"But it is the spirit in a man, the breath of the Almighty, that gives him understanding."
Job 32:8

Monday, July 22, 2013


During our senior graduation in May, I was asked to be the one to give the student speech. Knowing I couldn't allow myself not to, I searched for a verse that would apply to what we were going through at this stage in our lives. After some thought, I went with Paul's words in 2 Timothy 4:7 where he says, "I have fought the good fight, I have kept the faith, I have finished the race."

While this verse was taken out of context as none of us were at the end of our lives at graduation (I hope :S), I believe it was still possible to resonate. Though we were still young, there was still this transition taking place, this change from one chapter of our lives to another.

Possibly one of the most oddly-amusing things about us as Christians, generally speaking, is that we can get so caught up in service to God that we forget to stop and listen to Him. And, as a result, we end up draining ourselves, in the spiritual sense, because we no longer find the time to actually sit down and listen.

Again and again in the Old Testament, when God spoke through the prophets to Israel, He returned to the theme of His desire for justice, godliness and mercy rather than sacrifices and burnt offerings.

When we think about such attributes as justice, mercy and godliness. These aren't things we can simply go through the motions with. They are unable to become a mindless action we do each day because of their reliance on the condition of our hearts and minds. And the only way to maintain such a condition would be to be in that continual connection with God. Such a condition which can seen in Scripture:

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, "Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you." (NIV)

It can be easy to simply give God our burnt offerings in life without allowing it to transform us. We can appear godly without being godly.

But this has always been far from what God desires.

And here's the thing. When we truly begin to actually try to make a difference for God, rather than simply going through the motions, we come across resistance. The devil places barriers in our way and it exhausts us over time. We may not realise it at first but, slowly, it begins to impact us.  We slowly feel the fire for God that we once had being drained in our lives.

And it dawns upon us that we need to simply stop and reconnect with God.

There is nothing wrong with this.

Now for some of us, this may be easy to do on a regular basis. But sometimes, it can be easy to forget the importance of stopping and resting and giving God a chance to show us where we need to re-evaluate and re-prioritise in our lives, because for all we know, He may just been closing some doors while opening others.

And God will use His Word and those around us to grab our attention. As Scripture testifies:

Hebrews 4:12, "For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart." (NIV)

One verse in particular that He has kept on my mind is this:

James 3:1, "Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly." (NIV)

This has always been a verse on the edge of my mind, reminding me to tread cautiously and now, it is a reminder that I must stop where I am and re-evaluate my faith so that I may reconnect with God. It is for this reason that this will be the last blog post.

God doesn't want us to simply run on faith reserves. He wants us to move on the full power of His Spirit, but the choice is ours as to which one we choose.

And so, regardless of where we stand whether we need to reconnect and re-evaluate ourselves in God's will or we're firmly in step with Him, let us remember to recall Paul's words in Acts 20 and never lose sight of Christ in our lives.

Acts 20:24, "However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me -- the task of testifying to the gospel of God's grace." (NIV)

God bless you all.

"May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit." Romans 15:13 NIV

Monday, July 15, 2013

Owning the faith

This past Saturday, I was tasked with preaching to the youth group on how we relate to our parents. And so I prayed on it because I wasn't quite sure how to relate to my fellow brothers and sisters on the topic. I say this because most of the youth group consists of youth raised in Christian homes while this wasn't the case for me.

But regardless of my differences with those around me when it came to parents and their views, I, no doubt, could relate on how we respond to our parents. Just about all of us have been through that rebellious stage in our teen years where we begin to strain against the boundaries set up by our parents. We begin to test them and question them, and on these grounds, I could easily relate.

And so I felt led to challenge a trend that seems far too dominant with Western culture. Something that likely worries a great deal of parents which has to do with the loss of faith that takes place shortly after teenagers leave for college or university.

For a Christian parent, it would seem correct to claim that one of their most important duties is to pass on the faith to the next generation.

But while many well-meaning Christian parents do their best, that doesn't seem to be the case, does it?

