How would you like to be going into exile? Leaving all you have known—your home, your beautiful yard and fields, your places of repose and safety, your income earning ability?
Two of my friends are going into exile this fall. One, the pastor of a church, is being exiled by leaders who had a different ‘vision’ for the church than he had. Never mind that he had served there faithfully for over a dozen years—yes, he had preached the Word, and yes, he had visited the sick—but, well, it wasn’t enough. He is facing the exile of not having a job, not knowing the future and not being able to see what God has ahead for him.
My other friend is going to prison. He was falsely accused, but the charges stuck and now he is facing exile—several years in a ‘nice’ prison. You know, the kind Martha Stewart was in while serving her sentence. Where you can pick dandelion greens in the field and add them to your dinner. But there’s a huge fence around the dandelion field.
And I’m reading Jeremiah.
He was watching his friends go into exile, not innocently, as those above, but as a consequence of their sins.
He had warned them again and again that they would be conquered by the Babylonians if they didn’t repent and turn back to the Lord. But they refused to listen. Instead, they listened to the prophets who prophesied lies, “Peace and safety,” they cried in Jeremiah 14.
Jeremiah was given the task of preparing Judah to go into exile. And what unusual preparation it was. “Go in readily,” he told them! “You must go—the sin of the nation is grievous. So go, weeping, but with hope.”
And that’s when Jeremiah wrote those famous words in chapter Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
The Lord was telling Judah through Jeremiah that he had good plans for them, BUT the plans involved exile. Not what we usually think of when we think of good plans. Here God is promising that exile is not the end; exile is the beginning of the new future.
Listen to what the Lord instructed Judah during their exile. They were given specific instructions about flourishing in their captivity. Yes, flourishing! They were told to build houses and plant gardens. They were told to marry and have children. And then to marry off their children. They were told to increase, to flourish, to multiply, to hang on to hope and not to give up. Why? Because God had a new future for them and it was good.
My friend, Ann, went into exile when she learned from her husband that he had been repeatedly unfaithful to her for four years. He very much wanted their marriage to continue, and so did she. They walked in exile together for several years as they figured out the beginning of their new future—a future would include Bill’s infant son from the affair. They didn’t leave their home or their church or their family, but they chose an exile of rebuilding, years of resting from ministry to invest in each other and to heal, and to hear God say again and again to them, “I know the plans I have for you. This is not the end; it’s the beginning of a new future.”
Together they built a new future that includes his now-grown son whom she loves dearly. Their new future includes deeper sharing and connection to each other than they had previously enjoyed. Their new future includes his restoration to ministry in their home church as he teaches a large adult Sunday School class with the blessing of the elder board. Now they are telling their story of recovery from adultery, as they did in my class, “Family Issues in Women’s Ministry.”
There are times in all of our lives when we go into exile. I thought I was going into exile when we moved here to southern California 17 years ago. I was leaving a lovely home and beautiful natural outdoor spaces. We were ending a productive ministry, and I couldn’t see the future. Though it looked full for my husband, Don, who would be teaching at Talbot School of Theology, it looked empty for me.
After we moved in, I tried to find where to put down my roots—could I work at our new church? (Need computer skills and I had none). Should I substitute teach? (Not even taking applications). Get a master’s degree in education? (“No, you should be teaching women,” my friend Shelley said).
So I enrolled at Talbot and almost immediately God opened the door for me to serve in Family Ministries at our new home church, EV Free Fullerton, which in turn led to me being called to serve there for over a decade as Director of Women’s Ministries. Exile? I think not!
And so for my pastor friend. This exile was not his choosing, but he must go. Yet it is not the end; it is the new future for him. The Lord says to him, too, “I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a future and a hope.”
What about the man facing prison? This exile was not his choosing, but he has to go. But it is not the end for him either. Jeremiah 50:33 says, “This is what the Lord Almighty says: “The people of Israel are oppressed, and the people of Judah as well. All their captors hold them fast, refusing to let them go. Yet their Redeemer is strong; the Lord Almighty is his name. He will vigorously defend their cause so that he may bring rest to their land, but unrest to those who live in Babylon.”
So I say with confidence to my friends, “Go into exile. It’s not the end; it’s the beginning of the new future God has for you.”
There is a well-known story in the Gospels where a rich man asks Jesus about the requirements to inherit eternal life. Luke recounts the story in this way:
And a ruler asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, Do not murder, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother.’” And he said, “All these I have kept from my youth.” When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” But when he heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich. Jesus, seeing that he had become sad, said, “How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” Those who heard it said, “Then who can be saved?” But he said, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.” (Luke 18:18–27; ESV)
A question that naturally surfaces in this reading is whether Jesus considers wealth to be compatible with a life of faithful discipleship. Some interpret this story to say that material things and following Jesus do not mix well. This interpretation is sometimes based on a plain reading of passages like this, but it can also be motivated by material excesses in Christianity that make us uncomfortable. Too much focus on material blessing as a necessary indicator of God’s approval can stifle efforts at legitimate Christian disciplines, such as frugality, generosity, and financial sacrifice. As such, divesting material wealth is sometimes seen as a corrective to bad prosperity theology.
