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The Ministry of Mercy, Part 6

The Ministry of Mercy, Part 6

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By: Pastor R. W. Glenn
October 24, 2004
Selected Scriptures

More messages in this series:
http://www.solidfoodmedia.com/messages/seriesview.php?id=1
By: Pastor R. W. Glenn
October 24, 2004
Selected Scriptures

More messages in this series:
http://www.solidfoodmedia.com/messages/seriesview.php?id=1

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Published by: Redeemer Bible Church/Solid Food Media on Feb 20, 2010
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Redeemer Bible Church
Unreserved Accountability to Christ. Undeserved Acceptance from Christ.
The Ministry of Mercy, Part Six Selected Scriptures Introduction My wife and I have some friends who used to serve the Lord with a missions organization that encouraged its members to live as frugally as possible so as to dedicate a substantial portion of their income for giving. And by frugal I mean that they were encouraged not to buy (or have) any furniture, to eat bland and extremely inexpensive foods, even to forgo shampoo in favor of ordinary soap for washing their hair. Perhaps the term “frugal” is too weak to describe their philosophy. Nevertheless, I mention this simply to ask this question: do you think they were on to something? I mean, with all that we’ve heard about the poor here in the United States and abroad, maybe it is a good idea for us to start unloading all that is unnecessary for living: perhaps we should all use a single car, live in the smallest and least expensive house that can accommodate us (do our kids need their own rooms?) Isn’t it an incredible waste of money to rent or buy movies, comic books, novels, and other forms of entertainment, especially in light of what is available at the public library? Or why not go further and eliminate our televisions altogether? Do we really need them? How about our clothes—or ladies, your shoes? Do you need to play golf? Do you need to play hockey or soccer or basketball on a league? Do you need to belong to a health club? Couldn’t you just jog and do calisthenics? And we certainly don’t need to go out to eat, do we? I wonder how much money we could save on behalf of the poor so as to alleviate their burden just by giving up cold cuts for lunch and moving to peanut butter and jelly—or just peanut butter. How about our cars? Is it necessary to drive a Lexus? If not a Lexus, is it necessary to drive a Honda Accord or a Subaru Forester? If not a Forester, why not a Kia or Ford Focus? Is it possible that some of us would free up hundreds of dollars a month if we avoided anything luxurious or otherwise ostentatious when it came to our automobiles? Maybe we shouldn’t even live out here in the suburbs, away from the hustle and bustle of the Cities, away from the presence of so many marginalized and outcast and poor members of the community at large. Maybe we should all sell our homes and move into the Phillips neighborhood.

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How about church buildings? Did you know that between 1984 and 1989 American Christians spent 15.7 billion dollars on building projects?1 That is over three billion dollars a year just for a place to meet! A church not so far from ours is still trying to get out from under the debt associated with a building so large that a local paper referred to the church as “The Mall Where You Talk to God.”2 Is that excessive? How about our own building, is this excessive? Do we really need all this space? Couldn’t we use the money we spend on heating and maintenance and repairs and capital improvements to help people in need? At this point, I don’t doubt that all these questions are making your heads spin. In the Institutes, John Calvin, in connection with a discussion of Christian liberty, talks about “a long and inextricable maze”3 that is not all that different from the kinds of questions we have asked this morning. Listen:
If a man begins to doubt whether he may use linen for sheets, shirts, handkerchiefs, and napkins, he will afterward be uncertain also about hemp; finally, doubt will even arise over tow. For he will turn over in his mind whether he can sup without napkins, or go without a handkerchief. If any man should consider daintier food unlawful, in the end he will not be at peace before God, when he eats either black bread or common victuals [= foods], while it occurs to him that he could sustain his body on even coarser foods. If he boggles at sweet wine, he will not with clear conscience drink even flat wine, and finally he will not dare touch water if sweeter and cleaner than other water. To sum up, he will come to the point of considering it wrong to step upon a straw across his path, as the saying goes.4

Of course, the solution to our confusion is found in paying careful attention to God’s word. Although we have not addressed all the passages concerning our responsibility to the poor, we have seen enough to conclude that believers are obligated to engage in the ministry of mercy. Indeed, this is why we have so many questions. We have been affected by what we have seen in Scripture and we rightly desire to take action. Perhaps we can reduce all our questions to a simple one. Where do we begin? In our second message in this series on the ministry of mercy, we started to formulate an answer. Let me refresh your memory. First, we noted that we are responsible for those who fall into conditions of want that come across our path. We can certainly say that if there is a man in the gutter on the street we pass every day, that the Lord in his providence is placing some obligation on us to meet his need. When we look at the Samaritan’s service to the Jew lying half dead on the roadside, we see that he could not stand idly by while this person was in such a dreadful condition; he was compelled from within to take action.

