In the past few weeks, we've done a lot of talking about what it means to love others as Christ loves us. We've talked about everything from servant leadership to unconditional love. We've seen that love is a verb, not a feeling, and that we can love people just by being patient, kind, humble, respectful, selfless, forgiving, honest, and committed to them. That sounds pretty easy, doesn't it? And it sounds really nice- in theory. But how exactly does this translate into reality? In what ways can we physically carry out unconditional love?
In James 1, James writes about what true religion is. He says, "Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world." To me, James is saying that we should care for and provide for those who cannot do it themselves, and he's also saying we should also remain pure in our faith and not corrupted by the world. For now, I'd like to look at the first part of what James says: "...look after orphans and widows in their distress..." Do you think that we as the American church do a good job of taking care of the orphans and widows? How about the mentally disabled, the physically disabled, the homeless, the unemployed, the elderly, and everyone else who cannot fully provide for themselves? Do we do a good job of taking care of those who cannot take care of themselves? I would like to think so. I would like to say yes. But I'm not so sure that I can.
I go to church in Madison, Tennessee. A few decades ago, Madison used to be the hot spot of north Nashville. Just five-eight minutes north of downtown Nashville (excluding traffic), Madison was once the place to be. Back in the day, all of the famous country singers lived around Madison and Goodlettsville, the town just west of Madison. There used to be many great aspects of Madison, including clean streets, a friendly atmosphere, and the original Shoney's. But times have changed and so has Madison. Madison is now the run-down part of north Nashville. The singers and stars now live south of Nashville in Brentwood and Murfreesboro, and Madison is now populated by minority groups. The streets are rough and dirty, and so is the average person you'll see while driving through Madison. Crime rates are high and it isn't the safest or cleanest town anymore.
I go to the First Baptist Church. We average around 100 or so on a Sunday morning. Just ten or twenty years ago, it was normal for over 600 to be present. In a three mile radius of the church, there are 16,000 youths under the age of 18. But our youth group, over the past year, has averaged less than 15 on a Wednesday. But it isn't the numbers that matter: it's the community around the church. Our problem is that we are trying to minister to second and third generations of unchurched people. That means that neither the parents nor grandparents of the teenagers we're trying to minster to went to church, so naturally it's really hard to connect with these youths or give them a real reason to come to church.
Let me tell you: when people are coming to your church and are getting saved and the atmosphere is great and the momentum is swinging your way, there's nothing better than church. But when nobody wants to come, when guests don't come back, when you rarely see new faces on Sunday morning, and when you feel like nobody cares anymore, that's hard. That's disappointing. That can suck the life out of any church.
When you're discouraged in your faith, it's hard to see the point anymore. I think a lot of times, we look at our society, our country, our world, and we get so discouraged. We see all kinds of evil and Godlessness and we get discouraged. We can work so hard and pray so hard and put in so many volunteer hours, but when the world looks worse tomorrow than it does today, we feel like we are working for nothing.
When I read John 6, the story of Jesus feeding the 5,000, I wonder of His disciple Philip ever felt the same way. John 6:5-7 says, "When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him, he said to Philip, 'Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?' He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do. Philip answered him, 'Eight months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!'" I think when Jesus asked Philip how to feed the 5,000 men, Philip looked over the vast sea of people and thought, "There's no way we can feed all these people! Why bother trying?" Can you relate to Philip? I sure can. I look at the amount of teenagers who haven't even heard of God or of Jesus, I see the homeless people who sleep on my church's steps, I see the homeless and hungry people who eat a free lunch at my church on Mondays, I see the amount of work it will take to transform the community of Madison, and I get discouraged. I get so discouraged that I question the point in going to church. I wonder if it's even worth trying.
Let's go back to the story of Jesus, Philip, and the 5,000. Right after Philip declared the job impossible, another disciple suggested an idea. John 6:8-9 says, "Another of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up, 'Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?'" This is a completely different approach than Philip had. Andrew had a few supplies but knew he wouldn't be able to feed all 5,000 men. Note that Andrew, like Philip, admits discouragement. He wonders how such a small amount of food could feed all 5,000 men. But regardless of his discouragement, I love his attitude. He said, "I know I can't feed all 5,000, but I can at least feed two or three. And I won't let the fact that I can't feed them all from keeping me from feeding some of them."
We all know the rest of the story. Jesus takes the five loaves of bread and the two fish and multiplies them into enough food for all to eat. And they had leftovers. In fact, they had more left over than they had to begin with. They started with five loaves of bread and two fish, and after all had eaten till they were full, they had twelve baskets of bread left over.
I want to leave you with Galatians 6:9. The apostle Paul writes, "Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up." I encourage you to not look at the whole problem. Don't try to help all of the homeless people in America. Don't try to adopt all the orphans. Don't try to financially support all of the elderly. Don't try to change the world. You can't do it. The world is hopelessly lost to evil and wickedness. It will never be a better place until Christ comes back to destroy it. So don't try to change it. Instead, try to change someone's life. Instead, do what you can with what you have. We each have what we need to change someone's life. There are people out there that we can help. God has equipped you with the proper gifts, talents, skills, and ideas to impact somebody out there. Some of us can financially bless someone who is in desperate need. Some of us can mentor someone and share our wisdom and knowledge.
Some of us have a ministry or goal we want to see accomplished, but we're waiting for someone else to do it for us. Get out and do it yourself! What will you do with your life? We all have five loaves of bread and two fish. The question is, How will you use yours?