Acts Chapter 2: A Mighty Change and Unity

The Spirit is given in Acts Chapter 2 and everything for the fledgling church changes. They go from wondering what is next to proclaiming Christ in power. They go from focused on the earthly kingdom to focusing on the Spiritual Kingdom. They go from questions to answers. This all occurs because of the receiving of the Holy Spirit and there is a lot to look at but first, we need to back up. 

The giving and receiving of the Holy Spirit are tied to the giving and receiving of the Law in Exodus 24:15-17. We don’t know for sure but the Jewish people of the time and many today believed that God gave Moses the Torah (or Law) Pentecost (Shavuot). The people believed this is when God gave His Holy Law. God gave His Law to Moses and people needed to obey it and hold to the letter of it. The Law was God’s rule book on how covenant people were to behave and live. It gave them guidance on how to maintain the relationship with God. But all along God was working towards something different, something better, something more permanent and inward.

God promised that He would give a New Covenant, one that did not require external enforcement, an external reading, an external commitment. He was going to be as close to the greatest as He was to the least. All people would have the same access and connection to Him. When we read Jerimiah 31:33-34 we see that God was moving towards a relationship that was not based on external but internal and binding in a way the Law could never be. Something that would drive the people in a way they could never expect. 

With that background in mind, we can look at Acts 2:1-4. The Spirit is given on this day to bring in the New Covenant. The people were united and of one purpose (accord) they received the promise together. God was fulling His promise to write His law on our hearts and be our God. God was making us complete. He was taking the best He had which was Himself and placing it inside of us. No longer do people have to go somewhere, ask someone, or do something to get direction. The Spirit of God is now living on the inside of us. The promise had come but there was more to be completed. 

We have to back up again because what we are reading is the fulfillment of promises. To look at the fulfillment without looking at the issue and the promise is to miss the wonder of the conclusion. It would be like watching part two of a movie after the cliffhanger and thinking you fully understand the second part. We need the rest of the story in Genesis 11:5-7 to see why this is so amazing. The people after the flood were rebellious against God and wanted to not only meet God on their own terms, but they wanted to make God meet them on their terms. God cannot be mocked so He confused their language and broke their unity. God took their gift of unity and broke it to show He is One true God and that He cannot be forced into anything. He wanted to ensure people knew that He had total power and dominion. 

When we understand that then we can read Acts 2:6 with a new lens. God was now reuniting all people under His Son. He sent His Spirit so all people would be able to be unified in heart, mind, and spirit. The giving of the Spirit not only put God’s purpose and law on their hearts but united them together externally as well. 

The church now has power (the Holy Spirit) and unity. The church can now start her mission to change and disciple the world. Now people do not have to wait for a special moment because we are baptized into the Spirit at the moment, we accept Christ (Eph 1:13; 1 Cor 12:13).

It is in Acts 2:5-26 that Peter gives his big sermon where 3000 people come to Christ. We see a lot of things in this sermon, but one important thing is that Peter tells the people they are guilty of killing the Messiah. The Mosaic Law gives no sacrifice for murder. If you kill someone that is it there is no way to escape the punishment. Add to this that the people killed God’s Messiah and Son. However, what is amazing is that the people hearing Peter ask what can be done. According to the Law, they had no right to ask such a question, but I believe the Spirit was guiding them along. Peter tells them that there is forgiveness available in Christ by believing in Him. 

Acts 2:42-47 shows the growing church and how they operated daily. It shows us what it meant for the fledgling church to navigate this new world of unity, power, and forgiveness. Theologians, scholars, and the average man on the street has poured over these verses for two millennia to try and understand how we contextualize or use this to structure our churches. I would argue there is no easy answer. There is no one-stop shopping here because it is incredibly complex. That being said I think there is at least one thing we can take away from it regardless of your context: Unity. 

Unity is a central theme in this chapter. The disciples were united in prayer. The people were united in their response to the Gospel. The Spirit coming united people in language. The people are later united in giving towards the cause and for those in need. Unity is what the church needs. I get it there are denominational and doctrinal differences, but unity can still be achieved. We can still be united for the cause of Christ. First, we unite to God being reconciled to Him, after that it should be easy to unite to each other. 

Just a thought, 

Mike

Sowing and Reaping – Six Month Challenge

Video Version can be found here

I think in general we all want something more or different out of life. It might not be huge changes or monumental differences but there is probably some change you want in your life. There is a good chance that somethings in your life need to change. I am not talking about things you just need to learn to be content with, I am talking about when things need to change. Serious things like losing weight, saving money, getting a good job, building healthy relationships, and so on. Important things in life that you should want to be changed. Because we can all have areas and things that need to change, I want to give you two tools from the Bible that will help you do this but first a word about time.

