Sunday, November 23, 2008

Redistribution God's Way

Deut. 15:4-11
However, there should not be any poor among you, for the Lord will surely bless you in the land that he is giving you as an inheritance, if you carefully obey him by keeping all these commandments that I am giving you today. For the Lord your God will bless you just as he has promised; you will lend to many nations but will not borrow from any, and you will rule over many nations but they will not rule over you. If a fellow Israelite from one of your villages in the land that the Lord your God is giving you should be poor, you must not harden your heart or be insensitive to his impoverished condition. Instead, you must be sure to open your hand to him and generously lend him whatever he needs.
Be careful lest you entertain the wicked thought that the seventh year, the year of cancellation of debts, has almost arrived, and your attitude be wrong toward your impoverished fellow Israelite and you do not lend him anything; he will cry out to the Lord against you and you will be regarded as having sinned. You must by all means lend to him and not be upset by doing it, for because of this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you attempt. There will never cease to be some poor people in the land; therefore, I am commanding you to make sure you open your hand to your fellow Israelites who are needy and poor in your land.
2 Cor. 8:12-15
For if the eagerness is present, the gift itself is acceptable according to whatever one has, not according to what he does not have. For I do not say this so there would be relief for others and suffering for you, but as a matter of equality. At the present time, your abundance will meet their need, so that one day their abundance may also meet your need, and thus there may be equality, as it is written: “The one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little.”
Gal. 2:10
They requested only that we remember the poor,
the very thing I also was eager to do.
I've become convinced that socialism is more than a counterfeit of God's way of providing for the poor - it's a blight on the church. From the earliest days of Israel - before they even entered the land - God expected that the "haves" would take care of the "have nots". He would bless them, to be sure - but they were expected to take care of the poor.

In fact, a good argument could be made that one reason both Moses and Jesus asserted that there would always be poor among us is that having someone needier than we are keeps us from loving wealth too much. It keeps us focused on being a blessing, rather than being blessed. Generosity is the best protection against greed.

Whatever the purpose, God asserts that the poor among us are not to be ignored but cared for. As economic systems go, both socialism and capitalism have their natural pitfalls, their natural human bents toward sin nature. Capitalism has a tendency to despise the poor - think Ebenezer Scrooge. In such a context, socialism can be seen as attractive - as the "duty" of a nation.

In reality though, it's the covenant community - the people of God - who should be taking the lead in caring for the poor. Many evangelical believers shy away from such talk, because of the imbalance of the "social Gospel" that prioritized human need over eternal truth. Yet as we peruse the pages of Scripture we encounter a God who perfectly melded both temporal help and eternal hope. And He calls us to do likewise.

God wants us to give generously to the poor as He blesses us. Without hardening our heart, meet their needs. Failure to do so is sin. Failure to do so can easily lead to our wealth controlling us. God's method of redistribution is personal, not governmental. Be generous and sacrificial; give from the overflow as well as out of need.

Governmental redistribution should never be needed. As we walk through an economic crisis, let's heed the call of Scripture to give. Now, more than ever, when people are holding tight to every penny, let's show true dependence on God by not decreasing our giving.

May you be blessed to be a blessing this Thanksgiving week.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Loving the Cross

The speaker's words were all over the map, spiritually speaking. One day in our conversation s/he sounded like a typical evangelical believer (whatever that sounds like); another, the modern generic Christian; yet another, self-help humanism; and at times, New Age. Was s/he a confused believer, a seeker, a deceiver? Was there any way to know, other than trusting that God knew his heart?

Then the words came to me: Does s/he love the cross? I was shocked. I didn't know, of course, what was in the person's heart. The question was really more about me than that individual. Sometimes God does that to me - gets me thinking hard about something related to another person, then turns the tables. I knew the question was really Do YOU love the cross?

C.J. Mahaney said it best: "We never move on from the cross, only into a deeper understanding of it." God knows me - He knows that I am prone to over-intellectualization, to paralysis by analysis, and to trying to find even a shred of something that sounds like what I want to hear from someone I am praying for. And so He brings me back with some regularity to what really matters. Paul called it "the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ."

Without the cross, all the worst thoughts of nihilism and fatalism are true. We really are hard-wired to self-destruct, and the best efforts of people will only have a limited effect. Or to quote those great fatalist singers, the Hee Haw gang, "Gloom, despair, and agony on me//Deep dark depression, excessive misery."

Without the cross, all we have is punitive justice. Without the cross, only a totalitarian, highly regulated government works. Without the cross, we are stuck in Ecclesiastes forever: "Meaningless, meaningless, all is meaningless."

