Trouble Feeling Like a Christian? Get Out and Serve Someone

Our relief trip got postponed a week. But it was great. Checkout the report, complete with pictures in the events thread under Hurricane Ike Relief Trip.

Today, I just want to share something I learned last week. I don’t think I have ever felt more like a Christian than I did last week. Now don’t get me wrong. I know feeling like a Christian doesn’t make me one. I know that being of service doesn’t earn salvation or make me a Christian. I know all of that. However, I can’t shake this lesson. 

I have preached full time for nearly 14 years. I have held dozens of meetings and preached to crowds in the hundreds. I have been involved in wonderfully fulfilling small group studies. I have taught hundreds of Bible classes. I have taught numerous one on one studies and baptized dozens of people. I have written five books and produced one dvd. Yet, for all of this, I felt most like a Christian last week crawling around on my hands and knees, pulling nails, cutting insulation and hanging sheetrock.

That especially came home to me on Friday as we had just completed working on our final house and the brother who was the son of the homeowner offered the prayer for the meal. As he began to cry giving thanks not just for the meal but for our help, I felt like I had really been serving the Lord.

Have you ever felt disconnected from God? Have you ever felt like you just weren’t all there as a Christian? I believe you can find the answer right here. If you want to draw near to God, don’t wallow in self-pity in your home. Go find someone to serve. 

Doesn’t this just make sense? Jesus said, “Even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve…” (Matthew 20:28, ESV). How better to feel connected to Jesus than to go out and act like Him.

Maybe it won’t work like this for you. But this is a lesson I’ll never forget for me.

May God richly bless you as you draw closer to Him. More importantly, may you richly bless God.

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Partnering in Good Deeds

John Maddocks and FamilyIf you were asked what is the greatest good deed anyone could do for another, you would likely say, “Share the Gospel.” Clearly, greater than any monetary gift, greater than any emotional support, greater than anything else is welcoming folks into the forgiveness and freedom in Jesus.

We certainly need to be busy getting that good message out at home. At the same time, we are surrounded by a world of lost sinners. They are everywhere, in every country, speaking every language, following every custom. We can’t physically be in two places at once. But we can be a part of good deeds in more than one place at a time.

In Philippians 1:3-5, Paul said, “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now” (ESV). Then again in Philippians 4:15, “And you Philippians yourselves know that in the beginning of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving, except you only.”

Do you see what Paul calls the Philippians? They are partners. None of them were traveling with him. None of them were actually doing any teaching. However, the Phillipian congregation was in partnership with him. They were in fellowship by way of their gift to meet his needs as he did the good work of teaching the gospel. They had a share in his good deeds because they were sending a gift to him.

I recognize this is talking about a congregation. But the same could be said on an individual level. When we support a brother who is busy in the good deeds of spreading the gospel, we partner with him even though we are not physically there. Of course, while financial partnership is a very big help, if you can’t swing that, there are other things you can do.

With the web and e-mail, it is easier to make contact with our brethren the world over than ever before. Why not contact some evangelist and just ask what help he needs. Don’t go to the elders and let them know; just meet the need. Then you will be a partner in those good deeds.

You can contact those we support or have supported based on the reports we post. If you are interested in partnering with others, go to worldevangelist.blogspot.com. John Maddocks, a faithful evangelist in Canada, does a great job getting the word out about evangelists the world over. Sign up to read his blog feed or e-mail to get info. Either way, what a great day to start partnering in the good deeds someone is doing on the other side of the world.

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What It Means to Hunger for Good Deeds

As this gets posted, I will be in southeast Texas walking amid the fallen trees, flooded houses and messed up lives of brethren who endured Hurricane Ike. Kenny Wells will be working me like a dog. He’ll run me hard and then put me up wet. (Okay, I know that last one actually means being worked like a horse.) After five days of ripping out sheetrock, cutting down trees, hauling wood, there is part of me that wants to say, “Alright, I’ve done my good deeds for this year.”

