Monday, February 2, 2009

The least of these...

Sorry folks. No ridiculous or silly post today. I'll probably post something silly later today on The Fellowship of the Traveling Smartypants, but I really want to share some good stuff that Jeff talked about in church yesterday.

I'll begin with a command from Jesus found in Matthew 22:

36"Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?" 37Jesus replied: " 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.'[b] 38This is the first and greatest commandment. 39And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'[c] 40All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."

So, practically speaking, what does the phrase "Love your neighbor as yourself" mean? The following is taken from Jeff's sermon yesterday:

James 1:22-25, 27:

22Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. 23Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror 24and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. 25But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it—he will be blessed in what he does.

27Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

Matthew 25: 31-46:

31"When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. 32All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. 34"Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35For 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, 36I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'

37"Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?'
40"The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'

41"Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.' 44"They also will answer, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?' 45"He will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.' 46"Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life."

What does this Scripture teach us about Christian responsibility?
Who are "the least of these brothers of mine"?

James 2:14-17:
14What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? 15Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. 16If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? 17In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.


Two important characteristics in people who put their faith into action:

Someone who puts their faith into action has their eyes open.
Someone who puts their faith into action has their hands ready.

I missed Jeff's sermon, as it was Tia and my turn to teach the kids this week. But since I've had conversations with Jeff on the subject, I think I understand where he's coming from. He also shared this story: Frozen Indifference from Charlie LeDuff of the Detroit News. It is as outrageously infuriating as it is heartbreaking. And if I were to tell you that it wasn't more than a little convicting, I would be lying to you.

Sorry to be such a downer on a Monday (especially all you Cardinal fans out there), but of the multitudes of sins I will commit, I don't want to start my day right off the bat with apathy and indifference.

24 comments:

heartafire said...

I agree with all of the scripture you posted in your article; I particularly appreciate your doing so, BTW. It not only lends gravitas, it is also very well-chosen.

HOWEVER, I have to say, I don't think these type of "good works" apologetics are ever very convincing, and here's why:
People who are rooted and established in the faith will naturally [cannot help but] have good works as an outgrowth and outpouring of the love that is in their hearts.

People who do not have Christ embedded in their being (or not yet to a sufficient extent) will only feel guilt [not conviction] at these words, and may even try to do "better," only to fall into despair because their motives are wrong, and they are unable to continue in good works without the saving knowledge and direction of Christ.

IOW, you can exhort people all day long (as does Francis Chan, in "Crazy [Head Maisie] Love") but it does not change people's hearts.

I love your passion, Katdish. These are just my thoughts.

heartafire said...

Also, may I just add I AM NOT BUYIN' THAT THAT GUY MADE HIS OWN SIGN. I'm serious. Look at the lettering on that thing. It looks like my teenage babysitter wrote it---the lettering is a little too artful....
Also, it costs a few bucks to get extensions like that, as well as what looks like a leather jacket.

I will say though that I almost always give to homeless people, to guys on the exits of the interstate, and really, just about anyone who asks me, without judging. I probably wouldn't give to your guy here, only for the aforementioned reasons, but I might, after I talked to him a minute, who knows?
I frequently will ask God (very quickly) if this is someone I should give to, or talk to, etc.

heartafire said...

Sorry for so many posts in a row---I went back and read the newslink---that is very sad indeed. Imagine how hardened a person's heart would have to be, to not act in that situation.
My main take away is that there is a hurting world out there in desperate need of a Savior...followed closely by intense and deep gratitude for what I have been given. [not materially, but the wealth that we have in Christ]

And selfishly, thanksgiving that I live in a part of the world where it just never gets that cold!

Candace Jean July 16 said...

Frozen Indifference - wow, that describes us all at times, doesn't it? Thanks for the great post. I've always loved how the book of James encourages us to live out our faith.

sherri said...

I clicked on the FROZEN INDIFFERENCE, and I am speechless.

Tony C said...

Sometimes Kat you just have to say what God puts on your heart.

It's ironic that our sermon was on the very subject of apathy and the lack of joy we feel as Christians, even though we have the greatest promise possibly imagined.

Thank you for the post and the link.

Jeff said...

Heartafire,

Respectfully, while I appreciate your sentiments concerning a works oriented apologetic, I can't help but feel that you sort of missed the point. James is not at odds with the idea that we are saved by grace(Eph. 2: 8-9) and neither am I. I am simply saying that our lives should reflect an understanding that the God of the Universe- the God that created everything from nothing- who always has been and always will be- chose to take action to redeem us.

After accepting His salvation, what then? Allowing your faith to motivate you to action does not (and should not) mean that you are somehow trying to "work" for you salvation.

