Christianity 201

January 15, 2020

Did You Bring the Right Offering to Church?

Can we return one last time to the Advent/Christmas narrative? We weren’t sure, but we knew last week there was a possibility that Clarke Dixon’s article from last week, would have a Part Two, but it didn’t get published on his blog until this week. So today, this article, and then tomorrow, Lord willing, Clarke’s regular Thursday blog post.

by Clarke Dixon

Did you bring the right offering to your church? Perhaps pastors such as myself will be tempted to say “no.” That may be based on organizational number crunching for 2019 and a realization that red is not just a Christmas color. As Christmas fades into the past, an event following that first Christmas will help us reflect on our offering.

Let us consider the Magi. We usually think of the Magi as being at the manger along with the shepherds on the first Christmas Day. However, based on Herod’s killing of Bethlehem’s 2-years-old-and-under infants (see Matt 2:16), they likely arrived later.

On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Matthew 2:11 (NIV)

Being non-Jewish, the Magi do not bring an offering according to any religious rule, but rather from of a spirit of generosity. It is an interesting exercise to read through the entire New Testament, taking note of how often religious rules for giving are promoted in contrast to how often generosity is taught and modelled, especially by Jesus.

It is an interesting exercise to also consider the difference between giving out of religious duty and a spirit of generosity. For example, it is possible to earn millions of dollars, tithe a tenth of all that is earned to a church, and yet be completely lacking in a generous spirit. We would be left with incredible wealth, yet could still be stingy to everyone and every need that crosses our paths. Even though we have given much to our church community, we can be Scrooge-like in sharing our gifts of time and talents. Are our offerings of time, talents, and treasures an expression of a growing and generous spirit, or merely an expression of how religious we are? Our offering is not just a matter of accounting and number crunching, but a matter of the heart.

Further, let us consider that the Magi bring their offering, not to the temple, but to a person. Are our offerings focused on Jesus? Are they focused on Jesus when they are given to an organization we call a church? It is more important that churches help people connect and walk with Jesus, than simply keep churchy and religious things happening. Since our offerings are part of personal devotion and worship, we would bring them as an act of worship, even if we were asked by God to be burn them on an altar.  But God has not asked for that. He has directed us to help people connect with Him.

Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:19-20 (NLT)

Do our offerings help people connect with God and walk with Jesus?

There is another offering for us to consider as we bid farewell to the Christmas season. Let us go back to the temple, to the moment Simeon held the infant Jesus in his arms and said to Mary:

“This child is destined to cause many in Israel to fall, and many others to rise. He has been sent as a sign from God, but many will oppose him. As a result, the deepest thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your very soul.” Luke 2:34-35 (NLT)

A sword would indeed pierce Mary’s soul when Jesus was opposed by his own people, who should have known better, and hung on a cross by the Romans, who should have done better. We are barely beyond Christmas and already we are hearing about Good Friday. While we think of the offerings of the Magi, the offering brought by God for outsiders like the Magi is the real news here. God’s generous spirit is on full display!

Have you brought the right offering to church? Come to Jesus, see the gift he has for you. Then see where generosity leads you.


Clarke Dixon is a musician, motorcycle enthusiast, and pastor in Ontario, Canada. He is the single-most-frequent contributor to C201, with articles appearing most Thursdays.

January 6, 2019

Epiphany Sunday

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:35 pm
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by Ruth Wilkinson

Hands up if your Christmas tree is still vertical and decorated. Yes, I see those hands.

You’ll be glad to know that you’re not wrong – according to the worldwide Church calendar, Christmas isn’t over.

All around the globe, we observe this Sunday as Epiphany – a celebration of the arrival of the wise men from far beyond Israel’s borders.

They weren’t there on the night Jesus was born. They probably never met the shepherds or heard the angels. Their journey may have begun that night, and they arrived up to a couple of years later when Jesus was a toddler, running around getting into everything.

But their arrival marked some amazing good news for those outside the Jewish community. God had come for everyone. The borders of His Kingdom had shifted and expanded to include those of us who were, for so long, on the outside looking in.

So we find in the Scriptures this message:

The Lord led Abraham outside and said,
“Look at the sky. Count the stars, if you can.
Your family will be like that…

“I’ll make you into a great nation.

“I’ll bless you,
and all the peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”

Until that promise was fulfilled
we Gentiles were without the Messiah,
foreigners to the promise,
without hope
and without God in the world.

But now in Christ Jesus, we who were far away have been brought near.

Through Him we are no longer outsiders and foreigners,
but partners of the promise,
and members of God’s household,
built on a foundation of Christ Jesus Himself.

This great news was first made known to the world through Gentile wise men
who arrived unexpectedly in Jerusalem, saying,
“Where is He? We saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.”

Now we are saved by grace through faith – God’s gift.

And even more –
As Abraham was blessed so he could become a blessing,
we are His creation, created for good works in Christ Jesus
which God prepared ahead of time for us to do.

Bold, and confident of more than we could ask or think.
His power. His riches.
Raised up by the fulfillment of one promise,
to be the embodiment of another.

Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!

 


References: Genesis 12, Genesis 15, Ephesians 2, Ephesians 3, Matthew 2


Previous devotionals on Epiphany:

December 20, 2018

Baby Jesus and the Surprising Visitors

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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by Clarke Dixon

When a baby is born certain people are invited to come and see. Usually they are loved ones; family, or good friends. Sometimes people take the intuitive to show up even without an invite. The birth is significant to them. Now let us look at the visitors on that first Christmas.

Shepherds are invited. Surprise! This is not an invitation from Joseph and Mary, who presumably would not have even known the shepherds. This is a special invitation from God! Why the shepherds? Why does God not invite the religious leaders or the political leaders? The shepherds were not the elite representatives of clean, holy, set apart Israel.
They were representative of the worldly, unclean, normal people of God. These are the kind of Israelites who would not be welcome in the most holy places of the temple. They are not holy enough. Why them?

“But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.” (Luke 2:10–11 emphasis added)

The wisemen take the initiative and show up. Surprise! Who are these wisemen? They are technically magi, which means they are astrologers, perhaps even priests, from a foreign religion and people. They would have been frowned upon by the holy and especially not welcome within the temple. But they were welcomed into the presence of Jesus. The magi represent those beyond Israel, people different from, and not as holy as the Israelites.

“I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people.”

This is only the beginning of “surprise visitors” who are invited and welcomed.

Look to whom Jesus went; people on the margins, the unclean, the diseased, sinners and tax collectors, even a Samaritan woman. Look who took the initiative to call upon Jesus, to come and see Jesus; the diseased and unclean, sinners and tax-collectors, foreigners even.

“I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people

Read through the Book of Acts and pay attention to whom the early church was sent. Anyone and everyone! There is even a special mission to an Ethiopian eunuch in Acts chapter eight. Phillip is sent on a mission from God to help the eunuch discover Jesus.

“As they were going along the road, they came to some water; and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?”” (Acts 8:36 NRSV)

What if the question was “What is to prevent me from being in the presence of God at the temple?” We should not lose sight of the fact that the eunuch had gone to Jerusalem to worship. The answer would be clear; “you are a foreigner, a eunuch, you are not a priest, you are not the High Priest, you simply don’t make the grade and never will.” However, nothing hinders him from being baptized. Nothing hinders him from experiencing the presence of God in Jesus.

“I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people

We have been looking at the “who and whom.” Now let us look at the “what.”

In the Old Testament, as God takes the time to teach about holiness, there is a constricting, a narrowing down of those who belong in the presence of God.  There is a narrowing down to those who are set-apart, or a “holy” people. They are narrowed down to being descendants of Abraham, then down to the descendants of Isaac, then down to the descendants of Jacob. Then there is a narrowing down to those who could approach God in the temple, those who were set-apart as the holiest of the holy. First there is a narrowing down to the tribe of Levi, then those priests who had properly prepared through consecrating themselves, then only the high priest. He was to be the cleanest of the clean, the holiest of the holy. However, even he does not belong in the presence of God. Only certain people make the grade and then even they can never make the grade. No one can truly stand in the presence of God.

We find this fact reflected in a passage from the Book of Revelation which reflects on the question “who can stand” in the presence of God given the consequence of sin.

“Then the kings of the earth and the magnates and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, calling to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of the one seated on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb; for the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to stand?”” (Revelation 6:15–17 emphasis added)

This thought is reflected in the words of a song often sung during Advent and Christmas:

The sun cannot compare to the glory of Your love
There is no shadow in Your presence
No mortal man would dare to stand before Your throne
Before the Holy One of Heaven, . . . 

(from “Offering” by Paul Baloche, emphasis added)

This reflects the teaching of the Old Testament, that really, no one has the right to stand in the presence of God “since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23 NRSV).

We are not without hope. The question “who can stand” is answered:

After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, . . . .“These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” (Revelation 7:9,14 emphasis added)

Back to “Offering” by Paul Baloche:

It’s only by Your blood
And it’s only through Your mercy Lord I come

While there is a constricting and narrowing down in the Old Testament, there is an opening up, a widening up which we see beginning at the birth of Jesus and continuing through his life and the ministry of His Church. The shepherds, the magi, the people on the margins, the unclean, the eunuchs, the Gentiles, anyone and everyone is invited and welcome.

We might give up hope for people. We might give up hope for ourselves. We are not the right kind of people, we don’t make the grade, we are too sinful, too different, too intellectual, too something or other. We may not be the kind of people who would make the grade for serving as High Priest but don’t worry, that job is already taken. Jesus is our High Priest, God the Son, and he has given his life as the ultimate sacrifice to reconcile us to Himself.

Don’t ever give up hope for others, or yourself. If shepherds are invited and foreign astrologers are welcomed into the presence of God, then you are too!

I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people

“All the people” includes you. The shepherds responded to the invitation by going to see Jesus. The magi took the initiative to seek him. Have you responded to God’s invitation? Are you seeking Him?



Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Ontario, Canada. All scripture references are NRSV.

Check out Clarke’s blog, Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon.