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52 Churches

A Shepherd Cares for His Flock

Discussing Church 33

Even though this church is only nine miles from our house, the contrast between their lives and mine is stark. These people live in poverty. And their shepherd cares for his flock.

Consider these four discussion questions about Church #33

1. We struggle to sing hymns. The organist learned to play because no one else could, and the minister isn’t adept at leading singing. We push through. God doesn’t care about our musical ability, only our heart. 

How can we better align our perspective with his?

2. The people of this rural congregation struggle getting enough to eat. Behind the church is a sizable garden, planted for their church community. The pastor offers venison for Thanksgiving to those in need, as well as firewood to help heat their homes. 

How open are you to see the needs of others? What can you do to help?

3. The reality of these people’s lives puts an exclamation point on being in need. Their physical needs are great and their life, far different than mine.

How can you help meet the tangible needs of the people in your church? Your neighborhood?

4. These people worship God with their church community, their extended family. Being together is what matters. This minister takes care of his congregation; he’s a shepherd who cares for his flock. He loves them, and they, him. 

How can you show love to others?

[See the prior set of questions, the next week, or start at the beginning.]

Get your copy of 52 Churches and The 52 Churches Workbook today, available in e-book, paperback, and hardcover.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Christian Living

When You Give…Not If You Give

Jesus Expects Us to Help Those in Need, But Are We?

In Jesus’s engaging teaching that we call the Sermon on the Mount, he talks about giving to those in need. He says, “When you give . . . ” He doesn’t say, “If you give . . .” (Matthew 6:2–4). It’s clear that Jesus expects us to give to those in need. But how can we best help others?

The Need Is Huge

The vast need all around me overwhelmed me; it paralyzed me to inaction. I thought that if I helped anyone, I would have to help everyone. This is impossible. To deal with this insurmountable task, I took the simple path. I decided I would give money to the church—letting them use it where it was most needed—and not give to anyone else.

It was a cowardly decision that I regret.

Doing this allowed me to smugly say no to every request because I was already giving to God’s church instead. What convicted me, however, was a look at the church’s budget. About 95 percent of all the money they received went to pay salaries and building expenses. That left 5 percent for everything else.

This church did little, if anything, to help those in need. The budget at every church I’ve looked at has a similar ratio. In fact, too many churches focus all their budget on internal issues and have nothing left for those in need.

Though my decision to give only to the church eased my struggle to know what to give to, it wasn’t the best way to help those with needs. I was ignoring Jesus’s instruction about when you give.

Be Good Stewards

I then began looking for service and para-church organizations that focused on helping those in need. By giving to them, I indirectly help those who struggle. To fine tune my search and not let the plethora of worthy options overwhelm me, I looked for areas that aligned with my passions. I identified four categories.

I began giving to these causes, and they soon received all my charitable giving. I follow this plan fully—except for when the Holy Spirit prompts me to make an exception.

Giving to worthy organizations is great, and it makes an impact in our world, be it locally or globally. Yet in most cases the organization stood between me and the recipients. To best follow Jesus’s instructions about when you give, I needed to address the needs that confronted me day-to-day.

Personal Charity

I once worked in a downtown office, where people asking for a handout often confronted me in the parking lot. Regardless of the need they presented, money was the solution they sought. At first, I would tell them, “Sorry, I have no money.” Sometimes this was true, for my wallet would be empty. But most of the time, it was a convenient lie.

Now, determined to stop my dishonest response to these panhandlers, I sought ways to address their underlying need, without directly handing them cash—which most times I suspect would have gone for alcohol or drugs.

I’d buy people meals, purchase bus passes, take them to the grocery store, fill up their car with gas, or give them a ride. Once I even offered to put a man in a hotel room for the night. He declined. Despite his carefully constructed tale of woe, what he really wanted was my money, not my help.

At the Holy Spirit’s direction, I did my best to follow Jesus’s instructions about when you give. In doing this, however, I often ended up making unwise decisions in my attempts to truly help these people. Thankfully, God, in his grace, protected me from my recklessness.

Seek ways to address people’s underlying need, without directly handing them cash. Click To Tweet

Moving Forward When You Give

I continue to support worthy organizations, strive to be a good steward of God’s blessings, and follow the Holy Spirit’s guidance in directly helping others. I desire to make a sincere effort to help these people in their plight without enabling questionable behavior or allowing them to take advantage of my charity.

