Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. (1 Tim. 6:17-18)

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Are You A Possibility Thinker?

Photo by Gord McKenna
Perhaps Old Robert Was On To Something?

Do you remember dear old Robert Schuller? Dr. Schuller is the founder and former pastor of the Crystal Cathedral out in Garden Grove, California. He is also the author of several books such as Move Ahead With Possibility Thinking (1967), Tough Times Never Last but Tough People Do (1983), Life's Not Fair, But God Is Good (1991), and If It's Going to Be, It's up to Me: The Eight Proven Principles of Possibility Thinking (1998).

Anyway, several years ago, I recall watching his TV show, "Hour of Power," and hearing Dr. Schuller talk about "possibility thinking." He has always been one of the chief gurus and proponents of the power of positive thinking. His approach is mostly a lot of human self-help, pop psychology with a little bit of Jesus mixed in, in order to make it all Christian-like. But you know, maybe, just maybe, this former Crystal Cathedral pastor has been onto something all along.

Abraham and Sarah's Miracle Son

In Genesis 18, we read the story of the three visitors that come to see Abraham and Sarah. Who are these three visitors? More than likely, one of these men is probably a pre-incarnate appearance of Jesus Christ and He is being accompanied by two of His angels.

So, when these three men approach Abraham, we see that Abraham springs into action to give them rest and refreshment. He has Sarah prepare a meal for their three visitors. You get the sense from the beginning of the encounter that Abraham knows exactly who these three men are.

After the men have eaten their meal, a discussion begins regarding Sarah. The three men explain to Abraham that over the next year, Sarah will give birth to her first and only child - a son! Sarah's womb has been barren for decades and both Abraham and Sarah were already well along in years. She was definitely well past the normal age of childbearing. In fact, while Sarah was in her tent, she overheard what the men told Abraham. Her reaction: she laughed at the notion of bearing a son at her age!

But, these three men called Sarah to account for laughing at their prophetic message. The Lord asked why Sarah laughed at the notion of having a son, and then He asked them "Is anything impossible for the Lord?" (Genesis 18:14).

God Is The Ultimate Source Of Possibility

If God wants something to happen, it's going to happen. He is the Creator and Sustainer of all things in the Universe. If He wanted Abraham and Sarah to have a son, then they would have a son. The circumstances of Sarah's older age apparently had zero impact on her being able to bear a child. God worked a physical miracle on Sarah's behalf. God made the impossible possible for both Abraham and Sarah.

I don't know where you're at, today. Maybe, you're going through some heartache, some difficult circumstances like Sarah did some 5,000 years ago. Perhaps, you are struggling financially in a difficult economy. Or, your family has completely fallen apart right before your eyes. Maybe you can't land a decent job in order to provide for the physical needs of your family.

I have good news for you, today! If God's will and your desires line up, then something will happen. Nothing is impossible for God. Your next question may be, "But how can I know if God's will and my desires line up?" The only way you can know and understand His ways is through being in the Word and in prayer on a consistent, daily basis. Grab onto God's promises in His Word, pray back those promises to Him, and watch Him work in your situation. You may not get the absolute outcome that you're hoping for, but if you are a child of the King, then you will receive the outcome He has for you. Become a possibility thinker in what God can do in your life!

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Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Are You Doing Noble Things For Jesus?

Photo by andrewrennie
An Expensive, Sacrificial Act

A precious, expensive, personal item was brought to the place where Jesus was staying. The container for this expensive item was broken. The valuable contents were poured out and offered to Jesus.

Then, the complaints came. "This was a huge waste of money." "This item could have been sold and the money given to the poor." Even those closest to Jesus questioned this expensive, sacrificial act.

