Archive for the ‘Featured’ Category

  1. Resurrection Past, Present, and Future

    Posted on April 3rd, 2015 by Jonathan

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    Hopefully, if you’re a Christian, you realize that Christ’s resurrection is a foundational part of your salvation. This is worth celebrating at Easter and throughout the year. But have you stopped to consider how wide-ranging the implications of the empty tomb are? Consider briefly how Easter Sunday affects your salvation past, present, and future.

    Resurrection Past: On Easter, we remember when Jesus rose from the grave three days after dying on the cross.

    For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. (1 Cor 15:3-5)

    Though this certainly has redemptive implications (if it didn’t, it wouldn’t be “of first importance”), it is essentially a brief historical account. Jesus died. Jesus rose. People saw him.

    So in one sense, celebrating the resurrection means remembering a historical fact, albeit a supernatural one. Simply put, approximately 2,000 years ago, Jesus rose from the dead. If you dispute it, you have to contend with the other, apparently related, historical fact that a religious movement sprang up almost overnight, and a rapidly growing community of people would be persecuted and put to death for believing that Jesus didn’t stay dead in his tomb, but was alive.

    Resurrection Present: On Easter, we live in the present reality of the resurrection. This is where the redemptive implications of Jesus’ vacant tomb come into play.

    We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. (Rom 6:4)

    When we are united with Christ by faith, his resurrection is our transformation. We now walk in newness of life, empowered by the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead (Rom 8:11). We can have victory over sin. We can participate in the mission of God.

    This is all reinforced by the present reality that Jesus is still alive. His resurrection was not temporary. And now, as he sits at the right hand of God the Father, we can rest in this promise:

    Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them. (Heb 7:25)

    Talk about security. This leads right into the third reason we should celebrate it.

    Resurrection Future: On Easter, we look forward to the future resurrection of our bodies.

    But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. (1 Cor 15:20-22)

    Because Jesus has been raised, so will be those who are in him – eternal communion with God in heavenly bodies. What a hope!

    As we look back to Jesus’ resurrection this Easter, let us also celebrate its present and future implications.

  2. Extending the Blessing of Good Friday

    Posted on April 3rd, 2015 by Jonathan

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    The goodness of Good Friday is seen nowhere more clearly than Galatians 3:13: “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree.'”

    This is the gospel. And it’s worth pausing to reflect on it this Good Friday as we remember when Jesus went to that tree.

    But I wonder if we might also take a few moments today to reflect on the rest of the sentence begun in Galatians 3:13. Why did Jesus die on the cross? If we keep reading, we’re told that Jesus became a curse “so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith” (Gal 3:14).

    A quick refresher on “the blessing of Abraham.” Refer way back to Genesis 12:2-3:

    And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.

    Jesus died so that the doors of God’s Genesis 12 promise to Abraham would be flung wide open. In Jesus, one of Abraham’s descendants, all the families of the earth shall be blessed. How could this be? Because Christ’s full and final sacrifice on the cross is not applied on the basis of family heritage, but on the basis of faith. All people can now be blessed with the presence of God through faith.

    We are the Gentiles. We are the beneficiaries of this extended blessing, poured on us because Christ’s blood was poured out. But as the beneficiaries, we are also the conduits. We are now part of Abraham’s bless-to-be-a-blessing family (Gal 3:7). And just as our faith came by hearing of this good news in Christ, so others’ faith will come by us telling of this good news in Christ (Rom 10:17).

    Today, there are still over 6,500 Gentile families who have yet to hear about it and, subsequently, have not taken hold of the blessing through faith. So don’t let this Good Friday end with reflection on this supernatural and glorious exchange. Rather, remember that Christ died so that the blessing would extend to all the families of the earth… then extend it.

  3. Approaching Good Friday with Easter in Mind

    Posted on April 2nd, 2015 by David Burnette

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    Without a doubt, the events of that first Good Friday and Easter are the high point in God’s plan of redemption. This is one of the reasons we often feel a sense of anticipation on Easter Sunday. However, when it comes to Good Friday, some Christians are not sure how to think about the day. We know there is much to be grateful for, but the actual events are not easy to think about.

    On Good Friday we rightly remember the sufferings of Jesus—the mocking, the flogging, and the crucifixion. And we shouldn’t forget that the most agonizing part for Christ was enduring the wrath of God on our behalf. These realities defy a light-hearted reaction. But this doesn’t mean that Good Friday is not good.

