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Archive for the ‘Stewardship’ Category

The following article appeared in the February 2012 edition of Christianity Today.  It was the first part of the issue’s cover story and may be read in its entirety, free of charge, on the magazine’s website.  Mark Galli is senior managing editor of Christianity Today, author most recently of Chaos and Grace: Discovering the Liberating Power of the Holy Spirit (Baker), and writes Soulwork, an online column for CT.

When it comes to alleviating poverty, it is the best of times. Never in history have so many people so quickly been taken off the poverty rolls.

Poverty in Numbers: The Changing State of Global Poverty from 2005 to 2015, a 2011 Brookings Institution publication, summarizes this stunning development. Researchers Laurence Chandy and Geoffrey Gertz note that as late as the early 1980s, “more than half of all people in developing countries lived in extreme poverty.” By 2005, they report, that number was cut in half. By 2010, “less than 16 percent remain in poverty, and fewer than 10 percent will likely be poor by 2015.”

In other words, the seemingly audacious UN Millennium Development Goal of reducing poverty by half between 1990 and 2015 was met three years ago.

What’s more, apparently no continent is being left behind. In the 1980s, poverty increased in Africa, and, in the 1990s, in Latin America. But, according to Chandy and Gertz, “poverty reduction is currently taking place in all regions of the world.” For the first time, the poverty rate of sub-Saharan Africa is below 50 percent. The authors’ model predicts that by 2015, poverty will be reduced in 85 of the 119 countries included in their analysis. The sharpest reduction is seen in Asia; given current trends, they predict 430 million people will be taken off the poverty rolls by 2015—a drop of 30 percentage points.

The developments in Asia, in fact, are the reason they say “the bulk of the fall in global poverty can be attributed to the two developing giants, India and China. They alone are responsible for threequarters of the [expected] reduction of the world’s poor.”

Not large donations, microenterprise programs, or child sponsorship, but rather sheer economic growth, has effected this change. With massive populations, the two nations made a number of interrelated decisions that opened their countries to globalization, which in turn has led to remarkable economic performances, where we’ve seen GDP growth rates (except for 2009) stay above 6 percent since 2003. The wealth has indeed trickled down to the lowest economic strata of their societies.

Thus the plethora of new and hopeful books: Charles Kenny’s Getting Better: Why Global Development Is Succeeding—And How We Can Improve the World Even More, Jeffery Sachs’s The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities for Our Time, and, for Christian activists, Scott Todd’s Fast Living: How the Church Will End Extreme Poverty—among many others.

Though economists debate specifics, it’s a moment bursting with hope. But these dramatic developments, ironically, present the church with a few serious challenges.

Relative Ineffectiveness

What these latest findings demonstrate is the church’s relative ineffectiveness and impotency at helping the poor. Some Christian activists have been trying to motivate us to care for the poor by pointing out how they are neglected by society. The state is a clumsy and arrogant institution, they argue, and not doing its job. So the church must step in to make a difference. That means that (1) churches should create their own anti-poverty initiatives (like microfinance), and (2) churches should lobby governments to do better.

These recent economic developments suggest that both of these strategies are either insignificant or relatively ineffective. It is not Christian activism that has created history’s greatest poverty reduction initiatives in India and China. And it is not micro but rather macroeconomics that really makes a difference.

Other activists focus on motivation. Both personal experience and national studies have shown that when it comes to poverty reduction, Christians are discouraged. We tend to believe the world is getting worse, and that our little efforts won’t make much difference anyway. So some activists tout these poverty reduction numbers, saying, “See, we can make a difference!” Then they encourage us to get involved in our own small way, because if we do, “We can defeat poverty in this generation” or, “The church can end extreme poverty.”

But of course, it is a stretch to suggest we can end any sort of poverty. I asked a number of Christian economists about this, and all agreed: No, we can’t. When I asked why, every one of them said, “Original sin.” Until the coming of the kingdom of God, greed, sloth, oppression, corruption, and the like—all of which breed poverty—will persist.

Some rightly point to the huge strides made in abolition, prison reform, child labor laws, and so forth due to Christian activism in the 19th century. Take slavery: Indeed, it is much better to live in a time when every nation on the planet has outlawed slavery. But as experts today acknowledge, slavery (defined as people enduring forced labor, including sex) is still endemic worldwide. There are more slaves today (estimates range from 12 million to 27 million) than ever. By contrast, even at the apex of American slavery, the United States counted only 4 million slaves.

So yes, we can indeed improve social conditions in some regards. But the human capacity for sin is relentless and will find ways to subvert even our most stellar progress. As we’ll see, however, this is no cause for discouragement—only a realistic picture of what we’re up against.

Sometimes our idealism is grounded in what might be called social-improvement math. For Christians, it works like this: “There are nearly 200 million Christians in the United States. If they were able to see that (a) poverty can be defeated, and (b) Jesus calls them to have a heart for the poor, then they could change the political climate. Representatives would have to take this constituency seriously when they started asking for policy changes that would help the poor.”

This assumes a number of things that have never materialized in history. We can confidently predict that we will never be able to get 200 million Christians to agree on any priority except, perhaps, that Jesus is Lord. But let’s take the best-case scenario: If one could get all 200 million believers to make poverty reduction a top priority (trumping abortion, human rights, and a hundred other causes), there are no uniquely Christian solutions to ending poverty that we all would agree on. What separates Christian Democrats and Christian Republicans is not their concern for the poor but rather their strategies for helping the poor. Political wrangling will be with us always.

But more to the point we began with: When huge poverty reduction strides have been made, it has been due not to every person doing their little part, but to government economists and bureaucrats making top-down macroeconomic decisions. Doing our little part makes very little difference when it comes to large-scale poverty.

So if the church in fact cannot defeat poverty, and if the church’s efforts make an insignificant dent in macropoverty, how should we then live toward the poor?

The Church’s Unique Calling

It would be foolish to stop caring for the poor. We are not called to obey Jesus only if our efforts are guaranteed to make a difference. As the article “Cost-Effective Compassion” shows, when it comes to poverty, impact is indeed one important criterion for how we invest ourselves. But who and how we love can never finally be decided on effectiveness, for otherwise we would neglect all those for whom we can make little practical difference—those in hospice care and nursing homes, those with mental disabilities, and so forth.

In fact, if this becomes our primary motivation—to change the world—we risk sabotaging the uniquely Christian approach to poverty.

What I mean is this: In pragmatic America, we are often enamored of and motivated by pragmatism rather than simple obedience to Jesus. We are too often tempted to justify our existence on this planet by doing something “significant,” by “making a difference in the world,” so that we can go to bed at night feeling good about ourselves. But the Christian message is about a God who judges and loves us in our insignificance—that is, when our selfcenteredness has sabotaged our ability to make any fundamentally sound contribution to our lives or to others’. This God speaks to us the frank word that not only do we not make a difference in the world, day to day we threaten to make the world worse by our sin. But in Jesus Christ, he has judged and forgiven us through the Cross, and now he uses even our insignificant efforts to witness to his coming work in Jesus Christ.

What is that coming work? Among other things, it is the end of poverty. No,we cannot end poverty, but God can and will. From this perspective we see that our efforts to stem poverty have significance not because they make us feel better, but because they point to Jesus’ final antipoverty program.

With this end in view, when we inevitably enter a period in history when poverty gets worse, either globally or locally, we won’t get discouraged. We are involved with the poor not because we’re going to make a difference, but primarily because we are gladly responding to the call of a gracious God to show forth the Good News—in deeds of justice and mercy, and more importantly, in gospel words—that he will defeat all forms of poverty, spiritual and material.

And then there is this very practical dimension: The church can never match the sweep of national and global initiatives. But if the poor will be with us always, until the Second Coming, it is also true that bureaucratic and impersonal government will be as well. When it comes to caring for people as individuals in their uniqueness, the government is the clumsiest tool imaginable.

Ah, but people—those precious individuals embedded in a unique family and community—they are right in the church’s sweet spot. No government can touch what the church can do here.

So while the government makes needed sweeping changes, the church is there to pick up the inevitable pieces of people trampled by government regulations, of people who get left behind, of people whom the government treats as mindless sheep, but whom the church knows have a Shepherd.

Thus the church’s most characteristic antipoverty efforts are those that are utterly personal. I believe we instinctively understand this. This is why among the many antipoverty interventions offered, we evangelicals are so fond of child sponsorship, for example. It is not only a proven strategy for making a difference—it works—but more importantly, it is very relational and very personal.

If you’re concerned about poverty, these are indeed the best of times. But we mustn’t be discouraged if it appears that the church has been left on the sidelines in this historical moment. We still have our irreplaceable calling. It begins with responding to the divine and gracious call of Jesus to follow, and ends with loving the unique people, especially the poor, whom he providentially puts in our midst.

[The second part of the issue’s cover story entitled, “Cost-Effective Compassion: The 10 Most Popular Strategies for Helping the Poor“, may also be read on the magazine’s website.  It is also highly recommended.]

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The following will be hard for me to write.  Not because of some grave mistake I have to confess but because the topic is as disappointing as it is complicated to me.  I was considering titling this “Confession of an Over-analyzer, Part 3”, keeping with the theme of the other two posts I had written, but realized this is different.  It’s different because what I am about to write is not something I arrived at by spiritual conviction or any other kind of profound “ah-ha!” moment.  Instead, my thoughts I will share are the result of simple curiosity and question asking.  The result is no less profound—and maybe even more so because this knowledge didn’t lead me to an immediate plan of action in response.  Thus I’m hoping that by focusing my thoughts on it now I can accomplish three things: 1) Come closer to some sort of solution to this predicament; 2) Make others aware of something that should not be a secret; and 3) Seek insight from you who have already responded to this information.

The privilege of being privileged

As American Christians, we live a unique and complicated life when compared to much of the world.  We live with so much material privilege and economic power that to be “poor” still means to be “rich” in light of global realities.  And yet, God’s demands on us to be generous agents of compassion and justice, free from materialism and the love of money—c.f. Micah 6:8, Luke 12:13-34, James 1:27, etc., etc.—are the same as they are on our brothers and sisters in places as harsh as sub-Saharan African.  So when we think about things like stewardship, giving, and similar good works, it is imperative to first remember that God judges the heart, preferring quality over quantity as it were.  We see this evidenced by scriptures like Mark 12:41-44, Luke 11:42, and 2 Corinthians 9:6-15, and, I think, by how the Holy Spirit convicts our hearts when we ponder such things.  Thus we need to employ some measure of relativity when we think about specifics.  But we must next soberly remind ourselves that there is no exemption for a believer from these principles—no matter how poor and isolated, or rich and insulated.  Until we die we are either bearing good fruit or bad fruit when it comes to our money and possessions.

With these things in mind, us American Christians look at what we have and what we can do and then often find ourselves in the strange position of being able to choose what type of good work we would like to engage in.  Should I tithe to my church, or a missions agency?  Should I spend my Friday night helping at the soup kitchen or the woman’s shelter?  Should I give to this charity or that one?  Should I sponsor a child in Asia or Central America?  The options can be overwhelming and often we, unconsciously I think, end up making our decisions based upon what our church or friends are doing or by how effectively an organization has managed to push their cause onto our radar.  Many of us, myself included, also have the even more bizarre privilege of being able to spread ourselves and our resources around—some more than others—so the choosing process can become even more daunting if we’re to be faithful to the principle of generosity and justice.

One of the specific options many of us have found to be an effective, even exciting, way to be faithful to the principle is giving to Christian charities.  There are so many different organizations doing so many different types of work in so many different places that there really is something for everyone in terms of finding a cause you connect with.  A few are listed in the Recommended Links section of this blog and many more are featured on the Journey Toward Justice Facebook page.  I have personally chosen to give to some of these and dozens of additional ones over the years.  Like many other Christians, I chose to give to these charities because of their explicitly stated Christian beliefs and values.  The type of work they do and their effectiveness at doing it was important but being able to agree with their fundamental motivations was chief among my requirements because if I could trust their character then I could also trust things like how they manage themselves administratively, the kind of results their efforts produce, and how they are using my money.  While this might sound reasonable and fair what I have recently discovered makes me wonder if I have been naively exercising blind faith or subconsciously suspending any doubts I might have had about these charities.

Rich Christians in an Age of Charity?

When it comes to their financial dealings, the most reputable Christian organizations make at least some effort to appear transparent through disclaimers on their websites, notes in their mailings, or via membership in bodies like the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability.  This is good and should be done; I would not feel comfortable with an organization that didn’t do their due diligence to convince me they are trustworthy.  However, if you want to know more than a handful of figures and percentages you can either locate their Annual Report somewhere on their website or contact the charity directly and ask them for it.  What you find may or may not give you the information you want though, in which case third-party assessments are also available.  Three excellent options for this are Charity Navigator, MinistryWatch, and the Better Business Bureau’s site.  On top of that there are a plethora of blogs and review sites which can give you a more anecdotal, opinion-based sense of how a charity operates—one of the better ones I’ve come across is GreatNonprofits.  By using these kinds of tools you can obtain information about a charity’s policies and structure that they might not be trumpeting on their websites or in their literature.  One of these pieces of information is the salaries they pay to their executives.  Here’s what I found out about several charities I have long held in high esteem:

  • World Vision: Richard E. Stearns, President, earned $339,778 in 2010
  • Compassion International: Wesley K. Stafford, President & CEO, earned $267,058 in 2010
  • International Justice Mission: Gary Haugen, President & CEO, earned $201,931, in 2009
  • InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA: Alexander D. Hill, President, earned $159,707 in 2010
  • The Voice of the Martyrs: Walter T White, President, earned $146,510 in 2009

Are you shocked?  I was.  Am I shocked that a CEO of a large American corporation in, say, the financial or electronics industry makes six figures?  Of course not.  Am I shocked that CEO’s of organizations which strive to fundamentally set themselves apart from the world by making their mission wholly preaching the Gospel and helping the poor and oppressed can also rake in well over $100,000 year?  Yes, absolutely.  The problem, for me, has nothing to do with the fact these salaries might represent a large percentage of the charity’s expenses which could otherwise be used for programmatic purposes.  They don’t.  It’s less than 1% in the case of these five.  My problem is that the compensation level makes these lucrative jobs.  Since when did a radically generous, justice-seeking, compassion-filled life for-the-glory-of-God become lucrative?  Are we reading the same Bible here?

Charities like these are placed on a pedestal by churches and the Christian community and are frequently revered as the best, most radical, gung-ho warriors for the Kingdom.  They are looked up to for best practices for churches and individual Christians wanting to get more involved in “charity work” or “missions”.  In many cases these and other charities like them are seen as the solution to the slow, bureaucratic, inefficient, and complacent churches we attend.  Basically, we see them as everything our church is not, but wish it were. (I admit, I have personally thought these same things)  Rather than putting up defenses against this idealization, these organizations seem to embrace it and stoke the flames by touting their partnerships with this church and that church, putting on this conference here, sponsoring that church event there, or by marketing books and other materials directly to local congregations.  Taking it even further, their websites and literature are usually pastoral by nature, exhorting us to live the life God wants us to and educating us so that we know how to do it.  Looking at the surface it would seem that many Christian charities consider themselves co-equal with the churches we attend; partners and fellow servants for the Gospel, responsible for teaching and leading the Body of Christ.  Therein lies the problem and—if we are going to call a duck, a “duck”—the subtle deception.

In their own words

When I learned that leaders of some of my favorite Christian charities were earning what I felt to be excessive salaries many thoughts and questions swirled around in my mind.  After thinking about it for several weeks, I searched the web and read some blogs by others who had thought about this same thing.  This helped me sort things out a little, but, wanting to give as much benefit of the doubt as I could, I sought a firsthand response directly from two of the five: World Vision and Compassion International.  As a long-time donor to these charities I was not singling them out so much as I was seeking an explanation for why they were using my money in this way.  Their responses shed much light on why equating these non-profit organizations with the place you spend your Sunday morning is a major error.

World Vision Inc.’s response to my email inquiry:

 Mr. Stearns’ salary is commensurate with his skills, experience, and responsibilities as chief executive officer of an organization of World Vision’s size and complexity. In Fiscal year 2010, Mr. Stearns’ salary was $339,778…When World Vision’s Board of Directors searched for a new World Vision president in 1998, they sought a Christian leader with extensive business experience. Mr. Stearns’ 29 years of corporate experience, combined with his skills set and proven accomplishments in leading major corporations, warrants an executive of his caliber receiving the salary he does. All of our other senior executives work at salaries significantly less than those of comparable positions in the secular market. In Mr. Stearns’ case, he took a 75 percent cut in pay to work for World Vision.  The decision to hire Mr. Stearns, with his extensive business experience, has allowed World Vision to extend its ministry to millions more people around the world. Under his leadership, World Vision’s revenues have tripled from $358 million in 1998 to over $1 billion in 2010. …When commenting on his salary, Mr. Stearns has shared that he has no say over his salary, as it is set by our board of directors who regularly benchmark his salary to those paid by other nonprofits; that he and his family sponsor 13 children through World Vision, as well as donating on a regular basis to other programs World Vision supports; that he is proud to be a World Vision donor, as he could not ask others to donate to World Vision unless he was also giving at a significant level; and that he will gladly answer to the Lord on that day for what he has done with that which was entrusted to him.

Compassion International, Inc.’s response:

In order to develop quality staff at Compassion, while at the same time, managing our financial resources with great care and wisdom, we seek to offer competitive salaries for the various positions necessary to successfully execute Compassion’s mission statement…To make sense of the salary we pay our president and CEO, please understand that his income is well under the average salary range of other presidents and CEOs of other organizations who are within the same categorization as Compassion. Also, please note that our leaders, including Dr. Stafford, are faithful sponsors and donors as well, and personally and financially support the ministry.

Compassion also referred me to their blog where their CEO responds to a question about his high salary.  You can read it for yourself on their site, but this is what stood out to me:

There are some decisions that I don’t make around here, and all the decisions about what I’m paid fall to Compassion’s Board of Directors. Our Board believes that Compassion must exercise prudent business judgment in balancing the stewardship of the ministry’s financial resources, the needs of the employees, and the payment of salaries sufficient to attract and retain the well-qualified employees who are required to effectively carry out our ministry. It is important to Compassion’s Board of Directors that we represent both excellence and stewardship…Part of our salary structure also dictates that all Compassion staff are paid relative to that of the top position in the organization, which happens to be mine. So, if I were to be paid less, it means that every person below me in the organization would also be paid less. I have staff reporting to me who are responsible for managing a budget of nearly $400 million. It requires a high level of management competency to effectively supervise all that has been entrusted to this ministry.

Making sense of it all

What is a fair and reasonable salary?  How much is enough?  If we hold that these organizations are actually doing “Christian ministry” (as Compassion maintains), then we might look to the Bible and recall that “the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel,” (1 Corinthians 9:14) and “the scripture says, ‘Do not muzzle the ox while it is treading out the grain,’ and ‘The worker deserves his wages.’” (1 Timothy 5:18)  If they are doing work, especially Christian work, then they deserve to be paid, right?  Yes and no.  Yes, in general, it would be unfair to hire someone to do a job and not pay them for it (c.f. James 5:1-6).  So, of course they deserve a salary.  However, to assume that these verses have applicability outside of the church setting is to completely misunderstand the writers’ point.  These are not general affirmations of free market capitalism, guidelines for executive salaries, or instructions for a board of directors.  The context is the church; they are exhortations given to the church for use within the church by the church.  Compassion and World Vision might be made up of church members and say a lot of churchy things, but they are not churches: they are corporations.  If we can accept this fact then it becomes much easier to reconcile the fact that their CEO’s make way more than your pastor ever will, and that they unashamedly justify paying them top dollar by using the same worldly logic that corporations use.  But, if we maintain that they are the church and are doing Christian ministry then there will be some major dissonance when we acknowledge that their basic structure and best practices in fact seek to emulate a prosperous American corporation more so than the Church of Jesus Christ.