So what issue do we face?

Their faith is not their own.

The youth may follow along with the traditions, go to youth group, pray, read Scripture or anything else that may appear godly, but there is no personal conviction... only tradition, a means to please the folks.

Now I don't want to generalise anymore than I already have nor do I want to deviate from the message I want to share here.

After doing a quick search on Google, it would seem some of the major reasons for such a trend tend to revolve around a central theme.

Community. The very community we place ourselves in. Now, I can't speak from the perspective of a parent and I will do my best not to do so but it feels as though a great deal of effort is put into shaping the community Christian youth grow up in, so that the community not only best reflects the Christian views they want their children to adopt, but also to protect them from the ways of the world.

But we cannot hide from the world forever, and we cannot serve to the capacity God requires without getting our clothes dirty, so to speak. Jesus never said this life as a Christian would be easy... so why would we ever portray it in such a way?

But I'm not writing this to lecture parents... or anymore than I might already have (please leave angry comments below). I am writing this to show the responsibility we all have in response to our own parents.

It would seem expected that if one were giving a message on parents, the topic of the fifth commandment would come up... and it needs to. It is the one commandment with a promise.

Exodus 20:12, "Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you." (ESV)

God places a great deal of importance on honoring our parents, regardless of what age we are. And I would say one of these ways would be to not take their wisdom for granted. God has these people in our lives to not simply dictate what we can and cannot do until we turn 18, generally speaking. 

But He has them in our lives so that we may learn not to make the same mistakes they have made and if we do so, to seek the guidance we so desperately need, because Satan would love for us to rebel against our parents and not listen to a word they say. When our parents say, "Don't get drunk", Satan goes and whispers, "Well, parents can't always be right, can they?".

When, all the while, our parents tell us this, not to keep us from enjoying life, but to keep us from harm.

Sound familiar? I hear that phrase a great deal when talking about God and His commands and guidelines for Christian living. Even the author of Hebrews understood this connection between what our earthly parents say and what God says in Hebrews 12.

Hebrews 12:7-11, "Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! 10 They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. 11 No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it." (NIV)

But let's take this further for a moment and seriously touch base with the issue of faith because not only will Satan try and get us to ignore our parents rules and guidelines, but he will try to keep us from approaching them in times of need.

When we need to be accountable to someone close to us, Satan will tell us that our parents won't understand and instead of going to someone older in the faith, like our parents, we go to someone with... less maturity and we miss the very opportunities God has for us to learn and grow.

And this applies just as much for those without earthly parents who can provide this support. Just as Paul was a father figure to Timothy in the faith, so to are those older in the faith fathers and mothers to us in a spiritual sense. And when we're in need, Satan will whisper this same lie all over again.

But at the end of the day, there is one thing we know for certain.

We all stand before God, fully accountable for our actions.

Hebrews 9:27, "And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment" (ESV)

We all stand accountable, regardless of who we are. And, I don't know about each one of you reading this but for me, when I think about this, my parents and those I consider as spiritual parents no longer seem like the people trying to dictate my life or the choices I make. But instead they begin to seem like some of the best accountability partners God has placed in my life.

So if we were talking about the topic of faith in the beginning, why bring accountability up? Because if we are to grow in our own faith and seek Him, rather than lean on the faith of another, then sometimes the best ways to grow are through seeking God through fellowship with those closest to us in the faith.

Which is often our parents, spiritually or biologically speaking.

And God has promised again and again that He is with us through the trials of this world.

1 John 4:4, "You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world." (NIV)

John 16:33, "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.” (NIV)

In light of such promises and the tribulation we all face and will face, instead of trying to protect ourselves from the world, perhaps it's time we allow our faith to grow through suffering, which produces perseverance, and perseverance, character which leads to hope (Romans 5:3-5).

And how better to do this than to be in fellowship with those closest to us, like our parents?

God bless you all.

