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Archive for May, 2012

Christian Compassion for the Helpless

May 31st, 2012

Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute.

Proverbs 31:8

A mark of the early church was its incredible compassion toward others – especially those in the family of faith. Through the love of God in Christ they saw humanity differently, they saw the dignity of each person and expressed concern for one another through generosity and encouragement. It was written, “There were no needy persons among them” (Acts 4:34), and this describes the urge within their souls, by virtue of the redeeming presence of the Spirit, to lift up one another.

I see this same spirit of generosity among Christians today. Though we can always do more, it is not true to wring our hands and say that no one is doing anything. It simply is not true. Many are doing a lot today. I see it every day and witness the godly compassion of believers who are being transformed by the Spirit. The same Spirit who is present with us today was the One who moved in their hearts in Jerusalem 2000 years ago.

We read later how some in Jerusalem tried to appear more generous than they were (Acts 5:1-11), and how some in Thessalonica took advantage of this Christian compassion (2 Thess. 3:6-12). Both responses reveal the attitude of self-pity and a disrespect of others. That generosity can encourage the self-important on both sides to abuse the system should not deter us from being generous and skepticism and cynicism are just other forms of the same attitude of self-importance.

The work of the Spirit within us will always lead toward a new assessment of the importance of material things, the value of the human soul, and, most importantly, the hope of life eternal. From the moment we trust in Christ we are being trained for eternity. The things of this earth should be fading from our affections and those fit for eternity should be growing, namely the word of God and the souls of people. We especially do the will of God when we combine these two – when we speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves by sharing the gospel with them.

In the West we have too often placed the obligation to help the helpless onto the government, but the government is limited in what it can do. Christian compassion, to come alongside personally and help others, is much more transforming in another’s life than the government can ever be. In the midst of political campaigning these issues are often misrepresented and twisted, and sometimes even downplayed, but regardless of where we stand politically, as Christians we are commanded and urged to help the poor and the destitute.

Contrary to what we may think, disease and crime do not stop at certain neighborhoods. They leap the fences of so-called social barriers to impact us all, and though some form of self-protection is advisable, complete isolationism is not a reasonable option for anyone. So when we speak up for the helpless, we speak up for ourselves as well.

But the heart of Christian compassion is not a mere political or economic thought. At its center Christian compassion for others is fueled by the confidence in eternity, a new and eternal hope for the future, and from this a new understanding of human dignity.

Christian Giving

The Dangerous Absence of Vision

May 29th, 2012

Where there is no vision the people perish.

Proverbs 29:18

The translation of this verse into other languages has long been a challenge to scholars. The King James used the above translation; more modern translations tend to say, “Where there is no revelation the people cast off restraint,” which helps to clarify the first part of the verse but merely is more confusing about the second part. What does it mean to “cast off restraint”?

What is discussed here is the result of a people, any people, who have long disregarded the biblical revelation – the vision of God. It speaks of a general human condition that applies to virtually all organizations on earth – that people need a compelling vision to remain going in the same direction. This is true of government, of industries, of military, but also of organizations such as the Boy Scouts, the PTA, the Rotary Club, etc. But the verse actually has a much deeper meaning than only this – it describes the revelation, the vision that comes from God and that only God can provide. The witness in human hearts and minds by the eternal God of the universe is what keeps the human race going in the proper direction.

Christ said, “Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). When this need is not met, when the message of God is not shared or is ignored when it is shared, the result is that people tend to go their own ways, like sheep that no longer hear the shepherd’s voice. This is what it means to “cast off restraint,” that we are like sheep scattered and vulnerable to predators – quickly about to perish. We humans are not kept in physical constraints by God – though some limitations for us do exist – rather He desires to lead us gently by His Word and by His Spirit. Our hearts need to be willingly tethered to His revelation of truth, and this can only happen when we hear it, read it, and seek to obey it.

Adam Clarke wrote: “Where Divine revelation, and the faithful preaching of the sacred testimonies, are neither reverenced nor attended, the ruin of that land is at no great distance.” Not far from our house in Stuttgart had stood for some time a Bible museum – Das Bibelhaus – and only recently has it had to move to a cheaper location due to the lack of public interest. In its place a local police station has become the new renter of the building space. What a great illustration of this truth: when a society ignores the Bible they will need more police because the society itself will begin to disintegrate.

Take the Bible to your heart. Share it with others – share it lovingly, tenderly, but share it. This is the unifying call to the human race, and it keeps us as individuals and as families and churches connected to one another, going in the same direction, and going more joyfully – and that is because we are listening to God’s voice.

Evening Devotionals