While it is very frustrating to learn that unbeknownst to me some of my favorite charities operate this way, it is more difficult to figure out who or what to blame.  I can blame the board of directors for feeling the need to dangle such a tasty looking carrot in the air in order to “attract and retain well-qualified employees”, and for believing that qualifications for doing this kind or work should be rewarded with six-figures.  I can blame the Presidents and CEO’s for consciously accepting a position that will make them rich while serving the poor—both for the hypocritical message it sends to the poor, and for not challenging the board’s policies.  I can blame these charities for their brilliantly seductive marketing which leads many Christians to believe a donation to a charity is as good a donation to their church.  I can blame our churches for welcoming these organizations into our gatherings with open arms without making a distinction between their work and the ministry of the Gospel done by the local church throughout the world.  And lastly I can, and must, blame myself for naively throwing all my support behind this industry—for an “industry” is what it is—without doing more research first.

Don’t stop giving; give more!

Is the world a better place because of these organizations?  Probably.  And, if you’re looking for well-managed charity to donate to these are still some of the best.  But, if you’re a Christian, don’t be fooled: just because a charity, musician, artist, clothing line, movie, restaurant, or anything else, articulates religious beliefs that are compatible with yours and can come into your church and “talk the talk” does not mean they are “the church” doing the work of “the church”.  If we rightly see supporting a good cause as a “good work” and an act of faith, then our concern shouldn’t be with who is doing the work on our behalf but with what work is being done on our behalf and the results it yields.  For example, if you give a dollar to a homeless man do you first pause and ask yourself, “What if this dollar was printed by a non-Christian, or used to buy porn or drugs in the past?  Or what if the wallet I just took it out of was manufactured by a non-Christian company?  Should I really give this to him?  Maybe I should reconsider…”  Using analogies like this, we can see that it’s pretty ridiculous for us to demand that the method or medium by which our money is used to help others be purely Christian through and through.  Therefore, when it comes to charities, as much praise and respect should be given to secular organizations like the American Red Cross, Doctors Without Borders, and Kiva who do great work on behalf of the poor all over the world.  And, when it comes to Christian CEO’s who are worthy of honor and admiration from the Christian community, it’s time we look past these non-profits and elevate the guy who runs his company in an ethical fashion, ensures its products/services don’t do harm to others, treats his employees with kindness and justice, gives generously out of his earnings, and is a bold and unashamed witness of Jesus to his co-workers.  Personally, I would find a book or keynote address by this guy more compelling than the one by the wealthy charity executive.

What I have learned from all this is that ultimately the best charity work is the one done by our own hands.  Too often we American Christians believe that writing a check is the most that is required of us.  When we operate this way what we are really doing is just paying our servants to go and bear fruit for us.  We barely lift a finger then go on about our way, perhaps only remembering to say a few prayers for those we are financing or telling a friend about the cool cause we support.  We really need to get our hands dirty more often and resist the lie that the greatest role we can play in the world is that of a consumer, or a financier at best.  God does not need our money and is not impressed with how many purchases we make.  Furthermore, if our hands are not the hands doing the work of charity, then we really only have so much control over the results—for better or worse.  This is why believing the results will somehow be more spiritually desirable simply because a charity is Christian in name is just not true.  Charities should be judged by their results.  If you find a charity doing work that is consistent with God’s love, mercy, compassion, and justice then support them.  Don’t support an organization just because they say they are Christian and they quote the Bible.  But if you’re like me and enjoy supporting Christian charities yet still feel a little uncomfortable with the idea of Christian orgs that pay their executives stratospheric salaries, then let me recommend to you Gospel For Asia whose President, K.P.Yohannan, raises his own support as does every staff person serving within the organization.  In an email correspondence with Gospel For Asia I was told that Yohannan’s salary “is a modest amount…in the average range for someone living in the Dallas area [charity headquarters].  He does not receive any royalties from his books; instead, all of the money that is generated through his books is put into the ministry to reach the unreached.”  While other Christian charities are seeking to copy the best practices of the corporate world it is certainly nice to know there is at least one trying to be a little more biblical than that.  I’m sure there are many others that function in such a refreshingly humble way, but this is the only one I am currently aware of.  If you know of others, please share.

May God help us use the money, resources, and life he has given us in the most faithful and fruitful way we can.

 

Update: Gospel for Asia has lost a significant endorsement from a key financial accreditation organization. What this means for the past or future  integrity of the organization I cannot say. Regardless, do your homework and understand what you are supporting before you give away your money. More info at http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2015/october-web-only/why-gospel-for-asia-kicked-out-of-ecfa-yohannan.html#bmb=1

 

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The other day I noticed something that my small, Bay Area church and America have in common.  I wish I could say that it was something really encouraging, but as of right now that is not entirely the case.  I believe the common thread between the two is dashed hope and leadership under attack.  I doubt this is what the leaders of these two institutions were hoping to find before rising to power.

A major source of aggravation for each institution is a growing revenue problem combined with debt.  America’s financial situation is a very complicated one, to put it lightly, but what I saw on the opening pages of an August edition of Bloomberg Businessweek was downright frightening (Click image to enlarge):

Represented in this way, the $10 trillion dollar debt that “everyone is talking about” is only a tiny sliver of our current expenditures compared to the massive $211 trillion fiscal gap that our country has.  Uhh…excuse me?  Can anyone even fathom what that means?  The exact number is theoretical, but we are still talking about trilllllllliiiioooonnnss of dollars here! Our church’s shortfall, on the other hand, is a bit more manageable for me to wrap my mind around.  Published in our church-wide bulletin are a series of figures that list our giving as compared to the projected budget.  Using those numbers, it appears that in all categories we are significantly missing the mark.  As of this past week, we have a $52,304.00 shortfall.  Additionally, our church has been dragged down by a loan that has been outstanding since 2004.  The financial woes of our church have been exacerbated by the departure of long term members who decided the recent changes in direction and leadership were not for them.  Seeing committed members leave when a church is already struggling can be one of the hardest things for its congregation to witness, and can also prove to be—as has been the case with my church—a powerfully contagious phenomenon.  However, these two factors do not account for all of our church’s revenue loss: the effect of the economy on churches and non-profit organizations everywhere mirrors the problems faced by state and federal government.  For example, over the last couple of years I have heard many stories about individuals in our congregation who are without work, or who have had to switch from well-established professions to a new one due to the downturn in the economy.

But our church’s woes are not just economic.  Worse yet, is the grumbling that I’ve heard throughout the halls of my church about our struggling leaders.  I too have participated in this and for that I am sorry.  Christians will always have their share of gripes with leadership, as they should, and I am all in favor of standing up for what is right and being vocal about it.  However it is truly a sad day when those complaints begin to outweigh the amazing testimonies of how God used our leaders to enliven, encourage, and enrich our lives.  I have never felt closer to God than I have since the new leadership arrived in April of last year and yet at times I too have felt like giving into the contagion that has turned many against our church.

Criticism has never seemed more severe for the leaders of our nation or of our church.  According to NationalPolls.com, approval ratings for President Obama have steadily trickled downward since 2009.  Meanwhile, I would say that the vocalized frustrations with the leaders at my church also indicate a downward trickle in approval.  In the case of Obama, it is odd to think that though it was a hope for change that captured the hearts of so many back in the run up to the 2008 Presidential election, it is now the inability to hope for change that has led many to turn against him.  For each institution it would seem there is a prevailing belief that our leaders do not have what is needed to pull us from our present circumstances, and while I’ve seen people leave the church for this and I’ve seen people bash our President for this, I think this points out something very important: Where we fix our eyes determines our level of contentment in these difficult and tumultuous times.

I know many are upset at the way things are being governed nationally and congregationally and I am too, but I don’t regret helping our President come to power, or for standing in full support of the ‘marriage’ that recently brought together our church with another. What I regret is that I stopped praying once these two amazing achievements were reached.  You see, I have a disease, and maybe you have it too.  My disease is a compulsive disorder: I cannot stop the destructive process of believing and acting like our leaders are the answer.  Jesus—the Lord of Lords, the King of Kings—He is the answer, not the next great politician or pastor.  This we know.  And yet, when we look out at our nation and the next round of politicians begin to collect their Presidential money, we will find our hearts stirring and this disease will find a way to endure another day.  We will set our eyes not on God, but on our favorite man/woman for the job and hope and pray them into the White House.  Then, if we get the one we voted for, we will pat ourselves on the back and take a backseat while we watch our ‘fearless’ leader take on one of the most impossible jobs known to man.  Has our attitude been any different as changes have come to my church?

It’s tragic, really, how much pressure we put on those who lead us.  We expect them to save us when we don’t prepare for disasters.  We expect them to keep us employed when we find out our skill set is out of commission.  We expect them to save our home when we buy out of our price range.  We expect them to provide for us when everything hits the fan.  And we expect them to singlehandedly hold a church together.  Sadly, when we do this we are not counting on the Lord and earnestly asking Him for the wisdom and guidance to get us through these and all the other hellacious things we all inevitably face while on this earth.  That’s why I think it’s time I turned my eyes back to our Lord, and I don’t think I am the only one who needs to.  It’s time for those of us who are grumbling to meet face to face with our cure for this disease of idolizing our leaders: Jesus the author and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:2).  It’s time to acknowledge him as our everything and begin praying for our leaders again.  I’ll start, since I haven’t done it for a while…

Dear Lord, President Barack Obama and our government officials need you. Please guide them and love on them so that as they lead they compel total and unrelenting love and devotion for you and your ways. Keep their eyes fixed on You.  I pray for You to encourage President Barack Obama and our government officials to be bold and to stand up for the things that You are about, Jesus.  Holy Ghost, counsel them.  May they walk in step with You.

If you think that the ruling political party or your pastor is doing a bad job, get on your knees and pray that they rise in strength, divine strength.  Be careful though, because sometimes strength comes in numbers; you just might have to get up and stand with them even if you don’t know how yet…

Dear Lord, my pastors, elders, our deacons, and all those in leadership at my church need you.  They have been a target for people’s frustration for far too long without the support they need.  Keep their eyes fixed on You.  Please guide and love on them so they are perfect channels of your love, adoration, and patience for mankind.  I pray for you to encourage our leadership to be bold now and to stand up for the things that You are about, Jesus.  Holy Ghost, counsel our leadership.  May they continue to walk in step with You.  

Jesus is our solution folks.  Acknowledging that is the easy part; the harder part is recognizing that we must be a part of the solution too.  So let’s begin by making it easier on ourselves and stop with all the destructive talk that only breaks us down.  Then, let’s be people that act as God’s hands and feet to see God’s Kingdom established on this earth, instead of dragging our hands and feet until we feel like the ‘right’ leadership has arrived.  At the end of the day none of us know what is going to happen at my church or in America but I will say this: there is a different kind of murmuring going through the halls of my church these days.  It’s only a whisper right now, but if I listen closely I will hear it.  Yes, indeed, people are beginning to believe again.  Not in themselves, but in the Lord’s ability to be our everything.  Faith is rising.  Woohoo!  And, guess what…we finally paid off that loan that was weighing us down!  So I say to my church: “Get ready; I believe God has big plans for us!” And for America I say: “I’ve seen glimpses of better days that are yet to come; days when we extend mercy and a helping hand, not anger and a fist.  In the meantime, lets learn to fix our eyes on Jesus.”

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I have been thinking about works of justice and mercy incorrectly.

It was in college that I was first confronted with God’s call upon His people to care for the poor and oppressed.  Through various ministry experiences working with the poor and a steady diet of Social Gospel teaching from my InterVarsity Christian Fellowship chapter, I emerged from my campus as one thoroughly convinced of God’s demand for social justice and compassion.  With such a foundation in place it was up to me to live this out by applying it in the real world.  Since my understanding of Christianity was, unfortunately, tainted with bits of the Social Gospel, I often felt that it was of utmost importance that any aid, resources, etc., given to the poor have the largest impact possible—i.e. where the need was greatest and the biggest difference could be made ‘for the Kingdom.’  The logical way to prioritize need, therefore, was from greatest to least.  So, if I was ready to give money to the poor I would just try to find where in the world conditions seemed most severe and the people most desperate.  This usually wasn’t very hard thanks to newsletters from the numerous humanitarian organizations I supported.  While I had no illusions that I was always giving to the most desperate situation on Earth, I felt good knowing that I was strategically giving to the those who truly needed my help rather than wasting my money on a situation that wasn’t all that bad relative to the rest of the world.

In my zeal to be logical and as practical as possible in helping the poor I reasoned that the most important factor in determining where aid should be given is the severity of the need.  In other words, I thought that those that are most deserving of my money are those who are simply the most desperate.  I always made the effort to balance my aid to the poor with support for Christians whose primary work is evangelism, but what this seemingly logical and efficient form of stewardship was usually doing was excluding the poor within the Church from my ministry of financial aid because, interestingly, the most desperate people in the world during the last decade have tended to be non-Christians.

