Saturday, February 18, 2017

The Only "Economy" That Matters

I had a thought the other day. It was, "What if I only got in Heaven (or for eternal enjoyment) what I freely gave or used in this life on or toward others?" I'm not saying that is theologically correct (or that it isn't), but there is no denying in an honest reading of the New Testament that there is a significant emphasis on investing now for eternity.

God's economy is much different than ours. Jesus said in Matthew 6:19-21, "Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." Where we put our treasures not only affects our future life past this earth, but it defines where our heart will be on this earth. Considering God is more concerned about our heart than any outward appearance, this makes where we store up our treasures a weighty issue—a heart defining issue.

In my Bible reading this week I've been struck by the emphasis on this that Jesus makes from different angles in Luke 16. There is the confusing parable of the dishonest manager. Setting aside all the different thoughts on who the people represent, etc., there seems to be a clear rebuke by Jesus in there of "the sons of light." While not saying dishonesty is good, there seems to be in His words a pointing out that the unrighteous are often more careful about securing benefits for their future (albeit worldly future) than the children of the Kingdom of God are about their future (eternal). He also, in the parable of Abraham, the rich man, and the poor man Lazarus in their interaction beyond the grave, says of the rich one who neglected the poor at his door, "Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish" (Luke 16:25).

When Paul writes to the believers in Corinth he reminds them, ". . . For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal" (2 Corinthians 4:18). When we combine verses like these, with the multitude of other similar verses, it would seem that followers of Jesus are faced with two very different paths. We can invest in our now, and receive our reward in this life, or we can invest in eternity, and enjoy our reward for eternity. When we realize this economy, it is no wonder that Jim Elliot, a missionary killed in the 1950s in Ecuador, wrote in his journal this now famous quote, "He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose."

What are we investing in. Do the words of J.C. Ryle, about the parable of the dishonest manager, apply to us? These words are, "The diligence of worldly men about the things of time, should put to shame the coldness of professing Christians about the things of eternity. The zeal and pertinacity of men of business in compassing sea and land to get earthly treasures, may well reprove the slackness and indolence of believers about treasures in heaven."

It is a question worth asking. When we face that moment when we cross the line, and if we are able to see our life and priorities and "treasures" in perspective, will we be pleased with the choices we made, or will we wish we could do it over? If you could write your obituary, what would you want it to say? And what are you and I doing to bring that to pass?

Friday, February 17, 2017

Faithful in Little . . .





Isn't that beautiful! We are so blessed by the rain and the ponds that are finally full and holding water. We have gotten over 30" this winter so far, which is huge for us! I thank God for the rain we have so badly needed, and, like a friend recently wrote, ask Him to fill us all with His living water—to pour out His Spirit like He has the rain!

Some news, and a thought to share.

News: There is a bill coming up in Texas that would abolish abortion. I'd encourage you to be in prayer about it, and to share it with any family or friends who live in Texas who could spread the word and support it. I am waiting to write more about it until I get an answer back from the author regarding one concern I had in the wording of part of it, but the fact that a legislator is willing to sponsor a bill that doesn't simply legislate degrees of abortion (hence, still grant abortion some legitimacy) but actually abolishes abortion is huge. Please be praying and spreading the word. It is HB 948 if you want to look it up. It might be the springboard that leads to a challenge and overthrow of the unconstitutional Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision.

The following are some thoughts on something I read this morning in the Bible:

On Sunday mornings I have been teaching a series on how we got to where we are in our faith—our inherited history, how the Bible came to be, etc. We are looking at how we arrived to stand on the faith statements and doctrines we stand on, etc. I have been recently looking at David and how God said David was a man after His own heart, willing to do all that God willed. We've been looking at what in David's heart made God say that about him. Some of the cores are his obedience and his faith and his "high view" of God that trusts God and God's sovereignty and leaves in God's hands the things that are Gods. We have been blessed to see how God looks to a man's heart and not the outward appearances.

