When Matthew 25 Scares You to Death

For several years, our church has had a partnership with John Thomas and Living Hope in Cape Town, South Africa. For those of you who may not be familiar with the ministry, I urge you to take some time and look over their website. To say it’s inspiring is an understatement.

Nashville TN

Anyway, over the years, John and I have become pretty good friends and so, a few years ago, I flew down to see him. John had been begging me for years to come, and I really did want to see the work.

But I had another agenda. I wanted to know how a church 1/3 the size of the one I serve could start and sustain a ministry like Living Hope that is literally impacting the world and how HIV/AIDS is addressed in communities and the church. Now, I know you’re thinking I’ve overly hyped their ministry, but I haven’t. When you’re invited to the President’s office to talk about your work, as John was, you’re making an impact.

So, over dinner, I asked him, “How did you do it?” His answer? “Matthew 25 scared me to death. I could just see myself standing in front of Jesus, and Jesus saying to me, ‘John, you did well with that little church I gave you, but what about the thousands of people who are dying in Masiphumelele across the street?’”

In case you don’t remember, these are the words of Jesus in Matthew 25:

31“When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. 32All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, just as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33He will put the sheep on His right and the goats on the left. 34Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation 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 took Me in;

    36I was naked and you clothed Me;

I was sick and you took care of Me;

I was in prison and you visited 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 take You in, or without clothes and clothe You? 39When did we see You sick, or in prison, and visit You?’

40“And the King will answer them, ‘I assure you: Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of Mine, you did for Me.’ 41Then He will also say to those on the 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 didn’t take Me in;

I was naked

and you didn’t clothe Me,

sick and in prison

and you didn’t take care of Me.’

44“Then they too will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or without clothes, or sick, or in prison, and not help You?’

45“Then He will answer them, ‘I assure you: Whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for Me either.’

46“And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

Jesus was pretty blunt in His teachings. If you love Him, you’ll care for the neediest around you. That’s why people like Mother Teresa get so much attention. Everyone in the world, believer and unbeliever, knows these words, knows what they mean, and recognizes the real deal when they see it. John Thomas is the real deal.

I’m trying. I guess we all are. With so much hurt and brokenness in the world, it’s hard to figure out where to start. Refugees by the thousands are trying to escape the battlefields in the Middle East. Thousands are trying to get into our nation from countries to the south of us. And that’s just the obvious hurt and pain. Go down any street. Go into any city. You’ll see the same heartbreak. Homelessness, addiction, crippling poverty—it’s overwhelming. Where do you even start?

Right where you are. If someone is hungry, feed them. If they’re thirsty, give them something to eat. Jesus doesn’t make anything about how the person got into the shape they’re in. He doesn’t talk about blame or fault. He talks about people in need and our obligation to respond. It’s the reason poverty, healthcare, and education are cornerstone ministries of the Middle Tennessee Initiative. In our cynical world, people won’t listen to our message until they see our ministry. People are still looking for the real deal, and they know it when they see it.

I know there’s a lot of debating going on about refugees and border security. Of course, a nation has the right and the responsibility to protect its citizens and borders. There are responsibilities given to governments by God.

But I’m not a politician. I’m a pastor. And like John Thomas, I’m sitting in the middle of thousands of people who are hurting.

And Matthew 25 scares me to death.

And Then There Was Chapter 12

One of the common mistakes we make when reading the Bible is we only read the passage we’re focused on in that moment. For instance, if we’re reading the fourth chapter of Philippians, we won’t take the time to read chapter 3 to see how Paul develops his thoughts that lead to the conclusions he gives us in chapter 4. We read as if the Bible started with the passage we’re reading.

And Then There Was Chapter 12

We miss a lot because of this habit. For instance, last Sunday morning we focused on Genesis 12—the story of God calling Abram and yes, that’s the chapter where a lot of things begin.

But what happens in chapter 11? The story of the tower of Babel is in chapter 11. Do you remember that story? The people of the earth decided to build a great tower. This was done in direct disobedience to God’s command to spread out and subdue the earth. So, God’s judgement was to destroy the tower and confuse the language of the people. It’s a great story, and I highly recommend you spend some time with the story. Here’s why I’m bringing up the story right now.

Obviously, chapter 12 follows chapter 11. But it didn’t have to. In fact, if you and I were God, it wouldn’t have. Let’s face it. After the failure in the Garden of Eden, the story of Noah, and now the story of Babel in chapter 11, most of us would have given up. We would have. We would have concluded this experiment called “humanity” was a good idea on paper, but it just wasn’t going to work out. We wouldn’t have written chapter 12.

But right after the disaster of Babel, God calls Abram. God starts over. While we would have given up, God didn’t.

He wrote chapter 12.

Here’s why that’s important. Many of us are in chapter 11 (pun intended). Our world has crumbled around us, and we can’t make sense of it all. We think there’s nothing we can do…and we give up. We look at the mess we’ve made and say this is our new reality and all we can do is accept it. But God doesn’t have to accept reality—yours, mine, or anyone else’s.

