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Devotionals

Blogs about why we serve and the nature, glory and commands of God.

Confessions of a Former Christian Snob

I grew up with a mindset that our own denomination had abandoned the Word of God and the Christ-centered faith it represented. However, about the time I married my wife, a new group started and we became part of it. Over the years, I was infected with the illness of disdain for other Christians not part of our group. In fact, at one point, one of my Christian objectives was to try to show everyone else the error of their ways.

About fifteen years ago, I realized that when I stood before the throne of mercy, I would need mercy myself because of the misunderstandings I held regarding Kingdom living, loving God and others, Christ's mandate to serve others in need in light of His unspeakable sacrifice for me, etc. So if I need a vast outpouring of grace over those things, how in the world could I look askance at those who trust Christ alone for their salvation and faithfully follow Him, but do it with various approaches different from my own?

That realization came about as I was beginning to make connections to pastors in the inner-city neighborhood where I was ministering. The conviction has only grown stronger since that time and it has been my joy to work with churches Unite!in the Unite! network in Atlanta. These have a commitment to make sure they have a "beyond the walls of the church" focus by forging a partnership of Christ-centered churches serving together. These churches have implemented initiatives that were strengthened as we addressed them side-by-side. The results have been amazing.

The prayerIt’s in this spirit that we started our own outreach ministry - Home Repairs Ministries (HRM). While it’s true that HRM has given me a lot of joy (because I like to work with people with hand and tool skills who want to serve Christ and homeowners in need), I have another motive. I want to see the Body of Christ operating in an Ephesians 4 model of unity. Maybe it would be helpful to go back and read the first part of that chapter to see what I mean. Because of this desire, I get a lot of satisfaction when we put together a group of church teams several times a year when we need a large crowd to do a lot of work in a short time-period.

Churches serving togetherHere's an example - in January, we re-roofed a widow's home in one day, which required many hands doing different tasks at the same time. On the site were six churches - two Baptist, two non-denominational, one Lutheran, and one Presbyterian. It was a mix of languages, races, and certainly theological perspectives. We didn't get hung up on points of disagreement and the elderly woman we served got a big hug from the Body of Jesus. We had a good devotion talking about why we serve and how we were responding to the mercy mandate of the Gospel and then we prayed for the homeowner and her sister (who claims the name of Christ). In projects, it is vital to balance the theological and practical, Word and deed, forbearance and truth in the main/plain things of the faith. But as Paul reminds us, “…the greatest of these is love.”

Harvey

Loving Our Neighbors Better Through Home Repair

Have you ever dissected the conversation between the teacher of the law and Jesus in Luke 10:25-37 (the Good Samaritan passage)? The guy started by asking how to have eternal life. So Jesus asked him what the Law said and he quoted the Scripture about loving God most of all and your neighbor as yourself. Jesus responded, "Do this and you will live." This did not satisfy the man, so he asked a qualifying question: "And who is my neighbor?" It seems pretty clear that the man thought he could justify himself, but just to make sure he understood how far he must go, or to establish the minimum number of people he had to love, he challenged Jesus this way. Have you ever thought like this? I plead guilty and still fight it today.

Jesus then goes into the story of the good Samaritan. I won't get into all of that as you've probably heard plenty of sermons and Sunday school lessons on it and I hope you will read it again, today. The shocking thing was how Jesus turned the tables on the guy. Instead of establishing how to exactly define a neighbor to limit responsibility, Jesus asked, "Which of these three, do you think, proved to be the neighbor to the man who fell among robbers?". To this the man answered, "The one who showed him mercy." Jesus closed the exchange by exhorting him, "You go and do likewise." Easy - all the guy had to do was love the people who needed his help, within his capacity to serve.

Helping Hand

from freeimages.com, Michael Illuchine

This exchange screams two things to me. First, I have not loved many who needed me that I could have helped. When I did help, most often, I did not serve them the way I would have served myself. Second, I have not met the requirements of the Law that Jesus laid out. Unless God provides me mercy in the sin department, I will not be with him for eternity. He has provided the only way through the One that could meet the full requirements of the Law, Jesus - Son of God, Son of Man, Messiah, Immanuel (God with us). He has purchased my salvation and paid my sin debt in full. I claim the payment by repenting for my lack of love for God and man, trust in His completed work at the cross, and have committed to live under the control of the Holy Spirit so that Christ might be seen in me. I have done it very poorly. He has done His part perfectly and it didn't matter how badly I'd failed before I trusted Him, and when I come up short today, it is just as much covered by Jesus' sacrifice than at first. But there has been a wonderful and terrible change in my heart - I want to live in a way that shouts, "THANK YOU!" to my Savior. He's told us in this passage that loving God (which includes my best but still lousy efforts at obedience) and loving my neighbor as myself, say it appropriately. When all is said and done, the only righteousness I will ever have is Jesus. As Steve Brown says, "Cheer up, you're worse than you think you are." And that's true. But despite all of this He still loves me. Wow!

Providing home repairs is a wonderful outreach ministry opportunity and a way to say, "Thank you" to God. It's also a way to love my neighbor better (even if not yet quite to the level as I love myself). Would you like to join me? Are you wired to start or lead a home repair ministry in your local church? Are you a handy man or woman looking for a way to serve and love God and others? We can help you get started! No-cost church ministry resources

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I Have Two Coats, My Neighbor Has None… Now What? Part Two

In the first blog in this series we looked at some scriptural bases for mercy and generosity. Today we'll look at some practical applications.

So what does open-handedness mean look like? Its certainly a call to radical generosity. Does it mean dumping an emergency fund and selling my house to put it all into the offering plate or hand it out to the poor, trusting that someone else will provide for my kids? Or could it mean that I adopt an attitude that says, “Why wouldn’t I help this person if I can?”. I have tried to stop when I come face-to-face with an opportunity and in my heart ask, “Lord, what do you want me to do here?”. When I throw up little “arrow prayers” and just be quiet for a moment, it amazes me how often I’m sure of what to do next. And it isn’t always to help, because that is not always going to be ultimately beneficial to the recipient. It requires discernment. Just don’t be, as Dr. John Perkins tells it, like the rich man who got tired of running into Lazarus all of the time (blocking his driveway?), so he moved to the suburbs to avoid the problem.

One way to pass along the love of Jesus is to serve someone who needs you and can give nothing back in return.  Give a gift of one of the most precious assets God gives us - time. If you’re a tool guy (or gal) and serve someone by fixing their house, you feel the smile of God. So be intentional. Find someone who needs you, and take others along with you.

When you initiate a project like that, what you’ve just done, whether you realize it or not, is start a ministry. Specifically, a rudimentary Home Repairs Team. Did you know that starting a ministry could be that simple? Maybe God is calling you to lead a team when you’d rather strap on your tool belt. Your greater service may be to sacrifice the satisfaction of doing the actual work and organize and multiply your ministry to help even more people.

That is what Home Repairs Ministries is all about - being intentional about using what God gave you.

Read Part 1

I Have Two Coats, My Neighbor Has None… Now What? Part One

Scripture often talks in specifics that seem to be examples of larger principles. For instance the principle of the Sabbath Year (Deuteronomy 15, Leviticus 25) is a picture of the open-handedness we ought to have toward the household of faith. The surrounding passages speak to addressing basic needs of the foreigner among us. These passages are a strong call to compassion and often end with: “I am the LORD your God.” The way I understand that is, “I have shown you mercy, now you go show it to others.”

Helping Hand

from freeimages.com, Michael Illuchine

So, how far should we go with merciful acts? How about a couple examples (among dozens) of New Testament passages that shed some light on the subject. John the Baptist told people in Luke 3:11 that if they had two shirts to give one to the neighbor who had none. I’ll bet having two shirts was extravagant in that day. I don’t think John would walk into the 21st Century and tell us that we should only have one shirt and it was to be the one we were wearing. That’s not to say that our giving should not cause us some loss, as it isn’t a sacrifice of thanks if it has no value to you. If we have abundance and encounter need, we are to be open-handed. Don’t give the worn out running shoes that stink up the closet, but the good pair that you can do without.

The Apostle John in 1 John 3 opens the door a little further when he says in verse 17 that if I have worldly goods and my brother has needs, yet I close my heart toward him, I should question whether God’s love abides in me. 1 John is full of “evidence passages” - 3:14 – We know that we have passed out of death into life because of our love for believers. I have always been captivated by the Gospel correspondence between John 3:16 and 1 John 3:16 - here saying that He (Jesus) laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our very lives for other believers. That is passing along the love of Christ as shown to me.

Read Part Two

Mercy Ministy - Why We Do It

Mercy ministry can be hard... and rewarding. Ligonier Ministries posted an excellent article on the challenges and blessings of mercy ministry with scriptural support. Being involved in home repairs ministry, I am encouraged to see a specific callout for carpentry as a potential avenue for mercy ministry. Enjoy the article and be blessed.

