Sunday, February 28, 2010

DROP THE DEBT




Ten years ago, Bono from the band U2 was an active voice in Jubilee 2000, an international coalition movement that called for cancellation of third world debt.  For many poor countries, the interest payments alone would keep them in debt for decades to come.  Instead of money being used within the countries to provide education, healthcare and infra-structure, the monies were paying being paid out endlessly to rich nations that had loaned them large sums. 

Bono and other advocates convinced rich countries to forgive the debts so the money could be better spent on the poor.  The effort he was involved in was called ‘Jubilee’ after the 50th year celebration God describes for His people in Deuteronomy.  This was a time when all slaves would be set free, the land would be untilled for a year and land would return to its former owners.

Bono used his success as an entertainer to advocate on behalf of the poor.  In your setting, how do you use your connections to help the poor?

Here is God’s plan for His people as they prosper in the land.


Deuteronomy 15:7-11

7 If there is a poor man among your brothers in any of the towns of the land that the LORD your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tight-fisted toward your poor brother.

8 Rather be open-handed and freely lend him whatever he needs.

9 Be careful not to harbour this wicked thought: "The seventh year, the year for cancelling debts, is near," so that you do not show ill will toward your needy brother and give him nothing. He may then appeal to the LORD against you, and you will be found guilty of sin.

10 Give generously to him and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the LORD your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to.

11 There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be open-handed toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land.

NIV



Every 7 years, there was to be a year of forgiving all debts.  Everyone had a fresh start every 7 years.  (If only our credit card companies and lenders were so biblical...  but then, our reliance on credit would be lessened.)

God’s idea is to give everyone a chance to live within their means and start again when they are unable to get out of a financial mess.  And, God’s people are to be open-handed towards the poor.  We are not to withhold because of a fear that we may not be repaid. 

Many people have an attitude towards the poor that is very unchristian.  They assume that people are poor because they are lazy, have no education, and are stupid, violent and dirty, and all live in broken homes.  It is unchristian to assume the worst because a person is poor.  Our Christian response is to elevate the downtrodden and give them dignity and respect.  We are to give generously to the poor in our land. 

In contrast to the negativity and marginalization, Jesus said, ‘Blessed are the poor’.  No matter how well you do in this world, following Jesus means ‘A lifetime of poor friends’.



Did you notice verse 11?  There will always be poor people in the land.  Christians are to have this awareness and be good to them.  Jesus would quote this very verse when faced with the presence of discrimination towards a woman.

Friday, February 26, 2010

TRAVELLING LIGHT



Jesus calls us to travel through this life as his chosen messengers and to move from place to place on a mission.  But let’s not overburden ourselves with the mechanics of how it will all happen.  Let’s take what we have in hand and start here.

 Matthew 10:  (The Message)
9-10 "Don't think you have to put on a fund-raising campaign before you start. You don't need a lot of equipment. You are the equipment, and all you need to keep that going is three meals a day. Travel light.
 11" When you enter a town or village, don't insist on staying in a luxury inn. Get a modest place with some modest people, and be content there until you leave.

Why would Jesus tell them to travel light?  God wants us to learn to depend more on His ability in us than on having the right equipment, the right building or the right resources.

We can easily get bogged down in big productions when God wants to use simple acts and personal messages to reach the world.

More people encounter Jesus through an authentic, humble believer than they do through huge media campaigns, cantatas or stadium events.  The call to us is to be authentic, humble believers who are keenly aware that we have been chosen to bring change to the world on Jesus’ behalf.

The emphasis in going to broken people is to keep company with modest people.  Who do you associate with in the work of God’s Kingdom?  Have you learned to be content with the people that God gives to care for your needs?

The church of Jesus is a gathering of broken, modest people with defects of character and histories that include failure.  To journey in the mission of Jesus is to journey with His church.  Serving God is inseparable from your relationship to His body.

Henry Nouwen said:

“Our faith in God who sent his Son to become God-with-us and who, with his Son, sent his Spirit to become God-within-us cannot be real without our faith in the Church. The Church is that unlikely body of people through whom God chooses to reveal God’s love for us. Just as it seems unlikely to us that God chose to become human in a young girl living in a small, not very respected town in the Middle East nearly two thousand years ago, it seems unlikely that God chose to continue his work of salvation in a community of people constantly torn apart by arguments, prejudices, authority conflicts, and power games.
Still, believing in Jesus and believing in the Church are two sides of one faith. It is unlikely but divine!” [i]


Tuesday, February 23, 2010

GOING STARTS HERE




When you decide to go anywhere, the place of decision is your starting point.  Where are you now?  That is where God wants you to start.

Matthew 10: (The Message)
5-8 Jesus sent his twelve harvest hands out with this charge:
   "Don't begin by traveling to some far-off place to convert unbelievers. And don't try to be dramatic by tackling some public enemy. Go to the lost, confused people right here in the neighborhood. Tell them that the kingdom is here. Bring health to the sick. Raise the dead. Touch the untouchables. Kick out the demons. You have been treated generously, so live generously.

When we recognize that we are ‘chosen by God’ we are empowered to take risks with the people closest to us.  Jesus sent the twelve first to ‘The lost sheep of Israel’, the people of their own religion and culture who were struggling and estranged from God.

As they went, they were going with complete authorization to act with Jesus in the presence of chaos and brokenness.  They were not trying to make a name for themselves, but responding to the mission that Jesus had invited them to participate in.

They had seen Jesus do unthinkably good things and were now authorized to do likewise.  The social and cultural realm that you are part of is where you start to put into practice the life lessons and GOD values that you have learned from the Master.  You can do that.  You have God’s permission.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

RECRUITED TO GOD'S TEAM




Many times in our lives we have longed to journey alongside our heroes or serve some noble cause that we may not have the qualifications for.

Imagine the Junior High kid shooting hoops in the schoolyard being scouted and drafted to NBA.

Imagine the world-class rock band overhearing you singing in the shower and inviting you to come on the road with them.

What do you dream about being summoned to do?

The gospels tell us Jesus hand-picked twelve unlikely candidates to mentor and deploy in God’s mission to the world.  They were among the crowd of people following Jesus and listening to his teaching.  He picked the fishermen, a taxman and assorted laborers to bring God’s message to the world.  He did not select any teachers, rabbis or high officials.  No-one was a celebrity.

It was ‘no little thing’ to have Jesus the celebrity rabbi asking them to work with him.  They must have realized some degree of honor to be valued in this way.

The call of Christ in each of our lives is no less honorable.  The God of the Universe invites us to respond as participants and promoters of His righteous Kingdom.

It is a reoccurring theme of the early church to be commissioned by Christ to ‘go’ as messengers of the good news.  Let’s consider what it means to say ‘yes’ to God’s request on your life.

Friday, February 19, 2010

FARMING WITH GOD




Luke 10:
1 Now after this the Lord appointed seventy others, and sent them in pairs ahead of Him to every city and place where He Himself was going to come.
 2 And He was saying to them, "The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.


Jesus organized the 70 to go as advance teams because He anticipated a harvest.  35 fields needed to be assessed and prepared for his ministry of gathering people into the Kingdom of God.  As he created an understanding of his mission, he talked about looking at fields ready to be harvested.

Everyone knew what that meant.  Harvesting was an act of recognition and responsive labor.  There is a time when grain is ripened and the heads appear white.  They knew that you had to cut down the grain and gather it in sheaves.  Single stalks gathered together in sheaves.  It was an act of recognizing that a particular field was ready and moving collectively as a team to gather in the harvest.

When we think about God’s calling to save lost people, we need to see them as individuals that are ready to be gathered into God’s family.  But we also need to see that each person is intimately associated with others who are ready to be gathered.  When one person makes a decision to enter the Kingdom of God, there are usually others in their circle of influence ripe and ready for God.

When a church is planted or a ministry venture begun, a team should look for a ripened field.  Look for places and people that have that appearance of readiness to receive Jesus.  The larger the field you go to, the greater the need for workers in the harvest.

Or, you can go to plant and water a small patch of ground.  This too has value as a small garden that can become a source of sustainable growth.

It is easy for us to get burdened by an apparent lack of workers.  Why don’t more people see the need and get involved? 

Pastor Ralph Wilson makes some interesting observations about what it means for the Lord of the harvest to ‘send out’ workers.

The word translated "send out" in this verse is noteworthy. In Greek the word is ekballo. At the root level, the word means "drive out, expel,' literally, 'throw out' more or less forcibly." Secondarily, the connotation of force recedes with the meaning 'send out.' “The root word ballo, "to throw," is a violent word, the basis of the English word "ballistic."
How does this process work? Often it comes by responding to an inner call from God; an inner sense that God himself wants you to be involved in an aspect of his work. I've done a lot of recruiting of Christian workers as a pastor. I've found that those who stick it out are the ones who do so from a sense of calling, rather than having their arm twisted or doing a favor to me or another leader.[i]

God is interested in sending out ‘ballistic’ missionaries.  They move quickly to the target and accomplish the task. 

