Kingdom vs Pagan Economics

Most of my closest friends are in the middle of some degree of what Westerners would consider a financial crisis. Outgo is exceeding income. Life savings are either non-existent or on their way to extinction and every attempt at creating a sufficient income stream comes up empty. I have an intimate understanding of their dilemma as my wife and I are in the same boat. Yet none of us are underfed, homeless or on foot. Somehow God provides us with more than we need for the present and often supplies many of our wants.

Shortly after I resigned my position as senior pastor of an institutional “church” I was stymied in every attempt to find employment. With a hint of exasperation, I asked Father what he wanted me to do. His answer: “Do whatever I tell you to do and I will provide.” Years later it occurred to me that what he said could be taken as a paraphrase of Matthew
6:33: ‘Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you.’ I had almost forgotten that this had been the foundation of our lifestyle for 12 years before accepting a pastor’s salary.

For the 10 years since, we have never known a regular income that matched the outgo, yet the bills are always paid on time, we enjoy a nice home, and even take an occasional vacation. Unexpected sums of money from unexpected sources have come seemingly out of the blue. We have never put out a newsletter or broadcast our needs in any other way. Even so, I would feel more comfortable if I could count on a regular income that matched the outgo. That only proves that I have a lot to learn about child-like trust and still would like a measure of control. I could cop out and say that I only want my wife to feel secure, but she’s doing as well as I am with our unpredictable future.

I can’t remember when I’ve ever heard a sermon on the verses that precede the one quoted above. ‘So do not worry saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?”
or “What shall we wear?” for the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.’ Running after luxuries (anything above basic needs) is not even considered. I wonder how that truth fits into prosperity doctrine. Is there any difference between religious Christianity’s attitude toward provision and finances and that of the worlds? I’m afraid it would all have to be defined as pagan economics.

I’ve shared meals from a common finger bowl in unlighted mud huts with generous folks in Kenya who were more content than many overfed Americans I know. I never met anyone more at peace with their situation than a beautiful young Indian woman who lived in Mumbai in a huge slum where the “dwellings” were nothing but gunny sacks draped across sticks. They had no furnishings, just a dirt floor with nothing on it. She was one of the few in the slum that had a job. She earned a few rupees making roti (unleavened bread) and was able to sustain herself with the income so that she could live beside the sewer in her five by 10 foot dirt space where she gathered a several children daily to share Jesus with them. She had everything Jesus promised; food, clothing and opportunity to serve. She asked us for nothing. Welcome to Kingdom Economics 101.

David Fredrickson

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As a Man Thinks

A friend told me a cute story about his 4 year old granddaughter a couple days ago. Ella was sitting on the kitchen floor ignoring her toys, so her mother asked her what she was doing. “I’m thinking about the bad things I like to do,” she said. “Ella Jane, that’s not a good thing to do!” her mother said. “I know, but I still like to think about it.”

It’s human nature to judge people by what they do. We’ve been either punished or rewarded for what we do or don’t do before we could walk or talk. Religious teaching has reinforced the concept and encouraged us to believe that our ultimate worth is based on our behavior. But when Jesus addressed the Pharisees at one point he quoted Isaiah 29:13: “ ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their teachings are but rules taught by men.’ ”

The ‘rules of men’ are focused only on behavior. God focuses only on the heart. Jesus went on to say that it was what comes out of the heart that defiles a man, ‘for out of the heart come evil thoughts…’  Of course evil thoughts lead to evil behavior, but what if a person was so disciplined and had such a strong will power that they were able to keep from following their evil thoughts with actions? Would they be less guilty than the one who acted according to their thoughts?

I will never forget what God told me one day many years ago when I first began to “pastor.” “You’re a Pharisee,” he said. “You keep yourself from ‘sinning’ by your will power and raise the bar high for those who are weaker willed than you are. Keeping from sinning has no merit unless it is I who am keeping you.” God is love, and love is the only pure motivation for good behavior. Otherwise, we may as well do whatever we please.

And, in fact, we should, for if we walk in love, it will please us to please him, even in our thoughts. We no longer have and evil heart, but a new one with the law of love written upon it. If we guard our new heart with love, our thoughts and outward behavior will follow.

