Thoughts on taking care of the poor among us

“He honors (God) who has mercy on the needy” (Proverbs 14:31). “He who has pity on the poor lends to the Lord, and He will pay back what He has given” (Proverbs 19:17).  “The poor you always have with you, but Me you do not have always” (Matthew 26:11).

Scripture has a lot to say about God’s people caring for the needy.  But it can be twisted and made to say something other than was intended.

A friend sent me a letter from a disgruntled church member who was complaining that after he lost his job the church did not pay his bills and support him.  The friend says the church gave him a great deal of help and “I personally gave him money.” But it wasn’t enough for the guy, who is now slamming the Lord’s church and wondering “Where is Jesus after 2,000 years?”

I suggested my friend ask the guy how many needy people he assisted when he had a job.

I think we know the answer.

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The ultimate proof is the strangest test

By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35).

“We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren.  He who does not love his brother abides in death” (I John 3:14).

You see those Christian people meeting in that little cluster there?  They’re a strange lot, aren’t they?  They have odd customs and their own language, and some can be perplexing.  Okay, I want you to love them.

You say it’s hard?  Friend, you don’t know the half of it.  But that’s what you’re going to be doing.

And when it happens, when you find yourself cherishing this oddest of people on the planet, that’s when you will know you are born again and destined for eternal life.

But not until then.

There is one way and one way only you are going to be able to love all Christian people.  You’re going to have to be born again.

You’re. Going. To. Have. To. Be. Born. Again.

Because you cannot do this in the flesh.

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A fine romance this is.

Romance comes in all shapes and sizes.

Love does what it wishes and will not be confined to our formulae nor our fences.

The Hollywood slander is that only the young and beautiful fall in love, that somehow the plain and the aged are outside the bounds of this most wonderful experience in life. It’s a lie, of course, as is so much of what Hollywood peddles.

I’ve just finished David McCullough’s account of the settling of Ohio when it was the “far west” in the American experience.  The Pioneers: The Heroic Story of the Settlers Who Brought the American Ideal West is a slow read, one I had to make myself stay with.  Scattered throughout the story, however, were delightful episodes, worth the effort of reading the book.

Ephraim Cutler (1767-1853), one of the earliest settlers and a champion for a hundred reasons, was widowed at the age of 40.  The death of his wife left him with four  small children.  Interestingly, however, before her death,  Leah chose Ephraim’s next wife.  We will let McCullough tell the story…

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What it means to love Jesus

“If you love me….” (John 14:15)

We do love the Lord, right?  We would love to express our love to Him in His own love-language, right?

We love Him because He first loved us, right? (That’s I John 4:19).

The question then is “How exactly do we express our love to Him?”  With flowers and candy?  With huge gifts?  Quick prayers before bedtime?  Maybe if I’m baptized and join the right church?  Should I tithe?  Should I read the Bible through? Go to Sunday School?

What does He want?  What would make Jesus feel loved?

The Old Testament answer to the question…

The prophet Micah was wrestling with this very question when he asked, “With what shall I come before the Lord?  And bow myself before the High God?”

That is to say, “What possible thing could I do on earth that would please God in Heaven?”

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Some things that continue to bother me

I wrote on this website an article titled “Things that no longer bother me.” Among them were the interpretation of certain Bible prophecies, the wasted energies of denominational politics, and the need to have an answer for every question.

But there’s another side to that coin.

Some things do bother me and keep me prayerful, studying, engaged, worrying (a little), and always concerned.

It bothers me that my grandchildren do not read as much as they should.  Blame computers?  It bothers me that the standards for television broadcasting keep getting looser and looser.  Nothing is off limits, considered too dangerous or obscene.  It bothers me that other people don’t seem to be bothered.

Bothered?  How does that old song go? Bewitched, bothered, and bewildered.  Well, for me personally not so much bewitched or bewildered.  Just bothered.

For instance…

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Have you considered how special you are to God?

“Go tell His disciples–and Peter….” (Mark 16:7)

How special Peter must have felt, to have been singled out by the angel.

This is a question followed by a story…..

Question:  What has God done that forever makes you know how special you are to Him?

Was it a healing? A close call with a near-accident?  Something you read in Scripture?  A sermon that perfectly fit your need of the moment?  Your salvation?

What did He do?

Why do you feel so special to Him?

I have a friend who says she feels like God’s favorite child.  There has to be a reason.  I’m asking you to search out that reason.

Now, the story.

I was preaching a revival in East Fork Baptist Church, halfway between McComb and Liberty, MS.  Fans of Jerry Clower will remember he talked of this church and the community often.  Jerry Clower sat on the front row at every service.  I stayed in his camp house that week.

The organist for the little church had only one arm.  Clyde Whittington was a sweet-spirited, friendly fellow.  One day when we were having lunch with Mr. and Mrs. Whittington, Jerry Clower said, “Clyde, you have to tell Brother Joe what happened to you.”

