Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Bible Arithmetic

Here are a few spiritual truths that can be expressed to us from God’s Word in the form of mathematical equations:

Friday, February 04, 2011

It's Groundhod Day!

Have you ever had one of those days that you just wish you could do over again? In asking this question, I am reminded of one of my all-time favorite movies, “Groundhog Day” starring Bill Murray. In the movie, the main character Phil Connors is a very self-centered man filled with cynicism and scorn with regard to virtually everyone and everything. Phil ends up repeating the same day, February 2, 1993, every time he wakes up. Each morning at precisely 6:00 am, he awakes to the same song and same radio DJ’s declaring, “It’s Groundhog Day!”

Thursday, January 20, 2011

God's Forgiveness

Man holds grudges. When we do wrong to our fellow man and then repent and apologize, often it is the case that the one we have wronged will say “I forgive you.” and will go ahead and hold a grudge against you. They forgive, but they do not forget and the very next time you offend them, they remind of you of your past offenses and make it clear that they’re still holding them against you. God is not like men, He does not holds grudges against us for our past mistakes, so long as we are penitent and seek forgiveness through His son Jesus the Christ.

The Narrow-Minded Jesus

If one is “narrow-minded” or “exclusively minded” in today’s society, he will be considered bigoted, prejudiced, biased, small-minded and intolerant. To be “narrow-minded” is about the most “politically in-correct” thing that a person can be today. The politically correct, “inclusively minded” regime in our society vehemently and vocally opposes any thing that smacks of “intolerance”. This “PC” movement stems out of the belief in secular humanism – that is the idea that there is no all-sufficient standard of authority in the way mankind lives upon this earth. They say that they believe this to be true, yet they have made “tolerance” their objective standard. Tolerance, to them, means toleration of any thing that is considered by them to be politically correct. Their idea of tolerance does not include tolerance toward such things as American patriotism, monogamous-heterosexual marriage and the Christian religion. Every thing else must be tolerated or you will be “narrow-minded”.

Christian Ethics

According to, ethics is, “1. A system of moral principles: the ethics of a culture. 2. The rules of conduct recognized in respect to a particular class of human actions or a particular group, culture, etc.: medical ethics; Christian ethics. 3. Moral principles, as of an individual: His ethics forbade betrayal of a confidence. 4. That branch of philosophy dealing with values relating to human conduct, with respect to the rightness and wrongness of certain actions and to the goodness and badness of the motives and ends of such actions.” As we can see from the above definition, one’s ethic is the method by which one determines how one is to conduct himself. It is the decision making process by which we determine if an action would be moral or right. When faced with a dilemma, our code of ethics is what helps us to make the distinction between right and wrong.

Our Spiritual Harddrive

This past week I learned a very important lesson about internet and computer security. I had not backed up all of my important files, except for some sermons which I backed up about May of last year. None of the church bulletins or other church related documents had been backed up since I have been working with the Oak Grove congregation. Also, the antivirus software on the church office computer was not up-to-date nor had a virus sweep been run recently. Unfortunately, somewhere along the way the computer was infected with a "worm” virus that destroyed the contents of the hard drive. I lost virtually everything I had done on that computer in the last year. It’s GONE! Some of it might be recovered, but the computer tech told me not to get my hopes up. Today I purchased an external hard dive so that I can store and protect my important “data treasures” and prevent another catastrophic loss. If only I had done so the previous week, I would not have had my valuable documents destroyed! But once the worm eats your data – it’s too late, there’s little chance of recovery!

This reminds me of what Jesus said in Matthew 6:19-20, “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal...”

We Have an Advocate

Have you ever had a dispute where no one took your side, or where no one was available to represent you on your behalf? Where no one would come forth to be your advocate? (An advocate is a person who pleads for or in behalf of another.) I think most of us have at least felt alone like this at some point in our lives. Under the Patriarchal and Jewish dispensations, when a man sinned against God there was no one to stand up on behalf of the transgressor. There was no one to be his advocate. And, there was no means of propitiation (appeasement toward God) on account of his sin.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Hope, an Anchor for the Soul

An anchor is a heavy object that is used to make fast a vessel at sea. It prevents the ship from moving either with the current or from the force of wind, or both. A vessel at anchor is safe so long as its anchor holds, but if the anchor slips and if a shoal or reef is near, the vessel could run aground and perhaps even sink. Clearly, ships need anchors. But, have you ever thought how much you need an anchor? I am not talking about a ball and chain to hold you physically in place, but rather a spiritual anchor for your soul.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Comest Thou To Me?

“Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to Jordan unto John, to be baptized of him. But John forbad him, saying, I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me? And Jesus answering said unto him, Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness. Then he suffered him. And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him: And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. “ – Matthew 3:13-17

In Matthew 3:13-17, we have the account of the baptism of Jesus. John the Immerser, had begun his work in making the declaration, “Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand...” (Matthew 3:2) His mission was the fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight...” (Matthew 3:3 c.f. Isaiah 40:3-5) At this time, John was immersing penitent Jews in the river Jordan in the wilderness of Judea, presumably near the city of Jericho.(Matthew 3:1) John’s message and the purpose of his immersing was for the remission of sins. With the authority of a true prophet of God vested in him, he commanded that all Jews ”Bring forth therefore fruits worthy of repentance...” (Luke 3:8) and that they be baptized for the remission of their sins. The Jews who responded to the work and teaching of John did so out of a desire to be cleansed from their sins. It was the common people, sinners, publicans and soldiers who came to him, bringing sorrowful hearts needing atonement. Jews from all over Judea and Palestine came to John, submitting to God’s will and being baptized to wash away their sins.

It is here that we first encounter, our Lord Jesus as a full-grown man. Jesus at the time of His baptism was 30 years old. (Luke 3:23) It was at the age of 30, that the Levites and priests were able to begin their service. (Numbers 4) John, being from a priestly family (Luke 1:5), most likely would have begun his ministry of preparation upon his turning 30, some six months prior to Jesus’ turning 30. (See Luke 1:26ff) Incidentally, it was also at the age of 30 that David began to reign as king over Israal. (2 Samuel 5:4) David began his reign over physical Israel at 30 and Christ began the work of laying the foundation of His spiritual kingdom when He was 30. At the age of thirty Jesus was in the fulness of his manhood and was therefore ready to embark on His mission of salvation. Yet one thing was lacking, Jesus, as a Jewish man, was required to heed the commandment to be baptized of John.

In our context, Jesus has come from Galilee for the purpose of being immersed by John. (v.13) Upon seeing Jesus, and knowing of his character, if not his messiahship, attempted to forbid Jesus from being baptized by him. He protested, “I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me?” (v.14) Later, on a different occasion, upon pointing out Jesus as the “Lamb of God” (John 1:29) to some of his disciples, John would state,

“And I knew him not: but that he should be made manifest to Israel, therefore am I come baptizing with water. And John bare record, saying, I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it abode upon him. And I knew him not: but he that sent me to baptize with water, the same said unto me, Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and remaining on him, the same is he which baptizeth with the Holy Ghost. And I saw, and bare record that this is the Son of God...” (John 1:31-34).

Prior to the baptism of Jesus and the Spirit’s descent, John did not know with any certainty that his kinsman, Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah. But, clearly he understood at this moment that Jesus had no sins to be remitted. In fact, John recognized that he himself was in need of salvation and that he was not worthy to baptize such a one as Jesus. Brother J. W. McGarvey stated, “It seemed to John too great an honor for him to baptize Jesus, and too great a humiliation for Jesus to be baptized...” Therefore, John refused at first to baptize Jesus. One commentator has stated,

“John did not forbid Jesus, but had it in mind to prevent him: was for hindering him. Hence the ASV translation, ‘would have hindered him.’ Again, the preposition (διά) intensifies the verb (kōluō) “prevent, hinder”, and represents strong feeling on John's part. He was moved to strenuous protest against Jesus' baptism by him.” (Vincent’s Word Studies)

John clearly was perplexed as to why Jesus, the sinless one, would be coming to him for baptism. Guy N. Woods stated,

