Many of you have probably heard the quote the Jesus talked more about money than heaven and hell. I am not sure that is particularly helpful but I think the point intended is to remind us that the stewardship of our financial resources is both reflective and symbolic of our obedience.
1Tim. 6:17-19 is an exhortation to those of us with the means to give, “As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.” Giving generously is a matter of discipleship.
Through our giving, we participate in the ministry to which we give and we as givers are the ones who are blessed! Paul praises the Philippians because of their generosity in Phil. 4:14-17,”Yet it was kind of you to share my trouble. And you Philippians yourselves know that in the beginning of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving, except you only. Even in Thessalonica you sent me help for my needs once and again. Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit.” This verse has made it so much easier (note I did not say easy) to raise funds as a missionary!
Paul says as we sow generously, we will reap generously in 2 Cor 9:6 and following. Why then do Christians not give generously? Matt Bell in a blog post on Sound Mind Investing wrote a blog post today, “Why are we more generous?” He is reviewing the book Passing the Plate and quotes the author as saying that 77% of Protestants who regularly attend church give less than 10% Why is that? Here are four reasons Christians are not generous with their giving from Passing the Plate that Bells cites. I place them here with my own words describing what these reasons mean
- Objective resource constraints—we lack the means to give generously
- Subjective resource constraints—we think we lack the means to give generously (need to save more, build up our retirement, pay off debt etc.).
- Unperceived Needs—we are unaware of legitimate needs.
- Normative ignorance—we do not understand that giving generously is a key element in our life with God.
Next Monday, I will redo a post on how generosity is an antidote to envy.
How do we make disciples? As important as is this question, maybe we should also be asking, what does not make disciples. Heard a devotion out of Romans 12:1-2 on discipleship. A true disciple is one who is
- Surrendered to God
- Separated from sin
- Sanctified mind
- Seeking to know and obey God
In the first point, the speaker started to merge surrender with service and so I came up with the following:
Disciples will never be made when there is attempted
- Service without surrender
- Freedom from sin without separation
- Transformation apart from sanctification
- Obedience without knowing the will of God
My wife started out on her morning walk this morning and within a few minutes, light rain began to fall, forcing her to return home. Since I was sitting on our front porch when she came home, I said, “I see the sun, the rain will quickly pass. Keep going!” Her response, “I just came back and you don’t see the big black cloud. I don’t want to get my shoes wet. I will wait and see what happens.” Indeed I didn’t see any big black cloud from where I was sitting. But that did not mean that it was not there!!
As I thought about this, I went two ways.
First I thought of the twelve spies sent out to survey Kadesh Barnea and according to the report of the ten, the land was full of danger and giants. For Caleb and Joshua, the land was rich and full of the promise of milk and honey. I also thought of the sluggard in Proverbs 26:13 who did not want to get up and go out because there might be a lion in the streets. Despite what this may sound like, I am not comparing my wife to a sluggard!
But, then, I also thought of Jesus words about counting the cost of following him when he uses the illustration of the man building a tower who first makes sure he has enough materials to build before he begins or the king who evaluates whether or not he has enough men to win the battle. (Luke 14:28-31)
What to think? I should not judge someone else because their perspective is different from mine. I don’t know their heart and I can never see the situation from all sides–only God can do that! While some of us tend to see the big black clouds (actually this is more my tendency), others have the gift to focus on the clear blue sky ahead. I guess we need both!
What happened? Sure enough, the big black cloud passed over the house and the drizzle continued for another ten minutes. Soon after, my wife went back out to complete her walk with dry shoes and I remained sitting on the front porch waiting for the lion that never came!
My present day crisis usually means future opportunities will be coming. In reading an old (over 25 years ago) sermon, I read, “Future recognition demands present renunciation” according to Luke 9:23-24. This particular sermon was one that I had given when I was a candidate for a pastoral position in a small East Texas church. In the end, upon the advice of our big city church elders, I declined an invitation–which looking back saved me (and likely the church) from significant pain.
As I re-read the sermon, it reminds me of some thinking I did earlier this week. My next sentence in the sermon, “We may have to say no to passions, possessions, and pleasures that keep us from living totally for Jesus Christ.”
My wife and I prepare to return to the mission field to begin what will soon be our twenty-fifth year, the Lord has been bringing to my mind the passages of Mtt 10:36 ff and Mtt 19:29, “And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life.” And I might add to the list, friends and churches and other stuff. . . Another passage adds, for the sake of my name and for the gospel. This is nothing less than dying to self, taking up the cross and following Jesus.
I needed to read and hear these words since it never gets easier to leave. In fact, I would say this departure may be the most intense my wife and I have had since that first trip when I saw my non-emotional father-in-law crying at the airport and Doris and I began to sob as we buckled ourselves in our seats on the plane.
John Fischer in his catch of the day wrote the following that well summarizes what we are feeling these days,
It hurts to grow because growing usually means facing into some fear or weakness that has limited us. Though God saves us through no effort of our own, he asks for our cooperation when it comes to our spiritual growth. Real spiritual growth only happens when our effort to act upon God’s word meets the provision of the Holy Spirit in us.
Or as Paul teaches, “Put into action God’s saving work in your lives, obeying God with deep reverence and fear. For God is working in you, giving you the desire to obey Him and the power to do what pleases Him” (Philippians 2:12-13 NLT).
This is always the spiritual principle of growth. We obey by stepping into our weakness or our fear, hoping in the fact that because it is something He asks of us, He will meet us somewhere along the way with the power to do it. This is almost always a painful proposition because it requires a step into the unknown. What if God doesn’t show up? What if this is all a hoax? I suppose we can ask these questions, but we will never get them answered on this side of the pain. We have to take the step, believing that there is something there that we can’t see. And if that doesn’t hurt, it’s probably not faith.
