Christopher J.H. Wright: Normalized, rationalized, rendered plausible and acceptable

Home » Meditations

Christopher J.H. Wright: Normalized, rationalized, rendered plausible and acceptable

We want to avoid any criticism of the way we administer this liberal gift. For we are taking pains to do what is right, not only in the eyes of the Lord but also in the eyes of man. 2 Corinthians 8:20-21

“Some people are very reluctant to speak of “structural sin,” arguing that only people can sin. Sin is a personal choice made by free moral persons. Structures cannot sin in that sense. With that I agree. However, no human being is born into or makes his or her moral choices in the context of a clean sheet.

We all live within social frameworks that we did not create. They were there before we arrived and will remain after we are gone, even if individually or as a whole generation we may engineer significant change in them.

And those frameworks are the result of other people’s choices and actions over time—all of them riddled with sin. So although structures may not sin in the personal sense, structures embody myriad personal choices, many of them sinful, that we have come to accept within our cultural patterns. . .

It is not that by living within such structures our sin becomes justifiable or inevitable. We are still responsible persons before God. It does mean that sinful ways of life become normalized, rationalized, rendered plausible and acceptable by reference to the structures and conventions we have created.”

Christopher J.H. Wright as cited by Brian Fikkert and Kelly M. Kapic in Becoming Whole: Why the Opposite of Poverty isn’t the American Dream (Chicago: Moody, 2019) 177-178.

Jenni and I had a great week. Thanks for your prayers. We made special memories, read some books, had sweet time, and are shocked by the temperature shift. Went from 83°F / 28°C and sun to 10°F / -12°C this morning with snow.

Part of my work globally aims to set up structures to build trust so local giving flows to God’s work. The importance of such structures rooted in biblical standards cannot be understated.

In many countries, corruption linked to handling money has become “normalized, rationalized, rendered plausible and acceptable.” Sadly this exists both in business and ministry settings. It creates many problems, including a lack of trust.

This lack of trust becomes a leading hindrance to generous giving.

Wright helps us see that we can’t point fingers at others. Instead, God’s workers everywhere must acknowledge the sin in our own cultural settings, and make personal choices to act differently and distinctly Christianly.

This goes against the flow. But once a person stands up makes such a choice, others follow. It’s beautiful to watch. Let me illustrate this from my experience at GTP.

I’ve had the joy of helping set up peer accountability groups like ECFA in USA in 8 countries: South Korea, Philippines, Australia, Kenya, Guatemala, Egypt, India, and Indonesia.

A peer accountability group is a locally formed legal entity that helps ministries in a country follow biblically faithful, globally consistent, and locally contextualized standards for faithful administration.

To join, individuals serving in ministries a personal decision to chart a new course. When ministries get accredited for following the standards they put a seal on their website. The seal builds trust and gives people confidence to give.

Peer accountability honors God and reverses the pattern of passive conformity to structural sin. This opens the door for local giving to flow which follows God’s design for ministry sustainability.

Read more

Bryant L. Myers: Witness

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. James 1:17

“If money is the focus, then money is perceived to be the key to transformation. What we put at the center of our program is our witness. We must always ask if we are acting as a dependent people, looking to God for every good thing. We want people to observe us and say, “Theirs must be a living God!”

Bryant L. Myers as cited Becoming Whole: Why the Opposite of Poverty is not the American Dream by Brian Fikkert and Kelly M. Kapic (Chicago: Moody, 2019) 55.

In the first part of this book, Fikkert and Kapic dismantle the weaknesses of models for alleviating poverty that relate to giving handouts or providing economic empowerment (with aid such as micro-enterprise).

By this statement, I mean that well-intentioned activities can have harmful or less that fruitful results.

Let me state pointedly that micro-enterprise can be a helpful tool, but only if the gospel gets the central focus. Only Christ can change a situation and money must not wrongly be the center of focus.

Money does not sustain people, Christ does.

The authors rightly surmise that “Human beings are transformed into the image of whatever god they worship, so at the core of poverty alleviation is worship of the one true God.”

Bryant’s quote highlights that our witness to God’s faithfulness must remain central to poverty alleviation work.

We must not come into any poverty situations with outside financial support or external dependency on human agency, but rather come in with truth that transforms and empowers people.

This fills me with gratitude to God today as it matches how God has led us at GTP to work in Malawi.

Any funds we spend relate to deploying people to train tribal authorities, pastors, and teachers to spread a biblical curriculum that inspires children to give God what they have as a reflection of true Christianity.