Time is going to move forward whether we like it or not. Time moves regardless of personal desire or preference. Time moves forward. I am going to say something that right now does not sound profound or all that clever but in six months it will be six months from now. I know what you are thinking “well duh.” But think about that for a second, what if six months ago you decided to make a change. What if six months ago you decided you wanted to lose weight? By now you might have hit your target. What if six months ago you decided you wanted a better relationship with your spouse? By now you would have a better relationship. What if six months ago you decided you wanted to be in a better job? Chances are by now; you would have that job. Six months is going to go by whether we like it or not. But what does six months have to do with changing your life?

We think about changing our lives but what if instead, we thought about changing the next six months? What if instead of focusing on something so monumental as changing our life we thought about being in a different place in six months? Would that help? Would that make a difference? Would it do anything? I say yes, yes it would because six months is manageable, and six months is attainable. Six months is something we can see. Six months is something that can grow. I am going to give you two tools from the Bible that can help you change the next six months. Also, I should note that these two things are really two pieces of the same tool.

The first is that you reap what you sow (Gal 6:7). This is sometimes thought about in a negative sense. You find yourself in trouble and someone says “well, you reap what you sow.” They mean you got what you deserve, and this is partially true. Sometimes this is used when talking about finances. We talk about sowing and reaping in church and we are talking about giving and receiving. This is also partially true. However, the bigger principle is that you get out what you put in. If you sow (plant) corn you get corn. The thing is sowing (planting) takes time. You don’t just plant some corn and boom you get a harvest. Corn takes between 60 and 100 days to grow so you need to plant, water, and wait. You need to plant, nourish the thing planted, and wait.

If we pick weight loss for example, then we need to do things now that will help us achieve our goal later. The weight loss is the goal or the fruit, but the planting is what we do beforehand. we change our eating habits, we exercise, we do what it takes now to see the fruit later. If we want a better relationship with our child or children in six months, we need to start planting different things now to reap better things later. We will get in what we put out. If you keep eating Oreos (I love Oreos) you get an Oreo body. If you keep ignoring your children, you get children who don’t want to spend time with you. You get out what you put in. Change what you put in the ground now and you will get something different in six months.

The second tool is that things reproduce after their own kind (Gen 1:11). God has designed the world that things reproduce after their own kind. Again, corn kernels make corn stocks. Humans reproduce and make little humans (babies). Dogs make dogs. Peace makes peace. Laughter makes laughter. Things reproduce after their own kind. So not only do we get out what we put in but what we get out reproduces and makes more of the same. If we make changes now to see different results in six months, then in six months we have something new that will reproduce after its own kind. The small seeds we plant now to make changes start to compound and reproduce after their own kind.

If we decided that in six months, we want a better job and we planted the seed for a better job (change in work ethics, determination, applying, studying) then we not only end up with a better job we are different as a person with different habits, motivations, and goals. Those things reproduce after their own kind and a new system has been created that creates other changes as well. If you want a better relationship with your kids and you put in the work to make that happen then your kids will more than likely also have a better relationship with their kids. Things will reproduce after their own kind but first, we must plant the right seed.

This can all happen in six months. Whether we like it or not six months is going to go by. In six months from today, it will be September 8th, 2021. It does not matter if you want it to be something different you don’t get a choice. What we do get to decide is what will be different in six months. What will be different for a lifetime after that?

Just a thought,

Mike

Seeking and Pruning

(Video version can be seen here)

Have you seen the video about the sheep named Barrack that was found? It is pretty cool and if you have not seen it, I recommend checking out one of the videos. Barrack was lost in the Australian wilderness for about 5 years and when he was found he had about 77lbs of extra wool. He could barely see, drank water from puddles, and his wool was full of twigs, dirt, and insects. It took them about an hour to cut away all of the wool that was weighing him down. They found this sheep, cleaned him up, and he is on the road to recovery. It is a very cool story and one that made me think about Luke 19:10 and John 15:2-5 among other things.

In Luke 19:10 Jesus says that He has come to seek and save the lost. Jesus says His mission is to find those who are lost and then make them unlost. He says the whole point of His coming is to look for those who are missing and then make them found. In John 15:2-5 Jesus says that we are the vine, and He is the branch but before this, He says that the Father prunes us to make us more fruitful. We get this picture that we are pruned or that we have bad things cut back so we can produce more fruit. First, we are found and then we are pruned. That is the process. The hard part is that like the lost sheep Barrack when we are found we often have a lot that needs to be pruned.

