How do you effect change to a community, a society or a nation? It starts with one changed life. Then it builds into a changed family, then into a neighborhood that is changed, then finally the society, region or nation is transformed. Take cell phone usage for example.
When cell phones first came out, they were clunky, huge and not at all easy to use. Very few people had them and we called them the “early adopters.” I was one of those people. I had very few calls to make, because I didn’t know many people with a cell phone. Now, how different the culture is! Everyone has a cell phone, and in fact, many do not even have a land line anymore! Even Africa has millions of cell phones. You find them in the most remote villages and health providers are using this fact to help save lives, especially in the case of complicated childbirth. We couldn’t imagine our lives without cell phones now, but I still remember the day when no one had them yet.
In the same way, transformation can come to our communities and to our society as whole. Some people would say that today’s economy makes it impossible for those at the very bottom to improve their lives. I also hear a lot about how we all just need to hunker down and protect our own family, forgetting about everyone else in the process. I have a very different view of the landscape today, maybe influenced by my experiences in extremely poor nations. Not only do I believe that transformation is possible, I have faith that we will see substantial improvement in my lifetime, if we are changed ourselves first.
In the last two blog posts, we have examined poverty as more than just an economic condition, but at its root a spiritual condition. We have also examined how Jesus frees the captives and how it is possible for us to walk free in our own lives. Now, we will find out how Jesus can change a community and, by extension, a society.
1 Timothy 3:14-15
“Although I hope to come to you soon, I am writing you these instructions so that, if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.
They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations.”
The Church is the Pillar and Foundation of the Truth. The church alone holds the place of a pillar for society. What does a pillar do in a building? It holds up the roof.
Without pillars, the roof would collapse. Similarly, without the church, society collapses. When the Soviet Union tore down the church as a pillar in society and began persecuting Christians and Jews, the nation doomed itself into ruin. Collapse came and with it chaos. I don’t think that the situation is much better now for the church in Russia as persecution continues, but there are several former Soviet-bloc nations where the church is flourishing and society shows it. Society needs the church to uphold the truth and to point people to God.
The Church is called to rebuild ruins and restore devastated places. This starts with the redemption of one person’s soul through salvation in Jesus. With one person transformed, others around them are drawn to Jesus. At some point, believers hit a “critical mass” and are now an influence on the community. We see this in modern-day Baja, Mexico. After years of missionary activity and thousands of salvations, the crime rate dropped last year for the first time in decades – in Mexico no less. Baja still has its issues, but when the criminals leave the drug life and begin preaching the gospel, you can be assured that change is coming for the community. For more information see this website (Baja Christian Ministries).
I also saw this first-hand when I was in Venezuela as a medical student and one drug trafficker and murderer after another came to know the Lord in the area we were running a mobile medical clinic. The fear of God hit that neighborhood and hundreds gave their lives to the Lord. And the drugs stopped flowing and the murders stopped happening. I also see this now in my own city of Nashville as the church (really many individual churches) intentionally goes into our own inner city areas with the gospel and outreach / service projects. This movement was birthed out of prayer and a love for our own city. And our inner city is changing, albeit slowly, one life at a time.
The Church is called to renew cities that have been devastated for generations. The Church is even called to the very difficult places and situations. This verse probably does not describe the situation in the US. Even though our inner cities are in many cases in “ruins” compared to other areas of our nation, there are amazing bright spots of revival and restoration taking place in the inner city. I can point to East Nashville as a bright example and I’m sure every city has their own example too.
What I think this verse is really talking about are the truly hard places on the earth: Middle East, Southern Asia, Northern Africa, and unreached cannibalistic tribes on south Pacific islands. In these places, darkness has ruled for generations. There are very few believers and even fewer churches capable of sustaining the work of the gospel.
These places are the center of human trafficking, sex trade, terrorism, conflict and other activities that bring ruin to the people, cities and nations in the region. Yet, the church still has the answer in the midst of such deep darkness. We are still called to go and preach the gospel that will bring renewal to these cities. We are still called to have faith that transformation is possible, even in these places where all the bad news headlines each day.
Challenge: Will you pray, give, or go to bring transformation to the ruined cities of our age? Will you work locally to see your own community transformed by the gospel?