In life, events can take a turn and suddenly we're on an unexpected path. We can't see a way forward or backward. Life can feel like an unexpected journey without a map. As Paul the apostle experiences the unexpected in Acts 28, he shows us what it means to really see and hear God.
In this sermon, I examine Acts 28 (the closing chapter of the book of Acts) to illustrate how God works in the unexpected. This sermon was originally delivered at Faith Reformed Church in Lynden, WA on October 14, 2018
Enjoy this sermon? Check out my new book, Jesus' Economy: A Biblical View of Poverty, the Currency of Love, and a Pattern for Lasting Change. With simple, everyday choices you can make the world a better place. Learn how to live the currency of love.
We all know our world is broken and hurting. We’re left wondering, what can I do about such big problems? How can I make the world a better place? We find Jesus’ response in Luke 4:16–21, which records a scene from the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. Jesus shows us that his gospel is about our whole lives.
In this sermon, I examine Luke 4:16–21. In the process of doing so, I utilize research from my new book, Jesus' Economy: A Biblical View of Poverty, the Currency of Love, and a Pattern for Lasting Change. I also draw on stories from the work of pioneering church planters in Northeast India. This sermon was originally delivered at Faith Reformed Church in Lynden, WA on February 3, 2019.
Enjoy this sermon? Check out Jesus' Economy: A Biblical View of Poverty, the Currency of Love, and a Pattern for Lasting Change. With simple, everyday choices you can make the world a better place. Learn how to live Jesus' economy, the currency of love.
Our world is full of barriers. There are social, economic, racial, and gender barriers. As Christians, we have often shied away from addressing such issues, yet the gospel calls us to break down social barriers. This is profoundly seen in Paul's letter to Philemon.
In this sermon, I examine closely the book of Philemon. This sermon was originally delivered at Faith Reformed Church in Lynden, WA on October 7, 2018.
Today is National Read a Book Day, a day meant to encourage everyone to pick up a book they will enjoy and spend the day reading it. Here at Jesus' Economy, we're readers. You could even call us bookish. Our reading has become the research that supports much of what we do. For my new book, Jesus' Economy: A Biblical View of Poverty, the Currency of Love, and a Pattern for Lasting Change, I assembled the following reading list, which I now recommend to you.
If you decide to buy any of these books, don't forget to support Jesus' Economy using AmazonSmile.
While it’s often hard to quantify how ideas influence us and where these ideas eventually resurface, I know the following set of books greatly influenced my writing of Jesus’ Economy. It is the ideas of these authors that operate in the background of my writing.
It’s difficult to know if you will have the same epiphany moments I did when reading these works, but I hope that the combination of books listed here will cause you to think differently. I hope that in reading further on this topic, you will become a little wiser, a little cleverer, and more emotionally attuned to the needs of our world. I hope the writings of other authors will help you see more clearly how to live Jesus’ economy in all aspects of life.
The Bible. Pick a readable translation and get on a consistent reading plan where you regularly read the Bible in its entirety. Also, try a study Bible focused on the ancient context; it will help illuminate the text.
Robert D. Lupton, Toxic Charity: How Churches and Charities Hurt Those They Help (And How to Reverse It). | In 2012, I wrote an article for Relevant Magazine on lessons from Toxic Charity, "How Should Christians Help the Poor."
Jacqueline Novogratz, The Blue Sweater: Bridging the Gap Between Rich and Poor in an Interconnected World. | At the inception of Jesus' Economy, I dialogued with The Blue Sweater in a series of blog posts; see "What I Learned from Jaqueline Novogratz."
Jeffrey Sachs, The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities for Our Time. | Near the beginning of Jesus' Economy, I also wrote a series of blog posts interacting with The End of Poverty; see "What I Learned from Jeffrey Sachs."
Miriam Adeney, Kingdom Without Borders: The Untold Story of Global Christianity.
Ron Hall and Denver Moore, with Lynn Vincent. Same Kind of Different as Me.
Tass Saada with Dean Merrill. Once an Arafat Man: The True Story of How a PLO Sniper Found a New Life.
Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch. The Shaping of Things to Come: Innovation and Mission for the 21st-Century Church.
Michael W. Goheen, Introducing Christian Mission Today: Scripture, History, and Issues.
C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity.
Reggie McNeal, Missional Renaissance: Changing the Scorecard for the Church.
Lesslie Newbigin, A Word in Season: Perspectives on Christian World Missions.
William Wilberforce, A Practical View of Christianity.
If you finish that first reading list and want to go even deeper into this subject, here are other resources I consulted while writing Jesus’ Economy.
Sunday Bobai Agang, When Evil Strikes: Faith and the Politics of Human Hostility. | Sunday Bobai Agang is a Board Member of Jesus' Economy and has written widely in this space.
Anne Bradley and Art Lindsley, eds., For the Least of These: A Biblical Answer to Poverty.
Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert, When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty without Hurting the Poor…and Yourself.
William Easterly, The White Man’s Burden: Why the West’s Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good. | I also wrote a series of blog posts dialoguing with this book; see "What I Learned from William Easterly."
Martin Luther King, Jr., Why We Can’t Wait.
Martin Luther King, Jr., The Measure of a Man. | For Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, I wrote an article with accompanying infographic on how Dr. King thought we should each measure our lives. See, "The Complete Life According to Martin Luther King, Jr."
Eng Hoe, Lim, The Gospel of the Kingdom: Revealing the Heart of God. | At one point, I reflected on a conversation I had with Eng Hoe, Lim about "Spiritual Issues Often Associated with Poverty."
Robert D. Lupton, Compassion, Justice, and the Christian Life: Rethinking Ministry to the Poor.
Michael Matheson Miller, dir., Poverty Cure. DVD.
Michael Matheson Miller, dir., Poverty, Inc. DVD.
E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien, Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible.
Harvie M. Conn and Manuel Ortiz, Urban Ministry: The Kingdom, the City, and the People of God.
Alan Hirsch, The Forgotten Ways: Reactivating the Missional Church.
Lesslie Newbigin, The Gospel in a Pluralistic Society.
C. René Padilla, Mission Between the Times: Essays on the Kingdom.
Leo Babauta, The Power of Less: The Fine Art of Limiting Yourself to the Essential…in Business and in Life. | See my review of The Power of Less on JohnDBarry.com, "Minimizing to Be More Effective."
Edward R. Dayton and Ted W. Engstrom, Strategy for Living: How to Make the Best Use of Your Time and Abilities. | I discuss the relevance of this book in an article on JohnDBarry.com, "Goals Are Often Selfish."
Donald Miller, Searching for God Knows What.
Ryan J. Pemberton, Called: My Journey to C. S. Lewis’s House and Back Again. | Ryan Pemberton serves on the Board of Jesus' Economy. See my review of Called on JohnDBarry.com, "Calling Is Complex." You can also read an excerpt of Called on the Jesus' Economy Blog, "Faith as Beautiful as Fireworks: Calling, Atheism, and Oxford."
Michael Lewis, Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game. | On how the breakthrough of the Oakland A's applies to business, see my article on JohnDBarry.com, "Playing Business Like the Oakland A's."
Michael Lewis, The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine.
Alexander Osterwalder and Yves Pigneur, Business Model Generation: A Handbook for Visionaries, Game Changers, and Challengers.
T. J. Stiles, The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt. | See my full book review of The First Tycoon at JohnDBarry.com, "Could You Be the Next Cornelius Vanderbilt?"
This recommended reading list was originally published in my book, Jesus' Economy, pages 172–175.
I once had a supervisor who said, "There are two ways to gain more experience: live longer and read." We read to expand our worldview, our experiences, and our mindset. We read because it helps us grow. We read because it helps us gain experience of the mind, accelerating the rate by which we become wiser.
Have you picked up your copy of Jesus' Economy: A Biblical View of Poverty, the Currency of Love, and a Pattern for Lasting Change? With simple, everyday choices you can make the world a better place. Learn how to live Jesus' economy, the currency of love.
Our world is deeply painful. Jesus' parables are meant to give us perspective. God has not abandoned us, but is deeply attuned to our needs. God is ready to receive us like a loving father. But to fully understand the perspective the parables offer, we have to understand how the parables are interconnected. The Gospels present parables in a particular order, next to other parables and stories, because they share themes. The parables in Luke 15, 16, and 18 show this to be the case. These parables show the challenge of the gospel, but also its incredible grace.
This lecture is part four of a four-part series on "Studying Jesus' Parables." In this series, I draw on my research for my book, Parables: Portraits of the Kingdom in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. In Jesus’ parables, we find a rabbi who will turn our world upside down. And that’s a good thing.