"May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit." Romans 15:13 NIV

Monday, July 8, 2013

Into the Sanctuary

This past Sunday, while it was a small service due to many families being on vacation, it was a good one. These past several weeks, our fellowship has been going through the early chapters of Genesis and last night gave focus to Genesis 6. Now when we think of Genesis 6, for those of you who are good with your Bible memory, we quickly associate it with Noah. But the preacher didn't do this, instead he focused solely of the issue of evil in the world. One of the toughest and most reoccurring topics raised by non-Christians.

Today, while the issue being discussed isn't quite the same, it still relates. However, instead of looking at why bad things happen to good people, there also remains the question of why good things seems to happen to bad people.

There is a psalm in Scripture written by Asaph, written during a time when matters in the kingdom were becoming turbulent.

And so I imagine Asaph seeing all that is happening around him and in the midst of it all, he regards:

Psalm 73:1-3, "Truly God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart. But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled, my steps had nearly slipped. For I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. (ESV)

Most of us can relate to his utterances here. We believe in God, that He is sovereign, good and just. That He has a plan... but He just seems a little slow... or apathetic. And while we believe that God is good, we begin to think that what the world has to offer... what sin has to offer is simply... better.

And with this line of thinking comes conclusions like the ones spoken in verse 13:

Psalm 73:13, "All in vain I have kept my heart clean and washed my hands in innocence." (ESV)

In times when it seems like God isn't moving or doing anything in spite of our struggles, the temporary joy and happiness of the world seems to become more and more inviting. And the resounding "no" to sin and ungodliness that we are called to echo becomes less and less convincing... and we simply wonder whether our walk with Christ has been a waste of time. 

Now I imagine some of us can relate or some of us may not. Some of us are better with self control and conviction, unwavering in the faith... and some of us simply find ourselves alone in a room wondering what was the point in saying 'no' to sin and instead of rejoicing in having obeyed God, we simply ask ourselves, "Was it worth it?"

Is it really worth it? 

Asaph, too, found this to be a weary task of trying to make sense of the success of the wicked.

Psalm 73:16-17, "But when I thought how to understand this, it seemed to me a wearisome task, until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I discerned their end." (ESV)

Until. The revelation of the psalmist. The simple moment of stepping into the divine presence of God.

Psalm 73:21-22, "When my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered, I was senseless and ignorant; I was a brute beast before you." (NIV)

The world has its way of playing on our minds. To wear us down until we've heard so many lies, we can'e even discern the truth. We simply become ignorant if we are surrounded by bad company, because we know that bad company corrupts good character (1 Corinthians 15:33).

But when we allow ourselves to enter into the presence of God through fellowship or youth group or Bible study, I've always imagined it as being a moment of complete spiritual rest where Satan is unable to get at us and we can simply allow God to fill us with Him. And as a result, God's will, character and plan becomes clearer and we begin to see Him better.

A previous post spoke more in depth on this (Spiritual Mountains), so I will leave you to read that if you haven't before but the gist of it is that, through Christ, just as Moses entered the glory of the LORD on the mountain, so too can we enter the glory of the LORD each and everyday, allowing Him to fill our minds and hearts.

It should come as no surprise that the world would become more and more tempting with the more time we spend in it and less time we spend with God.

But when we act in such a manner, when the world begins to look more and more tempting, are we simply not looking back? Looking back on our old sinful lives and thinking, "It would be cool to do that again one more time." To simply do something for "old times' sake".

And I'll admit, I've thought this a lot. And for this reason, Christ's words in Luke 9 have hit home many times as I hope they do for many of us.

Luke 9:61-62, "Yet another said, 'I will follow You Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.' Jesus said to him, 'No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God." (ESV)

Just as Lot's wife turned into a pillar of salt as she looked back on the destruction behind them, so too are those who look back on their old nature as Christians deemed unfit for service in the kingdom of God.

This is the cost of following Christ.

Colossians 3:1-2, "If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth." (ESV)

The world may not know better because of the corruption of sin... but we do. And unless our minds are set upon the eternal, they are bound to linger on the temporary and before long, they will linger on sin.