It is so easy to do something nice and then feel like we can just sit down for a while until that last good deed wears off. That is especially true if our good deed was a biggy. If we sacrificed a lot of time or money, we think the good deed should tide us over.

This approach, however, is not being Zealous for Good Deeds (cf. Titus 2:14). Or, worded another way, this is not being hungry for righteousness (cf. Matthew 5:6). 

Let’s think about it in the same way we do hunger for food. I know we sometimes joke around after a big meal like Thanksgiving, “Oh man, I won’t have to eat for a week.” This little joke pretends that our body somehow stores up every bit of the food we eat and until it uses it we won’t be hungry again. I don’t know how many times I’ve used this little joke. What always amazes me is that by the next mealtime, I’m hungry again. And on the rare occasions a big lunch did tide me over for the rest of the day, by the next morning I’m starving (obviously, that is hyperbole because you can look at me and tell I’ve never starved a day in my life). The fact is, it doesn’t matter how big of a meal I eat today, I’m going to be ready for another one by tomorrow at the latest. In fact, I may be ready for a snack in just an hour or two.

That is how our hunger for righteousness or zeal for good deeds should work. Today’s good deeds do not sate us forever. They do not even sate us for the rest of the day. When we see another good deed to be done, we want to jump in there and get after it. In fact, when we don’t see a good deed to be done, we start looking around for one to do.

What good deed are you doing today?

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Bearing Good Fruit

Why are we doing good deeds? Is it so people may be helped? Is it so we may have meaningful lives? Is it so we can grow? No doubt, each of these happens when we are zealous for good deeds. These things, however, are byproducts of our good deeds; they are not the goal. The goal, as seen in John 15:8, is to bear fruit that glorifies God. This goes along with Matthew 5:16, which says we should let our lights shine so people may see our good works and glorify our Father in heaven.

You see, the issue is that our Father is in heaven. Our neighbors cannot see Him. Our co-workers cannot witness His work ethic. Our friends cannot watch His care and concern. Strangers with whom we come in contact cannot look at God’s love. They can only see how God acts through us. They can only see how following Him impacts us.

I certainly recognize the general principle often expressed saying, “Folks don’t care how much we know, until they know how much we care.” The real point however is we are not trying to glorify ourselves. We aren’t trying to let others know what wonderfully caring people we are. We want them to know what a wonderfully caring God we serve. We do that by modeling for them the care of God.

Don’t misunderstand; this is not saying the local congregation’s work should suddenly become social welfare to let folks know how much God cares. Rather, each of us as individuals must live in ways that shows God’s concern, care and love. That doesn’t always equal material welfare or financial handouts. Most often, it equals words of concern and love. It sometimes means weeping with those who weep and rejoicing with those who rejoice. It means showing patience as we work with someone in the gospel. It means demonstrating joy when others have good times in serving the Lord, but also mourning when others disregard serving the Lord.

I heard a story about a guy who runs a rock climbing gym. On Saturdays, he gives a half-off discount for the individual price, but rates for groups over 7 are regular price. One Saturday, 5 guys came in and asked if they could get the half-off price for a group of 15. He explained the rules. The guys then said they thought the others weren’t going to show up anyway, so he charged them half price. Then another group came in later. As the evening went on, he began to pick up that these multiple small groups who acted like they were separate, were actually there as a group. When he asked one of them about it, he was convinced they were separate. The gym owner dropped it. The next morning, however, the guy who had told him they were separate came back, confessed that he lied, apologized and then single-handedly covered the amount they had ripped the gym owner off plus more. The group was a Sunday School class.

I’m not suggesting we lie so we can repent and make up for it. But the penitence and amends said a great deal about this man’s God. May we always bear fruit that shows what a wonderful God we serve.

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Whatever You Can, Whenever You Can, For Whomever You Can

The story is told of a man walking along a beach in the early morning, In the distance ahead, he saw a boy repeatedly bending to the sand, standing up and then throwing something out into the surf. As the man approached, he was able to make out that the boy was picking up starfish that had washed up on to the shore and tossing them back out into the water.