“Jesus did not come to be baptized from a feeling of personal sinfulness, neither because of a personal connection with an impure people, nor for the purpose of showing that there was no imcompatibility between his life and the life of others, nor merely to elicit the Divine declaration that he was the Son of God, nor to confirm the faith of others, neither was it to sanction the baptism of John as having been authorized of God. It was the will of God for him to be baptized, and he came to do the will of God. (Hebrews 10:7)”

Jesus came to John for baptism out of obedience to the One who sent Him. Therefore, He answered John, “Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness....” (v.14) Jesus recognized that John was correct in his assessment of his relative sinfulness when compared to Jesus’ sinlessness. His answer, “suffer it to be so for now”, (I.e. “allow it this one time”) shows that at least in one aspect it was unnecessary for Him to be baptized. He then further clarified “for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness.” By this, Jesus made it clear that there was more to John’s baptism than just the remission of sins – it was to fulfill God’s righteousness. Baptism was a righteous act commanded by God – it was a condition for acceptance by God. God commanded it, therefore Jesus obeyed Him. (See John 5:30; 6:38-39). It was in part by this that, “Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered...” (Hebrew 5:8)

Jesus complied with every commandment of righteousness. There could be no doubt that Jesus of Nazareth was in full compliance with the will of God, especially given the fact that after His immersion, he arose from the water and “the heavens were opened unto Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon Him. And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased....” (Matthew 3:16-17) Jesus’ public submission to the will of God and the subsequent announced approval of God was the starting point of Jesus’ public ministry. In it, we receive a clear demonstration of Jesus’ humility in lowering Himself, the Sinless One, to be immersed by such a one as John, who was himself, admittedly, in need of receiving the remission of sins at the hand of Jesus.

John’s wondering statement on that occasion, “I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me?” illuminates the characteristic humility demonstrated throughout the life and especially the death of Jesus. Perhaps no passage of scripture elucidates this facet of the character of Christ more than does Philippians 2:5-8,

“Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.”

Let it be noted that we are to have the same mindset as Jesus did with regard to humble servitude and submission. We are commanded, “Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others.” (Philippians 2:3-4). Then we are pointed to the example of Jesus Christ, “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus...” We are to imitate Jesus in our humble submission to God and servitude to His cause.

In order to fully understand the concept of living a life of humble submission and servitude toward God we need to grasp something of the magnitude of Christ’s example. Let us observe the language of Philippians 2:6-8.

Verse 6 states, "Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God..." The word I want us to observe closely is the word “form.” Burton Coffman quoted John A. Night as follows,

“The Greeks had two words for "form," one of them referring to mere external appearance, as when a mirage takes the appearance of water... the other suggests that the appearance is the true revelation of the object itself, the form participating in the reality. It is the second word (morphe) which Paul here employs.”

Fritz A. Reinecker defines morphe, as used in verse 6 and 7, “The outward display of the inner reality or substance. Here it refers to the outward display of the Divine substance, i.e., divinity of the preexistent Christ in the display of His glory as being the image of the father.”

Preincarnate, Christ was in the form of God – He was Divine Spirit. As John affirmed, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God...” (John 1:1) Jesus,”thought it not robbery to be equal with God..." The ASV reads that Jesus “counted not the being on an equality with God a thing to be grasped...” His equality was not something He needed to “grasp for” or seek to attain – He had it as a right since He was God! Jesus existed in form as equal to God, but in order to begin His mission to reconcile man back to God, He, “made himself of no reputation...” (v.7a). Or, as the ASV translates, He “emptied Himself...” He divested Himself from all the advantages of Deity, casting aside for a time, the glory that was His by right being in the “form of God.”

In doing so, He took upon Himself, “the form of a servant...” (v.7b) The same word is used here as was used in verse 6. Christ revealed another aspect of His true nature, or form, in His submission and servitude with regard to the Father’s will. He took upon Himself the role of a servant to the Father. And going further, He “was made in the likeness of men...” (v.7c) Vincent wrote on this passage,

“Likeness of men expresses the fact that His mode of manifestation resembled what men are... As He appealed to men, He was like themselves, with a real likeness; but this likeness to men did not express His whole self. The totality of His being could not appear to men, for that involved the form of God. Hence, the apostle views Him solely as He could appear to men. All that was possible was a real and complete likeness to humanity. What He was essentially and eternally could not enter into His human mode of existence. Humanly He was like men, but regarded with reference to His whole self, He was not identical with man, because there was an element of His personality which did not dwell in them – equality with God...” (Vincent’s Word Studies)

