Christianity 201

September 16, 2022

Taking the Bypass Around the Valley of the Shadow

Lately when I’m on YouTube or watching television, I’ve been more aware of references to the Interstate Highway system in the United States. Many of these pass directly through the downtown sections of major cities, and since many drivers will prefer to avoid the congestion, there are also ‘bypass’ routes, sometimes called ‘spurs.’ So with I-75 there might be a I-275, or I-475 offered to you as you approach a metropolitan area. Basically, these help you avoid the pain.

Which brings us to today’s devotional…

NLT II Tim 3: 12 Yes, and everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.

It was one of those big outdoor festivals in the late ’70s. The speaker was an up-and-coming youth evangelist, and for the purpose of making a point that day he was deliberately misquoting scripture:

“Yes, and some who endeavor to live godly lives in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.” 

Some?

No, it doesn’t say that. And people started yelling up what it does say from the crowd: “All, all, it says ‘all.’”

We got the message. Or did we?

Years later, I had to be somewhere, but I had a few minutes in the car, and I immediately fell into a familiar pattern, “Lord, I pray for the people suffering under religious oppression right now that you would deliver — “

And then I stopped.

Deliver them? That’s the typical North American or Western European response. Get me the heck out of here.

But when you talk to people who have dealt with religious persecution that can mean torture, imprisonment or death, they never ask that we pray for deliverance, but that God would give them the grace to endure it and the presence of His Holy Spirit in the middle of it.

Psalm 23 talks about going through tough circumstances:

MSG Ps. 23: 4a Even when the way goes through
Death Valley,
I’m not afraid
when you walk at my side.

Our interpretation is often

“Even though I walk around the valley of the shadow of death…” 

To which the crowd should yell out, “Through, through, it says ‘go through.’

How you feel about such things will affect how you pray. I posted some of these thoughts nearly a decade ago, and at the time the title was, “Pray For Them, Yes; But Pray What Specifically?”

We want to pray for the persecuted. We want to pray for the suffering. But do we have a theology of persecution? Have we ever examined ourselves to see what is our personal theology of suffering?

For the record, if I am dealing with physical, mental or emotional suffering, probably every part of me will cry out for you to please pray that I will see relief from it. But should you pray that for me if God is teaching me something through it? Or should you pray that I experience God’s presence in the middle of it and learn the lesson he is teaching me?

That would be a difficult question. Especially if I’m asking you to pray for healing and you say, “Lord, I pray that our brother will learn the lessons you’re teaching him through this illness.” Huh? That isn’t what I asked you.

With persecution it’s more difficult. We want to see the end of political and social regimes that block justice and oppress people. We want them to see relief from it. We want it to end.

On the flip side, we also want to avoid questioning God’s presence in the middle of suffering and persecution; the line of reasoning that asks, ‘Where was God when __________ was happening?’

While you’re pondering that, let’s throw one more spice into the soup.

What about your theology of end times or what’s called eschatology? If you believe in a rapture doctrine, is it consistent with scripture to believe that the church will be removed from the suffering association with the period called ‘the tribulation,’ or is it more consistent to believe that the church will be faced with enduring it?

I’m not saying one way or another right now, I’m just saying that if we begin to understand a theology of suffering and a theology of persecution then we may want to think about our theology of tribulation.


We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed. Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies. Yes, we live under constant danger of death because we serve Jesus, so that the life of Jesus will be evident in our dying bodies.
– 2 Cor. 4: 8-11 NLT

 

May 16, 2022

The Business (and Ministry) of Making Connections

Some of you know that I’m involved with a Christian bookstore. (Yes, there’s still a couple left!) The thoughts below are something I shared with our customers on the weekend…


Part of our mission at Searchlight is to get people connected to local congregations. So it would be easy for me to sit here and type something like, “Okay, people; it’s been more than two years, it’s time to get plugged in once more to a local church.”

Instead, I want to come at this from the other direction. I want to celebrate the people who, against odds we’re all familiar with, have remained faithful to church attendance (in-person as much as possible) for the last 24+ months. Faithfulness is not just an admirable quality, it’s listed as one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit. Your dedication and perseverance is seen and will, one hopes, inspire others.

We can be faithful because God is faithful toward us. Proverbs 3:3-4 (NLT) reads,

Let love and faithfulness never leave you;
bind them around your neck,
write them on the tablet of your heart.
Then you will win favor and a good name
in the sight of God and man.

I am so grateful for the example of people who have “stuck it out” during the ministry season of 2020 and 2021 (and now this year as well.) For these people “pulling back” from Christian service was simply not an option.

Another mission of our store is to connect people and resources, so it’s especially painful when those resources simply don’t exist in our community. Wednesday morning a young man came in the store who is without an address to call home. Yes, there are shelters but unless you’ve actually spent a night in a shelter, it’s only an academic exercise to talk about them.

Then on Thursday morning, the devotional reading that lands first-thing on my phone was from James 2:15-16.

“Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, and you say, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well”—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do?” (NLT)

We do have people in our community who lack clothing — a national event called “The Big Give” is coming up in a few weeks, and clothing will be handed out — and people with food insecurity, but the Bible doesn’t speak as much to the equivalent challenge of our day, homelessness. Perhaps when the scriptures were written it was the warmer climate, or that family units cared more for their own. But for us today in North America, it’s the affordable housing crisis.

And yet, after talking to him about possibilities, I did the VERY SAME THING that the verse tells us not to do, and, as is my habit when people are walking out the door, I said, “Bless you; have a good day.” Talk about Brain Cramp Encounters of the Worst Kind.

I felt so empty, not being able to give him the one thing he needs more than anything right now. I just don’t have the contacts, and we have other acquaintances who are literally living in a tent on the north shore of Lake Ontario. That’s their home. And was all winter.

