Christianity 201

June 10, 2019

So That the World May Observe Our Contentment

I’m not sure how it happened, but sometime late last week we got connected to the blog Generosity Monk. Author and teacher Gary Hoag finds an excerpt from books and commentaries — including some classics I’m sure you and I have never heard of — and runs the excerpt followed by some observations on what makes this personal to him.

Like this blog, he’s been doing this faithfully on a daily basis since June, 2009. I can’t believe we’ve never seen this website before; it’s a goldmine of devotional and study resources.  Because of that, we’re going to feature it both today and tomorrow. This one — which is longer than some, but features Dallas Willard — is from a year ago, click the link in the header below to read it on his site. Tomorrow we’ll feature one more.

Dallas Willard: Anxiety vs. More or Less Crazy

If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content. 1 Timothy 6:8

“If we do value “mammon” as normal people seem to think we should, our fate is fixed. Our fate is anxiety. It is worry. It is frustration. The words anxious and worry both have reference to strangling or being choked. Certainly that is how we feel when we are anxious. Things and events have us by the throat and seem to be cutting off our life. We are being harmed, or we fear what will come upon us, and all our efforts are insufficient to do anything about it.

Because we have the option, in reliance upon Jesus, of having abundant treasures in the realm of the heavens, Jesus gives us another of His “therefores.” “Therefore don’t be anxious for your physical existence, concerning what you will have to eat or drink, or how you will clothe your body” (Matt. 6:25). Life is not about food, He continues to say, nor the body about clothes. It is about a place in God’s immortal kingdom now. Eternity is, in part, what we are now living.

Jesus reminds us to look at living things around us in nature. In particular He refers us to birds and wildflowers. What is most relevant about the birds is that they do not “lay up treasures upon earth.” They receive from their world, under God, daily food for daily needs. When we watch them we are reminded of the phrase in the Lord’s Prayer, “Give us today the food we need for today.

And as for the birds, it is not so much that birds do not work. They are among the busiest citizens of our world. Some, such as domestic chickens, are observed to work very hard. We too should work, and sometimes work hard. But our feathered friends do not seem to worry about the physical supports of their life, such as food and water and shelter. They simply seek it as they need it and take what they find. And that is how we should be. Having our treasures in heaven frees us to live simply in the present so far as our vital needs are concerned. We work hard, of course, and we care for our loved ones. But we do not worry — not even about them. Having food and clothing and God, we can be content (1 Tim. 6:8)…

People who are ignorant of God — the ethne, or “nations,” who also pray, we have seen, with mechanical meaninglessness — live to eat and drink and dress. “For such things the ‘Gentiles’ seek” — and their lives are filled with corresponding anxiety and anger and depression about how they will look and how they will fare.

By contrast, those who understand Jesus and His Father know that provision has been made for them. Their confidence has been confirmed by their experience. Though they work, they do not worry about things “on earth.” Instead, they are always “seeking first the kingdom.” That is, they “place top priority on identifying and involving themselves in what God is doing and in the kind of rightness [dikaiosune] He has. All else needed is provided” (6:33). They soon enough have a track record to prove it…

The “Western” segment of the church today lives in a bubble of historical illusion about the meaning of discipleship and the gospel. We are dominated by the essentially Enlightenment values that rule American culture: pursuit of happiness, unrestricted freedom of choice, disdain of authority. The prosperity gospels, the gospels of liberation, and the comfortable sense of “what life is all about” that fills the minds of most devout Christians in our circles are the result. How different is the gritty realization of James: “Friends of the world (kosmou) are enemies of God” (James 4:4) And John: “If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (2 John 2:15).

If we do not treasure earthly goods we must be prepared to be treated as more or less crazy. This is also true if we escape the delusions of respectability and so are not governable by the opinions of those around us, even though we respect them in love…”

Dallas Willard (1935-2013) in Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life In God (New York: HarperCollins, 1998) 209-14. Click the link to download and read this modern-day classic.

As I just read a chapter of it, I felt like Dallas was reading it to me, because I was reminded of a conversation with him about ten years ago at a conference in Long Beach, California. I asked, “How important is it to teach stewardship and generosity to seminary students?” After a long pause, he said, “It’s absolutely vital to share those truths because our world is filled with lies.” He continued. “On my drive here from my home today to this hotel, I read various billboards and most all of them told lies about who I am and what I need. People need to know the truth about those matters, and pastors must teach them, otherwise their focus will be consumed by the things of this world.”

It was one of those conversations I will never forget. And sure this is a long post, but nothing like the book, which is 466 pages. Don’t miss this point of my sharing of this excerpt.

If we follow the world’s wisdom, our focus becomes fixed on mammon. We will are consumed by what we eat, drink, what we wear, and where we live. The world’s messages bombard us with discontentment which breeds “anxiety” and hinders generosity! If, alternatively, we go against the flow and follow Jesus, people will treat us like we are “more or less crazy” but regardless, we take hold of life in the kingdom now, and we are positioned to be generous because we have found that we have everything we need in Christ so we can be content with basic food, clothing, and shelter.

In an increasingly consumeristic global economy, I am becoming convinced that our greatest everyday witness as followers of Jesus may be our contentment with basic needs.

Are you?


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October 23, 2012

Building Your Platform — Without God

As a blogger I often see articles about “building your online platform.” Perhaps you know people who have dedicated themselves to building an offline platform as well. Like the tower-builders at Babel, they long to “make a name” for themselves. So I was attracted to this article at SermonIndex.net which begins with a verse many of you know by heart, but adds an extra verse of fuller context.  To read this article at source, click here.

So he said to me, “This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty. “What are you, mighty mountain? Before Zerubbabel you will become level ground. Then he will bring out the capstone to shouts of ‘God bless it! God bless it!’” (Zechariah 4:6-7)

There is a busyness that we are all prone to in the work of the Lord. Though there is nothing wrong with being used of God and sharing His truths with others there is a pit of self-promotion that we can fall into.

We can act like it’s by our own strength, power and influence that we will make ourselves successful.

There can be a feverishness of activity in someone wanting to build themselves a a platform so they can promote their messages for God. Yet God’s calling and purpose could be 100 miles away from this person’s present activities.

It can seem from our perspective to have a voice in Christianity world seems impossible. Unless we have a radio show, tv program and best selling book with endorsements. Yet God says “What are you, mighty mountain?” (Zechariah 4:7). God is able to raise up any leader overnight for the entire nation to hear. With God anything is possible as we trust Him.

Sadly the Church takes it cue from worldly business methods much faster then it sits at the feet of Jesus and hears the quiet promptings of the Spirit. I do not believe it is wrong to do simple steps that are practical in building a platform. Yet the dangers are great when we are fixated on these things.

It is God who gives us a platform. His sovereignty even sets up circumstances for us to be used in His plan. God is concerned with primarily with His Church and has had an eternal purpose in Christ before the foundation of the world. (Ephesians 1:9).

There is a great rest that can happen when we can trust Him for a platform and simply say to the Lord we are:

“only servants…” (1 Corinthians 3:5)

Servants are only mindful of what their masters want. That is a great test to see if you are a servant of the Lord is if you are preoccupied with what God wants not what you desire. May God keep us in His will as we desire to be used of Him to spread His Good News. Here are some practical points in summation:

1. We are only servants.

2. It is not by our strength but by God’s Spirit

3. It is God’s message, not ours.

4. Busyness does not mean success.

5. God’s ways do not always match up with worldly methods.

6. God has an eternal plan, we can trust Him in that.

7. God raises up leaders in the body of Christ.

Consider this prayer to the Lord today we seek to be useful for Him in His work:

Lord, we are so thankful for the great salvation that you have given us. We only want to show our appreciation for your love to us by doing a work for you. Please us me for your glory so that I can bring your Good News to others and share your truths. Lord please empty me of myself so I can be usable and mouldable in your hands. I accept it is your will if you will give me a platform to speak for you. Amen.

For not from the east or from the west and not from the wilderness comes lifting up, but it is God who executes judgment, putting down one and lifting up another.  Ps. 75: 6, 7 ESV

March 25, 2012

Where Did All The Demons Go?

After some additional discussion both on and off the blog after the post about curses a few weeks ago, here’s a piece from the blog Arminian Today which appeared under the title So Little Said About Demons These Days.

Even a simply survey reading of the Gospels reveals that Jesus Christ interacted with demonic forces during His earthly ministry.

In Matthew 4:23-25 we read that Jesus’ ministry was marked first by His healings which included “those oppressed by demons” (v. 24 ESV).