Mercy Ministry by Elliott Grudem

Categories: Devotionals, Mercy, Service Tags:

It is finished!

Good Friday, remembered two days ago, was the darkest day in all of history. The disciples had bolted, Judas had killed himself, Jesus had been scourged and beaten, forced to drag the implement of his death, stripped, spiked to “the tree”, and hung above the ground to be pitied or ridiculed by friend and foe. The forces of darkness celebrated. The Father turned as Jesus took my sin upon Himself – “Father, Father, why have you forsaken me?”.

And then Jesus uttered, “It is finished” and gave up the last bit of human life in him.

The third day started almost as badly as Good Friday ended. “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” says Mary Magdalene.

Jesus body had been stolen, but not by the Romans or His earthly enemies. The Spirit of God raised Him from the dead, glorified to victory and life forever. The disciples see Jesus and now our Lord's statement, "it is finished", is clear. God had crushed sin and death by experiencing it in our place! There was forgiveness of sin for those who believe on His name, and life everlasting on the other side, proven by Christ, conquering firstborn from the dead. And now, the forces of darkness trembled...

In light of the miracle of Easter, how will I live the rest of my days? Will I please my Savior or go my own way? Shall I put my faith and trust in The ONE who gave His all for me? Shall I ask the same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead for the power to live more each day in a way that exalts God? Shall I live a life that says, “Thank you” for the writ of pardon issued to me? Join me in recommitting to Him, repenting and believing, keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.

He is risen!

Harvey

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Good Friday

Crown of Thorns

Image Provided By FreeImages.com/Patrizio Martorana

Today we remember and honor "...Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God." Hebrews 12:2 (ESV)

Please take some time today to reflect on the suffering Servant King and "...the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world!" John 1:29.

Isaiah 53

1 Who has believed what he has heard from us?
And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
2 For he grew up before him like a young plant,
and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
and no beauty that we should desire him.
3 He was despised and rejected by men;
a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.


4 Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
5 But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.
6 All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.


7 He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
so he opened not his mouth.
8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away;
and as for his generation, who considered
that he was cut off out of the land of the living,
stricken for the transgression of my people?
9 And they made his grave with the wicked
and with a rich man in his death,
although he had done no violence,
and there was no deceit in his mouth.


10 Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him;
he has put him to grief;
when his soul makes an offering for guilt,
he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days;
the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.
11 Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied;
by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,
make many to be accounted righteous,
and he shall bear their iniquities.
12 Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many,
and he shall divide the spoil with the strong,
because he poured out his soul to death
and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many,
and makes intercession for the transgressors.

Categories: Devotionals, Evangelism Tags:

How to start your service day off right

Team PrayerSo you have it all planned out, got the materials on site, tools in the trucks, enough people that you don’t make anyone’s wife mad for too many hours away from home and they & the homeowner have signed the liability waivers. How do you start the day?

I usually explain why we’re needed, intro the owner if appropriate (or do that later in the day), thank the volunteers and do a devotion before we pray. What do we pray for? How about the owner and the pile of needs that brought her to need you, often for healing of a physical or spiritual nature, for volunteer’s skill, wisdom, safety & good progress, for God’s blessing the household.

Now back up. What are you going to use for a devotion? You’re not a preacher or something like that. You have deed gifts, not Word gifts, right? Well, I have a long list of “mercy” passages from the New and Old Testaments compiled, from which you could work from. I’d be glad to pass these along if you email me and indicate your interest. How about a few now?