My wife loves me, and I do not have to "earn" that love. However, because I love her, and in response to her love, I WANT to give to her- affection, friendship, protection, service, you get the idea. This response is only appropriate.

Why should our response to our Savior not motivate us to action? And why would teaching this Scripture somehow indicate a heavy-handed attempt to make someone feel guilty?

I do not intend offense in this response to your comment, but I also can not apologize for the passion that fuels what I say.

The very fact that James spends time in his letter on this subject should indicate to us that yes, we do need to encourage and exhort each other with these words.

Respectfully,

Jeff

katdish said...

Yep...that's my pastor.

He's pretty awesome, huh?

Beth said...

Kathy...I will be perfectly honest- I struggle with this.

After working 2 years with the least of these with Catholic Charities(granted, inner city Terre Haute is not as mean as some of the streets of Detroit or Houston even, but poverty is poverty and so much of it is disturbing), I can't say this story shocks me that much, although it makes me very sad. In some ways the apathy makes a lot of sense to me, too. The man was dead...and those around him, including emergency services, have to concentrate on living because the need is overwhelming.

For awhile I had the honor of helping the least of these as my profession and I loved putting this into practice each day in the lives of children and families, the vast majority who had been homeless at some point. It's no secret to anyone who knows me that I LOVED this work. It was very hard for me to walk away from it and stay at home with my kids, even though that is obviously what God has for me to do right now. I also LOVE being with my kids, being with my husband more, and God has taught me a lot during these past six months that I would have totally missed out on if I had been working full force like I had been before.
So I am happy to be in God's will.

And I still get to volunteer from time to time at the youth center I worked at, BUT I wish that I could do so much more some days...the need is great. The Church is very blind sometimes to needs. The Church generally is very ignorant about the realities of poverty in our nation, too, I think. We(including myself) are very judgemental and scared of those in need sometimes. We throw a little money at the problem and pat ourselves on the back. That is so opposite to all of these Bible verses. So I'm still working out what my role is now. Sigh...

Sorry. I know that's not the angle you had on this and I truly am grateful that you wrote this and I am excited that Jeff has a heart for the least of these. It needs to be read AND put into practice. :)

The pastor at the church we visited yesterday had a great sermon yesterday on loving your enemies from Luke 6. But I think some of those verses applies to this as well and the ESV put a different spin on it for me:

(Luke 6:30-31)
"Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them."

Okay...so ends a very long comment.

katdish said...

Thanks, Beth. I really hope that God will allow our churches to do some sort of collaboration some day. I think that would be so cool.

heartafire said...

Jeff, Thank you for taking the time to reply specifically to my comment. I think we are in agreement about what James is telling us.

I think the point I was trying to make is that one reason non-believers cite as to why they don't want to join a church or be "saved" (for lack of a better term), is that they feel that Christians are a bunch of hypocrites. (which is, of course, true--- of all fallen people, e.g. Pauls' "I do what I don't want to do, and I don't do what i want to do").

They see people talking about their church's homeless shelter and food drive for the needy, but yet, they know you're a sucky neighbor from whom no one would think to borrow a tool.

They hear you raise money for Haiti, but they think about how you refused their vacation request at work.

They read about your church in the paper doing a habitat house, but then the next month you're in there for a big dispute with the neighborhood about parking-lot expansion.

And they hear people who are Christians saying "faith without works is dead" and "you can't just talk the talk, ya gotta walk the walk" and they feel doubly bad. And they hear Christians saying "I could NEVER walk past a dead person and not just DO something."

And doubly like, "Religion's just not for me. I couldn't do that stuff."

Why shouldn't we have EQUAL COMPASSION, in Katdish's example, for the poor jaded 911 workers, and for the bored cops, and for those pathetically selfish hockey players, and for the desperate homeless people, all of whose hearts were so hardened by too much suffering? All of these people are equally fallen. We should have compassion for the levites and Pharisees who passed by on the other side of the road---that's the saddest part of that story, isn't it? The hurt guy got better, and the Samaritan was rewarded by God. But the rest of that bunch: whew.

It is such a construct of liberals to try to use guilt to motivate people, that MY heart is hardened by it when I see Christians doing it. What I am saying (apparently poorly) is that good works do not change hearts, it is changed hearts that *naturally* result in good works. My position is that you cannot NOT do good works, if you really believe that Jesus is who He said he is, and did what he did on the cross.

Too often, instead of tending to their own "soil" via prayer and study, Christians are encouraged to get out there, and do some REAL gardening, get out there and MAKE A DIFFERENCE, and the next thing you know, the seeds in their own soil are choked out by the thorns (cares and concerns of the world.) and their faith is nothing but a bunch of "good works."

