- Written by Margaret Bernhart
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Over the holidays I encountered a formidable foe, in the guise of blood clots in four veins in my left leg. Though I enjoyed considerable bed rest and was waited on hand and foot, it was not the kind of rest one enjoys on a holiday. This experience had some extraordinary moments and some dark ones as well. Given the incredible opportunity to have surgery in Virginia to eradicate the clots coupled with significant surgical risk, made the successful outcome even sweeter. In the midst of this ordeal, many issues became clearer and priorities more focused. One of these that was illuminated for me was how I can more effectively use my time and finances to support the causes I deeply believe in.
Have you ever been around people who are constantly spewing anger over every conceivable issue? They bash the government for how their taxes are spent and the church for not doing its job. Though their observations may have some validity, you walk away feeling you know what they are against, but have no clue as to what they are for. It is much easier to be dogmatic than thoughtfully moving toward solving the problems we all grapple with. Dogmatism thrives on the illusion of a black and white reality and struggles to master control of life through a process of thought that is blind to seeing both sides of an issue. It’s stiff and defensive, not open to reason, and engenders bigotry. We can be just as opinionated about theology and unwilling to read the biblical text as it is written, omitting the portions that contradict our position. The Bible, like life, cannot be reduced to a systematic formula, for God has instilled a measure of mystery in both to call forth humble dependency upon Him. He is a God who will not be put in a box.
We live in an unpredictable world and cannot escape the inevitable chaos and pain. It’s mysterious and paradoxical that out of our pain is often birthed burdens, gifting and vocations. What if we took the energy behind our hatred of injustice–whether it’s how our taxes are spent by the government or the fact that the number of homeless and hungry children are growing in the United States–and begin to make a difference by investing our time, talents and finances in causes close to our own hearts? We are one of the richest countries in the world. A family of four living on $16,000 is considered at poverty level, yet in other parts of the world, this income would be considered significant. I’ve begun to see a trend in myself and others which keeps waiting for our incomes to reach a certain level before we begin financially investing in causes that could make a difference. And yet, we have so much more than many in world today. I realize that it is difficult to find the extra money, if you are already tithing, and the government takes a fourth of your income. And even more so, if you are saving for your children’s college tuition. Perhaps we could move out of our comfort zone and risk for others whether it is for future generations or present day. God has not distributed wealth equally and has given so that those who have can help meet the needs of those who have not.
The early church took care of their own and it was obvious. Rodney Stark observes in his book, The Rise of Christianity, “A little-known fact is that Christians in the ancient world had longer life expectancy than did their pagan neighbors. In fact, many pagans were attracted to the Christian faith because the church produced tangible (not only “spiritual”) blessings for its adherents.” One pagan observer, emperor Julian, noted that “the impious Galileans supported not only their poor, but ours as well.” Practical expressions of care and kindness can open the door to the power of the Gospel. James, the brother of Jesus, instructs the Christians living outside Palestine, “Pure and lasting religion in the sight of God our Father means that we must care for orphans and widows in their troubles” (James 1:27). Jesus said, “When you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me” (Matt. 25:45). If church members would extend themselves in caring for the 100,000 homeless children in the United States, instead of waiting for the government to do it, perhaps our churches would be overflowing as the world would see a difference.
Our dilemma as Christians in a postmodern world is that all spirituality is seen as equal. How do we show authentic Christianity to a hurting world? Recently, I was having a discussion with a friend about this very topic and he said, “for so long we have sent medical missionaries to third world countries to share the good news of the Gospel through spiritual and practical means and we have not focused on our own needs here in the States.” Postmodernists today, like the pagans in the first century, are looking for people who live what they say. In the next newsletter you will be hearing about how RMI wants to make a difference in Tallahassee and some ways we are seeking to couple the good news with practical outreach.