Category: Gospel of Matthew

Disordered Loves

A long time ago, our friend Augustine talked about disordered loves. His contention was things tend to be good in and of themselves but the way we often use those good things is problematic. God created these things, after all – and he called them very good – but these good things were created within an order and with purpose. God’s good creation was meant to work a certain way. So our problem, Augustine says, is that we get our loves out of order. We neglect some things while trying to use other things to do more than they were ever meant to do.

2018 Blog Tour c

I think there’s a lot of truth to what Augustine is laying on us here. I think about Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 6:1-21. He bookends this teaching with dual warnings about being careful where we look for our treasures and rewards. Don’t give or pray or fast to impress people. (This was a culture, after all, where giving, praying, and fasting carried major social capital.) If that’s where we’re placing our worth and identity we’ll get our reward, but be careful: those neighbors we’ve worked so hard to impress with our shows of generosity, pious prayers, and righteous displays of fasting simply cannot bear the weight our bid for approval, worth, and meaning places on them. Investing ourselves in such storehouses inevitably leads to loss because, “moth and rust consume” and “thieves break in and steal.”

Augustine reminds us it’s not that our neighbors are bad – or even that we should avoid their approval. Rather, when we make the approval and validation of our neighbors the locus of our worth and identity, the place where we store our treasures, we’ve gotten things out of order. We look for something from our neighbors they cannot possibly deliver in any meaningful way. Only God can. It is only in rooting who we are in God’s estimation of us that we can hope to find lasting worth and meaning and identity. This is “where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal.”

“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

In Matthew 6:21, Jesus ends by reminding us our hearts will follow our treasures. Another way of saying that is this: You will spend your life chasing the treasure you seek. More, other friends as diverse as Aristotle, Aquinas, and James KA Smith remind us that it is in this chase that we become who we are. The chase forms us, for good or ill.

What am I seeking? That’s the question we’ve been assigned to ponder and I spend a lot of time doing that. I too often recognize the ways I chase the wrong sorts of treasure – when I place too much stock in whether or not my friends and neighbors think I’m funny or smart or successful or good. I’ve had to deal with all the ways I’ve hitched my identity to being a vocational minister, and I’ve had to figure out what I’m worth now that I’m not that anymore. More, I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that pursuing those treasures has often made me a more selfish person because it’s hard to both love and use my neighbors to satisfy my own neurotic needs. The only path forward I’ve discovered is to begin putting those loves back in order. This is, after all, the way Jesus showed us.

What do I seek? It has to be God. I stink at the pursuit. I struggle with it. I often get sidetracked and turned around. But, nothing else will do. Nothing else can.


Rob Sparks - picRob Sparks is a Jesus follower, a father and husband, a nerd, and a paper pusher. He worships and serves with the Fernvale Church of Christ in Middle Tennessee and occasionally blogs at robrsparks.wordpress.com

Advertisements

Your Eyes Reveal It All!

This is the 4th post on the 2018 Blog Tour. I first ran into Jonathan many moons ago when we were both involved in campus ministry. Now we both preach for churches in neighboring states. I hope you find his thoughts encouraging, and take a few moments to visit his blog.

2018 Blog Tour cAs soon as I heard the theme for this year’s blog tour, my mind immediately went to a short passage in Matthew 6.  I love this passage.  First, I like it because the ancient conceptualization of the human eye as a “lamp” is intriguing to me.  Second, the passage is really about the notion of focus and the idea that what you seek is ultimately what you find.  So, let me share the passage with you, taking into consideration the overview provided by Matt in his post pertaining to the Sermon on the Mount.

6:22 The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, 23 but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!

So, let’s have some fun!  It only seems right to share some pictures with you and ask what it is that you see in the picture?

Here is the first one…

And the second…

And one more…

Now, to the passage.  The eye was seen as the body’s lamp because just like lighting a lamp allowed you to see the room in the dark, so to opening the eye allowed you to see the world.  So, if you had a healthy eye, you could see pretty well.  However, if you have a “bad” eye, that is an eye that is unhealthy, then you can’t see very well.  Blindness was a condition in which the eye couldn’t be “switched on” and so the body could not move about in the light…but stumbled around in the darkness.

In context, sandwiched between the warning not to store up materialistic treasures where moth and rust destroy, and thieves steal; and the reality check that a servant cannot serve two masters at the same time—our eye as the lamp passage serves to tell us that the ability to see and to focus on what is right in the sight of God is extremely important.