Some people come to Christ and have less that needs to be pruned and some people have more. The point is that we all have pruning that needs to occur. With Barrack, the initial pruning (shearing) took over an hour, and all that extra was cut off. The external had changed but he still needs to heal from 5 years in the wilderness. When you and I come to Christ there is an initial pruning that happens in the way of the Holy Spirit coming in and changing us from the inside. We are forgiven of sin and made new. Sometimes, like in my case, there is a lot that He removes right away but even if that happens there is more and continual pruning that needs to occur.

Coming to Christ and finding freedom and salvation requires nothing from us except to accept it. He has done all of the work because we cannot. Salvation is a free gift. The pruning takes work. The pruning takes time. The pruning takes cooperation on our part. This is because pruning requires that you submit to what God is doing for it to be effective. God can remove things in your life that are holding you back but if you keep returning to them or trading them for new versions of the same vices then the pruning is not effective. Your submission to the will and leading of the Lord is needed. What if tomorrow Barrack decides he does not like being kept in a pen and then heads back out to the wilderness? He will be covered in mud, dirt, and weighed down again. The pruning that freed him will not be effective because he will once again be the same as he was. What if after coming to Christ you decide forgiveness from past sins is enough and you just want to go out and do as you please again? You will get weighed down, covered in mud, and need heavy pruning again. The pruning process of God is non-negotiable. It must occur.

What does this mean for us? How do we get the pruning, how do we respond in the pruning, how do we cope? Hebrews 7:25 says, Therefore, He (Jesus) is always able to save those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to intercede for them. Jesus is always able to save because He lives to intercede for us. This saving is not just the initial salvation either. Jesus can save us daily. When we are being pruned and unsure how we will move forward Jesus saves us and intercedes for us. He owes us nothing, but He chooses to live for us. What can He not do? Who can He not save? What is beyond His ability? The Lord of all the universe, the Word of God, the Author of Life chooses to intercede for you and me. Whatever you require, whatever you lack He can provide and make a way for! In the pruning, we must move forward and push towards Jesus. That is how we get through it, that is respond, that is how we cope. We push towards the one who is available and able to save us. 

There is so much more we could talk about with this, but I would just encourage you today that if you are in the midst of a pruning season, and you know when you are, that you submit to the pruning and seek Christ. Press into Him because that is the only way you will get through it with the fruit you were meant to bear. Be pruned and be changed. Embrace the process and welcome His direction. Maybe it means you let things go, maybe it means you move, maybe it means you admit something. Whatever it is, however hard it is be pruned and see how you can be made new today. 

Just a thought,

Mike

Holy Zeal

Do you have a holy zeal? The word zeal is sometimes seen in a negative light. We talk about someone being overzealous which means fanatical or radical. I am not sure I have a problem with that, depending on the context and thing we are being zealous about. We can have zeal, passion, or a firm commitment to all sorts of things but not all of them good.

Have you ever met anyone who is a die-hard fan of a particular sports team? They have merch all over their house, maybe a tattoo, and can usually tell you everything you never wanted to know about the team. These people are sold out to the team and show it. If you meet them, you will know shortly that they are fans. They bleed the team colors. Because they think about the team so often and know so much about them, they can find a way to bring it up at any point. These people recruit new fans and create new enemies depending on where they are. We might call these people overzealous. I am not saying this is bad, but it is a good example.

How about for God? Is there a proper amount of zeal that we are allowed to have for Him? What if like the previously mentioned sports fan we had a zeal for God and the things of God? What if we had a holy zeal? That is what I want. I want a radical, total, and fanatical dedication to the things and holiness of God. I want to be willing to drop everything for the cause of Christ. I want to lay down all my desires and other devotions to pick up the things of Christ. I want to be able to recall information about every stat, fact, and detail about God. This last part is hard because God is infinite, and I am finite. God is omnipresent and on a good day I am hopefully present at the moment, but the goal is the same: A sold-out, radical, fanatical life.

Abraham is and has always been an inspiration to me in this way. Hebrews 11:8 says that when Abraham was called, he obeyed and went out not knowing where he was going. That line and the story of Abraham have always captured me. Can we live like that or is that sold out radical dedicated life reserved only for heroes like Abraham?

It can be easy to think that the kind of faith we read about in the Bible is reserved for heavy hitters of old but that is not what the Bible says. Maybe, just maybe, sometimes we want that to be the case so we have an out, but Hebrews 12 goes on to say that because we have this great cloud of witnesses, we should lay aside what hinders us and focus on Jesus.

