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Serving the City Part 2

Stonebrook Community Church https://www.stonebrook.org


Stonebrook Pillars:  Serving the City, Part II

Verse:  1 John 3:16–18 ESV By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. 17 But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? 18 Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.

One of my Top Ten stories in the Gospels is an encounter Jesus had with a very sick man.

He had a skin disease.  Possibly leprosy.  Leprosy in those days was considered contagious.  Perhaps even a judgment from God.  He likely was an outcast, not welcome in the community.  Completely ostracized from society.

Mark 1:40–42 CSB Then a man with leprosy came to him and, on his knees, begged him: “If you are willing, you can make me clean.” 41 Moved with compassion, Jesus reached out his hand and touched him. “I am willing,” he told him. “Be made clean.” 42 Immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean.

This outcast of society was desperate, begging Jesus for help.

But instead of being repulsed by the leper, Jesus surprises us.

  1. He is moved with compassion.  His heart went out to this desperate man.
  2. He actually touched the unclean man.

At the very heart of God is a concern and compassion for people.

He made us.  And he made us in his image.  This gives us great worth in his sight.  And in spite of our rebellion against the will of our Creator, he surprises us with his mercy.

And he surprises us with his heart for the broken and the vulnerable…. which ultimately includes everyone, even those who are wealthy and powerful.  In an eternal and spiritual sense, all are broken and vulnerable and in need of God’s mercy.

This is God’s heart.  And he calls on his people to walk in the same manner. 

1 John 3:16–18 ESV By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.  But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?  Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.

We are God’s vehicle to meet those needs, bringing a measure of restoration to our fallen world.  

We are 3/4 of the way through a sermon series looking at our Pillars.  Our Core Values based on the Scriptures.  Some core truths we hold dear and aspire to.

Last week, Matt looked at how we serve our city and the broader culture through our vocation.  Our work.

Today we’re focusing on meeting needs in the community at large.  Our neighbors.  Co-workers.  Those who are suffering.  The vulnerable.  The voiceless. 

The following 2 Sundays we’ll look at “Proclaiming Christ,” i.e., speaking the gospel message and meeting the deepest need of the soul, the need for forgiveness and eternal life from God. 

Today is focused on serving in physical ways, on meeting real, human needs.  Caring for people in need.  Relational needs, financial, food, shelter.  All kinds of needs, small and large. 

Why serve the city?

Why should we serve our city?

We need convictions—biblical convictions—in this area.  Honestly, many non-religious people are out in our city helping people in need.  It’s commendable.  And they might actually be doing more than we are. 

Now it’s not a competition.  And it’s not to gain entrance into heaven. 

But there is a nobility and a dignity in anyone who lives this way.  When we do, we reflect the image of God within us, for this is the very nature and heart of God. 

From cover to cover in the Bible, we are faced with our Creator God who hates oppression against the vulnerable.  And fights against injustices.  And he loves to show mercy. 

There are needs all around us.  And there are needs WITHIN us.

BUT WHY?  Why are there so many problems?

Here’s the reason….Are you ready?  Write this down.  The reason there are so many problems is this:   THE WORLD IS BROKEN.   Brilliant, I know.  J

Our theology has to include a good understanding of why this world is so messed up.  This world is not heaven.  It’s not paradise.  BUT WHY is it so messed up?

It’s often called, “The Curse.”  All the way back to the beginning of creation, the first man and woman rebelled against God, and so God judged their crimes against him with a curse.  A judgment.

This judgment brought Death and Suffering into the world.   Paradise on Earth ended on that day.

And ever since then, we’ve been dealing with the fallout of that.  Disease.  Poverty.  Famine.  Hatred.  Fighting.  War.  Brokenness.

God didn’t abandon mankind, though.   He has shown himself merciful throughout the centuries by providing small and large measures of restoration to us.   GOD IS A RESTORER of what is broken and dead.

The Ultimate Restoration is through the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ. 

And there are also many other large and small ways God desires to bring a measure of restoration to mankind. 

Can we go on a brief biblical history lesson?

OT language.

Let’s get some history on God’s heart for Restoration and Redemption. 

We already looked briefly at 1 John 3, the call in the NT that relates to this Pillar.

But the call is much older than that.  More than 3000 years ago, God revealed his heart, and he called his people to follow him. 

In 1400 B.C., the Lord tells his own people of Israel who he is and what he loves.  His heartbeat of holiness. 