In the pictures above, there isn’t a right answer!  Congrats!  You saw a duck or a rabbit in the first picture based upon the aspects of the picture you focused on.  In the second picture, you either saw a young woman or an elderly woman again based upon the aspects of the picture you focused on.  In the third picture, you either saw a vase or two side profiles looking at each other depending on your eyes’ focus.  It is a fun experiment to do, and perhaps you saw both options in each picture. (Or you can go back and try to see the other option)

When it comes to the eyes of faith that Jesus asks us to develop in his Sermon on the Mount, the aspects of life you focus on really do matter.  Jesus asks us to focus on people and relationships instead of stuff and possessions…heavenly treasure that makes us rich in the ways of God.  Jesus continues that we cannot serve money and God.  Our eyes must be healthy, they must be focused, and they are a gateway to our, “shining before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”

So, what are you seeking?

  • If you were to evaluate what your eyes tend to watch, what would it be? Another way to say it, what catches your eye?
  • Would you say that you have “blind-spots?” What are persons and things that you might fail to see?
  • When people use you as a “lamp” to light up the darkness…what do they see from your good works?
  • How healthy are our eyes of faith?

Your eyes may just reveal it all!


Jonathan Woodall - picJonathan Woodall is the minister for the GracePointe church of Christ in Elizabethtown, PA and blogs on the church website www.gracepointechurchofchrist.org and on his personal page at www.jonathanfwoodall.com.  He is the spouse of Hayley and they have two children–Brynn and Aidric.  Jonathan has also served as a worship minister, campus minister, and adjunct instructor of communication.

The Search for The Search

2018 Blog Tour c

God created mankind upright, but they have gone in search of many schemes. – Ecclesiastes 7:29

In one respect I think we can say that people are always searching for something. There’s some unmet need, some empty place that needs to be filled, some missing component that has left our hearts lacking. Epic poems and long novels have been written about the search for that unidentifiable something. So I do stipulate that this is a realistic expectation for many. Most? I don’t know.

Overstimulated and Overwhelmed” is how one article describes the condition so many are facing today.

This overstimulation can come from a variety of sources including excessive noise, multitasking, and cluttered surroundings.  Overuse of electronic media is a modern phenomena particularly linked to issues of anxiety, depression, and isolation.  This is unfortunately wide-reaching, as the average American spends most of their waking hours (about 11) on electronic media and internet.

Can we make the case that we are so intent on searching for meaning and connection with God that we’ve exhausted ourselves? Or could we make the case that we’ve exhausted ourselves and the search is no longer interesting to us. We’ve given up.

…There is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. – Romans 3:11

Maybe it’s just me, but American Christians (some? most?) are suffering a slump of sorts. Any search we can identify seems to be on hold while we explore some of those ‘many schemes’ the wise man wrote about in Ecclesiastes. Sometimes I feel that the spiritual search has fallen off of our radar while we seek fulfillment and excitement elsewhere.  If that’s true, why is this?

Could it be that we have taken our eye off of the Savior? Instead of intentionally being committed disciples of Jesus, we sought to have bigger, better, brighter experiences in life, in relationships, in worship. Something to make us feel something.  Have we chased after the experience but forgotten to love and serve the people around us in the name of Jesus?

I began to wonder if what we were doing in evangelical circles had more to do with redeeming ourselves to culture than it did with showing Jesus to a hurting world, a world literally filled with outcasts.

― Donald Miller, Searching for God Knows What

God has promised that if we search for HIM, He will be found. Jesus said that if we seek the Kingdom first, our other needs would be met.

You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.- Jeremiah 29:13

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. – Matthew 6:33

And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. –Hebrews 11:6

For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. – Luke 11:10

If you are feeling empty these days, look in the mirror and ask that person if they have been searching for God with their whole heart. I can’t prove it, but I think there are many people suffering from a spiritual emptiness they cannot identify. It’s not that they do not desire God. It’s more than that. It is that somehow the noise and distraction of life has kept them from desiring to desire God. The search for the Search has been put on hold. Indefinitely?

boy telescope searching - teddy-kelley

How do we break out of spiritual disenchantment and renew the search for the Search? How do I learn once again to be captivated by the beauty of the Savior and in awe of the power of the Father and feel the fire of the Holy Spirit? I hope you’re not looking for something to dazzle you here. I can’t offer you more of the stuff that has us numbed to the Spirit’s call. I can only think we must go back to basics.

Have I been spending time in the Word? I’m going to suggest paper, not screen. Too many distractions and temptations when we’re staring at the glow. Break free.

Have I asked God to reignite the passion for Kingdom living in my heart? Am I talking to Abba about the distance between us?

What have I done for someone else lately? Not for pay, not for recognition, not for anything except the opportunity to serve.

Have I been quiet? No TV, no small screens, just me and God and… no words. (It’s ok if you fall asleep… fall asleep in His presence… He loves you. You can grow in this area of listening prayer.)

Am I walking alone or do I have fellow disciples to serve, study, pray and love alongside?

Contemporary Christian music group, Building 429, sang a song about The Space In Between Us. That’s what we’re trying to bridge. Regaining the search for the Search is my desire for us.

God, for the days when I’m so distracted by the world around me and in front of me, give me the energy and strength to turn it off, turn away, and turn toward you. Grow within me the burning desire to know you more completely and serve you more faithfully. I not only desire to seek you, I desire to desire to seek you. Thank you for knowing what that means. Amen.


10 - John Dobbs pic

John Dobbs is the preaching minister for the Forsythe Church of Christ (http://facoc.org) in Monroe, Louisiana. He can be found on Facebook, followed on Twitter (@johndobbs) and read on his blog (http://johndobbs.com). He’s been married for 31 years to the lovely Maggy. He has two children and two grandchildren.

The Seeker’s Heart

I’m glad to share the first guest post on our 2018 Blog Tour. Matthew challenges us to examine our hearts, our motives and our priorities. While the Sermon on the Mount is not a checklist, it does encourage us to examine our hearts. HERE is one guide to an introspective self-examination based upon Jesus’s words in Matthew 5-7. ~ Peter

“You are what you love.” That’s the title of a book by James K. A. Smith that has challenged my life, particularly my heart. I’ve learned that my heart isn’t always focused on what it should be, regardless of what my actions show. This realization led me to the Sermon on the Mount, one of Jesus’ longest teaching passages in Matthew 5-7. Some view this passage as a checklist we need to keep to please Jesus. But viewing the Sermon on the Mount as a checklist shows you’ve missed the point.

Take a look at this summary of the teachings in this passage:
– Attitudes (5:1-12)
– Actions/Witness (v13-16)
– Righteousness (v.17-20)
– Conflict (v. 21-26)
– Marriage and Adultery (v. 27-30)
– Divorce (v.31-32)
– Honesty (v.33-37)
– Revenge (v.38-48)
– Giving (6:1-4)
– Prayer & Forgiveness (v.5-15)
– Fasting (v.19-24)
– Worry/Self Dependence (v.25-34).

That’s a lot of topics! It seems Jesus has something to say about nearly every part of our lives. But Jesus isn’t addressing a bunch of topics here. In reality, he addresses one topic and applies it to many different areas. What’s the one topic? The heart.

Let’s look at one two more statements. In Matthew 5:16 Jesus says “…let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” Yet chapter 6 starts with “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them.

ID 59657877 © Alexandr Sidorov | Dreamstime.com

How are we supposed to keep both of these? There’s no way to check these off a list. Logic says you cannot do both, but it all boils down to what our heart is seeking. Are we honoring God and glorifying Him, or showing off and honoring ourselves? If the heart is in the right place, we are doing exactly what Jesus wants. It all boils down to 6:21- “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Smith puts it this way: “…if the heart is like a compass…then we need to regularly calibrate our hearts, turning them to be directed to the Creator, our magnetic north.” In other words, what we do shapes us into who we become. The life of a Christian should be drastically different than a non-Christian. So how are we doing? Do we have a heart seeking God, or are we chasing after the world? What you love shapes your life. So, what are you seeking?

It’s time for a heart check. If we orient our heart toward seeking God, our attitudes will be God-focused when we’re mistreated (5:1-12). If our hearts are right, we will be salt and light (both of which are elements that change every situation they enter) for God’s glory (v. 13-16). If our hearts are seeking Christ and his righteousness, we will want to be righteous in our actions (v.17-20). If our hearts are seeking the Father, we won’t mistreat our brothers and sisters (v.21-26). If our hearts are centered on the covenental Creator, we will honor our spouses by remaining pure and committed to each other (v.27-32). If our hearts are on the God of justice, we will show love and honesty, and not seek revenge when we are wronged (v.33-48). If our hearts are pure we will give generously, not for our own glory, but to honor God (6:1-4). If our hearts are right we will pray heartfelt prayers that lift up others and don’t glorify ourselves…we’ll forgive others as we’ve been forgiven (v.5-15). If our hearts are right we’ll focus on God because of our want of relationship with him, not to impress others (v.19-24). If our hearts are right we’ll rely on Him for our needs without worry (v.25-34).

“You are what you love.”

What does your heart seek? Do you seek after the things of God, or chase after whatever the world calls important? Jesus reminds us to “…seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

Keep your heart focused on God. Keep honoring Him in everything you do. Seek him first and foremost. Only then will you have the true heart of a seeker.


Matt Stidham is the Preaching Minister for the East Side congregation in Snyder, TX. He and his wife Jennifer have three beautiful children. You can connect with Matt on Facebook (@matthew.d.stidham), on Twitter (@MatthewStidham), or at his blog – http://www.crosseyedchristianity.wordpress.com.

