Tag Archives: Outer Circle

Manna, Meat, and Money (An appeal for a less self-indulged and more Christ-centered Christianity) Part 5 of 5ish


Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality.  At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. The goal is equality, as it is written: “The one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little.” 2 Corinthians 8:13-15

Thus far, we’ve been talking about manna and meat. I’ve been saying that manna represents the all-sufficient Bread from Heaven, Jesus; and in contrast, meat is what we demand from God when Jesus isn’t enough for us. But where does money fit into this picture? Well, Paul, who taught that the Old Testament narrative was relevant to New Testament believers (1 Corinthians 10:1-11), proposed in a subsequent letter to the same church a startling application to the manna story.

In the process of challenging the Corinthians to pony up to give aid the poor in Jerusalem (2 Corinthians 8-9), Paul borrowed a piece of the manna metaphor to teach them about the spirit of generosity and egalitarianism in the Church. This time he associated manna to money. While Jesus identified himself as the Heavenly Man(na) with which we should be abundantly satisfied, Paul leveraged the imagery to show how we should relate to our material resources and demonstrate a radical liberality. “Just as God had insisted on equal portions of manna for all his people in the wilderness, so now the Corinthians should give “so that there may be equality” in the body of Christ.” Ron Sider Continue reading


The Advent Conspiracy

christmas presentsHalloween hadn’t even arrived when I received my first “Countdown to Black Friday” notice from Amazon. Since I hide my darker side from public view fairly well, you might think I’m a pretty nice person, but I confess to a flood of peeved musings, none of which involved anything that would put my salvation in jeopardy, but might prompt the Spirit to jab me with a sharp conviction stick. It’s not so much the “leaving Jesus out of his own party” thing. I don’t like that the public substitutes the manger with a sleigh, but since I have no problem remembering whose birthday it is and I since don’t expect people who claim no allegiance to him to bake him a cake or give him presents, I can deal with it. It’s the self-indulgent and rampant waste of time and money when there are people in the world who need a meal more than I need another paperweight with Santa on it, to which I seriously object.

What really irks me are the retailers and economists who try to sell it as my moral imperative  to drag our economy out of its doldrums by buying bigger and better stuff for all my relatives and shirt tail cousins who I’ve never met. The ones I have met, it’s implied, would like me more if I sent them another coaster set, unless, that is, they dislike me all the more for how my generous gift adds to their guilt for not having reciprocated in kind.

Anyway, back to my rant about the economy. I’m bone tired of hearing that it’s my civic duty to shop and spend, whether during the holidays or not, while people die around the world for lack of clean water, for treatable diseases, or at the hand of insanely greed-driven traffickers taking advantage of the severely impoverished. Ironically, who knows the percentage of the goods we consumers buy at Christmastime at cheap prices, which are produced by people in inhumane working conditions! By the way, does the word “consumer” bother anyone else but me?

OK, it’s obvious I have some serious therapy needs about the holidays in general, but on a less neurotic level, I do feel strongly about how generous we can be at Christmastime with our relatively well-off friends and family and be so avaricious when it comes to the truly needy of the world.

There are a burgeoning number of people who are saying, “Enough! We’ve had enough of the consumerist Christmas! We refuse to do any more comfort spending (which is in the same family of neuroses as “comfort eating”). And since we have more than enough global neighbors who live in daily scarcity, we prefer to divert to them whatever time and resource we would otherwise spend on ourselves.”

If you know me you know that I seldom, if ever, promote a program, but since this isn’t a program, but a collaboration of likeminded people hoping and acting for Christmas to change the world again, I’m gong to risk it and recommend the Advent Conspiracy.

Its originators founded the movement on four tenets: Worship fully, spend less, give more, and love all. Simply put: Put Jesus first and be generous with those who need it most. It a collaboration of hundreds of churches who offer creative compassionate alternatives (i.e. digging wells in Africa for clean water) to a consumer-based Christmas.

Claire Howard, who leads a team of urban missionaries for the poor in San Francisco called the “Outer Circle”  tag them on FB first told me about this collective of generous-minded Christians. As a side note, as university students back in the 70s, Claire’s parents decided that instead of forging financially successful careers they would spend the rest of their lives at or below the poverty level in order to live more simply and fully, be able to give more to the poor, and leave a smaller global footprint. Evidently, Claire’s soul wasn’t too damaged by such a simple upbringing.

Anyway, even if you can’t go cold turkey this year, detoxing at Shoppers’ Anonymous meetings I hope you’ll consider living more generously in the world the other 364 days of the year. I don’t mean to pass on any consumer’s condemnation. I just thought we could all use a reminder of what Jesus actually came here to do – peach the gospel to the poor. Please, at least glance at the Advent Conspiracy and consider joining the revolution of generous Jesus followers.

Both poverty and consumerism dehumanize. Through his Church Jesus can answer both and make us human again.

Outer Circle Churches (Part 7 of 6ish)

[As you can see, this is a multi-post theme and you might find it helpful to begin at the beginning.]

Those of you who have more brain cells than me might notice a discrepancy in the arithmetic above, yet I’ve got that covered in the “ish” part of the “6”. I always have more to say than I originally plan, and have therefore become quite appreciative of the “ish”

An Outer Circle Church targets the poor, and if the rich come, they teach them to serve the poor.

