Christianity 201

October 20, 2014

God Isn’t Always Looking for Ability

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But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.        1 Peter 2:9

Years ago I remember hearing the idea that “God isn’t looking for your ability, just your availability.” You can be a very competent person, but if your talents and gifts aren’t fully surrendered — or even casually offered — you won’t get picked for the team on God’s next mission.

After leaving university, I remember wanting to work in a particular facet of a particular industry. I sought information on the training needed and was told that the dominant employer didn’t actually take graduates of that program. Simply put, it was easier for them to take willing people off the streets and train them than to take people who thought they know how to do everything and have to retrain them in the company’s methodology. The gifts and knowledge that would have resulted from the training would have actually gotten in the way.

Our pastor spoke on this yesterday; how our culture tends to default to able-ism. I didn’t take exhaustive notes because I intended to ask him after for his sermon notes, only to discover he was working from a rough outline. (He’s always better off-script anyway; not to mention one-on-one with people in his office or over coffee.)

The notes he sent me follow. What does it mean to be a chosen people?

What did that mean?

God would work through everyday people

  • not through the most powerful
  • not through the religious hierarchy
  • or the ecclesiastically ordained
  • not through an elite group of somebodies
  • but through everybody

And this truth bears out over and over again in the pages of scripture as God chooses the most unlikely people to do his work.

John Goldingay: “God’s instinct is to resist social conventions by resisting eldest-ism, able-ism, racism and sexism.”

God works in the ordinary and God works through the ordinary.

The idea that God would not choose the eldest in the family repeats over and over again in scripture, and in a couple of real-life situations today, I’ve seen the same thing play out in everything from Christian organizations to families.

In the sermon, he noted that God chooses to work through

  • the second oldest*
  • the foreigner
  • the woman
  • the weak

*In our sermon text, I Samuel 16, God doesn’t just choose the next oldest, but he chooses the youngest. It was pointed out that to have the prophet — no, wait; that should be capitalized — to have The Prophet visit your home was a rare and high honor, but nobody even bothered to go get David at that point. Furthermore, in verse 11, he isn’t even mentioned by name, just by “the youngest” which is a polite translation of a derogatory term.  Eugene Peterson renders this verse:

“Well, yes, there’s the runt. But he’s out tending the sheep.”

All other translations listed online use youngest, except for the Wycliffe Bible:

Yet there is another little child, and he pastureth sheep.

The Spanish RVR1960 is interesting, rendering the verse:

Queda aún el menor

which while it could also translate as “youngest,” also  translates (as you might expect) as “the minor.”

And yet, this is the one Samuel realizes that God has chosen. David had his flaws and his failings but he is called ‘one after God’s own heart;’ and thus we remember him favorably. But we were reminded at the outset of yesterday’s message that David was also very ordinary: There are no miracles associated with his story as one finds with Elijah or Joshua.

There may not be any miracles in your story, either; but God chooses to work through people just like me and you.


Thanks to Rev. Jeff Knott for today’s inspiration and notes!


We’ve used this song here four years ago, but it really fits. Danniebelle Hall singing Ordinary People: (Audio window showing; click the black bar to obtain play switch.)

October 19, 2014

Everyone Matters

Jesus’ compassion wasn’t measured by the social context, or the condition of the individual, but by the need.

I found this on the blog of Jonathan Zinck who pastors The Pier Church in Brockville, Canada; a city in which we were involved for 14 years. He wrote it for the Canadian Thanksgiving holiday, and with a largely U.S. audience here, I thought of filing it away for the end of November; but with its references to leprosy it seemed more immediate in light of Ebola and Enterovirus. There are however, less dramatic examples of outcasts around us all the time. Do we reach out to touch them as Jesus did?

Thankful in All, for All

“Everyone has to matter, or no one matters”. This is a quote I saw on Twitter yesterday. Although it was a quote from a current TV drama, it was a statement I couldn’t ‘shake’. The reason it resonates with me so deeply, is because it is a statement I have been wrestling with the last number of weeks. Whether in conversations with friends, in my devotions, or while ‘people watching’ over the steam of a cup of coffee, the message of this statement has been churning my heart.

When it comes to compassion and needs to be met, my first step has always been to meet the challenge. In fact, as a Church family that we affectionately call ‘the knee-cap’, our primary mandate is to invest in others’ lives. So why the challenge in my heart? It isn’t because of the words ‘to matter, but the word ‘everyone’. This statement speaks more than just being compassionate, but that our compassion is not limited to a few, but a commitment to ‘all’. This statement challenges my heart because its origin isn’t in a TV drama, but from the words of Jesus.

At the very onset of His ministry, Jesus was approached by a leper, begging Jesus to heal him. While for us today we would see this leper as a man who was sick, those in Jesus’ culture saw him as a social outcast. People feared so much about ‘catching’ the disease, that they would make those with leprosy yell out “…unclean! unclean!”. As a result, leprosy not only condemned the afflicted physically, but socially as well. Because of this, what happens next is remarkable:

“…Deeply moved, Jesus put out his hand, touched him, and said, “I want to. Be clean.” ~Mark 1:41

Jesus’ compassion wasn’t measured by the social context, or the condition of the individual, but by the need. From the very beginning of His ministry, Jesus made it very clear that He had come for all, and that ‘everyone has to matter, or no one matters’. In fact, the Bible tells us that this statement is the very context of the Cross. John 3:16-17 Jesus proclaims that He came to spiritually rescue ‘all’ who would come. John 17:20, Jesus prays that ‘all’ who believe the message will be united as one. Romans 3:22, stresses that salvation through the Cross is for ‘all’ who believe, and 1 Tim 4:10 impresses on us that Christ has come as Saviour for ‘all’.

So what’s my point? Why am I so challenged by the statement ‘ Everyone has to matter, or no one matters”? Because if I am a follower of Christ, I am not only to live a life of compassion for others, but a life of compassion for all. Because as I honestly look into my life I have to ask myself if I show equal measure of compassion to everyone. Am I willing to walk with those who are labeled as socially ‘unclean’ in the same way with those who are socially accepted? Am I willing to invest in the needs of those who oppose me, in the same way I am willing to invest in the needs of those who accept me? For all of us, as followers of Christ and walkers with Christ, is mandate our to show compassion to all…period?

