What Can I Do?

starfish.GIFOne bright morning a boy rushed to get up and get out to the beach. There had been a terrible storm the night before and he could just imagine all the treasures which had washed ashore during the night. When the boy got to the beach he was amazed to see the beach covered with thousands of starfish. They had been washed way up onto the sand and were starting to dry out. The boy knowing that they would die began to pick them up and throw them back into the water. A man who was strolling on the beach watched the boy frantically rushing to throw the starfish back into the ocean. The man approached the boy and said, “You know you can never throw all of these starfish back into the ocean. There are too many and they are already dying. Your throwing them back won’t make any difference.” The little boy carrying another starfish in his hands, stopped and looked into the man’s eye thoughtfully….then tossing the starfish into the waves he replied, “It makes a difference to that one!” and he rushed off to try and save more of the dying starfish.

Many people are familiar with this story. Perhaps you have heard it before. Perhaps you’ve even heard me tell it before. In my estimation, it very fittingly illustrates what we are faced with from day-to-day. There are so many storms raging around us, storms every sort, too. We are bombarded with reports of these storms in the media; but, if we never watched the news, we would still be aware so much suffering, heartache, injustice—so many storm-wrecked lives—that it would be reasonable for us to conclude, “There are so many needs. I am just one person amidst all of these desperate and dieing souls. How can I make a difference? What can I do?

The parable which was read to us from Matthew 25 points us to the answer. We sometimes read this as though Jesus is providing us with a check list of things to do to assure entrance into heaven when we die.
[] Feed the hungry
[] Give water to the thirsty
[] Shelter the homeless
[] Clothe those who have no clothes
[] Visit the sick
[] Care for those who are in prison

But, it seems to me that Jesus’ real intention is to teach us what kind of people he wants us to be while we live, instead of enumerating a list of things to do in order to receive a ticket entitling us to pass through heaven’s gate. Just think of how many things would have to be on that list. There are numerous examples:

(1) James 1:27 states that “religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress…” Clearly, coming to the aid of the elderly and their many needs which transcend the basics is a God-given responsibility.

(2) John 8:1ff and the “woman caught in adultery” brings to mind the idea of treating with dignity and respect, instead of using them to advance personal agendas, those who are suffering from social injustice.

(3) Mark 5:1ff and “the demon-possessed man” from the region of the Gerasenes suggests that we should do what we can to help those who are tormented emotionally.

There are many such examples. The point is: We who are members of the body of Christ can make a difference—should make a difference—in the lives of people who are in need, because we are here to serve. Galatians 6:10 states, “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.” This works itself out in very practical terms in Proverbs 3:27-28. Here we read: “ 27Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to act. 28 Do not say to your neighbor, ‘Come back tomorrow and I’ll give it to you’— when you already have it with you.”

In the greater Christian community there is a great deal of conversation going on about the need for Christ’s followers to become more proactive in responding to the needs in our world. For many this is a new idea, because our focus has been on form, rather than function. While form is important it is of little or no value at all if functioning appropriately is not emphasized equally. If I’m reading the Gospels correctly, it seems as though Jesus subscribes to the idea that form follows function. Therefore His teaching is very heavily weighted in favor doing rather than thinking. This is seen as follows:

In general terms Jesus identifies two attitudes of heart which should be ours with respect to our interaction with others:

(1) Jesus states in Mark 12:28-31 that loving others as ourselves is the second most important command, being second only to loving God with all our hearts, souls, minds and strength.

(2) Jesus emphasizes that our treatment of others is to be governed by a rule that is as good as gold. It is: “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” (Luke 6:31) I really like the way Peterson paraphrases this in “The Message”. Here we read: “Here is a simple rule of thumb for behavior: Ask yourself what you want people to do for you; then grab the initiative and do it for them!”

We will wrap this up by reading a familiar parable. In it we will see three essential characteristics which those who would make a difference can and should possess. The reading is from Luke 10:25-37. The three characteristics are these:

(1) Eyes that see (when he saw him)

(2) Hearts that care (he took pity on him)

(3) Hands that serve (he went to him and bandaged his wounds)

Truly, one person can make a difference. Just as the Samaritan made a difference in this traveler’s life, we can make a difference in the lives of others! Just put a smile on your face and say to the world, “How may serve you today?”

© Bill Williams

August 20, 2006

About a fellow sojourner

a sojourner in life, trying to follow in the steps of Jesus.
This entry was posted in Blogroll, Christian Living, Christian Missions, Kingdom Living, Life, Missional Church, Missional Living, Preaching Notes. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to What Can I Do?

  1. Dee Andrews says:

    Bill –

    I’m going to have to print this one out and keep it close because you have just posted all of my favorite “how do we know for sure we’re doing what we should to get into Heaven” answers/scriptures, all of which I’m continually quoting to somebody or other. You write about the very thing I think is most important for each of us as individuals – ONE small, sole person – SOUL person, if you will – in this universe.

    We each one do what we can, which is all ANY of us can do.

    I had a couple of long conversations this morning after worship with some others about these things, including a couple of our elders. I spoke out in Bible class paraphrasing from Matt. 25 about what we should be about doing (and a 3rd elder was teaching the class).

    The church here is actively seeking a minister, so I’ve been doing all in my power to encourage the elders and the minister selection committee members who I know to continue to be diligent and dedicated to the task (some of them have been admittedly rather slack about it).

    Which reminds me – I’ve got to stop here so I can go to worship this evening.

    But thanks. A BIG thanks! Hope you’re having a blessed day. Dee

  2. Kathy says:

    Simply put, if I may, we are do exactly what Jesus did and with the same loving heart and hands.

    First, He stayed in direct and constant contact with the Father. [praying without ceasing]

    Second, He had a roving eye. He watched, looked for those that needed help, rather than trying to avoid them until they absolutely knocked Him down. He didn’t wait to be asked, He searched out the opportunities to help others, all the while teaching of God’s will for their lives.

    Third, He cared for His family and friends, for His congregation, so to speak – teaching, ministering to them, going to parties with them, eating with them, healing their family members, praying for them constantly.

    Finally, His was a life lived in absolute oneness with the Father, telling of His good news, helping all in need – whether that need was physical, emotional or spiritual, He was with them, and He was joyful in His life, immersed in God’s love for humanity, giving His for every “other” ever to live.

  3. Donna says:

    The impact to that one starfish was incalcuable. Maybe when we let our hearts be in tune with individuals and really SEE people we can make a difference to the individuals we come in contact with…..then they can see Jesus in us.

    I’m with Dee, this post is a keeper and this Matthew 25, one of my favorites.

  4. Dee Andrews says:

    I LOVE starfish, by the way. Anything and everything about the sea. Mostly from the beach, you understand, although I bought a Hobie 18 with wings while I was living in a beach house over in Long Beach, Miss. (just behind the Hobie shop, incidentally!) that we (Tom and I got together that summer) had for about 15 years and loved.

    The minute we would leave the beach to sail out to some of the barrier islands it was glorious. Blue, blue water (blue green, actually) and out on the islands, white sand, sea oats, tons of sand dollars to pick up and save (I had over 1,000 at one time).

    I had bowls full of sand dollars and have a lot of starfish, too. I had several on our fireplace mantle and one year, while I was in law school, Tom hot glued 100s of sand dollars to tree hangers and we had a Christmas tree for several years with all tiny clear lights, the 100s of sand dollar ornaments and a big white starfish as our star on top of the tree.

    Yes! If we save one, we’ve saved the world for that one.

    Cheers! Dee

    P. S. Bill – I’m planning on doing my “book” answers next at Finding Direction, but tomorrow I’m going to be gone all day with doctors’ appointments and Wednesday afternoon I have to have laser surgery on my right eye, so hope to get the post together sometime tomorrow evening and/or Tuesday morning before I’ll not be able to see very well for a few days. I’ve been thinking a lot about it and have all my “answers” I think. Just need to write it up and add some links to the books.


  5. Greg England says:

    Interesting in that the older gentleman who did our communion devotional today spoke along the same lines as this fine blog. There is an older black man who stands near our credit union almost every day. Doesn’t bother anyone. Doesn’t ask for a handout. Just stands there, neatly dressed, and very much in need of help. A few weeks ago I stopped to talk with him briefly. Asked him when he last had a meal and he told me it had been the day before. I gave him some money and told him to go enjoy a meal. He was most appreciative and assured me he would do just that. Since then I’ve made it a point to give him a few dollars when I deposit my check. I can’t help everyone out there who needs a meal or a dollar, but I decided I could at least “give alms” to this one man who seems genuinely in need and very grateful for those who will notice him and help him out. Kinda makes me feel good, too!

  6. cwinwc says:

    Your story remined me of some elders meeting when the subject of a mission comes up. Usually someone asks, “How fruitful has this mission been?” Making a difference to one soul is fruitful enough for me.

  7. Emily says:

    Amen Bill! So many Christians I know are so preoccupied with theology and getting the message of the Gospel out, that they forget this incredibly important command of our Lord’s – to love other people. And although we can’t solve major problems on our own, we can certainly do our own part to help. Even if no one notices or even if it has little effect, we know that our Father in Heaven is watching and will reward us one day for our obedience.

    God bless Bill,


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