In our culture, it’s so easy to become caught up in the game of appearances. What does my car say about me? What about my house? Am I perceived as successful? Smart? Or do people see me as needy? Do I look like I’ve made some bad decisions along the way or am I a success story in the eyes of my community? What about my clothes? Do they reflect my social status (or make me look even better?)
Funny how we care so much about our social standing. We love the preferred treatment. It’s nice to be able to go straight to the front of the line, sit in the green room, be recognized, be served. There’s a pecking order, and we like to be at the front of it.
It’s not hard to tell who’s at the front of the pecking order either. Celebrities receive special treatment and are often treated to complimentary you name it. The CEO gets the best parking spot, and the good-looking get the benefit of the doubt. They are the greatest in our culture, the kings and queens of western society and we play along as we work extra hours, bend the truth to sell more and motivate ourselves with GQ and Car and Driver.
Then there’s Jesus. Wham! The King of Kings, the famous one. The most influential man to ever walk the planet (after He created it). He comes along and declares a new system. In Luke 9:48 he says, “Anyone who welcomes a little child like this on my behalf welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me also welcomes my Father who sent me. Whoever is the least among you is the greatest.”
That’s it! We have a new standard for greatness! The least are now great. The poor are deserving of attention. The needy are to be honored and the sick are to be loved. What more needs to be said? We now have the tremendous privilege of serving those whom Jesus stuck with, stood up for, and identified with.
When you see Jesus begging today, give Him something. When you see Him in Africa, Asia, and India honor Him. When you see him sick with AIDS or living on the street, welcome Him. He’s The Greatest.
*I originally posted this on the Worldhope.us blog. A great organization helping those in extreme poverty. Check them them out at www.worldhope.us.
I was listening to a sermon my friend posted to his blog the other day. The preacher mentioned the firefighters and rescue workers who risked their lives running into the Twin Towers during the 9/11 attacks. I’m sure some of them knew they were going to die in there, but went willingly because a sense of duty drove them.
It was the words “sense of duty” that caught my attention. I realized that we as believers are sorely lacking a sense of duty. We seem to want to pick and choose spiritual disciplines, convictions, standards, and amounts we give and serve based on how we feel or claim to be “led”. I know some who won’t even pray at all unless they “feel led“.
I know what some of you are thinking, “Uh oh, he’s gone all legalistic on us. We should be motivated by our love for Christ, not a sense of duty!” You have a great point, however love is not, never has been, and never will be a warm fuzzy feeling that leads us to good deeds to put a smile on Jesus’ face.
I’ll give you an example. I’ve been married for seventeen years now. It comes as no surprise that we’re not always walking on cloud nine together. Sure we share some great moments and those romantic feelings are wonderful when they’re present. But when they’re not present, I still provide, protect, and care for my wife out of a sense of duty. I do what any good husband should do because I made a commitment to do it when I fell in love with her. Get it? We possess a sense of duty BECAUSE we love.
In Genesis chapter 4 God says that refusing to do what’s right (not what we’re “led” to do) is just a baby step away from sin gaining control over us. Jesus said in Mathew 25 that when we turn our backs on those in need, we turn our backs on Him. The absolute apathy of so many believers is downright frightening! To quote Keith Green, “Jesus came to your door, but you left Him out on the street.”
So my question is this: are you the type of person who would run into a burning building to save the lives of others, or would you rather enjoy the fresh air and safety while those inside burn? We’re guilty as hell if we do nothing. Think about that the next time you think sharing Jesus, helping the oppressed, and feeding the poor are for those who feel called.
It’s as if so many of us have succumbed to the Bystander Effect. The case of Kitty Genovese is the most well known example of this effect. Kitty was stabbed to death in 1964 by a serial rapist and murderer. According to newspaper accounts, the killing took place for at least a half an hour. The murderer attacked and stabbed her, but then fled the scene after attracting the attention of a neighbor. The killer then returned ten minutes later and finished the assault. Newspaper reports after Genovese’s death claimed that 38 witnesses watched the stabbings and failed to intervene. I’m sure all 38 of those people thought, “Someone will help her.” They were wrong.
Like the rescue workers of 9/11, we have got to develop a sense of duty, an URGENCY to fulfill the great commission and help the downtrodden. When I stand before God, I want to hear “well done”. I want to be the kind of person who runs toward danger to rescue the lost and oppressed. It takes commitment, it’s a sign of love (John 15:13), and it requires a sense of duty.
