What’s Required to Have an Effective Mercy Ministry? – Part 1

As a pastor, I often interact with those looking to the church to provide them with assistance. Which means I have often found myself having to make a decision on how the church should respond to their need. I am sure you have also faced similar situations. Maybe not from a pastoral perspective. But I know we all have come across someone on the street or have had a friend or family member ask us for help or money.

How should you personally and how should the church corporately respond to those in need? In other words, what is required in order to have an effective mercy ministry?

What is a Mercy Ministry?

I see mercy ministry as a personal or church ministry that seeks to care for the physical needs of others. Whether that be those in our own church or those outside the church.

Providing assistance to those outside the church means that a mercy ministry becomes a vehicle we can use to reach the community for Christ. It is a way for us to not only share Christ through word but also deed. As we care for the needy and poor in the community, we are sharing Christ’s love, mercy, and grace with them. The same love, mercy, and grace that has been shown to us. So mercy ministry, while it’s primary focus is the physical needs of others, also has a spiritual component to it.

An Effective Mercy Ministry Requires Compassion

Our God is a compassionate God, who cares about the poor and oppressed. We see His care and concern in both testaments.

In Deuteronomy 15:11 we are given a picture of God’s heart for the poor and hurting when we read,

“For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.’” (Dt 15:11)

His command for generosity was worked out in many different ways. One of which is:

The Gleaning Laws

God told “landowners [in the book of Leviticus that they] couldn’t gather all the grain their land produced. They had to leave some of it for the poor to gather themselves (Lev. 19:9-10; 23:22).”

Third Year Tithe

Tithing isn’t just a New Testament thing it was also commanded in ancient Israel. Its purpose was to provide for the Levites and priests, as well as for the upkeep of the Temple. However, every third-year tithes were diverted into a public fund set aside for the care of the poor, the immigrants, the fatherless, and the widows (Deut 14:29).

Jesus, who is God incarnate, also had compassion for the poor and needy. 

As we look through the New Testament, specifically the Gospels, we see that:

  • Jesus cared for the weak, the harassed, and the helpless (Matt. 9:35-36).
  • He moved in with the poor.
  • He ate with and associated with the socially ostracized (Matthew 9:13)
  • He healed the blind, lame, leper, and deaf (Matthew 11:4-5).
  • He raised a poor widows son back to life so she would have someone to support her (Luke 7:11-6)

Just from these limited examples, we can see clearly that God cares about the poor. He wants us, His church, to care about them too having the same compassion as He does. If we don’t, we either won’t do anything for those in need or we will do it for the wrong reasons. So it’s important our Mercy Ministry be motivated by compassion. Doing so helps us:

Avoid Giving for Personal Gain

I’m not sure if you are familiar with NPR. It stands for National Public Radio. As a public radio station, they receive funding from donations of people like you and me. Several times a year they have a fundraising drive. One of their tactics or arguments for why you should give to support the radio station is that it will make you feel good.

While there is nothing wrong with feeling good about helping others, that can’t be our primary motivator. If it is, we are only going to give when we need to feel good about ourselves. Not only is that selfish, but our need to feel good about ourselves and someone else’s need may not always line up, which means there will be times when we overlook those who legitimately need our help. So giving to make ourselves feel good isn’t the best motivator.

Nor is giving so that others in the community will think well of you. Generally, those who are generous are well known in their community. At times, they are even celebrated. There is nothing necessarily wrong with that. But if you crave the approval of your peers, you may find yourself giving for that reason. But that too is selfish and shouldn’t be the driving motivation for Christian giving.

Still another way we may give for our own personal gain is to relieve guilt. Maybe you have been blessed financially. When you look at the poor and needy, you feel guilty for what you have, so guilty you feel that you have to do something about it. So you find a charity, a church, or a person in need and give them some money. While giving to them might have been a good thing, it was selfish because you only did it to make yourself feel better.

So instead of being motivated by personal gain, we see that we should be motivated by compassion. It, not selfishness, should be what drives our giving to and care for those in need.

It’s important we give out of compassion because it helps us to:

Avoid anUs and Them” Mentality

It can be easy to think about those we help as “them”. But this mentality isn’t helpful, nor biblical. Think about it. What if after presenting the gospel to those we are helping, they come to Christ. Then they start coming to our church. If we are operating out of an “Us and Them” mentality, it is going to be difficult to quit thinking of that person as a project or see yourself as equals with them. That’s because even though we have helped them, we have been using them. Using them to make ourselves feel good, accepted, or less guilty.

