Laying on the bottom bunk in a large room with another 149 men, I wondered what might happen in the middle of the night as I slept among a small handful of Washington DC’s homeless men in a downtown shelter. The previous three nights I’d slept in a city park in the shadows of the bushes and in my car under a street light. With little sleep so far, I was exhausted and hoped to find deep-healing rest. I said my prayers, surrendering my life and night to Christ and was fast asleep only minutes later to be awakened by the thunderous rumble of snoring that quickly filled the room from half the men who’d found what seemed to still elude me. Once again, I slept very little.
Last Fall, in an effort to bring awareness of the needs in my community to my local congregation, The Beltsville Seventh-day Adventist Church, I began a seven-part message series entitled, Seven Days Without.
The seven sermons in the series focused on the hungry, thirsty, homeless, naked, sick, imprisoned, and speechless in my community and throughout the world. Rather than just preach a series of sermons on compassion and move onto another biblical topic, I and the rest of the pastoral staff really wanted to make a lasting impact and see our congregation change in both heart and action.
To bring awareness and foster further engagement in the community, the series consisted of biblical preaching, interactive small groups, ministry opportunities and my personal “going without” adventurers.
Based on Matthew chapter 25, each of the seven sermons focused on the ministry of Jesus- how He actually spent His time in ministry caring for the specific needs of others and how this serves as an example for His people in revealing His character to others. The heart of the series came from Jesus’ own prophet words to His church at the second coming, “Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation 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; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.” Matthew 25:34-36.
Jesus seemed to be calling the church of the last days to care for these specific needs in their community so I chose to preach on them. Each message of the series drew attention to the ministry of Jesus and his interaction with the “least of these” as well as educating the congregation on this need today. Here’s a summary of each message in the series:
Part One: Seven Days Without A Home. The first message of the series focused on Matthew 25 and served as an introduction to the series. Jesus is calling His church to actively live out their faith by showing His love to others in a practical way.
Part Two: Seven Days Without Shoes. In the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus is calling us to love our neighbors; to pursue an other- focused lifestyle that reflects the true nature of God. God expects us to take the initiative, crossing boundaries and overcoming barriers, to show His mercy by serving others.
Part Three: Seven Days without Food. After Jesus meets the need of feeding the 5000 hungry people, He engages His disciples to explain that He is the true bread that provides salvation. People will most often be introduced to Jesus through our acts of service (literal bread), providing us the opportunity to then direct them to Jesus and salvation (spiritual bread).
Part Four: Seven Days Without Water. Jesus comes to the woman at the well and asks for a drink of water and in turn offers her the eternal Water of Life. Just how our world longs for pure water, they desire the refreshing that only Jesus can bring through us.
Part Five: Seven days Without Speaking. The world is filled with those that lack the ability to speak- both literally and figuratively. Jesus was actively healing and restoring people who had no voice. Whether he miraculously healed a man born mute or drove out the money changers so that the lame and children had access to the temple, Jesus was willing to take personal risk for the benefit of others.
Part Six: Seven Days Without Freedom. As Jesus stepped ashore the banks of the Gerasenes, a man in chains and possessed by a demon runs to Him. In fear, the disciples flee, but Jesus has compassion on the man and sets him free from the bondage of the shackles and the chains that have bound his life. I revealed the heart-wrenching reality that many in our community and world are in bondage and God has called us to be courageous in setting them free.
Part Seven: Seven days Without Health. Many pastors and health providers alike agree that if the church were willing to follow Jesus’ method of service by personally engaging in people’s lives through acts of humble compassion, opportunities would be provided them to share His love and others would become sons and daughters of God. The health message is more than an intellectual acquisition of nutritional information, but a successful means of reaching people for Jesus.
For real change to occur in the congregation, people needed to stop and engage in the conversation of community need. A good sermon wasn’t going to be enough so I chose to give up something specifically related to the community/global need for seven days during each of the weeks in the series and document the experience for people to follow on Facebook and Twitter. I chose to go Seven Days Without a virtual human need.
Seven days Without A Home. I began by going seven days without a home. Immediately following the service, I changed from my suit, spent some time in prayer with my family and headed downtown- returning seven days later to preach the second message of the series. I slept two days in my car, two days in a park and three days in a shelter. I ate at various “soup kitchens” and showered in bathrooms or shelters. Most of the day was spent downtown with the homeless, engaging in conversation and learning.
Seven Days Without Shoes. In hopes of drawing attention to the global and local need of footwear, immediately following the church service, I took off my brand news shoes (worn only once) and donated them to a local ministry. I spent the next seven days walking the streets, driving my car, eating in restaurants, and engaging in normal activities barefoot.
Seven days Without Food. I wanted to bring awareness to the population of people who struggle with hunger by choosing to live on less than 1200 calories a day. Each day I not only limited my caloric intake, but ate foods of various countries of the world that lack proper nutrition such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, Haiti and Burundi.
Seven days Without Water. I chose to go seven days without clean water by drinking only 50 ounces of water per day. This water was “contaminated” with a non-caffeinated roasted grain additive called Kaffree Roma, which gave the illustration of dirty water. I normally do not drink coffee and cannot stand the taste of Roma making the consumption quite unpleasant. Because access to clean water also effects the ability to properly clean, I used a minimal amount of water for cleansing by not using the shower or bathtub.
Seven days Without Speaking. To bring awareness to those that have no voice both locally and globally, as often seen in the abuse of children, the elderly and various minorities, I went seven days without speaking, not using my voice at all for communication.
Seven Days Without Freedom. I wore shackles on my wrists for the week to draw attention to those that are in prison (literally), in bondage through slavery, human trafficking and prostitution as well as those that are in bondage to various addictions.
Seven days Without Health. The final week I focused on the sick, how we as a church have a health message that can heal, and promoting a healthy lifestyle by going seven days without unhealthy choices. I avoided the use of processed and refined foods, eating exclusively a vegan, high fiber, low fat diet, exercising at least 30 minutes every day.
There is nothing more dynamic to learning than personally engaging in the subject. Therefore, for each week in the series, the church provided opportunities for the congregation to share in the experience of helping others. In addition to being involved in various organizations locally, we teamed up with ADRA to assist with the needs globally.
Church members created hundreds of care packages filled with vital items that they gave to the homeless, donated thousands of paris of shoes, went 24 hours without shoes to bring awareness to others in the sphere of influence, donated hundreds of bags of non-perishable food that was used in our church community center, raised hundreds of dollars toward ADRA’s water relief programs, took time to learn about human trafficking and concluded with a local church health fair with wellness stations throughout the church.
Our small groups ministry took on a different focus throughout the series. Most all of the church’s small groups were focused on serving others in our local community and around the world. The groups took time for discussion, Bible study, and provided an opportunity to take action and make a real difference in the lives of others. Each group focused specifically on one particular issue for their action step and helped assist the church with the ministry opportunity.
Almost a year later, the church is still heavily engaged in the community. Regularly people tell me stories of their handing out care packages, volunteering at local shelters or donating clothes. The church offers a Christmas banquet for homeless women and invites other women to stay in the community center for a week during the freezing winter temperatures. At the beginning of the school year church members prepare backpacks for low income students. The church came together to refurbish a courtyard for a local police station, proving them with a quite place of retreat. Just recently I was invited to assist the clients at a local shelter in the ability to share their testimonies of life transformation. With many more ways we engage the community, our church is becoming one of the leading influences for compassion in the community as recognized by community members, county officials, police officers and leaders of other denominations.
Matthew 25 contains three powerful illustrations. The parable of the ten virgins, the parable of the talents and the parable of the sheep and goats. This message of Jesus is describing the church of the last days- God’s people just preceding the second coming. Jesus describes the church- those received into His Kingdom as those that are filled with His Spirit and use their talents in acts of compassion people by living their lives of service as He did by caring for the less fortunate. Those that did not have Jesus’ heart of compassion were not allowed in His Kingdom. In this message, Jesus is describing His church in the last days. Though the Beltsville Seventh-day Adventist Church has more room to grow it was worth every sleepless night, every stubbed toe and hunger pain to see people in the church get it. To see a congregation of people engaged in the community and revealing the heart of Jesus.
To view the sermons, download resources or see reports of the Seven days Without message series visit www.sevendayswithout.com.
Tim Madding is the senior pastor of Beltsville Seventh-day Adventist Church and also leads out in an extended campus at Tech Road in Silver Spring.