Entries for September 2012

Jesus' disciples had a lot to learn. About a hungry crowd, they said, "Send them away." About a desperate mother: "Send her away." To parents with children, in effect: "Take them away!" Perhaps they were at a loss for knowing what people needed, or how to help. Maybe they were simply annoyed. 

How often are we like that? I felt something similar on a recent morning driving to work. A man was standing near the highway entrance holding a sign that said he’s a veteran and needs help feeding his family. Many thoughts swirled through my head as I passed by: Is he really a veteran? His buzzed haircut and soldierly posture vouched for him, but both could be easily counterfeited. Was he willing and able to work at any menial job, or too proud to take what's available? Why was he willing to humiliate himself? Is his situation really so desperate? Would he really buy food with the donations, or drugs and booze?

Of course, it was impossible to change lanes, pull over, and ask him these questions without endangering myself or other drivers. And it probably wouldn't have been wise for me, as a woman, to approach him at all. 

I found myself wondering if, or when, the “professionals” would step in -- people who work with the hungry, who know the right questions to ask, and have referrals to food pantries. Are they aware of this fellow? Have they tried to help and been rebuffed? Where were they?

Giving is sometimes messy, but Jesus didn’t seem to have a problem with it. 

In contrast to the disciples' hostility or apathy, a deep pity moved Him to effective, confident acts of mercy on behalf of the lost. The object of His compassion was people --those who knew they had problems and those who were oblivious. His objective was complete restoration. While not everyone responded in faith, He graciously served. 

His compassion met both immediate and eternal needs -- problems such as hunger, sickness, and sin. While laying out hard truths about God’s kingdom, Jesus did not neglect other human needs but served the whole person. 

As they followed, the disciples witnessed first-hand how perfectly Jesus expressed His Father’s compassionate nature. They heard Him say, “I feel compassion for them” and watched Him do something about it. In the course of their training, Jesus directed them to perform lowly acts of service for others, such as having them hand out the baskets He was filling with food. 

In response to situations like the one of coming across a hungry person and feeling at a loss of what or how to give, some friends have come up with a creative solution. They've begun carrying bottles of water and granola bars in their cars and handbags that can be offered in Jesus' name, along with information about local food pantries. It's a good way to avoid the trickiness of handing out cash and the embarrassment of giving nothing.

Pro-life ministries reflect Jesus’ spirit of compassion on a larger, more organized scale. They serve the whole person: body, mind, and spirit. Pregnancy care centers “suffer alongside” those caught in the web of sexual immorality, unwanted pregnancy, and abortion. LIFT “suffers alongside” the dying and chronically ill. Meanwhile, the world offers counterfeit answers -- abortion, euthanasia -- that abandon people to death. 

God often uses frailty or deficiency to draw people to Himself. Physical, emotional, and social problems point to the reality of sin because they proceed from it -- their own sin, the sin of others, or the Fall in general. Sometimes, caring for these problems is our only entrée past closed doors. The people served by compassion ministries may not know it, but they also have spiritual needs. 

Evangelism and compassion go hand-in-hand. It’s not enough to educate people about abortion, or hold their hands as they weep. They may still be lost in sin. That’s why true compassion ministries will point toward the source of ultimate transformation -- Jesus Christ. Salvation from a life of sin and the penalty of death is only in His name (Acts 4:12). 

God still prepares His followers for compassion ministry. The challenge is being willing, ready, and in position to help. 

Scripture references: Exodus 34:6; Psalm 103:8; Proverbs 14:12; Lamentations 3:22; Jonah 4:11; Matthew 9:35-36, 14:14-21, 15:23, 30-38, 20:34; Mark 1:41, 6:31-44, 8:2, 10:13-16; Luke 7:13, 9:11-17, 15:20, 17:11-19; John 1:18, 13:14; Philippians 2:1; Colossians 3:12; Hebrews 1:3; James 5:11.

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Onward Christian Workers

Aren’t you tired of being whipped into a frenzy every time someone insults us or infringes on our rights? Isn’t it exhausting to keep track of the media’s offenses against Christianity? I look forward to a dissipation of heat on November 7, the day after the election, but it’s probably wishful thinking to believe real calm will set in. Soon a new round of accusations and recriminations will begin (or the old round will continue). And in no time the 2016 campaign will be upon us. 

Is this how Christians are supposed to live, tied to a political cycle, at the mercy of 24-hour news feeds? Of course not. And yet, it feels as though to be a fully engaged person, hyper-vigilance is the watch-word and righteous indignation the predominant virtue. Too many of us run hot during election season and cold the rest of the time.

D. A. Carson noticed the trend back as far as 2005 in a lecture on the book of Revelation. David Rogers of SBC Voices helpfully transcribed pertinent parts of the audio recording for his blog post, “D. A. Carson on Angry Christians and the Devil’s Tactics”

If you want to make a lot of money with a Christian book in this country, write a book that says what’s wrong with America, listing all the bad things that you possibly can on the Left, demonize the Left. It’ll sell like hotcakes on the Right. . . .