    While it’s healthy for us to be reminded of the seriousness of our sin, and to be arrested by its dreadful consequences, we shouldn’t treat Good Friday as if we don’t know what comes next. The empty tomb hangs over the entire day, reminding us that Christ’s suffering wasn’t pointless, that his enemies did not get the best of him, that the Father did not abandon him, that our sin debt is not still outstanding, and that Jesus is no longer suffering for our rebellion. In other words, we should think about the cross with the resurrection in mind.

    When God raised Jesus from the dead, he was telling us something about Good Friday. He was telling us that this sinless sacrifice had been accepted; that sin’s tyranny had been dealt a death-blow; that the price of our redemption had been paid; that the inconceivable humility of the Son of God had achieved its life-giving purpose. God was helping us to see what really happened on this seeming day of despair.

    When we think about the cross on Good Friday, it’s only fitting that we are sobered by Christ’s sacrifice and by our sin. This should be true throughout the year. But we do not approach this day as those who have no hope. This is a day for profound joy, for even before it arrives, we know that Sunday is coming. Or rather, that it has come.

  4. LifeSong for Orphans

    Posted on March 26th, 2015 by Jonathan

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    Mission: Bringing Joy & Purpose to Orphans

    Method: We seek to mobilize the Church, His body, where each member can provide a unique and special service: some to adopt, some to care, some to give.

    What They Do“Our Children” will have:

    • No want for food, clothing, medical care, or shelter.
    • Fundamental Christian training and discipleship.
    • A quality education to provide a foundation for the future.
    • Continued love and support as they transition into adult living.

    100% of all donations to Lifesong for Orphans will go to caring for orphans (no administrative costs will be deducted). All US based fundraising and administrative costs are paid for by TMG Foundation and other partners.

    Get Involved: You can partner with Lifesong in caring for orphans in MANY ways. To name a few…

    We are honored to say that Lifeline is one of our Counter Culture ministry partners.

    Find out more about Lifesong by visiting LifesongForOrphans.org, from which all of the above information was taken.

  5. Fighting Fatigue in Your Daily Devotions

    Posted on March 25th, 2015 by David Burnette

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    It’s 7:03 am and you’ve got your Bible on your lap and a hot cup of coffee in your right hand. It’s time for your morning devotions. So far, so good.

    It’s here, about the time you get five verses in, that it happens. Your thoughts start drifting. You begin to stare off into space. Instead of focusing on the Ten Commandments, your reading for the day, you’re thinking about an email you have to send at work, or the game you watched last night, or about how tired you are. Focus.

    You start reading again, and then, five verses later, it happens . . . again. You’re starting to rest, but it’s not in the Lord. Sound familiar?

    Whatever your morning (or evening routine) for your devotions, my guess is that you’ve had the frustrating experience of not being able to focus on the most important thing your soul needs for the day. You’ve got a limited amount of time before you leave for work, or before the kids wake up, but the Word of life seems to be going in one ear and out the other. It’s frustrating, but what can you do about it?

    Of course, you probably need to get more sleep – as much as that’s possible for moms with young kids – but that may not solve everything. Whether it’s our hectic schedules or our reading comprehension level, there are a number of possible explanations for why we have trouble concentrating on God’s Word. Nevertheless, there are some things we can do to take better advantage of this time. Asking God to help you is a good first step, but sometimes prayer can be even more difficult at these times than reading.

    With that in mind, I’d like to offer a few practical steps to jump-start your devotions, that is, to get your heart and your mind ready to hear from God’s Word.  I know that schedules, preferences, and even your physical and mental wiring will affect what works for you.  With all that said, have you considered that you might . . .

    1. Start with an appetizer. By appetizer, I’m talking about reading something based on the truth of Scripture that will whet your appetite for Scripture. Here are a few ideas: a few pages from a trusted Christian author, a theologically rich hymn, or a prayer from some great saint of the past. Like stretching before a jog, it’s a way to prepare your mind for the mental and spiritual exercise ahead.

    2. Get your blood pumping. If possible, take a short walk before you open your Bible. Or maybe it’s a jog, or hitting the elliptical, or whatever your workout routine is.  Even light exercise can get your mental juices flowing. This won’t automatically remove your desire for sin, but it can help to break up the mental stagnation as you prepare to think about the promises of God.