Evangelism is good.  Working for justice and mercy on behalf of the poor is good.  Justice and mercy as an act of evangelism can be good too.  But, what about caring for the needs of the Church?  Well, praise God for giving an over-analyzer like me the simple, “no duh” truths preserved in the Scriptures!  The following passages from the Bible are the ones that God recently used in rapid succession to erode my idea of stewardship as I was reading Mark’s Gospel one morning…

“I tell you the truth, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to Christ will certainly not lose his reward.”
(Mark 9:41)

“The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’” (Matthew 25:40)

“Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, ‘Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.’”
(James 2:15-17)

“If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?” (1 John 3:17)

“Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.”  (Galatians 6:10)

“And now, brothers, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints…But just as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in your love for us—see that you also excel in this grace of giving…Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. Then there will be equality, as it is written: ‘He who gathered much did not have too much, and he who gathered little did not have too little.’…There is no need for me to write to you about this service to the saints…You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God. This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of God’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, men will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else.”
(2 Corinthians 8-9)

To the world it would probably seem prejudiced, narrow-minded, self-interested, or whatever, to see me feeling more affinity towards a rich Christian living in America than for an orphaned non-Christian in Africa.  Yet, as Christians, we are a part of God’s eternal family, of whom Jesus is the firstborn.  And as a mother loves and is committed to her child more than to someone else’s child, so God loves and is committed, first and foremost, to those who love His ways and trust Jesus.  In this same way it should be my natural priority to love and provide for this eternal family of mine just as I would my own kin.  If I don’t love my own family then “how can the love of God be in [me]?”  It can’t.

If I come to the aid of poor and desperate non-Christians it must be out of the compassion that God has given me and be in hope that they will see, through my gift, a God who cares about them and indiscriminately offers spiritual liberation.  But, if I really love my Christian brothers and sisters as much as Jesus Christ then I can’t overlook their needs just because they don’t seem as ‘severe’ as those outside my eternal family.  After all, giving aid is not about changing the world; giving is about showing love.  And what kind of love am I displaying if I give my bread to my hungry neighbor while my brother starves?  Not a love that is from God.  This is why I feel convicted to prioritize my ministry to the poor this way, according to the Scriptures:

1st = poor and needy Christians

2nd = poor and needy non-Christians

Where in the world are my brothers and sisters in need?  Who in my local church needs help?  How can I provide for my brothers and sisters who are struggling because they aren’t as fortunate as I am?  These are the questions I need to be asking.  These are the questions our local churches need to be asking.  When we do our good works of justice and mercy our first target should be those within the Church whom are suffering .  This is what caring for “the least of these brothers of [ours]” looks like.

We who are privileged enough to be able to offer life-changing assistance to the poor must do so if we are to follow God’s will for our lives.  Yet I believe many of us—especially me—need to pause and do some soul-searching before frantically throwing our money at the next famine or natural disaster that an aid agency brings to our attention.  If I ever feel more compassion and kinship towards the world than towards the Church then I have really veered off course and forgotten that “Both the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family.  So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers.” (Hebrews 2:11)  May God help us unashamedly love our eternal brothers and sisters more than the world, just like Jesus does.

Peace,
The Lord is God

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The other day my wife and I watched the fascinating and at times overwhelming documentary, “The Corporation.” (View the trailer on the “Education” page of our site)  This was the second time I’ve watched it and it was certainly more emotionally and intellectually digestible this time around than the first.  In the film there is a section that looks at the hormone rBST that is used on 1 in 3 dairy cows in the U.S.  This artificial growth hormone is injected into cows to increase milk production.  The drug works so well that it can do much harm to the cow–infections and immobility are chief among the resulting problems.  The FDA has approved its safety for us humans, but meanwhile it continues to harm cows and raise eyebrows around the world as to why we continue to use a questionable drug to increase milk production while our government gives subsidies to farmers to not produce it since we already have too much.  Having read an interesting article the previous day titled, “The Case Against Meat,” the question of what my Christian response to such things ought be was already on my mind.  And, after discussing these things with my wife over a delicious bowl of vegetarian udon, God solidified an initial response for me which I would be unfaithful to ignore…

1.  rBST does enough harm to cows that, where possible, I believe it is best to avoid purchasing the resulting milk.  “Six days do your work, but on the seventh day do not work, so that your ox and your donkey may rest,” says God (Exodus 23:12).  God has compassion and love for all the finite beings He has created.  If we don’t, what does that say about our heart?  How well do we know God if we don’t show compassion and restraint in our use of the animals He created and entrusted to us?

2.  In the finite, over-fertilized, and increasingly globalized world we live in I believe that, where possible, it is best to eat lower on the food chain.  That is another way of saying: eating less meat is economically, physically, socially advantageous.  This is a hard one because I love eating meat.  Lamb, steak, sausage, hamburgers–I’m all about it!  But, with regard to chemicals in our food, can I really trust the FDA to know the long-term effects of the chemicals used to grow, clean, and process our food when the rest of the Western industrialized world usually disagrees with it?  Case in point: rBST is banned in the European Union, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada over human (and animal) health concerns.  It seems like as fast as companies are creating new chemicals to make our products ‘better,’ old chemicals that have been around for several years are getting banned because of their recently discovered dangers.  No one really can predict what a chemical, fertilizer, hormone, etc. is going to do to the human body or the environment until we’ve used it for a while (e.g. DDT, CFC’s, lead, asbestos, etc.)  My concern when it comes to the fancy new chemicals labeled “safe” by the FDA is one of stewardship of my finite body and our finite planet, and my realization is that we eat meat like we have an endless supply of grain, water, and land to produce it while being unconcerned and unaware of the amount of chemicals we’re ingesting and how they will affect us.  This is a complex issue which requires more of my attention but for now I need to be more serious about asking myself if I really want potentially-dangerous chemicals pumped into the ground, the plants and animals I eat, and subsequently into me?  “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God,” says the scripture (1 Cor. 10:31).  Understanding how inextricably linked we are to our environment and to the rest of the world, I believe not purchasing chemically-treated plant and animal products, where possible, is a way to honor the God who made them.

