According to Scripture…

Then I will draw near to you for judgment; and I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers and against the adulterers and against those who swear falsely, and against those who oppress the wage earner in his wages, the widow and the orphan, and those who turn aside the alien and do not fear me,” says the Lord of hosts.

Malachi 3:5

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According to Scripture…

He who oppresses the poor taunts his Maker, But he who is gracious to the needy honors Him.

Proverbs 14:31

 

According to Scripture…

The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt; I am the Lord your God.

Leviticus 19:34

Asking the Wrong Question

“You’re asking the wrong question.”

It just popped into my head the other morning. No particular context that I remember. Just one of those random thoughts. But for days it just wouldn’t go away.

It sounded like an important insight, but only if it had a context. Asking who the wrong question? Wrong question about what? Questions

Was this a prompt from God, or just something some brain cell picked up from the radio?  Either way, it stuck in my head worse than Disney’s “It’s a Small World”. (Sorry if bringing that to mind ruins your day.)

Finally, this morning, it connected. I was sitting at a breakfast meeting listening to Skye Jethani talk about “The Idol of Effectiveness”.

His premise was that we’ve wrongly applied an American cultural metric to our spiritual life: Viewing the effectiveness of what we do for God as an indicator of a healthy relationship with God. It stems from the pagan belief that we are created to serve the gods (or God) and meet their needs. But our God does not need us at all.

Jesus says in Matthew 7:21-23 that some who call Him, “Lord, Lord” (the repetition expressing deep acknowledgement of His Lordship) are not part of His Kingdom.  In fact, it says many who do “mighty works”, even miracles, in His name will be told, “depart from me, I never knew you.”  How God chooses to use us (or donkeys, or even rocks) is not evidence of our relationship with Him.

Although I still need to ponder this further, it shed light on some things perplexing me about my own spiritual condition lately. I’ve been asking the wrong question, trying to assess my relationship with God by the works I perform.

Like the culture around us, we get caught up focusing on trying to prove our own worth. But thinking our worth comes from anything we do for God elevates and distorts our own importance. God created us to love us, not to use us.  Likewise, God wants us to love Him, not just to use Him to meet our needs.  Every time God works it’s in spite of us, not because of us. He doesn’t need us, He wants us — our presence, not our efforts.

In no way does this suggest we should be couch potatoes doing nothing for God.  The point is that our activities for God are nothing more than our proper response to His love for us.  They are not — as we tend to make them — the source of our identity in Christ. They do not increase our value to Him.  Bigger is only better if God calls you to bigger.

God did not call us to change the world — that’s His job. We are called to love Him and love others — both of which do require action, by the way. But if God calls me to a little task, success is doing that little task faithfully, not turning it into something bigger so I feel important.

Central African Republic Trip Report

I’ve never experienced a culture this way before.

Whenever I visit a new country, I want to get out and explore and see as much of it as possible.  After all, I want to learn all I can about the place.  Walk around and observe people, drive around and see the lay of the land.

But not much of that happened during my recent trip to the C.A.R.  Out of an abundance of caution caused by recent rebel activity, I could count on one hand the number of times we ventured out of our secure (but un-air-conditioned) guest house compound.  I only rode about 60 miles total in a car all week, a quarter of that just to and from the airport.  And I only walked about a block to an artisan market once.

Here’s what my week looked like:

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  • A half day dedication ceremony for our new theological training facility (outdoor ceremony, coat & tie required). The Prime Minister of the country pinned a medal on me during this ceremony!  Ok, that’s a completely accurate but misleading statement.  I didn’t earn the medal, but I was asked to stand in proxy for a missionary who spent 40 years there but couldn’t make the ceremony.
  • I preached (through a translator) to a congregation of about 2,000 people on Sunday morning.
  • I successfully (I think – again through a translator) trained a Bayaka villager how to use a new water filter system.
  • Three half-days were spent observing seminary classes (English/French translation). I shared a devotional with them one morning. They brought the students to us instead of us going to the seminary.
  • One full day and three half days were spent in meetings with various national church and ministry leaders. (English/French translations again.)

