Thursday, April 30, 2015

Poverty, the Church, and Entitlement Programs

Christians are routinely bashed for not being concerned about the poor. This charge is based upon our lack of support for “entitlement” programs.

Meanwhile, many are now calling for “income equality” as a basic “human right,” and even claim that this is a Christian thing. But is it? Certainly, concern for the poor is a high biblical priority. Here are some examples:

THE SABBATH  “Observe the sabbath day… Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath of the LORD your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter or your male servant or your female servant or your ox or your donkey or any of your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you, so that your male servant and your female servant may rest as well as you. (Deut. 5:12-14)

The Sabbath was even a rest for the least of people. Such mercy for the poor was in direct contrast to all other ancient cultures:

  • “Tacitus, Juvenal, Plutarch make merry over the idea of presenting one day in every seven to the worker! The far-reaching humanitarian significance of the Sabbath was, of course, undreamt of by them.” (J.H. Hertz, The Pentateuch and Haftorahs)
  • “Subordination of the rights of property to those of humanity…a new conception in the history of the world-a conception that could as little have been derived from Egypt as from Greece and Rome.” (Hertz)
  • “Among the Romans, the idea of property took precedence over theidea of humanity. Thus, if the debtor was unable to repay a sum advanced to him, the Roman creditor could imprison him in a private dungeon, chain him to a block, sell him into slavery, or kill him…pity for the poor was looked upon as sickly sentimentality, unworthy of a free man…Virgil praises one of his heros because he never felt any sympathy for sufferers through want; Seneca thinks it natural to recoil in horror from a poor man; and Paulus declares feeding the hungry to be cruelty because it prolongs a life of misery.” (Hertz)
According to Mosaic Law, the poor were never to become a permanent underclass. Therefore, debts had to be cancelled every seventh year – an historical anomaly among the nations:


  • At the end of every seven years you must cancel debts. This is how it is to be done: Every creditor shall cancel the loan he has made to his fellow Israelite. He shall not require payment from his fellow Israelite or brother, because the LORD's time for canceling debts has been proclaimed. You may require payment from a foreigner, but you must cancel any debt your brother owes you. (Deuteronomy 15:1-3) 

  • Consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you; each one of you is to return to his family property and each to his own clan. (Leviticus 25:10) 
Land was the means of wealth and security. When the poor would lose their land, they would also lose their means of income. Therefore, the land had to revert to the family to whom it had been originally allocated.


  • At the end of every three years, bring all the tithes of that year's produce and store it in your towns, so that the Levites (who have no allotment or inheritance of their own) and the aliens, the fatherless and the widows who live in your towns may come and eat and be satisfied, and so that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. (Deuteronomy 14:28-29)
This was not intended for the able-bodied but for the needy. We do not know to what extent it provided for their needs.


  • "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. Leave them for the poor and the alien. I am the LORD your God." (Leviticus 23:22)
The law of gleaning did not encourage laziness. Instead, the gleaners would have to forage strenuously for scarce resources.


  • If there is a poor man among your brothers in any of the towns of the land that the LORD your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward your poor brother. Rather be openhanded and freely lend him whatever he needs. (Deuteronomy 15:7-8) 
Jesus seems to have only reiterated the Mosaic laws:

  • Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. (Matthew 5:42)
These loans weren’t gifts. They had to be paid back or else the Israelite might have to sell himself as a servant until the debt is paid off. Giving was never to be administered in a way that created dependency but in a way that would help the needy to escape dependency.

Those who received the loan had to be treated with dignity. The loaner could not simply enter into the home of the indebted one. His dignity had to be preserved:

  • When you make a loan of any kind to your neighbor, do not go into his house to get what he is offering as a pledge. Stay outside and let the man to whom you are making the loan bring the pledge out to you. (Deuteronomy 24:10-11)
Although the indebted might have to provide security on his loan in case of default, the loaner could not deprive the indebted of his means of repaying the debt:

  • Do not take a pair of millstones--not even the upper one--as security for a debt, because that would be taking a man's livelihood as security. (Deuteronomy 24:6)
Christians, therefore, rightly want to give in a way that will help and not hinder. If giving creates dependency and laziness, it is destructive. Instead, compassion argues that the lazy should reap the appropriate consequences of their laziness so that they might wake up:

  • He who gathers crops in summer is a prudent son, but he who sleeps during harvest is a disgraceful son. (Proverbs 10:5) 
  • Diligent hands will rule, but laziness ends in forced labor. (Proverbs 12:24)
  • A sluggard’s appetite is never filled, but the desires of the diligent are fully satisfied. (Proverbs 13:4)
  • One who is slack in his work is brother to one who destroys. (Proverbs 18:9)
Consequently, Paul argued that the lazy should not be enabled in their laziness:

  • For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: "If a man will not work, he shall not eat." (2 Thess. 3:10) 
When giving is not coupled with wisdom, it can damage:

  • As for younger widows, do not put them on such a [support] list. For when their sensual desires overcome their dedication to Christ, they want to marry. Thus they bring judgment on themselves, because they have broken their first pledge. (1 Tim. 5:11-12)
Giving can also elicit contempt and an entitlement mentality. The Occupy Movement believes that they are entitled to the money of others. They decry the riches of the “one percent” and even talk violently against them, as if they have committed a great injustice. (Sometimes, it is a matter of injustice. But if this is so, then it must be mediated by the courts, or new laws must be passed to protect the poor. However, the Occupiers have never seemed able to articulate what the new laws should look like.)

