Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Ministries of Mercy

Click on the book cover to get ordering information from amazon.com.

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My home church, Philpott, is going to use this book as a basis for a church-wide study called "40 Days of Mercy". I have decided that, as I read each chapter, I'm going to journal a few thoughts here on Sojourn.

So, the introduction....

Titled "Who Is My Neighbour", we begin with an extensive definition of poverty and need as well as a definition of various demographic groups considered poor and/or in need in today's society (homeless, working poor, children of poverty, youthful poor, new ethnics, blue-collar poor, gray america, the sick and prisoners). Each group is analyzed briefly and arguments are made as to how difficult it is for these groups to either a) rise above their circumstance and/or b) live comfortably in a North American society that has seen many market forces (technology, globalization, etc.)eliminate opportunities whereby these groups could make a comfortable living.

The author moves from this to the conclusion that our society is at a crossroads that only the Church can bridge, and the argument makes a lot of sense. Here are some excerpts from Keller's conclusions in this chapter that particularly resonated with me.
  • ...there are many people in need, their needs are deepening, and the needy are a diverse group. All this is more than most evangelicals are seeing.

This is very true. It's so easy to become calloused looking at those sitting on street corners and dismiss them and many evangelicals are in affluent churches/neighborhoods, so it's hard to appreciate the losses being suffered by what was once the "working" class.

  • North American evangelicals once perceived the ministry of mercy as an optional kind of work. But times are changing, demanding us to respond

I'm not entirely sold on the idea that ministry of mercy was considered optional. I do think the church has to decrease its global missions focus and invest more money and resources in local mercy missions.

  • Just the explosion of the elderly population alone could spell a breakdown of the present welfare system. But add the possibility of an AIDS holocaust, the impoverishing of the working class and the growth of low-income immigrants and female single-parent homes and we have a virtual certainty that current government programs will be completely inadequate. No (social institution) will escape the impact of heavy new social problems.

This is an American book, but Canada will also experience much of the same problems over the next 20 years.

  • Regardless of our political views, it is indisputable that millions of people who once looked to the government will now need service and aid from churches and other agencies. The church will be forced by demographics to see what the Bible has always said. Love cannot be only expressed through talk, but through word AND deed (1 John 3:17) (emphasis mine).

Totally agree. Churches (especially those in inner-city areas) and their members will need to be prepared to open their doors, hearts, wallets and schedules to needs that will only increase in the coming years.

And now, the crux of the argument. Get comfy, this will take a minute (emphases mine):

When accomplishing this task, Francis Schaeffer said, Christians may be, at times, "cobelligerents" with the Left or the Right, but never allies. "If there is social injustice, say there is social injustice. If we need order, say we need order....But do not align yourself as though you are in either of these camps: You are an ally of neither. The church of Jesus Christ is different, totally different."

The ideology of the Left believes big government and social reform will solve social ills, while the Right believes big business and economic growth will do it. The Left expects a citizen to be held legally accountable for the use of his wealth, but totally autonomous in other areas, such as sexual morality. The Right expects a citizen to be held legally accountable in areas of personal morality, but totally autonomous in the use of wealth. The North American "idol" - radical individualism - lies beneath both ideologies. A Christian sees either "solution" as fundamentally humanistic and simplistic.

The causes of our worsening social problems are far more complex than either the secularists of the Right or Left understand. We wrestle not with flesh and blood, but with powers and principalities! We have seen there is great social injustice - racial prejudice, greed, avarice - by those with the greatest wealth in the country (and, sadly, within the evagelical church itself). At the same time, there is a general breakdown of order - of the family and the morals of the nation. There is more premarital sex (and, thus, there are more unwed mothers), more divorce, child neglect and abuse, more crime. Neither a simple redistribution of wealth nor simple economic growth and prosperity can mend broken families; nor can they turn low-skilled mothers into engineers or technicians.

Only the ministry of the church of Jesus Christ, and the millions of "mini-churches" (Christian homes) throughout the country can attack the roots of social problems. Only the church can minister to the whole person. Only the gospel understands that sin has ruined us both individually and socially. We cannot be viewed individualistically (as the capitalists do) or collectively (as the communists do) but as related to God. Only Christians, armed with the Word and Spirit, planning and working to spread the kingdom and righteousness of Christ, can transform a nation as well as a neighbourhood as well as a broken heart.

I so TOTALLY love this passage. We, as a society, can be so bloody selfish. Mom and Dad both need to work full-time to afford the $350,000 house, two cars and all the toys. So what if the kids spend their day at a daycare? Hubby isn't getting what he wants out of the marriage, so he goes and gets a little on the side. Things are too stressful, so Mom spends all day every Saturday on the golf course instead of spending time doing family activities. We have become so lax in modelling and teaching our children family values and simple respect and then try to hide behind bluster and arrogance when things go wrong at school or home or work.

The reason? Simple. SIN. The sin of self-centredness. A successful marriage is one where the husband and wife each give up some of their personal needs/wants to the betterment of the relationship. A successful family is not one that is always laughing and joking around, but one that models respect for one another based on deep bonds of love that can only come from investing our time, energy and attention in one another. A successful church is built on a God-focus that leads them to want to love and serve one another and their community at large. We seek God's leadership in our moral, ethical, financial and spiritual stewardship. We desire to model Jesus' earthly example of humility and self-sacrifice and we never stop reaching for more of our heavenly Father. If we want to successfully evangelize our community (and I've said this before), we need to meet them on their terms and serve their needs. This ability comes through conversation and fellowship with those around us, NOT by sitting on numerous committees within the walls of a building.

Dear God, I pray you will use this 40 Days of Mercy to change me, transform me into a servant seeking to serve my community and, through that service, glorify Your Name. Amen.


At Wednesday, September 28, 2005 7:47:00 PM, Blogger Jason Silver said...

Hey Brian,

Great book eh?

Check this link out:

New Political Position



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