Charity is the Duty of the Church

Historically, charity has been the duty of the church, yet today much of that responsibility has been abdicated to the government.  A large portion of the federal budget, and hence of the taxes we pay, is allocated to social programs, such as providing assistance to the poor.  Yet, Jesus made it clear that caring for those in need is a primary responsibility of His church.

In Matthew 25: 31 – 46, Jesus talks about the end times.  He tells His disciples that at the judgment He will separate the sheep and the goats.  The sheep will be rewarded with eternal life and the goats will be condemned to eternal punishment.  Who are the sheep?  The sheep are described as those who have provided food and drink to the hungry and thirsty and clothing to those in need, those who extended invitations to strangers, those who cared for the sick, and those who have visited prisoners.  The goats are the people who did not do these things.

This teaching taken by itself seems to indicate salvation by works.  Yet, we know from a thorough reading of the Scriptures, that we cannot achieve salvation by our works.  Salvation is a free gift bestowed on those who will accept it through belief in Jesus Christ’s redemptive work on the cross.  We can never do enough good works to be ‘good enough’ for Heaven.  Only if we acknowledge our sin and inadequacies and allow the blood of Jesus to pay the price for our sin can we be saved and receive the gift of eternal life.

Food pantry ministry
Food pantry ministry

What then was Jesus trying to tell His disciples?  I believe that He was emphasizing how serious it is for His church to carry out His work of ministering to those in need.  As a church, the body of Christ must: (1) feed the hungry, (2) provide clothing to those in need, (3) reach out to strangers and make them feel welcome, (4) care for the sick and lonely, and (5) visit those who are incarcerated.  These actions are not voluntary; Jesus mandated them as the primary work of His people.

Visiting the sick
Visiting the sick

Jesus came to minister to those in need.  When the Pharisees criticized Jesus for eating with tax collectors and sinners, Jesus told them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Mark 2:17) Jesus went out of His way to interact with those who were in need, whether the need was physical, financial, or spiritual.  After their immediate needs were met, they were receptive to Jesus’ message of grace and redemption.

The church should do no less than Jesus did.  Charitable outreach cannot be something we do randomly or haphazardly.  It must be done regularly and with a plan.  To paraphrase a popular saying  “no one cares what you believe until they believe you care.”  We will only be able to reach the lost, the hurting, the lonely, and the needy if we reach out to them with the love of Jesus and minister first to their physical needs.  If the church truly fulfills this mission, sinners will flock to churches and many, many people will receive salvation.

I am happy to be a part of a church that believes in ministering to those in need.  We do this specifically by providing food to anyone who calls us and asks for help.  Most of the people we assist do not attend our church.  We are happy to share Christ’s love through providing food for them.  It is our prayer that many of these people will want to fully experience Christ’s love and will seek out a Bible-believing church to attend.  We also visit visit the sick and elderly in the hospital and nursing homes.  And, of course, many other churches in our community do their part to fulfill Christ’s mandate to serve the poor and needy.  Still, there is more that needs to be done. 

Each church needs to step up and take primary responsibility for the needy in their communities.  If they did, the government could reduce or eliminate many social programs and the church would have the influence it should rightly have in the world.

What are you and your church doing to share Christ’s love with those in need?

My Take on Proselytizing

I grew up in a Christian home and have attended church regularly all my life, yet I was not familiar with the term ‘proselytizing’ until I was in my thirties and then I only heard it used on rare occasions.  In recent years I have heard the term used more and more frequently, often as a criticism.  The term is bandied about so negatively that I found it hard to believe it was an action I could be guilty of committing, so I looked up its meaning.  Webster defines proselytize as ‘the attempt to convert’.

Christians are instructed by Christ to ‘go and make disciples of all nations’ (Matthew 28:19), which certainly results in an attempt to convert those who don’t know Jesus Christ as their Savior to Christianity.  We don’t use the term ‘proselytizing’, however.  Rather we ‘share the gospel’ and ‘evangelize.’  In Christian circles, these are viewed as positive actions.  We are attempting to lead people into a relationship with Jesus Christ, because we are convinced that salvation through Jesus Christ is the only access to eternal life.

Of course, many people have a different and negative opinion of evangelism. The Atheist Revolution recently published an article entitle ‘The Condescending Nature of Proselytizing.’  The unidentified author discusses his disdain for those of any religion who proselytize.  He quotes Rick Levy who finds this practice “rude and condescending because of its implication that the adherent’s beliefs are superior to those of other people’s and thus they need to be saved from the error of their ways.”

