The Starting Line of Life

But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.
(1 John 3:17-18)

I encourage you to watch this video. It really helps to sink in that many of us have had a better starting line than others in life. This isn’t to make us feel guilty! That’s not the point of this video in my view. It’s to help us to better appreciate how blessed we are, and how others have to work even harder to overcome obstacles many of us never had to face.

God wants us to take the privileges, opportunities and blessings we have been given and use them for His glory.

The Starting Line of Life

“Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh? Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily; your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer; you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’ If you take away the yoke from your midst, the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness, if you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday.”
(Isaiah 58:6-10)

Whoever Gathered Much

But when they measured it with an omer, whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack. Each of them gathered as much as he could eat.
(Exodus 16:18)

I’m in no way wanting to minimize the Coronavirus, nor do I want to comment on all the steps made lately to contain it. That’s not the point of this article.

But look at the store shelves. The panic has set in and everyone is trying to stock up on toilet paper, masks, hand sanitizer, vitamin C, meat, etc. The stores can’t keep stuff on the shelves.

Then we hear reports of people who bought up all the hand sanitizer and are selling in on Amazon for up to 70 dollars a bottle. Or the guy selling toilet paper out of the trunk of his car for a high price. Some people would applaud folks like this for being capitalists and opportunists. God would tell them they are being selfish and are hurting the poor.

When we go to the store in such panic and buy enough toilet paper to last 10 years, and then the elderly couple who comes in to the store later can’t buy any, what does that say? I’m confident that there are many good hearted folks out there who are sharing what they have with others, but I don’t think anyone can doubt that the store shelves being bare is a sign of many folks having a me-first attitude.

While there are principles in the Scripture that teach it is wise to have storehouses of supplies in our house (Proverbs 15:6; 21:20), there are other principles like the one we see in Exodus 16 that show God wants those who gather a lot to share with those who have a little. The Israelites were commanded by God to gather only enough manna for the day.  Those who gathered too much were to share with those who didn’t gather enough. And if you kept any overnight (except for the Sabbath Day), it bred worms and stank the next morning. It was a valuable lesson God was teaching his people.

This concept is repeated in the New Testament. Paul quotes Exodus 16 when writing to the Corinthians about sharing with others.

For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of fairness your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness. As it is written, “Whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack.”
(2 Corinthians 8:13-15)

A matter of fairness. Paul said that word twice in this passage. Fairness. Your abundance should supply their need at this time, and then later someone else’s abundance will supply your need. Regardless of what happens, and no matter what the culture does, God’s people are looking to share what they have with others who are in need, so that there will be fairness. This concept is not just for kindergarten kids at recess, it is for people who go to the store to shop. Remember this concept.

Lost The Power Forever

I’ve never read, “A Christmas Carol,” by Charles Dickens, so we ordered it. We are currently reading this short story. We’ve watched a lot of movie versions of the book, the kids’ favorite is the Muppet Version.

As we were reading it the other night, we came to the part where Jacob Marley, Scrooge’s old friend, came from the dead to visit Scrooge. As Jacob Marley is about to depart, Scrooge sees tons of spirits moving through the sky, moaning and crying. They are crying because they had the opportunity to do good for their fellow man and did not do it. Now they are dead and they have to roam the earth to see all the misery they could have helped to relieve.

Here is a quote from the book:

Scrooge followed to the window: desperate in his curiosity. He looked out.
The air was filled with phantoms, wandering hither and thither in restless haste, and moaning as they went. Every one of them wore chains like Marley’s Ghost; some few (they might be guilty governments) were linked together; none were free. Many had been personally known to Scrooge in their lives. He had been quite familiar with one old ghost, in a white waistcoat, with a monstrous iron safe attached to its ankle, who cried piteously at being unable to assist a wretched woman with an infant, whom it saw below, upon a doorstep. The misery with them all was, clearly, that they sought to interfere, for good, in human matters, and had lost the power forever.

Think about that statement, they sought to interfere in human matters but had forever lost the power. While they were alive they had the opportunity to intervene in the human suffering around them, but chose not to do so. Now it is too late for them. Sad, isn’t it?

What about us? We have today, and we have opportunity.

James 4:13-17 – Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”–yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.

Two men who told God about their giving

Compare Jesus’ parable of the Pharisee and tax collector in Luke 18 with what is recorded about Zacchaeus (a tax collector) and Jesus in Luke 19. One thing you will see is that the Pharisee in Luke 18 told God about how much he gave, but so did Zacchaeus in Luke 19. But one was justified (saved, received, accepted), and the other was not. What was different about Zacchaeus in the way he talked to Jesus about his own giving?

Also He spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men–extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’ And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
(Luke 18:9-14)

Then Jesus entered and passed through Jericho. Now behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus who was a chief tax collector, and he was rich. And he sought to see who Jesus was, but could not because of the crowd, for he was of short stature. So he ran ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see Him, for He was going to pass that way. And when Jesus came to the place, He looked up and saw him, and said to him, “Zacchaeus, make haste and come down, for today I must stay at your house.” So he made haste and came down, and received Him joyfully. But when they saw it, they all complained, saying, “He has gone to be a guest with a man who is a sinner.” Then Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord, I give half of my goods to the poor; and if I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore fourfold.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he also is a son of Abraham; for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.”
(Luke 19:1-10)

Here are a few contrasts between the Pharisee and Zacchaeus:

  • Luke 18 says the Pharisee trusted in himself that he was righteous. The Pharisee was a religious man who wanted to look good and justify himself. Luke 19 shows that Zacchaeus had a humble heart that zealously sought out Jesus.
  • The Pharisee talked about his giving because he wanted to sound like an impressive servant of God. Zacchaeus was defending with himself against the accusations of those standing outside his house saying he was a sinner. The heart of Zacchaeus was not one to brag to Jesus, but he was pleading with Jesus saying how much he wanted to be right with God. He wanted to be in a relationship with God, he didn’t try to impress God.
  • Zacchaeus knew he was lost and needed salvation. We see in Zacchaeus that when he saw he had mistreated someone, he made it right. The Pharisee was too blinded to his own lost condition. He only noticed the flaws in others, not in himself.
  • Both men helped the poor, but one did it as a religious duty to check off his list and to show to all how awesome he was. The other gave because he truly had compassion for those in need.

Are we a Zacchaeus?

Are the Givers Able to Receive?

The teacher doesn’t like to be taught, the fixer doesn’t want to be fixed, the counselor fights against being counseled, and the giver has a very hard time receiving.

At present, however, I am going to Jerusalem bringing aid to the saints. For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make some contribution for the poor among the saints at Jerusalem. For they were pleased to do it, and indeed they owe it to them. For if the Gentiles have come to share in their spiritual blessings, they ought also to be of service to them in material blessings.
(Romans 15:25-27)

In Romans 15, the apostle Paul wrote of two groups of people that were both givers AND receivers. The brethren from Jerusalem were sharing spiritual blessings and were receiving material blessings. The brethren from Macedonia and Achaia were receiving spiritual blessings from those at Jerusalem and were in turn giving material goods to help them in time of need.

This relationship is how God designed the body. This is how it works. But it only works when the givers receive.

Receiving is tough. It means I don’t have all the answers and resources. It means admitting I need help. It says, “I can’t do it by myself.” It by definition requires vulnerability and transparency. You have to open up to let people into your “safe zone.” Having to receive is having to admit I don’t have it all under control.

When the giver is put in a position to receive, the giver is in a very uncomfortable and unfamiliar position. Its like writing with your opposite hand. Writing for me left-handed is like breathing, but attempting to use my right hand is completely awkward and uncomfortable. The giver is completely safe and at home with the giving part, not so safe and secure with being taken care of. There are pride issues to deal with for sure. A lot of humility is needed to receive (of course we should have humility when we’re giving too!).

So, if you are someone who is the do-er, the fixer, the counselor, the teacher and the giver, how do you handle it when others offer you help or advice? Do you receive it well?

The eye needs the hand, and the hand needs the eye. When I have a fleck of dust in my eye, my hand helps my eye. When I have a splinter in my hand, my eye helps my hand. We need each other. We need to learn to receive.

Days of Feasting, Gladness and Giving

This will be the last post for 2017. Happy New Year! Thanks for being such an encouragement to me this year! God bless you all richly! 

But the Jews who were in Susa gathered on the thirteenth day and on the fourteenth, and rested on the fifteenth day, making that a day of feasting and gladness. Therefore the Jews of the villages, who live in the rural towns, hold the fourteenth day of the month of Adar as a day for gladness and feasting, as a holiday, and as a day on which they send gifts of food to one another. And Mordecai recorded these things and sent letters to all the Jews who were in all the provinces of King Ahasuerus, both near and far, obliging them to keep the fourteenth day of the month Adar and also the fifteenth day of the same, year by year, as the days on which the Jews got relief from their enemies, and as the month that had been turned for them from sorrow into gladness and from mourning into a holiday; that they should make them days of feasting and gladness, days for sending gifts of food to one another and gifts to the poor. So the Jews accepted what they had started to do, and what Mordecai had written to them.
(Esther 9:18-23)

The passage above from Esther records the beginnings of an annual Jewish holiday called Purim in which the Jews remembered their deliverance from the wicked plot of Haman to destroy all Jews. Mordecai set these times up for all Jews to have “days of feasting and gladness, days for sending gifts of food to one another and gifts to the poor.”

They were times of feasting, gladness and giving, not really much different than our holiday seasons. Even Jesus participated in festive times like weddings and feasts like Hanukkah (John 2, 10). The returning exiles in Nehemiah’s day also had a time of celebration, feasting and gift-giving, and they were commanded to do so by God’s priests (Nehemiah 8:10-12). There is a time for everything, including a time to rest, and celebrate God’s blessings in our lives. Solomon plainly said that this “is from the hand of God.”

There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God, for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment? For to the one who pleases him God has given wisdom and knowledge and joy, but to the sinner he has given the business of gathering and collecting, only to give to one who pleases God. This also is vanity and a striving after wind.
(Ecclesiastes 2:24-26)

We must always keep in mind, though, that all blessings come from God, and that in rejoicing in those blessings, we must put Him first in our hearts. We also because of God’s rich blessings, begin to think of others who are not blessed in the same ways. Hopefully we as the Jews in Esther’s day will look to find those who do not have what we have and share our blessings from God with them.

Enjoy your holidays. Keep God first in your thoughts. Rejoice that we are so richly blessed. Consider others who are hurting and find ways to help. Don’t feel guilty having a good time with your family and friends, as long as you are doing so in obedience to God. As Solomon said in the above passage, “For apart from Him who can eat or have enjoyment?”

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.
(Philippians 4:4)

Learning from the Widow in Luke 21

We were in Indy last week visiting family, and we heard a really insightful short talk on a Wednesday night. The brother reminded us of a familiar passage in Luke 21 about the poor widow who gave her last two coins to God.  What the brother then said was to take out the chapter and verse divisions in the Bible and read the end of Luke 20 and then read about the widow in Luke 21. So I put the text here for you to read.

And in the hearing of all the people he said to his disciples, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and love greetings in the marketplaces and the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.” Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the offering box, and he saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. And he said, “Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”
(Luke 20:45-21:4)

The question was posed – I wonder how this widow ended up with only two coins? One really good explanation for the state of her poverty was that the Jewish leadership had “devoured” it. Instead of supporting the widows, they took advantage of them in their time of distress. Again, if you read the text straight through it sure sounds like that is the explanation for this widow’s condition. It also may explain how the “rich” in that context had so much excess of money to put into the treasury.

This concept of devouring widow’s houses is not just in Luke. Here are some other passages that address this social injustice (Isaiah 10:2; Jeremiah 7:6-10; Ezekiel 22:7; Amos 8:4-6; Micah 2:2,8; 3:1-3; Mark 12:40; 2 Timothy 3:6). These hypocritical, narcissistic Jewish leaders were even doing this garbage to their own parents (Mark 7; Matthew 15). When we take time to read passages like the ones in this paragraph, we can see how strongly God feels about it.

But that is not really the point of this article, nor was it the point of the brother who was giving that short talk. When you consider the state of things, the injustice that was going on, and the poverty of this woman, are you not impressed with her heart for God? Even in the midst of great poverty, knowing these two coins were “all” she had to live on, she still gave it all to God. Her heart was not filled with bitterness and rage against those who oppressed her, nor was she angry about her state in life. She loved God and was happy to give Him her all.

What a woman!

It is more blessed to give than to receive

Yes, you yourselves know that these hands have provided for my necessities, and for those who were with me. I have shown you in every way, by laboring like this, that you must support the weak. And remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ ” And when he had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all.
(Acts 20:34-36)

I was thinking of this verse in regards to Hurricane Harvey and how it is a time for many to give. So many are in dire straits and because of this devastation. Recovery will be a long time coming. I’m pretty sure many understand this, but let’s remember that those in need in Texas will need consistent help over time.

But now we see Hurricane Irma on the way, and it many others are going to face the wrath of nature. Again, it will be a time to give, share, pray, cry, work, sacrifice and comfort.

Tragedies reveal the heart of man. We could focus on the negative side of humanity that comes out during tragedies, but look at the goodness of the Creator that is reflected in people in the wake of painful trials.

Those who are going through the devastation show their remarkable faith and goodness, and those who are supporting the hurting during those times reveal their kind hearts as well. From personal experience, I know that the hearts of so many people are good and kind.

The people who are pouring out money, time, listening ears and physical work to help those in Texas have their own problems, too. Those who are giving have diseases, sicknesses, family crises, financial heartache, deaths in the family, etc. But in their suffering they are not self-centered, they are outward focused.

