Thursday, October 25, 2007


It is very doubtful that this young fellow will catch any fish no matter how much faith he has. Every Christian believes in faith---but knows that God decides which prayers to answer and those that must be ignored.

Years ago I was sitting at a table in a restaurant in Marion Indiana and noticed a place mat of advertising. Right in the center was a preacher I knew very well and he was holding a child. Under the picture of this highly successful charismatic minister was a message about prayer and fasting.

The message said: “Join us in prayer and fasting for two meals every Friday and send us the cost of those meals to feed the hungry”. Then it had his name. There was his large ministry logo and information on how to send the donation. There was also this quote from Isaiah 58:10-11:

“If you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday. And the Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your desire with good things, and make your bones strong; and you will be like a spring of water, whose waters fail not”.

Something was troubling me about this appeal for money so I decided to read the whole chapter. This plea for money to feed the children was tied to an implied promise. There were no conditions, nothing to correct in their life - just give some money and be blessed. After all this is a quote from the Bible so it must be true.

Plucking these two verses out of the Bible makes it sound wonderful. There are dozens of different translations of the Bible and it’s easy to find the one that fits what we want it to say. In this case it’s carefully plucking these two verses out of the Revised Standard Version.

A lot of preaching today is picking and choosing the "good stuff." Anything that would make people feel bad (Old fashion Termonology would be "under conviction") is simply avoided. From Washington to top corporations greed, lying, cheating, and immorality is tolerated. Only the little people go to prison. Top level crooks are "pardoned" or told they have to go to bed in their lavish digs without any desert.

Even in the RSV the first verse of Isaiah 58 is a condemnation of their wicked behavior. “Cry aloud, spare not, lift up your voice like a trumpet; declare to my people their transgression, to the house of Jacob their sins”. (Nope that verse won’t raise any money.) Isaiah 58:4 won’t do it either. “[4] Behold, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to hit with wicked fist. Fasting like yours this day will not make your voice to be heard on high".

Unfortunately morality and Christian ethics have all but disappeared from the preaching and theology in American churches. The church has been too busy raising money, pursuing success (large crowds) and building churches that often cost millions of dollars. To be successful we must make people feel good. People give some money when they feel good. They don’t give if they feel bad.

If we read the whole chapter of Isaiah 58 we find some strong conditions and requirements both before this quote and after it. I’m not against feeding the hungry and helping the poor. I’ve done that for years. The Bible commands us to do both. What I question is the “motive for doing it.” We should obey God because it’s the right thing to do and not because we receive some benefit from it. Why did the Minister lift these two verses out of (Isaiah 58: verse 10 & 11) ?

I’m all for feeding hungry children, and Maggie and myself have raised thousands of dollars and given every cent of it to do just that. Years ago we took Doctors and Nurses and $40,000.00 worth of medicine to Iquitos Peru and used it all to treat poor people. We raised $1500.00 to drill the first deep well that gave pure clean drinking water to thousands of poverty stricken people including children.

The well was housed in a small building with an electrical pump, a storage tank in the top and provided clean, pure drinking water 24 hours a day. Eventually we had ten of these wells scattered all over town. We never used a dime of this money for our own needs. We believed it was a sacred trust to use it all for the poor especially the beautiful little children who were suffering.

I’m still troubled about a naked promise to bless anyone who gives to the poor. Abstract promises need to be applied to specific cases. Suppose a carnal-minded selfish church member who lies, is cheating everybody, and has just caused his church to disintegrate with bickering and fighting. He has disgraced the very name of God he utters so piously. He reads the ad and sends a little money to feed the hungry. Will he be blessed in this fantastic way? NOPE!

Would Jonah have been gloriously blessed on his way to Tarsus if he had stopped and given some money to feed the hungry? NO! Would Ananius and Shaphira have been spared their untimely death in Acts 5 if they had just given some money to feed the hungry before they lied to the Holy Spirit and Peter pronounced their doom? NOPE !

We know that sometimes obedience to God leads to suffering and death. Acts 5 is a great example of this painful truth. The apostles were jailed, flogged, threatened and persecuted for preaching the truth about Jesus. Doing the right things would eventually lead them to a painful death. Thank God their motive was simply to be obedient to Jesus Christ with or without rewards.

Those who only live right for the earthly and temporal benefits and blessings will have a terrible time when trouble comes. The true reward of virtue and integrity is…virtue and integrity. When we stand before God that’s all that will matter. It’s great to do the right thing just because you know it’s the right thing to do.