Interesting.  I make no apologies for Christians believing that salvation comes only through Jesus Christ.  Christ himself said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:60)  In Acts 4:12, Peter preached “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”  There are no alternative beliefs for anyone who truly is a disciple of Christ.

What I object to is the assertion that sharing our faith makes Christians condescending.  We are not trying to present ourselves as superior, but rather as sinners saved by grace who want to give others the opportunity to share in this wonderful gift.  We desire that everyone would experience the peace and joy that comes from knowing Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.

Recently quotes from an interview given by Penn Jillette in 2008 have been making the rounds on the Internet.  Jillette, of Penn and Teller fame, is a very vocal atheist, yet he states “I don’t respect people who don’t proselytize…How much do you have to hate somebody to not proselytize?”  When I saw the video of this interview, it reminded me of the Seinfeld episode in which Elaine discovers that her boyfriend Putty is a Christian.  She gets upset that he would let her go to hell rather than try to convert her.

Proselytizing, from a Christian’s point of view, is the attempt to share the most precious, valuable gift ever given to man–the gift of eternal life.  Christianity is so wonderful that not sharing this good news is not an option.

If you don’t know Jesus as your Savior, I urge you to examine your heart.  Do you have true peace?  Do you know your sins are forgiven?  Are you confident that you will spend eternity in Heaven?  If not, you might want to open your heart and your mind the next time a Christian wants to share the gospel with you.  You have nothing to lose and eternity to gain.

Christ is Born Today!

Wishing blessings to all today as we celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  May you have joy and peace today and blessings in the New Year.  Praise God for sending his Son into the world that we might have peace, forgiveness, and salvation.  Merry Christmas!

Good Christian Men, Rejoice!
By John M. Neale
 
Good Christian men, rejoice
With heart and soul and voice!
Give ye heed to what we say:
Jesus Christ is born today.
Man and beast before Him bow
And He is in the manger now;
Christ is born today,
Christ is born today!
 
Good Christian men, rejoice
With heart and soul and voice!
Now ye hear of endliss bless:
Jesus Christ was born for this.
He hath opened heaven’s door,
And man is bless forever more.
Christ was born for this,
Chris was born for this.
 
Good Christian men, rejoice
With heart and soul and voice!
Now ye need not fear the grave:
Jesus Christ was born to save;
Calls you one, and calls you all,
To gain His everlasting hall.
Christ was born to save,
Christ was born to save!
 
What Child Is This?
by William C. Dix
 
What Child is this, who, laid to rest,
On Mary’s lap is sleeping?
Whom angels greeet with anthems sweet,
While shepherds watch are keeping?
This, this is Christ the Kind,
Whom shepherds guard and angels sing:
Haste, haste, to bring Him Laud
The Babe, the Son of Mary.
 

Winning the Amazing Race of Life

Yesterday I watched the finale of the Amazing Race as the last three teams standing vied to cross the finish line first and claim the million dollar prize.  Each team made a major mistake in the final leg that could have cost them the race.

Art and J.J. appeared to be out of the race when they couldn’t decipher a riddle sending them to twin skyscraper.  They bounded back into second place when Rachel and Brendon hurriedly read a clue and missed an important piece of information.  Rachel and Dave seemed to have cruised to an easy win, only to be informed that they had missed a challenge. They hurried back to find Art and J.J. in the midst of the challenge. Fortunately for them, Art had a difficult time riding a narrow sled down a hill, while Rachel managed it with ease.  Rachel and Dave finished the challenge and were crowned the winners of this seasons Amazing Race.

As I watched the teams partake in extreme challenges, I had no doubt that I would never want to be a contestant on the Amazing Race.  Not even if I were young and fit.  I have no desire to repel off a 44-story building, as the final three teams did, or to haul buckets of manure as contestants did in a recent episode.

I was reminded, however, that we are all in an amazing race.  And this race is for much higher stakes than a million dollars.  Our participation in this race will determine our eternal future.  Those who “win” the race receive eternal life in Heaven as their reward. In the Amazing Race, there is only one winner; however, in the amazing race of life, we can all win.

Winning the amazing race of life requires accepting Jesus Christ as your Savior.  Many people claim that there are other paths to God, but the Bible teaches us that “there is no other name under Heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)  Salvation is attained simply by acknowledging my need for salvation, believing that Jesus died on the cross as punishment for my sins, and confessing Him as lord of my life.

