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!)

Book Review: Half the Church by Carolyn Custis James

The role of women continues to be a question that looms large. In business, politics, education and countless other arenas, the opportunities for women in the western world are virtually unlimited. Yet in other parts of the world, in the Middle East or in nations ravaged by poverty, these opportunities don’t exist. Indeed, in many countries, women are treated as little more than property.

This issue has not left the church unscathed. Are women “merely” to be focused on the home and family? Are there limits to how women can serve or should serve? Does the church give women—who comprise at least half of it—an inspiring, captivating vision of what it means to be a woman created in the image of God?

Carolyn Custis James seeks to answer these questions in Half the Church: Recapturing God’s Global Vision for Women. In many ways this book is a companion piece to Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, which focuses on the abuses perpetrated against women around the world—among them sex trafficking, genital mutilation and honor killings. In light of the horrific crimes being perpetrated against women globally every day, James asks why the Church is not the loudest voice in this crisis; why the Church is not “the most visible at the forefront of addressing this humanitarian crisis” (p. 21). Half the Church, in James’ estimation, represents a call to action in combating these atrocities as the author describe what she sees as God’s vision for women.

From a male perspective, reading Half the Church was an unusual experience. It’s primary audience is women and James writes with that assumption in mind. In some ways this was quite refreshing as it gave me a glimpse into the female perspective, but it was also difficult at times to relate, particularly as she got into the nitty-gritty of her argument. And her arguments are where things get really interesting.

I need to be upfront about one thing before I go any farther: Half the Church was incredibly difficult for me to review. This is not because I wasn’t able to form opinions on it, but because my concern is that by voicing any disagreement with James’ premise or arguments I would be viewed as a misogynist (or worse). And nothing could be further from the truth. As a husband and father, ensuring that the dignity of women is protected is very, very high on my priority list. My daughters are learning how valuable they are in their Daddy’s sight, as is my wife (I hope!). I also acknowledge that I can’t possibly hope to cover every part with which I agree, any more than I can cover every point of disagreement. So if something you loved isn’t discussed, please be aware that I’m in no way trying to misrepresent the book’s message.

So, with all that said, let’s continue. [Read more...]

Working For Justice without Undermining Evangelism


It seems like everywhere you turn, people are asking the same question:

How do you work for justice without undermining evangelism?

Typically there are a couple of ways to answer the question. One camp suggests that we don’t need to evangelize until after the need has been met, if at all; that our focus should be eliminating extreme poverty or ending human trafficking. A cause is at the center instead of Christ.

The other tends to run to the opposite extreme, seeing any sort of social action as anathema to the Christian life.

Both extremes, obviously, are wrong. How, then, do you find a healthy, biblical middle-ground?

I’ve written about this a few times (here and here for example), but over at the Gospel Coalition last week, they examined the issue by posing the question to a number of wise pastors and theologians. Here’s a look at their insights:

Don Carson:

1. By doing evangelism. I know numerous groups that claim to be engaging in “holistic” ministry because they are helping the poor in Chicago or because they are digging wells in the Sahel, even though few if any of the workers have taken the time to explain to anyone who Jesus is and what he has done to reconcile us to God. Their ministry isn’t holistic; it’s halfistic, or quarteristic.

2. By being careful not to malign believers of an earlier generation. The popular buzz is that evangelicals before this generation focused all their energies on proclamation and little or nothing on deeds of mercy. Doubtless one can find sad examples of such reductionism, but the sweeping condescension toward our evangelical forbears is neither true nor kind…

3. By learning, with careful study of Scripture, just what the gospel is, becoming passionately excited about this gospel, and then distinguishing between the gospel and its entailments. The gospel is the good news of what God has done, especially in Christ Jesus, especially in his cross and resurrection; it is not what we do. Because it is news, it is to be proclaimed. But because it is powerful, it not only reconciles us to God, but transforms us, and that necessarily shapes our behavior, priorities, values, relationships with people, and much more. These are not optional extras for the extremely sanctified, but entailments of the gospel. To preach moral duty without the underlying power of the gospel is moralism that is both pathetic and powerless; to preach a watered-down gospel as that which tips us into the kingdom, to be followed by discipleship and deeds of mercy, is an anemic shadow of the robust gospel of the Bible; to preach the gospel and social justice as equivalent demands is to misunderstand how the Bible hangs together.