It just hurt to not be able to reach into my pocket and pull out a business card and say, “Call these people, they’ll set you up.” I could more easily pull a rabbit out of a hat these days.

I was reminded of a poem which was making the rounds at least two decades ago that is a riff on a Bible passage that is known well by readers here. I’m not sure if anyone knows who wrote this:

I was hungry …
And you formed humanities groups to discuss my hunger.

I was imprisoned …
And you crept off quietly to your church and prayed for my release.

I was naked …
And in your mind you debated the morality of my appearance.

I was sick …
And you knelt and thanked God for your health.

I was homeless …
And you preached to me of the spiritual shelter of the love of God.

I was lonely …
And you left me alone to pray for me.

You seem so holy, so close to God …
But I am still hungry … and lonely … and cold …

The challenges for people without a fixed address can seem endless. But there are people doing what they can to help, day in and day out, because of the thing we started out mentioning: Faithfulness. One way to find out exactly where your help is most needed and appreciated might come through a local church connection.

Which brings us full circle. The capital “C” Church is making a difference in the world, but there’s so much work spread out ahead of us. You can be a part in making a difference.

October 1, 2021

Whose Name Is Slandered? Translations Vary

This is an amended version of one of the devotions posted here eleven years ago, when C201 was just starting out. It’s also one where we see clearly that not all Bible translations read the same on all verses, and a quick reading will leave readers walking away with different impressions as to what the verse refers.

James 2: 5-7 (New International Version)

5 Listen, my dear brothers: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? 6 But you have insulted the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? 7 Are they not the ones who are slandering the noble name of him to whom you belong?

Verse seven of this passage says it is the rich who drag you into court and slander… well, who do they slander? Is it the name of (a) God, (b) Jesus, (c) your family name, i.e. surname (d) your name?

I got curious after reading the new CEB, Common English Bible:

Aren’t they the ones who insult the good name spoken over you at your baptism?

I guess I read this in the context of certain cultures where the baptism of an infant is also a “naming ceremony.” With John the Baptist, this took place when he was circumcised at eight days old. (Luke 1:57ff)

The NASB has James 2:7 as:

Do they not blaspheme the fair name by which you have been called?

The Message has:

Aren’t they the ones who scorn the new name—”Christian”—used in your baptisms?

The NLT reads:

Aren’t they the ones who slander Jesus Christ, whose noble name you bear?

The ESV renders this:

Are they not the ones who blaspheme the honorable name by which you were called?

The NKJV has:

Do they not blaspheme that noble name by which you are called?

The NCV puts it:

And they are the ones who speak against Jesus, who owns you.

The TNIV says:

Are they not the ones who are blaspheming the noble name of him to whom you belong?

The Louis Segond reads:

Ne sont-ce pas eux qui outragent le beau nom que vous portez? [name you are called]

The Amplified Bible blends the two aspects of this:

Is it not they who slander and blaspheme that precious name by which you are distinguished and called [the name of Christ invoked in baptism]?

I have to admit, I like that last one. The Amplified Bible seems to cover all the bases.

So what’s in a name?

The context of the passage is the rich exploiting the poor. That this is an insult to the character of the poor man so exploited.

Our name embodies who we are; our character is embedded in that name. And in addition to blending the two dynamics of this, The Amplified Bible (which I don’t use a whole lot) introduces the phrase, “name by which you are distinguished.” Your name marks you as different from everybody else. (Unless, I suppose, your name is John Smith…)

But we also bear another name, the name of Christ.

Any insult to us; any exploitation of you or me is an insult to Christ. I think the answer to the question I asked here is truly (e) all of the above.

But James isn’t just saying that we poor people are exploited. The earlier context (including verses 1-4) say that in the larger equation we are the ‘rich’ person in the story when we show favoritism, or when we marginalize those poorer than ourselves. (I wonder if some of the translations quoted take those earlier four verses into account?)

It’s easy to miss verse 6, sandwiched between verses 5 and 7. We’re actually the rich person in the story; it is us who are slandering the character of the poor; and thereby slandering the name of Christ by which they are called.


Here’s a different take on the subject of names from 2017; click here.

June 25, 2021

God’s Intention for Us is Generosity

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
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A year ago we introduced you to the apologetics website with the unusual title, Theist Thug Life. This article was co-authored by Daniel Serrano and Phillip Mast. Click the header below to read at source, then click the page header there to look at other articles.

Christian Responsibility in Charity: Reasons for Forsaking Dependence on Government to Fulfill our Role

For Christians, a well-known command in scripture from our Lord and Savior, Jesus, is to love our neighbor as yourself (Mark 11:21). An important aspect of that command is what we know as charity. Examples of charity in scripture go as far back as leaving wheat on the ground in your fields for the poor, as found in Deuteronomy 24:19, to the famous Parable of the good Samaritan found in Luke 10:25-37. We also see instructions to carry each other’s burdens by Paul in Galatians 6:2 and provide for requests as Jesus mentions in Luke 6:30. There is inherently nothing that can be used to argue against such actions by us who profess Christ. For some time, especially of late, there arises an issue relating to our giving: What about when the government steps in and takes your money to help your neighbor? Some have argued that this is still obedience to us being commanded to care for others because you’re helping in a way. Is such an objection grounds for thinking we do not have to do more because we have helped via the government? Not so fast.

