Christianity 201

May 9, 2017

3 Wrong Ways to Judge

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
Tags: , , ,

Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment. – John 7:24 NASB

Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony.  – Col 3:14 NLT

[Love] bears up under everything;
believes the best in all;
there is no limit to her hope,
and never will she fall. I Cor 13:7 ISV italics added

Over the past eight years, this is our eleventh time returning to the writing of Paul Tautges at the website Counseling One Another. To learn more about his new book, Pray About Everything, click this link. To read today’s post at source and look around the rest of the site, click the title below. This article is also part of a series, other sections are linked at the end.

3 Ways We Judge Wrongly

Jesus instructed His disciples to judge righteous judgment (John 7:24), but He also said, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged” (Matt. 7:1). Is this a contradiction? No. We are called to use biblical truth and wisdom to discern rightly, but we are foolish when we make judgments based upon appearance or only one side of the story. We are called to maintain a balance of grace and truth, but avoid a judgmental attitude. This bad attitude is, as Matt Mitchell defines it, “a heart disposition meant to be condemnatory and censorious.

So, where do we go wrong? When and how does judging become sinful? Mitchell explains three ways.

  1. Rush to Judgment – To form a conclusion about a person based upon hearsay, without going to him to hear the other side, is utterly foolish and destructive. It is folly and shame to answer before listening, to rush to judgment about another person without loving them enough to take the initiative to start a conversation (Proverbs 18:13). Instead we should believe the best about the other person, rather than assume the worst.
  2. Prideful Judgment – The deeper problem behind and beneath judgmentalism is pride. Pride is the elevation of oneself not only above other people, but above God’s law (James 4:11). But there “is only one Lawgiver and Judge,” and it’s not us. When we rush to judgment, we play God; “we act as if we are omniscient when we are not.”
  3. Unloving Judgment – The opposite of being judgmental is the virtue known as charitable judgment. “Charity” is the old word for love (1 Cor. 13:4-8), which compels us to believe the best about another person. Therefore, Mitchell counsels us well with these words: “If you and I are loving people with this kind of charity, we won’t sinfully judge or gossip about people. We won’t delight in the evil that we hear has befallen someone else. We won’t believe the worst about others. We will always hope for something better. Love is tenacious. Love does not pretend that all is well and sweep things under the carpet, but it does hang onto hope for others and believe the best.”

Instead of sinfully judging others, and then tearing them apart through gossip, the gospel obligates us to put on love, which bonds everything together perfectly in harmony (Col. 3:14).

As we continue to work through the book, Resisting Gossip, please consider reading and growing along with us. Previous posts include:


Here’s a song from 40 years ago. The lyrics are really relevant to today’s post. “Lord I want to cut him down to size / Help me see that brother through your eyes…”

February 2, 2016

Where Compassion Meets the Refugees – Part Three

In Part One, we looked at the similarity between some North American attitudes toward the Syrian refugee crisis and Jonah’s attitude toward Nineveh.  In Part Two we looked at the three categories of our financial blessing and how we’re commanded to allocate these. However, we stopped short of fully fleshing out the third category.

André Turcotte is a Christian & Missionary Alliance pastor and church planter, and a Canadian Armed Forces chaplain. What follows is adapted from his notes, and not word-for-word. (Some sections in parenthesis today are my additions.)

• • • by André Turcotte

Some of the help we’re able to give will come from this third category…

Margins

Leviticus 23:22 “‘When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Leave them for the poor and for the foreigner residing among you. I am the Lord your God.’”

(This should remind you of another passage, the story of Ruth and Boaz in Ruth 2.)

This is repeated in scripture:

Deuteronomy 24:19 When you are harvesting in your field and you overlook a sheaf, do not go back to get it. Leave it for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow, so that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. 20 When you beat the olives from your trees, do not go over the branches a second time. Leave what remains for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow. 21 When you harvest the grapes in your vineyard, do not go over the vines again. Leave what remains for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow.

Leviticus 19:9 “‘When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. 10 Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the foreigner. I am the Lord your God.

(This of course bears on the broader topic of margin. Is there enough in your life generally? There should be some discretionary spending money in your budget.)

The problem is that instead of living with some margin or leftover, many of us are living financially beyond our means. (This would definitely include those who make only the minimum monthly payment on their charge cards, or whose cards are already maxed-out.)

In the New Testament Jesus takes it even further:

Luke 12:33 “Sell your possessions and give to those in need. This will store up treasure for you in heaven! And the purses of heaven never get old or develop holes. Your treasure will be safe; no thief can steal it and no moth can destroy it.

Remember the image of a wheat field from yesterday? Perhaps the most compelling argument for what this means is found in

The Principle of Sowing and Reaping

2 Cor. 9:6 Remember this—a farmer who plants only a few seeds will get a small crop. But the one who plants generously will get a generous crop. You must each decide in your heart how much to give. And don’t give reluctantly or in response to pressure. “For God loves a person who gives cheerfully.”

All through scripture, God’s rewards generous, cheerful giving; again, not done out of compulsion or duty but joy.

But the natural human response is to say, ‘What’s in it for me?’

God’s blessing

8 (NLT) And God will generously provide all you need. Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others. As the Scriptures say,

“They share freely and give generously to the poor.
    Their good deeds will be remembered forever.”

10 For God is the one who provides seed for the farmer and then bread to eat. In the same way, he will provide and increase your resources and then produce a great harvest of generosity [NIV: righteousness] in you.

11 Yes, you will be enriched in every way so that you can always be generous. And when we take your gifts to those who need them, they will thank God.

(Note: This should not be interpreted as what is currently called ‘prosperity doctrine.’)

Though our motive should be giving joyfullly to the Lord, God promises to supply, multiply and reward those who are His generous stewards. God multiplies our giving for many purposes.

