Early in the George W. Bush presidency--before the outrage that was 9/11 rightfully claimed the Administration's primary focus--much was being made of the President's support of "faith-based initiatives." During the 2000 Republican National Convention here in Philly, the nation learned of studies conducted locally that proved the value--both in terms of dollars, and in community impact--of social services delivered by religious institutions in the greater Philadelphia area, and beyond. The studies garnered the usual opposition, but the results were impossible to dispute: without the work of the local church, government would never be able to accomodate the sheer volume of human need without the help of the church--much less, hope to be able to pay for the delivery of those much-needed services. Bottom line: the church is the most efficient and effective delivery system for social services on the planet.
In 2005, that fact was proved once again. As a tsunami swept across southeast Asia...as earthquakes shook Taiwan...and as hurricanes devastated America's southern coastline, there again was the church--first to arrive, always on the front lines, and the last to leave--even when such disasters were no longer at the top of the news cycle. As the various levels of government pointed the fingers of blame at one another, Christian volunteers simply got busy: clearing their schedules, opening their hearts--and their wallets.
To this reporter, the faithful and generous response of the religious community in particular to worldwide calamity is the top story of 2005. My listeners will tell you that, with every disaster that struck this year, I was quick to point out that such devastation was not necessarily God’s judgment on the wicked (as many claimed)...but rather, that each earthquake, tsunami, and hurricane was most definitely God’s test for His people. How would a blessed and comfortable Christian church respond, when those of other races, nationalities, and faiths--even those with no faith at all--were in desperate need? The church's actions speak for themselves.
No, I'm not seeking to pat the church on the back, or suggest we have somehow earned a rest, or special honors. The work is far from over, and such labor is our solemn duty, not some "favor" we are performing. I believe that the coming year will bring even more horrific challenges to our nation, our world, and most specifically: the body of Christ. But I also believe that the cup of cold water we offered in Jesus' Name to so many around the world in the year 2005 may lead to one of next year's biggest stories: millions of people, in each of those disaster zones, coming to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ in 2006, who believed because some Christian truly cared. Amen. Maranatha. And have a joyous new year.