Jesus’ voice from the Cross answers with a resounding “Yes!” What Jesus risked with the leper pales to what He did on the Cross. Taking on the ultimate persecution, humiliation, and torture, He sacrificed and invested His life for ALL…yes All. Regardless of our need, our past, or our social status, Christ made the ultimate sacrifice so that we (all of us) have the opportunity to reach out to Him in faith, to receive the ultimate reward- salvation and eternal Hope.

Thanksgiving is not only a time of celebrating how we have been blessed, but the active sharing of what we’ve been given. Likewise, Thanksgiving of Faith- celebrating the message of the Cross- is not only celebrating our salvation and deliverance, but is sharing this hope to all, by investing in others what Christ has invested in us: all love, compassion, and message of Hope.

So here’s my encouragement, challenge, and request for you. My request is that you walk with me in this. I encourage you to wrestle with what “Everyone has to matter, or no one does” means to you. I want to challenge you to intentionally reach your hand out to someone who you have personally regarded as ‘unclean’, and example Christ to them.

Being a follower of Christ is not only fully receiving what Christ has done for us, but the commitment to follow Christ…walking in His steps…love those He loves (All)…share hope with those He sacrificed His life for (All). This is a Thanksgiving celebration of Faith.

October 18, 2014

Give Me This Mountain

I was enjoying the lyrical depths of a playlist of songs by Graham Kendrick and was particularly drawn to the song Give Me This Mountain (Caleb’s Song). I decided to post it on Thinking Out Loud by itself, but wanted to at least include the scripture reference. The video annotation reads:

A song about a Biblical encounter between Caleb and God. Caleb was called ‘wholehearted’ by God and was allowed to enter the promised land.

I decided to investigate that further, first in scripture,

Numbers 14:24 But because my servant Caleb has a different spirit and follows me wholeheartedly, I will bring him into the land he went to, and his descendants will inherit it.

and then when I landed on the blog of Harvest Pointe Fellowship in Evans, Georgia. Once there, I knew I had to include it here at C201.  Click the title below — a reference to Caleb’s character before God — to read it at source.

Wholehearted -Joshua 14

Besides God, there are two main characters throughout this stage of our study of Joshua: obviously Joshua is one of them, and the other is Caleb. Caleb is one of the spies who entered the Promised Land the first time– all the other spies gave reports of giants and fortified cities and how it would be impossible to take this land but Caleb (and Joshua) stuns everyone by boldly proclaiming that they should enter the land because God had already given them the victory. No one listened to him and the children of Israel are forced to wander the wilderness once more. We should not be surprised to learn that the name “Caleb” comes from Hebrew and means “wholehearted”. Caleb is a man who lived his entire life with wholehearted devotion to God’s purpose.

…Caleb is one of the unsung heroes of the Bible. He stands as a shining example of one who never lost his edge spiritually. He himself said at age 85, “I am as strong this day as on the day that Moses sent me; just as my strength was then, so now is my strength for war, both for going out and coming in” (Joshua 14:11 NKJV). This demonstration of courage must have unnerved the other men. They may even have thought him senile.

At this point of our study of Joshua, God’s people have taken much of the long awaited Promised Land and Joshua was dispensing portions of it to the tribes. However, Caleb steps forward to claim that which had been promised him by Moses. In fact, Caleb asks for the land that he had surveyed as much younger man.

In response, Joshua granted his faithful friend Caleb what he asked. He gives Caleb Hebron. The old man proved he had not yet exhausted his courage, when he said:

Now therefore, give me this mountain [the land of Hebron] of which the Lord spoke in that day. . (Joshua 14:10–12 NKJV)

The other men of Israel must have breathed a sigh of relief that Caleb had chosen this portion of land. This was not some beautiful, green pasture; it was one of the most treacherous mountainous areas of the Promised Land. Even more problematic was the fact that formidable adversaries inhabited this land. This was the home of the sons of Anak, the very same giants that terrified the 10 spies sent by Moses. No one wanted to take on the giants except 85-year-old Caleb. Can’t you just envision him holding up that muscular old arm, saying, “Give me this mountain”?

I love the boldness of this man of God. I can just see Caleb running up that mountain. I can see him as he slays his adversaries. He was victorious. He had been strong all those years and he finished well.

Let me share several principles with we learn from Caleb’s life that can give us this same spiritual stamina we need to run and indeed finish in the race of life well.

1. Follow the Lord 100 percent. Scripture says again and again that Caleb “wholly followed the Lord.” It’s in Joshua 14:8–9 and verse 14: Joshua blessed Caleb and gave the old man what he asked because “he wholly followed the Lord God of Israel.”

This is clearly a key to Caleb’s spiritual success. But what does it mean to “wholly follow the Lord”? It means that you must fully follow our Lord not halfheartedly, but completely. One hundred percent.

Are you wholly following the Lord your God? If you are not, you will eventually be picked off. It is only a matter of time until you become a casualty in the race of life.

2. Don’t compromise—stand your ground. At the risk of being ostracized, Caleb took a stand for what he knew was true. He knew he needed to be more concerned with God’s approval than man’s approval. And for this, he was rewarded.

As you walk with the Lord, you will face many temptations to cave in to peer pressure, to do what everybody else does. But if you are going to fully follow the Lord, then, like Caleb, you must make this principle operative in your life. Stand firm and seek God’s pleasure, no one else’s.

3. Take God at His Word. Caleb didn’t win immediate entrance to the Promised Land. First, he had to wander around with those ungrateful, complaining Israelites for 40 years. They said things like “We remember the good old days back in Egypt, where we had garlic, leeks, and onions.”

Despite the Israelites’ childish clinging to conjured memories, Caleb hung on to the promises of God. He knew God would be faithful, regardless of the time frame. Caleb trusted God’s word to him. We can do the same.

4. Long for fellowship with your God. Caleb asked for a place in the Promised Land called Hebron. There is something very interesting about the name Hebron, which—in the original language—means “fellowship, love, and communion.” Hebron is where Abraham met with God face-to-face and received the promise of the new land in the first place.

Caleb yearned for fellowship with God. While the other Israelites longed for Egypt, Caleb longed for Hebron. While the others looked back in dread, Caleb looked forward with fearless anticipation. While others wanted to please themselves, Caleb wanted only to please God.

This is an essential key to spiritual longevity. You must always move forward. You must always seek to grow spiritually and never look back. That’s what will keep you going.

