Christianity 201

March 22, 2015

Something You Cannot Control Happens When You Serve

Christian Service

This excerpt from Brandon Hatmaker’s book Barefoot comes to us via the Pastor-to-Pastor newsletter from FaithGateway.com. Click the image to learn more about the book.

Barefoot ChurchDiscipleship: Giving to the Poor Is Not About Money

Jesus was once asked point blank what we need to do to inherit eternal life; He was asked by someone who already knew all the rules.

His response? Give to the poor.

We know the law, yet this is probably the most obvious discipleship tool we miss.

“You know the commandments: “You shall not commit adultery, you shall not murder, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honor your father and mother. All these I have kept since I was a boy,” he said. When Jesus heard this, He said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” – Luke 18:20 – 22

I assure you, this wasn’t about the cash. Jesus didn’t need this man’s money to help the poor. This man needed to help the poor himself. There is so much wrapped in what happens when we do. We are confronted at the very soul of our existence. This wasn’t the first time Jesus encouraged this discipline for making disciples, and it wasn’t his last time either.

But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous. – Luke 14:13 – 14

In a moment, Zacchaeus discerned what Jesus required of him:

But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”

Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham.” – Luke 19:8 – 9

Paul labeled Tabitha a disciple. Here are the marks of her discipleship:

In Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha . . . she was always doing good and helping the poor. – Acts 9:36

The angel who came to Cornelius, the first Gentile convert reported in Scripture, claimed that the very reason he was there was because God not only heard his prayers, but remembered his service to the poor:

Cornelius answered: ‘Three days ago I was in my house praying at this hour, at three in the afternoon. Suddenly a man in shining clothes stood before me and said, ‘Cornelius, God has heard your prayer and remembered your gifts to the poor.’” – Acts 10:30 – 31

The apostles, pioneers of the New Testament church, knew that if they did anything of value, they should continue to serve the poor:

James, Cephas and John, those esteemed as pillars, gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship when they recognized the grace given to me. They agreed that we should go to the Gentiles, and they to the circumcised. All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I had been eager to do all along. – Galatians 2:9 –10

Believing is not just a matter of knowing.

“Believing is also a matter of doing. Believing is trusting that Jesus’ way of living is the right way, and trusting it enough that one is willing to live that way — and die that way.” – Darrel Gruder

We’ve been talking about the elements of discipleship ad nauseum. Bible study, surrender, the Holy Spirit, giving back — no one would disagree with these marks of a disciple — but most people never transfer these practices from the church campus to an actual life. According to our role model, Jesus, surrender meant death in every possible way: materially, relationally, and physically. Surrender until there was nothing left but redemption for a broken world. The Holy Spirit is a blazing fire, charring every remnant of selfishness and pride left in our souls, an unquenchable fire that cannot be ignored or denied. Giving back means giving all; any inferior definition is pure deception. Our money, our resources, our gifts, our time, our dreams, our selfish ambitions, our comfort — these we give back in their entirety. Anything less is not discipleship at all. It is simply a clever substitution by a crafty enemy who has figured out how to use our own weaknesses against us, rocking us to complacent sleep with a consumer version of the gospel and knowing all the while he is making goats out of sheep.

Tangible Transformation

Earlier today I sat down to start this chapter on how social action impacts discipleship when I was interrupted by a call from my wife. She said seven words, “Brandon. Come home. We got our referral!” Then she hung up.

Nearly a year ago we started the long journey of international adoption. After spending some time in Africa with The Eden Reforestation Projects and falling in love with the children of Ethiopia, our hearts were affirmed that that’s where we were to adopt. Jen handled the whirlwind of paperwork like a pro. It’s like applying for twenty mortgages at the same time. Quite a process: family history, addresses, references, financial reports, physicals (even the dog), fingerprints, and home studies. We submitted our dossier and made the payments, thanks to some incredible friends and supporters. And we waited. I tried my best not to think about it too often, hoping the time would pass. Jen’s strategy was a little different; adoption blogs, Facebook groups, email chains, and the adoption agency website were a daily obsession for her.

Today we were given the names, faces, and heartbreaking stories of a beautiful little five-year-old girl and seven-year-old boy we were going to adopt. There are experiences in life that simply change us. Some are good. Some are tragic. But they change who we are and what we’re about from that point forward. While we’ve yet to realize the full impact adoption will have on us, this is certainly one of those experiences for us. Life will never be the same. Following Christ should change our lives. We should not be the same. Discipleship should be transforming. Yet when we think about our spiritual development, it’s easier to see a change in our practices than in our passions. We continue to add things and replace things, yet our hearts remain the same. We seem to think discipleship is an agreement to knowledge instead of a commitment to a gospel that makes all things new.

