Think You’re Good? Check That Pile of Smelly Rags.

Many of us have taken missionary trips to various parts of the world–particularly so-called third world areas where cleanliness and hygiene are major problems in the spreading of disease and sickness.  People live and eat from what we would call dumps or landfills.  We are typically appalled and do what we can to help to improve the natives situation while we are there.  We may even send money and needed items throughout the year.  Make no mistake, this is a good thing.

However, we could take all of those times we went on those trips, add in all our tithes and offerings, consider the ministries in which we’ve been active, count all our visitations to shut-ins and prisons, include our church attendance and all our time of prayer and, compared to God’s righteousness, all our efforts would be no better than a pile of stinking rags. We are all infected and impure with sin. When we display our righteous deeds, they are nothing but filthy rags. Like autumn leaves, we wither and fall, and our sins sweep us away like the wind. (Isaiah 64:6)

This doesn’t mean that what we do as Christian work is unimportant.  It’s just that, in God’s big picture, it doesn’t amount to much.  His glory and righteousness so far supersedes our own that the comparison makes our efforts look far less than glorious.  Sometimes we get it into our heads that what we do is getting checked off on some big list of good things, when instead what we should realize is that we are simply doing what we are supposed to as children of God.  And does the master thank the servant for doing what he was told to do? Of course not.  In the same way, when you obey me you should say, ‘We are unworthy servants who have simply done our duty.’ (Luke 17:9-10).

Do the good works count?  Of course they do.  But they should come as a natural expression of God’s glory working through you rather than what some perceive as an expression of man’s innate goodness.  And the more of Him that shines through and the less of you that comes forth, the better for His Kingdom–both now and for eternity.

For the Son of Man will come with his angels in the glory of his Father and will judge all people according to their deeds. (Matthew 16:27)

” I tell you the truth,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel  30  will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—and with them, persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life.  (Mark 10:29-30)

For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done. (Matthew 16:27)

Not bad for a pile of smelly rags.  But only because Jesus’ righteousness turns them to purest white and makes them heaven scented.



When All Is Said and Done…

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

After all is said and done, more is said than done. (Aesop c 550 bc)

I recently heard the Aesop line used by the University of Connecticut women’s basketball coach,  Auriemma as he was being interviewed after one of the Huskies games in this relatively new season.  He’s a man who knows what he is talking about. In his 28th season as head coach, his teams have won 847 games while losing only 133.  Over the years, his teams have won 8 national championships and are favored to win a 9th this year.  He took over a team that had never had a winning season and, after finishing 12-15 his first year, has never had a losing season since.

As a former girls’ basketball coach myself, I have followed the Huskies since 1992, the first year that a local Massachusetts girl played at UConn.  I found that to be successful, a team has to have faith in its coach and his teaching and training philosophy.  But even more, each team member has to act  on that faith.  And, not just in game situations, but in practice and in life outside of basketball.

As Christians, we have a tendency to become complacent with our relationship with God when nothing is going wrong.  We’re quick to remember to look to God when areas of our lives are spinning out of control and we don’t have any answers.  But not so much in the everyday things when things are going okay.

I like the examples in James’ epistle.  If we know about someone’s need and just talk about it (or even pray about it), but do nothing, our faith is useless.  God wants our faith to be strong enough to do something about the needs that we see.  Belief by itself isn’t true belief.  Even demons believe there is one God and they shudder because of it.  True belief requires a response.  Think of Abraham’s action in being willing to sacrifice his long-awaited son.  This action was credited to him as righteousness.  Rahab was a prostitute, yet was considered righteous when she gave lodging and help to the spies of God’s chosen people.

So, to finish up with the sports theme, when you see a need, definitely pray, talk about it if you must, but then just do it.  By exercising your faith, a need will be met and you will become stronger yourself.