If you are living this Christian life for others’ applause, you won’t make it. You have to run empowered by your love for God.

Questions for thought:

1. Have you ever felt resentful or burdened by something God was calling you to do?
2. One justification for not helping or serving is that feel we need time for ourselves, for our studies, for our work, for our own rest. While easy to understand, what do you think is wrong with this mindset?
3. When was the last time you felt excited and even proud to have the chance to serve? What made that situation so different?
4. What are some practical ways you can begin to see serving God as your privilege rather than your burden?

 

October 17, 2014

Full of Grace

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John 1:14 — The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (NIV)

John 4:19, 20 — “Sir,” the woman said, “you must be a prophet. So tell me, why is it that you Jews insist that Jerusalem is the only place of worship, while we Samaritans claim it is here at Mount Gerizim, where our ancestors worshiped?” (NLT)

Today we offer you a preview excerpt from Philip Yancey’s new book Vanishing Grace: Whatever Happened to the Good News, releasing Tuesday from Zondervan.

Vanishing Grace Jesus “came from the Father, full of grace and truth,” wrote John in the preface to his gospel.  The church has worked tirelessly on the truth part of that formula:  witness the church councils, creeds, volumes of theology, and denominational splits over minor points of doctrine.  I yearn for the church to compete just as hard in conveying what Paul calls the “incomparable riches” of God’s grace.  Often, it seems, we’re perceived more as guilt-dispensers than as grace-dispensers.

John records one close-up encounter between Jesus and a Samaritan woman.  Knowing well the antipathy between the two groups, she marveled that a Jewish rabbi would even speak to her.  At one point she brought up one of the disputed points of doctrine:  Who had the proper place of worship, the Jews or the Samaritans?  Jesus deftly sidestepped the question and bore in on a far more important issue:  her unquenched thirst.  He offered her not judgment but a lasting solution to her guilt over an unsettled life.  To her and her alone he openly identified himself as Messiah and chose her as a grace-dispenser.  Her transformation captured the attention of the whole town, and Jesus stayed for two days among the “heretics,” attracting many converts.

That scene of Jesus and the Samaritan woman came up during a day I spent with the author Henri Nouwen at his home in Toronto.  He had just returned from San Francisco, where he spent a week in an AIDS clinic visiting patients who, in the days before antiretroviral drugs, faced a certain and agonizing death.  “I’m a priest, and as part of my job I listen to people’s stories,”  he told me.  “So I went up and down the ward asking the patients, most of them young men, if they wanted to talk.”

Nouwen went on to say that his prayers changed after that week.  As he listened to accounts of promiscuity and addiction and self-destructive behavior, he heard hints of a thirst for love that had never been quenched.  From then on he prayed, “God, help me to see others not as my enemies or as ungodly but rather as thirsty people.  And give me the courage and compassion to offer your Living Water, which alone quenches deep thirst.”

That day with the gentle priest has stayed with me.  Now, whenever I encounter strident skeptics who mock my beliefs or people whose behavior I find offensive, I remind myself of Henri Nouwen’s prayer.  I ask God to keep me from rushing to judgment or bristling with self-defense.  Let me see them as thirsty people, I pray,  and teach me how best to present the Living Water.

pp 27-29

October 16, 2014

God Has Done the Big Thing

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It wasn’t intentional, but today we have a post from Stephen Altrogge at Thinking Out Loud, and below, a post by Mark Altrogge here at C201.  This topic appears very simple, but I had to read it twice to get all the nuances. To read this at The Blazing Center blog, click the title below:

God Has Done The Big Thing. Surely He’ll Take Care Of The Lesser Things.

Israel had a short memory.

They had been miserable slaves to the king of Egypt who seemed to have all power over their lives. They had no means of escape, yet God heard their groaning, and struck Pharaoh and Egypt with plague after plague, then brought Israel out of Egypt loaded with their gold and silver. Then God miraculously split the Red Sea and brought his people through on dry ground, then Israel watched the sea come back together and engulf the Egyptian chariots who pursued them.

Though God delivered them and provided for them again and again, they couldn’t seem to remember his faithfulness. In their unbelief, every new challenge they faced made them doubt the goodness of their God. They failed to make this important connection: If God did the big thing for them, he’d surely do lesser things. If God delivered them out of Egypt, he’d surely provide for their needs.

A short memory wasn’t just the problem of the generation who left Egypt. It was Israel’s constant failure over the years. We see God reminding his people again in Psalm 81:

I relieved your shoulder of the burden;
your hands were freed from the basket.
In distress you called, and I delivered you;
I answered you in the secret place of thunder; (6-7)

I am the LORD your God,
who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.
Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it. PS 81.10

God says to his people: Don’t forget who I am: I am the Lord your God, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt. I did the big thing. I saved you when you couldn’t save yourselves. So ask me to provide for you – open your mouth wide – expect me to meet your needs – and I will fill it – I’ll do the lesser thing and answer your prayers and provide for you.

We too need to remember this truth: God did the big thing for us – he saved us from our sins and his wrath by sending his only Son to live and die and rise for us – surely he will do the lesser things – provide, protect and help us.

God has done the big thing – he saved us. Surely he’ll take care of all the lesser things we need.

God could say to us:

I am the Lord your God,
who brought you up out of your land of Egypt – your slavery to sin, your misery, your condemnation and hopelessness.
Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it – ask me and I’ll give you all you need.

Romans 8:32 puts it this way:

He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?

God gave up his most valuable thing – his Son Jesus on the cross – he sent Jesus to be broken and to pour out his blood for sin, then he poured out his horrific wrath upon his Son’s soul, withdrawing every shred of mercy and love from Jesus’ awareness. He did this for us all. After doing this, how will he not graciously give us all lesser things? Surely God will give us all we need to glorify him. Surely he will give us mercy and grace and strength and help. Surely he’ll provide for our needs.

So open your mouth wide and God will fill it. Open your mouth today in praise and thanksgiving. Open your mouth wide in prayer. Ask for whatever you wish. Nothing will be greater than Jesus. Open your mouth wide in expectation that your heavenly Father will answer your prayers.