You know how it says "By their fruits you shall know them."
The fruits are : love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. They are not serving, giving, working, etc.
The giving, serving and working can only happen when those fruits are present. Via the Spirit. Otherwise it's just dross.

ABSOLUTELY YES we should feed the poor, comfort the suffering, love our neighbor, give without thought of return. But ONLY as an outgrowth of love, and not because someone tells us we "should."

I do volunteer in a homeless shelter, I have given tons of free nursing care over the past 20 years, I worked primarily with AIDS patients in Atlanta back in the 80's when everyone died of it, I have served the inner city schools where I live, I have done extensive prison ministry work, I literally pour myself out to help people as much as God inspires me to do every day, as much as I can, as generously as I can, and always realizing that it is never enough, and it is nowhere close to what I *could* be giving.

I am not bragging about this, because I realize that even the impetus to give freely and generously is, in itself, a gift, and not something that can be willed. I have worked with many many people through the years, and have seen close up, that what motivates people is exactly what does or does not last. Their ability to continue in "good works" is completely dependent on this motivation.
A person's true motivations will always come out in the end---sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly. The only "works" of lasting value, are always and ever those that are grounded in Christ.

It must be Christ first, then the works. There are tons of churches (esp. in my denomination) where the good works ARE the church.
Very little Jesus, but LOTS of soup kitchen, MDG commitment, coat drives for the homeless, eyeglasses for Africa, etc.

I feel especially strongly about this issue, because of what my beloved church has become under this mindset. I see it in lots of other churches too----they primarily exist as a Social Services agency, with a little God and Jesus sprinkled here and there.

Which would be more pleasing to God, do you think:
-A female Black Millionaire who is "spiritual" (though explicitly not Christian) who gives more to good causes than almost anyone on earth
-A billionaire who gives a billion dollars to the UN, helping untold people throughout the world, but states publically that "Christianity is for losers"
or
-a struggling sinful person, who selfishly passes by the frozen guy in the elevator shaft, but then reads about it in the paper and repents?

This is probably way too long, but I do appreciate the exchange.

Helen said...

Katdish, I read your post a couple of times today. It made me think. I need to ask myself what of myself I have given to "the least of these". Not money or food, but love, kindness, compassion. No, I don't think I am feeling guilty. I think that what I am feeling is the little push in my heart from Him that says "Hey, I have given you much love.. I didn't give it to you so that you can deposit it in some sort of love bank! I want you investing this love in other people!"
I am just glad that God doesn't speak to me in Latin, or else I wouldn't have a clue as to what He is saying. Ditto King James English.
Good, thought provoking post. I wish I had a comment equal to it, like Jeff's or Beth's, so that you would know it really did touch me.
Instead, I feel one of my other personalities trying to get out, so I am going to go now....

Helen said...

Heartafire, I don't think any of us actually disagree with you about Jesus first. And if we put Him first, our heart breaks when His does, and not only do we want to do something, we want everyone else to do something, too. Then we forget that others aren't there yet. Then we get overwhelmed because there really are so many reasons for our hearts to break, and we lose focus and need to get back. We need to balance, and that does not come easy for us as humans. I thank God that Jesus died for me, so that when I lose my balance, He catches me.

heartafire said...

Thank you Helen. I came back on here to add one more thing, and then I read what you said.

Thank you so much. I feel truly heard, and I have now come down off the ledge.

And guess what?

I don't even have to make my further point.
[collective sigh of relief]
Truly, thank you for your thoughtful post.

Beth said...

Heartafire-

Just wanted to say thanks for sharing your thoughts.

One of the things I have been learning since leaving my full time job is exactly what you talk about...I have a tendency to put ministry, serving, etc. above Christ sometimes. Let us not put ANYTHING above Him!

Also, your line of thought made me realize why so many social service workers and volunteers suffer from burn out. Without a hope in Jesus as a foundation and motivation, it is a truly overwhelming task.

And I find it interesting that churches in your area do so MUCH for others outside the church. I see the churches here doing very little.

Helen-
You described the whole thing so incredibly perfect for me! I think you just out-commented me in much fewer words.

Nick the Geek said...

see this is what I'm talking about. When I start getting stuff like this it seems to come from everyone everywhere. I posted about something along these same lines on my blog. I really feel more and more like we have things totally upside down and backwards and I don't have a clue how to get things right.

Jeff said...

Heartafire,

You're quite welcome. I was glad to respond to you specifically. Since your comments were in reference to something I said, it seemed appropriate. Just a couple of thoughts and I'll sign off.