So, what then is Jesus saying about material wealth? Is it better to be poor than to be rich? Does one have to give up everything in order to follow Jesus? Does wealth itself ever keep people out of the kingdom of God? These are important questions, as they have implications for one’s personal call to discipleship and also for the ability of the Church to address social issues that require financial resources.
To provide context for interpreting this passage, it is helpful that Luke has a lot to say about material wealth throughout Luke-Acts. One of Jesus’ woes is against those who are rich (Luke 6:24), and it is intentionally contrasted to the blessed poor who inherit the kingdom of God (Luke 6:20). There is the story of the rich fool who stores up material wealth to the point that his life is found forfeit by God (Luke 12:13–21). There is the parable of a rich man who finds himself in Hades, while poor Lazarus looks on from comfort in the afterlife (Luke 16:19–31). We are told about Ananias and Sapphira who die because they lie to the Apostles about the status of their possessions (Acts 5:1–11). Our things, it seems, can certainly get in the way of the right kind of life in the kingdom of God.
However, it is also clear that Luke does not condemn material things outright. We are told that while Jesus’ lifestyle was sparse (Luke 9:58), there were women who contributed to the needs of his ministry through financial means (Luke 8:1–3). Joseph of Arimathea had significant social prominence and was able to afford a private tomb for Jesus at his death. He was considered “good and upright… himself waiting for the kingdom of God” (Luke 23:50–53). There were also those in the early church who used significant financial resources to support the advances of the gospel. Lydia of Thyatira, for example, was an early convert of the Apostle Paul and was a “dealer of purple,” a lucrative enterprise that made her wealthy. As such, she was able to provide a location for the first house church in Europe from her resources. This community became the church in Philippi that Paul wrote to in one of his New Testament letters with much affection (cf. Acts 16:13–15, 40). As such, it is clear that material resources were used in the early church to benefit the gospel, without requiring every individual to divest themselves of all possessions in order to be in right standing before God.
How then might we reconcile these various perspectives in Luke? It is a question that scholars of Luke have considered for awhile. A helpful model for framing Luke’s teaching on wealth is one that Christopher M. Hays promotes in his study Luke’s Wealth Ethics: A Study in Their Coherence and Character. It is a technical work and a comprehensive research project that seeks to reconcile passages on money and possessions that sometimes seem to be in tension throughout Luke-Acts. For example, does Luke’s understanding of wealth require us to give up all things, or is there a legitimate place for having some (or even significant) material resources? Why did the early church pool its resources communally in Acts, and to what extent is that model required of others? Why do we see some people condemned in the handling and keeping of their possessions, while other wealthy people are commended as being righteous? We will not answer all of these questions here, but part of the solution, Hays says, is to see the moral directive as not one that necessarily requires individuals to divest themselves of all possessions, but rather one that renounces everything in service to God’s purposes. Depending on vocation and social location, this can have various means of expression that are specific to individuals, vocations, or communities.
Coming back to the story of the rich ruler, there are two things to notice. First, Jesus does not say that it is not possible to enter the kingdom of heaven and have riches, but rather that riches can provide a significant kind of difficulty in doing so. Additionally, when Jesus addresses the issue of wealth with the rich ruler, he switches from God’s universal expectations in the law to something more personally directed: “You still lack one thing.” Apparently for the rich ruler, wealth encouraged a specific type of vice that, while not a guaranteed pitfall for all who have much money, was not uncommon, either.
It is not a coincidence that Luke immediately precedes this story with another one that talks about entrance to the kingdom of God. Here is the story:
People were even bringing babies to Jesus for him to touch them. When the disciples saw this, they spoke harshly to the people. But Jesus called the little ones to himself and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not prevent them, for of such is the kingdom of God. I tell you the truth, anyone who does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will in no way enter into it.” (Luke 18:15–17; translation mine)
There have been various opinions regarding what it is about little children that models the trait that allows entrance to God’s kingdom. Humility is perhaps the most common suggestion, and as such, it is often recommended that we should humble ourselves before God, as do children.
Although humility is commendable, in this case the children who were initially brought to Jesus were quite small, literally “babies” (Greek brephos). It is the same word used by Luke to describe children yet unborn (cf. Luke 1:41, 44) and also Jesus in his swaddled state (cf. Luke 2:12, 16). As such, they were probably not yet overtly exemplifying commendable models of biblical virtue. What is it that we might discern about very young children, then, that could possibly be held up as a model for adults? If we imagine little bundled children being brought to Jesus, there is perhaps one thing that we do know for certain that all children naturally affirm, not as a virtue but as a brute fact of reality: they are utterly dependent on resources outside of themselves for their well being. As an adult, this trait is not generally considered commendable, perhaps even less so to those who have acquired significant material resources. However, if we are honest, it is often an inflated sense of self-sufficiency that prevents us from responding in trust to God regarding our deepest spiritual needs.
Jesus called the rich ruler to recognize an utter lack of self-sufficiency in himself before God, just as very young children naturally recognize their dependence on others. To enter the kingdom of God, the man needed to put his trust in God to do something that he could not do for himself, namely be spiritually well before God. Spiritual realities can seem a step removed from our material possessions. However, significant financial resources can isolate many from the existential concerns of a fallen world that mirror our spiritual lostness and can thus discourage a trust in God that is spiritually transformative. As such, Jesus asked the rich man to renounce his wealth in a very specific way (i.e., full divestiture) that was specific to his need, such that he redirect his trust to God instead. In this case, it was a radical antidote to the most pressing spiritual need of the man. That the rich ruler insisted that he had done perfectly well on all of the other legal requirements suggests that self-sufficiency was at the heart of his specific need, and about which his significant financial resources served to obfuscate.
We can learn something from this episode and from Luke-Acts more broadly about the relationship between our possessions and the kingdom of God. For one thing, it may be a good thing that more of us are not significantly wealthy, as it can encourage a common problem in the spiritual life that Jesus describes. However, we should also be grateful that there are those with spiritual sensitivity who have been blessed by God with material resources, as it can serve the Church in significant ways, as it did the early church.
God is ultimately concerned with the condition of the heart in relation to our possessions, as we have simply been given temporary stewardship over material things that can be used in his service. God is also concerned that our things do not create barriers to the kind of transformative work that he wants to do in our lives, either for entrance into the kingdom of God or in service within it. The kind of trust that provides an initial entry into God’s kingdom is the same kind of trust that sustains us within it as well.
It leads us to pointed questions about our own possessions and God’s kingdom, just as it required of the rich ruler. Do I trust significantly in my own ability to take care of myself, or do I trust in God for my ultimate well-being? As such, in what ways does God ask me to loosen my grip on my possessions for the kingdom of God? Does this require full divestiture of certain things, or reappropriation of them towards other ends? The questions of wealth that pressed those in Jesus’ day are the same ones that press us now, not only as we seek to be faithful with the things we have been given, but as we develop hearts of trust that are sensitive to the work of God in the world.
The Canaanite destruction is the major ethical problem in the Old Testament. How can we serve a God who commanded genocide? As we saw in the previous posts on Midian, Amalek, and the Canaanites, the individuals and families who follow YHWH and become part of Israel are on one extreme of a spectrum (the Caleb end), while those who attack Israel are located on the other extreme (the Amalek end). The groups place themselves on the spectrum by means of their treatment of Israel and their attitude toward YHWH. A nation like Edom that neither helped nor attacked Israel would be near the middle of the spectrum, incurring YHWH’s displeasure but not a divine command for extermination. Although a nation like Midian might be placed on the Amalek end of the spectrum, individuals and families from Midian could turn to follow YHWH and place themselves on the Caleb end of the spectrum. In the case of Egypt, an entire nation could move on the spectrum, depending on their attitude toward Israel.
The implication of this pattern is that individuals from other nations, including Canaanites, could have turned to follow YHWH and been preserved. The book of Joshua never indicates that the Israelites presented this option to the Canaanites, but the preservation of Rahab implied that they honored such testimonies by those who helped them. The early Jewish interpreters believed this was the case. Wisdom of Solomon 12:10 says that the conquest happened gradually in order to give the Canaanites time to repent (although it also claims that the Canaanites would never change). Mid. Deut. V.13 notes a parallel with Sihon, the Amorite king. YHWH commanded Moses to fight Sihon, but Moses’ first action was to send messengers of peace to Sihon (Deut 2:24–26). Therefore, even though YHWH commanded the destruction of the Canaanites, the Israelites should still have sent messengers of peace. The Midrash even speculated that the Girgashites left Canaan when Israel arrived and went to Africa (Mid. Deut. V:14; see also Jubilees 10:27–34). Hebrews declares that the Canaanites were disobedient, implying that they knew how YHWH wanted them to act and rejected his commands (11:31).
