The Role of Civil Society (2) (and last)

I kind of got off on a tangent there at the end of that last post. On a more positive note, Sider's comments about the potential of Civil Society give me the most hope, and I believe, offer us the most potential. Sider considers everything that is not directly controlled by the government to be part of civil society. Things like businesses, universities, faith communities, social clubs, and other non-profit organizations. One place I slightly disagree with Sider is his lumping of the family in with the rest of civil society. True it is not controlled by the government, but in my mind it is so unique and so foundational, that it needs to be it's own category.

Theologically, I would want to put the Church in it's own special category as well, as a Christian I want it to be all that it can be, an entirely unique community, united and filled with the Holy Spirit. One that is so ubiquos as to be a part of everything else we do. Not the Church as institution but the church as people, living and being the people of God. However from a public policy perspective, I would go ahead and group the actual churches we have, the governing bodies, warts and all, in with mosques, and synagogues, that is, faith communities. And then group those as one category that is part of Civil Society.

In my mind then, there are three primary prongs of attack on the issue of poverty. In no particular order, Family, Civil Society, and Government. I would add that personal choices and responsibility are a theme that must be emphasized within each of these areas.

Going back to Sider and his value for Civil Society, like we were saying, this may be the area with the most potential for overcoming the policy deadlocks we are in. Conservatives trumpet personal choice and the family, good. Progressives, the government, good. Hold on to that. THEN, hit the accelerator with this third avenue of approach, at least in this country, we are gaining ground, but all too slowly. Civil society has the potential to put us over the top. These institutions are largely untapped resources in a fight for justice for the least. Granted, many organizations within the realm of Civil Society have ending poverty or a similar goal as their primary end, but what I mean is that as a comprehensive avenue of attack, these resources are largely untapped.

Two of my favorites are business and education. Non-profits and faith communities working against poverty is a given, but business and education, now there is some room for growth. In an information society, education and continued education are what land was to most previous generations, it is a key to unlocking a great deal of potential and resources.

On the business front, while I often come off sounding like a communist, (cause Jesus sounded like a communist) the power of the "market" and the principles of business are tried and true, and can help end poverty when brought under the Lorship of Jesus Christ (or possibly ethics in general, for the larger public). I firmly believe that attacking poverty through charity is incredibly limited. Don't get me wrong, it has a place, but I think the hard truths found in business, a place where the balance sheet must be reconciled, has a great deal to offer the least advantaged. (Now I'm starting to sound like a Republican, I know.)

The 19th century showed us business as it's worst. A world ruled by oligarchs who had money and power as their primary end, and a world in which government was largely unable or unwilling to stop the abuse of the the poor. (think child labor, brutalized mine workers for example, and the horrible excess of the rich and powerful.) Government regulation helped bring an end to this. Now, leaders who are ethically grounded (I would argue for Christian ethics, but even without that.) these leaders are showing us a new way forward. A world where ethics, and economics collide and are utilized to help end poverty.

The idea that businesses can help end poverty is grounded in scripture, most specifically, the Mosaic law. In that agrarian culture, the land owner/farmer was required to leave the corners of their fields unharvested. Then the poor would come out and "glean" that is, harvest those corners. Role that into the 21st century.

One: Gleaning was a law, i.e. government regulation. Government regulation can be an excellent thing for the fair minded business owner because it creates a level playing field by forcing everyone to do the right thing, a right thing that assists the poor. I may want to pay my workers higher living wages, but I literally cannot because my competition does not, (can you say Wallmart) and frankly I as a business owner, particularly a small business owner, may not be getting rich, I'm barely making it. So I really can't pay what I ought to pay my workers, and make any profit in many instances. But when the government mandates an even playing field, one that includes fair and living wages, then I can do the right thing, the thing I want to do, and compete with my competitors based on other real factors. Things like cutting costs (other than in the payroll), quality, or innovation.

Two: Gleaning involved work on the part of the poor. They had to literally get up and go get their food. There is a place for free handouts, say from the church as a way of mediating grace, or for those that literally can actually not work, but the principle of gleaning involves working for your food, as one generally should. (Unfortunately, so many in this country are working over 40hrs/wk and still hardly making it. For those people, we find the church and government compensating for the evils of the "market".)

Three: Where did this "charity", this free food that was gleaned come from? From a profit. Profit is not a bad thing. Neither is wealth put to work, (i.e. money invested and/or gaining interest) It is wealth squandered on indulgences and the laziness and entertainment of the wealthy while others starve that is evil and which God condemns with the strictest penalties.

I am very interested in the science of economics. Though I don't know a great deal about it, I think it is fair to say that if we all gave everything away... (and followed Jesus?) Who would provide for the "all of us" that were being blindly and naively spiritual. That is not what Christ wants. (from all of us anyway, however he may want you to be a monk.) Rather, it is creating a culture, an economy, a world, in which the Biblical concepts of justice, love, and grace, are followed and balanced in such a way that no one need suffer the worst effects of poverty. Should one suffer consequences for poor choices, of course. But there is such a thing as grace and forgiveness. Moreover, the majority of people who are suffering today are suffering from a combination of poor choices
and unjust systems. And for quite a few it is something like a debilitating disease (and the cost associated with it) or a poor local economy that is wrecking the most havoc.

Many people find themselves rock climbing without a rope. The culture/government mandate that one climb the cliff, but does not provide the necessary safety equipment. Then when one makes a poor personal decision, "sins", uses drugs, takes out a loan they can't repay, or just as often simply "slips", gets injured, or laid-off from their job, they fall to their financial death. They "sinned", they made poor personal choices, but the fact that that results in financial death, whose fault is that?


The Role of Civil Society

What follows is the final post in this series on Ronald Sider's book Just Generosity. It is a synapse of the third chapter, A Comprehensive Strategy.

A Policy Impasse
Progressives offer government as the answer to poverty. Conservatives offer family values and right conduct. The truth is a combination of these things. When Progressives openly attack faith communities and ignore the value of the family, and conservatives ignore the debilitating effects of unjust systems, some large corporations, and the potential of some government intervention, they both contribute to the reality of poverty in this country.

The Indispensable Role of Civil Society
Civil Societies are those things that are neither created nor controlled by the state. Things like families, churches, business, unions, and all the various non-profit and civil clubs the contribute to our culture. Sider argues that in addition to certain government regulations and programs that seek to alleviate poverty, as well as moral conduct by individuals; it is Civil Societies that have the greatest potential to overcome poverty. One of Sider's primary concerns is the strengthening of the two parent family. Those trying to function outside of the two parent family are far more likely to find themselves affected by poverty.