The seasonal shift is upon us: kids are going back to school; fall planning and projects have begun; and the weather is about to change. It’s easy to look back at the summer and think, “What if …” but is that what God wants for our life? Regret is a fickle friend. I think there is a better friend to be found.
Regret assumes all of the knowledge of today, much of which wasn’t available when past decisions were made. And as such, “regret” is never accurate. Regret also leads to self-pity—and “self-pity” only tells lies.
But there are some helpful things about regret—the self-reflective nature of regret can be used for good. So what if we had the self-reflection without the self-pity and without regret itself? What if, right now, each of us took the things we wish could have been different and turned them into positive change? That effort begins with reflecting on God's character.
Although God himself is unchanging in character—he is no fickle person—he is prone to make changes. God knows that things must be different to be better.
We see this in the life of Moses; Moses’ entire journey starts with his deep sadness about the enslavement of the Hebrew people (Exodus 2:11). Moses first responds incorrectly, with taking the life of a persecutor. Filled with worry, and surely regret, Moses runs to the land of Midian (Exodus 2:15). And this is where the story could end—with Moses living out his life as a fugitive. But God wants something from Moses; he wants to redeem Moses and use his life for good. Yahweh says to Moses:
“Surely I have seen the misery of my people who are in Egypt, and I have heard their cry of distress because of their oppressors, for I know their sufferings. And I have come down to deliver them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up from this land to a good and wide land, to a land flowing with milk and honey, … look, the cry of distress of the Israelites has come to me, and also I see the oppression with which the Egyptians are oppressing them. And now come, and I will send you to Pharaoh, and you must bring my people, the Israelites, out from Egypt” (Exodus 3:7–10 LEB).
Moses believes God, but knows the severity of these words. He understands that the task of freeing the Hebrew slaves will be incredibly difficult. Moses says to God:
“‘Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and that I should bring the Israelites out from Egypt?’ And [Yahweh] said, ‘Because I am with you, and this will be the sign for you that I myself have sent you: When you bring the people out from Egypt, you will serve God on this mountain’” (Exodus 3:11–12 LEB).
Moses’ life will not be one full of regret after all, but instead one of advocating on behalf of the oppressed. And God himself will be with Moses. And today, God himself wants to be with you. God wants to change the world through your life (John 17).
The new seasons of life bring with them new opportunities. Indeed, each day is new, but the feeling of a new season helps us to make commitments and take actions. Some of these actions are fueled by regret, while others are fueled by desire. But what if our new commitments were instead fueled by our love for our God?
We have an opportunity, right here and right now, to make a decision to walk alongside those in need. To be a people who, like Moses, lift up those on the underside of power—those without a voice. And we have a God who wants to see that happen.
We can turn our regret into advocacy. In the process, we may find that the next seasonal transition is marked by far less regret because our lives are too filled by doing good for the self-pity to reign.
Our God hears our cries and hears the cries of the hurting. The Exodus story proves that. What can you do this coming season to walk alongside those who desperately need an advocate? How can you change your lifestyle to better align it with God’s ways? Imagine the power of the Holy Spirit working through you this season to transform lives. And imagine all the glory you could give to Jesus when that happens.
Here is the season. Embrace it. Don't live in the past. Think of what you can do in the future. May God renew you. May he turn your regrets into advocacy.*
Join us in renewing Bihar, India—one of the most impoverished places in the world where few have heard the name of Jesus. Or partner with Jesus’ Economy by donating your time or birthday to making the world a better place.
*This article is adapted from my earlier article, "A New Year Renewed by God: Reflections on Exodus."
Jesus' parables are mysterious. This is because the kingdom of heaven itself is mysterious. Likewise, the Holy Spirit is mysterious. It's in embracing the mystery of the kingdom of heaven that we come to an understanding of Jesus' parables. An additional key is reading the parables in their context. Matthew 18 profoundly demonstrates both of these lessons.
This lecture is part three of a four-part series on "Studying Jesus' Parables." In this series, I draw on my research for my book, Parables: Portraits of the Kingdom in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. In Jesus’ parables, we find a rabbi who will turn our world upside down. And that’s a good thing.