Multiple effect

12 (NIV) This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of the Lord’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. 13 Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, others will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else. 

Generosity with our money in this instance helps the refugees, shows the unity of the Body of Christ, bears witness to Christ, honors God, and increases our faith in Christ.

 

February 1, 2016

Where Compassion Meets the Refugees – Part Two

Yesterday we looked at the similarity between North American attitudes toward the Syrian refugee crisis and Jonah’s attitude toward Nineveh. (If you have sensitivities toward the Syrian situation, please note that not all Christians feel this way; we’d like to think it’s just a minority, but the challenge of opening our communities is stretching us and steepening our learning curve!)

André Turcotte is a Christian & Missionary Alliance pastor and church planter, and a Canadian Armed Forces chaplain. What follows is adapted from his notes, and not word-for-word.

• • • by André Turcotte

So what does all in look like when it comes to giving to projects such as this one?

On one extreme end, some could say it means giving all we have to those in need, but practically that would just leave us in that same place (and in some cases diminish our ability to help when future causes arise.)

On the other extreme end, some would just take money they are currently giving to “A” and simply redirect it to “B.”

Obviously we need a new perspective: What it means is realizing that all we have is given to us from the Lord and stewarding all of it for Kingdom purposes is our duty.

To repeat, all in does not mean giving every last cent to others, but rather stewarding every last cent in a way that makes room for the needs of others.

So what do we mean by stewarding everything we have?

‘Everything we have’ can be categorized in 3 ways: First fruits, Middle fruits and margin/leftovers.

Picture in your mind a vast field of wheat. Today not many of us are farmers, so we don’t practice our giving in terms of grain or sheep, but picture a wheat field divided into the following categories:

First fruits

Several times God calls his people to give the first fruits to him — this is constant even at times there were other needs around them.

Honor the Lord with your wealth,
    with the firstfruits of all your crops;
10 then your barns will be filled to overflowing,
    and your vats will brim over with new wine.

This is important: Note that taking the tithe or first fruits and redirecting them to the needy is a violation of God’s directive.

Many reading this will say, what about people in need right here in the United States or Canada? It would be an epic fail on the part of God’s people if we

  • redirected what would normally be our tithes to engage this need, or
  • stopped giving to other local or regional projects to help those who will arrive (or, the current ‘flavor of the month’ charity; the one making the headlines).

On the other hand, saying that we can’t do anything to help those in need because we are ‘tapped out’ or because we have given all our charity money to God is not acceptable either.

This reminds us of the passage where Jesus deals with what were called the Corban rules (which we can cover here as a separate study sometime*) described in Mark 7:

10 For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and mother,’ and, ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’ 11 But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is Corban (that is, devoted to God)— 12 then you no longer let them do anything for their father or mother.

Rather, our giving should come out of our middle fruits and out of our margins.

Middle fruits

This money is a blessing. It’s the fund that most of us live on. Our family operating budget after we’ve first taken care of giving first fruits to God’s work.

The principle here is to enjoy and wisely use God’s blessings.

Ecc. 5:19 Moreover, when God gives someone wealth and possessions, and the ability to enjoy them, to accept their lot and be happy in their toil—this is a gift of God.

Margins

This is a scriptural principle that I haven’t heard as much teaching on but a principle that is clearly taught in scripture. It’s really the meat of the sermon that attracted me to sharing these notes with you.

But for that one, you’ll have to tune in tomorrow!


* In September, 2015, Clarke Dixon looked at an aspect of the Corban laws in this article:  The Conflict Between Tradition and Jesus.

 

January 31, 2016

Where Compassion Meets the Refugees – Part One

For a few days, I want to share some material that was presented as a sermon by my home church pastor as part of a series that eight area pastors are doing in a 4-week rotation as part of our faith community’s sponsoring of a number of families from Syria. The project is called Better Together, though the name predates the present world conflict and was the name of a similar 6-week pulpit exchange the same churches did two years back before coming together as one body for a Good Friday service in which they gave around $50,000 for a Habitat for Humanity project. (The part we’re looking at today was a collaboration with Clarke Dixon, whose name is most familiar to readers here.)

Sponsoring families of a different faith background, different ethnicity, different linguistic set is extremely stretching for some people, especially people in a rather homogeneous small Canadian town. We tend to look after our own or are drawn to projects where, after a clear proclamation of the gospel, the prospects for conversion are high. Our learning curve as a community is very steep with this project, and will probably become steeper after the first family arrives.

André Turcotte is a Christian & Missionary Alliance pastor, a former (and possibly future) church planter, and a Canadian Armed Forces chaplain. What follows is adapted from his notes, and not word-for-word.

• • • by André Turcotte

The situation we face with Syrian refugees is very similar to that of Jonah, a man called by God to engage people different than himself.

The situation also has some geographic coincidences: Nineveh was part of the Assyrian — even the name is a giveaway — empire; the Assyrians were brutal conquerors who destroyed and abused people. Nineveh is incorporated today in the city of Mosul where ISIS activity made headlines and from where many of the refugees originate.

Jonah 1:1 NIV The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.”

But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port.

Tarshish, at the far end of the Mediterranean was not only in the opposite direction, the distance was five times the opposite direction.

Most readers here know the basics elements of what happens next. Jonah would love to see the Ninevites destroyed, even though he doesn’t particularly want to be the messenger; but after his rebellion leads to him being tossed overboard by the Tarshish freighter, he has a three-day time-out to reconsider his position.

Jonah 2:9a NLT But I will offer sacrifices to you with songs of praise,
    and I will fulfill all my vows.