Winning the amazing race of life requires resisting the temptation to quit or be sidetracked.  Contestants in the Amazing Race face roadblocks, detours, and u-turns. Likewise, Satan tries to block our path, send us on detours, and u-turn us back to a life of sin and selfishness through temptation.  We can overcome Satan’s wiles by keeping our eyes fixed firmly on Jesus. God promises that He will be there in your moment of temptation. “God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” (1 Corintians 10:13)

Winning the amazing race of life requires focus and dedication with your eye firmly on the prize. The Amazing Race contestants are highly motivated, as they want to win the million dollar prize. Paul explained in his first letter to the Corinthians that our goal in life is much more valuable. “Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training.  They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.” (1 Corinthians 9:25)   He said toward the end of his life, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me a crown of righteousness.” (2 Timothy 4: 7 -8)

Winning the amazing race of life involves making mistakes, acknowledging them, and getting back on track.  Contestants on the Amazing Race frequently take a wrong turn or misread the instructions and make a mistake.  They continue on the wrong path until they realize their mistake and have fallen behind in the race.  At that point they have the choice to quit and give up or turn around and keep competing.  Sometimes they are able to overcome their mistake and remain in the game; other times they are too far behind and are eliminated.  In life, when we acknowledge our mistakes (sins) and seek forgiveness, God promises to forgive our sins.  “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)  Forgiveness gets us back on track with God.

Rachel and Dave were greeted by the cheers and applause of their competitors as they crossed the finish line and won the Amazing Race.  One day my life on Earth will be over and I will be transcended to Heaven where my Savior will be waiting and rejoicing that I have run a good race and have finished the course.

What path are you following in the race of life?  Can you look forward with joy and a grateful heart to a life in Heaven and a crown of righteousness?  If not, I pray that you will allow Jesus to guide and direct you to the path that leads to eternal glory and reward.

Helping Girls Discover Who They Are in Christ

When I was a high school math teacher, one of my students made a statement to her classmates along the lines of “High school is the best time of our lives, people.  You better enjoy it.”  I challenged her assertion and explained that she had so many wonderful events in her life ahead of her—college, marriage, and children just to name a few. When she thought it over, she could see that the sentiment she expressed was actually very negative.  Yet, I’ve heard adults make the same comment to their high school children.

For many people high school was a wonderful experience, and they look back wistfully on that period when they had lots of free time to spend with their friends and they were still under the protection of their parents.  Unfortunately, however, high school is a very tough time for many other teenagers.  Some teens struggle with making friends and feel like they don’t fit into any groups. Teens are pressured to wear the right clothing and hairstyles. Girls may be teased for being overweight or not fashionable, and bullies pick on smaller, weaker guys.    Even the athletes and beauty queens are pressured to live up to worldly standards of physical perfection that are unrealistic. It’s no wonder that many teens struggle with low self-esteem.  

In writing and in working with girls in my church, I am passionate about trying to help girls and women discover their truth worth as children of God.  For 32 years, I have been privileged to work in my church’s Girls Ministries program.  I became involved in this ministry while I was in college. My 8-year old sister volunteered me to teach a group of younger girls so they wouldn’t be in her class.  I was available, so I agreed to serve.  It wasn’t long, however, before I realized that Girls Ministries would be one of my life’s missions.  

The Girls Ministries program exist to introduce girls to Christ and to help them find their place and purpose in life.  One of the primary goals is to help girls realize that they are loved and esteemed by God.  Their worth and value as human beings has nothing to do with their abilities, their actions, or their appearance.  They are valuable because God created them and loves them. 

I once heard a preacher say that the most profound message of God’s Word can be summed up in “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”  Jesus loves me and Jesus loves you.  He loves each and every girl, regardless of her appearance, her background, her home life, or the mistakes she has made.  This is the message we desire to impress on the heart of each girl. John 3:16 is perhaps the best-known verse in the Bible. “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”  God loves each girl and His love is so great He sent Jesus to die on the cross for her sins, so that she can spend eternity in Heaven with Him.  

Of course, the girls hear this message in Sunday School and church.  So, why do they need Girls Ministries?  I believe that Girls Ministries is important for girls to learn how to fulfill God’s purposes for them as women.  Girls need a place where they can meet without boys present.  Girls Ministries affords girls an opportunity to be themselves without trying to impress boys and to discuss concerns that should not be discussed in mixed company.  

In a girls-only environment, we address sensitive issues such as dating standards and sexual purity.  We teach them to apply makeup to enhance their appearance and to dress modestly, so as not to tempt boys to have inappropriate sexual thoughts about them.  We give them tools to recognize verbal or physical abuse and encourage them to date only Christian young men who share their beliefs and who treat them with respect and courtesy. We also teach girls that they will make mistakes and they will have to ask God to forgive them.  When they seek forgiveness, God forgives.  However, they may still have to live with the consequences of their mistakes.

“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11 NIV) Each girl in our program learns that God has a wonderful plan for her life.  She can achieve this plan if she follows the instructions in God’s manual.  God’s commands are not to restrict her, but to allow her to live life as fully as He has planned for her. A girl who appreciates this truth will not struggle with self-image or lack of worth.  She will realize how valuable she is to the one who created her and she will grow into a confident young women equipped to fulfill God’s purposes for her life.

Praying for Amy Winehouse

Amy Winehouse died earlier today, most likely of a drug overdose.  Although I was not an fan of Amy’s music and did not approve of her lifestyle, I was sadden by the news of her passing.  Only 27 years old, Amy should have had most of her life ahead of her.

The first time I remember hearing of Amy was in the fall of 2007 when an Internet news service ran of photo of a fornlorn Amy after her husband arrest.  I don’t typically read gossip about entertainers; however, I was drawn to Amy’s photo.  It was not her trademark beehive hairdo, her outlandish makeup, or the tattoos that covered her body that attracted my attention.  Rather , it was the desperate look in her eyes.  She reminded me of a lost child in need of help.  As I read the accompanying article, I learned that Amy was a talented but troubled young woman addicted to alcohol and drugs. 

I felt led to pray for Amy that day and occassionally since.  My prayers were that Amy would find her way to God.  Only God could provide the love and peace that Amy sought.  Alcohol and drugs could neither solve Amy’s problems nor allow her to hide from them.  In the end, it appears that they killed her.

Unfortunately, I have no reason to believe that Amy sought a relationship with God.  And now it is too late for her.  However, for anyone reading this, it is not too late.  God loves you and He sent his son Jesus to die for your sins.  Making Jesus your Lord and Savior is the only way to achieve true peace and happiness.  God wants to give you the wonderful life He planned for you. Won’t you let him?  You have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

A Sudden Goodbye

Upon my arrival at work on Wednesday, I was informed that a coworker, Larry, had died during the night.  I was stunned!  I spoke with Larry on Tuesday and nothing seemed to be amiss.  He was smiling and friendly, as he always.  Yet Larry, at 54 years of age, had suffered a massive heart attack and passed away without any warning.

Larry was a “salt-of-the-earth” guy.  The kind of man the world could use more of.  Larry did everything with a smile.  In fact, Larry received an award in May entitled, “We couldn’t do it without you.”  His nominator wrote that Larry was “flexible support with a smile.” 

Outside of work, Larry was supportive and helpful to those around him.  He donated time to tutor at-risk children and volunteered with hospice.  He taught Sunday school and VBS at his church, where he also served as chairman of the deacon board.

I will miss seeing Larry’s smiling face at work each day and our frequent chats.  However, I take great comfort in knowing that Larry is in Heaven.  Larry did not make it to Heaven because he was a wonderful man, although he was.  And Larry isn’t in Heaven because he was kind to those in need or faithful in church attendance.  Rather, Larry is in Heaven because Jesus Christ loved Larry (and you and me) so much that He died on a wooden cross to pay the penalty for our sins.  Larry believed that and invited Jesus Christ into his heart.  Larry accepted Jesus’s free gift of salvation. This gift is available to all who will call on the name of Jesus.

When Larry left work on Tuesday evening, he had every intention of coming back to work Wednesday morning.  He was looking forward to many years left on earth.  I don’t think Larry had any thought that Tuesday would be his last day on earth.  Fortunately, Larry was prepared for death when it came. 

If today turns out to be your last day on earth, are you prepared to enter eternity?  If not, I urge you to accept Jesus’s free gift of salvation today.  None of us are promised tomorrow.

You’re Blessed!

The Beatitudes from Jesus Christ’s Sermon on the Mount:

You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.

You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only than can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.

You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are–no more, no less.  That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.

You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God.  He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat.

You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being “care-full,” you’ll find yourselves cared for.