Jesus was made in the likeness of men. The word “likeness” comes from the Greek word, homoioma, which refers simply to His outward appearance. His true nature was that of God, but His appearance was that of a man. Jesus was made in the likeness of men similar to the way that man was made in the likeness of God (Genesis 1:26-27). In what way was man created in the likeness and image of God, who is Spirit (John 4:23-24)? We were created with a spirit – not the same spirit as God – but one similar to God’s spirit. Jesus of Nazareth was made in the likeness of men physically, while retaining the Spirit of Deity. To all outward appearance, He was simply a common man. Verse 8 continues, “And being found in fashion as a man...” The Greek word translated as fashion, schema, refers to the manner of His living. He not only looked like a common man – He was a common man. He lived like any other man. Felt the same emotions, suffered the same hardships, ate the same foods, lived in the same fashion as all men must live. He differed from man ONLY in spirit. He possesses the Divine Spirit whereas we possess a human spirit similar in some aspects, but different in nature.

In all ways, His manner of living reflected that of a humble and submission servant. We see that in His teaching He constantly stressed the need for His followers to serve. Half of the Beatitudes have to do with humility, meekness or servitude “Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled...” (Mathew 5:3-6) He taught that greatness has everything to do with the service which one performs on behalf of his fellow man. “But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant...” (Matthew 20:26-27); ”But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant. And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted...”(Matthew 23:11-12) He expressed that His meek and lowly attitude was something that we must learn from Him, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light...”(Matthew 11:28-30)

We see that in His actions He always demonstrated humble, submissive servitude in His life. We see it in His mission statement, “Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many...” (Matthew 20:28) We see it as He washed the feet of His disciples. (John 13:5-17) We see it demonstrated by His always doing the will of the Father. “And He that sent me is with me: the Father hath not left me alone; for I do always those things that please Him...” (John 8:29) We see the zenith of His humble submission and servitude in His death upon the cross. His full submission to the Father’s will regarding His crucifixion is seen by His statement in the Garden, “O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt...” (Matthew 26:37-39) Again as Paul has stressed in Philippians 2:8 “He humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross...” As the Hebrew’s writer affirmed in Hebrews 5:8, “Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered...”

Jesus teaches us that we must have the attitude of humble submission and servitude toward God. Jesus demonstrated that very attitude in the way He lived His life. “For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps: Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously...” (1 Peter 2:21-23).

Notice once more Philippians 2:6-8 and the descending action of Christ’s mission. First, He is God and He is a servant of both God and man (Son of God vs. Son of Man). He not only took upon Himself the form of a servant – He went further still and assumed the likeness of men. His true form was a Divine Servant, but he humbled Himself further still in that His outward appearance and manner of living was simply as a common man. He did not live as a king, a ruler or as a man of wealth, but rather as a common laborer – a carpenter – not a “blue blood”, but a blue-collar kind of man. Finally, the humility of His descent is seen in the fact that, “He humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross...” Here we see the final phase of what has been termed “The Great Descent.” He died the cruelest death imaginable, crucifixion. It was a type of execution reserved for the basest of men and vilest of criminals, yet God came here in flesh and suffered this humiliation to save us from our sins.

The magnitude of this humiliation is hard for us to imagine and impossible for us to fully grasp, yet is still something that we need to consider. To illustrate this concept let us think about Christ being in the form of God, equal to Him. The Bible teaches that Jesus was instrumental in the creation of the universe and everything. John 1:3 states, “All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.” Colossians 1:16-17 reads, “For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: And he is before all things, and by him all things consist.”

Jesus, in the form of God, was the creator and is the sustainer of all things. As God, He was omnipotent! Power, absolute power was inherent in His very nature. He was the force behind God’s creation. Imagine the power of the one who created our sun. The sun has the power to burn our skin from 93 Million miles away. At the core, its temperature exceeds 10 Million degrees F. That is power! But what is more powerful, a sun that was created or the One who created it? (See Hebrews 3:3).