Personal Responsibility in Caring for Others

Certain Christians are called to certain roles and responsibilities, such as fathers leading their homes, pastors leading their flocks, government officials serving in their capacities, Godly women teaching the younger women how to also be Godly women, etc. Then there are certain responsibilities for ALL Christians. Charity is one such area. Every Christian is commanded to provide assistance to those within their sphere of influence when able. This is NOT accomplished by the government becoming an intermediary between the giver and the recipient, as it robs the relationship. Scripture clearly instructs that WE are called to provide the blessing, not pay government officials to take our money and do what we are commanded to do in our place. Not only is this wasteful of resources but it is also disobedient. If a man paid somebody else to be a father to his children and a husband to his wife, we would rightly look at him as if he was crazy but we turn around and have no problem outsourcing our charitable acts. It isn’t surprising why though. We have excuses ranging from laziness, to convenience, to pride and this is done often forgetting that we’re better off than others only by the grace of God. Very easily, the situations could reverse themselves and we’d find ourselves in need. Upon these thoughts, here are four things to think about.

1. A helping hand breeds gratefulness and relationship between giver and recipient. When a friend helps you, it deepens your bond. As Christians, we are called to community; we were made for community. When the church or you as an individual help others, a bond is forged between both parties. We also show who Christ is through such acts of love and generosity of being there for someone when they really need it. There is no such bond or representation of Christ to others when the government is the one providing the help. Ask yourself, “What need is there for the church or you if the government is left to do the giving?”

2. You are called to do things and give with a cheerful heart. In 2 Corinthians 9:6-7 we read,

“The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”

By the very nature of taxes, giving cheerfully and not under compulsion cannot be accomplished. When you pay taxes, you do so out of obligation to the authorities to avoid being jailed. Paying taxes is enforced by threat of gun is another way to put it. This is contrasted with when you freely give. In this way, you get to prayerfully and cheerfully decide the manner, amount, and method of charity you participate in.

3. By delegating or allowing others to do so in your place, it is a form of pride. God Himself came to provide for us when we couldn’t. If we are to emulate Him, to truly imitate Christ, we ourselves must go and provide. From John 3:16 to James 2:14-17 to Matthew 25:35-45, we see the individual being the agent of the blessing. Why do we gloss over this and think we can fob off blessing others to the government? Do you think your time is too important, or look down on those less fortunate? Beware; this is a dangerous place of pride. Those of us blessed with more or within improved circumstances are only better off because of His mercy. God makes no mistakes in where and when he places each of us. He is likewise not mistaken in placing you purposefully to reflect who he is to others.  Further, scripture such as James 1:27 demands proximity to the unfortunate.

4. Charity doesn’t consist of only money, but can be your time as well. Having worked in a food bank for many years, it was amazing to see the love shared without the need for a monetary exchange. Once a month, groceries would be provided without cost thanks to donations from grocery stores and private purchases. As a teenager going from being a recipient of the groceries to also being able to give them out to others in similar situations, I was able to understand and live Romans 12:13 where it says, “Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.” To see Acts 2:44-45 embodied, Christians sacrificing with happy hearts to help the community while others were the manpower behind it, is to see the heart of God. This cannot be done behind a government bureaucracy.

5. Following God’s Leading in Giving is also a form of Worship. I live in the United States and money is king in many respects. Often we see people spend large amounts of time to getting it, some sacrificing their lives to work in order to gain it. Many will use money as a means of getting power and opulence or trying to acquire it to give themselves a life of comfort and pleasure. No matter what, Society often equates having money with having security. There is no such thing however. We seeing the living embodiment of 1 Timothy 6:10 present,

“For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.”

When we choose not to hold onto the money we have but give, as we are able and as God leads us, we are making a decision to reject the temptation to love money and instead love God and the things of God. When we are willing to cheerfully give, even sacrificially, money does not hold control as it does to those of the world. We must recognize that everything belongs to God. What we have belongs to God and we are merely given stewardship of his possessions. How can we hoard up for ourselves what is God’s? We can’t! We worship God by thanking him for that which we have and being willing to pass on those things to others who have need. When money is not the object but a means, we forego loving it.

Moving Forward

At the end of it all, I am only against government charity because it shows the failings of the church. We are commanded to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, to visit the widow and orphan and more in conjunction with preaching the Gospel. The church body needs to be obedient to Scripture and such obedience disallows us from punting the responsibility we have to the secular institution. It is the church’s responsibility, and as such I admonish everybody to honestly look inside and reflect on these matters. Where have you been blessed by God in order to be able to bless others? Think of your finances, your talents, and your time. God gifts each of us with certain blessings and talents that fit purposefully within the body of Christ. Those blessed with more have increased opportunity to use what God has made them stewards of to bless those he places around us.

A word of caution for those blessed with more: Don’t think for a moment that God has given you more so that you can sit back, relax through life and think of your comfort and desires. No, God’s intent is for us all to know him and be the church. We may indeed enjoy things in life, take a moment to relax and find some comfort but don’t let those blessings become an idol.

A word of caution for those less fortunate: Don’t envy those who have much. Don’t allow jealousy to consume your heart when it should be filled with the joy of the Lord. This doesn’t mean you wont experience difficulties but don’t let those difficulties grow resentment. God has also richly given to you certain abilities and talents others do no possess. God has purposefully place you where you are and when you are for a reason and put people in your sphere of influence others won’t have immediate access to. Pray and ask God for guidance on where to see how God can work in and through you.