From where do their threats come? They have been told that they are entitled to more, and that they have been unjustly cheated out of their “human rights.” While poverty is sometimes a matter of justice, it is not always so. It might instead be the product of other causes, including laziness and substance abuse.

It is therefore important to exercise discernment and wisdom. Many entitlement programs have actually hurt those who were supposed to be helped by them, creating dependency and an angry entitlement mentality:

  • We hardly need another polemic about the failure of America’s “war on poverty.” After decades of bitter wrangling and torpid inaction, there is at last a broad consensus that the welfare system is a cure no less malignant than the disease it was intended to remedy. Liberals and conservatives, politicians and program administrators, social workers and taxpayers have all been forced to acknowledge that the poor are not best served by our current lumbering and impersonal entitlement bureaucracy. They never have been. They never will be. On this, we now all agree.
  • If the poor are to be equipped with the tools of self-reliance and initiative, they must first restore family ties and community connections that have been sundered by privation and irresponsibility. Promiscuous philanthropy does little to solve the long-term dilemmas of social disintegration. It is little surprise then that programs that emphasize personal accountability, family responsibility, and community cooperation are much more likely to succeed than programs that simply dispense aid as sheer entitlements. 
How can we truly help the poor? First, we have to understand their must fundamental needs. Gracey Olmstead writes:

  • In his excellent essay at the end of the book, Peter Greer references a World Bank survey from the 1990s, in which surveyors asked financially poor people throughout the developing world how they would describe poverty. “The poor did not focus on their material need,” writes Greer. “Rather, they alluded to social and psychological aspects of poverty.” They referenced poverty in terms “shame, inferiority, powerlessness, humiliation, fear, hopelessness, depression, social isolation, and voicelessness.” 
Can we give in a way that helps the needy recover their sense of dignity? Many Christian aid groups have! In The Tragedy of American Compassion, Marvin Olasky, editor-in-chief of World Magazine, argues that, for 300 years, the church has been doing a good job of addressing the needs of the poor:

  • Faith-based groups a century ago helped millions out of poverty and into homes. Local organizations had the detailed knowledge and flexibility necessary to administer the combination of loving compassion and rigorous discipline that was needed.
Caring for the poor is not an option, it is a Christian duty! However, this duty must be wisely fulfilled, or it will damage the ones we are to help.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Tony Jones: Re-Modeling God according to Updated Specifications

We want life to make sense to us – and this is a good impulse – and so we re-shape God according to our understanding and lifestyle. And this is not a good impulse. Why not? For one thing, we are warned against doing this. Many verses declare that He is above our understanding. We are finite and He is infinite:

         "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.” (Isaiah 55:8-9)

The Creator of the universe is further beyond our understanding than even the universe itself! Therefore, we shouldn’t go beyond what He has revealed to us (Isaiah 8:20; 1 Cor. 4:7).

But how do we understand the recent devastating earthquake in Nepal? Why would our omniscient God allow this horror? He certainly could have intervened!

In order to preserve his belief in an all-loving, non-judging God, the Emergent Church teacher, Tony Jones, rhetorically asks:

         What if, instead, God is traveling through time with us? What if God abdicated all the sovereignty so as to give creation room to flourish? What if God is in a dynamic love-relationship with us, and both we and God are being changed as a result?

In order to justify his philosophy of life, Jones is willing to reject God’s biblical self-disclosure – His unchanging-ness (immutability), omniscience, and omnipotence:

         If this [above] is the case — and there’s ample biblical evidence that it is — then the earthquake in Nepal caught God by surprise. God is neither planning earthquakes nor sitting back and allowing them to happen. God is a victim of the earthquake because thousands of God’s beloved children perished.

“Ample biblical evidence?” Well, let’s take a look:

         Malachi 3:6 – “For I am the LORD, I do not change; Therefore you are not consumed, O sons of Jacob.

         James 1:17 – Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.

         James 1:10-12 - “You, LORD, in the beginning laid the foundation of the earth, And the heavens are the work of Your hands. They will perish, but You remain; And they will all grow old like a garment; Like a cloak You will fold them up, And they will be changed.  But you are the same, and Your years will not fail.”

         Hebrews 13:8 - Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

         Psalm 139:4 – For there is not a word on my tongue, But behold, O LORD, You know it altogether.

         Hebrew 4:13 – And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must given account.

         Psalm 147:5 – Great is our Lord, and mighty in power; His understanding is infinite.

         Psalm 139:16 – Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed.  And in Your book they all were written, the days fashioned for me, when as yet there were none of them.

         Isaiah 42:9 – “Behold, the former things have come to pass, And new things I declare; Before they spring forth I tell you of them.”

         Isaiah 45:11 – Thus says the LORD, The Holy One of Israel, and his Maker:  “Ask Me of things to come concerning My sons; And concerning the work of My hands, you command Me.