4. By truly loving people in Jesus’ name—our neighbors as ourselves, doing good to all people, especially those of the household of faith. That necessarily includes the alleviation of suffering, both temporal and eternal. Christians interested in alleviating only eternal suffering implicitly deny the place of love here and now; Christians who [fail] to proclaim the Christ of the gospel of the kingdom while they treat . . . suffering here and now show themselves not really to believe all that the Bible says about fleeing the wrath to come. In the end, it is a practical atheism and a failure in love.

Ray Ortlund: [Read more...]

Book Review: Radical by David Platt

radical-platt

“Do we really believe [Jesus] is worth abandoning everything for?” asks pastor & author David Platt in his new book, Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream. “Do you and I really believe that Jesus is so good, so satisfying, and so rewarding that we will leave all we have and all we own and all we are in order to find our fullness in him?” (pp. 18-19)

As Christians living in the very comfortable Western world, having “our best life now” is really appealing. After all, if God gives good gifts to those who love Him, wouldn’t it include a big house, a big backyard, a big state-of-the-art church facility, a big latte and maybe a lot of money in the bank account?

While none of this is inherently wrong, Plant wonders if we are “settling for a Christianity that revolves around catering to ourselves when the central message of Christianity is actually about abandoning ourselves.” And in Radical, he seeks to remind readers of the biblical gospel and that its implications mean the death of the American Dream—that we’re called to spend our lives on others, rather than merely spend our cash on ourselves.

There is much to enjoy about and be challenged by in Radical. Platt’s focus is less on showing readers a specific road to take (“here’s how you should do XYZ…”) and more about building a bigger vision for mission and reaching the nations for God’s glory.

In many ways, what Platt seeks to do is much the same as what John Piper has done in Let the Nations Be Glad and Don’t Waste Your Life—by providing Christians with a much-needed corrective to the overstated (and under-realized) notion that the days of overseas missions are over. That our focus can and should only be on local missions, if we have any sort of focus at all beyond a Christianized version of the American Dream.

As Platt notes, with over 2 billion people (as a conservative estimate) never having heard the gospel, one can hardly say that the days of overseas missions have passed us by.

At the same time, he doesn’t want to suggest that missions only happens overseas.

In Canada (where I live), generous estimates place the number of Christians in the population at around 8.5 percent. And as our population changes, there are more and more people who have never heard the gospel. The unreached are both at home and abroad. (It’s why missionaries are coming to Canada and the United States from countries which, two generations ago, we would have sent them to!)

What I especially appreciate about Platt’s book is this focus. That, even as he talks about poverty and how we in North America can be generous in caring for the poor, the goal is not alleviating poverty. The goal is seeing people meet Jesus. Platt writes,

The point is not simply to meet a temporary need or change a startling statistic; the point is to exalt the glory of Christ as we express the gospel of Christ through the radical generosity of our lives. (p. 135)

Perhaps the thing I enjoyed most about Radicalis the Radical Experiment—Platt’s challenge to put into practice what’s been learned through the book. As a pastor, he knows full well that unless there’s a way to apply knowledge, it will never move from the head to the heart. His one year challenge is shockingly simple, yet terribly complex:

  1. Pray for the entire world. Pray for specific needs among the nations.
  2. Read through the entire Word. Get through the entirety of Scripture in one year. Use a plan, read cover-to-cover… whatever you do, commit to doing this.
  3. Sacrifice money for a specific purpose. Research an organization that loves Jesus, that explicitly spreads His gospel, that serves His church and is trustworthy with finances.
  4. Spend time in another context. Whether it’s overseas for a short term missions trip or the soup kitchen downtown, go and be with people who aren’t like you.
  5. Commit our lives to multiplying communities. Be a part of a local church that is growing, making disciples and sending people out. Serve faithfully and pray fervently for it. And if you’re not in one, get into one.

This is a powerful challenge, one that I’m praying over how it would look in my life. I’m looking forward to what God shows me in response.

Perhaps the thing that struck me funny reading this book was something I found to be a bit of an oversimplification on Platt’s part. ON page 76, he writes:

But even if we were to do these things [helping the sick, feeding the hungry, strengthening the church in the neediest areas of the country] we would still be overlooking a foundational biblical truth when we say our hearts are for the United States. As we have seen all over Scripture, God’s heart is for the world. So when we say we have a heart for the Unites States, we are admitting that we have a meager 5 percent of God’s heart, and we ware proud of it. When we say we have a heart for the city we live in, we confess that we have less than 1 percent of God’s heart.