David Fredrickson

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Running in the Dark

 

I often encounter people who feel like they’ve entered a season with no direction in their lives, like they’re wandering around in the dark. These are folks who love God and want to do his will. Yet it seems as though he’s looking the other way and turning a deaf ear to their requests for guidance. There are a few areas I’m dealing with right now where I can definitely relate.

In a religious setting, we’d be told that we had sin in our lives or we weren’t spending enough time in prayer. Or maybe we were failing to submit to leadership who would be more than willing to tell us what to do.

There’s an interesting scripture in Isaiah 50:10-11 that addresses those who fear and obey the Lord, yet walk in the dark with no light. It simply instructs them to trust in the name of the Lord and rely on God. It goes on to say that those who try to manufacture their own fire and walk in their own light will lie down in torment.

If creating a sense of obligation or shame doesn’t do the trick, religion is always good at creating light shows, making it look likes something’s happening when it’s not. Just get involved, get with the program and you’ll be fine. It’s like offering strange fire on the altar. Yet religious obligation, shame and false hope equal torment.

But according to Isaiah, leaning on Father and believing that he loves us keeps us in the center of his will. So if we’re in the dark, it doesn’t necessarily indicate that sin is blocking our path. And we don’t need to know anything other than that he just wants us to trust him and receive his love. The darkness will pass, and you’ll be exactly where he wants you to be; in his arms.

Yet trusting in and relying on God leaves no room for passivity. Blind Bartemaeus was sitting by the road begging, but his ears were open to what was going on around him. When he heard Jesus was approaching he was ready for action even though being met with resistance from those near him. When Jesus called to him he cast his only means of shelter and income aside and ran to the one who he fully trusted to be the Messiah. He received his sight because his actions proved his trust in God to be everything he needed.

Sometimes we stay in the dark longer than Father intended, because we’ve let deferred hope dull our hearing or are unwilling to give up our security blanket/s. But the only security we can count on is his unchanging and unsurpassed love that overcomes every obstacle and meets every need. Hope that is based on any thing or anyone but God himself will always be disappointed and will keep us in the dark, but hope that’s anchored in his faithfulness produces a trusting heart that banks on who he is rather than what we think he said. Then we can run with reckless abandon to the one who is the light.

David Fredrickson

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Successful Living

I was chatting with a friend yesterday who has been faithfully serving Christ for many years. He’s prayed often that God would use him for his glory. Yet he’s in financial crisis, has almost given up on his dreams of fruitful service, been stripped of much of what he’s held dear and hasn’t a clue as to what his future holds. If you can identify with him, take heart. You’re in a growing company of pilgrims that Father trusts enough to answer their prayers!

I’ve often taught that we must find our joy in Jesus, that he’s all we need, our hope and expectation, our rock and our salvation, our glory and the lifter of our heads. It’s easy to believe we’re living there when Father’s blessing us in tangible ways. Victory is our song and we’re all tight with Jesus. We think we’ve found the key to walking in resurrection life. But then the bottom drops out and we realize that our joy was in the blessings.

Many Christians have been taught a very Western view of “successful” Christian living. It’s spoken of as something that can be measured in terms of external blessings such as health, wealth and pleasant circumstances. If you’re a pastor, it can be measured by the number of members, the size of your building and your influence in the city. An evangelist measures his success by the number of souls saved and so on. But the only thing that counts to God is faith expressing itself through love.

Paul wrote that he and his fellow apostles were weak, dishonored, went hungry and thirsty, wore rags, were brutally treated and homeless. He said that they had become the scum of the earth and refuse of the world. (Quite a contrast to so called apostles today that require for one to be a millionaire before being accepted as an apostle!) And that was not just a process they were going through before a “break through.” Most of the apostle’s lives ended in a brutal death at the hands of their enemies.

Our circumstances may remain difficult, our fruitfulness may remain unseen, and the future can never be counted on. But if we are learning to be content as we rest in Father’s love, if our lives reflect the fruit of the Spirit and we remain with child like trust in the midst of trials, we will be a continual fragrance before him and a huge success in his eyes.

