Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Imagine Being Trapped in Poverty

Image yourself as a woman in her mid-30s. You grew up in a volatile home. Your mother verbally and physically abused you. Your father abandoned you. Your grandfather raped you. When your mother found out, she kicked you out of the house at age 15. You never finished school. You went from one abusive man to another. You went from one low-paying job to another. You went from one drug to another. You lost your children along the way.

Imagine yourself as a 12-year old boy living in a low-income apartment complex. Your mother left you when you were small, because of her emotional problems. Your father has had trouble keeping a job ever since an accident precipitated an addiction to prescription medication and alcohol. You are afraid to leave your apartment for school. You are threatened by bullies and enticed by gang members. On your way to school this morning, you stepped around a man in a wheel chair who had been beaten by thugs who stole the little money he had. You did nothing, because you were afraid that the wrong people may see you stopping to help. You don't do well in school, because you are hungry and you have too much on your mind to worry about grades.

Imagine yourself as an infant with Down's syndrome who was born to a prostitute. You are the youngest of seven siblings. Your brothers and sister run wild, because your mother cannot even gain control of her own life; she has no chance of providing stability to her household. You are not likely to ever know your father. Who knows what kind of difficulties you will face as you grow up?

What can anyone do to help you? Can you be helped? Is your life hopeless?

Life is not hopeless.

Christians and churches can make a difference in the lives of the poor in at least three important ways.

1. Christians and churches can preach the gospel to the poor. In general, the poor are open to the fact that they are sinners living in a sinful world. They understand the depths of sin. They know what it means to be both victims and those who victimize others. They have been sinned against and they have sinned. They tend to recognize their need for forgiveness, a new life, and hope. They tend to be open to the possibility that the Bible's message is true and that Jesus Christ can provide them with forgiveness, new life, and hope. The message of Christ can make a tremendous difference in their lives.

2. Christians and churches can meet immediate physical needs. Those needs may be for food, clothing, employment, or shelter. Churches can hold cookouts at the local public housing apartment complexes. Congregations can provide donuts for breakfast before Sunday school and a meal after worship assemblies. Christians can take meals to those who unable to leave their apartments because of health reasons. They can take others out to lunch or dinner. They can take a load of groceries to a family in need. They can network with others to find jobs for those who are looking for work. The possibilities are nearly endless.

3. Christians and churches can mentor the poor. If you had grown up in circumstances faced by many poor people, you probably would not have a clue as to how to handle life's challenges. Could you be a good father, husband, mother, wife, or employee without a good role model? It would be extremely difficult without a godly mentor to help you along the way. The Great Commission has not been accomplished when a new disciple is baptized. We are instructed to follow up with new believers by "teaching them to observe all that (Jesus Christ has) commanded you" (Matthew 28:20). A variety of methods may be used, such as: men's Bible studies at a weekly breakfast, women's Bible studies over lunch, parenting classes, and (most importantly) sharing our lives together as friends who can come to each other with our problems.

Poverty seems like an overwhelming problem, but God has empowered his people with the resources and ability to make a positive difference in seemingly hopeless situations.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Sometimes Our Children Need Someone to Come Alongside Them

Sometimes our kids need someone to come alongside and help them when they mess up. In this video, NBA coach Mo Cheeks helps 13-year old Natalie Gilbert sing the National Anthem after she forgets the lyrics at the opening of a 2003 Portland Trailblazers game.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Please Don't Pray for the President's Death

If you are on Facebook, you probably have seen this prayer:

"Dear Lord, this year you took my favorite actor, Patrick Swayze. You took my favorite actress, Farah Fawcett. You took my favorite singer, Michael Jackson. I just wanted to let you know, my favorite President is Barack Obama. Amen."

If you are a follower of Jesus Christ, please consider these words:

"First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth" (1 Timothy 2:1-4).

Please do not pray for President Obama's death (even as a joke). God wants us to pray for him "to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth." He is a real person with real needs. If you are a Christian, please treat him with respect and concern. That's what God wants from us.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Forgiveness is Hard

This is my planned communion meditation for this Sunday.

God is a forgiving God. Early in the Hebrew Scriptures we learn, "The LORD is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, forgiving iniquity and transgression" (Numbers 14:18). It's a part of his nature to forgive. It's a part of who he is.