    3. Get less comfortable. That is, don’t set yourself up to fail by laying back in the recliner. Find a spot that’s comfortable, not one that’s conducive to napping. The goal is to be attentive and to stay engaged. Support your back, but don’t get horizontal.

    God has created us in such a way that our hearts our affected by how our bodies feel (and vica versa). To put it another way, the spiritual is bound up with the physical. That’s why we shouldn’t be surprised that trusting the Lord is more difficult on fours of sleep. It’s also why we should take advantage of ordinary means to prepare our minds for the truth.  Spurgeon’s counsel to his ministerial students would do us good: “A mouthful of sea air, or a stiff walk in the wind’s face, would not give grace to the soul, but it would yield oxygen to the body, which is next best.”

    What practical steps can you add to the list above?

  6. Why Your Bible Study is Too Emotional

    Posted on March 23rd, 2015 by Eric Parker

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    As noted in the previous post in this series, we’ve all been in that Bible study where we seem to be having a good discussion, people are engaged, the comments are insightful, and then Bob speaks up. And Bob, bless his soul, somehow always manages to provide some odd interpretation about the passage. We are exploring in this series of posts some of the approaches to Bible study that David Platt identifies in this “Radical Together” podcast about studying the Bible.

    Emotional Approaches

    Have you ever been studying a particularly difficult passage of Scripture, on a particularly difficult aspect of God’s character or purpose, and heard someone say, “Well my God would never ______”? Or what about, “I could never serve a God who does _____”? These are common phrases that flow out of an “emotional approach” to studying the Bible. In his Secret Church study on how to study the Bible, David talks about the “emotional approach” saying,

    This is a dangerous way to study the Bible. To go to a text of Scripture and say, “All right. What feels like it works best for me? What feels good to me when I walk away from this?” The only problem is, if you want to have what feels right, you will skip over all kinds of texts in the Bible because some kinds of texts just don’t incite the kind of good, mushy feelings that you desire from Bible study. You begin reading about the wrath of God in the prophets of the Old Testament, and you will not walk away feeling great. You read Lamentations, and you will just flat out be depressed. We can’t base our understanding of Scripture on what feels right to us.

    Now, if the “emotional approach” is dangerous, then what do we do with our emotions? Do we just check them at the door of Scripture? Does God just want immediate, unequivocal submission, with no thought or care as to how we feel about this truth or that command?

    These are good questions, but by asking these questions, we fail to ask better questions. You see, God cares deeply about how we feel, both in the trials of our lives and in our wrestling through what we see in Scripture about him and his purposes. He cares so deeply, in fact, that he gave us the Scriptures for this very purpose! So the better question is not, “Does God care about our emotions?” but rather “What is wrong with our emotions?” and “What has God done to make change possible?”and “What does God intend to do with our emotions as we study the Bible?”

    Emotions Distorted

    Many of us do not realize the extent of the Fall on all of humanity. When Adam and Eve committed that first sin against God in the Garden, it brought distortion into all the world. Every man, woman, and child since has been born into this world as a sinner. Despite popular opinion, we are not born morally neutral creatures with equal ability to choose the good or bad. We are born woefully distorted people, with an utterly sinful nature.

    So it’s not just that we do some bad things, but it is that we are born bad people . . . people who as a result, do bad things. This is the major point of all of Romans 1:18-3:23, as well as Romans 5:12-21. The implication, then, of us not being morally neutral creatures who choose to do bad things, but of being morally sinful creatures, is that actions arise from thoughts and emotion. So we do bad things because our hearts, along with the heart’s desires, are filled with sin, which in turn affects how we reason with our mind. (See Romans 1:21, 24, 28; 2 Corinthians 3:15; 4:4; Ephesians 2:3; 4:17; Colossians 1:21)

    Emotions Remade

    So if this is the situation, then what can be done? When Jesus died on the cross and rose from the dead, he didn’t just provide salvation from sin and its judgment for everyone who believes in him. That would have been woefully inadequate for God’s ultimate purposes. You see, God isn’t content to just save you, and then leave you in the state in which he came to you. Christ’s death and resurrection began a whole new creation (2 Cor. 5:17; Col. 1:15-18)! Now, when anyone truly places their trust in Christ, they are brought into the new creation in, through, and with Christ (Eph. 2:15).

    As a result, we can now say with Paul, “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6). Not only that, but now Christ dwells in our hearts through faith (Eph. 3:17), and “the eyes of [our] hearts [have been] enlightened, that [we] may know what is the hope to which he has called” us (Eph. 1:18).

