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Monthly Archives: April 2011

Squandered Wealth, Squandered Purpose

Americans, and specifically American Christians, are greatly blessed to live in a country founded on God and blessed by God.

Well, we’re blessed… so far…

Consider a few facts*:

    • One-fourth of the world’s people live on an income of less than $1 a day—most of them in Asia. The gross national income per person in South Asia is only $460 a year. Americans earn an average of 77 times more—and Christian Americans, because we tend to live in the upper half of the economy, earn even more. While much of the world is concerned mainly about where its next meal is coming from, affluent North Americans spend most of our wages and waking moments planning unnecessary purchases.
    • We have freedom of choice. Political freedoms of speech, press and assembly, freedom to worship and organize religious ministries, freedom to choose where and how to live, and freedom to organize ourselves to correct injustices and problems both domestically and abroad are accepted as normal.
    • Leisure time and disposable income, although not written into law, free citizens of the Western world from the basic wants that make living so difficult in many other parts of the world.
    • A large number of service networks in communications, education, finance, mass media and transportation are available that make it easy to effect change. Not having these services available is an enormous handicap to people in most other parts of the world.
    • Finally, few domestic needs exist [in North America]. Although unemployment is a serious problem in some areas, it is many times higher in nearly every country in the Two-Thirds World. How many of us can comprehend the suffering of the millions of the homeless and starving people in nations like Bangladesh? Overseas the problems are on a grand scale.

What does God require of His people? We know all of the commandments are summed up into two: “Love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength,” and “Love others as yourself.” We know that Jesus spoke A LOT about taking care of the poor: “When you’ve done it [fed, clothed, visited] one of these [hungry, naked, imprisoned], you’ve done it to Me.” And we know He has commanded us to “go into all the world and preach the Good News to everyone.”

How do I do this from where I sit, on my comfy couch typing on my nifty laptop? And if I don’t love, care and share, what is my fate? “’I tell you the truth, when you refused to help the least of these My brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help Me.’ And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous will go into eternal life.”

So again: How do I help from where I sit?

Here are some options to consider:

Pray! But don’t stop there!

      • Sponsor a child.
      • Sponsor a national missionary in the Two-Thirds World.
      • Finance an orphan’s adoption.
      • Support a foster care agency.
      • Join a prison ministry.
      • Commit part of your finances to any Christian organization that has feet on the ground successfully carrying out God’s mandate.
      • Invest in others: Make a micro-loan.

And if you have time you can spend, consider volunteering at a local:

      • Soup kitchen or homeless shelter
      • Elder care facility
      • Prison

An authority on this subject, K.P. Yohannan* says, “If the Apostle Paul had not brought the Gospel to Europe, foundational principles such as freedom and human dignity would not be part of the American heritage. Because the Holy Spirit instructed him to turn away from Asia and go West, America has been blessed with its systems of law and economics—the principles that made it rich and free.  . . . . But along with privilege comes a responsibility. The Christian must ask not only why, but also what he should do with these unearned favors. Throughout Scripture, we see only one correct response to abundance: Sharing. God gives some people more than they need so that they can be channels of blessing to others.”

I would like to explore these areas deeper in the coming weeks.

What do you do to share? What should you do? What can you do?

Let me know.

* Revolution in World Missions by K.P. Yohannan
 
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Posted by on April 29, 2011 in God's Word, Missions, Purpose, Society, The Church

 

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Love and Wrath

I’ve been praying for many months for a deeper sense of God’s love. My motivation has been partly to get a glimpse at how He loves others so I can love others better, and partly to “feel better” about myself as I gain a greater understanding of His perfect redeeming love. (How’s that for selfish?)

This morning I was continuing to read in the book of James and in chapter four he writes:

So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come close to God, and God will come close to you. Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, for your loyalty is divided between God and the world. Let there be tears for what you have done. Let there be sorrow and deep grief. Let there be sadness instead of laughter, and gloom instead of joy. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up in honor.