However, forgiveness is not easy for God. He has gone through a great deal of pain in order to forgive our sins.

This is the way Luke described Jesus' emotional state as he prepared to go to the cross in order to secure our forgiveness: "(Jesus) withdrew from (the disciples) about a stone's throw, and knelt down and prayed, saying, 'Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.' And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground" (Luke 22:41-44).

Christ was in agony even before he was tortured, beaten, mocked, and crucified. He loved us and was extending grace to us when he died in our place, but he did not find it easy to provide us with forgiveness and grace. It cost his life.

As we remember Christ's death and resurrection during the communion today, let's remember that God forgave us at a high price.

Monday, April 19, 2010

God in the Neighborhood

This is an excerpt from Ron Babbit's letter to supporters of his ministry. Ron is the senior minister of the Contact Church.

"Phil-a-mino was hanging out at the playground area in her apartment complex as she watched her son, Curly John, play. Another couple was there, Donnie and Amanda, with their two children. Phil-a-mino, or as Big O calls her, Philly, struggles. But she has found a church family because Big O paid attention and started reading the WORD with her. Read on to see how GOD has been working in hearts.

"When Philly met Donnie and Amanda on the playground, she immediately told them about a church that she was attending. She told them that they would be welcome and could come and go with her. They showed up during our mid-week, Tuesday Nite Live service, where we pray, read and sing. This is a powerful time of growth in our walk with HIM. Donnie and Amanda immediately started asking questions and said that they needed some furniture. Donnie asked, 'Do you know anything about the mattress and box springs that are standing in the hallway?' I asked him if he needed them. He said, 'We have a mattress, but it is covered with mold.' I said, 'Do you guys think you can handle a very nice bed, with head-board and rails?' He said with a big smile, 'I think we are up to the challenge!' Stan the Man was standing there so I asked him what his plans were for the rest of the evening. Stan the Man said, 'Let's go.' I love that spirit. I pulled my truck around to the east side of the building to load the bed. While holding the door (that's my new job) Tree walked up and handed me $50. He said, 'Ron, if you have the time to help them get the rest of their furniture out of storage, this will take care of the storage cost.' I told Tree thanks and thanked him for paying attention to the needs of others and doing something about it. We got the bed loaded and made the haul upstairs. When we got into the bedroom, you could smell the mold and mildew! We picked up the nasty mattress and hauled it to the dumpster. The next day it was gone, because another family needed it.

"We began looking for a couch because Donnie and Amanda had pulled one from a dumpster to have something to sit on. A couple days later Stan the Man picked up Donnie and told him that if he was willing to help haul three couches that he could have one of them. Donnie said, 'Sure!' Donnie and Amanda now have a beautiful couch in their pad, thanks to another brother being willing to help with this need.

"The great joys and blessings of the 'furniture moving ministry' are being able to share the WORD OF GOD and ask the life and death questions: 'Amanda, if you were to die tonight, where would you spend eternity?' 'Donnie, if you were to die today, where would you spend eternity?' They both said hell. We shared what the LORD has done for all mankind. They now have an opportunity to make a commitment to our SAVIOR. The GOOD NEWS!

"Donnie and Amanda were baptized into CHRIST.

"Following one of our fellowship meals, Blondie noticed that when Donnie and Amanda finished eating, they immediately began cleaning the tables, looking for the vacuum cleaner and picking up...

"Recently Tree called to say his buddy, Dilly, needed to hire a hoss to work with him in his tree trimming business. I got his number and shared it with Donnie who had mentioned his willingness to work. Dilly put him to work and the next day called me to say that Donnie is a keeper. He is now on the payroll.

"What a blessing; now Donnie and Amanda can provide for themselves. What a joy it is to watch the family of GOD serve together, and help others learn about the blood of the LAMB and HIS forgiveness.

"Amanda and Donnie have already been inviting their neighbors to Contact. Donnie is gathering several young men who would like to have a bike and are willing to work for it. Many have given us bikes; now we have someone who is willing to develop a plan for some clowns and darlins to work for a bike...