You’re blessed when you get your inside world–your mind and heart–put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.

You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight.  That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.

You’re blessed when your commitment to god provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom.

Not only that–count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me.  What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable.  You can be glad when that happens–give a cheer, even!–for though they don’t like it, I do! And all heaven applauds.  And know that you are in good company.  My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble.

Matthew 5:3 – 12 (The Message)

May your life be truly blessed this week in all the ways that matter.  May you feel God’s presence in your moments of grief, disappointment, and weaknesses. May you know that God loves you far more than you can comprehend and that He will never leave or forsake you.  May you bask in His presence as you read His word and spend time with Him in prayer.

The world offers no peace, no contentment, no satisfaction compared to what God has offered mankind through His son Jesus.  If you haven’t taken the time to know Jesus and to make Him your Lord and Savior, please consider doing so today. Only when you do so will you be truly blessed.

In Celebration of Kristi

Yesterday I learned that Kristi DeVore Shores’ life on earth had ended. I was saddened by the news that this beautiful, vibrant thirty-nine year old woman had lost her brief battle with stomach cancer.  She was diagnosed with the illness less than three months ago.  As she fought her brave battle, family members and friends interceded with God on her behalf.  On Tuesday God healed Kristi.  It was not the healing we had hoped for, yet it was an answer to our prayers.  When Kristi’s eyes closed, her soul was transported into the presence of her Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

My heart aches for the family she left behind:  her loving husband Ryan who dreamed of growing old with her, three precious children who are young enough to need a mother’s daily care, godly parents who set a wonderful example for their children in their marriage and their daily walk with Christ, and three siblings who have stayed close despite busy lives of their own.  From their Facebook posts, I know the family members are sad, but they are also happy that Kristi is pain-free and they are secure in the knowledge that they will see Kristi again when their time on Earth comes to an end.

There are hundreds of posts on Kristi’s Facebook page and web site.  Some friends share the many ways Kristi touched their lives, while others tell funny stories about her.  Most offer words of condolences to her family.  All loved her and were better off for having known her.

Those of us who knew Kristi have perfect assurance that Kristi is in Heaven.  Kristi is not in Heaven because she was kind or loving.  She didn’t earn her way into Heaven through generosity or good works.  She isn’t there because she was a loving wife, a caring mother, a dutiful daughter, and a precious sister.  Kristi was all those things and many more.  Yet, Kristi knew that she could never be good enough to get to Heaven on her own. Many years ago Kristi acknowledged what is true of all of us, that she was a sinner in need of a Savior.  Kristi believed that Jesus Christ died for her sins and she confessed Him as her Lord and Savior. And because she did, she is spending eternity in Heaven.

Perhaps you’ve been told that there are many roads to Heaven.  It sounds nice and many people believe that.  However, God’s Word teaches us that Jesus is the only way.  “There is no other name under Heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.” Acts 4:12.

Where will you spend eternity?  If you haven’t accepted Jesus’ free gift of salvation, I urge you to do so today.  The rest of your life on Earth will be better, and you will receive the promise of an eternity in Heaven.

Unto Us a Son is Given

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”  Isaiah 9:6

Each year, Christians all around the world celebrate the birth of baby Jesus in a stable more than two thousand years ago.  For those of us who have made Jesus Christ our Savior by accepting His free gift of salvation, Christmas is a pivotal point in history. If Jesus had not come to Earth as a human baby and lived a sinless life, He could not have died for our sins and we would still be lost.  Through the birth of this tiny baby, salvation came into a darkened world

God used another baby boy to draw my family into a relationship with Him.  My brother John was born when I was 5 years old. Although our mother had contracted rubella early in the pregnancy, John was declared healthy and sent home.  However, we soon learned that John had serious heart defects and the he could neither see nor hear.

John underwent open-heart surgery when he was three months and endured several more surgeries in his first few years of life.  My mother began praying, asking God to heal John.  One day she asked an acquaintance to remember John in her prayers.  The woman proceeded to share the gospel with my mother.  Although my parents had attended church all their lives, until that day neither of them had a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

My brother died from heart complications before his eighth birthday.  During his short life, both of my parents and many other family members came to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.  Although we miss John and think of him every day, we know that one day we will be reunited with him in Heaven. 

This Christmas, and every Christmas, I am thankful that the Son of God humbled Himself and became human on our behalf and that God used a blind and deaf child with a bad heart to show my family our need for a personal relationship with God.