Tag Archives: Bible

Divine Appointments: Avoiding “Should Have”

I’m ashamed to admit this, but I can’t even begin to tell you how often I stop and suddenly realize that I had an opportunity to help someone and didn’t even notice it. I hate that feeling, and I hate knowing that there are people struggling and suffering because I didn’t even notice, or I noticed and it didn’t dawn on me to do something about it. Do you ever feel like that? “Should have” is a painful phrase.

Recently a friend told me that she has been praying for opportunities to serve. This friend has a job that brings her in contact with random strangers all day long, and she told me that she prays before and during work for God to bring her opportunities. And He has! All through her shift, people seek her out to ask for help, and to share their burdens. She has started bringing along supplies to hand out to the needy, and snacks to share with anyone who asks. Is God bringing these people to her because she asked, or were they always there and she just started to notice? I think the answer is a bit of both.

First off, we serve a God who answers prayers. And a selfless prayer like “bring me in contact with people that I can bless” is certainly in line with the heart of God. So knowing that He has a willing worker on the streets is a great opportunity for God to bring people together. He loves his children, and wants to see needs met. He also wants to see our character develop, so when we ask Him to put us in opportunities to grow through serving, He’s not likely to say no to that!

Second, a “use me” attitude opens our eyes. If I go to work and all I’m thinking about is me and what I need to accomplish today, I’m like a horse wearing blinders. All I can see is the task immediately in front of me. But asking for these “divine appointments” removes the blinders. If you have a heart to look for needs, you will find them. They’re all around us!

There are many examples of divine appointments in the Bible. The book of Esther, for one, tells the story of a young lady put in just the right place at just the right time to save her people. After the queen disgraced him, king Xerxes held a reality-TV worthy search for her replacement. When he made Esther his queen, he had no idea that her presence in the palace would save the Jews. But Esther spoke up for her people, and they were saved. She didn’t desire to be queen, but she was willing, and God put her there. She was afraid to confront the king about her people, but she obeyed, and they were saved. Esther 4:14 reads, “who knows but you have come to your position for such a time as this?”

I ask you the same question: Who knows but you have come into your position (job, neighborhood, circle of friends, family) for such a time as this?

Open your heart and your eyes, and don’t be afraid to speak up. God can, and will, use you in big ways!

Greater Love

If you follow Food Shelf Friday on Facebook, then you may have seen this week’s scripture image featuring John 15:13, “Greater love has no one than this, that to lay down one’s life for his friends.” This is a beautiful picture of what Jesus did for us by dying on the cross. It is also frequently used to honor the memory of heroes who sacrificed their lives in military service or in an effort to save others, like firemen and police who die in the line of duty. But I think there is more here, a message not just about the dead, but for the living.

Matthew 16:24-26 (also found in Luke 9, and Mark 8) – Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?”

2 Corinthians 5:17 – Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!

Galatians 2:20 –  I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Galatians 5:24 – Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

Death does not always mean the end of physical life. Repeatedly the Bible calls us to die to self, to willingly lay down what we want in favor of what God wants. We are called to deny ourselves, to stop striving to gain the whole world at the cost of our souls, and to keep our eyes on God’s kingdom over our own.

The flesh is strong. Very strong. I’m hungry, tired, weak, and selfish every day. And I find ways to appease myself every day. I eat junk food because it makes me happy and I “deserve” it. I rest when I should be busy (rest is not bad, you have to take care of yourself, but let’s face it, laziness is also real and I know most of us cross that line often). I fail to resist temptation. I think about myself and my rights first. This is what humans do. We take care of our own in as much comfort as we can afford, and then we think of others with our leftovers and cast-offs. It’s human nature.