Such a reading that allows for Canaanites to follow YHWH would appear to conflict with the frequent commands to place the Canaanites under the ban (Deut 7:1–2; 20:16–18). However, further clarity might be achieved by categorizing three possible responses to Israelite advances. First, their enemies could resist them forcibly. When Israel was victorious against cities far away they were to put the men to death and take everything else as spoil (Deut 20:12–14). For conquered cities in the land of Canaan, they were to put everyone under the ban (Deut. 20:16–18). Second, their enemies could submit before battle to the Israelites, recognize the greatness of YHWH, but continue to worship their own gods. For cities far away, Israel was to make them slave labor. However, for cities in Canaan Israel was to place them under a ban, exactly the same as if they had fought Israel. Third, their enemies could proclaim the greatness of YHWH and help the Israelites. Although Deuteronomy does not offer any regulations concerning these cases, the narratives concerning Jethro, Caleb, and Rahab imply that these people were to be incorporated into Israel, regardless of whether they were from Canaan or a more distant land. In contrast to the second option, those who took this path would turn away from their former gods and serve YHWH. This option is also supported by the frequent purpose clauses for the destruction of the Canaanites as the danger their religious service would bring to the Israelites (Deut. 7:4–5, 25–26; 20:18). The danger was not the Canaanites as people, but their devotion to gods other than YHWH.
Regardless of the accuracy of this speculation concerning the Canaanites, Israel’s election did not automatically entail the condemnation of the other nations. Like YHWH promised to Abraham, in general he blessed those nations that blessed Israel, while he cursed the nations who attacked them. However, their choices did not imply permanence in YHWH’s disposition toward them, as individuals or other parts of the group could act differently and consequently be viewed differently by YHWH.
These posts are an abstract of a published article; see there for more details:
Trimm, Charlie. “Did YHWH Condemn the Nations When He Elected Israel? YHWH’s Disposition toward Non-Israelites in the Torah.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 55 (2012): 521–36.
The most recent issue of the Journal of Spiritual Formation & Soul Care carried an article I wrote on the relationship between spiritual formation and mission.
I wrote this article with two groups in mind: 1) Those who are so task-oriented that they underemphasize the foundational role of spiritual life for the mission God has called them to do; 2) those who are so focused on the inner life that they underemphasize the very positive role that involvement in ministry and mission has upon the spiritual life.
Here is an outline of the main points. You’ll have to read the article itself for supporting Scripture, arguments, and explanation:1
The Process of Spiritual Formation Supports Mission
1. The process of spiritual formation supports mission because God’s empowerment through his Spirit is critical not only for a holy life but also for the mission he has given each of us.
2. The process of spiritual formation supports mission because meditating on the Scriptures and the gospel message (which is so central to spiritual formation) is foundational for mission.
3. The process of spiritual formation supports mission because one’s perspective on the nature of the mission is clarified as one grows in Christlikeness.
4. The process of spiritual formation supports mission because the person on a mission is upheld in his work as he experiences ongoing transformation. Indeed, his ministry must be an overflow of his life in Christ.
5. The process of spiritual formation supports mission because such qualities as love, boldness, and endurance are cultivated as one is spiritually formed.
6. The process of spiritual formation supports mission because the power of example is so significant for doing mission.
Involvement in Mission Supports Spiritual Formation
1. Involvement in mission supports spiritual formation because mission exposes our weakness and causes us to more humbly depend upon God and his power.
2. Involvement in mission supports spiritual formation because mission regularly leads to hardship or suffering, and God works in our lives in the crucible of suffering.
3. Involvement in mission supports spiritual formation because we are constantly reminded of our own salvation when we see others come to faith in Christ.
4. Involvement in mission supports spiritual formation because it connects us to other Christians—some of whom may be very different from us—who not only receive from us but also spiritually give back to us.
5. Involvement in mission supports spiritual formation because life on a mission is a training ground for spiritual faithfulness.
6. Involvement in mission supports spiritual formation because we are constrained to do some perspective-taking on the mission.
7. Involvement in mission supports spiritual formation because one of the results of mission is thanksgiving to God by all parties involved.
The Interpenetration of Spiritual Formation and Mission
Example passage #1: 2 Cor 1:3-12
Example passage #2: Phil 4:10-14
An Intersecting Theme: Prayer
 Kenneth Berding, “At the Intersection of Mission and Spiritual Formation in the Letters of Paul,” Journal of Spiritual Formation & Soul Care, Vol. 6, No. 1 (2013), pp. 18-37. The article can be purchased for 5 dollars at http://journals.biola.edu/sfj/volumes/6/issues/1/articles/18 or for 15 dollars the entire journal issue can be purchased (which includes other articles on the same topic) at http://journals.biola.edu/sfj/volumes/6/issues/1.
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