    And its not just our hearts, but our minds too! As a result of being brought into this new creation, we have received the mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2:16), and now that we live according to the Spirit, we can set our minds on the things of Spirit (Rom. 8:5). What this all means is that we now have new hearts and new minds that are capable of feeling the right emotions and thinking the right thoughts.

    Emotions Renewed

    Yet, we are still in a fallen world in a not-yet fully redeemed condition where we still do not always feel and think as we should. But the difference between how we were and how we are is that who we are has now been fundamentally changed and empowered by the Holy Spirit.

    Now as we read Scripture, we come with the ultimate hope of change. Change in how we think; change in how we feel (Rom. 12:2; Eph. 4:22-23). We don’t avoid hard passages because of how they makes us feel, but rather we run to Scripture and ask God to use it to continually change how we think and feel so that we are more like him. Ultimately, the best approaches to Bible study do not check emotions at the door, but rather they bring them through the door in the hope that God will change them by the power of the Holy Spirit as people study and meditate on his Word.

  7. 4 Comments

    Raising Children to Counter the Culture

    Posted on March 3rd, 2015 by Lora Lynn Fanning

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    I’m not raising my kids to be safe. Oh, sure, we wear our helmets and our seat belts, but from the moment they are placed in my arms, I’m preparing them for the Leaving. We’re raising these little lives with hope that they will follow Christ. And we’re absolutely positive that will lead them to Dangerous Places. So while they briefly grow in our home, we tuck them up close and fill their heads and ears with stories of God’s faithfulness to carry them wherever they go. These stories are the Legacy I will give to my children: stories that teach them about a true and faithful God and how He relates to them.We eat most of our meals as a family. We sit around our giant table and the kids ask us to tell them stories of “the old days.” Sometimes that means two weeks ago, but other times, they want to know who we were before we were Mommy and Daddy. We tell them about our childhoods, our own testimonies of growing in faith. They like to hear the silly memories, but they benefit just as much from the bittersweet that lies in our history. With each story, we strum the same song of God’s faithfulness, His sweet mercy and kindness, His protection and favor.

    I’ve blogged for over a decade, piling up stories like the rock piles Joshua built on the other side of the Jordan – So We Do Not Forget His Faithfulness. My kids giggle over their own early antics, but they also appreciate reading the stories I wrote about our years of infertility and loss before our population exploded. They see their story all woven in with mine and how the thread of God’s mercy binds it all together. I remind them that they are God’s blessing to us, His grace to two undeserving people.

    We carefully show them their own crooked family tree, the grafted branches and the ones that look broken beyond repair. We show them God’s faithful hand in each story, each member of their legacy. We talk about loving our earthly family, our church family, and the perfect love of the heavenly Father, who loves us beyond our twisted limbs.

    We school our children at home, studying the stories of past cultures and heroes. With each new discovery, we examine something my own father drilled into me –  World View. We ask what other people and cultures believed about:

    • Where they came from?
    • Why are they here?
    • Who is in charge?
    • And what are the rules?

    Those four questions inform every decision, every story in existence. We hold those views up to our own World View based in Scripture, discussing where they differ and why. We’re teaching our kids to recognize Truth from lies, the Redemption in the story of the world, and how even the most rebellious souls and bad guys could find grace in repentance.

    In the evenings, when we’ve swept up the myriad of crumbs from the day, we gather in the living room to read. My husband reads literature first, right now it’s Anne of Green Gables. Not all of our children will immediately understand the rich depths of these books, but we hope one day they grow to love the beauty of the language and the narrative. We don’t shy away from the hard stories, the uncomfortable moments in great works of literature. They provide concrete examples to talk to our kids about the world, world view, and what the Gospel says about it. We hold even pure fiction up to the Truth and see what insight it brings us.

    We say good night with Scripture. Sometimes it is the parents who are weak, who want to rush through the Bible reading to get to bedtime. But these moments to talk and wonder over Truth with our kids are fleeting. We want to take every opportunity we can to talk about following Jesus – with all its danger and desperate dependence on Him.

