To Give or Not to Give- That is a Good Question

 “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”  John 13:35 (NASB)

Often times in bible studies and just casual conversation, I hear people bring up the topic of discerning when to give to those who ask. Usually this question refers to those who are seen on the street holding the cardboard sign which is intended to explain their situation. Other times, people will call or arrive at the church office wanting some assistance with something.

I personally believe that this “dilemma” is born out of a torn heart. Many Christians genuinely want to help those in need. I mean, if we are genuine Christians, then it would be in our hearts to show love and compassion for the needy. On the other hand, Christians are people and people don’t like to be taken advantage of. When it does happen, and it seems to happen often, it king of leaves a bad taste in our mouths.

Some respond by cutting off all benevolence to anyone, after all that would only be fair and safe, right? Others take the attitude that they will just give what they can always, leaving the receiver in God’s hands. Many leadership meetings at churches have been spent discussing this matter. Ultimately, churches and Christians alike really want to help those in need and minister to them, yet at the same time do not wish to be taken advantage of and allow some to steal from them.

As I address this issue, let me make it clear that I personally to not have a concrete, “this is what to do” answer. What follows is just my two cents. I pray that it is helpful.

First, we see in John 13:35, among many other places in Scripture that the Christian is one who loves others. In fact, that is how we are to be distinguished from the rest of the world. Jesus even taught that we are to love God and love others. I will submit that loving God and loving others is not something that the Christian strives to get better at and achieve, rather it is what is in us. It is who we are.

The Christian is one whom in the Holy Spirit has taken up residence. Even though the trinity cannot be explained completely, we can know that the three are one. Therefore, since God is love,

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.     1 John 4:7-8  (NASB)

and the Spirit of God is God, then we can conclude that love is in the believer. This is why the Christian has this “dilemma” in our hearts when it comes to showing love and compassion to those who present themselves in need. I think that the first point of focus would be with self. We Christians would do good to ask ourselves, who is making the decision as to whether or not a person is genuinely in need or not?

The question that we usually ask ourselves almost immediately is, does this person really need help? Or, is this person being honest, or are they just making up a story to get the help they are asking about? My not so favorite one that some have asked is, how do I know they won’t go buy drugs or alcohol with what I give them?

To 99% of the people in the world, it seems that those questions are legitimate questions. However, for the Christian, we must remember that since the Spirit of God is living in us, our approach may be different. I am not saying that it is wrong to think about those questions, however, I am saying that they should not be out guide to reach the conclusion to the “dilemma”.

Second point. I do not think that the Christian is “obligated” to give to everyone who presents a need. The scripture is clear that we are to help others when we have opportunity and the means. Along with that, I will submit that the Christian has a responsibility to be good stewards of that which God has entrusted in their care.

I do not believe that God desires for the Christian to be taken advantage of. Nor do I believe that God desires the Christian to be taken for a fool. After all, we are ambassadors for the Kingdom of God to this world. We must look at benevolence of any kind as an investment. An investment in the work of the Kingdom of God.

Jesus taught a lesson using a parable about a wealthy man leaving his wealth in the care of three men. Each having the same responsibility. Two were successful, the other failed. The two that succeeded increased the wealth of the Kingdom because they feared their master and thought to do what he would want them to do. The third, on the other hand, was more afraid of failure than the master. He did what he thought was best and did not consider what the master would have him do.

The same is true here for the Christian. The Master, our Lord, has given us His valuables. We have the responsibility to be stewards of that wealth. That wealth, by the way, is His love, the gospel of Christ, Salvation. This should lead us to the question, why does the scripture teach us to give when we can give?

I often try to insert into those conversations about this matter the answer to that question. At least what I believe to be the answer. It is two-fold really. First, but not foremost, the scripture teaches us to give because that is what love is. If love resides in a person, then compassion will rise to the surface. Second, and foremost, the scripture tells us to give because of John 13:35. The world will know the Christian because of the way we love.

As far as knowing when not to give or be taken advantage of. I often think about Acts chapter 3.

“But Peter said, “I do not possess silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you: In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene—walk!”               Acts 3:6 (NASB)

Here Peter and John were presented with a man in need. It so happened that this man had a genuine need. However, they did not give the man what he asked for. Instead, they invested in the Kingdom of God by giving him what was most valuable. The result was that the crippled man encountered God and the world around them was impacted greatly by the witness! If you don’t believe me, go read it for yourself.