Matthew 25:35-40 says it all:

“For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me,  I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’  Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you?  And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’  And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’”

June 14, 2021

For Those Who Have No Home

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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It seems to me that God has put us who bear his Message on stage in a theater in which no one wants to buy a ticket. We’re something everyone stands around and stares at, like an accident in the street. We’re the Messiah’s misfits. You might be sure of yourselves, but we live in the midst of frailties and uncertainties. You might be well-thought-of by others, but we’re mostly kicked around. Much of the time we don’t have enough to eat, we wear patched and threadbare clothes, we get doors slammed in our faces, and we pick up odd jobs anywhere we can to eke out a living. When they call us names, we say, “God bless you.” When they spread rumors about us, we put in a good word for them. We’re treated like garbage, the leftovers that nobody wants. And it’s not getting any better. – The Apostle Paul in I Cor. 4; The Message

Last week the front page story on our local weekly newspaper concerned a woman who was facing eviction because her landlord is selling the rental home where she lives. She literally has no place to go because the area where we live is in crisis when it comes to available affording housing.

A church we attended had a manse which was no longer used. Depending on the configuration, or the willingness of tenants to share some common spaces, it could have been transformed into four rental units, and the congregation agreed to do this. However, some back room deals took place and suddenly the property was transformed into offices for a non-profit which, ironically, advocates for affordable housing.

I know we just referred to GotQuestions.org a few days ago, but they have an excellent article on this subject,

The Bible acknowledges the fact of homelessness and instructs us to help those who are poor and needy, including those in homeless situations.

Jesus could identify with the homeless in His itinerant ministry. In Matthew 8:20, Jesus states that even animals have a place to call home, but He had nowhere to lay His head. He stayed in the homes of whoever would welcome Him and sometimes outside. He was born in a stable and even spent His last night before His crucifixion outside in a garden. The apostle Paul was also at times in a homeless situation (1 Corinthians 4:11).

God expects His people to help those who are homeless…

…The Bible does not shy away from the difficult and unpleasant reality that some people have experienced terrible setbacks and hardships in their lives, even to the point of becoming destitute. The Bible recognizes that poverty, social injustice, and homelessness are real problems that constantly plague society…

Here, in no particular order, are some scripture verses about poverty and homelessness.

Those who exploit the powerless anger their maker, while those who are kind to the poor honor God. – Prov. 14:31 CEB


He catches the wise in their own clever traps
and sweeps away the plans of those who try to trick others.
Darkness covers them up in the daytime;
even at noon they feel around in the dark.
God saves the needy from their lies
and from the harm done by powerful people.
So the poor have hope,
while those who are unfair are silenced.
Feed the hungry,
and help those in trouble. – Job 5: 13-16 NCV


Then your light will shine out from the darkness,
and the darkness around you will be as bright as noon. – Isaiah 58:10 NLT


[B]ut during the seventh year let the land lie unplowed and unused. Then the poor among your people may get food from it, and the wild animals may eat what is left. Do the same with your vineyard and your olive grove. – Ex. 23:11 NIV


If there is among you anyone in need, a member of your community in any of your towns within the land that the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hard-hearted or tight-fisted toward your needy neighbor. You should rather open your hand, willingly lending enough to meet the need, whatever it may be. Be careful that you do not entertain a mean thought, thinking, “The seventh year, the year of remission, is near,” and therefore view your needy neighbor with hostility and give nothing; your neighbor might cry to the Lord against you, and you would incur guilt. Give liberally and be ungrudging when you do so, for on this account the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake. Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you, “Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land.” – Deut. 15:7-11 NRSV


Unfortunately, there will always be poor people throughout the country. That’s why I’m giving you this command: give generously to your fellow Israelite, to the poor and needy in the land. – v. 11 above; The Voice


“Do not mistreat foreigners who are living in your land. Treat them as you would an Israelite, and love them as you love yourselves. Remember that you were once foreigners in the land of Egypt. I am the Lord your God. – Leviticus 19:33-34 GNT


“But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” – Luke 14:13-14 ESV


Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens, and birds have nests. But the Son of Man doesn’t have a place to call his own.” – Matt. 8:20 CEV


Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will repay him for his deed. – Prov. 19:17 ESV


Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had arrogance, plenty of food, and carefree ease, but she did not help the poor and needy. – Ezekiel 16:49 NASB


“If one of your fellow Israelites falls into poverty and cannot support himself, support him as you would a foreigner or a temporary resident and allow him to live with you. 36 Do not charge interest or make a profit at his expense. Instead, show your fear of God by letting him live with you as your relative.” – Leviticus 25:35,36 NLT


Imagine a brother or sister who is naked and never has enough food to eat. What if one of you said, “Go in peace! Stay warm! Have a nice meal!”? What good is it if you don’t actually give them what their body needs? – James 2:15-16 CEB


I was hungry, and you gave me food. I was thirsty, and you gave me something to drink. I was alone and away from home, and you invited me into your house. I was without clothes, and you gave me something to wear. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’
“Then the good people will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and give you food, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you alone and away from home and invite you into our house? When did we see you without clothes and give you something to wear? When did we see you sick or in prison and care for you?’
“Then the King will answer, ‘I tell you the truth, anything you did for even the least of my people here, you also did for me.’ – Matthew 25:35-40 NCV

February 1, 2019

Never Say “The Bible Doesn’t Talk About Politics”

This is our second time featuring the writing of Craig Greenfield, founder and director of Alongsiders International and author of Subversive Jesus: An Adventure in Justice and Mercy in a Broken World.

Yes the Bible talks about politics. All the time.

You’ve heard it.  I’ve heard it.

We’ve all heard it.

“Jesus was never political. He was only interested in saving souls and building his church.”

The problem is, the Bible is a very political book. And the scriptures have a LOT to say about how we should organize ourselves as a society.

Remember all that stuff about orphans, widows and foreigners that Jesus emphasized? That’s deeply political. Because we vote for people who make decisions about the poor, on our behalf. That’s what our love looks like in public.

Now Jesus was no Republican. Nor was he a Democrat. And he wasn’t a capitalist OR a socialist.

As Jim Wallis says, “The right doesn’t get it. And the left gets it wrong.”