This lecture was delivered at The Table (a missional church plant in Bellingham, WA) on January 24, 2018. Get more talks like this one by subscribing to the Jesus' Economy Podcast on iTunes, Spotify, or SoundCloud.
Jesus was fond of speaking in parables. But why did he speak in these short, often confusing, stories? To understand Jesus' parables, we have to look at his first-century context and think of him as the rabbi that he is. We also have to make the commitment that Jesus asks us to make: We have to enter the journey with him; we have to follow Jesus the rabbi like his earliest disciples did.
This lecture is part two of a four-part series on "Studying Jesus' Parables." In this series, I draw on my research for my book, Parables: Portraits of the Kingdom in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. In Jesus’ parables, we find a rabbi who will turn our world upside down. And that’s a good thing.
God loves the whole world—not just a single person, culture, or nation.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16, emphasis mine).
God loves the entire world. And that should change everything about how we live, think, and act.
How we look at the world is a driving force behind who we are and what we do. When I think upon the fact that God gave his son so that all the world could be saved—not just me—I am confronted with my own selfishness. How often do I think about my felt needs over the needs of the planet?
I’m not just talking about recycling here. I’m talking about the need to move from a “me as the center of my concerns” viewpoint to a “other people being the center of my concerns” worldview.
Being a Christian requires shifting our viewpoint. We need to shift our focus to our neighbors and outstretch our arms to the nations, like Jesus did when he outstretched his arms on the cross. We need to change the way we interpret our world—so that God and his work is our focus. But how do we do so? That starts with praising God.
When we praise God, our focus shifts. It moves from "me, you, us" to "God working among all of us." Consider what the psalmist says:
“I will give thanks to you, O LORD, among the peoples; I will sing praises to you among the nations” (Psalm 108:3 ESV).
If us Christians were to praise God as the psalmist does, I believe we would see a significant change in our world. People would hear about who God is, rather than who we are, and be moved by that God.
As people see Christians praising God because of his great work in the world, they will be moved by our worship. They will wonder about this God and what he means to us. And this praise will lead each of us to action, on behalf of the hurting, marginalized, and outcast.
Praising God can be hard in an ego-focused world. It's much easier to pay attention to our newsfeeds, think about what everyone else is doing, and then get disenfranchised. But there is one surefire way to change that perspective: make the focus caring for other people. For me, this is where addressing poverty comes in.
I could spend my days focused on my difficulties; or I can spend them focused on empowering other people. I could spend my days listening to the "scoffers" of the world, and letting sinful desires take over, or I could choose to sacrifice for the betterment of our world. On this point, the apostle Peter, near the end of his life, offers these comforting words to Christians:
“This is now the second letter that I am writing to you, beloved. In both of them I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder, that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles, knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires” (2 Peter 3:1–3 ESV).
We can have hope in the promises of God and his work. God should be praised because he has spoken through his prophets. God should be praised because he has come incarnate as Jesus, the savior of the whole world. That's to whom we look, not the scoffers and not our sinful desires.
We can look beyond our current circumstances and into the future of what God is doing and how he will move. God’s global perspective allows for us to shift our focus, even when things are difficult for us personally.
God loves the entire world. But when I focus on my needs, I easily forget that. God loves the entire world. But when I focus on my community alone, I easily forget that. God loves the whole world. But when I focus on my nation alone, I easily forget that.
But when I refocus on God's love of the entire world, all of the sudden my felt needs don't seem like such a big deal. My community's needs can become ways to help other communities. And my country's needs can become ways to meet the needs of the world. God loves all of us.
Our worldview affects what we do and how we think. It affects our attitudes and it affects our world. God loves the entire world. Prayerfully consider that.
*This article is adapted, in part, from my previous article, "God Loves the Entire World and That's About to Change Everything."
When do we become who we are meant to be? In a hero saga, it's always that moment of no return: the hero's parents die; the hero chooses adventure over comfort; the hero leaves behind a former life; the hero decides to go against the dominant worldview. It's always a major life transition when our hero's valor is tested and then the hero's moment begins.
Meanwhile, the rest of us—who haven’t been flung into heroic situations—are just waiting for our moment. We live vicariously through our heroes, hoping that someday, we will be Captain America. But it doesn’t take government experiments to make heroes.
For us normal folk, the story of Deborah the prophetess provides a great rubric. She shows us how to recognize “our moment” and act in accordance. Deborah wasn’t extraordinary on her own; it was her embrace of God’s work that made her so. Here's how to move toward your "hero" moment.