The point that I am getting at here is this. There are times to give and there are times not to give, that is when it comes to the things of this world. When it comes to giving the love of God, there is never a time not to give. For the Christian, the key is to seek guidance from the Master. “What would Jesus do?” even though that has become a cliché, it still rings true.

The letter to the Galatians instructs us to keep in step with the Spirit. That means that we are not making the decisions. I know, that is hard to accept, but it is the way the Master set in place. The Holy Spirit will guide us away from poor investments with the Master’s wealth, and make us aware of the good investment opportunities for the Kingdom of God.

I hope I have explained this well enough that you all can see that it is a matter of making disciples in everything we do. We help the needy in hopes that they will encounter God and His Kingdom, whether they are Christians or not. We help the Christians who are in need for the purpose of getting them back in the Kingdom work force, and we help those who are not Christians for the purpose of exposing them to the love of God! So, we must seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit when it comes to helping the needy in this world.

Oh, one last thing. God does not expect nor desire anyone to become needy for the sake of helping those in need. Give what you can, when you can. If you have not the means, seek the Lord for other ways to help. Peter and John told the crippled man, “I do not possess silver and gold, but what I do have I give you.” Acts 3:6. If we genuinely have the Spirit of God living in us, then we always have something to give.

We should offer that whether it is received or not.

 

Black Friday and Christianity- Can They Go Together?

Every year on the Friday after Thanksgiving, retail stores begin their Christmas sales. They are offering low prices for all of the things that most likely will be on everyone’s list. Resulting in mobs of people waiting hours outside the stores, sometimes in freezing cold or rainy weather.

Once the doors open at midnight, it is on! The mad rush of the mob is unleashed and it is every man or woman for themselves. This is madness as its peak in some places. People acting in ways that they would never even think of acting any other time of the year.

Women staying up through the night, not even painting the barn (putting on makeup). From store to store, checking off items from their lists as they go. Filling one cart and tying it to a second in order to continue taking advantage of the great deals that are offered. All so that their families can have the best Christmas ever!

As I am typing out this blog, I myself am thinking about some things I want to buy. I myself prefer to do most of my shopping online. Especially on Black Friday. But that is just me. Others may see it as a time to share in an experience with a family member or maybe be able to afford some things that otherwise would not be able to.

As with everything, there are pros and cons. But the question I present here is, is Black Friday for the Christian? Can a Christian take advantage of the sales and at the same time, refrain from some of the aggressive, selfish, mean, and more than competitive activities that go on over some of the items in the stores?

As I stated before, Black Friday shopping is not my thing. However, that does not mean that that is my answer to the question at hand. The way I see it, if a Christian can stand in line in the cold, race around each store, stay up all throughout the night, max out credit cards or spend the entire Christmas budget, and still donate to Fill The Boot when the fire department is standing at the traffic light raising money for Muscular Dystrophy. Then by all means, knock yourself out! Not literally.

The Christian must keep in mind that at all times, the Spirit of God is to be our guide and we are to keep in step with the spirit. In all things we do, we must be led by the Spirit to present a proper witness for the Kingdom of God, even when there is only one ipad pro left on the shelf and 37 people are reaching for it at the same time.

How does the Christian maintain the proper witness in that situation? I don’t know, as I said before, I do not go to the stores on Black Friday. This is why we must be led by the Spirit. Some might ask themselves, “what would Jesus do?”. To answer that question, we would have to answer the  question as to whether or not Jesus would participate in Black Friday shopping.

I will say however, that the Christian cannot simply disconnect from living in this world. Part of Jesus’ prayer in chapter 17 is that God will spare us from the evil in this world. Not that we would be removed from this world. Therefore we must keep in step with the Spirit!

I personally do not see scripture condemn shopping on the Friday after Thanksgiving day. Nor do I see any scripture forbidding us from taking advantage of sales and being wise about spending the money provided by the Lord. Yet, I will leave you with this portion of scripture which I hope will be helpful as the season goes on;

“Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is  not in them. For everything in the world-the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life-comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever. 

1 John 2:15-17

 

“Me and God have church by ourselves”- Do Christians Have to Go to Church?

“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.”
‭‭Hebrews‬ ‭10:23-25‬ ‭NASB‬‬

Over my time in full-time ministry, I have had many conversations with a number of people about going to church. These conversations centered around many aspects, ranging from availability due to work schedules, physical ability or lack there of, and my favorite being “Me and God do our own thing on Sundays”.

Now, I know that there are many other ways that this conversation goes between the Preacher/Christian and others. The one I am focusing on here is the idea presented about whether person must go to church to be a Christian.

First, let me make it clear that it is a fact that there are people who work on Sunday mornings. It is a fact that there are plenty who cannot physically get out or come to church. It is also a fact that there are countless individuals who would love to be at church on Sunday as well as be involved with what a congregation is doing as a whole!

Let’s put all of those aside for the moment. What I am dealing with here is the idea that a person who would say that they are a Christian and also stands in the position that he or she does not “need” to attend church. That they and God do their own thing and that is good enough.

It would seem that the question at hand then would be, “does a person have to go to church to be a Christian?” To that question, I would say that going to church does not make you a Christian. But that is not the question really, is it?

When a person presents the idea, “me and God do our own thing”, the real issue is being presented in a subtle manner. What this person is really doing is challenging or daring the Preacher or whoever else, to question their salvation based on the fact that they do not go to church. It really is a defense tactic because usually the person is asked if they would like to attend church or the Preacher mentions church.

The core of the problem is that people, church goers as well as non-church goers have a misunderstanding of the purpose of attending church or being a part of the ministry of the church. The church goer sees it as evidence that a person is saved, where the non-church goer sees it as a test of their salvation or belief. This is why this conversation is such a problem in the Kingdom of God today.

The real question that church goers should be asking themselves and others is, “do I/you know Jesus?”. At the same time the real question that non-church goers should be asking themselves is “do I really know Jesus?”. If everyone would focus more on this question, the church attendance conversation would be non-existent.

As was presented at the beginning of this blog post, Hebrews chapter 10 gives us some insight into what this Christian life is to be about. In verses 23-25 we can see that words like “hold fast”, “stimulate one another to love and good deeds”, and “not forsaking our own assembling together”, which draw a picture for the believer and the “Church”.

The picture that is drawn for the believer here is that of community. A picture of people who although are different in many ways, share life together. Just as we can see all throughout the book of Acts, every time the believers shared life together in work, prayer or fellowship, God blessed them and their numbers grew!

God, the creator, does not make mistakes. He has created human beings to need fellowship. He created a mate for Adam because He knew that is is not good for man to be alone. Jesus’ death and resurrection is all about restoring fellowship and unity! I know, many thought is was about God letting people go to heaven as apposed to going to hell. Yes, that is true, but it is a very surface level understanding of the work of the cross. Not to mention a little bit selfish.

The truth is, you and I are offered grace, forgiveness, and reconciliation by the blood of Christ not primarily because we need a Savior. NO! All of that happened so that God would be glorified! Only God could take what is broken and make it whole again! Only God can take the rebellious soul and administer consequences and yet spare the law-breaker!

No, Jesus was born in the flesh, gave His life brutally on a cross, and then God the Father raised Him from death so that all of creation and all the universe would know that He indeed is Lord of it all! Oh, and by the way, because He loves His creation, that’s you and I, we get to experience the blessings that come with His glory and Lordship!

So, maybe it really is a question of salvation. Scripture tells us that those who believe would “Repent, and each one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Acts 2:38-39. This goes together with chapter 17 of the gospel of John. We can read there that Jesus Himself prayed to the Father that the believers would be one with Him as He is with the Father. He prayed for unity in the body of Christ.

All who are genuinely saved are a part of the body of Christ. It is the same Holy Spirit living within each of them. So, when James teaches that the prayer of a righteous man is powerful, I cannot believe that here is a more powerful prayer than that of Jesus our Lord!

Therefore, it would be logical and actually expected that those who are believers, those saved by the blood of Christ, would be united! As we grow spiritually along the way, our desires fade away and the desires of the Holy Spirit begin to be dominant in our hearts. All of this should take us back to our original question. Must a person go to church to be saved?

I will conclude with this answer. A person does not get saved by attending church. That would be a work and we are not saved by works. However, if a person is genuinely “saved” by faith in the blood of Christ through repentance and baptism, and the Spirit of God is living within them, then would we not desire the fellowship of the body of Christ? After all, that was our Lord’s Prayer in chapter 17 of John.

No it is not a sin to work on Sunday. No it is not a sin to miss church service. However, if a person is a true believer, there would be a desire to be a part of the body of Christ. Notice, I still have not said that there should be a desire to go to church on Sunday. That is because there is more to being a part of the church than going to church on Sunday morning.

If a person works on Sunday morning or is unable to physically attend worship service and there is that desire to be a part of the body of Christ, they will find a way. People generally do what they want to do.

Most church congregations hold worship services on Sunday morning. Many have other times of worship such as Sunday evening, Saturday evening, and even on Wednesday evening. So there really is no excuse. After all, that really is all that it is, an excuse. Aside from worship services, there are bible studies, outreach programs, evangelism, and much more that the body of Christ is doing.

So, it really is not about going to church on Sunday morning. It is more about knowing God in such a way that not only allows a person to be reconciled to Him in spite of that person’s rebelliousness against Him, but also to know Him in a way that the person’s desire is to be a part of the body of Christ, the Kingdom of God.

Ultimately, a Christian will have an overwhelming desire to surrender to a life of participation in the body of Christ and glorifying a Holy God!

I pray that we all have the desire to be a part of the body of Christ! Oh, the answer that you might be looking for from me is, NO! No, you cannot be a Christian and not be a part of the body of Christ.

“COEXIST” – My Two Cents for What It’s Worth

We do not have to travel far down the road to find the familiar bumper sticker which would seem to encourage people of all religions to “COEXIST”. For the record, I do not own nor display one of these bumper stickers or signs anywhere. However, I am in favor of getting along with all people, as far as it is up to me.

Now, having pointed that out, I will say that there seems to be some confusion about this “COEXIST” bumper sticker. Not only on the part of those who do not display it, but for those who do as well.

Where to start? Let me start with my own basic understanding of what this statement is about. I am sure that someone will correct me if I am in error. Nevertheless, my understanding is that the idea is that if people of all religions would simply get along, there would be world peace. I know it is much deeper than that, but that is the general idea.

The real thought behind the statement to “Coexist” is that no one religion has exclusive rights to “truth”. This comes from the worldview rooted in “relativism”. What is true for you may not be true for me, is how that looks. This idea seems to be an effort to create a world where everything is happy, fair, and all-inclusive for the sake of world peace.

There are two main points I would like to address, my two cents. First, I would like to submit to the world that we already coexist. If we look at the definition of the word;

1 : to exist together or at the same time
2 : to live in peace with each other especially as a matter of policy

https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/coexist

The fact is that we do exist together at the same time, all of us, whether we like it or not! However, I will admit that the second offered definition, “live in peace with each other”, we have yet to master. But in a general sense, I say we already coexist.

As for my second point, I will submit that it really is not possible to “live in peace with each other”. The fact is that each person is only able to control or manage her/himself. No one can force any other person to live at peace with any other person or people! The very idea of that I would liken to North and South Korea hugging it out and then acting like nothing ever happened! I mean to force another to do something that they are not willing to do seems to be the opposite of living in peace with each other.

The idea that people of different belief systems, which many times stand in contrast with each other, submitting to the idea that every religion or belief system can be right would require everyone to compromise their belief system. I will be the first to say, as a Christian, I will not compromise what I believe to be the truth nor do I expect anyone else to. Yes, I will share my beliefs with others for the purpose of allowing them to decide for themselves if they agree or disagree.

I do however, believe that it is always an option for an individual to offer respect and kindness, even love, to their neighbor. I for one do not demand that anyone believe what I believe about truth, God, or any other worldview or idea that I hold. I do my best to treat everyone that I meet with respect, like a person who has ideas, opinions, and beliefs. It is ok, it is ok to disagree! It does not always mean hate or dislike.

The real problem with the “COEXIST” bumper stickers is that there is an insinuation, intended or not, that those who display it are the ones who are “right” and anyone who disagrees or does not function within their idea of “COEXISTING” is “wrong”. This my friends, is the epitome of hypocrisy and flies in the face of everything that it says it stand for! No one can stand and say that they are “right” without saying that someone else is “wrong”.

“”But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.”
‭‭Luke‬ ‭6:27-28‬ ‭NASB‬‬

 

 

Is it right or wrong to be open minded?

As I was browsing through my Facebook feed, I came across a meme that caught my attention, which is not surprising because that is what memes are supposed to do.

However, this is my response to the post simply because it provoked a need to respond with my thoughts. The following is the meme posted on Facebook.Screenshot_20180104-162719

There are a few statements being made in this meme. Although the overall statement that is being made here is one that I will disagree with, there are one, maybe two that I might agree with or at least not reject totally.

