Upside Down Commands


Like other elements of society, the Church follows trends, even fads. They might show themselves in worship styles or catch phrases (how many times have I heard a preacher “unpack” a passage of Scripture? 🙄 ) Those are certainly harmless. Less so, however, are the shifting points of emphasis which seem to change with the winds of preference.

One such shift has been toward creating “seeker friendly” (also a catch phrase) churches, which, in my opinion, seem to miss the point of believers assembling themselves together weekly. Then too, of late there’s been a noticeable increase in the attention churches are giving to service. No longer do we want to sit on the sidelines, but we are admonished to “be the hands and feet of Jesus” in our community.

And we don’t stop with admonishing individuals. We are organizing programs and partnering with para-church organizations to feed children, care for orphans, tutor those struggling with literacy, provide clothes for the needy, beds for the homeless, medical and dental care for the poor.

In short, we’ve left the comfortable pews behind and have made a determined effort to charge out into the highways and byways to reach the unreached through our good deeds.

“About time,” some say. The church in America has been trying for far too long to create a safe, wholesome place where our needs are met and our sensibilities aren’t offended. We’re overdue for a little boat rocking. In fact, the whole thing needs to be turned upside down.

There’s a lot of truth in that position, which, I’m discovering, is the place where a lot of error starts. Just as in every other area, we must look at Scripture and take our lead from God, not from what sounds good, and certainly not from what is currently trendy in the church.

So what does God think about caring for the poor and orphaned and widows? He’s all for it!

Problem solved? Not so fast.

There’s something He’s even more all for. He’s all for us loving Him. That’s the first commandment, the greatest one, according to Jesus. We are to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength.

Then and only then are we to love our neighbor as ourselves. It seems to me we are in the process of flipping the order of the two commands, as if doing for others is more important than loving God.

Over and over the people of Israel were admonished to love God or fear Him, then to obey and serve.

Now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require from you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all His ways and love Him, and to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul (Deut. 10:12).

So here’s the critical point. It is in loving God that we will genuinely be concerned for serving others. It won’t be a passing fancy or a program that we’ll swap out for another one later on down the road.

No, if we love God with our whole being, we will want what He wants, go where He sends, do what He says. Loving Him seems like the only sure way we will end up loving our neighbor self-sacrificially. After all, these are the people the One we love passionately came to save. Why wouldn’t we in turn love them too? Isn’t that the way it works when two people love each other—they take on each other’s interests and passions. They pay attention to what they had never cared about before.

So, sure, it’s time the church in America became less self-satisfied and self-centered. It’s time we stopped loving ourselves more than we love God. But the answer isn’t to try to make ourselves love other people more than we love ourselves. That might be an admirable goal, but it has the commands Jesus enumerated upside down. Unless we do the first, we won’t be doing the second either—not the way we could or should. We’ll simply be trending.

Re-posted from the original article published November, 2011.

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Published in: on October 9, 2018 at 5:03 pm  Comments (2)  
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What’s The Bible All About? — A Reprise


I think a lot of people have misunderstood the Bible—Christians and non-Christians alike. Some see it as a rule book, others as the Christian version of Confucius’s sayings. Many people use the Bible to prove whatever point they want to get across—sort of a handy debater’s list of proof texts. A number of folks believe the Bible shows people the way to God. Some say it is a record of God’s dealing with humankind and others call it “His Story,” referring to Jesus.

These last two views are true as far as they go. The Bible does indeed record God’s dealing with humankind, but what are those dealings? And the Bible does, from cover to cover, either explicitly or implicitly, point to Jesus Christ. But what particularly does it say about Him?

As I have said in this space from time to time, the Bible is one book and needs to be understood as a whole. Any use of its individual parts—verses, passages, chapters, books, or even testaments—needs to be measured against the whole message of the Bible.

For example, there’s a verse that contains this: “There is no God.” Someone might point to that statement and say, the Bible claims that there is no God. In reality, that line needs to be understood in relation to the entire Bible as well as to the specific context in which it exists.

A quick scan of the Bible shows that God appears throughout; consequently the statement “there is no God” is not an accurate reflection of the Bible’s teaching. In addition, the specific context of the phrase is this: “The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God’ ” (Psalm 14:1).

Occasionally I’ve seen a number of people quote from the book of Ecclesiastes to prove various points of debate. Again, that approach is suspect since much of Ecclesiastes is Solomon’s thinking apart from God’s direction—his view of the world “under the sun,” as opposed to his view informed by God’s wisdom.

The question should always be, Do these thoughts align with the rest of Scripture?

But that brings me back to the central question—what particularly is the rest of Scripture all about? A former pastor gave an insightful and simple answer to this question, starting in Genesis.

When Adam and Eve sinned, they did two specific things—they hid their bodies from one another (covered their nakedness) and hid themselves from God.

