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Christian Life, Spiritual Growth

The Spiritual Investor’s Guide

April 7, 2016

 

 

I recently read an article on one of the longest running, most profitable scams in history. Operating using the pseudonym of Maria Duval, a supposed psychic, an organization of people have over the last few decades scammed people out of hundreds of millions of dollars. These people weren’t coerced or forced. They gave the money willingly in exchange for supposed psychic readings, mystical talismans, and the like.

We’ve all been there. Maybe not sending money to a psychic in exchange for bogus healing crystals, but we’ve all been tricked by a movie trailer into seeing a film that left us wondering why we wasted that two hours of our life on it. We’ve all purchased something that we thought would be fun/useful/cool only to realize a week or two later that we haven’t used the thing at all.

It’s one thing to have someone else con you out of money, time, etc. It’s another thing when you con yourself out of something that you truly want. Yet for most of us we are, day by day, doing exactly that. How? We are investing our resources – time, money, talent, emotion – into things that give us little, or in many cases, negative returns on investment. You get what you invest in, every time.

The Apostle Paul states this bluntly in his letter to the Galatians. He writes;

“Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.”
-Galatians 6:7-8

God Cannot Be Mocked

Like the thousands of people who bought into the Maria Duval scheme, we can be deceived by the lies that the world, the devil, and our flesh attempt to sell to us day in and day out. You can get rich quick if you buy this real estate investment program! You can binge eat and then “detox” away any of the negative effects! You can have sex without consequences! You can buy that new car now and not pay for it until later!

Rarely do the lies get laid out so explicitly, but they are there regardless. We’re being sold a lie that says it’s possible to circumvent the principle that what you reap is what you sow. Don’t buy it! Don’t be so foolish as to think that you can plant poison ivy and grow wheat.

And it’s not just foolishness. According to Paul’s words to the Galatians, thinking that you can sow one thing and reap another is God-mockery. God has set up an order to the universe and attempting to get around that order is to go against God’s decree. And if you’re familiar with pretty much any portion of the Bible you know that that never goes well.

What will you invest in?

Paul lays out two (and only two) alternatives here in Galatians. Invest in the flesh and reap destruction. Invest in the Spirit and reap everlasting life. He leaves the question hanging there for us to answer for ourselves; which one will you invest in?

Reading Paul’s words in the verses above makes it pretty easy to decide. Of course I want to invest in the Spirit! Who doesn’t want everlasting life? And of course no one wants destruction. The problem is that this thing isn’t a one-time decision. Our investment in these things are the million miniscule decisions that we make each day. We can’t withdraw our entire future’s worth of decisions and deposit them once and for all in the Spirit category. Instead God has fashioned it so that we need to be like the poor woman that Jesus observed placing her one coin in the offering plate, and repeat that action day after day.

So what will you invest in today? Will you invest in the flesh by doubling down on entertainment and watching an extra episode or four of your current binge? Will you overeat because the food is just soooo good? Will you go after the relationship you’ve been longing for regardless of what wisdom says because it feels good?

Or will you invest in the Spirit by seeking first the kingdom of God by taking time to genuinely converse with the people you encounter today? Will you carve out space in your day for real time in God’s presence? Will you invest in the Spirit by giving generously to the homeless person you stop next to at the intersection downtown?

What you invest in will be your reward. You get what you’ve bought. No one goes to destruction without purchasing their own ticket. No one goes into everlasting life without buying into the Spirit. Don’t get scammed by the things of this world that always break down and fail. Instead, put your resources to work in the Kingdom of God and watch as it produces a harvest of righteousness that impacts you and those who follow you.

May your reaping be rich with the everlasting life that’s found only in Christ!

 

 

 

Christian Life, Spiritual Growth

Letting the Spirit Teach

March 21, 2016

 

 

When was the last time that a spiritual leader said to you that you didn’t need someone to teach you? Can you remember a time where you showed up at church and the pastor said he wasn’t going to preach because the congregation had what they needed already? How about getting a letter from one of the Apostles saying that you had the ability to know what you needed to know as a follower of Jesus?

