Christianity 201

June 9, 2013

Poverty Will Always Be With Us

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

November 26, 2012

An Optimal 30 Days for The Church

The period from the American Thanksgiving holiday to Christmas marks approximately 30 days that the church — make that The Church (with capital letters) — really gets to shine. It is the time we celebrate the story that forms the Biblical narrative that is probably most known to society at large, albeit with a little help from Linus Van Pelt. Play your cards right, and you get into a deep discussion with your friends about the meaning and implication of incarnation.

But it’s also a time when we get to show the world what the impact that same narrative has had on us through our generosity, and through being the hands and feet of Christ, we can do so much in our small corner of the world to make a difference where there is hurt, and where there is loneliness, and where there is hunger.

Brent Adams wrote the following just before U.S. Thanksgiving for The Southeast Outlook, the in-house church newspaper of Southeast Christian Church in Kentucky. It contains some specific references to their church. You may not know Southeast by name, but you might know their teaching pastor, Kyle Idleman, author of the bestselling Christian book, Not a Fan.  He titled this, The Perfect Time to Be The Church.

Southeast Christian Church Teaching Pastor Kyle Idleman recently challenged the congregation to understand that a church isn’t a building where people come just to be spiritually fed or recharged, but rather the church is a group of believers who worship God and carry out the teachings of Jesus Christ by building their lives around those teachings.

Among those teachings is that we should be thankful in all situations.

“Always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5:20). “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

We also are taught in Scripture that we should act as the church by going to those less fortunate than we are.

In Acts 20:35, the Apostle Paul clearly laid out to his followers the role of the early church:

“In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”

We should take these words to heart all year long, but we especially tend to focus on them during the holidays, starting with Thanksgiving.

Two recent experiences put things into perspective for me.

One was a September mission trip to assist our church plant teams in Rhode Island. While there, we spent a couple days serving homeless military veterans at a weekend camp-out where they received medical care, food, grooming, new clothing, Gospel teaching, fellowship and encouragement.

Each of the homeless and struggling men and women I met were so friendly and so grateful for the assistance they received. Some of the people receiving help were there because they clearly didn’t have the physical or mental capacity to hold down a job. Others were there because, despite their best efforts, they found themselves on hard times and humbly came to accept help.

They were starved for someone to show them some kindness. The smiles on their faces when they were engaged in a conversation said it all. They just wanted to be loved and understood. They didn’t want to be judged or treated like a charity case.

I had a similar experience the following week when I served as an escort for the Shine disabilities prom. I was partnered with a sweet girl named Heidi, who seemed to know everyone in the place. She beamed from ear to ear all night long as she danced and visited with friends. I did little more than dress nice and point her in the right direction, but at the end of the night, I couldn’t help but feel like I was more blessed by my involvement than anyone the event was intended for.

Proverbs 19:17 says,

“Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will reward them for what they have done.”

Now, I certainly didn’t participate in those events because I wanted the glory or even because I’m focused on storing up treasures in heaven. I did it because it’s what we are called to do: To go out and love on people and serve them as Jesus served and commanded His disciples to do.

What I found along the way, and I hear this all the time from people who serve in the Lord’s name, is that I came away feeling like I was blessed far more than I was a blessing to those I served.

The upcoming Thanksgiving holiday is a great time to reflect on how you can show the love of Jesus to your family, friends and total strangers. The fact of the matter is, as my friend Denny Dillman often points out in his columns, even on our worst days, we still enjoy more luxuries (including things like running water and clothing) than the majority of the world’s population.

Instead of focusing on our wants and needs, we need to turn our attention to how we can be the church to the hurting. In James 1:27 we are commanded to look after widows and orphans. That’s a good place to start.

In Deuteronomy 15:11, it is written:

“There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land.”

If you believe that the Scripture is the living Word of God, then you’ll know that the commands don’t get much clearer than that.

Find an opportunity to serve at a homeless shelter or food pantry—not just for Thanksgiving or Christmas, but make that a starting point for a life of service. Find some families in need to bless this Christmas by buying clothes and food and other items. But don’t just hand them the gifts and run. Find ways to do life with them. We’ve seen some great instances in the last 12 months of last year’s “More Than a Gift” Christmas outreach bringing people to Jesus Christ because they were shown love by people who went the extra mile to get to know them and share the Gospel with them.

