Monthly Archives: January 2014

Eternal Perspectives

“Begin with the end in mind,” is one of Steven Covey’s 7 habits of highly effective people.  A Biblical way of saying this would be to have an eternal perspective.  Randy Alcorn writes in Money, Possessions and Eternity: “Only when we gain an eternal perspective will we eagerly follow our Lord’s command to devote our brief lives on earth to the pursuit of eternal treasure.”  In Ecclesiastes 3:10 Solomon writes that God has set eternity in our hearts, but doesn’t tell us how long we’ll live so that we’ll fear Him.  We long for eternity on one hand, but we live for today on the other hand, locked into so many pursuits that will not give us treasure in Heaven, will be left behind for others to bid over at auctions, or will burn when this earth burns.

Having an eternal perspective:

  • is bigger than what money we give, though that’s a start
  • involves doing things that bear spiritual fruit, make disciples, help others come to know Jesus
  • causes us to spend our time and money differently
  • understands that one day we will all give an account to Jesus about what we’ve done
  • serves others and not self
  • makes us “be rich toward God,” as Luke 12:21 admonishes and full of good works (Acts 9:36-43 and Titus 2:14; 3:14)
  • causes us to raise our standard of living to raise our standard of giving, not to indulge on ourselves

It should cause us to ask certain value questions like,

  • Is my life really revolving around God’s kingdom, His glory and His people or is it about my plans, my dreams and my stuff?
  • Have I been spending money on myself first and giving God the leftovers?
  • Do I tithe and then do what I want with the rest, thinking that’s all there is to do?
  • Is my view of life, money and reality radically different than the nonbelievers around me, or am I chasing the same things they are?
  • What am I holding on to that is robbing me of present joy and future reward?
  • What do I need to get rid of to find that joy and reward?
  • How can I spend my time and money differently, with eternity in view?
  • If how I spend my money indicates where my heart is, where am I spending most of my money?
  • How can that change?

Scrooge had a visit from the ghosts of Christmas to change his perspective.  I’m convinced that we all need a close up encounter with the living Spirit of God to burn off self and to give us a heart that beats for Him in a radical way.  And it’s not just something that happens once at a camp somewhere in the past, but something that is a daily filling, empowering and transformation.

 “If you then be risen with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.  Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.  For you dies and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.  When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.”  Colossians 3:1-3


Purses Without Holes in Them

In Haggai 1:3-11, Haggai declares the word of the Lord to the Israelites.  They had come back from the Babylonian exile and the top thing on God’s priority list was that they reclaim Jerusalem by rebuilding the walls and mostly, the Temple–the apple of God’s eye.  What do they do instead?  They spent their time living in their paneled houses while His special house remained a ruin.

As a result, God told them that they expected much but it turned out to be little and what they did get blew away.  The planed much and harvested little.  That ate but never got their fill.  Why?  Because they hadn’t put God first.  They put their money into purses with holes in them.

You’ve probably had that feeling of never getting ahead financially, of working hard but having nothing to show for it.  No matter how much you bring home, it doesn’t cover the bills and leave much to play with.  Instead of getting ahead, you only get behind and the credit card totals pile up.  Your pockets seem to have holes and it’s getting old.

If this sounds like your life, stop and honestly ponder.  Are you like the Israelites who were not putting God and His interests first?  Would God say this to you?

In Matthew 16:23 Jesus rebuked Peter when Peter said Jesus would never go to the cross.  Jesus bluntly replied “You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.”  When we put our vacations, retirement plans, newest widget, or kid’s education funds ahead of the kingdom of God, we’ll never get ahead.  We’re seeking first our kingdom with a very small k, in lieu of seeking God’s Kingdom with a very capital K.

In contrast, Luke 12:27-34 Jesus urged His followers to “provide purses for themselves that will not Purses without holes, ones that don’t wear out.    

wear out, a treasure in Heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys.”

 

How do we do this?

 

We start by tithing.  Randy Alcorn reminds us that it is the floor of our giving, not our ceiling.  It’s a starting point.  Once we begin to tithe, the ship turns around.  We start to get ahead.  Things stop breaking down and money comes in unexpectedly from all kinds of places.

