Ministries of Mercy by Timothy Keller — Book Review

“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise” Luke 10:36-37

These are some excerpts from a book review prepared by one of our Fanning the Flame Team Members, Ted, and presented at our last monthly meeting.

The phrase “ministry of mercy” comes from Luke 10:37 where Jesus commands us to “go and do likewise.”  Timothy Keller asks in his book, “Are we as Christians obeying this command personally?  Are we, as a church, obeying this command corporately?”

For decades we are told that evangelicals have avoided the radical nature of the parable of the Good Samaritan.  At most we have heard it telling us to prepare a fruit basket for the needy each Christmas or to give to relief agencies when there is a famine or earthquake in a distant nation.

It is time to listen more closely.  We are finally beginning to wonder why there are suddenly hundreds of thousands “stripped and lying half dead” in the streets of our own cities.  There are problems in the world that bring misery and violence into the lives of most of humanity.  These include war, injustice, oppression, famine, natural disasters, disease, mental illness, physical disabilities, racism, crime, scarcity of resources and class struggle.  We need to see that we are all living on the Jericho Road.

Under the principles of mercy, there is a call to mercy.  Love is essential in the call.  We are required to love God above all things and to love our neighbors as ourselves.  Mercy is not optional.  Although believers are to give their first and greatest aid to the needy within the church, mercy must also be show to all people.  Most of us have not come to grips with the clear directive that all Christians must have their own ministry of mercy.

“Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people.”  Galatians 6:10

A question to ponder (from me, not Ted):  What is your ministry of mercy?

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Out of Your Devotional Life

I posted recently about a Fanning the Flame CD our team spent time hearing.  The topic was “protecting the pastor’s time” and it focused on how the pastor must be allowed time to pray and study because (get this, it’s important):  his preaching must flow out of his devotional life.  If your pastor is not speaking with and listening to God, his preaching may be great public speaking, but it won’t be the Word that God wants you and your church family to hear right now.

The next thing that came to my mind is this:  all of us need to protect our times of prayer and study because:  the ministry we undertake must flow out of our devotional life.  Just like the pastor, if we are not taking time to listen to God and follow his leading, we may do a million “good” things that are not the task God has in mind for us, right here and right now.

Prayer

It’s easy to get distracted.  It’s easy to give in to putting out fires and taking care of what seems urgent, instead of what’s truly important.  There are times when we need to step in, but often we create our own “emergencies” because we enjoy feeling needed and indispensable.  Maybe we even enjoy being the martyr who has to do it all because nobody else seems interested.  This isn’t just a modern day problem.  Remember what Jesus told Martha?

“Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things;  one thing is needful.  Mary has chosen the good portion, which shall not be taken away from her.”  Luke 10:41-42

Mary was taking the time to listen to the Lord;  Martha was following her own agenda.  Letting our ministry flow out of our devotional life takes patience and discipline.  Sometimes it will require waiting for the Lord’s timing; sometimes it will make us uncomfortable;  but it can be done.  Help when you can, but don’t forget to make time for “the good portion.”

 

So be it.

Not many women (especially these days) would accept the title “Servant”. In fact most are offended by it and often say things like “I’m not your servant.” I can’t say that I’m not guilty of this mind you, but when I think of it; how can I refuse when my Lord and Savior kneeled to wash our feet and was obedient even in death.

At least one woman, long ago, had the fortitude to say:

“Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38)

She was willing to let God take over her body. Not just go get Him a drink or stay at her house. This woman (who had not known a man in the biblical sense) gave up her daily comfort for her God.

Any woman who has been pregnant knows exactly what I mean. And at time when epidurals were not a thing .

I’m not saying women today don’t serve. I’m a mom, I know we do. Still, I think many of us assume that we are the only ones who do.

What Then Shall We Do?

“And the crowds asked him (John the Baptist), ‘What then shall we do?  And he answered them, ‘Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none and whoever has food is to do likewise.  Tax collectors also came to be baptized and said to him, ‘Teacher, what shall we do?’  And he said to them, ‘Collect no more than you are authorized to do.  Soldiers then asked him, ‘And we, what shall we do?’  And he said to them, ‘Do not extort money from anyone by threats for false accusation, and be content with your wages.'”  Luke 3:10-14

 

This was part of the gospel reading in church this past Sunday, and the passage on which the sermon was based.  John the Baptist has just finished rebuking the people for their sins and lack of repentance, and their response is “What shall we do?”

You may remember that we discussed repentance a few months back, and I believe more than one of the Lutheran ladies mentioned that the literal meaning of this word is ‘to turn around’ or ‘go in another direction.’  John the Baptist is telling the crowd that they must turn around and do something different–they must serve others.

He doesn’t tell them to change their occupations or do anything drastic about their circumstances;  they just need to go about their lives in a way that is helpful and fair to others.  Soldiers are not to intimidate;  tax collectors are not to cheat;  everyone who has plenty must share with those who are in need;  everyone is to be content with what they have.

Seems pretty simple, right?  However, we’re still not doing it!  How often do we abuse our authority over others?  How often do we take a little more than we’re entitled to?  How often do we envy that person with the bigger house, nicer car, or glamorous vacations?  How willing are we to give our extra coat or extra cash to the homeless man on the corner?

