Dear Lord, I praise your holy name, you the creator of the heavens and the earth, you are our wonderful counselor, our redeemer, you are God, and you are my God. I thank you for your promise to be our help, our shield and our strength. Please speak through me today as your words are perfect and mine are not. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.
Before I start giving an account of our week in New Orleans, I would like to begin with some scripture to lay the foundation of a biblical principle: God provides for our needs when we are doing his will.
When God gave instructions to Moses to build the tabernacle he appointed certain people for certain tasks. In Exodus 35:30-35 we see how God calls people to his service and then equips them with skill and knowledge.
“Then Moses said to the Israelites, “See, the Lord has chosen Bezalel son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe o Judah, and he has filled him with the Spirit of God, with skill, ability and knowledge in all kinds of crafts – to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver, and bronze.” (Ex 35:30-32)
In Psalms David repeatedly states that God helps, protects and gives strength.
“The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him and I am helped.” Ps 28:7
The word “trust” in the Psalms passage is a loaded word and we will discuss this more later.
The last piece of scripture I would like to discuss is the parable of the talents in Matthew Chapter 25. In this parable we see a man who entrusts talents to his servants while he is away. Two of the servants increase the talents entrusted to them, but the other man buries his talent. When the master gets back he sees that two of the men have gained more talents and replied “Well done good and faithful servant, you have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things.” But the man who came back with one talent gets rebuked by his master – “You wicked, lazy servant…Take the talent from him and give it to the one who has ten talents.” The master goes on to say “For everyone who has will be given more, and he will have abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
Although the parable talks of money (talents), this can be interpreted as anything that is given to us by the Lord, which is EVERYTHING. From ability, to money, to time, God wants us to use his gifts and blessings (which again is everything) for service to him for his glory. If we use his gifts and blessings for his service he will multiply them, if we do not he will take them away.
We arrived at Slidell, LA on the night of Sunday, June 28. We stayed at Faith Bible Church, where their main ministry is helping to rebuild damaged homes from Katrina. Slidell is completely rebuilt, so now the church is helping families in need around Slidell by providing free labor for many different things. However, there are still 66,000 homes that have not been rebuilt. So the church is teaming up with the Carpenter’s House in the lower ninth ward of New Orleans to help rebuild. The first two days of the week we spent in Slidell working, and the rest of the week we spent in the ninth ward.
On Monday, my team, which included John, Joey and Katlin, Mary-Ann, Julia, Jo-el and I, went to a single mother’s house in Slidell who needed her shed torn down, some logs hauled off and a new aerator installed in her septic tank. By late morning the heat was already getting to us. When we would take a water break, just five or ten minutes later we would start dragging again. I prayed for rain, the sky looked like it was threatening to rain, but that has been happening a lot recently. After I prayed I had an overwhelming feeling that God was going to answer my prayer. About an hour after lunch it began to rain. We picked up the job site and ran to the cars and waited out the rain. It lasted about 20 or 30 minutes and after we got out of the truck the temperature had dropped 10 or 20 degrees, it was actually comfortable outside!
With our new found God given strength, we worked on getting the trailer full of logs off of our truck and jacked up high enough for the other truck (which had a higher hitch) that was coming to pick it up. This would require us to put a 4x4 block under the trailer jack. The following was a sight to see.
The first idea was to put some bricks under the back tires and we could back over them so the back of the truck and hitch would be higher and hence the trailer jack. We tried this and the bricks broke apart and the tires sent them flying up under and to the front of the truck. The second idea was to bounce on the bed of the truck and hopefully get the hitch high enough for the 4x4 to be slipped under. This also did not work well and we actually bent the foot of the trailer jack.
At this point the next door neighbor and his wife came out and they asked, “What in the world are you trying to do?” We explain and he asks us if we want to use his jack (in our defense we had already checked the truck and there was no jack). He comes over with a heavy duty floor jack and we get the trailer jacked up in no time with the 4x4 underneath the trailer’s jack. They ask us what we are doing, and we tell them why we are here, a testimony to God’s love!
On Tuesday, our same team went to another single mother’s house who was just moving from overseas, where she was a missionary, to Slidell. We pulled up her flooring down to the concrete slab. In the living room and hall there were three layers of flooring: carpet and pad, linoleum flooring and then vinyl tile flooring. In the kitchen there were two layers of linoleum flooring and then vinyl. In the bedrooms it was just carpet. We also helped her paint two rooms. Her parents, who also live in Slidell, own the house and were using it to store old computers, which is her dad’s hobby. He worked for NASA and designed a part on the space shuttle. The whole house was full of old computers. Most of it had already been cleaned out when we got there but there was a lot of stuff out in the yard for the garbage men to pick up. When the garbage men got there we gave them cold water and Gatorade (Joey’s idea) and we threw everything into the truck for them. It was a lot of fun to watch the garbage truck compact computers, crush desks and even a dishwasher (which we found out later wasn’t actually to throw away, but to give to a guy who recycles all the metal from appliances)!
On Wednesday we started out at the Carpenter’s House in the lower ninth ward of New Orleans. Charles and Judy run the Carpenter’s House and live in a camper behind Faith Bible Church in Slidell. They run an amazing ministry with the focus of showing God’s love and making disciples of men. They do this by first meeting the physical needs of people by helping rebuild damaged houses from Katrina and also build houses from the ground up on lots that have been bulldozed in the ninth ward area. They also have a store front in the ninth ward full of clothes and toys; they are all donated and are free for those living around the store. Any day they can come in and pick five items from the store. They also feed the poor 3 days a week and feed the homeless on Wednesday nights at the “wall” which is the sea wall along the Mississippi river close to the French Quarter.
Charles was telling us a few days ago about how he used to feed the homeless hot dogs. Then as he was reading the Bible the following passage changed this.
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me. Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you? The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me. Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.' They also will answer, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you? He will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.' Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” (Matthew 25:31-46)
Notice verse 40 “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” After reading this Charles thought “Would I feed Jesus a hot dog or a steak dinner?” From then on he has made the homeless hot meals on Wednesday nights. Tonight it was redfish and shrimp courtbouillon which Bridgette helped make, green beans, a drink, and a small piece of cake. Another thing that Charles told us is that he didn’t want us to just serve the food and then leave but to serve the food and then talk to the homeless men and women and encourage them and just carry on a conversation – to love them. This made me nervous because I am not good at striking up conversation, so I prayed that God would give me something big to do, and give me the strength to do it.
Our team went to Charles house, which he bought after God lowered the price so he could afford it. It had to be gutted and but is now almost finished. A few from our team laid tile and John did some electrical work. My part of the team did drywall work in his converted garage. He is going to use this garage for housing long term missionaries that are visiting him. It has a small bedroom, a bathroom, a washroom, and a great room. Tom, Sydney, Katlin, Hannah and I hung drywall and tapped and mudded in the great room. When we were done for the day we headed back down to the Carpenter’s House to get ready to go feed the homeless at the wall. We loaded up the food in Charles’s truck and then he started giving us tasks. Me and two others guys, Allen and Jim, were to hand out drinks from the back of Charles’s truck.
As we were handing out drinks a homeless man came up to the back of the truck and asked, “Do you happen to have any socks, I don’t have any and my feet are badly blistered?”
Right then I knew I needed to give him my socks, but I just sat there. Allen told him to go see Charles. Charles sent the man to Judy and she rummaged through the cab of the truck. I heard her say that she couldn’t find any, and the homeless man responded, “That’s okay.”
I jumped out of the back of the truck and walked up to the man.
“I want to give you my socks.”
“Oh, I can’t take your socks.”
“Brother, You need them more than I do.” I never call people “Brother.”
I bent down and started taking my shoes off. As I was taking my socks off I started crying. I tried to brush the grass off my socks and handed them to the man. He hugged me and I hugged him back tightly. He thanked me again and said “God bless you” and I started to walk away. Immediately Joey came up and hugged me and told me “That was awesome.” Judy did the same. As I walked back to the truck bed Jim leaned over from the bed of the truck and hugged me and said “That is what it is all about.” There were no more drinks left to hand out so I walked back over to where the man was and saw Joey cleaning his feet. He was wiping them with alcohol to clean them, and then he applied some antibiotic cream to his feet. When I saw this all I could think about was when Jesus washed his disciple’s feet.
“After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples' feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, "Lord, are you going to wash my feet?" Jesus replied, "You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand." "No," said Peter, "you shall never wash my feet." Jesus answered, "Unless I wash you, you have no part with me." "Then, Lord," Simon Peter replied, "not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!" Jesus answered, "A person who has had a bath needs only to wash his feet; his whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you." For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean. When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. "Do you understand what I have done for you?" he asked them. "You call me 'Teacher' and 'Lord,' and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another's feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.” (John 13:5-17)
It is very important to understand that I am not bragging. This account is to give glory to God. He answered my prayer. He gave me something big to do and he gave me the strength to do it. If I were working under my own strength I would not have left the bed of that truck. He even gave me words to say. I rarely ever call someone brother. But I did. “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” (Matt 25:40)
On Thursday we continued our work at Charles’s house hanging drywall. Today Julia worked with me; she is 14 years old and was so much fun to work with. I had worked with her earlier in the week but now it was just me and her hanging drywall. Her sense of humor was priceless and I had a blast. She had never done this before and she was having a hard time using the power drill. After she tried a few times she said “That was an epic failure.” (Later I noticed in the Carpenter’s House painted on the wall these words Life - Jesus = Epic Failure) Later in the day after taking a water break we were walking back to the garage and she was saying how she wasn’t doing so well; I tried to encourage her and then said “Besides you haven’t even hurt yourself yet.” At that she lifted up her little finger and there was a small cut across it. We both could not stop laughing. Later she was on a ladder and almost fell; I had my hands behind her ready to catch her. Then she said “I am really clumsy, but I have cat-like reflexes.”
