Archive | November, 2013

Typhoon Haiyan: Do You Really See?

29 Nov

A trickle of water ran down the mountainside: the collective sewage from the squatter community. The smell was not what I had expected. Piles of rotting garbage (mostly rags and inedible kitchen scraps) lined the muddy road, home to large colonies of roaches. Dogs roamed freely, emerging unexpectedly from amidst the stalks of the banana trees. Mangy tan beasts, it was difficult to tell one from another. It was as if a single mongrel had sired a thousand offspring, then sent them to multiply throughout the island.

Houses stood on either side of the trail. Each one a feat of ingenuity, assembled from scraps of metal and often no larger than a couple of phone booths set side by side. Built to shelter as many as eight people, it was a wonder that anyone found room to lie down at night. I stopped for a moment, watching as a young girl, perhaps no older than four, crouched beside the runoff, doing her best to scrub a slightly rusted frying pan.

It was not the first or the last time I would see such a site in the Philippines. I would soon visit other places, passing the rice fields of subsistence farmers – their only hope for continued survival. I would watch as a men and women carrying their entire inventory of goods pounded on the windows of our vans, hoping to sell enough to afford a decent meal. And I would watch as a trash-collector floated his home-made raft down the Pasig River, removing recyclable material from the tangled water lilies to earn enough to feed his family.

These were the poor. And everywhere I went, I was treated as though I were wealthy. Indeed, with an income exceeding $11,456 a year, I was well aware that I was among the richest 16% of the world population. It was a lesson in poverty which begged the question, “Do you see? Do you really see?” It wasn’t merely about recognizing that poverty existed, or even about feeling sympathy for those trapped within its unyielding grasp, but about empathy. It was about feeling the need so deeply that without a thought, I felt compelled to act.

In this nation of nearly 98 million people, over 33 million live in poverty – making less than $385 a year. The figure is staggering. So what happens when the poor become even poorer? When everything they have gets blown away and there remains not even an opportunity to replace what was lost? Do we understand what it means to have a year’s crop fully destroyed without any hope of recovery? Do we recognize just how deeply the loss of a “few trinkets” is felt by a street vendor?

Perhaps the question is not one of wealth, but of responsibility. When our fellow humans are suffering, do we turn away? Do we feel pity, but do nothing to come to their aide? Do we throw a few dollars in their direction as a salve to our conscience? Or do we see? Do we really see?

Do we grieve with a mother who has lost her child? Do we experience the helplessness of those who have lost their homes? Do our stomachs ache with those who are starving? In the wake of disasters like Typhoon Haiyan, do we see? Do we really see? Do we recognize our own ability to make a difference in the lives of those who are suffering? And more importantly, will we embrace the challenge to do just that?

Click here to read more about the needs of Typhoon Haiyan’s victims and make a difference in their lives.

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Evangelism and Physical Fitness: What Scripture Says About Food Part III

22 Nov

Last week in Part II of our series, we took a look at the New Testament perspective on the Old Testament dietary laws. Unfortunately, Peter’s vision in Acts 11 didn’t entirely clear up the issue of what a Christian should or shouldn’t eat. The Church remained conflicted about which dietary rules did or didn’t apply and even found some new ways to argue about those rules.

The Apostle Paul spent more than his fair share of time trying to clear up these arguments and we find him addressing them in Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8-11 (among others). While it was clear that Jewish believers and Gentile believers weren’t likely to come to any agreement on the matter (the Gentiles were even divided among themselves regarding meat sacrificed to idols), there were a few ground rules which could be put in place. Pay attention, because these rules still apply to Christians today! Among them are:

  • Don’t judge. (Romans 14:3-8) Not every issue is as clear cut as we like to think. While we may be deeply convicted that we aren’t doing honor to our bodies (God’s temple) or to God’s Name by eating or drinking certain things, other believers may not share our conviction. What may be “obvious” to us isn’t always “obvious” to everyone else. When this is the case, Christians ought to approach each other’s dietary choices with an attitude of grace.
  • Don’t ignore your conscience or encourage anyone else to ignore theirs. (Romans 14:14,23) If you think it’s a sin to eat a certain food or to drink a certain beverage, it is… for you. God often convicts individual believers about what they shouldn’t do in their situation. This means that we have an obligation to support each other in these beliefs. We may discuss the relative merits of certain diets or even spend time examining the Biblical text for support, but in the end, we ought never to do something which violates our conscience or encourages our brothers and sisters to violate theirs.
  • Don’t destroy members of the Body. (Romans 14:20,21; 1 Corinthians 8:9-12) While we aren’t responsible for the choices of other believers, we do need to be sensitive to the ways that our actions may tempt or influence them. Not everyone has a will of iron and plopping down your box of doughnuts right in front of a diabetic may result in an unrestrained binge which does serious physical damage to their body. This doesn’t mean that you should never eat another doughnut or that you shouldn’t eat doughnuts in public, just that you need to use discretion when determining what, where, and when you eat. (Hint: this means that you need to take the time to get to know other believers and understand their strengths and weaknesses.)
  •  Don’t make an issue out of food. (1 Corinthians 8:8) In the big scheme of things, what God does or doesn’t want us to eat is not as important as who He wants us to be: people who demonstrate His love. There is a time and place for discussing the Biblical view of food… but it isn’t when tempers are likely to flare. If you don’t see eye-to-eye with another believer concerning what you should eat, don’t debate them. Let it go. God is working in both of your hearts and the Holy Spirit will bring you to the conclusions He needs to bring you to in His time. Don’t separate other believers from the fellowship of the body over the issue of food or drink.
  • Glorify God always. (1 Corinthians 10:31-33) Paul was careful about what he said and did when he sat at someone else’s table. He recognized that sometimes, conveying the message of the Gospel meant saying “yes” to what was offered and that other times it meant saying “no”. He also recognized that the food which received a “yes” at one table might receive a “no” at another. What he ate wasn’t about what he ate it was about the people with whom he was eating. Our decisions to eat, moderate, or abstain should follow the same rule.

Next week, we’ll begin to examine two very clear Scriptural commandments regarding what we take into our body and how they apply to what we will or won’t eat. In the meantime, feel free to share your own thoughts in the comment box below!

Evangelism and Physical Fitness: What Scripture Says About Food Part II

15 Nov

Last week in Part I of our series, we took a look at the role that food played in the Old Testament, setting apart those who served God from those who did not. We examined how being set apart in such a seemingly unimportant way can trigger questions in the minds of those around us that open opportunities to talk about God. But is this still what God wants from us today? It’s a question which plagued the early Church and is worth, at the very least, a few minutes of our time.

If you’ve spent much time reading the New Testament, you’re probably familiar with the story found in Acts 11:1-10. Having gone up to the roof to pray, the Apostle Peter was given a vision of a sheet descending from heaven with all manner of beasts inside. A voice spoke to him telling him to eat, but being a good Israelite, he quickly objected. After all, some of the beasts in the vision were “unclean” and, as a careful follower of God, he could not in good conscience disobey a very clear command. Three times the vision appeared and each time, the voice responded to his objections with the words, “What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy.” (Acts 11:9)

The message, of course, had as much to do with accepting uncircumcised Gentiles into the newborn Church as it did with food, but still, this lifting of an ancient command left the young Christians to sort out what must have felt like a muddled mess. Did Peter’s vision mean that Jewish believers ought not to obey the dietary laws? Were pork and shellfish to be a part of regular church meetings? What about food which had been previously sacrificed to idols? And how were conflicts to be resolved when two parties disagreed about what should or shouldn’t be eaten?

In the end, a church council was called (you can read the account in Acts 15) and the Apostle James suggested that in regard to Gentiles entering the Church that they need only obey three of the dietary laws: “abstain from things contaminated by idols… and from what is strangled and from blood.” (Acts 15:20) But this still didn’t answer questions regarding whether Jewish believers ought to simply ditch the old dietary laws or what ought to be done when Jewish believers and Gentile believers ate together or with others who didn’t share their faith.

Resolving these conflicts fell largely to the Apostle Paul who seems to have spent nearly as much time sorting out the Church’s dining arrangements as he did actually preaching the Gospel. But then again, when what you ate could have a real impact upon how receptive others were to your message, it was worth the time necessary to make sure that everyone was “eating from the same menu”. The solutions he provided are important to our study, largely because Paul’s words concerning the diet of a faithful Christian continue to have as much an influence upon modern believers as they did upon those living in ancient Rome.

Next week, we’ll take a look at a few of the key principles set forth by Paul, but in the meantime, feel free to share your own thoughts on the subject in the comment box below!

Evangelism and Physical Fitness: What Scripture Says About Food Part I

8 Nov

Food. You’ll find it at the very bottom of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and at the very top of God’s list of concerns. Today, nearly 1 in 8 people suffer from chronic malnutrition (resulting either from necessity or choice) and, while they fight the pangs of hunger, many more toss the scraps from their evening meal straight into the garbage can. From anorexia to obesity, it’s evident that both too little food and too much can have a damaging effect upon our bodies. But can our choice of what to eat and how much also impact our ability to effectively share the Gospel message?

That’s exactly the question that we’ll be exploring over the course of the next few weeks. As we do, we’ll examine the Biblical perspective on food, the role that food played in ancient cultures and how our decisions regarding what we will or won’t eat can influence the way people see our God. We’ll also take a look at some practical issues as we examine resources for determining whether what we’re eating is really good for us, share some tips for forming healthy habits, and present a few ways that we can play a role in providing food for those in need.

