Perhaps it may be possible
to change the world
Rearrange the world
Accomplish absolute upheaval
exchangin Good for selfish evil
by extendin’ out a life-worn hand
to that grace-scattered
beaten, broken, bruised and shattered
cold-hearted shell of a man
In this age of me and mine
If it feels good do it ne’er mind
how it relates to thee and thine
Buy it, steal it
Take it, fake it
Lie your way out
just to make it
obvious that there’s not a care
‘cept for the only one that’s there
in the mirror
through glassy, empty, soul-less eyes
that’ll do most anything to grasp the prize
of recognition, affirmation,
man’s applause and commendation
sacrificing character for that
I am, quite often, asked what the Christ-like response should be when approached by someone asking for money. I’m asked because my profession by day involves working with homeless and/or financially unstable individuals. My response to these things tends to often disagree with the typical “social worker” view, settled into the heart by book knowledge and sometimes hardened by years of experience.
Let’s take the scenario where we encounter men/women standing at the busy intersections, with signs asking for money, waiting for vehicles to be forced to stop at the light or sign. There are typically 2 diametrically opposed responses for the driver seeing someone “begging for alms”. The first: <rolling up the window and looking straight ahead as if they won’t see> “Don’t give them any money. They’ll spend it on alcohol or drugs.” or “I don’t have any money. This feels awkward.” The second: <rolling down the window. clink. clink.> “Have a nice day.” <driving on, feeling accomplished/rewarded>.
Neither is a wrong… or right… response. Neither can be fairly judged by someone else as proper or improper. The reason for this is that one cannot judge the motive of the heart except the driver themselves.
However, let’s look at how the apostles responded in a parallel situation.
Acts 3:1-10 Now Peter and John were going up into the temple at the hour of prayer, being the ninth hour. 2 And a certain man that was lame from his mother’s womb was carried, whom they laid daily at the door of the temple which is called Beautiful, to ask alms of them that entered into the temple; 3 who seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple, asked to receive an alms. 4 And Peter, fastening his eyes upon him, with John, said, Look on us. 5 And he gave heed unto them, expecting to receive something from them. 6 But Peter said, Silver and gold have I none; but what I have, that give I thee. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk. 7 And he took him by the right hand, and raised him up: and immediately his feet and his ankle-bones received strength. 8 And leaping up, he stood, and began to walk; and he entered with them into the temple, walking, and leaping, and praising God. 9 And all the people saw him walking and praising God: 10 and they took knowledge of him, that it was he that sat for alms at the Beautiful Gate of the temple; and they were filled with wonder and amazement at that which had happened unto him.
When the apostles were going into the temple they were confronted by a man who, daily, sat outside the gates and begged for money. Peter looked at the man and John told the man to look up – to look at them… to make eye contact with them. Requiring eye contact, or making eye contact with someone in this type of situation, is to show them respect. To give them dignity. So the apostles’ first response was to treat the man with respect and dignify his worth as one created by God, their Father.
Scripture says that the man looked back at them expecting for them to give him money. But Peter said “I don’t have any silver or gold. However, what I do have I will give you. In the name of Jesus Christ, walk”. And the man’s legs were healed and he ran, jumping and leaping, with the disciples into the temple – all while thanking and praising God.
When Peter looked at the man scripture says that he “fastened his eyes upon the man”. Peter looked intently at the man and his eyes gripped the man. Peter didn’t see a man who needed money although that was what the man had spent most of his life begging for. For years the man had begged for something that he could see, touch, feel. Something that he could believe in…alms. Something that he could use, temporarily, to meet an immediate need. This is what had assisted the man with his survival for years. Begging for and receiving money from people who felt sorry for him and took pity on him.
But Peter was looking beyond the beggar. He looked beyond the request for money. He saw past the band-aid that would temporarily cover a gaping wound in the man’s life. Peter saw the true wound. The true need. The root cause of the man’s true poverty. Peter saw a disabled man with a wounded soul. And THIS is what Peter responded to. Out of felt compassion for the man, Peter and John looked deeply at the man and recognized that giving him money would not, ultimately, help the man. He’d been receiving money for years – yet was still crippled, was still begging, was still broken. And so Peter offered him, instead, hope and healing.
