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Thursday, October 4, 2007

What we stand for matters every bit as much as what we stand against!

“He who gives to the poor will lack nothing, but he who closes his eyes to them receives many curses.
Proverbs 28:27

“Jesus hates strip clubs, but he’s OK with people starving.” That’s the provocative title I found on somebody’s blog this week. Now I believe the guy who wrote that is ‘out to lunch’. He was upset because some Christians had banned together to shut down adult-themed clubs in his town. Well what a shame! Apparently he has a problem with people who have the sense to realize that such establishments exploit women, lead to increased crime and contribute to the ongoing breakdown of marriages. Obviously I don't share his sentiments. But his article did remind me of one very tragic fact. All across this nation unbelievers identify Christians for what we stand against (in this case, strip clubs) and not for the good we do (like feeding starving children, building hospitals, establishing schools etc). And to a great extent, it’s our own fault.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t stand against strip clubs – not at all! But isn’t it a shame that people are used to hearing us scream out against what is wrong with the world, but rarely see us sacrificing – in the spirit and power of Jesus – to make things right? They know our political views well, but are ignorant of our good works. Could it be that we are lacking in the latter?

James 2:14-17 says, "What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no [good] works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, "Go in peace, be warmed and be filled," and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself. "

And Jesus commands "He who has two coats, let him share with him who has none; and he who has food let him do likewise." (Luke 3:11)

Believers, we need to consider how our “good works” are meant to be seen – especially in those things we should do to help the poor and starving of this world. Jesus said, in Matthew 5:16, “"Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” How is your life doing that? Could it be that God wants you to re-evaluate your priorities and your spending and to think again abut how people see your faith in action? Does God want our church to take a more active role in reaching out to meet the practical needs of those around our neighborhoods and around the world – even as we continue to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ? May God help us to live in such a way that people see what we stand for...not just what we stand against.

In Matthew 25, Jesus presents a disturbing picture of the final judgment. I believe he does so to wake us up to our responsibility to the hurting in this world. Beginning in v 31 he says,

But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne All the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left. "Then the King will say to those on His right, 'Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 'For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.'

"Then the righteous will answer Him, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? 'And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? 'When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?'

"The King will answer and say to them, 'Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.'

"Then He will also say to those on His left, 'Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink; I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.'

"Then they themselves also will answer, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?'

"Then He will answer them, 'Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.'

And then notice the last line. Here is where Jesus interprets the whole parable for us. Then "These (who had not concern for the hurting of the world) will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous (who showed concern for the hurting) into eternal life."

Now, I don't think this parable teaches salvation by works -- you know, do good things and God has to accept you. No, that would contradict virtually everything else Jesus said about salvation and how he came to save the lost by giving his life as a payment for their sins. But what this passage does tell us is that when Christ saves you, the new life of righteousness he gives will be seen in the sacrificial service that results from it. Or as Eph 2:10 says, "We are God's workmanship created for good works in Christ, which God prepared in advance that we should do."

My prayer is that we will think hard about these sorts of things as we look for ways to make a difference in the lives of those who are hurting. For surely, Jesus not only hates the lustful immorality and exploitation of the strip club, but he also has a deep love and concern for the "least of these" who suffer in this world. As Isaiah says.... “If you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday. And the Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your desire with good things, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water whose waters fail not."

May God be greatly glorified in our transformed lives