In the cool of the day, God walked in the garden and asked Adam where he was. Of course, omniscient God wasn’t seeking information. He wanted to give Adam a chance to give up his feeble effort to cover his sin and to confess. In other words, He was seeking Adam in a much deeper way than to see where Adam’s GPS showed him to be.

A quick scan of Scripture shows that God continued to seek people in this same way. He said in Ezekiel, “For thus says the Lord God, ‘Behold, I Myself will search for My sheep and seek them out.’ ”

He took up Enoch and saved Noah. He chose Abraham and sought out David. He chastised Jonah and rescued Daniel.

Jesus graphically illustrated God’s relentless pursuit of us when He gave the parable of the shepherd leaving the ninety-nine sheep to find the one lost lamb. He followed that story with the illustration of the woman who looked throughout her house for her lost coin.

And therein is the message of the Bible—not that we seek God, but that He pursues us, giving up all that is precious to Him, even His own beloved Son, in order to bring us back to Himself.

The great, glad news, of course, is that Jesus bore our sins in His body, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. And because of His resurrection, we also have Christ, through His Spirit, living within each believer. As Romans 5 says, “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

This post is a revised version of one that appeared here in April, 2013,

Published in: on April 20, 2018 at 5:06 pm  Comments Off on What’s The Bible All About? — A Reprise  
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Pro-Life Doesn’t End With Birth


Painting_Lhermitte-Les_Glaneuses-1898When abortion advocates first started down the road to change society’s view on the subject, they framed the issue by identifying themselves as Pro-Choice and “the other side” as Anti-Abortion. Some in the media still use the latter designation, but those in opposition to killing the least, most helpless, voiceless people—the unborn—prefer to be known as Pro-Life.

But yesterday I read an article that poignantly reminded us that Pro-Life ought not end with ensuring a baby’s birth. God’s heart, as He says over and over in the Bible, is for orphans and widows and strangers. In the Mosaic Law, He made provision for those people so that they wouldn’t be tossed aside. The principle was this: in that agrarian society those who worked their field were not to meticulously harvest every last grain or olive or grape. They should reap their field, but not go over it a second time so that whatever they missed, the widows, the orphans, the strangers could harvest for themselves—an undertaking called gleaning.

So before the people of Israel arrived in the Promised Land, God had in place a plan to provide for the people some today call throw-away people.

Unfortunately, God’s people don’t always reflect God’s heart. The article I read detailed an encounter a mom had in the grocery store. Mind you, she’s a foster mom as well as a mom to her own sons. She had her hands full. Her husband, who was with her, saw someone he knew, so got caught up talking. The mom decided to proceed to the check out. Here’s how things went:

The 7 month old I was holding got hungry and started clawing at my shirt trying to nurse. The 1.5 year old tried to grab candy that I wouldn’t let her have and starting wailing. (No, she is not spoiled. Sometimes, 1.5 year olds cry loudly. I promise that sometimes, regardless of how awesome a parent you are, they just do.) The 2.5 year old was trying to help his 6 & 8-year-old brothers put the groceries on the belt, and of course, he dropped the container of blueberries, which spilled all over the floor. To top it all off, I had WIC [The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children] coupons for our foster daughter, and I grabbed the wrong cheese (I swear it was labeled WIC approved!), so the cashier had to call someone to come figure it all out.

OK, pretty much chaos. She apologized to the people in line behind her, but one couple responded in a judgmental way:

The man looked at the woman and said in a voice much too loud, “Some people should stop having kids.”

Yeah, he didn’t know she was a foster mom. Now here’s the kicker. When she got to the parking lot and began loading groceries, she saw the couple get into a car with a Pro-Life bumper sticker on it. Now it’s possible that they bought the car used and the bumper sticker was already in place. Nevertheless, the point is clear: life begins with birth, so those of us advocating for the unborn ought not stop caring when they successfully come into the world.

As I was reading in Deuteronomy this morning about the gleaning laws, it struck me that God included “the aliens” in with the widows and orphans. It seems a little odd at first. But people didn’t buy and sell land back then the way we do today. Especially the Jews. They divvied up the land by drawing lots, and they were to retain those parcels in perpetuity. Should they sell, they actually would be leasing the land because at the Jubilee—every fifty years—the land would revert to the family that had received the parcel when they first arrived.

People from other countries, as I recall, were not part of this process. So they weren’t land owners. The best they could do would be to hire out as a worker for someone else. Or glean someone else’s land.

If God’s people are to have God’s heart, it seems to me we should have as much concern for the orphans—the foster care kids—as we do the unborn. But we should also care for the “aliens.”

This seems especially important at a time when we seem to be flooded with “aliens,” including a host of illegal aliens. And now, potentially, aliens from a strange land that may harbor enemies who wish us harm. I’m referring, of course, to the Syrian refugees our government is making arrangements to bring to America.

Some US citizens, including some Christians, complain. Why don’t they go to Saudi Arabia or Kuwait or United Arab Emirates? I’ve asked the same question. After all, we have our own immigration issues to sort out. Why bring in more people when we haven’t figured out how we’re to handle the influx of immigrants we already have?

