Friday, October 31, 2008

Questions for an Interview with three Pastors

I am interviewing the pastors of my church Tuesday afternoon. Here are some of the possible questions I'll be asking them:

What do you think the Church's response should be to environmental problems?

Is overconsumption a "real" problem in the spiritual life of a Christian? If so, how can we deal with it in the Church?

Why do some Christians not use their gifts to serve inside or outside the Church?

How do we set Christians free in the church and the world to do what God has called them to do? Or how do we help them understand that they are set free to minister in the world?

What does it mean to keep the Sabbath? (in other words, what can we do and what should we avoid? Does keeping the Sabbath mean that we spend all day either in church/worship, or can we do anything that help us relax and rest?)

What happens during a spiritually fallow time (vs. a spiritually productive time)? Would this fallow time be comparable to a Sabbath, or is it something different?

How do we maintain a balance between giving and accumulating (things/money)? What level of giving or sacrifice is a burden to people?

Do you think we must live in affluence to evangelize the wealthy?

Is it necessary to spend millions of dollars on church buildings when there are so many people in the world who have virtually nothing? Instead of building buildings, could the church use tithes and gifts to take care of more poor people, much like the ancient Israelites and the first Christians did?

Sometime next week, I'll probably post their responses. It should be interesting - I've known two of these pastors since I was seventeen, and one of those two I met at summer camp. So I'm pretty excited to talk to them.

Purpose Driven Life, Day 1

Day One – Thinking about my purpose

Point to ponder: It’s not about me.

Verse to remember: “Everything got started in him and finds its purpose in him.” Colossians 1:16b

Question to Consider: In spite of all the advertising around me, how can I remind myself that life is really about living for God, not myself?

I’ve lived in big cities, and I’ve traveled in big cities. There are billboards and businesses everywhere. And in the middle of all this wealth, there is a lot of poverty. In Chicago, just down the street from Saks Fifth Avenue, there are homeless people who beg for help and money.

I remind myself that life is living for God by thinking of the homeless people that are everywhere, by thinking of the people in Haiti whose lives and homes were destroyed this summer, accumulating poverty on poverty. By thinking of the children in Africa and Asia who are dying from easily treated illnesses and hunger. By thinking of the way we are destroying the earth for the sake of being independent.

Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger, Part 5

Luke 4:14-21

14Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. 15He taught in their synagogues, and everyone praised him.

16He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read. 17The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:
18"The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to release the oppressed,
19to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."[e]

20Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, 21and he began by saying to them, "Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing."

It’s always been clear that there is a lot of injustice in this world. What has not always been so clear is how we might fix it.

Rich Christians has made me think more about the injustice that happens in the world. I am more aware of my choices and how some of them – especially my choices as a consumer – contribute to the amount of injustice present.

Do you know where your clothes come from? Have you ever paid attention to that detail? I think I’ve always looked, but it’s never really made a difference in my life until now. Clothing is a good example of a place where numerous injustices happens. Sweatshops employ people and pay only a few dollars a day. The workers labor long hours. Some sweatshops force their employees to live there. They get few work breaks. We pay a lot of money for clothing in this country, but very little of the profits are going to workers who make our clothes.

The garment industry isn’t the only place where people are treated unfairly, but when we spend money, we often support many cases of injustice and abuse. As followers of Christ, we are called to do justice and love mercy. Sider says, “God wills justice for the poor, not occasional charity. And justice means things like the Jubilee and the Sabbatical remission of debts. It means economic structures that guarantee all people access to the productive resources needed to earn a decent living” (Sider 100).

This “occasional charity” thing has really made an impact on me. Is what I’m doing right now just occasional charity? How do I, how do we as a nation, contribute to true justice – or not?

It seems like such a big thing, the task of righting social structures. It’s bigger than you and me combined; in fact, it’s bigger than a lot of groups and nations, but it’s something we should aspire to.