To what act am I referring? In Mark 14:3-9, we read the story about the Alabaster Jar:
While He was in Bethany at the house of Simon who had a serious skin disease, as He was reclining at the table, a woman came with an alabaster jar of pure and expensive fragrant oil of nard. She broke the jar and poured it on His head. But some were expressing indignation to one another: “Why has this fragrant oil been wasted? For this oil might have been sold for more than 300 denarii and given to the poor.” And they began to scold her. 
Then Jesus said, “Leave her alone. Why are you bothering her? She has done a noble thing for Me. You always have the poor with you, and you can do what is good for them whenever you want, but you do not always have Me. She has done what she could; she has anointed My body in advance for burial. I assure you: Wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be told in memory of her.”
A Noble Thing

Jesus' response to the critics of this woman: leave her alone. She has done a noble thing!

In this response from Jesus, He chose a couple of interesting words - "noble thing." In the context of this passage, the word "noble" refers to being beautiful, virtuous, excellent, precious, and praiseworthy. The word "thing" translated in this verse carries the idea of work, labor, employment, or any product accomplished by hand, art, industry, or mind.

So, let's piece the meanings of these words together. Essentially, Jesus is saying that this woman produced an excellent, praiseworthy labor of love. Yes, this fragrant oil could have been sold at a very high price and the money given to the poor. But, Jesus was about to be sacrificed for the sins of the whole world and then taken back to Heaven. This woman made the best possible use of the product in the most excellent way. She anointed His body for burial. She indeed did a noble thing.

What Excellent Work Are You Pursuing?

So, what excellent, noble things are you pursuing these days? Do you currently have an excellent labor of love that you're preparing to offer in service to the Lord? Do you own an expensive item sitting on the shelf that could possibly be used in a more praiseworthy manner for the Kingdom of God?

Have you been saving something for a rainy day that could be used for an excellent work for God? Have you been holding on to something of great value waiting to use it for selfish purposes?

Whatever you have of value that could be used for noble things, why not re-evaluate it's current use? Maybe, it's being used for common things. Maybe, it's not being used at all. Pray to the Lord and ask Him how you could use it for His noble, Kingdom purposes.

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Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Tithing Experiment

Photo by Alvin K
A Book Experiment Challenges American Christianity

Various members and small groups in our church have been reading through the book Radical: Taking Back Your Faith From The American Dream by David Platt. If haven't read it, yet, I would encourage you to do so. This book has really begun to alter my thinking in a number of different areas, especially when it comes to missions and making disciples of all nations.

In the final chapter of his book, David Platt encourages his readers to embark on an experimental challenge. This challenge is composed of five distinct parts:
  1. I will pray for the entire world.
  2. I will read through the entire Word.
  3. I will sacrifice my money for a specific purpose.
  4. I will spend my time in another context.
  5. I will commit my life to a multiplying community.
David encourages believers to take on the five parts of this challenge for just one year. His contention, though, is that after a year's time, you will be radically transformed by the experiment and you will never live the American Christian life the same way, again. I think this is an awesome, incredible challenge, and I encourage all of us who name the name of Christ to take on this challenge. This isn't exactly the point of this post, though.

Experiment With Tithing

I mention the Radical Experiment, because I like the concept of trying stuff out in life, even in our Christian walk. In fact, this is the premise of this blog as mentioned in the subtitle, "Experiments in stewardship." The posts on this blog are mostly the result of my life experience of just working through stewardship problems and trying various approaches, primarily those approaches based on God's Word.

You know, I think even God understands that we as human beings are kind of wired this way. When it comes to the area of giving a tithe (ten percent) back to Him, He said this to Jewish people through the prophet Malachi,
“Will a mere mortal rob God? Yet you rob me. “But you ask, ‘How are we robbing you?’ “In tithes and offerings. You are under a curse—your whole nation—because you are robbing me. Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it. I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not drop their fruit before it is ripe,” says the LORD Almighty. “Then all the nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land,” says the LORD Almighty (Malachi 3:8-12).
God says to Israel, "Test me in this…and see…" He tells them to try this tithe thing out and see how much you will be blessed as a result.

Some Christians want to argue that the tithe was Old Testament Law and that the Church is now under a state of grace. While that may be true, I could make the point though, through various Scripture passages, that A) Christ never abolished the tithe and B) the giving demonstrated by the New Testament Church was far beyond the tithe! In my humble opinion, I think the tithe with its corresponding blessings is a universal principle that He established from the foundations of the world. It stands as a universal truth outside of the confines of Old Testament Law and New Testament grace. On principle, God will bless anyone who gives a tenth of their income back to Him.