    Finally – when the kids are in bed and the dishwasher hums in the background, my husband and I face the End of Day questions – How much of today’s poor parenting will they remember? How will we ever surmount that difficulty with this child?… It drives us to our knees…

    Not all of our babies follow Christ yet. Their struggle for Truth is sometimes written all over them and the life of this family. And the ones who do follow – they labor next to their sinful parents for mastery over the old self, to walk in love in a household full of broken people…

    So as man and wife, we end our day with hands clutched together and hearts united in prayer for mercy, for favor, for strength, for wisdom.

    And then we start a new day – new stories to tell, new Story to live. We’re crafting a Legacy, woven with threads of stories and Gospel. I can’t send my kids out the door in bubble wrap, but I can wrap them up in their Legacy of Truth and Faithfulness and believe that what I’ve forgotten or mis-taught, He is faithful to guide and teach them without my broken help.

    Gospel-parenting is not Safe. But it is Good. It is True. And He is Faithful.

    Engaging an increasingly hostile culture is one of the topics in David Platt’s new book, Counter Culture. To find out more, go to CounterCultureBook.com.

    Lora Lynn Fanning is a wife, a mother of seven, and a member of The Church at Brook Hills, where her husband, Andrew, serves as an elder. She home-schools the children, and in her “free time” blogs at Vitafamilae.

  8. Teenage Temptations, Old and New

    Posted on February 23rd, 2015 by Becca Benson

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    “What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun.” Ecclesiastes 1:9

    The often-quoted words of Solomon stand true today. Sexual immorality is not a new topic. The world has known of it since the days of Genesis. This generation of teens is not the first to experience the temptation and pressures of sexual immorality. But are they walking in a time of different and maybe even greater pressure?

    Same Command, Different World

    “Flee from sexual immorality.” 1 Corinthians 6:18a

    The command remains the same, but the world is different. Teens today face the tension and temptation on an almost constant basis. The pressure from peers that we have talked about for decades lives on; but today the ease of access created by a world that is ever connected opens doors and opportunities nonstop.

    Outside voices and expectations are louder today and permeate deeper into the crevices of teen culture and innate belief. The longstanding perspective of teens feeling guilt, shame, or even questioning whether sexual immorality is right or wrong no longer exists. We live in a “do what feels good” culture that teaches teens to empower themselves by following their desires alone—sinful or not.

    At Their Fingertips

    Today there are apps and social media galore to allure and give access. There is no hiding in a world that is always visible and expecting your life to be displayed in pictures and clever sayings that are 140 characters or less. The number of likes your photo receives is far more important than anything else. How can you possibly have a life if it isn’t documented for the online world to see?

    Their pressure is not to just live; but they must do it in perfect fashion. If they don’t have a boyfriend/girlfriend, obviously they are not worth anything according to the world. If they aren’t participating in sexual activity, how could they possibly be happy or keep that significant other . . . is what they are being told. There is no understanding or belief that their bodies are valuable but rather they are just one notch to be used in climbing the ladder of popularity and acceptance.

    The desire to belong, to fit in, and to be loved and accepted is an ever-growing monster in the heart of a teen that drives actions and gives birth to belief that satisfaction comes in fulfilling sinful desires and giving the voices around them the role of god to proclaim their truth. These desires become their idol with stronger powers than many of us realize.

    They Are Not Exempt

    In ministry, we are often tempted to hope and even pray that our students would simply make it through. We can even stoop to hoping that they will only make “small mistakes”. And in that we forget that even teens are called to holiness. Even teens are called to deny themselves and walk in godliness. First Corinthians 6:18b-20 applies to them as well.

    This generation is not accepting of mediocrity or middle-of-the-road religiosity. They either believe it or they don’t. They do not mindlessly accept something and try to live their lives by it. When it comes to sex, simply saying “Don’t do it” might not be the answer. Jesus taught big truth; why don’t we?

    How do we walk with them through the deafening expectations from a sinful world filled with people who do not naturally walk towards holiness?

    They Need You

    We as believers are called to flee, but also to go. There is a generation in desperate need of truth. There are teens across this world that need you to aggressively pursue a friendship with them in which you share the beautiful truths of Christ’s gospel and the satisfying reality of self-denial and pursuit of the only One who fulfills. They need to hear your voice. They need to see your life. They need you to teach them about forgiveness. How are they to know what mercy and grace are if we do not teach them through both their difficult and triumphant days?

    It is an incredible thing to see teens pursuing the Lord. They can remind us daily of God’s presence in their lives as they run hard after holiness amidst seemingly insurmountable pressure. May we trust in the God who is greater than our desires and this over-sexualized culture. Ask the Lord to renew your hope and set firm your belief that he is greater and worthy of the praise of this next generation.

