Biblical Foundations 32: Elevating Others 7
We are in post 32 of digging into the Bible to understand God’s purpose for this local church; we have spent many posts looking at what it means to Elevate God…we have spent a few posts (and will do so more in the fall!) looking at what it means to Elevate Community, that is, our responsibility towards Christians…and for the last six posts we have been digging into Scripture to look at what it means to Elevate others, that is, our responsibility towards non-Christians.
In those posts we have focused primarily on the importance of our primary mission—spiritual needs, using our words to introduce people to the Lord Jesus Who can take care of not just their 100 years on earth but also their 100 million-billion-infinity years in eternity.
And yet, those 100 years on earth do matter! This post we will look quickly at Isaiah 58–please go deeper into the passage on your own this week!–as one of the MANY passages of Scripture in the Old and New Testaments where God commands—not suggests—His people to meet the earthly needs of others:
Isaiah 58 (NIV)
58 “Shout it aloud, do not hold back.
Raise your voice like a trumpet.
Declare to my people their rebellion
and to the descendants of Jacob their sins.
2 For day after day they seek me out;
they seem eager to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that does what is right
and has not forsaken the commands of its God.
[In other words, they come to God for Him to bless them, but they aren’t concerned about truly blessing God. They come to the Temple, they pray, for God to guide them let’s say in business decisions or other areas where they will directly benefit. They are interested in God as long as it means that they get what they want. They are classically treating God like a genie in a bottle. They are concerned with getting from God, but they aren’t at all concerned with repenting to God,
with coming to God to confess their sins before they ask Him to bless them.]
They ask me for just decisions
and seem eager for God to come near them.
[These aren’t people who never attend the Temple, these aren’t people who are uninvolved in spiritual activities! But they are involved for the wrong reasons, and they are not at all grieved or concerned over the ways that they rebel against God.]
3 ‘Why have we fasted,’ they say,
‘and you have not seen it?
Why have we humbled ourselves,
and you have not noticed?’
[It’s as if they are saying, “We’re jumping through Your hoops, God, and You’re not coming through for us! We’re doing the Bible studies and tithing and everything else but You aren’t blessing us! What’s up with that?”]
“Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please
and exploit all your workers.
4 Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife,
and in striking each other with wicked fists.
[It’s as if the LORD is saying, “You haven’t left the Temple/Bible study/worship for more than a minute before you are abusing people, hurting people with your fists or your words! You’ve sung the songs but you aren’t living out their meaning! And yet you boldly expect Me to bless you for going through the motions externally!?”]
You cannot fast as you do today
and expect your voice to be heard on high.
5 Is this the kind of fast I have chosen,
only a day for people to humble themselves?
Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed
and for lying in sackcloth and ashes?
Is that what you call a fast,
a day acceptable to the Lord?
[It’s as if the LORD is saying, “You give me an hour or two per week of service and religious activity and then do your own thing and go your own way the rest of the time! Am I supposed to be honored by this? Am I supposed to reward this? You’re pointing to THAT as your evidence for faithfulness?” Today we would call this “churchianity,” not Christianity.]
6 “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
[It’s as if the LORD is saying, “You want Me to bless you in earthly ways when you are unwilling to bless others in earthly ways! Your worship in the Temple and your Bible studies should lead to these types of loving actions, but they aren’t leading to these actions because you are just attending, you aren’t truly participating; you are using Me as a lucky rabbit’s foot not submitting to Me as your King, not repenting to Me as the One your sins grievously offend.”]
8 Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
9 Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.
“If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
10 and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
and your night will become like the noonday.
11 The Lord will guide you always;
he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
like a spring whose waters never fail.
12 Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins
and will raise up the age-old foundations;
you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls,
Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.
13 “If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath
and from doing as you please on my holy day,
[Oh loved ones, if we would only stop stretching the grace of God beyond the limits of God’s Word, if we would stop thinking that God’s grace means that we can spend His time and money any way we want, as if belief in the LORD can be separate from following and obeying the LORD!]
if you call the Sabbath a delight
and the Lord’s holy day honorable,
and if you honor it by not going your own way
and not doing as you please or speaking idle words,
[Oh friends, if we would only stop looking at the weekend as OUR time
and begin learning to submit all seven days of the week as GOD’S time!]
14 then you will find your joy in the Lord,
and I will cause you to ride in triumph on the heights of the land
and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob.”
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.
My friends, I am not going to pound you with various statistics of earthly suffering throughout the world. I’m not saying it is wrong to do that—sometimes we need that ice cold water poured all at once onto our sleeping faces to wake us up!
But I will not do that today, not this post. We all know in our hearts and souls that there is deep & systematic suffering occurring not only around the world but around the U.S. as well, every moment of every day.
- For example, approximately 150,000 people die each day around the world. Some of those people are in their late 90s and their earthly bodies simply expire from old age. Some of those 150k are 5 year olds who simply needed access to a Walgreens or CVS on the corner and $5 U.S. to get some simple medicine that we have expired bottles of sitting half-full on our shelves at home. And yet by the grace of God there are groups that with enough funding travel to foreign countries to provide free medical care to people with various needs.