In Matthew 8:16 we read that Jesus again headed those oppressed by demons and thus His healings demonstrated that He was the Messiah according to Isaiah 53:4 and Matthew 8:17.

In Matthew 8:28-34 we have Jesus’ first encounter with two demon possessed men.  Here Jesus casts out the demons by allowing them to speak that they wish to be cast into a herd of pigs which He allows and the pigs run off a cliff to their deaths.

In Matthew 9:32-34 Jesus heals a demon possessed man who is unable to speak.

In Matthew 10:8 Jesus tells His disciples to cast out demons.

In Matthew 12:22 Jesus heals a demon possessed man who is blind and mute.

The only insight Jesus gives us to demons is found in Matthew 12:43-45 where He speaks about what a demon spirit does when it is cast out of a person.

In Matthew 15:21-28 Jesus heals a Gentile woman’s demon possessed little girl whose mother comes to Jesus and implores Him to come and heal her.  Jesus heals the little girl without being present physically (v. 28).

In Matthew 17:14-21 Jesus heals a demon possessed boy whom the disciples of Jesus could not heal.  Jesus tells His disciples they could not heal the boy because of their lack of faith (v. 20).

This ends the ministry of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew concerning demons but much more could be read from the other three Gospels about our Lord.  Clearly He had a ministry that included dealing with demons and demon possession.

What is amazing is that we don’t see that much on demons these days.  Some have sought answers to this by saying 1) the stories in the Gospels are not true.  2) Demons were in abundance in the life and times of Christ but not so today.  Demons helped God prove that Jesus was indeed the Messiah of Israel and thus are not needed today to demonstrate His truth since we have the Bible.  3)  Demons do exist but we just don’t talk about them much because we lack faith to deal with them.

My contention is number 3.

I believe in demons.  I have seen only a few times where I thought I was seeing a demon working in a person.  We have all heard the stories such as The Exorcist where the demon causes the person to talk in a different voice and even in foreign languages.  I too have heard those stories though never witnessed them.  I once sat in on a bizarre episode where a girl we knew was struggling with migraine headaches.  Some guy claimed that the headaches were demonic and that a demon was behind the sickness.  He began to have the girl look into his eyes and he said, “I want to speak to the demon in the name of Jesus.”  Supposedly a few demons spoke but I think the girl was making it up.  She continue to struggle with migraines to this day and that has been nearly 20 years.

You see the dilemma that I face is this: I believe in demons but I have seen some strange teachings on demons.  I worked with a lady who claimed that demons were stealing from her cash register.  She honestly believed that if she came up short on her money at our job then a demon had come in, took the money, and was seeking to bring her down.  I watched once as she sought to cast a demon out of her cash register.

Yet I still believe in demons.  Why?  Because of the Bible.  I see in the Gospels and later in the book of Acts the dealings by both the Lord Jesus and the Apostles with demons.  Some believe that with the death of the last Apostle and the cessation of revelatory spiritual gifts, demonic activity likewise has diminished and today we defeat demons not by signs and wonders and healings but with the power of the gospel.  I believe this is a weak argument based on silence and not Scripture.  It is seeking to a build a case from silence of why we in the modern Church do not see demons like they did in Acts.

I am well aware of the stories from Africa and other nations were demons are being interacted with.  I have talked with missionaries to Africa who say that they have seen demonic activity all across Africa but that the Church is confronting those demons with the power of Christ.  I have spoken with brothers from India who tell of temples of Hinduism that are full of demons.  One Indian brother told me that Westerners often get very sick around those temples even if not a Christian because of the level of demonic activity that goes on the inside of those Hindu temples.  I have had Indian brothers tell me about the power of Jesus healing demon possessed people.

So why the lack of demon possession in the United States and the West?  One African brother told me that he believed that demons not show themselves here in the US because of our trust in materialism.  He told me, “Brother, demons are active in the United States but they need not manifest themselves since you trust in riches.  Demons are behind your materialism and they have you trapped.  Why bother exposing themselves when their job is complete.”  This African brother told me that he has demons speak to him in Africa but never in the United States.  He did tell me that he once encountered a demon at a large mall.  He said that the demon possessed man merely walked over to him and growled like a dog at him.

