At the bottom of the mountain, they were met by a crowd of waiting people. As they approached, a man came out of the crowd and fell to his knees begging, "Master, have mercy on my son. He goes out of his mind and suffers terribly, falling into seizures. Frequently he is pitched into the fire, other times into the river. I brought him to your disciples, but they could do nothing for him" (Matthew 17:14-16 MSG).
Jesus had just heard his Father's words of approval spoken in front of his closest followers as he was "transfigured" with Moses and Elijah (Matthew 17:1-13). Waiting at the bottom of the mountain was a distraught father who was desperate to help his son. While the disciples were rebuked for their lack of faith in this story, don't miss the greater reality. People knew Jesus and his followers helped folks in need! The father's frustration was that his son had great needs, he knew that Jesus and disciples helped people, and in his son's situation Jesus' followers couldn't do anything to help. There was never a question of whether or not they would want to help!
When unbelievers hear about you and your believing friends, what comes to their mind? When other churches or religious groups think about your group — congregation, small group, house church, or friendship circle — how do they think of you? Are you known as a group of people who help?
Many years ago, we lived in the small town of Elgin, Texas. There was a sweet lady named Nan who was up in years and who went to church with us. She and her husband were not real educated, but they were precious to Donna and me. We became very good friends and we got to share in some of her wonderful homegrown and country-cooked vegetables and fried chicken. Nan had survived cancer, but still went for yearly check-ups to an M.D. Anderson related clinic in Houston.
Over the years, Nan got to know a lady from Houston because their first two yearly check-ups coincided. As they visited in the waiting room, Nan asked the lady where she went to church. "Second Baptist in Houston," she said. Then she asked Nan, "And where do you go to church?"
"I go to the Elgin Church of Christ," Nan responded.
The woman had a puzzled look on her face a minute, then replied, "Oh yeah! You're the church that ..."
Now before I finish, what do you think the lady said? I can assure you, there have been a lot of things said about church of Christ going folks, but this was about the nicest thing anybody could have said. Nan's friend responded by saying, "Oh yeah! You're the church that helps people when they are sick."
You know, that's the kind of church I want to have as my spiritual family. It doesn't really matter what the sign says on the building, I just want the community to know that this group of folks who follow Jesus actually helps people — and not just church people, but other folks that need help.
There's a reason that churches that pursue Jesus get this reputation: you cannot live with the Holy Spirit alive in you and refuse to help others in need. There are several reasons for this.
- Jesus helped folks. It's that simple. And if we are going claim to be followers of Jesus, then we are going to help people! If we are not helpful to others, especially others in need, then something is really wrong with us. In fact, Jesus' brother* James says as much:
What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if people claim to have faith but have no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, "Go in peace; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead (James 2:14-17).
- The Holy Spirit moves us to help folks! You can't have the fruit of the Spirit and not be touched by the needs of others and want to help them. Look at the character qualities that come to the surface in the life of one filled and led by the Holy Spirit: "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, self-control, and faithfulness" (Galatians 5:22-23).
Now let's be realistic: we're going to blow it sometimes. We are going to have bad days and every group of Jesus' followers have some folks who haven't quite overcome their hard-heartedness. But we can try to be helpful! So it was a great delight when I visited with a waitress in town and she said, "Oh yeah, I know where you go to church, you're the folks who help people."
I'm in a different church, three decades later, in another town, but it was sure nice to hear the same kind of complement. I know folks who follow Jesus have been under attack in the media for decades. Some of it is deserved, but not most of it. And we can make a difference with the folks around us. Jesus had bad press in his day, too, but there never was a doubt that he cared about people and that his love and compassion moved him to actively care for them. So I believe that the folks we run with can have that same reputation, too, don't you?
So let's really follow Jesus! And when we do, I know folks around us are going to find a little of heaven's help at the end of our very earthly fingertips!
Less than an hour after I first wrote this article, I went to a meeting about a Christian college in Africa. One of the former students who now works at this college lives in a nearby village. The village did not have any church building. So he and a few believers began to build this church building on the weekends out of trees that they split in half. Before long, others in the village began to pitch in and help. As the building was being finished, 17 villagers confessed Christ as Lord and were baptized. The first Sunday the church building was open, it was full. Within six months, this brand new church was feeding 100 AIDS orphans every day. Their motto? "The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love" (Galatians 5:6). New followers of Jesus, without many resources, knew exactly what Jesus would have them do: help those around them who were in need.
When all is said and done, some of Paul's closing words say it well:
Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers (Galatians 6:10).
Would folks look at you and the group around you and say that you are a group that helps people?
What's the difference between people who are moved emotionally when they see the bad conditions others are in and those who actually do something to help them?
What keeps you from helping folks in need?
What is something that you and your group of believing friends can do to bless those in need around you?