While I get what he’s trying to say, I can’t disagree strongly enough. While in some cases people can and do use the term of “having a heart for this city” as a cover for apathy (because their lives don’t reflect this heart), to say that if someone genuinely has a heart for the United States, New York State or San Francisco is ridiculous—and insulting. Such an oversimplification (while unintentional, I believe) runs the risk of devaluing one’s sense of calling and mission from God. Instead, it’s more likely that such a person has 100 percent of God’s heart for that city, state or country.

We need more men and women who have a genuine heart for their contexts, and it does nothing for their spirits to suggest that they somehow lack the fullness of God’s heart for the lost.

“Will we risk everything—our comfort, our possessions, our safety, our security, our very lives—to make the gospel known among unreached people?” This is the challenge that Platt puts to his readers (p. 160). What are we willing to sacrifice? What idols are holding us back? Will we give it up for the glory of Christ to be made known and to see more people reached with His gospel?

This is not an easy question to answer—but it’s one that I believe we need to wrestle with. And Radical forces us to do exactly that.

Read the book, be challenged and see how God might transform your life for His global purposes.


Title: Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream
Author: David Platt
Publisher: Multnomah (2010)

Book Review: Outlive Your Life by Max Lucado

Title: Outlive Your Life
Author: Max Lucado
Publisher: Thomas Nelson (2010)

Some time ago, I was in the president’s office at a Christian NGO and noticed a new book on his desk. Making conversation, I asked, “What’s that one about?” It’s about the Christian’s responsibility in areas of poverty and injustice, he said. I made a mental note and determined to give it a read.

A couple weeks later, I began to read Outlive Your Life by Max Lucado. Over the course of 16 chapters, Lucado loosely examines the first twelve chapters of Acts in an attempt to show readers how they “were made to make a difference” in the lives of impoverished men, women and children around the globe.

Christian books on social justice and caring for the poor are tricky things. There’s a tendency to turn a God-honoring act into “God’s mandate” for the Christian life. A false gospel based around our work, rather than Christ’s work on the cross.

So where does Outlive Your Life land?

A weird place.

First, what did I like about this book?

Lucado is a very fast-paced writer; his style is easy-going, light and conversational. The plus side of this is that it makes this book a very quick read. The chapters are short (usually no more than about 4-5 pages) and you can breeze through it in a couple hours.

Lucado’s use of illustrations from everyday life help makes his subject matter come alive. He generally portrays himself as a bit of a goober, so you get the impression that he’s just a regular guy who puts his pants on one leg at a time (but when he puts his pants on, he sells hundreds of thousands of books).

When it comes down to the content, I greatly appreciated chapter 15, “Pray first; pray most.” This section in particular was a strong reminder of the importance of prayer and why everything we do, if we are followers of Christ, should be saturated with prayer.

Additionally, I did appreciate the idea behind the chapter, “Don’t write anyone off.” There’s no one that God can’t save—so why would we write off anyone as “unsave-able” when God is capable of doing more than we can imagine? After all, He saved Paul, who persecuted the Church & murdered Christians and used him as His instrument to spread the gospel throughout Asia Minor, and into Rome.

Now, having said that, there is a lot that concerned me about Outlive Your Life.

Some of it’s just goofy, like a strangely graphic description of a temple guard on page 78 (that I’m not entirely sure is historically accurate) that wouldn’t seem out of place in the movie 300. There’s some creative speculation into biblical stories in an attempt to engage readers… But there’s also this prevalent notion that sound doctrine isn’t as important as actions and working together for the common good. [Read more...]

Around the Interweb (07/25)

5 Dangers Facing Over-Churched Kids and 9 Strategies to Reach Them

Tony Kummer explains:

These are the children who attend every service, and can’t remember anytime when they didn’t come to church. In my ministry, most of these kids also attend a Christian school. They can recite the books of the Bible, they’ve memorized countess Scripture verses, and they know details about Bible stories that I can’t even remember.

By over-churched kids, I mean children with too much religion and not enough actual interaction with Jesus…

One of the dangers that stood out for me:

They Have Learned to Pretend Pray: A real struggle for grown-ups is connecting with God through prayer. Too often it becomes routine and dry. Most younger children learn prayer as an act of imitation. Many don’t even realize that something cosmic is happening when we address our words to God. They don’t feel the presence of God or even expect that they should.