The overall arc of the story show that Jonah goes and preaches his message while seriously hoping against hope that the Ninevites don’t respond. (This would be like a modern evangelist going to preach in Las Vegas and preparing to give an altar call at the end, but not really expecting anyone to raise a hand or go forward at the end for prayer.) His goal seems to be about himself, about being able to do his ‘prophet thing’ and then, when the city is destroyed, be able to say, ‘See, I told you so.’

It would seem that although Jonah had obeyed is heart was still bent on their destruction.

This raises a serious application point for those of us whose lives have some type of ministry component; those of us who give the money, offer the time, use our gifts, and are busy about church business:

You can be obedient in your action, but your heart is not all in.

Ultimately, Jonah is more concerned with his reputation and personal comfort than the well-being of Nineveh’s 120,000 population.

4:10a Then the Lord said, … 11 “But Nineveh has more than 120,000 people living in spiritual darkness, not to mention all the animals. Shouldn’t I feel sorry for such a great city?”

(So does the idea of refugees in our community — especially in small-town America and Canada make us uncomfortable? I’m sure some would answer yes.)

We learn several things about God in this story, not the least of which is: God wants everybody to come to him and he called you and me to reach them. He is looking for people who are all in.

2 Peter 3:9 NIV The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

So what does all in look like when it comes to giving to projects such as this? Tomorrow we’ll look at scripture teaching on first fruits, middle fruits and margins.


We’ve covered Jonah here a couple of times before including twice recently; here are some older ones:

 

 

 

 

November 15, 2015

Q&A Was Still Open, But Nobody Had Any Questions

Today we pay a return visit to Brandan Robertson at the blog Revangelical, now part of Patheos and renamed Nomad. This article was posted two weeks ago and is based on the Lectionary reading for November 1st. Click the title below to read at source.

The Flow of Love

Each Sunday, I take time to reflect on a sacred text, usually from the Revised Common Lectionary, in order to re-calibrate, challenge, and fuel us to continue on this rough and rocky journey of faith. Today’s reading comes from Mark 12:28-34:

One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”

“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

“Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And from then on no one dared ask him any more questions.

“From then on no one dared to ask him any more questions.” What could Jesus have done that caused such silence to emerge from this antagonistic crowd of religious leaders?  This is truly seems like a mic-drop moment. In an attempt to trip Jesus up, this young seminarian comes and asks Jesus what seemed to be an impossible question. Out of all of the Laws of the Hebrew Bible, which command was most important? I imagine any other religious leader would have stopped to think through what was written in the law. Could it be honoring the Sabbath? Worshiping God alone? Staying away from unclean foods and people? Which commandments carried the biggest consequences? Surely, that would help us determine what is most important to God.

Yet in one sentence, quickly uttered, Jesus silences all of the religious leaders of his day. “There is no commandment greater than this: love.” That was it. Love God. Love your neighbor. If you do this, you will fulfill all of the Law. In one sentence, Jesus shifts the focus from personal piety, seeking to obey every jot and tittle written in the Hebrew Bible, to a single broad principle that reshapes the rhythm of our lives than it tries to get us to obey an obnoxious laundry list of religious rules.

I was recently talking to a group of friends and we somehow stumbled onto the topic of “sin”. I voiced my critique of progressive churches, who often, in my opinion, focus so much on societal sins and systemic injustice that they neglect personal morality.  I offered the exact opposite critique of conservative churches, who seem to care little for systemic injustice and instead pour all of their time into keeping God happy through acts of personal piety. Both views of sin, in my opinion, are flawed and lead us away from walking in step with the rhythm of the Kingdom. Keeping the commandments is not rigid obedience to a laundry list of rules nor engaging in activism for the sake of activism. It is living life with an ethic of love.

Each day, in every action that we do, we should shift our awareness and ask ourselves whether or not our every move is motivated by and rooted in unconditional, self sacrificial love. Love that builds up, love that heals, love that encourages, love that unifies. When we live with a broad ethic of love, we will live holy lives that are pleasing to God and beneficial to ourselves and to the world around us. When we live lives of love, we live with awareness of our interconnectedness to all things, understanding that every choice and action we make has an impact on others.

Is what I am doing today liberating, healing, blessing, and encouraging others? Is it liberating, healing, blessing, and encouraging me? If so, I can be assured that I am walking in step with the Spirit. If not, may I be empowered to repent, or turn from the path I am walking down and chose the way of love. It will not always be comfortable or favorable, and it will always cost us. But “it is in giving that we receive; It is in pardoning that we are pardoned; It is in dying to self that we are born to eternal life.”(The Prayer of St. Francis) In the subversive, upside down Kingdom of Jesus, when we are able to live lives to the rhythm of love, we align ourselves with the Divine Flow, and we will experience righteousness, favor, and an abundance of peace. And not only us personally, but our entire world will feel the effects of the Love that flows from our lives.

This command, the command of love, silences the most legalistic of people and liberates those who are weighed down by the burden of religion. This command opens us to lives of abundance and challenges us to ask different questions about the way we live, move, and have our being in the world. The way of love is the way of life. May we realign ourselves to be people of love today.


Ten Ways to Love

September 18, 2014

A Great Giving Church

Offering Plate

Regular columnist Clarke Dixon returns this week with a look at Acts 2.  To read this at his blog, Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon, click the title below.

Generosity and the Acts 2 Church

42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. 44 All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45 they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved (Acts 2:42-47 NRSV emphasis mine)

If you did not know that the above quotation was from the Bible, would you have assumed instead that it is a description of the typical church in North America? I am guessing not. It is a picture of incredible devotion, togetherness, and generosity which we might lament we do not live up to. On the other hand we might be glad that this does not describe Christian churches in Canada; do we really want such crazy giving away of our stuff? We might be concerned that this passage is setting up an ideal for the Christian community that we neither want nor think we can attain. Is it, and are we falling short?