I share my story because I want you to know that my hope is completely different today from where it was a handful of years ago. I’ve seen the same in others. While I know I have a ways to go, I can honestly say that the way I think is different. The way I feel is different. The way I love is simply different. My faith journey is now a joy. My church experience is life giving. And for the first time, I actually do life with the people I’m in biblical community with.

Most of us change over the years.

Yet few can look back and identify supernatural God-level transformation and link it to a clear and concise discipleship process.

When we add serving the least into the mix of our passion for God’s Word, worship, and community, we take something already great and make it better. We seem to think discipleship is an agreement to knowledge instead of a commitment to a gospel that makes all things new.

I received an email the other day from one of the founding members of our church. His story is simple: an extremely successful businessman who’s done just about everything in life and has been radically changed by serving the least. He writes:

Brandon,

Just wanted to put words to what’s been going on in my life over the last few years and share it with you. You know that each time we do the homeless grill-out downtown, my post is at the front of the line handing out the tickets. I love it because I get to talk to everyone we serve.

In case you didn’t know, they call me “ticket-man.” They have called me that for a few years now. A few years of my own metamorphosis from “dude too busy to notice suffering” or “dude too quick to judge who deserves help” to “ticketman.” I hand out tickets so that we make sure we have enough hamburgers for everyone in line. I am no longer “dude who flies first-class to Sydney” or “dude having a drink at the top of the JW Marriott in Hong Kong”; just “ticket-man.” Those who were my age would remember David Byrne chopping lettuce on his arm to “Once in a Lifetime” singing, “You may ask yourself, ‘Well, how did I get here?’ ”

That was me last week on a stinking hot Austin summer day, hugging a homeless guy I did not know wondering, “Well, how did I get here?” Something happens when you serve. Something you cannot control.

You start with all sorts of obstacles, fear, incompetence, and even a desire to avoid the hopelessness that occurs when you realize that you do not have the power within you to fix people.

Something changes and you stop seeing people and you see a person. Maybe even for a fleeting second you see a person through God’s eyes. And you see their heart and they see yours. And you see them see your heart and that is when you get it. Serving was never about them. Serving is about getting gripped in the heart by God. And he touches your heart through the ones you serve. I am not who I was. And it has nothing to do with anything I did. It is the heart connection to individuals as you serve with no agenda other than telling them, “I see you, you are a person and I accept you for who you are in this moment.” I am ticket-man, and serving has been transformational for me.

November 26, 2012

An Optimal 30 Days for The Church

The period from the American Thanksgiving holiday to Christmas marks approximately 30 days that the church — make that The Church (with capital letters) — really gets to shine. It is the time we celebrate the story that forms the Biblical narrative that is probably most known to society at large, albeit with a little help from Linus Van Pelt. Play your cards right, and you get into a deep discussion with your friends about the meaning and implication of incarnation.

But it’s also a time when we get to show the world what the impact that same narrative has had on us through our generosity, and through being the hands and feet of Christ, we can do so much in our small corner of the world to make a difference where there is hurt, and where there is loneliness, and where there is hunger.

Brent Adams wrote the following just before U.S. Thanksgiving for The Southeast Outlook, the in-house church newspaper of Southeast Christian Church in Kentucky. It contains some specific references to their church. You may not know Southeast by name, but you might know their teaching pastor, Kyle Idleman, author of the bestselling Christian book, Not a Fan.  He titled this, The Perfect Time to Be The Church.

Southeast Christian Church Teaching Pastor Kyle Idleman recently challenged the congregation to understand that a church isn’t a building where people come just to be spiritually fed or recharged, but rather the church is a group of believers who worship God and carry out the teachings of Jesus Christ by building their lives around those teachings.

Among those teachings is that we should be thankful in all situations.

“Always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5:20). “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

We also are taught in Scripture that we should act as the church by going to those less fortunate than we are.

In Acts 20:35, the Apostle Paul clearly laid out to his followers the role of the early church:

“In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”

We should take these words to heart all year long, but we especially tend to focus on them during the holidays, starting with Thanksgiving.

Two recent experiences put things into perspective for me.

One was a September mission trip to assist our church plant teams in Rhode Island. While there, we spent a couple days serving homeless military veterans at a weekend camp-out where they received medical care, food, grooming, new clothing, Gospel teaching, fellowship and encouragement.

Each of the homeless and struggling men and women I met were so friendly and so grateful for the assistance they received. Some of the people receiving help were there because they clearly didn’t have the physical or mental capacity to hold down a job. Others were there because, despite their best efforts, they found themselves on hard times and humbly came to accept help.