It’s drawing many to faith, the church is growing, and people are solving their own poverty issues!

If you have not watched the Palmful of Maize video that reflects the work of GTP and the witness of the people of Malawi, watch it here and check out the watch party collateral material.

This will help you spread transformation through your witness to Christ at the center where you live.

And, at GTP, we got a $40,000 matching gift for all gifts through the end of February 2023. Give today to help us continue to build trust and grow local giving in even the hardest places.

Click here to learn more about the match or to give.

With the funds, we hope to open work to serve the underserved in countries like Ethiopia, Honduras, Jamaica, Thailand, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Benin, Togo, Côte d’Ivoire, and Senegal in 2023.

Read more

Eugene Peterson: Consumers

Then [Jesus] said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.” Luke 12:15

“American culture is probably the least Christian culture that we’ve ever had because it is so materialistic and it’s so full of lies… The problem is people have been treated as consumers for so long they don’t know any other way to live.”

Eugene Peterson (1932-2018) from an interview cited by Brian Fikkert and Kelly M. Kapic in Becoming Whole: Why the Opposite of Poverty is not the American Dream (Chicago: Moody, 2019) 71.

While on leave, I have turned to this as my second book to read. After a recent zoom meeting between staff at The Chalmers Center and GTP, I was inspired to read it as both sides determined to get to know each other better.

We listened and learned about many good things at The Chalmers Center and how their work links to the famous book, When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty without Hurting the Poor…and Yourself.

I shared that at GTP we don’t approach the materially poor with a handout that creates unhealthy dependency but rather with a hand up to build them up as disciples. They rally resonated with this non-traditional approach.

I am grateful to God for opening doors for possible collaboration and for prophetic voices like Eugene Peterson. I am also sober about the fact that while our efforts make progress globally, it seems our own country is in as bad a shape as ever.

From reading this book, I see afresh how the consumer mindset has adversely impacted compassion. It leads God’s workers to think that to help people, we need to hand them something to consume, which paradoxically, leaves them more empty.

Jesus warned us of this. He taught that life is not found in having and enjoying an abundance of gifts. It is found in the Giver and only when we find out identity in Him, can we rightly enjoy and share His blessings and teach others to do this too.

Sadly about half the world has real needs. If we meet them from a consumer perspective, we actually compound the problem. I am grateful for groups like The Chalmers Center with whom GTP will likely collaborate to bring about lasting change.

Read more

Ralph Waldo Emerson: Friendship

Perfume and incense bring joy to the heart, and the pleasantness of a friend springs from their heartfelt advice. Psalm 27:9

“I awoke this morning with devout thanksgiving for my friends, the old and the new. Shall I not call God the Beautiful, who daily showeth Himself so to me in His gifts? I chide society, I embrace solitude, and yet I am not so ungrateful as not to see the wise, the lovely, and the noble-minded, as from time to time they pass my gate. Who hears me, who understands me, becomes mine, — a possession for all time.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson in his essay “Friendship” as recounted by Arthur C. Brooks in From Strength to Strength (New York: Penguin, 2022) 143. I shot the header photo from the ruins of Castillo San Cristóbal in San Juan, Puerto Rico, two days ago.

My word for the year is gratitude, so this section on the importance of relationships and gratitude for friendships really resonated with me. I am thankful for my friends, the closest of which, is my wife, Jenni.

My work is largely prophetic. In plain terms, I call God’s people (starting with myself and I am thoroughly imperfect) to align their ways with God’s ways. Jesus says this brings honor abroad and not much honor on the home front.

That makes my friends priceless. So, I pause to give thanks for the wise, the lovely, and noble-minded who pass by my proverbial gate and stop to hear and understand me. The older I get the more I realize they are a possession for all time.

I lost a close friend last year. Maybe you did too? You don’t realize how special they are until they are gone. So, in the spirit of gratitude, message a friend today and tell them how much you appreciate the joy they bring to your life.

Read more

Josemaría Escrivá: Detach

Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?” Hebrews 13:5-6

“Don’t forget it: he has most who needs least. Don’t create needs for yourself… Detach yourself from the goods of the world. Love and practice poverty of spirit: be content with what enables you to live a simple and sober life. Otherwise, you will never be an apostle… Rather than in not having, true poverty consists in being detached, in voluntarily renouncing one’s dominion over things. That is why there are poor who are really rich. And vice-versa.”

