Archive for the ‘Scripture’ Category

Money

Keep yourselves free from the love of money, being content with what you have for He himself has said, ‘I will never leave you, nor will I ever forsake you.’ – Hebrews 13:5

For the past year or so I’ve struggled with worry over my financial future.  My fears have been based largely around concern for having enough money into the future to put a roof over my head and food on the table, should I never be well enough to return to some kind of work.

In response to these fears I spent quite a bit of time studying the stock market  and very cautiously put a small amount of money there and promptly watched it go down in value.  I then looked at the housing market and quickly discovered that the only place I could afford would be in the most crime laden suburbs of the poorest parts of Tasmania where I don’t really know anyone.  (Not that this wouldn’t be a good place to live in some respects.  Such places need a christian presence and the good news of the gospel with it). Of course it’s not wrong to make plans so as to try to ensure as much as possible that one is not an unnecessary burden to others but it is wrong to trust in our money rather than God and the truth is I’ve been trusting in money rather than God in many instances and not once has such trust made me feel more secure.  In fact the more I learn about finance and investment, about asset bubbles, about fiat money, about inflation and deflation, about private and government debt, about bank  capital adequacy ratios, about the history of booms and busts, recessions and depressions, about all things monetary and economic, the more I realise that God was right when he said, ‘Do not weary yourself to gain wealth, cease from your consideration of it.  When you set your eyes on it, it is gone.  For it certainly makes itself wings, like an eagle that flies toward the heavens.’   There is no security in money.

I think in the past I have thought that the love of money is more of a problem when you are rich, because the more you have the more you are tempted to think that it is your money and not your God who looks after you.  However when we become poorer (and I know by world standards I’m still not really poor), there is an equally dangerous temptation.  That temptation is not just the temptation to believe that the money you have will look after you but the temptation to believe that the money you don’t have will ruin you, that only money and your ability to acquire it can deliver you from future or current distress.  This is a very great danger to our souls.  In the parable of the sower Jesus describes the seed that is choked by thorns as a picture of the person who hears God’s word but becomes unfruitful ‘because of the worries of the world and the deceitfulness of riches.’  This is a danger for those of us that see ourselves as poorer just as much as for those who are richer.  There is a connection between worry and the deceitfulness of riches.  When worry arises we need to learn to take our worries to God instead of thinking that wealth and money will solve our problems.

I think I also need to learn to live more day to day and less for tomorrow.  I need to just pray and give thanks for today’s bread instead of incessantly worrying about tomorrow’s.  I need God’s grace for this. No doubt we all do.  Grace to believe that he cares for us and that he really will never leave us nor forsake us, that we don’t need more money, but rather faith in God, the provider of all things, the one who owns the cattle on a thousand hills.  How silly we are to trust in our own little hobby farms that are only ever a drought or a flood away from destruction instead of our good and powerful God who spared not his own Son but gave him up for us all and who says, ‘how will he not also with him freely give us all things.’  I am sick and I am weak.  I have no earning power but ultimately I don’t need more earning power, I need the God who gives all things to weak and undeserving sinners.

Lord help me believe what I know to be true and help others like me to believe it too.

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Preserving Dignity

There is not much dignity for  a poor man.  He relies on others for help.  He never knows if that help will be granted and if it is granted he knows that he may well be despised for the burden he brings to his benefactor.

When we are rich and we have enough of a conscience and enough love in our hearts to reach out in kindness to the poor, it’s important that we do so in a way that not only meets their needs but  also maximises their dignity.  So how do we do that?  Well Deuteronomy 24 is not a bad place to go for ideas.

10 “When you make your neighbor a loan of any sort, you shall not enter his house to take his pledge. 11 You shall remain outside, and the man to whom you make the loan shall bring the pledge out to you. 1

19 “When you reap your harvest in your field and have forgotten a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it; it shall be for the alien, for the orphan, and for the widow, in order that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. 20 When you beat your olive tree, you shall not go over the boughs again; it shall be for the alien, for the orphan, and for the widow.

21 “When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, you shall not go over it again; it shall be for the alien, for the orphan, and for the widow. 22 You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt; therefore I am commanding you to do this thing.

The requirement to leave the stray or forgotten grapes and sheaves for the poor might on a cursory reading be assumed to simply ensure that the poor are required to work for their needs.  Certainly it does serve the function of preventing a welfare mentality among those who are lazy and don’t want to work.  However there is more going on here.  Verse 10 has nothing to do with making people work.  The neighbour is obviously in need so he seeks a loan.   You go to him to get some sort of guarantee that he will make every effort to pay that loan back but the law requires you to stay outside while he gets something to give you as security.  Why?  Surely it’s to maintain his dignity.  Don’t put pressure on him while he tries to find something.  Don’t humiliate him as he looks around to find something that he deems valuable enough.  Make it appear like a dignified business transaction and not a great favour on your part.  Preserve his dignity.