Jesus is the key to a radical, fanatical, sold out holy zeal lifestyle. When we fix our eyes on Christ we will walk into some crazy and amazing things. We will go into places we never imagined and do things beyond us because they are unimaginable and beyond us. Fixing our eyes on the Light of the World means we follow Him into what He is doing. We walk in step with God and walk where and how He walked. We are always walking towards the light.

Faith in Christ and identification with Him is the key to holy zeal. It is the only thing that can give us the ability and desire to have holy zeal. When you take your eyes off Christ and place them on anything else you will lose the holy part of the zeal and just become a zealot. If you lose the love, grace, and mercy of God then you are left with fanaticism without a compass. We should desire a holy zeal, but we can only have it if we keep our faith in Christ and our eyes fixed on Him.

Just a thought,

Mike

Race Relations – A Lesson from Barton Stone

Since learning about Barton Stone I quickly found a new hero of the faith. In this brief essay, I want to look at what the modern church can learn from Barton Stone regarding race relations. As I point out the term race is used here only because of its popular context and not because I feel there are different races of people.

What can the modern American church learn about race relations from Barton Stone? This may seem to be a simple question and one can ask why it should matter what Barton Stone thought on the topic of race. The rationale is partly because Barton Stone was a founding member of the Stone Campbell Movement which today consists of the Church of Christ, Disciples of Christ, and the Independent Christian Churches. His influence is felt far and wide around the world. The second reasoning is because he lived in the time of American slavery. His antislavery position at the time of slavery and his voice as a leader in the movement should give one cause to listen to his words and hopefully gain insight into our modern situation.

This essay will seek to first answer the question of what the modern American church can learn about race relations from Barton Stone based on Stone’s view of slavery and service as a Christian. Stone lived during the period of slavery in America and the question of race relations was one of slavery and what, if anything, should be done about it. Second, it will then seek to apply those lessons to the modern world. This will be done by first giving the lesson from Stone and then applying it to the current situation in America and the injustices that many African Americans face.

America no longer has slavery as a law but many other race-related issues divide the country. It should be noted briefly that the term race is being used here but the concept of race is a human concept and not a biological one. The term race is being used because of its connection to the idea of race relations which often means the relationship between white Americans and African Americans.

The question for Barton Stone was not should slavery be done away with, that was a given for him. For Stone slavery was a “moral evil [and] very heinous” and in the early days at least it was enough to disqualify someone from fellowship.[1] At one point during the 1830s, Stone did own slaves but these were men and women who were left to his wife by her mother. Stone decided that because he could not emancipate them where he was, he would move to Illinois which was a free state in order to accommodate their freedom.[2] This is just one example that one can take from Stone. If one has within their power to do something to alleviate the suffering of another, they also have the responsibility to do so.

The answer to the main question is threefold and the first two points can be understood from Barton Stone’s letters titled an Interview Between an Old and a Young Preacher published in 1859 in the Christian Messenger. While these letters were written regarding Christian service as a preacher it should never be assumed that service to Christ and love for others are items that can be separated. Stone makes this clear in the subsequent letters. This is in part because of the universal priesthood of all believers (1 Peter 2:5–9) and because all are commanded to contend for the faith (Jude 1:3). These letters give an insight into the mind and thinking of Stone.

First one must have a dedication to Christ and an understanding that one can do nothing apart from Him.[3] For Stone charity, love, and service started with Christ. The affection one has towards Christ should move them to lay down themselves and their desires in order to see Christ’s kingdom come. Stone understood that because God has a love for all then slavery with its lack of love could not be Scriptural.[4] This desire to serve Christ was a motivating factor for Stone to leave Presbyterian denomination and seek unity with other Christians. This is mentioned so that one can see Stone was a man who was willing to act and not only speak.

Taking the example of Stone, one must look and see that if they call Christ Lord then they cannot also call another human, created in the image of God, a slave. In the same way today, one cannot call Christ Lord and turn a blind eye to the injustices that African Americans face. Between false incarcerations, a whitewashing of recent history (redlining, the 13th amendment, etc.), and other systematic racism Africa Americans have suffered in America. Christians who call Christ Lord must move in a charity, love, and service in keeping with their Lord. This means acting and not only speaking about what must be done to promote change and healing.