It sounds strange, unorthodox, and perhaps even heretical in light of our Christian system that is built on the assumption that additional knowledge means additional growth. The problem is, Jesus generally goes out of his way to knock systems aside and reveal to people something they’ve been blinded to.

Something along those lines happens in 1 John when the Apostle, inspired by the Spirit, writes,

“But the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie—just as it has taught you, abide in him.”
1 John 2:26-28

“You have no need that anyone should teach you….his anointing teaches you about everything” is quite the statement, one that we need to wrestle with. Have we bought into a system that’s blinded us to the massive power of the Holy Spirit to lead and teach God’s people? Could it be that there actually is an anointing from the Father that “teaches you about everything”?

Defining the Anointing

John isn’t espousing some new idea in his letter to the early Christian churches. He’s simply reiterating what Jesus had said to him and the other Apostles years earlier before his crucifixion;

“These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” – John 14:25-26

The Holy Spirit is the anointing that John is referring to, and apparently he – and Jesus – have an expectation that the Holy Spirit will impart to those who he abides in a knowledge of the truth about “everything,” “all things,” and “all that I have said to you.”

My solidly evangelical, reformed-leaning background balks at the idea that any and every Christian would have some sort of internal teacher. Isn’t that risky? Doesn’t it lead to people going off the deep end into strange theologies and wild conjectures. Perhaps. But that doesn’t mean that we can simply ignore the words of John and Jesus.

Too many people live a “second-handed” Christianity – a Christianity that is defined by what they receive from their pastor, the book they read most recently, or what they’ve heard on the radio. The vast majority of Christians are running on the fumes of their spiritual leader’s encounters with God rather than their own. How much more powerful to be people who have indeed heard from God, been taught of him, and are obeying him. Which has more power, the word of man or the word of God?

The Apostle Paul is a man who exemplifies this kind of personal encounter and the drive that results from it. The Gospel he believed wasn’t one that he heard from other people – he explicitly states, “I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.” (Galatians 1:11-17) This encounter, this being taught by Christ through the Holy Spirit, drove Paul throughout the known world with the Gospel. Oh how we would be blessed by more men and women like him!

You have no need that anyone should teach

Clearly John and Jesus don’t mean for us to do away with all teaching and instruction. John’s letter is in itself teaching, and Jesus devoted countless hours to teaching his disciples. However, we ought to be very wary of setting up systems that teach God’s people to depend on pastors and preachers and “professional” Jesus followers instead of pointing them directly to Christ, and through him, the Father.

We need to teach people to go to God and his word on their own, to tune into the Holy Spirit, and be taught by the Spirit of truth. We need to equip disciples to encounter God in the Scriptures, to discern and apply the truth to their lives without a middleman. Rather than defaulting to our own, safe, easily manageable teaching, let’s release God’s people to be truly “taught of God” (John 6:45).

Jesus is the leader of his people, not us. The Holy Spirit is the Teacher, pastors and preachers are simply instruments in his hands. As Neil Cole writes:

We are not to strive to get our teaching into the saints, but to equip them to use the deposit already in them to teach others. This is a radical change in approach for those who lead.

Church leadership must shift from trying to put good stuff into Christians and start releasing the God-stuff already within. That is a complete 180º turn for most in church ministry. The deposit is already made and the treasure is within, sealed with a pledge that cannot be broken (2 Tim 1:14; Eph 1:13-14). Christ in you is the hope of glory…and nothing else is (Col 1:27). Our role as leaders is not to try and add anything to it in some egotistic way as if we have anything that deserves to be in the same conversation. Imagine telling people that they have the powerful, continual, presence of the Spirit of Christ within them, and if they just add my teaching or read my book they can be used by God. Sounds awful doesn’t it. Because it is. Our role is to help people realize what they already have and walk in that power rather than try and put anything within them. All leadership, speaking, books and methods should be about that.

Maturity in Christ is about discovering who you are in Christ, rather than trying to become something that you are not. Equippers have a single role, help people discover what it means to be connected to the Head and to serve Jesus.