But hallelujah - we are not without the cross.

With the cross, we have hope. With the cross, change is possible. With the cross, we can work for societal progress, knowing that even unbelievers benefit when believers live in the land. With the cross, we realize that common grace which benefits everyone and the special grace that believers should carry with them wherever we go. With the cross, we can have restorative justice, democratic government, and the promise that nothing is meaningless but instead, "All things work together for good to them that know the Lord."

Without the cross, all we have is the Fall. With the cross, we have redemption.

The speaker had none of the cross in his words to me that day. I had to determine to pray for my friend more specifically - not to get answers to many questions, but to would grow to love the cross.

It's foolishness to the world. But it's life to you and me.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

7000 Faithful

"I still have left in Israel seven thousand followers who have not bowed their knees to Baal or kissed the images of him." (1 Kings 19:18)
Elijah was depressed. Following the literal mountain-top experience of seeing God defeat the prophets of Baal, Elijah runs in fear from Jezebel and feels like he is the only faithful one left in Israel. God encourages him with this word - there are 7000 who are faithful. Elijah gets back in the battle after this exhortation.

But this week I was thinking of the 7000. Sometimes (usually!) I have a delayed realization of the obvious. Yesterday it hit me that we are never told that those 7000 were all together. I'd always pictured them huddled in some early mega-synagogue, worshipping God and awaiting His instructions. Ha! Instead, they were probably not unlike Elijah - alone, scared, and maybe even depressed.

Furthermore, we are never told whether they received the same encouraging word as Elijah. Suppose for a minute that you were one of those 7000 - and did not receive divine notification that there were 6,999 others? Suddenly a prophet comes through and speaks of having heard that there were 7000 faithful. You might hope he's talking of you, and wonder who else is out there.

I'm not sure what Israel's exact population was at this time - a battle near this time featured 10,000 Israelite soldiers, so the population was large enough to support that many in one battle. Suffice it to say that 7000 wasn't a huge percentage. Yet for God's purposes, it was enough.

Sometimes when we are in the battle we feel we are alone. We wonder who else is out there seeing things with God-glorifying lenses and fighting for His name's sake. Sometimes God speaks to us to let us know we are part of a larger remnant. Other times, we have to take Him at His word.

He told Paul in Corinth, "I have many people in this city." At other stops, Paul just had to look for those who were looking for God. Jesus had said, after all, that He had many sheep not of the fold of Israel - and Paul was enough of a theologian to know that missions was the task of finding those sheep ... with or without the divine specificity of Corinth.

You may feel like Elijah today - or like the 7000 who may not have received the encouraging word that they weren't alone. Take heart: God has always maintined a remnant. Whether He reveals that to you or asks you to take it by faith, regard it as truth and move forward in obedience.

Above all, stay faithful. Stay in the battle.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Facebooking in the Light

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. (1 John 1:5-7)

If you're on Facebook you know what it means to have no secrets. If you're not, let me give you a little insight.

Facebook is a social networking tool - kind of like email, only more public - where users post what they're doing, what groups they support, who their friends are, etc. It's a great way to stay in touch - I've recently reconnected with 10 high school friends after 21 years.

But there are no secrets on Facebook. Once someone is your "friend", when you log on you see what they are doing or have recently done. Status updates, groups joined, public messages written, pictures uploaded - it's all there for the world (or at least their friends) to view. The very attraction of Facebook has been the downfall of more than a few people who posted the wrong thing at the wrong time, seen by the wrong person - and a college application or job was in danger.

Strangely, this phenomenon reminds me of Scripture. I call it Facebooking in the Light. John wrote that we should live our lives openly, for all to see, in such a way that there is nothing to hide. On Facebook, I find myself thinking of status updates that would be "cool" - and resisting the temptation to be something I'm not when reflecting what I'm doing. I find myself paying attention to every group I join or every message I write, knowing that others will see it. And that's not a bad thing. People being the fallen creatures we are, there is deception, puffing up, manipulation, and outright stupidity on Facebook. There is also the chance, as a believer, to practice a biblical principle.

The thing is, John wants us to live all our lives in such a way that they can be this public, without shame. The groups we're involved in, the things we're saying to each other, the daily activities of our lives, should be free of needing to be tucked away in the shadows. We should walk in the light with each other - openly confessing our sins to each other, being straightforward when we realize someone has something against us - and we should walk in the light before the world, doing nothing that couldn't be posted for all to see.