Philippians 3:13b, "But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead" (ESV)

May this be a resolution we hold to in our own walks with Christ.

God bless you all.

"May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit." Romans 15:13 NIV

Monday, July 1, 2013

Stagnant Waters

Everyday, all the time, in the media or from those around us, we hear a multitude of certain proverbial sayings. These sayings which lead us ponder them for a minute or two; sayings which remain in your mind for a while. Sometimes you'll readily dismiss them thinking, "Nah, that's not in line with Scripture."... Well, assuming Scripture is your standard. Or, every now and then, regardless of the origin, a saying will come to mind that seems to be even true on a biblical level.

I want to share on one of these sayings today. One I'm sure that most of us are familiar with which goes "Too much of anything can be bad for you." When we think about it, we realise that this saying holds a great deal of truth to it with respect to food or drinks we consume or activities we partake in, and we come to realise that too much of any of this can cause a major unbalance in our lives that can lead to harmful consequences.

But what about on a biblical level? While I do not believe that too much of God or the things of God is bad for us, it would seem that allowing too much of the Spirit to flow in, without allowing Him to flow back out through us, can have serious consequences.

Jesus Himself seemed to address this during His sermon in Matthew 5:

Matthew 5:14-15, "You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house." (NIV)

When we allow the indwelling of the presence of God and when we allow ourselves to be spiritually fed, we allow the Spirit to continue to work in our lives and to work through us. What use is it to us and those around us to whom we are called to witness to if we simply allow ourselves to be spiritually fed but never allow it to manifest in our lives? 

Have you ever been near stagnant water? If you haven't, be warned. If you have, then you'll get where we're going with this. The colour no longer becomes natural, the smell changes, it no longer feels the same. No longer is it a fresh stream but a breeding ground for disease and sickness.

We know that stagnant water is generally formed when there is no flow within the body of water. Though water may enter from one source or another, if it has no outward flow, it simply stagnates.

John 7:38"Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them." (NIV)

If Scripture has said that rivers of living water will flow from within us, we arrive at several implications. One being that this isn't talking about a trickle of water or a stream, it's talking about a river. Now, when I imagine this river, I end up thinking of white water rapids, but regardless of what comes to mind, we're talking about a fairly massive body of water, spiritually, flowing from within us. It is no wonder that the likeness of Christ is intended to manifest from within us if we have a spiritual river flowing from within us. 

And then we have the second implication which should naturally arrive from the first. If a river is expected to flow from His own, then how much more of God should we be drinking from. Because we can do nothing spiritually good outside of God, it stands to reason that anything spiritually good coming from us originally came from God. Hence, if we're expecting a river to flow from within us, then we may as well go stand under a spiritual waterfall and drench ourselves. 

Now, I've never been near the Dead Sea but I have learnt about it on occasion. It receives its name from the high level of salt in the water that prevents marine life from flourishing. This high concentration of salt is caused by the lack of outflow of water. So while water flows in from the Jordan, the only means of outflow is through evaporation leading to a high level of salt in the water.

If we lead ourselves to become stagnant in our Christian walk, then is the living water that is supposed to come from within us truly "living" if we leave it to stagnate?

Earlier on Matthew 5, in the same passage where Jesus speaks of light, He also speaks of salt.

Matthew 5:13, “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot." (NIV)

I've have often struggled to understand this verse but I believe it is highly relevant to this week's topic. If we, as Christians, simply become spiritually dull through a lukewarm mindset, essentially become stagnant, then what value is the light within us? What value is the salt, the Gospel and truth, that is within us? 

Later on in Scripture, James touches on this topic again:

James 2:18-19, "But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder." (NIV)

Again and again in Scripture, God calls His people to come drink from the eternal wells of life so that they will never thirst again. Scripture says that faith comes from hearing the Word of God (Romans 10:17) and we know that works done through faith come as a result of faith. Faith can be seen as the inward flow while works is the outward, the manifestation of Christ in our lives.

But what of the question as to whether it is actually the Word we are filling ourselves with?