What Are You Seeking… Really?

Over the last few years I’ve participated in what I call a “Blog Tour”. I invite several other bloggers and guest writers to write articles on a common theme. This year, the theme is “What Are You Seeking?” I always enjoy discovering the different directions the various writers take this topic. I find the process enriching as they raise issues and thoughts that would never occur to me within the bubble that I live. I pray that you find these posts in the coming weeks encouraging to you also.

This week I kick off the Tour with my contribution. As each writer contributes their thoughts in coming weeks I hope you will take a moment to visit their blog and encourage them. You may even find a new habit that you enjoy reading regularly.

2018 Blog Tour c

Several weeks ago I was having a conversation with someone about worship. Suddenly, it dawned on me how much my thought process differed from other worshipers.

  1. There are some people who come to church each week asking “Will they sing the songs I like?” “Will the sermon meet my needs?” “Will my friends by there?” “Will my prayers be answered?” “Will my life be improved?”
  2. Then there’s another group of people who come wondering who God will bring this week. They’re praying for opportunities to speak encouragement into someone’s life. They’re looking around for people they can meet and serve, and hoping that some first time guests will attend this week.

At first glance I hope that #2 seems more spiritual, more godly, more mature. Generally speaking, I agree. But generalisations have exceptions. We should bear in mind that we all have times in our lives where we need to receive rather than give. We need to be served rather than serve. Additionally, at some point almost all of us walked through the doors of a church as guests with a list of questions asking whether this was the right church for us.

We were seekers seeking.

Some of us knew what we seeking. Others found the object of our search only when we stumbled upon it. We were all seeking.

Jesus asked a crowd of people a similar question in Matthew 11:2-15. Jesus’ cousin John has been imprisoned by Herod and sends messengers to Jesus. It seems that John wants confirmation that his ministry and now suffering were for the right reason, that they were worthwhile and that they mattered.

Jesus responds by giving a list of examples from his ministry, such as “the blind can see” that can be connected to messianic prophecies in the book of Isaiah such as Is 61:1-3. But then he turns to the crowd and asks this important question:

“Who did you go out into the wilderness to see?”  Who were you seeking?

Matthew 3:5 records that, “People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan river.” That’s a lot of people going to see and hear John the Baptizer. Now, some years later Jesus asks, “Who did you go out into the wilderness to see?

He gives some choices: “Was it a reed, blown in the wind, waving this way and that?” “Was it someone in fine linens who’d make your life more comfortable and prosperous?” “Or did you go to see a prophet.”

Jesus knew well that people came to see him for a variety of reasons: Entertainment, financial gain, truth seeking, overthrowing the Romans, or protecting the status quo.

This blog series challenges us to reconsider our motives as we follow Jesus.

  • Do we participate in his kingdom out of obligation or passion?
  • Does our status as adopted children of God seem real to us, or a theoretical concept?
  • Do we worship to please others, or because we love God?
  • Do we desire to participate in expanding the borders of God’s kingdom, or do we like our church the way it is?
  • Do we long to grow our relationship with God, or are we comfortable with our current level of knowledge and commitment?

What are you seeking? Really?StockSnap meeting 01

Imagine you had the opportunity to interview Jesus like you might interview the leader of a church you’re considering attending. What would you ask him?

  • Jesus, will my relationship with God be restored if I follow you?
  • Jesus, will my relationship with my husband be restored if I follow you?
  • Jesus, will my family finally accept me if I follow you?
  • Jesus, how much (or little) money do I need to give you to make you happy?
  • Jesus, will I still get to do the things I really enjoy doing?
  • Jesus, can I keep my friends?
  • Jesus, can you tell me about eternity before I commit?
  • Jesus, how much time will I need to give you each week?

Without putting on your holy hat, what would you ask Jesus? What are you seeking… really? Will you take 10 minutes and make your list? When you’ve done that, pray over it. Read it to Jesus and see how the Holy Spirit moves your mind.

Elijah & Elisha

The account of Elijah’s final days found in 2 Kings 1 -2 tells a story with echoes to other characters and themes of Scripture. This blog post will differ from my usual style as I explore some of these “echoes”.

Elijah 02

ELIJAH = John the Baptizer

Malachi 4:5 predicts that “[God] will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes“.

Jesus himself in Matthew 11:14 says of John, “If you are willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who was to come.

Like John, Elijah spent a lot of time as a lone voice in the wilderness. Even the description of Elijah sounds a lot like John:

  • He had a garment of hair and had a leather belt around his waist.” The king said, “That was Elijah the Tishbite.” (2 Kings 1:8)
  • John’s clothes were made of camel’s hair, and he had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey. (Matt 3:4)

Elijah’s primary ministry was challenging the ungodliness of King Ahab and his wife Jezebel. John ultimately died for challenging the ungodliness of King Herod and his wife.