But on the other hand, if our motivation has always been compassion and not personal gain, accepting them into the church and working alongside them as equals won’t be difficult. It won’t be difficult because we haven’t used them for our own personal gain, nor have we elevated ourselves above them, thinking we are better than them.

So our motivation must be compassion.

Next Time

While it’s important for us to be compassionate, compassion left unchecked can, at times, do more harm than good, which is why compassion needs to be balanced by responsibility. We will talk about that next time.

Question for Reflection

  1. Do you have compassion for those who need assistance?

Resources

Post developed from my sermon: What’s Required to Have an Effective Mercy Ministry?

Image

Advertisements

In what ways does Jesus provide us with a whole new way of life?

Christmas is a time to celebrate God’s gift to us. He gave us His Son who is the Lord and Savior of this world. As our Lord and Savior, He provides us with a whole new way of life.

In what way does Jesus provide us with a whole new way of life?

(1) Jesus provides hope.

In Luke 2, we learned that Jesus is the Savior, the Messiah, the King of this world. If we are honest, a Savior is what we are all looking for and want someone or something to save us because we know the world in which we live is broken. You only have to open the newspaper or turn on the nightly news to know that’s true.

At the core of that brokenness is our sin. Sin is more than just breaking the rules, sin is an all-out rebellion against God. Because we have sinned against God, we deserve for God to punish us for rebelling against Him. There is nothing we can do to escape God’s punishment, which means that apart from Jesus we don’t have any hope for the future.

Jesus, however, gives us hope because He takes our punishment for us. In doing so, He repairs our relationship with the Father so that we no longer live under the threat of God’s wrath being poured out on us.

Along with saving us from the Father’s wrath, Jesus also saves us from sin and promises us life eternal in a completely different world. A world that isn’t broken, but is perfect.

So, in Jesus, we experience hope. In Him, we have something to look forward to. And that hope is life changing.

(2) Jesus provides us with the ability to pursue forgiveness

Say I went over to your house with my kids. Right now, they are really into playing superheroes. When they play superhero’s, they run all over the house like crazy, chasing one another and sometimes knocking into furniture. Say one of them knocked your lamp over and it broke. Instead of making me pay for the lamp, you said, “Don’t worry about it. I’ll take care of it.” Not only would that be extremely nice of you, but you would be absorbing the cost of that lamp because you would be replacing that lam with your own money.

That’s exactly what Jesus did for us except on an infinitely greater scale. He absorbed the cost, not of a broken lamp, but of the eternal punishment we deserve.

The remarkable thing is that He purposely came to provide us with forgiveness. You see, Jesus didn’t just happen to forgive because it was convenient for Him, or He was in the right place at the right time. Instead, He actually pursued us in an effort to repair our relationship.

For those of us who have experienced Jesus’ forgiveness, we should be willing and motivated to forgive others. We should even pursue others as Jesus pursued us, desiring a restored relationship as He did.

While forgiveness is costly and requires some vulnerability on our part. It’s something we should be willing to extend to others because it has been extended to us. Being willing to forgive is necessary if we expect to have any sort of deep and lasting relationship with others because inevitable a situation is going to arise where someone is going to sin against us and we are going to have to extend forgiveness. And that’s inevitable because we are all sinners.

But as you probably know sinners, forgiveness doesn’t come easy, which is why we need Jesus. We need Him to change our lives so that we are not only forgiven but can pursue forgiveness.

(3) Jesus provides us with the ability to deal with suffering. 

Reading some of the recent headlines, I’m sure at some point you’ve wondered why God continues to allow suffering in this world. Especially seeing all the suffering that has come about as the result of hurricanes, forest fires, and earthquakes. Along with natural disasters, we’ve also seen others suffer at the hands of ungodly people who have used and abused them. Reading about and seeing all this suffering, it’s natural for us to ask why. Why does God allow it to continue? It’s a common question. I wish I could tell you exactly why God allows everything to happen that happens, but I can’t.

While I can’t give you a definitive answer to why God allows suffering, what I can tell you is that God is not ambivalent about human suffering. He has and is doing something about it. Christmas is proof. As one author says,

“The gift of Christmas gives you a resource — a comfort and consolation — for dealing with suffering, because in it we see God’s willingness to enter this world of suffering to suffer with us and for us.” [1]

Knowing that God Himself has suffered on our behalf should help us to face suffering.

