Can I ask you a couple of questions?
- How do you feel when you encounter someone on the street who is peddling for money?
- What do you think our response should be to the drug addict, the woman who sells herself to feed her family, or the person who walks up to you and asks you for money?
- Many of us are facing challenging times in our lives right now. Some of us have lost jobs, others of us are dealing with health crisis, and still others are dealing with serious financial challenges. How does it make you feel to receive help from others?
This is our community, these are our neighbors.
Let me share with you some interesting facts about our community:
- In Winston-Salem there are 57,000 kids enrolled in Kindergarten through 12th grade.
- In 2008 only 53.6% of 8th grade student tested at or above Grade 8 reading proficiency
- The 4 year high school graduation rate for Forsyth County is currently 72.7%. This means that 1/4th of the students entering into high school will not graduate.
- Perhaps the above statistic doesn’t seem like a big deal, but we must see that high school dropouts are five times more likely to live below the poverty line.
- They earn 32% less on average than graduates
- They live 9 years less on average
- More likely to spend time in prison
- In Forsyth County 11.2% of families, 14.4% of individuals, and 21.7% of children live below the poverty level.
- Current unemployment rate hovers at around 10%?
- Habitat for Humanity estimates there is currently a need for 8000 affordable housing units.
- It is estimated there are 1,800 different people who experience homelessness each year.
- Almost 12 percent of all pregnancies in Forsyth County were teenage pregnancies.
- As you can imagine teenage births are associated with an increased health, social, and economic risk.
This is our community, these are our neighbors. What shall we do?
The 6th core value we hold to at Calvary Baptist Church is Mercy Ministry. This core value states:
We seek to remember the poor, hopeless, and oppressed by aiding them through relief, rehabilitation, and development.
Let us pray for burden, conviction, and understanding as we come together through this post and study the Scriptures.
I’d like to begin this post by looking at the reality and severity of the brokenness that exists in and around us which will hopefully, through prayer, lead us to our hope and response.
Genesis 3:8-19 declares,
“And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.” Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”
The Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this , cursed are you above all livestock and above all beasts of the field; on your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”
To the woman he said, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.
And to Adam he said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
I realize that I have alluded to what I am about to share with you in other sermons, but I believe our understanding of the effects of the fall of mankind greatly shape our understanding of the need of mercy ministry. In these verses we see the comprehensive and catastrophic effects of sin on every part of our lives. I’d like to point out how these affect our relationships and show us the dire nature of the situation.
Effects of the Fall:
We are separated from God. Because of sin, the intimacy and oneness with God that Adam and Eve first experienced is now fractured. Vs. 8 reveals, “And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.” We were created to center our lives on God; exercising dominion over all the creation under God’s rule and design. However, our sinfulness leads us to center our lives on ourselves. Therefore our lives are in constant conflict with God. We don’t want God, we don’t love God, therefore our desires are diametrically opposed to God’s design, order, and glory.
There is conflict within ourselves. We are created to worship. To take this further, we are created to worship God. As one author said, “This condition occurs because each of us was given a heart, built by nature for worship. We were created to serve God with every dimension of our being. We need to serve God in order to have meaning or purpose; we need to know God in order to have love (our “relational” dimension); we need to be right with God in order to have self-worth (our conscience).” However, in spite of our sin and estrangement from God, our hearts never stop seeking to worship. Our hearts will always set their affection on something. Unfortunately, nothing else can give our lives meaning, security, and worth. These only God can give. Take a look at vs. 10, “And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” We are destined, apart from God, to experience unhappiness, fear, anxiety, loneliness, pride, and on and on and on.
We are at odds with one another. Look with me at verse 7, “Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.” I was reminded this week that upon sinning Adam and Eve had a sudden need for privacy. Although we typically celebrate privacy, their desire for privacy wasn’t a natural thing, and it certainly wasn’t God’s design. Their sin, and consequently their focus on self, led to blaming others and bringing enmity and strife in their relationship. This is always the result when we are at the focus. All of the social problems we see are the result of sin whether it is racism, oppression, the breakdown of the family, or personal immorality.
We struggle against creation. Verse 17-19, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth from you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the seat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” We see the effect of natural disasters. We realize that we no longer exercise the same type of dominion that was originally given in the garden. Although we still bring forth harvest from the ground, we must work and strain for it to bear fruit while ultimately, we will die and be returned back to the ground.
I remind us of this for a couple of reasons: This passage reminds us of the desperate condition our world that we find ourselves in apart from Christ. This passage reminds us that we are poor in the most important area of our lives: our spirits. This spiritual poverty affects every other relationship and the very way we view life. It is the direst of situations/conditions, but not utterly hopeless! Thankfully, this passage also points us forward to the beautiful grace of God in Christ Jesus that has saved our souls and granted to us the promises of restoration in each of these relationships. It challenges our motivations for serving the poor and reminds us of what the desired outcome should be: reconciliation of ALL relationships. When we understand our spiritual poverty, and the truth that “…our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for our sake he became poor, so that we by his poverty might become rich” our view of mercy ministry is both radically and permanently changed. After all, how can someone who has received the riches of grace while in the despair of their own poverty, not willingly look at the spiritually, emotionally, socially, and physically poor and offer the same grace and mercy they have received? This takes place with our words, for we know as Paul so eloquently said, “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news.” If we just meet physical, social, and emotional needs and never address the spiritual need through the proclamation of the gospel, we are like doctors who diagnose the medical emergency and have the medicine, but who never administer the medicine. It would be cruel and ruthless.
Yet we cannot ignore our responsibility to respond to the physical, emotional, and social needs of others by meeting their needs. Let’s look together at two passages of Scripture. The first found in Luke 22:24-27:
“A dispute also arose among them, as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest. And he said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leaders as one who serves. For who is the greater, the one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the one who serves.”