ELISHA = Jesus

Unlike Elijah, Elisha spends a lot of time mentoring a large group referred to as “the sons of the prophets”.
Miracles were a mainstay of Elisha’s ministry. In 2 Kings 4, Elisha multiplies food and brings a dead boy back to life. In chapter 5 he heals Naaman of leprosy and in chapter 6 causes an axehead to float on water. Even in death Elisha’s grave gave new life to dead man. (2 Kings 13:20-21)

While John had some disciples, Jesus had his famous group of 12 disciples and his less well know group of 70. He didn’t locate his ministry in the wilderness. He went to the people.
Jesus’ ministry was also characterised by miracles. In Matthew 14 after the death of John the Baptizer Jesus multiplies food to feed 5,000, then walks on water. In chapter 9 he raises a dead girl back to life, heals blind and mute men, and casts out demons. Jesus’ empty tomb promises life top all humanity.


ELIJAH = Jesus & ELISHA = Disciples

  • Elijah calls Elisha to leave his oxen and come follow him. (1 Kings 1:19-21) Jesus calls his disciples to leave their fishing nets and come follow him (Matt 4:18-22).
  • Elisha requests “a double portion of your spirit” from Elijah. (2 Kings 2:9) Jesus promised his disciples the presence of the Holy Spirit after his death. (Matt 14:15-19)
  • Elijah was taken up to the heavens while Elisha watched. (2 Kings 2:11) Jesus was also “taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. (Acts 1:9)
  • The sons of the prophets could recognise that “The spirit of Elijah is resting on Elisha.” (2 Kings 2:15) Likewise, when Peter and John were hauled before the court, the religious leaders “saw their courage… and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.” (Acts 4:13)
  • Receiving Elijah’s spirit meant that Elisha would continue his ministry. The church as the body of Christ continues the ministry of Christ even to this day.

ELIJAH = Moses

Elijah’s consistent opposition to King Ahab mirrors Moses’ confrontation with Pharaoh. When Pharoah was defeated and his son died, Moses left Egypt passing through the Red Sea on dry land.

2 Kings 1 opens with the death of Ahab and his son Ahaziah. With Ahaziah dead Elijah leaves the land crossing the Jordan River on dry land. This was a triumphal kind of “exodus moment” for Elijah.

Both Moses and Elijah’s lives end on the eastern bank of the Jordan River leaving their replacements to complete the mission.


ELISHA = Joshua

Joshua entered Canaan to claim it for God by crossing the Jordan River on dry ground. Elisha also commences his ministry to reclaim the soul of Israel for Yahweh by crossing the Jordan River on dry ground. (2 Kings 2:14)

Joshua’s first stop in Canaan was to destroy and curse Jericho so it could never be rebuilt. (Joshua 6:26) Elisha also headed straight to Jericho only this time God used him to heal the land and provide pure water to the city. (2 Kings 2:19-21)

Joshua’s next conflict was with the city Ai. A close reading shows that the battle took place between the cities of Ai and Bethel. Bethel’s men fought with Ai to resist Joshua. (Joshua 8:9-17) Elisha’s next stop was also Bethel where young men opposed him and challenged his role as God’s prophet. God was again victorious. (2 Kings 23-24)


In light of all these comparisons, the presence of Moses and Elijah with Jesus at his transfiguration make more sense. Not only are Moses and Elijah great men of God, but their lives tell similar stories that came to fulfillment in Jesus. (Matthew 17:1-13)

 

 

God’s not a Conservative

  • I have often heard Christians describe “conservatism” as though it’s a fruit of the Spirit.
  • I know of church leaders who when faced with a decision about a ministry or application of Scripture will seek to identify the conservative choice, because they’ve predetermined that it’s the correct one.
  • I’ve been part of a dying church with close to $200,000 in reserve simply to help it through some rainy day in the future.
  • I know Christian worried that today’s culture will corrupt our youth. These same people fail to see that culture has influenced their own perception of God.

Churches have a lot of unusual words as part of their normal conversation. One of those words is STEWARDSHIP. The churchy definition of this word is: there’s about to be a sermon on giving more money to the church.

In contrast, the Bible definition of stewardship goes more like this: Everything in Creation belongs to God, and He’s given humanity the responsibility of taking care of it as He would. According to Genesis 1:26 God created humanity in His own image so that we could rule over and care for creation.

Stewardship is a fundamental purpose of human life.

Christians should be people who take this responsibility seriously. We don’t just care for Creation on behalf of God, we carefully manage all the resources that he provides us.