But I wonder if these questions reflect the heart of God. I suspect not because here’s what God actually said in Scripture:

He [the LORD God] executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and shows His love for the alien by giving him food and clothing. So show your love for the alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt. (Deut. 26:18-19)

Later Moses instructed the priests in a rite to remind the people of God’s commands when they arrived in the land. First the priest would tell the people what God had said, then the people would respond. The first on the list were familiar, don’t make any idols, honor your father and your mother, but then tucked in behind Don’t mislead a blind person, is the command involving aliens:

‘Cursed is he who distorts the justice due an alien, orphan, and widow.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’ (Deut. 27:19)

If we look into the New Testament, we see Jesus commanding others to love their neighbors. And then the lawyer who had prompted Jesus’s statement asked a question designed to let him wiggle off the hook: who is my neighbor? Jesus responded by telling a story about a stranger. He didn’t cast the stranger as the one in need of help, however. He made him the hero of the story. The guy who acted like a neighbor was the hated stranger who put his prejudices aside to help someone in need.

That’s God’s heart. He cares about people. He makes it clear in Paul’s letters that those who follow Him are equal in His eyes.

So here’s the thing I realized this morning. In some of these places in the Middle East, it’s been next to impossible to preach the gospel. But as Syrian refugees stream into the West, they have the chance of hearing about Jesus, perhaps for the first time. We might not be able to go to the mission field, but God is bringing the mission field to us.

What a great opportunity for all of us who are Pro-Life!

Published in: on September 24, 2015 at 6:23 pm  Comments (8)  
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Using The Bible Instead Of Believing It


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“Sarah, what are you doing?” Carmen stared at her friend as if she were looking at an ET look-alike.

Sarah slid into the front seat of her SUV. “I thought you said you wanted to go to the beach?”

“I do, but you forgot to lock your door. That’s not like you.”

“It is now. I found this cool Bible verse in 2 Timothy that says, ‘He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him.’ I’ve entrusted my house to Him, and this verse promises He will guard it, so I don’t have to lock up any more.”

That little fictitious scenario is an illustration of what I call “using the Bible.” In some cases, there is a grain of truth. God certainly can guard and protect our stuff, for instance. But the particular verse this character quoted has nothing whatsoever to do with God keeping thieves from stealing a TV.

A friend of mine related another fictitious tale, used most often to steer people toward Bible study rather than Bible pick-and-choosing:

A young man decided his life was aimless. He needed help knowing what he should do, so he turned to the Bible. He decided that he’d fan the Bible open and point to a verse. This then would become his life verse. Turning his head, he released a good two-thirds of the pages and stabbed a finger onto the open page. “And Judas hanged himself,” the verse read. The young man gulped. There had to be some mistake. What could God possibly be saying to him? He decided to try again. Once more he closed the Bible, released pages, and pointed to a verse. This time he read, “Go and do thou likewise.”

So what am I saying with these illustrations? Simply this: not only is it possible, but some people actually do, take verses out of context and make them say something other than their clear meaning.

The key here is taking the verses out of context, for surely Sarah correctly quoted a part of 2 Tim. 1:12. Those words alone do say that God will guard what I entrust to Him. However, the context—the rest of the verse, chapter, book, and BOOK, show that God is promising something about our souls and for eternity, not our stuff for the here and now.

Notice, the context of a scripture is the book of the Bible in which it is found but also the Bible itself. The latter is the greater context, the totality of which gives meaning to individual verses, even those that are in apparent contradiction with each other.

2 Timothy indicates that false teaching—the result of taking Scripture out of context and ignoring parts of the Bible—will only increase:

But evil men and impostors will proceed from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them; and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.
– 2 Timothy 3:13-17 (NASB)

And here I am, quoting verses of Scripture to prove a point. Is this not the very “using” of the Bible I decried above?

Understand, I was not saying a person can’t extrapolate principles from the Bible and apply that propositional truth to daily life. But there are some guidelines in so doing:

    1) The principle should not contradict any clear statement of Scripture.

For example, if some man took the principle, I can do all things through Christ, and used it to justify sleeping with a married woman, he would violate a clear Scriptural injunction.

    2) The principle should be an outgrowth of what the original intended.

This is where things get sticky, I think. How can we know the original intent? Only by studying the context. First the context of the book itself. Who was the author, why was he writing, what was he saying? Although the Holy Spirit inspired Scripture, this did not happen in a vacuum, but in a specific place and in a particular period of time. The words had meaning to the person who wrote them and to the original target audience. It is that meaning that creates a backdrop of understanding by which we may make present-day application.

    3) The principle should not become an exclusive doctrine if scriptures also exist that point to a paradoxical principle.