Craig L Blomberg, Neither Poverty nor Riches: A Biblical Theology of Material Possessions (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing, 1999), 19. 2 City Pages, November 13, 2002. 3 John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, John T McNeill (Ed), Ford Lewis Battles (trans) (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1960), 3.19.7. 4 Ibid.

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Second, we appealed to the teaching of Gal 6:10, which says, “So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith.” We are responsible to minister in mercy to all people, but we are to make meeting the needs of believers our priority. And third, we suggested that we should take advantage of the church’s board of mercy ministers, the diaconate. If we read about a need in the newspaper, hear about a need on the radio, see a need on television or the internet and feel burdened for such people, we should go to our deacons. If we get a letter from a relief organization, Christian or otherwise, we should bring it to our deacons. We should follow their lead as we seek how best to allocate our resources for our personal ministries of mercy through the local church. But as I have said, these three points merely help us to start to answer the question of where to begin. By no means do they complete our inquiry. So what I would like to do this morning as we continue to explore what would be a biblical solution to our query, is to spend some time addressing the subject of giving. Now, the reason why I am moving in this direction is based upon my personal experience in reflecting on the sermons in this series. While the Lord has used them to open my eyes to many of the needs around me, needs that I had more or less been neglecting, he has also used the messages to motivate me to reassess how I am using my money, how I am allocating the funds that he has provided. God Owns Everything Now just because I make my living from the gospel (to borrow Paul’s language) does not mean that it is only my funds that the Lord has provided. He has provided yours as well. This is the starting point for understanding how to use our money for the glory of the Lord. We must remember that whatever we have in the way of resources is the product of the providence of God. Turn with me in your Bibles to Ps 50:10-12: “For every beast of the forest is Mine, The cattle on a thousand hills. I know every bird of the mountains, And everything that moves in the field is Mine. If I were hungry I would not tell you, For the world is Mine, and all it contains.” There is nothing that does not belong to the Lord. If he were hungry, he would not tell us. There is nothing that we have that doesn’t in the first place belong to him. There is nothing that we have in the way of material possessions that is not the product of God’s bestowment. And because all things—including our money—all things belong to the Lord, we are simply stewards of what he has entrusted to us. Our ultimate accountability is with him. Since it is his money, he retains the absolute right to dispose of it as he wishes. Therefore whatever he commands with reference to our money is absolutely binding. We must use it in accord with his will or face the consequences. Now then, we are ready to move on to discover what he has said we are to do with it. Turn with me to 1 Tim 6:17-19:

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Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy. 18 Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, 19 storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is life indeed.

Instruction for the Rich Let me begin by speaking to what the passage does not say. I want you to note that the Apostle Paul does not tell Timothy to command the rich to give all their possessions away. In fact, the text assumes that there will be rich members of the congregation whose riches would stay with them throughout their lives. This should at least begin to alleviate the concerns of those who might have inferred from the profound needs of so many people an obligation to give everything away except that which meets our most basic needs for food and shelter. Contrary to that notion is the phrase at the end of v 17 that says that God richly supplies us with all things to enjoy. It is not at all a sin to enjoy the good gifts God has given us. It is not a sin to enjoy the benefits of our material wealth. We also note that the passage is not speaking exclusively to people like Bill Gates or Phil Knight or Google stockholders. It is speaking to the rich, whom we have defined as those who can more than adequately meet their own needs and the needs of others. In other words, it is speaking to the majority of our congregation. It is speaking to us. So then, Paul is telling Timothy to give instruction to the rich in the church. This instruction, however, does not entail a call for the rich to part entirely with their possessions for the sake of the kingdom of God; rather, the apostle provides what we could reduce to two pieces of instruction. Added to this is a God-centered incentive to keep up with such heavenly investments. Give Generously Let’s look at the second piece first. It is couched in positive terms; what the rich are to do. Look again at v 18: Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share. We are generously to use our wealth for the advancement of the kingdom. We are to dedicate ourselves and our wealth to meet the needs of those who lack. This is almost literally what the word translated to do good means.5 The USB glossary to its Greek New Testament defines it like this: “to be generous with one’s possessions.” Then Paul uses a pun to convey the same thing. We are to be rich in good works. As rich as we are monetarily, we need to be equally as rich ministerially. We are to use our resources for the good of others. Finally, the particulars are spelled out at the end of the verse: to be generous and ready to share. There has to be not only a sense of liberality to our giving, but also a kind of
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eager anticipation to do so. We need to be willing to have the poor reach into our deep pockets. The idea of the rich being generous to the poor is not a new one; in fact, it finds its antecedence in the pages of the Old Testament. Deuteronomy 15:7-8 & 11 says,
If there is a poor man with you, one of your brothers, in any of your towns in your land which the LORD your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart, nor close your hand from your poor brother; but you shall freely open your hand to him, and shall generously lend him sufficient for his need in whatever he lacks….For the poor will never cease to be in the land; therefore I command you, saying, “You shall freely open your hand to your brother, to your needy and poor in your land.”