However, many Christians face the temptation to base their role of God’s caretaker, or manager, upon the philosophy of conservatism. We adopt the mindset that our job is to manage God’s resources carefully, and we use words like “frugal, wisdom, and fiscally responsible” to justify our worldview.

Jesus told (at least) two parables that challenge this conservative perspective.

PARABLE 1: The Parable of the Bags of Gold (Matt. 25:14-30)

In this parable describing the kingdom of heaven, three servants were given bags of gold and told to care for it as their boss would. They knew that the boss wanted them to earn a return on the money, but the most conservative servant decided to bury his gold to ensure its safety. When the boss returns from his travels he is irate with the conservative servant.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe lesson here is that God intends us to use the resources he provides to enhance the mission of the kingdom. This involves risk. Conservatism seeks to minimise risk, but in this parable the boss wants his manager to take some risks. The safest option is not the best option.

A key to this story is the statement in v24 “I knew you are a hard man….“. If we are to manage God’s resources the way He would, we need to ground our approach in the character of God. Many Christians have sadly lost sight that our God takes risks.

I’m not suggesting recklessness such as Jesus jumping off the temple roof because God had promised that he wouldn’t break any bones. I’m thinking more of the presence of two trees in the Garden of Eden. As any of us who’ve been through a romantic break-up know… The decision to love involves risk. God is love at his core, so the presence of two trees demonstrates his willingness to risk rejection for the sake of love. As does the third tree on Calvary.

Sometimes churches will be taken advantage of. Sometimes ministry ideas will fall flat. Sometimes we’ll use our gifts to preach or teach and we’ll say things that are wrong. Sometimes we’ll do things that in hindsight were just foolishness. And I’m confident that God says, “I’m so glad you didn’t bury those resources. Dust yourself off. Rub the sore spot. Let’s try again. The reward will be worth the risks.”

PARABLE 2: The Workers in the Vineyard (Matt 20:1-16)

In this story about Gentiles entering the kingdom of God, the farmer recruits workers throughout the day. He promises all of them a day’s pay, regardless of when they start. Needless to say, at the end of the day those who’ve been working since sunrise aren’t thrilled to see those that arrived during afternoon tea receiving the same pay.

Parable of Vineyard Workers

By Jacob Willemsz de Wet, mid-17th century –  Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org.

While this parable isn’t specifically about stewardship, the dramatic hinge of the story depends upon the audience thinking God is a just God who gives everyone what they have earned. Instead, Jesus surprises everyone by describing God as generous, who’ll give what He wants to who He wants! “Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?” (v15)

Many Christians see stewardship in terms of a bank. God has given us resources. These resources might include the church building, the church treasury, personal wages, individual skills. And in our worldview, we’re the bank. God intends for us to protect his resources and use them very wisely.

This means we have rules about using the church building. This means we don’t give money to people who aren’t good managers of their personal finances. This means we provide for our family first before we give to the church. This means I have to use my skills to work hard to make sure my family is provided for.

But what if our generous God gave us these resources not to act as his stewards by preserving them, but for giving them away? What if he’s saying, “I trust you to distribute these funds as I would distribute them.” What if it’s okay that we have to spend God’s money to repair a hole in the wall of the church building because a group from the community was breaking rules and running and throwing balls when they used it last week?  What if generosity is more important that frugality?

God wants us to serve as managers of His resources, but the type of managers we’d expect. He wants us to be risky managers and he wants us to be generous managers.

Which means, God doesn’t want us to be conservative in representing Him while serving His world. Too often we have allowed cultural values of independence, self-determination, and wealth accumulation to influence our perception of God, that in turn influences the way we fulfill our function as God’s stewards.

Don’t Domesticate Your Faith

Over the next couple of months this blog will be hosting a series of posts by guest bloggers as we again participate in our annual Summer Blog Tour. I hope you follow along, check out each author’s personal blog, and find ways to unshackle your faith.  You can download previous blog tours here.

Faith Unshackled 01In 2017 my church has adopted the theme “Faith Unshackled”. Intentionally ambiguous, this theme could be interpreted and applied in different ways. Inherent to the concept is the possibility that our faith may be shackled, restricted or limited.

Before I can decide if my faith languishes below God’s intention for me, I must understand the possibilities.

The word faith simply means to trust someone else. When that someone else is God, then the things we trust him with can be big things. But sometimes the things God wants us to trust him with are bigger than we’re ready to risk.

Jesus understood the dynamic nature of our faith in God. Our faith grows over time. As we establish a track record with God, our capacity to trust him with bigger areas and issues in our lives grows. Because faith does not grow along a straight line, the fragility of our faith means that some days we gladly trust God with everything, and then at other days we wonder if we can trust him with anything.

