“You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless?” James 2:20
The picture is one of my all time favorites. I took it when we visited Ephesus a couple of years ago. It was a road side stand near the place where we were dropped off to tour the city. I still laugh when I see it. As you can tell from the above picture, some people are up front with the fact that they are not selling something that is what it looks like – it’s not genuine. We call them “knock-offs”, or imitations. But it brings a greater truth – how much of what we get from “religion” is the real thing. The unaltered article – without any pretenses or fakery. Usually the church doesn’t have a sign announcing it’s intentions. In some churches, your Sunday experience doesn’t connect with your Monday through Friday. For many, It is often an academic exercise.
We live in a time where “me” is more important than “we”. It is a time where people are refusing to listen to God or refuse to see where God is leading them. Our obsession with social media, twitter, etc. perpetuates our isolation, and give us autonomy so that we can enhance our self-indulgence. It takes many forms and is often subtle. For years, I observed adults in Raleigh attending bible study after bible study, sometimes repeating them over the years. I’m not against bible studies per se because learning God’s word is essential to discipleship. Head knowledge is great, but it is not the end game. God wants you to put your faith in action. Jesus’s method of teaching – through mentoring – introduced a lifestyle to his disciples, so that it was more than just head knowledge. It’s not just what you know, but what you do with that knowledge. How does it act out in your life? Do you put it to use? As James notes, faith without works is useless, and we often deceive ourselves thinking that being a “good” Christian by attending bible studies and church is all that we need to do. That’s not what authentic Christianity is all about – we are called to action to use our gifts and talents for the kingdom. It is a clarion call, not just a whisper.
Possibly there are social things in your culture that you turn a blind eye to, thinking that it is someone else’s job to be compassionate to those hurting around us. This summer, my church has done a series of messages under the banner of the “Untouchables” – these are topics that most churches shy away from yet are part of our lives. Each of the messages – from abortion, refugees and immigrants, poverty, to sex trafficking and pornography, reflect our cultures’ liberalized mores and often we don’t think of them as “our” problem. Jesus was never timid about taking on the “untouchables”, and so it was refreshing to have a series on things that are often not topics for the average sermon.
This week’s message was on sex trafficking and pornography. It was eye-opening. Some of the statistics are mind-boggling. There are some estimated 100,000 to 300,000 children in sex trafficking in the U.S. alone. The message was a conversation between our pastor and a woman who grew up through her own horrors of being in an abusive relationship -– both physically and sexually. Her life to the outside looked fine – she was a successful business woman who actually helped train professional athletes. A friend invited her to Church and she heard a message about taking refuge in God, and she knew right then that she needed to do that to break free of her prison. She broke off her abusive relationship but not before her boyfriend acted in rage by kidnapping her, subjecting her to additional abuse and threatened to kill her as well. She knew she had heard the genuine thing – about God’s redemptive grace and a place where she could seek refuge and she immediately embraced it. From that point on, her life took a different direction – she completed her education and got several degrees, including a PhD and speaks on this topic nationally.
Her testimony of her redemption from a hidden life was riveting. She was so ashamed of her life that it took years before she could even talk about it. Unfortunately, her story is all too common, which some in the audience found hard to believe. One of the songs we sang, The Power of Your Name, speaks about how we need to expand the Kingdom to untouched people. It starts with this verse:
Surely children weren’t made for the streets And fathers were not made to leave Surely this isn’t how it should be Let Your Kingdom come
And the chorus is a battle cry for all Christians today:
And I will live To carry Your compassion To love a world that’s broken To be Your hands and feet And I will give With the life that I’ve been given And go beyond religion To see the world be changed By the power of Your name
That’s Christianity in action. Not a fake. Being the hands and feet of God is the genuine article.
My challenge is for you to get out of your comfort zone and be the hands and feet of Jesus: to reach the formerly untouchables, or to consider a new ministry, or to just spend time with someone in the next generation who is searching for an authentic person to talk to. We live in a broken world. Not all of us are like the woman I described who had a Jesus moment and realized her life was on a path to self-destruction. Pray for God to lead you to a ministry that might be an encouragement to others who share your experiences. They are all around you, but you haven’t been involved. Jesus reached the untouchables – He wants you to be involved, too. May we follow His example.