If you’re anything like me, you don’t always do what you should.  We’re still a brood of vipers and we still need to repent and try every single day to do a little better at being a servant.  It doesn’t come naturally.

Thankfully John also preached some good news.  He said:

“I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.”  Luke 3:16

Advent is a time of waiting and a time of repentance.  A time to reflect upon the servanthood of Christ and to try to become better servants ourselves.  Use this special season wisely.  Serve others.

Who Do You Serve?

Let’s be honest, ladies, we all serve somebody.  So who do you serve?  I suspect the answer for most of us is “myself.”  That’s not only our sinful inclination, it’s what our world tells us to do.  “Look out for number one.”  “Follow your bliss.”  “Do what feels right for you.”  Our culture bombards us with messages like this every day.  Let’s label it with its’ true name –SELFISHNESS.

I don’t know about you, but I struggle with this sin every day.  Here are a few examples:

My husband forgets to pick up the something I needed on his way home from work.  My default response?  How could he!  I do so many things for him, and he can’t remember this one thing for ME?

My daughter calls and asks me to go to the Dollar Store and pick up something for her class (she is a preschool teacher). She lost track of time and didn’t get to it last night.  REALLY?  What makes this MY responsibility?  I have my own plans for the morning.

Somebody from church calls.  We’re selling  cobblers at the local Peach Festival and need somebody to work at the stand.  OH NO!  I’m an introvert and I’M JUST NOT COMFORTABLE around a crowd of strangers.  Don’t ask me to do that.

My friend is totally uninterested in the new project in which I’m so involved.  She’s MY friend,why isn’t she being more supportive of ME?

Anyway, you get the idea.  My first response is to think of myself, what I want, and what seems most comfortable and convenient for me.  Here’s what Jesus says about that:

“He answered, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'” Luke 10:27

That means our priorities should go like this:

  1. God
  2. Others
  3. Me

This doesn’t mean we can never say no.  Sometimes we must say no;  sometimes it is better for the other person if we say no;  sometimes we need to say no because something is definitely out of our skill set. It also doesn’t mean we don’t hold folks accountable or express our feelings — but we need to do this in a gentle, respectful way, not in anger.  It does mean that as God’s servants, we can’t allow a selfish mindset to control our actions.  Following our own impulses (i.e. serving ourselves) will lead to conflict and broken relationships.  Serving God and doing His will leads to peace with God and others. So who do you want to serve?

 

 

 

Two Favorite Saints

“As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him.  She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said.  But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made  She came to him and asked, ‘Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself?  Tell her to help me!’

‘Martha, Martha,’ the Lord answered.  ‘you are worried and upset by many things, but only one thing is needed.  Mary has chosen what is better and it will not be taken away from her.'”  Luke 10:38-41

Mary and Martha are probably my favorite biblical saints.  Why?  Well, in these two short paragraphs, their personalities shine forth so clearly.  Martha, the busy extrovert, Mary the quiet and studious introvert.  They are completely real in their interactions with Jesus–neither one is trying to put on a show of behaving the way one “ought” to in order to impress.  That must be because Jesus was completely accepting of them.  He didn’t try to put them in their place as women.  He didn’t tell Mary to get back to the kitchen, and he didn’t rebuke Martha for bothering him with household concerns.  He was their Lord, but also their friend.

I can identify with both of these sisters.  In personality, I’m most like Mary.  I’m much more likely to be found reading, studying or listening than bustling about.  Sometimes this makes me feel guilty because others (like Martha) may think I’m “lazy.”  However, I can be like Martha sometimes, too.  I let myself get carried away with what seems most pressing in the moment, and neglect the things that are really important.  How many times have I prayed with a distracted mind, or rushed away from worship, anxious to get on with the chores waiting at home?  How many times have I complained because I thought another member wasn’t doing their fair share of God’s work?  Yes, I can be just like Martha.

These two saints give us a realistic picture of life with Christ.  We can be ourselves with Him.  We can say the things we really think, not just mouth pious prayers.  He’ll listen and be gentle.  He’ll point us in the right direction.  He’ll look at us with love.  What a relief!

Now I want to hear from our authors and readers … who are your favorite saints of the Bible?

 

Fanning the Flame #12

As I reviewed my Via de Cristo talk on Environment, I began to see what our Fanning the Flame project is really all about.  Our team has been called together to change our environment, and just as we are told in the talk, that change must start with us.

First and foremost, we are learning to be more prayerful people; to rely upon God and look for His leading.  We are discovering our spiritual gifts and how we can use them to help others, in our church and in our community.  We are being taught how to become better planners and to work with a goal in mind – the goal of bringing Christ into the lives of those around us.

None of this is easy.  It means changing old habits and stepping out of our comfort zones.  There are not many of us; most of us are not young; all of us have other responsibilities.  It is a daunting responsibility.  However, we have one big thing going for us, and that is the most important thing of all.  As long as we are seeking to God’s will, He is on our side.

As the apostle Paul says in Romans 8:31b-32:

“If God is for us, who can be against us?  He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?”

And as the angel told Mary,

“For nothing will be impossible with God.”  Luke 1:37

I ask our readers to continue in prayer for us, and our church.  May we follow God’s leading and be molded in accordance with His will for us.