Frustrated doers may resort to guilt-tripping and a ‘do-it-yourself’ mentality leading to burn out.  Jesus did not resort to brow-beating and frustration.  He simply said talk to God about the need for workers.

Whose field is it anyway?  The Lord of the harvest is responsible for recruiting and appointing assignments.  Your job is to focus on the job that you’ve been given and the co-workers assigned to task with you. 

We need to understand that our assignments involve a ‘go and return’ relationship with the Lord of the harvest.  Too long sweating in the field without returning to the one who sent you will breed discouragement and loss of purpose.  The harvest needs to be brought back to the Lord. 

Communication with the boss keeps everyone focused.


Discussion:


  1. In what sense is the harvest plentiful in Jesus' day?  Where is the harvest plentiful in your community?  How do you determine that?

  1. Why and when are the workers few?  What kinds of things have kept you in the past from being active in the harvest?

  1. Has your life been characterized as a team member of a ‘learning and going’ community?  Explain what that means to you.

  1. What kind of "wages" does God offer harvesters today for their labor?

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

LIVE TOGETHER OR DIE ALONE

Jack Shepherd on LOST said "We can live together or die alone."  That can also be said of life in God's Kingdom.




Jesus sends the Seventy out in pairs, a pattern later followed by Paul and Barnabas, Paul and Silas, Barnabas and Mark, and other early missionaries. It's not that missionaries should never go alone, but travelling in pairs is safer, provides more encouragement, and uses the spiritual gifts of the pair rather than just a single missioner.
Even today, churches begun by a team of two church planters or more have a greater chance of success, and probably can grow to a larger size more quickly. It's tough and can be very discouraging being a solo church planter -- or missionary.[i]

While Jesus first calls you as an individual, his goal is to establish you as a team player.  Throughout the history of Israel and the Church, great individuals are raised up to accomplish godly work.  But, even the loneliest prophet finds themselves called into supportive relationships and a heart for the community.  Most leaders end up having a small team of consultants and supporters and build ‘learning and going’ communities. 

Jonah may be one of the few examples of a person called by God who would not journey with others.  His prophecy ended with the city of Nineveh saved, but personal frustration and unanswered questions.  God’s design for your life involves sharing and belonging with others.

Monday, February 15, 2010

HAND PICKED FOR MISSION







There was design and relevance to the way Jesus organized his mission.  When he chose 12 disciples, he may have been thinking symbolically of the 12 tribes of Israel.

When he appointed these 70, he may have been thinking about symmetry.  There were 70 elders in Israel.  The Sanhedrin consisted of 70 members.  There were 70 nations in existence at this time in the world.  His harvest would include the entire earth but had to be reached a field at a time.
 

Luke 10:
1 Now after this the Lord appointed seventy others, and sent them in pairs ahead of Him to every city and place where He Himself was going to come.
 2 And He was saying to them, "The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.

  Jesus’ mission attracted many followers, but he was intentional in his choice of team-mates.  He did not post an ad to see who would show up to help, but went directly to individuals inviting them to be part of his ‘learning and going’ community.

When others approached and asked if they could follow him, he got very specific about the individual cost involved in making such a commitment.  Others were told to go home and live for God in that context.

Organizing his ministry tour of surrounding communities would need advance planning.  He appointed these 70 followers and instructed them to travel in pairs.  They were advance teams sent to assess the opportunities for Jesus and to report back with arrangements made for his visit.

The assignments started with Jesus and included returning to debrief on the mission accomplished.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

PROBLEM SOLVING




“Meow!  Meow!  Who will help me neow?” said the cat.
“I’ve climbed this tall tree.  Who will get me deown?”

A cat stuck in a tree gives us an example of a need that requires human intervention.  How do people get in place to respond to a need? 

1.      Self-motivated without consultation


-          Someone sees what they think needs doing and commence doing it. 
-          They enter the yard, climb the tree, retrieve the cat and knock on the door of the house to deliver the cat.
-          Without consultation, the climber never took into account that the cat might not be from that house.  The residents may or may not know who owns the cat, but at least the cat is rescued.

2.      Self-motivated with consultation


-          After seeing what they think needs to be done, the person consults with those authorized to make decisions and proceed to task.
-          They first knock on the doors nearest the tree to determine if anyone knows whose cat it is.
-          Then a decision is made on the best way to deliver the cat. 
-          The helpful person may or not be the tree climber, but they helped identify the problem and were committed to working on solutions

3.      Self-absorbed but perceptive


-          This person sees the cat stuck in the tree and quickly forms an opinion about the need.
-          They may comment about the stupidity of the cat, the negligence of the owner or even that someone should get that cat down, but in the end they keep walking on by.
-          Either they do not care enough to get involved or they cry for the cat without doing anything to help.   

