If your goal is to do enough, you’re going to be disappointed

medium_11975144065

Every week, I’ll see another email hit my inbox talking about the strides humanity is making in alleviating extreme poverty. And while I’m thankful for all the good work that’s being done, I can’t help but wonder about the message I pick up from many of the communications I receive.

See, most of them, though they are well meaning, have the wrong goal in mind. They’re trying to figure out what “doing enough” means. The only problem is, “doing enough” doesn’t work, as a goal or a reality. Why? Here’s how I put it in Awaiting a Savior: The Gospel, the New Creation and the End of Poverty:

“Doing enough” can be overly simplistic. One problem with “doing enough” is that it tends to focus us on the wrong goal. We pick a dollar amount, or an income percentage, or a number of hours per month. We construct a set of checkboxes to see if we’re meeting the output criteria we have set for ourselves. Some suggest, for example, that if we all give just one percent more financially, global poverty can be wiped out forever. All we have to do, they say, is track the progress, allocate the resources, and we’re set.

When “doing enough” becomes primarily a matter of numbers, we can be sure we are focusing on the wrong thing. Alleviating poverty is about more than a certain amount of giving, whether of time or money.

“Doing enough” is legalism. Worse, this “doing enough” mindset is textbook legalism—the effort to be pleasing to God through our external behavior. And encouraging people to be active in helping the poor can promote legalism like few other activities. Unless God cuts someone to the heart and instills a compassion for the poor, exhortations to “choose your fast” or “just give more money” either will be ignored or will feed one’s “inner legalist.”

If our focus is whether we are doing “enough,” it may be that our hearts are as dead as those to whom Isaiah, Amos, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel preached. “We have all become like one who is unclean,” Isaiah said, “and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment” (Isaiah 64:6). (58-59)

Doing enough isn’t the point—not even with such a noble cause as caring for those in need. Glorifying God is. This must be our goal, all the time and in all places. It’s the only one that will keep us from being disappointed—and potentially doing more harm than good along the way.

Links I like

Links

Kindle deals for Christian readers

Here are a couple of new deals for you:

The Other Worldview

Peter Jones’ latest book, The Other Worldview, is now available. Do yourself a favor and grab a copy.

From Depraved to Disciple

Jemar Tisby:

Total depravity describes an extensive reality, rather than an intensive one. It means that sin extends to every aspect of our humanity. Each person’s mind, will, and emotions have been corrupted by sin. No part of any human being has a defense against depravity. But this does not mean that people do as much evil as they possibly could. Total depravity does not speak of the intensity of sin in a person, only that every part of a person has been touched by it.

3 Errors of Musical Style that Stifle Community

Tim Challies shares three errors that can stifle local church community from Mark Dever and Jamie Dunlop’s book The Compelling Community.

Christ’s Seven Prayers For His People

David Murray:

Wouldn’t you love to hear Christ prayers for you?

You can.

In John 17 we can eavesdrop on Christ’s prayers for His people. Lean in and you’ll hear five prayers He’s praying for every Christian every day, and then two that He prays on our last day on earth.

Poverty tourism vs pilgrimage

Sidney Muiyso offers a helpful perspective.

On Becoming a Humble Theologian

Brandon Smith:

Working at a Bible college for three years and spending seven years (so far) as a student in biblical and theological training, it’s always said (but not repeated enough) that doing theology is a humble person’s task. Pride puffs up, leaving the theologian with nothing but Spirit-less fodder for intramural debates. Humility, on the other hand, allows for God-exaltation to happen in the life and work of the theologian.

Links I like

Links

Kindle deals for Christian readers

This week’s Crossway deals highlight Kevin DeYoung:

Also worth checking out:

  • The Millennials by Thom and Jess Rainer—99¢
  • Lit! by Tony Reinke—$1.99
  • Surprised by Grace by Tullian Tchividjian—$1.99
  • Churchless edited by Barna and Kinnaman—$1.99 (should be interesting to see what the research they’re dealing with says)

Poor white people need Jesus and justice, too

Anthony Bradley:

While urban, justice-loving evangelicals easily shame white, suburban, conservative evangelicals for their racially homogenized lives, both communities seem to share a disdain for lower-class white people. “Rednecks,” “crackers,” “hoosiers,” and “white trash” are all derogatory terms used to describe a population of lower-class whites who have suffered centuries of injustice and social marginalization in America, especially from educated Christians.