We view our money as God’s money and we’re just the UPS guy that delivers the packages.  We don’t keep them.  That means the 10% doesn’t belong to God and the other 90 to us.  It’s all His, so we need to seek God on how to allocate what we have.

We invest in spiritual things that are eternal, not earthly things that are going to burn or rot in the end.  When we begin to do that, our heart changes.  Where our treasure is, our hearts follow.  So if I start to support a missionary that is planting churches in a unreached village, my prayers go with my check.  Pretty soon I can’t stop praying for them and I even want to go and visit them.   Soon I quit going shopping for a hobby, buying things I don’t need so I can have more to give.  My heart isn’t on stuff anymore, it’s on making disciples of all nations and how I can do that.

We cultivate an eternal perspective with not just our money, but our time, gifts and resources.  We say along with CT Studd “Only one life, twill soon be past.  Only what’s done for Christ will last.”  Then we begin to change our priorities to spend more time on finding people to minister to, more time listening to God and being in His Word and in prayer, and we stop wasting our time on trivial pursuits that are really self serving.

One day Jesus is going to come back and we will stand before Him and give an account of what we have done, according to 2 Corinthians 5:7.  When we have lived our short lives making for ourselves purses that will not wear out by seeking first God’s kingdom instead of our own, it’ll be a glad day.

 

 


Roadblocks to ‘Living For the Dash’

Randy Alcorn, in his book The Treasure Principle talks about an eternal perspective that lives like this isn’t all there is.  He coaches us to have our eyes on what’s ahead, not on what is here.  One of his examples in his 4th chapter includes pretending that we are in France and staying in a hotel.  We aren’t going to stay, but are going to head back to the United States.  We can’t take the things we accumulate with us, but the money we earn can be sent back to the States.  If that were the case, we wouldn’t spend money and time on decorating the hotel room.  We would send most of our money ahead of our departure.

That’s just how it is with storing up our treasures in the eternal coffers, not the earthly ones.  We get it, but we don’t.  We want to be used by God, but we just have so much to do here.  That includes earning a living, raising a family and having time for rest and refreshing.  And that takes most of our time and money.  So how can we possibly think about living a different way?  Part of it has to do with our mindset related to Heaven and eternity.

Our lives are a finite dot and eternity is an infinite dash of time.  I believe at least the 1000 year reign of Jesus will include us living as citizens in the Kingdom of God with resurrected bodies and what we do here impacts what we do there.  We just won’t be strumming harps but fully utilizing the gifts that God imparted us with.  How much we store up in eternal treasures will go with us in that Kingdom.  Even a cup of cold water in Jesus’ name will be rewarded, let alone a life sold out to Jesus with many such acts.

What we do here matters and one day we will be thankful for every Bible study we attended, every act of service we attempted in the name of Jesus, and every Bible verse memorized.  Alcorn calls this “Living for the Dash.”

 

But there are roadblocks to living this way, otherwise we’d all be accomplishing much more in the name of Jesus and His Kingdom.  Alcorn lists things like unbelief, insecurity, pride, idolatry and a desire for power and control that keeps us from giving more and from living for the dash.  Unbelief has a lot of siblings.  Let’s name some of them:  worry, fear, doubt, and lack of trust.  Those things lead to self pity, despair and spiritual inactivity.  We’re too busy spinning in circles to move ahead.  We’re also too busy thinking about ourselves to think about serving the King.  In Jeremiah 2:13 God scolds the Israelites by telling them that they have rejected Him, the fountain of living water and have made leaky containers instead that hold no water.  That’s idolatry–turning to things other than Jesus to fill the holes in our heart that only Jesus is intended to fill.  We can’t fill it with shopping, food, kids or friends.

When the Bible says in Psalm 23 that “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want (need anything)” it is true.  God leads us beside still waters, He holds us in the palm of His hand, and He takes care of  our tomorrow.  He even writes the script of our lives.  If we are really in charge of our lives and not God, then when things don’t go the way we think they should go we spin.  We worry, fret and control.  We use money to provide a facade of security even though it’s a house of straw.  We certainly wouldn’t want to give money to things that don’t benefit us, we have to hold on to it to take care of ourselves.  That’s if self is on the throne of our hearts.  The issue of money hits at who is Lord of our lives.  If Jesus is Lord and sits on our heart’s throne, then we realize what we have is His, not ours.