The truth is, despite whatever trials we face, we still have an awful lot to be thankful for. We need to focus on those blessings and look for ways to be the church by reaching out to those who have yet to hear the Good News that Jesus Christ wants to give them the gift of eternal salvation if they simply will accept Him into their hearts and join the church in making disciples.

~ Brent Adams

  • If you missed it at Thinking Out Loud, here’s a great Christmas song from the ’80s, Christmas Bells.

September 22, 2012

Pray For Them, Yes; But Pray What Specifically?

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 Larry Tomczak, 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.'”

I never forgot that day, even to this day when I watched this

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 “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.’

August 29, 2012

God’s Priority Things-To-Do List

Six months ago, I introduced you to Gathering Rubies, the blog of Janice Garrison, who posts infrequently but has some great content. I always highlight the scripture verses here in green, because God’s Word is life; and today’s there’s a lot of green here!  This one appeared a couple of months back under the title What Does the Lord Require of You?

If you are like me, ever so often you need to take inventory before a trip to the grocery store or when your insurance comes up for renewal, asking, do I have enough or too much.

 I pause often to take my ‘spiritual’ inventory.

Am I saying “no” to self and “yes” to Christ… am I remembering —  Galatians 2:20-21 I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

 I recently finished reading Micah again and am reminded how God hates idolatry, unfairness, rebellion, and empty rituals.

 I love this question from Micah 6:8 And what does the Lord require of you? (I find this a good question for beginning my spiritual inventory).

 Micah 6:8 He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

 This scripture has a strong message and should not be taken lightly. It gives instruction on how we are to live every day. Not when we are trying to impress others, not in ritualistic actions or service. It is to be so ingrained in us that it becomes our nature.

 Hosea 6:6 For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.

 Isaiah 1:16-17 Stop doing wrong, learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed.  Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.

 Jeremiah 22:3 This is what the Lord says: Do what is just and right. Rescue from the hand of his oppressor the one who has been robbed. Do no wrong or violence to the alien, the fatherless or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place.

 Zechariah 7:9-10  ”This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another.  Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the alien or the poor. In your hearts do not think evil of each other.’

 James 1:27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

 For me, this next one covers all of the above, if I am loving God and my neighbor as stated below, I will be obeying the ones above. It’s all about loving God and loving others and expressing that love in the way I treat others. I know full well it’s not as easy as it sounds, because we all know how others can get on our last nerve at times. I also know that God doesn’t ask any thing of us that we can’t do.

 Matthew 22:37-40 “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’  This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

 It all comes down to our heart, God doesn’t want sacrifices, he wants our hearts to be in tune to others, loving Him, loving others and serving. Finding our talents and using them.

 I am also reminded that our God is truly an awesome God…Micah 7:18-19 Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.

 Psalm 51:10-12 Create in me a pure heart, O God,and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvationand grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

~Janice Garrison

June 29, 2012

Finding Jesus

As a general rule here, if we “borrow” a blog post, we at least find an alternative graphic image to go with it; but this time around the original picture really belongs with the article.  I’ve been reading Dean Lusk’s blog, Every Good Band Deserves Fudge for about four years now; and while I’ve linked to him at Thinking Out Loud a few times, this is his first time here at C201.  So, you guys know the drill, you’re encouraged to read this at his blog, where it appeared under the title, Where’s Jesus?


I’m surprised and feel a little silly that I never caught the connection between these passages before. Notice the phrases I’ve emphasized.

Anyone who wants to be my disciple must follow me, because my servants must be where I am. And the Father will honor anyone who serves me.

John 12:26, NLT

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. 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. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’

“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? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’

“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!’

Matthew 25:34-40, NLT

If we want to be disciples and servants of Jesus, we have to be where He is. Sometimes that “place” is not a mysterious destination we have to agonize about, asking God if this or that is what He’d have us to do. Often it’s right in front of us.

