Running on Empty


Roland Hegstad challenges our love for God and humanity.

One night, long ago, while driving through the flat delta land of south-western Mississippi, I ran out of petrol. That the gauge had read empty for 30 kilometres hadn’t concerned me; I knew there was plenty left to get me to the next town. I knew that right up to the time the engine sputtered, and I coasted to a stop by a little unpainted shack. I roused the family and asked where I could get petrol. The father offered to drive me to a station at a nearby town.

When we returned, I found the whole family up, talking to my wife and children.

There were eight children in the family—three sets of twins, aged three, five and eight, and two older children.

The mother and father and the older children worked in the paddocks from daylight until dark for a pittance when they could get work. The four youngest stayed at home in the care of the eight-year-olds! “I dread the thought of fire,” the mother said, “but there’s nothing else we can do. We just trust in the Lord to spare our children.” I looked at the two two-year-olds.

Lovely children, but small for their age.

Their mother must have interpreted my look. “We have a pretty hard time getting them the kind of food they should have.” I looked at my own four-year-old son—husky, happy. He’d never missed a good nutritious meal in his life. I looked again at their two little sons. I was still seeing them as I drove away into the coolness of that Mississippi evening.

And somehow I knew, as never before, that when I stand in judgment before my Lord, He will not ask me whether I attended church. He will not ask me to pass a test on Bible theology, for far too many “Christians” who are theologically solid are spiritually hollow. I will be asked how much I loved, how selflessly I served God’s needy children. Says Scripture, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40).

John told it as it is: “This is the clear difference between God’s children and the Devil’s children: anyone who does not do what is right or does not love his brother is not God’s child. The message you heard from the very beginning is this: we must love one another” (1 John 3:10, 11, TEV).

The fact that I have not killed, committed adultery, blasphemed, stolen (in regard to the letter of the law) will not gain me entrance. Against the good works that I have done will be balanced what I might have done. How important it will be, then, that I have confessed my sins of neglect, my lack of self-sacrificing love, and turned my life over to One who so loved that He took the responsibility for my sins and paid my penalty on Calvary’s cross.

Dear friends,” writes John, “let us love one another, because love comes from God. Whoever loves is a child of God and knows God.Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. And God showed his love for us by sending his only Son into the world, so that we might have life through him. This is what love is: it is not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the means by which our sins are forgiven” (1 John 4:7-10, TEV).

I have chosen to emphasise these inspired words of the apostle because I am convinced that the inhumanity of human beings to other human beings is our greatest sin. Lovelessness is the taproot of all human ills. Consider that One who is our example of service: Jesus. Trying to explain the meaning of His love for humankind, the apostle could find no adequate language to express it, so he said simply, “Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God!” (1 John 3:1, NKJV).

No building in Palestine was large enough to hold the multitudes that thronged to Christ for healing. And no-one who sought Him went away disappointed. On the green hilltops of Galilee , in the thoroughfares of travel, by the seashore, in the synagogues, and in every other place where the sick could be brought to Him was His hospital.

In every city, every town, every village through which he passed, He laid hands on the afflicted and healed them.

Christ’s life on earth was one of constant self-sacrificing love. He had no home in this world, except as the kindness of friends provided for Him. Wherever He went the tidings of His mercy preceded Him. Where He had passed, the objects of His compassion rejoiced in health.

His voice was the first sound many had ever heard. His name the first word they had ever spoken. His face the first they had ever looked upon. Why should they not love him! As He passed through the towns and villages, He was like a vital current, diffusing life and love and joy.

He recognised no distinction of nationality or rank or creed. He set the pattern for a faith in which there is no caste; in which Jew and Gentile, master and slave, rich and poor, are linked in a common brotherhood equal before God. He passed no-one by as worthless. This, then, is the Man, the life, the love that John asks us to behold and to emulate.

Excerpt from The Incredible Power of Grace by Roland R Hegstad, Review and Herald, 2005.
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