Matthew 15:11, "What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.” (NIV)

If our actions lead us to become defiled, then we have need to be concerned about what we are allowing ourselves to be filled with in the first place because the very influences that we buy into are the ones that will manifest themselves in our lives. If we do not see the living rivers flowing in our lives then either we are stagnating or maybe we are simply not filling ourselves with God in the first place. 

Christian artists have spoken of being filled to be emptied again. They may not be the source of authority but the idea would seem to be biblical. God calls us to not only empty ourselves so that we may be filled by Him, but empties us as well so that we may be filled anew with His Word; never allowing it to stagnate but always sustaining the flow to us and through us.  

Don't allow the Word to stagnate in your life. 

God bless you all.

"May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit." Romans 15:13 NIV

Monday, June 24, 2013

Struggling with All His Energy

As I begin to write this, I continually hesitate, unsure of how to begin and phrase what is on my heart. Every week or so it feels this way, where I keep on asking myself, "Is this biblically sound?", "Does He really want me to teach on this?". Of course, we all have those rough moments in life where we're not quite sure what God is doing. In a way, it feels as though the past year has been all about that for myself. With school finishing and trying to make sense of things happening in life, there were times that a part of me would have likely said, "Well, I guess the Spirit is nowhere to be found." 

I imagine quite of a few of us can resonate on this, just as David seemed to as well in Psalm 51:10-12, when he pleaded, "Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore in me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me." (NIV) 

It's a scary low point to be at, isn't it? Where one no longer experiences the joy of salvation, to the point where one's spirit isn't even willing anymore. And often, when we do find ourselves at these low points, where we feel so broken, in pieces and twisted, we hear about the promise of seeking God with all our hearts and finding Him. 

And people tell us this and we search and we search, but sometimes, it feels as though we never find anything. And, as a friend once mentioned to me, we get to a point where that feeling of abandonment and struggle is no longer a scary thought, but becomes the norm... and somehow we get used to it. 

"Every week or so, it feels this way"
"In a way, it feels as though"
"where we feel so broken"
feeling of abandonment and struggle"

Proverbs 3:5, "Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding." (NIV)

It's a little bit eye-opening, how we manage to rely on our feelings so often. How they seem to dictate our actions. 

Haven't we gotten to a point where we rely so much on them as to value the sincerity of our own faith using feelings as a standard?

Instead, do we not have the canon of Scripture; In more ancient words, the 'standard' of Scripture?

If we take a step back from how we feel, and look at Scripture instead, what are we continually taught?

2 Corinthians 5:7, "We live by faith, not by sight." (NIV)

And God isn't going to change that, not while we are in our earthly bodies. And He hasn't changed that since Old Testament times. When confronted with the enemy, God spoke these words through the prophet Isaiah:

Isaiah 7:9, "The head of Ephraim is Samaria, and the head of Samaria is only Remaliah's son. If you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all." (NIV)

By why all this discussion of heads? Because God was making it clear that no matter how strong the human leadership of other kingdoms appeared, the head of Judah was God and God alone. God, who had no equal. 

And as it much as it must have been terrifying in the face of the human enemy, God did not call upon their feelings and senses to comfort them, but their faith in Him. 

And by looking at alternate translations, God's Word becomes adamantly clear.

"Unless your faith is firm, I cannot make you stand firm." (NLT)

"If  ye will not believe, ye shall not be established." (KJV)

God has placed such a high priority on the importance of belief and faith, to the extent of dismissing the errors of human wisdom by placing faith in one's human strength and feelings. 

And why? 

Romans 10:17, "So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God." (KJV)

Faith comes as a result of His Word, because He would rather have us listen to His voice, than trust in our own emotions. 

If the Spirit is given as a deposit to us (2 Corinthians 5:5), should we not also listen to what the Spirit says, rather than our own emotions which can deceive us? 

And so we arrive at the origin of this message.