In a very straightforward manner, Jesus told us just a few of the places we can find Him. Are we there?

You can stop reading here if you’d like, and jump right to criticizing me for espousing some kind of exclusively social gospel. However, this was written to expound on one small aspect of living as a disciple of Jesus Christ, not to say it encompasses everything. Read further for bonus content! These thoughts and clarifications came out of a discussion of the topic via e-mail with a friend.

My friend asked, “So we find Jesus where believers are, right? In these passages then, is Jesus talking about helping only less fortunate Christians? How do you find Jesus among non-believers?” My response was something like this (with a few edits for clarity):

“We find Jesus where believers are…” That’s obviously a true statement, but keeping Scripture in mind (like the passage above, Matthew 25, for instance), “Jesus is not among non-believers” may not necessarily be a true statement. When Jesus is talking in the Matthew 25 passages, the believers He was talking about were the ones He was talking to. He never mentioned whether the hungry, poor, etc., were believers. That apparently didn’t matter. That is, we’re never told in Scripture to screen someone to determine if they’re worthy of our help — if they’re a believer, etc. We’re never told the spiritual status of the guy in the ditch that the Good Samaritan helped, for example. He was just “a man.”

And then there’s a different perspective making a similar point: the Church is the body of Christ; He is the head. (“We find Jesus among believers.”) However, Jesus put Himself among non-believers as a regular habit when He was physically on earth. Eating with tax-collecting scum, defending a sexually promicuous woman who was not a believer, doing things that got Him labeled by the religious elite as a drunkard and a glutton. (“We find Jesus among non-believers.”) Therefore, one way we find Jesus among non-believers is for us (believers) to be where non-believers are.

Again, Jesus told us and showed us just a few of the places we can find Him. Are we there?

~Dean Lusk

June 6, 2012

On the Nature of Benevolence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~Jamie Arpin-Ricci

 

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

May 4, 2012

Jesus and Justice: Deliverance for the Oppressed

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:52 pm
Tags: , , , , , , ,

This is a re-blog from Shawn Groves, but you really want to read it at his blog, if only for the pictures.  Actually, the real reason is that this is part five of a continuing series.  You might want to start with the earlier sections…

Luke 6:1-9

While traveling on the Sabbath, Jesus and his students got hungry. They picked grain for lunch. The lawmakers said this was illegal: no grocery shopping on the Sabbath.

Also on the Sabbath, Jesus went to church and saw a man in need of healing. Knowing his critics were watching, Jesus healed the man and asked, “which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to destroy it?”

Matthew 21:12-17, Mark 11:15-19, luke 19:45-47, John 2:12-22

Jesus was welcomed into Jerusalem with palm branches and shouts of Hosanna and entered the temple. There he saw people exchanging foreign currencies so they could buy animals to offer in worship to God. He turned over the tables of the money exchangers, and of the venders selling animals too. He said God’s temple had been turned from a house of prayer into a cave for thieves.

Deliverance from oppression…

Jesus didn’t live in a representative republic. The Jewish nation (even when under Roman rule) was a theocracy of sorts, governed in large part by a religious ruling class – church and state were in many ways one and the same. When legislation/religion resulted in the oppression of the poor and less powerful, Jesus obeyed the higher law/religion of love instead.

Though Sabbath laws stood in the way of filling a stomach or healing a hand, Jesus picked and healed.

When the powers-that-be cheated foreigners exchanging currency at the temple, Jesus turned the tables on them and demanded love for God and neighbor.

Nagas & Thraou

In the Old Testament, in passages like Isaiah 58, the word “oppressed” is a translation of the Hebrew word “nagas.” It means “touches” and is translated elsewhere as “strike”, “reach”, “bring down”, “crush”, “ruler.”

When Isaiah foretold times of prosperity for the nation of Israel, he wrote…

Instead of bronze I will bring you gold,
and silver in place of iron.
Instead of wood I will bring you bronze,
and iron in place of stones.
I will make peace your governor
and well-being your ruler (nagas).
-Isaiah 60:17

When Isaiah predicted the torture of Christ he wrote…

He was oppressed (nagas) and afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
and as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
-Isaiah 53:7

So, in the Old Testament, “nagas” is the exercise of power or strength over another, whether that power is for peace or violence, prosperity or persecution. “Oppression” is negative “nagas.”

