Friday, July 31, 2015

Caring for the Weakest Links

I remember a reality TV programme called “The Weakest Link”. At the end of each quiz round, the contestants voted off each other until two were left. Throughout each episode, the hostess would make cutting remarks about the contestants. As the contestants gave their reasons for voting off the ‘weakest link’, she made comments such as “he couldn’t answer much”, “she didn’t bank in enough money,” “he was too slow”, etc. You get to see a lot of scheming and manipulation to win the prize money. If this was reality TV, it’s a sad reflection of the human race. Praise God, the Kingdom of God does not work that way. God shows extra concern for the weakest links in his Kingdom as we see in I Thess 5:14, “and we urge you, brothers, warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone.”

I must admit that I found it a bit difficult to understand ‘warn those who are idle’. Does it mean conducting a witch-hunt to weed out those who are idle and then counselling them?  Wouldn’t that mean judging and condemning one another? I believe that a better way to warn the idle is to serve with energy, dynamic ideas and ability that others are stirred to contribute and do their best alongside you and refraining from finger pointing. The ‘timid’, literally ‘small-souled.’ described those who lose heart easily and are prone to quitting because of persecution, trials, lack of immediate results. The ‘weak’ likely refer to the spiritually weak in the church. Perhaps they lack knowledge or experience and so they struggle with certain issues over which they are unable to have victory or they may lack courage and find it difficult to trust God. They need help in their journey in life. I think all of us can identify with this group of people at one time or another.

God is always concerned for the weak and those unable to take care of themselves. That is why he told the Israelites in Leviticus 19: 9,10 not to reap the harvest to the edges of their fields and forbade them from going back to pick up whatever crops they dropped as they did their harvesting. These were to be left for the poor and the aliens, people who could not care for themselves. In the New Testament, James 1:27 tells us “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress.”  I think the lesson is quite clear, God expects his people to be very concerned for those who less strong, the so-called weakest links in our community. So in a way, they are a litmus test of our identity as God’s people. Do we deal patiently with them, as exhorted here by Paul or do we brush them aside as per the practice of worldly culture. I admit “people work” is difficult and maybe even frustrating at times. We all mature at different times and we have different personalities, backgrounds, baggage, likes, dislikes and habits. However, let us look at it this way. God is patient with us. In my own life, I have experienced that ‘two steps forward’ and ‘one step backward’ phases in my own spiritual life. Praise God for being patient and for putting patient people around me.

Our Christian faith is a dynamic one, one that manifests itself in our relationships with one another. It is seen in our walk with God and man and so may the grace of our Lord Jesus be sufficient for us to look out for one another and encourage those who are weaker than us.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Loving and Serving

In the Gospel account of Jesus washing his disciple’s feet, what did he mean in telling Peter “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me”? (John 13:8b) I believe he saw the need for Peter and the disciples that night to have the life of Jesus in them. They would soon learn that he was going away. Luke 9 records a quarrel the disciples had about who would be the greatest in God’s Kingdom. Obviously, they thought of an earthly kingdom so they needed spiritual eyes to see God’s plan of salvation for mankind. To see with spiritual eyes, they needed the life of Jesus in them.

In showing the disciples their greatest need, Jesus also gave them an example of what they were to do with his life in them. In biblical times, the roads were not the smooth paved roads of today. Both animals and humans used them. Sometimes animal droppings stuck to travelers’ feet. If it rained, their feet were caked with mud. So feet were usually smelly and grimy. That is why the host never washed his guests’ feet. He would welcome his guests with a kiss and then direct his servants to do the foot washing. Yet Jesus went around and washed everyone’s feet - Judas, Peter, James, John and all the rest. He served their needs and then said, “I have set an example that you should do as I have done for you” (John 13:15).

However, serving others is tough. It requires a sacrifice of something – one’s comfort, ease, recognition, adulation, etc. It requires a sacrifice of oneself, not just time and resources. That can be draining and exhausting. Sometimes the people you serve are the ones who let you down. Think about it. The scene is filled with irony. Jesus washed his disciples’ feet, knowing they would betray him. Peter's feet would carry him to denial. Judas would run to betrayal. The rest would hide behind locked doors out of fear and anxiety. Yet he washed their feet anyway. He knew that they would fail him. Jesus knew that he would be left alone in the end, yet he loved those failed and frightened men whose feet he washed. Then he tells his disciples, and us too, that he has set an example for us to follow!

How can we do it? By our own effort, we will fail. We will end up with burnout, frustration and despair. We can only do it if we allow the love of God to flow out from us into our service to others. John 13:34 reminds us, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you so you must love one another.” That is the only way we can serve – by loving. In fact, I believe you cannot serve without loving and you cannot love without serving. If you say you love someone, you will serve that person sacrificially. Those who are married will know the truth of this statement. Love is from the heart and servanthood begins with an attitude of the heart.

How can you make this command a reality today? There are many ways because, if love is there, we can be creative in finding ways to serve one another, even if it costs in time and resources. So be intentional, draw up a list of acts of service today. After that, commit it to God praying “this is what I will do, by your grace and because of your love for me.”