  • Romans 12 begins with presenting our bodies as living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to God and is your spiritual worship. Worshipping through service with tools and offering the Lord more of us: our bodies for the project. The problem with living sacrifices is that they keep crawling off of the altar. Today, we’re crawling onto the altar to serve, IF we’re doing it because Jesus loved us first and giving Him our day.
  • Romans 12:4 talks about one body and many parts with different functions. We’re here today to operate as the part of the body with some handy skills (or wanting to learn some. . . ), being used as the hands and feet of Jesus. The Body metaphor can be applied to your team, within an individual church, among many churches, or meaning all of the Jesus followers on Planet Earth, today.
  • Deuteronomy 15 - Sabbath year – doing things to relieve the hurt of those in debt – mercy ministry to the needy. Who owes us that we can forgive in order to provide them a fresh start? Our time to them makes them owe us time if you want to think of it that way, but we don’t keep records on how many hours we’ve spent helping a given family. The principle is: God’s heart cares for the hurting and we need to do something about it when possible. Note: the land and all of the people were to take one year off out of seven, away from the day-to-day plowing, sowing, tending, harvesting, etc. The promise is that if Israel would do their part in forgiving debts, God would provide the food needed for the Sabbath Year (through the abundance of fallow-year crops) and the year following that until crops were to be harvested. Do you trust Him that much?
  • James 1: 27-28 - How religious living should look if rooted in Jesus Christ. It's called Mercy Ministry – caring from those with financial problems, the disenfranchised, widows (single mothers?) and orphans (foster children?). There are plenty of vulnerable, hurting people to pick from. We just need to make sure we’re picking some.
  • Leviticus 19: 9 & 10 – The gleanings and edges of your fields. What is your field in our urban society? What will you leave out for others to use? Or which are you going to invest in God’s Kingdom as we care for those in need?
  • 2 Corinthians 8 – example of the Macedonians, who were in need themselves, making financial gifts to the Church in Jerusalem which was under persecution. How much more, we, who have some margin in our lives, to help those who need a hand.
  • 2 Corinthians 9 – more from the previous chapter (above) including sowing & reaping, God's abounding in our service (verse 8), and culminating in the people being served giving glory to God in verse 13.
  • Matthew 5:16 Let your light so shine among men that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in Heaven. Fun to contrast this to Matthew 6:1-4 and talk about motives – Look at me? I hope God will like me more if I sweat a lot today? How about, “God, I give you my time today because you have reconciled me to you, made peace with me through the blood of Jesus, and for that I serve as a thank you."
  • The Great Commandment . . . and love your neighbor as yourself. What does that look like? Assuming that we know that we cannot love God apart from a heart changed by His grace through the indwelling Holy Spirit, then today we can demonstrate his love for others, too! We’re giving our neighbor a hug from Jesus if He’s in us.
  • Leviticus 19: 9 & 10 – God asked His people not to reap to the edges of their fields so that those in need would have provision. If you don’t have a field, what would be your field in today’s economy? What will you leave or provide for people in need? Your time, like your money, should be an offering to God. If you’re a tool person, my guess is that it is time to pick them up. How about using them today, because Jesus gave his All for you.

  • Use God’s Word as you lead those working in God’s vineyard.

Can God Prevent Tornadoes?

Hurting people so often ask, "Why, God?" Is He impotent in the face of storms? When godly Job suffered and complained, God asks him questions like: "Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding." (Job 38:4, ESV) and "Or who shut in the sea with doors when it burst out from the womb, when I made clouds its garment and thick darkness its swaddling band, and prescribed limits for it and set bars and doors, and said, 'Thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stayed'?" (Job 38:8-11, ESV) Surely, Job felt as silly and we should.

So if the creator chuckles at our childish questions about His sovereignty, what might we ask? How about humbly acknowledging the Lord of Creation and ask, "Why did you spare me this time when I've run as far from you as anyone? I see this tiny flash of your judgment and it scares the wits out of me. Please, forgive me, I believe about you and realize that I will not breathe another breath apart from your providence. How shall I respond to the need of my neighbors whose help someday soon I will desperately need?" Based on His Word, the paraphrased answer (based on Matthew 22:37-39) is, "Repent (change direction) and believe that My Son took your punishment, live for us, love the Godhead of the Bible with all of your being and care about your neighbors as much as you do yourself."

The best human response to the questioners I have heard is John Piper on an NPR interview after the tsunami several years ago. Listen to it, you will be deeply enlightened: click here.

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Why repair other's homes?

Simple: Some people can't repair their own home for a variety of reasons, often due to physical/age limitations. If we don't help, who will? Do you see people lined up to help?

We serve with tools because we approach life from this perspective: God loved us so much that He sent His one and only son to buy us out of confinement with the currency of blood, so He has our full attention. He offers the blood of His son as a payment for our rebellion against His authority when we put our full and complete trust in that amazing payment, by faith. Would you allow the murder of your son for the likes of me? Then He tells us to love Him first and foremost, but also love our neighbor as much as ourselves, sort of like Christ did for us on the cross.

That's why we fix homes. Not because we want God to like us, but because He likes us enough to make the ultimate sacrifice to redeem us from the curse of sin. So, having His promise of eternal life, from now on, we live to tell Him thanks. "When you have done it to the least of these, you have done it to Me." He says in Matthew 25.

Give me another handful of nails, would you?

Harvey

Categories: Devotionals, Service Tags: