Tag Archives: Need

Responsibility and Need

If any woman who is a believer has widows in her care, she should continue to help them and not let the church be burdened with them, so that the church can help those widows who are really in need.
1 Timothy 5:16 (NIV)

Early in my life journey I worked at a number of different churches and different denominations. One of the common struggles I observed was how each church handled those who would regularly come to the church asking for a handout. In every church I served there was a sincere and loving motivation to help those in need, but there was also the realization that responsible generosity also required  wisdom and discernment. While some individuals were people truly in need, others were not. There were individuals who were perfectly capable of getting a job and supporting themselves, but they were more than happy to avoid the work and simply make the rounds of every church in town seeing how much money they could talk the churches into giving them.

Along the way I’ve observed a simple reality of human nature. If you create a system of welfare there will be those who will try to take personal advantage of the system. Even Jesus encountered this when He fed the multitudes by turning a few loaves and fish into to a  miraculous Filet o’ Fish fest. He quickly recognized that many were following Him simply for the free lunch. John 6 describes Jesus confronting the crowd and questioning their motivation. He appears, at that point, to have shut down his miraculous fish sandwich program on the spot.

It’s so easy for me to get stuck thinking about “church” in context of what I have known and experienced “the church” to be in my lifetime. I default to thinking of buildings and denominational institutions with varying takes on theological issues.  It’s critical as a reader of Paul’s letter to Timothy for me to understand how different the circumstances were then. There was no institution, no denomination, and no church buildings. Small groups of Jesus’ followers were “the church.” It was a flesh and blood organism. Followers of Jesus gathered in homes where they ate together, worshipped together, and shared life together. They were loosely structured and yet they quickly gained a reputation for collectively caring for those in need who were marginalized and outcast by society of that day: widows, orphans, the sick, the diseased, and the disabled.

And, true to human nature, there were those more than willing to take personal advantage of the corporate generosity.

There is a theme woven throughout Paul’s life and letters that I rarely hear discussed today. It’s threaded through the entire chapter today. Until late in his life Paul always worked for his living and supported himself. His family were tentmakers by trade and no matter where he went he could pull out his tools and ply that trade. He expected Jesus’ followers to take personal responsibility for the needs of one’s self and one’s family so that generosity could be given to those “truly in need.”

In the quiet this morning I’m whispering a prayer of gratitude, as I recognize that I am blessed to have been raised in a culture and a family system that taught and modeled personal responsibility, hard work, and generosity. My gratitude extends to giving thanks for my job, my clients, and my colleagues. Finally, I’m thankful for the reality that, thus far in my entire life journey, I have never known what truly means to be what Paul described as “really in need.”

featured photo courtesy of IIP Photo Archive via Flickr

Drilling Down to Spring Generosity

In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity.
2 Corinthians 8:2 (NIV)

About 12 years ago Wendy and I made the decision to purchase my parents property at the lake. At the time the property had a  70 foot single-wide from the early 1970s which I used to refer to as “The Love Shack.” At the end of a gravel road, the property requires a well for water and a septic system for waste management. After agreeing to make the purchase my dad walked me through the process they went through each year to have their water supply tested and treated against the nasty things that can get into a natural water supply. It was pretty gross just thinking about it.

A year or so later we had a new well dug on the property. I’d never experienced this before, and I was fascinated by the process. The young man who owned the drilling service loved his work and I’ll never forget the passion and enthusiasm with which he went about his drilling a well. By the end of the day he’d explained to me that the old well on the property had been way too shallow which was why the water was prone to some of the nastiness that had to be tested and treated. The driller had to go much deeper than planned and get through some tough stretches of rock to reach the aquifer which would pump clean water to our house. I’ll never forget the guy grinning from ear-to-ear. “You’re pumping ‘crystal clear’ now, dude!

That little experience really got me thinking just how much I take for granted the luxury of a clean water supply that I don’t have to think or worry about. That got me digging a little deeper for information about water in the world. The good news is that since 1990 great progress has been made. In just 25 years a staggering 2.5 Billion people have gained access to an improved water supply free from fear of contamination. I love it! That’s huge progress that we can feel good about. [cue: We are the World]. Nevertheless, there’s still 665 million people in the world who don’t have access to a simple, clean water supply. Most of them are in Africa. For many years Wendy and I have been supporters of Blood:Water Mission, a group actively working to improve access to clean water across Africa.

Along life’s journey I’ve had to confess that it sometimes takes an  experience for me to wake up to the needs of others, and the opportunity I have to make a difference.

In today’s chapter, we discover one of the major reasons Paul was writing his letter to the followers of Jesus in Corinth. There was a severe famine in area of Syria and Israel. Historical records confirm that a massive famine broke out in that region in 47 A.D. during the reign of Emperor Claudius. People were literally starving to death, and Paul had been taking up an offering among the believers in Greece and Asia Minor to take much needed supplies to the believers back in Jerusalem.

There was kind of a cool spiritual principle at work. Back when Jesus was tempted to turn stones to bread He quoted a verse from Deuteronomy to the enemy: “You shall not live on bread alone, but on every word the comes from the mouth of God.” The believers in Jerusalem had blessed Greece and Asia Minor by sending the Word and spreading Jesus’ Message through Paul and others. Now those believers in Greece and Asia Minor had the opportunity, in turn, to save the believers in Jerusalem from starvation by providing for their physical needs.

Yesterday I wrote about Paul finding joy in “all his troubles.” He uses that same same spiritual principle again, and takes it a step further, as he describes the believers in Macedonia who found joy amidst their trials and generosity amidst their poverty.

This morning in the quiet I find myself counting my blessings. Our hot water issue was fixed yesterday. It was a pesky annoyance caused by build up of ice that choked the flow of air to the system. Ultimately, it was a small problem. Such a luxury, and what an opportunity I continually have to make a difference in the lives of others through the abundance with which I’ve been blessed. The Macedonians, Paul wrote, had been generous despite their poverty. How much more generous can I be out of the wealth with which I’ve been blessed?

Featured photo courtesy of Seeds of Hope International Partnerships: http://sohip.org

Hats, Fasting, and a Couple of Important Questions

“Ask all the people of the land and the priests, ‘When you fasted and mourned in the fifth and seventh months for the past seventy years, was it really for me that you fasted?”
Zechariah 7: 5 (NIV)

Yesterday I had the privilege of leading our local gathering of Jesus’ followers. I was kicking off a series of messages on Paul’s letter to the believers in Corinth. And so, I’ve been mired in studying the letter and the situation in Corinth around 55 A.D.  One of the themes that bubbles to the surface over and over again are instructions that Paul gave which are rooted in contemporary Corinthian culture. Other instructions are universal to human culture in all times.

I find myself asking, “What instructions were for the Corinthian believers at that time (that don’t fit our current realities)? What instructions may speak to me in 2018 (that the Corinthians couldn’t fathom almost 2000 years ago)? What instruction are ours (they apply to anyone, at any time, in any culture)?”

For example, one set of instructions is about covering your head. In first century Corinth there were layers of meaning in the cultural and religious aspects of whether you covered your head and when. Some of it came from Jewish law and tradition (which the Greek believers probably thought silly) and some of it was the practical differentiation of woman broadcasting in publicly that she was not one of Aphrodite’s temple priestess-prostitutes.

The truth of the matter is that until a generation or so ago, the tradition of women covering their heads in church and men removing their caps/hats was still a big thing culturally. The local Costume Shop has hundreds and hundreds of gorgeous women’s hats with cute little veils that locals have donated over the years (see featured photo). There was a time just a few decades ago when a woman would not go to church without a hat on. Today, in our culture, if a woman does so it’s simply a fashionable novelty.

Likewise, my dad and I have a good-natured, on-going feud when we’re gathered for family meals and it’s time to pray and eat. My dad gives me grief if I have a cap on. I have never been able to discern a good reason for having to remove my hat when the family is  informally ordering a pizza and watching the game. I joke with my dad that it’s actually more sanitary if I keep my cap on. He always wins the argument on his authority and my respect, but I’ve still never heard a good reason.

The bottom-line question is: “Why (or why not) are we doing this?”

That was the exact question God had for the prophet Zechariah. Zechariah and company inquired of the Lord whether they should continue to observe traditional months of fasting. God replied, “Why are you fasting?” God then goes on to point out that what Zac and the boys are not doing are things like being just, showing compassion to people who are different, looking out for the needs of orphans, widows, and the oppressed. The implied question God is asking as I read between the lines is this: “Why would I care if you self-righteously starve yourself in some public display of your religiosity when you’re missing the heart of what I desire from you — to love others as you love yourself?”

Good question, and a good question for those of us who claim to follow Jesus and have wrapped ourselves in religious traditions of all kinds over the years.

“What does God care about? What, therefore, should I really care about? What in my religious practices, rituals, and cultural rules do I make a higher priority than the things God truly cares about?

Enough

Elisha replied to her, “How can I help you? Tell me, what do you have in your house?”

“Your servant has nothing there at all,” she said, “except a small jar of olive oil.”
2 Kings 4:2 (NIV)

Many years ago I was pushing into my spiritual journey and trying hard to understand my feelings of shame, the deep, abiding sense that I was worth-less to the core. I have shared before about my friend and counselor who asked me to label my shame. He wanted me to give my shame a name tag; A moniker of my shame that would allow me to pick up my Sharpie and write on the my name tag at church: “Hello, My Name Is…” and write my shame right on there.

Not Enough” was the label I gave to my shame.

