Overcoming Evil With Good?

In Mark’s account of the Good News we find this statement about Jesus:

9He told his disciples to have a boat ready for him because of the crowd, so that they would not crush him; 10for he had cured many, so that all who had diseases pressed upon him to touch him.

One of the participants in our Bible study yesterday told a story about a friend who’d taken some homeless people into his home, and then been robbed by the people he’d helped.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if people returned kindness for kindness? If the people we helped didn’t respond with indifference, or hostility, or even theft and violence? But the world doesn’t work that way. And it didn’t work that way for Jesus.

We’d like think that people Jesus healed would repay him with gratitude and kindness, but instead we find — long before his crucifixion — their selfish desire for more blessing made them indifferent to the danger of crushing the very one saving them.

I see two lessons in this passage. First, we should ask whether we are sometimes like the crowd. Do we focus on the ways Jesus can bless us so much that it gets in the way of, and even endangers, what Jesus is trying to do for people around us? That’s something we should think about.

Second, when we do good deeds, we should be aware, as Jesus was, of the dangers that might accompany them. Note that Jesus doesn’t simply allow the crowd to crush him: he instructs his disciples to be ready to help him escape. But notice also that he doesn’t stop healing people. We don’t have to be peoples’ meal tickets or punching bags, but their ingratitude or hostility doesn’t mean we should stop trying to help.

Being God’s Gift

Something we’re trying to do in the Evangelism and Mission team is figure out how Jewel Lake Parish can be God’s gift to the Sand Lake region of Anchorage.

As we figure that out, I’m going to make a note of ways I’ve heard about other churches being “God’s Gift” to their own communities. Here are four:

Williamsport United Methodist Church in Maryland provided one of the pit stops in the annual Bike Virginia Tour:

One of many scheduled stops on the five-day route, the church offered bicyclists refreshments such as homemade doughnuts and chicken soup, bathroom breaks and a place to relax and meet new people. The church also provided a booth that bikers could ride through if they desired prayer. The church was designated the best rest stop on the tour.

St. John’s Covenant church in Portland, Oregon provides meals for the girl’s basketball team.

The girls often endured three-hour bus trips to away games and needed better nourishment than fast-food stops. “Girls’ sports don’t get all the resources and attention as guys’ sports, so we decided to kind of ‘adopt’ the team,” [Pastor Andy] Goebel says, adding that the church members also went to games and tried to get to know the players.

LifePoint church in San Tan Valley, Arizona, offered a “drive-in movie night” to connect with preschoolers to fourth graders and their families.

Children either bring a cardboard box big enough to sit in or use one the church provides to make a car. Last year, some 300 “drivers” customized their cars at a body shop, tire store, license plate center, and department of motor vehicles at the church. Finally, they were admitted to view Cars 2. … The even included affordable concessions and the church’s worship band performing the stong “Life is a Highway.”

Along with a local Christian radio station, the People Church of Princeton, Illinois, offered a “Single Mom’s Day Out” to about 20 women.

Women preregister for the free event and receive breakfast, spa services, car care, a take-home lunch for their family, a gift bag and the opportunity to shop in the church’s Abundant Blessings room — a room of donated new and gently used gifts ranging from baby items to furniture. While the women focused on themselves for the day, church volunteers supervised their 30 children at a different site with snacks and activities.

Cornerstone Church of God offered to repair recreation complex in Meadville, PA.

“The church took on our picnic shelters, which were in very poor condition,” [the complex’s director] says. The team, which included members of a few other congregations, didn’t stop there. Volunteers also pained and landscaped the complex. Throughout Meadville, 50 volunteers left their mark. They repaired a park and parts of the Crawford County Humane Society as well as helped residents reinforce a retaining wall, cut wood, and build gardens.

Harvest Church of Billings, Montana, a dozen-year old church plant with more than 2000 members, doesn’t have a worship center, but they do have a $5 million water park.

[Church planter Vern Streeter] read an article about urban planners excluding churches on the grounds that they don’t provide goods, services, and taxes. … Vowing that “we would be so relevant that even the most ardent critic of Christianity would be bummed if we ceased to exist,” church leaders cultivated relationships with city officials and formed the nonprofit Better Billings Foundation.

The first four are from the March/April issue of Outreach Magazine. The last two are from the September/October issue.

Authenticity Matters

I came across a remarkable article on Esquire entitled “Pope Francis is Awesome” (via Real Clear Religion).

I actually agree with the writer about Francis. He is “kind of awesome.” It’s not my place to tell the Catholics how to run their church, but if it were, I’d tell them they could have done a lot worse than name Cardinal Bergoglio as Pope.

But that’s not what I found remarkable. This is much more impressive:

…as an atheist, I don’t really care about any of that. I’m sure it takes guts and brains to try and reform the Church, but whether the Vatican is a strong or a weak institution is of the smallest possible concern to me. What is much more important is how he has used many small gestures to demonstrate the possibilities of compassion.

The writer is an atheist!

When we live out our faith instead of just talking about it, people can’t help but notice. They may not like us, or our church, or organized religion at all. Some of them don’t even like Jesus. But when we act like we mean the things we say, they notice.

What’s something we as followers of Christ claim to believe, but sometimes fail to live out? Can you think of one small thing like that? If you can, make a point of doing it at least once this week. After all, it’s what we believe even if nobody notices!