4.      Group motivated


-          A small group gather around the need and decide who among them should take action
-          Someone may be elected to climb the tree, knock on doors or call the fire department.  The group may involve several responders to various tasks.
-          The responders are individuals who are willing to meet needs in response to the group affirming them to task.

5.      Authorized


-          These responders are people who specialize in the task.  They are called upon and recognized as the well-educated expert in responding to this exact need.
-          The professional cat rescuer is called.  He is trained in the multiple disciplines of tree climbing, safety precautions, animal handling and what to do next with a rescued cat.

God calls each of us to the task of announcing His Kingdom and living by its values.  To the proverbial ‘cat stuck in a tree’ God calls each of us as responders to a rescue mission.  He has chosen to seek and save all that is lost, trapped, helpless and hopeless.

Jesus approached his assignment by calling others to work cooperatively with Him and in consultation with His Father.

Monday, February 8, 2010

SEEING WHAT YOU NEED



Matthew 20:
29 As Jesus and his disciples were leaving Jericho, a large crowd followed him.
30 Two blind men were sitting by the roadside, and when they heard that Jesus was going by, they shouted, "Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!"
 31 The crowd rebuked them and told them to be quiet, but they shouted all the louder, "Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!"
 32 Jesus stopped and called them. "What do you want me to do for you?" he asked.
 33 "Lord," they answered, "we want our sight."
 34 Jesus had compassion on them and touched their eyes. Immediately they received their sight and followed him.


Instead of asking him for money or an autograph, they asked Jesus for vision.  Jesus could already see what they needed and could have easily given them their answer, but He asks them to identify their greatest need.

They needed to see.  The first thing their healed eyes saw was Jesus and they immediately got up to follow Him. 

Our greatest need is to see Jesus.  To have that vision will inspire us to follow Him.

Did the healed blind men know that they were following Jesus to his triumphant entry into Jerusalem?

Did they follow him to the cross three days later?

Did they follow him to the upper room after his resurrection?

Did they follow him to the ends of the earth telling the world of the One who gave them the ability to see?

Our greatest need is to see Jesus and follow in his footsteps. 

Things to think about:


  1. What part does ‘blindness’ play in your prayer life?  How does not being able to see or comprehend what you’re dealing with affect you in prayer?

  1. Is there a difference in your prayers when you can see clearly compared to times you cannot see what is happening?

  1. Without a vision, people perish.  A lack of insight into God’s plan causes people to lose direction.  Describe times when you felt that you lacked godly vision and how that affected you.

  1. Spiritual darkness is an inability to perceive God, to see his creative works and leading presence.  From your own history, describe times when you were ‘in the dark’ and how that affected your spiritual connection to God.   How does spiritual darkness change your perception of reality?

Saturday, February 6, 2010

PRAYING LOUDER THAN THE PUT-DOWNS




Matthew 20:
29 As Jesus and his disciples were leaving Jericho, a large crowd followed him.
30 Two blind men were sitting by the roadside, and when they heard that Jesus was going by, they shouted, "Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!"
 31 The crowd rebuked them and told them to be quiet, but they shouted all the louder, "Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!"
 32 Jesus stopped and called them. "What do you want me to do for you?" he asked.
 33 "Lord," they answered, "we want our sight."
 34 Jesus had compassion on them and touched their eyes. Immediately they received their sight and followed him.


When the crowd heard and saw these blind beggars shout out to Jesus, they tried to silence them.  There’s something about a religious crowd that keeps the focus on themselves and their advantaged position travelling near Jesus.

Have you heard the put-downs of religious people who point out why you don’t belong to their merry band of travellers?

Have you seen the ill-advised crowd controllers?  There are those who want to show respect for privilege and authority, but disrespect the under-privileged in the name of keeping up appearances.

If you listen to these people, you will accept their put-downs as reasons to not join in.  Why would you participate where you are not welcomed and loved?

These men heard the put-downs.

  • “You don’t belong with us.  You are beggars and you are blind.”
  • “Don’t bother asking for God’s help.  You’re getting in the way of progress.”
  • “Why would God bother to help?  You don’t even belong to the religious crowd.”

Instead of submitting to their put-downs, these men shouted the same prayer louder.  “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!”

Thursday, February 4, 2010

PRAYING IN THE ABSENCE OF VISION




E.S.L. classes are held to teach people English as a 2nd language.  As people come from another language group and enter ours, they enrol in ESL classes to increase their ability to communicate and function in an English speaking nation.  Without this, they are only able to share their thoughts, enjoy company and get answers from their members of their own language group.