Back to our response. I can’t tell anyone how to respond to someone who they see asking for money. One’s response to these situations is, entirely, between them and their God. However, based on the apostles’ response, I can offer these words…
Outside of all else our heart should be moved with compassion for the one who is beaten down and broken in such a way that they must rely on others, or “the system”, to meet their temporal needs. The Spirit of God on the inside of us should be pained when one of God’s masterpieces finds themselves in a situation where “begging for alms” is how they have come to survive. Our first response should be compassion. Our motivation, whatever our response, MUST be compassion when we see one who is broken and “poor” in spirit. (Luke 10:29-37)
Then, our response must be coupled with wisdom and discernment from the Father. Like the man at the Gate Beautiful, quite often the true need has nothing to do with giving alms or money. We may be approached by one who may, indeed, have an immediate need for sustenance of some kind. If we have the ability to meet this need – whether we offer alms or not – that is between ourselves and God alone. However, the question begs to be asked. Will giving money satisfy our own immediate need for justification and self-satisfaction? Will giving money ultimately help? Or will it add to the band-aids that have been applied by so many before us, to poorly cover a much deeper wound?
If we, as Christ-followers, simply apply band-aids by giving money to everyone who appears to need it, are we following the example of Christ and His apostles? Jesus, Himself, encountered people with immediate, “felt” needs constantly. He met their needs, however then He shared hope with them… and CHALLENGED them to live life, to do life, differently. (Note: there are no accounts of Jesus giving money to meet an immediate need, but instead healing of all disease, delivering from oppression, etc.) Even when Christ fed the 3,000 and the 5,000 it was to provide sustenance in order that they could continue to receive His teachings after a long day.
In the story of Peter and John, they reached beyond money and alms into the real, soul and spirit needs of the man. They offered more than a gift of money, but a gift of healing, restoration, and hope. Not only could the man walk after receiving the true gift that Peter and John offered, but he ran, danced, rejoiced, and celebrated. From a beaten and broken man with wounded pride, unable to lift his eyes to a smiling, leaping, whooping and hollering individual who infected other people with his joy. All because Peter and John saw beyond the immediate, temporal, perceived need and responded with respect and dignity, true compassion, and wisdom.
For the person who has adjusted to living life relying on the generous – or guilt-ridden – gifts of others, money may seem to be what will solve their problems. Money, or alms, may seem to be what they need most. It may seem to be what will satisfy their “felt need”. However, if we fasten our eyes upon them, and our heart is moved with compassion and wisdom from our Father, then we will recognize that this is a superficial fix to a deeper need. Our giving will not just be about handing out a few dollars. We will go beyond money and we will remove the band-aids to address the oozing, gaping wound that is the root cause of their poverty. We will offer them dignity. We will restore their pride. We will offer the hope that is in us, addressing the deeper need, and a extend a hand with a challenge to do differently and “rise up and walk”… willing to walk beside them when the challenge is accepted.
It’s Sunday morning. The traditional day set aside to worship God in community with other Christ-followers.
I’m not feelin’ it.
I didn’t sleep well. My alarm didn’t go off so now I’m rushing. I’m having wardrobe malfunctions. The kids are grumpy because I’m rushing them. The spouse is NOT happy at having to get up early on “one of only two mornings I get to sleep late every week” – esPECially since he/she stayed up late… very late. We fight on the way to church. This should make for a wonderful experience this morning.
Open my heart to worship? I’m not feelin’ it. Sing? Yeah. I’m still mad, so I’m not feelin’ that either. Raise my hands in surrender? SO not feelin’ THAT.
Okay. So you’ve had a bad morning. A bad weekend. A bad week. And your feelings are hurt and all muddled up, messy, and hard like playdough that’s been pounded into a container by a 3-year old and left with the lid off.
What are you going to do about it?
Better question – what do any of those cranky, stanky, I-need-a-hanky feelings have to do with expressing worship to a great and holy God?
Our feelings, crusty and ugly as they may get, do not – can not – will not – ever change God. In spite of whether we’re “feelin’ it” or not – God is Who He is.