– Neil Cole

 

 

Christian Life, Faith, Spiritual Growth, Theology

Laughing on Judgment Day

March 16, 2016

 

 

The contrast between fear inspired by lack of faith and faith that leads to dauntless courage has been a recurring theme in my spiritual growth thus far in 2016. In the last few months I’ve posted a couple times about it, and during one of our recent Threshingfloor community gatherings we spent a significant amount of time discussing John’s words in 1 John 4 about love casting out fear. Our discussion uncovered a truth in the Apostle John’s words that I’d never seen before. He writes,

God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.
1 John 4:16-18

When you picture yourself coming before the judgment throne of God, how do you imagine you will feel in that moment? What will your expression, your posture be? My assumption, fed by various sermons and texts like Isaiah’s throne-room encounter or Israel’s experience on mount Sinai, is that my feelings before God on that day would be barely reigned-in fear, kept in check by the fact that I know Jesus has covered me (but just barely). In my imagination my posture was always one of kneeling, bowing, and trembling. Isaiah-style “woe is me, for I am a man of unclean lips,” worried that at any moment I might be obliterated but clinging in faith to Jesus’ saving work. I’d leave the throne room feeling like I’d just survived an encounter with a hungry lion.

Judging by these verses that’s not what John expects, and it’s not what he wants Jesus’ people to expect either.

God is Love

John writes that God is love, perfect love, and that perfect love casts out fear. A verse or two earlier he states, “If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God.”

If God is love and love casts out fear, why have I always assumed that my encounter in his throne room would be one of fear?

If we have God living in us and we are in God, why would coming before the throne of God be anything more than arriving for the first time at the home that we’ve always longed for?

If love has indeed been “perfected with us so that we may have confidence,” then maybe it’s time that we re-evaluate our assumptions about God, love, and fear.

We Have Confidence

According to John, “we may have confidence for the day of judgment”. The writer of Hebrews echoes this in Hebrews 10:19, saying “we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus,” and Paul declares, “In him [Jesus] and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence. (Ephesians 3:12)

The glorious truth about Christ’s saving work is that it doesn’t just get us through the judgment throne of God by the skin of our teeth, trembling lest we damned. Instead it so radically, deeply connects us with God the Father that when we come before the judgment throne we come with confidence and boldness. You won’t tremble on that day, you’ll rejoice. You won’t fear, you’ll be free.

For those who are in Christ the experience won’t be like being sent to the principle’s office. It will be more like coming home to a Father who is wildly excited to see them again.

When we grasp this it dramatically changes how we proclaim the Gospel, how we live, and how we think about our relationship with God. If our imagined experience of our first encounter with God the Father is one of fear rather than love, if our faith is driven more by expectation of judgment than anticipation of joy, no wonder it holds little appeal to the world around us. But if we grasp the radical, life-transforming love that is truly ours in Christ, those around us will be inexorably drawn to it.

“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment,” and in Christ all punishment has been done away with. Soak in God’s love. Believe it. You’ll be coming before the throne with boldness on that day. How much more bold and fearless ought you be today?!

 

 

 

 

Christian Life, Faith, Spiritual Growth

What you care about determines what you hear

March 14, 2016

 

 

When we live for the approval of man, we prevent ourselves from hearing God. If our souls are full of the sound of the voices of the world around us, it becomes incredibly difficult to discern the voice of the Spirit. Jesus’s conversation with the Pharisees in regards to the source of his authority is a perfect illustration of this point. Matthew sets the scene;

And when he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came up to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” Jesus answered them, “I also will ask you one question, and if you tell me the answer, then I also will tell you by what authority I do these things. The baptism of John, from where did it come? From heaven or from man?” And they discussed it among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘From man,’ we are afraid of the crowd, for they all hold that John was a prophet.” So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And he said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.
Matthew 21:23-27

Jesus is in the temple, supposedly the realm of the chief priests and pharisees’ authority. He’s teaching the people, and if Jesus’ recorded teachings throughout the Gospels are any indicator it was probably some thought provoking, controversial stuff that he was saying. Driven by fear of losing face and authority in their own realm, the leaders approach Jesus with a question that’s meant to trap him. Jesus, as is his way, turns their trap on them and reveals what they truly care about and are listening to.

“Who gave you this authority?”

The question the leaders ask seems like a fairly straightforward one. Who gave you the authority to teach in the temple? To heal? Jesus has already answered this question multiple times before in various ways. The problem is, the leaders can’t hear him – they can’t receive what he’s saying because they care more about the opinions of the crowd than they do about the word of God.

“Neither will I tell you”

Seeing their fear of man, Jesus turns a question back to them. The response of the Pharisees and priests to this question is the telltale sign. They apparently don’t really know or care where John’s authority came from. They care about how the crowd will respond to what they say, a thing that prevents them from hearing from Jesus where his authority originates.

I wonder how often we don’t hear an answer from God because we’re more focused on what the crowd, the people around us, will think? How often do we cut ourselves off from powerful encounters with the ever-living God by being more concerned about the opinions of short-lived people?

Proverbs 29:25 declares that “the fear of man is a snare.” Jesus warns earlier in Matthew’s Gospel that those who live for applause from men won’t receive rewards from God (Matt 6:5-6).

I don’t want my love of people’s opinions to deafen me to what Jesus is saying. I want to be a man who cares most about what the Lord is saying. I want to respond with honest answers to Jesus’ challenges and questions, and be able to hear what he says and obey without fear of what people will think.

That’s not an easy path to walk. We’re so wired within our flesh to care most about the most foolish of things, but I intend to work at heart change, by the power of the Spirit, until it becomes a reality. Will you join me?

 

 

 

Christian Life, Spiritual Growth

Debt and Theft

February 24, 2016

 

This January Kelly and I resolved to pay off all of my student debt within the next year. No easy task, especially considering we’re expecting our first child in July. This push to do away with a significant portion of our debt has caused my eyes to be open articles and news on the topic of money and debt. A few weeks ago I came across an article about students who have left the country to avoid paying their student loans. This morning I read a horrifying post at The New York Times about the trillions of dollars of “bad debt” that are threatening the global economy.

Debt has become a way of life for most modern humans. It’s just assumed. Scripture, however, has some pretty strong words about how we are to address debts. I want to draw from a few different scriptures and highlight 4 points about how the follower of Jesus should deal with debt, financial or otherwise. By no means is what I write here exhaustive. It’s just the extension of my study on the matter over the past few months.

1. Pay it back.

The wicked borrows and does not pay back, but the righteous is gracious and gives.
Psalm 37:21

God is clear. Not paying back a debt is sin. “The wicked borrows and does not pay back,” and the follower of Jesus is commanded not to walk in wickedness. If you’re in debt you don’t get to skip out by leaving the country or finding some sneaky way to declare bankruptcy. Student loans, credit card debt, and home loans – any form of debt – is a promise you’ve made to the lender. Honorable men and women keep their promises. Numbers 30 puts this bluntly; “If a man makes a vow to the Lord, or swears an oath to bind himself by some agreement, he shall not break his word; he shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth.” (Numbers 30:2) If you have debt pay it back. Promptly.

2. As quick as possible.

My son, if you have put up security for your neighbor,
if you have shaken hands in pledge for a stranger,
you have been trapped by what you said,
ensnared by the words of your mouth.
So do this, my son, to free yourself,
since you have fallen into your neighbor’s hands:
Go—to the point of exhaustion—
and give your neighbor no rest!
Allow no sleep to your eyes,
no slumber to your eyelids.
Free yourself, like a gazelle from the hand of the hunter,
like a bird from the snare of the fowler
Proverbs 6:1-5

Most people I talk to seem more than content to pay the minimum on their student loans for the next 25 or so years and then have the rest “forgiven.” The verses above, take from Proverbs 6:1-5 are an urgent cry to not lounge when there is a debt hanging over your head. Instead work zealously to pay it off it as quickly as possible. We’re to repay our debt with the same urgency and zealousness that a wild animal would have to escape from a hunter or a trap.

3. Debt is bondage.

The rich rules over the poor, And the borrower becomes the lender’s slave.
Proverbs 22:7

Like the Jews to Jesus when they adamantly declare “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?” (John 8:33) most modern Christians take being in debt for granted and have become so used to the chains that they can look Jesus straight in the face and say, “I’m not a slave to anyone!”

Proverbs adamantly declares otherwise. “The borrower becomes the lender’s slave.” As if in confirmation, the Apostle Paul writes, “You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free.” (Galatians 5:13) and earlier, “do not submit again to the yoke of slavery.”

Being in debt means you are bound to someone other than your savior. We’re called to not owe anyone anything, save for love. Don’t live in bondage, regardless of what’s expected in our culture.

4. Debt implies dissatisfaction

Make sure that your character is free from the love of money, being content with what you have; for He Himself has said, “I will never desert you, nor will I forsake you”.
Hebrews 13:5

Far between and few are the times when we literally need to go into debt in order to live. Did I actually need to take out student loans? Probably not. I could have worked a couple part time jobs during the school year, worked full time during the summer, and pursued more scholarships and taken a year or two longer to finish school and graduated debt free. Or I could have been wiser with my money while living at home and saved up enough to pay for my schooling.

Most often we go in debt because we feel we need something more than we currently have. Do you actually need a new car now? Couldn’t you take the bus/bike/ride with a friend instead for a few months while you save up? Couldn’t you buy a cheaper vehicle? Do you actually need the new computer? That trip? That house?

Debt implies that we are dissatisfied with what God has provided for us and that we need something additional to live the life he has called us to live. If we learn to be satisfied with what God provides for us in Christ debt becomes much less likely.

 

 

In Romans 13 Paul makes the amazing command, “Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law.” Owe nothing to anyone. What a powerful command for a people that spend their time owing money to so many.

Let’s be Romans 13 kind of people – people who have no debt other than the debt of love we owe in response to the glorious gift of Christ that covered what we owed to our heavenly Father. When we are paying out love rather than paying off loans the world will most certainly take notice.

 

 

 

Faith, Spiritual Growth, Spiritual Warfare

Pharaoh, Moses, and Persistent Faith

January 26, 2016

 

 

When God sent Moses back to Egypt to confront Pharaoh and demand the release the of the nation of Israel from slavery, he notifies Moses that there’s going to be opposition. “The Lord said to Moses, “When you return to Egypt, see that you perform before Pharaoh all the wonders I have given you the power to do. But I will harden his heart so that he will not let the people go.” (Exodus 4:21) Moses’ request is rejected not once, not twice, not even four or five times. Ten times Moses is rejected. In the face of that opposition Moses was expected to persist. Not get frustrated, discouraged, or hopeless, but to “perform before Pharaoh all the wonders I have given you the power to do,” and persist in faith at doing the work that God had called him to.

God has called you to something today. It may not be taking a nation out of slavery, but God has put a task before you today that you need to accomplish. There’s going to be be people and circumstances that stand against you doing that thing. Ignore them or confront them, but don’t let them stop you. Persist in faith by continuing forward through the opposition into the victory that God has already won in through Jesus Christ.

Remember the truth that gave Moses hope. God told him beforehand that he was the one hardening Pharaoh’s heart so that he could demonstrate his power and glory to Egypt. Everything, even the opposition you’re facing, is in God’s hands.

Hundreds of years after Moses, Jesus gathered his disciples and warned them that the world would be against them if they followed him, even to the point where they would be killed for doing his will. At the end of John 16, Jesus reminds his followers, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

There’s going to be trouble. There’s going to be opposition. But don’t worry about it. Jesus has already overcome and the Father has always been in control. Be bold in pursuing what God has put before you. Persist in faith. As you do that your reward – in this life and the next – will be great. Who knows, maybe you will end up leading a nation out of slavery and into the glorious freedom of the children of God.

 

 

 

Christian Life, Faith, Spiritual Growth

Two Buts

January 18, 2016

When God commands us to do something more often than not our responses start with excuses. Rather than offering ourselves to our creator as obedient servants and our bodies as living sacrifices (Romans 12), we offer him our “buts,” providing long lists of reasons why we can’t do what he’s asked us to. We’re too afraid, too unskilled, too socially awkward, too tired, and on and on.

Our buts

We’re not alone in our tendency to give God our buts. Moses, after a direct verbal command from the God who made a bush speak, insisted “But I can’t speak properly!” Gideon made excuses to the angel of the Lord because his family was small and unimportant. When Jesus shows up at Lazarus’ tomb the crowd’s response to the command to roll away that stone isn’t excitement; it’s “But he’s been dead for three days!” The disciple’s response to Jesus command to feed the 5000 isn’t obedience, it’s excuses; “But we don’t have enough food.”

Continuing in a long line of but-offerers, we are generally extremely successful at counting ourselves out. God commands us to not fear or worry. We respond, “But there’s so many unknowns!” God commands us to be free from all sexual immorality and drunkenness. We respond, “But I have an addictive personality! I’ve tried to stop before and it hasn’t worked.” God commands us to practice hospitality and operate as a community. We respond, “But I’m an introvert, I don’t like big groups,” or “My problems are too big – they can’t handle them.”

Thankfully God never lets the story end with our “buts”. Moses isn’t abandoned after the burning bush and Lazarus isn’t left in the tomb. The disciples and the crowd aren’t left hungry, and the world isn’t left lost.

God’s buts

Throughout Scripture there’s a repeated theme of God butting in and dramatically changing the situation when things are going wrong. Note the “but God” in these three verses;

But God remembered Noah and all the wild animals and the livestock that were with him in the ark
Genesis 8:1

You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.
Genesis 50:20

Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But God, because of his great love for us, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.
Ephesians 2:1-5

Moses couldn’t speak properly, but God provides someone to speak for him. Gideon was from a small, helpless family, but God makes him the leader of a great army. Lazarus was dead, but God brought him back to life.

We need to take our eyes off our “buts” and fix them instead on God’s promises. Rather than making excuses let’s revel at the power of our God to step in and save, heal, deliver, and restore. When we focus on our own problems we get locked into an attitude of defeat and uselessness. When our focus is on Jesus we’re freed to walk in faith.

Next time God commands you to do something, remember that he always gives the power to accomplish what he’s commanded – even if it doesn’t feel like it. Get over your “but” and get into the power of God.

 

 

 

 

Christian Life, Faith, Spiritual Growth

Ask and Obey

January 12, 2016

When God calls you to take a step of faith, often times it’s as much for the sake of building the faith of others as it is for you. The triune God created humanity for community, and it is through the actions of faith taken by those around us that we often get to encounter God’s goodness towards us. Take, for instance, this story from 1 Kings 17;

Then the word of the Lord came to him: “Go at once to Zarephath in the region of Sidon and stay there. I have directed a widow there to supply you with food.” So he went to Zarephath. When he came to the town gate, a widow was there gathering sticks. He called to her and asked, “Would you bring me a little water in a jar so I may have a drink?” As she was going to get it, he called, “And bring me, please, a piece of bread.” “As surely as the Lord your God lives,” she replied, “I don’t have any bread—only a handful of flour in a jar and a little olive oil in a jug. I am gathering a few sticks to take home and make a meal for myself and my son, that we may eat it—and die.” Elijah said to her, “Don’t be afraid. Go home and do as you have said. But first make a small loaf of bread for me from what you have and bring it to me, and then make something for yourself and your son. For this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the Lord sends rain on the land.’ ” She went away and did as Elijah had told her. So there was food every day for Elijah and for the woman and her family. For the jar of flour was not used up and the jug of oil did not run dry, in keeping with the word of the Lord spoken by Elijah. (‭1 Kings‬ ‭17‬:‭7-16‬ NIV)

Elijah already knows God’s power to provide for him. Just before the above story with the widow, God’s been using wild ravens to bring him food. That raises the question, why not continue doing it that way? Isn’t it more miraculous to have wild animals provide God’s prophet with meals than some widow?

