When I became a follower of Jesus in 1975, one of the first Christian songs I learned was a ditty based on Acts 3. As with all good 1970s choruses, this one came with actions. Hold one hand out, palm up flat. Walk two fingers from the other hand along the palm, then lift them into the air, then wave both hands above your head.
You’ve got it. “Silver and gold have I none” (clap, clap), “but such as I have give I thee.” (Clap, clap) In the name of Jee-eesus Chri-i-i-ist of Nazareth, rise up and walk.” Then, with the actions, “And he went walking and leaping and praising God, walking and leaping and praising God.”
Why do we obsess about money for mission? Yes, financial resources, property and other stuff are very useful in ministry. I’ve written often about that over the last 3 years. I’ll never stop encouraging Christians to be generous and the recipients of that generosity to be good stewards. In my role at Uniting Financial Services, I’m committed to generating sound investment returns to multiply the Church’s financial resources. I’m not saying in this column that money is irrelevant for mission.
But …… here in the very earliest history of the Church we have a wonderful story of a very effective ministry that explicitly and overtly involved no financial support. There’s a powerful message here for us.
The man in this story had been lame from birth. He probably had a condition that today could be remedied by surgery and orthotics, but back then it meant a lifetime as a cripple. In turn, that meant total dependence on others, with no income opportunities other than the begging that he’d been carried to the temple to do. This man was vulnerable, poor and degraded.
Sitting outside the temple as he did each afternoon when men came to pray, he sees two chaps approaching. Perhaps he notices that they’re looking rather happy, for these two men are Peter and John, fresh from the exhilarating experience of Pentecost. So he goes into his begging routine to ask them for money. He had no idea of the emotional roller coaster he was about to ride!
Initially, there was hope. Instead of tossing some coins his way, avoiding eye contact in the process, Peter looked straight at him and demanded that the lame man look at them. This raised expectations that they were going to give him something.
Then he heard Peter utter those seemingly deflating words, “Silver or gold I do not have”. I doubt he would have done the double clap that youth groups in the 1970s did at that point in the story! Whether he actually heard what Peter said next is anyone’s guess – he may well have been looking around for the next potential donor already – but, as Peter took him by the right hand and helped him up, the power of the apostle’s words became very real. “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.”
The man’s response to this miraculous gift is something to which no actions with your hands can do justice. After feeling strength in his feet and ankles, the man tries walking. For the first time in his life! As this amazing new ability becomes more real, he’s gets really excited. He follows Peter and John into the temple courts, not only walking, but leaping and jumping and praising God. His life has changed, he has a future now and his joy and gratitude cannot be contained.
This story reminds us that effective ministry needs, more than anything else, to be ministry in the Name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth. It also shows us that powerful gospel work can be undertaken with nothing else than the Name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth.
This shouldn’t surprise us. We ought to know that it’s His gospel, not our own efforts, that brings the saving power of God into people’s lives. Before we worry about what resources we have available, let’s capture the power of the gospel in our own hearts, find the lame (and blind and vulnerable and lost and captive) in our communities, look them in the eye and hold out our hands to them as Peter and John did for this man. Then, and only then, will whatever financial resources we have available multiply into people walking and leaping and praising God.
Warren Bird, Executive Director, Uniting Financial Services