What scares the new atheists

John Gray:

It’s impossible to read much contemporary polemic against religion without the impression that for the “new atheists” the world would be a better place if Jewish and Christian monotheism had never existed. If only the world wasn’t plagued by these troublesome God-botherers, they are always lamenting, liberal values would be so much more secure. Awkwardly for these atheists, Nietzsche understood that modern liberalism was a secular incarnation of these religious traditions. As a classical scholar, he recognised that a mystical Greek faith in reason had shaped the cultural matrix from which modern liberalism emerged. Some ancient Stoics defended the ideal of a cosmopolitan society; but this was based in the belief that humans share in the Logos, an immortal principle of rationality that was later absorbed into the conception of God with which we are familiar. Nietzsche was clear that the chief sources of liberalism were in Jewish and Christian theism: that is why he was so bitterly hostile to these religions. He was an atheist in large part because he rejected liberal values.

Delivering a bionic arm to a 7-year-old boy

This is a terrific ad:

Four Characteristics of Legalism

C. Michael Patton:

These characteristics of legalism that I am going to list here are not to mean that anyone who ever does any of these things is a legalist. Think of legalism as a sliding scale. Some of us practice legalistic tendencies here and there (I know I sure do). Some can find themselves practicing more of these on a regular basis and are more legalistic. Some can be full-blow legalists in all of these areas.

David Bazan, a Musical Counterfeit Detective

Kurt Armstrong:

What to do with Bazan? That’s more or less how it’s been with him all along, and probably how it ought to be. When he still called himself a Christian, Bazan only sang a handful of Jesus-y songs, but since his religious defection, he seems to find it hard to sing about anything else. “What to do with Bazan” has always been genuinely troubling, not so much because he’s a doubter, but because he’s such good artist. The older he gets, the more human folly he observes; the more folly, the more shiny idols there are to swing at. His work is usually pretty brutal, so poignant and unflinching that there are times it literally keeps me up at night, but it’s still worth my time, attention, and money because it remains so piercingly true.

Your Preaching is Not in Vain

Erik Raymond:

From my seat there is no other vocation that trumps pastoral ministry with the feeling of not making a difference. In addition to our knowledge of our own weakness there is the front-row view of many other people’s problems. The pastor sees people at their worst. Whether it is the horrific impact of sin on their lives or the activity of sin within the church. Furthermore, there is the overall burden to see every member presented complete or mature in Christ (Col. 1.28-29). Oh, and by the way, you, Mr Pastor, will give an account for the souls of your sheep (Heb. 13.17).

On comparing space probes and hungry kids

origin_3030443974

Last week, the big story in the news was the European Space Agency’s Philae probe landing on comet 67P. Some called the landing historic (which it is—landing a probe on a comet is pretty unprecedented). But others—notably many Christians—received the news with a fair bit more cynicism. In fact, more than a few times I read how some folks they couldn’t believe we would waste billions of dollars while millions of children around the world go hungry.

Where, oh, where are our priorities, people?!?

I get this reaction, in some ways. I mean, I work for an organization that helps these very children. I’ve met those children, and been in their homes. I actually have a half-decent sense of what their daily lives are like.

But I’ve gotta be honest: comparing space probes and the needs of hungry kids is kind of silly. And when I see it happen, especially when it’s folks who I know are actually quite intelligent and thoughtful, it’s disappointing. Here are three reasons why:

1. It’s fauxtrage. Most people who appear upset about this, and make this silly comparison, aren’t really all that upset. Remember #BringBackOurGirls? #TakeDownThatPost was more effective.

2. It’s naïvely simplistic. While lamenting the fact that billions of dollars were spent on this project, I saw many a mention of it only taking $400 million or so to eradicate world hunger. So shouldn’t that money have been used for that purpose? As if we just throw enough money at a problem and it’ll go away.

