What You Need

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Gentle Reader,

No, you can’t always get what you want,
No, you can’t always get what you want,
No, you can’t always get what you want
But if you try sometime, you just might find
You get what you need. – Mick Jagger & Keith Richards

Yes. I just quoted the Rolling Stones.

The chorus of this famous song holds a lot of truth. Try as we might, we don’t always get what we want. If we’re honest, this doesn’t make a lot of sense. We work hard. Try to be kind. Take care of our families. Pay the bills. Shouldn’t we get what we want? We’re playing by the rules, after all. Shouldn’t our figurative cups be overflowing?

When we think of the abundant life, we assume that it will be filled with all the things we want. The wants may not be extravagant. A nice home, good relationships, a steady income, no debt. They might be wild and imaginative, like the desire to travel the world or have a painting hanging in a famous gallery or museum. Or they might be somewhere in the middle, like a cool car or a book contract.

Thing is, God is less about what we want and more about what we need.

Don’t misread that sentence. Every good and perfect gift comes from God (James 1:17) and He delights in giving us those good gifts (Matthew 7:11). There are many times when God blesses us with something that we want because He’s a good and loving Father. Yet if we look at the big picture, the Lord doesn’t allow us to have or do something that is outside of His will. He is not a vending machine, to use the cliche, concerned only with dispensing our desire of the moment. His will in the life of a believer is to make her more like Christ (Romans 8:29) and if the disposable income readily available for the purchase of new shoes every few weeks isn’t going to make her more like Christ, then, well…

You do the math.

Again, don’t misunderstand. I don’t at all believe that God inflicts suffering and hardship on His people willy-nilly. He doesn’t use our longing for red ballet flats or a new set of chisels as a source of entertainment. He doesn’t see what it is that we want in life and then go out of His way to make sure that the opposite happens. As a wonderful and kind God, He showers us with goodness, but within the context of making us more like Jesus.

2 Corinthians 9:8 opens up the concept for us:

God is able to make every grace overflow to you, so that in every way, always having everything you need, you may excel in every good work. (HCSB)

Graces oozes in fantastic measure from the Lord, pouring out torrentially upon His people. He makes sure that we have absolutely everything that we need – and this is a greater blessing than having everything we want. Think about it. You may not being having filet mignon for dinner tonight, but, if you have access to the Internet and can read this right now, chances are good that you’re not going to be hungry. Is a fancy meal every single time you sit down really better than a satisfied stomach? Is the food you eat what matters, or is the fact that you get to eat?

Because here’s the thing: This verse, which talks about grace permeating your life and all your needs being met, stands in a very specific context in Paul’s letter to the Corinthian church. Take the time to drink in every word of the chapter:

Now concerning the ministry to the saints, it is unnecessary for me to write to you. For I know your eagerness, and I brag about you to the Macedonians: “Achaia has been prepared since last year,” and your zeal has stirred up most of them. But I sent the brothers so our boasting about you in the matter would not prove empty, and so you would be prepared just as I said. For if any Macedonians come with me and find you unprepared, we, not to mention you, would be embarrassed in that situation. Therefore I considered it necessary to urge the brothers to go on ahead to you and arrange in advance the generous gift you promised, so that it will be ready as a gift and not as an extortion.

Remember this: The person who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the person who sows generously will also reap generously. Each person should do as he has decided in his heart—not reluctantly or out of necessity, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make every grace overflow to you, so that in every way, always having everything you need, you may excel in every good work. As it is written:

He scattered;
He gave to the poor;
His righteousness endures forever.

Now the One who provides seed for the sower and bread for food will provide and multiply your seed and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way for all generosity, which produces thanksgiving to God through us. For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints, but is also overflowing in many acts of thanksgiving to God. They will glorify God for your obedience to the confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with others through the proof provided by this service. And they will have deep affection for you in their prayers on your behalf because of the surpassing grace of God in you. Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift. – 2 Corinthians 9 (NKJV)

God blesses that we might bless. He provides so that we might provide for others.