Josemaría Escrivá (1902-1975) in The Way (Opus Dei, 1950) 29:630-632.

In From Strength to Strength, Arthur C. Brooks suggests in general terms that people in the West people seek satisfaction in having more and people in the East try to find meaning in having less.

Yet, there’s a midpoint between the two. It’s not so much that having more or less is bad, because God made creation and declared it good for our enjoyment. The key in the middle is to avoid attachment to anything but Christ.

This is where Josemaría Escrivá speaks with precision that echoes the early church. He calls us to detach from the things of this world. It does not mean we can’t enjoy them. It means we enjoy them without becoming enslaved by them.

To keep ourselves from the love of money and be content is to say with confidence that we need nothing but the Lord who is our helper to navigate the uncertainties of life. What about you? Are you attached to anything?

Sit with the Lord. Apart from Him, is there anything that you feel like you have to have to get through life? to feel secure? Identify that thing or things. Ask God to teach you to enjoy it without becoming enslaved to it.

In the words of Escrivá, if you can’t live detached from things, you can never be an apostle. That simply means you can never testify that Christ is all you need, until you have put yourself in the position where Christ is all you have.

With gratitude to God, I can testify that in 2011, during my wife’s cancer journey after we had stored up all our worldly wealth in heaven, we learned by experience that the Lord was all we needed. He helped us and supplied our needs. So we trust him with complete confidence.

The one who learns to attach to the Lord and nothing else will undoubtedly follow in the steps of Jesus and suffer, will experience contentment and gratitude, and will never be disappointed or forsaken. And he or she will have the testimony of an apostle.

Read more

Arthur C. Brooks: Get old sharing

And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “This applies to the Levites: from twenty-five years old and upward they shall come to do duty in the service of the tent of meeting. And from the age of fifty years they shall withdraw from the duty of the service and serve no more. They minister to their brothers in the tent of meeting by keeping guard, but they shall do no service. Thus shall you do to the Levites in assigning their duties.” Numbers 8:23-26

“No matter how you find your passion, early on, pursue it with a white-hot flame, dedicating it to the good of the world. But hold your success lightly–be ready to change as your abilities change. Even if your worldly prestige fails, lean into the changes. Remember, every change of circumstances is a chance to learn, grow, and create value… Devote the back half of your life to serving others with your wisdom. Get old sharing the things you believe are most important. Excellence is always it own reward, and this is how you can be most excellent as you age.”

Arthur C. Brooks in From Strength to Strength (New York: Penguin, 2022) 39-40.

Today’s Scripture is the text God gave me when I turned 50. The text basically teaches God’s servants that for about 25 years their job is to do the work. Then at 50 it changes. The Levites pivot from working to serving.

They must minister to the next generation to keep guard of the work and sustain ministry from generation to generation. Or as Brooks put it, my role is to “get old sharing” wisdom and important stuff. I love that, as I turned 55 on 13 December 2022.

I finished this book in my first two days of rest in Puerto Rico. It was time well spend. Again, I was inspired to read it as I am part of a group of Christian brothers reading and discussing it.

And I want to make it known that I am following the example of the Levites who shifted from working to serving. I am shifting from doing the work to developing others. This mirrors what I have read in this book.

The title of the book, From Strength to Strength, was inspired by a phrase that appears in Psalms.

Blessed are those whose strength is in you, whose hearts are set on pilgrimage. As they pass through the Valley of Baka, they make it a place of springs; the autumn rains also cover it with pools. They go from strength to strength, till each appears before God in Zion. Psalm 84:5-7

I learned much from this book which I will share in time. I really appreciated the call to develop my relationships, to help those around me increase their effectiveness, and to embrace my weakness, which actually increases the prospect of my long-term impact.

God help us to go from strength to strength. Help us get old sharing important stuff. Cause us to bring life to the people and the desert places through which we pass as we journey to our eternal home and someday appear before You. Amen.