I know Jesus understands this phenomena because he witnessed it in his closest disciples.

In Matthew 17 a group of disciples attempted to cast out a demon… and failed. They approach Jesus seeking insight into why their efforts failed. Jesus responds with a well-known statement that I’m not sure encourages his disciples that they only need a little faith, or scolds them for not having even the smallest amount of faith.

“Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”   Matthew 17:20

In the chapter prior, Jesus had given his disciples a big, enormous, radical faith challenge:

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.” Matthew 16:24-25

Both of these challenges from Jesus describe faith leading to radical outcomes. Yet so often we limit our faith to praying that Sister Jones’ kidney stone will pass quickly. In this process we reduce faith that was intended to be bold, radical and world-changing, and we domesticate it. We reduce faith to something manageable. Rather than inspiring courage, innovation and adventures for God, we transform it into a safety net in case of emergencies and kidney stones. Of course God cares about kidney stones and the suffering of his children, but the possibilities of faith extend much further.

In the Great Commission of Matthew 28:18-20 Jesus sends his disciples to the ends of the earth. He reminds them of his supreme power and promises his presence wherever they go. Then he watches to see their faith in action.

Today, I write about this moment that took place 2000 years ago on the shores of Galilee, from a time and country never imagined all those years ago. My existence and love for Christ demonstrate the power of those disciples’ faith.

As my church explores what it means for us to live with Unshackled Faith, I have encouraged us not to leave our faith chained to the pew. We must demonstrate our faith in God to those around us.

This may mean involving oneself in church ministries such as our community garden, or apartment cookouts. Unshackled Faith could also mean hosting a cookout and inviting church members we’ve never eaten with before, just because we’re committed to following Christ together. Or maybe we’re finding ways to bring unchurched and churched friends together in non-threatening social settings. Perhaps the Holy Spirit is prompting us to launch a new ministry or add our energy to an existing one.

We all have our comfort zones. The thing is, comfort zones don’t require faith.

Power & Humility

I preached yesterday on the contrast between Power and Humility. Specifically, I pondered how Jesus could fully embody both simultaneously.

Much of Jesus birth narrative places him at odds with the political powers of his day.

Augustus Caesar was the most powerful man in the world at the time of Christ’s birth. After the death of Julius Caesar, Augustus had defeated the armies of all his rivals. He had only to sign an edict and people like Joseph and Mary would travel from one end of their country to another, just to be counted.

“Augustus proclaimed that he had brought justice and peace to the whole world. He declared that his father, Julius Caesar, was a god, therefore he was a ‘son of god’. Augustus, people said, was the ‘saviour’ of the world. He was its king, its ‘lord’. And over time people increasingly worshiped him as a god.” (Wright, Luke for Everyone, 22-23)

Then Luke’s gospel tells us that angels broke into the earthly sky proclaiming to shepherds that that “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.” Later, Jesus would be called the “Son of God” but the angels announce that he is Savior and Lord. Augustus is not.

Herod The GreatMatthew’s account focuses upon Herod, the non-Jewish king of Judea. Hearing from traveling magi that they sought a newborn king, Herod becomes enraged. When his plot to identify the child fails, Matthew describes the slaughter of children in Bethlehem as Herod sought to eliminate all rivals to his throne.

Jesus flees to Egypt as a political refugee.

At the same time, Luke tells us that the evidence a rival to Caesar has been born can be found in “a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” If not for the angels, no one would have noticed this family in Bethlehem that night. Such was Jesus humble entrance.

Luke previously laid the groundwork for this contrast when he included Mary’s song in his gospel. Mary had no pretensions of grandeur as she praised God for noticing “the humble state of his servant.” She goes on to celebrate how God “has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble.

Jesus challenged the existing power structures of the world from conception. He came to humanity with all the power of the Godhead, yet practiced humility and exalted the humble.

When our society combines power with humility it is most often expressed as the powerful demanding humility from the powerless. “Know your place.” “Don’t get too big for your britches.” “Leave this to the experts.” The powerful can demand humility from everyone except themselves. And when the people without power rise up to claim some of that power for themselves, more often than not we find ourselves in a situation abounding in conflict and violence.

power-fistOur society equates power with force, with violence, with coercion, with the biggest guns, the biggest muscles, the most money and influence. Power it seems doesn’t require wisdom, because even when foolish actions are taken that person, that organization, that nation, still has power. And power doesn’t need humility, because humility is weakness.

We face the temptation at this point to rail against power as an evil force, yet God is all-powerful. Like wealth, power has no intrinsic value as either good or evil. The person exercising power determines its character.