In the New Testament the word “oppressed” only appears once in the New International Version – in a passage we’ve already mentioned in this series…

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free…” – Luke 4:18

There, the Greek word “thraou” is translated “oppressed.” It means “to break into pieces, shatter.” The bible says again and again that God is close to the broken-hearted, but God is also overthrowing the systems that have held down and broken them.

Jesus delivers, and promises more deliverance is on the way, to those struck and shattered by the powers and systems at work against the disadvantaged.

~Shawn Groves

If you’ve got the time, I strongly urge you to read the rest of the posts in this series, as linked above.

February 22, 2012

Living the Red Letters

For the past few nights our family has been working its way through The Red Letters a 6-part DVD series produced by World Vision Canada, in preparation for my reviewing it at Thinking Out Loud. The video features outspoken author and speaker Tony Campolo being interviewed by Colin McCartney, director of Urban Promise in Toronto, and author of Red Letter Revolution. If you know Tony, and you noted the title of Colin’s book, the combination of Campolo and McCartney on the subject of Jesus’ teachings is going to produce a thought-provoking video curriculum.

But last night I decided to venture into some of the recommended websites and discovered Colin McCartney’s blog at RedLetterInfo.com including this post from a few days ago:

Last night I had the privilege to worship with a group of young believers at a house church in Anaheim, California. It was a refreshing time for me being with these vibrant Christians and hearing them share about their journey with Jesus all within such a caring environment. The majority of the believers in this simple house church are from total unchurched backgrounds so to worship with them was a real treat. I was especially impressed by the fact that every one of them worshipped and shared from their hearts. The honesty and intimacy present within the living room of this house church was contagious. Grace permeated throughout the room and it was obvious to me that this was a safe place to come and meet Jesus no matter who you are or what you have done.

 Jesus said, “Where two or three are gathered in my name there I will be among you.”  (Matthew 18:20) Jesus was among us in that house last night. That’s one of the things I like the best about Jesus – he loves to be with his people and especially those who hurt. He does not restrict himself  to the mantras of professional clergy nor does he limit himself to only making appearances in sacred church buildings.  He is not into religious posturing or rituals. No, he is present in the simplicity of the poor (“Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” – Matthew 25:40) and the gathering of two or three or more of us meeting together in a living room of a house in Anaheim, California.

 While we worshipped there was no “proper” worship protocol that is present in so many of our church services today. There was no evident “order of service”, no special musical arrangements with guest singers and there was no passing of the gold coloured offering plates for our tithes and offerings (though we did pass a baseball cap around that was a little sweaty and dirty as it came from the head of one of the folks attending the house church). Needless to say what happened last night was raw, rootsy and real. People shared how their week had went and I was amazed how many of these people talked about the times they shared their faith and cared for others especially the poor. People spoke about loved ones who were now homeless. Youth asked for prayer for their freinds who are cutting themselves with razors. Best of all were the groanings that rose from the mouths of everyone in that room when they prayed for God’s intercession in their lives and in the lives of those they know.  When it came time for me to share the Word I had a captive audience hungry, willing and thirsting to learn from the Scriptures. Now that is a church!

 I loved last night because this is what I always dream and pray about – to see a movement of Christians in love with Jesus, embodying his “red letters” in word and deed, just simply living out their faith. This sounds like the New Testament church to me and it is to this form of missional movement that I have committed myself to.  I seek to work with churches who are committed to activate their people to this kind of “red letter” missional lifestyle where they challenge their people to “go”!  I also dream of church plants being birthed naturally and organically in homes, community centers, prisons, bars and wherever else “Red Letter” Christians do mission. It’s that simple yet it is so rare!  All it takes for this to happen is for us to go! So, what is holding us back? 

Since Colin ended with a question, here again is the link where you can post your response.