Whether the passage is reflecting an ideal or not, it is describing what was real. This is how the first Christians acted immediately following the calling and establishment of the Church at Pentecost. Let us note three things.

  1. There is great giving. The first Christians are enthusiastic enough to sacrifice their stuff for those in need.
  2. There is ongoing giving. The tense of the verb describing the selling of stuff indicates ongoing activity rather than a one-time thing.
  3. There is spontaneous giving. This is not a response to imposed law. While the Old Testament law makes provisions for the poor we do not get the picture here of the apostles imposing such and making demands on the people. They don’t need to, the generosity is spontaneous.

Why is there such great, ongoing, and spontaneous generous activity? There are a lot of verbs in this passage as there is a lot going on, but tucked in there also is a description of the hearts of the people: They have “glad and generous hearts” (v.46 NRSV). There is spontaneous generous activity because hearts are being changed. It is a heart thing!

Some of you may think of a different translation of that phrase “glad and generous” for the word generous in verse 46 can also be translated as singleness or simplicity of heart. We might want to ponder the fact that simplicity and generosity go together. When we are not feeling particularly generous toward someone we have a tendency of cluttering up our thoughts with rather complex rationalizations. For example, “you have need, I have plenty, but I cannot help you because . . . [enter rationalization here].” Or, “you need my forgiveness, I have the potential for being generous with grace, but I cannot forgive you because . . . [enter rationalization here].” Sometimes generosity is the simplest way forward. And it was the way forward for these first converts to Christianity.

So how did the first Christians come to have such glad and generous hearts? It is Pentecost and the Holy Spirit is changing hearts! As one Bible commentator notes, people are “fundamentally selfish,” but on the Day of Pentecost, with the outpouring and indwelling of the Holy Spirit, hearts are being changed.

The language people often use of people “getting religion” just does not work when people genuinely come to faith in Christ. You will sometimes hear it said that so-and-so “got religion.” The three thousand who came to faith in Jesus that day did not get religion, they already had religion, being Jews devout enough to be in Jerusalem for the Feast of Pentecost. What they “got” was Jesus, recognizing Him as Lord and Messiah. And with “getting Jesus” they also “got” the Holy Spirit. Indeed the New Atheists are onto something when they say that religion can be bad for you and for society. Religion will destroy you, the Holy Spirit will restore you. The three thousand on Pentecost got Jesus, they got the Holy Spirit, and their hearts were changed for the better.

So how do we develop glad and generous hearts today? While we do not want to take the application of this passage in a wrong direction and push for a commune-style of Church, we do want to long for our church today to be a people marked by glad and generous hearts. If we find we are falling short on this how do we proceed? Should we  institute a plan to become an Acts 2 kind of church, getting the leadership together with a vision and umpteen step plan of how we will get there? Or do we legislate it, writing into our constitutions that if you want to keep your membership you had better have a glad and generous heart? It seems to me that our typical churches do a lot of those kinds of things. Or is the solution much simpler: we long for it, we ask for it, we pray for it – “Lord, with you Holy Spirit in us, fill, refresh, convict, overwhelm, and remake us: give us glad and generous hearts!”

June 9, 2013

Poverty Will Always Be With Us

Today’s thoughts are from the blog, The Crunchy Christian,  written by Thailer and Amber. This one is by Thailer and appeared under the title The Poor Will Never Cease from the Land.

While driving home from a Bible study for young Christians last night, Amber and I both felt encouraged (as we always do at studies). These studies are a recurring thing and any chance we’re able to attend, we reap the benefits. Granted, it’s hard with our toddler (and another one on the way) but it’s so worth it.  Young Christians need to be active in small groups and frequent Bible studies with many people of differing opinions – it’s healthy and it’s one of the many ways to grow. And yet, as we were driving home, we felt just as concerned as we did encouraged.  The study was aimed at answering the questions of those who are non-believers. As we went through each question, helping each other learn how to ease the qualms of opponents to the Christian faith (not to mention settling the questions and answers in our own hearts), we arrived at question number three: “How does a church justify spending millions on buildings, while people starve?”

As I sat and listened to how the majority of those around me would answer the non-believer’s question, I increasingly began to feel, how do you say…’grieved’? I was taken aback. So was Amber. Now don’t get me wrong – I love these people. They’re my brethren. But I had major concerns with the answers I was hearing. Here are some.

“If you throw money at a problem, it won’t fix it.”
This is true in a sense. But it’s much easier to throw this out as an answer when you’re on the side of the church that ‘throws money’ at their gigantic, ornate sanctuaries. It’s harder for these words to pass your lips when your child is dying of starvation or disease. If only someone would ‘throw money,’ just a couple dollars, to you. One brother made a good observation when he pointed out that, in the New Testament, we see many examples of the church selling their possessions to aid the poor (Acts 4:32-37) but we never read of the church building any kind of ‘worship center’ for themselves. And I don’t think that individuals, who do want to help by ‘throwing money’ to the poor out of the kindness of their hearts, would think to do only that – certainly, a lot of prayer and intercession will be made for the needy as well. And it’s just as important. But prayer without the accompaniment of faith-driven acts of love, by the empowerment and grace of God, will not go very far. “If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body – what good is that?” (James 2:15-16).

