Thoughts on life and Scripture...

Monday, August 7, 2017

Ruminations On Wealth And Poverty

Every so often I come across this idea that people are wealthy because of some privileged background or by taking advantage of the poor. Those in poverty are said to be there because they are taken advantage of or because they belong to some minority group. In our culture, many look down on the wealthy and want to punish them for their 'crime' of acquiring wealth. The sad thing is that these ideas are often held by Christians. But this simplistic view of wealth and poverty doesn't stand up to the Bible. I would especially turn your attention to the Proverbs, which have much to say on this subject. I don't want to write a long piece on this subject, just a few thoughts.

  People become wealthy through various means. Some are born rich and maintain their wealth through good business skills. Others are born poor, but rise up to wealth through hard work, skill and prudence. There are those who gain their wealth by scams, dishonesty, bribes and other sinful ways. These people often will live off the labor and pain of others. A few people can became rich through lotteries, inheritances, and successful treasure hunts. There is a great variety in how someone becomes wealthy.

   The Bible does not condemn people for being wealthy. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Job, and Joseph of Arimathea were all rich people. In fact riches are a blessing from God. But the Bible condemns the love of money and its waste. Wealth is to be used for the glory of God. David used his wealth to finance the building of the temple and so we should use ours for Christ's kingdom. Paul tells Timothy to "Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy. Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is life indeed." 1 Timothy 6:17-19.  Well would it be for the church if it had more godly rich people to fund the work of gospel ministry.

  All material poverty eventually traces its roots to sin. That is why Jesus could say that you will always have the poor with you. Mark 14:7. Old Mother Sin will always be here in this present age and so her children, like Mr. Poverty, will be with her til then as well. Poverty may be the sin of the one who is poor or the sin of others who caused one to be poor or it may be the result of the curse that came with sin. Either way sin is the cause of poverty. Some are poor because of addictions, foolish management of wealth, and greed. Some people come to poverty because of their crimes. Harming or abusing someone may cause someone's poverty as they are sued and now have to pay out a large sum of money. Laziness causes others to become or stay poor. In countries like North Korea or Venezuela, people are poor because of the corrupt and foolish governments that run the country. Theft or fraud can cause others to become poor. There are many ways one stays or becomes poor, but it all goes back to sin.

 Sin brought a curse on this world. Part of that curse is trouble like disease, floods, droughts, earthquakes and so on. These natural disasters can also cause poverty. A plague of locusts can turn a prosperous farm or area into a desolate wasteland. If someone gets really sick, they can't work and have extra bills to pay because of their illness. This can also lead to people becoming poor. In these cases there isn't a way for a person to prevent the onslaught of poverty. We must trust that God has a good purpose in all this, even if it seems all dark to us.

  It certainly isn't wrong to be in poverty so long as it is not because of your sins. Poverty is not a curse, even if it is because of the curse. The poor may have some advantage to the rich in this life as they may see the hopelessness of the things of the world better. James 1:9-10. It can be better spiritually to be poor, but not always.  Both rich and poor must learn to be content in whatever situation God has placed them in. Like Paul we should be able to say, " I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am." See Phil 4:11-13.

  Since there are so many reasons someone becomes poor, there are also many ways needed to get someone out of poverty. There is no one-size-fits-all solution. Governments like to think that giving money will solve all our poverty problems. But this is a naive solution. If the problem is addiction or out of control spending, more money will only make things worse.  Each individual case must be examined to see where exactly the cause of the poverty comes from. When the problem is identified, then the cure can be administered. There may be times when the correct solution to a person's poverty is to do nothing but leave them in it. "If anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat, either." 2 Thess 3:10.  As you can imagine this approach is time consuming and challenging. It requires a lot of wisdom and discernment. But trying to relieve those in poverty this way, will help achieve our goal of helping the poor more often than not.

Brad

Friday, August 4, 2017

Horatio Spafford And The Hammer Of Hell

Horatio Spafford is best remembered for his hymn 'When Peace Like a River' or "It is Well With My Soul.' I have often heard the story behind this hymn. Spafford's wife and four daughter were traveling to Europe on a ship when they collided with another ship. Spafford's wife lived but all four daughters died. Later as Spafford sailed past the spot where his daughters had drowned, he wrote this famous hymn, which is often sung in churches. This is the first verse of that hymn.

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul.
  • Refrain:
    It is well with my soul,
    It is well, it is well with my soul. 

       But the story of Spafford's life after this hymn was written is often forgotten or ignored. Later on Spafford returned to America with his wife. They left their church after some doctrinal disputes and set up their own church. They believed that they were the only true church. The church was very much like many of the charismatic churches of today. The meetings were chaotic, filled with strange practices. Fake healings and resurrections were attempted. All manner of 'new' revelations were received. They looked for guidance from God through one women's sniffles, for example. And then there were the sanctified oranges, which I don't know exactly what purpose they served. All in all there was a lot of strange happenings at this church. 

 Bad practice comes from bad theology and Spafford and his group had plenty of it. Spafford denied the doctrine of hell. He believed that all people would go to heaven, even the devil would make it there. He held to some form of purgatory. Spafford was really interested in eschatology. He believed he knew when Christ was coming back and went out to Jerusalem to meet Him there. Or he may have been running away from all his debts and debtors. 