When the man was close enough, he asked, “What ya doing?”

“I’m saving these starfish. The tide won’t come in this far until it is too late and these little guys will have dried out in the sun and died. So, I’m putting them back in the water.”

The man chuckled at this little boy’s naivete and responded, “Son, look at how long this beach is. You can’t even see the end of it. There are starfish all over this beach. You can never get them all back in time. And if you could, there will just be more tomorrow. You can’t spend your whole life trying to save starfish. What kind of a difference do you really think you can make?”

The little boy leaned over, scooped up a starfish and sent it sailing out into the waves. As he watched the splash die down, he smiled up at the man and said, “Made a difference to that one.” And he bent down again.

As I write this, we at the church in Franklin are focusing our month on good deeds. One of the big problems we might have is being overwhelmed. There are so many good deeds to do that we simply can’t do them all. There are so many that need our help spiritually, materially, emotionally, physically, we just can’t get to them all. If we spend too much time thinking about that, we might just shut down and wonder what kind of difference we can really make. Maybe we won’t make a huge difference the world over. But we can make a difference one person at a time.

Think about Tabitha in Acts 9:36-42. When Peter came into her room, the entire world wasn’t present. In fact, Christians from all over the world were not even present. In fact, Christians from two towns away were not even present. But the widows she had met were in the room. She didn’t try to do everything. She simply did what she could. She made clothes. She didn’t try to help everyone. She simply helped those she could; she helped widows. She didn’t wait for a congregational program. She didn’t wait for someone to tap her on the shoulder and tell her what to do. She simply did what she could, for whom she could, when she could.

Here is the intriguing thing to me about Tabitha. When James the apostle died, the saints mourned and simply buried him. When Stephen the evangelist and deacon died, the saints mourned and simply buried him. When Tabitha died, the saints mourned and said, “Peter, you have to do something about this.” And she was resurrected. Who is really the most important part of the church? Apostles? Evangelists? Shepherds? Deacons? Or the member who simply does good deeds?

I don’t agree with the theology of Mother Theresa, but she reportedly said: “I cannot do everything, but I can do something. I cannot help everyone, but I can help someone.” That is a great slogan to remember. Don’t keep from helping someone just because you can’t help everyone. Don’t stop doing something just because you can’t do everything. Do whatever you can, whenever you can, for whomever you can.

What good deed will you do today?

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4 Keys to Pursuing Purity in All Things

Today’s card for our Zealous for Good Deeds Fall Focus highlighted Titus 1:15-16:

“To the pure, all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled. They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work.”

This passage is not saying that pure Christians can be involved in impurity and immorality but it is still pure for them. The point is that those who are pure only involve themselves in pure pursuits. Further, as they talk with others and experience life, they look toward the pure instead of the impure. 

Some folks pride themselves on double entendre. That is, they can say something that at one level is harmless but on another is filled with immoral innuendo. Interestingly, you can even find this in some kid’s movies as movie makers think they can slide something in that will go over the children’s heads but entertain the adults.

Paul’s point is the pure miss out on this kind of thing. Because their mind is focused on the pure and their sights are focused on the pure, they miss out on the innuendos and the double entendres. To folks in the world, this is classed as naivete. They look down on the pure as inexperienced, foolish, stupid and ignorant. But God classes this as honorable. In fact, I Corinthians 14:20 says, “Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature.” God wants us naive about evil. He doesn’t want us to be able to immediately jump to the immoral thought behind much of modern conversation and entertainment.

If we can immediately see the impurity behind statements, pictures, jokes, etc. we have some work to do on our personal purity. We need to work on training our minds in godliness and purity. Keep in mind we are working on progress not perfection here. I’m not saying if you ever catch some joke you are evil and hopeless. I’m just saying we need to work on this. Because, if we don’t and if we just plug away, Paul said we will be unfit for any good work. In other words, we cannot be zealous for good deeds and filled with bad thoughts all at the same time.

