I can remember lying beneath the pew on Sunday nights with my twin sister.
I can remember coloring and drawing pictures quietly while the pastor preached.
I can remember what happened when we weren’t so quiet.
I can’t remember not going to church.
We rarely missed the three weekly services and that didn’t count Easter Pageant practices and Friday night youth events. I left those pews for Bible college and left Bible college for church staff positions. I spent the first thirty-something years of my life inside the church walls.
I’ve heard hundreds of topical, expository, textual, and biographical sermons. I’ve listened to dozens of personal testimonies and shared some of my own. I’ve attended discipleship courses and witnessing classes. I’ve done Beth Moore Bible studies for countless Thursdays and I’ve attended my fair share of Christian conferences. I have five versions of the Bible and 12 crosses in my home decor. I know a hundred Christian songs.
I took it all in. I was a beefed-up Christian.
But for most of my pew sitting years, I ignored something very important.
I was full of faith, but I wasn’t obedient.
Our churches have everything these days–killer kids programs, cool and traditional decor, an array of worship styles, and some even have bookstores and coffee shops, fitness classes, x-box game rooms, multi media events, but something is lacking. It’s obedience.
I’ve read the Bible my entire life, but for most of my time on earth, I haven’t done what it said. I stayed away from the big sins and wore my Christian t-shirts. But often when I was asked to serve or say yes to God, I would answer, “Let me pray about it.”
I got fat on the Good News. I hoarded it all to myself and didn’t share it.
And then a few years ago, I got fed up with my unhealthy diet of the American Dream. I was sick to death with affluenza. I was bored and busy with temporal things that didn’t matter.
I was cured when I decided to do whatever God told me.
I said yes and I will keep saying it–even when it feels small, even when I don’t know what to do next, even when I am inadequate. Because it’s not the results that matter–the success or failure–it’s that I am being obedient.
I’m sad that for most of my Christian walk, I fell for the lie that church was the holding tank for believers. If I just went to church, that was enough. But church isn’t the culmination of Christianity, it’s the springboard for our obedience to God.
I love my church. I look forward to attending every week! But the truth is we were never meant to just attend church. There are people all over the world dying for this faith. There are people held captive by sin and poverty, waiting on someone to come share the news about Jesus. Christians don’t have the luxury to add church to their lives like it’s an optional elective.
Church isn’t the place where we draw the line at the door and say to those inside the walls “We are good. We are right. We are done.” Because when we do that we are saying to those outside, “You are bad. You are wrong. You don’t matter.”
Instead we are commanded to turn our churches into a hospital for hurting people, not a club where we are comfortable. When we walk in obedience, it’s risky. It’s scary as hell. It’s the wildest thing we will ever do. When we are willing to walk away from our comfort zone and say to God, “I will do whatever you tell me,” we’re embarking on a journey that will change our lives. And nothing will ever make us feel more alive or fulfilled.
This is Christianity. This is faith in action. These words from James chapter 2 (Message translation) leap off the page:
Dear friends, do you think you’ll get anywhere in this if you learn all the right words but never do anything? Does merely talking about faith indicate that a person really has it? For instance, you come upon an old friend dressed in rags and half-starved and say, “Good morning, friend! Be clothed in Christ! Be filled with the Holy Spirit!” and walk off without providing so much as a coat or a cup of soup—where does that get you? Isn’t it obvious that God-talk without God-acts is outrageous nonsense?
18 I can already hear one of you agreeing by saying, “Sounds good. You take care of the faith department, I’ll handle the works department.”
Not so fast. You can no more show me your works apart from your faith than I can show you my faith apart from my works. Faith and works, works and faith, fit together hand in glove.
19-20 Do I hear you professing to believe in the one and only God, but then observe you complacently sitting back as if you had done something wonderful? That’s just great. Demons do that, but what good does it do them? Use your heads! Do you suppose for a minute that you can cut faith and works in two and not end up with a corpse on your hands?
21-24 Wasn’t our ancestor Abraham “made right with God by works” when he placed his son Isaac on the sacrificial altar? Isn’t it obvious that faith and works are yoked partners, that faith expresses itself in works? That the works are “works of faith”? The full meaning of “believe” in the Scripture sentence, “Abraham believed God and was set right with God,” includes his action. It’s that mesh of believing and acting that got Abraham named “God’s friend.” Is it not evident that a person is made right with God not by a barren faith but by faith fruitful in works?
25-26 The same with Rahab, the Jericho harlot. Wasn’t her action in hiding God’s spies and helping them escape—that seamless unity of believing and doing—what counted with God? The very moment you separate body and spirit, you end up with a corpse. Separate faith and works and you get the same thing: a corpse.
This is the truth no one is talking about. Obedience transforms the church from a meeting place to a moving body with flexible parts so that together we can reach a broken world.
A couple of Sundays ago, we drove a loaded u-haul truck in front of our church that they had rented for us to hold the donations. What started as a simple yes of obedience turned into an avalanche of action from our church. My daughter asked, “Are we going into church today?” We had an hour drive to the refugee apartment complex where we would serve the rest of the day. I looked at my watch, “No, honey. Today we won’t be going into church.”
“Instead we are going to BE the church.”
We are going to put our faith in action.
We worked like dogs for people who’ve been treated worse than dogs most of their lives. We were hot and sweaty and outnumbered. We were overwhelmed and exhausted.
We were the church inside out.
At one point, as I led an elderly man around with his voucher to choose his 15 most needed items, he stopped and said in broken English, “Do you love the poor? Only people who do this love the poor.”
I stopped and answered slowly, “Yes, sir. I love the poor.”
And without hesitation he looked me square in the eyes and said, “Then you must love Jesus.”
The truth of his words were like a sucker punch.
I am compelled to obey–not because I just want to do more–frankly, I have enough to do. I am compelled to obey because I love Jesus and I have to share him. It’s an overflow of the miracle that has happened within me. This is the gospel.
This is our job. This is the moving body of Christ.
There is a local ministry in place that is helping refugees and I’m just joining in. But as I’ve started talking to local churches about supporting this new refugee endeavor in our city, I’ve been cautioned, “We can give you money, but if you need people, that will be challenging.”
It’s time we exchange our comfortable seats for a place of service. It’s time we say, “We are full; we have enough, it’s time to share.”
It’s time to make our churches a hospital.
It’s time to open our eyes to the needs around us, right in our own cities.
It’s time to stop just attending church and start being the moving body of Christ.
With feet in action.