The Founding Fathers of America, in deciding how the States would be represented in the House of Representatives, said in our Constitution, “Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons.” Africans and African Americans were only counted as three-fifths of a person in 1791, and they weren’t counted as free people. Slavery was an institution that became part of our nation before we were even a nation. Yet there were men who wanted to see slavery abolished at that early time in America’s history:

“In 1830, John Quincy Adams was elected to Congress as the representative of the 12th District in Massachusetts. He was outspoken about nationalism and abolition of slavery. He attempted to introduce amendments to the Constitution in 1839 which would prevent any person born in the U.S. from being born a slave. He additionally became involved as a proponent for the Amistad Africans in writings of late 1839 forward. He eventually joined the team defending the Africans and helped win their freedom in arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court.” (

On September 22, 1862, President Lincoln, who was in favor of abolishing slavery in the United States, issued the Emancipation Proclamation:

"That on the first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, all persons held as slaves within any State, or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free; and the Executive Government of the United States, including the military and naval authority thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of such persons, and will do no act or acts to repress such persons, or any of them, in any efforts they may make for their actual freedom.

And upon this act, sincerely believed to be an act of justice, warranted by the Constitution, upon military necessity, I invoke the considerate judgment of mankind and the gracious favor of Almighty God.”

On December 6, 1865, the Thirteenth Amendment was ratified and legally abolished the practice of slavery in the US:

1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

2. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

On February 3, 1870, the Fifteenth Amendment was ratified and gave all men the right to vote:

1. The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.

2. The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

Though our country gave African Americans freedom and the right to vote, racism still existed in this country. We coined the phrase “Separate, but equal” and had to use military force to allow desegregation. But on August 28, 1963, Martin Luther King, Junior, spoke these words at the Lincoln Memorial:

But one hundred years later [after the Emancipation Proclamation], the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. So we have come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.

In a sense we have come to our nation's capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked "insufficient funds." But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we have come to cash this check — a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice. We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quick sands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God's children.

King’s words prompted the Civil Rights Act in 1964. And still this country struggled with racism. Since then, the struggle against racism hasn’t gotten better; we have legally freed people who were in bondage, but we still keep many of them in chains because of our social policies.

Here is the point to this history lesson though (and thanks for indulging me): It’s a process. God asks us to contribute to the process of justice. We may never see the end results, but we are expected to make the changes we can. In 1830, John Quincy Adams supported abolition, and probably dreamed of the day when all people in America would be free. And though he worked to see it happen, he died before it did. In 1862, Abraham Lincoln freed those in bondage, but I doubt he thought that they’d be equal because of it. Martin Luther King, Junior died before he saw some of the extraordinary changes we’ve made here.

In Luke 4:14-21, Jesus announced that He was the fulfillment of prophecy and the One to set the captives free. While He only quoted part of Isaiah 61, I would argue that he fulfilled all of the words of the ancient prophet, who wrote:

Isaiah 61
The Year of the LORD's Favor
1 The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me,
because the LORD has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,

2 to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,

3 and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the LORD
for the display of his splendor.

4 They will rebuild the ancient ruins
and restore the places long devastated;
they will renew the ruined cities
that have been devastated for generations.

5 Aliens will shepherd your flocks;
foreigners will work your fields and vineyards.

6 And you will be called priests of the LORD,
you will be named ministers of our God.
You will feed on the wealth of nations,
and in their riches you will boast.

7 Instead of their shame
my people will receive a double portion,
and instead of disgrace
they will rejoice in their inheritance;
and so they will inherit a double portion in their land,
and everlasting joy will be theirs.

8 "For I, the LORD, love justice;
I hate robbery and iniquity.
In my faithfulness I will reward them
and make an everlasting covenant with them.

9 Their descendants will be known among the nations
and their offspring among the peoples.
All who see them will acknowledge
that they are a people the LORD has blessed."

10 I delight greatly in the LORD;
my soul rejoices in my God.
For he has clothed me with garments of salvation
and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness,
as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest,
and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.

11 For as the soil makes the sprout come up
and a garden causes seeds to grow,
so the Sovereign LORD will make righteousness and praise
spring up before all nations.

The last verse says that the Lord will make righteousness and praise spring up like the soil makes a sprout come up and the garden causes the seed to grow. Seeds don't grow overnight, and righteousness is a process. Out of the process, we must begin the process of justice for all of God's children, not matter the color or culture - and even at the expense of our own comfort.

Thought for the Day

Jeff subscribes to an email list called "Mikey's Funnies/Thot for the day". I though today's "funny," while not so funny, would be a good addition to this blog. Enjoy!


An investment banker was at the pier of a small coastal village when a small boat with just one fisherman docked. Inside the small boat were several large yellow fin tuna. The banker complimented the fisherman on the quality of his fish and asked how long it took to catch them.