Here are 4 keys to help us pursue purity in all things:

1. Keep Good Company

I Corinthians 14:33 says, “Do not be deceived: ‘Bad company ruins good morals.'” If we want to pursue purity in all things, we need to make sure the companions with which we spend our time are pursuing purity. If our best friends, the one’s on whom we rely for strength and encouragement, are impure, speak impurity and pursue impurity, we will never overcome. This company may be real live people, but then again it may be the deejays we listen to on the radio, the characters we follow on television, the bands we listen to in our mp3 players. If you want to pursue purity in all things, make sure you are keeping good company.

2. Read Good Words

In Acts 20:32, Paul told the Ephesian elders, “I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.” If you want to pursue purity in all things, then you need to be in God’s book. Obviously, you can read other things. Christians are not limited to only reading the Bible. However, reading and studying God’s good words should take precedence over all other reading. Only by hiding God’s word in our heart can we chase away the impurity that may have residence there.

3. Meditate on Good Thoughts

Philippians 4:8 says, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” I’m told the word translated “think” in this passage is not the idea of fleeting thoughts, but purposeful consideration and meditation. If we want to be pure, we need to think about pure things. We need to meditate on pure things. No doubt, we have all messed up our purity at some point. Therefore, it is a pipe dream to think we can never have fleeting thoughts of impurity. But we can choose where we allow our minds to dwell. We need to work on purposefully focusing our minds on the positive and pure. We must not merely read God’s good word, we must focus our mind’s attention upon it and dwell there.

4. Pursue Good Actions

Paul told Timothy to “flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness” (II Timothy 2:22). If we really want to pursue purity in all things, we have to let the purity rubber hit life’s road. Whether we feel like it or not, we need to just make ourselves do some good things.  Then we need to do some more. Then we need to do some more. The more good actions we take, the more good our mind has to dwell on, the more fulfillment from good things we receive, the more purity will take over. 

As I said, remember this is about progress not perfection. Let’s work today on growing in the pursuit of purity in all things. I’ll help you if you’ll help me.

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A Fear of Good Deeds

Let’s face it, when we hear a lot about good deeds we know where it is going to hit us the hardest—the wallet. Obviously, not every good deed is a monetary good deed. But sooner or later, we can’t help but notice that in Scripture many of the good deeds affect us financially. Whether we are talking about hospitality, sending aid to Christians who are going through a famine, being a good Samaritan, feeding and clothing our brothers and sisters or helping the poor, eventually our good deeds are going to cost us money.

That’s what makes these good deeds so scary, especially when the news tells us the economic sky is falling. This is where II Corinthians 9:8 comes in. Paul wrote, “And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.”

Now this is not a promise from God to drop any amount of money or material goods in your lap that you claim you’ll give to others. However, it does point out that when we are a blessing to others, God will bring blessings to us. That is exactly why God blesses people. Not so they can hoard the blessings, but so they can share them. We are not alone in this work of good deeds. God is extending His grace so we can be sufficient for performing these good deeds.

If I clinch my fist around whatever blessings I have received, my hand will be closed to the blessings God may want to give me. However, when I open my hand to others, it becomes open to receive more of God’s blessings.

This is not the health and wealth gospel that makes good deeds a selfish investment, hoping I can give $10 to some preacher and receive $100 back for my trouble. That motivation isn’t about being zealous for good deeds at all. Rather, this is an extension of God’s promise in Matthew 6:33. If we seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, He’ll take care of us.

If we have contentment with our blessings such that we can share them with others, God will continue to bless us. If we are so discontent that we cannot share, God will stop blessing us. It is that simple. Of course, if I have contentment and I don’t receive a greater blessing, I’m still okay with that. I simply use what God has given me knowing that “it is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have” (II Corinthians 8:12, ESV).

Be content. Be a blessing. Then and only then will God truly bestow His richest material blessings upon us.

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