Here’s where a lot of denominational differences have been created. One denomination finds verses about Topic X that seem to indicate Doctrine A should guide our beliefs. Another denomination finds verses about Topic X that seem to indicate Doctrine B, in opposition to Doctrine A. Which denomination is right? Are some of the verses to be ignored or explained away?
Is the Bible contradictory?

If the Bible from Genesis to Revelation is to be believed as inspired by God, then even the apparently contradictory parts are there for a reason. I reject the either/or arguments and adopt a both/and approach. God put both positions in the Bible, to the point that scholars steeped in the Word can make credible cases for opposing views. I conclude, God is saying both things, though they appear to be contradictory.

This may appear to be illogical, but I don’t think it is, not if we remember who God is. He is three, but one. Came to earth as a man though he did not cease to be God. Is merciful AND just. You get the picture. Not only does paradox exist in God, but He transcends our limitations. If I know Him to be so, then I don’t have to tie up Scripture in a neat doctrinal bow at the expense of some of what He has to say.

Now don’t misunderstand. I think there are doctrines that are clear, without any contradiction, the chief being who Jesus is and why He came and what He accomplished. Those clear statements are the ones that define being a Christian.

The others—the ones that seem paradoxical—still need to be believed. It is in dismissing the ones we don’t like or that clash with others we believe that creates problems. If nothing else, it divides Christians.

This post is a combination of two articles that first appeared here in April 2007.

Published in: on June 30, 2015 at 6:29 pm  Comments Off on Using The Bible Instead Of Believing It  
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What God Says About Wealth


Worship the dollarFriday, because of a verse in Scripture I’d been thinking about, I wrote my post here at A Christian Worldview of Fiction about greed. Then Sunday my pastor, Mike Erre, preaching from Luke 6 talked about what Jesus meant when He said those who are poor are blessed. Today I reviewed a portion of 1 Timothy which contains some pointed words about wealth.

I tend to think, when God brings the same topic to me from various sources, He’s trying to get my attention. Often I can figure out why, but not this time. So in all honesty, I’m writing this post (as I do a number of others—I just don’t usually announce it) to explore the things I’m learning about wealth. I have no end game in mind, so this article could come to an abrupt end at any moment. 😉

As I look over 1 Timothy 6 again, I’m reminded that the passage about wealth is part of a warning against false teaching, something Paul brought up in both his letters to “his son,” the young pastor he was instructing. People who advocate for a different gospel, one not in agreement with the words of Christ, are conceited, Paul says, but are raising up controversies and stirring up strife for one main reason: they “suppose that godliness is a means of gain” (1 Tim. 6:5b). The implication seems to be, financial gain, as if these false teachers could preaching godliness as a means to get rich. That idea is born out by what comes next:

But godliness actually is a means of great gain when accompanied by contentment. For we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either. If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content. But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.

But flee from these things, you man of God (6:6-11a)

Contentment, Paul says essentially, should replace the desire to get rich. If we have food, if we have “cover”—clothes and shelter—then what’s to keep us from being content? After all, we came into the world with nothing, and we’ll leave the same way. So if our needs are met right now, why do we work so hard to get rich?

Here’s where my pastor’s sermon kicks in. I can’t trace the path through Scripture he took us, but the conclusion he brought us to is this: Poor and poor in spirit are not the same thing. Those poor in spirit are the contrite, the humble.

Zaccheus, a chief tax collector, was undoubtedly rich, but when he encountered Jesus, he humbled himself and repented. The rich young ruler, on the other hand, went away in sorrow.

Both men were rich, both sought Jesus out. One was changed, the other unchanged. The issue was not their money. It was their heart. One released his riches, the other hung onto them for dear life.

Pastor Mike’s point is that wealth can become the thing some people look to as that which makes life work. Instead of God.

Paul picked up the thread about wealth again in his letter to Timothy:

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. Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, 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. (1 Tim. 6:17-19)

Clearly Paul is implying the rich can become conceited and can fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches rather than on God who gives us what we have for our enjoyment.

But they don’t have to.

Being rich doesn’t equate with ungodliness, and poverty isn’t the answer to an inappropriate dependence on wealth. News flash: poor people can be greedy too.

I saw a short clip on a TV show, something about What Would You Do or something like that. They had an actor go to a place where pizza was served and move from table to table, asking if he could have a slice of pizza. Not a person gave him a slice. Then he went to a homeless person who had a pizza (I wonder how that man got a whole pizza!) and the actor asked him if he could have a slice, and the homeless man gave it to him at once.

The conclusion the show wanted us to draw was that people with little are more generous than people with much.

Except, that isn’t necessarily true.

Poor people can be generous, surely (see the widow who put her last coin into the temple offering), but so can rich people. Poor people can be greedy (see Elisah’s servant who lied to get money from Naaman the Syrian Elijah healed of leprosy), and so can rich people.

Money, riches, wealth, then, is not the problem. Rather, it’s our attachment to it.

I wonder if any of us can know what riches would do for us. Or to us. We can think, Money won’t change me, but is that true? How can we know? How do we know how strong our love for God is, how deep our trust, how great our commitment, how total our dependence?

