Dr. Brantly, Ann Coulter, and Christian narcissism…

“Give, and it will be given to you. They will pour into your lap a good measure — pressed down, shaken together, and running over… (Luke 6:38)

1378US-A008.web_Last week, Dr. Kent Brantly—the medical missionary who contracted Ebola virus in Liberia—was released from an Atlanta hospital with a clean bill of health. Here is a portion of his remarks at the press conference held just before his departure from the hospital:

I am forever thankful to God for sparing my life and am glad for any attention my sickness has attracted for the plight of West Africa in the midst of this epidemic. Please continue to pray for Liberia and the people of West Africa, and encourage those in positions of leadership and influence to do everything possible to bring this Ebola outbreak to an end.

A famous conservative pundit, Ann Coulter, called Dr. Brantly a Christian narcissist for going to Africa to serve in medical missions when there is so much work to be done at home here in America:

If Dr. Brantly had practiced at Cedars-Sinai hospital in Los Angeles and turned one single Hollywood power-broker to Christ, he would have done more good for the entire world than anything he could accomplish in a century spent in Liberia. Ebola kills only the body; the virus of spiritual bankruptcy and moral decadence spread by so many Hollywood movies infects the world.

First of all, I’m somewhat sympathetic to Coulter’s argument. There is a romanticism in missions that causes many people to be vigilant about the plight of African children in orphanages even while they remain willfully ignorant of the millions of children being slaughtered in America through abortion. And, also, there certainly is an increasing need for domestic courage in our missionary work as the nation declines into further God-hating secularism.

But, it is ridiculous to heap scorn on a man who risked his own life for the sake of the gospel… It will get people to read your blog, though, which may be the main ambition of Ms. Coulter.

Dr. Brantly gave of himself when every fiber of his mind—or perhaps more so his wife’s mind—was shouting prudent arguments about why he should go back to clean USA when that first Ebola patient arrived at his clinic in Liberia. That would have been true American narcissism—flee when things get hot. Or to reason: “We must turn it over to the government, what can one man do…?”

He didn’t leave. He stayed and he gave to others until he couldn’t give anymore because of his own illness. He gave when he knew it could cost his life. And most of us narcissistic Americans would never consider anything that had such a massive risk of death.

Oh…but we would be utterly passionate about the strategic nature of witnessing to Hollywood movie directors and Washington politicians. We’d make arguments like Ann Coulter: “If Dr. Brantly had…turned one single Hollywood power-broker to Christ, he would have done more good for the entire world than anything he could accomplish in a century spent in Liberia.” He would have been a game-changer; he would have been doing significant work for Christ; he would have been truly productive.

We think that Dr. Brantly had no ambition. All Dr. Brantly was doing was keeping some no-name African comfortable while she vomited and cramped and bruised and bled. Our American, secular, conservative narcissism says there is no good in such impact-less, un-influential service. We think Dr. Brantly’s was a life almost wasted; a life of misplaced ambition; a life of stupid decisions. He should have been a Christian plastic surgeon in Malibu—nose jobs for Christ. In Hollywood, for Hollywood. Influencing the influencers.

When Jesus tells us to “give” pundits think that means having an ambition set higher than giving to an anonymous sick man in Liberia; it means setting your ambitions higher than giving to your children at home, mothers; it means setting your ambitions higher than giving to spouses; it means setting your ambitions higher than giving to locals; it means giving to those who are important, like Hollywood directors and actors, professional athletes, and politicians. When ministering to such important and highly influential people, Jesus statement, “Give and it will be given to you,” really means something. Give and you will be the means of countless numbers clamoring to Christ…

Give to a little child in Liberia and chances are all you will be given is a deadly virus. What a waste…

That is the way that we think about giving today. We think that successful giving must have front-page headline sort of impact. Impact must go viral. We think that a successful church ministry is one where professional football players are in attendance on Sunday…oops, no that’s impossible. We think that a successful church ministry is one where heads of state are in attendance. Oh, to be the pastor at the National Cathedral!

Jesus said,

Matt. 25:34   “Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 ‘For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; 36 naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’ 37 “Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? 38 ‘And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? 39 ‘When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ 40 “The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’

We give knowing we are ultimately giving to our Savior Jesus. We give knowing that Jesus’ “it will be given to you” and his “they will pour into your lap a good measure—pressed down, shaken together, and running over” will ultimately be fulfilled when the King gives us our inheritance—an inheritance found in the kingdom prepared for us from the foundation of the world. We know that the return for our giving will come when we are in the presence of the glory of God, surrounded by the treasures laid up for us in heaven.

Jesus taught us as he taught the Rich Young Ruler that there is a better treasure than that which is on this earth. He challenged the young man to give and it will be given to him when it matters. Jesus said to the rich young man, “One thing you still lack; sell all that you possess and distribute it to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me” (Luke 18:22).

Again we object: “What a imprudent waste of influence.” That money could have been given to a Christian publisher who could market my book and get it into every (godless) Christian book store in the country. Imagine the influence! Imagine the impact! Imagine the ministry! Imagine the return…in profits…which could go to more and more books and ministries. Imagine the conversations I could have as I sign copies of my book at the conference (which might could go by the same title as my book).

That has been the modern evangelical church. Would you say that the modern church is thriving in America? That she is seeing a harvest? That God is poring into her lap a good measure, running over? We worship influence and success and have therefore become inconsequential and barren.

Praise God for men like Dr. Brantly, who, as Paul says of his fellow worker Epaphroditus, “…hold men like him in high regard; because he came close to death for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was deficient in your service to me” (Phil. 2:29b-30). Praise God for men like Dr. Brantly, who gave when it would have been easy, even respectable, to stop giving.

It is so hard to give if what you expect in return is the praise of the world. Christians are clamoring for influence instead of remembering that God will reward those who serve the least of these with influence in heaven. Dr. Brantly will receive a good measure when a nameless child in Liberia professes faith in Jesus Christ…and I imagine he is content with that.

He doesn’t need a Hollywood director to give his giving value. His giving is valuable because he is giving it to Christ, His Savior…

1Tim. 6:17   Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy. 18 Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, 19 storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is life indeed.

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