Second, and intimately connected to the idea of Christ being the priority is that one must be filled with the Holy Spirit because “the Lord will have no servants in his Church without this qualification.”[5] While the Stone-Campbell Movement is not typically known as a charismatic movement the early days of Stone’s “Christian” movement was infused with the power of the Holy Spirit.[6] The Cane Ridge Revival saw thousands in attendance and many who came became converted and fell “as men slain in battle.”[7] Even in his autobiography Stone seems to recount with affection stories of those who received the presence of the Holy Spirit. For Stone, the power and need for the Holy Spirit was not just a sight to behold but the power to do the work of God and “penetrate the heart of the sinner.”[8]

The obvious question is how does the empowering of the Holy Spirit that Stone saw as essential relate to race relations in America? The answer is found, partly, in Galatians 5:22-25. In this passage, Paul writes that Christians are to have the fruit of the Spirit and that because of the Spirit they will put away the fleshly desires. The power of the Holy Spirit was essential in his day to help create a new person who was not capable of owning another human being and this is the same Spirit today who causes people to not be complacent while others suffer unjustly.

Thirdly one can take from example of Stone to not turn away from the pain of their fellow brother and sister when their distress is presented before them. Stone recounts in his autobiography that while on his way to Charleston he rested for a few days with a man and witnessed first-hand the condition of the slaves near him. He saw them chained, abused, lashed, and abused. This he states was the “exciting cause of my abandonment of slavery.”[9] When presented with the truth of how slaves were treated Stone chose not to look away but change the way he looked at the people in bondage.

How many times today do white Americans turn a blind eye to the injustices and suffering of African Americans. In the modern world, there is no shortage of news reports, social media posts, and other instant headlines that can awaken people the sufferings of their neighbors. Yet all too often it is easy to change the channel or keep scrolling and ignore the truth before us. Stone witnessed the oppression of slaves and it caused him to change his mind concerning the issue. Today people have the opportunity to learn and become educated about the issues facing their brothers and sisters, but all too often they chose to remain ignorant in the face of evil and oppression.

The idea of Christians should be at the forefront of the discussion regarding race relations is not a new idea. Stone was an ardent abolitionist and not only preached against the evils of slavery but as witnessed acted on his beliefs as well. In his own words, he was “ignorant of the means by which” it would be done but his lack of knowing the full answer did not stop him from persisting.[10] Christians should never allow not having all the answers stop them from calling out evil.

Looking outside Stone, the most vocal groups opposing slavery in the 1830s were religious groups.[11] It was those who studied the Scriptures, were devoted to Christ, filled with the Holy Spirit, and witnessed the evil that called out against it. While some in favor of slavery attempted to use the Bible to justify their position the truth was that “slavery in the Bible and slavery as it existed in the American South” were not the same thing. Biblical slavery was permitted but with limits while Southern slavery was barbaric. Neither has their place in a Christian world but one is far worse.

Today as mentioned we do not have legal slavery, but we do have other issues. African Americans have never been dealt a fair hand in America and while they have the same legal protection under the law they are marginalized and often regarded as second class citizens. They are arrested at higher rates, have higher conviction rates, and are often forced to take plea deals instead of fighting. The news shows how some African American males are killed by police during routine stops or questioning. This is not something that Christians devoted to Christ and filled with the Spirit should be ok with. This is not something that we should turn a blind eye too.

American Christians can take the example of Barton Stone and show their devotion to devotion to Christ by caring for those who are treated unfairly. It does not seem to be a far stretch to think that Stone would support the idea that black lives matter (not the organization but the idea and truth that black lives indeed matter and they have not always been seen as people who matter). That is not to suggest that he would attend a rally or anything of the like, but it does seem that he did in fact believe that black lives mattered which is why he argued for their freedom in the name of Christ.

Just a thought,

Mike

[1] David C. Roos, The Social Thought of Barton Warren Stone and It’s Significance Today for the Disciples of Christ in Western Kentucky, (DMin thesis, Vanderbilt Univ, 1973), 83.

[2] Douglas A. Foster, Paul M Blowers, Anthony L. Dunnavant, D. Newell Williams, “Stone, Barton W., Support for Colonization of Free Blacks and Move to Illinois,” The Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement, (William B. Eerdmans Publ Co. Grand Rapids 2004), 717.

[3] Barton W. Stone, “Interview between an Old and Young Preacher.” Christian Messenger (Georgetown, KY), vol. 14, no. 2, June 1844, EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=h9j&AN=53341343&site=eds-live.

[4] D. Newell Williams, Douglas A. Foster, Paul M. Blowers, The Stone-Campbell Movement, A Global History, (Chalice Press; St Louis 2012), 14.

[5] Stone, Interview between an Old and Young Preacher.

[6] Stone-Campbell Movement hereafter referred to as SCM.

[7] Douglas A. Foster, Paul M Blowers, Anthony L. Dunnavant, D. Newell Williams, Cane Ridge Revival, 164.