Recently I had the great pleasure of visiting friends in Ireland. They are pastors of small churches and the incredible resolve they posses to spend their lives being a light in a very post-Christian environment is nothing short of inspiring. They are aware that the rate of change is painstakingly slow yet they are committed to staying the course. It’s not about bigger buildings, better marketing, or a busier preaching itinerary for them. It’s about leading people to hope and freedom through Jesus, and I love the fact that simplicity hasn’t escaped from their purpose and values.
One thing I look forward to when I’m in Ireland is the “craic”. It’s a Gaelic word for having a good time, laughing, and sharing stories. We have rich conversations about life, ministry, family, and whatever else comes to mind. It’s not unusual for hours to pass, lost in each others tales of adventure, misfortune, sacrifice, and good humor.
During one such time, I was talking with my pastor friend Peter Lynch, from Dundalk. He leads a fellowship of about 50 people, very small by American standards. During our conversation he shared with me how his church has been taking trips to Burkina Faso in West Africa. It’s the third poorest country in the world. They have gone and dug wells for the people there so they can have fresh water. They’re also helping to build a school. When they go, they train the locals how to do the work and they leave all their tools behind so they can keep moving forward. Each trip costs around 25,000 dollars, a steep price to pay for such a small church.
I couldn’t help but think of how many times I hear pastors claim their churches just aren’t ready to help others with physical needs. The building payment, new carpeting, sound system, and payroll keep them from being able to feed the poor, clothe the naked, or shelter the homeless. Sometimes they hide behind the idea that all of those luxuries are needed to meet spiritual needs and attract seekers. Whatever helps them sleep at night… All I know is that Jesus spoke much about caring for the needy and spoke very little about pouring all our resources into building our organization. Wait… he never spoke about pouring our resources into our organization…
I’m not against the western church or religious organizations. I’m simply asking, If a tiny Irish church can give so freely to those in need, then why can’t we? Why don’t we adhere to the priorities Jesus gave us? I’ve read Matthew 25 over and over and can’t find the part where Jesus welcomes the sheep because they were so hip, relevant, good looking, or multi-campused. Instead he said, “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, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”
This doesn’t just apply to the church either. As a church staff member for many years, I can recall times when people would ask us for money and resources to help someone out. The problem was that the person doing the asking was plenty capable to help that person themselves. The good Samaritan didn’t ask an organization to help the poor guy left for dead. He used his own resources! We as individuals need to make helping others a priority too. It amazes me how many people “wish” they could do more but will drop $15 a week at Starbucks!
So here’s my challenge… be a sheep, not a goat. Read Matthew 25:31-46 again. Are you living it? One of the great things about being a blessing is that God blesses back. My friend Peter shared that his church has experienced a twenty percent increase in finances since they’ve started going to Africa. That’s in the middle of a recession! Looks like Luke 6:38 is true! We should live like our lives are not our own, give like our money is theirs, and go like it’s really not that far! … ready or not.
There is a group of interns that I have the honor of meeting with on a regular basis. We pray together, read the dead guys, and hold each other accountable. For a few months now, we’ve been mulling over Isaiah 58. It’s really gotten a hold of us! Break the chains of injustice, set the oppressed free, and feed the hungry. It’s a picture of God’s heart and a list of things that we should be doing if we call ourselves believers.
It’s so easy to look at the massive need in our world and become totally overwhelmed! But God doesn’t ask us to fix it all, he just asks us to do something. So my four interns decided to sponsor a child in Kenya (that’s her picture above). They combined what little spare income they had and gave it to an orphanage so that a little girl can have food, shelter, and clothing. It’s an incredible honor when we act and become the answer to someone’s prayer. I know what you’re thinking, “So what. It’s only one little girl. What kind of difference will it make in the long run?”
Consider the following story by Loren Eiseley. My youth pastor used to tell it to me when I was a teenager:
Once, after the tide went out, there were thousands of starfish laying out on the beach. They were dying because there was no way for them to get back into the water. The sun was rising and the poor starfish were literally baking in the heat. Running along the beach was a little boy. He was frantically grabbing the starfish and tossing them back into the ocean. As he continued along the beach, he met an older man. When the old man asked what he was doing, he explained that he was saving the starfish from dying on the beach. The man replied, “Are you crazy? The beach goes on for miles and there are thousands of starfish out here. How can you think you can possibly make a difference?” The boy reached down, grabbed a starfish, tossed it into the ocean, and said, “It made a difference to that one!”
I received a new picture, the other day, of our little starfish named Doris. She’s wearing a school uniform and has the most beautiful smile on her face. It was a $360 picture and was worth every cent! As you wonder if you can possibly make a difference in a world with so much poverty, disease, and hunger please realize you can. You may not be able to save the world, but you can make a difference in the life of a starfish or two.