The last part of this passage really popped out at me and I began to ponder whether the harsh realization of how much God hates our sin, and the accompanying sorrow that signals true repentance, is the beginning of knowing God’s love. The text just before that urges us to draw close to God so God will draw close to us. There is initial and humble action on our part and perhaps that action of coming toward God includes the realization of and sorrow for our shortcomings.

Then I received a link to a new post on one of my favorite blogs which also discussed this subject. (Hmm… coincidence or “a God thing”?) In it, Tim Challies declares, “Were you to ask where in the Bible we see the clearest picture of God’s wrath, I would have to point to Jesus’ final hours, from the Garden of Gethsemane to his death on the cross. After all, what but the need for satisfaction of God’s wrath, could compel the Father to send his Son to such a horrible, painful, death?”  He goes on to point out that there is no sin or excuse for sin that God overlooks. He hates sin, even the littlest one, and every sin demands an accounting.

Have I misunderstood God’s love? In general, does the American Christian treat sin lightly or misinterpret God’s perfect love through our imperfect, changing, emotional, sentimental, untrustworthy love? Challies goes on to paraphrases Leon Morris: “When the Bible speaks of God’s love, it does not refer to a warm, fuzzy sentimentality, but a love that is so jealous for the good of the one who is loved that it blazes out in wrath against all evil. The writers of the New Testament had no concept of a love that did not react in the strongest fashion against all sin…. God is able to be both perfectly loving and wrathful. Unlike us, he is not given to outbursts of emotion or to irrationality. His wrath is as perfectly and completely manifested as his love.”

Only when I understand the desperation of my condition can I understand the love and wrath of God. Until I know my sin and God’s wrath against it, I cannot know love. Until I know love, I cannot know the Savior.

God loves me so much that my sin killed His Son. I am changing the way I pray.

 
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Posted by on April 20, 2011 in Grace, Love, Prayer, Sin

 

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The B.P. Club

Once I told a pastor friend of mine I thought he overtly favored “The Beautiful People.” You know, the athletes, successful professionals, the intellectuals, lovely women, handsome and fit men. I thought he went out of his way to befriend them. And I thought he had far less time and patience for those requiring a little extra grace, the folks not so pleasing to the eye, not so socially adept.

I still think I was right. And judgmental.

But that’s not the point.

In looking back I believe I was keen to this insight because I was in the latter group. I was not one of The Beautiful People. I was an “insider” because I was on staff. But if I walked in off the street I was sure I would not have received the same attention.

I grew up in a blue-collar family with an alcoholic father. I did not finish college, I’ve lived in a trailer park on welfare, and spent the first two-thirds of my life as a skinny, social misfit.

But over the years I have learned some things: I fell into a job I am good at. I learned what styles of clothing and hairstyles look decent on me, learned to speak to people and make friends. Now once in a while I find that I “qualify” as a member of the first group. Not all the time, it depends of course on who is doing the qualifying, doesn’t it?

When I find myself “qualified” it sort of feels good. Believing that even some people include me in The B.P. Club is both wonderful and disheartening.

And it feels wrong. Yet how common is this in American churches, among American Christians?

I am not so different from my old friend. He cultivated friendships with The B.P. perhaps to make his church more successful looking and more attractive to the surrounding upscale community. Perhaps he did it to validate himself. This strikes a chord (albeit, one played on an out-of-tune piano). It feels good to think others have placed you in The B.P. category. It feeds the ego, strokes the emotions. And builds bad character.

I think this happens in all kinds of communities. The qualifier is how alike you are to those doing the qualifying.

Regardless of the club in which you are qualified, it’s a relatively small club. It may seem kinda cool while you’re in it, but it’s shallow. Like the navel at which you’re staring, the benefits are questionable and you’ll probably find stuff there that’s really not that attractive.

And I wonder what people outside the club think.

Do they think, ‘Jesus’?