Colossians 1:29, "To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me." (NIV)

There is this energy that surpasses human understanding and emotion working within God's children through Christ. When looking at alternate translations, again, the message becomes a little clearer:

"For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me." (ESV)

We do not undergo His will for our lives alone, nor simply with a portion of the power of God, but with the fullness of His power. 

Philippians 1:6, "being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus." (NIV)

God isn't going to let us be if we find ourselves having a bad day. By no means.  Instead, if anything, it would seem that God uses this for His very purpose.

"For when I am weak, then I am strong by His sufficient grace leading me to boast in my own frailty" would seem to be the agreeable summary of 2 Corinthians 12:7-10

God is not limited by our rough days filled with turbulent emotions, nor does He ignore them. 

He uses it. 

Because it is at our lowest points when we stop relying on our own strength and begin to realise the fullness of the power of Christ within us.  

1 John 4:4, "You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world." (NIV) 

Remember this week that He is greater. 

God bless you all.

"May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit." Romans 15:13 NIV

Monday, June 17, 2013

Using the Talents of God

Several weeks ago we discussed the topic of the idolatry of money (Forgetting mammon) and earthly possessions by exploring particular passages in Scripture such as the discussion between the rich man and Christ and we began to see how God, as He always has been, is well and truly more concerned about the condition of our hearts than the amount of money in our pockets.

Now this raises a few questions which I did not feel up to addressing last week but, nonetheless, cannot be avoided. When one finds themselves reading the Gospels, or the New Testament in general, it can be all too tempting to place oneself on a guilt trip when reading how early Christians lived in near poverty relying wholeheartedly on God to provide their every need. And as a result, we can feel as though we are not in service to God as He intends because we know where our next meal will come from or where we will sleep and we have that sort of security that almost feels 'ungodly' in ways. 

Or let's take a different look at it and look to the pulpit where we have the megachurches and some pastors in possession of money, quantities of which some of us can only dream of, at their disposal. And when we look at this luxury many of us can find ourselves in or the incredible amount of wealth some have in the name of Christ, there becomes a part of us that does not feel at ease with what we see. 

And why wouldn't we? All throughout Scripture, warnings tend to follow wealth. Reminders that it is perishable, deceptive and unsatisfying. Or as 1 Timothy 6:10, the "love of money is a root of all kinds of evil" (NIV). And so wealth, in light of all that Scripture says, seems to become taboo in a sense and we begin to think that wealth can have nothing to do with the will of God and cannot be used for His glory other than to simply sell all we have. 

Let's take a moment to look at a parable in Scripture found in Matthew 25 which I am sure many of us are familiar with. In the parable of the talents, as it is called, we have a master who has trusted his servants with different portions of wealth. The master goes away and two of the servants invest the money and reap a return while the third, who received only one talent (as they are called in some translations), buries it and waits for his master's return. Then the master returns and he rewards the first two servants for what they have sown but condemns the third. 

Then Christ concludes in verse 29:

Matthew 25:29, "For everyone who has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him." (NIV)

And I've often found this verse difficult to comprehend, particularly the last part "Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him."

But it makes sense doesn't it?

If we take this parable first to mean the spiritual gifts God gives us. If we simply keep our gift to ourselves and never use it to reap a harvest, then what was the purpose of God giving us the gift in the first place? Would it not be logical that the master would take that gift from us and provide it to someone who is more willing to further God's kingdom through it, just as the master in the parable took the one talent from the third servant and gave it to the first who 'reaped a harvest' so to speak?

And in Luke 16, we have a very similar message given by Christ.

Luke 16:10-11, "Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. So if you have not been trustworthy with worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches?" (NIV)

Again Christ teaches this message of being trusted with what God gives us, and here He is more explicit in saying that if we are trustworthy with whatever He may provide us with, He will give us more responsibility.

But back to the point. What does any of this have to do with worldly wealth?

Well interestingly, but not surprisingly, following Jesus' words in Luke 16 shown above, He again goes on to say that we cannot serve two masters, we will hate one and love the other.