As I’ve continued on in my spiritual journey I’ve come to have more than a few head-slapping, eureka moments as I mull over my “Not Enough” shame moniker. Of course I feel “not enough” because it’s what culture and marketing have whispered and screamed to me so regularly since I was a toddler that I don’t even recognize it anymore.

You’re not athletic enough. Eat your Wheaties.
You’re not manly enough. Smoke a Marlboro.
You’re not beautiful enough. Wear brand “X”.
You’re not good enough. Work 24/7/365.
You’re not rich enough. Climb that ladder at all costs.
You’re not suave enough. Act like James Bond.
You’re not good enough. Stop sinning.
You’re not Christian enough. Only listen, read, and consume things labeled and marketed as “Christian” and sold by an acceptable, orthodox supplier.

You get the picture.

In today’s chapter the ancient prophet Elisha is approached by a widow who is in a desperate situation. Her husband died and was indebted to another man in the town. In ancient days, if you couldn’t pay your debts the creditor took whatever collateral the borrower had. Because the widow was left with nothing of real value her two sons were going to be taken from her to become the creditor’s slaves.

When Elisha asks the woman, “What have you got?” she replies that all she has is a small jar of oil. Elisha tells her to get all the empty jars she can find and borrow and pour the oil from her small jar into all the empty jars. Miraculously, the woman keeps pouring and the oil keeps flowing until her house is packed full of jars of oil. She is can now sell the oil and pay off the debts. And, there’s enough left over to provide for her and her sons.

What does this remind me of?

Oh yeah. Jesus fed the crowds (more than once) with just a few fish sandwiches that Peter and the boys could scrounge off a little kid whose mother packed him a sack lunch. The woman and her oil jars is kind of like that. In fact, it’s just like that.

I love it on my chapter-a-day journey when I begin to see patterns, themes and dots to be connected across the Great Story. This endless jar of oil is just like Jesus’ endless baskets of filet o’ fish sandwiches.

So, what is the point? What’s God trying to tell me?

In each case, God took the little that they already had and provided all that was needed. In fact, in both cases there were leftovers. The point is that what they already had was enough for God to work with. God can take what I am and what I have and it is enough for Him to work with to be all that I need, all that He needs, when it’s needed.

I don’t believe this means God is giving me an excuse to be complacent and slothful. It doesn’t mean that I have carte blanche to be foolish and stagnant. God wants me to keep progressing, keep pressing on, and keep pushing further up and further in. It’s important, however, to think about what I’m pursuing.

I’ve found that shame always calls me back. I constantly find my heart slipping off on paths that mindlessly pursue unreachable destinations. The more money I make the more I realize that there’s always someone richer, and I’ll never stop chasing after “just a little bit more.” No matter how skinny, ripped and ruggedly handsome I can make myself with wardrobe, workouts and organic male beauty products, I will still look in the mirror and fail to see Daniel Craig.

This morning I’m reminded that when I stick to the path in pursuit of God and God’s wisdom I find that what I already have is enough. It’s enough even if God has to, once in a while, miraculously stretch my enough to cover what’s needed in the moment.

Liars and Lunatics

“If it is the anointed priest who sins…”
“If the whole congregation of Israel errs…”
“When a ruler sins…”
“If anyone of the ordinary people among you sins…”
Leviticus 4:3a, 13a, 22a, 27a

The other day a friend bemoaned that the Presidential race in the United States leaves us to choose between a “liar” and a “lunatic.” It took me a moment to think through which label fit which candidate best. I decided that they were interchangeable.

As a young man I spent a few years as pastor of a small, rural congregation. One day after Vacation Bible School one of the teachers came to tell me about the lesson on sin she’d given to her class. One of her young charges raised her hand and asked, “Does Pastor Tom sin?”

Yes,” the teacher replied, “he does.”

The girl thought hard for a moment, then asked, “What does he do?”

Oh, dear child. You don’t want to know.

It is human nature to hold our leaders in high regard and to expect more out of them than humanly possible. People are people. Call it whatever you want: human frailty, human nature, fatal flaws,  or imperfection. God’s Message calls in sin. The bottom line is the same. We all do things we know we shouldn’t do. We all fail to do things we know we should do. We all fall short of perfection.

In today’s chapter we continue to learn about the ancient sacrificial system that was designed as a temporary spiritual Band-Aid for humanity’s moral shortcomings. What struck me was that it begins by addressing the priest, who is the highest human spiritual leader in the system. How fascinating that one whom we’d expect to be the most good and spiritual person on the list is given first mention and the longest spiritual prescription. God knows that, despite the faith of little girls in VBS, spiritual leaders are just as flawed as anyone else.

The chapter goes to mention the nation, the civil rulers, and ends with talking about ordinary every day humans. In other words, every level of society both in the civil and religious camps had a prescribed sacrifice for atoning for their own human failings. People are people. We all fall short.