“Well Jesus said ‘the poor you have with you always.’”
Yes, he did. But let’s allow Jesus to finish his sentence: “…and whenever you want, you can do good for them” (Mark 14:7). I understand this objection because I often made it myself – but what do we mean by quoting this in the face of the hungry and the needy? That Jesus is saying it’s a ‘lost cause’? Does this logic come from a man who preached, loved, touched, healed, fed, and cared for the poor – who was poor himself? What’s interesting is that Jesus’ words are oddly parallel to a passage found in Deuteronomy 15:11 where the Lord says, “For there will never cease to be poor in the land.” However, did that mean God thought it was a lost cause and the rich can just keep to themselves? The very next sentence says: “Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.’” In fact, Deuteronomy 15 continues to speak about the provisions that God would make for the poor; everything from freeing slaves every seventh year to even redistribution of wealth (fairly acquired) every 49th year, the year of Jubilee (Deuteronomy 15:1-8; Leviticus 25:8-55).

“If you follow this reasoning to its logical end, where does the giving stop? If you have two shirts, will you give the other away?” The argument that we will always have something extra to give should not be used to defeat the purpose of giving to begin with. These answers are defensive and the heart is all wrong. And honestly, how often has giving to the needy resulted in them taking us for all we have? It’s not realistic. And the logic of “If you give an inch, they can take a mile” doesn’t hold here, nor should it be allowed to keep us from the godly duty of sacrificial charity. Also, when that moment comes, how will we answer to that question? Will we be prepared to live according to the words of our Lord who said, “If anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well” (Matthew 5:40)? And will we judge Jesus and his teaching by our own faulty logic? Can Jesus not ask that we give it all away like he did the rich young ruler? “You lack one thing; go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me” (Mark 10:21). Is this so hard to believe, coming from the God-man who left it all (and much more) for us? (2 Corinthians 8:9).

“There will always be poor people. You can’t solve world hunger.”
Does that mean we can’t try? Does that mean we’re content to go on our way as faulty stewards of God’s blessings? You know, there’s a story Jesus told in Mark 12:41-44 of a poor widow who throws two small copper coins into the offering. Though there were many who threw a lot of money out of their abundance, Jesus praised her instead, because she gave out of her poverty everything she possessed, ‘all that she had to live on.’ Now this widow gave so little that she might as well have kept it. She didn’t solve world hunger; she didn’t alleviate any problems by her gift. But that’s not what mattered. She gave from the heart a sacrificial offering to God and that’s what mattered. It made all the difference. And when our hearts prod us to give sacrificially to those in need, Jesus assures us with these words: “Truly, I say to you , as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me” (Matthew 25:40).

When I came to question number three on the worksheet (“How do Christians justify spending millions on a worship building while people starve?”), my answer was: “You don’t.” That’s the problem. We’re trying to justify it. Quite honestly, most of the problems non-believers have with Christianity is not the faith itself but our poor rendering of it in our individual lives. But I would make this point (that I learned from Tim Keller) to the non-believer: We don’t justify the church spending millions on buildings while there are starving people around the world. It’s unjust. And when Martin Luther King, Jr. dealt with the gross injustices of segregation and racism, even (and perhaps mainly) among the white, middle-class, conservative believers, he never said the problem was with Christianity itself; that we needed to depart from the teachings of the Bible in order to have justice. Instead, he said:

“Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:24).

He didn’t call people away from Christianity but to a truer form of it. And maybe, just maybe, we’d have less antagonistic questions proposed if we just learn to follow the actual teachings of our Lord, not only in word but also in deed. Let’s get our priorities straight and mirror our Lord. Emulate altruism. Give generously. And teach our people it’s importance.

August 30, 2012

Taking Up The Offering: It’s OK to Ask

Since some of you are in leadership, here’s a great piece by Blake Coffee at Church Whisperer on asking people to give when that goes against your basic personality or instincts.  You’re encouraged to read it at his blog — click the title link — where it appeared as…

A Spirituality of Fundraising


Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life. 1 Timothy 6:17-19

This year has been and will continue to be a huge transitional year for our ministry, Christian Unity Ministries. This is the year we will transition from a small, church consultation ministry operated by Blake and a few of his friends in their spare time to a full-fledged, global non-profit organization with a paid staff and active arms operating in churches and denominational entities all over the world. Last year’s budget: approximately $75,000. The 2013 budget: approximately $350,000. That, my friends, is a God-sized transition!

One of the most painful transitions, it seems, is the one going on in me…the transition toward becoming the visionary leader this new organization will require. And, just to get very specific here for purposes of this post, I am thinking primarily about the transition into becoming a leader in matters of money and fundraising. Anyone who knows me very well at all, knows that I have simply never been very passionate about fundraising. I have long recognized the eternal truth that the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. And so, it has always been easier for me to just avoid talking (or thinking) about money rather than having to delve into any theology concerning it.

But scripture really does not permit that, does it? A truly Biblical worldview really will not coexist with a fear of this conversation…in fact, a truly Godly perspective demands that we (as Christ followers) have a well-developed theology concerning money and wealth. So it is with fear and trepidation that I read Paul’s admonishment to me and to you and to young pastor Timothy and to every other leader of Christ-followers about our role in teaching and mentoring others: Command them …to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.

My friend, Barry Nelson, is Director of Development at Canadian Southern Baptist Seminary & College. Earlier this year, he gave me a copy of Revolution in Generosity, a compilation of profound writings from Christian leaders on the spirituality of fundraising (find that resource here or Google it…I believe it is crucial reference material for every leader of every Christian organization). That work’s project leader and editor, Wesley K. Willmer, makes this point this way:

If we view giving as an instrument of transformation, we will support our givers through a consistent program of prayer and personal interaction, accepting the fact that it is the Holy Spirit, not our personality, that influences how they give. The change will take time, both for those asking for and those giving funds. But as we embrace the transformational model, the focus shifts from the gift and getting money to seeing God’s power work in individual lives. Revolution in Generosity, p. 40.

And so, the transformation in me (and in my leadership) takes root in the deepest passion of my spiritual life: my desire to see lives being changed. When my heart says to God, “I don’t want to raise funds…to talk about money…” God’s voice says back to me, “Then you don’t want to be about real life change…about real discipleship.”  So, I am not raising funds…I’m raising Christ-followers.  I can get comfortable with that!