Have we ever stripped down to the bare essentials and walked forward in obedience to God, saying as Queen Esther did, If I die, I die. Or do we have to hedge our bets, have a fall-back position, craft a Plan B?

Paul had two options: to live is Christ and to die is gain. His attachment in both was to God, not to “fleshly lusts that wage war against the soul.”

That last is from Peter in his first letter. Interesting that his focus was also on the heart attitude—the fleshly lusts.

But back to the pizza story. If I’m right, the TV producers gave the homeless man a pizza. He was willing to share what he’d been given because all of it was an unexpected, happy provision he didn’t deserve. So of course he was willing to share what he didn’t actually perceive to be his.

That, I think, might be the place God wants His children to come to in regard to wealth. Whatever we have isn’t ours. It’s a gift from our good God, so of course we should freely share what we’ve been freely given.

Published in: on July 15, 2014 at 5:11 pm  Comments (1)  
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Cultivating Thankfulness In A Disaffected Society


The_First_Thanksgiving_Jean_Louis_Gerome_FerrisIt’s hard to be thankful when more seems to be going wrong than right. It’s freezing outside and you catch a cold, but can’t skip work because you have no more sick leave. Besides, there’s this important thing due, and you CAN’T be late. Or unprepared. Because rumor has it, your job is on the line.

Then there’s the latest news story that says something in our water is probably killing us, if the terrorists don’t figure out a way to do it first. The economy is a mess no matter what the stock market is doing, and every day one government official after another is being exposed as a jerk, a lawbreaker, or a corrupt politician.

Then there’s the disappointing mess that the new health care law has become. How many of your friends are like you and are about to lose their present policy?

Are we thankful yet?

The specifics for each of us may be different, but it seems a lot of people would identify with the sentiment that there’s more going wrong than right.

Add to all the pressure and bad news, the constant message from our computer screens and TVs that we deserve better than what we’ve got. We deserve better treatment, a better gadget, a better policy. Advertisements bombard us with the idea that we can, and should, do better, if only we’d get with the program and buy their stuff.

So, how are we doing with thankfulness?

Oddly enough, the people that originated a celebratory feast as part of a day of thanks, had a whole lot more problems than we have. According to the Scholastic article “The First Thanksgiving” the Pilgrims arrived in the New World during the winter. Their perilous two-month voyage across the stormy Atlantic had lasted far longer than expected, and had already taken a toll. Their supplies were nearly depleted, and they became ill because of the conditions on board ship.

As it was, because of exposure, malnutrition, and disease, nearly half the original 102 settlers died before the coming of spring. At the lowest point, only seven people were healthy enough to take care of the sick.

Without the help of the Native Americans living in the region near the place where they settled, it’s likely they would not have survived another winter. Other colonies had failed, and future colonies would be wiped out by attacks from a different group of Native Americans.

The survivors, of course, were committed to this dangerous adventure, and needed to figure out how to provide properly for themselves in order to avoid another disastrous winter. The Indians gave them invaluable help.

In April, the Mayflower headed back to England and the small band of settlers were on their own.

Well, not quite. God was watching over them. By His providential care, they made friends with the Monhegan Tribe, and became acquainted with Squanto who knew English and translated so that the Indians could teach them when to plant corn, how to catch fish, how to use the carcass as fertilizer, and who knows what else.

So it was, they dug in, built homes, and cultivated the soil.

The Pilgrims’ entire male working force consisted of twenty-one men and six of the older, stronger boys. With this small force, they tilled and planted with heavy hoes, (having no horses nor domestic animals), twenty acres of Indian corn, six acres of wheat, rye and barley, as well as small gardens near the homes consisting of peas and other small vegetables. (“The Pilgrims Story and the First Thanksgiving”)

Exif_JPEG_PICTUREAt the end of the summer, they reaped a bountiful harvest. And from a deep sense of gratitude, they held a feast of thanksgiving. Ninety Indians came and celebrated with the fifty-eight Pilgrims for three days.

Why? They had all lost loved ones, were in a strange land with no way of returning, and winter was coming.

They didn’t have health care. Or grocery stores. Or cars and freeways, let alone the Internet and Skype. They were cut off and alone. But they celebrated thanksgiving.

They were grateful that God had provided what they needed for that next season. And they trusted that He would do it again and again.

Perhaps our disaffected society isn’t particularly thankful (and I’m talking year round, not whether or not we remember to say thank you to God or to our family on Thanksgiving Day) because we don’t remember what it feels like to be without.

Maybe we need to take a short term mission trip to an underdeveloped nation or volunteer at a homeless shelter or walk the streets of a big city urban center to see what “being without” looks like.

Maybe we should pray that God would open our eyes to the countless blessings we enjoy–and keep our eyes open so that we live in joyful contentment rather than in disaffected greed or coveteousness.

Whose Job Is It Now?