October 15, 2014

Jesus: Don’t Bank on Inheritance

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Micael Grenholm writes at the blog Holy Spirit Activism. There are some articles there I think you would enjoy, so click on the title below and then look around by clicking the ‘home’ button. This is one presents a topic I’d never considered before…

Why Jesus Doesn’t Like Inheritance

It isn’t surprising that Jesus often is surprising, but I find this response of His particularly fascinating in that it’s definitely not what I would expect someone else to say:

Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” Jesus replied, “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?” Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.” (Luke 12:13-15)

Most pastors, rabbis or other kind of leaders I know of would never, ever, give such an answer. They would politely obey the person and strongly encourage the person’s brother to share their inheritance equally. We all want to be fair, right? But Jesus firstly questions why the person views Him as a judge or an arbiter, secondly He warns the whole crowd for greed and for wanting an abundance of possessions.

See, if it’s fair to split an inheritance equally, how much more fair isn’t it to split all the world’s wealth equally? Jesus practiced community of goods with His disciples (John 13:29), and the church continued to do so when He had levitated into Heaven (Acts 2:44-45). But the inheritance of the world is private, those with rich parents inherits more than those with poor parents. Since the world doesn’t have the Jubilee economic system that Old Testament Israel was supposed to have, there is no mechanism to stop this other than tax, which in most cases doesn’t create much equality (in Sweden we used to have an inheritance tax, but the conservative “Christian democratic” government abolished it).

A couple of months ago I wrote about how economic inequality often is rationalized through claiming that hard work lies behind personal wealth, but I argued that this is wrong since may poor people work much harder than the rich – instead most wealth is inherited, and a lot of times it was originally collected through exploitation, slavery and war (and still is, to some extent). Basically, fairness isn’t just splitting inheritance equally between the inheritants, fairness is questioning why we want a lot of inherited wealth.

And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’

“Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.” ’

“But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’

“This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.” (Luke 12:16-21)

We should not desire to be rich, we should desire to be faithful to the Lord and do good deeds towards the poor and destitute. If we live simply, give away as much as we can and care for people and God’s creation, we will be much more blessed than if we had just been longing for the wealth of our parents.

October 14, 2014

Combatting Entitlement

Regular contributor and Canadian pastor Clarke Dixon continues to look at issues revolving around the broader theme of generosity. Click the title below to read this at this blog, Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon…

Curing a Bad Case of Goodstuffitis. Gratitude, Generosity, and Deuteronomy 8

Many of us suffer from a widespread but little known affliction called “Goodstuffitis”. How do you know if you have it? Its primary symptoms are forgetfulness and boasting but the early warning signs that we are getting it are when we say things like “I deserve this, I earned that, life would be unfair if I did not have it.”

The Bible speaks of a people in danger of coming down with a bad case of goodstuffitis in Deuteronomy. God’s people are ready to enter the promised land and God, through Moses, is preparing them. But the danger they face in the future is not just from the danger of battle, but also what waits for them beyond the battle:

12 When you have eaten your fill and have built fine houses and live in them, 13 and when your herds and flocks have multiplied, and your silver and gold is multiplied, and all that you have is multiplied, 14 then do not exalt yourself, forgetting the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, 15 who led you through the great and terrible wilderness, an arid wasteland with poisonous snakes and scorpions. He made water flow for you from flint rock, 16 and fed you in the wilderness with manna that your ancestors did not know, to humble you and to test you, and in the end to do you good. 17 Do not say to yourself, “My power and the might of my own hand have gotten me this wealth.” 18 But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, so that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your ancestors, as he is doing today.” Deuteronomy 8:12-18 (NRSV emphasis mine)

Affluence is the danger that lay ahead of God’s people. Note the twin dangers that lurk in a good life; forgetting God and exalting oneself. A lot has been written on the sobering statistics of the Christian faith in Canada. Some blame church music, some blame boring preaching, and some blame stuck-in-the-mud ethics for the shift away from faith. Meanwhile those of an atheistic bent would have us believe that we can thank better education. But perhaps what we are experiencing are the symptoms of a bad case of goodstuffitis. Things are going good for the typical Canadian. Opportunities abound. Houses are being built. Fancy cars, fancy cottages, and fancy coffees are being bought. People are doing well. And God is all but forgotten. Self, on the other hand, is exalted.

What are we to do? The cure for goodstuffitis is gratitude. God’s people are told to “remember the Lord your God” (verse 18). They are, of course, not just to remember that God exists, but rather to remember that everything good that they have and experience, would not have happened if it were not for the Lord’s goodness to them. Likewise, we can remember the Lord in all the good that we have and experience.

However, we may push back and say “I have this because I earned it, I am entitled to it.” We might consider the words of Paul here: “What do you have that you did not receive? And if you received it, why do you boast as if it were not a gift?” 1 Corinthians 4:7b (NRSV). Yes, we may have worked hard in school to get good grades, but did you create your own brain? Yes, you may work hard to earn money, but did you create the earth with its resources, routines, and seasons so necessary for your work to be carried out? At some point or other, everything that we can point to as good in our lives has its source in God.

​Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow. (James 1:17 NASB)

And the greatest example of all is our salvation. How people so badly want to earn it! How people so assuredly think they are entitled to it. We can not, and we are not. Salvation, in all the fullness of what that means, is a gift! There is no greater good that we could have or experience, but gratitude must be applied to keep us from developing goodstuffitis even in this: “Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!” 2 Corinthians 9:15 (NRSV).

We have been considering how God through His Holy Spirit is creating within us the character trait of generosity. We have considered also that we may at times stifle the work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts. A bad case of goodstuffitis with its symptoms of boasting and a sense of entitlement can kill generosity. It’s not hard to see how this can kill our hopes of becoming generous people; “I worked for it and you didn’t, I deserve it, and you don’t.” But thankfully there is a cure, and that cure is gratitude. Lord, may I not feel entitled to, nor boast about, the good that I have and experience, but may I be grateful to your for it, and knowing it is from your hand, help me share it with others.

October 13, 2014

Being Made New, Both Now and in the Future

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Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!
II Cor. 5:17 NIV

Today we feature Canadian author Jeff K. Clarke. You’re encouraged to click the title below to read this at source, and then, choose a category from the bar at the top and read some other articles.

Escaping Escapism – Pulling the Future Ideal of ‘New Creation’ into the Present

It was the apostle Paul who first introduced the New Testament idea of people being made new through the life-giving grace of Jesus Christ. In a number of his correspondences, he chose the phrase ‘new creation’ as a way to capture the essence of Christ’s saving vision for the world.