The fisherman replied, "Only a little while."

The banker then asked why didn't he stay out longer and catch more fish?

The fisherman said he had enough to support his family's immediate needs.

The banker then asked, "But what do you do with the rest of your time?"

The fisherman said, "I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take a nap with my wife, stroll into the village each evening where I play guitar and sing with my friends. I have a full and busy life."

The banker scoffed, "I am a Harvard MBA and I could help you. You should spend more time fishing and with the proceeds, buy a bigger boat. With the proceeds from the bigger boat, you could buy several boats, eventually you would have a fleet of fishing boats. Instead of selling your catch to a middleman, you would sell directly to the processor, eventually opening your own cannery. You would control the product, processing and distribution. You would need to leave this small coastal fishing village and move to a big city where you will run your expanding enterprise."

The fisherman asked, "But, how long will this all take?"

To which the banker replied, "15-20 years."

"But what then?"

The banker laughed and said that's the best part. "When the time is right, you would announce an IPO and sell your company stock to the public and become very rich. You would make millions."

"Millions...Then what?"

The banker said, "Then you would retire. Move to a small coastal fishing village where you would sleep late, fish a little, play with your kids, take a nap with your wife, stroll to the village in the evenings where you could play your guitar and sing with your friends."


If you are not content with what you have, you'll never be content with what you want.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Purpose Driven Life

I read this book for the first time when I was 28. I mention this because reading this is an important part of what got me to this moment in time.

When I was 28, I was working as a bank teller. From past posts, you know it wasn’t my favorite job in the world. I am fortunate enough that I’ve known from a youngish age what I’m supposed to be doing with my life, and being a bank teller isn’t it.

Even though I thought I knew what God was calling me to do with my life and what my purpose is, I was sort of stuck in how to get there. I was in a dead end job, didn’t have a bachelor’s degree, and didn’t have any plans to go back to school anytime soon. But I was really feeling the void in my life of not being in ministry somewhere, and I hoped that reading this book would give me some insight and kick-start some motivation, if I had any left.

The author, Rick Warren, recommends that the reader do this book as a study; instead of reading it from end to end, take it one chapter a day, reading slowly and thinking about what’s just been read. So I did that. I read one chapter a day for forty days, and at the end of that time, I was excited to start the journey back to ministry.

Since I’m probably going to be working with the poor and homeless most of the rest of my life, I decided that I would volunteer at our local Salvation Army shelter. I met with the person in charge one afternoon after work, got a tour of the building, and filled out all the paperwork that night. The sooner I got it in, the sooner I could start volunteering. The next morning, I woke up excited and with a plan to move forward.

Have you ever heard God speak, and you just knew it was God? I have. Most of the things I hear aren’t really words but impressions. But there have been 2 or 3 times when I’ve heard God say something quite clearly, and this next day was probably the first time I remember hearing it so clearly. It was a quiet day at work, and I was reading a book between customers, but thinking about the next step in my “Stephanie saves the world” plan (hahahaha). Out of nowhere, I hear, “It’s time to go back to school.” I’ll be honest; if it had just been that, I probably would have laughed it off and not paid attention, but the words were accompanied by an intense desire to get back into school. Remember, I started that day uninterested in going back to college, so this was a complete 180.

I never did follow up at the Salvation Army. But I looked at going back to school and finishing my education as the more important way for me to get back into ministry, and in the years since then, I have felt a very deep peace as confirmation of that choice. Right now, furthering my education is going to help me get back into ministry.

So that’s part of how I got to where I am right now. And starting today, I’m going to revisit this book – not because I need another kick-start, but because I need to read it as someone studying stewardship. This book covers (if I remember correctly) everything I’m studying this semester.

We all live out stewardship in different ways. As Christians, we have some of the same mandates, but the way we go about it can be quite different depending on the person. God tells each of us to spread the Gospel, but not everyone can be a Billy Graham. Some people, like my friend Erin, share Christ with people on airplanes bound for Ukraine. Some people, like my friend Holly, share the Gospel with people trying to stay sober by helping them work through the twelve steps. How each of us goes about doing the work God has prepared us to do is up to God. The Purpose Driven Life isn’t a book that gives you the steps to take to get to the goal. It’s a book that helps you discover what you need to do to discern and live out your purpose. There are no right or wrong answers and no definitive steps, except to love God and love your neighbor.