DentistryTwo or three years ago I learned about an inner city ministry called World Impact. I was impressed with the well-rounded approach the organization is taking to reach the unchurched poor living in the cities of America.

Besides church planting, evangelism, and Bible studies, they develop leaders from their converts and train them to shepherd others in their community. They also have schools, sports teams, emergency food and shelter, camps and conferences, job training, and dental and medical care.

At least they used to.

Hold that thought.

A week ago I stumbled upon a PBS program called The Paradise. After two weeks I’m ready to say this is the next best thing to Downton Abbey (season four begins Jan. 5, by the way 😉 ). A particular exchange caught my attention in the second episode.

First, The Paradise is the name of a store. I missed the very beginning, but it appears to be a clothing store attempting to cater to the wealthier citizens in England during the 1800s. The owner has faced some opposition to the idea of “ready made” clothes which are considered inferior products.

But for the sake of this post here’s the pertinent event in the story. Someone abandoned a newborn baby boy–a foundling–at the doorstep of the store. The owner is discussing with one of his workers what to do with the infant, and she remarks that people used to leave foundlings at the doorstep of the church. The owner pauses, then says, The Paradise has become the new church.

Sadly, too true, I thought. A commercial venture, a corporation, doing what churches once did.

But as I think about “what churches do,” a couple thoughts run through my mind. For far too long it seems to me churches have let others care for the foundlings and the poor.

There are any number of reasons for this, but at least here in Southern California, there has been an awakening–a realization that “the mission field” with its ripe harvest is downtown as well as across the border or on the other side of an ocean.

World Impact is one parachurch organization that is seizing the opportunity to do in the inner city what missionaries do overseas: provide for the physical and spiritual needs of the people.

But now I wonder. Will World Impact continue to provide dental and medical service for the poor? Will doctors and dental technicians and nurses and dentists still give of their time and ability to help the needy? Or has the government taken over that job?

Clearly, there’s still much Christians can do to help the inner city poor besides dental and medical care, but I can’t help wondering if churches won’t be more and more marginalized as government grows. But maybe if we had paid attention to our inner cities sooner, government wouldn’t have taken health care over.

I suppose the real question is, what else should we be doing to help the people our society is trampling?

Who are those people? I think most of us would say abuse victims or the disabled. Some would add women who are single and have decided against abortion. Still others would include prisoners and their families.

Yes, yes, and yes.

But who is falling through the cracks? Someone with vision needs to look at what the church is doing to reach gangs and the porn addicted and college fraternities and any number of others. Because if we don’t reach them, The Paradise or the government will come along and offer to be the new church.

Published in: on October 17, 2013 at 6:59 pm  Comments Off on Whose Job Is It Now?  
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The Best Defense


KissesFromKatie cover“The best defense is a good offense” sports pundits say, but either parents don’t believe it or they don’t think it applies to raising their children.

Of late I’ve seen two general styles of parenting. One is protective and the other permissive. I suspect most parents are tempted to be permissive. Nobody likes to say no to a beautiful little child you love with all your heart. But some choose to be protective instead.

Permissive parents seem to believe in the Humankind-is-good idea so prevalent in Western society. They want to encourage their children, nurture them, educate them, and let them know they can do whatever they put their minds to.

The problem, of course, with this approach is that children can not do whatever they put their minds to. No matter how much they want to be butterflies, they aren’t going to become butterflies. No matter how much they want to be like LeBron or Kobe, they (most of them, anyway) aren’t going to become the next great NBA basketball player. Nothing wrong with trying hard and doing your best, but why lie to kids and give them false expectations?

Besides, giving kids their head puts them in danger. They can try things they’re curious about that will become addictions or involve themselves with people who want to use or abuse them. They themselves might even become the one who bullies or who abandons (after all, life is, they’ve been taught, all about what they want).

Parents who take the protective route tend to be the ones who see Humankind as sinful by nature. Hence, there is much to protect children from–the stranger, the kid next door, his liberal teacher, his ungodly classmates, shysters selling things outside grocery stores, the homeless, frauds coming to your door selling things, people of a different religion, from a different part of town, who speak a different language, who vote differently. The list is endless, and the means by which these parents try to protect their children can be exhausting.

Interestingly, the Bible gives lots of advice to parents, none particularly aligned with either the permissive or protective approach. Here’s one key passage, originally written by Solomon to his son.

For the LORD gives wisdom;
From His mouth come knowledge and understanding.
He stores up sound wisdom for the upright;
He is a shield to those who walk in integrity,
Guarding the paths of justice,
And He preserves the way of His godly ones.
Then you will discern righteousness and justice
And equity and every good course.
For wisdom will enter your heart
And knowledge will be pleasant to your soul;
Discretion will guard you,
Understanding will watch over you,
To deliver you from the way of evil,
From the man who speaks perverse things;
From those who leave the paths of uprightness
To walk in the ways of darkness;
Who delight in doing evil
And rejoice in the perversity of evil;
Whose paths are crooked,
And who are devious in their ways
(Proverbs 2:6-15a – emphasis mine)

Notice, this passage says God is the one who will protect our kids. He gives wisdom, is a shield, and preserves their way. At some point then, after being infused with God’s wisdom, kids can discern which way to go. They’ll know what they need to know about justice and righteousness, and that knowledge will protect them against those who would harm them.