However, when people think about and attempt to explain what Paul meant by the term ‘new creation,’ the focus primarily centers on salvific concerns that highlight the effects of Christ’s work in us. That is, through Christ, we have been saved from God’s coming wrath and must respond by keeping ourselves pure in order to escape this final judgement.

Unfortunately, our reflections often end there, and as a result, we fail to comprehend the cosmic dimensions associated with the language of ‘new creation.’

The idea of ‘new creation,’ when used to describe followers of Christ, is a companion to the cosmic and futuristic ‘new creation’ promised by God. And, while it does have implications for the personal component inherent to salvation, its focus doesn’t end there. In fact, the personal is meant to be a precursor to and a reflection of the cosmic and fulfilled dimension of ‘new creation’ communicated throughout the biblical witness. Unfortunately, we normally embrace the personal dynamic, only to abandon the universal.

Embracing the cosmic focus of ‘new creation’, however, offers us a remedy to our traditional lack of concern – often displayed in much of contemporary evangelicalism – for present earthly realities, i.e., ecological, environmental and social issues.

Rather than try to escape this world and launch into the world to come, the promised ‘new creation’ should create the opposite effect; it ought to inform and shape those who have been made new, now.

Ideas that center on notions of escape have no voice in the teachings of Jesus. The salt and light of the Christian’s witness is not to be removed from the present order, but remain within it, effecting positive influence by reflecting tomorrows realities today.

God’s kingdom comes to earth in and through those who have been made new and precipitates the promised, future and fully realized kingdom inaugurated by Jesus. As a result, we don’t live to escape this world, but seek to find ways to express the realities of the world to come, now.

This captures the kingdom ethic of Jesus. His sermon on the mount is an invitation to live out his kingdom vision in the present. The Spirit enables Christ followers to emulate their leader in such a way that the kingdom brought near in Jesus is to be seen with increasing clarity in and through his followers. This ought to permeate the essence of our communal witness (words and works) to Christ.

If we are to abandon anything, it should be our ideas of escapism. Such a notion causes us to neglect present concerns because we believe they really don’t matter in the grand scheme of things. It’s as if we think God only cares about tomorrow and not today. This is inaccurate at best and an obvious misreading of scripture.

If Christ came to save the world, shouldn’t we too be about our Father’s business?

By embracing the present and infusing it with the future, God’s kingdom vision of a cosmic ‘new creation’ will one day be realized.

‘Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven’

October 12, 2014

The Shepherd’s King

Today we look at the basics of Psalm 23. The author is Allan Connor, author and retired missionary. This is actually the first three of a number of shorter devotions; we’ll run the balance as Allan makes them available.

sheep in green pastureDavid, great King of Israel, had known the rugged life of a common sheep farmer – the hectic, 24 hour-a-day lambing season at the end of winter; the search for good summer pasture on far away fields, bedding down in a make-shift tent; the care of sick and wounded sheep; the never-ending battle with wild animals. He had cared for his sheep. Now, in the 23rd Psalm, he sees his experiences as a metaphor for God’s care.

The Bible Society’s Contemporary English Version of the Psalm provides a fresh translation so I thought it good to include it in full. Read it slowly and refresh your spirit. Take a few minutes to reflect on how these verses apply to your own life over the years.

“You, Lord, are my shepherd. I will never be in need.
You let me rest in fields of green grass.
You lead me to streams of peaceful water,
And you refresh my life.
You are true to your name, and you lead me along the right paths.
I may walk through valleys as dark as death, but I won’t be afraid.
You are with me, and your shepherd’s rod makes me feel safe.
You treat me to a feast, while my enemies watch.
You honor me as your guest, and you fill my cup until it overflows.
Your kindness and love will always be with me each day of my life,
And I will live forever in your house, Lord.”

Note the words “shepherd’s rod” in verse 4. The Hebrew text actually mentions two items carried by the shepherd: a club to defend against wild animals and a long pole to guide and control the sheep.


David writes in Psalm 23 that the Lord leads him “along the right paths.” But look how it’s done – from the front! When the shepherd has brought his sheep out of the sheepfold, “he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice” (John 10:4). No cajoling or beating here; just solid leadership. The sheep follow automatically because they have learned to trust their master.

Think of the meaning for us! The great God, the God who built the universe and everything in it, will go on ahead of us, if we are his sheep. He’ll search out the places and the circumstances so nothing happens by accident. What a tremendous comfort – being in his will! But there is an important caution: The shepherd must have control. Here is a story:

John D. Rockefeller, America’s richest industrialist, owned a large oil refinery in Cleveland, Ohio. Not far away stood a shabby wooden shop where an older man sold peanuts and penny candy. As Rockefeller passed the store day after day, he felt sorry for the vendor. One late afternoon he stopped for a chat.

“My good fellow,” he began, “why don’t you come and work for me. I’ll give you a decent wage, holidays with pay, health benefits and a pension.” “I don’t know,” the man replied. I’ll have to think about it.” Rockefeller’s brow registered his surprise .

“Alright, take your time, then.“ Rockefeller answered.

A couple of week later, the industrialist stopped in again. “So,” he said, expecting a positive answer this time, “what’s the verdict?”

“Well, sir, it’s like this. Your offer is a fine one but I have to turn it down. I’ve decided that I want to run my own business.” Rockefeller knew by the tone that persuasion would fall on deaf ears. He pulled at the brim of his hat and strode briskly to the door. Now compare this:

Jim Elliot, while studying at Wheaton College in 1949, wrote in his journal, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.” Jim was killed in 1956 by Huaorani Indians of Ecuador , the very people he had come to share the Gospel with.


King David tells us, “I may walk through valleys as dark as death, but I won’t be afraid. You are with me and your shepherd’s rod makes me feel safe” (Psalm 23:4). David may well have been thinking of the numerous times his enemies had tried to kill him; yet he wasn’t afraid. He knew how to deal with fear. How does this apply to us?

We don’t have to face such life-threatening situations. But there is a universal fear that can harass us. It crosses all human barriers; no social group, class or country is immune. It is the fear of death.

The CEV translation above uses the words, “valleys as dark as death.” This phrase may also be rendered, “valley of the shadow of death,” as in the King James Version. The fear of death really is more like a shadow – it hangs around. It clings.