Do they think, ‘inclusive’?

Do they think, ‘welcoming’?

Or do they feel excluded, unwelcome, less valued? And when they learn you are Christ follower, what do they think of your Christ?

Don’t get me wrong: Having certain qualities—beauty, intelligence, financial acumen, professional savvy, athletic or musical talent—are good things, God-given gifts. It is the willing acceptance of, or seeking to gain entrance into, some kind of “better than others” group that is dark. It’s got satan’s fingerprints all over it.

My memory verse this week is Galations 6:2-3:

“Share each others’ burdens and in so doing, obey the law of Christ. If you think you are too important to help someone, you are only fooling yourself. You are not that important.”

I am reasonably sure Jesus wasn’t in The B.P. Club when He was here. He hung with the fringe. He lambasted the people who had their religion tight. He went out of his way to avoid those who thought they had it together and spend time with those who didn’t. I wonder, if he were in church this coming Easter Sunday, when people attend church once a year, with whom would He sit?

He would’ve visited me in the trailer park. He would’ve avoided me at The B.P Club.

If being in The B.P. Club means not being where Jesus is, I don’t want a membership after all.

 
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Posted by on April 19, 2011 in Jesus, Relationships, Society, The Church

 

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“Recipes in the Glory” Huh?

I have a friend who cracks me up. (Several, actually: What is life without friends who make you bust a gut?) I had posted on FaceBook that my daughter had just introduced me to The Food Network. (This caused a firestorm response of disbelief and friends’ urgent desires to stage an intervention.) My friend sent a video link to me privately asking, “Is this you?” Since I am not so private here is that link: Recipe Downloads. (Skip the short ad at the beginning.)

Now, normally this great piece would be something I’d use to write a post on Collect Yourself, a slightly less reverent blog than this. However, I can’t help but wonder if this kind of media (prophesy? televangelism? entertainment?) is largely consumed by the American Christian as opposed to other believers around the world. Is this how a good-sized population of American Christians hear from God? I suspect that believers in countries where faith in Jesus Christ is a little harder to live out don’t really get a lot of edification from this sort of television program, if they even have access to television… I suspect they get their words from God directly from, well, the word of God.

Now I’m not saying God isn’t interested in the little things in our lives. And I’m not saying He isn’t in the kitchen with me when I am cooking. And I’m not saying the creativity used to concoct new and wonderful meals doesn’t come from Him (although I did tell my girlfriend, “no, that’s not me”; I wouldn’t know a ‘recipe in the glory’ unless one written in a paper airplane mysteriously hit me in the head!)—I am saying that I don’t find a lot of scripture that supports this kind of ‘edification.’ Scriptures on encouraging one another? Yes! On wise words? Yes! On ‘recipes in the glory’? Meh, maybe not so much… If I’m off here, let me know!

I’m not against prophesy or getting great meal ideas from the Holy Spirit, but I think we need to be careful where we seek out the Truth. The main source shouldn’t be TV, another human, a blog, or a book (though those can be vehicles for truth) but test everything against the word of God, the Source.

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.

And thank God for good recipes. Also for good friends who find creative ways to make you laugh.

 
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Posted by on April 15, 2011 in God's Word

 

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The Faces and Colors of the American Christian

Dance your shoes off.  

I love it.

 
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Posted by on April 13, 2011 in Current Events, Jesus, Joy, Purpose, The Church

 

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A Calmer Faith

“A calmer faith—that’s the quiet place within us where we don’t get whiplash every time life tosses us a curve. When we don’t revolt when His plan and ours conflict. Where we relax (versus stew, sweat and swear) in the midst of an answerless season. Where we accept (and expect) deserts in our spiritual journey as surely as we do joy.” ~Patsy Clairmont

This morning I was completing the fourth chapter in the book for our “Cultivating Contentment” Bible study and the topic of whining continues… A couple of quotes by Patsy Clairmont really stood out for me. The one above, and this: “Whiners neither enjoy nor give joy. But grace-filled people are reputable, sought after, and deeply loved.”