Read more

Rafael Merry del Val y Zulueta: Litany of Humility

He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. Luke 1:52

Litany of Humility

O Jesus, meek and humble of heart, hear me.
From the desire of being esteemed, deliver me, O Jesus.
From the desire of being loved, deliver me, O Jesus.
From the desire of being extolled, deliver me, O Jesus.
From the desire of being honored, deliver me, O Jesus.
From the desire of being praised, deliver me, O Jesus.
From the desire of being preferred to others, deliver me, O Jesus.
From the desire of being consulted, deliver me, O Jesus.
From the desire of being approved, deliver me, O Jesus.
From the fear of being humiliated, deliver me, O Jesus.
From the fear of being despised, deliver me, O Jesus.
From the fear of suffering rebukes, deliver me, O Jesus.
From the fear of being calumniated, deliver me, O Jesus.
From the fear of being forgotten, deliver me, O Jesus.
From the fear of being ridiculed, deliver me, O Jesus.
From the fear of being wronged, deliver me, O Jesus.
From the fear of being suspected, deliver me, O Jesus.
That others may be loved more than I, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be esteemed more than I, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That, in the opinion of the world, others may increase and I may decrease, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be chosen and I set aside, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be praised and I go unnoticed, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be preferred to me in everything, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may become holier than I, provided that I may become as holy as I should, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.

“Litany of Humility” by Cardinal Rafael Merry del Val y Zulueta was the Secretary of State to Pope Saint Pius X (1903-1914).

Yesterday in my time of rest which involved sunscreen, sunglasses, and a recliner, I read much of the book From Strength to Strength by Arthur C. Brooks. I am part of a group of Christian brothers reading and discussing it.

Brooks cited this prayer among many other great things. It’s an interesting book that offers great advice for “avoiding the snares of workaholism and success addiction, while investing in the relationships that bring true satisfaction.”

Anyway, this prayer struck me because daily I need to ask God to deliver me from wrong thinking and actions and plant in me the desire to walk in His ways. Join me in praying this prayer.

And if you struggle with words like “calumniated” then join the club. I had to look it up. It means slandered falsely. Read it again. Did one or two lines stand out to you. Repeat them as a prayer to Jesus.

Being delivered from bad things and having the grace to desire the right things are gifts from God. May each of us be delivered from things that hinder generosity and may God give us the desire for the things that unleash it for His glory. Amen.

Read more

Clement of Alexandria: Unencumbered

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. Psalm 23:1-3

“Delicacies spent on pleasures become a dangerous shipwreck to men; for this voluptuous and ignoble life of the many is alien to true love for the beautiful and to refined pleasures… Love of wealth displaces a man from the right mode of life, and induces him to cease from feeling shame at what is shameful; if only, like a beast, he has power to eat all sorts of things, and to drink in like manner, and to satiate in every way his lewd desires. And so very rarely does he inherit the kingdom of God…

We, then, on our journey to the truth, must be unencumbered. Carry not, said the Lord, purse, nor scrip, nor shoes (Luke 10:4); that is, possess not wealth, which is only treasured up in a purse; fill not your own stores, as if laying up produce in a bag, but communicate to those who have need… We must, then, cast away the multitude of vessels, silver and gold drinking cups, and the crowd of domestics, receiving as we have done from the Instructor the fair and grave attendants, Self-help and Simplicity.

But that which is superfluous, what they call ornaments and the furniture of the rich, is a burden, not an ornament to the body. He who climbs to the heavens by force, must carry with him the fair staff of beneficence, and attain to the true rest by communicating to those who are in distress. For the Scripture avouches, that the true riches of the soul are a man’s ransom, (Proverbs 13:8) that is, if he is rich, he will be saved by distributing it. For as gushing wells, when pumped out, rise again to their former measure, so giving away, being the benignant spring of love, by communicating of its drink to the thirsty, again increases and is replenished…

For the Word is a possession that wants nothing, and is the cause of all abundance… The good man, then, can never be in difficulties so long as he keeps intact his confession towards God. For it appertains to him to ask and to receive whatever he requires from the Father of all; and to enjoy what is his own, if he keep the Son. And this also appertains to him, to feel no want. This Word, who trains us, confers on us the true riches. Nor is the growing rich an object of envy to those who possess through Him the privilege of wanting nothing. He that has this wealth shall inherit the kingdom of God.”

Clement of Alexandria in “Frugality a Good Provision for the Christian” in The Instructor, Book 3, Chapter 7. The new header photo is from our peaceful porch in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Jenni and I love how peaceful it is.

As I rest this week, reading the Word and sitting at the feet of instructors like Clement, I find true riches. While most people pursue power, pleasures, or possessions, we discover our purpose when we live life unencumbered.

Freedom is found through communicating and distributing. Like a gushing well, God replenishes our supply to be springs of love who share with the thirsty. I needed to hear this on my break. It nudges me to stay the course.

“For the Word is a possession that wants nothing, and is the cause of all abundance.” As I soak in this truth I realize the gravity of it. The Word always has something good for me, something that will restore me. It’s true for all of us.