The perfect example of this kind of God protection is Katie Davis, author of Kisses from Katie. I don’t know how her parents raised her except for the fact that I see the outcome. At eighteen, Katie left her comfortable home in Tennessee and went to Uganda to teach. After a short time she began adopting children, decided to stay in Uganda, and started a ministry called Amazima to provide the means for children to get an education.

Clearly, she was not acting like a child who had been protected from all that could be dangerous. She faced the dangerous every day–people with TB, who had ringworm, were HIV-positive, had infections and open sores. She dealt with rats and cockroaches and malaria-carrying mosquitoes. She was a single white woman, a teenager, who didn’t speak the local language, and yet she simply went about showing people the love of Jesus by loving them herself.

Why would she? How could she? Here’s how she explained it:

Jesus wrecked my life. For as long as I could remember, I had everything this world says is important. In high school, I was class president, homecoming queen, top of my class. I dated cute boys and wore cute shoes and drove a cute sports car. I had wonderful, supportive parents who so desired my success that they would have paid for me to go to college anywhere my heart desired. But I loved Jesus.

And the fact that I loved Jesus was beginning to interfere with the plans I once had for my life and certainly with the plans others had for me. My heart had been apprehended by a great love, a love that compelled me to live differently.

Katie went on to explain that at twelve or thirteen she began to “delve into the truths of Scripture.” In short she turned to God for wisdom and found “knowledge and understanding.” She knew well before the adults in her life that she didn’t have to protect herself or rely on the protection her parents could provide. Instead, she could travel half-way around the world and live with and love people who knew poverty and deprivation that most in the Western world can’t even imagine. And she could trust that God would shield her and preserve her way.

So maybe there’s a third way for parents to raise kids–putting them on the offensive. If children learn early that God is the source of wisdom, that He is their shield, that He will preserve their way, then they can disarm people with love and fill them with truth.

We are not called to be safe, we are simply promised that when we are in danger, God is right there with us. And there is no better place to be than in His hands.
― Katie J. Davis, Kisses from Katie: A Story of Relentless Love and Redemption

Published in: on February 21, 2013 at 6:23 pm  Comments Off on The Best Defense  
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The Riches Of Christ


In thinking about the urban poor and the ministry of World Impact, I couldn’t help but think that “poor” is so much greater than not having a lot of money. We can talk about how the plight of the urban poor impoverishes them intellectually — their education choices are limited. Even if they can make it through a public high school with grades that would qualify them for college, the schools they attend could well be limited because they would be dependent on scholarships and grants.

And what about the poverty of opportunity? How many family vacations do the urban poor take? Are they camping once a year? Taking off to Hawaii? And how about exposure to other cultures? Where they live, “other cultures” are likely in a rival gang. What about opportunities to learn about America’s heritage? How many urban poor are visiting Washington D. C. (besides the urban poor who live there)? Or Williamsburg? Or how many here in LA make it to the Reagan Library? How many make it to any library? Or museum?

Beyond this is moral poverty — where drugs and prostitution, gangs and adultery, abuse and prison are a part of normal life. Instead of breaking the cycles, however, our society that has turned the care of the urban poor over to the government knows little other than punishment and accommodation. Former U. S. Ambassador and Republican Presidential candidate Alan Keyes used to say that the most important issue before the government was the preservation of the family because that is the social structure that passes on values. He made a lot of good points.

The greater issue, however, is spiritual poverty. All other problems pale in comparison even as they stem from the heart of this one. In conjunction with what Jesus said in the beatitudes about the poor in spirit (“Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” Matt. 5:3), other Scripture calls our attention to the riches we have in Christ or to the fact that His riches are incomparable, worth whatever suffering might come our way.

Eph. 3:8 – To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ

Phil. 4:19 – And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.

Heb. 11:26 – [Speaking of Moses] considering the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt; for he was looking to the reward. (Emphases here and in the following verses are mine)

I especially like the passages in Colossians starting with the end of chapter one and continuing into the early verses of chapter two that identify riches, wealth, and treasure in association with Christ.

Col. 1:27 – to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.

Col. 2:2-3 – that their hearts may be encouraged, having been knit together in love, and attaining to all the wealth that comes from the full assurance of understanding, resulting in a true knowledge of God’s mystery, that is, Christ Himself,in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

In Peter’s first letter, he equates faith with gold, calling it “more precious” — that would be “faith that comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom. 10:17).

Christ Himself is all the treasure we could want, but in Him are more treasures. When we have Christ, we are rich, but when we have Him and nothing else, we are abundantly rich.