When the apostle Paul quoted the Lord Jesus about it being more blessed to give than to receive, think of what Paul had been going through and what he was about to go through. Awful. Tragic. Yes, but Paul’s heart was heaven-centered and outward focused. He devoted his life to helping the weak and supporting others, even with all the trials and adversity he personally faced.

This is the heart of God. This is what we see in the heart of Jesus while on earth. The very night before He was arrested, tortured and slaughtered for our sins, Jesus devoted a great deal of time to helping His 12 disciples. He taught them. He served them and washed their feet. Jesus prayed for them.

Jesus lived the message He taught us. “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”

Please, let us make a small upper room

And she said to her husband, “Look now, I know that this is a holy man of God, who passes by us regularly. Please, let us make a small upper room on the wall; and let us put a bed for him there, and a table and a chair and a lampstand; so it will be, whenever he comes to us, he can turn in there.” (2 Kings 4:9-10)

For today’s MDB, I want to go back to the verses we considered yesterday as we reflected upon the character of the Shunammite woman. This woman demonstrated great humility and contentment, and the Lord rewarded her for it. But for today, I want to consider her husband. Read the above verses and think about the relationship of a husband and a wife. Think about the fact that she could come to her husband with a request, that he listened to her, and he actively supported what she wanted to do.

He was approachable. There are men like Nabal (1 Samuel 25) that were not approachable, but not the husband of this Shunammite woman. They had the kind of marriage where she knew she could come to him with such a request.

He listened to her request. The man could have dismissed her, cut her off, told her her idea was silly or you fill in the blanks. That’s not what happened. They were a team in this marriage, a partnership. He considered her viewpoint, he took time to think about what she was asking. The husband listened to her dreams/visions/plans.

He supported her in what she wanted to do for the Lord. “Let us make…” implies that she wanted him to be a part of this project, too. She didn’t say, “Let me make.” They were a team. It wasn’t, this is “your thing” or “your project,” he was involved also. But to support our wives means more than just writing a check. We need to be emotionally and verbally supportive as well. If he rode her the whole way through the project reminding her of how much it costs and how much of a hassle it is, then that is not supportive, is it? Think about it, she asked her husband to take on a building/remodeling project for a man who would only occasionally come by. I’m sure he could have fired off several practical reasons as to why that wasn’t a good idea, but that’s not what he did. He supported her. That’s what we as husbands need to do, too.

This couple is like the Priscilla and Aquila of the New Testament church (Romans 16:3-5; 1 Corinthians 16:19), who showed great hospitality and sacrifice for the church. They were a team and a partnership working for Jesus, and as husbands that requires that we have the kind of heart like his husband of the Shunammite woman. The heart to be approachable, to listen and to fully support our wives.

5 Love Languages: Gift Giving

I’m currently reading the 5 Love Languages for Men by Dr. Gary Chapman. Click here if you want to purchase the book for yourself.

Dr. Gary Chapman’s famous approach is that we all speak different love languages, and he categorizes them as:

  1. Words of Affirmation
  2. Quality Time
  3. Gift Giving
  4. Acts of Service
  5. Physical Touch

Today is about Gift-Giving

Dr. Chapman makes the point about getting the cart before the horse. He reminds us that love is the horse and the cart is the gift. We are not trying to purchase approval, affection and love from our wives by lavishing gifts upon them. Rather we are expressing our love for our beautiful wives by offering visual symbols of that love.

Consider one of the most famous verses in Scripture, John 3:16. It says, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son.” Love comes first, and giving is an expression of His love. God teaches us how to love, and how to give.

One point Dr. Chapman made in this chapter that resonated with me is when he talked about a “dialect” of this particular love language of gift-giving. This dialect is giving the gift of yourself, your presence. When your wife is facing a trial and adversity, the greatest gift you can offer is your presence. No appointment is more pressing than being there to offer support and encouragement for your wife. She will remember whether you were truly there for you.

A practical suggestion Dr. Chapman gives to guys who are getting started on gift-giving is to listen. Yes, listen. Go back in your memory bank and listen. Think of the gifts that your wife really appreciated and what she said as to why she loved those gifts. When your wife received a gift from a family member or close friend and that gift really meant something to her, listen to “why” it meant so much to her. Pay attention to these things because it will help shape your understanding as to what kinds of gifts your wife really wants. Talk to her close friends and family members and ask them for advice.

I encourage you to get this book if you don’t already have it and read this chapter. The last two pages of the chapter have some very practical tips on gifts you can purchase or make for your wife.