And all over again we are reminded that this is not about the quantity of what we have but the condition of our hearts and, at least personally, I would say that few passages in Scripture resonate this more beautifully than Christ's words regarding the women with two pennies.

Mark 12:41-44, "Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents. Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on." (NIV)

The others had given "out of their wealth" but the widow put in "all she had to live on". And it would seem that one can only do this when they come to the full realisation that all that they have belongs to God and nothing else matters except God. 

But did she give out of obligation instead of heartfelt devotion as it would seem? I'm not sure we can say but the following verses would seem to shed some light:

2 Corinthians 9:6-7, "Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver." (NIV)

And again, God, through His Word, returns to the matter of the heart with absolute no regard to the quantity.

And so we return to the question at hand when it comes to our own lives as Christians and the wealth we hold in our hands. Whether we're simply in youth group receiving a few dollars a week as pocket money or the head of a massive church; to those whom are trustworthy, more is given. 

Now, whether that added responsibility comes in the form of spiritual or material gifts, that is entirely up to God, but we can be certain that God will entrust us with more, whatever form 'more' takes in our lives. 

I'm not saying that all megachurches are godly. Far too many teach a false gospel that leads people to believe that if they tithe at church or even simply believe to Christ, a Mercedes will miraculously appear in their garage.

Of course, that's not how its phrased, but the idea is there where it is taught that Christ will bestow earthly possession upon possession to those who believe in Him... which begins to sound very odd in light of the handful of times Christ spoke of eternal treasures. 

But there are those few who work in such churches, who, as God gives them more, they use it to bring sincere glory to God. I don't wish to give any names in order to not give the impression I am praising someone other than God but there are those few who have because they were deemed trustworthy by God and as God has given more, they have continued to glorify Him through what they have received both spiritually and materially. 

As Matthew 25:15 says, each of the servants was given "according to his ability". So too has God given us each spiritual and material gifts that He desires for us to use for His glory. And while spiritual gifts are of much higher value and Christ's promises never focused on the material but the spiritual, Scripture teaches us that we can reap an eternal reward through glorifying Him with the few material possessions He has trusted us each with. 

In light of all of this though, by no means should we expect to receive more material wealth out of greed, thinking we are serving God. Do we not then simply come back to the condition of the heart where a God-led heart gives no notice to reliance on the material and solely trusts in God?

So may we remember that we are called to store up treasures in Heaven in order to keep our hearts from greed and selfishness and so that God may use us more and more in this fallen world, in whatever form He chooses to do so. 

God bless you all.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Romans 15:13 NIV

Monday, June 10, 2013

Degrees of Glory

 I want to share a story today. Something I feel led to share because of something I believe God revealed to me several years ago. It was around the end of grade ten; exams had just about finished and I remember sitting down at the table with a group of friends and one of them said something that I thought was wrong, so I openly judged her for it.

That wasn't smart.

I look back on it now and remember later on on same afternoon, I was talking with an older brother in Christ about it because my words had hurt her and I wanted to make things right. As I was talking with him in this cafe downtown, guess who walked in? And as she walked past us... man, it was the 'cold shoulder' personified. My older brother chuckled in bewilderment and we continued talking. I eventually was able to make amends with her.

While it wasn't smart of me to do that, nor morally right in the way I did it, I don't regret it. Because around that time, it was when I started to view my Christian walk differently and, through this new lens, the will of God in my life seemed to become a little more clearer.

I began to see segments of my Christian walk as different lessons God was teaching me and that experience with being judgmental was all part of God shaping me and rebuking me so that I could conform more to His image. Painfully, the latter end of grade ten was about hypocrisy and being judgmental. : /

But it isn't always that way where failure must be included. A while ago, in the blog post Spiritual Valleys, the topic of suffering and perseverance was discussed and the idea that God places trials in our lives to build us up so that we can learn to trust more in Him and allow Him to strengthen us rather than relying on our own strength.

And all of this links in with one of the most comforting reminders that God has provided each time I stumble or fall: that while we are His children and are saved, our walk is a journey that will take a lifetime, not a day.

