There are times when God has to use the equivalent of a loud-hailer to get my attention. This week has been just such a time. Two pairs of friends, on two separate occasions, made His message plain. But His messengers were far from loud. They were gentle souls who heard Him clearly and acted obediently. Having been recipients of God’s life-changing love, they had taken to heart what Christ had said:
“In the same way, let your light shine before people, so that they can see your good deeds and give honor to your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16 NET)
One couple have been going to India to minister and teach for the last few years. When they saw how badly one of the communities in a remote village needed access to clean drinking water, they raised funds to drill a well that would go deep enough to reach the water table. This year’s trip saw the completion of that well. By siting it in the midst of a largely Dalit (untouchable) community, a reliable source of clean water was made freely available to the poorest of the poor, and to everyone else, for that matter, regardless of creed or caste.
The other couple have also spent time in India. Over lunch with Soo Inn and me, they related how they’d been part of a training seminar where an interpreter was needed to help get the message across to the locals. At the end of the seminar, when an altar call was given, the interpreter himself stepped forward to accept Christ. The host pastor later told our friends that he had engaged this man to interpret because he was the best man for the job, but knowing full well that he was a Hare Krishna follower. The interpreter had become increasingly disillusioned with the leadership of his local Hare Krishna group because they’d been using the donations they’d received to live the high life, instead of helping others as they were supposed to (sadly, something Christian leaders are also not immune from). So, when he heard of all that had been done by the Christians for the poor, for no apparent reason except a desire to bless, he decided that the God who could empower this was indeed the One to follow.
This was a powerful reminder to me of how the early church grew exponentially, and beyond all expectations.
The practical expression of Christian love was among the most powerful causes of Christian success. Tertullian tells us the pagans remarked, “See how these Christians love one another.” And the pagan’s words were not irony; he meant them. Christian love found expression in the care of the poor, of widows and orphans; in visits to brethren in prisons or to those condemned to a living death in the mines; and in acts of compassion during a famine, earthquake, or war.…
The impact of this ministry of mercy upon pagans is revealed in the observation of one of Christianity’s worst enemies, the apostate Emperor Julian (332-63). … He wanted to set aside Christianity and bring back the ancient faith, but he saw clearly the drawing power of Christian love in practice: “…it is a scandal that there is not a single Jew who is a beggar, and that the godless Galileans care not only for their own poor but for ours as well; while those who belong to us look in vain for the help that we should render them.” (Bruce L. Shelley, Church History in Plain Language, updated 2nd edition. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2005, pp. 35, 36.)
When my dear hubby heard what our second set of friends had shared, he was reminded that even in Galatians 2, when uppermost on the minds of James, Peter, John, Paul and Barnabas was the spreading of the Gospel of Christ to both Jew and Gentile, Paul mentions:
They requested only that we remember the poor, the very thing I also was eager to do. (Galatians 2:10 NET)
This underlined for us the importance of a faith that is lived out. A faith that tells the unloved, the marginalised, and the disenfranchised in society that they are equally loved by Abba Father. And how will they come to that saving knowledge if we do not serve as proxies by our actions.
Singapore has an irritatingly compulsive habit of collecting superlatives. Her latest is that she is the most expensive city in the world (never mind that the survey criteria were somewhat bizarrely skewed). Can you imagine what it must be like for those who are finding it increasingly difficult to eke out a living? And Singaporeans have also been polled as some of the unhappiest on this planet. QED, actually, if all that is important is being productive economically, and when that is done, to be even more productive.
But there are glimmers of hope (like the faithful remnant in the Old Testament). Encouragingly, most of the movements that have blossomed to help the poor, the foreign workers, the intellectually or physically challenged, and defenceless animals have been from the ground up. And lest you scoff at the idea that we have an official Kindness Movement, I say “Thank God, we do!”.
Those of us who believe in the Living Word really need to take our cues from that Word if we are going to be of any earthly good. We’re called to change the world! That means transforming society from the inside out. And we can do it, one transformed life at a time. I’m a work in progress.