Yes, I sometimes make mistakes, supporting people or causes that take advantage of my generosity to follow Jesus’s command about when you give. Yet I know the one way to make sure this never happens is to never give. And that’s a mistake I won’t make.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Bible Insights

What Can We Do to Help Others?

Discover Ten Reasons Why People Speak Well of Job

Job had everything and he lost it all. He can’t figure out what happened or why God seems so distant. Though enduring hard times, he asserts he has done nothing wrong. To reinforce this claim of right behavior, he says that everyone who heard of him has good things to say. They commend him.

Here’s why:

1. Job Rescued People Who Asked for Help

When people in trouble ask for our help, how do we react? It’s easy to come to the aid of friends, but what about strangers?

2. Job Aided Orphans

God has a special place in his heart for those without parents. When we help orphans, we benefit them and honor God at the same time.

3. Job Brought Joy to Widows

In addition to orphans, God also wants to make sure widows received care. Though their plight today isn’t as detrimental as it was then, we do need to be intentional to help widows in need.

4. Job Behaved Rightly

Following Job’s example, we can do the right thing every day. It should be part of who we are and how we act. The Bible calls this righteousness.

5. Job Became Eyes for the Blind

We should help those who can’t see. What can we do to make their life a little bit easier?

6. Job Became Feet to Those Who Couldn’t Walk

Likewise, we should assist those who struggle with mobility issues. What can we do to help them?

7. Job Was a Father to Those in Need

To those with unmet needs, we can be like a father—a loving, gracious father—to help them out.

8. Job Pursued Justice

We can pursue justice for the oppressed and help them find relief from their oppressors.

9. Job Opposed Evil

Evil is all around us. Do we ignore it, or do we oppose it?

10. Job Rescued Victims from Evil

When evil exists, victims result. What can we do to rescue victims from their plight?

What can we do to help someone today? Pick one thing today and pursue it. Click To Tweet

Moving Forward

This is a long list, an endless amount of need for us to address. Jesus said we’ll always have the poor with us, but that fact isn’t an excuse to ignore them. Though these needs could overwhelm us, we should do what we can to help those around us. Pick one thing today and pursue it.

What can we do to help someone today?  

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Job 29-32, and today’s post is on Job 29:11-17.]

Discover more in Peter’s new book Dear Theophilus Job: 40 Insights About Moving from Despair to Deliverance. In it, we compare the text of Job to a modern screenplay.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Bible Insights

The Wicked Acts of Sodom and Gomorrah

Discover Why We Need to Help the Poor and Needy

Even if you’ve not read the Bible, you have likely heard about Sodom and Gomorrah, the cities God destroyed for their extreme wickedness.

The account of this is found in Genesis, chapters 18 and 19. In this text, the sexual depravity of the men of Sodom is portrayed. Despite that, it does not explicitly say that their sexual predilections were the reason for the annihilation of Sodom and Gomorrah. Even so, most readers make that assumption.

However, the prophet Ezekiel does explain the reason that the people of Sodom were punished so severely. It’s not what you think.  Are you ready for the real reason? Sodom was destroyed because they “they did not help the poor and needy.”

That puts the idea of “wickedness” in a completely different perspective—God’s.

While sexual sin is a temptation we must avoid, it may be even more important that we don’t turn our back on the poor and needy. Many verses in both the Old and New Testaments command us to assist the poor and those in need. But it’s easy to breeze past those verses and focus on others.

Yet God’s heart is that we help those in need. Consider what we may do to assist them and in doing so, obey God’s commands in the process.

Though Jesus said there will always be poor people, that doesn’t mean we don’t need to help them (Mark 14:7). We do. The Bible says so.

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Ezekiel 16-17, and today’s post is on Ezekiel 16:49.]

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Bible Insights

How Can We Help the Poor?

Deuteronomy Instructs Us to Help Foreigners, Orphans, and Widows

In the book of Deuteronomy, Moses reminds God’s people that when they’re harvesting a field to not pick it clean, to leave some of the produce for others. This includes foreigners, orphans, and widows (Deuteronomy 24:19).

Help Foreigners Orphans and Widows

Moses’s words reiterate the same command that we read twice in the book of Leviticus (Leviticus 19:9-10 and Leviticus 23:22). It’s good for Moses to remind the people of this command. They’ve been in the desert for forty years and not planted or harvested.