         Psalm 37:23 – The steps of a good man are ordered by the LORD, And He delights in his way.

         Matthew 10:29 – “Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin?  And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will.  But the very hairs of your head are all numbered.”

         Romans 8:28 – And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.

Job’s three friends also tried to construe God and His actions according to their worldview. They were correct that God was involved in Job’s misfortunes and attributed “good” motives to God. However, they were convinced that Job had some massive secret sins that were responsible for His suffering and misrepresented God in their attempt to bring God into conformity with their philosophy, and God was angry at them:

         After the LORD had said these things to Job, he said to Eliphaz the Temanite, "I am angry with you and your two friends, because you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.” (Job 42:7)

We are not at liberty to conform God to our ideological preferences. Instead, the measure of our love for God isn’t a matter of how “nice” we want to make Him seem, but instead, how faithful we remain to His Self-revelation:

         Jesus replied, "If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. He who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me. (John 14:23-24)

Not only is Jones’ views unbiblical, they are also illogical and beneath the dignity of God. How can we account for the fine-tuning of the universe, the immutable and elegant, laws of nature, DNA, the cell, life, logic, reason, freewill, and consciousness, if even an earthquake had “caught God by surprise?”

Why does Jones invent such a God – one who will also be caught by surprise by our diseases, failures, and even death and therefore helpless before them? I’ll leave that up to you!

Friday, April 24, 2015

What it Means to Love God

Of the two great commandments, loving God comes first:

  • Jesus replied: "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'” (Matthew 22:37-39) 
So how do we love God? We can’t clean His house or give Him a message. We can express our love for Him in only one way. That is, to keep His Word:

  • “Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him… If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. He who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.” (John 14:21-24)
Scripture-centeredness has always been the way that God’s people have expressed their love to God:

  • So if you faithfully obey the commands I am giving you today--to love the LORD your God and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul-- then I will send rain… (Deuteronomy 11:13-14) 
Some claim that we can love God by experiencing God. However, such a concept is entirely alien to Scripture. Others claim that we can love God by conjuring up mental images of Him. However, such use of the imagination in worship is thoroughly rejected. Instead, Jesus taught that worship had to be in spirit and in truth - God’s truth (John 4:23-24). Therefore, ministry had to be Scripture – centered:

  • Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching… Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress. Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers. (1 Timothy 4:13-16)
 Even Jesus was Scripture-centered. Instead, of speaking His own words, when challenged by the Devil, He resorted to Scripture:

  • Jesus answered, "It is written: 'Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'" (Matthew 4:4)
Jesus didn’t pick-and-choose the verses He preferred, because they all came from the Father. All were the words of God and were therefore essential.

When He encountered to the two broken disciples on the Emmaus road, He ministered to them through the Scriptures, not by imparting an ecstatic experience:

  • And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he [Jesus] explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself. (Luke 24:27)
Nor did He enable the disciples, hiding behind closed doors, to “experience” Him or to have heavenly visions. Instead:

  • He opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. He told them, "This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day. (Luke 24:45-46)
Jesus loved them, so He gave them what was most valuable - a mind to understand Scripture. In His ministry to His disciples, imparting truth took precedence over all else.

  • I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them." (John 17:26)
Internal growth depended upon the understanding of God, a message echoed throughout Scripture:

  • Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. (2 Peter 1:2-3)
Scripture was all that was needed for spiritual maturity:

  • All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17)
Knowledge of the Gospel/God trumped everything else, even healing. Jesus’ disciples found Jesus after an arduous search and pleaded with Him to return to the village where many were waiting to be healed. However, He surprised them with His priorities:

  • Jesus replied, "Let us go somewhere else--to the nearby villages--so I can preach there also. That is why I have come." (Mark 1:38)
After teaching and crying with the Ephesian elders, Paul pointed them back to the supremacy of Scripture:

  • "Now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified.” (Acts 20:32)
Any servant of God must do the same. This is how we love both God and His people. It is also how we demonstrate our faithfulness.


Today, all forms of equality are “in” - even income equality. This pertains even to God. Westerners are even shopping for an equal-outcomes god - the more impersonal, the better. Why? Because an impersonal god, like nature, does not judge! However, from all indications, God does judge. He cares about love and justice and will treat violators accordingly. Here’s just one small example:

  •  But from everlasting to everlasting the LORD's love is with those who fear him, and his righteousness with their children's children-- with those who keep his covenant and remember to obey his precepts. (Psalm 103:17-18)

What does it mean to “fear” God? Well, the Psalm actually gives us a portrait of “fear” -  “those who keep his covenant and remember to obey his precepts.” Although God loves all His creation, these are the people He loves into heaven. Why? They want a relationship with Him and will not close their eyes in order to remake Him into a more user-friendly god – one who endorses everything about them. And the ones who refuse to accept God as He is? He will leave them to their own desires!

Does this mean that God judges? Yes! But what‘s the matter with that? Don’t we also judge! How then can we condemn God for judging without making ourselves into hypocrites? Would we instead want a god who winks at every rape, beheading, and kidnapping? I don’t think so!