Wow, I want to be that person! I don’t think I’m much of a whiner, but I’m going back to work today after a couple of weeks off recovering from surgery. I’ve SO enjoyed the time off (for a myriad of reasons listed in an earlier post on Collect Yourself) and the approach of this day has caught me internally grumbling, “I don’t wanna!!” But since I don’t really have a choice, and I am called to “Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people. Remember that the Lord will give you an inheritance as your reward, and that the Master you are serving is Christ,” I need an extra filling of grace and cultivate that ‘quiet place within.’

I think a lot of American Christians are not known as such in the workplace, as if they separate who they are spiritually from who they are occupationally. As a leader of a small organization in a very large corporation I have the propensity (whether I want it or not) to influence people. I think anyone in any position has some measure of influence. I want my attitude and actions to reflect those of a Christ-follower. There some people I work with who really live this out. They are great examples.

I’m not a naturally negative person but corporate politics can really push my buttons. Contrast: Persecuted Christians in other countries lose their jobs and lives for following Christ. What right do I have to complain about a great job working with great people just because it throws stressful curveballs my way on a daily basis? I have it SO easy compared to so many others…

Paul, Silas and Timothy teamed up to write a letter to the church in Thessalonica which includes these words: “Make it your goal to live a quiet life, minding your own business and working with your hands, just as we instructed you before. Then people who are not Christians will respect the way you live, and you will not need to depend on others.”

So, ‘grace, grace to it!’ as I log on and work my way through a thousand emails, and keep and cultivate that quiet and joyful faith that is sought after by others.

~~~

P.S. For grace-filled encouragement, check out my friend and fellow blogger, Julie Moore’s, Grace Full Woman Website.

 
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Posted by on April 12, 2011 in Contentment, Grace, Purpose

 

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Honest with God and Each Other (But No Whining!)

What’s your pet peeve? Do you like to complain? Do you like to listen to others complain? Is it OK to complain? If the problem is really big is it OK to complain as opposed to whining about the traffic or the lines or the rain? Is it OK to complain to God? These are some of the questions lively discussed in this morning’s women’s LinkGroup. We continued our study on “Cultivating Contentment” and talked a lot about what trips our trigger, the difference between whining and complaining, when it’s appropriate and when it’s not, and who best to “vent” to.

I wrote about complaining in a recent blog but now I am learning more about the appropriateness of letting God know how we feel. I recently downloaded a book to my Kindle called, The Papa Prayer by Larry Crabb. (PAPA is an acronym for relational prayer which includes Presenting yourself to God, Attending to how you think of God, Purging yourself of anything that blocks your relationship with God, and Approaching God as your “first thing.”) I’m not endorsing the book here, I’ve just started reading it, but the first part of the book discusses the importance of presenting yourself to God, not in how you think that you should be, but in how you really are, authentically. Crabb suggests that you make a pattern of looking at where you are, to your very core, and telling God just that without holding anything back.

I think we see a clear pattern in the Psalms of David and his contemporaries fully transparent with God about how they feel, including desperation and other pretty raw emotions. My Pastor likes to say that God already knows what you’re feeling so it’s pretty pointless to hide it.

I think sometimes it’s pointless to hide it from each other, too. I’m not talking about the whining and complaining that American Christians and Americans in general are famous for (yuck), but the openness and vulnerability that deepens friendships and allows others to “come along side” of us and support us when we’re just a little too freaked out or experiencing too much pain to fully support ourselves.

I love Galations 6:1-3 in the New Living Translation: “Dear brothers and sisters, if another believer is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path. And be careful not to fall into the same temptation yourself. Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ. If you think you are too important to help someone, you are only fooling yourself. You are not that important.”

So, out with the whining and in with the authenticity—with God and with each other.

 
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Posted by on April 9, 2011 in Contentment, Relationships

 

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