In Men's Group we've been talking about the talents, about being faithful in what God has trusted us with, about what our lives reflect about our true priorities and the weight we place on things earthly versus things eternal, etc. We only get one crack at this life. Are we numbering our days and living it fully for Him, investing in His Kingdom and modeling to our wives and children and co-workers and neighbors His values and priorities?

This morning in my Bible reading I came across Jesus' words in Luke 16:10 where He says, "One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much." This really struck me, and it struck me that it again (like with David, and like with how the Master only held the servants accountable for the heart of what they did with the talents He gave them) shows that God is looking past our outward appearances and deeds into the very core of our hearts.

It is similar to Jesus equating being angry at someone to murder, and looking in lust to adultery. He is saying the "rule" is really about the heart—and though you follow the "letter of the Law" you are still guilty of the "spirit of the Law" (the real intent of the Law) in your heart, where it matters. If you've been faithful in a little your heart says you are faithful. It isn't about the amount, but the faithfulness. If your heart is faithful to do the right in just the small things, it will be also in the big. Likewise, if your heart is to be unfaithful and not do the right in the little things, then it will be in the larger as well, because the unfaithfulness in the little is really reflecting your heart, which steers all.

Last night at Youth Group I shared with the youth how at West Point they'd say that your true character is revealed not in what you do when people are watching, but what you do when nobody is watching—when nobody will be praising you, or correcting you, or making you. When nobody is watching, when you are totally free to do just what you want, then your heart will be revealed. Are you faithful in the little? That heart will be faithful in the lot.

Things that are big to us are not to God. He spreads the stars our and puts them all in place. We tend to rank "things" and "sins," etc. God looks past all the "works" and into the heart. They say that the same sun that melts wax hardens clay. The same heart that is faithful in little (and when nobody is watching) is the same heart that is faithful in lot. And the same heart that is not faithful in the little (and when nobody is watching) will not be faithful in the lot.

Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting! (Psalms 139:23-24)

Thursday, February 9, 2017

A Chance to Help

Last month a young man named Cody May drowned in Texas, leaving behind a wife and seven children—six of which were adopted. He was between jobs and had no life insurance. I never met him, though I wish I had from all I've read by people who knew him. I am close friends with a man who roomed with Cody at an event they attended together and he said Cody was the real deal. It sounds like he was a gifted street preacher, and had a deep passion for the complete abolition of abortion. His adoption of six children says volumes about his willingness to not just stand against abortion, but to be a part of the solution for those who don't have an abortion but can't keep their child, as well as loving the orphans.

Here is a link to a blog post about a regular support option for Cody's family. It is a form of "adopting" these children who have already lost family before. At a minimum, if it isn't for you, I found the post really opened up new thoughts for me on what adoption means, what might the body of Christ's role be in that, what are different ways "adoption" could look like, etc. Even if the Spirit is not nudging you at all in to long term support of this family I believe that you will be tremendously blessed by reading this post, looking at the pictures, and reflecting on what it means to fulfill James 1:27 which says, "Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world."

There has also been a fund set up for one-time donations for the May family. You can go to it by clicking on this link.

I can't imagine what it would feel like to suddenly be a widow, with seven children, some with special needs, in this world. I can't imagine how grateful I'd be if others loved my wife and children and took care of them if something happened to me. Love your neighbor as you love yourself.

We all know many needs. Kimberly May and her family might not be a need God calls you to support. It might be that He makes you aware of it because someone you know might want to support it. But, no matter what, considering what God's love looks like in action around us can never hurt.

God bless you. May we each grow closer and closer into the image and body of Christ.

Encouraged by a Talent

Last night at Men's Group I shared a little about Jesus' parable of the talents in Matthew 25. I find in that popular passage some fresh encouragement, and a warning. I don't want to repeat the whole parable here, but I'll give a quick summary:

It comes after a passage about being watchful and prepared for the return of Jesus (the parable of the virgins) and before a parable about the future judgment (separation of the sheep and goats). Sandwiched between these two parables about watching for the end, and what will then happen in the end, comes the parable of the talents about how to live in the days while we are waiting and watching—how to live in the present aspect of the Kingdom of God.