He is forever worthy of each one gathered deciding to shake-off-your-feelings, throw-back-your-head, lift-high-your-hands, and recognize that He is the Almighty, All-Powerful, All-Knowing, All-Forgiving, Ever Merciful, Ever Gracious, Ever Listening, Loving-You-With-Fierce-Abandon Father and Lord over everything that exists… and then worship without restraint.
Feelin’ it yet?
I HATE the phrase “Everything happens for a reason” – especially when it is used to placate others in tragic, or difficult, situations.
No, there is not “REASON” for everything that happens.
However, THE reason that tragic/difficult/evil things happen is because we live in a world that is the target of the enemy of God…
A world where political courtesy
has taken the place of right and moral fidelity…
Where saying “the right thing” for approval and status
has taken the place of DOING the right thing because the other person matters…
It’s a time when popularity, fame, and prosperity,
trump character, honesty, and integrity…
where Jerry Springer, Judge Judy, and Maury
capture fascinations while humanity scorns a righteous man’s story…
So yes, there’s a “reason” for all that happens. For every tragedy, every disaster. Every bad, sad, mad thing that’s occurred.
Simply put, we live in an immoral and corrupt world.
A world where faulty women and men ruled by selfish ambitions
put themselves on a pedestal over God and fellow humans.
Now, don’t get it twisted. Don’t make a mistake. Don’t under-estimate it.
The God of the Universe can take any situation, that is entrusted to Him –
given to Him,
and work in and with it.
He can “IN all things…work for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose”. He can.
He will. Yet this doesn’t mean that He causes all things that happen to man.
He ALLOWS us to make choices. To exercise our will. To DO as we like.
We seem to forget that there are natural consequences to every choice that we make.
Perhaps instead of casually stating “everything happens for a reason”, one should stop
Perhaps, just perhaps,
the continuing deterioration of morality –
the slap on the wrist for blatant criminality –
the open acceptance of crass and obscene behaviors and words –
or the fascination with the violent, the ridiculous, the shocking, and the absurd –
could be “the reason”…
And along with that REASONable conjecture
stop and think what part YOU play in this juncture.
Self-examination and growth is much more fruitful and mature than placation.
“Christianity isn’t a religion… “It’s a reality.”
My friend of 24 years said that to me during an interesting conversation last month. And that should be the truth.
Christianity… following Christ… being Christ-like… should be a reality for those who wear the label of Christian. Yet, in reality, how often do we justify our words, actions, treatment of others… (or hear them justified) by convincing ourselves that “our faith” (or the label of “Christian”) is the reason that we have reacted/responded a certain way? Judged someone? Mistreated someone? How often do we claim to be “defending our faith”… “defending scripture”… “defending God”… when, in reality, we’re defending ourselves?
If your faith is, indeed, a reality – it does not need defending. If scripture is, indeed, a reality – it does not need defending. If your God is, indeed, a reality – He, most certainly, does not need defending. These things… faith, scripture, and God have stood the test of time and do not need your “defense”. They stand on their own.
In 1979, Bob Dylan publicly professed to have a relationship with Christ. And in 1979 and early 1980 he wrote several songs that spoke – very clearly – about this relationship. Songs such as: You Gotta Serve Somebody, Slow Train Coming, and he released a “gospel” album entitled Saved that brought Dylan heat from every direction. His concerts during this time contained most of his new songs and Dylan, himself, “preaching” between songs, even as his fans cried out for him to play his older – more well-known music.
In November of 1980, Bob Dylan began a 2-week concert run where he performed his older songs, and some of his newer songs recorded later in 1980. When asked about why his newer songs were only “remotely religious” in comparison to the others written and recorded in early 1979-1980, Dylan replied: “They’ve evolved. I’ve made my statement, and I don’t think I could make it any better than in some of those songs. Once I’ve said what I need to say in a song, thats it. I don’t want to repeat myself.’ [Dylan] saw no need to repeat himself by continuing to write gospel songs or continuing to preach from the stage; truth is truth, and it stands forever.” From the book Restless Pilgrim: The Spiritual Journey of Bob Dylan
Dylan saw no need to continue to “defend” his faith, scripture, or his relationship with Christ. Yet Dylan, like many others who have proclaimed faith in Christ and simply try to live out their understanding of Christ’s character the best way that they know how, is viewed by many who claim to be “Christian” themselves, as someone who saw Christianity as a passing fad and now has no relationship with Christ. Why? Because he doesn’t talk about it unless asked… and doesn’t use every platform that he’s given as “an opportunity to share the gospel”.
