Wednesday, August 7, 2019

A Caution Against End Time Negligence

There have been so many technological advancements in the last few centuries. I think of foam cement, plastic bottle houses, theological ideas, scientific debates, archaeological connections, not to mention electronic technology, etc. The industrial revolution, for instance, changed the way products are made and the mass production of widgets and Spacely Sprockets means that everyone can have one. The internet allows the lightning fast communication of not only news, but also ideas and technology.
Every generation in the past has marveled at how they have noticed the pace of change in their own time, but myself growing up with the internet (late Gen X), I can honestly say that because of the internet, times are changing at a pace the world has never before experienced. The internet has reached the world with new Ideas and has made much of it act as though the world is only made up of first world culture. All this data that I absorb gets me thinking about Matthew 24.

As he sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” And Jesus answered them, “See that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray. And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are but the beginning of the birth pains (Matthew 24: 3-8).

I’m pretty sure that if you ask anyone in the world what is wrong with the world, it will sound like one or more of these answers. Think of all the nations against each other… I think of “Brexit” and how many discussions there are with countries leaving the EU and the UN and the UK… the fact that Russia and the US seems to have been in a volatile relationship since I was a child; North Korea… I need only mention the names of some countries to spark controversial discussion.
As far as earthquakes and famines are concerned, it is a no-brainer. It is interesting that Jesus says that these are the beginning of birth pains. The first chapter of this "book" on The End seems awfully long, but we know that we are in it for sure. But I think that we make a mistake in thinking and living as if it is somewhere in the vastly distant future.
After the contractions, Jesus then explains that we will have this life to look forward to:

Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name's sake. And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come (Matthew 24:9-14; emphasis mine).

It is noteworthy that a necessary condition for the end to come is that the gospel will be proclaimed throughout the whole world. Think about this for a moment… the internet is in the hands of almost all adults in the modern world, with over half of the world’s population having a smart phone (even in Africa). This all only 25 years after the creation of the internet. But think about what is on the internet: the gospel. So because the gospel is now proclaimed throughout the whole world, the necessary condition for the end is fulfilled (even though I believe this was fulfilled before, it now seems there to be no question whatsoever).
Jesus tells His listeners that they will be delivered up to tribulation and be put to death, and they will be hated by all nations (also see this). From the perspective of a Christian living currently in the Middle East, it seems that they would have to think that this is the end times.
Also, there is a condition where the love of many will grow cold because of lawlessness. This makes me think of abortion and euthanasia. People are causing others to die of literal starvation in hospitals because they are seen as just soaking up resources and not worth the effort. It seems that, ethically speaking, if there is any chance at all that there is conscious life in a body, though it is in what might be perceived as a vegetative state, people should do all they can for them to live. Who knows what may be reversed, or what their internal experience is like. And as far as abortions are concerned, that is straight up violent murder of the most innocent and most helpless part of society. If we treat unborn babies like this, how will we treat others who we believe do not have personhood? Doesn’t it makes sense to look at how we treat the beginnings of a human being? Lawlessness causes cold shoulders. If there are no laws against abortion and euthanasia, then what follows will be carelessness for our fellow human beings.
Jesus says a lot about the end times. Also noteworthy, is that He says His return will be like lightning. Lightning is electricity, and so is the internet propelled by such. Did it ever occur to you that Jesus could be talking about a live stream YouTube video or something of that nature? What a crazy idea, but seriously, with the ancient language descriptions of the future, how is it supposed to sound? How would a 1st century Jew describe the internet? Possibly like this: “For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man” (Matthew 24:27). 

More could be said about what Jesus says in Matthew 24, as it has been, but the point I am trying to make is that we do not “scoff” at the idea of His return. We might think “oh yeah… this stuff has been happening forever…” and we wave it off and dismiss it. But the warning of negligence is not without reason. We expect His return, so why would we act as if we know that it won’t be anytime soon?
 Jesus reasons with us:

Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect (Matthew 24:42-44).

The return of Christ is imminent. Be ready, be alert.

“Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” ~Revelation 22:20

Written by Nace Howell through the grace of the Lord Jesus

Thursday, August 1, 2019

How to Handle Panhandlers, Biblically Speaking

Having seen the world in its ugliest states, with garbage floating down rivers in third world countries, people living tough lives in the streets of NYC and everywhere else, poverty and drugs running rampant in lonely towns all over the United States, I question what my place is in helping people in these and similar situations. The Bible is clear when it tells us to love people and how to love them:

Matthew 7:12 is what many people know as the Golden Rule. Jesus says, “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.”

In Matthew 22: 36-40, Jesus gets interrogated by a lawyer and responds accordingly: “And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

In John 13:35, Jesus says, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples: if you love one another.”

Again in John 15:12-13 Jesus is clear on what the greatest love looks like: “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command.”

With these in mind, Jesus teaches in the negative, that how you want to be treated, that is how you should treat others; He teaches in the positive, that you shall love your neighbors as yourself; He teaches that people will know you as a Christian by how you love one another; and that the greatest love is to lay down your life for your friends.

So how should we handle pan handlers? Should we give everything we have to them? Should we run ourselves dry of resources in order to “love your neighbor as yourself?” I think that the thing we need to understand is the question, "Would it be loving to do so?" If we run our resources dry by helping someone else out, and when we are out of resources and can no longer help but are in the same boat as the person who ran our resources dry. Then how can we love them? Is it loving to enable people to continue in their panhandling or parasitic state? The answer is that this is not how Jesus is defining love.