The anecdote?  Take God at His word.  Trust Him.  Find your joy in Him, not in anything else.  When the disciples worried about where they were going to get bread, Jesus rebuked them for having hard hearts and called them “O ye of little faith.”  He didn’t say “Oh, poor dear.”  He said to Peter “Get thee behind me Satan, you are setting your interests on yourself not on God’s interests,” in Matthew 16:23.  And He called Peter a hinderance.  Ouch.

Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 10:3-5 to take every thought captive to make it obedient to Christ.  When we worry, don’t trust and take things into our own hands, it is sin.  It is a tug of war, but the same power of the Holy Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead is the power available to us to overcome.  Our goal isn’t just to overcome, it is to move ahead in Jesus name.  It is to obey God and to let Him take care of the consequences of our obedience.  

And when we do?  We will have stored up treasure in Heaven where moth and rust cannot corrupt.  The Dow Jones average won’t impact it, nor will our aging bodies and minds.


Kingdom Next

Matthew 13:52 “Every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of Heaven is like a master of a house, who brings out of his treasure what is old and new.” ESV

Stumbling onto this verse has opened up a door of lots of thoughts about the kingdom of Heaven.  I am reading The Treasure Principle by Randy Alcorn (Multnomah Publishers, 2001), so my thoughts are mixed in with things that Alcorn’s book is stirring in me as well.  Let me begin to explain my journey so maybe you can join in with it.

My first thought is about how maybe what we’re learning on earth isn’t really just for what takes place during our tenure on this planet, but it’s really about training us for the kingdom of Heaven.  Matt. 13:52 mentions scribes being trained for the kingdom, but what if all of our spiritual gifts that God has given us are being honed for use later on?

By later on, I’m referring to the kingdom of Heaven, which I believe is the Millennium.  That is the 1000 literal years where Jesus sits on the throne in Jerusalem.  We will be there with resurrected bodies, and I believe human inhabitants will be there, Jews that will inhabit Israel and multiply over the course of 1000 years.  When Jesus told His parables, most of them start with the phrase “the kingdom of Heaven is like…” The book of Matthew calls it the kingdom of Heaven, Luke calls it “the kingdom of God.”

Jesus’ parables are describing what the Millennial kingdom will look like, which begins with Jesus being the actual, physical king.  In the time that Jesus was alive, they thought that the kingdom of God was going to appear immediately so He was trying to tell them it was not now, but later and just what it would look like.   How much later is still a secret.   A lot of His parables are about a king or a master going away and then coming back and what it will be like when he comes back.  Matthew records parables about vineyards and the owner of the vineyard and the tenants.  The vineyard was Israel, but they were wild and rebellious, in contrast to Jesus, the True Vine.  Matthew was writing primarily to the Jews, so he was telling them that’s who they were and one day when Jesus was going to come back and fix things.

The parables are about what happens at the close of the age, which is when Jesus is going to return.  We spend a lot of time pondering and perhaps debating the details of Jesus’ return, but not much time is spent talking about the Millennium, which is what the parables are describing.  Not only are we being trained here in giftings and roles that will be used when Jesus sits on the throne, but what we do now in this age determines our lot, our treasure and our positioning during that 1000 years.

Luke 19 records the parable of the talents, where the Master leaves guys with money and then comes back some time later to see what they did with them.  Two of them doubled what they had and the Master commends them and says ‘you will be over ten cities,’ or five cities.  What they did with what He gave them brought not just a reward of double their money, but it translated into cities that they would rule over.  What we do here matters!  What we do with what God has given us will be judged, rewarded and perhaps punished somehow.

I Corinthians 3:10-15 records, “If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward.  If anyone’s work is burn up, he will suffer loss though he himself will be saved.”

There is a lot of talk about rewards of some sort woven into Jesus’ commands and descriptions of the kingdom of God.  In Matthew 5:12 we find that if we’re persecuted, great is our reward in Heaven; Matt. 6:1-4 tells us that if we give loudly the acclaim of others is our reward, but if we give in secret, we will get reward from the Father; Matt. 10:40-42 says if we receive a prophet (listen to him and help him) we will receive a prophet’s reward; Matt. 19:28-30 tells that those who have given up houses, lands and families will receive them back 100 fold in the age to come–that’s the Millennium.

