Acts of Service vs. Lives of Christ Like Sacrifice

Jesus loves me. This I know, for the Bible tells me so.

Renowned theologian Karl Barth said that the words to this children’s song were the most significant theological truth he had ever uncovered.

And that is the point from which Eric Foley begins his tome: The Whole Life Offering – Christianity as Philanthropy. As God loves humans with all of Himself, He in turn calls us to mirror that love to the world with all of our selves.

Philanthropy as we so often know it–in which a wealthy benefactor writes a check from afar in an attempt to solve a problem or salve his own conscience–is not truly philanthropy at all.

Rather, philanthropy (literally love of men) is the love that God has for mankind, a philanthropy that brings the benefactor (God) into the lives of the recipients (mankind) in an intimate and sacrificial way. It is this sort of philanthropy, this sort of love, that we are called to.

There are ten ways, ten Works of Mercy, in which Christ shows his love to us and that we in turn are to reflect His love to the world:

  1. Doing Good
  2. Sharing Your Bread
  3. Opening Your Home
  4. Visiting and Remembering
  5. Healing and Comforting
  6. Proclaiming the Gospel
  7. Forgiving and Reconciling
  8. Making Disciples
  9. Ransoming the Captive
  10. Reigning

Key here is the understanding that these are not to be discreet acts of service but part of a life that is being conformed to the image and likeness of Christ.

The point is not to keep a checklist: “I shared my bread last week. I opened my home the week before that. Thursday I am going to visit people in the hospital. Sunday afternoon is the evangelism outreach.” And so on.

Quite the contrary, “Growing to fullness in Christ does not mean filling one’s calendar with more and more projects in each Work of Mercy. In fact, it typically involves doing less: as one grows in a given Work of Mercy, one moves away from experiencing it as a discrete project. It gradually becomes a part of who one is” (19)

Foley also identifies seven Works of Piety in which each Work of Mercy must be grounded:

  1. Searching the Scriptures to learn how Christ brings each work of Mercy into our lives so that we know how to bring it into the lives of others.
  2. Learning how to practically do this.
  3. Worshipping Christ for exhibiting the Work of Mercy to us and worshipping him through the Work of Mercy itself.
  4. Praying for God’s will to be done and Him to be glorified in the Work of Mercy.
  5. Self-Denial in order to place Christ and others before self and do the Work of Mercy.
  6. Serving others in the Work of Mercy.
  7. Giving one’s self to others as Christ gave Himself to us.

Without these we are not practicing true philanthropy, not true growing and giving of self in the way that Christ gave of himself. Without them we are practicing discreet good deeds, likely undertaken for the crass reasons of worldly philanthropy mentioned above.

“In Christianity-as-philanthropy, the donor, not the donation, is the offering. … The focus of philanthropy is on who one is and what one is becoming as one makes the donation. According to Paul in Romans 12, each person is a living sacrifice. As a result, how and why one makes a gift becomes far more important than what one gives.” (11)

Without the Works of Piety we will feed the hungry and house the homeless, but we will not, as Isaiah calls us to do, “divide your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into the house.” (58:7 NASB)

This is the radical life to which Scripture calls us, not merely to ensure that people are cared for but to care for them ourselves, to open our lives to those in need in order to reflect God’s love into the world.

Book Review

I found myself resonating with much of what Foley said. It is a call to radical discipleship, to costly grace, as Bonheoffer put it. It paints a picture of a person who is being formed into the likeness of Christ, the God-man who got his hands dirty with saints and sinners, who wasn’t afraid to enter into the mess of life to bring love and restoration.

The only major issue I take with the content of the book is that Foley seems to leave little to no place for specialization within the body of Christ. He would say that each Christian is called to equally participate in each Work of Mercy (7), while I would contend that God gives particular gifts to particular individuals in order to better glorify Himself and advance the Kingdom.

While the content is superb, it is presented quite poorly. The book is too long, relies too heavily on quotations, and is unnecessarily dense, routinely using five dollar words where five cent words would have sufficed.

In short, it is a book of great content but poor writing. I’d rate the content a nine out of ten but the writing a three out of ten. I’m not sure whether to recommend it, so I’ll just say: read at your own risk.

What are you about?

It's a simple question really, although one that might be difficult to answer:  What are you about?  What defines you?  What is unique about you?  What makes you who you are?

Jamie asked this question of herself on her blog, which got me thinking about what I'm about.

I'm about Jesus, and I'm about helping others follow him.

I'm about my wife.

I'm about the Church and more specifically my church.

I'm about community.

I'm about cities. I live in DC, and my last three trips have been to Seattle, New York City, and Addis Ababa.

I'm about food. I especially love Chicago pizza, hot dogs and beef sandwiches, and if you grill meat I'll like it.

