Friday, June 29, 2007

Brother's Keeper

The dictionary has over fifty definitions for the word “keep”. Some of the most well known references state: “to hold or retain in one's possession”, “to have the care, charge, or custody of”, or “to maintain by writing”. But do you remember that a keep is also “the innermost and strongest structure or central tower of a medieval castle;” or that Keeps is “a game of marbles in which the players keep the marbles they win”?

Though the most common references to “keep” have to do with maintaining an object in one place or in ones presence, the Bible refers to it in several relational ways. To keep a promise to your brothers and sisters (1 Samuel 18:1-4), it is mentioned in a prayer that “the Lord will bless you and keep you” (Numbers 6:24), to keep watch for the Lord’s coming, (Luke 12:37) or “to keep in step with the Spirit (Galatians 5:25) are just a few.

The ancient book of Genesis tells a story of a brother who refused to keep this unwritten law of God. In it, Cain and Abel work in their own ways to please the Lord; Abel kept sheep and Cain grew crops. They both chose and presented first fruits of their labor, their common goal being to please their God. The Lord was pleased with Abel’s offering, but was not pleased with Cain’s.

Cain was furious and he let everyone know about it. The Lord than counseled Cain, saying, “Why are you angry? Why do you look so sad, depressed and dejected? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin desires to bring you down; but you can, and must, master it.”

Than Cain said to his brother, “Let’s take a walk.” When they were in the field, Cain raised his arm against his brother, bringing it down upon Abel, killing him.

The Lord than asked Cain, “where is Abel, your brother?” He angrily replied, “I don’t know and I don’t care. Am I my brother's keeper?” The Lord asked, “What have you done? The voice of your dead brother is crying to Me from the grave.”

In his song “Brother’s Keeper”, the late Rich Mullins further describes what it means to truly keep our brothers and sisters.

Now the plummer's got a drip in his spigot
The mechanic's got a clank in his car
And the preacher's thinking thoughts that are wicked
And the lover's got a lonely heart
My friends ain't the way I wish they were
They are just the way they are

And I will be my brother's keeper
Not the one who judges him
I won't despise him for his weakness
I won't regard him for his strength
I won't take away his freedom
I will help him learn to stand
And I will ~ I will be my brother's keeper.

The crowd asked him, “Then what are we supposed to do?”
“If you have two coats, give one away," he said. "Do the same with your food.”

Luke 3: 10-11

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Show me the Money?

A few weeks ago, I boarded a bus bound for my home in Horseshoe Bay, but did not have my wallet or bus pass with me. I told this to the bus driver, saying that I was legally blind and a member of the Canadian National Institute for the Blind. I hoped that he would believe my argument for a free ride and respond, “Remember to bring it next time.” Instead, he insisted that I pay the $2.50 fair before I arrived at my destination. Feeling a little frustrated, I began to tell my story to a woman in the front row of the bus. However, before I had a chance to ask my favor from her, a man walked forward and asked, “What do you need?”

“Two dollars and fifty cents,” I answered, feeling more than a little bit foolish.

To my surprise, he reached into his pocket and, without counting the coins, handed me a chunk of change. I counted the money, gave the man a quarter that I did not need and placed the rest of it in the change box at the front of the bus. After I found my seat, I looked for this generous man, hoping to thank him again before I reached my stop, but I was unable to find him. When I got off the bus, I discovered a single penny in my pocket, which I had forgotten to return to this good Samaritan.

Generosity is something I have tried to work on in my life. I sponsor two children in Uganda, tithe to my church, and support friends who embark on mission’s experiences abroad or at home. However, along with other believers and pre-believers I cringe when I hear pastors quote the apostle Paul who said, “God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7) before they take up the offering. In these situations, before the basket passes, a little voice inside me will inevitably yell “No! I am not a cheerful giver today!” But what does Jesus say about giving? Is what I am doing, what he is asking of His people? Is my desire to keep my money to myself, when it is requested of me, a natural and O.K. response?

In many ways, Christ’s words are harsher than those of Paul. In Matthew 21:22, He says, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's.” People often talk about how this passage should encourage (or rather guilt) people to tithe more often. However, money is not talked about this way in this passage. If anything, Jesus is saying that we can keep our money, or use it in different ways, in exchange for something God really wants, our hearts.

A few verses prior, while showing the onlookers the coin of the day, Christ asks "Whose portrait is this? And whose inscription?” “Caesar's,” they replied. In answering this simple question, Jesus gives the Pharisees, and everyone who reads this passage, permission to keep their material wealth. But, instead they need to give to God what is God’s, and it is up to each and every one of us to discover what that is.

People think that the church wants our money so we are careful to calculate and give 10% of our income. But if God wants our heart instead, do you think he would appreciate only 10% of it? Cheques are dead pieces of paper, and coins quickly rust in vaults, but our hearts can remain vibrant, effective to God, and useful to Him if we give them freely.

It is this vibrancy that Paul encourages us to have. The church generally hates 2 Corinthians 9:7 because most of us are not ‘cheerful givers’ when generosity is expected of us. But those who practice cheerful giving, like that man I met on the bus, know that they will receive much more in return from the true Cheerful Giver.

What can we bring to the Lord? What kind of offerings should we give him?
Should we bow before God with offerings of yearling calves?
Should we offer him thousands of rams and ten thousand rivers of olive oil?
Should we sacrifice our firstborn children to pay for our sins?


O people, the Lord has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you:
to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.

Micah 6:6-8