The abundant life isn’t about big houses and nice cars. It’s not about extravagant vacations, millions in the bank and a wrinkle-free face. It’s got nothing to do with age or class or gender or race.  It’s about being like Jesus. The One who had no home (Luke 9:58). The One who set aside all of His glory and riches (Philippians 2:5-11). The One who took up the role of a servant (go here for a list of the many references regarding Jesus’ servanthood). The One who ultimately hung on a Cross, enduring great pain and humiliation. (And, praise God!, the One who rose again).

This same Jesus took a couple of fish and five small loaves of bread and made a feast for thousands (John 6:1-12). A feast made of fish and bread. Not exactly food for a king. Yet He both blessed and provided for the crowd by meeting their needs with this simple fare. They experienced abundance because God touched them all with His compassionate, inventive caring.

Let’s take the fish and the bread we need – and share it with others.

In that is abundance.

My journey to faith. (15)

The Ugly Offspring of Worry

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Gentle Reader,

Scripture is deep. I wish I had a better way of saying that, but there you go. There is no end to the treasures to be found within the pages. Perhaps more importantly, there is no end to the ways that God will speak to us. One moment, one verse, one eye-opening lesson. The next moment, same verse, different lesson.

I have long loved Psalm 37:7-8 –

Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for Him;
Do not fret because of him who prospers in his way,
Because of the man who brings wicked schemes to pass.
Cease from anger, and forsake wrath;
Do not fret—it only causes harm. (NKJV)

As we use “worry” and “fret” interchangeably in the impreciseness that is English, I have assumed that these verses address worry. Don’t worry about what other people are getting. Give things up to God. Wait for Him to act; He’ll always take care of you. Let anger and worry go because they only hurt you.

All of that is true. Last week, however, I decided to look up the original word for “fret.” There are four different Hebrew words:

Charah: used in Psalm 37:7-8.  To blaze up, of anger, zeal, jealousy; be angry, burn, be displeased; earnestly, fret self, grieve, be (wax) hot, be incensed, kindle; very, be wroth.

Pecthetheth: a boring or eating out, hole, hollow. (Refers to a leprous decay in a garment).

Qatsaph: to be displeased, be angry, fret oneself, be wroth; to be full of wrath, to be furious; to provoke to wrath or anger; to put oneself in a rage, anger oneself.

Ra’am: to thunder; to make the sound of thunder, thunder; to rage.

Along with several Greek equivalents:

Athymeo: to be disheartened, dispirited, broken in spirit.

Ekkaio: to burn out, to set on fire, to be kindled, to burn.

Lypeo: to make sorrowful; to affect with sadness, cause grief, to throw into sorrow; to grieve, offend.

Merimnao: to be anxious; to be troubled with cares; to care for, look out for (a thing); to seek to promote one’s interests; caring or providing for.

(This list of Greek equivalents is not exhaustive. For more information, check out StudyLight).

As I pondered these words, it occurred to me that fretting is the ugly offspring of worry. I have yet to meet someone who struggles with anxiety who doesn’t also struggle with anger. The two are logical bedmates. When you are worried that nobody else is looking out for you, it’s natural to get angry. It makes sense to blaze wit bitterness. You’re trying to protect yourself, trying to prepare for every possible outcome. As you are seeking to promote your own interests, you don’t really have energy to promote anyone else’s, and, if they ask you to, you resent that. They have added to your burdens.

Don’t fret – don’t lash out. Don’t thunder. Don’t let worry eat a hole in you. Don’t rage. Don’t be offended.

All this anger stems from anxiety, and that anxiety is rooted in a disheartened, broken spirit.

I know this in my bones. When my husband leaves his things lying around, I get irritated. I snap at him. I make it a bigger deal than it needs to be – because I am afraid that he doesn’t listen to me. I am afraid that he doesn’t think I matter. I apply to his actions a meaning that isn’t there, because of past hurts that have torn my heart to pieces.

Brokenness to anxiety to anger.