But God’s nature is different. His eyes are on the big picture, a global scale that transcends time. Isaiah 55:8-9 reminds us of this: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

God calls us to resist our own nature and take on his priorities. We are called to willingly sacrifice our rights, our comforts, and our sense of control for the ultimate goal of getting the gospel message to the people around us. We have to die to our selfish desires, showing the kind of love that Jesus showed when he was crucified to pay the penalty for our sins. In this way we show the ultimate kind of love, laying down our lives for a friend.

The Principle of Gleaning

Leviticus 19:9-10: When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen.Leave them for the poor and the foreigner. I am the Lord your God.

Deuteronomy 24:19-22: When you are harvesting in your field and you overlook a sheaf, do not go back to get it. Leave it for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow, so that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. When you beat the olives from your trees, do not go over the branches a second time. Leave what remains for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow. When you harvest the grapes in your vineyard, do not go over the vines again. Leave what remains for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow. Remember that you were slaves in Egypt. That is why I command you to do this.

 

I love the principle of gleaning. God commanded the Israelites to leave the edges of their fields unharvested to meet the needs of widows, orphans, foreigners, and the poor. There is so much to learn from this principle:

  1. Gleaning requires you to leave margin in your life: To obey this command, the Israelites had to plan to live on less than 100% of their earnings. Every spring they planted their fields, sowing precious seed grain all the way to the edge of their fields while knowing that they would not get the full return on that investment. They planted that grain for the sake of the widows, orphans, foreigners, and poor who would need it.How can we leave margin in our lives and invest in those in need? – We have to live within our means. Know the difference between things you need and the things that would be nice to have. Make donations a line item in your budget and work toward growing that bottom line.
  2. Gleaning does not replace the tithe: When the Old Testament law established the tithe, there was no “if” or “or.” The tithe, the first 10%, given to the maintenance of the priesthood and the church, is discussed separate from the principle of gleaning. The Israelites were expected to leave the edges for the needy to glean and give the first fruits to God.I’ve heard preaching that suggests charitable donations can replace tithing. I disagree. The principle of gleaning suggests that we are to tithe and give to the needy. I’m going out on a limb here, but if you don’t trust your church, or don’t believe in their mission enough to tithe, you need to prayerfully consider what you’re doing there. If you can’t afford to do both, you need to evaluate your budget and work toward change. And don’t forget that you can give things other than money. Your time spent volunteering and mentoring is a great way to invest in others!
  3. Gleaning is not a handout, but an opportunity for dignified work: The law didn’t say, “when you harvest your field, pick up every crumb and give some of them to people in need.” Instead, it instructed the Israelites to leave an opportunity for dignified employment that allowed the widows, orphans, foreigners, and poor a chance to provide for themselves.There are so many ways that we can give, but the most meaningful, and the gifts that make the biggest, long-term, life-changing difference are gifts that provide opportunity. Fair trade employment, microfinance loans, education and job training, and legal advocacy do more than just fill a hungry stomach for a day or two. They actually produce opportunities for dignified employment and change that provides more than a temporary fix.

Old Testament law has a lot to teach us about God and what He values. The principle of gleaning is an example of that, revealing how God sees our responsibilities to our fellow man, and what we can do to love others!

The Word of our God Endures Forever

Recently there has been some upset in the world of Christian women. High profile authors and bloggers have made statements about politics, race relations, and homosexuality that others have disagreed with and which some have even called heretical. There have been some scathing posts on blogs and social media, and a lot of people have found the “unfollow” button to be quite handy. This past week, one of my friends made a statement that from now on she would be moving away from reading the words of others, and recentering her quiet time on reading the Bible. I love how she didn’t point fingers or argue for or against anyone; she just reminded us that our primary source should always be the word itself. In that spirit, I bring you this selection of Bible verses. (All references are from the New International Version)

Proverbs 11:25 – A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.

Proverbs 22:9 – The generous will themselves be blessed, for they share their food with the poor.

Malachi 3:10 –  “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.”

Matthew 10:8 – Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.

Luke 3:11 – Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.