Deuteronomy 10:17–18 ESV For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe.  He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing.

This passage reveals to Israel who their God is.  He is the God of all gods.  The Lord of all lords.  He is the great, the mighty, the awesome God.  He is not to be tangled with or treated lightly. 

And he is radically and completely just and fair.  He will never mistreat or oppress.

And his heart goes even deeper than simply avoiding mistreatment.  He actively works to care for those who are vulnerable:  the orphan, the widow, and the sojourner.  [What word do we use today for “sojourner”?  IMMIGRANT.  God loves the immigrant.]

Do you understand the depth of this?  More than simply NOT MIS-treating people, God actively brings good to those who are suffering.   This is hard to get our minds around.  Among humans, when a leader—a king or dictator has all power in his nation, almost always he is an evil, power-hungry, sadistic, selfish brute.

The Lord is so contrary to that.

And so he calls his people to live in a manner like he does.

Deuteronomy 24:17–19 ESV “You shall not pervert the justice due to the sojourner or to the fatherless, or take a widow’s garment in pledge, but you shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt and the Lord your God redeemed you from there;  therefore I command you to do this.  “When you reap your harvest in your field and forget a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it.  It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands.

The Lord commanded them to be just and fair to the vulnerable.

What motivation does he give them?  He reminds them that they were once vulnerable.  They were once foreigners in the land of Egypt.  They were once cruelly treated, and for 400 years.  But the Lord heard their cry for mercy, and he delivered them.

The Lord is saying, “As I have treated you, now you treat others.”

NT language. 

So let’s look at the NT.  Did anything change when Jesus Christ came to earth, and since he died and rose from the dead?

Has the heart of God changed?

Doesn’t that instruction to Israel in Deuteronomy sound like the passage we already read in 1 John 3?

Let’s read this again.

1 John 3:16–18 ESV By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.  But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?  Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.

Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.  He rescued us out of our spiritual land of Egypt.  We were lost, enslaved to sin, children of wrath, and headed for eternal hopelessness.  But God had mercy on us. 

If you have known Jesus for very long, surely you are like me and have found it is so easy to forget the horrors that God delivered us from.  To take it all for granted.  This is one reason we break bread, like we will do later this morning:  We are to remember Jesus.  To never forget.  So God has instituted a physical practice of eating and drinking to help us remember Jesus. 

In our Pillar today of “Serving the City,” remembering Jesus is foundational to having hearts of compassion.

Just like Israel was to remember their Redemption from Egypt, so we are to remember our Redemption from eternal destruction.

And as we live this way, like commanded here in 1 John 3, we bring the light of God to shine in a darkened world.

Matthew 5:14–16 CSB “You are the light of the world.  A city situated on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 No one lights a lamp and puts it under a basket, but rather on a lampstand, and it gives light for all who are in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

We are the Lord’s representatives on earth.  He is light.  The world is in darkness.  And he calls us to be lights.  The way we do this is through our good works.

Jesus doesn’t give many details here.  Taken at its simplest level, “good works” is simply doing good.  Doing good things.

So when we think of our community, we are to bring good. 

Every good work we do in our neighborhood or apartment complex or out in the community is a measure of light.

What is the purpose of these good works?

  • The purpose is not to EARN salvation.  The NT is clear, we are saved by the grace of God through faith in Jesus. 
  • The purpose of the good works is not to BOAST in self, declaring, “Look at how wonderful I am.”
  • The purpose of good works is not to bring peace to our guilty conscience.

No, the purpose of the good works is to bring light in the darkness, with the end result that the world around us will get a glimpse of God and worship him.  Our passion is that others would say, “Look at how wonderful God is!”

This is powerful.  And profound.  Every good work you do in this city [and on the campus and in the neighborhood and in the workplace]  is an opportunity for light to shine and God to be glorified.

When we consider the 3-year ministry of Jesus on the earth, it’s tempting to focus only on one aspect of Jesus’ work

There are two types of work Jesus did.

  1. We see how he met real, physical needs through his miracles. 
  2. Healing a woman who had been hemorrhaging for 12 years;
  3. providing food for 5000;  
  4. freeing a man possessed by a Legion of demons;   
  5. raising Lazarus from the dead. 

