Friday, August 26, 2011

John Wesley's generosity

All mature Christians share a high value for generously sharing God's resources, which have been entrusted to them, with the church for the advancement of the gospel. Sometimes, we're positively challenged in our kingdom generosity by the example of others. John Wesley, the 18th century English evangelist, is a man to inspire us. As his ministry and fame spread, his annual income increased - but so did his generosity to the church and the poor in monumental ways. The following chart tracks Wesley's increasing percentage of giving (altered from English pounds into American dollars):

Income Living expenses Giving
1st yr. $30 $28 $2 (7%)

2nd yr. $60 $28 $32 (53%)

3rd yr. $90 $28 $62 (62%)

4th yr. $120 $28 $92 (77%)

By the end of Wesley's life, he was making $1,400 annually while living on $30 and giving away $1,370 - 98% of his income.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Reflections on sovereignty

The longer I'm a Christian, the more I realize how peace comes to our souls in direct proportion to our love and trust of God's sovereign working - saying 'yes' and finding joy in what is rather than shaking our fists at 'what is' or longing for what is not. If we're honest, great joy in God's sovereign administration of our lives in the hard and barren times is rare. Yet, according to Romans 8:28 (and, indeed, the united testimony of the entire Bible), joy and peace are found nowhere else. He really is working out all things for our good. The following quote by Jean Pierre de Caussade alerts us to the danger of doubting that fact:

"You would be very ashamed if you knew what the experiences you call setbacks, upheavals, pointless disturbances and tedious annoyances really are. You would realize that your complaints about them are nothing more nor less than blasphemies - though that never occurs to you. Nothing happens to you except by the will of God, and yet [God's] beloved children curse it because they do not know it for what it is."
By God's grace, let us recognize the hard, disappointing moments for what they are: gifts from a good Father, driving us back to greater dependence on Him and greater satisfaction in Christ, our true Treasure which no circumstance can tarnish or threaten.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Praying the gospel

Back in April at the Gospel Coalition conference in Chicago, Terri and I attended a breakout session on prayer led by Scotty Smith, pastor to such notable Christian musicians as Stephen Curtis Chapman and Michael Card. Scotty embodies what we've been after here at Trinity in recent years - moving in an ever more gospel-driven, Cross-centered direction in which our sin humbles us and Christ's grace gives us hope. The gospel, we've been discovering, isn't merely the way into the Christian life - it was meant to define all of it.

A few years ago, Scotty began preaching the gospel to himself each morning as he started his day by writing out a Christ-centered prayer based on the portion of Scripture he was reading that day. He began using some of these prayers as a means to help his friends - emailing them out daily. Today, Scotty's gospel prayers have become a blog hosted at The Gospel Coalition website and are available for all of us to read daily. You can access it here.

Baker Books has also just released a compilation of Scotty's gospel prayers in book form. It's called simply Everyday Prayers. Whether through the blog or his book, I highly recommend Scotty Smith's biblical prayers as a means of stirring up hope in the Cross each day.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Standing on the other side

In March of 2010 my world was rocked as I read the book When Helping Hurts on a flight from Amsterdam to Nairobi. If you've been around Trinity for the past year or so, you know what the book's about. It's authors compellingly make the case that in order to properly help people around the world (or around the block), those seeking to help need to keep straight whether those on the receiving end are in a true emergency needing relief (e.g. they need immediate outside aid to get clean water, basic housing, food, sanitation, etc.) or are not in a true emergency, but need coaching in development (utilizing their own available resources to better their living situation with decreasing dependence on others).

In late June 12,000 of us here in Minot suddenly became those in a true emergency due to our historic flood. Our housing was gone and easy access to food, water, sanitation, etc. was limited. We needed relief. Thanks to friends, the Red Cross, churches and other agencies, our immediate needs were supplied. At present, the only aspect in which we continue to need relief is for housing, which is being supplied soon through FEMA trailers. All this to say, we are no longer in a relief situation. We are entering the development phase.

At the center of relief are outside agencies/individuals coming to the rescue of those in a true emergency. In the development phase the center of attention shifts away from 'rescuers' toward those in need taking stock of their available resources to begin the rebuilding process. As When Helping Hurts rightly emphasizes, development is only successful when relief agencies begin weaning those in need off outside resources and when those in need begin taking ownership of their own development. The person in development may still need help from the outside, but that help must come in forms which require of him greater ownership and responsibility as grants transition to loans and doing for him transitions to doing with him as well as teaching him new skills so he can begin helping others.

For more than a year, I've been 'preaching' the vital distinction between relief and development. I taught a Sunday School class on it last fall. I believe in it, but now that I'm on the other side of the equation, it's time for me to live it. As one who is currently transitioning from relief to development, I can testify that that transition is easier said than done. Honestly, I want to be rescued. I want agencies and individuals to come in and restore my pre-flood world for me. I want relief to continue, even though I am entering a situation of development. Moving successfully through this process on the receiving end requires a great amount of self-control, maturity, foresight and sanctification. All of us who now need to wave 'good-bye' to relief need a great measure of God's grace.