It’s hard to die… but it’s the only way to live.
From Luke 14:25-33
Come to me, hate . . . even your own life, be my disciple!
Take up your cross, come after me, be my disciple!
Count the cost, count the cost, count the cost!
Renounce all that you have, be my disciple!
“. . . one of the fundamental spiritual facts of the universe, all of life happens in the present moment.” Gary Moon, Apprenticeship with Jesus 210
Amazed this morning by the statements about following Jesus in Luke 9:57-62. The first man says “I will follow you,” Jesus tells the second man, “Follow me” and finally the third man says, I will follow you.”
Passages opens up to me as follows:
Be prepared to follow Jesus 57-58
Don’t make excuses for not following Jesus 59-60
Don’t get distracted once you start following Jesus 61-62
Be prepared to follow Jesus 57-58
I love what the first man says, “I will follow you wherever you go.” Reminds me of an OMF book in which the author says we are to follow Jesus “wherever, whenever, however.” Interesting what Jesus says to the man, “Foxes have holes . . .” Is Jesus saying here to the man, “That is great but I want you to know that it is going to be hard. I want you to count the cost. It will be lonely and you may be isolated. Jesus spoke about counting the cost in a parallel passage about following him in Luke 14:28-32. Jesus tells us, “You don’t want to start to build a tower and not be able to finish or to go to war and not be able to win.”
Don’t make excuses for not following Jesus 59-60
I don’t fully understand what is going on about the burying the dead—have read a number of possibilities which are interesting. But, the bottom line, Jesus is saying, “Don’t make excuses for not following me.” Excuses abound. Here are just a few of the excuses I have heard about why people are not a missionary. Perhaps a better way to say this—why people are not living a missional life. I could never do that. I am not called. I don’t want to raise support. Maybe I will be a missionary when I retire, when my kids are out of college, when I get married. Bottom line: we will never be ready. Seems like it contradicts the first point doesn’t it? Sorry, I can’t help you with that. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think everyone should be a missionary. But we all should live missionally. Each of us needs to follow Jesus in the unique way he has gifted and called us. Jesus made it pretty simple in verse 59, “Go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”
Don’t get distracted once you start following Jesus 61-62
I really don’t like that little word “fit” in verse 62. It is the greek word euthetos, which means “suitable” or “useful.” It is only used three times, here and in Luke 14:35 and in Hebrews 6:7. When we are distracted, it renders us not useful for the kingdom—ouch! There are so many distractions that arise as we begin to follow Jesus. Some of the hardest words Jesus gives are related to our relationships with family members if we are going to follow him—see Mtt 19:29, Mk 10:29,30; Lk 14:26, Luke 21:16). Being back in America it seems a lot of distractions seem to revolve around money and work– retirement, job security, career advancement and family issues. I am not immune to these and a myriad of other distractions and am affected and convicted by these verses. To be honest, each time I am back in the U.S. for a length of time, I have a crisis in which God shows me how I am being distracted by stuff here and give me the grace to say, I don’t need it. Depending on Him to do that once again.
Which of the statements above speaks to you today?
Just had an interesting conversation with an old friend just as she was about to depart from where I am staying. When she asked me what kind of training my wife and I do, I told her that my area was spiritual formation and/or spiritual direction. “Do you mean discipleship?”, she asked, as in the training the Navs give. How do you answer such a question in a few minutes? This is not the first time I have had this conversation. Here is what I started to say plus, plus.
The assumption for most of us growing up in the evangelical church is that if we just read our Bible and pray every day, we will grow, grow, grow. Right? Well, I think for a lot of people, reading the Bible is just not getting it done in terms of leading to a spiritual intimacy with God. I think that I could summarize what I am trying to do is to walk with people in their journey with God and to help them enjoy their relationship with God.
Perhaps using the metaphor of journey for the spiritual life changes the way we view things. We never arrive–yet we are always arriving? We recognize that we all journey differently and so we should consider personality types as we journey with God. We are on a journey with God but also with other pilgrims. As our life and environment change, we may need to travel differently and growth will not always look the same.
One thing that we always need is input from the Word but the best way to get that will be different for each one of us. I personally love the traditional discipleship model of quiet, reflective reading and study of the Word, combined with Scripture memory and prayer. But, is it possible that may not be the best way for everyone? That is why I tend to avoid the use of “quiet time” or “devotional time” to describe my time alone with God. Perhaps there is an awareness that God is present in all of my life and I am to be aware of his presence and to enjoy it 24/7 not just during an hour in the morning. That is not to say that people ever said that we were not to live our life as an integrated whole under the Lordship of Christ. But, for many of us it just didn’t work out that way.
I suppose the biggest change in my thinking has been in the area of seeking to help people enjoy their relationship with God. Maybe this reflects a narcissistic tendency in me? But, have we not been invited to enjoy (in some way, at some level) the fellowship between Father, Son and Spirit? Perhaps that is why I enjoyed reading The Shack so much. Although flawed from the moment anytime someone tries to depict relationships within the Trinity, I think William Young is onto something as he describes the comfortable and genuine relationships that Mack observes and participates in during the book.
That is not to say that there will always be felt enjoyment or consolations in our enjoyment with God. God may have taught me far more in the times when I only experienced the seeming absence of God or desolations. Sometimes, we the main thing is to keep on the journey when the way around us is dark. Well, many have written on this eloquently and I won’t even attempt to do so here. The point I am trying to make is that we are always on a grace-filled journey with God.
I have learned and grown so much over recent years and am grateful for the many spiritual friends and mentors and yes, spiritual directors that have helped me in my journey with the Lord Jesus. As I try to honestly reflect on what is happening in my ruach journey, may this blog encourage a few others fellow-sojourners!