David Fredrickson

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The Master’s Servants

Many years ago I worked with an outreach ministry in the San Francisco Bay area where I met a man I’ll call Bill who loved helping people. He was especially drawn to war veterans who often turned to alcohol in an effort to drown the emotional pain and guilt that plagued their every waking moment. His love and compassion for the people he worked with won him a place in their hearts. He had a way of mixing encouragement with exhortation that helped them to accept the truth about themselves and find hope to move forward with their lives. Bill was a natural evangelist. Not a few came to know Jesus and the transforming power of his love.

Thing about Bill was he’d often disappear for days at a time, and I’d have to get in my car and hunt him down. He was an alcoholic, and sometimes his behavior was just too much for his wife to bear. Home was not always a good environment for the three children, either. After one such episode, I found Bill in a bar, head bowed in shame. When I sat beside him, he looked me in the eye and asked if I would have a drink with him. I agreed, we had a beer together and I took him home. Somehow that small token of acceptance and companionship touched his heart. Bill stayed dry for awhile after that, but the pattern never ended. A couple years passed and Bill & family moved to another area.

Several years later my wife and I left the Bay Area and planted a church in the Sacramento region. As the congregation grew, Mark stood out as the most generous and outreaching of all the members. He was a natural evangelist – and an alcoholic. New converts would give testimony to the example his life was to them, and how their lives had changed as a result of his unconditional love and acceptance.

A few months ago someone who was still in touch with Bill contacted me to let me know that he had passed away. There were a lot of people in the church building where the memorial service was being held. I could tell by the pastor’s sermon that Bill’s troubles had never ended. Neither had his love stopped. One after one, veterans who had found Christ through their relationship with Bill and ones who hadn’t yet, stood up and shared about the sacrificial love Bill demonstrated that had changed their lives. His wife and adult children all shared as well. No one sugar coated Bill’s problems, but it was clear that, through all his faults, it was the good fruit that remained.

Maybe folks like Bill and Mark are in our lives to remind us that love covers a multitude of sins. I must admit I spent most of my life judging people’s worth based on how “pure” a life they lived. Sure, I appreciated the contributions made by people like Bill and Mark and even had a genuine love and compassion for them. But though I’d never admit it to anyone, I thought of them as being a couple rungs down the ladder from those who lived an “upright” life. And secretly, I brushed off my sense of conviction that they were more giving and caring than I was.

Paul asked the Roman Christians this question: “Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.”

In the final analysis, love wins.

David Fredrickson

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Childlike or Childish?

My grandson is one year old and, for the record, the best looking, cutest, most intelligent, and sweetest little guy ever born. Ok, now that I’ve got thousands of parents and grandparents who are ready to back up their disagreement with pictures, I’ll get on with my blog. Anyway, he’s one year old now and into everything. Yesterday he climbed out of his little pool, grabbed the garden hose and marched stark naked toward the faucet while I recorded him on video.

Of course he wasn’t the slightest bit self conscious. He hadn’t worked out a plan before he climbed out of the pool, nor had he worried about whether he was strong enough to turn on the faucet. His curiosity distracted him along the way, and his eyes were bright with anticipation. When he had to step off the patio slab and onto uneven ground, he reached for my hand and moved on with perfect confidence. He was on an adventure, and all was right with the world.

Jesus said that unless one becomes as a little child, he can’t enter the kingdom of heaven.
A few of the loveable traits I observe in my grandson are sweet innocence, spontaneity, curiosity and simple trust. If you’re like me, you probably come up short in comparison.
Part of the reason is that we all still have tendencies common to the old nature. Another factor for many is the part religion has played. It robs us of our innocence by using the stolen knowledge of good and evil to make judges of ourselves and others. We’re told we need to accumulate knowledge taught by men or get permission from a spiritual authority before we can “minister,” so stepping out in spontaneous response to the Spirit is not an option. We are exhorted not to question certain “sacred” doctrines, so our desire to explore new areas is quenched. As for simple trust, it doesn’t come easy when the religious formulas for success fail.

In fact innocence, spontaneity, curiosity and uneducated trust are considered by religious teaching to be childish traits. Yet the very opposite is true. Playing church by making up the rules is childish. Playing big man, little man is childish. Insisting that we’re the ones that have it right is childish. Arguing over doctrines is childish. Pretending we’re somebody else on Sunday mornings, bragging about “our” church and making jokes about the church down the road are all games that untaught children play.

A person who has grown in love, on the other hand, is childlike. Love has overcome the knowledge of good and evil, restoring us to child-like innocence. Love always trusts. Love seeks out the truth and rejoices when it’s discovered. Love is spontaneous because it is unconditional and therefore does not pause to consider the worthiness of its object.
Bottom line, love has forgotten what it doesn’t need to know and restores us to the child-like innocence, curiosity, spontaneity and simple trust we had before the fall.

David Fredrickson

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Justice for All

I can remember outlasting a stare down with my stern and feared fourth grade teacher when she unjustly accused me of some misdeed. On another occasion, the same teacher accused my friend of being disrespectful when he squinted while saying the Pledge of Allegiance. He was taller than all the other kids, and stood in the back of the line where he had to stare straight into the morning sun that was just peaking over the tin roof of the Little Red Schoolhouse. I couldn’t stand the fact that she made an example of him in front of all the other children and followed that with more punishment. My passion for justice led to a confrontation between his dad, my dad and the teacher.

For my entire life, I’ve responded to injustice with angry determination. And when I was in situations where injustice occurred in which I was helpless, I fumed inside. I’ve hated people who used their place of position and power to crush others. I’ve often dreamed of ways they could be brought down to size in the most painful and humiliating ways possible. Yet I saw nothing wrong with my fantasies, because after all, the bullies deserved it. Justice is good and right.

It’s been a long road of repentance for me in learning to shed the cloak of “righteous indignation” by replacing it with “putting on” love. Though the fruit of the tree of knowledge is bitter, it’s the mainstay of the old nature and extremely addicting. We’re fooled into believing that when a wrong doer “gets theirs” the world is set right again.

I’m not suggesting that we take no part in working toward social justice or in standing up for those who are treated unfairly. But many Christians today are obsessed with justice for themselves. They’re fighting for religious freedom. They’re angry at the thought that they’re being discriminated against and are ready to do battle with whoever would seek to make them lesser citizens of this country. The president is there enemy, and they wish him harm. This misdirected passion reveals which kingdom one is committed to and where the roots of his/her identity are anchored.

But there will never be justice in this world until Jesus returns as King. And as kings and priests of his kingdom, we don’t need justice here. We have not gotten what we deserve in the way of punishment, but we’ve been given what we could never deserve in benefits. Lifted above the demands of right and wrong, fully forgiven, made righteous in him, and now joint heirs of all that is his, we live in a kingdom where right and wrong, justice and injustice, fair and unfair are overcome by the One who brings the mountains down and raises the valleys up.

David Fredrickson

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Fig Leaves Religion

On one of our recent podcasts I mentioned a conversation with a couple of teenagers that occurred years ago when I pastored an institutional “church.” I was concerned about their spiritual condition as they showed no interest in the “things of God.” They assured me that there was no problem. Then they said something close to: “We believe and will follow Christ when we no longer live with our parents. They act so differently at home than they do at church, we can’t stand to accommodate them by doing the same.”

I was reminded of that little chat when thinking about Adam and Eve’s trespassing episode in the Garden of Eden. Immediately after eating of the forbidden fruit their eyes were opened, so they made loin cloths out of fig leaves and hid from God. (Gen. 3:7,8)

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote: Instead of seeing God, man sees himself. “Their eyes were opened.” Man perceives himself in his disunion with God and other men. He perceives that he is naked….[he] covers himself, conceals himself from men and from God.

Since religious Christianity springs directly from human nature as a fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, it encourages its followers to conceal their faults by applauding performance that belies their inward disposition. Most of us who were raised in a religious environment would admit that we believe we would be rejected if others knew what we were like in the privacy of our homes. Just like those who don’t know Christ, we see ourselves and others through eyes trained by our stolen knowledge and pass judgment accordingly. As Greg Boyd puts it, we receive and ascribe worth on the condition that our knowledge of good and evil approves it.

But the second Adam has destroyed the curse and ended all judgment against us. We are fully approved in Christ, loved unconditionally, of immeasurable worth and made righteous so that all accusations Satan makes against us are null and void. To the degree that we live loved in this way, we can love others.

David Fredrickson

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Electrical Cords & Demonic Manifestations

I must admit that I’ve encountered a stumbling block in my efforts to move past the elemental doctrines of Christ unto perfection. Electrical cords have effectively thwarted any forward movement on my part.

