Acts of Service, Acts of Faith

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Why does acting on what we say we believe as Christians ultimately matter?

Q - Too often we see the problems of the world as insurmountable—too big for us to make any difference. Yet you take it down to helping individuals, one at a time, as objects of God’s love. How can this action for change be encouraged?

I remember a quote from Mother Teresa, asked much the same question. She said she didn’t operate by the principle of multiplication (“How can you possibly multiply your effect to the whole world?”) but by the principle of subtraction. Find one needy person, meet that person’s needs, and then find another. I don’t discount the need for major institutional programs, but we Christians especially are called to love, and an institution cannot love. Only a person can love.

I have learned that we who give to the needy need the process as much as those who receive. We need the act of service for our own health. Otherwise we become insular, self-absorbed, greedy. Perhaps we could encourage acts of service by detailing their impact on the giver as well as on the recipient, something I try to do in my books.

Q. Why does acting on what we say we believe as Christians ultimately matter?

Because the church is an extension of the Incarnation. God lived here in flesh for a third of a century, then Jesus left this planet. “It is for your own good,” he told his disciples. How could it possibly be for our good? Jesus was turning the mission over to us. He ministered mostly to Jews in a remote corner of the Roman Empire. Today the Gospel penetrates all over the world.

I hear from many people who have been wounded by the church. In fact, I’ve concluded it’s as likely for the church to turn a person away from God as toward God. I now see the church as God’s greatest “gamble”—imagine, turning God’s holy mission over to the likes of us. Why does it matter how we act? Because the only way most people will learn to know God is through us.

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