Over the next forty days, I’ll be sharing this journey with you as well. Think of it as a journey within a journey, because I’ll still be posting about the other books I’m reading too. I haven’t said nearly enough about Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger, so I’ll be posting about that again in the next few days. I’m not going to promise to post every single question that Warren poses, because some of them are pretty personal. But I promise to post at least every few days so you can get an idea of who I am and what my purpose is, beyond what I’ve posted about the books I’m reading.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger, Part 4

People are funny when it comes to money.

I learned this when I started working as a bank teller. Banks are regulated by federal laws, and the people who enforce these regulations in your local bank branch are usually your friendly neighborhood tellers. Most people are ok with the regulations, but about once a day, there was usually one person who didn’t want to show his ID, or expected us to cash a check after she’d forged her husband’s signature in the endorsement (in front of the teller, I might add), or wanted us to not file a CTR.

People want their money and they want it now. Customers expected us to cash checks against accounts that had no money in them or give them money that was still unavailable to them. The unspoken saying among the bank tellers I worked with was “It’s not your money until I give it to you.” Banks might hold customer accounts, but if you look at the fine print when you open that account, you’ll probably read something like this: money in those accounts belongs to the bank until such a time as the customer makes a withdrawal that follows all the rules. In other words, money in your bank account isn’t yours until it’s in your hot little hands.

When it comes to money, we’re funny. We think we possess it, but more often than not, it possesses us. The power of money is really only the power of potential, because money, in itself, can’t do anything. It won’t feed your kids. It won’t get you to work. It won’t clean your dishes. But with money you can buy groceries, a car (or a bus pass), and a dishwasher (or a maid). Money can’t buy happiness, but it has the potential to buy things that will make your life easier and maybe give you a facsimile of happiness. And that is where it possesses us, in its potential to give us more and better happiness.

Why do we get so weird about money? It’s only bits of paper or metal that have been marked as currency. And the whole world is weird about money, lest you think it’s just certain individuals. Think about it this way: Anything that money can buy can usually be made at home with the right tools and resources. You could build your own dishwasher or make your own clothes. You can’t make your own money at home. Let me rephrase that – you can make money at home, with the right tools and ink. Making your own clothes or building a dishwasher won’t get you anything but new clothes or a dishwasher if someone finds out. Making your own money at home is a federal offense that will earn you jail time if someone finds out. I’ve dealt with counterfeit money before, and it gets sent straight to the FBI. All of this fuss happens over something that only has potential

But here’s the thing: even though we are in possession of wads of cash, we don’t own it. It’s not ours. Sider says, “God, the landowner, permits his people to sojourn in his good earth, cultivate it, eat its produce, and enjoy it beauty. But we are only stewards. Stewardship is one of the central theological categories of any biblical understanding of our relationship to the land and economic resources” (Sider 68).

In ancient times, land was capital. But among the ancient Israelites, there was an understanding that only God was the landowner. They could use the land (within reason), but they would never own it.

Here in America, we still value land and trying to own it, but we have traded land as the main currency for money. And God owns all of that, too.

Christians who are normally pretty sane about financial matters can get kind of funny about money in the church. One of the reasons I wanted to do this independent study is because of my experience of what “stewardship” means in the church. Generally, when the topic of stewardship comes up, most churchgoers think of money. I can’t blame them, to be honest. The only time I’ve heard of stewardship in most church settings has been at the beginning of a stewardship campaign – also known as the church’s yearly drive to beg for money from the congregation. Churchgoers have been trained to think of stewardship in financial terms. And so we get a little funny when money is mentioned inside church walls. Those of you who tithe and give offerings get offended because you are being hit up for yet more money, and might be made to feel guilty if you choose not to give more. Those of you who don’t give enough get mad because you’re tired of being hit up for money all the time.

Financial stewardship in the church is pretty simple. In the Old Testament, God commanded the Israelites to tithe:

Leviticus 27:30-32

30 " 'A tithe of everything from the land, whether grain from the soil or fruit from the trees, belongs to the LORD; it is holy to the LORD. 31 If a man redeems any of his tithe, he must add a fifth of the value to it. 32 The entire tithe of the herd and flock—every tenth animal that passes under the shepherd's rod—will be holy to the LORD.