When did being a Christian become so narrow-minded a thing?
Because Dylan, again like many others, doesn’t fit into the boxed in definition of how his relationship with Christ began (it wasn’t in a church saying “the sinners prayer”), how his gifts should be used in a way that CLEARLY separates him from the “secular” industry (he still does “secular” concerts/appearances), how he lives out his relationship with Christ (he still attends and supports Jewish functions – his children are raised Jewish. He doesn’t make “Christian” appearances. He supports “secular” causes. He doesn’t “preach” aloud about his faith. He doesn’t attend a church service regularly), then he is ignored as a Christ-follower by many in “the church” at large. What a shame.
And all around us are other, not-so-public persons, who don’t fit into someone else’s narrow-minded, “in the box” definition of what a Christian should be. Yet they live out Christ in their hearts, minds, words, and actions on a daily basis. They believe fully in Him and His deity. They want to model His heart and life. They study Him and His words. Quietly. Without boasting. Without pomp and circumstance. And with much more success at demonstrating Christ, and reaching the hearts of others, than those who piously and publicly (and loudly) proclaim – from their perches of self-importance and self-righteousness – that they are “Christians” yet treat those unlike them with disrespect, shame, and contempt.
Do you know some “Dylan-esque” persons that say they know Christ yet don’t do what you think they ought? Someone who professes to have a relationship with Christ but doesn’t fit into your God-box? Perhaps your box isn’t one given by God Himself, but created by you in order to keep you safe (and defended) in your own mind. …Perhaps.
Suitcases opened all around with clothes strewn about as if the bags had been carelessly dropped and everything had tumbled out. Clean and soiled mixed together. Wrinkled blouses and useless jackets. Ripped jeans and hemless skirts. Dirty unmentionables and odiferous socks. Mismatched Shoes. And in the midst of the mess I sat.
Unmoving. Unused. Seemingly abandoned. Void in heart.
I seemed to fit right in with the disarray that surrounded me.
Numb. Disheveled. Confused.
Legs splayed. Arms limp. Head hanging down in exhaustion and “give up”. My mind was the only thing that was moving. Rather, racing. Ever replaying mistakes and failures, words of ridiculers and critics, and images of the past.
After resting idle so long amidst the untidiness that had become my life, struggling to my feet began to seem impossible. Picking up the clutter and discarding the stained garments such an overwhelming task when thoughts echoed reruns of blame and shame day and night, casting a fog over my understanding.
And so I sat. And sat some more.
Until that still small voice that had persistently spoken from the beginning finally was heard. The whisper of goodness penetrated through the clamor of condemnation. And as my mind honed in on the words of grace, the winds of the spirit began to blow and the cloudiness began to inch away. Clarity returned… accompanied by power… and a different kind of replay resounding between my ears.
The reminder of God’s unmerited favor, His immeasurable grace, and His irrevocable call seized my attention and gave strength to my soul and soundness to my bones. And so I stood. Determined to cease the lazy-mindedness that allowed past mistakes to stun me to stagnancy. To render me immobile.
I stood and looked long and hard at the baggage around me. At the chaos I’d created, and hadn’t known how to restore to order.
I took a deep refreshing breath from His Spirit. And then I began to do away with the jumbled mess…
One soiled item at a time.
In my years within ministry – and without – I have heard quite a few worship songs with the lyrics containing references to God’s fire or something similar. Typically they are composed as a cry for God to send down his “fire” or his spirit, seemingly to cleanse us, so that we may better serve Christ – or to “ignite” our hearts so that we may carry His power in greater measure and witness with greater boldness and fervor. When I hear these songs I often wonder if the lyricist – or the singer – is aware of what they are truly asking for.
Now before you write me off as a bitter cynic about to bash some very meaningful worship music, “hear” me out. I think you’ll enjoy the read…
There are references to fire throughout the scriptures. However, lyrically – in Christian music – references to fire are most often coupled with a request for God to “burn away the dross” as is mentioned in Malachi 3. Many sing this lyric without even a full understanding of what dross actually is.
Websters defines dross as scum, waste or foreign matter, impurity, and/or something that is inferior.