On the other side of the equation humility also creates temptations:

  1. The temptation to sugar coat abuse and discrimination as humility.
  2. The temptation to accept false humility as true humility both in ourselves and others.
  3. The temptation to equate powerlessness with humility.

Jesus expression of humility didn’t make him powerless and passive. Throughout Jesus’ ministry he refused to allow outside forces to distract him from his mission. He expressed himself assertively and directly challenged those who opposed him. Jesus was humble, but never powerless.

Living humbly means that those of us with power have a responsibility not just to use our power for the benefit of others, but to share that power with those who have little or none. Many people willingly hand over money to assist those in need. But this act of benevolence does nothing to change the power structure that created the inequality. This natural urge to cling to power makes the example of Jesus truly revolutionary. Philippians 2 frames the entire existence of the human Jesus as an emptying of power and an empowering of humanity.

Jesus came to the powerless, to the sick, an poor, and he reflected God by healing them, by forgiving them, and by giving them hope. Jesus left the throne room of heaven to allow humanity the opportunity to become fellow heirs with him. Jesus empowers his followers with the presence of the Holy Spirit within them. Jesus empowers his followers by creating a church that welcomes each person regardless of the way society describes and segregates them.

Ultimately Jesus empowers each person by emphasising the basis of all humility. Each person is made in the image of God. Each person is a child of God, and is precious to God. Each person has access to God and all power comes from Him. All gifts, talents, abilities and blessings come from Him. We give up our power and exercise humility as we share this message and embody it in our relationships with all.

We all have power in some sphere of our lives. The question we must answer is whether we use it to exalt ourselves, or others?

Simplicity Inside-Out

blog tour 02

Simplicity is a popular topic in some circles nowadays. We live in a culture driven by consumerism and materialism. We are swimming in a sea of accumulation, and it has not led us to be happier or more satisfied with life. We are beginning to see a pendulum shift with the rise of minimalism. Since we have discovered obtaining things is not the key to a meaningful life, some people are ready to try simplicity.

Simplicity sounds like a viable alternative to the cluttered and busy life many of us know too well. The turn towards minimalism is a welcome trend in our culture since it is more in line with the teachings of Jesus. However, the biblical teaching on simplicity is not just about what one owns or where one lives. Simplicity must begin from within. Jesus says, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matt. 6:21) Our desires begin in the heart. If a person is going to simplify their life, then they must desire less. The way to do this is to focus on the heart.

One of the most well-known passages concerning simplicity is Matthew 6:25-34. This section is marked by the word “anxious” found in verses 25 and 34. In verse 25 Jesus commands, “do not be anxious about your life” and in verse 34 he commands, “do not be anxious about tomorrow.” This entire passage is about trusting in God to provide. God feeds the birds. He clothes the lilies. If he does these things, then he will certainly make sure his followers are clothed and fed as well. The argument continues to build until in verses 32-33 Jesus contrasts the way the world lives with how Christians are supposed to live. People who live by a worldly standard seek after worldly things. They seek after money, possessions, and power. Followers of Jesus are expected to desire the kingdom of God rather than material possessions and wealth. Christians are called to live a simple life with God at the center.

In Matthew 6 Jesus talks about food and clothing. He speaks to his followers about simplifying their outward life, but we must remember this all began with a statement about what the heart desires (Matt. 6:21). You cannot change what you are doing on the outside without first changing what is going on inside of you. This is made evident in Philippians 4:6-7:

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Paul uses the language of Jesus. He gives a similar command to the ones Jesus gave in Matthew 6:25, 34. The difference here is that Paul is speaking of inward things rather than outward things. He is instructing Christians regarding an inward peace that God provides those who are following the path of Jesus. When a follower of God commits to not being anxious or being overwhelmed with worry and instead turns to God in prayer and thankfulness, then they are filled with “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding.”

The right desires, inner peace, not being anxious, and prayer are all inward things that lead us to a life of simplicity. Our outward life is directly tied to our inward life. A life of simplicity is not just about owning less stuff. It is about desiring the right things and trusting in a God who will not disappoint.

sound-waves 01a06 - Scott Elliot picScott Elliott is a graduate of Oklahoma State University and Austin Graduate School of Theology. He lives in La Grange, TX and is the minister for the La Grange Church of Christ. He is married and has two sons. He enjoys writing about the Christian faith and posting the occasional film review. His articles and reviews have appeared in RELEVANT magazine, Englewood Review of Books, and other publications. He also blogs regularly at https://start2finish.org/category/resurrected-living/

sound-waves 01a

Church Inside OutAs part of our Summer Blog Tour you can win a copy of Tim Archer’s newly  released book and accompanying workbook Church Inside Out by leaving a comment on this page and then completing the form over HERE.