I was in the cemetery at my grandmother’s resting place. This particular memorial park was an exclusively flat-stone only grounds, and each stone had a metal vase that you twisted out of the middle of the stone and turned over to display flowers. My aunt had tried to pull it out for Mother’s Day, but it was stuck. I was down on my hands and knees using a pocketknife trying to pry the vase free, it wasn’t budging! I look over and my daughter is on her knees with her hands folded. I asked what she is doing and she responded, “I’m praying that God will help you get the vase unstuck.” Frustrated and very sweaty, I was baffled because I was sure the good Lord had more important things on his plate than helping me turn a vase over…I mean, God doesn’t really work that way does he? When I returned to my car, I was blown away that at the very moment I was working, prying, and feeling defeated by a gravestone, my seven year old was praying.
Sometimes the things we perceive as strengths can become the most restrictive shackles to our faith. I think the ancient story of Adam and Eve still plays out in us…you see, I was reminded in that moment and many others that I have chosen to feast on the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Moreover, I have studied the Bible and with that understanding comes the “shackle” of trusting myself to define not only if something is good or evil, but if God is likely to act or not act in a given situation. I think there are too many times where my familiarity with God through the Bible allows me to arrogantly move without an element of trust—to serve before prayer, as if God already affirms what I have decided to do.
As I reflect on this type of “faith,” I think it is why I tend to accomplish only the things I am naturally good at doing, never venturing into the unknown, uncomfortable, or uncontrollable. Those ministry opportunities or missions are just too sizable for my skills…it would take more than what I have. I believe that true faith gives LIFE (like the other tree in the garden) and often moves beyond our knowledge, skills, and experience.
Products of a fallen and broken world, I think that all of us come to God with a shackled faith of some sort. And I must admit that I like my shackles because they provide me with a way of understanding faith and they allow me to know that I am growing in faith.
Whenever I ask the question, “Does God really work that way?” I am beginning to see that question as a growth question because it is a direct attack on my knowledge and experience. When I reread the scriptures asking the question, “What does the Bible really say about this?” I see this question as a challenge to my study and the past interpretations. And when I finally take an opportunity to trust God and lean on God, when I find myself on a plane to Africa, having dinner with a stranger, opening up a Bible study, or praying that God would intervene in our heroin crisis…I realize that God is in the process of breaking my shackles and setting me free to trust him more.
We all have shackles, and God calls us anyway. As I think about what it means to live an unshackled faith, I think about the New Creation described at the end of Revelation. I think about all of the brokenness we have, all of the obstacles that make us cry to God to increase our faith, relieve our doubts, and give us greater perseverance. But there is great day coming when our faith will become sight. John says that God will, “…dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:3-4)
Today we battle our shackles, but we learn to trust God, to believe God, and one day our hope is to be unshackled, face to face with God Almighty, Creator of the unbroken world!
Prayer: Creator God, call us to greater works and allow us the opportunity to trust in You more and more as that great day gets closer and closer. Our desire is to be set free from the shackles that hold us back. I pray that you reveal to me the limits of my faith so that I can identify my shackles and receive healing and wholeness from You. Come Lord Jesus, so that our faith can become sight and our brokenness can be fully restored. Lord God make all things new and that includes me, in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.
Jonathan Woodall serves the GracePointe Church of Christ in Elizabethtown, PA. He is married to Hayley and they have two children. Jonathan spent ten years in campus ministry at Soma Memphis serving the University of Memphis and served as a worship minister at the White Station Church of Christ. Jonathan has a desire to see the church reach the next generation and is particularly drawn to the communication of God’s story through preaching and teaching, especially as it pertains to our contemporary context. Jonathan’s blog can be found at www.jonathanfwoodall.com and the church website is www.gracepointechurchofchrist.org (PS – if you are coming to Hershey, PA for a vacation or whatever, come worship with us!)
- Read Genesis 2:15-16 here.
- If you missed Sunday’s sermon (11 July), you can listen to it here.
- Follow the rest of this discussion here.
My sermon theme this week is “The Church of Christ should embrace stewardship.” It’s derived from the logic that if the church (the people) belongs to Christ, then our stuff also belongs to Christ.
As I was researching this topic it occurred to me that stewardship is an underlying principle of God’s relationship with humanity. It was established at Creation as described in Genesis 2:15. God created the Garden of Eden for Adam, and then commissioned him to work in it, and care for it. God gave Adam the garden, but God didn’t give up ownership. He also gave Adam responsibilities along with the gift.
Adam was to “take care” of the garden (NIV). The NLT translates the instruction as “watch over it”, while the CEV reads, “and look after it”. No matter how hard he worked, Adam could never claim that he created the Garden. He was caring for God’s property. He was God’s steward of the Garden.
As I thought about this, the importance of this responsibility struck me. Many of the central tenets of the Christian faith only exist because of The Fall. Without sin, there is no need for grace, or mercy. Forgiveness becomes redundant when there’s no offences. Corrective discipline didn’t exist in the Garden. Although these are wonderful blessings that we receive from God, they would be unnecessary in the absence of sin. They were not part of God’s pure Creation.
God’s initial design for Creation included: Creativity; Love; Tenderness; Order; Beauty; Intimacy; Worship; Work; Productivity; and Stewardship.
I’m not sure of all the implications of this distinction. Are elements of God’s original design somehow more holy or sacred than post-Fall blessings?
However, if we regard history as God working to redeem humanity from the consequences of the Fall and to restore His relationship with humanity until it culminates in a new heaven and a new earth, then restoring God’s created order assumes some additional importance. Somewhere close to the core of our relationship with God, we find the principle of stewardship.
The first and obvious application is that God expects humanity to care for creation. That was God’s initial intent for Adam, what makes us exempt from it?
Most discussion I’ve heard concerning stewardship revolve around our personal finances. That’s certainly an appropriate application, but stewardship doesn’t start and stop with finances. When we say “Amen” to James 1:17 “Every good and perfect gift is from above…” then we’re also undertaking to serve as stewards of those gifts. Let me close by listing a few examples:
- Gift: The Gospel Stewardship: Go and make disciples… (Matt 28:19-20)
- Gift: Freedom Stewardship: Do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature… (Gal 5:13)
- Gift: Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38) Stewardship: …keep in step with the Spirit. (Gal. 5:25)
- Gift: Forgiveness Stewardship: Shouldn’t you have had mercy… just as I had on you? (Matt 18:21-35)
I have just two questions for you today:
1. Are values/principles that we see demonstrated pre-Fall, more significant to us than those introduced to us as a consequence of the Fall?
2. Can you add some examples of Gifts & Stewardship to the list I started here?