Good Deeds to Meet Pressing Needs
Pr. Dennis Gallaher
Her name is Olivia. Every Sunday she comes with her parents and always stays in the very last row of the sanctuary where a group of people gather around her simply because she is a very important person in our church. Olivia’s parents have three other children, two sons who are grown and a younger brother but none have the special place that their sister has in the heart of our people. They also are constantly finding their way to her side and attending to any need she might have. She is blessed indeed, and is the one person in our church that receives more practical and observable care than anyone else. Even the infants and babies do not have the special and constant care that Olivia enjoys.
Olivia is a miracle. At fourteen years of age she neither hears nor sees. She cannot speak and only cries out when she desires something . Only her mother or father can translate those cries into action. Her outbursts make many uncomfortable, by the way. More than once she has been accused of having a demon.
She cannot walk, respond to a kind word or give any indication of gratefulness, but she is one of the most well known and important people in our church. Why? Because she is one of the least of these.
I have known Mary since she was a little girl. She is more like family to Jan and me because of the many years our families have known one another. I went to college with Mary’s sisters and brother and her father and I have served in ministry together. He is like a father to me and that makes Mary my sister. A couple of weeks ago we celebrated a milestone in Mary’s life when she turned 50 years old. The whole church exploded in praise when I announced that special day and Mary, all smiles, talked excitedly and waved her hand long after the applause ended.
Mary is severely challenged both physically and mentally. When she was a baby a raging fever brought on life long seizures. Even so she had always been a special part of the church of God. She loves Jesus, worships Him with great joy, and prays that someday she would be healed. Until then, she teaches all of us what it means to live full of grace and mercy which she gives to each and everyone who ventures to sit and talk for a while. If you meet Mary, you will leave with a blessing. Why? Because Mary is one of the least of these.
To ignore the the least of these is to disregard those that Jesus never passed by. Whether it was the blind, deaf, cripple or demon possessed, Jesus was drawn to them without fear and always with a listening ear and a gentle touch. These were the very people whom the religious people, those who claimed to know God, did not want in their churches. It remains the same today, even those these are the people who need the practical and observable love of Jesus the most.
Still today, the church passes by the cripple on the street or the blind man stumbling and begging or the poor old woman without any one to care for her with the same attitude as the pharisee in the temple, “Thank you God, that you did not make me like one of these!” (Luke 18:9-14). How quickly we forget the words of Jesus,
“Whoever gives one of these little ones only a cup of cold water in the name of a disciple, assuredly, I say to you, he shall by no means lose his reward.” (Matthew 10:42)
Now, I am writing to pastors today but also to those who claim to love Jesus. If that is you, please listen! Contrary to what many people think, pastors are not the ones who do all of the work in the church but are to equip the saints for the work of the ministry. (Ephesians 4:12).
In other words, as important as a pastor’s example is, what is more important is that we teach and release our churches to roll up their sleeves and engage in the hard work of practical ministry in the local community. Here is a short list that every pastor should institute in their local church.
l Lead by example. Whenever a person who is physically or mentally challenged braves the door of the church, the pastor and his wife should be the very first to greet him or her warmly. If it is a person in a wheelchair, drop down to their level, eye to eye, enter their world where few others care to go. If it is a person of low status, invite them to come and sit in the front with your family. This is often what Jan and I do as well as the leadership in our church.
l Provide special places of honor for the physically challenged. Is your church accessible to those who cannot walk? Are there those assigned to assist the elderly or challenged to a seat of honor in your church? This is BASIC church instruction from James 2:1-9 but how often it is ignored in the local church!
l Teach your people to love others both practically and observably. Titus 2:14 says, and let our people engage in good deeds to meet pressing needs that they may not be unfruitful. The church is the one place that the least of these should be accepted and loved unconditionally.
l Remember the special place that God has for the poor, widows and orphans and so should the church of Jesus Christ.
l Partner your church with a home for the elderly or disadvantaged like Gilgal Ashram, a home for the dying and destitute. Most people are not comfortable around the disadvantaged, but Jesus was! Touching, talking, singing and being with others who cannot give back is one of the most rewarding events in my life.
Every Sunday morning, Patty joins our worship team to help lead worship in our church. Patty sings, but not with her voice. She plays an instrument, but not one that you can see. She worships, sings and preaches instead with her hands.
Patty is gifted in sign language which is the only language that the deaf can “hear.” With great beauty and grace, she “performs” for the whole church by expressing through her gift the worship songs that are being sung as well as the sermon preached yet only one individual really knows what she is “saying.” Maria is her name, and she cannot hear or speak yet she knows Jesus.
Without Patty, Maria would never have had the opportunity to hear, “your sins are forgiven.” She would have never known the love of Jesus, the fellowship of the hearing church or had “the wall of separation” between the hearing and the deaf communities broken down. It took years for Patty to learn to use her hands to talk but she has lead countless to the cross as a result.
Look around you. Everyday we pass the Olivia’s, Mary’s and Maria’s without a second thought. They have been trained to be ashamed and told to keep distance from those who are whole. Isn’t it time for the church to seek and save those who have been discarded and abused? Isn’t it past due that we do the works that Jesus did and store up an eternal reward? (Matthew 10:42)
Years ago, I took my students from India Bible College and Seminary to Gilgal Ashram for practical ministry. I told them to leave their Bibles behind because the people they would meet would not understand their preaching. Many of them thought I was not very spiritual and questioned my “lack of faith” as a result.
When we drove up and got off the bus, the residents of the home began yelling and waving at my students, who promptly wanted to get back on the bus! They were scared, having never actually spent time with the disadvantaged. For the next two hours, I told them to go and hold a hand, listen to a story, hug the unlovable and sing songs over those who could not respond.
As we boarded the bus to return to the campus, one of my students, a fine young man in his late twenty’s, said to me, “Thank you pastor for bringing us here today... I did not know that these kind of people were in India!”
I was shocked. Traveling from the campus to Gilgal, I regularly saw beggars, the crippled, the mentally deranged and the castaways, but he had never opened his eyes until that day. How often do you pass up those who are the castaways and never give them a second look? Our goal is not to care for all of them, by the way, but certainly to care deeply for some of them.
Until Jesus returns, the poor, destitute, disadvantaged and despised will always be with us. Every church, no matter the size, should have a place of honor for these that Jesus loves.
Where is that place in your church?