rough place, or people who the community rejected. It has often been really hard, it has certainly destroyed the tranquility in our house, and I've more than once wondered if it would be OK or if we'd even have all our stuff when it was over. I've had people at our local Farmer's Market turn their back on me, and others hate me, because we've reached out to "those people." But, ministry is messy.
It is a question we as Christians must ask ourselves—as individuals and as local fellowships. What do we really want to see? And what is the cost we are really willing to pay? Because if we really want a clean stall, then don't go looking for oxen. But if we really want to see fruit, then be ready to shovel poop.