Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Putting the Giving Back into Thanksgiving


Well, I thought I would be creative with this title…until I googled it and saw dozens of references to it…c’est la vie.  I still believe it is a good subject to consider this time of year.  It has been well-documented how the world has sought to void Christmas from the holiday season.  But, it is just as troubling concerning what has happened to the current holiday, as it has become much more about Thanksgetting than Thanksgiving. Caution…a mini-rant is coming. :-)  A holiday once reserved for family time has become another casualty of the world system, as Black Friday has overridden family time for shopping time.  And, this in and of itself is not necessarily a bad thing…I usually do some shopping myself.  But, when folks line up at stores on Wednesday (and before, much of the time)…and have their cold turkey and dressing on the street while waiting for the stroke of midnight on Friday…something is amiss.  This subject is about our allegiance…it is about the heart. If the focus of this message is that we “give,” then it misses the point.  Giving is a revelation of where the heart is in relationship to our spiritual condition.  There are a number of good passages in the New Testament that help us to understand the importance of this…one of these is 2 Corinthians 9, and it here that we will focus.

God has blessed the Corinthian church in many ways, and yet they are hesitant in some ways to share what they have with others (Chapter 8).  Paul encourages them to give from grace.  And this is not only money, but resources and time. Paul has used the zeal of the Corinthians to challenge the Macedonians in certain ways, and now he turns it around – he uses the Macedonians to challenge the Corinthians.  Paul shares with the Corinthians the example of the Macedonian churches – Philippi, Thessalonica, Berea, who have given to the cause of helping the Jerusalem church out of their own poverty.  This becomes a blessing not only for the believers in Jerusalem, but for those in Macedonia, as well.  Our greatest encouragement for giving is to seek to please the Lord.  If our desire is to encourage others to share, then God’s grace can work through us to help others. And when we are able to accomplish this, we begin to see the grand connection between giving and thanksgiving.  The more that we give, the more thankful that we are for what God has given us.  And one of the blessings of giving is that it comes back – “Give and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (Luke 6:38)  We can’t out-give God!  He gives back to us.  It may not always be money or material goods, as some proclaim, but it is spiritual, eternal and always worth far more than we have given!  As I shared from the beginning, giving is not something that you do, it is someone you are! It is an indicator of where your heart is with the Lord…it is a measure of commitment.  Giving is a way of life for the Christian who understands the grace of God. 

When it all comes down to it, this message is not about the church, about the bills, about me, or even about God…it is about you.  This is the one message where “church” is about you. And as with other areas of our spiritual walk, we need to continue to grow in our understanding and application.  Our giving must not come from some obligation that we have, but from the heart…one that is seeking to please God.  If we cannot give joyfully, then we must truly do some soul searching…we must open our hearts to the Lord and ask Him to help us to grow in grace.  God is certainly able to bless a gift that is given out of a sense of duty, but He cannot bless the giver unless the heart is right.  In His grace, God wants to bless the giver and the gift!  Remember, those in Macedonia were not wealthy when it came to their giving to help others…they did so, and experienced joy.  Giving is a personal, communal and spiritual subject that we can’t take for granted or take lightly, but we need to ask ourselves how much we are willing to trust the Lord with what really is His.

Blessings, Don

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Morality for Such a Time as This


Alan Smith shares this – The story is told of an American tourist who was traveling in the Middle East. He came upon several shepherds whose flocks had intermingled while drinking water from a brook. After an exchange of greetings, one of the shepherds turned toward the sheep and called out, "Manah. Manah. Manah." (Manah means "follow me" in Arabic). Immediately his sheep separated themselves from the rest and followed him. Then one of the two remaining shepherds called out, "Manah. Manah." And his sheep left the common flock to follow him. The traveler then said to the third shepherd, "I would like to try that. Let me put on your cloak and turban and see if I can get the rest of the sheep to follow me."  The shepherd smiled knowingly as the traveler wrapped himself in the cloak, put the turban on his head and called out, "Manah. Manah."  The sheep did not respond to the stranger's voice. Not one of them moved toward him. "Will the sheep ever follow someone other than you?" The traveler asked.  "Oh yes," the shepherd replied, "sometimes a sheep gets sick, and then it will follow anyone."  We live in a world where a lot of different "voices" are calling us to follow. Materialism cries out for us to follow. Power and prestige call out. Sensual pleasure makes its plea. It is easy to be pulled in a lot of different directions…that is, unless we have Jesus Christ as our Shepherd. A sheep in His flock will ignore all other voices and listen for the voice of its Master. (John 10:3-5)

