Ever notice that the things Satan tempted Jesus with, were not in themselves evil?
Bread instead of hunger? - that's NOT evil. Starving people need food. (Mt 4:2)
Safety in the hands of angels? - that's NOT evil. Endangered people need protection. (Mt 4:6)
The whole world bowing before Jesus? - that's NOT evil. People need God. (Mt 4: 8-9)
And yet, we know from this story that the bad guy - Slimy Satan himself, was dangling all these good things in front of Jesus.
And yet Jesus resisted.
What if the temptation we face is NOT the temptation to pursue evil - raping, murdering or pillaging...
...but instead, the temptation to pursue good, in the wrong way?
It's a temptation I face every day in my work with Alongsiders.
I know the non-profit world depressingly well. I've lived in slums and inner cities among the poor for 16 years. I've led humanitarian organizations, a mission agency, and now a grassroots youth movement that is changing the world.
And I'm impatient! I want change for my poor neighbours. Sooner rather than later.
I want to see more vulnerable children being reached, and transformed. I want bread for the hungry, safety for the endangered, and for people to know the love of Jesus.
Bring it on.
But I've also come to understand that there are LOTS of ways to get there. There are many paths to a goal, and the path we choose to a good goal, might actually be a path we should resist.
Oftentimes, the fastest, most direct path is not God's best. There are no shortcuts.
The easiest example I can give you is also the most common one I see. It's the use of money to accelerate our goals for transformation.
It's almost impossible for us Westerners to grasp the power of money in poor places. Or to understand the danger of using it wrongly. Because when we realize how much can happen with a small cash injection, we tend to think, Why not?
Want to plant 100 churches? It's not too hard to find 100 impoverished Christian workers to hire as pastors. Why not? Boom! 100 churches. Mission Accomplished.
Want to feed and educate 1000 low caste children? Those 100 churches will gladly take your money to help 10 children each. Why not? Boom! 1000 children fed and schooled.
Want to mobilize 10000 grassroots social workers? Yes indeed. Your money can make that happen too. Boom!
You may still be wondering why not?!? What's your problem Craig? Change is change. Help is help. Good is good.
I've written about this issue in this post. But here are 4 more reasons on top of those original 10, why using money to accelerate your growth is unwise:
1. What happens when the money gets cut off? As Compassion International and 11,000 other NGO's found in India recently, everything grinds to a halt. Their whole operation had to shut down, because it couldn't continue without outside funding. Money is not wrong in and of itself. It can be used to create ongoing sustainability, or it can be used to create dependency. The problem arises when money becomes the main foundation of our ministry. When it is removed, the ministry collapses.
2. Money distorts the relationship between the wisdom of an idea and the results. So, anything can happen - even the dumbest, most disempowering idea - simply because money is paid to ensure it happens. There will always be poor people willing to carry out your misguided project just because they receive a salary. But the true test of an idea is whether people are willing to embrace it without getting paid. (This is one reason why we never pay the thousands of young Christians who become Alongsiders).
3. Money concentrates power in the hands of donors and those with access to funding, instead of the poor and vulnerable. There is a significant role for donors and funding. After all, almost everything costs something. But they must serve from the periphery, not call the shots. Everyone agress with that statement in theory, but believe me - it's very hard to practise. That's why money-fuelled growth is so dangerous - and so common.
4. The use of money for change can't be easily replicated by local people. A church planted using outside money will likely never birth another church, without the same cash injection. The same goes for any other project or initiative. When we model methods of transformation that can't be imitated - we are left as the only drivers of change - once again marginalizing the poor.
The unwise use of cash is just one example of how we tend to pursue good, with good intentions but bad strategies.
There are many more shortcuts: using corruption or manipulation, cutting corners, exaggerating in our marketing, exploiting our beneficiaries and their stories, using outside power and force rather than taking the time to empower local leaders, and so on.
YES, we are called to pursue good, but according to the timing and guidance of God, not using methods driven by our own impatience. As Brian Zhand says:
“Satan never tempted Jesus with evil;
Satan tempted Jesus with good.
Satan enticed Jesus to go ahead and do good
and to bring it about by the most direct way possible.”
It's easy to kid ourselves with the lie that the end justifies the means. That it doesn't matter how we achieve our good goals, as long as people are "helped". But this isn't true.
The lesson I take from the temptation of Jesus is this: the end NEVER justifies the means.
He is inviting us to take the long view, the sustainable road, the best pathway. And in doing so, we trust that God's upside-down Kingdom will come.
Anything else is probably just our own kingdom.
And that, right there, is the very thing Satan hopes for.
So, what's your temptation?