“For the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me.” John 12:8
This verse has always boggled my mind. What does it mean? Do we take it literally? No matter what we do there will always be poverty in the world? If this is true, then why bother. Why should we spend all the money we spend on feeding the homeless and taking boat loads of food into third world countries to feed those that are hungry?
Many have misinterpreted this statement by Jesus as an excuse to neglect the poor. This was far from the intent of Jesus, who always was loving on the poor throughout His ministry.
Many times, we go on mission trips very focused on the task ahead. We have a schedule and a project to complete. It could be painting a church, providing medical care, organizing a VBS event or distributing bags of food to the hungry. We will do this in an efficient and impactful manner, but we are in danger of losing sight of what God is doing around us. We may lose sight of what He really wants us to focus on. We may forget that He wants us to focus on the people, not on the poverty!
I wonder if as we work with the poor, God is using the poor to remind us of our complacency…of how we live our comfortable lives, with no worries of those that are in need. Is the existence of the poor meant to shake us out of our lethargic state of comfort.
Is God using the poor to remind us of our responsibility to love our neighbors?
Deut. 15:11 “For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.”
Poverty stats in U.S.A.:
• According to the USDA, over 16 million children lived in food insecure (low food security and very
low food security) households in 2010.
• In 2010, 16.4 million or approximately 22 percent of children in the U.S. lived in poverty.
• More than 16 million, or almost one in five, American children are at risk of hunger. Each child
facing hunger potentially goes to bed hungry at some point in the year due to a lack of household
resources to secure an adequate food supply.
Opportunities to serve the poor will, at times, overwhelm us, but our desire to serve the poor must never supersede our desire to serve Him; we must never loose sight of Him.
“For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you want, you can do good for them. But you will not always have me.” Matthew 14:7
This past Sunday, our church had the blessing of partnering with an organization called Feed Children Everywhere. One thousand volunteers prepared 135,000 meals to feed the children of three Florida Elementary Schools. One of the schools was Just Elementary, a local school in which we have adopted 15 of 32 homerooms and are mentoring 30 children. This project will provide food for the weekend for every child at all three Florida schools for a full year.
As exciting as this project was, we are staying focused on what God is doing and will do in the lives of these children. We do not want to just provide a meal; we want to provide them a heavenly banquet for which to come.
Luke 14:15b, “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!”
A couple of weeks ago, as I was running under the heavy tree covering of the Upper Tampa Bay Trail, admiring God’s workmanship, I asked myself, “Is an apple tree an apple tree if it does not produce any apples?” You are probably thinking I have to much time on my hands or was I oxygen deprived at the time.
Think about this, if a apple tree does not produce apples, to me it’s just a shade tree. In fact, you could call it a “Malus domestica” (it’s scientific name) and it would not matter if people didn’t know you were speaking about an apple tree.
I am not a botanist and sometimes I have a hard time distinguishing certain trees. I love mango trees, but, unless they have mangos on them, many times I confuse them with avocado trees. I told you I had a problem with trees.
I believe it is the same way with Christians and the world. We call ourselves Christians, we know we are Christians, we tell others we are Christians, but the world can’t tell we are Christians. They can’t tell us apart from non-believers. They can’t recognize us. It is these moments that Matt. 6:16 is not applicable to us, “You will recognize them by their fruits.”
What do we do about this? Walk around with a sign around our necks that says “I’m a Christian?” Give away business cards to everyone we meet with your name and title, “Professional Christian?” I don’t think so. How about we just keep it simple, we go back to the basics and just abide in Christ.
4 “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. 5 I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” John 15:4-5
To abide means to continue in a place. We need to spend more time staying in His presence. Abiding in Christ is about having an intimate relationship with Him. The more we abide in Him, the more time we spend with Him, the more fruitful we will be.
How do we abide? What do we do? Here are some “abiding” action points:
• Reading, hearing and meditating on His word — “But that on the good ground are they, which in an honest and good heart, having heard the word, keep it, and bring forth fruit with patience.” (Luke 8:15)
• Loving Jesus and obeying His commandments — “Jesus answered and said unto him, ‘If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.” (John 14:23)
• Hating the things of this world — “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.” (I John 2:15-17)
• Make God your refuge — “He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the LORD, He is my refuge and my fortress: my God; in him will I trust.” (Psalm 91:1-2)
As important as these action points are, we need to know it is not about “doing,” it’s about “being.” It’s about living in His presence every second of your life. John Piper says, “Hour by hour, abiding in Jesus means, hour by hour, trusting Him to meet all your needs and be all your treasure.”