Tony’s solutions are extremely encouraging. Here are a couple:

Pray for Every Child: Sometimes the deepest problems require a spiritual solution. Ask God to make a difference for those over-churched kids. It’s great when we pray for those outside the church, but don’t forget to lift up those familiar names to the Lord. Remember, effective ministry depends on prayer.

Teach the Bad News: According to the Bible, we are all sinners who have earned the displeasure of God. Without Jesus, we would have no hope of passing God’s judgment. Over-churched kids need to realize that they too need a Savior. They need to learn about sin. Keep teaching the 10 Commandments, but also teach what Jesus said about loving your neighbor. None of us can really meet those standards on our own.

Read both posts; they’re well worth your time.

A Brief Bit of Housekeeping

This past week I was on vacation in Grand Bend, Ontario, enjoying some time relaxing with my family (and preparing a sermon). In my absence a number of gentlemen agreed to lend a hand and keep content coming. Matt, Chris, Gabe and Ben did a tremendous job and I know I was ministered to as I read their posts. (If you haven’t yet, keep scrolling down and you’ll find them.)

Thanks guys, I’m looking forward to having you back if you’re up for it!

In Other News

Church Life: Jason Helopoulos offers a few good reasons for changing churches (and a few bad ones, too).

Social Justice & the Bible: Kevin DeYoung wraps his Seven Passages on Social Justice series by examining Luke 4:16-21. The rest of the series includes Micah 6:8; Amos 5; Matthew 25:31-46; Jeremiah 22; Isaiah 58; and Isaiah 1.

Prayer: Rick Warren’s eyes were severely injured when he got toxic sap from his African Fire Stick plant in his eyes. His sight is gradually improving every day. Please join in praying for his full recovery.

Books and Technology: This week Amazon announced that Kindle books been selling 180 units for every 100 hardbacks for the last three months. Here’s what they didn’t say when they made that announcement.

In Case You Missed It

Here are a few of this week’s notable posts:

Matthew Svoboda tackles Eschatology and why he believes Amillenialism is the most biblically accurate view of the end times.

Gabe Posey looks at the call to ministry.

Chris Canuel examines the purpose of suffering through the eyes of Job.

Ben Reed shares the importance of the beautiful mess that is a small group.

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...]

Truth and Lies: Francis Chan – The Truth and the Lie in Social Justice

Francis Chan is the bestselling author of Crazy Love and Forgotten God. Until recently, he was also the teaching pastor of Cornerstone Church in Simi Valley, California. His message, The Truth and the Lie in Social Justice, was, perhaps, one of the most intriguing for me to see at the conference. Largely because I didn’t know where he was going to go with it.

Chan’s message found its foundation in Colossians 1:16:

For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.

“We’ve been talking about one-ism and two-ism [at this conference],” said Chan. “Here’s the ultimate [example]: Everything was created for Him!”

Robbing God of His Glory

“Everything we do is to give God glory,” he continued. “Somehow everything I do should give glory to God and in the area of social justice it’s difficult. These are good things, but if we’re not careful but we can get lifted up instead of God.”

The bad part is there are times that I like it. In the last few years my life’s gotten really weird. Our American Christian rock star thing… it’s really messed with my heart at times. And the Lord’s shown me at times… I was at a pastor’s conference, and my face was on the magazine, and on posters and people were talking about me, and he impressed upon me, “You actually like that, don’t’ you? You actually enjoy the buzz of your name around the room?” [Read more...]

Selling Ointments and Stealing from Moneybags

Six days before the Passover, Jesus therefore came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. So they gave a dinner for him there.

Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those reclining with him at table. Mary therefore took a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.

But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it.

Jesus said, “Leave her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of my burial. For the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me.”

John 12:1-8

This passage has been rattling around in my head since it was preached through this past Sunday at our church. I just can’t shake these words:

But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it.

John doesn’t mince words, does he?

Judas Iscariot puts on a holy front basically so that he can steal money.

He is a thief, using piety to support his own agenda.

I wonder if there isn’t something we should be paying closer attention to here?

Years ago, I heard a sermon by a certain pastor from Michigan. He spoke about poverty. How if resources were distributed equitably, there would be no more need in the world.

How if America spent a tiny percent of the money it was spending on the war in Iraq to alleviate suffering, extreme poverty could be completely eliminated.

$74 billion dollars is what it would take, according to some sources.

And this is true.

If the problem were simply a matter of resource distribution and money. If it were even a matter of changing our priorities.

Unfortunately, it’s not. [Read more...]