Matthew 6:19-24 commands to store up our treasures in Heaven where thieves cannot steal and the treasure can’t mold or rust.  It also tells us that our hearts will be wherever our treasure is.  If my heart is on Jesus, my eternal treasure and pleasure, then that’s where my preoccupation will be.  And as my money and time follows that, then I’m storing up power, possessions and pleasures in what I call “Kingdom Next.”

In Hebrews 11:24-26, Moses is commended in the Faith Hall of Fame chapter for choosing to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin, considering the reproach of Christ as greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward.”

He had long term, ‘Kingdom Next’ thinking.  It is so easy to instead have short term, earthly centered thinking.  Short term thinking has our hearts and minds hunkered down on going to work, raising kids, paying bills, saving for college and retirement, having some fun on weekends, maybe having some extra money for widgets of some sort.  It is about sports and academic achievements, getting money and stuff and then living for your grandchildren, retirement and a nice nursing home.  Perhaps there are some fleeting pleasures of sin mixed in there and fleeting pleasures that aren’t sinful, but consume our time and energy.

Moses’ long term, gratification deferring thinking includes treasuring the riches of Kingdom Next, of Jesus’ reproach, of Kingdom things as greater value.  The guy that found the treasure in the field and sold everything to get it found Jesus and His kingdom, which is now and not yet.  Kingdom Next thinking is giving away money to the poor and to ministry pursuits, not keeping it; it’s living simply so as to not be owned by payments; it’s spending time on people and spiritual things and not on sitting in the bleachers and deer stands and shopping malls; it’s knowing that what I sow I will reap eventually, so I keep doing good and serving God and others regardless of the pats on the back now; it’s living differently because we’re looking ahead to the reward.

What trips us up from this kind of living?

  • The pull of the daily grind
  • The love of money and of stuff, and the cares of the world (Matt. 13:22 says it chokes us)
  • The pull of the world, driven by media
  • The desires of the flesh, which immediate gratification feeds

What helps us keep our eye on “Kingdom Next?”

  • Being in the Word to go against the pull of the world
  • Walking by the Spirit so we won’t gratify the desires of the flesh
  • Being around others who are running after Jesus, not around those who aren’t
  • Clinging to Jesus, our treasure, and not letting other things distract and deter
  • Understanding that what we do here matters and determines our lot for eternity

 


Materialism and Narcissism

A friend became a Christian early on in college.  He had lived a life of partying previously and left that to follow Jesus.  He had some up’s and down’s over the years, so when I saw him several years after college, I asked him how he was doing spiritually.  Bruce was making plenty of money in his career, and he paused and then said that he wasn’t where he should be with the Lord.   He said, “I get the same feeling from money that I used to get from pot.  Materialism is my drug, but no one at church judges me for it like they would if I was smoking pot again.  But my attitude is the same.”

Wow.  I’ve never heard it said like that, but it’s true.  In the Old Testament we read how the Israelites had Asherah poles and altars to Baal in their back yards and it took a radical prophet to pull them down.  Would you suppose that materialism is our Asherah poles, or as Bruce so aptly said: our pot?

In Money, Possessions and Eternity by Randy Alcorn, he quotes statistics that 17% of American Christians claim to tithe, but only 6% actually do and 23% gave nothing.  What we do with our money reflects what we do with God and our relationship with Him.  In Luke 12:20-21 there is the story about the guy who filled his barns and then died without being able to enjoy his stored wealth.  Jesus called him a fool and said “This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God.”  Tithing is one way to be rich toward God, and to ensure that we’ve giving God the first fruits of our bounty.  But it’s not the only way.  We could put money in the plate and still be selfish with  our time, self centered in our pursuits and cold hearted to God.

Our stewardship when it comes to being rich toward God becomes the story of our lives.  I don’t think we intend to be short sighted as Christians, but if we don’t intend not to be, the pull of the culture takes over.  We live in a materialistic and narcissistic culture.  Randy Alcorn writes that Satan is the lord of materialism. Our world is currently ruled by Satan until Jesus comes back and takes over.

Materialism is money-centered and thing-centered rather than being God-centered.  Narcissism is being me-centered.  Combine the two and we’re in trouble.  Our culture seems to be getting more and more narcissistic by the minute.