"Souls are being added to the Kingdom because of the CROSS, and because someone on the playground was willing to tell someone else about a church called Contact. As TJ says, 'Everyone needs a contact with the LORD.' Amen church!"

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Courage of the Christ

This is my planned communion meditation for this Sunday:

A few years ago, a friend came to me with a problem.

She had recently become a Christian. She wanted to live in a manner that honored her Savior, but her live-in boyfriend was not interested in her new found faith. Every time she would ask him if he ever thought about marrying her, he would get angry.

She asked me, "Why do you think he won't marry me?"

Assuming that we were brainstorming, I answered, "Maybe he doesn't love you."

Unfortunately, as I later learned, my answer didn't go over too well. My friend did not care much for my blunt response.

However, she went home and told her boyfriend about our conversation. Over the next weekend, they were married. (Today, I always tease her by taking credit for their marriage.)

I thought about my blunt answer to my friend this week as I read Luke 11.

In that chapter, Jesus was eating dinner with a few Pharisees and lawyers. When the host became astonished that Jesus did not go through the traditional ceremonial washing before eating, Jesus started going through a list of sins committed by the Pharisees.

In verse 45, Jesus is interrupted. "One of the lawyers answered him, 'Teacher, in saying these things you insult us also.'"

Then comes my favorite part of the story, the part that shows the courage of the Christ: "And he said, 'Woe to you lawyers also!'" (11:46) Rather than weakly apologize for telling the truth, Jesus turns his attention to listing the sins of the experts in the law. He would never be intimidated into silence simply because his message was unpopular at the moment.

Now I'm not saying that I was acting like Jesus when I was blunt with my friend. In fact, I did not know that I was offending her. I thought we were simply brainstorming...coming up with possible reasons for her boyfriend's lack of action. If I had known what I was doing, I probably would have apologized for offending her.

But Jesus was different. He knew that he was offending the Pharisees and lawyers, but he also knew that they needed to be offended. No one ever told them about their sins, because they were too intimidating. Who would be able to accuse the most upright and educated men in their community? Christ knew that they were blind to their sins and were incapable of repenting because of their spiritual blindness. He cared too much to be silent.

It was that kind of courage that we see in Jesus as he faced the cross. He knew our condition, even though we were blind to it. He knew that we stood condemned and hopeless. And he cared too much to let us face eternity without the hope of forgiveness and reconciliation with God. In going to the cross, he showed the courage to do the right thing despite the discomfort and pain. In doing so, he saved us.

Monday, April 12, 2010

A Great Temptation for Christians

"I have a non-Christian friend who says he can spot Christians in Hollywood parties: 'They worship at the altar of other people's approval'" (Paul Coughlin, No More Christian Nice Guy, page 45).

Thursday, April 08, 2010


This is my planned communion meditation for this Sunday:

You may have heard it on an afternoon talk show, read it in a popular Christian novel, or even been taught it by a well-meaning Bible teacher. It goes something like this: God is not a God of anger. He is not mad at you. He has never been mad at you. It's just not who he is.

But somehow, you have never really bought into it. You have considered your sins, and you have realized that you have done some ugly things with some horribly bad motives. You know that you have been unbelievably selfish and arrogant.

You have also read enough of the Bible to know that God hates sin. He has more than sufficient reasons to be mad at a sinner like you. You believe that he would be completely just if he were to strike you down and condemn you forever.

The truth is your gut instincts are right. But there is more to the story and more about the character of God that needs to be remembered as we think about the crucifixion of Christ.

In Romans 1:18, we read, "For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth." For the rest of the chapter, the apostle Paul details our unrighteousness: idolatry, homosexual activity, envy, murder, strife, deceit, gossip, slander, disobedience to parents, and several other actions and attitudes.

Then, in chapter two, he attacks those of us who believe we may have escaped the first chapter's list of sins. He tells us that judgmentalism and hypocrisy are just as bad. God is not pleased.

Finally, in chapter three of Romans, Paul hits us with these words, "(A)s it is written, 'None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one...for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:10-12, 23).

But then, a dramatic turn occurs in the next verse. We learn that we Christians "are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith" (Romans 3:24-25).

Christ became a propitiation. That's not a word we use much these days, but it's an important word. A propitiation is a sacrifice designed to take away the wrath of God. In Christ's sacrifice, he took away the wrath of God. He became our Savior.

