A BURNT HAND REMINDED ME
As soon as I grabbed the scorching hot pot handle, I felt the intense pain and knew I'd done what I'd told myself I must remember not to do. I immediately yanked open the fridge door, grabbed the bottle of pure aloe vera, and covered the already red area generously.
But though I acted quickly, the damage was done. One third of my hand was red and throbbing. As I carried on with what I needed to do, the pain dominated my consciousness. No amount of telling myself that it was only a small part of my body made it hurt less or made me able to forget about the pain.
As I thought about how much the burns on my hand were such a big deal even though the rest of my body felt great, I thought about the body of Christ.
The Bible tells us that we are all different parts of the Body when we are followers of Jesus, but we are parts of one Body, His Body. His precious church here on the earth. It doesn't matter if we are middle-class Evangelicals in the heartland of America or persecuted Christians in Asia. We might be members of a non-traditional, surfers-for-Jesus church on some exotic coastline or pastors and teachers of African congregations with members starving to death and dying of AIDS and tuberculosis. Regardless of where we are, who we are, or what we do, if we love Jesus and have Him as our Master, we are part of one Body, His body.
And just as I can't pretend away the pain in my hand, even though the rest of me is feeling fine, I can't pretend that we're doing fine if some of my brothers and sisters in Christ --- other parts of the Body that I am a part of --- are suffering.
Here in America, especially if you're someone like me who lives in a nice house, in a safe neighborhood, with all the necessities that we need, it is too easy to forget that there are parts of the body in pain. There are parts of the body that are in desperate need. To be honest, a lot of times we don't even want to know. We think that we can look the other way, keep our eyes squeezed tight, and what we don't know won't hurt us. Won't require something of us.
Well, with our own bodies, if we just ignore an injury, there is a small chance that it will get better on its own. But not likely.
That gaping wound, if it is big enough, can bleed so much that the high amount of blood loss leads to unconsciousness or even death. If the bleeding stops but the wound is not treated effectively, nasty infections can set in that can lead to blood poisoning, gangrene, loss of a limb, or even death.
A broken bone? Have you ever seen what happens when a broken bone isn't set? Not a pretty sight. The bone fuses up all out of kilter and if it is a leg left like that, that person will become a cripple.
Tooth infected? Abcessed? Did you know you can actually die from this? DIE! From a rotten tooth that gets all nasty and infected in the gums!
One part of the body hurting --- a rotten tooth, a broken limb, a gaping wound on your torso --- affects the entire body.
Anyone who suffers from migraines can attest that the pain in the head renders it almost impossible to function. Who wants to ride a bike or dance with their husband or chase their preschooler in a game of tag with a migraine?
But we do that every day as the Body of Christ. Every day we think we can pretend that we don't see our brothers and sisters in need. And when we do learn of their need, we think we can just not think about it, not act, and our part of the world, our section of the body, will be okay.
Is there any wonder that non-Christians deride our faith so intensely? Is it any wonder that they say things such as "if God is such a loving God then why does He let children die from starvation?"
We as Christians can not fix every problem in the world. There is still free-will and some people are in difficult situations because they've made bad, perhaps even sinful, choices that have landed them in hard places. They might be in situations that they need to walk through for their own good. Some situations, such as tsunamis and tornadoes, are beyond our control. Until Jesus comes again and sets things right, there are going to be bad things that happen to good people.
But let me just ask you to imagine for a minute what this world might look like if those of us who called ourselves Christians began to take the call of Jesus seriously. If we did as Jesus instructed and loved our fellow man as we love our own self.
What would the world look like if Christians actually tithed? Gave 10% of their income to churches and the work of the Kingdom? According to some facts and figures in Richard Stearns book THE HOLE IN YOUR GOSPEL, the total income of American chruchgoers is $5.2 trillion. Trillion with a "T". The overwhelming majority of Christians do not tithe. In fact, the average percent that American churchgoers give is only 2.58% of their income even though the American church is richer than the church has ever been through out its entire history. But what would happen if we were to all tithe? If all of us that call ourselves Christians gave the amount that most Biblical scholars and Christian leaders agree on as the minimum required by the Lord? According to Stearns, "we'd have an extra $168 billion to spend on funding the work of the Church worldwide"!