I'm about leadership, learning to lead myself and others well.

I'm about too much TV.

I'm about receiving grace and trying to get better at giving it.

I'm about reading and writing.

I'm about social media.

I'm about driving.

I'm about generosity.

I'm about being stressed and agitated but trying to change that.

I'm about my friends.

I'm about Sabbath.

I'm about poker.

I'm about competition and winning.

I'm about thinking and challenging and stretching my mind (and yours).

I'm about serving the vulnerable, because that's what Jesus is about.

I'm about integrity.

I'm trying to be about joy and intentionality.

I'm about theology.

I'm becoming about artistic expression and travel.

I used to be about politics.

I'm about exercise (sometimes).

What are you about?  Leave a comment below or better yet, write your own post and link back to mine.  I'll be sure to swing by your blog and check it out.

Photo by Flickr User gfpeck

Just Say Hello

Lily’s father was an alcoholic who beat his mother, and so one day his mother took his sisters and moved back in with her parents, leaving Lily and his older brother with their father.

Mom was the breadwinner so when dad ran out of money he sold their house for cash to purchase booze. At seven years old Lily was homeless, left to fend for himself on the streets.

Eventually, Lily and his brother made their way from their hometown of Dessie to Addis Ababa, the capitol of Ethiopia.  There Lily connected with a group of street boys who begged, sold, borrowed, and stole to survive.

When Lily was around 13 a young woman began saying “hello” to he and his friends as she walked by.  A simple “hello” led to conversations and conversations led to shared meals.  Birukti, the young woman, began to take them to dinner nearly every week.

One day she brought a group of Ferengi, white people, with her to dinner.  Lily took one of them to see the place where he slept, a drainage sewer in the middle of a busy road.

A few months later that man, Adam, would relocate from America to Ethiopia and help Lily and his friends get off the streets.

Adam is famous around our church. He sold his belongings, left a job with a six-figure income and moved half-way around the globe to serve 20 boys, but he’s not who this story is about.  In fact, this story is not even really about Lily.  This is the story of Birukti.

Birukti felt a prompting from the Holy Spirit to say hello to the street boys she walked by every day on her way home from work.  And hello turned into conversations and conversations turned into meals and meals turned into changed lives.

I think so often we hear stories like Adam’s, and we feel like he’s in a totally different world.  He inspires us for a moment, but the thought of moving to Africa or Asia or the inner-city seems so far beyond us. And so instead of moving, we just move on.  We go back to our everyday lives, failing to see the connection between our lives and the life of this incredible person.

But you see, Birukti didn’t move anywhere.  She wasn’t even the one who got the boys off the streets and into homes and schools.  Her first step wasn’t all that remarkable. She began simply by saying “Hello.”  She said hello to the people who no one else had time for.  She said hello to the people society failed to value.

She took small steps and started relationships.

At my church we take a lot of missions trips and we have a monthly day of service where we go out and bless the community. These are great things. They help us understand the issues facing our city and our world and teach us how we can practically love others.

They are great, but they are not enough. If our engagement with the people whom Jesus commanded us to serve is limited to nine days a year or three hours a month, then our impact will be limited as well.

Change happens through relationships and small steps.

The next time you think about someone like Adam Taylor and think, “That could never be me,” remember Birukti and ask yourself, “Who do I need to share a meal with?” “Who do I need to have a conversation with?” or even just, “To whom should I say hello?”

If Birukti hadn’t said “Hello,” there would be no story of Adam Taylor. If Birukti hadn’t said “Hello,” Lily would still be living on the street.

That’s my challenge to you.

Just say “hello.”

Dr. Eric Mason – Advance the Church – How the Gospel Changes Our City and Community

Titus 3

There has been a resurgence in cities of a desire to cities be transformed by the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  It’s not a new idea, but it’s been on fire.  So in an effort to get to that, many of us get to service projects to try to do that without understanding the centrality of the Gospel as the means to transformation.

Titus is great because it’s basically Paul telling his disciple how to do it.

Titus was a disciple of Paul.  Something happened where Paul had to leave.

Their church plant process was to preach the Gospel, disciple them for a couple of years, the you begin appointing elders.  So Paul tells Titus that he left him in Crete to appoint elders.  So Titus is about how to develop a community in Gospel stability so that once the apostles leave the community is able to carry on the glorious legacy of the Gospel.

So chapter 1 talks about how leadership should be humble.  Chapter 2 he begins to tell Titus to teach in accordance with sound doctrine.  Sound is where we get our hygiene from, to inspect someone and give them a clean bill of health.  He wants them to teach sound doctrine that brings health into community. Then he tells Titus to teach the older women to teach the younger women.  He doesn’t want Titus teaching the younger women.  Then he tells Titus to teach the young bucks.