It's true that our sins have caused our God to become angry at us. But even in his anger, he has loved us and provided us with Jesus as a sacrifice to take away both our sins and his wrath.

As Romans 5:1-2 says, "Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God."

That's something worth remembering as we take the Lord's Supper today.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

A Good Way to Relate to People Who Don't Share Your Christian Convictions

In addition to co-hosting the FamilyLife Today radio program, Bob Lepine serves as a pastor of Redeemer Community Church in Little Rock, Arkansas. Each week, he writes something for the church's blog ( This is a portion from his excellent post on March 31, 2010:

"After I had finished speaking last week at the TrueWoman10 conference in Chattanooga, I had a wife come up to me seeking counsel. It was obvious that God had been stirring in her own heart at this event. But as she contemplated going home, she was discouraged.

"Her husband, she said, professes faith in Christ, but his life doesn't match his profession. She finds herself conflicted between wanting to live a life that is wholly consecrated to Christ and a desire to live in oneness with her husband. What should she do?

"I gave her some general counsel about not compromising her faith, while seeking to win her husband without a word. Mary Ann and I prayed for her, and we were done.

"Later, I thought about what I wished I had told her.

"I wish I had told her that her holiness matters to God and she should seek to live a life that is righteous, morally upright and blameless. At the same time she should be careful not to parade her holiness before her husband. God cares about her obedience to Him. But her desire for holiness isn't what will make her walk with Christ attractive to her husband.

"Instead, it is as her life manifests the fruit of the Spirit--love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control--that her husband will see in her qualities that he desires to be true in his own life.

"God does indeed care about her moral convictions and standards, but her husband won't. He will not be impressed by the things she says 'no' to.

"But as she kindly, compassionately, humbly loves and serves him, looking for ways to bless him and support him and encourage him, he'll find himself being drawn to the Christ he sees in her.

"I believe that principle is true in all of our relationships with people who don't share our spiritual convictions. They won't be drawn to Christ primarily because our arguments for the Christian life make sense to them. And they won't be drawn to Christ because we live lives with a commitment to a higher moral standard than they do.

"Ultimately, the only thing that will draw them to Christ is the Spirit of God working through the word of God. Faith comes by hearing a message about Christ.

"But when we live lives marked by self-sacrifice and love for others, we show the power of Christ at work in our own lives. And that can help soften the soil of a human heart to make it more ready to receive the seed of God's word when it comes.

"Would the people who know you best--a spouse, your children, family members, co-workers--would they say that you are a person who radiates love? Joy? Peace? Patience? And all the rest?

"The same power that raised Christ from the dead is at work in you. It is His power at work in you that makes it possible for you to live the kind of life that puts His glory and grace on display."

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Why I Switched

A few months ago, I realized that my New International Version of the Bible was nearing the end of its life cycle. It was wearing out. Pages were close to falling out.

Since the publisher of the NIV planned to replace it with an updated translation in 2011, I decided against purchasing another NIV. I didn't want a Bible that would be out of print within the next year. However, I also did not want to wait to see whether I would like the updated NIV.

In addition, I had been thinking about switching to a version that would translate the original languages in a more word-for-word manner rather than in a thought-for-thought style. I considered the New King James Version, the New American Standard Bible, and the English Standard Version.

Eventually, I chose the ESV. I liked the philosophy of the translators (from the preface of the English Standard Version):

"The ESV is an 'essentially literal' translation that seeks as far as possible to capture the precise wording of the original text and the personal style of each Bible writer. As such, its emphasis is on 'word-for-word' correspondence, at the same time taking into account differences of grammar, syntax, and idiom between current literary English and the original languages. Thus it seeks to be transparent to the original text, letting the reader see as directly as possible the structure and meaning of the original...

"Every translation is at many points a trade-off between literal precision and readability...and the ESV is no exception. Within this framework we have sought to be 'as literal as possible' while maintaining clarity of expression and literary excellence...As an essentially literal translation, then, the ESV seeks to carry over every possible nuance of meaning in the original words of Scripture into our language."

Therefore, the English Standard Version became my new primary Bible. However, I still enjoy reading other translations.