Beyond the family, all manner of institutions and organizations have the potential to help overcome poverty. Religious Organizations, Civic Organizations lite the Rotary Club, Businesses, Universities, Unions, they all have a role to play.

What both Sider and I do not want to see is the continued abuse of rhetoric by those on both the left and the right.

When conservatives say that the government should not do what the Church is responsible for, are they really prepared for their local congregation to raise approximately $500,000 annually, their share of what federal and state governments do for the poor annually.

When progressives, ignore the value of the two parent family, arguably the singe institution with the most potential to overcome poverty, and are openly agnostic, ignoring the contribution of faith communities, they are being incredibly naive, and downright harmful to our efforts to overcome poverty.

But what I find maybe most egregious, is the abuse and hoodwinking of conservative communities, namely evangelicals, by powerful interests that have money and power as their primary end.

While some progressives may be openly antagonistic toward people of faith, it is those Republicans that align themselves with Christians by speaking their language for the sole purpose of power and money that are the most evil in my mind. These powers want smaller government, (at least in some areas; the money making military industrial complex is not among them), and seek to create profits by exploiting the poor. There is an old saying about holding your friends close and your enemies closer, and that is exactly what some very powerful, and evil institutions are doing to faith communities. They speak our language, and trumpet our values, (abortion, family values, etc...) so that we don't poke our nose into their real interests. When did a government "for, by, and of the people" become the enemy? Well it is, for those that don't want the prying eyes of government regulation, the Biblical concept of justice, that would keep them from engaging in illegal and harmful activities that abuse the least among us, the people Jesus cared most about.

The Rest of the This Series
Just Generosity
What Does Poverty Look Like
A Biblical Foundation
Scripture On Poverty

His Forgiveness

I had the opportunity to preach about the the "sinful" woman who anoints Jesus' feet with her tears and perfume, this past Saturday. (Luke 7:36-50)

I decided to go away from the three point format, and just narrate the story, helping us to engage the text and the story; the forgiveness offered by Christ, and our corresponding repentance. Not so much in a "your a sinner, confess" kind of way, but more in a "I think we all know were sinners, receive the forgivness of Christ" kind of way. Jesus says three times, that her sins are forgiven. I believe this woman is typical of many of us who struggle to receive the forgiveness he offers. When we come to Christ honestly and with the right attitude, that's it, were forgiven.

We then tried to make the service as experiential as possible, giving people an opportunity to write their sins on small pieces of paper, and then burn them via some candles sitting in watter we had set up. I shortened up the sermon, allowing more time for worship, reflection and the grace and forgiveness of the Holy Spirit.


Suburban Oppressian

From Consumerism to Stewardship
From Materialism to Simplicity
From Individualism to Relatedness

These are the issues that one of my friends from Fuller Seminary addresses from a youth ministry perspective, in an article for Fuller's Theology News and Notes.

You can read the article in it's entirety here. Below are some excerpts:

In suburban America the powers of consumerism, materialism, and individualism have become so all-pervasive that we scarcely recognize them any more. When combined, these forces have resulted in enormous pressure on teenagers to strive for success in all that they do in order to achieve the “American Dream.” But any force which compels us to pursue a dream which isn’t God’s is an oppressive one.

In 2003, teenagers in the United States spent $112.5 billion. There were roughly 20.5 million teenagers in the U.S. in 2003; therefore, on average, teens were spending more than $100 per week, primarily on clothes.1

Whereas the American dream necessitates that teenagers derive an identity from what they consume, God’s dream is that they learn to be stewards of all they have—indeed, of all of creation.

During one of the years that I served as a youth pastor in an affluent suburban megachurch, we held a New Year’s Eve all-nighter. One of the intended draws of the evening was the contest prize of a donated car. You can imagine my surprise when the newly minted 16-year-old who won asked, “Do I have to take the car?” as he was sure that his parents intended to buy him something newer and nicer. It was an incentive we were not to repeat.

Jesus lived unencumbered by worldly possessions, yet he was able both to give freely and to receive joyfully. Because so many evangelical suburban churches proclaim a gospel which emphasizes going to heaven when you die (as opposed to seeking to give people a taste of heaven on earth such as we are taught by Jesus to ask for in the Lord’s Prayer), the painful grip of materialism on all our people, especially our teenagers, goes largely ignored.

Finally, as leaders, if we are not modeling a life of freedom from the oppressive forces of consumerism, materialism, and individualism, any and all other efforts are rendered meaningless. Jesus’ message had credibility because he preached it with his life. More than attractive and entertaining ministries and programs, the great need of students in suburban America is to be invited into the lives of men and women who are practicing the way of Jesus.


Redefining what it means to be black in America

I was listening to NPR this mourning, (it's what I wake up to every mourning) when they highlighted something that I thought I was witnesing when I lived in LA, but wasen't sure of. It is this, that according to a small majority of minorities, class, not race is the defining issue. This is not to say that racism is no longer a factor, but rather that classism and values are larger issues. Here are some excerpts from the NPR program - Redefining What It Means to Be Black in America by Juan Williams.

The split in the black race comes down to a matter of values, according to the poll. In response to the question, "Have the values of middle-class and poor blacks become more similar or more different?" 61 percent of black Americans said "more different." White Americans agreed, with 54 percent saying there is a growing values gap between the black middle class and the black poor; 45 percent of Hispanics agreed, too.
At the same time, 72 percent of whites, 54 percent of blacks, and 60 percent of Hispanics agree that in the last 10 years, "values held by black people and the values held by white people (have) become more similar."

A poll released by the Pew Research Center, in association with NPR, finds that 67 percent of black men and 74 percent of black women think rap music is a bad influence on black America. In fact, 59 percent of black men and 63 percent of black women think the whole hip-hop industry — from the jailhouse fashion of pants hanging low, to indifference to work and school — is equally detrimental to black America.

This leads to what may be the most important finding in the poll: 53 percent of black Americans now agree that "blacks who can't get ahead are mostly responsible for their own condition."
White America (71 percent) and Hispanic America (59 percent) agree that racism, while still a factor in American life, is not the principal force keeping poor black people in poverty. The more oppressive force, they seem to be saying, is a lack of strong families and the prevalence of values that do not emphasize education, hard work and perseverance.

It is important to note that this is not some Pollyannaish view that ignores the reality of racism. Sixty-eight percent of blacks say they deal with racial discrimination today in at least two of the categories of experience cited in the poll: such as applying for jobs, buying a house, renting an apartment, applying for college, shopping or dining out.
But even with that hard-edged view of how often they have to deal with discrimination, a majority of black people say that regardless of the race of an individual, a black person can make it in America.
That is a very different tune from the one the rap lyrics want you to believe — the one that says black people are all victims unless they are society's thugs, pimps and criminals.


Praxis and Theology

My friend from Fuller, Kyle, said this over on his blog: I wish I lived during an era when doctrines meant something. When deliberate theological reflection was imperative and ubiquitous. When it was taken seriously, by clergy and laity, because it was believed that right thinking engendered right living and right living engendered right thinking.

I responded with this: I think that one of the reasons for the perceived dichotomy of theology and praxis, is an actual dichotomy. Not that there should be one, but church history shows us some of the many reasons that a dichotomy developed.

While I appreciate this post, I think the responsibility of changing people's perception lies with you and I and other theologians, because the way past theologians debated and conducted themselves was wrong, and to some degree, rightly led to this dichotomy.

Theologians, particularly those that disagree, need to pastorally model a type of discourse and love that simultaneously elevates our unity, and our differences. There is nothing wrong with saying, "I think your dead wrong here and here, and further more the negative implications of your position is thus and such." While at the same time modeling a respect and love for our fellow human, our fellow Christian, that only the Holy Spirit can enable.

You can add to the conversation here.


Labels and Seminary

I've been going over all 274 of the posts I've written over the past three years, most of which were written while I was living in Pasadena, attending Fuller Seminary. Why? Mainly to add labels to them, labels which you can now view in the right hand column. This will also help me locate posts I've written, when I want to refresh my thinking (and past thinking).

What is interesting is scanning all of this relatively useful babbling of mine. It reminds me of all these classes, and all this theology, much of which I really love. I have to say, I really miss Fuller, and will alway enjoy my memories of my time there and the wonderful people I met.

Here is a link to a list of other bloggers that went to/are attending Fuller.


They Call Me a Pastor (2)

This past weekend has been something else. Essentially it has been my first week functioning as a pastor (albeit a part time one), and thus far my experiences have greatly strengthened my confidence that God has called me to this place in time, being here with these wonderful, (and messed up… as we all are) people at the NL.

What are these experiences I speak of. Great conversations, great people, good times with God, preparing a sermon that I’m passionate about. (The disciples call to follow Christ.) On Wed I went out to breakfast with some of the other pastors here, great conversations. Today I spent three hours with a guy that is in the process of giving his life to Christ. While that was happening, several cars were being fixed with free labor at the NL. This evening I was able to preach, room for improvement, but it went well. Yah, God is good! Having said this, I’m pretty sure that any number of my good friends that are pastors would say, “enjoy it while it lasts”. But they would add that even when it’s hard, very hard, when your where God wants you to be there is no better place.

Let me mention how I got to this place (the NL) emotionally. I have really gone back and forth on this sense of calling, when it comes to being a pastor. I really believe that being a pastor is not in any way some kind of a pinnacle of Christian maturity. I am a big fan of what some have called “market place ministry” or what I would call, “living missionally”. Ask yourself for instance, “what would the world be like if no one did what I do?” And then seek to do this very important thing that you do to the glory of God, and not just by giving some of the proceeds, (tithing) but by conducting your affairs in an ethical manner, both in the big picture, and in the details. But anyway, I’m preaching now, so I’ll shut up. Suffice it to say that given how passionate I am about people serving God through their vocation, I really have questions about sequestering myself in the comfort of a parish. (how about if pastors not do that) All of that said, for various reasons, I know I am called to be a pastor, and that here is where I am supposed to be. Being in this place emotionally, is great. Getting here has been very difficult. It is accurate to say, “I don’t want to be a pastor, I have to be one.” And that is probably the way it should be.

Let me add one other thing. The fact that people are giving money directly to this ministry and to me frankly, that really grounds me. I suppose I should simply not want to let God down, or the people I am serving. But the fact is I’m really great full for the people that have been called to stand behind me financially, and I don’t want to let them down. They are making a sacrifice on my behalf, and that is not something I take lightly.

Reading over what I have just written, it all sounds somewhat cliché. Like this is what I’m supposed to write. I don’t like that, but for now, things are the way they are, and for that I thank God. (yet another cliche)


They Call Me a Pastor

So let me give you the abridged version of how I ended up at the Northern Lighthouse as a pastor. I think in the next post I'll mention some of my feelings, but this will just be the "facts".

Before moving to La Crosse I interviewed twice for a pastoral church plant position in Des Moines. They decided I would not be best for the position, but highly recommended me to the guys here in Lincoln. Sam Keyser, one of the pastors at the Northern Lighthouse, (NL) gave me a call and we started talking.

So a little about the church. The NL is a church where hurting and broken people, including people currently incarcerated, find hope through Jesus Christ. (usually) The church is part of the Christian Reformed Church (CRC) denomination, (which is thoroughly Evangelical). However if you know anything about the CRC, this is a pretty atypical congregation, as it is a semi-recent church plant with its own distinctives. For one thing, it is thoroughly blue-collar, with many of the people in attendance bused in from a local minimum security correctional facility. It is located outside of Lincoln, Nebraska, on a five acre plot that serves as a respite from the rigors and temptations of the city. The church’s ministries include a re-integration program for people in prison through which they are taught life skills, a charity auto program dedicated to helping people with basic transportation, and multiple life-groups through which people connect with one-another and Jesus Christ, while studying God’s word. Worship services occur twice a week on Saturday and Sunday with about 180 in attendance all told.

What is it like to attend The NL? Ask yourself this, did anyone in the front row of your church this morning pass out fast food breakfast to all their friends in the front row... in the middle of the service? Did it make for "bad church"?...sure. But more importantly, people that don't know all the "rules" for church that we all have somehow inherited have a place where they can go and just be themselves. Does chowing down on a sausage biscuit (smack smack), cross the line?...sure, but there are so many other things that are way more important. Like, would the inmate that made that mistake be comfortable enough in your church to make the mistake, and if he did, would he ever come back? (I have been in more typical churches that are great and the answer is yes.)

So what will my responsibilities be? I’ll simply be an associate pastor. The leadership structure here is pretty flat, so I’ll have a lot of latitude to get involved where the needs are as I see fit. Initially, I’ll be teaching some classes, taking care of some administrative functions, leading a small group, and preaching once or twice a month. But more importantly, it's about the relationships, just hanging out together and doing life.


Scripture on Poverty

So I'm going to go ahead and continue a series on poverty that I started before my hiatus. I have been reading the book pictured to the left. For more about this book, click the previous month archive link on the right, where you can find previous posts.

What I want to do in this post is simply post some of the biblical texts dealing with poverty. This is not an exhaustive list, just some selected texts. What is better is to do a word study on "poor" and other similar words. One way to get started is by clicking here. Where you will see the word "poor" appears in the Bible a mere 173 times, and that doesn't include other similar words like, poverty, justice, and rich.

Selected texts.

Exo 23 2 "Do not follow the crowd in doing wrong. When you give testimony in a lawsuit, do not pervert justice by siding with the crowd, 3 and do not show favoritism to a poor man in his lawsuit. 6 "Do not deny justice to your poor people in their lawsuits. 7 Have nothing to do with a false charge and do not put an innocent or honest person to death, for I will not acquit the guilty. 8 "Do not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds those who see and twists the words of the righteous.9 "Do not oppress an alien; you yourselves know how it feels to be aliens, because you were aliens in Egypt.

Lev 23:22 When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Leave them for the poor and the alien. I am the LORD your God.

Lev 25:35 If one of your countrymen becomes poor and is unable to support himself among you, help him as you would an alien or a temporary resident, so he can continue to live among you.

Deu 15:7 If there is a poor man among your brothers in any of the towns of the land that the LORD your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward your poor brother.

1 Sam 2:8 He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap; he seats them with princes and has them inherit a throne of honor.

Ps 82:3 Defend the cause of the weak and fatherless; maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed.

Prov 10:4 Lazy hands make a man poor, but diligent hands bring wealth.

Prov 13:7,8 One man pretends to be rich, yet has nothing; another pretends to be poor, yet has great wealth. A man's riches may ransom his life, but a poor man hears no threat.

Prov 17:5 He who mocks the poor shows contempt for their Maker; whoever gloats over disaster will not go unpunished.

Prov 19:17 He who is kind to the poor lends to the LORD, and he will reward him for what he has done.

Prov 21:13,17 If a man shuts his ears to the cry of the poor, he too will cry out and not be answered. He who loves pleasure will become poor; whoever loves wine and oil will never be rich.

Isa 9

1 Woe to those who make unjust laws,
to those who issue oppressive decrees,

2 to deprive the poor of their rights
and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people,
making widows their prey
and robbing the fatherless.

3 What will you do on the day of reckoning,
when disaster comes from afar?
To whom will you run for help?
Where will you leave your riches?

Isa 41:17 The poor and needy search for water, but there is none; their tongues are parched with thirst. But I the LORD will answer them; I, the God of Israel, will not forsake them.

Mat 19:21 Jesus answered, "If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me."

Mark 12 41Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. 42But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins,[j]worth only a fraction of a penny.[k] 43Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, "I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. 44They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on."

(Why did Jesus come to earth?)
Luke 4 16He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read. 17The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:

18"The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to release the oppressed,
19to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."[e]

20Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, 21and he began by saying to them, "Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing."

Luke 14:21 "The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, 'Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.

1 Cor 13:3 If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, [ Some early manuscripts body that I may boast] but have not love, I gain nothing.

2 Cor 6:10 sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.

2 Cor 8:9 For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.

James 2 14What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? 15Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. 16If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? 17In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

Rev 3:17 You say, 'I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.' But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.


Still no blogging

So a lot of time has gone by. Why have I not been blogging? Good question. Maybee you can tell me. Why do bloggers stop blogging? I did it on average several times a week while I was in school, and after the birth of my son, about once every two to three weeks, some times more. So why did I just stop? It wasen’t that I didn’t think about things that could be blogged, it was just that I had no desire to take the time and effort to put my thoughts into writing.


no blogging - here

Sorry about the lack of blogging. I will be returning shortly, with more from the book Just Generosity, (see below). For what it's worth, I've been discussing the nature of God's will with someone of a secular humanist perspective on the La Crosse Tribunes comment pages. You can read it here. In contrast to how things normally go on the Tribunes faith section comment section, (a lot of ranting and raving) We are actually having a nicel little discussion, hopefully learning from each other's perspectives.


More Questions

A blogger by the name Rhymes with Kerouac posted 50 questions about the Christian sub-culture. Here are some of my favorites, most of which resonate with me as well.

It should be noted that he said this: Please - don't think of these as criticisms. Think of them as conversation starters.

  1. If I only had 12 people in my congregation, and one of them ends up turning on me, one of them flat out denies he even knows me, and the rest bail out just when I need them most... would my ministry be a success or a failure?
  2. We went from old hymn books to new hymn books to song books to overheads to Power Point. What's next?
  3. Wooden pews. What were they thinking?
  4. Everybody at church knows what the rules are, everybody knows how to behave, what's expected of them. No-one ever sat you down and said, 'these are the rules...' but you know them anyway. How did you learn the rules? Of course, you can't really understand this question until you get a bunch of folks together in a street church, where no-one knows how to behave in church...
  5. Here's a little game to play. Sit in church. Pick a man or woman - someone you sort of know, but don't know real well. A Christian person. A nice Christian person. Ask yourself, "If they fell off the wagon and ended up downtown, living on the street, sleeping in their own urine and vomit... would I go get them?
  6. Would any of us go get them?
  7. Rich Christians are blessed by God. Absolutely destitute Christians must live on faith for their every need. Which is better?
  8. Which is better when you haven't eaten in three days?
  9. Why do all our pictures of Jesus look like us?
  10. Why is it that none of us can walk to church?
  11. Why is there a copyright on bibles?
  12. When will we stop praying for revival and start living like the revived?

The Question That Haunts Me

What does the first picture (in a symbolic sense) have to do with the second? What does the church have to do with genocide, abortion, global warming, cancer, AID's, and on and on it goes. It is a question that haunts me. This is why I am something of a cynic. If I go there it breaks me up. So I just don't go there.


American Perspectives on Poverty

Rick over at The Blind Beggar has an interesting post by the title: American Perspectives on Poverty, which highlights some of the Barna research groups recent findings.

Below are some excerpts, but what it more interesting is the conversation that ensued in the comment section. It's pretty interesting. The conversation between John and NWProdigal illistrates an escatelogical tug of war between those that see the present world as having little to no value because it will all be swept away, and those that believe that Christ is making all things new, redeming the present. Both sides argue well, making the conversation very informative.

Post Excerpts
Three out of four adults (72%) consider poverty to be one of the most serious social problems facing the United States today. That includes one out of every five adults (21%) who contend that poverty is the single, most serious social problem of all. Just 4% argue that poverty is not much of a problem in the U.S. Evangelical Christians were only half as likely (11%) as the rest of the adult population to deem poverty to be the nation’s most vexing social challenge. Asian Americans (11%) were similarly less likely to see the issue in this way.

Two-thirds of Americans (64%) consider poverty to be an issue that the government is primarily responsible for addressing. Nearly one out of five people (18%) say it is the primary responsibility of each individual citizen to address poverty. Much smaller numbers of people say it is the duty of churches (4%), non-profit organizations (4%) or businesses (3%) to take the lead on dealing with poverty.

Evangelicals were among the groups least likely to see poverty as a job for the government (55%) and were the group most likely to see it as a matter for churches to address (14%).

Comment Excerpts (you should really read the whole conversation in context)

NWProdigal: I would much rather give my money to missions that promote the gospel to people that haven’t heard it, than to spend it on thankless people who have heard of God, but want nothing to do with Him. Then again, we are told to be like God, and not be a respecter or judge of those outside the fellowship. So, while I too am cynical about giving to thankless people, we cannot be Christians and allow people to be homeless or hungry who are in that position through bad judgement, addiction or bad luck. But, I have no desire to help those who can work, and won’t (see Romans 4:5).

John: Rick, those statistics are interesting. I personally feel I have gone (and continue to go) through conversions in my faith. Perhaps the greatest awakening for me is the realization that my faith is not about what happens to me after I die, but about participating with God to put the world to rights (if I can use NT Writ’s language). This means that issues of systemic poverty, injustice, and oppression have become my mandate beginning right here in my own back yard.

To answer the question of how to get more believers to understand this: we stop preaching a gospel laden with afterlife benefits and “here and now” blessings of happiness and comfort, and begin to call people into the greatest adventure of healing all creation.

NWProdigal: All I am saying is that this ecological and social justice approach to Jesus is somewhat valid, but the true purpose of Christianity is not to save the present world or earth, but people’s souls.

John: NWP, I can’t buy into a dualism that contradicts the very reason for the incarnation and the very first doctrine of the bible that proclaims that all creation is good. The kingdom is overlapping and interlocking with the here and now…that is the Kingdom message that got Jesus killed. It is not (just) about some afterlife place that is disconnected and disembodied from the texture of the world we are living in. To go extremely in the direction of focusing only on the heavenly is dualistic and resembles gnosticism. The challenge is that the gospel is calling people into the hope of the future of a new heaven and earth by inviting people into the family (church) to reflect the very image of the creator here and now…by his image i mean the nature and attributes of the trinity..all of them, not just the easy ones. Sometimes we too narrowly cling to the niceties and forget how close to God’s heart dealing with systemic injustice and oppression are.

Too many in our western christian culture reduce the gospel to mere personal piety as they strive to be nice people like Jesus…hoping they have done and said all the right things to ensure they are “in”. Not realizing that they are denying the more important elements of the law like justice and mercy.

“You will always have the poor among you” has been the defacto cop put verse that Christians use to justify their inactivity. Yet that type of behavior resembles more the traditions of Karma that suggests that those suffering have made their own bed and are under judgment. (emphasis mine)


Ch. 2 - A Biblical Foundation (Part 1)

The first part of this chapter lays out a framework within which the author operates. The second part which will follow in the next post, lays out the overwhelming evidence for Christ's concern for the poor and not only the people, but the systems that oppress them.

Assumed is the fact that he is an Evangelical that takes the Bible very seriously. This then is how he views God's hand in creation and the ways in which God involves humans.

Among evangelicals there are essentially two views of the created order. Ask yourself, "do I think the world is created by God, but fallen. (i.e. sinful) Or fallen, but created by God." Sider operates with the latter view. My own view, not surprisingly, follows closely to Sider's. I do have some questions about the scriptural passages that describe the end of the world. However I think the ones that describe the final exaltation of Christ and his creation, a new heaven and a new earth, are entirely too forgotten by evangelicals.

Again, what follows is an outline of the first part of chapter 2 in my own words, except where there are quotation marks.

A Conceptual Framework

The Lord of Economics

We are merely stewards of our possessions. As scripture says, we can not worship both God and mammon. "As Lord of history, God works now, with and through human co-workers, to create more wholesome economies that respect and nurture the dignity and worth of every human being."

The Importance of the World and History
"Many modern secular thinkers absolutize the historical process, even while they pronounce it meaningless. Some Eastern thinkers consider the world an illusion to escape. Some Christians to almost the same thing, viewing earthly life as mere preparation for eternity. Take for instance, the old gospel song, ‘This world is not my home I’m just passing through’."

In contrast, the Bible speaks of creation being restored (Rom 8:19-23) and of the glory of the nations (culture) being brought into the New Jerusalem. (Rev 11:15)

The Nature of Persons
Each person and all of humanity is of an infinitesimal value. Consequently all theories of economics must subordinate themselves to humanity.

We must recognize the freedom inherent in each individual, and the solidarity and the communal nature of humanities shared experiences, locally and globally. “Because our communal nature demands attention to the common good, individual rights, whether of freedom of speech or private property, can not be absolute. The right to private property dare not undermine the general welfare. Only God is an absolute owner. We are merely stewards called to balance personal rights with the common good.

These truths make the exploitation of our fellow humans absolutely wrong. This exploitation can take both overt and passive forms.

The Creation of Wealth
Wealth is a gift from God. Creativity, including the creation of wealth, is one way we reflect the nature of God back to him. How we create wealth, and what we do with it - there in lies the challenge.

The Glory of Work
As God worked so should we, again this is a way we reflect his nature back to him, an act of worship. Laziness is one (on a long list) of reasons people are poor. On the other hand, too much work constitutes evil as well. Be it forced, in the form of slavery or an economy that requires a terrible number of hours worked just to earn a living wage. Or chosen, the common challenge of being a workaholic.

The Reality of Sin
This is the kicker. Everything is marred by sin. There is nothing it doesn't touch, because there is nothing that humanity does not touch. Only when Christ returns will things be completely restored to the way they were created to be. However, that does not mean that that this planet is nothing but a cesspool. Quite the contrary. Ever since the fall, God has been at work restoring this world, humanity and culture, to the way it ought to be, and using humanity to do it.


Ch 1- What Does Poverty Look Like

Below are excerpts from chapter one that create something of an outline. This first chapter simply describes the problem, gives us an idea of what poverty looks like in the United States, so there is little to critique here. I'll just let the author speak for himself.

Mention poverty and many people in the United States instantly think of a single, black woman living in an urban ghetto with a bunch of little kids. Wrong. Only twelve percent of the poor live in urban ghettos; only twenty-seven percent are African-American. In reality, 34.9 percent of the poor live in families headed by a married couple. Twenty percent of poor families have an adult working full-time year-round, and still live in poverty.

Thirty year ago, half the poor lived in rural areas. Today, only twenty-five percent do. Poverty is growing fairly rapidly in the suburbs (especially the inner suburbs) where thirty-three percent of the poor now live. Only twelve percent of the poor live in urban ghettos—defined as an area in which at least 40% of the residents are poor.

What Causes Poverty?

Structural Causes
Decreasing Number of Low Skilled, Well-paying Jobs (Factory Jobs)
Falling wages - including the buying power of the minimum wage.
The structure of welfare and it's ability to help someone out of poverty.

Personal Decisions and Misguided Behavioral Patterns
An Increase in the Number of Single-Parent Families
Illegal Drugs and Alcohol

Sudden Catastrophes
Accidents and illness leading to permanent disabilities, especially to the primary bred-winner.
Medical bills in the hundreds of thousands of dollars that can not be paid.

Consider the Distribution of Income and Wealth
In 1974 the bottom 20% of the population received only 5.7% of the total national income, while the top 20% enjoyed 40.6%. In the next 20+ years, and inequality became worse. The bottom share dropped to 4.2% while the top share expanded to 46.8%.

Nor is it just the poor who are seeing their share of income decline. From 1979 through 1997 only the top 20% saw their share of income grow. Everyone else, the other 80% saw their share of income fall.

In 1965, CEO’s made approximately 44 times the salary of the average factory worker. Thirty years later the CEO received 209 times the average factory workers salary.

Poverty is alive and well in the United States at the peak of one of the longest boom economies in our history. Over thirty-five million Americans experience this unnecessary trauma. Over fourteen million of our children suffer poverty’s destructive effects. Over forty-three million lack health insurance. For the poor, the schools do not work, and their jobs do not pay. For the richest nation on earth, this situation is unnecessary. For Christians it is immoral.

The rest of this book offers a comprehensive vision of how a committed movement of people with the Judeo-Christian perspective can dramatically reduce agony and injustice by offering the poor genuine opportunities to work their way out of poverty.


Just Generosity

In the weeks to come, I'll be blogging my way through this book Just Generosity, by Ronald Sider.

The back cover says: Ron Sider, author of the best-selling Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger, calls believers to care as much about the poor as Jesus did. He offers a new, holistic approach in which much expanded faith-based groups work with business, media, and government, uniting inner spiritual transformation and correction of structural injustice, to help end poverty in the world's richest nation.


Don't Always Give Your Best

Sometimes you should, sometimes you shouldn't. When? Why? Mason and i talked about that here. Below are some excerpts. But the original conversation is better.

Mason: I'm a coach. And sometimes what I see and experience makes me think, "Is it all about winning and losing? Is that the greatest purpose of what I do? Or of sports?" Maybe it's about giving your very best. If you believe that God created you, don't you think you owe it to Him to give your best? Even if you don't believe that, don't you at least owe it to yourself? I don't remember the times I won or lost so much as the times I gave it my all or just gave up...

David: ...there is almost always room for improvement, always something else you could do. How good is your best? With your track athletes for instance, at some point they quit working out and move onto other activities, other good activities. studies for instance.

I would liken it to propelling a vehicle. The best millage to speed ratio is 55mph. After that you can go faster, but it will cost you. And so it is with "giving your best" you can but it will cost you, often time, time that could be used on something better.

Mason: That's all fine Dave, but yours is a question of priorities. My comments are geared towards someone who has already made that decision, whether it be a workout or a competition. Once you have decided to use your time for that activity it only makes sense that you should give your very best. And your comment about not always striving for an A? That's weak. I'll quote a track & field legend. "To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift" - Steve Prefontaine

David: Prefontaine's quote is representative of a broader American ideal, often called the protestant work ethic, which stems from a theology that everything, including work, should be done to the glory of God. (John Calvin and others) On paper I agree with this, but I feel strongly about what happens when this good idea goes too far. Hence my concern over as you say, priorities.

I really believe, and I think you'll agree, that our priorities are pretty screwed up in this country. (i.e. workaholics/latch key kids) Part of that problem comes from an over-competitive nature, and a desire not to "sacrifice a gift" which on the good side has propelled this country beyond all others by some measurements, (economic) but at what cost? (spiritual/ethical)

At the end of the day I'm not saying your original post was wrong. All I'm saying is that you should not ALWAYS give your best.


Stranger Than Fiction

Ever wonder when the Christ child realized he was the Son of God? Ever wonder what it was like for him to realize he had to die? Ever wonder what the outcome of such a terrible thing would be? Watch Stranger Than Fiction.

(yes I got paid to say all of this...)

(...no not really, your way too gullible)

This post is an example of what happens when a theology geek goes looking for spiritual themes in all the wrong places. (which yes, are often the best places) This is a film that thematically speaking, depicts many aspects of the life of Christ well. For me personally, I walked away from it closer to Christ.


A Memorial Day for the Pacifist

As a former Airman in the U.S. Air Force, I just want to take the time to say thank you to all of the anti-war demonstrators and pacifists of both today and wars gone by. I mean this sincerely. Even in the most just of wars, voices of dissent are for me a welcome addition to our public discourse. In this country we value freedom, freedom to speak our mind and voice our dissent. So on this day that we remember our men and women in uniform who gave their lives, I want to remember those who's voices of dissent, have mitigated the loss of life.

I may yet be employed by the military-industrial complex, and I am not a pacifist. (though I wish I was) But I have a deep respect for those who are, or who believe that a particular war is unjust and are willing to do something about it. To them I say thank you.


Somebody up there, pray for us

Allan Creech, a very catholic protestant, has a post here about praying to saints. He does a great job explaining our differences and letting us see points of commonality.

Here are his definitions of how protestants and catholics look at death and heaven. I think they are very informative. Among other things he is basically saying, if you would ask your grandmother to pray for you before she dies, why not after she dies?

Protestants = (generally speaking) When someone dies, there is immediate judgement and "sentencing," reward and punishment. Boom! If you have faith in Jesus, you "go to heaven" and in that same swift trip you are glorified, fully and completely transformed (if there is any thought of transformation at all this is when it happens) into the perfect Image of Christ and are ushered into the fullness of the Presence of GOD, without measure, forever. There is also then a separation from the rest of the Body. Maybe it's better to put it like this, a graduation from the Church to something else, the heavenly choir perhaps. There is no more interaction with any of the Church on earth. It's either not allowed or is somehow ontologically impossible, I'm not sure. There's not really any one set theologically worked out argument for why this is. Perhaps there may seem to be the one - that the contrary is not explicitly laid out in Scripture, or is interpreted as not being so.

Catholics = people are still members of the Church when they die, still able to participate, are still being worked on as a matter of fact (but that's another issue altogether isn't it). Catholics believe someone who is "in heaven" is able to hear us and are also able to continue to pray for us to God for help in whatever situation. They believe that a person who is "over there" has, logically, a bigger perspective and greater knowledge, and can intercede perhaps better than someone here. OK. They are NOT called on to believe that such persons have the ability to send powerful help down out of themselves. We're talking about intercession here. It's the continuation of how the Body of Christ works here on earth - I need help, I ask Liz to pray for me because I'm not the complete Christ in myself, she does, this prayer interacts with the great economy of God's Life moving back and forth between the great divide and things happen, somehow. If it doesn't, then let's just all shut up and ke se-frikin-ra, things will just happen and whatever. So, there's that.


U2 - I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For

I really appreciate this music. I blogged about it in the past here, discussing the theological truth that it represents. However beyond that, it reflects my own deep seeded dissatisfaction with the status quo of all things evil. (Which are at some level most everything that humanity is involved in.)

There is inside of me a somewhat youthful desire to see things changed, and yet a gnawing feeling that they very well may not. In so many ways I haven't found what I'm looking for. Yet in some respects I have begun to. Jesus Christ is a part of that beginning, so is my wife Joey and my son Nicholas. Many of you friends also represent beginnings of what I am looking for. For all of this I am very thankful.

(for now this video will reside permanently at the bottom of this blog)


Jerry Falwell, child of God

In spite of being an evangelical Christian, I'm pretty much the opposite of Jerry Falwell. Having said that, I really really appreciate the story that one of my friends wrote for the La Crosse Tribune. It appears below.

Jerry Falwell, child of God
By Joe Orso

Besides their species, Mao Zedong, the 14th Dalai Lama, Hitler, Elie Wiesel, Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King Jr., George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, Eleanor Roosevelt, Black Elk and Jerry Falwell share little in common.

They all have lived on Earth and had the qualities that make humans human. But besides that, they grew up in different times and places and have made names of their lives in very different ways.

Some we see as good, some as bad, and some as good or bad depending on our perspective.

On Tuesday, after a life that mixed religion and politics, Jerry Falwell, the television evangelist, founder of the Moral Majority, crusader against taking prayer out of schools, against homosexuality and against all things liberal, founder of Liberty University, a husband and father who said AIDS is God’s punishment for homosexuality, died at age 73.

Whether Falwell’s life was helpful for humanity or not, it was certainly a life that divided. He was not a peacemaker, but a man who spoke and acted on principles that offended some and inspired others.

We can argue whether Falwell’s principles were virtuous, as we argue about ideas all the time. The more useful conversation, though, is whether Falwell, our fellow human, was a child of God.

I like that phrase, “child of God.” It makes me think about a Lutheran who once told me who she saw when she looked into the eyes of a Muslim recently returned from a pilgrimage to Mecca. It makes me think about the people a Christian saw when he traveled to India and looked into the eyes of those he’d always assumed were going to hell.

But it’s a challenging phrase. Pick your favorite evil president, or the person with a morality too wide or too narrow for your liking, and place that phrase as the descriptor: George and Bill, children of God? Saddam Hussein and Paris Hilton, children of God? Jerry Falwell, child of God?

And does the phrase actually mean something as flesh means something, or is it just a cliche to be tucked into calendars with clouds and angels? I mean, do you experience what’s said by the metaphor?

And can you look into the eyes of a person who does not see you as a child of God and see him as a child of God? Did Falwell?

This prayer, posted by a reader on Beliefnet.com, might help him and us with these questions:

“It is a comfort to know that Rev. Falwell has now met his creator face to face, and has at last been brought to perfection by that Love that goes beyond the limits of our humanity. May he rest in peace, and may we all know mercy.”


What is Missional Church? Ryan Bolger- Video (2)

At the end of the video (see previous post) Ryan asks this question:

"How do we make our way of life and our worship (i.e. church) consistent with both the life of Jesus and with our culture?"

Appropriately a question is the best one line definition of both emerging and missional church. Not that a one line defination is all that useful or appropriate, but none the less...


What is Missional Church? Ryan Bolger- Video

Here is a video in which Allan Roxburgh interviews one of my favorite Fuller profs, Ryan Bolger. They are discussing the definition of missional church vis-a-vis the emerging church, and Ryan's own journey in this direction.

I highly recommend taking the time to watch this. It is very very good. Ryan is an A list pro on the topic and is able to communicate coherently what others, including myself, struggle to articulate.


Three Dollars Per Day - Friday

Coffey - $0.10
Blackened salmon - Free
French fries - Free

BBQ Roast Beef - Free
Baked Potato - Free
Fresh Fruit - Free
Two Cans of Soda - $0.25 (one free)
Glass of Milk - $0.15
Slice of Pie - $0.50

Total: $1.00
Week to Date: $12.45 (Goal: $15.00)

Now I don't blame you if this looks like cheating to you. In a way it is. But it also illustrates the power of sharing, and the glorious blessing of a free meal! (hint: this is your cue to give someone who needs it a free meal) Lunch was a working meal with my boss, which she paid for. And for dinner, our small group got together and had a potluck to which we contributed the pie.

The experiment is over, but it's one that I'm going to keep with me for a while. I really don't need to spend as much as I typically do on an average meal. And I certainly don't need as much meat in my diet as I prefer to enjoy.

Three Dollars Per Day - Thursday

Coffey - $0.10
Baked Beans - $0.30
Green Beans - $0.15
Mac&Cheese - $0.20
Chicken Gumbo - $2.70
Can of Soda - $0.25
Glass of Milk - $0.15

Total: $3.85
Week to Date: $11.45

Well as you can see that chicken gumbo was a killer for the daily budget, but by spending less the first two days, I could afford it today. My goal is to spend only $15 in five days, not just $3/day.


Three Dollars Per Day - Wednesday

Coffey - $0.10
Baked Beans - $0.30
Green Beans - $0.15
Mac&Cheese - $0.20
Flavored Rice - $1.40
Salad - $.50
Two Cans of Soda - $0.50
Glass of Milk - $0.15

Total: $3.30
Week to Date: $7.60


Three Dollars Per Day - Tuesday

Coffey - $0.10
PB&H - $0.25
Baby Carrots - $0.25
Baked Beans - $0.50
Green Beans - $0.25
Mac&Cheese - $0.30
Two slices of bread & butter - $0.20
Can of Soda - $0.25
Glass of Milk - $0.15

Total: $2.25
Week to Date: $4.30


Three Dollars Per Day - Monday

Coffey - $0.10

Apple - $0.75

Two PB&J sandwiches - $0.50

Glass of milk - $0.20
Slice of bread & butter - $0.10
Glass of Milk - $0.15
Can of Soda - $0.25

Total: $2.05

ps I drank plenty of watter for free.

Governor Challenges Oregonians to Food Stamp Challenge

“I challenge all Oregonians to experience first-hand what thousands of Oregon families go through everyday,” said Governor Kulongoski. “Budgeting just $1 a meal each day for food, and trying to make that food nutritious, is a difficult task that sadly is a reality for too many Oregonians and their families.”

“Many of us will never know what it’s like not to know where our next meal will come from or whether we’ll have enough food in the cupboard to make it through the week,” Governor Kulongoski continued. “My hope is that by participating in the food stamp challenge, Oregonians will gain a better understanding of what hundreds of thousands of Oregonians experience each month as they try to afford meet their families’ basic needs – transportation, housing, child care, health care – and food.”

Read article here.

So I think I'm going to take on this challenge of eating on three dollars per day for the next five days. It's just kind of a way for me to identify in one small way with people in need.

Wondering what one can eat for a week on three dollars per day? I'll keep you updated here on the blog.


What is my obligation to those who suffer?

After I sent that e-mail to Brandon, (see previous post) we talked about what i was struggling with the next Sunday. (specifically I'm struggling with the gap between halves and halve nots, and questions on suffering. In this case I have great health and Brandon does not.)

When we had talked the previous Sunday, he wasn't so sure i owed him anything, but after reading my e-mail he could see where I was coming from. However he still had some concerns. The main one was dependency. From the disabled person's perspective, it isn't going to do much good to go around thinking that people owe them. A wow-is-me attitude is a recipe for disaster for the disabled person.

Brandon also wanted to make perfectly clear that I was never going to be able to identify with him in any real physical way. In other words i could have empathy, but never sympathy, which I completely agree with.

Brandon's other concern was a little broader, dealing with the matter of Biblical interpretation. "How does one know they are doing justice to the intentions of the original authors of the Bible and what does that have to do with the hear and now?" was essentially what Brandon was saying, in this case on the matter of suffering and sharing each others burdens. All I'll say here is: exactly.

What Brandon and I finally agreed on is that in his case maybe there is little I can or even should do for him physically speaking, but there are many that don't have the resources he does. Cyra, his wife, is an amazing woman, marrying this man in spite of the condition that has landed him in a wheal chair. (or maybe because of it, I don't know) If anyone suffers right along side Brandon, it is certainly her, setting an amazing example for all of us. Additionally, Brandon owns his own business. He's not rich by American standards, but he has what he needs. Unfortunately this is not the case for everyone who lives life from a chair on wheels. Many many people are not only poor but suffer a great deal do to physical handicaps. So my questions remains. In light of what the scriptures say (see previous post) what is my obligation to those who suffer?


My Friend In a Wheal Chair

Here is a e-mail I sent to Brandon, friend of mine who is in a wheal chair. We were talking about how I (and you) can identify with people who suffer and do something about it. (sometimes)

It's just a peak into what the Bible says about suffering and some of the things I'm thinking about.

In the next post I'll share some of the things Brandon said in response.


Here are some of those Bible passages I mentioned in our conversation this past Sunday.

On the matter of suffering.

Paul's call to ministry explicitly mentions suffering

Acts 9:15
But the Lord said to Ananias, "Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. 16I will show him how much he must suffer for my name."

Here Paul teaches the church in Philipi that they are called to suffer.

Philippians 1:29
29For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him

Here Paul says that we should expect to suffer because we are Christians. Specifically look at vs 13, wow!

1 Peter 1:12-19
Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. 13But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. 14If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. 15If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. 16However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. 17For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? 18And, "If it is hard for the righteous to be saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?" 19So then, those who suffer according to God's will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.

And the most amazing/disconcerting passage of all

Philipians 3:7-10
7But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ 9and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. 10I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.

Now if you set these side by side with the Bibles teachings on sharing each others burdens, and helping one another, and the fact that we all make up one church, one body, what are the implications for daily living?

Romans 12:14-16
14Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position.[c] Do not be conceited.

How low do the positions need to be that i need to associate with? Is there any valid excuse not to?

Romans 12:3-5
3For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you. 4Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, 5so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.

1 Cor 12:24-26
But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, 25so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.

In what respect do I suffer with you Brandon? Honestly, I don't think that I do.

And if we put all of this in a global information society, one in which I am keenly aware of the suffering of others on a global scale, how should I respond?

What is my obligation, when Pastor Dan teaches that we should throw off everything that so easily entangles? More specifically, what is stopping me from sharing in and/or alleviating the suffering of others to a much much greater extent?!