Blake Coffee

Here’s another good article at Church Whisperer, Good-sized Vision v. God-sized Vision.  Preview:

For both churches and individuals, there is a difference between a good-sized vision and a God-sized vision….

I am thinking this had to be a disturbing and frightening scenario for the disciples who, for almost three years, had awakened each morning and simply allowed Jesus to set the agenda for the day.  The only thing he asked of them was that they follow him.  It was an easy arrangement, one that led them through amazing and miraculous moments and obviously changed them forever.  Now, Jesus was leaving them and telling them “you guys take it from here…go and do this ministry!”   …continue

June 6, 2012

On the Nature of Benevolence

Today, for C201 post #800, we’re featuring the writing of fellow-Canadian, Jamie Arpin Ricci, who recently blogged an excerpt from his book, The Cost of Community: Jesus, St. Francis & Life in the Kingdom (InterVarsity Press) available at your local Christian bookstore. To read what follows at source, which we always strongly encourage, click over to Of Love and Charity.

Recently I took part in a lively discussion about the word “charity”.  While the intended use of the word in the discussion was referring to “voluntary giving of help, typically money, to those in need”, someone else mentioned that the word “charity” is often used as an explicitly theological term meaning love- specifically agape, the unconditional love of God and/or the love we are called to hold for all others.  I argued that the use of “charity” to refer to “love” is the result of the Vulgate translation of agape- a likely use to differentiate it from sexual love. However, etymologically, “charity” has primarily been used to reference benevolence to the poor.  I contend that the very small segment of Christian usage of the term as love does not accurately represent the words original and most common usage, historically or today.

Be that as it may, the intersection of love and charity became the heart of the discussion.  Jesus said:

“When you give to the needy, do not let you left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is don in secret, will reward you” (Matthew 6:3)

So how should we understand these secret works of righteousness? Interestingly, the Greek word used for “acts of righteousness” is not the same word in every manuscript. Some ancient manuscripts that include this passage use the same word for “righteousness” as the one in the Beatitudes, the righteousness/justice we are to hunger and thirst for. Other manuscripts, though, use an entirely different word meaning “almsgiving” or simply “gifts to the poor.” After shooting off a few e-mails to some Bible scholar friends of mine, I learned that while the best manuscripts use the former meaning (that is, they refer to works of justice), the reason the other meaning is used at times is because the primary “act of righteousness” in the Judaism of Jesus’ day was almsgiving.

The use of both Greek words suggests that Jesus was referring to the Jewish practice called tzedakah, a Hebrew word that loosely means “charity” but has as its root the Hebrew word for justice (tzedek). Rooted in the gleaning laws of their agrarian past, the complexities of the developing economy led to a more sophisticated set of guidelines and requirements about giving to the poor.  However, consistent throughout that development was the central fact that such giving was always to be done anonymously. What we can glean, then, is that while Jesus is commenting broadly on works of justice, most of his listeners would have thought immediately of tzedakah. And given that Jesus continues by directly addressing the practice of almsgiving in the following section, this connection is obviously intentional.

The connection between righteousness/justice and providing for the poor must not be missed or minimized. Its long history in Judaism and Christianity, and Jesus’ clear affirmation of its continued practice, should be more than enough to make us mindful of its significance for the church. As we have explored earlier, it is not uncommon these days for Christians to believe that God calls us to care for the spiritual needs of others, with material needs being of secondary priority (and often a distant second at that). Some even go so far as to say we are not called meet the material needs of the poor at all. However, most would simply minimize such charity as a secondary, less important aspect to the higher spiritual calling of saving souls.

We cannot miss that Jesus makes no such division or distinction between the spiritual and material needs of humanity. The righteousness and justice we are called to hunger and thirst after, and the shalom we are called to create in the world—even in its brokenness—is absolutely concerned with the whole person, in- deed all of creation. The disintegrative nature of sin is being reversed by the work of Christ’s redemption, moving us toward the intended wholeness of creation, reflected in the nature of the Garden of Eden before sin. It was good! Our commitment to Christ and his mission, then, must be equally devoted to the restoration of the whole person and the whole creation.

When we understand the dynamics at work here, we see that Jesus is not teaching anything new in respect to the requirement of giving to the poor (and acts of justice in general), nor are his warnings about doing so to be seen as righteous by those watching us. This was something all good Jews knew to avoid. Something clearly distinguishes Jesus’ admonition. He is not forbidding us from doing works of righteousness before others (which would indeed be a contradiction of his earlier mandate in Matthew 5:13-16), but rather he is warning us against doing such works for the purpose of being seen by others. Once again, Jesus is forcing us to examine the intentions of our heart, for the true nature of our righteousness is found there, not in the act itself. We must live in the tension between the interior formation of our hearts and the ethical behavior it gives birth to. We should not be surprised that this was such a common problem in his day. After all, which of us does not like getting praised for our good works? This is a universal temptation that we all face.

~Jamie Arpin-Ricci

 

Jamie was featured previously here at C201 on January 2nd, 2011 with an article entitled The Biblical Concept of Godly Leadership.

May 10, 2012

Money and Wealth: It’s All His

Today we’re zooming in on part two of a two part series about money… so you might want to read part one.

[visual: me leaning on one foot, and then the other, waiting for your return]

…Okay, we’re back.  So you already know that this is by David P. Kreklau who combines something that sounds really exciting with something that sounds rather boring — he’s a CPA with the US Air Force.  Part two (click the title to link direct) is:

Awkward! …the Impact of Sovereignty on Our Money

Have you ever been in that awkward situation where somebody wants to give you money but you are embarrassed to receive it… or maybe you want to give money to someone but they are too embarrassed to take it?  As my daughter would say, it feels “awkward…!”

In my last blog I talked about how we take pride in our money and we allow it to bleed into our identity… making us feel like we have all the control over our money, which can create these awkward situations where we convey feelings of pride either in giving or receiving.

But the point I made was that God is sovereign over all things, including whatever it was that helped you obtain your wealth… whether your choices or upbringing, etc.  And therefore, whatever amount of money you have, that is what God has chosen to distribute to you.  Thus, you need not tie your identity to your wealth.

The Impact of Sovereignty

Here are some practical ways that this understanding should affect our money.

1)      Humility.  Knowing that it is God who distributes to whom He wills should disarm our pride over our wealth and lend us to feel humble in knowing that what we have is only of grace… not ourselves.  And let’s face it, we could all use more humility.

2)      Gratitude.  This humility should naturally flow into gratitude, recognizing that this grace is not deserved and that we actually deserve nothing.  Yet, God gives to us lavishly.

3)      Giving.  Just as we model everything we do after the Gospel of Jesus Christ – how He gave Himself for us when we deserved nothing good – we ought to give graciously to those in need, despite what they “deserve.”

4)      Stewardship/Redistribution.  Remember that since God decides in His sovereignty who gets what, then those who have been given much must remember that they have been given much for a reason.  You have been made a steward by God, and it is up to you to redistribute to those in need.  This is easier to do when you remember that it is not your money.  It is God’s… given to you to use for the kingdom in bringing about His good purposes.  This knowledge should also directly impact how you spend your money.

 5)      Receiving.  We need not feel embarrassed when receiving charity, as this is what God has appointed.  His way of you obtaining that money in this instance just happens to be a gift of love from someone as opposed to a wage.  Is there a better way of feeling the Gospel than receiving a gift instead of earning it yourself?

As you can see, this understanding of our wealth brings profound consequences to how we view money.  You can stop looking inward in terms of valuing yourself by your wealth and start looking outward by trying to breathe value into others.

If God gives abundantly to you, use that money to glorify Him.  If He gives you a nice home, use it to entertain in a Christ-exalting way.  If you are short of cash and someone helps you out, use that money to His glory and see the Christ-like quality of giving in that moment and worship Him.

If the love of money is the root of all evil (1 Timothy 6:10)… then the love of each other will disarm that evil.

~David P. Kreklau

December 25, 2010

A Christmas Consideration: Who Are You Giving To This Year?

With Christmas 2010 now consigned the realm of “memories,” and with most people feeling “tapped out” when it comes to giving, it’s time to think of another aspect of giving; the donations we make in the area we generally refer to as “tithes and offerings.”

Oh no!  Not that topic!

decemberBeing self employed and in retail means Christmas isn’t a lot of fun. We are about to put the last of our supplier payments in the mail. If there wasn’t going to be any further December activity and the amounts were low, we’re paying all the current invoices as well. We don’t pay ourselves a salary, so just getting bills paid is a major goal.

So this is a good time to start thinking about our personal finances, and in particular, our charitable donations. Not knowing exactly what our income is going to be makes it harder to figure out what we should be giving, but I don’t know anybody who, at tax time in April, looks at their receipts and says, “I should have given less.

Giving shouldn’t be done in December just to get a receipt. We give because we’ve been blessed, and because God commands it. But December is a good time to take stock of our personal finances and see what we can do to help others

So who can we bless this year? Here’s some suggestions:

  • Our first responsibility is to our local church, the place we call our spiritual home, where we receive teaching, prayer support and fellowship.
  • If there’s a “second” on the list, for many this year it is giving to relief and development in the third world, especially projects which are bringing fresh water wells to areas that don’t have potable water.
  • Has there been a natural disaster somewhere in the world this year that you watched on television but didn’t actually respond to?   Find out if your denomination or churches in your area know of people who are actually “on the ground” working alongside people in devastated areas.
  • Locally, who is actually doing ministry where you live?  There are always examples of people doing really exemplary work among people in need; people in prison; people dealing with addictions.   Find out what these people need and what avenues of support exist to help financially.
  • Is there someone in your area who does student ministry who is lacking in financial support? Consider urban missionaries and youth workers with Youth For Christ, Campus Crusade, InterVarsity and YWAM.
  • What about camp ministries? Is there a Christian summer residential camp that is in need of funds for capital projects or to sponsor children in the summer?
  • What about your local Christian school? Do they need money for capital projects;  are they operating at a deficit?
  • Do you have a local Christian radio station? This isn’t limited to the “preacher programs,” the stations themselves often need additional support to pay staff and overhead.
  • Who is working with the poor in your community? Who provides meals, or transportation or moral support to people who are disadvantaged economically?
  • The very fact you’re reading a Christian blog means that means you love the written word. Consider those who are putting the scriptures in the hands of people who don’t have them, such as Wycliffe Bible Translators or the various Bible Societies.
  • And speaking of Bibles, this book is illegal in more than 50 countries.  Consider helping organizations that work with the persecuted church around the world.
  • You first considered your local church. Is there another church in your community that is doing good but struggling financially? This year we heard a story of one church putting another local church on their missions budget with a sizable donation. We’re all playing on the same team, and what a wonderful witness this is to those who think we’re competing.

Also, there may be a family in your community, or in your extended family, or someone you work with who cannot provide you with a tax receipt but needs a blessing this Christmas. Consider also directly donating to someone who is in need.

‘…I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’  ~ Matthew 25:40

November 24, 2010

Maybe They Weren’t Saved in the First Place

For our Canadian Readers:  Giving to Those Less Fortunate — You see them in the malls and big box stores every year.   Volunteers manning the donation kettles on behalf of the Salvation Army.   But in a world where everybody pays using plastic cards, who has change to drop in the kettle?   And what about the people who shop online and don’t see the collection kettles at all?   That’s why we started doing a Salvation Army iKettle.  This is a great program for our Canadian blog readers to take advantage of; what’s more, the money you give stays with the Salvation Army Family Services in your community.   Be among the first to donate by clicking the following link:  

http://my.ikettle.ca/personalPage.aspx?SID=2834666&Lang=en-CA
~Paul Wilkinson

The way to resolve the argument seemed so obvious to me.  I was much, much younger and we were discussing the issue of eternal security.   If they were truly saved, how could they sin blatantly, or how could they walk away from their faith?   It’s obvious:  They weren’t saved in the first place. This is sometimes called the “semantics” solution since it’s about words.   We called this individual or that group of people Christians, but obviously we were wrong to do so since he, she or they weren’t really partakers of Christ or they wouldn’t have done what they did.

[Insert, the “But what about Judas?  He walked and talked with Jesus for three years…” argument here.]

I actually want to talk about a different application of the “semantics” issue.  The one raised in James 2:24, translated traditionally as “Faith without works is dead.” I think what James is saying here is that the semantics test does work here.   If people don’t manifest spiritual fruit, spiritual gifts, etc., in their lives, we do in fact have good reason to say, “Maybe they weren’t saved in the first place.”

In the Evangelical stream that I was nurtured in, we’re relatively new to social justice.   We spent years developing the best teachings on doctrine and theology, but largely ignored the poor.   When non-Evangelical churches did, we dismissed them by saying, “They only preach a social gospel.” Both types of churches were — and some still are — out of balance on this issue.

James isn’t saying we’re saved by works, but he’s saying — especially in the broader context — that works darn well better be in the picture. …It seemed an appropriate thing to write about today, as I posted our online Salvation Army iKettle for our Canadian readers.   I’ll repeat the iKettle appeal here once a week leading up to Christmas, and all three of my other blogs.

James 2 (The Message)14-17Dear friends, do you think you’ll get anywhere in this if you learn all the right words but never do anything? Does merely talking about faith indicate that a person really has it? For instance, you come upon an old friend dressed in rags and half-starved and say, “Good morning, friend! Be clothed in Christ! Be filled with the Holy Spirit!” and walk off without providing so much as a coat or a cup of soup—where does that get you? Isn’t it obvious that God-talk without God-acts is outrageous nonsense?

18I can already hear one of you agreeing by saying, “Sounds good. You take care of the faith department, I’ll handle the works department.” Not so fast. You can no more show me your works apart from your faith than I can show you my faith apart from my works. Faith and works, works and faith, fit together hand in glove.

19-20Do I hear you professing to believe in the one and only God, but then observe you complacently sitting back as if you had done something wonderful? That’s just great. Demons do that, but what good does it do them? Use your heads! Do you suppose for a minute that you can cut faith and works in two and not end up with a corpse on your hands?

21-24Wasn’t our ancestor Abraham “made right with God by works” when he placed his son Isaac on the sacrificial altar? Isn’t it obvious that faith and works are yoked partners, that faith expresses itself in works? That the works are “works of faith”? The full meaning of “believe” in the Scripture sentence, “Abraham believed God and was set right with God,” includes his action. It’s that mesh of believing and acting that got Abraham named “God’s friend.” Is it not evident that a person is made right with God not by a barren faith but by faith fruitful in works?

25-26The same with Rahab, the Jericho harlot. Wasn’t her action in hiding God’s spies and helping them escape—that seamless unity of believing and doing—what counted with God? The very moment you separate body and spirit, you end up with a corpse. Separate faith and works and you get the same thing: a corpse.

November 4, 2010

A Life of Comfort Or A Life of Obedience?

It’s been awhile since I used something here from blogger Rick Apperson at Just a Thought.   On his blog, this was titled:

If We Do Nothing, Nothing Gets Done

The world seems to be falling apart at times. You turn on the news and hear major stories of crime, abuse and other sordid events. Commercials show starving children and play heartfelt music with the intentions of getting you to give money to the latest charity or disaster relief.

It would be so easy to stick our head in the sand and ignore the trumpet calls of help! Even easier would be to toss some money at the problem to massage our consciences. Our minds tend to rest easier if we can pay someone else to help fix the problem.

If it was only that easy.

Giving money to the latest project may help solve a problem half way around the world and it is something I believe we should do as we can afford it. However, this does not release us from our obligation at home.

People are dying and going to hell.

People are hurting, worried, lonely and bitter.

They need Jesus Christ….they need you! You are the hands and feet of Christ to a hurting world. It isn’t that hard to invite a stranger out for coffee or to open your home to someone in need. It isn’t hard…but it is uncomfortable.

Yet, nowhere in the Bible does God call us to a life of comfort. He calls us to love with action. (1 John 3:17-18). He calls us to set aside the “I” and to look out for the interests of others. “Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:4)

Lives are changed when we step out of our comfort zones and reach out to those we meet on a daily basis.

I find God is challenging me to step out of my comfort zone more and more each day. I want to allow God to make me a life-changer? What about you?

~Rick Apperson; Smithers, British Columbia, Canada

Thanks, Rick.  (You probably didn’t know you were donating this one, yet.)

I really appreciated the sentiment that at the time of year that everyone is asking us to give money, it doesn’t release us from our obligations at home.   Some time ago, this was referred to as “chequebook evangelism.”  With the Evangelical church’s newly refreshed focus on social concern, it’s equally easy to make pre-authorized payments than it is to actually get your hands dirty.

We’ve been called not to a life of comfort, but a life of obedience to God’s call to be His hands and His feet in a needy world.