(4) Jesus pushes us to care for others physical needs

When Jesus was born, the eternal spiritual God became a man. Not in an illusory way, but in a real physical way. He didn’t just appear as a man; He was actually a man. That’s unique because most other world religions either believe the physical is bad and something to cast off, that God would never stoop to the level of a man, or that He would never willingly experience physical need. But Jesus did. As such, He knows what it means to be poor, to be a refugee, to face persecution, to hunger and thirst, to be beaten, to be falsely accused and ultimately be condemned to an unjust death. He knows what it’s like to face all those things. Since Jesus faced those things we know that God not only cares about our spiritual need, but He also cares about our physical.

We not only see evidence of that in His but throughout His ministry.He healed the broken, fed the hungry, spoke up for the oppressed and misled. He did all those things and more. He did them because He cares about our physical needs.

As His people, we should care about these things as well. Christmas, then, should be a reminder that we are to work for social justice, to speak up for those who can’t speak for themselves, to continue to minister to the broken, the poor, and the hungry.

(5) Jesus allows us to reconnect with those we despise

Let me just say that no one is off the hook on this one. Sure, you might not be prejudice toward another race, but that doesn’t mean you don’t despise someone. For all of us, at least to some degree, there is someone we look down on, are snobbish towards. Someone we look at and say, “They are the problem with this world.”

But Christmas is the end of us thinking that we are better than someone else. That’s because Christmas tells us that we aren’t good enough. Jesus came to us instead of vice versa. His coming tells us that there is nothing we can do to get ourselves into heaven. We might be able to get into the best school, secure the best job, live in the best neighborhood, and rub elbows with the most connected people in town, but we still aren’t good enough to get ourselves into heaven. Jesus’ coming proves that.

So rather than thinking that we are better than someone else, rather than despising others, we need to recognize that they are just like us — sinners who are desperately in need of a Savior.

Conclusion

Thankfully that Savior has come. In coming, He provides us with a whole new way of life. One that:(1) Provides hope, (2) That gives us the ability to pursue forgiveness and (3) face suffering. (4) One that pushes us to care for others physical needs and (5) to reconnect with those we despise.

In all those ways and more, Jesus provides us with a whole new way of life. A way of life that wouldn’t be possible without the gift of Jesus. And that’s because He changes us from the inside out. He changes us through and through. He is a revolutionary gift that makes a revolutionary impact on our lives.

Question for Reflection

  1. Do you recognize the revolutionary impact Jesus can have on a life?

Resources

Image

[1]  Tim Keller, The Gifts of Christmas, in Come Thou Long Expected Jesus, pg 39.

What’s the True Source of Powerful Evangelism?

In order to be effective in evangelism, we often believe we must be a world class apologist who can answer every question thrown at us, an extrovert who can talk to anyone, and a bold witness who isn’t afraid of persecution or death. While we may think that, the average Christian doesn’t typically possess these characteristics.

According to Jack Miller, the author of Powerful Evangelism for the Powerless, we don’t need to possess these characteristics to be an effective evangelist. He believes effective evangelism, like what took place in the eighteenth century, was built on a different premise. He says,

“I am convinced that what gave evangelists in the eighteenth century remarkable power was the Whitefield-Wesley confidence in the supreme authority of Christ. Jesus acted in and through them not because they were powerful persons, but because they were empty vessels needing grace. He was the one who forgave and cleansed them; He was the one who sent them with the gospel; and He was the one who opened the hearts of hardened people to a very humbling message. By contrast, believers today typically serve a much smaller Christ…

Miller went on to explain the true source of power for evangelism:

The leaders of the Great Awakening had extraordinary power in evangelism and renewal. They followed an omnipotent Christ, the divine warrior, and He anointed them with His missionary presence. But this power was poured out on those who knew that they were inherently powerless without a constant dependence upon the working of God’s grace in their lives.” [1]

It seems counterintuitive to say that the more powerless we are the more effective our evangelism can become, but God doesn’t always work in intuitive ways. Instead, He works in ways that show His power and bring Him glory.

The apostle Paul was familiar with this idea. In 2 Corinthians Paul prayed several times for God to take his “thorn in the flesh,” away. But God didn’t. After wrestling with God’s answer for a time, Paul finally understood why. In 2 Corinthians 12:9 and 10 he writes

“But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Co 12:9–10)
So instead of allowing our inadequacies to keep us from evangelism, we should allow them to propel us into it. Not in our own strength, but in God’s power working through us. When we do that, we will be powerful witnesses for Christ.

Question for Reflection

  1. Do you struggle to rely on God’s power working in you for effective evangelism?

Resources

Image

[1] Jack Miller, Powerful Evangelism for the Powerless, quoted in Discovering God in the Stories from the Bible, Ryken, pg 124