Malachi 3:10-12

10 Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this," says the LORD Almighty, "and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it. 11 I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not cast their fruit," says the LORD Almighty. 12 "Then all the nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land," says the LORD Almighty.

As has been mentioned in previous posts, the tithe was used to take care of the poor and the Levites:

“Yahweh is the Lord of all, even economics. There is no hint here of a sacred law of supply and demand that operates independently of biblical ethics and the Lordship of Yahweh. The people of God should submit to God, and God demands economic justice among his people” (Sider 68).

Deuteronomy 14:28-29

28 At the end of every three years, bring all the tithes of that year's produce and store it in your towns, 29 so that the Levites (who have no allotment or inheritance of their own) and the aliens, the fatherless and the widows who live in your towns may come and eat and be satisfied, and so that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands.

Deuteronomy 26:12-15

12 When you have finished setting aside a tenth of all your produce in the third year, the year of the tithe, you shall give it to the Levite, the alien, the fatherless and the widow, so that they may eat in your towns and be satisfied. 13 Then say to the LORD your God: "I have removed from my house the sacred portion and have given it to the Levite, the alien, the fatherless and the widow, according to all you commanded. I have not turned aside from your commands nor have I forgotten any of them. 14 I have not eaten any of the sacred portion while I was in mourning, nor have I removed any of it while I was unclean, nor have I offered any of it to the dead. I have obeyed the LORD my God; I have done everything you commanded me. 15 Look down from heaven, your holy dwelling place, and bless your people Israel and the land you have given us as you promised on oath to our forefathers, a land flowing with milk and honey."

Those of us who follow Christ don’t necessarily have to tithe – but we do have to give, and we have to do it generously and with a grateful heart. Sider says, “The early church continued the pattern of economic sharing practiced by Jesus… Whenever anyone was in need, they shared. Giving surplus to needy brothers and sisters was not enough” (77). Consider this: When asked by spies if they should pay taxes to Caesar, “He [Jesus] said to them, "Then give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's."

When we get funny with money in the church, we are forgetting to give unto God what is God’s - and it’s all God’s.

Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger, Part 3

10 "For six years you are to sow your fields and harvest the crops, 11 but during the seventh year let the land lie unplowed and unused. Then the poor among your people may get food from it, and the wild animals may eat what they leave. Do the same with your vineyard and your olive grove.

12 "Six days do your work, but on the seventh day do not work, so that your ox and your donkey may rest and the slave born in your household, and the alien as well, may be refreshed.
Exodus 23:10-12

1 The LORD said to Moses on Mount Sinai, 2 "Speak to the Israelites and say to them: 'When you enter the land I am going to give you, the land itself must observe a sabbath to the LORD. 3 For six years sow your fields, and for six years prune your vineyards and gather their crops. 4 But in the seventh year the land is to have a sabbath of rest, a sabbath to the LORD. Do not sow your fields or prune your vineyards. 5 Do not reap what grows of itself or harvest the grapes of your untended vines. The land is to have a year of rest. 6 Whatever the land yields during the sabbath year will be food for you—for yourself, your manservant and maidservant, and the hired worker and temporary resident who live among you, 7 as well as for your livestock and the wild animals in your land. Whatever the land produces may be eaten.
Leviticus 25:1-7

There are so many dimensions to the above Scriptures that I’m not sure where to start. So I'll just start where my brain lands.

The first aspect of this is being a good steward of our time. Exodus 7:12 mentions the Sabbath day, the day of rest. We all need a day of rest, even the type A’s among us. I’m not really a type A, but I don’t relax or rest very well. God expects us to work, that much is clear, but he also expects us to set aside a whole day to rest and relax. He also expects us to allow the other people in our households to rest. He ALSO expects us to allow any animals we keep to rest. And finally, God expects that we will allow others to rest, even those who are foreigners to our land. Good, creative, productive work doesn’t come out of working ourselves without a break, and we aren’t built to go, go, go without a stop, stop, STOP! I’ll talk more about limits at a later time, but let me just say that if this wasn’t so important to God, it wouldn’t be Commandment Number 4.

Examine Exodus 23:10-11 and Leviticus 25:1-7. These two passages are both talking about the Sabbath year, yet they have very different messages.