This is beautiful.  What is fascinating that out of 35 or 36 specific miracles recorded by Jesus, all but 2 or 3 met real human needs.  He could have revealed his power and his deity by saying, “Hey, see that tree over there?  Watch me light it on fire!”  But he didn’t.  He brought a measure of restoration to people.  He met real human needs.

OR, the aspect of Jesus’ ministry we can focus on:

  • We see the eternal and spiritual work he did on the cross.  How he died for the sins of the world, and he rose from the dead to conquer death and usher into eternity all who will believe.

We might be tempted to focus only on this, and say, “Well, eternity is all that matters, so I don’t need to be that concerned for helping meet earthly needs.”

(That attitude lasts until WE become the ones in need.)

The tendency I see is to emphasize one of these to the neglect of the other.

But we must hold on to both.  God demands it. 

This is God’s heart.  He is concerned about the whole person.  We can’t parse out the physical from the spiritual.

And he calls us his people to have the same heart. 

We don’t do miracles in the way that Jesus did, fully restoring someone’s health, for example.

But we can, by our own hands and by our money and our compassion, provide relief and a measure of restoration.

So whether it is the miraculous or the ordinary, all of it gives a taste of what the Lord will ultimately do in the resurrected world, the new heaven and new earth. 

A taste of restoration and wholeness here and now to make us long for what is to come. 

This challenges me.  I have much to grow in here.  Much in compassion.  Much in action. 


At this point, we may have some objections.  Sure, we see who God is.  We get that.  Yes, we’re grateful that he died for us and loves us.  But we may still find ourselves wrestling over this topics. 

Obstacles get in the way

  • Our own pride.  Honestly, we can look down on others. 
  • Ungratefulness by others.  They don’t deserve help.  And we don’t want to enable them.  So we do nothing.
  • Forgetfulness.  We simply have forgotten how amazing our eternal salvation through Jesus is.
  • Busyness.  Life is very demanding.  We lose sight of priorities.  And we feel overloaded already.  How can we possibly find time to help others?
  • Guilt. 

A couple of reasons for guilt.

  1. Guilt over sin in our lives, so we wonder if should do good works to ease our conscience. 
  2. Or, we are overwhelmed by so many needs, and we feel guilty since we can’t do it all.   And what we do is never enough. 

So there are obstacles in our hearts and minds.  We’ll address a few of these in a moment.

What now?

But what now?   What kinds of things can we do?   How can we serve our city, our campus, our neighborhood, and our workplace?

Here are a few things that are going on already at Stonebrook, typically by individuals and Life Groups.

  • Neighbors (literally, serving the people who live near you with whatever they need).  Many of you are good neighbors and even co-workers.  Serving those around you. 
  • Food at First.  Many here have helped there.  I know our LG helped this past winter.
  • International students.  Language needs, friendship, help finding furniture, learn how to drive. 
  • Helping with basic supplies for poorer children in Ames elementary schools. 
  • Supporting the care of children in El Salvador, in the Child Development Center in Guayabo, just outside of San Salvador. 
  • As a church, we support Good Neighbor Emergency Assistance. 

They provide food and gas vouchers.  And rent and utility assistance.  

Stonebrook has given to this for years.  Our deacons are currently considering other similar opportunities to give to.   

  • We have a small budget to help with financial needs both within and outside Stonebrook.

These are just a few things.

I am very encouraged by the heart of love and generosity so many of you already have.

At the same time, I know I am challenged by the Lord’s call in the Scriptures we looked at.  I wonder if my wife and I should do some different things. 


So that brings us to some application points.

As we go from here, let me give you a couple things to consider.  To act upon.

Be compelled by God’s love

Be motivated by love.

Not by guilt.  Not by pride and boasting in self.  Not by apathy.  Not by frantic busyness.

Be compelled by the Love of Christ. 

Remember 1 John 3?

1 John 3:16–18 ESV  By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.  But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?  Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.

For the rest of your life, make it one of your major goals to dwell regularly on the deep love of God shown through his Son.

Rejoice in the Lord’s radical forgiveness for you.

Meditate on God’s incredible love for you.  Remember where you came from.

Like Israel.  They were once slaves in Egypt, but the Lord delivered them.  They were to treat others with the same grace.

So it is with us, and much more.  We were in a slavery that led to death.  We had spiritual poverty before God Almighty.  We were spiritual lepers.  We were unclean.   Yet the Lord was filled with compassion, and he rescued us to give us life that never ends.