In order to fully understand these topics, however, we need to start at the beginning. The very beginning. Before He placed man upon the earth, God created food in the form of the vegetation that turned our dusty brown globe into a lush paradise. Whether that food was there to prevent the death of mortal humans (who may have lived like immortal humans in the presence of such abundance) or to provide enjoyment for immortal ones is an argument for theologians. For us, it’s enough to note that immediately after commanding Adam and Eve to “be fruitful and multiply”, God issued a second command, “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.” (Genesis 2:16-17) From the very start, what men chose to eat (or not to eat) was what set those who followed God apart from those who didn’t.

We see this “set apart” pattern continued in the dietary commands given to the ancient Israelites. (Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14:2-21) While some argue that the foods mentioned in these passages were forbidden due to unsanitary methods of storage and preparation, it’s worth noting that many of the surrounding nations from the Egyptians to the Canaanites, regularly partook of them and (at least as far as we know) didn’t experience higher rates of death or sickness than did the Israelites. The difference, however, was a readily visible one and those who came into contact with the Hebrews would have known fairly quickly that, “these people aren’t like us.”

While not all Israelites took these dietary commands seriously or obeyed them for the right reason, there were always those who did and the prophet Daniel is a fine example. In Daniel 1, we read how he and three of his friends, upon finding themselves in the court of the Babylonian king, made the request that they not be fed the less-than-kosher foods being offered to the other Hebrew captives. While their attendant was hesitant, he finally agreed to let them eat only vegetables and drink only water for a period of ten days. At the end of the period, the attendant would have the right to put them on the standard diet if they didn’t meet muster.

You can bet that these four men stood out at the dining table, their plates stacked with salad rather than steak. Doubtless, many of their fellow Hebrews saw their meal choice as a judgment upon anyone who didn’t stand firm according to the laws of Jehovah. The pressure must have been enormous, yet at the end of the trial period, then men who stood out because of their culinary selections also stood out for their strength and brains. They were different… and it was that difference that caused others to begin asking questions about just who they were and, more importantly, the God they served. (To be continued…)

 

Evangelism and Physical Fitness: When Rest Becomes Laziness

1 Nov

While a little rest is a good thing, too much of it can cause harm both physically and mentally.  Our ability to perform basic tasks can be hindered by the lack of exercise and our minds become less capable of working complex problems as we allow them to think upon “nothing”.

The Scripture is full of warnings about the dangers of resting when we should be laboring (Proverbs 10:26, 12:27, 15:19, and 19:15), yet finding the line between rest and work can be difficult.  Not every one of us is physically capable of performing hard labor or applying our minds to tedious calculations.  Acts which would appear to be laziness if performed by a star athlete may be the height of exertion for someone afflicted by a chronic illness.  So how do we know if we are disguising laziness as “rest”?  Here are three questions worth asking:

  1. Am I resting at the expense of tasks which need to be accomplished?  Taking responsibility is important and a failure to fulfill our obligations can be a sign that we’re growing lazy.  But this isn’t always the case.  It’s just as easy to fail by overscheduling our already packed lives – so it’s up to each of us to know the difference!
  2. Am I physically capable of accomplishing the tasks I’ve committed to?  If we’re capable of fulfilling our obligations, but aren’t, it’s a good guess that we’re growing lazy.  But keep in mind that what our bodies can do varies as we age or progress through cycles of sickness and health.  Just because we were capable of a certain level of physical exertion a week ago, doesn’t mean we’ll be capable today.  Again, it’s our responsibility to determine whether our pace is slackening due to sloth or because of legitimate physical necessity.
  3. Am I mentally capable of performing the tasks before me?  Sometimes, we bite off more than we can chew.  It may be an AP class that requires more study than we have time for or a household renovation which demands math skills we never learned.  Despite this, we need to be careful that we don’t turn mental weakness into an excuse for never trying anything difficult or different.  If we do, laziness lies in wait.

If you’ve noticed that this list is a bit subjective, then you aren’t alone.  One of the things which makes Christianity unique is its ability to recognize that while there are some universal absolutes (like that God is holy, all men are sinners, and salvation comes through Christ alone), the outcome of those absolutes will look a little different for everyone.  It’s up to individuals, moved by the Holy Spirit, to determine whether they are or aren’t living the lives to which they’ve been called.  What’s so great about this?  In the end, the only one that any of us can compare ourselves to is ourselves and to Christ!

This week, spend some time in prayer and introspection.  Ask God to reveal whether you could use more rest or less.  Then, commit to acting upon His revelation.  Only when we do, will we become the light He created us to be!

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