Tithe Or Die

So where are you at on this whole tithe deal? Do you think it is just a legal requirement of Mosaic Law that the Church does not need to practice? Do you think in this Age of Grace, we are free to give a much smaller amount as the Spirit moves and call it good?

Are you even a tither? Or, maybe you give beyond the tithe?!

Wherever you're at on this hot button issue, what if you were to take the Malachi 3:10 challenge for an entire year as a grand experiment, kind of like David Platt's Radical Challenge? I can tell you from first hand knowledge and experience that there are incredible spiritual, emotional, physical, and financial blessings that come through living a life of generous giving. Try it for a year and see what happens. I know that once you have taken that challenge for a full year, there's no going back to the old way ever again. It's that awesome. Try it for yourself and see.

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Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Who Finally Moved, God Or You?

A K-LOVE Story Piques My Interest

I was driving around the other day on my way into work and listening to K-LOVE as I'm prone to do. As a side note, one area that I think K-LOVE does an excellent job at is people telling their stories, especially related to how the radio station has helped in someone's spiritual walk.

So, I'm listening to this one particular story on the air with a lady talking about issues in her marriage. Apparently, this lady and her husband almost immediately ran into problems after only a few months of marriage. They separated and then this lady claims that the music played on K-LOVE started working on her heart and mind to bring about a reconcilliation of their marriage.

It's a great testimony of God's power and the use of Christian music to help bring healing (send your monthly gift in!). I'll give her and the radio station all of that. But, I guess the phrase that this lady used that really stuck out to me and honestly kind of bugged me was when she said something to the effect of "…and finally, God moved!"

Which Came First?

While I totally understand the lady's comments about God finally moving in their marriage, I would submit to you that her phrasing is slightly flawed. Maybe I just got bugged by the way she said the word "finally." I guess I'm just one of those weird people that believes that words actually mean things. I do think we need to be careful how we speak about the movement of God in our lives.

I would argue that God had been moving in this lady's marriage the entire time. The Holy Spirit was probably prompting both her and her husband during their separation that their marriage needed to be healed. They probably had counsel from Christian friends that told them the same thing. They probably knew exactly where to turn in God's Word to hear from Him directly on the sanctitiy of their marriage.

The "finally" part of this testimony, though, is that this HUSBAND and WIFE finally became obedient to God and His Word. THEY finally moved into a place of repentance and forgiveness in order for their marriage to be healed. THEY finally set down their sin and pride and listened to what God and His Word have to say about marriage. THEY put aside their selfishness and sought out a reconcilliation.

Was their marriage healed as a result of the power of God? Yes, most definitely God healed this marriage, but the husband and wife did play a significant role as they became obedient to Christ in order that the healing could take place.

Be Careful Of Your Words

So, why am I so hung up on the symantics of this radio testimony? I guess because that final phrase just struck me as almost blaming God for how long this couple's marriage took to heal.It wasn't God's fault that they were separated for months before healing was able to take place. It was THEIR fault for allowing sin and disobedience to enter their marriage. It was THEIR fault for not loving and honoring each other. The list could go on and on.

I'm not trying to beat this lady up. I'm not trying to criticize a moving testimony. I praise God that this marriage was healed as a partial result of this couple listening to good, Christian music.

What I am trying to do, though, is encourage each one of us to be very careful how we speak of the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives. God is always at work in our lives, behind the scenes and even in the scenes! Each one of us does carry our own unique, individual responsibility in many of life's problems, whether it is a marriage in crisis, a financial meltdown, problems with our children, or a job loss.

As you worship the Lord this day, remind yourself of this fact. If you find yourself praying to the Lord, asking Him to "move" in a situation, then turn the whole thing around and ask God if you're being disobedient in some way. Ask Him if you need to make some changes, first, before things improve. Many times, the changes we're seeking happen when we change, first.

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