Spend time in His presence and your fruit will be obvious to the world. In fact, the world will be amazed at the fruit your tree will bear. You might surprise yourself and be a tree that produces a fruit of nine flavors.
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Gal. 5:22-23
If you had an opportunity to share the Gospel, what would you say?
Would you say something like this, “The gospel is the Good News of what Jesus has done for us. It is the story of Jesus coming to earth, dying on the cross as a substitute for our sins. It is about Jesus being buried and resurrected on the third day, so we may have eternal life when we place our trust in Him.”
Would your next step be to have them pray the “sinners prayer” and introduce them to the ordinance of Baptism? Would you then declare to yourself or others “mission accomplished?” So far, this a great accomplishment, praise be to God…but would you stop here?
Would you tell them about the “pain?” The potential pain they will experience because of the One they now follow.
12 Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. 14 If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. 15 But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. 16 Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. 1 Peter 4: 12-17
Would you tell them about the “change”. The expected change in the way they live their lives? How they will be transformed into the image of Christ day by day?
And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. 2 Cor. 3:18
That this “change” should be evident in their lives today by those around them. This change will not happen unless they have recognized their sinfulness and truly repented, or they will risk experiencing what some call a “shallow conversion.”
H. A. Ironside comments, ”Shallow preaching that does not grapple with the terrible fact of man’s sinfulness and guilt, calling on “all men everywhere to repent,” results in shallow conversions and, so, we have myriads of glib-tongued professors today who give no evidence of regeneration whatever.”
Finally would you tell them about the “gain.” About their glorious inheritance?
Ephesians 1:16-18, “16 I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, 17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, 18 having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints.”
The gospel is the greatest story ever told. It all starts with the gospel, but it does not end there.
Dane Ortlund explains it in this manner, “The gospel is not the runway to the Christian life, getting us off the ground at conversion and landing us in heaven at death, but irrelevant in between. The gospel is the engine – getting us off the ground, landing us and keeping us in the air all along”.
Make sure you don’t stop with the Gospel, help them grow. “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.” 2 Peter 3:18
When I look at the brevity of life, when I ponder on the extent of my days and remember life is but a vapor. I always get anxious at the thought of coming to the end of my life, without leaving a meaningful “mark” of my existence here on earth. I get convicted when I read the quote written by William Carey, “I’m not afraid of failure; I’m afraid of succeeding at things that don’t matter.”
I get convicted because, I desire for my life to matter, I have no desire for fame and fortunes but want my life to bring glory and honor to my Father in heaven. That I may someday say as Jesus did, “I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do.” John 17:4
I believe a big part of leaving a “mark” is understanding the part we play in God’s mission here on earth. We have a missionary God and His mission is to restore Creation, redeem His people, and for Him to be glorified. For some incomprehensible reason only known to Him, He desires to use us as the ” tool” to accomplish His mission:
“19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Matt. 28: 18-20
My mission (and I have decided to accept it…) is to do my part. I know His mission will be completed whether I do my part or not, but would it not be awesome to be part of the greatest mission trip ever? A mission trip in which we are commissioned by God himself. A mission trip with a final destination called “Paradise”.
I look forward to debriefing at the end of this trip, after all is said and done, and we gather to celebrate all God has done on this mission trip called “life”:
“9 After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10 and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” Rev. 7:9-10
What motivates me to be part of “Missio Dei” (Mission of God)? Many things motivate me: the sense of accomplishment, the challenge of the task, the places that it takes me, the people I encounter and the miracles I experience. But, what ultimately moves me is the thought of what my Savior did for me on the cross. How can I do any less than give my life for the mission in order that someday I may stand confidently before my Father in heaven as He reviews all that He has accomplished through me?
“9 So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. 10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.”. (2 Cor. 5:9-10)
One of my favorite songs is by Charles Billingsley titled “Marks of The Mission.” I have heard this song many times, but I had never focused on the lyrics. I pray that after you read the excerpt below you will be motivated to accept the mission that has been given to you, and say to the Lord, “All that I have I offer to you.”
It wasn’t that far from where your life began
To where you laid it down
A man on a mission what we couldn’t see then
We can see it now
I can only imagine the look in Your Father’s eyes
When you came back home
And said look at the scars in my hands and my side
I just wanted you to know
These are the marks of the mission
These are the proof of all I’ve been through
The evidence of sin forgiven
All that I have I offer to you
I followed the call wherever it led me
It was worth every step of the way
I’ve come through the dark
Bearing the marks of the mission….
Seth Godin a marketing guru said, “Few people are interested in your resume any more. Plenty are interested in what you’ve done.”
Do you bear the marks of your mission? Are you being successful at the things that matter?