I give thanks today for the privilege of “wanting nothing.”

Read more

Justin Martyr: Incomparable wisdom

Put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry). On account of these the wrath of God is coming on those who are disobedient. These are the ways you also once followed, when you were living that life. But now you must get rid of all such things: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator. In that renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, enslaved and free, but Christ is all and in all! Colossians 3:5-11

“Do not suppose, ye Greeks, that my separation from your customs is unreasonable and unthinking; for I found in them nothing that is holy or acceptable to God… And your public assemblies I have come to hate. For there are excessive banquetings, and subtle flutes which provoke to lustful movements, and useless and luxurious anointings, and crowning with garlands. With such a mass of evils do you banish shame; and ye fill your minds with them, and are carried away by intemperance…

Henceforth, ye Greeks, come and partake of incomparable wisdom, and be instructed by the Divine Word, and acquaint yourselves with the King immortal; and do not recognise those men as heroes who slaughter whole nations. For our own Ruler, the Divine Word, who even now constantly aids us, does not desire strength of body and beauty of feature, nor yet the high spirit of earth’s nobility, but a pure soul, fortified by holiness, and the watchwords of our King, holy actions, for through the Word power passes into the soul…

Come, be taught; become as I am, for I, too, was as ye are. These have conquered me–the divinity of the instruction, and the power of the Word: for as a skilled serpent-charmer lures the terrible reptile from his den and causes it to flee, so the Word drives the fearful passions of our sensual nature from the very recesses of the soul; first driving forth lust, through which every ill is begotten–hatreds, strife, envy, emulations, anger, and such like. Lust being once banished, the soul becomes calm and serene. And being set free from the ills in which it was sunk up to the neck, it returns to Him who made it.”

Justin Martyr (c. 150-160) in Discourse to the Greeks (Roberts-Donaldson English Translation).

In my reading yesterday I came across this discourse. In the full version, Justin outlines why has separated from the Greek customs which are “excessive” and “useless” and instead chosen to partake of incomparable wisdom.

Pause for a second. Wisdom was a big deal for the Greeks, the ultimate attainment. So, after unmasking the foolishness of their customs, he pointed them to incomparable wisdom. Come and partake. Come, be taught.

And a key thread to grasping wisdom is abandoning earthly ways which make a person a slave to their lusts. This echoes the Apostle Paul who exhorted us to put these lusts to death and be instructed by the Word.

I am pausing my exploration of “gratitude” in the early Christian writings to rest this week in a warm, tropical place with my wife. This break, made possible by the grace of God, frequent flyer miles and hotel points.

I brought some books to read and plan to get rest, to be instructed by the Word to drive forth lusts and experience calm and serene. Join me this week. Accept Justin’s invitation. Come, partake, and be taught.

Read more

Quadratus of Athens: Real

You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. John 15:16

“Our Saviour’s works, moreover, were always present: for they were real, consisting of those who had been healed of their diseases, those who had been raised from the dead; who were not only seen whilst they were being healed and raised up, but were afterwards constantly present. Nor did they remain only during the sojourn of the Saviour on earth, but also a considerable time after His departure; and, indeed, some of them have survived even down to our own times.”

Quadratus of Athens (c. 126) in Fragments of Quadratus of Athens (Roberts-Donaldson English Translation).

Jesus invites us to follow Him and do the good works He did. Specifically, He appointed us us to produce “fruit that will last.” By this way, after we are long gone, the fruit will continue to be evident.

Quadratus was an early Christian apologist. He is said to have presented his apology to Hadrian in Athens when the emperor attended the celebration of the Eleusinian mysteries.

The period of the emperor Hadrian, during which Quadratus is said to have made his apology, was from 117 CE to 138 CE. Scholars date this writing around 126 CE.

We don’t know what he said, but we can surmise that he reported the facts, the fruits of the ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ so the emperor would know the truth. What a bold brother!

What we do know from this fragment is that Quadratus reported that the works of Jesus were “always present” and “real” and their impact continued “a considerable time” after his ascension.

Think about the significance of this.

If we follow in the footsteps of Jesus, our good works, our generosity should likewise be “always present” and “real” have an ongoing impact “a considerable time” after we are gone.

Sit with this question. God, can you show me by the Holy Spirit the works you have for me in 2023 so that they are “always present” and “real” and have an impact “a considerable time” after I am gone?

Read more
Next Page »