This passage really takes on life as we understand the culture in which Jesus gives the illustration. In the Greek culture it was incredibly demeaning to serve someone else. Yet we see how Jesus turns the culture on its head: “But I am among you as the one who serves.” God in the flesh coming to serve rather than be served, laying down his life as a ransom for the spiritually poor!
Look with me at a second passage in I John 3:16-18:
“By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.”
We know Christ’s comprehensive love towards us (vs. 16), a love that affects and ultimately restores every aspect of our lives (spiritually, emotionally, physically, socially). However, if we ignore those around us who have need then John is saying the love of Christ does not abide in us. In other words, he’s not saying that we just fail to love them fully, he says we fail to love them at all.
But how do we do that?
Remember, our core value states: “We seek to remember the poor, hopeless, and oppressed by aiding them through relief, rehabilitation, and development.”
Provide Relief: As two authors pen in a book addressing this very crucial concern, “The urgent and temporary provision of emergency aid to reduce immediate suffering from a natural or man-made crisis.” This acknowledges that for various reasons people find themselves in crisis and many times with significant loss. We need to be prepared to offer temporary assistance that provides the means necessary to assist with basic necessities. This often happens when we as individuals, church, or community walk beside people in dire crisis
- Natural disasters / medical crisis / death of family…people are unable to help themselves and we should be responding to these desperate pleas for help.
Provide Rehabilitation: Continuing their work on mercy ministries, our brothers in Christ state that right mercy ministry “seeks to restore people and communities to the positive elements of their pre-crisis condition” This means we engage in people’s lives in such a way that we begin working with them to bring them through the crisis they have been involved with. We provide relief because there is an immediate need that we can help with. We begin the process of rehabilitation by joining them in bringing about restoration to that which is broken. However, we can do damage when we continue to provide “relief” when “rehabilitation” is what’s needed. We do this when we fail to engage those involved to bring them into the restoration process with us. For example, what about the tornados in our very own Winston-Salem? To go and build/restore houses without engaging the community in the help would be providing relief when rehabilitation needs to take place
Pursue Development: Mercy ministries should be “a process of ongoing change that moves all the people involved—both the “helpers” and the “helped”—closer to being in right relationship with God, self, others, and the rest of creation.” In this part of the process the poor become better equipped and able to fulfill their calling of glorifying God through work and supporting themselves and their families. This part is often extremely time consuming and is much more difficult to measure. It takes life on life, both the poor and the stable listening and learning from one another. It means that we look to bring people into our lives and open up our lives to bear burdens together and suffer with one another. When we do this together, there is a unity and oneness that allows a measure of reconciliation that hasn’t existed. Let’s examine the believers who have moved into Astor Park in Kimberly Park. No longer is their time there viewed as “their problems…their issues” but has become “our problems and our issues” and how we can work together to solve them.
So what does this mean for us as Christians? I believe these questions help us determine what, exactly, mercy ministries should mean for us.
- How do I see my own spiritual poverty?
- In light of my spiritual poverty and God’s grace, how am I responding to my neighbor?
- How can I engage in relief, rehabilitation, or development?
Let me offer a few good books to read:
- When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor…and Yourself, by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert
- Ministries of Mercy, also by Timothy Keller
So what does this mean for the non-Christian?
Romans 6:23 tells us that the wages of our sins was death, but that God, in all his goodness and mercy and grace, gifts us with eternal life. A gift. THE gift. One we could never earn, no matter how many good things we do. All you see here, all these mercy ministries that the church aspires to, are all done out of a response to this amazing gift of God. Put simply, at one point in every one of our lives, we were in dire need of a mercy ministry far exceeding that which could come at the hands of any storm, any economic downfall, any personal bad choice that left us homeless, hungry, or seemingly hopeless. As stated earlier, because of sin, we were all at one time in the darkest and deepest holes of despair with no way to pull ourselves out. Thankfully, our most precious heavenly father sent His son Jesus Christ to enter into our lives to redeem us once and for all, pulling us out of our despair and sitting us down beside him, co-heirs to all that he is, all that he has made.
You may be thinking, Yes but you’re all GOOD people. Look at all you’re trying to do to make this world a better place. I’ve never lifted a finger for my fellow man. Scripture addresses this notion yet again in Romans 5:6-10 as we are reminded that God did not come to die for the righteous or the good person, but the sick person. The destitute. The hurting. He came to die for all of us, for none of us are righteous, no not one (Romans 3:10). We come to him by faith alone and not by works, lest any man should boast (Eph. 2:8-10). You and I must recognize that God’s son, Jesus Christ, is the GIFT that sets us free to fulfill his commands to go and love others as he has loved us. So we invite you to the same Cross that met us in our time of deepest need and delivered us from our darkest hour. It is only then that you can understand that these mercy ministries, that all we are seeking to do in this world to lift others up and consider them better than ourselves, is not out of the goodness of our own hearts, but out of the deep gratitude and goodness of a heart that’s been restored and repurposed by the Great Healer, The Redeemer, The Lion and The Lamb, The Forever Lord Jesus Christ. Whether you know it or not, for all the times you’ve been in the face of a storm, the victim of a destructing force in your life, He has been there, faithful as a brother, walking alongside you and lifting you up, to give you the gift of eternal life, if you will but confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead (Rom. 10:8-10). This is the greatest of all mercy ministries, and it has you as its recipient. Open your heart, receive this gift, and be redeemed from the eternal destruction of sin, revived for the eternal joy of worshipping Christ, and repurposed for the good work of the Lord Jesus Christ with your eternal family.
 Tim Keller, Mercy Ministry, (p. 48)
 Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert, When Helping Hurts, (p. `104)