I refuse to own more than one cord. I keep it in the wheel barrow which you can just barely make out if you peer through tangled loops of rubber covered wire creating a mass the size of a small St. Bernard dog.

Oh yes, I’ve tried wrapping it around my elbows like normal people do. It doesn’t work for me. The square knot method created an even greater challenge.

Each week when the lawn needs mowing and trimming, I know that I’ll be forced to use the electric weed eater. I know it, but refuse to think about it until the mowing is complete. As I roll the mower back into the shed, I can see the orange wire monster out of the corner of my eye. It’s waiting for me like a cobra preparing to strike. After drawing a deep breath, I move quickly and grab it with both hands. Striding purposefully toward the front yard, I attempt desperately to conjure up a flicker of false hope that things will be different today. God knows I don’t believe it.

Now the battle begins. I will attempt to untangle the shapeless mass while remaining in a disposition of relative sanity. I’ve learned in past defeats that there is no good place to begin, so I grab the male plug and pull. The mass tightens. I try the female end with the same result. I begin to weave one end through the countless loops that have defied physics by having no end and no beginning.

I won’t bore you or embarrass myself further with the full details of what generally follows. Imagine a crazy man mumbling to himself while jerking frantically at cord loops and finally swinging knotted sections of the offensive material wildly around his head. His wife who has been happily watering flowers now wisely retreats safely indoors.

The man of God has lost his cool. Not to worry, however; the next day he may well be in his office counseling a client on anger management.

I wrote the first few sentences of this little piece several years ago, and just came upon them today. It’s a bit exaggerated, of course, but accurately describes my feelings at the time. It’s encouraging to realize that I no longer respond to such challenges as I did then. At the same time it’s humbling to realize how small frustrations could have such power in my life and to recognize how easily annoyed I still become at times in those situations. All the more reason to rejoice in the fact that Father’s immeasurable love for us never fails and that judgment ended at the cross. Trying harder always fails. Living loved brings transformation

David Fredrickson

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Light Shows & Daily Bread

In chatting with friends who are still in touch with the latest fads in certain spiritual cultures, it appears that new “revelations” and “powerful” meetings still top the list as events supposed to move one closer to God. It’s not been too many years since I would have agreed.

When Peter, James and John experienced perhaps the most glorious engagement with God recorded in the New Testament, they were clueless as to the significance of what they had witnessed. They watched as Jesus changed into a light being before their eyes, while Elijah and Moses showed up to speak with him.

But Peter’s response completely missed the heart of God for this momentous occasion. He wanted to camp right there and build three private church buildings for Jesus, Moses and Elijah. This evoked an immediate response from Father God who nixed Peter’s suggestion by blinding the three onlookers with a bright cloud. He reminded them that it was all about Jesus; He was the one they were to listen to!

Though any unique encounter with God or special time in his presence is certainly a privilege, it is our lack and his bounty that is more often revealed on such occasions. The moment we step out of the “pond” we find ourselves none the more “spiritual” for the experience. We are aware that every revelation must be lived out in our daily walk, yet we somehow imagine that the next “dip” will take care of our shortcomings. So many feel, like Peter, that if they could just stay in the pond, they would become more like Jesus. So they increase their prayer time and run from meeting to meeting trying to keep “full” of God. They end up leaning on meetings rather than on God himself until they become exhausted and disillusioned.

It seems apparent that a significant need in Peter’s life was for his mind to be renewed so he could distinguish more clearly between his natural inclinations and the mind of the Spirit. But this comes only as we respond to the truth he makes real to us as we yield our ambitions, desires and bodies to Father on an hourly and daily basis. Thus, the revelation of God and self that occurs in any extraordinary time with Father serves as a motivation and reminder to lean on him more fully.

The sense of impotence that Peter and the other disciples must have felt on the mountain was no doubt repeated shortly after they entered the valley. Their inability to cure the epileptic boy further demonstrated their need to trust in Christ alone for the life and power that continually flowed from him. Like the life-sustaining manna from heaven eaten in the dessert by their ancestors, the life from the Bread of heaven could not be harvested in a glorious moment and stored for the following day.* The life giving bread is here and now in every moment, in every situation.

David Fredrickson

*Excerpt from book: When the Church Leaves the Building

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