Jesus is telling us to lay down our lives for our friends, and He tells us to treat others like we want to be treated. This in fact, it is the opposite of entitlement. The question is, would you want someone to buy you everything? You would never have to work again and everyone would buy you what you want and need. I would never want this, personally. I would feel like I had no meaning in life. I would never feel a healthy pride that one has after they worked hard for something. I understand that a person who is homeless or in poverty does not have the mentality that they want someone to buy them everything they want. But when I used to visit the homeless under the bridge in the city of tents in Harrisburg, PA, I asked them as a group how they are living and one of them said that “We are doing well… we have everything we need and it is like permanent camping and we like it.” But the reason they like it is because they are delusional, and they believe that they are doing it on their own, but the reality is that everything they have was given to them. They were living in garbage. Their tents were full of trash and some of them didn’t wear appropriate clothing. What blew my mind was that several of them had eye-glasses. I used to take them bananas and water nearly every weekend and they thanked me for them. Yet they believed that they were providing for themselves. “We’re doing it!” They would say with smiles on their faces.
It seems to me that this must be a noble lie (to borrow the phrase from Dr. William Lane Craig’s outstanding book, Reasonable Faith), because nearly anyone’s conscious would not allow them to believe and know that they are a parasite. Therefore they must create in their minds the idea that they are not a parasite, but simply live a different life. It is delusion in all its glory. People need to know that they have value, even if it is made up.

Jesus defines love by serving, and serving that kills us would be the greatest love. He does not define love by giving random handouts. For one thing, He was never a burden to anyone else, even during His three year ministry. Before this ministry, He was a carpenter (hard laborious work), and was likely middle class for the time period, contrary to popular, uneducated beliefs. He knew the value of work and the healthy pride that it brings. He knew the truth of Ecclesiastes 5:12, “The sleep of a laborer is sweet, whether they eat little or much, but as for the rich, their abundance permits them no sleep.” He knew the proverbs of Solomon: “Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise! It has no commander, no overseer or ruler, yet it stores its provisions in summer and gathers its food at harvest” (Proverbs 6:6-8). We don’t read about Him over-spending. We don’t read about Him being careless with His finances, and we don’t read about Him asking people for money, which was definitely available at the time. Even when it was time for Him and Peter to pay taxes, he did not get it from another person (Matthew 17:27). Jesus simply did not burden people with guilt by asking for handouts. He gave the greatest example of love by His acts of service.
I think that in the world today we define “helping people” by giving them money, but it seems that this only enables people and hurts them in the long run.

The apostle Paul has something important to say on this subject as well…

In Galatians 6:1-10, Paul explains to his Christian brothers, that they are to hold Christians above everyone else:
Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another's burdens [of weakness], and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor. For each will have to bear his own load.
Let the one who is taught the word share all good things with the one who teaches. Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith” (emphasis mine).

Paul says that when we have the opportunity, we should do good to all people, but then he elevates Christians above all people and says that they should receive a special treatment. This aligns perfectly with what Jesus said above, in John 13:35.

The thrust of what I want you to see, however, is found in 2 Thessalonians 3:6-15.

 “Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone's bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you. It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate. For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living.
As for you, brothers, do not grow weary in doing good. If anyone does not obey what we say in this letter, take note of that person, and have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed. Do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother” (emphasis mine).

The point here is that in the above Galatians passage, Paul, whose ideas line up perfectly with Christ’s, says that we should treat our Christian brothers and sisters with special treatment above everyone else, also teaches that if a brother does not work, then he is not to eat!
This forces us to ask, “If I am supposed to withhold feeding a person whom I am supposed to treat exceptionally, who does not work, then how am I supposed to treat someone who is not a brother who does not work?!”
This passage seems to teach that enabling people is harmful, not beneficial to their being. The above passage teaches that shame is a good thing in this case, because the hope is that it will bring people to do something to earn their keep! Our society today has it completely backwards. I understand if someone is mentally handicapped or incapable of working (see James 1:27), but this is not what I am addressing. This is not what Jesus or Paul was addressing either. I am specifically addressing panhandlers and those who take advantage of people's emotions and their ability to give.
We have empathy for people today which can obviously be a good thing but not obviously be a bad thing, and we think that “I would feel bad if I were in your shameful position, so I will give you money…” or something along those lines. We might not think it exactly in those words, but it is close. It seems that the proper response here is that we are to have sympathy for people in these situations, in that our feelings about the situation might move us to help them by serving them and bearing their burdens. But if they are not willing to work, then we should do what the Word of God says. The problem I find is that people can make up some pretty convincing excuses not to work, but in almost every circumstance, there is something that they could be doing.

So how do we help those in these situations? In any case, I think that the important thing to remember is to not get a hard heart. When someone has the gall enough to ask you directly for money, it seems that the appropriate response is to hear their story, really and truly hear it, listen to everyone without judging them by their appearance, and then make a decision on how to move forward. This does not always mean that you should help them. Just like having a Healthy Fear, healthy shame is good for us as well. We often run from these things but they are often the exact medicine we need to get back on track.

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” ~κυρίου Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ

Written by Nace Howell through the grace of the Lord Jesus