So how do we shake this fear? What is the shepherd’s rod that makes us feel safe? We get rid of the fear of death by receiving life – the life that Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd, will give us under his own terms.

John 3:16 is one of the best known verses of Scripture. Here it is: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” For years I read this verse thinking only of its application to death and eternal life in heaven. It means that, of course; it is the Shepherd’s rod. But it also means much more.

The apostle Paul says, ”if anyone is in Christ, he (or she) is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! (2 Corinthians 5:17). I receive this brand-new life the very moment I place my faith in Christ as savior! So it’s like a two-for-one deal! I become a child of God, receive a new nature and at the same time don’t have to wait to become comfortable with death. As I learn to trust Jesus on earth I become comfortable with trusting him about my eternal life in heaven.

~Allan Connor

October 11, 2014

Participating in The Lord’s Supper

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Today’s thoughts are from the book In The Breaking of the Bread: 52 Meditations on the Meal of Remembrance by J. Lee Magness (Standard Publishing, 2007).

CommunionAll Of Us

Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ?  And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ?  Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf.  (1 Cor 10:16, 17)

This is not just a pageant, this breaking of the bread, this out-pouring of the cup.  It is a feast for us to participate in – all of us.  This is not a concert or a lecture or a demonstration, not something done to us or for us.  It is something done by us – all of us.

If it is in any sense a drama, it is a drama in which we are not the on-lookers, not the applauders.  We are not the audience but the actors – all of us.  And our play has its props, but they number only three.  There is the loaf – his body broken for us – all of us.  And there is the cup – the cup of the new covenant in his blood poured out for us – all of us.  But there is also the table, not an altar for priests and presbyters, not a stage for the star alone, but a table, reminding us that we are the guests, that we have our part to play in the play – all of us.

And who is this all-of-us who have come to this table?  We are migrant workers and business executives and shopkeepers.  We are unemployed.  We are children, elderly, single, married.  We went through grade school, we have a Ph.D.  We are rich, and… not rich.  And we have all-of-us come to this table because someone invited us and died for us and rose for us and lives for us.  But aren’t we sinners?  Yes, all of us.  The same all-of-us sinners he saved.

The one who gave us himself has given us parts in his great drama of redemption.  We are not the audience, we are the actors – all of us.

God, thank you for inviting us to share the loaf and the cup, and thank you for inviting us to sit around the table, together, all of us, through Jesus, Amen.

October 10, 2014

The Purpose of Prophecy

Rev 19:9 Then the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!” And he added, “These are the true words of God.”

10 At this I fell at his feet to worship him. But he said to me, “Don’t do that! I am a fellow servant with you and with your brothers and sisters who hold to the testimony of Jesus. Worship God! For it is the Spirit of prophecy who bears testimony to Jesus.”
(NIV)

Two weeks ago I felt strongly that I was to share Revelation 19:10b with readers here but wasn’t sure exactly what it was I was to add to the passage.  Here are a few translations of this verse:

  • For the essence of prophecy is to give a clear witness for Jesus. (NLT)
  • For the testimony about Jesus is essentially the prophetic spirit. (The Voice)
  • Those who tell about Jesus have the spirit of a prophet. (Worldwide English)
  • the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy (KJV)
  • For the truth that Jesus revealed is what inspires the prophets. (Good News/TEV)
  • Everyone who tells about Jesus does it by the power of the Spirit. (CEV)
  • For the substance (essence) of the truth revealed by Jesus is the spirit of all prophecy [the vital breath, the inspiration of all inspired preaching and interpretation of the divine will and purpose, including both mine and yours]. (AMP)

Days later however, the top religious news story was the release of a new movie based on the Left Behind books. Those books are, to most people and many Christians, the essence of prophecy. However…

In the Bible prophecy does not refer to foretelling but rather to forthtelling.

I remember as a young adult the first time my pastor referred to prophecy as “powerful preaching.” “No, no!” I wanted to scream, “It’s about being able to tell the future; being given supernatural knowledge to know what is going to happen next.” You see, I had been greatly influenced by the Charismatic movement and got caught up in the sensational and supernatural aspects of the gifts of the spirit; the signs; the wonders.

I still consider myself a post-Charismatic. I still believe in the limitless power of the Holy Spirit. I believe that God indeed does give people insights into the future, but this is more through the gifts we call the word of knowledge and the word of wisdom; and even those are more concerned with seeing things as they are, not necessarily what will be.

The gift of prophecy is in no way connected to the fortune tellers who occupy low-rent business locations and invite clients to learn where they are to live or whom they are to marry. It’s more about speaking plainly and in the power and authority that God gives to speak into a person’s life, or to a situation; and then to point them to Christ.

Prophecy is indeed speaking in power and testifying to Jesus.  Charles Stanley writes:

Very seldom does the Lord God reveal a future event to us. The motivational gift of prophecy is primarily concerned with speaking forth the truth. The Word of God helps us to understand characteristics and avoid misunderstandings associated with the gift of prophecy, and it shows us how we use that gift when we walk in the Spirit.

…continue reading a 9-point outline on prophecy

The IVP New Testament Commentary offers this:

The apparent meaning is that those who have the testimony of Jesus—the angel, John and John’s brothers (fellow believers)—are all prophets. Prophets are bearers of the word of God, and in this book “the word of God” and “the testimony of Jesus” are inseparable (see 1:2, 9; 20:4). We learn now that the testimony of Jesus is not only a message about Jesus but also a message from Jesus the risen Lord. His is the one voice behind the many prophetic and angelic voices echoing through the pages of this book. So the testimony of Jesus is the spirit or essence of Christian prophecy. Whether it is also “the spirit of the prophecy,” referring to the book of Revelation itself (1:3; 22:7, 18-19), is more difficult to say (it does have the definite article in Greek). If it is, then the testimony of Jesus is virtually equivalent to the title “revelation of Jesus Christ” at the beginning of the book (1:1).

Although I couldn’t find an exact quotation on this, I love how Canadian pastor Bruxy Cavey teaches on the times where Bible prophecy does involve looking into the future. He says that the point is not to look forward but after the events have come to pass to look back and realize that God had it all under his control all the time. God knew about it all along.

In the meantime, the words of our mouths, and the meditations of our hearts should be all about testifying to Jesus. To Him be the honor, the power and the glory, both now and in the unknown future yet to come.