This suggestion (which tends to be most strongly advocated for in socialist-leaning nations such as mine) overlooks a significant problem: it’s not true. Without getting into a long treatise on the subject, we can’t forget that world hunger has more to do with explicit human sin (expressed in corrupt governments) and the natural outworking of the curse (work being fruitless toil) than a lack of money. Changing life for the poor starts with changing the hearts of people.

(And if you want the longer version, read Awaiting a Savior, if you’d be so kind.)

3. It’s demeaning to the people who work in that field (and the “poor” children who want to). Imagine you sponsor a child with an organization like Compassion, and that child wants to be an astronaut or an engineer when he grows up. So, he works really hard in school, and eventually, has an opportunity to go to university. There, he takes a degree in Aerospace Engineering, and graduates with honors. Finally, he gets his dream job, and starts working for a space agency, and eventually helps design a new probe or spacecraft. What would you say to him if his work were to be used in a similar scientific endeavor? Was he wrong to pursue his dream—and actually, by God’s grace, accomplish it?

What we fail to realize is that behind space exploration is not a faceless committee, but people. People who love what they do. People who are passionate about space and engineering and exploring the universe God has created and placed us in. To call their work a waste is demeaning, not only to them, but to the people who dream of doing it someday. (To say nothing of overlooking the fact that none of the money has been wasted—remember, people get paid to work in this industry, and some of them likely even give to charitable organizations!)

So how about this: when we’re concerned with what we perceive as wrong priorities in the world, we should ask ourselves two things:

1. What is it that prevents me from celebrating human achievement and marvelling at an element of God’s creation?

2. If I’m truly concerned about the needs of the poor, am I supporting organizations that are making a difference in their lives to the fullest of my desire and ability? 

When we do a little bit of heart checking, we usually find we’ve got less to be fauxtragey about.


Photo credit: ridingwithrobots via photopin cc

Five ways to help the poor (that really do help!)

homeless

My latest article at Christianity.com:

Caring for the poor isn’t easy—but it also doesn’t need to be overwhelming, at least when we recognize poverty from a biblical point of view. I explained in an earlier article that when we begin to see poverty the way the Bible does, we begin to see it as offering a number of practical opportunities to worship Jesus.

But how we will worship—how our concern will be expressed—will differ from one person to another. The expression of our concern neither reflects nor establishes our holiness before God. Our responsibility is only to serve in the way in which we feel compelled. With that in mind, here are five things you can do to help the poor that really do help.

Read the whole piece at Christianity.com – Five ways to help the poor (that really do help!)

Four truths that will change how you care for the poor

happy days

Let’s be honest: no one with a firm grip on reality looks at the world and says, “Yep, everything is running exactly as it should.” When we millions of people go to sleep each night unsure if they’re going to eat the next day while others have an abundance beyond what they could need for a thousand lifetimes, we know something’s not right.

And therein lies the problem: we know things are wrong, but we don’t know what we can do about them. The problem seems too big to really make a difference! And you know something? We’re right to think so, at least in one sense. When we look at the suffering and injustice that exists in this world as a whole, it’s overwhelming. The problem is just too big!

And yet, we see throughout Scripture an overwhelming concern for the needs of the poor.… So we can’t simply turn a blind eye, or give into the despair that comes with the overwhelming nature of poverty. Instead, we need to engage as God has called us to—caring for the needs of others, both in the church and in the world (Galatians 6:10).

So where does it start? I believe it starts with a change of mind and a change of heart. In order for that to happen, we need to understand four things.

Read the whole piece at Christianity.com – Four truths that will change how you care for the poor

What inspires generosity? Only one thing…

medium_11975144065

The apostles, following their baptism in the Holy Spirit, went about proclaiming Christ in Jerusalem, and every day more were added to the church. God the Holy Spirit was bringing men, women, and children to faith in Jesus, regardless of social class. Those who saw what was happening were left in awe at miracles that were taking place. But there was something else—genuine community began to form. “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers,” Luke wrote (Acts 2:42-43).

“And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved” (Acts 2:44-47; see also Acts 4:32-37).

So strong was the bond between these believers that they had a great desire to meet one another’s needs. Nothing was off-limits. Homes and lives were open. People were giving away what they had, exchanging their earthly treasures for treasure in heaven. It’s amazing to consider, possibly because the whole concept is so foreign to those of us living in the western world.