Pondering this response I found myself staring at the same obstacles that I’ve faced in the past concerning these issues: Organic food is expensive; Cage-free meat/eggs is expensive; Can I really trust that food is “organic” or that meat was produced in compassionate ways?; I don’t know how many chemicals and hormones are used in meat and I have no idea how to find out, or how to learn if they’re bad for me; Does that mean I shouldn’t go out to eat anymore since I have no clue about the nature of a restaurant’s ingredients?; I like eating a variety of things and there are some flavors I would have a hard time not having in my diet anymore; All this takes so much time and effort!  As I thought about these objections raised by my pallet, wallet, and sense of comfort, I saw more clearly than ever what was at stake and that most of the objections amount to nothing more than desires for comfort.  Specifically, they have to do with preference.  The Euro-American diet that I have grown accustomed to over my life is one such preference.  The elements in this diet are what I, and most Americans, have an appetite for.  But, an appetite is just a preference.  Preferences are hard to change.  And, dietary preferences are especially hard to change when our appetite for the main elements of the Euro-American diet–eggs, meat, cheese, sweets, etc.–is reinforced by the overabundance of these products on the consumer end.  In order to overcome these obstacles I, and anyone else who feels similar convictions, has to be willing to question their preferences and be willing to redirect their appetite toward a different diet.

“The Corporation” makes the point several times that the business corporation is something that we invented and continue to allow to exist by giving it power.  At any time that power can be taken away and the business corporation model can be scrapped–just as slavery was.  Our laws were created by us.  What is “legal” was made legal by us.  In the same way, our concept of what a diet should consist of and what “tastes good” was created by us.  We are creative beings to whom God has given dominion over His planet–a planet that is endless in flavors, aromas, textures, and combinations thereof.  If we are scared or unable to make necessary changes to our diets, spending habits, entertainment choices, or anything else, it’s because we no longer have power over them; they have power over us.  I hope to make the shift toward a diet that is more compassionate, chemical-free, and sustainable, and I will change my preferences whether U.S. farmers and grocery stores help me or not.

Peace,
The Lord is God

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FORWARD

And there off in the final round of this Mr. Olympia 2008 competition…Jay Cutler goes for his last mandatory pose. He turns to the judges so that they can see his profile. He raises his heal to flex his calf. Hands clasped he pulls his front most arm with his rear arm across his chest and below his pec line. He raises his chest and expands his rib cage to complete a beautiful Side Lifted Rib Cage pose. Jesus Christ is up next. The Son of God slowly crouches to the stage. His Holiness’ knees bend and He places His palms flush against the stage and rests His face on the ground. This routine completes a marvelous Humble Before the Father pose. The crowd ohhhhh’s and ahhh’s. Jay Cutler has one last chance to seal his victory. Cutler makes his move. It looks as if we have the Incredible Hulk pose made famous by Lou Ferrigno. With his arms forward and down, he creates an arch in the front of his body. Firsts clenched. His traps pull up and his chest flexes to complete his Crab Most Muscular pose. But wait…what’s this? It would seem that Jay Cutler is…is…deflating right before the eyes of the judges. It appears as though Jesus’ pose has packed with it a prayer that has cast a defeating blow to Cutler’s pride. His immense boulder like shoulders have been reduced substantially and look smaller with every moment. His giant muscles have shrunk all over his body and he now looks scarily normal. Jay Cutler cries out in anguish with the thought that he will lose his Mr. Olympia reign just after 2 years of being on the top. The Mr. Olympia trophy is replaced with a crown at the last minute as a recognition of the amazing feats of Jesus at the 2008 Mr. Olympia competition. To top it off we now have a donkey on the stage and I am pretty sure they don’t allow animals in at the gates. Jesus has now hopped onto the donkey and is riding the thing right through the crowd. With fans cheering the crowned King onward out of the arena His donkey can’t help but leave behind some parting gifts for the onlookers. Watch your steps folks!  Can’t say you see that everyday.

BACKGROUND

The very first Mr. Olympia competition was held on September 18, 1965. Big names to come out of the competition have included the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger, “The Austrian Oak”, and Lou Ferrigno, who played the role of the Hulk in the 1970’s television series.

Bodybuilding, the art of displaying the muscles, is a recent phenomenon. Similarly, competitive bodybuilding, the sport, did not exist prior to the late 19th century. “Father” to the sport, Eugen Sandow from Germany, enjoyed displaying his physique and developed exhibitions where people would pay to admire his body. The spoils from these exhibitions blossomed into the first excercise equipment for the masses, which later inspired a culture of bodybuilding throughout the world. In 1901 the first bodybuilding competition was held in London, UK, known as the “Great Competition”.

Mr. Olympia competitions were originated and organized by brothers Ben and Joe Weider. The Weider brothers wanted to create a venue for the top bodybuilders to continue beyond that of the Mr. Universe competitions, which started in 1948. Winning the Mr. Olympia title is considered to be the highest accolade in the sport of professional bodybuilding. Taking the title has other incentives besides being the best in the sport. Since the conception of bodybuilding, the total prize money for a competition has increased from $1,000 to over $285,000 today.

TODAY

Jay Cutler is the current Mr. Olympia champion. He has won both 2006 and 2007 Mr. Olympia competitions. He will be competing at the September 25th-28th Olympia Weekend competitions in Las Vegas. He will be defending his title for the second time.

THE OBVIOUS INJUSTICE

Jay Cutler is 34 years old. His height is 5’9. He weighs 310 pounds in the off season. His 2008 Off Season Nutrition Strategy states that he eats 6 meals a day. His first meal of the day is 15 egg whites, 2 whole eggs, 4 slices of Ezekial toast, 1 cup of dry Ezekial and 1 cup of coffee. His second meal of the day includes a 10 oz. steak with 2 cups of rice. His third meal of the day includes 10 oz. of chicken with 4 cups of rice. His fourth meal consists of 10 oz. of buffalo meat with 2 cups of rice. His fifth meal, 10 oz. of turkey, one cup of Ezekial cereal and 2 slices of Ezekial bread. Meal six consists of 3 scoops of Nitro-Tech and 4 slices of Ezekial bread.

The following is an excerpt from the book Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger, by Ron Sider:

“A former president of World Vision visited the home of Sebastian and Maria Nascimento, a poor Brazilian couple whose home was a one-room, thatched lean-to with a sand floor. Inside, one stool, a charcoal hibachi, and four cots covered with sacks partly filled with straw were the only furniture. He wrote this heart-rending account about his visit:

‘My emotions could scarcely take in what I saw and heard. The three-year-old twins, lying naked and unmoving on a small cot, were in the last act of their personal drama. Mercifully, the curtain was coming down on their brief appearance. Malnutrition was the villain. The two-year-old played a silent role, his brain already vegetating from marasmus, a severe form of malnutrition. The father is without work. Both he and Maria are anguished over their existence, but they are too proud to beg. He tries to shine shoes. Maria cannot talk about their condition. She tries, but the words just will not come. Her mother’s love is deep and tender, and the daily deterioration of her children is more than she can bear. Tears must be the vocabulary of the anguished soul'” (p. 8).