[8] Stone, Interview between an Old and Young Preacher

[9] Voices from Cane Ridge, edited Rhodes Thompson, A Short History of the Life of Barton W. Stone
Written by Himself (1847), Barton Stone, 146.

[10] Barton W. Stone, “An Explanation, Christian Messenger,” 1835.

[11] Jonathan Olson, “Abolitionism and Antislavery.” Encyclopedia of Religion in America, edited by Charles H. Lippy and Peter W. Williams, vol. 1, (CQ Press, 2010, pp. 1-4). Gale eBooks, https://link-gale-com.elibrary.johnsonu.edu/apps/doc/CX1725800013/GVRL?u=tel_a_jbc&sid=GVRL&xid=32e45c8c. Accessed 19 June 2020.

The Image We Bear

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I like country music and there is one song by Jessica Andrews called Who I Am. In the song, she says she knows who she is, and even if she never sees the great things of the world or wins great accolades that is ok because she knows who she is. She then starts saying who she is. She is Rosemary’s granddaughter, she looks like her dad, her mommas her biggest fan. The point of the song is that she has a firm grasp on who she is so that determines how she lives and what she does.

I know that before Christ I looked like what I was. I was a sinner. I was selfish. I was only concerned with my own desires and wants. That is what I was. I had the nature of sin in me and I reflected that nature. I reflected Adam’s nature. Adam’s nature is one of sin. He was not made that way, but we all know what happened. Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit and sin and death entered the world. All of their children followed in their footsteps. Now some are worse than others, but we all carry around the propensity for sin. Without Christ, we look like our parents Adam and Eve. We bear their image. Before Christ, I looked like Adam. I did not know that, but I showed it well.

Now in Christ, I am new. I have been changed and made new. My life has been changed and the Bible says because of that, I should reflect Jesus. The question is, do I? When I was in Adam, I did not have to work at showing who I was it just happened. I could embrace it and show it more, but it was always there. However, in Christ, I have to work at it. I have to be conformed to His image. So, the question is, do I?

If I now bear the image of Christ do I show that when I am at Walmart, Sonic, the dentist, in traffic, in Social Media? Do I show the image of whose I am? In Adam, it just happened but in Christ, I must choose to show His image. After a while, it becomes easier and natural. It does not become second nature, but it becomes primary nature.

If I know who I am do others? Do they see that in me? If you belong to Jesus do you show it? Do others see it? Do you see it?

Just a thought,
Mike

Disciple Life

We all have different types of lives. There is thought life, love life, work-life, and so on. We spend a good amount of time looking at and discussing these different lives and for good reason. How we think determines our actions. When we think of the right things, we typically, do the right things. Paul writes in Philippians 4:8 that we should think about good things. In all honesty, a case could be made that Paul talks about our thought life a lot. He says things like, be innocent of evil but wise about good, transform our minds, have the mind of Christ, and on and on. God cares a great deal about our thought life. Our love life is important because it should be healthy and biblical. When a couple has a bad love life, other areas of their life suffer as well. Our work life is important because we spend a great deal of time at work. On average we spend about 1/3 of our lives at work. A bad work-life will spill over to other areas. But what about our life as a disciple of Jesus?

I believe that our life as a disciple is made up of at least 4 other lives just like how our thought life, love life, and work-life create a bigger life. I will not get unto too much detail with them, but they are our Word life, our worship life, our prayer life, and our service life. When we look at what it means to be a disciple of Jesus these are 4 key areas of what we do and where we live (so to speak). Whenever I am counseling someone, discipling someone, or walking through a problem with someone these are the 4 areas that I want to know about first because as disciples as Jesus everything comes from that place.

Our Word life is how much time or devotion are we giving to God’s Word. If we believe that the Bible is the Word of God and that He communicates truth to us through it then it makes good sense to read it and know it. If we are to be transformed in the way, we think then we need to read the Bible and allow the truth found therein to transform us.

Our worship life is how much time or devotion do we give to giving God the praise He so rightly deserves. I will admit as a new Christian I struggled here because I thought of it only as singing. I found more growth from reading the Bible and gaining knowledge and wisdom then I did from praising God. My worship life was weak, but the more I learned about God the more it drove me to worship Him. It is about having an attitude of worship and praise that is directed towards God. He is the Lord of the universe, the maker and sustainer of all things, does He not deserve our praise?