Before I talk about the overall statement, first let me break it down into a few smaller statements that are intended to support the overall statement. I will break it down into three statements and then finish with the overall statement.

“Open minded people don’t care to be right, they care to understand.”
Within this first statement there are two ideas that I will focus on. The first idea seems to address the type of person that everything said is directed toward. Because open minded people are mentioned and then proceeded to be described, this meme is intended to make a statement about people who are not open minded.

The first problem is that not everyone agrees with what in fact is an “open minded” person. It is obvious that this meme makes a general description of an “open minded” person. The actual definition of an “open minded” person is as follows according to Merriam-Webster dictionary.

                      “:a willingness to listen to or accept different ideas or opinions”

Therefore, I will conclude that an “open minded” person is one who can be described by the definition. This would cause me to agree with the latter portion of this sub-statement. It must be true that an “open minded” person would “care to understand”.

Notice that within the definition that it states that an “open minded” person has a willingness to “listen to or accept different ideas or opinions.” It is important that the word or is not ignored. Just because an “open minded” person listens, it does not mean he or she must accept what is heard. This is contrary to the viewpoint of this meme.

The problem lies in the first portion of the statement. If “open minded” people “don’t care to be right”, then why would they “care to understand”? It seems to me that the only people who really care to understand anything are the ones who genuinely care to know what is right and what is wrong with anything.

After all, if a person simply does not care about right or wrong, it would only be logical that person would not spend the time it takes to understand anything because it would not matter. Which leads me into the next sub-statement in the meme.

“There’s never a right or wrong answer.”
Here in this sub-statement, the word “never” is used. This word is one that has a deep meaning to it. Never is a long time. This word has a value that is absolute. This word leaves no room for change in what it is attached to. In this case, “right or wrong”.

What I mean is that once the word “never” is attached to something, the value of that word is attached to the statement being made. In this case, “a right or wrong answer”. Therefore, I can only conclude that this sub-statement in this meme is making an absolute proclamation that there is “never a right or wrong answer”.

The problem here is that by using the word “never”, the statement being made is one of factual information. In other words, by stating “There’s never a right of wrong answer.”, one is stating that this is true.

If in fact that this sub-statement is “true” then it would also be “right”. Now you see the problem. By proclaiming as a fact that this statement is true, then it would be “right”, therefore proving itself to be false, thereby proving it to be “wrong”. That is if, “There’s never a right or wrong answer”.

“Everything is about understanding.”
As I consider the last sub-statement in the meme, the first word pops out like a neon sign in the desert darkness. “Everything”, wow that is a lot. In fact, that word is all inclusive and leaves nothing out. Therefore, I can conclude that this statement is about what “everything is about”.

The statement says that “understanding” is what everything is about. Now, before I agree or disagree with this sub-statement, first let me consider what is being said in order to understand. After all, I do want to be open minded.

Let me say this. If the word “understanding” is used to mean to comprehend, then I can more than likely agree with this sub-statement. Everything at least can be about what we comprehend. How a person “understands” something dictates their comprehension.

Having said that, I do believe everything “can” be about our understanding and/or comprehension. However, if the meme is using the word “understanding” in a way that means accepting, well then I will have to disagree. Going back to the definition of “open minded”, I believe it said “listen to or accept” whatever is there to understand.

For example, I do understand that people murder other people, however I do not accept that it is an action that is “right”. In fact, based on my understanding of what it means to murder, I believe that it is “wrong”.

So, if this sub-statement is saying that everything is about “accepting”, which I believe that it does, then I open mindedly disagree.

Overall statement
After having carefully considering each of the sub-statements that make up the overall statement, I will briefly go over the overall statement.

The overall statement is simply that if a person is “open minded”, that person will accept everything and not consider anything right or wrong. Thus insinuating that a person who will not accept everything and does acknowledge “right and wrong” is not open minded.

Before I go any further, I would like to make it clear that I am in no way intending to be aggressive or hateful with these thoughts. I simply am responding to a statement that, in my opinion, represents the view point of many in our society today that I disagree with. I do not hate anyone who disagrees with me or understands different than me. I am simply expressing my thoughts.

To wrap this up, I would say that I am an open minded person. I also would say that there are many that would disagree with that. This is a conflict of understanding and/or comprehension between myself and some in today’s society.

According to the dictionary I could be “right”. But according to much of society, I could be “wrong”. And then again, if I am “wrong” and this meme is “right” then the meme is actually “wrong”, wait, what?