So in chapter 3 he starts in on mission.  So we’ve got qualified leadership, a discipleship culture, and finally a missiological theology centered on the Gospel.  The gospel motivates us to serve our cities.

He reminds them to be obedient to the rulers and authorities of the city, the civic authorities.  He’s saying I want you to begin by God’s grace to serve the city that you’re in.  But he uses the word hupataso.  I want you to be subject or submissive to these leaders.  What’s interesting is that htese leaders were not the best leaders on the planet. You think we’ve got problems?  Verse 2 says to speak evil of no one.  For some of you to shut your mouth would be missional.  There’s two types of people in the church: Republicans and Democrats.

We need to posture ourselves as servants rather than having unrealistic expectations of leadership.

We also see next a beautiful, beautiful thing.  He tells him to be gentle and show courtesy towards all people.  The Gospel motivates us to be missionally empathetic.  Many of us act like we saw sin in our leadership for the first time.  We forget the state we were in when Jesus found us.  We were walking with the prince and power of the air.  But I’m so glad that God sent Jesus in the incarnation.  Don’t forget the work that God did to save us.

We like to make Christian bubbles.  I worked at a church that had a bowling alley, movie theater, and arcade.  We like to be in our Christian culture where we don’t have to be around the world. In other words, let’s slap Christian on everything so we can feel good about it.  I’m not saying go out and watch a porn movie so that you can contextualize the Gospel to porn culture.  But let’s stop escapism.

You’ve got to nuture in your community a love for the people who are broken.  That means you have to love them first.  They can’t just be pew warmers to satisfy your ego.  You must love them.

Around my church there are drug dealers, brothels, middle class, upper class, blue collar, white collar.  God had to ask me, “Do you really love these people?  Or do you just want things to look nice on the website?  Do you want to transform your city?”  We know how to market impact, but we don’t know how to create impact.  Do you love lost and broken people?

Paul usually gives you the theology of something first and then gives you the way it’s fleshed out.  He usually gives you orthodoxy and then orthopraxis.  But in this passage he flips that.  What he’s going to begin to do is show you that the Gospel is not social but it has sociological implications that flows from and results in the Gospel.

What Paul begins to do is point to the work of God, according to God’s loving-kindness. God is an eternal philanthropist.  God called us to salvation based on his desire to execute his ministry and mission through human beings who are redeemed by him.

The Gospel demands the removal or correction of those who distract the Church from Gospel mission.  Titus 3:9: avoid foolish controversies, dissensions…  If you’re doing the work of God, you’re going to go through warfare, and it’s often going to come through those who look like Christians.  It’s telling us to spiritually clock those who are insubordinate.  What they do is try to cause theology to distract missiology.  That doesn’t mean we don’t like theology, we just don’t let the things that are non-central distract from what was essential.  They try to supersede the ecclesiological authority that God set up.

Next he says, but let our people learn to devote themselves to good works so as to help cases of urgent need and not to be unfruitful.

We need to have a theology of prayer, a theology of presence, and a theology of peace.

Prayer is praying for your city for it’s benefit, but which also benefits the prayer.  If you want to reach your city, you need to pray for your city.  I don’t care how manly you think you are.  You need to pray for you city.

You must have a theology of presence.  You have to actually be there in the city.  You have to be able to interact incarnationally with the realities of what’s happening in the city.  Jesus had to be made like his brothers in every sense.

You have to have a theology of peace, seek the shalom of the city.  Shalom is the restitching of things back to God’s original design and redemptive design in Jesus.  How can our ministry to this city by God’s grace create trailers of a movie that’s coming.  A trailer drums me up and makes me excited.  But I’m seeing a preview without seeing the reality.  God calls you to do something that shows the city the Gospel.

We’re building a playground in our very rough neighborhood to provide a safe place for children.  It has a dual function.  It has a civic function, but it also has a missiological function.  It’s a third place where people can experience the Church.

We do organized outreach:

  • We are here outreach.  Jesus is on the scene, doing work.
  • We want to know you outreach.  We just spend time with people.  This is what Jesus does when he’s hanging in Matthew’s crib.
  • We want to see your Kingdom come outreach.  This is investment in the community.  And connecting all of those things to the Gospel.  We can relate it to the story of redemption history.  Things weren’t created like this.  They fell, but they’re being restored.

The first thing God wants to change is not the city but the souls of human beings.

If God loves a cheerful giver…

…does he still love it when I give begrudgingly?

What does it mean to be a Good Samaritan when you see ten homeless people in five minutes?

How do you teach someone who is wasteful with what little they have how to be responsible with their money and belongings?

How do you help find a job for someone who is homeless and hasn’t had a steady work in years?