Luke 6:38 – Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

2 Corinthians 9:6-9 – Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. 7 Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 8 And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. 9 As it is written: “They have freely scattered their gifts to the poor; their righteousness endures forever.”

 

James 2:14-26 – What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? 15 Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

18 But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”

Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. 19 You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.

20 You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless[d]? 21 Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. 23 And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,”[e] and he was called God’s friend. 24 You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.

25 In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? 26 As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.

John 13:35 – By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.

Have a blessed and generous Thanksgiving, everyone!

 

The Great Wardrobe Purge: Thoughts on Fair Trade and James Chapter 5

purge

I learned something about myself this week. For a long time I have prided myself (and I use the word “pride” intentionally) on the fact that I’m not a “stuff person.” I don’t like clutter. I didn’t keep every art project my kid brought home from school. I clean out my crawl space and shed every year. We go through my son’s wardrobe and his room twice a year. I’m just not about the stuff. But lately I’ve been feeling like my wardrobe was getting a little full, and I decided to do a full clean out.

I literally removed every stitch of clothing and every accessory from my closet, storage bins, and dresser. I washed every piece of laundry, too, so I knew exactly what I was dealing with. As I pulled each item out of its home, I considered if I really wanted it. Does it fit my body? Does it fit my lifestyle? Do I wear it? It was astounding. I filled a huge Amazon Prime Pantry box with rejected clothing and accessories, and my bed was still covered! Hoodies, cardigans, leggings – up and up the piles grew. I had no idea it was that bad.

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The reject pile

I came to a realization: I have wardrobe bulimia. I binge shop and then purge, over and over. Stores worth of clothing pass through my hands, and it’s rare that I keep anything long enough to wear it out. I’m a stuff person after all, not a stuff keeper, but definitely a stuff waster. I’m embarrassed and ashamed of my wastefulness. I’ve been so proud of myself when there was nothing to be proud of!

For a while now I have been learning about the importance of fair trade manufacturing, and have been working toward a fair wardrobe based on minimal purchasing, certified fair trade choices, and secondhand shopping. This purge and inventory taking was part of that process. You have to know what you have in order to make good decisions about future purchases! Ironically (though no coincidence to God, I’m sure…), my purge landed on the same day that I read James 5 as part of my time in the word.

James 5:1-6:   Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. Look! The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the innocent one, who was not opposing you.

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Some of the evidence stacked against me

My piles of clothing testify against me; I live in luxury and self-indulgence. And I know that the farmers and workers who created my piles of clothing cry out because of oppression and failed wages. And the Lord hears their cries!

On one level, I feel bad that I have been an active and willing participant in this broken system. But I don’t blame myself for the things I didn’t know. And I’m not blaming you either. Until a few years ago, no one talked about international labor practices. We learned about workplace disasters like the Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire (New York City, 1911) as history, and celebrated that American labor laws were fixed last century. Meanwhile, we went on wearing cheap t-shirts and tennis shoes made by children in other countries who were paid pennies to work in dangerous factories where they face abuse every day and don’t have an opportunity for a basic education. We didn’t know. In fact, most of us thought we were being responsible if we bought the cheapest clothes possible!

But now that I know better, I feel responsible to repent for the lives that were hurt for my “stuff” and to do better. In fact, my first instinct was to start replacing the things I own with fair trade replacements. But that’s not the answer! It just adds to the waste, filling our landfills and my credit card balance! Fair trade is expensive; it has to be if everyone along the way is getting a fair wage for their work. The real answer is to use up what I have, that damage is already done.

But if this purge taught me anything, it’s that I do not need more stuff. I probably have something that will fill whatever need I have: from work wear I can paint in to a formal gown – including jewelry, handbags, AND shoes, I have at least one thing in my wardrobe to meet any need possible. I don’t usually shop from need; I shop from boredom, and I’ll bet a lot of you do too.

If I shop from need and not from boredom, I can afford fair trade.
The world can’t afford anything less.