Perhaps this brother is correct.  We trust in our technology here in the West.  You get sick.  You go to the doctor.  We have little trust in the supernatural or in trying to explain events using demons or the spirit world.  Our trust in modern science is such that we seek to explain everything and everything has an explanation.  Demonic activity is not one that you ever hear about.  I have had only one psychiatrist tell me that she often prays for wisdom to discern the demonic (1 Corinthians 12:10).  She said that it is difficult to discern if a demon is behind a person’s behavior or if the person is truly sick.  Either way, she said, she prays for healing and asks Jesus to intervene for His glory.  Wise woman.

To make matters even more difficult, the Epistles speak little to none of demons.  Paul mentions demons in 1 Corinthians 10:21.  Paul mentions Satan in 2 Corinthians 2:11.  He mentions Satan as the god of this world in 2 Corinthians 4:4.  Paul mentions the false god Belial in 2 Corinthians 6:15.  Paul mentions the deception of Satan in 2 Corinthians 11:14.  Paul mentions spiritual forces of evil in Ephesians 6:12.  Paul speaks of the activity of Satan in 2 Thessalonians 2:9.  He mentions deceitful spirits and teaching of demons in 1 Timothy 4:1.  James mentions demons in James 2:19.  Peter mentions spirits in prison in 1 Peter 3:19.  John mentions spirits in 1 John 4:1-3.  Revelation is full of demons and spirits and creatures such as we see in Revelation 9.

Yet that is pretty much it.  Demons rarely appear outside of the Gospels and Acts.  Paul never tells the churches he writes to cast out demons.  Some say that this would have been a given because of the words of Jesus in Mark 16:17.  I believe this another argument from silence.  Yet the same could be said of healing.  Paul never mentions for the church to be praying for healings to take place to draw people to Christ and apart from 1 Corinthians 12, he never speaks of healings.  James mentions healing in James 5:13-16.  So if we believe that the revelatory gifts such as tongues, interpretation of tongues, healings, and exorcisms were for the Apostles, then that is your argument for the lack of demonic activity in the modern Church and in the Epistles.

Either way, we know this: Jesus is victorious over demons.  His victory is seen in the cross and in His resurrection.  His victory is seen in the transformation of lives through the gospel (2 Corinthians 5:17).  His victory is seen in the defeat of Satan (Hebrews 2:14-15).  This victory is now experienced through the gospel.  Jesus is able to deliver us from sin and it’s power (Romans 6:1-23).  The Spirit of God delivers us completely from darkness into the kingdom of God’s Son (Colossians 1:13-14).  God has triumphed over all demons through the cross (Colossians 2:15).  Victory is ours in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:37-39).

November 2, 2011

The Occupy Protests: Don’t Store Up Treasure

This devotional thought by Shane Claiborne appeared last week at Out of Ur, a Christianity Today website.   You’re encouraged to read it there; but whether you stay there or here, it reads better if you’ve heard Shane and can imagine his voice speaking…

A reporter recently asked me, “As a Christian leader, does your faith have anything to say about Wall Street?” I said, “How much time do you have?”

Theologian Karl Barth said, “We have to read the Bible in one hand, and the newspaper in the other.” For too long we Christians have used our faith as a ticket out of this world rather than fuel to engage it.

In his parables, Jesus wasn’t offering pie-in-the-sky theology… he was talking about the real stuff of earth. He talks about wages, debt, widows and orphans, unjust business owners and bad politicians. In fact Woody Guthrie breaks it all down in his song “Jesus Christ.” The song ends with Woody singing, “This song was written in New York City. If Jesus were to preach what he preached in Galilee, they would lay him in his grave again.”

The more I read the Gospels, the more they seem to confront the very patterns of the world we live in. At one point Mary, pregnant with Jesus cries out: “God casts the mighty from their thrones and raises the lowly… God fills the hungry with good things and sends the rich away empty…”. You can’t help but think if she were alive in contemporary America some folks would try to accuse the Virgin Mother of being Marxist or promoting class warfare. But all through Scripture we see this–over 2000 verses about how God cares for the poor and most vulnerable.

What would Jesus say about Wall Street?

It doesn’t get much better than Luke chapter 12. Jesus begins by saying, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.” And then, as per usual, he tells a story. The story is about a rich man whose business makes it big. He has so much stuff he doesn’t know where to put it all. So he decides, “This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones… and I’ll say to myself, ‘You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.’” But Jesus says God looks down and is not happy.