Look what Jesus said He came to do:

The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. – Luke 4:18-19, quoting Isaiah 61:1-2 (NKJV)

A disheartened, broken spirit results in the oppression of anxiety which leads to the fires of barely controlled anger. Jesus came to set us free from that! He came to mend all the broken places, patch the holes in our hearts, pour into us real love and hope. My friend, let’s allow Him to do that work, right now. This day. This moment.

Let’s allow Him to begin the process of transforming our lives. I don’t know about you, but I am weary of the past dictating the present. I don’t have energy to plan for every outcome. I don’t want to argue with everyone about stupid things. What I want is trust that God has my best interests at heart, that He will promote them and that I can rest in His continual care. Imagine the freedom! Imagine the peace! Whatever is happening with other people, whatever they might be getting, I want to be assured that it’s all good for me.

I want to live in the riches of His grace, reject going back to prison, live wide-eyed in the world, dance in freedom and embrace His favor. I want that for you, too!

My journey to faith. (15) This post also appeared on the Far East Broadcasting Company Gospel Blog on March 9, 2014.

The Right to Discriminate

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Gentle Reader,

On Tuesday evening, the city council of the town next door passed an ordinance expanding existing anti-discrimination statutes.

From the Coeur d’Alene Press:

The proposed ordinance is aimed at protecting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people (LGBT) in areas of employment and public accommodations, such as restaurants and housing, by preventing people from discriminating against them solely based on “sexual orientation, gender identity and expression.”

That means, for example, under the new ordinance an employer can’t fire someone solely because of the person’s sexuality. Or refuse them service in a restaurant for the same reason.

Needless to say, there’s quite the storm. The comments on the above quoted article range from silly to outright nasty. I overheard someone say that she had “the right to discriminate” while discussing the ordinance’s passing with another.

A few days before the vote took place, a local pastor voiced his concern that:

This ordinance imposes upon the rights of one party or group in order to provide rights to another group or person, and therefore does not protect the rights of all people groups in Cd’A.

The 1st Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America protects religious freedom, and “…prohibits the making of any law respecting an establishment of religion,” or “impeding the free exercise of religion…”

The 14th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States says, “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States…” and in the “Due Process Clause,” the United States Supreme Court in Meyer vs. Nebraska declared that United States citizens are free “to worship God according to the dictates of his own conscience, and generally to enjoy those privileges long recognized at common law as essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men.”

Applied to the Christian for example, I would point out that Christians are not to be “unequally yoked” (2 Corinthians 6:14). This ordinance would force a violation of the Christian standard and conscience by forcing the Christian citizen to submit to a law requiring the employment of, or housing of persons of conflicting values. This is a violation of our Constitutional rights.

The proponents will suggest that the ordinance will protect “religious institutions”, however, I will point out that it does not protect the rights of individual “religious” citizens.

Over 400 people attended the council vote. Testimony, much of it against the ordinance, lasted for 4 hours.

I don’t understand this.

The comment about having the “right” to discriminate seems to sum up the opposition’s point neatly. Unfortunately, there is no Scriptural support for that “right.” We’re not talking about the simple recognition of differences. We’re talking “unjust or prejudicial treatment of different categories of people or things, esp. on the grounds of race, age, or sex.” I fail to see anything in the Christian ethical system that allows for this kind of thinking and behavior. In fact, Jesus says:

If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? – Matthew 5:46-47 (NKJV)

Is a Christian person supposed to speak the truth? Yes. Does that truth come across in the message, “We don’t serve your kind here”?

And really, does any Christian business owner honestly think that all of the straight people who come through his doors live lives that are 100% exemplary? Is sexual orientation the mark of perfection? The man you served lunch to could be a child molester. The woman who works the cash register could be a drug addict. The couple who bought some chintzy souvenirs could be cheating on their taxes. Is one supposed to just assume that the crosses around their necks and the marriage certificate means that these people are striving to follow Christ? You know what they say about assumptions, right?