God defines it.

That means God doesn’t give up. He never does.

So, if you’re in chapter 11…hang on. God is always ready to write a new chapter in your own life. Today might be your chapter 12.

To Err is Human

No one gets up in the morning and decides to ruin their lives. No one gets up in the morning and says, “Today, I’m going to mess my life up beyond all recognition.” No one says that.

To Err is Human

But they do it every day.

Why? If I knew the answer to that one, I’d write the book and retire.

The funny thing is, when you talk to people who have made these kinds of mistakes, their choices made sense to them. Not only that, but they made those choices fully expecting a positive outcome.

When you hear of someone making a bone-headed decision, most of us smirk and wonder how anyone could be so stupid. Then, we shrug our shoulders and say the person is getting what they deserve.

Two things: first, no one gets what they deserve. It’s called grace. The story would be vastly different for all of us if we simply got what we deserved.

Second, given the right (or wrong) circumstances, you and I might make the same devastating decision. None of us know what we would do in certain situations unless we have lived through those moments.

So, we get the email or we read the text, and we see where our friend has messed up.

What do we do next?

First, we ask ourselves, “If it was me who messed up, how would I want my friend to reach out to me?”

Then, we make a call. We find them and sit with them. The one thing we don’t do is leave them alone. They’re embarrassed. They feel stupid. They may be facing life-changing consequences. They probably won’t call you. Call them.

You don’t have to give advice. You don’t have to fix it. Some things can’t be fixed. What you do have to do is just be there, and by being there remind them there’s still hope. The next few days, months, and years might be hard, but there’s still hope.

Most of our favorite Bible stories start with colossal blunders—Moses killed an Egyptian, King David had an affair, Peter denied Christ. All of these mistakes were life altering and yet, God in His mercy and power, changed the story from failure to redemption.

To write someone off doesn’t mean we give up on the person, but we’re actually giving up on the redemptive power of God. Sure, bad decisions have consequences. Some relationships can’t be fixed. Some deeds can’t be undone.

But that doesn’t mean it’s over. So, go to your friend. Sit there. Remind them, you don’t know how God will work or what He will do. You just know He doesn’t give up.

To err is human…doing something redemptive with our mess is simply a God thing.

A Firewall for the Soul

All of us are aware of (and more than a little anxious about) the issue of identity theft. Hackers, using stolen passwords and sophisticated software packages, can invade our computers and steal important personal information. This information is then used to set up fake accounts in our names and, well, it’s a mess. Our credit is messed up for years. We lose money along with our patience.

A Firewall for the Soul

Whenever you talk to someone who’s been through this, they’ll inevitably talk about how violated they feel. It’s about more than just losing account numbers. Somehow, they lost part of themselves.

Which brings me to this interesting question: How do you create a firewall for your soul? How do we keep the world from “hacking” into our lives and stealing the essence of who we are and what we believe? And how does someone hack into your soul?

OK, I know I’m beginning to sound like a bad sci-fi movie about some alien life form coming to earth, sucking the souls out of people, and leaving behind nothing but an empty sack of flesh. Perhaps it’s not that bad, but it’s close. Our society is filled with circumstances, people, events, and institutions that literally suck the life out of us. So, how do we protect ourselves from this?

The first answer is counterintuitive. We’re tempted to think that retreating from the world will protect us. It won’t. To be honest, most of our problems aren’t with the world, but with us. You can retreat from the world, but you can’t get away from yourself.

When Jesus was talking to the woman at the well in John 4, He promised her that living springs of life-giving water would flow from within her as she came to know Him as Messiah.

Paul told the Philippians to “think on these things.” That is, fill your life with beauty, truth, goodness, excellence, etc. Pay attention to the beautiful, graceful, wondrous person and work of Jesus. Being filled with good things means you don’t have any room to keep bad things in your life.

Second, pay attention to your thought life. What kinds of images, thoughts, or desires fill your mind during the day? Now, I know you’re going to say that you can’t control what you think about, but Martin Luther, the great Reformer, once said, “You can’t keep birds from flying over your head, but you can keep them from building nests in your hair.” We may not have control over an initial thought, but we don’t have to dwell on that thought. We can think about something else. We can let the negative thought go. Whatever you need to do, do it. Don’t let unhealthy images or desires take root in your soul.

Lastly, confess to your friends about those things that keep you hung up. Now, I don’t mean stand up on Sunday morning and lay out all of the details about your inner life. I am saying find a friend you can trust with your life and talk about what’s going on with you. Sometimes, just getting the issue out in the open is enough. Other times, if the friend really knows you, he or she can ask insightful questions that help connect your thoughts to what’s gone on in your life.

Here’s why it matters: what you think soon becomes what you desire, and what you desire becomes what you do, and what you do becomes who you are. That’s why we have to guard our hearts and minds so diligently; they determine our character, and character determines our destiny.

So, what about you? Do you have a firewall for your soul? Have you checked it lately?