Richard Stearns goes on to itemize what could be done with that money.
*Universal primary education for children would cost $6 billion.
*Clean water brought to most of the world's poor would cost an estimated $9 billion.
*Basic health and nutrition for everyone in the world would cost $13 billion.
And that leaves a whole lot of money leftover for life-changing actions such as opening half-way homes for ex-cons and recovering addicts, providing micro-loans for start-up businesses in poor nations, printing Bibles in every language of the world, building and staffing Bible colleges for pastors and church leaders, opening counseling centers for those who have endured trauma and war, providing homes of redemption for former child soldiers, giving emergency supplies for those devastated by natural disasters, funding ministries that teach job skills to women who have left prostitution, and on and on and on.
And that's just the impact of money.
Imagine with me if just one family or individual from every church in America was willing to leave behind the comfort of home to go and serve in a hard and needy place? If each church sent out a missionary or family to live in a hurting, inner-city, American neighborhood; a country closed to the gospel; a nation wracked with poverty and disease; or a people group that has no Christian presence at all?
The Southern Baptists alone have 37,000 churches in America. They have over 4000 foreign missionaries. That is a lot of missionaries and they accomplish much for the Lord, but can you imagine if each and every single Baptist church sent out one family or individual? And when you expand that to include all Christian churches in America, that's 340,000 churches!
And what about those who don't go overseas or move to a far-away city? What about the rest of the church members? If they were to donate a few hours every week of their life to ministries that did not benefit them directly, that reached out of the walls of the church, can you imagine how many tutoring programs, teenage mom support groups, soup kitchens, free counseling centers, prison Bible studies, English classes, and homeless shelters could be manned by this huge army of Jesus followers? Taxes could be lowered because the church was taking care of the poor in ways that broke the vicious cycle of poverty. Children would be mentored by Christian leaders who would help them learn to make good life choices that turned them away from gangs and addictions. Families would be made stronger as young mothers were discipled by older women and young dads were taught by church elders. Children would be able to leave institutions and be fostered long-term in Christian homes or adopted. And the elderly would not die alone in sterile hospital settings or flop houses but would leave this world surrounded by those who loved and valued them.
As we began caring for those hurting, handicapped parts of Christ's body, this world would be a different place. And as this world became a different place, the people who do not know Jesus would stand up and take notice, just as they did when Jesus walked this earth 2000 years ago and fed the hungry, healed the sick, cast out demons, loved the outcast, touched the lepers, taught the truth.
Yes, some still rejected Him because He upset their world. These were mostly the politically powerful and the religious leaders who had much to gain by keeping the masses oppressed.
But for the every day people, they knew He was different. His actions were in perfect unity with His words. As He spoke of love and freedom and peace, He lived it out with His life. He was accused of many things, but He was never accused of being unloving.
God has promised us that if we follow Him, we will also be accused of many things. Those that hate Him will also hate us. Let us be labeled radicals. Let them call us crazy dreamers. Let them say we've lost our minds to leave our fine homes and nice cars to live simply in hard places.
But never let them say we didn't care. Never let them say our actions don't back up the words we confess on Sunday mornings. Never let them accurately describe us as hypocrites.
Let's quit looking the other way. Let's quit ignoring those who are dying from treatable causes. Let's quit turning away from those who are persecuted. Let's quit pretending that we don't know children are going to sleep hungry tonight. Let's quit acting like the church can be healthy and whole if parts of it are broken and hurting and dying.
Let's love our brothers and sisters in Christ as we would want to be loved if we were in their situations. Let's show tangible love to those who don't know Jesus so they will come to know Him. Let's quit just saying we are the body of Christ and be the body of Christ.
And that means doing what Christ did when He was with us in bodily form on this earth.
That means loving the lost and the least of these even if it costs us everything. After all, that's what it cost our Lord.