I appreciate your stating that you felt that we were in agreement with what James says, but your comments about hypocrisy and guilt-motivation leave me feeling that we are still not on the same page.

I agree that to constantly teach any one portion of Scripture (like the teachings on serving) while excluding another (like teachings on prayer or the fruits of the Spirit)will leave us with a lopsided view of what it means to follow Christ.

However, teaching on prayer, the fruits of the Spirit, and serving all in the same sermon would take me at least 3 hours. What Kathy included here are excerpts from one message, not THE one message.

Blessings!

Jeff

Carol @SheLives said...

Eyes open, hands ready. I can always use that reminder. Christ reminded his followers. Paul reminds us. Our pastors ought to be reminding us. We should be reminding each other. And I think you for the reminder, too, katdish!

heartafire said...

To Jeff,
I truly intended no criticism of your sermon. I'm not about to argue with good Bible teaching!

In fact, my comments were specifically targeted at the use of this article as support.

I think the difference in the way we see this, Jeff, is that James was clearly appealing to *believers*.
In this article there is nothing to indicate that any of the principals, or the reporter, had a Christian worldview in any of this.

I would love to engage with you further, if you are willing. My email is hrt_afire@yahoo.com; (then I won't have to feel guilty about taking up all of katdish's blog with this discussion!)

Peter P said...

Great post Katdish.

I saw that story over the weekend. UNBELIEVABLE. But then, maybe it is believable after all. It's a sad world we live in!

I love your excitement over and support for your pastor too. I wish more of us were like that!

Shaun Walker said...

Kathy,
Awesome job sharing this. I don't recall if you were there the time I asked Jeff if I could share the devotional. I simply played a song by Keith Green, with a long opening called "the Sheep and the Goats" (the song following was called Asleep in the Light"), but it was about this very verse, and had Keith acting out the parts of both the sheep and the goat. What really got me was the song that followed, one of the lines is "Jesus rose from the dead, and you can't even get out of bed." I am convicted every single time I hear that song. Anyway, if you are interested in that song, here is a link from Youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ix8ddosjg-k

Thanks for sharing.
Shaun

katdish said...

Shaun Man,

Thanks that was very cool. Plus that guy was an awesome piano player, and the hair? Afro-tastic!

Seriously, thanks! See ya'll tomorrow.

Koffijah said...

Hi Katdish,

Thank you for inviting me to comment on your "least of these" post. I guess I don't know what to say other than, "I agree with Jesus." But, that is kind of easy to say if I am a Christian because that is what I am supposed to say. I guess I do have a couple of my own thoughts related to this topic, though.

Thought #1: The anti-"works righteousness" movement in the Evangelical church realm has led us to not being able to talk about anything other than "we're saved by grace, not by works." I almost feel like people are saying, "Let's not do any good works lest we confuse God and make him think we're trying to earn our salvation." I mean, every time someone talks about something God wants us to do, or about obeying God, or about doing something we just don't want to do very much... we make it a salvation issue. We make it a "let's not make anybody feel guilty" issue. Well, Jesus didn't seem to have any problems saying "this is right; that is wrong." It has nothing to do with salvation... only what is right and wrong. But... because we're here already... my two cents is that good trees produce good fruit. (I think I heard that somewhere.) The fruit doesn't make the tree good--no a tree that is good (or has been made good) produces good fruit. Fruit is a result of goodness, not a requirement for. But Jesus said that every tree that doesn't produce fruit will be uprooted. Evidence of, and requirement for, are two different things. But good trees WILL have good fruit.

Thought #2: "The Least of These" Jon Acuff mentioned something about "sloppy agape" in one of his recent posts. But I don't think he was talking about anything like this. But we can be very arrogant with "agape" love, or with doing something good to "the least of these." Yes, we should love those who hate us, do good for those most people wouldn't give the time of day to. But there is a problem when we recognize ourselves as doing it. The problem is that we say to ourselves, "This person is 'the Least of these'". Or, we say, "You are unlovely, and unworthy to be my friend, and not on the same level as me, and dirty and otherwise disgusting, but I am giving you this sack of groceries in spite of all those things! It's not you I'm loving anyway, it's Jesus... because if it wasn't Jesus, I certainly wouldn't be doing this for you!" And even though we've done the right deed, we still do not value this person for whom Christ died. We need to remember another scripture in the Bible. "Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves." Philippians 2:3 Could we dare to consider these Least of These people better than ourselves? Would our "agape" love count if we did?

Sorry for such a long post.

katdish said...

Koffijah,

Thanks for your input. I was not disappointed. You really SHOULD write a book (and I'm totally not kidding).