 

 

October 9, 2014

Problems in Old Testament Interpretation

Today we want to introduce you to the writing of former missionary and pastor Eric Carpenter.  This is actually the first in a series on the subject of Old Testament interpretation and you’ll have to click through to find some newer ones.  When you’ve finished, hit the “home” button in the top left corner and then read more recent entries. Click the title below to link directly:

Poor Interpretation of the Old Testament Always Leads to a Multitude of Church Problems

Bible 4The Old Testament is wonderful. It is as much a part of the bible as the New Testament is. In fact, it makes up about 2/3 of the scriptures. From its pages we learn much about who God is, who we are, how the world began, what our problems are, how God plans to save us, who the suffering servant is, etc. Above all else, the Old Testament reveals to us who our wonderful, majestic Creator is and what He is like. It is God’s revelation of Himself to us. We can learn much from the Old Testament and do well to spend much time in it.

That being said, the Old Testament is not a manual for how to live church life. If we treat it as such, we run the risk of the same poor interpretation that has plagued much of the church for centuries. Poor O.T. interpretation always leads to a multitude of church problems. The reason for this is that most of the O.T. focuses on God’s relationship with Israel. The majority of this information deals with the Old Covenant. It no longer applies to those of us who are part of the New Covenant.

The O.T. itself points ahead to the New Covenant as something being far different from what was going on at that time. Jeremiah 31:31-34 tells us:

Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.

We see in these verses the New Covenant contrasted with the Old Covenant. It is something far different.

Please let me be clear about one thing: the Old Testament is not the same thing as the Old Covenant. However, much of the information contained in the Old Testament focuses on the Old Covenant. Therefore, when Christians today make direct application from O.T. passages to church life, they frequently do so incorrectly.

Frankly, much of what has been going on for hundreds of years is a form of reverse interpretation. This occurs when Christians enjoy a church practice that is, in fact, based more in tradition than anything else. These Christians look in the New Testament to find support for this practice but cannot find any. Therefore, they then turn back to the Old Testament to find something to base their current practices upon. This is when the problem rears its ugly head. These believers use things found in O.T. Israel as a way to support what they are doing today.  This happens again and again despite the fact that they are pointing back to the Old Covenant.

Let me point out one stark example of this: the large, expensive church building. The New Testament provides no support for this idea whatsoever. Therefore, those who want something to base today’s buildings upon point back to the O.T. temple for support. This is incredibly bad interpretation. It is using the Old Covenant to support the New Covenant even though Jeremiah has told us that they are two completely different things.

I’m deeply concerned about the church today. Even though it is a wonderful thing, it has many problems. Some of these problems stem directly from exceedingly poor interpretation of the Old Testament.

This is the first post in a blog series I’m writing on O.T. interpretive problems. These are problems that still directly impact the church today.

I believe that if the church will stop pointing back to Old Covenant forms and practices it will become a much healthier church. My hope is not simply to discuss problems but also solutions. In order to be a healthy church, we need to look to the correct place. That place is the New Covenant, which is largely found in the N.T. as opposed to the O.T.

Good interpretation is a necessity for a healthy, thriving church. I have no doubt that this is what God desires.


Here is one of the more recent articles in the series which I also appreciated: Genre, Genre, Genre

October 8, 2014

God’s Not Fair?

Today regular contributor Clarke Dixon returns with a look at God’s fairness. To read this at source click on the title below.

How Being Fair Can Kill Your Generosity

God's justice and mercyBeing fair can kill our generosity. How so? Because being fair gives us an excuse to not be generous toward those we think do not deserve our generosity. And being ingenious people, we can always find that reason!

But isn’t being fair a good thing? In fact when we are being fair are we not being godly? Let’s take a look at a few examples of where God could have been fair:

  • At the time of the first rebellion. Had God been fair with Adam and Eve they would have not have made it out of Eden alive. Instead of being fair God acted with grace, banishing them from Eden, yes, but not fully from His presence or provision.
  • At the first murder. God could have been fair when Cain killed Abel, taking his life in return. Instead of being fair He acted with grace and made provision for Cain’s protection.
  • When violence was overwhelming the earth. God could have been fair when humanity descended into great violence ending all with a flood. Instead of being fair He acted with grace and saved Noah and family binding Himself to the flourishing of humanity with a covenant promise.
  • When violence continued to flourish despite the second chance. Though promising to not actively destroy humanity, God could have been fair and walked away from humanity allowing for their self-destruction. Instead of being fair He acted in grace and called Abram, Isaac, and Jacob, calling into existence His people who would be a light to the world.
  • When God’s people were in slavery but were really no better than their masters. We know this from the violence that Moses, and of course God, witnessed. God could have been fair and walked away. Instead of being fair He acted with grace, hearing their cries of distress, putting into action a plan of rescue.
  • When God’s people rebelled and worshipped a golden calf at Sinai. God could have been fair and left them alone to die there. Instead of being fair, He acted with grace and far from destroying the nation, He gave them the law to build them up.
  • In the days we read of in Judges when “everyone did what was right in their own eyes” instead of sticking to God’s law. God could have been fair and left them victim to the surrounding enemies . Instead of being fair, God acted with grace and anointed judges to rescue the people and get them back on track.
  • When God’s people asked for a king, thereby rejecting God as king. God could have been fair and walked away leaving them to really be like the other nations, lacking His provision and protection. Instead of being fair, God acted with grace and appointed kings, in fact graciously promising that through the line of kings, His Kingdom would come.
  • When the kings and people rebelled against God. God could have been fair, sending a plague or army to wipe the nation out. Instead of being fair He acted with grace and sent prophets to warn and to encourage.
  • When the warnings of the prophets were not heeded. God could have been fair and sent a foreign army to destroy the nation outright. They abandoned their side of the covenant, He could do the same with His. Instead of being fair He acted with grace, allowing the nation to go into exile, but with encouragement to look again for His presence, His rescue.
  • When God Himself came to us in Jesus Christ and then was rejected, mocked, whipped, tried, unjustly condemned and killed. God could have been fair and arrived to condemn. Instead of being fair, He acted with grace. Instead of grasping a sword of judgement, he offered His hands to the nails. And in the single most unfair moment in the history of the world, love reigned supreme.