God says to the rich man, “You fool! This very night you will die–and what will happen to all your stuff?” And Jesus ends the teaching by saying this is how things will be for folks who store up stuff for themselves.

It does make you wonder what to do about 401k’s and pensions. But it seems pretty clear that Jesus isn’t a big fan of stockpiling stuff in barns and banks, especially when folks are dying of starvation and preventable diseases.

One of the constant threads of Scripture is “Give us this day our daily bread.” Nothing more, nothing less. Underneath this admonition is the assumption that the more we store up for tomorrow the less people will have for today. And in a world where 1% of the world owns half the world’s stuff, we are beginning to realize that there is enough for everyone’s need, but there is not enough for everyone’s greed. Lots of folks are beginning to say, “Maybe God has a different dream for the world than the Wall Street dream.”

Maybe God’s dream is for us to live simply so that others may simply live. Maybe God’s dream is for the bankers to empty their banks and barns so folks have enough food for today.

Woody Guthrie may be right. If Jesus came to Wall Street preaching the same message that he preached in Galilee… he might land himself on a cross again.

~Shane Claiborne

October 28, 2011

Confronting Greed

As I write this, the “Occupy” protests are spreading around the world, and sadly, becoming more confrontational, as neighborhoods try to take back their public spaces, and police grow weary of trying to keep the peace, and the costs associated with so doing.

At the root of the protests is corporate and personal greed.  In many ways, the protests are borne out of the situation in the U.S., the other locations are merely copycat protests.  I don’t know the source of the stats which follow, but they purport to show the ratio between the take home pay of the average worker, and that of the average CEO:

At his blog, Dream Awakener, J. R. Woodward posts this classic prayer against greed in a blog item titled, Praying With Occupy Wall Street.

O Jesus, Who chose a life of poverty and obscurity; 

Grant me the grace to keep my heart detached from the transitory things of this world.

Let it be that henceforth, You are my only treasure, for You are infinitely more precious than all others possessions. My heart is too solicitous for the vain and fleeting things of earth.

Make me always mindful of Your warning words: “What does it profit a man if he gain the whole world, but suffer the loss of his own soul?”

Grant me the grace to keep Your holy example always before my eyes, that I may despise the nothingness of this world and make You the object of all my desires and affections.

Amen.

What should the Christian’s response be to the Occupy movement?  I believe the answer is rooted in Micah 6:8

No, O people, the Lord has told you what is good,
      and this is what he requires of you:
   to do what is right, to love mercy,
      and to walk humbly with your God. (NLT)

 

October 10, 2011

Our Lives are But a Breath

While the United States political system operates with two very dominant political parties, here in Canada, our provincial (state) and federal legislatures and parliament are usually comprised of representatives from three or more parties. Even as I type this on Thursday night, votes are being counted in my home province to determine who lead us and under a parliamentary system, the premier (governor) is the one whose party nets the most representatives.

At the federal level this spring, the unthinkable happened. While our national political scene has been dominated by the Conservative party and the Liberal party. But the third party, the New Democratic Party (NDP) was fronted by an affable — no, make that downright loveable — guy named Jack Layton, who, after all the votes were counted, became the first NDP leader to lead the official opposition.

But then, the unthinkable happened again. Cancer struck Jack Layton down rather swiftly at age 61, and instead of seeing what he might have done in the House of Commons, instead, we watched his state funeral.

I mention all that because I was struck by a number of similarities with the death of Apple Computer founder Steve Jobs. Both very likeable or even loveable guys, both struck down at the peak of their personal accomplishments; Jobs at only 56 years of age.

Life can be short.

Life can end suddenly.

And I can’t help think of a third person, a somewhat ‘once upon a time’ character that Jesus mentions in a parable, though when scripture says, ‘a certain man,’ though the general hermeneutic approach is to take this as hypothetical, I believe the omniscient Christ could have been drawing on a real character or a composite.

Luke 12 (NIV) 16 And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. 17He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’

18 “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. 19 And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’

20 “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’

Another guy at the top of his game. Planning to expand in one sense, but planning to coast a bit — we might call it entering some years of profit-taking — in another. But he never gets to enjoy his riches or see what happens next.

And into the shock of that sudden crisis, Jesus interjects another issue: the man seems to have no succession plan. There’s been no preparation for the next chapter, and suddenly it comes upon him.

Maybe the guy in the story has the wrong priorities, after all the parable comes after this:

15 Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.”

And he follows it up with his own prescription for how to relate to material things:

22 Then Jesus said to his disciples: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. 23 For life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. 24 Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! 25 Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life? 26Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?

27 “Consider how the wild flowers grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 28 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith! 29 And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. 30 For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. 31 But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.

One pastor we listen to online ends each sermon with, “Now go out and build the kingdom.” That’s what we’re here to do. Political empires will come and go and business fortunes will be amassed and then lost. Only what’s done for Christ will last.

Jack Layton was admirable in Canadian politics as also was Steve Jobs in American business. It would seem we lost both men all too soon. But let’s use the shortness of their lives as a reminder to make each day count, and to measure what ‘count’ means with eternity in view.

Now go out and build the kingdom.

August 23, 2011

Gimme, Gimme, Gimme

Today’s piece is from Arkansas pastor Rusty Blann’s blog,  S.O.A.P. For Today — it makes more sense when you note the outline below — where it appeared under the title…

“Manna, Manna, Manna or Holy, Holy, Holy?”

Scripture:

Numbers 11:1-6 The people fell to grumbling over their hard life. GOD heard. When he heard his anger flared; then fire blazed up and burned the outer boundaries of the camp. (2) The people cried out for help to Moses; Moses prayed to GOD and the fire died down. (3) They named the place Taberah (Blaze) because fire from GOD had blazed up against them. (4) The riff-raff among the people had a craving and soon they had the People of Israel whining, “Why can’t we have meat? (5) We ate fish in Egypt–and got it free!–to say nothing of the cucumbers and melons, the leeks and onions and garlic. (6) But nothing tastes good out here; all we get is manna, manna, manna.”

Observation:

The Israelites complained, and then Moses complained. But God responded positively to Moses and negatively to the rest of the people. Why? The people complained to one another, and nothing was accomplished. Moses took his complaint to God, who could solve any problem. Many of us are good at complaining to each other. We need to learn to take our problems to the One who can do something about them.

Every morning the Israelites drew back their tent doors and witnessed a miracle. Covering the ground was pale yellow, fluffy manna-food from heaven. But soon that wasn’t enough. Feeling it was their right to have more, they forgot what they already had. They didn’t ask God to fill their need; instead, they demanded meat, and they stopped trusting God to care for them. “Give us meat to eat!” (Numbers 11:13) they complained to Moses as they reminisced about the good food they had in Egypt. God gave them what they asked for, but they paid dearly for it when a plague struck the camp (Numbers 11:18-20; Numbers 11:31-34).

When you ask God for something, he may grant your request. But if you approach him with a sinful attitude, getting what you want may prove costly.

Application:

How does this apply to me?

Dissatisfaction comes when our attention shifts from what we have to what we don’t have. The people of Israel didn’t seem to notice what God was doing for them: setting them free, making them a nation, giving them a new land. They were so wrapped up in what God wasn’t doing for them. They could think of nothing but the delicious Egyptian food they had left behind. Somehow they forgot that the brutal whip of Egyptian slavery was the cost of eating that food.

Before we judge the Israelites too harshly, it’s helpful to think about what occupies our attention most of the time. Are we grateful for what God has given us, or are we always thinking about what we would like to have? We should not allow our unfulfilled desires to cause us to forget God’s gifts of life, food, health, work, and friends.

The Children of Israel did just that however. They found themselves complaining about the “blessings of God.” Every morning God would literally pour out blessings from heaven. They would look around and Manna from heaven was all around them. They became so accustomed to God caring for their needs, that their daily thanksgiving and praise slowly, and subtly turned to complaining. Then the words from their mouth and the meditation from their hearts were…”Manna, Manna, Manna.”

How often does my attitude reflect the same disregard for the loving care of provision of God? “Manna, Manna, Manna” I may say in disgust, instead of what should flow from my mouth when I think of my awesome God… “Holy, Holy, Holy.”