Babylon was an ancient city and the seat of a powerful empire. It was also a symbol of mankind’s rebellion against God.  In this passage (Revelation 18), Babylon represents the world system of the “beast.”  In the context of the passage, it is speaking about the city, province of Rome, specifically, but it also represents the world system, in general.  The Apostle John’s readers would certainly understand it as such.  And the message?  With the world system apparently gaining power on a daily basis, Christians need to be aware of the dangers that it presents…and realize all the more, how important it is to desire closeness with God.  Here, John sees the destruction of symbolic or “spiritual” Babylon, that is, the fall of the world system organized by Rome. “Fallen, fallen” is the effect of the dual judgment upon the religious, as well as the political system of Rome.  It is called, “the place of Satan”, or “demons”…as it polluted the whole world with sexual immorality…and was intoxicated with the riches and the pleasures it had to offer.  And yet, such worldly things never satisfy or last permanently.  John wants his readers to understand that loving such things is idolatry -- it is demonic and destructive.  This all parallels Jeremiah 50:8, 51:6, 45, and helps us to understand that in all ages, God’s genuine people have had to separate themselves from that which is worldly and anti-God.

The middle section of this passage (vv. 9-19), describes the mourning of the merchants as they see Babylon/Rome go up in smoke, with their wealth destroyed. Merchants and kings mourn, because business and government are intertwined.  The wealth of the city provides for many nations and employs many people.  Merchants wail…not for the city, but for themselves...showing how self-centered they really are.  Rome, like all other cities, depended upon imports.  John gives an inventory of all that is lost.  God brings to an end their life of luxury and wealth.  There just might be some contemporary parallels with all of this.  In addition, there were about 60 million slaves throughout the empire, about one-third of Rome’s population.  They were bought and sold like furniture, used and abused. This seems to be a disturbing point to John, as he calls it…”the selling of the slaves and souls of men.”

The last section (vv. 20-24), is a contrast to the lament of the kings and merchants – there is the rejoicing of the inhabitants of heaven that Babylon/Rome has fallen. It is important for God’s people to consider events from God’s point of view, and this overthrow represents the judgment of God…it is the vindication of His servants who have been killed. (Revelation 6:9-11)  It is important to understand such “praise” in the context…that it is not a celebration that sinners have been judged, because this breaks God’s heart…but, through God’s righteous judgment, justice has been fulfilled.  Satan has used religion and business to persecute and slay God’s people. Rome and the Empire worked together to oppose the Lord and his people for a period of time.  And it may have seemed to many at the time that God did not care. But, this is not the case, for at the right time, the Lord vindicates His people and destroys both Rome and the empire.  It is not any different with regard to the world system today.  It may seem as if the world wins victories over God and His people, but the world system is going to experience sudden and thorough destruction at the Second Coming of Jesus.  So, as Paul shares with the Thessalonians…we must be ready, be prepared.  There is no way that we can be ready for the Second Coming without preparation.

One time, 48 hours related a story concerning both sides of the abortion issue.  One lady, a “pro-choice” counselor saw abortion as “nether good or evil,” but “just whatever meets the need.” Her point – abortion is amoral (neither good nor bad).  It is situation ethics – if it helps me for the moment, I will do it, and it will be okay.  On the same show, they interviewed a young woman who had had an “amoral abortion.”  She was undergoing some intense emotional suffering and pain.  She did not understand why she was hurting so badly, because the counseling she had received had said – it was no issue.  Sadly, it would seem strange that something with “no moral value” would be capable of producing such intense pain.  Thankfully, the grace and forgiveness of the Lord extends to all, as His forgiveness covers all of us who have sinned and lived in an offensive way…and this is all of us.

A worldly, humanistic (man is God) culture says, there is no right or wrong…it is up to you to decide what is right or wrong.  There is a certain allure to this…no good or evil, just whatever meets your needs -- it is a seductive message.  But, in the eyes of the Lord, and in the eyes of His people -- there is a moral right and wrong.  And to violate a consciousness of this is sin, which produces a sense of guilt and loss.  This can be the case when we allow any opinion of the world to take the place of God’s voice or will on a matter…whether we are discussing euthanasia (the early ending of one’s life, which was…sadly…in the news again this past week), abortion, marital abnormalities, other addictions (whether it be to alcohol, drugs, pornography, gambling, etc.).  When cultures, countries fail, it is often from the consequences of sin.  And as we see in the message from Revelation 18, there is great suffering and mourning associated with it.

It may seem as if believers are losing more and more freedoms to non-believers.  We who are in Christ are coming under greater scrutiny and judgment by our culture, and even the government…and we must know that the worst may yet be to come.  The world may feel as if it is pulling a fast one on Christians, the church…but, as Paul Harvey would say, we know “the rest of the story”…actually, we know the end of the story. Ultimately, for those of us who are in Christ – we win!  We are really citizens of heaven living here on the earth.  This should help us in our struggle against the things of this world that can so easily distract us.  The Lord can and will help us in our struggle.  His Holy Spirit helps us to say “yes” to God, His will, and “no” to sin, Satan and the world. We must trust in Him.

Blessings, Don