    Engaging an increasingly hostile culture is one of the topics in David Platt’s new book, Counter Culture. To find out more, go to CounterCultureBook.com.

    Becca Benson serves as the Associate Student Minister at The Church at Brook Hills. 

  9. A Counter Cultural Approach to Poverty Alleviation

    Posted on February 9th, 2015 by Brian Fikkert

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    The past twenty-five years have seen an unprecedented reduction in global poverty. The number of people living in extreme poverty—i.e. on less than $1.25 per day—has fallen by an astounding 50 percent, and there have been widespread improvements in education, health, and living conditions for the world’s poor. Seeking to capitalize on this momentum, the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals are proposing that world leaders commit to completely eradicating extreme poverty by 2030. While many believe this goal is overly optimistic, the fact that it is even within reach is a truly astounding moment in human history.

    What has caused these massive reductions in poverty?

    Popular American culture might lead us to think that the progress has been due to socially conscious clothing brands, the latest crowd funding technique, or a social entrepreneur who figured out how to get cellphones to the remotest villages in Africa. In reality, the evidence suggests that the vast majority of the reductions in poverty have been due to the spread of one of America’s greatest inventions: rapid economic growth based on the expansion of capitalism. Indeed, economists and policy makers believe that further reductions in global poverty will require poor countries to continue to adopt the policies and institutions that have enabled the United States to sustain high rates of economic growth and material prosperity.[1] In essence, the goal is to turn Bangladesh into America.

    And this should give Christians serious pause.

    Let me be clear. This article is not a rant against markets or capitalism in favor of high degrees of government intervention in economic life. Indeed, the track record of the latter in the Global South (Africa, Asia, and Latin America) is far from stellar. However, it is a clarion call against the rampant materialism that has made the selfish pursuit of ever-increasing levels of consumption into a god that is absolutely devastating American society.

    For example, while the United States has enjoyed unprecedented economic growth during the post-war era, this growth has been accompanied by a dramatic increase in mental illness amongst America’s youth. Indeed, between 1950-1999, the rate of suicide of people under the age of 24 increased by 137%.[2] Seeking to uncover the root causes of the rising rates of mental illness, a team of experts gathered at Dartmouth Medical School to examine the leading empirical evidence, mostly from the field of neuroscience, and concluded:

    …the human child is “hardwired to connect.” We are hardwired for other people and for moral meaning and openness to the transcendent. Meeting these basic needs for connection is essential to health and human flourishing. Because in recent decades we as a society have not been doing a good job of meeting these essential needs, large and growing numbers of our children are failing to flourish.[3]

    And what has caused this breakdown of relationships with other people and with the “transcendent?” Jean Twenge, Professor of Psychology at San Diego State University, has explored the causes and concludes, “We have become a culture that focuses on material things and less on relationships.”[4] And it is this culture—its values, policies, and institutions—that economists and policy makers are bringing to the world in order to bring human flourishing to poor people!

    Unfortunately, American materialism often dominates the approaches that our churches use to helping poor people as well: our short-term missions teams distribute used clothes, our youth groups deliver Thanksgiving turkeys, and our monthly service projects ladle out soup at homeless shelters. Yes, there are times in which giving away material goods can be helpful, but prolonged handouts can create crippling dependencies. Moreover, if this is all we do, we have fallen into the lie of American culture: human beings are basically material in nature, so human flourishing can be achieved through greater consumption of material things.

    We are created for something more.

    God is inherently a relational being. From all eternity, the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost exist in intimate relationship with one another. And as beings made in God’s image, human beings are wired for relationship as well. Specifically, the Bible describes four key relationships for each human being, relationships with God, self, others, and the rest of creation. In this light, poverty alleviation is about walking with materially poor people in such a way that both they and we come closer to experiencing these relationships in the way that God intended. Unfortunately, purely material approaches to poverty alleviation—whether through unfettered economic growth or through dependency-creating handouts—can undermine the proper functioning of these relationships, doing serious damage to God’s image bearers. Good intentions are not enough. It is possible to hurt materially poor people in the very process of trying to help them.