On Friday, John, Bridgette, and I worked at the Carpenter’s House and started installing an exhaust fan in the kitchen. We stopped working a little early because Charles said it would get crazy down there because of people celebrating the fourth of July. Charles took us on a tour of the ninth ward. There were a lot of open spaces where houses had been bulldozed. Although a lot of progress has been made since the first summer after the hurricane, there are still a lot of houses that have an X on them. 66,000 left…..
We got back to Faith Bible late Friday afternoon and started unloading our car. As we were unloading another team from Pennsylvania was backing their van and trailer into the parking lot. All the sudden Bridgette started screaming “Stop, Stop!” but it was too late, they backed into the front driver’s side fender of our car. Bridgette started crying and went inside. After the van was parked I met the driver, Steve, inside. He was very apologetic, and said that he wanted to pay to get our car repaired out of his own pocket. I asked if his church had insurance (since it was a church van) and if they could cover it. He said he wanted to pay and proceeded to write down his address and phone number for me. He again apologized and we parted ways.
A couple of hours later I was playing washers and Steve came up to me and pulled me aside. He gave me some cash.
“This is all I could get at the moment.”
“Are you sure you want to do this?” I asked
“Yes, I don’t want you have to pay a lot out of your pocket when you get the bill. If the damages cost more to fix then send me a bill for the difference.”
I walked away with a sinking feeling. His words of “This is all I could get at the moment” made me think that this was putting his family in a financial hardship. I told Bridgette what had happened. We decided that the car did not need to be repaired, that it would not at all affect eternity, the headlights still worked so it was still legal to drive. We decided to give the money back to Steve. Bridgette suggested that we give the money to Charles if Steve would not take the money back.
I talked to Steve a little later.
“My wife and I decided that we don’t want to repair our fender, so we want to give you the money back.” I said.
“No, it was my fault and I want to pay to repair the car, if the money more than pays for it then use the rest to go out for dinner or something.”
“Are you sure, is this putting financial hardship on your family?”
“No, I want to pay for the repair.”
“OK, well if the money more than pays for the repair then I will send you back the difference.”
“Oh no, if there is some left over send it to Charles.”
“OK, I will. Thanks again.”
I found Bridgette and we decided to give the cash to Charles because his ministry counts for eternity, body damage on our car is only a vapor or mist (James 4:14). I wanted Bridgette to give the money to Charles.
“Hey Charles, I’ve got something for you,” said Bridgette.
“Here.” Bridgette handed Charles the money.
“You can’t do that.” See Charles and Steve are good friends so Charles knew what was going on between us.
“Yes I can,” said Bridgette.
“Well at least let me give you a receipt.”
“If it makes you fell better.”
So they walked back to the church office and Charles gave Bridgette a receipt.
“You know sometimes you just know that the money wasn’t even yours to begin with,” said Bridgette.
“I know exactly,” said Charles.
Again, it is important to understand that I am not bragging. How can we brag about giving something away if it isn't even ours. Everything is God's and everything we have are blessings from Him. Just as with the talents, if we are good stewards of what he has given us then we will entrust us with more.
In closing I would like to share another biblical principal that I have learned and present a few challenges. The principal is this: as Christians we can have faith that God will answer our prayers when we are doing his will because as Jesus said “your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
“Early in the morning, as he was on his way back to the city, he was hungry. Seeing a fig tree by the road, he went up to it but found nothing on it except leaves. Then he said to it, "May you never bear fruit again!" Immediately the tree withered. When the disciples saw this, they were amazed. "How did the fig tree wither so quickly?" they asked. Jesus replied, "I tell you the truth, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and it will be done. If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.” (Matt 21:18-22)
This is a pretty awesome promise, but the word “believe” in the last verse is another loaded word similar to the word “trust” that we talked about earlier. The word “believe” means that we have a faith and confidence and trust that God will hear and answer our prayers. But this belief and trust is not unfounded, it is validated because of the knowledge we can have that we are in his will. This knowledge comes from both God’s word and the Holy Spirit.
Now for the challenge, let’s read a passage from James.
What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, "You have faith; I have deeds."
Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder. You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. (James 2:14-25)
Many people like to say that no one but God can know a man’s heart and if he is truly a Christian. While this is of course true, that God knows your heart even better than you do, Jesus also said “you will know them by their fruits.” The actions that we take as Christians are the evidence of our faith, it is the outpouring of love from ourselves to others that is not of ourselves but is of God. If you believe that you have faith but do not act in serving God, then please take a closer look at your faith. I direct you to the first few chapters of 1st John where John says “This is how we know we are in him…” and continues to describe what evidences we should see in our lives of true faith in God. Remember that the type of belief a Christian has (whosoever believes in me should not perish but have eternal life John 3:16) is a different belief than the demons have (You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that – and shudder). The difference is that even though a Christian and a demon both believe that there is one God, a Christian calls God “my God,” who is obeyed, served and loved.
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