The way of Jesus is the Third Way.

And this Jesus-way of bringing his Kingdom, ON EARTH as it is in heaven – has a lot of political implications.

Look at the context. Almost the entire Bible is written by people living in the shadow of one political Empire or another. The first readers of our scriptures were slaves and fugitives, fishermen and fools. They were the oppressed of Egypt, the exiled in Babylon, and the peasants under Roman occupation.

And so, it made perfect sense that Jesus would choose to come as one of those underdogs of a political Empire—a vulnerable child with nowhere to go, his parents shuffled about by the Roman demand for a census.

But here’s what we miss about Jesus’ birth. There are really only two goals in carrying out a major census – the kind that framed his entry into the world. Just two reasons to go to all that extra expense and bureaucratic hassle to count every single head in the entire Roman world (Lk 2:1).

The first reason is to determine the number of people who can pay taxes.

And the second, is to figure out the number of men who can fight in an army.

Tax and War.  Money and Power. Politics.

In other words, the birth of Christ took place in the shadow of the twin pillars of a typical political Empire: economic power and military might.

Isn’t it interesting then, that when Jesus’ cousin John the Baptist is asked what it means to repent, he directly addresses the representatives of those two pillars of Empire by calling on the tax collectors (representing economic power) and the soldiers (representing military might) to act with justice (Lk 3:12-14).

Then, Jesus comes along preaching a radical alternative to this type of Empire. Something he called the Kingdom of God (or as Matthew calls it, the Kingdom of Heaven).

Jesus’ subversive Upside-Down Kingdom stands in stark contrast to the way we like to do politics. It’s something that will come on earth as it is in heaven.

Whereas Empire comes on a white military horse wielding weapons of shock and awe, the Upside-Down Kingdom comes on a donkey’s back and says love your enemy, even if he crucifies you. That’s a deeply political stance.

Whereas Empire consolidates power and says let’s make our nation great, the Upside-Down Kingdom kneels with a towel and washes feet, saying I come to serve – even those of other tribes. That’s a deeply political stance.

Whereas Empire honors the influential and celebrates the celebrity, the Upside-Down Kingdom welcomes little refugee children and gives food to the hungry. That’s a deeply political stance.

Whereas Empire is about power and status and tax breaks for the rich, the Upside-Down Kingdom is led by a handful of unemployed fishermen, rejected bureaucrats, a prostitute and some failed revolutionaries. That’s a deeply political stance.

Whereas Empire is a rat race to the top, the Upside-Down Kingdom says the last should be first, losers are winners, and the most important among us will do the dishes. That’s a deeply political stance.

Such a radical alternative to the Empire could only lead to one outcome – the leader being silenced and murdered by the State. And that’s exactly what happened.

The fake divide between our personal morality and political morality is a lie. We vote for the kind of society Jesus wants – or we don’t.

The Bible is deeply concerned about how a nation treats its poor, which is a political issue (though you might argue about how a government can do this most effectively).

The nation of Israel was punished for its disobedience in this regard:

“‘Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. They were haughty and did detestable things before me. Therefore I did away with them as you have seen.” (Ezekiel 16:48-50)

Here’s the problem. Many of us live lives that are comfortable enough to be untouched by politics.

We’re not affected by refugee quotas, or welfare systems, or how much money is put into inner city schools.

We can do what we want, go where we want, and educate our kids in whatever damn school we want.

We can wash our hands of politics, and turn away from our poor neighbors. We can insulate ourselves from the needs of the world and make our faith a private, individual affair..

And our hyper-personalized theology reflects that privilege.

But instead, I’d like to invite you to consider a different path. I invite you to walk amongst the poor… Read Mary’s Song (Lk 1:46-55)… Visit a refugee holding center… Stay overnight in a slum… Find some way, somehow, to overlap with those on the margins.

And then tell me government policies don’t matter for the orphan, the widow and the foreigner – and that Jesus doesn’t care about all that.

Cos our faith is always personal, but never private.

July 23, 2018

Seeing Jesus in Those Around Us

A year ago we introduced you to Ed Cyzewski who we’ve mentioned many times at Thinking Out Loud, but that was his first appearance at C201. We recently paid another visit and found an article we hope connects with people here. Click the title below to read at source.

Do I See Jesus in the People Around Me?

Why don’t I help people who are in need?

The possible reasons are plentiful:

Am I in a hurry? Are financial concerns making me less generous? Do I have other priorities for my time and resources? Do I think someone isn’t worthy of help and needs to be more responsible? Do I believe the other person is just looking for a way to take advantage of me? Do I feel unsafe because the person in need may be high or intoxicated?

Depending on the situation, I’ve been all over the map when it comes to helping others. Sometimes I’ve initiated help, sometimes I’ve responded positively, sometimes I’ve offered limited help, and sometimes I have not offered any help at all. Perhaps money really is tight during that month, but other times I just don’t want to be a sucker. Thoughts of self-preservation can be legitimate at times, but often it’s just a convenient way to sound reasonable in my own selfishness.

When I refuse to help others, the focus is often myself. I’m considering my needs and my personal comfort. I don’t identify with them. That is what makes a passage like Matthew 25 so striking. Jesus identifies with those in need to the point that any generous act toward others is considered a generous act toward Jesus.

Am I able see Jesus in other people?

More importantly, do I see Jesus in the people I am most likely to overlook or to dismiss?

That is the whole crux of how Jesus judged those who helped or neglected to help the sick, immigrant, poorly clothed, imprisoned, and hungry. Those who cared for these people were the ones who, perhaps unexpectedly, served Jesus by serving the overlooked people of this world. Those who neglected them had neglected Jesus himself.