If it were not for God’s grace declared in the preaching of the Word of God, I or anyone else would be spiritually poor. Rather, I and all who are in the family of God enjoy the riches of Christ.

How shameful, then, if we squat on this treasure that is never diminished no matter how many times we give it away. How important it is that we do not overlook those in our inner cities who desperately need to hear of the One Who is the image of the invisible God — He Who is treasure, who has treasure, and who gives treasure, Himself.

Published in: on February 7, 2012 at 6:42 pm  Comments (5)  
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You Always Have The Poor With You


Three of the four gospels record Jesus’s statement to His disciples that the poor aren’t going away. Here’s Mark’s version (interestingly the other two are Matthew and John, not the third synoptic gospel, Luke):

For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you wish you can do good to them; but you do not always have Me. (Mark 14:7)

Jesus was defending the actions of the woman who anointed Him with costly perfume. Some of His disciples — not just Judas — complained that she was wasting a valuable asset. Let her alone, Jesus is saying. What she did is good and right. You can focus on the poor any day, but you aren’t going to have Me here in bodily form very much longer. Her sacrificial act of worship is good.

Today the phrase, the poor you have with you always, is almost cliche in Christian circles, but unfortunately it seems to reduce the urgency of meeting the needs of the poor. Too often we think of the poor living half way around the world — inaccessible to us apart from our dollars which we drop into the offering, trusting that some portion of what we give is going to missions and to meet the needs of those babies with bloated bellies we too often see in commercials appealing for more donations.

How shocking would it be to realize that we have the poor with us here in a wealthy country like the US? I know I’ve been skeptical. I live twenty minutes from downtown LA, and what I see around me most are $150 athletic shoes, cell phones, satellite dishes, and tricked out all-but-new (and some of them, too) cars. Of course I know there’s also money floating around that ends up in the drug trade, so how poor can the urban poor really be?

Not that I don’t see the homeless, too. Depending on the time of year, there can be a bearded man with ragged coat pushing a shopping cart of belongings down the sidewalk a block or two from where I live. A couple weeks ago, I pulled up to a light and on my left was a man on a bicycle that had … the equivalent of training wheels, with a basket built on the back. Inside was a dog, standing patiently behind his master — a scruffy-haired, ragged-coated individual I assumed to be homeless. He and his dog.

On Sunday as part of my church’s missions month, we learned a bit more about the urban poor. Dr. Keith Phillips, president of World Impact preached from Luke 4:16-19.

And [Jesus] came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up; and as was His custom, He entered the synagogue on the Sabbath, and stood up to read. 17 And the book of the prophet Isaiah was handed to Him. And He opened the book and found the place where it was written,

18 “THE SPIRIT OF THE LORD IS UPON ME,
BECAUSE HE ANOINTED ME TO PREACH THE GOSPEL TO THE POOR.
HE HAS SENT ME TO PROCLAIM RELEASE TO THE CAPTIVES,
AND RECOVERY OF SIGHT TO THE BLIND,
TO SET FREE THOSE WHO ARE OPPRESSED,
19 TO PROCLAIM THE FAVORABLE YEAR OF THE LORD.”

This passage is important, Dr. Phillips said, because it reveals Christ’s purpose, which includes preaching the gospel to the poor; because it serves as a model for us to follow; and because it gives us a mandate to go to the most needy in our society: the poor, captives, blind, oppressed.

He went on to say that a barometer of the health of the Church might be how we treat the poor. The cool thing is that “how we treat the poor,” according to World Impact’s core principles includes a holistic approach that unashamedly declares the gospel of Jesus Christ.

But I’ll be honest with you: I was still back there at the point of wondering how poor are the urban poor. And then he gave us a statistic that opened my eyes. Not about average income or number of homeless children or anything like that. He told us that in the downtown Los Angeles area there are forty-two Planned Parenthood Clinics (think, abortion clinics) and one World Impact mobile Crisis Pregnancy Clinic.

Think about that for a second. When we turn “care” of the poor over to government agencies, which is exactly what welfare has done, we, the followers of Jesus Christ, adopt the Mitt Romney attitude that we don’t have to worry about the poor — they have their safety net already in place. But what kind of a net? One that dictates the “care” a pregnant girl receives, that locks a family into public housing with no way of actually earning and saving (because when you make “too much,” that’s the end of “benefits”), that keeps kids in public schools where their very safety is compromised and actual learning is at a minimum.

But here’s the thing. World Impact believes in “Incarnational Ministry” — that believers should go into urban centers and live with the poor, in the same way that a missionary to Tanzania or Laos or Guatemala would go and live with the people in their village or town. In other words, ministering to the urban poor isn’t for everyone. Or is it? At their web site in the drop down menu under “Involvement” the first option is “Pray.” Right away, I know I, too, can be involved in a ministry to the urban poor.

Published in: on February 6, 2012 at 5:42 pm  Comments (3)  
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