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)

 

August 4, 2011

Keeping Up With The Jones? No, They’re Keeping Up With You

While this isn’t a Bible study or devotional post, perhaps today is a day for putting “feet to our faith.” Trey Morgan blogged this last week under the title, Just How Rich Am I?   It’s short, and when you get to the link, I want you guys to click, okay?

Want some very challenging reading today? I’d love to challenge your thinking for just a moment on how wealthy you and I are.   I’m not here to make you feel guilty, but you may … because I did.

We, as Americans don’t always understand what real poverty is.  A new study by the US Census Bureau shows that of the 30 million in the US who live in poverty still are well housed, have adequate supply of food and have medical care.  The study shows that the typical household, defined as poor by our country, had a car and air conditioning. For entertainment, the average poor household had two color televisions, cable or satellite TV, a DVD player, and a VCR. If there were children, especially boys in the home, the family had a game system, such as an Xbox or a PlayStation.  In the kitchen, the household had a refrigerator, an oven and stove, and a microwave. Other household conveniences included a clothes washer, clothes dryer, ceiling fans, a cordless phone, and a coffee maker.

I’m not down on the poor in America, we’re are all very blessed to live in this country. I’m also NOT saying that there are not some really poor people and homeless people in our country … BUT I AM SAYING that if we only look at poverty in our own country, we’ll never quite understand how the poorest of the poor in our world really live.

Did you know that today 30,000 children will die from starvation? Think about it this way, 30,000 children dying of starvation every day is like six September 11th’s … every day.

Compassion International has created a website called “Who Are the Joneses?” to bring about a better understanding of poverty in America — and then place that knowledge into a global perspective. So, my challenge to you today is see how the poor really live in the world by spending a few minutes on this website …

“Who Are the Jones?”

It’ll only take a couple minutes of your time. So, you up for the challenge?

Trey Morgan


Interestingly enough, last night my wife and I went on the website of Compassion Canada to make a donation to the famine crisis.  Instead we were met with a message that said that while Compassion is active in the countries affected, they are not working in the areas hardest hit by the famine.  Instead, they gave the names of three other charities.  It was late, and we haven’t yet followed up with those three, but I was so impressed I made a small donation to Compassion anyway, simply because I was awed by their honesty and integrity.  Below is the actual text, and for my USA readers, here’s the link to Compassion USA.

…Although Compassion does not work in Somalia, we do work in Rwanda, Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda and Ethiopia, each affected by the drought to some degree. However, Compassion does not work in the specific areas that are most impacted, such as Southeastern Ethiopia and Northeastern Kenya. 

Compassion’s ministry is focused on long-term child development, rather than on relief. Our programs protect our children and families to a very great extent against the crippling impact of famine and drought. Therefore, our response to the terrible drought in East Africa is long-term recovery in the areas where we work, rather than immediate relief. Because we are not responding to this crisis with immediate relief, we cannot participate in the Government Matching Program.

…If you have a heart to give immediate relief to those suffering in the worst-hit areas, please consider giving to trusted organizations that are positioned to respond immediately to these pressing needs, such as: World ReliefChristian Reformed World Relief Committee (CRWRC) or Food for the Hungry.

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.

May 21, 2011

Henri Nouwen on Social Progress

This is a long weekend here in Canada, and the tendency is to kick back spiritually as well, to get into that “summer mindset” or what we call here “cottage mentality” and forget that our relationship with Jesus doesn’t take a day off or a weekend off.  (Read more about churches that “power down” in summer here and here.)  Nevertheless, I’ll grant that today’s piece is a little lighter, or at least it is on the surface.  We tend to worship doctrine, but don’t think that items about the outworking of that doctrine, or orthopraxy, or ministry ethic is really all that deep.  Perhaps it is really most profound.

February 21, 2011

Worship With Both Hands


We worship God with one hand UP and one hand OUT; worship is about God and my neighbor — about loving Jesus and loving others.You can’t have one without the other

That’s inspired by Mark 12:28-31, where Jesus is asked which commandment is the greatest. He responds by saying, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart…” and “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  I find the church gets the first part right. That’s the up part. We know how to raise our hands up in worship. The problem is that if both our hands are up saying, “God, I Love You,” then we don’t have a hand free to put out to our neighbor. Worship has to be balanced — one hand raised to God and one hand stretched out to our neighbors, serving and loving them in the name of Jesus.