Our prayer life is how much time or devotion do we give to praying to and listening to God. The best description I heard for prayer was to think of it as a currency exchange. In prayer, we take our thoughts, wants, desires, and pleas to God and exchange them for what He has for us. So many times, in prayer we stop short of receiving from God what He would want to give to us because we end the conversation after we list our side. Prayer connects us to the Lord Almighty so why would we not spend time in prayer. I love the song What a friend we have in Jesus. One of the verses says “Oh, what peace we often forfeit, Oh, what needless pain we bear, all because we do not carry everything to God in prayer.” I have prayed with people and seen them delivered from all sorts of things because they took the time to bring it to God in prayer. We have to remember that talking about God is different than talking to God.

Our service life is about how much time or devotion do we give to walking as Jesus walked. Jesus came not to be served but to serve and we are called to walk as He walked (1 John 2:6). We are called to emulate Christ and that means doing what He did. Isaiah wrote about this when talking about what an acceptable fast was. We are called to feed the homeless, clothe the poor, love the wounded, care for the sick, and so on. The amount we serve will be related to the amount we love God. James writes that if we send someone away with only a verbal blessing and not actually care for them, we have shown what our faith really is (empty).

When we get our Word life, worship life, prayer life, and service life right we move closer to the heart of God and that is what we are called to do as disciples. We are called to be transformed into the image of the Son and become more like Him. We are called to be mature believers of Jesus and to move forward. So, the question is if we find that we are not becoming more like Jesus then what do we need to do?

Just a thought,

Mike

 

Biblical Treatment of the Poor

In this article, I want to look at how the Bible tells us to treat the poor. There are many ways to examine the numerous passages in the Bible concerning the poor, needy, orphans, aliens, and so on. There are also various designations that can be given to the groups who are in need. Each of them carries a different meaning and highlights a different group of people. The poor for example can be a larger category of individuals that have needs they themselves are not able to meet. Foreigners, sojourners, or aliens in the land are a group who by their national identity cannot, biblically speaking, inherit the land and need care for. Widows are those who were more than likely once able to be self-sufficient and now rely on aid. Orphans who can in some senses be considered the lowest group have nothing and no one to provide for them.

The message throughout Scripture is clear that these categories of people and the larger group as a whole (the poor) are in need and those who have the ability to help are obligated and required to assist. Two passages from the Old Testament and one from the new help show why people should help the poor. There are many that can be used but these have been chosen to show there are reasons behind the commands.

Before that examination, it is also helpful to create categories for the Scripture that are found concerning the treatment of the poor and needy. There are perhaps better ways to categorize the verses but this one is helpful in creating lists. It is also important to note that there are some if not many verses will cross-categorical lines.

A first possible way is to list a verse as compassion. Compassion is to have concern for others. Christians are called to have a concern or care for those who are in need and helpless to help themselves. Those who are poor and needy require compassion partly because they have a lack of honor and esteem. To show compassion is to acknowledge their situation. Job says in 30:25 that he has wept for those in trouble and grieved the poor. Christians should have concern or care for those in need to the point that it drives them to action, but compassion is of high importance.

A second possible category is justice. This will be discussed further below but throughout the Scriptures, there is a constant call to give justice to the poor and needy. The Psalms especially are ripe with commands and verses to either notice the lack of justice or that God will execute justice on behalf of the poor. Psalm 12:5 is an example of God saying that He will rise up to rescue the poor because of their cries. While 82:3 is an example of people calling for God to rescue the needy. Proverbs continue the theme of justice for the poor in 29:7 where it says that the godly care about the rights of the poor. The poor and needy require justice and they are often not able to obtain it on their own.

A third, and final for this list category is provision. This is where the action the stems from concern and justice come out. It is the actual meeting of needs, the providing of goods or relief, the help to better a situation. This too will be discussed further below but suffice it to say there is a clear command from Scripture to meet the needs of the poor. This can be seen in verses that discuss how to clear a field, the year of rest, and so on. The book of Ruth is an example where one can see what it was like for the poor and a foreigner to need the left-over grains.

Now the attention will turn to three Scriptures to see how they show why people should have concern and care for the poor and needy. First, from the Old Testament, Proverbs 14:31 says, whoever oppresses a poor man insults his Maker, but he who is generous to the needy honors Him.[1] The first and most simple reason to help the poor is that it honors God. God is the maker of all and to neglect the poor and needy is to neglect God’s creation. From the Christian perspective all people have the Imago Dei or image of God and to refuse to help or provide dignity to them is to insult the image of God. In the reverse, to care for or be generous to the needy is to honor God Himself. Christ uses the parable of the sheep and goats in Matthew 25:31-46 to highlight this and says clearly that as it has been done to the least of these it has been done to Christ. When the Lord appears to Saul in Acts 9:4 He asks why do you persecute me? The Lord takes the blessings and insults to the poor as actions directed towards Him. The conclusion is that the reason to care for the poor and needy is that it directs honor to God.