God’s goal, however, isn’t to prove that he can do miracles. That’s already pretty well established (read the rest of the book). No – I believe God’s heart here is for more people to encounter his goodness. God tells Elijah, “I have directed a widow there to supply you with food.” He wants Elijah’s provision to be mediated by another person, so that another person can learn how God works.

Note who it is that God chooses to provide for one of his most powerful prophets: a widow. Not a grand king, rich landlord, or prosperous farmer, but a widow with a young son who is so close to the end that she’s given up and assumes her and her son will die soon. He sends Elijah to ask her for water and food, the very things she doesn’t have any extra of.

She doesn’t even seem to be aware that God’s planning on doing something miraculous through her. Despite the fact that God told Elijah “I have directed a widow….,” the widow doesn’t seem to have gotten the message. It takes Elijah declaring God’s promised provision to her to call out her faith and enable her to act. Note how Elijah goes about calling out faith in the widow;

  • He persists. Even though she tells him at first that she doesn’t have what he needs and that her and her son will die if they don’t get to keep the food, he asks a second time. We need to ask with holy persistence and not back down just because what we’re asking for appears impossible.
  • He starts small. First he invites her to make “a small loaf of bread” for him. Not a grand feast or even a full meal, just a small loaf of bread. Invite the people around you to take a small step of faith, to move even an inch in the direction that God is calling them. Jesus himself says that faith as small as a mustard seed has massive power.
  • He declares God’s promises. Elijah speaks the powerful truth that God is going to provide for the widow and her son as well as Elijah. Speak God’s truth and build up the people around you, regardless of whether they come with you on the journey or not. After all, “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.”

When we call others into obedience in faith, they receive blessings beyond what they would have experienced otherwise. The widow and her son were provided with abundant food during a time of famine because Elijah asked them to take a step of faith. They stepped and saw God do miracles on a daily basis.

Has God called you to something that you can’t do on your own power or resources? Good! He wants to use your need as a means of building the faith of those around you. Today – this week – God has someone in your life that he wants you to help step out in faith. He’s called you in a direction and you need that must be met before you can start moving. He wants you to go to those around you and invite them to support you in that journey. Ask the community of believers around you for what you need. Ask even if it seems impossible. God will provide and use your need to bless you and bless the person you’re asking. Miracles will happen.

 

 

 

Christian Life, Discipleship, Spiritual Growth

The Disciple Maker’s Job for 2016

January 4, 2016

One of my favorite definitions of leadership is from Perry Noble; “Leadership is listening to God and doing what he says.” Biblical leadership is truly that simple. Listen to God. Do what He says. As we listen and obey and invite others to do the same we become leaders and disciple makers.

In his letter to the church in Thessalonica Paul describes how he did this kind of disciple-making leadership when he says, “like a father with his children, we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.” (1 Thess.2:11-13) Paul highlights three things he did for the Thessalonians to lead them as disciples to live in alignment with the kingdom of God: exhortation, encouragement, and charging.

Exhort

Paul exhorted (parakaleo) the Thessalonians. He spoke in a way that called them to greater things than they were currently experiencing. He taught, admonished, and challenged. Exhortation here is about casting a vision for the kind of kingdom lifestyle that God wants his people to live. Paul, as a leader and disciple-maker amongst the Thessalonians, points the way forward in following Christ.

Encourage

Paul encouraged (paramutheomai) the Thessalonians. He didn’t simply point the way and then step back. Instead he led with encouragement, uplifting those who were struggling and speaking the truth of their identity in Christ to those who were doubting. Disciple-making leadership includes the work of giving comfort and support to the people.

Charge

Paul charged or commanded (martureo) the Thessalonians. Strong’s concordance defines this as “to be a witness, to bear witness.” Where exhortation seems to be casting a vision of the kingdom kind of life, charged has the connotation of a command. It’s not enough to just give people a picture of what a Christ-follower’s life should look like. The leader and disciple maker must also give people specific steps to take, particularly for those who are new in the faith and have yet to develop the skills and practices so foundational to living in “a manner worthy of God.” As Paul bears witness to the truth of the Gospel he includes commands and specific direction for how that truth must change his disciple’s life.

