Fifty-five people of all ages gathered together at the church in eager anticipation for their annual service project at a local non-profit organization. An elderly woman pushed her walker into the gathering area while the energetic pre-teens played tag and giggled together in the front lawn. After a brief welcome and headcount, they loaded onto the ancient school bus whose hand painted sides were flaking off the dull green matte paint someone had applied generations before.
They crammed into the musky benches, squeezing three to four people in each seat to begin the trek to the warehouse. Upon arrival, they poured out of the bus like water through a broken dam. And then, orientation. They were serving at a NGO that sends out donated supplies to children and families in need around the world. They believe in Jesus Christ and that He is the only true hope for the world, but they sent out physical supplies to help meet temporal needs as they share the Gospel. The organization relies on volunteers to sort, package an inventory all of the product and after listening to the Gospel the group jumped to work, eager to help the poor around the world.
The warehouse is quite simple, with minimal decorations in the work room, but a welcoming room that portrays the history and displays the major efforts of the NGO around the world. And of course there is a vending machine with snacks and sodas for purchase if the volunteers get hungry. The whole group began diligently sorting school books and educational materials that have been donated and requested by the field. After two of the designated three hours of filling boxes and breaking their backs moving and inventorying 1800lb pallets, a few of the young men felt hungry and desired a snack, so they went to the break room and inspected the sodas and snacks available for purchase.
Not wanting to spend the $.75, they stuck their hands up in the machine and began stealing snacks and sodas. The last culprit wriggled his hand up in the machine, but was only able to grab the tab on the top of the soda, and as he tried to pull it out, the whole Mountain Dew opened and sprayed out into the machine. The sticky mess was all over him, the floor and the machine, so they boldly went to the worker at the warehouse and announced, “A soda exploded in the machine”. And walked away.
Christian youth. With their church. On a service project. Immediately after hearing the Gospel. Serving the poor. Choose to steal from the non profit organization.
Earlier this week I read a short devotion from a book that attempted to claim that conduct produces character. Unfortunately, that simply is not true and we can easily see it in our youth. We can see it in adults as well, but they tend to hide it a little better.
“And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”
– Rom 5.3-5
Perseverance of faith produces character. If it were true that conduct produced character, we would never see children raised up in the church abandon their faith and lifestyle when they attain their freedom at college or in adulthood. If morality produced character, our laws would establish ethically strong and pure people. Looting would not be the first even after any major or natural disaster. But laws, structure and parental discipline are simply restraining forces put in place to safeguard us while God alone can change our hearts and make us holy from the inside out.
Taking youth with the church to hear the Gospel and serve a Christian organization that helps people around the world does not fundamentally change them at the core. It never will. But God can speak to them through that experience and His truth, through the hearing of the proclamation of the Gospel alone is what will take away the heart of stone that lies, steals and cheats and give a heart of flesh that is broken for the things of God.
Have you been transformed from the inside? From the core? Or are you restrained by laws or personal disciplines that make you feel better about yourself? Or do you lie, cheat and steal?
“If we confess our sins He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
– 1 John 1.9