Soon that will change. He’s telling them their harvest won’t just be for them, but it’s also to help poor people, specifically to help foreigners, orphans, and widows.

Ruth Gleans Grain

Let’s fast forward a few centuries to Ruth and her mother-in-law Naomi. Ruth and Naomi are both widows. Ruth is also a foreigner. When they return to Israel, they’re poor. Dirt poor.

Aside from each other, they have no family. They have no means for support. They have no money. What do they do?

Ruth goes out in the fields to glean grain, to pick up what the harvesters left behind or overlooked. This wouldn’t have been possible had the landowners not followed Moses’s command to leave some of the harvest behind for the foreigners, orphans, and widows so they can glean.

Even though this is an act of generosity on the part of the farmers, notice that Ruth does need to work to get her free food. She must glean grain from the field, working and sweating behind the day laborers.

For Ruth and Naomi, their story ends happily. Ruth gets married again and this time she has a child. Ruth’s husband also takes care of his mother-in-law, Naomi. They no longer need to worry about their day-to-day survival.

But not all poor people are so fortunate. They must continue to glean from the fields and rely on the generosity of others.

What can we do to help foreigners, orphans, and widows who have no food? Click To Tweet

How Can We Apply This Principle Today?

Today, few of us are farmers to leave food in the fields for people to glean. Yet that does not remove the responsibility from us to help the foreigners, orphans, and widows who are destitute and have no food. What can we do to help them?

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Deuteronomy 22-24, and today’s post is on Deuteronomy 24:19.]

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Christian Living

How Do We Give to God?

The Bible says to give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.

While there is no biblical command to give 10 percent of our income to the local church, that doesn’t mean we should ignore giving.

Jesus’s detractors try to trick him into saying something condemnable about paying taxes. They figure they can use his words against him regardless of how he responds.

If he tells them to pay taxes, then they can accuse him of putting the Roman government over God (of literally worshiping Caesar instead of God). And if he tells them not to pay taxes to the ungodly Romans, then they can turn him over to the authorities for treason or even insurrection.

Either way they win.

Jesus responds wisely. He tells them to give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s (Luke 20:22-25). Once again Jesus foils their seemingly foolproof plan to discredit him.

But how exactly do we give to God?

As a small kid I connected our church’s offering ritual with Jacob’s ladder in the Bible (aka the stairway to heaven, Genesis 28:12). The ushers passed the plates and walked the collection up the aisle to the minister.

I assumed that on Monday he would climb Jacob’s ladder to heaven and actually give our gifts directly to God. It made sense to me then. And it made giving gifts to God so easy.

So the question remains, how do we give our gifts to God? Since I can’t actually make out a check to God and hand it to him, what am I to do?

Again, Jesus has the answer. In a parable he teaches that whatever we do to help the less fortunate, we effectively do for God (Matthew 25:40).

If we're good stewards of what God gives us we'll hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Click To Tweet

So we give to God by helping the poor. We can help them tangibly address their physical struggles and we can help them eternally by meeting their spiritual needs.

We can do this directly through our own actions, and we can do this indirectly when we support organizations that help those in need as they point them to Jesus.

If your local church can do this most effectively, then give to them. But check their budget first. For most churches only a very small fraction of the money donated is actually used to help those outside the church.

If another organization has less overhead and uses a higher percentage of donations to help others, then give to them.

Remember, we are to be wise stewards of the money God entrusts to us. We want to hear the words “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:21) and not “You wicked, lazy servant!” (Matthew 25:26). May we use our money wisely to advance God’s kingdom and hear his approval.

How do you give money to God? How do you ensure you are a wise steward with the money God assigns to you?

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Christian Living

“Can You Spare Some Change?”—Following Jesus’ Example to Help Others

“Can You Spare Some Change?”—Following Jesus’ Example to Help Others

For years, I’d drive to my urban office. After parking my car, the area’s homeless would often accost me. My goal was avoidance. And when that didn’t work, to minimize contact.

“Can you spare some change?”

When homeless people asked for money, I'd try to discern need from greed. I did my best to exercise good judgement, so I’m okay if a few of them conned me. Click To Tweet

I’d shake my head as I made a beeline to the safety of my work. Sometimes, they’d follow.