Whether you are discipling one person or leading a community of twenty or a gathering of 200, each of these three practices must be present. Exhort people and call them to see the greater vision that God has for them in Christ. Encourage them along the way. Charge them with specific steps of obedience. Do as the apostle Paul did, and as a good father does for their children. Listen to what God says in the Gospel and through his Holy Spirit. Obey. Invite others along for the journey. Be a disciple-making leader in 2016!

 

 

 

Christian Life, Life, Spiritual Growth

Christmas and the Discipline of Satisfaction

December 21, 2015

Welcome to the season of dissatisfaction. Unwrap your presents and prepare to be disappointed. You received a sweater rather than that IPhone 6s, car, Ps4, 75 inch 4k TV, and that new best friend you’ve been wanting.

We live in a world built around selling us on the fact that we’re not happy. The internet itself is, often times, just a tool to make us covet and therefore buy more. Facebook makes millions (4.5 million just last quarter) off being a platform to help advertisers target you with things more likely to make you dissatisfied. YouTube plays you the ads that Google’s algorithms have determined are going to make you want more than you currently have.

In the age of the internet Proverbs 27:20 rings truer than ever before. “Death and destruction are never satisfied, and neither are human eyes.” Pinterest, Instagram, and the hundreds of other boutiques, streaming services, and deal sites are money-making testimonies to the truth of those words. Our eyes – our desires – are never satisfied by getting more.

During this holiday season I don’t want us to buy the lie that having more stuff is going to bring us satisfaction. Satisfaction isn’t something that we purchase or stumble into. Satisfaction is a discipline; something that takes the same kind of practice that a sport or instrument or new language does. Our ability to be satisfied is a reflection of our ability to engage fully in the moment with the thing or person that we’re interacting with. It’s a product of giving thanks. In a world where technology is training us to be only partially engaged, and marketing is more and more effectively pushing away thanksgiving, it takes serious engage and give thanks.
G.K. Chesterton said, “There are two ways to get enough. One is to continue to accumulate more and more. The other is to desire less.”
The Apostle Paul wrote to his protege Timothy, “Godliness with contentment is great gain.” (1 Timothy 6)
Let’s take intentional steps in these next two weeks leading up to Christmas and into the new year to train ourselves for satisfaction and contentment. Here are a couple ways that I plan to do so. Will you join me?

1.Cut out satisfaction-suckers.

Over the last year or so I’ve gotten in the habit of checking a couple deal sites and apps far too frequently throughout the day. It’s led to me getting a lot of really great deals on things that we really don’t need. In order to practice the discipline of satisfaction I’m committing to looking at those sites only once a day, and even then not until the evening so that I don’t start my day by cultivating covetousness. Maybe for you it’s home improvement or cooking shows. Whatever it is, cut out the things that suck your satisfaction.

2.Engage fully with what you’re doing.

Shut off the phone during dinner. Get in a deep conversation and get to know someone better. Set the phone aside and watch the movie or show with full attention. Get lost in a book. Turn off the radio and observe what you’re driving by. Engage fully. Appreciate what is and what you do have by experiencing it completely.

3.Give away what you’re not using

Do as Chesterton suggests and start desiring less by giving away things that you have that you’re not using. Have some clothes you never wear? Give them to a friend or donate them. DVDs on your shelf that you haven’t watched in years? Give them away. Extra coats in the closet? Find someone who needs one and give it to them.

4.Speak thanks for what you have

Take an inventory of the things that you have and speak out thanks for them. Thank the person who gave them to you, even if it was years ago. Thank the God who created the things. Write out what you’re thankful for and come back to it periodically.

 

Paul told Timothy that “godliness with contentment is great gain.” Let’s not settle for anything less than the contentment and satisfaction that come in Christ this Christmas. Don’t buy into the foolish belief that more of the same new, shiny, and expensive will satisfy. Let’s take the time to practice and train for satisfaction here in 2015 and beyond.