The cell phone commercial where the parents trample each other to get a better picture of their kids on stage plays out reality, where we’ve put our kids and ourselves on stage–trampling each other to get a close up shot.  Facebook is the adult version of a kid’s music program all too often, where we think that everyone needs to know things like “I’m sitting on the porch.”  I know someone who posted 800 pictures of her sister’s wedding.  Really?

We might not intend to be thing and me centered, but if we’re not about the Kingdom and being rich toward God, then we are. Jesus just might call us fools too.  If I think that the Christian life is about me and my dreams, my happiness, my pursuits, how my week went, then I’ve fallen into a trap that makes me not rich toward God.  It’s easy to just want to think about those things and not about bigger things.

Colossians 3:1-3 commands us to set our hearts and minds on things above.  John the Baptist told the Pharisees to “produce fruit in keeping with repentance,” in Luke 3 and then told them what to do with their greedy hearts.  I want a generous heart and that would involve not just my money, but my time and the things I have, whether it’s a lot or a little.  And I want a kingdom centered heart, an other’s centered heart and one that is rich toward God.

How do I get there?  Set my affections on things above, as Colossians 3 urges.  I do that by making sure that I spend time with Jesus each day, meditating on His call to be my treasure.  Then with His strength I resist the pull to love gadgets and shopping and me time over and above what benefits others and the Kingdom.  If I ask God how to do that each day, I trust He’ll tell me.

Randy Alcorn writes “I, for one, hate to live with that nagging feeling deep inside that when Jesus called people to follow Him, He had more in mind than I am experiencing.”

God, may you take me to what You do have in mind for me, to a life that is rich toward you and rejects the pull of the world.  Take me away from the love of stuff and comfort at the expense of what You really want.  Answer the stirrings of my heart, to show me how to balance work, home.  I don’t know how to get there from here, but I trust that You will show me.

 

 


Not the Final Chapter of Loving God

Colson ends the book with a story of Dave Chapman and his journey of faith.  As with all of his stories, there are vivid points that come out of us learning about a man that took awhile to get to where he really loved God and was ready to be used by Him.  One thing that started things off in Dave’s faith journey was that his wife became a Christian and actively shared her faith through dinner parties.  Though Dave had made a commitment to Jesus, he was more and more distanced from the whole affair.

Step two was prompted by a conversation he had with a dinner party speaker, a Dr. Newman.  God used him to poke into Dave’s questioning heart.  God used Dr. Newman as He did His surgery to get Dave moving.  There were a couple of lines in the chapter that jumped out as Charles relayed Dave’s story.

1.  Dave pondered that people can preach sermons (or teach lessons or tell people stuff) about God and man, but for all of their interpretations and illustrations, it is no more opinions from the bleachers unless it is lived out.  James 2 tells us that we can’t just tell someone who is hungry “God bless you, be warm and filled,” and send them on their way.  Our zeal is measured not by our words, but our action.

2.  As Dave quit judging his wife’s Christian activities and relationship with God from a distance and God zoomed in on him through some critical incidences at his workplace, it grabbed him that he had fired an accountant who had cost their client millions of dollars.  After he finished berating him for not knowing that tax law book frontwards  and back, God convicted Dave that he only casually read the Bible.  On page 224, he said “You will never know what God wants unless you seriously study the Word.  But when you begin to do what He tells you there, you’ll feel His love.”

There are two parts to that realization.  The first was that just as his accountant only casually read the tax book and failed, that’s where Dave was at with the Bible.  I remember a pastor friend who knows the Bible well and communicates it marvelously saying that people have asked him how he knows the Bible.  He said that he made up his mind that since he was a follower of Jesus that was the right thing to do, so he set a habit pattern of devouring it.  He wasn’t a pastor then.  He studied, memorized and did whatever he could to become well versed not just in what the Bible said, but in trying to actually put it into practice.

 

But if all we do is know the Bible and we don’t put it into practice, we fall short.  And we don’t feel God’s love until we obey Him.  That’s what John 14:23 tells us: “If you obey my commands, My Father will love you and We will make our home with you.”  When I obey God by putting His commands into practice, I feel His love.