Today I’m thinking about my own failings. I’m thinking of my own need for forgiveness, mercy and grace. I’m also thinking of “liars” and “lunatics” who run for President, and pastor churches, and run businesses, and parent children, and work on the line, and go to school, and teach at those schools, and police our streets, and serve in the armed forces, and play professional sports, and live in the spotlight of fame, and live in poverty.

This morning, an ancient mantra of Jesus’ followers is playing on “repeat” in my soul….

Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on us
Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on us
Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, grant us your peace

I’m an Epic Fail at Gift Giving

If you bring a grain offering baked in an oven, it is to consist of the finest flour: either thick loaves made without yeast and with olive oil mixed in or thin loaves made without yeast and brushed with olive oil.
Leviticus 2:4 (NRSV)

I have a confession to make. I am generally an epic failure when it comes to gift giving. In fact, forget the “generally” and just call it epic fail. The procuring and giving of gifts doesn’t come naturally like it does for others I know and love. I have to think about it. I’m forgetful about special days. I constantly second guess myself. I agonize over what the recipient would want and enjoy. Once the gift is given I am insecure about the gift I gave and agonize over whether I should have given something else.

The truth of the matter is that my agony over gift giving is, in part, because it points to a core self-centeredness in my soul. It feels like an inability to know and love others better than I love myself. I hate that. I need help.

In today’s chapter, God’s ancient rules state that a blood sacrifice should be accompanied with a gift. The grain offering was basically a loaf of bread made with the finest ingredients. It required that the giver remember, think, set aside time, prepare the gift by making and baking it, then bring it to God at the altar. The blood sacrifice was about atonement, the grain offering was about gratitude.

For forty years the nation of Israel wandered around the wilderness in search of the promised land. Each night God sent a gift known as Manna. It arrived with the dew each morning. It was bread from heaven and it sustained them in the long march.

Now God says, “if you want to say thank you, make me a nice loaf of bread.” It tells me that you remember the manna. It says to me that you appreciated my gift and were grateful. It is consider-ate. I appreciate the thought. I value the sacrifice of time and effort you took to think of me in this way. It’s a tangible expression of your love.”

This morning I’m feeling, once again, repentant. I’d like to think that I’ve made progress in this spiritual journey. I know I have. Nevertheless, God’s ancient prescription to be a good and grateful giver of gifts reminds me this morning of core changes that have yet to be made; work still in progress after all these years.

This is a reminder to me that no matter how much progress I’ve made I still need help. I still need a savior. I still need forgiveness, and mercy, and grace. And, it strikes me that this is exactly the point of God’s ancient law in the first place. The law was given to ultimately make our need perfectly clear to us. To which, God responds with a gift. You will find it wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.

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Spiritual Scarcity

Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift….”
1 Corinthians 1:7a (NIV)

A few weeks ago I was wondering exactly where my property line lay in relation to a few adjacent lots. There are metal property pins driven into the corner of each lot, but most of them have been buried over time. So, I put out a plea on Facebook for a metal detector as I figured that was what I lacked to find the pins, and a friend brought one over to me. In the process, however, another friend messaged me a link to an iPhone app. I never knew it, but my iPhone can act as a metal detector. Who knew. All along I had what I needed right in the palm of my hand.

You don’t have enough….”
What you really need is….”
If only you had….”
You’ll never, until you have….”

Along the journey through life I have come to realize that our economy and our culture is predicated on an innate sense of scarcity. A market is driven by supply and demand. If a company is building a supply of widgets that they want to sell to the masses, then they must somehow create a demand for it. The marketing and branding gurus go to work convincing us that we want that widget. We need that widget. Our lives are less fulfilled without it and life would be more comfortable, satisfying, and complete if we only had this widget.

Scarcity is the underlying belief that I am not enough and I don’t have enough. We are subtly fed this message day in and day out without us ever being aware of it. Along the way, I’ve come to the realization that it seeps out of mass media into my very soul. It affects the way I view God and my spiritual thought and belief system.

If only I was a gifted [fill in the blank]….”
God won’t ever be happy with me because I’m not….”
I would feel closer to God if only I had….

In the opening of his letter to the followers of Jesus in the city of Corinth, Paul reminds them that they don’t lack any spiritual gift. Other teachers were trying to convince them that what they “really needed” was to be baptized by this particular teacher, or the spiritual gift of speaking in tongues, or this, or that, and et cetera. Paul made it clear. You’ve got what you need. You just don’t realize it.

On this Monday morning when my soul is weary and I’m staring out at long week ahead, it is easy to feel a sense of lack. It seems that what I really need is scarce and I’m starting the week in a deficit of [fill in the blank]. It is good to be reminded that as a follower of Jesus I am blessed with “every spiritual blessing in Christ.” (Ephesians 1:3) God has spiritually provided all that I need. It’s time to realize it, and accept the realization.