Prayer:

“Lord, I am so guilty of waking up in the morning and focusing immediately on the problems of the day instead of the potential. Focusing on the storm of the day instead of the peace. Focusing on the sickness of the day instead of the Healer. Focusing on the need of the day instead of the provider. Focusing on the battle for the day instead of the King of Kings. Focusing on the lack of today instead of the Lord for this day. I ask you to forgive me, for I truly repent of that kind of attitude. Every single day you bless me in ways that I often overlook. I find my attitude the same as the Children of Israel, and even though my words may not, my actions declare, “Manna, manna, manna.” I choose today to be thankful. For I am a blessed man, who serves an awesome, loving, providing God. You are creative in the ways that you bless me and my family. I love you Lord, and thank you for this day. I will rejoice and be glad in it…and thankful! In Jesus’ name, amen.”

~Rusty L. Blann

July 25, 2011

The Least of These

This very powerful, very transparent article appeared earlier in the month at the blog, Faith in the Margins, under the title Listen to Lazarus.

As most of you know I have had a hard time in Institutional Church. The IC tends in the main to run as a business with a hierarchical model – much like the ‘world’ Also much like the world the poor, the outcast, the socially inept, the single parent, the uneducated, and the homeless get mistreated, ignored and deprived of having any real voice or influence. As a poor divorced single parent from the wrong side of town I have suffered untold and told abuse at the hands of those who supposedly are shepherds of the flock. It has been the same for every other person from my background that I’ve taken to church. So what’s that all about?

I was praying this morning and asking God why he allowed myself and my children to be treated this way in ‘His’ church? Surely anyone with only a minimal knowledge of the Bible knows that much is said about protecting, nurturing and leading the widow and fatherless gently….
So why God why did you let us be so viciously treated at the hands of your very own ministers and leaders?

If your face and background fit you will never see or feel the abuse. That’s the problem. IC can be a great place to be an ‘acceptable christian’ – if you find favour with the leadership because your lifestyle, family and background are considered ‘acceptable’ It’s also a bonus if you have some hard cash to ‘give’ on a regular basis. This is the truth.

One day those who abused me, ignored and shunned me because I didn’t have the ‘right’ credentials will have to give an account to God for their actions. The thing is I don’t know anyone else personally who has spoken up about the way they have been treated by IC – I have watched so many from my background go to church and leave quite quickly – but they don’t have the courage to speak out. The middle classes scare them. They baffle them with eloquent speech and long words. They have money and power and influence.The poor are aware of their shortcomings. The IC causes the poor the uneducated and those who don’t ‘fit’ the required and acceptable mold of a believer to feel even more inadequate. The last thing they will want is a confrontation – on every human level they know they would lose – so they leave.

I hope and excuse me if this sounds a bit harsh…. I hope that on judgement day Jesus will bring every poor, rejected, lonely, outcast, homeless and desperate person I took to church into the great hall. Then he will bring the leaders of the church in who rejected, ignored and shunned them and then I hope he will ask them for an explanation and then I hope he will judge accordingly. Sounds to me a bit like a story Jesus told here about the rich man and Lazarus – but of course institutional church portrays this as a mere parable which ‘doesn’t have to be true in all its particulars………..’!!

We – all of us are without excuse if we mistreat the poor. The Bible is clear as to what awaits for those who behave this way…

What surprises me is the way so many Christians concentrate on showing and telling the world about their blessings of wonderful husbands/wives and families and Gods provision of their amazing church/house/car/holiday/promotion etc etc. Now this I agree is ok as long as it’s used as a vehicle to reach out and tell those who don’t have all the above that God can intervene in their lives and give the same things to them. All too often the church keeps the blessings to itself. The members keep the blessings within the confines of the church family and congratulate themselves for being so holy and worthy to receive these gifts. Bullshit.

Do these Christians ever stop and think what their boasting does to those in the gutter who have lost their spouse, their homes, their jobs, their self respect and are struggling to survive?

I don’t recall Jesus ever going on like this. Hang on, I know, remember the time he walked right up to a disabled, homeless guy on the pavement and told him how God had blessed him with amazing legs so he could walk run and skip. Of course then Jesus went home and wrote all about it on his blog telling the world about how God had blessed him….. I think not. Jesus was too humble and thoughtful to do that!

If I ever do get ‘blessed’ with a spouse and my own home and the regular comforts all my christians brothers and sisters consider ‘blessings’ I will not speak about them as I would not want to cause even more pain and heartache for those who have not or worse still, had but lost.