They were starved for someone to show them some kindness. The smiles on their faces when they were engaged in a conversation said it all. They just wanted to be loved and understood. They didn’t want to be judged or treated like a charity case.

I had a similar experience the following week when I served as an escort for the Shine disabilities prom. I was partnered with a sweet girl named Heidi, who seemed to know everyone in the place. She beamed from ear to ear all night long as she danced and visited with friends. I did little more than dress nice and point her in the right direction, but at the end of the night, I couldn’t help but feel like I was more blessed by my involvement than anyone the event was intended for.

Proverbs 19:17 says,

“Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will reward them for what they have done.”

Now, I certainly didn’t participate in those events because I wanted the glory or even because I’m focused on storing up treasures in heaven. I did it because it’s what we are called to do: To go out and love on people and serve them as Jesus served and commanded His disciples to do.

What I found along the way, and I hear this all the time from people who serve in the Lord’s name, is that I came away feeling like I was blessed far more than I was a blessing to those I served.

The upcoming Thanksgiving holiday is a great time to reflect on how you can show the love of Jesus to your family, friends and total strangers. The fact of the matter is, as my friend Denny Dillman often points out in his columns, even on our worst days, we still enjoy more luxuries (including things like running water and clothing) than the majority of the world’s population.

Instead of focusing on our wants and needs, we need to turn our attention to how we can be the church to the hurting. In James 1:27 we are commanded to look after widows and orphans. That’s a good place to start.

In Deuteronomy 15:11, it is written:

“There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land.”

If you believe that the Scripture is the living Word of God, then you’ll know that the commands don’t get much clearer than that.

Find an opportunity to serve at a homeless shelter or food pantry—not just for Thanksgiving or Christmas, but make that a starting point for a life of service. Find some families in need to bless this Christmas by buying clothes and food and other items. But don’t just hand them the gifts and run. Find ways to do life with them. We’ve seen some great instances in the last 12 months of last year’s “More Than a Gift” Christmas outreach bringing people to Jesus Christ because they were shown love by people who went the extra mile to get to know them and share the Gospel with them.

The truth is, despite whatever trials we face, we still have an awful lot to be thankful for. We need to focus on those blessings and look for ways to be the church by reaching out to those who have yet to hear the Good News that Jesus Christ wants to give them the gift of eternal salvation if they simply will accept Him into their hearts and join the church in making disciples.

~ Brent Adams

  • If you missed it at Thinking Out Loud, here’s a great Christmas song from the ’80s, Christmas Bells.

February 21, 2011

Worship With Both Hands


We worship God with one hand UP and one hand OUT; worship is about God and my neighbor — about loving Jesus and loving others.You can’t have one without the other

That’s inspired by Mark 12:28-31, where Jesus is asked which commandment is the greatest. He responds by saying, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart…” and “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  I find the church gets the first part right. That’s the up part. We know how to raise our hands up in worship. The problem is that if both our hands are up saying, “God, I Love You,” then we don’t have a hand free to put out to our neighbor. Worship has to be balanced — one hand raised to God and one hand stretched out to our neighbors, serving and loving them in the name of Jesus.

I believe I worship God by being hospitable to my neighbor. For example, by throwing a street party not to preach, but to simply celebrate the community I share with them. I worship God when I open the door for someone else, when I look someone in the eye and listen to what they’re saying, and when I feed the poor and give money to someone who needs it more than I do…

Jonathan Manafo
Associate Pastor, Christian Life Centre
Ajax, Ontario, Canada
as quoted in Testimony Magazine.

That reminded me of this song by Love Song from the early days of the Jesus Movement. The group reunited in 2009 to perform the song once again:

And while reminiscing about classic contemporary Christian music, I couldn’t help but think of Chris Christian’s recording of Mountain Top. That song isn’t online, but Amy Grant covered it. The song reminds us that worship is far more than what we do on Sundays.

Are there songs today that express this two-pronged aspect of what true worship is? We’ve become far more active in the lives of the poor; in addressing social justice issues; but do we do it with a spirit of worship, a sense that what we do “to the least of these” we are doing onto God? That true worship involves service to widows and orphans?

I just wonder if we’re getting more familiar and more efficient with doing something, but we’ve lost the sense that in so doing, we are giving worship to God. That would be unfortunate.

Francis Chan says,

We need to stop giving people excuses not to believe in God. You’ve probably heard the expression, “I believe in God, just not organized religion.” I don’t think people would say that if the church truly lived like we are called to live. The expression would change to, “I can’t deny what the church does, but I don’t believe in their God.” At least then, they’d address their rejection of God rather than use the church as a scapegoat.

Crazy Love pp 21-22