Last week I took my middle-aged self to surf camp. I - who had never surfed before in my life - spent a week at the ocean with 15 other adults learning how to surf. Was I afraid? Of course!
One of my son's reminded me of the (very slim) possibility of shark attacks. Just the idea of getting tossed in the surf, or caught in a rip tide, was cause for concern. But I overcame my fears and I got into the water and I surfed (with A LOT of help from my instructors).
One of the things we learned at surf camp is that as you stand up on the board, you have to throw your shoulders back and look ahead to where you're headed. If you remain hunched over, or look down or behind or to the sides, you will wipe out. Ironically, it was my fear of wiping out that kept me looking down at my feet to check their positions! I had to overcome that fear and obey my instructor's commands: shoulders back, look straight ahead and stand up. Only then could I ride the wave successfully onto the beach.
These days in the United States there is plenty to be fearful about. Just looking at this morning's paper I saw a few different stories about how bad the economy is. Cuts, home prices spiraling downward, more joblessness. We know that churches have not escaped the recession's effects.
It would be easy to want to hunker down and turn inward to focus on our own needs, instead of looking outward to the needs of our communities. We desperately cling to what little we have, and are fearful of giving that little bit away. But as Christians, we're called to a different way of operating. And when it comes to evangelism, looking outward and giving to others is exactly what we must do, even when our own human inclination is to do the opposite.
The story from the Bible that came to me as I thought about this was the story of Elijah and the widow, from 1 Kings, 17: 1-16. Elijah had prophesied that there would be a great drought for multiple years. God commanded Elijah to go hide out near a wadi, or stream bed, for awhile. When the stream dried up, God told him to head to Zarephath to live with a widow and her son. When Elijah arrived, he saw the widow and asked her to bring him some water, and then some bread.
"As the Lord your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of meal in a jar, and a little oil in a jug; I am now gathering a couple of sticks, so that I may go home and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it, and die," she said.
"Do not be afraid," Elijah told her. "Go and do as you have said; but first make me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterwards make something for yourself and your son. For thus says the Lord the God of Israel: the jar of meal will not be emptied and the jug of oil will not fail until the day that the Lord sends rain on the earth."
The widow obeyed and just as Elijah said, the jar and the jug continued to provide enough to get them through the drought.
How can our churches - which have so little right now - deliver Good News to our communities in the midst of a huge economic drought? Why not demonstrate the Good News through service to our hurting neighborhoods? Is there a way your church could be of service right now? Does your church, or its members, have a little bit that could be shared with neighbors?
In our church we've been collecting school supplies the last several weeks to give them away in backpacks to needy children. Some churches have started job search support groups. I haven't seen this done, but what about hosting "recession potlucks", where people bring what they can and share a meal? Maybe church members could walk through neighborhoods beset by foreclosures and quietly pray for the families in turmoil.
As Elijah said, "Do not be afraid!" Let's not remain hunched over, looking at our own feet! Let us stand up, put our shoulders back and look ahead to where God is taking us. Let us not be afraid to share what little we have in God's name to bring a lot of the love of Christ to others.
If your church has done something creative during this recession to demonstrate God's love, share it here so we can learn from each other.