“It’s for food,” they’d say when I’d scowl at the brown paper bag in their hand or withdraw from the stench of alcohol or body odor.

“I don’t have any money.” On some days, that was true, but most times, it was a lie. I’d have a couple bucks—and I planned to keep it for myself. Plus, I didn’t want to enable their habit or perpetuate their lifestyle.

But one day, I felt the disapproval of Jesus. Surely, he would not shrink away. Surely, he would engage. If I was truly his follower, I had to do the same.

So, I began offering to buy them a meal at the local MacDonald’s. Usually—for various lame reasons—that wasn’t to their liking. Only once did someone accept my offer. I bought his meal, wished him a good day, and retreated with a smile.

My smug satisfaction, however, didn’t last long when I realized I hadn’t considered him as a person. I met his request, but likely didn’t provide what he needed. I could have sat with him, listened to his story, even asked his name. I should have, but didn’t.

In the years that followed, I attempted to do better. Desiring to be a good steward of the money God gave me, I’d talk with them, seeking to distinguish need from greed, to help when needed, while not letting them take advantage of me.

I did some foolish things along the way: giving rides to questionable characters, flashing my wallet, and giving out my phone number. Thankfully, God kept me safe from my naiveté. Usually their con fell apart as I pressed into their story.

But occasionally it didn’t, and I’d buy a meal, a bus ticket, or a bag of groceries. Twice, I couldn’t escape their fast-talking hustle, handing over money just to get them out of my car.

They accepted my pittance because my probing was wearing them down and they knew it was the best they could do.

Even with the care I took, I suspect most of the time, they took advantage of me. Yet I did my best to exercise good judgement, so I’m okay if a few of them conned me.

However, the counterpart to being a good steward of the money God has provided is to give to anyone who asks.

It’s a balance I haven’t figured out yet, but I’ll never stop trying.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Reviews of Books & Movies

Book Review: The Poor Will Be Glad

Book Review: The Poor Will Be Glad

The Poor Will Be Glad: Joining the Revolution to Lift the World Out of Poverty

By Peter Greer and Phil Smith (reviewed by Peter DeHaan)

Over half of the people in the world live on less than four dollars per day and one billion of them live on less than a dollar a day. Most of them reside in developing countries.

These people face a plethora of problems, including hunger, child mortality, lack of clean drinking water, death producing diarrhea, a dearth of education, limited access to healthcare, lower life expectancy, an absence of women’s rights, high unemployment, and a shortage of access to financial services.

So opens Peter Greer and Phil Smith’s book, The Poor Will Be Glad.

Attempting to tell them about Jesus, without addressing the ravages of poverty in their lives, fail to produce long-term results. However, when physical needs are addressed along with spiritual needs, lasting change can result.

Unfortunately, many aid efforts, although well-intentioned, actually do more harm than good, training recipients to be dependent on and expectant of Western handouts.

The solution that authors Greer and Smith advocate is microfinance. Microfinance provides small, short-term loans to poverty-mired, but otherwise able individuals.

These loans enable them to engage in income-generating work that can improve their standard of living and help them rise above the ravages of poverty. Succinctly, access to small amounts of capital empowers the poor.

As the book’s subtitle suggests, microfinance can lift the world out of poverty—and the church should join in this revolution.

After laying out the severity and pervasiveness of poverty and offering microfinance as a liable and proven solution, Peter Greer and Phil Smith devote the latter two parts of the book to detail microfinance and connect it to ministry.

When done properly and wisely, the results are an opportunity to help those in poverty on both a physical and spiritual level.

The Poor Will Be Glad is full of instructive and inspiring examples of microfinance in action. Unlike many books that are co-authored, where it is often frustratingly unclear which author’s voice and experiences are being shared, with The Poor Will Be Glad, there is no such confusion.

The book also abounds with poignant pictures from professional photographer Jeremy Cowart. The inclusion of his work in The Poor Will Be Glad raises the work to coffee-table book status.

This does not detract from, but rather enhances, its central function of providing practical education on the power of microfinance, coupled with ministry.

Microfinance is not a poverty panacea, but it does offer the most realistic way to make lasting changes in the lives of the poor in third world countries. When it is coupled with biblically based principles and pointing people to Jesus, the change can be eternal.