There are the general commands that God tells us to obey.  They are not suggestions, but mandatory for believers.  They are things like: love your neighbor; be kind; don’t steal; don’t let the sun go down on your anger; no sexual immorality or foolish talk; don’t get drunk with wine but be filled with the Spirit; defend the cause of the weak and powerless.  There are tons more just like that.

But then there are specific commands that God personalizes just for us through His Holy Spirit that speaks to us.  It may be things like telling us when to apologize because we were rude to a coworker or family member, or putting poor and lonely people on our hearts that He actually wants us to do something with.

In Dave’s case, it was prisoners.  It preoccupied his time and energy in place of his old habits of drinking too much or spending money on himself.  Colson didn’t tell us how his story ended, but he was on the brink of sacrificing a position with the governor to blow the whistle on abhorrent prison conditions in his State.

I don’t think we wake up with zeal for God that translates into specific action that bears fruit.  That comes from doing just what Dave and my pastor friend did: pour over the Word as a habit pattern.  It is there that God gives us zeal and a spiritual appetite and then tells us what to do and how to do it.

 

God used Dr. Newman in Dave’s life.  Who can you spur on that is following God at a distance?

 

How has God been working in your heart in reading the book Loving God that you need to put into action?  Take some time to really process this, because otherwise we are just hearers and not doers.  And we won’t feel God’s love, because we won’t be obeying Him and following after His eyes and heart.  They seem to be on the poor, lonely, powerless and defenseless the most.

 

How can we do it together?  Alone we can do little, but together we can do much.


Taking a hold of Jesus because He took a hold of us

In chapter 22 of Loving God, Charles Colson tells of an obscure saint, Myrtie Howell, who was 91 and confined to a wheelchair in an old folk’s home.  She had lost most her loved ones and had reached the end of herself and her emotional resources.  Myrtie cried out to God  and said “What more can I do for You?  Take me, I’m ready to die.”  As clear as a bell, God spoke to her heart, telling her to write to prisoners.  That she did, and began corresponding with hundreds of incarcerated men and women around the country.  She found true joy, as did her pen pals as she shared the love of Jesus with them.

She was probably in her late 80’s when she asked the question that we all need to ask God NOW.  That questions is “God, what do You want to do with my life?”  “How do I take a hold of the very reason and purpose that you saved me and created me for?”  Myrtie was at the end of herself, old and abandoned with no props to keep her distracted from keeping on living without finding that purpose that God gave her.

The whole purpose driven life idea shouldn’t be that we come up with a purpose for our lives, or find purpose in our jobs and family and hobbies and try to make something out of them.  The idea is that we ask God what His purpose for us is.  Then we wait and listen for the answer and finally–we set about doing it.

In Galatians 2:19 Paul wrote: “I died to the law so that I might live for Christ.”  We died to self so that we could live for Christ.  That is why He saved us according to Ephesians 2:10 “We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which He has prepared in advance for us to do.”

We are busy, all of us.  Busier by the minute.  What if we asked God what He wanted us to be busy about?  And then we listened for His answer and then we did it?  Did you know that you can hear God’s voice if you listen for it?

He speaks primarily through the Bible.  He tells us who He is and where we came from and where we’re going.  But another way that He speaks is when we’re reading the Bible, the Holy Spirit engages with us in a way that doesn’t happen when we’re not in the Word.  That’s what gives us a spiritual appetite.  I’m convinced that’s why most Christians are arm chair quarterbacks, not using their gifts or engaged in their Father’s business.  They’re not reading the Bible and meditating on it at all or at best, infrequently.  They have no desire for gathering with fellow believers and if they do serve in some capacity it is a duty and not a joy.  Or, when they do, it is mostly without fruit.

God also speaks to our spirits.  Romans 8 talks about the Spirit testifying with our spirit that we are His children.  God speaks through an inaudible voice, through other people at times, through dreams, promptings and through placing thoughts in our minds that didn’t come from us.  We need to stop and listen to His voice.

Myrtie truly began living for Christ when she called out to Him, heard His command to write to prisoners and then did it.

Now it’s our turn.


Loving God: Going Outside the Camp

In Hebrews 13:11-14 we see: “The high priest carries the blood of animals into the Most Holy Place as a sin offering, but the bodies are burned outside the camp.  And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through His own blood.  Let us, then, go to Him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace He bore.  For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.”