“And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’”
Matthew 25:40, NRSV

“Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’”
Matthew 25:45, NRSV

It’s as if Jesus is trying to snap us out of our self-centered daily outlooks in order to perceive the God-given worth and dignity of each person.  He wants us to imagine that we are serving Jesus himself so that we don’t get lost in the situation or the worthiness of the other person.

And if imagining such a thing remains a stretch for us when we serve others, perhaps we have a clue to consider the state of our own hearts and our awareness of God’s love for us. If we are even uninclined to serve Jesus himself, then we know we have a focus on self that must be addressed.

The hope is that the generous love of God in our lives transforms us, reminds us daily of how great God’s mercy has been for us, and prompts us to show the same love and mercy to others.

 

November 4, 2016

Advocacy: Joining Our Voices With Those Whose Cause Is Important

Today we’re paying a return visit to writer Dr. Gregory Crofford. His blog is titled “Theology in Overalls – Where Theology Meets Everyday Life” and in the article we’re using today, we see that intersection of theology and practical concern, or as some would say, the meeting of orthodoxy with orthopraxy.

Click the title below to read this at its source.

Holiness as compassionate advocacy

When asked the nature of holiness, John Wesley (1703-91) often pointed to Mark 12:28-31. All of the commandments are summed up in just two: Love God and love your neighbor. This love is the essence of holiness and it is the foundation of all compassion.

In recent years, we’ve spoken of compassionate evangelism. Now it is time to lift the banner of compassionate advocacy. Advocacy is concerned for social justice. As such, it is hardly a distraction from Gospel work. Rather, it is part-and-parcel of the church’s holistic Good News. In his article, “Social Justice in the Bible,” Dominik Markl notes:

Prophets such as Isaiah and Amos raise their voices on behalf of the poor and the marginalised, those belonging to the ‘weaker’ social groups. God himself prescribes a brotherly and sisterly social order in his Torah, and, in the same divine wisdom, Jesus develops a Christian ethics of love.

Those who are not followers of Christ will judge those of us who are by how we treat people who have nothing to offer in return. Right now on the Standing Rock Sioux Indian Reservation in North Dakota, a few thousand Native Americans – water protectors, as they call themselves – are peacefully resisting the construction of a pipeline across their land. Their concern is that the pipeline is to pass under the Missouri River, potentially fouling its waters with oil in case of a spill. This is hardly an imaginary threat. On July 1, 2011, such a spill polluted the Yellow Stone River. So muscular has been the response to the current standoff in North Dakota that Amnesty International is sending human rights observers.

Why should followers of Christ care? The simplest answer is that we should care about what Jesus cares about. Isaiah 42:1-4a (CEB) is a prophecy of the coming Messiah:

But here is my servant, the one I uphold; my chosen, who brings me delight. I’ve put my spirit on him, and he will bring justice to the nations. He won’t cry out or shout aloud or make his voice heard in public He won’t break a bruised reed; he won’t extinguish a faint wick, but he will surely bring justice. He won’t be extinguished or broken until he has established justice in the land.

As a nation, we’ve done a lousy job of co-existing with those who were here before our European forebears arrived. We haven’t cared much for these “faint wicks” or about justice in our dealings. But what about the church, particularly the Wesleyan-holiness tradition that I call home? If we are about making Christlike disciples – and that is a crucial task – then we need to cast a broader vision of what being Christlike means. It is more than abstaining from sins that defile us; it is also about coming alongside the weak and the oppressed in their time of need, standing with them in their fiery trial like Jesus stood with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the fiery furnace (Daniel 4:25). How can we read a passage like Isaiah 42 then yawn as if nothing is happening in North Dakota?

Perhaps our inaction stems in part from few of us ever being water deprived, yet water security is a growing issue around the world. Drought can drastically alter how we view this precious gift. When I visited the city of Lubumbashi in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in September 2015, they were suffering an extended drought. The missionaries with whom I stayed sometimes had to decide whether they would wash the dishes or wash themselves. Thankfully, we prayed for rain and God answered our prayer. I went away from that stay taking water a lot less for granted.

Neither do the Sioux take water for granted. They cannot drink oil nor bathe in it. You need water for that.

Some churches are speaking up. Bishop Michael Curry of the Episcopal Church issued a statement last August in support of the water protectors. In his statement, he noted the theological importance of water in Scripture, including it being the baptism symbol of new life in Christ. I commend Bishop Curry for speaking up, but it makes me wonder: As holiness people, where is our voice? If the essence of holiness is love of God and neighbor, then here is a clear-cut chance to show a historically mistreated people that we care. These are our neighbors. Where is our love?

I’m glad that God is raising up around the world a generation of believers for whom justice issues are Gospel issues. May they be patient with us who have been around a bit longer, we who have been slower to see that holiness is both personal and social. And once we’ve seen, may the Lord move us to compassionate advocacy.

July 13, 2016

What Jesus Really Meant about the Perpetuation of the Poverty Class

Jesus on Poverty

Okay, maybe the article in its original form had a clearer title! This one came recommended to us, the author is Craig Greenfield, founder and director of Alongsiders International and author of Subversive Jesus (Zondervan). To read at source, click the title:

What did Jesus really mean when he said, “The poor you will always have with you”?

Poverty can never be overcome right? It’s a problem that simply can’t be solved.

After all, Jesus said, “The poor you will ALWAYS have with you.”

It’s right there in Scripture. John chapter 12. Verse 8.

So don’t get too worried about tackling poverty and injustice sonny-boy. It’s a losing battle. Tone down your revolutionary rhetoric and give up the fight.

Right?

Perhaps like me, you have experienced that metaphorical pat on the head. This verse is often used as an attempt to take the wind out of all the rest of Jesus’ commands to work for justice and to love mercy.