There will be the temptation to act like something we're not. But the fact is that God changes us from the inside out. So what we demonstrate should reflect an inner reality (otherwise it's called hypocrisy). Sanctification should bring us closer and closer to a congruence between what the Word says we should be/are, what we are becoming inside, and who we are in our thoughts, feelings, and actions.

What areas of our lives make us cringe at the thought of public portrayal? What would we want to keep off Facebook? Those are the very things we should bring before the throne of God and allow Him to work on ... so that we can bring one more area into the light.

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 13 And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account. (Heb. 4:12-13)

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

His Part and Ours

"then He will drive out all these nations ahead of you, and you will dispossess nations greater and stronger than you. Every place you set your foot will be yours...." (Deut. 11:23-24a)

I've come to the place of realizing I'd save myself a lot of grief if I could separate MY part in a matter from HIS part.

The fact is, most of my stress comes from fretting about something that's His part anyway. Figuring out how it should work out, what to do, coming up with a plan - my natural bent toward the analytical and my gift of administration make me want to ACT! The hardest times for me are not when He gives me a tough task, but when He asks me to wait on Him.

On the cusp of their advance into the Promised Land, Israel needed to be reminded what was God's part and what was theirs. They'd missed that message 40 years earlier, and He was making sure they got it this time. Right before the battle of their lives, He laid down 5 tasks that were their part:

1) Love God
2) Do what He requires (obey His word)
3) Live according to His standards
4) Remain loyal to Him
5) Tell those who hadn't personally experienced what they had about Him

That's it. And if they did, He promised them success over enemies larger than them. He assured them of victory. His part was the battle. Theirs was childlike love, faith, and obedience - with a good dose of passing along stories of His great works.

I'm trying to sort through His part and mine in several areas right now. One thing I can know for sure - His part will always be bigger than mine. That's how He gets the glory. And He doesn't need me giving directions from the backseat!

Saturday, November 08, 2008


A reminder to us all: Tomorrow (11/9) is the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church. Whether or not YOUR church is participating, you can pray and be engaged in the spiritual warfare that is behind persecution.

There is a beautiful song that is the "theme song" for this year's IDOPPC - you can hear it and read the poignant words at:

I also found this wonderful story and encouragment from the website at However you choose to do it, please focus some time tomorrow on prayer for the persecuted church.

From ...
There is a wonderful little story from Africa. The villagers in a poor area decided to build a hospital but really had no money so a small boy decided he would do something. The only things he had were some pens. So he started to knock on doors asking people to buy a pen to support the building project. A lady said to him, "But that's too big a challenge for you!" Then the boy smiled and said, "Oh, but I am not alone! My smaller brother is selling pens on the other side of the street."

Many brothers and sisters in Christ in more than sixty nations do not have the full freedom to confess Jesus as Lord and Saviour in our world. Just to give you two examples: when you read this some two thousand Christians are in prison in Eritrea and thousands have lost their homes in India as a result of anti-Christian attacks. More than 100 million Christians face disinformation, discrimination and persecution only because they want to follow Jesus Christ. And they are your brothers and sisters! They easily feel alone—in the jungle, in a hiding place or in a prison.

When I now welcome you to the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church (IDOP) 2008 I challenge you to do whatever you can so that we together send a strong signal to our brother and sister saying: YOU ARE NOT ALONE! Let's "sell pens on the other side of the street" so that they really feel that they are not alone.

I believe that God has equipped us with each other for a time like this, and that now is the time to show our love. You can do this by praying, printing out material from these pages and sharing them in your church, or by giving financial help to good organizations.

Many persecuted Christians have told me that they could feel that people around the world were praying for them when they were in prison. Now again is the time to form the world's biggest prayer group with more than 100 nations taking part. But remember that we are praying not only FOR the persecuted church, we are very much also praying WITH the persecuted church in November. There are blessings for all of us when we unite in prayer to glorify the wonderful name of Jesus.

Welcome to participation in IDOP 2008!

Sunday, November 02, 2008


I just finished a wonderful magazine. Life Action Ministries produces an annual Spirit of Revival magazine. This year's emphasis was on rest. Since I finally got around to reading it 6 months after it arrived in my mailbox, I decided it probably had some words for me!

And it did - words that I felt appropriate to share with you as well. The overall theme of the magazine is that as a society we move so fast, we need to hit the Pause button from time to time. God knew this, and He established the Sabbath for man, not man for the Sabbath. And yet Pause is about more than Sabbath. It's about getting alone with God. To promote spiritual pauses in our lives, Life Action recommends that we:

Divert Daily
Withdraw Weekly
Abandon Annually

And then, in the minutes and hours and days and weeks in between, we should follow Brother Lawrence's advice: Practice the Presence of God. Lawrence - a monk who worked in the kitchen and repaired sandals - exhorted believers not to ignore the process of getting to know how to hear God's voice. Most significantly for me, he exhorted: "Don't try to go faster than grace."