 Going outside the camp–what does that mean?

 There’s the saying “think outside the box” that’s become commonplace.  In John 10:16 Jesus said “I have other sheep that are not of this fold.  I must go and bring them in also.”  His mind and eyes were always looking out, not in.  He wants us to think outside of the fold and outside of the camp.  Our eyes are to be not on ourselves, our agenda, our spiritual entertainment–but instead on God’s kingdom and the people He has His eyes on.

 When Jesus, the great High Priest, went outside the city to bear disgrace and our sins, He wasn’t focused on upward mobility, climbing the ladder to success, or living the American dream.  His status was the opposite and obscure almost.  Same call to us.  Don’t wait for people to come to us, but we go out to them.  And the call is to downward mobility, an uncomfortable life and mixing it up with the poor and needy.

 What does that mean in every day terms?

 I suppose it means that we go looking for ways to connect with people.  Some might not look poor and needy on the outside but they are on the inside.  They might not have anyone that listens to them or goes beyond the surface or has the spiritual eyes to see and to probe into the deeper heart issues.  Some do look poor and needy and we can’t miss them.

 If I set about on my day with the idea that I’m going to minister to someone today in Jesus’ name, I probably would need to ask God to give me His ears and eyes.  Plus, His energy and power and wisdom and resources.  Sometimes I just don’t want to listen to others.  I don’t ask them how they’re doing because I’m busy with my ‘to do’ list.  We get so busy finding people to listen to us that we aren’t busy finding people to listen to.  To ask deeper questions related to their lives because we’ve taken the time to get to know them, like “how’s your son doing now that he’s gone off to college?” or “do you find your job satisfying?” or even “if you did win the lottery, what would you do?”  And then, with God’s wisdom and words, begin to share what meaning can be found with a spiritual perspective.

 

We communicate more than we ever have with e mails, texts, Facebook and Tweets, but we say less than we ever have.  People go out to eat together and they’re texting and on their Smart Phones and no none is with each other while they’re sitting together.

 Then there are those who need us because they just don’t have physical resources.  Their lives are messed up, they don’t have jobs, decent places to live, they’ve gotten addicted to drugs or alcohol and they don’t have a family structure that would help to right the ship.  We can judge and say they’ve gotten there by their choices so they can get out with their choices.  But unless they have an encounter with a Christian or Jesus Himself, they are living the way they are because they don’t know another way to live.  Until we tell them.  Until we engage with them.  Until we go outside the camp to get them, bearing the shame and disgrace.

 That’s what stores us eternal savings in our enduring city.  This world is not our home and we aren’t going to take the things here into eternity.  But the things we do here do go on ahead of us and get placed into that enduring city when it’s done in Jesus’ name and for His kingdom’s sake.

 

Who can you connect with today?  How can you go outside the camp with Jesus?

 


Taking a Stand

Charles Colson tells the story of a judge, Bill Bontrager, who becomes a Christian and sees justice and mercy from an entirely different lens that radically altered his life.  He took a stand for a young man who had committed crimes, but now needed a chance to make a new way of life.  In the process, he lost his judgeship and his reputation.  People who knew Bontrager described his situation by saying

“well, he’s just gone radical, that’s all.”

Hmmm.  I’ve thought this thought too many times before.  What would it look like for me if I “went radical?”  What would it look like for our church, or our nation if a large number of Christians “went radical?”  Colson mentions guys who brought about social change, like William Wilberforce and Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  Colson wrote about contra mundrum–against the world.  His time in prison made him see the world through the eyes of the powerless, he wrote on pg. 171.  “God views society not through the princes of power, but through the eyes of the sick and needy, the oppressed and the downtrodden.”

Would going radical mean stepping away from the podium of power and pursuing downward mobility instead of upward mobility?  Would we spend ourselves on the poor, as Isaiah 58 calls for, and begin to  better identify with the outcasts and not the movers and shakers?  Would I sit by a loner who smells and not with my friends?

Think of “powerful” people that you know, ones right around you.  Are they powerful because they have money, sports talent, good looks or a charismatic personality?  Do they hold a position of influence?  Jesus announced to Pilot “My kingdom is not of this world,” and in doing so, took the stinger out of the bee.  He didn’t cow down to their social games and influence, demonstrating to His disciples and to us that that’s how we should be: understanding that we are aliens and strangers and having an eye on a heavenly city.  That’s when we find real power, like what the Apostles found in the book of Acts.  They announced they would obey God and not man and would die for it, and the power of the Holy Spirit was so strong that when believers got together and prayed the building shook.  Now that’s power!