I don’t work the front counter at the library very often anymore, but I can tell you that I’d be fired within two shakes if I refused to serve someone because I didn’t like how they dressed, or what books they wanted to check out, or that their hair was an unnatural shade of blue. I can’t get snippy with someone because they ask me to help them find The Joy of Sex or the Anarchist’s Cookbook. I definitely haven’t liked every person I’ve come into contact with and I haven’t agreed with every viewpoint that’s come my way across that 12 inches of fake marble, but that doesn’t matter. I am there to do a job and, within those boundaries, I hope to be able to share the love and truth of God as opportunities present themselves. Refusing service or turning away from someone is neither loving nor truthful, and it’s certainly not the mark of watching for open doors.

The pastor’s comments about being unequally yoked suggest to me a lack of interpretive skill. From the IVP Commentary on this passage:

Certainly not all contact with unbelievers is excluded. Paul corrects just such a misconstrual in 1 Corinthians, when he tells the church that to have nothing to do with immoral people would necessitate removing themselves entirely from the world (5:9-10). It is a particular kind of contact with unbelievers that is in view. What kind, though? Paul’s quotation of Isaiah 52:11, where Israel is commanded to come out from them and be separate suggests contact of a compromising nature (v. 17). But what would constitute a compromising liaison? Would working with an unbeliever be forbidden, as Phillips (“do not try to work with them”) and TEV (“do not work together as equals”) suggest?

The command is literally Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. The verb heterozygew is an agricultural term that refers to the practice of yoking to a plow too unequal kinds of animals such as an ox and a donkey. This would suggest that unequal associations between Christians and non-Christians are what Paul specifically has in mind. Five synonyms are employed to describe the kinds of associations that are forbidden. Metoche (“have in common”), found nowhere else in the Greek Bible, and koinonia (“fellowship”) mean to partner or share. Symphonesis (“harmony”) signifies to be in agreement with or of one accord. Meris (“in common”) denotes a shared lot or portion. Synkatathesis (“agreement”) is commonly used of a decision arrived at by a group. Paul is clearly thinking of associations that involve a partnership rather than a casual or occasional working relationship.

The command focuses on the relationship between the believer and the non-believer. The pastor makes the assumption that there is no such person as a homosexual Christian. Well, is there such a thing as an alcoholic Christian? A drug addicted Christian? A promiscuous Christian? A Christian who steals? A Christian who lies? At some point the one who claims to follow Christ will be forced to deal with her sins, but it is a bold thing indeed to insist that a particular kind of sin automatically places one outside the fellowship of the Body.

The First Amendment does establish the freedom of religion, but is it really an exercise of worship to refuse to serve a homosexual? Does it prove something if you will not allow him or her to have a job within your company?

That leads me to my fundamental question: How on earth do you even know that someone is homosexual unless he or she tells you? You can’t ask someone that kind of question in a job interview and I wouldn’t eat or shop at the sort of establishment that asked me about my private life before offering service.

If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you know that I fall on the more conservative end when it comes to the interpretation and application of Scripture. I do believe that what God defines as wrong is always wrong. But I just don’t feel a need to go around sniffing out homosexual people so I can tell them that they’re sinners. I’m too busy trying to deal with my own sins (believe me, there are plenty of them). When I read the Great Commission:

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. – Matthew 28:19-20a (NKJV)

it seems pretty clear to me that my job is to tell people what God has done for me, and how the offer of salvation is available to them. It’s the Holy Spirit’s job to convict people of sin and to draw them to Himself (John 16). Time and time again He attests to the fact that He does this with “unfailing kindness” (ex.- Jeremiah 31:3, Luke 15:1-32, Romans 5:6-8). We abuse His unfailing kindness when we use it as an excuse to indulge in bigotry and hatred.

Why have we made homosexuality the biggest sin of them all? Why do we think it’s okay to look down our pretty little noses at these people? That’s what they are, you know – people. Human beings. With names and stories and likes and dislikes and hopes and dreams.

There are laws protecting me from discrimination, and I’m sure that some business owners would love to throw me out if they knew this or that about my life. But they can’t. Why should a homosexual person be treated any differently?

My journey to faith. (15)