In this same context we read about not retrieving forgotten sheaves or gathering fallen grapes and olives from the harvest.  It prevents unnecessary dependency but also preserves dignity.  The poor man goes home feeling he has earned his food.  While it might make the rich man feel better about himself if he were to gather these leftovers up and then hand them out to the poor, it is much less likely to make the poor man feel so good as he would if they were left behind for him to gather.

But what if you so love the poor that you want to give them more than such methods will allow?  Well the story of Ruth tells us to get creative.  Boaz instructs his workers to intentionally leave more grain lying in the field for Ruth than would normally occur when harvesting.  Ruth is more abundantly supplied but once again her dignity is preserved.  We must give to the poor but we should also think of creative ways to do so, ways that will preserve their dignity.

But what if the person you are helping can’t do ANYTHING?  What if they are an invalid who needs people to cook and clean and wash etc.  Well, get creative. Perhaps find things in them that are a benefit to you.   Tell them what you get out of spending time with them.  You might make them feel like you are benefiting from the excercise as much as they.     Indeed make them feel like serving them is a privilege, because guess what, it is.  It is being like Christ who came not to be served but to serve and give his life a ransom for many.

I can think of numerous people who have not only met my needs but also preserved my dignity during my illness.  There’s the woman who once told me her family ‘needed’ me to visit when I needed someone to look after me.  There’s the guy that drives 3 hrs to come and stay with me when my folks are away and tells me that he enjoys driving and that looking after me gives him a break from work (it also makes him considerably poorer).  There’s the girl who told me that helping me didn’t feel like service but a privilege.   There’s the retiree who offers to drive me anywhere I need to go because it gives him something to do as he has too much spare time as a retiree.  All ways of serving my needs while saving my dignity.

Although this blog is rather dormant and this post may never be read, if you are now reading it and can think of other ways that your dignity has also been preserved when needing help, feel free to share more ways of applying the wisdom of Deuteronomy 24.

Rest for the weary? – David Powlinson, CCEF

God’s merciful justice

Scripture presents the justice of God as something which is not only good but beautiful.  This may seem strange, especially if we think of justice purely in terms of punishment for sin.  God’s justice implies judgement and God’s judgement is something to fear.  However when we consider that these judgements are also deeply concerned with protecting and caring for weak and wounded people they also stir up other more desirable emotions.

In the book of Isaiah there is a beautiful promise describing Christ’s tender attitude towards the poor and needy where it says,

He will not cry out or raise His voice,
Nor make His voice heard in the street.
A bruised reed He will not break
And a dimly burning wick He will not extinguish”
(Isaiah 42:2-3a)

At a glance this verse might easily be mistaken purely as a portrait of Christ’s love and mercy.  The true beauty of this portrait however lies not so much in what it reveals  of Christ’s love but in what it tells us of his justice.  The words immediately preceding this frequently quoted verse are a promise that “He will bring forth justice to the nations.”   And just what does bringing forth justice  mean?  It means bringing a quiet reassuring voice to an anxious soul.  It means dealing ever so gently with people that are bruised and easy to break.  It means preserving those whose lives have  become like the flickering flame of a candle that would be easily snuffed out by one false movement.

This tender portrayal of justice is then immediately followed by the words,

He will faithfully bring forth justice.
He will not be disheartened or crushed
Until He has established justice in the earth;
And the coastlands will wait expectantly for His law.
(Isaiah 42:3b-4)

That sounds good to me.  Come quickly Lord Jesus.

Singing through Hardship

Previously I wrote about the kinds of songs that are most helpful to those who are suffering.  Here I simply want to add to that something more basic – that it is a good idea to sing when things are hard.  Consider the examples in the New Testament.   The only time we read of Jesus singing is in the Upper room just before he was led away to die.    In Acts the only account of singing that I can recall is found when Paul and Silas were in gaol.  Given these circumstanes it would seem unlikely that the singing of either Jesus or these disciples was simply the outworking of some happy or joyful feeling.   What seems more likely is that they knew singing would help them deal with their suffering in a way that would glorify God and encourage their own hearts.

I knew a lady who suffered from chronic insomnia.  She would wake up in the middle of the night and find herself  anxious and unable to get back to sleep.  Doctors failed her but one thing that did help relieve her anxiety was to get out a hymnbook and start singing.

Joni Erickson Tada who is currently battling cancer attests to this also.  She writes, “there’s nothing like a little hymn-harmonizing with friends to make my spirits soar during this battle against breast cancer.”   Singing is not simply an expression of feeling but is also a God-given means of instructing our feelings.  It helps us look beyond our circumstances and reminds us that God is for us.

A true friend – Proverbs 18:24

A man of many friends comes to ruin but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.  Proverbs 18:24

At first glance it might appear that the purpose of this proverb is primarily to make us think about the quality of the friends that we have.  It’s great to be popular, it’s great to have a lot of friends, but when trouble comes and those so-called friends desert us, what we really need is someone who won’t.  We don’t need lots of friends but good friends who will treat us like their own flesh and blood.