Colson wrote on pg. 172

  “The Christian who breaks radically with the power of the world is far from powerless–another kingdom paradox…If we would love God, we must love His justice and act upon it.  We surrender the illusion of power and find it replaced by True Power.”

How do we break radically from the power of the world and of our culture?

There’s a song that runs through my head occasionally, “You don’t own me.”  Money, possessions, social games and status–you don’t own me.  Jesus does.  My kingdom is not of this world.  I should identify more with the poor and oppressed and not those who will make me look better because I’m with them.

I’m reading a book right now called The Treasure Principle by Randy Alcorn.  He writes of how Jesus calls us away from earthly treasures, which are fleeting to heavenly treasures, which are eternal.  I’m just scratching the surface of what he’s encouraging, and want to sink deep into it enough to really change me.  Alcorn writes on pg. 19,

  “The money God entrusts to us here on earth is eternal investment capital.  Every day is an opportunity to buy up more shares in His kingdom.  You can’t take it with you, but you can send it on ahead.”

Radically breaking with the power of this world has to do with breaking from the hold that money, possessions and financial security has on us.  It means spending our money on entirely different things than what the world does.  Paul wrote in Philippians 3 that what he once considered gain, he know counts as loss.  All of his accomplishments and things that brought him self esteem were now like a pile of dung to him in the face of kingdom things.

I don’t know why missionaries have to be our only role models when it comes to being radical.  Why can’t we do it here by spending our time on the same kind of people Jesus spent his time with, and our money, and our resources?  I don’t need to move to another place, I just need to put my eyes and heart in a different place.  That’s taking a stand and making a statement to the world “You don’t own me.  Jesus does.”


Justice, Kindness, Humility, Righteousness: Loving God (chapters 15-16)

Micah 6:8 “He has told you what is good and what the Lord requires: to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.”

 

Isaiah 58:6-8  “Is this not the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free…to share  your bread with the hungry and to bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him…Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your hearing shall spring up speedily.”

 

Matthew 25:40,45  Whatever we did for the least of My brothers, you did it to Me…as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.

 

“When our hearts beat with the heart of God, we share His compassion, His passion for justice and righteousness…We serve a holy God who demands that we be like Him.”  Study guide, pg. 286

 

Somehow the Evangelical church has left social justice to mainstream denominations.  Humanistic psychology holds that it is society that makes man evil, so they seek to transform society to help mankind.  We don’t want to err in that direction, knowing that we are not essentially good, but totally depraved. Sin comes from within and is “cured” by our Savior Jesus,  not by transforming society by social reforms.  However, we have been slackers in the sense of actually putting our faith and our holiness into action to live out the justice and mercy that God demands.

 

And, according to the book of Amos, God will judge and hold us accountable for corporate sins.  That means that things that are abhorrent to God (today, perhaps abortion, graphic violence and sex on TV and movies, materialism rather than taking care of the poor around us…) will be judged by God.

 

When Moses, Daniel and Nehemiah wanted to see God act, they fasted and prayed.  They repented of their own sins and the sins of their people.  Then God told them what to do, sending them to be a part of His plan to repair and restore.

 

When the kings quit listening to God, God raised up prophets that would go to the kings and to the people to speak God’s words that warned of sin and judgment.  The false prophets who only told the kings and the people what they wanted to hear had big audiences and were treated well.  The true prophets had empty pews and were tossed into wells and dungeons and were killed.

 

Do you remember this guy?  He stood in front of the line of tanks at Tienemin Square to stop the oppression of the Chinese people by the government.  I get the picture that that’s us, when we stand up for justice, mercy, compassion and God’s righteousness.  In chapter 16 of Loving God, Judge Bill Bontager lost his job and faced prison time himself because he took a stand against what seemed to be an unjust sentence.

 

Was it a waste?  Not according to Isaiah 58 and Matthew 25.  We need God’s Spirit and boldness to tell us what to spend ourselves on, what to stand up for and what to humbly repent for.