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“Oh, how long it’s been since I’ve seen you!”

Wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God” (Hebrews 11:16). 

Songwriter Robert Sherman was attending the birthday party for Will Durant, the 85-year-old who with his wife Ariel had recently produced the enormous set of volumes on The History of Civilization.  It was a feat of incredible magnitude for which they had won all kinds of awards.

One month earlier, Sherman had spent several hours with Dr. Durant during which they discussed literature and film.  But now, in the crowded reception, Durant just cannot place Sherman.  He knows he’s supposed to know him, but cannot get beyond that.

Know the feeling? I sure do.

Bob Sherman said Will Durant would stare, smile, and try to make the connection. You could almost see the wheels turning in his head.

Finally, Durant said, “It’s good of you to come.  It’s been a long time since I have seen you.  Too long.”

Sherman, relating this story in Moose: Chapters from my Life, called Durant’s words  “an all purpose statement.”

And Sherman understands the problem.  The older we get, the more prone we are to forgetfulness.

Do you have a similar story?  Here is one of mine.

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“There are those who say…” but God says otherwise

(15th article on the “Seven Churches of Asia Minor” — Revelation 2-3)

Let’s consider the Lord’s response to some of the more foolish statements heard around church from time to time.

There are those who say….

One.  “Love does not matter.  Obedience is everything.  Love is syrupy and weakness.  Sentimentality! Show me your deeds.”

The letter to the church at Ephesus (Revelation 2:1-7) proves them wrong.  Without love, no amount of good works is enough.  Reference the opening of I Corinthians 13.

“Love one another,” says our Lord to the Ephesian church, “or I will pull the plug on you.  Cut off your life support.  Cancel your franchise.”  Remove the lampstand.

God is love.

Two.  There are those who say “God will not let His faithful ones suffer.  If there is pain or suffering, someone is being disobedient.”

The letter to the church at Smyrna (Revelation 2:8-11) proves them wrong. He knows, He sees, He cares–and still He allows it.  God has His purposes.

Trust Him.

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The most revolutionary, world-changing thing the Lord Jesus ever said

“Love your enemies.”  (Matthew 5:44 and Luke 6:27),

“Father, forgive them.  They know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).

This article is in two parts.  The first part is an illustration of the principle; the second part explains the revolutionary principle from our Lord.

Part One. 

He sat on the upper deck of the United States warship Missouri and watched the so-called Peace Proceedings that put an end to the Second World War in the Pacific.  General Douglas MacArthur, representing the United States, said something which brought a sneer to his lips.

Let us pray that peace be now restored to the world and that God will preserve it always.”

Fuchida’s historian writes: “Fuchida listened skeptically.  He had doubted his own emperor when he spoke of everlasting peace, and he didn’t believe the general now.  no, he thought, you are wrong, MacArthur. Peace isn’t coming to the world.  more trouble is coming.”

Mitsuo Fuchida knew that war is the natural state of mankind. People are selfish, and their interests conflict. As long as people have lived on earth, there have been wars, and there will be wars until the end.  It’s natural and normal.  There’s no way to end it.

Then one day months after the war’s end, Fuchida was talking to some former POWs who had just returned from internment in the United States. That’s when he began hearing of another way.

Some of those imprisoned in the U.S. told of a young American social worker named Peggy Covell who had been so kind to them, even though the Japanese were her sworn enemies

On one occasion, Fuchida learned the reason for her kindnesses.

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Won’t I be your neighbor? And won’t you be mine?

“I have always wanted to have a neighbor just like you. I’ve always wanted to live in a neighborhood with you….” (from Mister Rogers Neighborhood. Opening theme) 

“Love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18). This verse is quoted in the New Testament in Matthew 5:43 and 19:19; Mark 12:31; Luke 10:27; Romans 13:9, Galatians 5:14 and James 2:8. 

Mr. Fred Rogers, who left us in 2003, is back in the news these days. Books and articles, television specials and a couple of movies remind us just how special this good man was.

Anyone who reads Mr. Rogers’ words or dwells on his life for even a few minutes comes away thinking more about being a good neighbor.

My wife and I saw the movie “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” Thursday of this week.  There were perhaps 25 or 30 others in the theater, most of them seniors.  This was not the Tom Hanks movie on Mr. Rogers which I had expected, but is more of a documentary or biopic, I think they call it.  The Hanks movie will be out soon, we’re told, and is not so much a biography as a story about Rogers’ interview with a magazine writer.

A couple of observations about Mr. Rogers from the movie we just saw.  One, the man truly was almost too good to be true.  As a result, during his lifetime some had tried to find dirt on him and made accusations against him. All to no avail.  He was “all that,” as the saying goes.  One of his sons said, “I was raised by the second Christ,” with a smile.

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