When we enter the Kingdom of God, we learn to pray.  If we are going to be effective communicators in God’s Kingdom, we need to learn about prayer as a way of communicating; Prayer as a second language.

Matthew 20:
29 As Jesus and his disciples were leaving Jericho, a large crowd followed him.
30 Two blind men were sitting by the roadside, and when they heard that Jesus was going by, they shouted, "Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!"
 31 The crowd rebuked them and told them to be quiet, but they shouted all the louder, "Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!"
 32 Jesus stopped and called them. "What do you want me to do for you?" he asked.
 33 "Lord," they answered, "we want our sight."
 34 Jesus had compassion on them and touched their eyes. Immediately they received their sight and followed him.

What can we learn about praying from these two blind men?

The two blind men would know that they were outsiders and be reminded continually of why they didn’t fit in with others.
 
  • ‘Seeing people’ could work at meaningful jobs.
  • ‘Seeing people’ could take long journeys and see where to go.
  • ‘Seeing people’ could avoid many dangers and pitfalls by looking ahead
  • ‘Seeing people’ were normal…

The power of vision brings great mobility and opportunity.  Without vision, people suffer a great disadvantage.

Have you ever felt that you were blind in some way?  Perhaps you are unable to see what others talk about knowing and experiencing. 

Sometimes the religious crowd is passing us by and we just don’t know what it is that people are seeing.

A lack of physical sight is certainly a disability.  If we lack spiritual vision, we do not have the clear answers we need to proceed forward.  We cannot make the journey when we are blind.  We need vision to see ahead and give our life focus.

These two men ‘heard’ that Jesus was passing by.  Even if you lack vision, you may have others who tell you about what they see.  Their vision can inspire you to prayer.

When we cannot see God, let us pray.  Call out to God in the absence of vision.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

BEGGARS CAN BE CHOOSERS




Matthew 20:
29 As Jesus and his disciples were leaving Jericho, a large crowd followed him.
30 Two blind men were sitting by the roadside, and when they heard that Jesus was going by, they shouted, "Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!"
 31 The crowd rebuked them and told them to be quiet, but they shouted all the louder, "Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!"
 32 Jesus stopped and called them. "What do you want me to do for you?" he asked.
 33 "Lord," they answered, "we want our sight."
 34 Jesus had compassion on them and touched their eyes. Immediately they received their sight and followed him.

What can we learn about praying from these two blind men?

The old saying goes that ‘beggars can’t be choosers’.  That means that if you are disadvantaged, you don’t have a choice but to accept what you get.  Only privileged people can be selective with their choices. 

In the case of the two blind men, they were quite literally beggars.  This story happens as Jesus and the disciples are leaving Jericho and heading up the road to Jerusalem for the Passover.  Just outside Jericho, the two blind men positioned themselves with the other beggars to ask alms.  Beggars were wise enough to know where throngs of people would be and this was a continual stream of people on their way to church. 

All the travellers would be carrying money for their journey and since it was a religious festival, they might be more inclined to think benevolent thoughts toward the disadvantaged who could not make the journey.

When these two men heard from passing travellers that Jesus was coming up the road, these beggars yelled out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!”

This was their first prayer to Jesus and it shows us that beggars can choose to pray.  Even though, they were unable to go to church with the crowd, they chose to call out on Jesus. 

They could not go with the seeing crowd to the Passover, but they recognized that Jesus had something to give and they wanted it.


  • “Lord, Son of David” – this was a recognition of Jesus’ authority and origin.
  • “Have Mercy on Us” – the familiar expression of beggars.  Can you give us alms?  Do you have something for us?

We may be disadvantaged in ways that reduce us to desperate begging for help.  When we are desperate, we always have the choice of calling on God to show us mercy.  And there’s often someone at our side who shares a similar need.  We need to call on Jesus together with others who share our struggles.

Things to think about:


  1. Disability usually includes disadvantage.  In the case of the blind men, the lack of sight was matched by a society that reduced them to beggars.  In what ways can we give respect and dignity to those who are disabled and/or reduced to poverty?

  1. When disabled or disadvantaged, how difficult is it to ask for help?  Why might we struggle with asking for mercy?

  1. The blind men had each other.  Even though, independent begging may have yielded more coinage, they chose to beg together.  What advantage is there to partnering in common struggles?  Have you found relationships and groups where you can share your shortcomings with others?

  1. Given an unlikely choice, would you rather be blind or deaf?

Feel free to comment.  (Anonymous comments will not be accepted.)


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