In light of this, I have two words of counsel:

1. For those on the receiving end: Trust God and move toward development sooner rather than later. Don't wait for outside agencies or people before you move forward. Even if you're often on your own, go ahead and work on your house, start planning your future, start saving your money and strategizing your own recovery plan. If others continue to help you, great! But don't depend on them. Also, increasingly try to utilize others as teachers and advice-givers rather than workers and donors. The long road of development (and it is long) requires taking stock of your present resources, saving for future resources and getting to work.

2. For those on the giving end: Trust God and begin to help those in your world who are no longer in an emergency situation to strategize their own long-term recovery plan. Guard against doing things for them which they could do for themselves. Move increasingly from a worker role into a coaching, praying, encouraging, support role in their lives. Give them less money and more relationship as you provide care for their souls to help them take stock of their resources and begin the long process of development. Shifting from a rescuing to a coaching/support role requires great self-control and may be more challenging (as long-term relationship is always more time-consuming and messy than just showing up to swing a hammer for an afternoon), but in the long run it will be much more helpful to your friend in need.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Warnings to the wise

Here in Minot it continues - the fatiguing fight against the effects of the flood. At the same time, there is a fatiguing fight inside us - a fight for righteous thinking and living which wars against our presently tired and stressed instincts. So, for those of us who are need-deep in the mucky work of gutting, cleaning, drying out and trying to figure out how, when or whether we're going to rebuild, here are some words of caution to guard our hearts in the coming weeks:

1. Don't discard primary practices of grace. It's tempting for those of us who seem to have every minute of our time taken up with getting our houses in order - let alone time to work our jobs and spend time with our families - to start letting daily practices of grace slide - like soaking in the truth of God's Word, casting our cares on God in prayer and gathering with God's people in weekly worship. These means of grace were given to us by God to build up our souls - to feed them. It would be tragic if we added self-imposed spiritual malnutrition to our current challenges. If ever our souls needed daily/weekly strengthening, that time is now.
2. Don't give in to self-pity's seductive voice. Around Trinity Church it's common to hear people reply to the question, "How are you doing?" with "Better than I deserve." Good theology - but easy to forget when folks around you are angry at the injustice they feel from the effects of the flood or are heaping sympathy on you. It's tempting to start humming a 'poor me' tune in your heart and even become resentful of those who seem to have survived the flood unscathed. Self-pity is especially spiritually dangerous, for it portrays us as innocent victims who deserve the spot light of pity, thereby diminishing God's centrality and sovereign purpose through the flood. Self-pity also calls God's trustworthiness into question. Beware!
3. Keep a proper perspective. Here, two things need to be said. First, it is easy to get overwhelmed when thinking about all the work and planning that needs to be done and decisions which need to be made to get our lives back in order. I am a big-picture planner and have felt the fears and stress mount as I've tried to strategize every step of what it's going to take to get our lives back to normal over the coming years. Though some foresight may still be needed, I've found it helpful simply to step back from the big picture and just focus on the next thing I need to do, whether it be calling an electrician, power-washing my basement or calling FEMA one more time. I can't do everything today. I can't even know what I'm going to need to do next month. But I can do the next thing that's right in front of me and trust God with the rest. There's peace in that.
Secondly, we need to keep the grand picture of history in mind as we work through this. I find comfort in remembering that other believers have faced other - even much harder - tragedies in the past and they've made it through and come out better and stronger. Sometimes I say to myself, "If my friends in Sudan can watch their family members killed before their eyes, spend twenty-two years in a Red Cross camp and rebuild their villages from nothing, I can get through this." We're also helped by remembering the Bible's guarantee that what is ahead for us is so much better than the best of life before the flood, so we should have hope. In Romans 8:18 Paul writes, "For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us." Good reminder. Imagine the worst case scenario with your flood situation playing itself out. It almost certainly won't, but if it did, better times are coming in heaven than your best case scenario on earth. Future glory infuses hope in suffering Christian hearts. The right perspective - a biblical perspective - makes all the difference for folks like us, knee deep these days in flood muck. Stay hopeful.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The beauty of reconciliation

David spent much of his life in conflict with other men - not least, fellow Israelites like King Saul and his son Absalom. That gave him a special pleasure in brotherly unity to which he gives voice in Psalm 133
"Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell together in unity! It is like precious oil on the head, running down on the beard, on the beard of Aaron, running down on the collar of his robes! It is like the dew of Hermon, which falls on the mountains of Zion! For there the LORD has commanded blessing, life forevermore."
Many of us as believers in Christ know the painful tension of division with another brother or sister in Christ. The path to the joyful blessing David mentions in Psalm 133 is usually through a proactive process of humble listening and confession in the pursuit of godly reconciliation. One of my living heroes, CJ Mahaney, recently took that costly step with an old friend and partner in ministry, Larry Tomczak, from whom he'd been estranged for years. Larry talks about the healing and joyful power which CJ's recent pursuit of reconciliation is having in his and his family's life in a letter you can read here.
Let's not just thank God for CJ's courage and humility in reconciliation. Perhaps there's a brother or sister in Christ needing you to take that step of faith today. Blessing will meet you there.