What’s going on in this picture of the early church? Was it some form of proto-communist experiment? There is no record of anyone suggesting, much less commanding them to do this. Despite what some proponents of poverty theology might suggest, personal property was not seen as wicked or sinful in the early church. Indeed, even during this time, many believers continued to own homes where they would meet (see v. 46)—in fact, Acts 5:4 indicates that the believers were under no obligation to relieve themselves of all their earthly possessions.

So, why this outpouring of generosity? It was motivated by the grace of God. It was a spontaneous response to God’s lavish generosity toward them in not holding back the most precious treasure of all— free and unmerited salvation through the Son. No command or guilt trip can inspire the openhanded lifestyle.

Awaiting a Savior, p. 84-85


photo credit: Zoriah via photopin cc

Three tips for choosing a charity

medium_11975144065

How do I choose a charity to give to? 

This seems like it should be a no brainer in some ways. After all, the Scriptures show us that in the heart of every true believer is a deep desire to be generous to others with their time, talents, and treasures. Maybe not all in the same ways or all the same causes, but if we’ve seen the richness of Christ, we will not be people who withhold from those in need.

Which takes us back to the question: How do you choose what charity to give to? In Awaiting a Savior: The Gospel, the New Creation and the End of Poverty, I shared three factors to consider:

Do they share the gospel?

First and foremost, give to organizations that demonstrate Christ’s love, not only in practical ways but also by explicitly sharing the gospel with those they serve. “Deed ministry” and “Word ministry” cannot be divorced. It is not enough to give a child clean drinking water; that child also needs “living water.” (cf. Jer. 2:13, 17:13; John 4:10; Rev. 7:17)

Are they trustworthy?

Equally important is an organization’s ability to prove its trustworthiness. How do they handle money? Can they prove that what they say they do actually happens? This is ultimately a wisdom issue.

Do you align with their values?

Finally, consider whether or not their goals and methods resonate with your values. If what you really care about is giving people clean water (along with the gospel), then do it. If you care about seeing a little boy or girl go to school, do it. If your heart is for training pastors in the developing world, do it. Get involved in whatever cause you find motivating.


photo credit: Zoriah via photopin cc

Links I like

The 5 Gossips You Will Meet

Tim Challies:

Gossip is a serious problem. It is a problem in the home, in the workplace, in the local church and in broader evangelicalism. It is a problem in the blogosphere, in social media, and beyond. In his book Resisting Gossip, Matthew Mitchell defines gossip as “bearing bad news behind someone’s back out of a bad heart” and shows that when the book of Proverbs uses the word “gossip,” it does so in the noun form, not the verb form. In other words, the Bible is concerned less with the words that are spoken and more with the heart and mouth that generate such destruction. Words matter, but they are simply the overflow of the heart. As always, the heart is the heart of the matter.

Here, drawn from Mitchell’s book, is a gallery of gossips, five different gossiping people you will meet in life.

Pastors, how do we respond to brothers in error?

Denny Burk:

So here’s the question we have to ask and answer anytime we are refuting error. What are our motives in the confrontation? Are we just being pugnacious? Or is there a more biblically formed motive for the controversy? If all we’re trying to do is put red meat before the congregation or drive up blog stats, that’s not really a good motive. That’s the sign of a person who’s self-promoting through public pugnacity. Everyone can smell that rot from a mile away, and it’s not very becoming of a man of God (Rom. 12:18).

Kindle deals for Christian readers

Get The Prince’s Poison Cup in today’s $5 Friday at Ligonier.org

Today you can get The Prince’s Poison Cup by R.C. Sproul (hardcover) for only $5 in today’s $5 Friday sale at Ligonier.org. Other items on sale:

$5 Friday ends tonight at 11:59:59 PM Eastern.