    Space does not permit a complete articulation of all that is entailed in a Christian, counter cultural approach to poverty alleviation, but here are a few tips:

    • Walk humbly with materially poor people as Christ transforms both of you;
    • Be willing to learn from materially poor people. The fact that they have fewer financial resources does not imply that they are less spiritual or that they have nothing to teach you. See I Corinthians 1:26-31;
    • Start by focusing on the assets and gifts of materially poor people rather than on the resources they appear to be lacking;
    • Do not simply provide handouts of material resources to able-bodied people over long periods of time; ask them to contribute something to their own improvement;
    • As much as possible, stop doing things to or for materially poor people, and start doing things with them;
    • Remember that it’s all about empowering people, not dispensing products;
    • Make sure your approach is rooted in and leads back to the local church, because the local church is the very embodiment of Jesus Christ, the only One who can restore people to proper relationships with God, self, others, and the rest of creation.

     Finally, realize that the goal is not to turn Bangladesh into America, for both cultures are profoundly broken; rather, the goal is to turn both Bangladesh and America into the New Jerusalem, for it is in that culture alone that there is restoration for the poor, a group that includes all of us.

     If you want to dive a bit deeper on these ideas, watch Brian Fikkert’s Qideas talk called “First World Poverty” by clicking here. Poverty is one of the issues covered in David Platt’s new book, Counter Culture. For more, go to www.counterculturebook.com

    Brian Fikkert is the Founder and President of the Chalmers Center for Economic Development at Covenant College (a featured ministry partner at counterculturebook.com) and co-author of When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor…and Yourself (Moody Publishers 2012).

    [1] Richard Bluhm, Denis de Crombrugghe, and Adam Szirmai, Poor Trends: The Pace of Poverty Reduction after the Millenium Development Agenda, UNU-MERIT working paper series, IPD WP19, February 2014; “Towards the End of Poverty,” Economist, June 1, 2013; Donald Kraay, “When is Growth Pro-Poor? Evidence from a Panel of Countries,” Journal of Development Economics 80(1), 198-227.

    [2] Commission on Children at Risk, Hardwired to Connect: The New Scientific Case for Authoritative Communities (New York, NY: Institute for American Values, 2003), 68.

    [3] Ibid, 6.

    [4] Jean M. Twenge as quoted in Courtney Hutchison, “Today’s Teens More Anxious, Depressed, and Paranoid Than Ever,” ABC News, December 10, 2009.

  10. Why Zeal is Not Enough

    Posted on January 27th, 2015 by David Burnette

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    Imagine being so motivated by your faith that you are willing to leave the comforts of home in order to travel over land and sea, all so that people will be converted. You refuse to be silent about what you believe, even if it means making a sacrifice. Then imagine your reaction when Jesus comes to you and, in light of all your efforts, calls you a child of hell.

    This is exactly what happened to some first-century missionaries – you may know them as the scribes and Pharisees. Here’s how Jesus responded to their disciple-making efforts:

    Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves. (Matt 23:15)

    Condemned Converts

    The scribes and Pharisees illustrate for us why zeal, in and of itself, is not enough. They were willing to get a passport and jump on a plane, so to speak, but in the process they were making people “twice as much a child of hell” as they were (Matt 23:15). These hypocrites were zealous, but for the wrong, gospel-denying reasons.

    Religious groups that deny the gospel are still willing to travel across the world to make converts in our day. The Mormons are one of the more obvious examples. Admittedly, we can respect the commitment and the willingness of such groups to make sacrifices for what they believe, especially when they know their message won’t be well received. After all, we too should be zealous in our service to the Lord. But we don’t want to have the testimony of Israel in Paul’s day: “They have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge” (Rom 10:2). All the sincerity and passion in the world are not enough if we are not fueled by the truth.

    Gospel-Informed Zeal

    As Christians, our zeal has a very specific foundation, and it’s not simply a positive attitude or even a selfless desire to help others. No, our zeal is based on the gospel. It’s a Spirit-prompted response to God’s mercy in Christ, a response that includes submission, gratefulness, and a strong desire to obey. It’s what Paul meant when he said, “For the love of Christ controls us” (2 Cor 5:14).

    Just to be clear: making sure that our zeal is motivated by the gospel is not a call to temper our excitement about Jesus. Rather, it’s a reminder to feed our affections for him by reflecting on his glories as revealed in Scripture. This helps us to obey Paul’s command, “Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord” (Rom 12:11).

    So regardless of whether or not our service to the Lord requires traveling over land and sea, let’s make sure we have have the right kind of zeal – a zeal based on truth.