Now contrast that with the first Christians taking the gospel in the Roman Empire. They were nobodies. They didn’t have anybody taking away their heritage. They were out to take over the heritage. They looked around and saw an extremely pluralistic empire, and they said with Caleb, in effect, “Give us this mountain.” And they kept witnessing and kept getting martyred, and so on, and there was a revolution, finally—a spiritual revolution.

But we can’t do that today. At least we find it very difficult, because we’re so busy being angry all the time that at the end of the day not only do we lose our credibility with people on the Left—they start demonizing us back—but we have no energy or compassion left to evangelize them. When you’re busy hating everybody, and denouncing everybody, and seeking political solutions to everything, it’s very difficult to evangelize. Isn’t it? Very hard to be compassionate, to look on the crowds as though they’re sheep without a shepherd, very hard to look on them like that when they’re taking away “my heritage.” Do you see?

Yes, I do. More recently, blogger Don McBride sounded a similar note: 

U.S. Christians are becoming more political and less evangelistic, and this is something they need to watch. It’s easy to wrap up in political anger and point out sin, but our call is to reach the lost. If we see the signs of the end fast approaching as they are, then we should be about the Master’s business of . . . preaching the Gospel, and being the light for Jesus. We are Christians, not Democrats, Republicans, Conservatives, or Liberals. We need to be evangelistic. We need to shine Jesus, not politics.

The corrective, of course, will come from God’s word, this time in the mouth of James (1:19-20): “But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.” 

Indeed, as we’ve seen in the past week or so, the misplaced anger of some who claim the name of Christ has made it tougher, more dangerous, or impossible for Christians in Middle Eastern countries to patiently and gently go about the work of reaching lost souls. 

The trouble is, in making a call to bring Christians back from an over-reliance on political or social change, the pendulum is bound to swing over to an unreasonable and unbiblical abandonment of civic duty. Neither extreme is acceptable.

We must not fall for any of the “Six Myths of Cultural Engagement” that Jim Daly of Focus on the Family identifies. Myth 2 is that “we must be loud, vocal, and visible” and Myth 3, “getting angry is the path to success.” The truth is “if we truly want people to hear us, we must be humble, personable and subtle.” 

And, while Myth 1 says “nothing can be done,” Myth 4 is that “we must fight the darkness.” Just because one position is false doesn’t mean its opposite is true. Instead, “we must increase the light by presenting the good, true and beautiful story that changes lives.” 

It’s easy to be angry, apathetic, or even despairing , but we’re not called to the ease of giving in to natural inclinations. Rather than passion (intense emotion) or lack of passion (apathy), we’re called to self-control and to imitating Jesus’ life of compassion -- according to Merriam-Webster, a “sympathetic consciousness of others' distress together with a desire to alleviate it.” Rather than being right and having our say, we need to be wise and willing to give up some rights . . . for the sake of the Gospel.

We’re also called to be sober and alert in prayer, and I would suggest at this moment that we pray for those Christians on the frontlines who face death or being kicked out of their countries of service as a result of the misguided expression of rights here in America.

Also, in our appeals for God to bless America (or any country), we should admit we don't deserve it. Why should God bless a nation that exports abortion-on-demand? Rather we need His mercy so that the Gospel may flourish here and abroad.

We can be bold without being brash. As Rick Warren recently preached, the sanctity of life, sex, and marriage are "three aspects of the Christian worldview that are hated by this world. Most Christians clam up and shut up because they're afraid to even stand up." The stand we take in the voting booth is private and powerful. Don't miss the opportunity -- or shirk the duty -- coming up this November 6!

We are called to stand up for the rights of others by acting on their behalf and voting when we can. As we wrote in "Whatsoever . . . voting," a candidate's stance on abortion is more important than his or her position on the economy or the environment:

One could make the case that all issues affect the sanctity of human life, but none is more basic than the right to life itself. If there is no justice for the most vulnerable human beings, there can be justice for none. Candidates ought not pit “interest groups” against the unborn.

Some say, “If you’re really pro-life you’ll join the [fill-in-the-blank] cause!” But these are often the same people who refuse to also speak for the unborn. Why should the tiniest of little ones be forced to wait at the end of the line behind those with more money or a louder megaphone?

I suggest you download this copy-ready flyer and make it available to your church family before the election.

One other way we can diffuse heat is by building credibility through service. Our president, Tom Lothamer, spent several years serving on his local school board. He had to work alongside others who didn't necessarily share a "Christian world and life view" and succeeded by being prepared, participating fully in discussions, and being respectful. That meant listening patiently and responding calmly. There's no short-cut to civility.

Just as the historical perspective helps -- thinking of what the early church endured and how they responded -- so does the biblical perspective. Our God is in control. Psalm 33:8-11:

Let all the earth fear the Lord; Let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of Him.

For He spoke, and it was done; He commanded, and it stood fast.

The Lord nullifies the counsel of the nations; He frustrates the plans of the peoples.

The counsel of the Lord stands forever, The plans of His heart from generation to generation.

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