Well, bollocks.

I reckon Jesus actually meant the OPPOSITE of what we usually take him to mean here. It seems to me that Jesus was actually advocating generosity and action to eradicate poverty, rather than hands-up-in-the-air, shoulder-shrugging apathy.

Here’s my reasoning.

You know how some catch-phrases are just so well known, that everyone knows the ending – you don’t even really need to say it?

“Sticks and stones.”

Everyone already knows the ending, “Sticks and stones will break my bones but names will never hurt me.” Just saying Sticks and Stones is enough for you to catch my drift.

It just so happens that in saying “The poor you will always have with you,” Jesus was quoting another well-known Biblical phrase – from a well-known passage of the Jewish Torah. Everyone hearing him back then would have caught his drift. Here’s the full original quote:

“If among you, one of your brothers should become poor, in any of your towns within your land that the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother, but you shall open your hand to him and lend him sufficient for his need, whatever it may be…For the poor you will always have with you in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.’” (Deut 15:7-11)

So, reading Jesus’ words in their original context you can see that His words were meant to spur generosity towards the poor. “Open wide your hand!” The command to be open-handed towards the poor comes directly from Yahweh himself.

Not apathy and tight-fistedness as we use these words to mean today.

The next time someone says, “The poor you will always have with you…” Be sure to complete the sentence: “Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.”

The second thing to note about this story is that Jesus says these words to rebuke Judas who was scornful towards a woman for pouring out her perfume on Jesus:

He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it. (John 12:6)

So, when we use Jesus’ words to justify not caring about the poor, we are actually repeating the very sin of Judas himself, who was robbing the poor.

Of course, this posture of generosity and open-handedness lines up much more consistently with the rest of Jesus’ life and teachings, starting with the revolutionary song sung by Mary while Jesus was still in the womb:

“He has filled the hungry with good things,
    and the rich he has sent away empty.” (Luke 1:53)

You can see Jesus fulfilling this prophecy in the feeding of the 5000. The same word from Mary’s Sing, “filled”, is found in John 6:12, where we hear that that motley crowd all ate and were “filled”…

The need of 5000 hungry people was met in that place and time because one little boy was willing to be “open-handed” towards the poor and needy.

Later, after Jesus’ death, the early believers also took these teachings on open-handedness seriously:

And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were NO needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need. (Acts 4:34-35)

There were no needy persons among them! Poverty was eradicated in their midst. That was the natural outcome of taking Jesus’ teachings seriously.

Jesus’ upside-down Kingdom is coming. He calls us to be part of it. The poor are going to be lifted up. The hungry are going to be fed. Your call and my call is to be open-handed.

So what are you waiting for? Let’s get on with it!


April 16, 2016

Shane Claiborne Quotations

Isaiah 58: 6-7 (NIV)

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?

Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter– when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?

Jeremiah 22:3 (HCSB)

This is what the LORD says: Administer justice and righteousness. Rescue the victim of robbery from the hand of his oppressor. Don’t exploit or brutalize the foreigner, the fatherless, or the widow. Don’t shed innocent blood in this place.

Matthew 25:35-40 (NLT)

35 For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. 36 I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’

37 “Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? 39 When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’

40 “And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’

Christian social activist Shane Claiborne may seem a bit young to be included in our quotations series, but he has many good things to say to the church at large and to individuals. In addition to his many books, he writes at Red Letter Christians.

When we truly discover how to love our neighbor as our self, Capitalism will not be possible and Marxism will not be necessary.


Christianity is at its best when it is peculiar, marginalized, suffering, and it is at its worst when it is popular, credible, triumphal, and powerful.


shaneclaiborne3.thumbnailThere is a lot to be heartbroken about now, but tears don’t have the last word.


Some folks may be really bummed to find that “God bless America” does not appear in the Bible. So often we do things that make sense to us and ask God to bless our actions and come alongside our plans, rather than looking at the things God promises to bless and acting alongside of them. For we know that God’s blessing will inevitably follow if we are with the poor, the merciful, the hungry, the persecuted, the peacemakers. But sometimes we’d rather have a God who conforms to our logic than conform our logic to the God whose wisdom is a stumbling block to the world of smart bombs and military intelligence.


All around you, people will be tiptoeing through life, just to arrive at death safely. But dear children, do not tiptoe. Run, hop, skip, or dance, just don’t tiptoe.


We are awake only when we are in touch with the hurting.


How can we worship a homeless man on Sunday and ignore one on Monday?


It is a dangerous day when we can take the cross out of the church more easily than the flag. No wonder it is hard for seekers to find God nowadays.


We do need to be born again, since Jesus said that to a guy named Nicodemus. But if you tell me I have to be born again to enter the Kingdom of God, I can tell you that you have to sell everything you have and give it to the poor, because Jesus said that to one guy, too. But I guess that’s why God invented highlighters, so we can highlight the parts we like and ignore the rest.


The gospel is lived out at dinner tables and in living rooms.


The more I get to know Jesus, the more trouble he seems to get me into.


I had come to see that the great tragedy in the church is not that rich Christians do not care about the poor but that rich Christians do not know the poor…I truly believe that when the rich meet the poor, riches will have no meaning. And when the rich meet the poor, we will see poverty come to an end.


Mother Theresa always said, “Calcuttas are everywhere if only we have eyes to see. Find your Calcutta.”


Perhaps the devil is just as likely to wear a three-piece suit as to have horns and a pitchfork. And perhaps the angels look more like the bums in the alley than like feathered white babies.


Liturgy and worship were never meant to be confined to the cathedrals and sanctuaries. Liturgy at its best can be performed like a circus or theater – making the Gospel visible as a witness to the world around us.