So when it comes to our money the rule is this: be generous and ready to share. Have open hands that flow from a soft heart. It’s that simple…and that difficult. We love our comforts and in our flesh we resist generosity. We do not naturally like sharing. Now you may think that you are naturally generous and that you do enjoy sharing. But I think I need only ask you to spend some time in our church’s nursery—or even better, try to remember the last conversation you had with your children about getting along with one another. Did it somehow involve sharing? And in case you still think yourself exempt, remember when there were two pieces of pizza left for two people in your family? Which one did you choose? What went through your mind? Or how about ice cream? What happened the last time you prepared two bowls, one for you and one for your spouse? Which one did you “end up” with? Let’s face it; we have a hard time sharing even a stick of gum (“It’s my last piece!”)! When you have things, it is a tall order to be told to be generous in meeting others needs; for it means encroaching upon what brings you comfort. The idea of cultivating a heart that is ready to share is simple, yes, but that doesn’t mean that it is any the less challenging for sinners like us. And yet, biblically speaking there is something even more remarkable than the command itself. What is truly extraordinary is that the Scriptures routinely set forth the poorest people as the greatest examples of generosity—of open hands and soft hearts. Turn with me in your Bibles to Mark 12:41-44. In v 41, the evangelist notes that Jesus positioned himself opposite the treasury, opposite the box intended to receive the people’s giving to watch people make donations. As he sat there, v 42 says that a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which amount to a cent—1/64 of a day’s wages. The contrast is palpable. Here are the rich, dropping large sums of money into the temple treasury. And here is this poor widow, one of the weakest members of society. Not only is she poor, but she’s a widow to boot! And she enters and puts in a few cents. From all appearances, who is more generous, the widow or the rich? The rich, of course. They were the ones putting in large sums, not this woman.
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But Jesus sees something much different and calls his disciples to himself to explain to them the reality behind the appearance. Notice v 43: Calling His disciples to Him, He said to them, “Truly I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the contributors to the treasury.” What?! Can you imagine the disciples’ stunned response to Jesus’ remark? Can you see it there in the white space between vv 43 and 44? No matter how you slice it, 1/64 of the daily wages earned by a laborer is not a greater sum than the large amounts contributed by the rich—those who hire such laborers. Yet Jesus is saying that the poor widow put in more than all the contributors to the treasury. She put in more than all the contributors combined! How is this possible? Jesus explains in v 44: for they all put in out of their surplus, but she, out of her poverty, put in all she owned, all she had to live on. The rich gave from their abundance, but the woman from her lack. She put in all she had to live on, which means that she would have to wait to eat again until she earned more money. So here is a destitute woman willing to wait until she earns money again in order to buy her necessary bread in order to contribute to the treasury.6 This is generosity. This is readiness to share. Another noteworthy example is found in 2 Cor 8:1-4.
Now, brethren, we wish to make known to you the grace of God which has been given in the churches of Macedonia, 2 that in a great ordeal of affliction their abundance of joy and their deep poverty overflowed in the wealth of their liberality. 3 For I testify that according to their ability, and beyond their ability, they gave of their own accord, 4 begging us with much urging for the favor of participation in the support of the saints.

Here the Apostle Paul sets the Macedonian churches before the Corinthians as examples to follow. They provide a model for generosity in that in a great ordeal of affliction their abundance of joy and their deep poverty overflowed in the wealth of their liberality. And they provide a model for readiness to share in that according to their ability, and beyond their ability, they gave of their own accord, begging us with much urging for the favor of participation in the support of the saints. I would call begging for the privilege of relieving the needs of the Jerusalem saints “readiness to share,” wouldn’t you? And the apostle pulls together the two ideas of generosity and readiness to share in 2 Cor 9:6-7: “Now this I say, he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”

In the context of Mark’s gospel, this widow is set in bold relief from the scribes described in 12:38-40 who “devour widows’ houses.” This is the kind of widow being oppressed by Israel’s leaders—a woman not at all insensitive to the teaching of the Torah, while the “experts” ignored it.