Dwell on these things.  And be motivated by that love.  If you wonder if you’re not doing enough or doing the right thing, that may be possible.  So be in prayer.  Get advice. 

But don’t be motivated by guilt or fear.  Instead, let it be love for God and love for others. 

Be humble

I think PRIDE is one of the great killers in our lives.

It is so tempting for  us to be proud.  Arrogant.  Look down on others.

We can’t imagine ourselves being in the predicament someone else is in.  So in pride we judge them and mock them.  And we are apathetic.  We are harsh. 

One of the  ways that helps me be more humble is to consider the stories of others.

Listen to their stories.  Ask them. 

Recently I was tempted to be critical toward a man who is caught up in sin.  But when I heard his story, it humbled me.

I thought, “If I had the family background that he does, I would be struggling with some very different things than I am now.”

It’s not an excuse for someone else.

But it does humble me and give me compassion and a greater understanding.

So consider what others have gone through.  Listen to their stories.    

One area for me where listening has been so helpful is in the area of racial reconciliation—which is still a great need in our country.  For the past year and a half or two years, I have been on an unexpected journey.

In a friendship with a couple of African-American brothers in Christ, I have done a lot of listening. 

I remember telling one of them that I grew up in a very white world.  Very few blacks in my schools, in my college experience, and in the workplace.  So I simply don’t know what your experiences are like.

Through many conversations and listening and reading, my eyes have been opened up to a world I simply was ignorant of.

I would never have called myself a racist.  But I realized some subtle ways I had a lot of pride and a critical spirit toward others.  God has humbled me.  And I am better off for it. 

We need to humbly listen to others’ stories. 

Also, we need to firmly reject all nationalistic pride.

I appreciate our country.  I am glad I live here.  But we are not better than any other nation.  We have our own set of sins, even national sins, both in the past and in the present.  As a nation, we need Jesus just as much as Iran or North Korea or Syria.  We are not inherently better.

If we want America to be great, then pray that America would be humble.  That we would be servants to each other and to other nations.

That’s what Jesus told the disciples in Matthew 20:  “Whoever wants to be great among you should be the least.  Whoever wants to be first should be like the slave.”

Humility is the path to greatness.

Let’s reject nationalistic pride and arrogance. 

We can also have pride over those who are ungrateful.  Who have an entitlement mentality.  We get angry with them.  Look down on them. 

But I have some startling news.  Before God, ALL of us start out ungrateful and evil.  But God is kind to all. 

Luke 6:35 CSB  But love your enemies, do what is good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High. For he is gracious to the ungrateful and evil.

God is gracious to the ungrateful and evil.”  We resist helping people who are ungrateful or who caused their own problems.

The Lord does not.  Isn’t that what mercy is, extending kindness when unkindness is deserved?  Romans 5 says, “While we were still sinners…ENEMIES… Christ died for us.”

Reject pride and be humble even towards those who are ungrateful. 

Also be humble and be a good listener when it comes to political processes and solutions.  Form opinions based on what Scriptures say.  Be humble about everything else.  Don’t succumb to partisan politics.  Both parties have some things right.  Both parties have some things very wrong.

We are Christians first and foremost, not Republican or Democrat.

Please, please:  develop biblical convictions.  I am fine if you have opinions concerning national policies and laws, but please don’t put a Christian label on them.  The heart behind it might be biblical, but there are many and complicated solutions. 

Be humble.  Be biblical. 

Do something 

The needs can be overwhelming.  Everywhere we look.  It can paralyze us.

Some of you may be doing enough.

Others of you may need to do more.

Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Pray.  Ask the Lord, “How can I love people like you have loved me?”
  2. Get advice.
  3. Consider teaming up with others.

There are many good ministries and organizations already doing good work.

Ask around.  Find out who needs help, what kind of help. 


Let me close with a couple of comments.

To effectively serve our city, we need to see people as valuable to God.  Made in the image of God. 

And as God has restored us through his Son, Jesus, now we are to bring a measure of restoration to the world.  To have compassion.  To give them a glimpse of God.  To give them a taste of better days ahead in the future kingdom of God. 

We cannot solve every problem.  But we can do something. 

Also, solving problems is not easy.  It is painful, challenging.  And it can be very complicated. 

But we must do something, and do something good. 

We are the light of the world, and by our deeds people will get a glimpse of God and glorify him.