Don Carson on The Hole in our Gospel

…some studies have shown that Christians spend about five times more mission dollars on issues related to poverty than they do on evangelism and church planting. At one time, “holistic ministry” was an expression intended to move Christians beyond proclamation to include deeds of mercy. Increasingly, however, “holistic ministry” refers to deeds of mercy without any proclamation of the gospel—and that is not holistic. It is not even halfistic, since the deeds of mercy are not the gospel: they are entailments of the gospel. Although I know many Christians who happily combine fidelity to the gospel, evangelism, church planting, and energetic service to the needy, and although I know some who call themselves Christians who formally espouse the gospel but who live out few of its entailments, I also know Christians who, in the name of a “holistic” gospel, focus all their energy on presence, wells in the Sahel, fighting disease, and distributing food to the poor, but who never, or only very rarely, articulate the gospel, preach the gospel, announce the gospel, to anyone. Judging by the distribution of American mission dollars, the biggest hole in our gospel is the gospel itself.

The Real Heroes of Social Justice

I’ve been home now for a little over a day and have been thinking about how to wrap up my thoughts on this trip. There’s so much that I could write about. More experiences with children and families, why writing letters actually does make a difference… But the thing I keep coming back to is social justice.

Social justice is a weird animal.

Why? Because there is always a question of “who is the hero?”

Photo by Yuri Fortin, Compassion Honduras

There are a number of answers one could give; more often than not, though, the answer will be (overtly or covertly) a way of saying, “We are!”

It’s a real challenge for every organization.

Who is the hero of social justice organizations? The program? The supporters? The fundraising model?

You?

Want to know something that’s really, really freeing?

NGOs are not the heroes in the lives of kids like these. Neither are the programs, the supporters or the funding model.

So, who is then? [Read more…]

Being a Small Part of God’s Plan

Friday was the day that we got to visit with our sponsored children.

For a lot of people on the trip, there was a great deal of anxiety. Meeting your child is a big deal. So few children and sponsors ever get to meet, so I can understand why it means so much.

I met Jocsan almost four years ago, when I first came to Honduras. He was shy, a little withdrawn, but a really sweet kid. After we parted ways last time, I’d hoped I’d get to see him again someday.

Friday was that day.

This time, though, it wasn’t just Jocsan; it was his sister, Loren, too.

Loren is nine years old and she was very shy. She was quiet almost the entire time that we were together. Not that I blame her; the experience is incredibly overwhelming.

“Here’s the Canadian who sponsors you! Be excited! And… Go!”

That’s not what happens.

photo by Yuri Fortin, Compassion Honduras

Armin (my interpreter) and I met the two kids and their mom at the Wonderland water park in San Pedro Sula. They’d travelled all the way from Tegucigalpa, roughly a 4.5 hour drive (with a lot of winding roads). They got permission from their school to take Thursday and Friday off for this, but their mom, Bessie, said that even if they hadn’t, they still would have come. [Read more…]

Thinking Beyond Today

Did you know that if you ask the average child in this area what he wants to be when he grows up, he won’t be able to answer?

It’s true.

During Tuesday’s visit to a church in the Copan Ruins, the project workers shared with us that most of the kids have never really given it any thought.

They’re too busy just trying to get through the day to think about what the future might hold.

That’s why it was really encouraging for us to see “My Plan for Tomorrow,” a resource in Compassion’s curriculum designed to help children ages 12 and up to figure out what direction they want to go with their lives.

[Read more…]

Tiny Smiles and Big Hearts

On Monday we had our first “official” visit to a Compassion partner church, The Ark of Salvation in San Pedro Sula. The children meet in the church while they’re building a new classroom facility.

This is one of the little faces that greeted us today. This girl, and all the children her age, were making puppets.
[Read more…]

Private, Precious Moments

Sunday, we began the first “official” day of our tour with Compassion. Today, we spent the bulk of the day at the Jehovah Jireh Church, one of Compassion’s partners in the country.

During the Sunday service, the pastor shared a short message, encouraging us to continue to be a blessing (Ayax translated for us).

Shortly before we’d arrived at the church that morning, Ayax told us that of the 41,000 children supported by Compassion in Honduras, at best, 180 receive a visit from their sponsor in a year—that’s such a small group of kids! But for those kids, it’s when, for the sponsor and for the child, the relationship really becomes “real.” There’s actually a flesh and blood person writing and receiving letters.

It’s a very special time, Ayax said. I had no idea just how special that moment would be for one of my team members.
[Read more…]