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So in case we thought that we understood, really understood what true generosity looks like, now we have a much better idea. We, like the Corinthians, need to follow the Macedonians and sow bountifully. We need to follow the Macedonians and give not grudgingly or under compulsion, but cheerfully, joyously, freely. We need to give with open hands and soft hearts. We need to model ourselves after the poor in Scripture and give liberally and sincerely, from a heart that overflows with spontaneous mercy and joy. This is the mark to which we have been called. And it is a high mark indeed! I should also point out that with all this talk of generosity both here and back in 1 Timothy there is no required amount, no dollar figure, no percentage. In fact, there is not even a “suggested donation.” At this point, many of you may be wondering about the tithe. Aren’t we required to give ten percent of our income for the work of the ministry and the needs of the poor? Actually, no; for that would be too miniscule. It would not accurately reflect what has happened to us under the new covenant through the gospel of Christ: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich” (2 Cor 8:9). What, then, are we to do with the passages concerning the tithe in the Old Testament? Are we simply to ignore them? Well, to answer this question, we first need to see that under the old covenant, Israel was required to give much more than ten percent per annum. In reality, there were three tithes required by the Mosaic Law. The first ten percent was given to support the Levites (the priests), which you can read about in Leviticus 27 and Numbers 18. The second tithe is what we could call a “festival tithe” and was used to support national holidays.7 And the third was brought out every third year as additional food for the Levite, plus food for the alien, orphan, and widow. Deuteronomy 14:28-29 says,
At the end of every third year you shall bring out all the tithe of your produce in that year, and shall deposit it in your town. The Levite, because he has no portion or inheritance among you, and the alien, the orphan and the widow who are in your town, shall come and eat and be satisfied, in order that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hand which you do.

Pro-rated annually, these three amounted to a 23.3% “tithe”! The point here is that under the Law of Moses, these tithes functioned as taxes for the operations of the theocracy. The money was used for wages to pay the priests whose duties in the Temple consumed them and as welfare to meet the needs of the poor in the land. Theologically speaking, the tithes were meant to remind the Israelite that everything belongs to God. Giving the first and best portion of your produce would have reminded you that the world is the Lord’s and all it contains. All that you have you owe to him. So he is entitled to whatever portion he deems necessary. And it is this theological point that carries over into the age of fulfillment, the new covenant era. We continue to give of our resources for the support of the teachers in the
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See Deuteronomy 14:22-27.

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church and for the poor and destitute. And although God has dispensed with a specific amount in favor of simple and profound generosity, the principle remains that our giving reminds us of whose money it is in the first place. All this is to say that there is no longer a tithe (23.3% or otherwise). Something has replaced it that far outstrips its significance—freewill, liberal giving that flows from an appropriation of the grace of God in Jesus Christ. In fact, this kind of mercy ministry is what Paul saw as evidence of the grace of God in the hearts of the Macedonians. Look again at 2 Cor 8:1: Now, brethren, we wish to make known to you the grace of God which has been given in the churches of Macedonia, that they gave liberally even from a position of poverty. They exemplified in material things what had happened to them spiritually. Christ became spiritually poor to make the Macedonians spiritually rich. So the Macedonians became all the more materially impoverished in order to make the Jerusalem Christians materially rich. And so we must follow suit. Now turn back to 1 Timothy 6. Hope in God The second piece of instruction is found in v 17. Look at it with me: Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy. This is mainly negative. It emphasizes what the rich are not to do. They are not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches. Our natural inclination when we have wealth is to find all our comfort and all our value from our wealth while we forget God and to look down on those who lack. Instead, we need to resist this evil tendency and find all our comfort and all our value in the God who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy. This, then, is what will provide us with what we need to live a life that can easily dispense with the riches we have acquired. The only way we are going to be willing to part with what brings us comfort and value is to see that we are exchanging it for something (someone!) that brings infinitely more comfort and infinitely more value. We will be able to part with our money only when we gain all comfort and all our value from the one who is able to bring greater gladness than when their grain and new wine abound. Thus the apostle is establishing an interesting relationship between God and money. Our inclination is to see money as providing greater security and comfort and joy and value than the God who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy. This is why our attitude toward the poor is so telling of attitude toward God. If we are tight-fisted with the resources God has placed at our disposal, the reality is that we are believing the lie that God himself is not enough. Now this is not the only place in the New Testament that such a connection is made. Turn with me in your Bibles to Heb 13:5: “Make sure that your character is free from the

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love of money, being content with what you have; for He Himself has said, ‘I WILL NEVER DESERT YOU, NOR WILL I EVER FORSAKE YOU.’” I’m sure you remember the comforting words of the second half of v 5: I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you. But have you ever noticed that this quotation from the Pentateuch is the foundation for a command to make sure that your character is free from the love of money, being content with what you have? In other words, the writer to the Hebrews says we can follow the command of v 5a by faith in the promise of v 5b. Since the Lord will never, ever, ever leave or forsake us, we can forsake our wealth for his purposes and we can be content with what we have. Do you see how what we believe about God makes all the difference when it comes to our attitude toward wealth? This is because we are easily tempted to believe that money can deliver where our God cannot. We are tempted to believe that money is greater comfort and greater joy than the riches of God in Christ Jesus. It is a telling example of how we exchange the truth of God for a lie and worship and serve the creature rather than the creator who is blessed forever (Rom 1:25). So when we believe that true and lasting comfort and value are found only in God, the generous and gladdening God, it will be easy to part with what we once thought was so comfortable and added so much to our worth. And yet, believing that God is greater joy than the joy of my things is hard to believe, even for Christians. If this were not the case, we wouldn’t need instruction like what we’ve read in 1 Timothy 6. Saving for the Future This is why Paul adds the motivation of v 19. Turn there and read it again with me: Storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is life indeed. We need to see our giving as an investment. We need to see our liberality to the poor as a kind of heavenly 401K with benefits that blow away the returns of any portfolio. As you can see, all the apostle is doing here is echoing the words of our Lord Jesus: “Sell your possessions and give to charity; make yourselves money belts which do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near nor moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Luke 12:33-34). And in Luke 14:1214 Jesus says,
When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, otherwise they may also invite you in return and that will be your repayment. But when you give a reception, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, since they do not have the means to repay you; for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.

We need to see all our giving as an investment for eternity. For God always makes good on our investments—always! Our generosity will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous. Is this not worth all the money in the world, including our own?!
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Conclusion So then, some more of the answer of where to begin in the ministry of mercy is to begin with generosity, but more than that, it is to begin with the belief that God is greater riches and joy and comfort and value and security than anything we can obtain this side of eternity. Put a little bit differently, it means that we need to begin with faith in God. Such faith will allow us to hold all our possessions with an open hand, being ready to quit with them at a moment’s notice if it means that we will be afforded the opportunity to store up for ourselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future that we might take hold of that which is life indeed. God has richly supplied us with all things for our enjoyment—he wants us to enjoy them. But we must not use this as an excuse not to be generous and ready to share as exemplified by the poor widow of Mark 12 and the Macedonian churches. We must confess that all too often we love things more than the Lord. We are so much quicker to spend our money on our comforts than on relieving the discomfort of the needy. We need to confess that we believe that there is greater joy in a new couch or a night out to eat or a home improvement than there is in God. And not only do we need to confess our materialism, but we need to repent. We began this morning by asking a host of questions. And although we can find such questions to be “a long and inextricable maze,” this does not mean that we shouldn’t bother to ask them. No, we should ask ourselves if we are being excessive. We need to ask if the cars we have and the home we have and the possessions we acquire are indulgent. We need to perform heart surgery on ourselves so that we may truly repent and return to the Lord. Each of us needs to be deliberate about how we spend our money and what of our profits we are investing for the sake of the poor. We need to believe that every dollar given to the poor in Jesus name is never wasted, for God will pay us back. We need to strive for generosity and readiness to share. Now, some of you are no doubt, looking for something very concrete from me this morning. You want to know exactly what to do. But what I’m here to tell you is that the Bible gives us no such specifics. In this case, it provides us with commands that involve relative language. We need to be generous. But what is generosity? We need to be willing to share? But what does that look like? The answer, brothers and sisters, is this: look to the widow; look to the Macedonians; sell your possessions and give to the poor and you shall have treasure in heaven. The answer, then, is that we need wisdom from above; we are desperately in need of divine wisdom.

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I must say that I love the lack of specificity. I praise the Lord for it because it drives us to our knees. Can I ever really quantify whether or not I have been generous according to the command of 1 Tim 6:18 without the Lord’s help, without his ministry to our consciences? Perhaps we can know when we’re not at all being generous, but once we start giving in accord with the principles of generosity and faith, the answer becomes less and less evident. We need the Lord’s wisdom in order to discern what is best for our individual ministries of mercy and for the church’s ministry of mercy as a whole. Oh may the Lord make good on his promise to give wisdom to those who ask. And may we be faithful to act upon his bestowment. Amen.

Redeemer Bible Church 16205 Highway 7 Minnetonka, MN 55345 Office: 952.935.2425 Fax: 952.938.8299 info@redeemerbiblechurch.com www.redeemerbiblechurch.com

The Ministry of Mercy, Pt 6

© 2004 by R W Glenn

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