One verse in 2 Corinthians puts this concept quite beautifully:

2 Corinthians 3:18, "And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit." (NIV)

Or as the ESV puts it, "And we all... are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another."

I'm quite fond of the way the ESV words it because it gives this imagery of steps of glory that we slowly travel up. That, as we progress, God takes us from one step to another as we are transformed more and more into His likeness.

If we look in Scripture, we can see these lessons. And not only that, but these lessons are a requirement, not an option.

Revelation 3:19, "Those who I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent." (NIV)

Hebrews 12:7-8, "Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons." (NIV)

That's a scary thought. If I don't see God pruning and refining in my life, I would likely have serious need to examine my salvation and where I stand in my faith.

And Revelations 3:19 sheds more light on this topic of discipline and how He works in our lives through the last several words of the verse: "So be earnest, and repent."

Repentance is about turning away, changing one's mind, and the major thing we as Christians are always called to turn away from is sin.

These degrees of glory are all about us turning from our sin and becoming like Him. And when we think of it that way, does it not become so much more simpler with knowing who He is and knowing that being like Him is our very goal?

But, at least as teenagers, doesn't it feel as though we sometimes think we know best? Our parents say "Don't do that" and we do it anyway.

Well, at least I did that... a lot. :P

But our parents give us these warnings for good reasons.

Proverbs 5:11-12, "At the end of your life you will groan, when your flesh and body are spent. You will say, 'How I hated discipline! How my heart spurned correction!'" (NIV)

At the end of the road, of this life, we'll wish we had listened to our parents if we didn't in the first place. And since God makes this comparison in Hebrews 4 between a loving father and Himself, then how much more so should we be listening to God's warnings and counsel found in His Word?

Proverbs 1:7, "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline." (NIV)

At the moment, I find myself in Proverbs and I was reading about wisdom which is personified as a woman and often contrasted with the adulteress or foolishness. A lot of people in the world seem to have this idea that what God has to offer doesn't compare to sin and that God's offer is dull, plain or boring.

But notice this verse which speaks of wisdom and what she has to offer.

Proverbs 9:1-2, "Wisdom has built her house; she has hewn out its seven pillars. She has prepared her meat and mixed wine; she has also set her table." (NIV)

Meat and mixed wine.

Now, I'm pretty hungry at the moment so that sounds pretty dang good, but compared to the 'stolen waters' and the 'food eaten in secret' which is offered by Folly, the mixed wine and meat would be the logical choice, right?

But don't we often try to avoid discipline because it seems unpleasant, no matter how beneficial it may seem in the future? And these reminders coming from fallible people like our parents or older siblings in Christ, in our own cynical minds, it can sometimes be hard to believe the future benefits exist... but coming from an eternal, omnipotent God?

Isaiah 48:17b, "I am the LORD your God, who teaches you what is best for you, and directs you in the way you should go." (NIV)

Hebrews 12:11, "No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it." (NIV)

Continually, throughout Scripture, we are taught of the present sufferings and future glory. The deeds in this world that lead to treasure in Heaven and here, in Hebrews 12, the present discipline that will lead to a 'harvest of righteousness".

In light of this it becomes abundantly clear that all of this is God's will for us: this very discipline and degrees of glory.

But sometimes, when we hear 'the will of God', we suddenly feel this overwhelming sense that we don't know what that means. That we can't understand it.

But, whether we know it or not, we are commanded to understand it.

Ephesians 5:15-18, "Be very careful, then, how you live - not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord's will is. Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit." (NIV)

And how can we know the will of God and understand the degrees of glory that He leads us in?

Scripture. It will always return to knowing Him and His Word. While the world changes and the mockery evolves, He and His commands and His Word remain the same.

So now this the question we are each faced with this week is: what degree of glory is He leading me in my life, right now?

God bless you all.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Romans 15:13 NIV

If anyone if curious, John McArthur's sermon on discerning God's will is worth watching if you have a spare hour and can be seen here which I, personally, highly recommend.