- Some people won’t die today but will die in a year at the age of 29 because they have drunk dirty water their entire lives and their bodies expire from the exhaustion of fighting off parasites and illnesses over that time. Yet there are groups that with $50 U.S. can dig wells that will provide clean water for one person for their entire life on earth.
These and other issues are SERIOUS, loved ones, and they are too much for any one of us to take care on our own. But of course we are not on our own. There are so many real scenarios like that which we could talk about.
What I do want to address, however, is the way that we respond to such horrific earthly suffering—what do we do? How do we respond? How do we not respond? If I’m honest, for much of my life as a Christian I have kept my head down, busy with my own life, my own problems, and perhaps without realizing it following my own dreams/goals, following my own heart.
- Like when we see a bottle of spaghetti sauce smashed and spilled on the floor of a grocery store: at best we will notify an employee to clean it up (someone [else!] should do something), but 95% of us will simply walk on by and do and say nothing. Regardless of our excuses or reasons for walking on by, may we all simply please admit that we usually just walk on by and do nothing? We have a schedule to keep…Let’s at least start there…
Five & six Sundays ago we looked at Mark 1:40-42 at Jesus saying, “I am willing” that the leper be made clean (Part 1 and Part 2)—we discussed what to do with the fact that many of us, if we are brutally honest with God, simply aren’t willing to do our part, simply aren’t willing to cut our cable/dish subscription and use the $50 per month (for some people $100+ per month!) to give clean water for life for one more person around the world each month. We looked at some of the ways that we can humble ourselves at the feet of our Master Jesus and repent and confess of our unwillingness to deeply sacrifice our own standard and schedule of living to meet the earthly and spiritual needs of others.
But I want to talk about the next mountain that we face—even after, by the grace of God, we surrender to Jesus as Lord and receive Him as our Savior for the forgiveness of our sins, and even as the Holy Spirit transforms us more and more to be willing like the Lord Jesus, we still face the often overwhelming mountain of what to do WITH our willingness. Where do we start? There’s SO MUCH suffering!
- Like those pictures of a town after a tornado or hurricane—literally EVERYTHING in the town is destroyed; literally everything. Where do you even begin to pick up the pieces when everything is pieces? How do we start looking for the rubies in the rubble when the rubies have been reduced to rubble?
We are all so busy, and some of us are busy with life that cannot be stopped—working multiple jobs to pay the rent, raising children, errands like laundry and cooking and cleaning and shopping for basic necessities, various household chores, etc. We can’t stop doing those things, so how do we find the time, even when the LORD blesses us to make us willing, to start meeting some of the earthly needs of others?
Let’s start by looking at an example: you are driving and see a person with a hand-made sign by the side of the road at the stoplight asking for money, food, a job, etc.
- Option #1 is to do nothing and move on—“they’ll probably just buy drugs with it.”
- Option #2 is to give a few bucks as you continue on your way.
- Option #3 is to make a detour, pick up a meal from a restaurant, circle back to drop it off to the person.
- Option #4 is to make a detour, park your car, walk over to the person, and ask them if you can sit and talk with them, listen to them, pray with them, walk with them to go and get a meal for them and hang with them, hear from them how they got to this current situation (if they are willing to share). Now those are four different options.
(Side note: please hear me out—I realize that the fourth option is not always the wisest, is not always the wise choice for some of us, say to get out of our car late at night and walk somewhere alone with a stranger. Of course we need to use wisdom here, we must be “wise as serpents and innocent as doves”!).
- Option #5 is interesting: to begin researching online some of the systematic reasons why such poverty exists in the first place, to better understand how cycles of poverty occur and prayerfully research strategies for fighting against them, to research some of the Christian ministries that are working to fight against systematic poverty and ways we can get involved with those ministries.
Now this #5 above is another option—to educate ourselves on some of the systematic reasons that some people are stuck in the undertoe of poverty and are truly doing everything they can to work hard yet they cannot swim out of the current on their own.
But can we all agree that options 2, 3, 4 and 5 are closer to what the LORD is talking about in Isaiah 58, what the LORD talks about throughout the entire Bible? Can we all agree that, in principle, most of us support the idea of doing one or a combination of more than one of the last four options? That is, don’t basically all of us agree that we should choose one of those four options?
But again we have to again be honest here—to do any of those last four options means that we have to make varying sacrifices of our plans and time and money. We cannot get a meal for the hungry person AND get to our appointment on time, get to our movie on time, get to our pre-planned activity on time. Something has to give. Sometimes we really do NEED to get to the next thing on time (work, plane to catch, class, etc.)…but for many of us, we just think we always need to get to the next thing on time (everything we do we treat with monumental importance and urgency)…It’s never really convenient to do options 2-5; it probably won’t ever be the easiest thing to do. And so I wonder if this overwhelming feeling of not knowing where to start in meeting the earthly needs of others is actually the feeling of deep down thinking about what we will have to give up in order to do something. Maybe we’re queasy at the thought of what we will lose with options 2-5, instead of being excited about how the LORD will be honored, how others will be blessed…
- I think our overwhelming feeling comes from having both of our arms full of groceries, so to speak, and someone asking us for a hug: we CANNOT hug them AND carry both of our bags of groceries—either temporarily or permanently we will have to put down the groceries—our plans and priorities (even the noble ones!)—in order to give that person a hug, even if the plans and priorities are good and important (e.g. getting our child to their doctor appointment, getting to the grocery store so we can get back to the house and cook dinner so we can then get to our evening activity on time, getting to work or class on time, etc.).