While this is true, I’m not sure that this is the real point of this well-known proverb.  I wonder if what is actually being said here is more about us than about our friends.  In other words, the contrast is not so much between having one good friend and many fake friends but rather between the danger of seeking to have many friends as opposed to seeking to be a friend.

Notice that ‘a man of many friends’ is not being compared with ‘a man of one really good friend’ but rather with ‘a friend’.   There is a man who works hard to be popular but there is also a friend who sticks closer than a brother.  There is a man who has many friends  but there is also a man who actually is a friend.

If this interpretation is correct, then the warning is not so much about the  number or quality of friends that we have but about the friendship that we ourselves offer others.  Instead of asking ourselves whether we have  one or two really good friends, we ought to ask ourselves whether we are concerned to be true friends ourselves.

It’s been said that we live in an age where people have never been more connected and yet more lonely.  We have no shortage of email addresses, mobile phone contacts and social networking sites where we accumulate hundreds of ‘friends’ but something’s missing.  It’s possible to be so busy seeking friends that we forget how to be friends.  This proverb teaches that it is better to be a friend than to have friends.

Of course it’s not just a matter of taking a good look out ourselves and determining to be nicer to other people and a little less obsessed with ourselves.  Simply trying to do better never works.  We don’t naturally have the resources to be truly good friends.  We find that only in Jesus, who,  though he was the Lord of glory, was not ashamed to call us brothers.  As we experience his friendship in response to our hatred and his stick-ability and patience in response to our propensity to wander off in sin, we will learn how to show this same friendship to others.

Songs for those that don’t feel like singing

On a few occasions when I’ve felt too sick to  read or listen to a sermon or even just watch T.V. to pass the time one of the things that has helped me most is Christian songs.   These songs help me not because I necessarily feel like ‘praising’ God at such times but because they seem to speak to me when nothing else does.   They teach me from God’s word when a sermon can’t. When I’m too tired and too discouraged to hear God’s word, for some reason I can hear it through song.  It’s interesting that many of the psalms in the Old Testament are written in the context of suffering.  Such songs remind us of fundamental truths about God and his salvation.   They also  help us pray when we don’t know what or how to pray.

I also find that the songs that help me most aren’t always the ones that are most typically sung in church.   I suspect there is a tendency to  think of singing in terms of praise (which it is) but then praise is defined quite narrowly as songs which speak specifically about praise and worship.  However in scripture we praise God when we recount biblical history (a description of what he has done e.g. Ps 105).  We praise him when we teach the scriptures.  We praise him when we confess our sin (Josh 7:19).  We praise God by describing our plight and the need for his grace.

When I’m in the pit, I don’t find it easy to sing songs of  ‘praise’ in the narrow sense but I can sing psalms about suffering, songs which point me to the sufferings and love of Christ and more generally songs that  teach me fundamental truths from Scripture that I need to learn or remember.

Perhaps part of the problem lies also in a tendency to see singing in the Christian life as something that is primarily meant for the church service and so songs are written more with a view to performance than to teaching.    It seems however in the New Testament that singing was much more personal and instructional than it often is today.   It’s purpose  according to Paul in Colossians is to ‘teach and admonish one another.’  That can happen anywhere.   The songs we learn in church need to be the kind of songs that will help a person in prison, or hospital or stuck at home with a chronic illness.  Then having learnt such songs we need to take them into our homes, schools, prisons etc.  Rightly used it is a wonderful means by which God makes his word to dwell richly in our hearts.

When John Newton and William Cowper met each week  a few centuries ago to write hymns, their goal was primarily the instruction of God’s people by putting a message based on a text of scripture into poetic form.  Here is an example of one written by John Newton.   It is simply a summary and application of Hebrews 12:

Afflictions do not come alone,
A voice attends the rod;
By both He to His saints is known,
A Father and a God!

Let not My children slight the stroke
I for chastisement send;
Nor faint beneath My kind rebuke,
For still I am their Friend.

The wicked I perhaps may leave
Awhile, and not reprove;
But all the children I receive
I scourge, because I love.

If therefore you were left without
This needful discipline;
You might, with cause, admit a doubt,
If you, indeed, were Mine.

Shall earthly parents then expect
Their children to submit?
And wilt not you, when I correct,
Be humbled at My feet?

To please themselves they oft chastise,
And put their sons to pain;
But you are precious in My eyes,
And shall not smart in vain.

I see your hearts, at present, filled
With grief, and deep distress;
But soon these bitter seeds shall yield
The fruits of righteousness.

Break through the clouds, dear Lord, and shine!
Let us perceive Thee nigh!
And to each mourning child of Thine
These gracious words apply.

We need people writing and teaching songs and hymns like this today.   A diet of  very narrowly defined ‘praise’ songs where the main refrain is something like ‘I will always worship you’ etc. will not give us the spiritual meat that we desperately need – especially when things are hard.  This is not a call to sing only hymns, or only music that is at least one hundred years old.  It’s a call to sing old and new songs that will do what our souls need them to do – feed us on the pure milk of the word so that we may grow.