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. John 3:16-17 NRSV

If God had been fair at any one of these moments, it would have really messed with your salvation, there might even be nothing of you in existence to save. Is God being fair in offering salvation to you? No. He could have been fair and rejected you. But instead of being fair, He acts with grace toward you and offers you life, eternal life, abundant life, reconciliation, mercy, friendship, guidance, protection, provision, and so much more. Instead of being fair, God has been generous.

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us. Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life (Romans 5:6-10 NRSV emphasis mine)

Are you known as a fair person?

Lord, help us to be more like you, to be known as generous. And to do that, help us lay our zeal for what’s fair at the foot of the cross! Amen.

October 7, 2014

Four Applications from Elijah

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Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth.  James 5:17 ESV

Last year we introduced you to Louisiana pastor Waylon Bailey and today we pay a catch-up visit to his blog.  As always, click the link below to read this at source; we chose this from a number of excellent articles.

Four Takeaways from the Days of Elijah

Can something that happened 2900 years ago really be relevant for someone growing up today?

After all, there are only a few things the same today as 2900 years ago.

Let me give you two things that have not changed.

Human nature has not changed. A teenager living with an iPhone may seem far different from teenagers before the time of Christ, but human nature has not changed. The kid growing up today has more information in a day than the child in ancient times had in a lifetime, but they are the same on the inside.

Human nature has not changed.

The message of God has not changed. He is the same. He is consistent. God and His word have not changed.

For these reasons, we can learn valuable lessons from the prophet Elijah (I Kings 17-19).

Here are four takeaways you can get from the days of Elijah.

First, even in the worst of times, God has a man. Elijah was that man. He proclaimed the word of the Lord with fearlessness but not without repercussions. Jezebel swore to hack him to death within twenty-four hours.

Elijah gave the message and suffered the consequences. Even in the consequences, God remained faithful.

Jesus promised the same for His followers. When you are brought before officials because of your faith, don’t worry about what you will say. God the Holy Spirit will give you the words to say. God is faithful.

Second, either there is one God or there is no god. You can’t have both. The confrontation on Mount Carmel showed the impossibility of continuing to waver between two opinions.

Third, there are plenty of people who love God and who can be counted on in times of persecution. God assured Elijah he was not alone. God had preserved 7,000 in Israel who had not bowed down to Baal.

You are not alone either. Thank God for the fellowship of faithful believers.

Finally, God is God and will not be denied. He is the Sovereign Lord. As He showed His power in the days of Elijah, He will do so today.

The day will come–maybe soon–when every knee will bow before the Lord (Philippians 2:9-11).

If you would like to receive a devotional like this six days a week, please subscribe to http://www.waylonbailey.com. It will come to your inbox free of charge, and we don’t give out your email.

Go Deeper: Article on Elijah at BibleStudyTools.com

Of course, we had to include the song, right?

October 6, 2014

Sowing and Reaping Can Me More Than Just Economics

Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. As it is written:

“They have freely scattered their gifts to the poor;
    their righteousness endures forever.”

10 Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. 11 You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.

Today we return to the website of Ralph Howe Ministries. When we think of sowing and reaping we tend to think of it in bottom-line, dollars-and-cents terms. (That would be pounds-and-pence for my UK readers!) But in the much larger Bible context, planting, reaping, seeds and fruit are all referring to the spread of the gospel story and the establishment and growth of Christ-followers. It is to that end that Ralph writes the following; click the title to read at source.

A Biblical Principle

Here’s a biblical principle we can take to the bank: If we sow sparingly, we will reap sparingly; if we sow the gospel abundantly we will reap abundantly (2 Corinthians 9:6). Some believe this is why evangelists are so effective in leading people to Christ – they sow abundantly. I believe there is some merit to the idea. The Good News itself is powerful because the Gospel is the power of God unto salvation (Romans 1:16). And, the more often it is shared, the more often it will bear fruit.

sowing and reapingPeter, one of the original twelve, states that we are “born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding Word of God.” So, obviously, the more ’seeds’ we plant the better the harvest we will reap. Sow seldom – see little fruit because you are planting very few seeds. Sow regularly and often – you will reap a harvest from some of the seeds that you planted – some of the times that you shared the Gospel.

Our job is to share Christ. Not to bring people to Christ – that is the job of the Holy Spirit. Our task is to take Christ to the people. In case you have not noticed, unbelievers are not flocking to the church where they can hear the Gospel. So, we are to take the Gospel to them. Then the Holy Spirit works with the seed we planted and convicts them of sin, righteousness and judgment (John 16:8-10). As hearts become warm towards God people respond and we see a harvest of souls for the Kingdom. The Holy Spirit is the true evangelist who convicts people’s hearts, opens their spiritual eyes, and points them to Christ. He resides in all of us, not just in the evangelists (one of the five-fold ministry gifts of Ephesians 4:11-12).

This is the task of all true disciples. Some excuse themselves from the work of winning the lost by saying that they don’t have the gift of evangelism. There is no such gift in the Bible. Every true disciple of Jesus is called to “follow Him” (Matthew 4:19) and, as we do, He “makes us into fishers of men.” So, if we are not fishing we are not following. And, we are not “becoming.” We have traded ’safe,’ ’secure,’ and ‘comfortable’ for exciting, risky, and an adventure.

We all need to remember that one day we will be held accountable by the Lord Jesus as to what we did with what He commanded us to do. He was not joking when He said, “Go into all the world and make disciples” (Matthew 28:19). And, it was not an option that we can choose to become involved in or choose to let others do it while we stay safe and secure. Of course, we will become involved in other areas of ministry – caring, hospitality, worship, leading … but, Jesus will still bring us back to the basic and foundational calling that is upon every believer’s life – the “seek and save the lost” (Luke 19:10) as He did.

So, time to learn to share the Gospel so we can plant these powerful seeds of Good News in the life of people that we know and the hearts of total strangers. Of course, this will mean having the learn how to express the Gospel as most believers know the Gospel but because they have never shared it – really find it hard to express the Good News of salvation in a way that makes sense of this powerful message. And, we need to learn to share it in a way that today’s generation can understand it. We live in a post-Christian society and so we need to learn how to communicate the message in new ways to those who do not have a Christian consciousness.

Remember, every one of us will be held accountable for what we have done with the gifts that He gave us – and the greatest gift is the message of salvation – the Gospel of the Kingdom.

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