[The Poor Will Be Glad: Joining the Revolution to Lift the World Out of Poverty, by Peter Greer and Phil Smith. Published by Zondervan, 2009, ISBN: 978-0-310-29359-0, 279 pages, $19.99]

Read more book reviews by Peter DeHaan.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

Categories
Reviews of Books & Movies

Book Review: When Helping Hurts

Book Review: When Helping Hurts

When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor and Yourself

By Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert (reviewed by Peter DeHaan)

As implied by the subtitle, the main premise of When Helping Hurts is that efforts to help those who are less fortunate often do more harm than good—to both the receiver and the giver.

In communicating practical and tested insights on the subject, authors Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert divide their book into three sections, first providing foundational concepts, then adding general principles, and concluding with practical strategies to provide assistance in a truly beneficial manner.

Ideal for both personal reflection as well as group study, each of the book’s nine chapters begins with some preliminary thought-provoking questions and ends with a set of reflection questions and exercises.

While the text itself is sufficient to communicate the book’s identified problem and recommended solution, the questions aid both the casual reader and the serious practitioner in more fully assimilating the message.

While the focus of poverty alleviation is the meeting of material needs, the broader picture of the poor’s situation includes “shame, inferiority, powerlessness, humiliation, fear, hopelessness, depression, social isolation, and voicelessness,” (p 53); these are often overlooked.

Treating only the symptoms or missing the underlying problem will not improve the situation of the poor and may actually make things worse.

In providing assistance it is critical to first discern the situation. Does it call for relief, rehabilitation, or development?

The failure of many well-meaning humanitarians is in providing relief (the quicker and easier solution) when it is no longer warranted, but what is actually needed is rehabilitation or development assistance.

It is this provision of relief at the wrong times that can push people further into poverty instead of lifting them out. A related danger is providing aid with a paternalistic attitude, which also serves to keep the recipients mired in poverty.

A related concern is the effect on short-term mission trips, which likewise often focuses on the wrong solution or in the wrong ways, harming those who are being served and those who are serving, as well as the local organizations and indigenous peoples who are attempting to help year round.

To address this, recommendations are given to aid short-term missionaries to be more effective and truly helpful. Even so, the more effective solution is often to stay home, donating an equivalent amount of money.

Also noteworthy is the fact that there are needs for poverty alleviation in virtually every community in the US. These people can be served more effectively, saving on travel costs and avoiding the cultural miscues involved in traveling overseas. Also addressed are micro-financing initiatives and their helpful, sustaining effect—when they are done correctly.

Helping When it Hurts can be a discouraging read, but the solutions it presents—in both theoretical instruction and actual examples—will guide the serious practitioner to a holistic, God-honoring, truly helpful solution that will have lasting influence, both in this world and beyond.

[When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor and Yourself, by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert. Published by Moody Publishers, 2009, ISBN: 978-0-8024-5705-9, 230 pages, $14.99]

Read more book reviews by Peter DeHaan.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

Categories
Christian Living

Where is Church?

Where is Church?

Over the holidays I reconnected with a valued friend. Although our paths had diverged for a couple of years, we easily picked up where we left off. We talked about writing and family and faith—and eventually, church.

He had taken a time-out from attending, only recently returning for the sake of his kids. After bouncing around a bit, he eventually “settled” on one. He says it’s okay. He likes the pastor and the people are nice, but he longs for more than “surface” relationships.

Given my own questions about “church” (see “Church Attendance” and “Spiritual but not Religious”), I had mostly kept silent, but when he mentioned a longing for deep connection, I simply said, “Like this.”

We agreed that our Tuesday morning restaurant meal had more spiritual significance than what we normally experience on Sunday mornings.

This is church, I thought—except that the words also tumbled out of my mouth. He nodded, though I know not if out of politeness or agreement.

While I appreciate that many bristle at the suggestion that church could happen during the week, in a restaurant, without a pastor, and sans music or sermon—I do know the God was there with us.

Another of my “church” experiences is my twice-monthly volunteering at the local food pantry. There I worship God through my acts of service to those who Jesus said we are to help. There I fellowship with others as we work together.

Though we come from different churches—and no churches—we are there forming relationships, helping others, and being united as one “church”—just like Jesus prayed (John 17:23).

So I went to “church” last Tuesday, and then on Saturday, and I will go again this Sunday morning.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.