That's probably my biggest downfall. I have the heart of an activist. When I believe in a cause, I want to do something about it. When I have a passion, I want to plan and structure and outline and MOVE. When God says wait, watch, and pray, I struggle. I try to go faster than grace.

So I'm working to slow down. I'm trying to me more relational, more intentional, more prayerful. I'm trying to pause. Whatever task God puts before me I want to do with all my heart - but I never want to go faster than grace.


Frustrated Intentions

Moses said to the Gadites and the Reubenites, “Must your brothers go to war while you remain here? Why do you frustrate the intent of the Israelites to cross over into the land which the Lord has given them? Your fathers did the same thing when I sent them from Kadesh Barnea to see the land. When they went up to the Eshcol Valley and saw the land, they frustrated the intent of the Israelites so that they did not enter the land that the Lord had given them." (Num. 32:6-9)

The tribes of Gad and Reuben liked the land on the east side of the Jordan. They couldn't imagine a better place for their cattle and were willing to give up their inheritance within the Promised Land for what was before their eyes.

Amazingly, God let them do it.

But God laid down clear lines - Gad and Reuben's decision wouldn't hinder the rest of Israel. This time, they would enter. Gad and Reuben could stay behind in the land they chose rather than taking what God intended for them - but not until they assisted with the conquest. Their position as His children wasn't questioned. They represent not unbelievers, but believers who simply settle for less.

You see, God doesn't force us to go all the way with Him. He will allow us to settle for less than what He has promised. But we have to realize that when we do so, we are frustrating the intentions of those in the body who want to claim all He has promised. And we are frustrating His intentions.

But He doesn't let us off the hook easily. We may miss out on personal blessings by staying in the security of the known, but He still calls us to assist others who are in the battle.

Don't get me wrong ... I'm not saying that only those who "go" or who are in full time ministry are in the battle. I believe with all my heart that God calls some to minister full time, some to go, some to be lights at secular universities and public schools, some to be in medicine and engineering and garbage collection - all for His glory. And all those people may be in the "land" of ministry God has for them, exercising spiritual gifts at work and in the church and fully entering what He has for them.

What I'm referring to are those who knowingly choose to linger back, sensing God's call to something unknown but choosing not to heed it. "I know God wants me to teach Sunday School, but I hate to miss the service once a month." "That job would be an awesome ministry opportunity, but I know all the people at this one and I'm such an introvert." "God has put that country on my heart, but I could never go because I'm scared of flying."

Those are the people who, like the tribes of Gad and Reuben, choose less than God's "land". I've been in that group at times - as I'm sure you have. And yet God's handling of the situation tells me - yes, God will let me have my preferences, but He isn't going to hold His plan back on my behalf. He still expects me to pray and give and fight for those willing to enter the fray. I can retreat then to my safety, but if I'm needed, I have to get on my knees or give and serve.

I have reached a point in my life where I pray I will never again let fear of the unknown hold me back from a ministry opportunity. I want all the "land" God has for me in His kingdom purposes - not for my own sake, but for His glory. I appreciate God's understanding and mercy when I asked to be held back. But even more, I love seeing Him at work when I'm not frustrating His intentions ... when I'm hearing Him march in the treetops above me and I know He is leading the battle and that I will soon watch and see the glory of the Lord!

A Stubborn Supporter

"What then shall we say about these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?" (Rom. 8:31)

If there's a Scripture easier for the enemy to use against a seasoned believer than this one, I don't know what it is. Just as he threw God's words at Jesus in Luke 4, hoping to throw Him off by causing Him to doubt God, this is one he brings up at the worst moments of our lives. In whispers or shouts, he challenges us:

That boss who is out to get you? Surely he's against you.
That election didn't turn out the way you'd hoped. The new leader will be against you.
You were thrown in jail for your faith. The authorities are against you.

Each challenge brings us to a climax of faith: will we believe God, or won't we? We understand the truth theologically, but in the warfare of the trenches we wonder how it applies to our situation.

Thankfully, God gives us examples from His word to show us that what Paul was teaching the Romans is that for a believer, He is a stubborn supporter. He is on our side - even when things are bad. He's not out to get us, to punish or condemn us, to curse us. He is FOR us.