In times of scripture a refiner would stoke a fire until it would be heated to over 1700 degrees F, which is the melting point for gold. Precious metals would be placed in the fire and, as the gold would begin to liquefy, the impurities and waste would rise to the top and be skimmed away. The refiner would stir the molten gold to bring more dross to the surface to be removed, until no contaminant or corruption remained.
Let me reiterate. 1700 degree flames. Fire that is hot enough to completely liquidize one of the hardest substances on earth and expose all of the flaws for expunging. That heat doesn’t sound comfortable, or even pleasant. And most often that type of “fire” in our lives comes in the form of trouble, heartache, or soul-penetrating events.
Are you ready for that? For your life to be heated by tests and trials, struggles and challenges so that your hardened heart begins to melt – bringing your flaws of anger, mistrust, unforgiveness, and/or doubt to the surface and forcing you to rely solely on the refiner? Or perhaps your refining experience will involve finally grasping that overwhelming understanding of the Father’s white hot love for you and you will be overcome with agonizing gut-wrenching sobs, broken-hearted because of your own sin that you have attempted to hide in your encrusted heart.
Both sound painful. Hard. Excruciating even. Neither one are encounters that stir a desire for a no-holds-barred, bare-feet leap into blistering flames of fire. Yet that is what we ask for when we sing “Send the fire”.
I’m not asking that we do away with songs petitioning God for the refiner’s fire. I’m not arguing that lyrically they are incorrect, or that the songs have no value. On the contrary I believe they are most often penned from the hand of a lyricist who has endured extreme soul-anguish and, heart-broken, wants nothing more than to be purified and holy before God.
What I AM asking is if we, as worshipers – and as singers of songs – honestly consider the words that are passing our lips? And are we seriously, for real, desiring the sin-revealing, agonizing, refining flames to ravage and expose our heart when we sing? If we can authentically and heartily respond with a “yes” of conviction, then I say let’s throw our heads back, open our arms wide and cry aloud to our All-Consuming God: “Lord, Send the fire!”
Sometimes it feels as if life is simply more than we can handle. As if our heart has been strained and pained, for so long, that it is no longer able to drive life through our veins. Often the pain and struggle has continued over such time extended that it is as if we have been drained of the blood that quickens our circulation, strengthens our bones, and enables us to simply breathe.
Weakened and hurting we struggle through each day, head and body bowed under the weight of hopelessness. Dragging our self along, our hands cling frantically to the ground below us in an effort to find something to hold onto – that we might pull ourselves forward for just another day.
We lift our faces in raw desperation searching for something that will allow us to breathe again with ease… something that will stop the painful flow. But we’ve been bleeding and shamefully stooped so many years that it seems as if relief will never be within our grasp.
It is during this most difficult time that we must summon the fortitude, and the courage, to break through the crowds of placating words – or ugly criticisms – and reach with fierce determination for Him. We must clutch the hem of His garment and we must gather strength. We must evoke life. We must draw power. And we must not let go.
We must refuse to allow our grip to be loosened or our fingers pried away until we have regained power… we can stand steady… our breathing is no longer labored… and the hemorrhaging in our wounded heart has ceased.
Clutch His hem as if your very soul-life depends upon it. For during the suffering times of loneliness and pain it is the only thing that will make us whole.
[42b] …As Jesus was on his way, the crowds almost crushed him.  And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years, but no one could heal her.  She came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak, and immediately her bleeding stopped.
 “Who touched me?” Jesus asked. When they all denied it, Peter said, “Master, the people are crowding and pressing against you.”
 But Jesus said, “Someone touched me; I know that power has gone out from me.”
 Then the woman, seeing that she could not go unnoticed, came trembling and fell at his feet. In the presence of all the people, she told why she had touched him and how she had been instantly healed.  Then he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace.”
Spiritual anorexia. An unhealthy, yet seemingly common, condition.
An anorexic is one who stops feeding self and becomes dangerously thin. Skin and bones. Flesh without meat.
The anorexic’s perception is skewed. When an anorexic sees self in the mirror, they see fat – fullness – breadth -weight. They see substance that is, in reality, not there. Unfortunately, there are many Christians who do the same.
