We just concluded, in the city I pastor, Rocky Mount, NC, our seventh annual citywide unity worship services. Shortly after I arrived in Rocky Mount to plant Word Tabernacle Church, I saw an obvious need for Christians to get to know each other and to at least make an effort to understand one another. So along with a few area pastors and their respective congregations we began what has become an annual event when in the month of July we worship together. What we ask is that we agree on at least two fundamental beliefs. The first is the inerrancy of scripture. Even when we cannot agree on the interpretation of the Bible we can at least agree that the Bible is right and without any error. The second is the exclusivity of Jesus Christ meaning the only way to God the Father is by way of God the Son. We worship at different churches of different denominations with different styles of worship with different races and different socioeconomic backgrounds. We receive an offering that we agree in advance will be donated to an area not for profit in the name of Jesus and the spirit of Christian unity, we receive Holy Communion together and we fellowship following worship with light refreshments. This is repeated four times throughout the month.
Our theme this year challenged us to connect our message of salvation to social engagement, a message Jesus promoted in Matthew 25: 31-46 – “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.’
As Christians our works cannot save us but we will be judged by them. God doesn’t see us like we see ourselves. We see ourselves educated or uneducated, black or white, Lutheran or Baptist, wealthy or poor, Republican or Democrat, Conservative or Liberal. God sees us as Sheep or Goats? In this blog I would like to differentiate between the two and while doing so challenge us to come out of our denominational and racial boxes and embrace those who don’t believe exactly as we do on every point. After all, if I were not a Christian I would have a hard time understanding how the blood that reconciles man to God lacks the power to reconcile man to man.
Sheep think in terms of service and not serve us. This requires we leave our comfort zones and go to where hurting people are. Jesus doesn’t suggest that thirsty people should be sent drink but rather we should bring the person something to drink. Samaria is not limited to distance. Recently we held a community festival and offered dental care thanks to a dentist in our congregation and one of her partners. The line of people waiting to receive care amazed me and it was a reminder to me of the mission field in our own backyard. Churches will spend hundreds of thousands of dollars providing care around the world and never offer it across the street. This is a goat problem. Sheep want to serve but goats have an agenda with their service that ultimately points back to themselves, their preferences and their agenda.
Sheep understand there is a link between salvation and social transformation. Correctly understood the gospel is proclaimed and demonstrated. There must be an integration of the two because our proclamation has social consequence and our social engagement has evangelistic consequences. We must stop being so arrogant to think that anyone would want to hear anything we have to say when we consistently exhibit by our actions that we have no regard for hungry people, honesty in government, equity in public education, fair housing standards and practices or justice in the penal system. I have yet to have a single “conservative evangelical Christian” explain to me why I can support the defunding of abortion clinics with public dollars but then when the child who has not been aborted is a part of our society that same Christian will not support our efforts to ensure that child has food, education and other basic social needs met.
Sheep are agents of second chances and offer people a shot at a better future. Something resulted in someone being hungry, thirsty, homeless or imprisoned. By providing drink, food, shelter and support a second chance was being offered. Who reading this does not stand on a platform of grace? Who has not needed someone at some point in their life to offer some outside assistance to fuel an internal fire? None of us have arrived where we are as a result of our own efforts only. May we be mindful of the grace we have received and freely share it with someone who has a condition requiring grace.
So, are you a sheep or a goat? Can you prove it against the standard that Jesus offers of providing the essentials of life to a stranger? I welcome your feedback.