THE CORRUPTED BODY

In the Bible, Paul urges Christians not to conform to this world’s pattern of evil systems and ideas. I think that warning is relevant today and is particularly important when we examine what is happening within America’s increasingly pro-enhancement culture.

“Do not love the world or the things in the world. The love of the Father is not in those who love the world; for all that is in the world–the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eyes, the pride in riches–comes not from the Father but from the world. And the world and its desires are passing away, but those who do the will of God live forever (I John 2:15-17 NRSV).”

Bodybuilding, as a whole, couldn’t be a more obvious example of loving worldly things. It is an ever present moment by moment expression of ones riches. Jay Cutler can afford to eat the way he does and therefore has a greater opportunity to express his riches through his massive body. As Alan M. Klein states in Little Big Men, “Bodybuilding is a subculture of hyperbole. In its headlong rush to accrue flesh, everything about this subculture exploits grandiosity and excess.”

Pride about our bodies is just another sinister agent waiting to harden our hearts to the suffering throughout the world and has been made all the more effective of a plot against humanity by the litany of legal and illegal enhancements (Cell-Tech, Anator P70 and Nitro-Tech just to list the ones that Cutler admits to taking). Shortcuts to feeling powerful every moment exist so why not take advantage of them? Lets look at this accumulation of bodily flesh for what it truly is–oppression. For men this is a particularly crucial issue and must be addressed with heightened urgency because there is more on the line than most realize.

THE HIDDEN INJUSTICE

Men are by and large most susceptible to this idea that buff and big is better. I personally have had to grapple with this underlying coercive force deeming my manliness by how much I can bench at more than a few junctures. I am 5’10. I fluctuate between 130 and 140 pounds, depending on what I am doing athletically. Most people like the joke that I am too skinny and need to fatten up. Only now have I realized the injustice layered behind the critiques about my body image.

Americans are accustomed to thinking that people who are skinny are unhealthy and people who are big and strong are healthy. There is an even more controversial myth as well that has been perpetuated by Americans underneath their very noses. The myth that it is our solemn right to be big and strong.

Humans have the God given right to sacrifice and to suffer for the sake of the oppressed so that good deeds may be done. We all have the choice when it comes to our bodies to pour out love and compassion by resisting the temptation to fill our stomachs with more than we need. We have the right to lessen our body size and to be less powerful to bring about shifts in resource accumulation and to free ourselves from the bondage of a body image centered society.

God placed in every human interesting eventualities that are too important to overlook and that help to understand the deceptive lies in “bigger bodies are better” rhetoric. When analyzed together we see that even within our very physiological compositions there exist mechanisms to help us live out God’s call to take care of those who have little:

Point # 1: As we age we need less calories because typically we lose muscle mass. A trend that people usually counter with strength building activities. Are we supposed to counter this process though? Why don’t we just eat less and eat healthier?

Point #2: More muscle mass means higher metabolism (which means you will need more energy/food which is contrary to our bodies natural survival mechanisms)

Point #3: Eating healthy foods in reasonable quantities and exercising on a regular basis is the most efficient use of food intake for our human bodies.

FLEX FOR THE KING

Filling out your shirt with you new muscles is a great feeling. Strength gains does an immense work in raising self esteem and well-being. I love to work out and to work hard. God wants you to be fit and ready to join Him in any adventure, even ones that are demanding on your body. Yet, we all must resist the temptation to let society tell us what is fit. We must resist the enhancement culture of the United States of America and deem for ourselves what is readiness for the good works that God has for us. Men, don’t let society bring you down to the simplistic understanding about eternal truths. These bodies will fail and will not last us in the end. Do not line up for yourselves expressions of your riches through your body, but line up instead treasures in heaven. Do justice by resisting excessive and glamorized versions of yourself today.

Much love,

Brish

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Getting Personal

Once upon a time, in a land far, far away there lived a beautiful princess… seems to be the way most fairy tales begin. However, life is not a fairy tale.

Ever since I was a little girl, I have been pumped full of fantasies of that sort, shaping my ideas of romantic relationships and leading me to believe all dreams should come to pass. These stories of princes sweeping their fair maidens off their feet has in many ways influenced me and distorted, for me, God’s views on the “Big Day.”

Recently, I’ve been finding myself resorting mostly to fantasy rather than reality. You see… I got engaged last month. After two years and nine months of dating my boyfriend, now fiancé, asked me to marry him and I said, “Yes!” It has been all very exciting, but along with the engagement comes a lot of wedding logistics that requires time, energy and thought. Don’t get my wrong… I’m not complaining. I know planning can be very enjoyable with God’s help. However, it has been difficult to be faithful in the process. I feel God challenging me more than ever to examine my choices, in order to become a person more consistent in living out my talk about simplicity and justice.

In other words, God has brought justice to a much more personal level. It definitely hasn’t been in the ways I normally think about it-feeding the hungry, clothing the poor, etc. All which are acts of kindness and compassion done towards someone else. But what I feel I am learning about is justice in the form of simplicity in the day-to-day choices I have to make, because without simplicity it would be hard to see God’s bigger picture of justice. It would definitely be difficult to give up things He wants for us to and give to the poor. I believe what God wants for me is a lifestyle, not just more justice oriented extracurricular activities.

As a result, I’ve been prompted to put my wedding plans under a magnifying glass. And I’ve found myself guilty of many things, but especially in thinking… “It’s my wedding! I should be able to do whatever I want!” Me, me, me, its all about me! Oh Lord, please have mercy! I am missing the whole point when I think like that.

It’s evident, from my example, that I haven’t been able to stop my mind from wandering. Instead, I’ve allowed my fantasies to drive my decision-making. The truth of the matter is that my wedding day is just another day in light of eternity, and how would I be consistent if I drop a grip of money just to turn my fantasy into reality? I wouldn’t do something like that for anything else, so why should my wedding be an exception. Hence, from my engagement ring to the wedding favors, I’ve been trying to let God search my heart and reveal any offensive ways. It has been rough and my fiancé has been putting up with a lot of the frustration I’ve been experiencing in the process (Thanks!).

I know that God cares about the desires of my heart, but I still find myself getting disappointed and even upset when I don’t get exactly what I want. I get so hung up on things. I can’t help but wonder… How much is too much to spend? Am I being inconsistent? Am I getting carried away in what I want? I need God’s guidance and his peace to get through this.

There is still much planning ahead, but through the process I’ve been reminded that living the life that Jesus calls us to-to live simply, love mercy, and seek justice-is not so easy. I feel sometimes all I know how to do is talk the talk, but I really don’t know how to walk the talk. I want to be obedient and I need God’s help to make the right choices.

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