In themselves they see “fatness”, spiritual health, substance – and they often want others to know of their great and divine girth. There’s boasting of more depth in their life, more knowledge, more revelation and insight. Greater relationship with God, greater “fullness of the Spirit”, greater capacity for the “meat” of the Word. These are the points for applause in their lives.
However, the great, spiritually fat and healthy picture that they see in the mirror is in contrast to what others see. In the life of a “full-blown” spiritual anorexic, their own words may be the only things that are, indeed, grand and swelling.
If the fruit borne in day-to-day living does not reflect the heart and character of God then the facade of spirituality is demolished. The supposed substance and meat are stripped off to reveal an unhealthy heart surrounded by diseased flesh and dry bones – an empty life disguised behind inflated words and a swelled head. And when the exterior is peeled away and the heart is truly laid bare, the inner health of a person is ultimately revealed through everyday life and actions.
James 1:22-24 speaks of a person who looks at himself in a mirror, steps away from the mirror, and immediately forgets what he really looks like. Why? Because he listens to “the Word” but chooses not to act on it. Thus he deceives himself. So goes the spiritual anorexic.
But at times we may all suffer from a degree of Spiritual Anorexia. We look into the mirror of scripture and we see the truth about ourselves but distractions, excuses, or personal choice causes us to immediately forget what we’ve seen. We pick and choose which parts we are willing to honestly see and obey. Thus we allow ourselves to be deceived and spiritual anorexia begins to seize our heart.
Is there a cure? Absolutely. But the cure is not a quick or pleasant fix. For to be cured we must be willing to examine beyond the outside, beyond the positive opinions of others, beyond the praise and affirmations that we may receive, beyond the self-elevating views that we’ve adopted.
We must delve into the depths of our own hearts, allowing the spotlight of the Holy Spirit to reveal even the deepest, darkest, innermost decaying chambers. We must be willing to look closely and to see… truth. And then we must be willing to repent. To humble ourselves, admit our pride and our gross exaggerations of self, and cry out to God for Him to heal the disease within.
Here they come. You can see them outside the window of your heart as you attempt to hide. They’re gathering supporters in the dark and getting closer. Carrying their torches and their pitchforks. Their voices growing louder as they come near yelling. Shouting. Thrusting their fires of anger into the air crying “Freak!”, “Traitor!”, “Monster!”. And then the dreaded roar as they rush forward screaming “Kill the Beast!”
Your crime? Struggling. Falling. Failing at something. Causing the way that they see you to change. The expectations that they had of you have been shattered. And so has your image. How dare you defy what they believe about you? How dare you mess up? How dare you embarrass them?
You are now a failure. Ugly. A monster worthy of dragging into the streets and ridiculing – persecuting – abusing in front of the world. You are nothing short of a hideous beast!
Ever experienced this? You fail at something and your heart is shattered and broken. You hide behind your pain because you are ashamed and hurt. Struggling to forgive yourself. And to make things even more difficult, your judges seem to be beating down the door to shame you further. It can make for a challenging recovery.
In those times you can often count the number of those who still love you – unconditionally – even in your “beastly” state – on one hand. But that hand is critical. In times of falling and failure it is vital to keep hold of those who are able to look past the mistakes into your damaged heart and are willing to listen, to love, to help, heal and restore. Whatever you do, don’t push them away. Don’t hide from these. Don’t ignore the hand that is reaching out to help in the midst of chaos and judgmentalism. Grab hold and don’t let go.
And when the fires of anger have subsided – when the soul-piercing shouts of judgment become silent, when the crowd of vigilantes has disbursed and you feel safe again – walk out from the rubble. With a humble heart, and head held high, take step after stumbling step, hand in hand with those who have been willing to endure the chaos that has resulted from your failing. And go and tell.
Tell of the obstacles in your path, that you didn’t avoid, that brought about the stumble. Tell of the turmoil and struggle within your own soul. Tell of the pain and humiliation of falling… of the endurance and determination that led to recovery and restoration. And tell of the wonder of unconditional love that has led you out from the rubble. Your telling may be the salvation of another.
But most importantly remember. As you see another stumble and fall, remember how you hid and watched the angry mob swarm to persecute you and resist the urge to pick up a torch of judgment and join the crowd yelling “Kill the Beast!”