Exodus 23:10-11 speaks about helping the poor. Of course, the Israelites were to help the poor anyway, but this Sabbath year they were to go so far as to let the land rest, and whatever the land produced on its own was to be left for the poor and the wild animals. If I’m not working the land, and you’re not working the land, and no one else is working the land, then no one can claim as their’s what the land produced on its own. What belongs to no one can be used by everyone. Economists call this concept the commons, but here, it goes beyond economics in that it allows a whole community to take care of its poor.

Leviticus 25:1-7 looks at the Sabbath year from an environmental point of view. Every seventh day, God tells us that we need to rest so that we can rest from the week behind us and gain strength for the week ahead. The same is true for letting the ground be fallow. When we use land continuously, nutrients in the soil are used up to grow crops. If we use the land too many years in a row, all the nutrients will be leached from the soil and the land won’t be able to produce anything. Letting the land lie fallow for a season allows the nutrients to build back up so that crops will succeed. Don’t believe that this is an environmental mandate? Ask an organic farmer how s/he grows crops. Crop rotation – letting land rest for a season – is a big part of organic farming. In this passage, the land isn’t exactly lying completely fallow, but the farmer wasn’t to do anything to work the land – no sowing, no pruning. Just as the body doesn’t rest itself when you’re resting (you’d be dead if it were), the land doesn’t really rest when we’re not working it. The land, like our bodies, is using its energy to heal and restore what has been lost, without having to expend that energy on something else, like actively growing crops.

Sider says, “God’s law also provides for liberation of soil, slaves, and debtors every seven years. Again, the concern is justice for the poor and disadvantaged as well as the well-being of the land” (70). What would happen if we truly practiced Sabbath today? Not just a day of rest, but a year of rest, of healing for the land, and allowing the poor to benefit from it?

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger, Part 2

“Give us this day our daily bread.”
Luke 11:3

Have you ever given thought to what you need to live?

Three years ago during a summer semester, I took a class about hidden messages in advertising. The point of the class wasn’t just that we are bombarded with advertising every single day, but that every ad was trying to make you see a need for something you didn’t already have. One of our major projects was to analyze a 30 second commercial and point out all the messages the viewer would see, frame by frame.

We have a lot of wants in this world. If you lived in a family like mine, you tried to really distinguish needs from simple wants, and maybe you still try to do that. The line between needs and wants is sometimes blurred, though. I heard a conversation in an elevator recently where one young woman was telling her friend that she needed a black coat. Ok, I get that. Then I heard her friend say, “But you just told me you have a brown coat and a grey coat. Why do you need a black coat too?”

The young woman, who was wearing black dress pants, said, “Because I need something to go with all my black pants. I can’t wear brown or grey with them.”

We have a need for warm clothes, yes. But does anyone needs three coats? Really?

In this advertising class, we learned about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and how advertisers use this Hierarchy to get us to buy things.

Physiological Needs
These are biological needs. They consist of needs for oxygen, food, water, and a relatively constant body temperature. They are the strongest needs because if a person were deprived of all needs, the physiological ones would come first in the person's search for satisfaction.

Safety Needs
When all physiological needs are satisfied and are no longer controlling thoughts and behaviors, the needs for security can become active. Adults have little awareness of their security needs except in times of emergency or periods of disorganization in the social structure (such as widespread rioting). Children often display the signs of insecurity and the need to be safe.

Needs of Love, Affection and Belongingness
When the needs for safety and for physiological well-being are satisfied, the next class of needs for love, affection and belongingness can emerge. Maslow states that people seek to overcome feelings of loneliness and alienation. This involves both giving and receiving love, affection and the sense of belonging.

Needs for Esteem
When the first three classes of needs are satisfied, the needs for esteem can become dominant. These involve needs for both self-esteem and for the esteem a person gets from others. Humans have a need for a stable, firmly based, high level of self-respect, and respect from others. When these needs are satisfied, the person feels self-confident and valuable as a person in the world. When these needs are frustrated, the person feels inferior, weak, helpless and worthless.