In a nutshell a master leaves and entrusts HIS resources to his servants. He gives a number of talents (a talent was about 20 years wages for a laborer) to each, proportional to their individual ability. He then returns at some time later and settled accounts with them. To the ones who invested HIS resources wisely they were rewarded with praise and more to invest, and invited into the joy of the master. To the one who hid the talent and did nothing with it, he was rebuked, his talent given to one who had more, and he was cast out. I find in this parable tremendous encouragement, and warning. The warning first.

I believe that in America most Christians are probably the ones given the most talents. We are wealthy beyond measure by the standards of most of the world (even most "poor" among us). We have freedom to share the Gospel openly, and we have unlimited access to Bibles, teaching, resources, fellowship, etc. He has given us His name, His authority, His presence. God has trusted us with HIS resources—all we have is His and from Him—and He has made it clear His heart is for the lost, hurting, defenseless, etc. He has made it clear His heart is fixed on things eternal and not temporal. I wonder, what will Jesus say when He returns and evaluates what I have done with the "talents" He trusted to me? Am I numbering my days, using my time wisely, using the opportunities given, being His body, expanding His kingdom? As a whole, is the church in America wisely using her "talents"? Does she invest in eternity, model non-worldly priorities, contend for the abolition of abortion, reach out to the poor and needy and rejected?

On the other hand, this parable is, to me, tremendously encouraging. The master never expected more from his servants then their ability. He didn't point to the one who got and invested and made five more talents and said to the others, "How come you didn't make as much as him?" Rather, he judged and held accountable for each one only what he'd seen in them regarding their ability, and what he'd given them. He equally praised the one he gave two talents to who made two more. And in both cases, seeing them faithful with what he'd given them, he gave them more. What might we do if God saw us faithful and gave us more? If He poured out His Holy Spirit in greater measure? If He performed more miracles? If He brought us more lost into our sphere of influence? If He trusted us with more of His money?

It is easy to think the master was harsh in the way he treated the one who he only gave one talent to who did nothing with it. It is easy to say, "But he knew he didn't have ability." But that isn't true. Even one talent is worth (if a laborer today makes, say, $30,000–$40,000 per year) somewhere around $600,000 to $800,000 in today's terms! I doubt we'd be happy if we entrusted that amount to someone to who worked for us to invest and they produced nothing with it! All the master asked was that the man was faithful with the talent he had.

The widow who only gave a couple pennies, but whom Jesus praised above those who gave much more, is another example of God's heart in this. In a worldly sense (and we tend to look at those to our left and right a lot to compare ourselves) she gave less then the others, but Jesus only looked at what she had to work with and seeing that, He said she gave more. God knows our ability, He knows our situation, He knows our resources. He isn't asking us to do more than we are able to do. He is asking us to trust Him, to have His heart and mind, to invest eternally, and to be faithful in what we do have. And that, I believe, is really encouraging.

To close with a story I love, and that I think you will too, and that will make you smile. A dear friend of mine is a pastor and he had to go to one of those denominational meetings he hates. He was at a table, fed up with some megachurch pastor who was boasting in his numbers (I think it was 4,000 but I'm not sure). At the table was a pastor from Alaska who only had 40 and who was feeling bad. My friend finally had enough and turned to the Alaska pastor and asked how many people there were in his village. The answer was 100. He then turned to the megachurch guy and I think he had something like 400,000 in his town. My friend basically said, "So, this guy has 40% of his town going to his church that he has reached and is teaching. And you only have 1% of your town. What's your problem?" I am paraphrasing, and the numbers probably aren't quite right, but the point is sound and I believe is true. God doesn't ask the pastor of a village of 100 to do what a pastor in a town of 400,000 does. He just asks him, and us, to be faithful with what he has.

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