My friend Susan has a great post on her blog about "Acts of Mercy." Be sure to read the comments. The Rebellious Pastor's Wife points out another aspect of the discussion, the real WHY of good works.
This all dovetails quite nicely with an article that is in the latest Issues, Etc. Journal taking on the increased focus in many evangelical circles on "Deeds, not creeds." Get your hands on a copy of it if you can. Rick Warren, purpose-driven guru is proposing a second Reformation, saying that the "first Reformation was about belief; this one is going to be about behaviour." Umm, wasn't the point of the Reformation that we can't be good enough, but that God's grace through the death and resurrection of Jesus saves us? It sounds more like an un-doing of the Reformation.
Does this mean we don't do good deeds, that we don't engage in acts of mercy? Of course not. As RPW points out we do them because of our faith. However, I have seen churches--in fact, been a member--where Susan's concerns are born out. Where the focus of the congregation is on "doing." Where the Sunday sermons are a weak law of exhortation to do good works but none of the strong killing law followed by the sweet gospel that we are blessed with in our congregation. The message of Jesus' death and resurrection for our salvation is overshadowed by raking the leaves, collecting the coats, feeding the free dinner, etc.
As Susan points out many of our acts of mercy are done in the course of our every day lives. The small acts of kindness or compassion that we do: taking dinner to a sick neighbor, driving an elderly person to church (or the doctor, or the polls), providing an extra pair of hands for the mom who is trying to wrestle a toddler and a stroller through a door (these women need help!), on and on. Organized efforts to do good aren't intrinsically bad, but the motives shouldn't be a bait-and-switch "get them in the door with food," and they shouldn't guilt people--especially moms--into neglecting home and family, as so often happens.