And so even before I would slam you with the horrifying statistics of the daily suffering that nearly half the world endures EVERY DAY, we must first start with asking the Holy Spirit to clear away the rubble of our daily and weekly and monthly and annual lives, the debris of chasing our earthly dreams and not Jesus’ heavenly will, of following our hearts instead of following Jesus’ heart. We must ask the Holy Spirit regularly to help us identify the ways that we invest time in good things that prevents us from investing time in the best things.
Are the ways we invest our daily/weekly/monthly time truly worth it if they stop us from doing what Jesus has clearly told us to do? We can’t follow our dreams and His—we cannot do both and we will kill ourselves trying to follow Jesus AND keep up with the Jones’.
Jesus said to cut off your left hand if it causes you to sin, cut out your left eye if it causes you to sin.
- Are we willing to cut off our cable if it causes us to miss Jesus’ mission for us?
- Are we willing to cut out watching sports if it causes us to miss Jesus’ mission for us?
- Are willing to cut off working out if it causes us to miss Jesus’ mission for us?
- Are we willing to skip watching our one prized t.v. show—”it’s my guilty pleasure, I barely watch t.v.!”—so we can research online ways to meet people’s earthly needs?
Loved ones, we use Google for everything else—to find out random and pointless pieces of trivia/facts—when we could also use it to learn about Christian groups that have already done the hard work and research of how to meet people’s various earthly needs and now are looking for prayer, finances, and volunteer time from people like you and me to put their godly plans into action!
My friends, have you ever cut out all t.v., movies, video games, apps (say Pokemon NO! instead of Pokemon GO!), magazines, newspapers, recreational hobbies and social media for seven straight days? If not, try it and watch at how much time you really have. Watch how bored you will be because you now have so much time that you don’t know what to do with it all!
- If you try this, in some ways it will be one of the worst weeks of your life. It will feel for some like coming off an addiction. And a year or a decade from now you may also look back at it as one of the best weeks of your life, the week that the Holy Spirit began to free you from the chains of monotony so you can begin to allow Him to use you to begin to free others from the chains of misery…
Are we willing to live in a smaller house that we can pay off more quickly so that we have more money to use for Kingdom purposes?
Are we willing to drive a car with rust on it so we can not have any car payments so we have more money to use for Kingdom purposes?
Are we willing to wear thrift store clothing, eat out less, get Starbucks less, take simpler/cheaper vacations (or not take one at all!), have an older mobile phone, etc etc. etc. so that we have more money to be used to honor Jesus locally and globally?
You might rightly be thinking, “Fine. But now I’m probably going to feel guilty every time I watch one t.v. show or movie or workout! I’m going to feel guilty every time I buy something extra for myself!”
You might feel guilty. You’re right. I’m not saying that you should never watch t.v. again, I’m not saying you should never buy yourself a smoothie again. But yes, you might feel guilty when you do.
- But push through that: bring that guilty feeling to the LORD in prayer, in Bible reading—like judo use that guilt to bring you to Jesus’ feet in prayer—ask Him for wisdom to know what is appropriate and what is foolish in terms of using HIS time and HIS money. This uncomfortable feeling is part of growing in Christ, and anyone who has been blessed by God to grow in their faith in Jesus will tell you that such growth is ALWAYS painful and ALWAYS worth the pain in the long run!
What me must not do is run away from that guilty feeling back towards what we have always done, how we have always lived, our old ruts and habits where we DON’T have that feeling. That is the one thing we must not do—we must not return to the drug simply because it is painful to come down from our addiction.
One of the best questions we can ask the LORD in prayer is this: “Lord Jesus, is this what You died for me to invest my life in? Is this what you died to set me free from? Is this what you adopted me for? Am I truly following YOU when I spend time & money & energy on x, y or z? Or am I following the culture, my own heart, my own dreams? Am I living for this world or investing in the next world? Am I being rich toward You or rich toward myself?”
Noticed a line in the movie “Mary Poppins” that I had never heard before; when the little boy wanted to continue cleaning up the room by snapping his fingers, Mary Poppins said, “Enough is as good as a feast.” Wow. What a powerful line. Jesus tells us to ask the Father for our daily bread–enough to live on though perhaps with not much left over–but so often we want to feast, we want more than we need and then to have much leftover and stored up for ourselves. Loved ones, most of us have enough…enough internet, enough social media, enough luxuries, enough time spent watching sitcoms…may the LORD help us to sacrificially love Him and others so that they can feast too, can taste and see that the LORD is good…
Over time, may the LORD help us to be His people who truly live out His mission …May He help us to “throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles” so we can “run the race that He has marked out for us” (Hebrews 12)…