Needs for Self-Actualization
When all of the foregoing needs are satisfied, then and only then are the needs for self-actualization activated. Maslow describes self-actualization as a person's need to be and do that which the person was "born to do." "A musician must make music, an artist must paint, and a poet must write." These needs make themselves felt in signs of restlessness. The person feels on edge, tense, lacking something, in short, restless. If a person is hungry, unsafe, not loved or accepted, or lacking self-esteem, it is very easy to know what the person is restless about. It is not always clear what a person wants when there is a need for self-actualization.
(from Psychology - The Search for Understanding by Janet A. Simons, Donald B. Irwin and Beverly A. Drinnien, West Publishing Company, New York, 1987)

We have these really basic needs for air, food, and water. Without one of these things, we die. After we have all these needs met, we are free to look for the “higher” needs of shelter and safety. Without shelter and safety, we may or may not live, but our chances of life are better if we have them. After that are the other higher needs, those of love and affection, esteem, and self-actualization. You aren’t going to keel over from a lack of self-esteem or self-actualization, but to have the basics in these departments certainly makes life better. The need for love is a tricky one. As an adult, it’s great to have someone to love and to be loved in return, but a lack of love won’t cause an adult’s death. Children are another story; they seem to have a need for love and affection to flourish and thrive.

Think about the commercials you’ve seen just in the past day. Lipstick? ‘That’s just to help me look pretty,’ you think. But why? Why do you want to look pretty? Do you want to feel better about yourself, or attract a mate (esteem or love)? How about those commercials for cruise ships? Well, they might be trying to sell you love (you could find a mate on a ship), esteem (people might be impressed when you tell them you’re going on a cruise), or self-actualization (hey, you were BORN to sail the high seas!).

Advertisers are trying to get us to meet our wants, but Jesus calls us to live differently. In the Lord’s Prayer, He tells the disciples to ask God for their daily bread. And now we’re back to the first question I asked: Have you ever given thought to what you need to live?

Obviously, we need air, food, and water to physically survive, and a safe place to live to protect us from the elements and those who might do us harm. But even within our needs are a range of things we need vs. those we just want. Let’s start with food, shall we? The three basic building blocks of nutrition are carbohydrates, proteins, and fats (any chemistry book will tell you this). You need protein, but does that mean you need to eat pheasant and steak every night when chicken and hamburger will do? If you want to go to an even more basic level, do you need animal proteins when vegetable proteins will do just as well?

So here’s part of my point: sometimes we confuse our standard of living for our basic needs, but only when it comes to ourselves. We have a much easier time telling others what their basic needs are.

Sider has a different view of a person’s basic needs. In Rich Christians, he talks about the life of the ancient Israelites and how they lived. They weren’t poor farmers struggling to survive. On what God thought as “necessary for life,” Sider says, “ ‘Necessities’ is not to be understood as the minimum necessary to keep from starving. In the non-hierarchical, relatively egalitarian society of small farmers... Families possessed resources to earn a living that would have been considered reasonable and acceptable, not embarrassingly minimal” (67). Later, he says, “Proverbs 30:8-9 is a marvelous summary: ‘Give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me, lest I be full, and deny Thee, and say, ‘who is the Lord?’ or lest I be poor, and steal, and profane the name of my God’” (98).

While our most basic needs are for air, food, and water, what I’ve read over the past two months leads me to believe that God doesn’t want us to survive – He wants us to live and thrive. He wants us to have not just what it takes to survive, but a basic level of comfort that allows us balance, so we neither deny nor profane Him.

He doesn’t just want you and I to have that level of comfort though. God wants every other person He created to have that same level of comfort. Sider asks, “Are we not guilty of greed when we demand our ever-higher standard of living while neglecting millions of children who are starving to death each year?” (96). So when we give blankets to the homeless, when we ourselves have a spare bed at home, we’re being greedy. When we stockpile food so that we don’t bore our palates, but put only generic rice and dried beans in the food drive at work, we’re guilty of greed (I’m guilty of this one). We need to help others get to this basic level of comfort, but it’s going to take some sacrifice on our parts to do it:
“God’s people must practice self-denial to aid the poor and share the gospel. But we must maintain a Biblical balance. It is not because food, clothes, wealth, and property are inherently evil that Christians today must lower their standard of living. It is because others are starving. Creation is good. But the One who gave us this gorgeous token of affection has asked us to share it with our brothers and sisters” (98).

