I've been slowly working my way through Philip Yancey's latest book, "Vanishing Grace." In the book Yancey explores some of the reasons why Christianity seems to have lost respect in many parts of the world and offers some ideas as to how Christians might once again be seen as dispensers of God's grace to the lost and hurting.
One way that Christians are seen in a positive light is by providing assistance, help and resources in times of disaster and loss. Yancey tells how a "60 Minutes" producer, John Marks, watched in awe as Christians came together to serve and offer help during Hurricane Katrina. He looked on as churches stepped up to feed thousands, offer temporary shelter and go into stricken neighborhoods to help rebuild homes.
Marks writes, "I would argue that this was a watershed moment in the history of American Christianity...nothing spoke more eloquently to believers, and to nonbelievers who were paying attention, than the success of a population of believing volunteers measured against the massive and near-total collapse of secular government efforts. The storm laid bare an unmistakable truth. More and more Christians have decided that the only way to reconquer America is through service. The faith no longer travels by the word. It moves through the deed."
I disagree a bit with Marks conclusion. Paul wrote to the Romans, "Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the Word of Christ." The Gospel is the "power of God for the salvation of all who believe," as Paul reminds the Romans. Saving faith for any person begins and ends with the Gospel.
Still, as Marks points out, deeds are important. In the Catechism, question eight asks, "What does God teach and do in the Gospel?" Here's the answer, "In the Gospel, the good news of our salvation is Jesus Christ, God gives forgiveness, faith, life and the power to please Him with good works."
The deeds Marks is talking about are a result of the effect the Gospel has had on a believer's life. When touched with the amazing grace of Jesus Christ a believer can't help but want to share and show the love of Jesus with others. This manifests itself in any number of ways - bringing a meal to someone who is ill...helping to clean up a yard for a friend who can no longer do the work...sitting at the side of a hospital bed and praying with someone near death. And, yes, investing one's own time and money for the sake of a family who has lost their home in a hurricane.
It seems to me that responding to needs as Marks has describes gives Christians an opportunity to answer the question, "Why are you doing this for me?" Then when the door of opportunity is opened, believers have the chance to share Jesus with those who wonder about the reason for the good works and deeds being done on their behalf.
Yancey also shared a comment from "Time" magazine's political editor, Joe Klein. Klein was in Oklahoma serving as a volunteer to help repair and rebuild homes that suffered damage in a massive tornado. Klein noticed all the church groups at work, many who had traveled hundreds of miles just to come and help, and he observed, "Funny how you don't see secular humanists giving out hot meals."
Yancey's book has really impressed upon me that even non-believers sit up and take notice, so to speak, when Christians respond with the love of Jesus to those in need of help. Maybe more Christians should move away from political action and just look for ways to help others in the name of Jesus. That kind of love and service might just give Christians a good name!