Get out of the pew


Walking through Montrouis

I leave for a weeklong visit to Haiti this week, and the past few days have been a flurry of packing, shopping online and in stores for supplies my small group will take for the work we have planned there, scheduling projects and visits in the town of Montrouis and trying to get caught up on my work to the degree necessary to allow me to be gone for the week. I have a feeling I’ll be tired when I leave and exhausted when I return.

And yet, I can hardly wait.

Something happened to me in Haiti during my first visit in 2014, something that changed me. I had gone with the hope of blessing people in this poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere, and I came back realizing that the greatest blessing had been in the way that God changed my heart during the visit.

But as I packed checked baggage tonight, trying to figure out what could be left behind to ensure we didn’t break the 50-pound limit for those bags, weighing the relative importance of community hygiene kits against the need for cheese crackers to hand out to hungry children for whom that little package of crackers would be the closest thing to a meal for them in days — as I silently cursed the airline for limiting us to just two checked bags per passenger — my mind was on a Facebook message I had read that questioned the very purpose of our trip.

Perhaps it’s a valid question. Aren’t there hungry children right here in America, right here in Suffolk, Va.? Aren’t there people here who need homes, too?

Yes. So what are you doing about it?

If you’re reading this blog, there’s a good chance that you identify yourself as a Christian. And if that’s a real thing — if it’s anything more than a simple declaration that you attend church on Christmas and Easter, or that you used to do so when you were a child — then it should mean that you have a heart for “the least of these.”

In Matthew, Chapter 25, Jesus was teaching His disciples on the Mount of Olives, and He warned them about the differences between the sheep and the goats — those who were his true followers, versus those who were not.

31 “When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. 33 And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left. 34 Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: 35 for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; 36 I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’

37 “Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? 38 When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? 39 Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ 40 And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’

41 “Then He will also say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels: 42 for I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink; 43 I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.’

44 “Then they also will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?’ 45 Then He will answer them, saying, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ 46 And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” (Matt. 25:31-45 NKJV)

Setting aside the important lesson here about sheep and goats, there’s one thing that should absolutely scream conviction into the lives of people who call themselves followers of Christ. Our lives should utterly reflect His priorities.

Jesus never talked about the makeup of the church’s kitchen committee. He didn’t expound upon the relative merits of praise music and hymns. He didn’t spend one moment of his short ministry here on Earth discussing church constitutions or Christian yoga or bass guitars. What he did spend quite a bit of time discussing was love.

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments,” he said. And when Jesus was asked by a lawyer seeking to trip him up what the most important of those commandments was, He said this: “’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the Prophets.” (Matt. 22:37-40)

So we have this from just these two passages:

  • Love God.
  • Love your neighbor as yourself.
  • Feed the hungry.
  • Give drink to the thirsty.
  • Clothe the naked.
  • Visit the sick.
  • Visit the imprisoned.

If you really love Jesus, you will do what He commands, He told us. That means you’ll love your neighbor as yourself. And loving your neighbor as yourself doesn’t mean loving your family. Anybody can do that. Loving your neighbor means getting dirty, getting out of your house — dare I say, getting out of your church — and actually DOING something for your neighbor.

Those actions won’t earn you a place in heaven. Jesus did that work on the cross. But people who have been truly transformed by the love of the crucified Christ will want to do these things to honor Him.

If your idea of honoring Christ is sitting in a church pew once a week and then acting just like the rest of the lost world on Monday through Saturday, then you’re not just doing it all wrong; you really need to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling,” because your faith without works may very well be dead.

And let’s be clear here: Jesus said he came to give us LIFE. If your faith is dead, you don’t have life.

Does this mean you have to go to Haiti to prove you’re a Christian? Of course not. The Great Judge already knows the sheep from the goats. He will not be fooled by those who act piously but retain hearts of stone.

The point is that a desire to do Christian service is a necessary result of a true conversion experience. Every good tree bears good fruit. When Jesus passed the fig tree that showed its glorious foliage, yet lacked fruit, He cursed it. Those who have the trappings of Christianity without exhibiting the fruits of it are in danger of a similar fate, not because they’re not doing good works, but because their supposed conversion experience wasn’t transformative to the point that its seeds brought forth new, fruit-bearing life.

Go to Haiti. Or don’t. But if you’re a follower of Christ, then that transformation experience will have birthed in you some desire to serve Him. He is our Master and Lord, and if you’re not serving Him, then you’re serving some other master.

So, what are you doing? Jesus himself told us he was not here to be served, but to serve. We, His servants, are not better than the Master. If you claim to be a follower of Christ, then you are not here to be served. You are here to serve.

Start doing that, right here in your church, right here in your family, right here in your city. You don’t have to go to Haiti to serve. But you do have to get out of the pew.

God bless.

R.E. Spears III

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