Israel experienced God's stubborn support even as their own stubborn unbelief left them wandering the desert for 40 years. In the midst of that era, a prophet named Balaam thought he would curse Israel for a few bucks. Numbers 22-24 records the result: Every time he opened his mouth to curse, blessings poured forth. God was stubbornly supporting Israel. Israel didn't know what was going on behind the scenes, but God was actively working on their behalf.

Paul goes on to talk in Romans 8 about enduring death all day long, about facing persecution and trials and challenges. Yet he also talks about how God works good in all things ... not that all things are good. He is shaping us into His image, and we can know that the hard things we face are part of His good in our lives - that He is FOR us.

Don't let the enemy lie to you. You have a stubborn supporter. He is for you. Behind the scenes He is actively working on your behalf. He never stops transforming curses into blessings for His children.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Carried to the Table

I don't know if you've had the chance to read Let the Nations Be Glad but you should make time! When you do you will find that one of Piper's key points is that to truly have a passion for missions we must have a passion for God - a passion expressed as worship.

But let me share an honest reflection from my own experience: Sometimes when we are first really learning to worship we find that it is an acquired taste. Meaning, we don't necessarily know what it looks or feels like. We are hard-wired in our sin nature away from worship and toward self, so when we seek to turn that around we may wonder if we are doing it right.

I remember as a new Christian not feeling and wanting the things that older, seasoned believers told me were "normal" for Christians. I struggled with prayer, with Bible study - and with worship. In each case, I had to ask God to give me that desire, that passion. I went on the assumption that He would give me what I was supposed to have, but I felt like something was wrong because it wasn't there "automatically".

What I have learned over the years is that for me, the things of the Spirit must be nurtured and developed in my life, rather than being an automatic presence. After 11 years or so of quiet times I still have to drag myself out of bed - but I have learned that it's okay to pray and ask Him to make it worthwhile. I've learned it's okay to wake up in His arms - literally!

Learning to worship for me is like learning to eat healthy after spending too much of my life eating junk food. With each piece of fruit and salad, I retrain my taste buds. Likewise, with each time of focusing intentionally on God, I reorient myself spiritually away from self and onto Him.

That's a long introduction to this video. Before this morning I'd never heard of the group or the song - but it is such a blessing to me now. It hearkens the story of David & Mephibosheth in 2 Sam 9. Mephibosheth you recall from 2 Sam 4:4 was Jonathan's lame son. David calls him to the table to dine with the king - but Mephibosheth doesn't know that David's intentions are fellowship. And the picture, of course, is one of Christ and us. I won't waste any more words introducing this except to say that this is one of those videos that will give you a taste for the things of God, to help develop that worship which is so essential to having a heart for the kingdom.

2 Samuel 9:1 And David said, “Is there still anyone left of the house of Saul, that I may show him kindness for Jonathan's sake?” 2 Now there was a servant of the house of Saul whose name was Ziba, and they called him to David. And the king said to him, “Are you Ziba?” And he said, “I am your servant.” 3 And the king said, “Is there not still someone of the house of Saul, that I may show the kindness of God to him?” Ziba said to the king, “There is still a son of Jonathan; he is crippled in his feet.” 4 The king said to him, “Where is he?” And Ziba said to the king, “He is in the house of Machir the son of Ammiel, at Lo-debar.” 5 Then King David sent and brought him from the house of Machir the son of Ammiel, at Lo-debar. 6 And Mephibosheth the son of Jonathan, son of Saul, came to David and fell on his face and paid homage. And David said, “Mephibosheth!” And he answered, “Behold, I am your servant.” 7 And David said to him, “Do not fear, for I will show you kindness for the sake of your father Jonathan, and I will restore to you all the land of Saul your father, and you shall eat at my table always.” 8 And he paid homage and said, “What is your servant, that you should show regard for a dead dog such as I?”

9 Then the king called Ziba, Saul's servant, and said to him, “All that belonged to Saul and to all his house I have given to your master's grandson. 10 And you and your sons and your servants shall till the land for him and shall bring in the produce, that your master's grandson may have bread to eat. But Mephibosheth your master's grandson shall always eat at my table.” Now Ziba had fifteen sons and twenty servants. 11 Then Ziba said to the king, “According to all that my lord the king commands his servant, so will your servant do.” So Mephibosheth ate at David's [1] table, like one of the king's sons. 12 And Mephibosheth had a young son, whose name was Mica. And all who lived in Ziba's house became Mephibosheth's servants. 13 So Mephibosheth lived in Jerusalem, for he ate always at the king's table. Now he was lame in both his feet.