These are the blessings Jesus spoke about so I have no problem with anyone boasting about these…

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are you when men shall hate you, and when they shall exclude and mock you, and throw out your name as evil, for the Son of Man’s sake.
Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven, for their fathers did the same thing to the prophets.
“But woe to you who are rich!
For you have received your consolation.
Woe to you, you who are full now,
for you will be hungry.
Woe to you who laugh now,
for you will mourn and weep.
Woe, when men speak well of you,
for their fathers did the same thing to the false prophets.

Well I didn’t plan for this post to go this way… but it has got me thinking about all those happy blessed, full and highly regarded christians out there…… who like to write endless blog posts showing just how much they have and how richly God has blessed them….. Taking into account the above verses the ‘blessings’ they so want to ram down our throats are not from God at all!!! I’m not saying christians shouldn’t write about Gods provision or Gods healing power or Gods intervention in their lives – that’s fine and good as testimony is always uplifting. But ‘bragging’ about a ‘blessing’ that God doesn’t even call a blessing is wrong and very hurtful to those who are struggling and suffering and ‘have not.’

I recently had some correspondence with a christian (no-one who reads my blog!) who constantly goes on about ‘his’ and ‘his’ families ‘blessings’ I challenged him about this and explained how it could be very hurtful to those who had nothing. He disagreed and was very self righteous with me so much so it had me quite tearful, I deleted his last message as I am not clever enough to respond using the kind of language he uses and also as a woman who has already been so abused and downtrodden by the IC I just don’t have the strength to fight what he says. He has a huge following in the States and is well respected, maybe I’m wrong or misguided – i don’t know, all I know is that Jesus measures our Christianess by how it impacts (for the good) on the ‘least’ among us. (Matthew 25:31-46)

This is an unfinished post which has sat in my drafts for 6 months. I’m posting it anyway today as it is as I continue to grapple with the issues mentioned here myself.

March 16, 2011

Francis Chan: Do Not Assume You Are Good Soil


…the American church is a difficult place to fit in if you want to live out New Testament Christianity…

The above quotation, and what follows below belong to Francis Chan.  I’m probably the last person in the world to finally get around to reading Crazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God, but when a book finishes as the number one book for 2010 in most Christian bookstore markets, I think that we all need to sit up and take notice of what people are reading…

In the parable of the sower, Jesus explained that the seed is the truth (the word of God).  When the seed is flung onto the path it is heard but quickly stolen away. When the seed is tossed onto the rocks, no roots take hold; there is an appearance of depth and growth because of the good soil, but it is only surface level. When the seed is spread among the thorns, it is received but soon sufficated by life’s worries, riches and pleasures. But when the seed is sown in good soil, it grows, takes root and produces fruit.

My caution to you is this: Do not assume you are good soil.

I think most American churchgoers are the soil that chokes the seed because of all thorns.  Thorns are anything that distracts us from God. When we want God and a bunch of other stuff then that means we have thorns in our soil. A relationship with God simply cannot grow when money, sins, activities, favorite sports teams, addictions or commitments are piled on top of it.

Most of us, have too much in our lives.  As David Goetz writes, “Too much of the good life ends up being toxic deforming us spiritually.”  A lot of things are good by themselves but all of it together keeps us from living healthy, fruitful lives for God.

I will say it again: Do not assume you are good soil.

-Francis Chan

April 19, 2010

Wanting God’s Gifts Instead of God

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:54 pm
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Today’s 201 post is from Pete Wilson’s blog, Without Wax

I used the following  A.W. Tozer quote from The Pursuit of God in Plan B but hadn’t read it in quite some time until last week. It’s been messing with me ever since.

There is within the human heart a tough fibrous root of fallen life whose nature is to possess, always possess. It covets “things” with a deep and fierce passion. The pronouns “my” and “mine” look innocent enough in print, but their constant and universal use is significant…

They are verbal symptoms of our deep disease. The roots of our hearts have grown down into things, and we dare not pull up one root lest we die. Things have become necessary to us, a development never originally intended. God’s gifts now take the place of God, and the whole course of nature  is upset by the monstrous substitution.

I’m saddened by how often I fall for the monstrous substitution allowing God’s gifts to take the place of God.

The pitiful reality is…

My worship.

My prayer.

My crying out.

It’s often not about God at all. It’s about what I want Him to give me.

I don’t want more of God. I want more of what I think He can give me.