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger, Part 1

“Faith without works,
Like a song you can’t sing,
It’s about as useless as a screen door on a submarine.”
Screen Door, Rich Mullins

Of all the books I’ve read so far for this study of stewardship, Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger is the one I’ve not only enjoyed the most, it’s also the one that has had the most impact on my own thoughts about stewardship. I’ll make a guess right now that of all the books I’ll read about stewardship this semester, this will be the one that impacts me the most.

Rich Christians looks at just about every aspect of stewardship through the lens of how our stewardship – or lack of it – affects the poor people of this world. The author, Ronald J. Sider, leaves no stone unturned in his quest to show the reader how what we do in the industrialized North either blesses or curses those in the developing South. In fact, this book is so complete, and everything I’ve ever wanted to tell people, that I’m wondering if I shouldn’t just buy all the copies I can find on Amazon and give them to people, instead of trying to write my own version. Sider covers the environment, finances, spiritual gifts, and time, and pretty much does away with any excuses we might have for not helping those in need.

We walk a fine line when it comes to a theology of salvation. By that, I mean that there are those who believe that they’re going to heaven simply because they’re good people. Romans 3:23-24 says “23for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” So those people of the world who believe that they’re “good enough” on their own are, quite simply, wrong. Salvation comes through Jesus, since no one is “good enough”: “8For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). The great thing about this is that all you have to do is have faith in Jesus (that’s a little simplistic, but my intent is not to go into a whole explanation of how one becomes a Christ-follower) and God wipes the slate clean and one becomes as sinless as Jesus.

But for those of us who have been following Christ for a long time, we often forget that while our salvation isn’t based on works, how we demonstrate our faith is: “…faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead” (James 2:17).

I don’t know why we forget this so often. I’m guilty of it too. The weird thing is that we look to Paul and James to teach us these things, but they are just telling us what Jesus already did:

25On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?"

26"What is written in the Law?" he replied. "How do you read it?"

27He answered: " 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind'[a]; and, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'[b]"

28"You have answered correctly," Jesus replied. "Do this and you will live."

29But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?"
(Luke 10:25-29)

Jesus goes on to tell the parable of the Good Samaritan, in which a Jew traveling between Jerusalem and Jericho is robbed and beaten by thieves, who leave him for dead by the side of the road. A priest and a Levite both pass the victim and decide not to help him, but a Samaritan sees the man and takes pity on him. The Samaritan takes care of the Jew, putting him on his own donkey to get to a safe place to tend to the Jew’s injuries.

This is a radical concept for the Jews listening to Jesus right then: the Jews and the Samaritans hated each other at this time, and helping a Samaritan would probably have been worse than helping a Roman at the time (and you know how much the Jews liked the Romans, since they were occupying Israel at the time). If I understand the law correctly, just touching a Samaritan would make a Jew unclean, something that requires significant ritual and sacrifice to amend.

At the end of the parable, Jesus asks:

36"Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?"

37The expert in the law replied, "The one who had mercy on him."
Jesus told him, "Go and do likewise."
(Luke 10:36-37)

Jesus redefines the word “neighbor” in that moment, rescuing it from the warped, earthly notion that we have created for it. What Jesus is saying to the Jews, and to us, is that it doesn’t matter what we think about other races, colors, and cultures. It doesn’t matter what we think about someone’s religious beliefs. Our neighbor isn’t just our friend or the person who lives in the same homogenous neighborhood that we live in; our neighbor is whoever shows mercy on us.

Left to my own devices and mentality, I probably wouldn’t show mercy to many people, so I wouldn’t be a neighbor to many. You might be thinking that no one has been a neighbor to you, in that no one has shown you mercy. But Jesus, God Incarnate, has mercy on you, every single moment that you ask for it. Jesus picks us up from the side of the road, saves us from those who would harm us, and is our neighbor. And then he tells us to show mercy to others, to be a good neighbor to them.

John 13:34 puts it this way: “34"A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another."

All people will know that we follow Jesus because of what we do, not through the faith we profess with our mouths. We are saved by grace through faith, but faith without works is dead. Jesus calls us to be neighbors to all, to love one another, and we show our love by doing things for others.

Rich Christians takes on the argument that what we believe is more important than what we do, and Sider explains that faith and works must work in tandem in our lives. In the next few posts, I’ll show you what he says about the typical American Christian and how we can be better stewards. We are to be neighbors to the poor people of this world – as God has shown us mercy, so must we also show mercy to them.