Sources: J.R. Woodward, GoodReads, AZQuotesWikiQuote and BrainyQuote.

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:

 

 

 

 

September 17, 2015

God Cares About the Ones (and the Tens, and the Millions)

Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?
 -Matthew 6:26

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care.
 – Matthew 10:12

And He sat down opposite the treasury, and began observing how the people were putting money into the treasury; and many rich people were putting in large sums. A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which amount to a cent. Calling His disciples to Him, He said to them, “Truly I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the contributors to the treasury…”
– Mark 12:41-42

The Star Trek mantra that “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few” is very noble in context, but Christian ministry is all about the few. That’s hard to reconcile in at a time in history when people are preoccupied with stats and even in the church, pastors meet each other at conferences comparing notes as to average attendance and annual budget.

At the Breakpoint blog, Leah Hickman writes:

2,992.
51,112.
405,399.

Do these numbers mean anything to you?

They’re casualty numbers. 9/11. Gettysburg. American soldiers in World War II.

I don’t have much of a head for numbers, but I know enough to know that that’s a lot of people–a lot of individuals.

But when we see numbers like this, what do we do? We rationalize. In comparison to these massive numbers, the deaths of one or two individuals seem like nothing. A small fraction of humanity. A blip on the screen…

She then links to an article by Jim Tonkowich at The Stream,

Given a world with more than seven billion people, it may be only natural and reasonable for us to think of nameless, faceless masses. The crowds of Middle Eastern immigrants marching from Hungary to Austria seem to be just that: crowds, mobs, hordes, multitudes. But it’s merely a coping trick of the mind, not reality.

Where we see crowds, God sees individuals. Each has a name and a face, a history and a future, a family and a purpose. “There are no ordinary people,” C. S. Lewis declared in The Weight of Glory. “You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations — these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit — immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.”

He continues,

You shall love your neighbor,” said Jesus, “as you love yourself (Mark 12:30a).” How do we love ourselves? With knowledge, respect, and sacrifice. The refusal to love our neighbors with knowledge, respect, and sacrifice results in a coarsening of our souls and a distortion of the image of God in us.

“It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses,” Lewis said in The Weight of Glory, “to remember that the dullest most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree helping each other to one or the other of these destinations.”

We end today with another snapshot of Jesus separating an individual from the larger crowd (emphasis in text added):

Luke 8:40Now when Jesus returned, a crowd welcomed him, for they were all expecting him… 

42b…As Jesus was on his way, the crowds almost crushed him. 43And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years,  but no one could heal her. 44She came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak, and immediately her bleeding stopped.

45Who touched me? Jesus asked.

When they all denied it, Peter said, “Master, the people are crowding and pressing against you.”

46aBut Jesus said, Someone touched me…”

scriptures: NIV

April 5, 2015

His Resurrection Is Their Resurrection Is Our Resurrection

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:36 pm
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HeHasRisen_lg

Effrem Smith wrote this with Easter in view, but also in terms of a theme very important to him, social justice and reconciliation. Readers here know the primary implications of Christ’s resurrection, but the impact of his rising from the dead is like a river that spreads out its tributaries in so many different ways; like a branch which spreads out leaves in so many different directions.

There are simply so many transformative things that are taking place in our world today because Christ is risen from the dead. The lens through which he views this in this article in no way minimizes Christ’s triumph over sin and death.

Let’s take a step beyond atonement: What are the implications of the resurrection in your community? In your life? How does the risen Christ make a difference in neighborhoods, families, schools and workplaces?

 

When The Poor Rise With Christ

“Now if Christ is preached that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain. Moreover we are even found to be false witnesses of God, because we witnessed against God that he raised Christ, whom He did not raise, if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins.”

1 Corinthians 15:12-17 (NASB)

For too many of the poor, marginalized, outcast, and demonized, every day is like Good Friday. They live surrounded by death, judgement, and prejudice. When Christ hung on the cross and freely gave His life He was surrounded by death, judgement, and prejudice as well. As He hung on the cross, he looked with a forgiving spirit upon those who mocked Him and cheered His suffering. He hung on the cross as all of the sins of humanity hung on his shoulders. The good news is that this is not how this part of the story concluded. Christ endured Good Friday and came out of the grave on Resurrection Day. He rose indeed.

What about the poor, marginalized, outcast, and demonized? Is there a Resurrection Day for them? Now, I realize that through the new covenant established in Christ, that all who accept Him as Lord and Savior rise with Him into Kingdom citizenship and eternity. But, I focus more deeply on the least of these in order to lift up a significant part of the mission of Christ when He walked the earth. Many times when Jesus was declaring and demonstrating the Kingdom of God, He did so among the least of those around Him. There were times when he broke social and religious customs in order to bring mobility, sight, life, dignity, and liberation to Samaritans, Canaanites, women, children, and the poor. Even as He hung on the cross, he engaged a thief and empowered him to rise into new eternal possibilities.

I am grieved as I go into this weekend focused on death and resurrection because I have witnessed so many examples of the poor, marginalized, and rejected being so shamed and demonized in our world. There are even examples of Christians who, judge, patronize, shame, and mock the least of these in our society. Instead of seeing the lowly as just as much made in the image of God as the privileged, we as Christians sometimes join in with Satan’s plan and labeling by seeing only the thug, gangsta, hoe, criminal, enemy, and demon in a person. Christ was able to look at a woman caught in adultery, a scandalous Samaritan, a man plagued by a legion of demons, a girl left for dead, and a thief and see something else.

I also have great hope that when the Church sees the least of these thru the eyes of Christ a new movement will rise up. It is then that we will experience a whole new understanding of the dead rising with the risen Savior.

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