That wouldn’t make a very good action movie unless you like watching sweat drip in humid, 90-100+ degree temperatures.

But sitting in meetings addressing real-life challenges was far more insightful than playing tourist.  I sometimes teach about cultural differences – collectivist/individualist; monochronic/polychronic; high/low context; high/low power distance, honor/guilt/fear, etc.  And I’ve been places that exhibited most of these characteristics before.  But the difference here was more intense.

Part of the reason I felt the differences so acutely was that, in a culture where titles and social standings are extremely important, I was there as a Board Member representing the organization that gave birth to the largest Evangelical denomination in the country.  The potential for social miscues to send wrong messages was high.

I come home with a deeper appreciation for three things:

  1. The challenges our Christian brothers and sisters face making disciples and planting churches while dealing with malaria, rebel threats, and poverty;
  2. Some wise and passionate leaders God has raised up to meet the challenges; and
  3. Our Encompass World Partners staff who navigate these and other cultural challenges around the world continually.

A big thank you to those of you who prayed and supported me through this ministry opportunity!

Cure for Boredom…

How long can you sit quiet and still before you start feeling bored?

Is it possible to be simultaneously bored and aware of the awesome presence of God?

Taking a Stand Against Our Culture

In a culture of self-realization, the Christian’s call is to renounce self; in the face of noise, silence is the preference; in a world of competition, the Christian’s declaration is that the winners will be the losers and the losers winners; in a culture whose economy is intent on consumption, the Christian insists on simplicity; in a culture structured by possessions, the insistence is upon detachment; in a culture intent on a high standard of living, the Christian insists upon a high standard of life; and at every point, the Christian exposes the emptiness of fullness for the sake of the gospel’s fullness of emptiness.

— W. Paul Jones, The Art of Spiritual Direction,
referenced in:  Reuben P. Job (2013-10-24). A Guide to Prayer for All Who Walk with God (Kindle Locations 2197-2203). Upper Room Books. Kindle Edition.

The title of this article may have led you to expect me to take a stand against abortion, homosexuality, divorce, or other manifestations of our fallen world.  But I contend that the reason we have such fierce battles to fight on those fronts today is that we’ve failed to fight the real cultural battles like those quoted above.

Where God’s people demonstrate the fullness of lives lived in God’s power, many outside the church are drawn into God’s Kingdom. But when we blend in to our culture to the point that you can’t tell us apart there’s nothing to attract them.

It’s not the sins of the world that I grieve over as much as I grieve and repent over the sins of God’s people as we’ve failed to stand out as different and demonstrate His love as He calls us to do.

We have our successes, and we should celebrate those with gratitude to God and to the faithful saints who withstand cultural pressures with the grace, love, and truth that represent God well. Where the contrast between self-centered lives and Christ-centered lives is strong, two things happen: 1) Spiritual battles, struggles, and persecutions rage; 2) God wins those battles as the world witnesses His people standing strong in their midst. No battle, no victory.

But the battle we’re called to isn’t a power-play against the evils of society, but to follow the lead of Jesus:

“…crushing dissent violently and cruelly was itself anathema to the life of Jesus, who had not killed to protect the truth but on the contrary had freely died for the truth. He might well have forced those who crucified him to accept his teachings. That would have seemed the practical path. But he did not. Instead, Jesus freely suffered and died, and in doing so, he illustrated as eloquently as may be done that naked power was not the most powerful thing in the universe. On the contrary, truth itself was more powerful.”

[1]Metaxas, Eric. Martin Luther: The Man Who Rediscovered God and Changed the World (loc. 7968). Viking. Kindle Edition.

May we not run from the battles but humbly engage so that our lives illustrate the power of God’s truth.