 Spafford and some of his followers went to Jerusalem to meet Christ, which never happened. But they did set up a cult-like organization. They shared everything in common there. All the strange behavior continued there. This group abolished marriage and family for a time. They were known for gross sexual immorality. Spafford died in 1888 and then his wife took over leadership. She considered herself a prophetess and continued the wild immoralities. 

When I read all this, it was hard to believe that this was the man who wrote that well known hymn. How could he go from that height to this low? The pathetic ending of this man's life makes you seriously question his salvation. A true Christian perseveres. Ironically Spafford called his group 'The Overcomers.' Yet when you look at his life and the lives of his followers, they were not at all overcomers. "For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world- our faith." 1 John 4:4   

 A true Christian continues on in the faith to the end. The reason no Christian will lose their salvation is that God will enable them to persevere. Jesus said, "I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no on will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand. I and the Father are one." John 10:28-30. Charles Spurgeon expressed this truth like this, "If He hath called thee, nothing can divide thee from His love. Distress cannot sever the bond; the fires of persecution cannot burn the link; the hammer of hell cannot break the chain." God Almighty will not let go of us, even if all the powers of the devil and his host should try to pull us from His hands. 

 It is also true that we are commanded to persevere. Here are some examples: 

"But Christ was faithful as a Son over His house- whose house we are, if we hold fast our confidence and the boast of our hope firm until the end." Heb 3:6. 

"For we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end." Heb 3:14.   

"Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering,..." Heb 10:23. 

"Therefore, do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what has been promised." Heb 10:35-36.   

 God causes the Christian to persevere by working in His people so that they endure and hold fast. We strive to endure because God is at work in us.  

It is easy to start well in the Christian faith. It is hard to finish well. Every Christian will get over the finish line, even if God has to drag us over it. But let us make every effort to run well even to the end. A story like the one about Horatio Spafford should give us cause to pause and tremble. We ought to watch and pray more diligently that we will not fall into temptation and disgrace our Lord and Savior. 


"Now to Him, who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen." 
Jude 24-25.


Tuesday, August 1, 2017

How To Be A Christian Sports Fan

Christianity is not a one day a week religion. It isn't confined to a few areas of life. Christianity affects everything. Jesus Christ is Lord of every single part of our lives. Eating, drinking, exercising, driving, singing are all to be conformed to God's word. We are like a dilapidated house. Every room and space is in need of a renovation. So every area of our lives needs to be scrutinized to see if it is being done in a God-glorifying way. One area that needs to be examined is how we watch sports. How are Christian sports fans to be different than the sports fans of this world?

 What I find in the sports world is that people are dehumanized. Instead of seeing them as real people who have struggles and troubles like the rest of us, they seem to become mere objects on the screen. This can be seen in how people talk about players on their team, on the other teams or even the referees. People boo those players they don't like. Players are sharply criticized when they don't meet our approval or standard. The referees are cussed in anger when a call doesn't go our teams way. The opposing team is often looked at as an enemy to be destroyed. These are just some examples of a lack of love for those playing the game.

  God's word calls us to show love, respect, kindness and understanding to others. All people are made in the image of God and, therefore, deserve to be treated with dignity. If we do believe this, we will watch sports in a different way. Booing, catcalls, and unfair criticism have no place for the Christian while he watches sports.We should be patient with the officials even when they make a mistake. We should be able to appreciate the talents of all the players on each team, even when our team is losing. We ought not to rejoice, even if it is only inwardly, if the other team's star player is hurt. Maybe next time you watch your favorite team play ask yourselves 'How can I show love to those playing this game? How can I honour God in how I watch this game?'

  In Canada one of our religions is hockey. Maybe in the American South, it is football. Too often people idolize sports.  Some people get depressed after their team loses. Some will get angry. Either way these responses show that they worship their team or sport too much. Even Christians can have a sinful preoccupation with sports. We fail to consider how sports fits into the eternal plan of God. How important do you think it is to God's kingdom for your team to win the championship? This world and your team will all pass away, but God's kingdom will never pass away. We are to seek His kingdom and His righteousness first of all. Watching sports can be a nice way to relax. It is a blessing to enjoy. But in the end it is only a game and doesn't matter that much compared to the eternity ahead of us. Millions of souls are perishing and entering into a horrifying eternity in hell. The gospel needs to be preached to them. What is a sport game to this reality?!! A Christian should have a Biblical perspective when watching sports. Sure, we can cheer for our team to win, but if they don't, it shouldn't upset us. Being a sports fan is a good hobby, but don't make it your idol.

  Lastly, we should be careful to limit our time watching sports. "Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil." Ephesians 5:15. A hockey game lasts for a couple hours. Now if you watch sports every night or every other night, that can be a lot of time spent in sports. Is that a wise use of time when you consider what I said in the last paragraph? Is there not more important things that could be done? Could that time be better used to serve Christ's church? Or that time could be used to read your Bible and pray or care for your wife and family? A real danger with being a sports fan is that it can eat up much of your time. As such, we need to be disciplined in how much time we give to the hobby of watching sports. Make it your slave, and don't let it master you.


Brad