Someone said, “There is hope for the rich if they are willing to repent and live in solidarity with the poor and oppressed, to be converted to God and to each other… Jesus didn’t neglect the rich, he evangelized them to love and give to the poor.”

New churches often target wealthier communities thinking that when they have a critical mass of bodies and bucks they’ll form a committee or a program to reach out to the poor. But it’s a curious reality that wealthy people and large congregations give proportionately less to the poor than the churches more meager in numbers and income. Wealthy churches tend to spend a higher percentage of their income internally – on staff, buildings, advertising, programs and events. They’re busy maintaining the machine that covertly hijacked them like Hal in the movie, 2001. They have no time, money, or heart left for those with the greatest needs. Continue reading

Outer Circle Churches (Part 6 of 6ish)

[As you can see, this is a multi-post theme and if you might find it helpful to begin at the beginning.]

If you were hoping I was winding down this topic, so so sorry, but some things have come to my attention since I started these rambling thoughts on how churches can and should be immeasurably more involved in the lives of the poor and the dregs of society. I believe that our churches should be much more like families for the left out and the left behind. Whether or not you agree with me, I hope you’ll read on and ask the Father if what I’m trying to say is true and if it has a bearing on how you are to live your life before him.

Outer Circle Churches don’t serve the poor so much as feast with them.

I was minding my own business, making every effort to bring this essay to a conclusion, when I had the misfortune of attending a church last Sunday wherein a guest speaker gave a message called “Feasting with the Poor.” He’s a young guy who almost unintentionally planted a church in San Diego by inviting the poor into their home – first for just one dinner, then another, and which eventually turned into a weekly feast among friends. His message from Luke 14 was remarkable, and since I can’t improve on it, I offer the audio to you. I hope you’ll give it a listen and see if the Spirit doesn’t speak as powerfully to you as he did (and continues to speak) to me. I warn you that it might well ruin you for either neglecting the poor altogether and/or relegating them to your favorite soup kitchen once a month. Continue reading

Outer Circle Churches (Part 5 of 6ish)

[As you can see, this is a multi-post theme and if you might find it helpful to begin at the beginning.]

Here are three more things that distinguish an Outer Circle Church.

An Outer Circle Church runs after the poor, not away from them.

I have some urban missionary friends who recently moved their house ministry from San Francisco across the bay to Oakland, California. These amazing people have an incarnational approach to community transformation, which means they’re committed to submerging themselves in and among the marginalized. And since their neighborhood has all but gentrified (gotten whiter and richer), they’re relocating to Oakland with the poor and the gang bangers that they’ve fallen in love with. What they’re doing is the antithesis of what many churches have done for decades in America. When the neighborhoods around their church facilities become poorer and more ethnically diverse they flee further into safer, more sanitized suburbs. But these guys, instead of running away from social outcasts, they’re chasing them! “Wait, we’ll go with you!” I love it! Continue reading

Outer Circle Churches (Part 4 of 6ish)

[As you can see, this is a multi-post theme and if you might find it helpful to begin at the beginning.]

An Outer Circle Church doesn’t so sanitize their church that the unsanitary feel unwanted and unwelcome.

People are dying in Africa because they don’t have the $3 mosquito nets that would prevent malaria, while churches argue about whether or not they need a water heater for the baptismal.” Shane Claiborne

I’m involved in several ministries that could very well be thought of as Outer Circle Churches. We worship God and preach the Bible on grossly unsanitary sidewalks among the “great unwashed.” A number of our friends consider our gatherings on the street their church. Whether or not we call it “church” that’s how they see it. I know because when I ask them if they go to a church, they often say matter-of-factly, “This is my church!” Continue reading

Outer Circle Churches (Part 3 of 6ish)

[As you can see, this is a multi-post theme and if you might find it helpful to begin at the beginning.]

An Outer Circle Church views the poor as people and don’t care that much about how they got that way.

“Of all the preposterous things nothing exceeds the criticisms of the habits of the poor by the well warmed, well housed, and well fed.” Herman Melville

The most spiritual Jews of Jesus’ day had an unspoken caste system of sorts that was partially based on geography. It mattered to them where you lived. Of course, they objected most to anyone who lived outside of the Holy Land – all Gentile dogs. A close second on the hated list were the cultist Samaritans who lived in what we call the West Bank today. What they believed was all wrong and one was better off keeping a healthy distance from them. Next, if you lived in Galilee you lived too far from Jerusalem and too close to the Gentile world for their taste and were therefore viewed with contempt. (That’s why they called it “Galilee of the Gentiles”).

There was one more region and people group, not so prominent in the New Testament, that in spite of the opinions of his fellow Jews, Jesus loved and reached out to – Perea on the other side of the Jordan. The spiritual elite viewed the Pereans, not so much with disdain, but with indifference. No one ever went to the other side of Jordan unless passing through to avoid Samaria. It was just a place to pass through and a people to pass by on your way to another place, a better place. The Pereans were their pariahs, persona non grata. They were an overlooked population in the days of Jesus. But Jesus spent a considerable amount of time, not just passing through, but pursuing those he loved there. Not surprisingly, Luke, the only Gentile who wrote books in the Bible, recorded more of Jesus’ teachings in Perea. Continue reading