The second passage from the Old Testament that explains the reason why one is to care for the poor and needy comes from Isaiah 58:6-7. Here God explains to Israel what true fasting which could also be read as true worship is. This is an important passage as it shows in rapid succession what those who claim to be religious are to do. In this passage, God tells Israel that true worship is to free those wrongly imprisoned. False imprisonment has always been an issue and can come from various sources from unjust laws, mistaken identity, false testimony, and so on. This is a serious issue and needs to be addressed by the community. The goal of this paper is not to examine current laws or the penial system, but the Christian community should be at the forefront of the battle to advocate for those incarcerated unjustly.

The second item in the Isaiah passage is that the people of God are to let the oppressed go free and remove the chains that bind people. This can be seen as tied to the first point, but it can also have other implications. Drug addiction, for example, is a chain that binds people. Drug addiction is not exclusively an issue that affects the poor, but the poor are at a higher risk of substance abuse or becoming poor because of drug addiction. The people of God are to be concerned about this issue.

Another chain that binds people is that of financial ignorance. While poor people often do not have enough to save for large purchases there are issues and ignorances that affect their spending habits. This includes behaviors such as spending money on unneeded items to ensure they do not lose the money. Not understanding the concept of interest which causes them to seek immediate cash for checks or item pawning. This is more of a Western poor issue, but it is still an issue that should be addressed. People in poor neighborhoods are taken advantage of by those who run check-cashing businesses or title loan companies. These fees seem worth the tradeoff to those in the communities but there are often cheaper alternatives. Christians who have should be teaching and helping those in poor communities learn about more affordable options to receive their money. Some have created some wonderful systems to help educate but some of these are not only cost prohibitive due to the price of attending the sessions but aimed at those who have disposable income.

The next three from the Isaiah list are to share food, give shelter, and give clothes to those who need them. This is quite simply the most basic and easiest of people to accomplish. While prison reform or debt repayment for those who are in prison are issues that require some deeper knowledge and rehabilitation for those caught in addiction require skillsets giving material items to the poor are easily done by almost anyone.

From clothing and food drives to buying groceries for someone, it is not difficult to help meet a basic need. Yes, in different places the requirements may be different, but these are not problems that should still exist in society today. The point is that even if someone’s motivation for care is obligation the Bible directs them to what their obligation is. James writes on 1:27 that true and proper or pure and undefiled religion is to visit orphans and widows in their affliction. If some one desires to claim religious obedience than care for the poor and the needy is required.

Moving the third passage and the one from the New Testament. In 1 John 3:11-18 John addresses the topic of how to treat those around you. He writes that Christians are not to be like Cain who killed his brother but are to love. Love is the motivation for the Christian, love for God, and for people. In what could be considered a rhetorical question John asks how God’s love can abide in someone who closes their heart to their brother’s needs (v 17). The answer is implied that it cannot. If love for God is professed, then love for others is required. This is not only required by God but exemplified by Him.

In the incarnation, God in Christ so fully identifies with His creation that He seals the connection between concern and action which was motivated by love. John 3:16 expresses this connection and motivation. The incarnation is the most powerful statement on how the concern for the poor and needy because of what is being said. Jesus read from Isaiah 61 when he began His public ministry and in doing so He was showing that not only does God have a religious standard concerning the treatment of the poor, but He puts feet on the ground to show how it can be done.

Isaiah 61 discusses the year of the Lord’s favor and in that it discusses bringing good news to the poor, binding up or as the HCSB says to heal the brokenhearted, liberty to the captives, and opening doors to those in prison. These are similar to the items in Isaiah 58. Again, here what is seen is that there is a religious requirement to have concern for the poor and needy and that it can be done. Not only this but that the motivating factor was love. There could hardly be a better example of what to do than in Christ.

The New Testament church understood this well and went about preaching the message of Christ. They did not have to command people to sell their goods to give to those who needed but the people did this as a freewill offering because they were motivated by love. Love requires action because it seeks the welfare of the recipient more than the cost to the giver. The church is called to serve in love and act in love. There are always people who may not be motivated by love and only wish to do the bare minimum but as seen even if obligation is your motivation care for the poor and needy is still required. The Bible leaves no room to not take up the cause of the poor and needy. It leaves no excuse to not serve. It gives no out for anyone who claims to have devotion to God.

[1] All Scripture taken from the ESV unless otherwise noted.