We cannot be who we are meant to be without first admitting that we need help.
“The people of Israel cried out to Yahweh for help, for [Siser, the commander of the army of Jabin king of Canaan] had 900 chariots of iron and he oppressed the people of Israel cruelly for twenty years. Now Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel at that time” (Judges 4:3–4 ESV, adapted).
There appears to be nothing extraordinary about Deborah. She has simply arisen to embrace her calling as a judge over God’s people. But Deborah boldly embracing this calling makes her extraordinary; she is a woman in a Patriarchal age, leading God’s people. And it will be her leadership that changes the course of history. But Deborah will not act on her own accord.
“Deborah sent and summoned Barak … and said to him, ‘Has not Yahweh, the God of Israel, commanded you, "Go, gather your men at Mount Tabor, taking 10,000 … And I will draw out Sisera, the general of Jabin’s army, to meet you by the river Kishon with his chariots and his troops, and I will give him into your hand”?’ Barak said to her, ‘If you [Deborah] will go with me, I will go, but if you will not go with me, I will not go.’ And she said, ‘I will surely go with you. Nevertheless, the road on which you are going will not lead to your glory, for Yahweh will sell Sisera into the hand of a woman’” (Judges 4:6–9 ESV, adapted).
As Deborah leaves for war, we learn what makes her truly heroic is listening to Yahweh. She knows what God has said and has full confidence in his message. She makes it clear to Barak—and to us—that she is not special; instead, the God she serves is special.
Deborah knows that God intends to rescue his people, so the question is not whether or not she will join God in it; the question is, who will join her?
10,000 men join Barak in his efforts—showing their belief in the words of Deborah (Judges 4:10). But we already know the ending to this story: This battle is not one to be won through the normal act of the sword. Instead, the evil male general will be delivered into the hands of a woman, who will win the war. A God ordained strategy makes this victory possible.
God will stir up confidence around us, by bringing people alongside us in his work, but that does not mean that they will be the way he wins the battle against evil. Instead, God will act in unexpected ways.
Sisera, the general of Canaan, rises against God’s people with mighty force; he brings his chariots. God’s people are outgunned (Judges 4:13). But Deborah shows her faith. To Barak, Deborah says:
“Up! For this is the day in which Yahweh has given Sisera into your hand. Does not the LORD go out before you?” (Judges 4:14 ESV, adapted).
It may look like the end to everyone around her, but to Deborah this is not the end. Reading ahead in the story, we know the outcome—God’s people are victorious in this battle (Judges 4:16). But Deborah only knows this on the basis of faith. Her belief convinces those who follow her leadership. Deborah has certainty because she is certain in what God can do.
Following his loss, Sisera the general flees:
“But Sisera fled away on foot to the tent of Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite, for there was peace between Jabin the king of Hazor and the house of Heber the Kenite” (Judges 4:17).
At first, Jael acts accommodating, but she is just playing Sisera (Judges 4:18–19). As soon as the man is asleep—and as Deborah predicted—Jael kills Sisera, with a tent spike (Judges 4:20). Up until this moment, the story leads us to believe that Deborah will be the woman who will kill Sisera. But instead, it’s Jael, an unknown character until this moment. God continues to surprise us.
God works in ironic ways; his ways are unexpected and profound. We can count on him to surprise us. We can count on him to require us to act in faith.
Thanks to the leadership of Deborah, the obedience of Barak, and the bravery of Jael, God’s people survived—they were freed from the oppressive, enslaving forces of Canaan (Judges 4:22–24). God comes alongside the oppressed.
It’s difficult to know when your moment will come, or how it will come exactly. What is certain is that we’re in God’s story now. God expects us to act in faith now and continually—no matter what comes our way. God asks us to see beyond what those around us can see; we must believe in his work in the world, among the hurting and those in pain. When all hope seems lost, God is still at work.
Like Deborah, God has asked us to free those in difficulty and in pain—to be their advocates in faith and action. And it's often in the small things, the sacrificial acts, that the most heroic of moments occur. We don't need recognition to be heroic.
None of us just one day become who we are meant to be. It’s a process. Let’s starting act heroic now, by acting in faith. What if this is “our moment”?*
*This article is adapted from my previous article, "How We Become Who We Are Meant to Be."