I believe I worship God by being hospitable to my neighbor. For example, by throwing a street party not to preach, but to simply celebrate the community I share with them. I worship God when I open the door for someone else, when I look someone in the eye and listen to what they’re saying, and when I feed the poor and give money to someone who needs it more than I do…

Jonathan Manafo
Associate Pastor, Christian Life Centre
Ajax, Ontario, Canada
as quoted in Testimony Magazine.

That reminded me of this song by Love Song from the early days of the Jesus Movement. The group reunited in 2009 to perform the song once again:

And while reminiscing about classic contemporary Christian music, I couldn’t help but think of Chris Christian’s recording of Mountain Top. That song isn’t online, but Amy Grant covered it. The song reminds us that worship is far more than what we do on Sundays.

Are there songs today that express this two-pronged aspect of what true worship is? We’ve become far more active in the lives of the poor; in addressing social justice issues; but do we do it with a spirit of worship, a sense that what we do “to the least of these” we are doing onto God? That true worship involves service to widows and orphans?

I just wonder if we’re getting more familiar and more efficient with doing something, but we’ve lost the sense that in so doing, we are giving worship to God. That would be unfortunate.

Francis Chan says,

We need to stop giving people excuses not to believe in God. You’ve probably heard the expression, “I believe in God, just not organized religion.” I don’t think people would say that if the church truly lived like we are called to live. The expression would change to, “I can’t deny what the church does, but I don’t believe in their God.” At least then, they’d address their rejection of God rather than use the church as a scapegoat.

Crazy Love pp 21-22

January 15, 2011

Faith Without Works Isn’t Faith

Today’s post is from Ron who blogs at Window or Mirror?, a blog primarily for men, where this appeared under the title Would You?

I posed a hypothetical question to my son the other day, to his ever-growing amusement. I asked him, “RJ, what would happen if I told you to go upstairs and clean your room, and you disappeared and returned in 90 minutes and sat on the couch to read a book, without having cleaned it? What would I do if I asked you what was going on and you said that you memorized what I said, and then went back to reading”? My son, laughing now, said that I would likely think he was being a wise guy. I asked, “What if I told you to go clean it again, and you disappeared again, return in 30 minutes, and the room still wasn’t clean? This time when I ask about the room, you tell me that you’ve invited three friends over to have a Bible study – in the dirty room – to discuss what it might look like if you cleaned it”? RJ laughed and said, “I wouldn’t dare do that Dad”!

Wouldn’t dare indeed. Isn’t this what we often do with what God has told us? …We pray, begging the Lord to show us His face, to reveal His specific will for our lives – and that’s good – but don’t you think that He sometimes looks down and says, “Your knowledge already far outpaces your obedience. I have given you my Word, and you cannot follow it; what more should I tell you now”? We are to be “doers” of the Word, and not hearers only. The “one anothers” of Scripture demand relationships and “action”. Each “one another” is preceded by a verb. Now I was never good at English, but I think verbs imply action on the part of the subject of the sentence. Each of the “one anothers” has YOU implied as the subject. YOU, love one another. YOU, bear one another’s burdens”. I challenge us today to be active in our faith. Exercise the “one another’s” in Scripture, and do what the Lord has instructed.

I am not advocating “works theology”. Some imply that the mere mention of “doing something” – even if for the Lord – hints at working for salvation. Men; everything that you can possibly do – all of it – cannot move you one fraction of an inch closer to deserving the gift of grace. It is free not because it is cheap, but because it is priceless; and praise the Lord that this is so! But works are important. How important? Read Matthew 25:41-46 below:

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.

Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in,

Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink,I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’ They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

Well, how important is that? At the end of it all, the One who gave us His life to redeem us will separate those who will live eternally from those who will not; and He will do this based on whether or not they did what He asked them to do. It is important. Praise the Lord that we have good works that have been prepared for us to do, and that we have the Spirit enabling us to do them. Let us therefore do what He commands.

« Previous PageNext Page »