NOTE: All of us who serve the Denison Forum ministries want to thank you for your generous response on North Texas Giving Day. We have been blessed, once again, by your gifts and will use them to further the work of God’s word throughout the world. You have strengthened our ministry and enabled us to fulfill our calling. Thank you seems inadequate, but “Thank you!”
I wonder if we will ever know what the pope said to Fidel Castro and his family. The pope’s visit to Cuba was well documented in the media, but the thirty-to-forty minute conversation he had with Castro and his family was a private matter. Has Castro reached the end of his life and realized that his actions will have eternal consequence? Did Castro seek forgiveness from God or did he ask the pope to understand and forgive his choices in life? There is an eternal difference in those two things.
I was able to travel to Cuba and see firsthand some of the consequences to Castro’s leadership of that nation. Castro’s life was devoted to personal power, and he achieved that power through Communist philosophy and politics. Christians were imprisoned, tortured, and often killed for their faith. How does Castro feel about his actions now that he knows he is facing eternity someday soon?
I wonder if the message the pope gave to Castro was similar to the message he gave to the people of Cuba that day. The pope, preaching in his native Spanish language, told the crowds, “The call to serve involves something special, to which we must be attentive. Serving others chiefly means caring for the vulnerable.” The actions of the Cuban government in the coming days will indicate whether or not they believed the pope’s message.
The Christian churches in Cuba are filled with some of the finest, most godly Christians I have ever met. When we visited, they gave us their best and were pleased to have anything that was left over. It was difficult to accept their hospitality because we knew they needed those meals and those gifts more than we did. The church cared for their members as a family of faith. Most members walked to church, sometimes long distances. They worshiped together for two hours without the comfort of soft pew cushions or air-conditioning. When the pews were full, men stood in the back or outside, leaning in the open windows to hear the message.
It was difficult for me to sit in my own church when I returned. I had worshiped with people who had very little but God one Sunday, and the next Sunday I worshiped with people who thought they had all they needed, including God. In Cuba people sang with all their hearts in grateful praise but, in my own church, most were singing with a sense of politeness rather than reverence. Some people didn’t sing at all. I remember trying to wipe my tears so no one would gossip about why the preacher’s wife was crying.
We live in a different culture, and our prosperity has caused us to live without a great sense of our need for God. I’ve often bowed my head to thank God for a meal, but I wasn’t really filled with a sense of gratitude. I’ve done a lot of work for God in my life, but looking back, how often was I truly serving God? The pope’s words have given me pause to think. We are called to serve the vulnerable, but in our culture, who are the most vulnerable?
I believe the most “vulnerable” people are those who need eternal life. I also believe there are many who are vulnerable because they have trusted in a salvation experience but have not submitted to God’s sanctification. Our lives are a gift from God, but are we living in such a way that we use the gift of our lives for God’s eternal purpose? Are we vulnerable because we are living for this world more than for eternity?
Isaiah preached to the people of the Jewish nation who were confident in their salvation simply because they were Jewish. He told those people, “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon” (Isaiah 55:7). The apostle Paul was reminding the Galatian churches of Jesus’s words when he said, “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap” (6:7). We serve a God of compassion who will forgive. We also serve a God of fairness who will judge accurately what we have done with our lives.
The pope’s words to Castro were important. Even if Castro asks Christ to be his Lord, he has spent his life trying to achieve glory on earth rather than in heaven. He doesn’t have a great deal of time left to store treasure in heaven. Castro has been “vulnerable” to the treasures on earth, and that vulnerability has cost him eternal reward.
Paul knew he would soon die and was teaching Timothy how to carry on his ministry. He told Timothy what to teach the people of that day, and our own: “As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life” (1 Timothy 6:17-19).
We want to serve God with our lives. Could it be that we need to think about where our own lives and others’ are “vulnerable” to the cultural standards? If we want to serve God, we need to be attentive to the vulnerable. Those who are poor and understand their need for God may be less vulnerable than those who have a great deal.
How are you vulnerable today?