The power of the sun, which is in the heavens, shows us something of the power of God and Christ. The beauty of the heavens themselves shows us something of the glory He had “in the form of God.” Psalm 19:1 says, “The heavens declare the glory of God...” Have you ever seen any of the pictures taken by the Hubble telescope? ( Gloriously colored plumes of gas, magnificently arrayed nebulas and supernovas, galaxies beyond number, all beautiful beyond description. All of which declare the glory of their Creator!

Now try to imagine Christ, in the form of God a Being with omnipotent power and astronomical glory, purposefully humbling Himself to living as a man and dying in the same manner as the lowest of men. He set aside this immense power and glory to humbly serve the Father and to humbly serve man in dying for our sins.

If Jesus was willing to humble Himself to the degree in which He did. Humbly submitting to God and serving Him on our behalf, shouldn’t we be equally as willing to submit to His will in humble service to God? If Jesus Himself was, “obedient unto death, even the death of the cross...” shouldn’t this motivate us to, “be thou faithful unto death” and receive “a crown of life...”? (Revelation 2:10)

Friday, February 01, 2008

The Almighty Oak

There is an old truism that we are not to put our trust in man, because man will disappoint us in the end. Men are fallible, subject to temptation and often give in to sin. If our faith, our trust, our hope resides in some man or some man-made material object then we will eventually “have the rug pulled out from underneath” us. If our trust is in some man, no matter how noble, how learned, how spiritual, he seems to be he will eventually disappoint. And when our trust is in the high and mighty in this world and when the mighty fall, what happens to those who have made that person their object of adoration? Do they themselves lose faith; will they stumble and fall as well? This indeed does sometimes happen. When a tall tree in the forest falls, sometimes a few of the lesser trees nearby are knocked down or are damaged by its fall.

In Romans 1:4, Paul made it clear that the resurrection was the single greatest proof that Jesus is the Son of God, that He was not some mere mortal man. Jesus was, “declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead.” In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul makes the argument that Jesus Christ was in fact raised from the dead. In verses 3-4 Paul stated, “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures...” He gives as proof of the resurrection, “He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve. After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once... After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles. Then last of all He was seen by me also...” (1 Cor. 15:5-8) Jesus’ resurrection was confirmed by many eyewitnesses. Jesus’ resurrection proved that He was no mere man; that He was indeed the Son of God, therefore He is worthy our trust and devotion. Paul goes on to argue that if the resurrection were false, then Jesus was only a man, therefore those who had placed their trust in Him were in a pitiful condition. “But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty... If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable...” (1 Cor.15:13-14, 19). Paul concludes, “Christ is risen from the dead...” (1 Cor. 15:20).

Jesus is the Son of God – the resurrection proves it. Jesus is ultimately worthy of our trust. He is above failure. The Bible states, “They have all turned aside, They have together become corrupt; There is none who does good, No, not one...” (Psa. 14:3) Paul states, “As it is written: There is none righteous, no, not one; there is none who understands; there is none who seeks after God. They have all turned aside; they have together become unprofitable; there is none who does good, no, not one... for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God...” (Rom. 3:10-12, 23). This affirms to us that man can and will disappoint us. It reminds us that man can betray our trust; that man can lose heart and thereby cause us to question our faith. In the movie Braveheart, the father of Robert the Bruce, after Robert’s betrayal of William Wallace, tells him, “All men betray. All lose heart.” Yet by contrast, Jesus is the True Friend who will never betray or lose heart. If our trust is in Him, He will never break our heart.

Jesus is the Almighty Oak, whose roots go deep into rocks of the earth and no matter how viciously the winds blow; no matter how the earth shakes; no matter how many trees are uprooted or broken off – Jesus, the Almighty Oak – never even trembles or loses a single leaf, and provides a safe haven of rest from the tempest to all those planted beneath the protective and sheltering arms of His branches.

Unintended Consequences

“Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given orders to the churches of Galatia, so you must do also: On the first day of the week let each one of you lay something aside, storing up as he may prosper, that there be no collections when I come...” (1 Corinthians 16:1-2)

“But this I say: He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver...” (2 Corinthians 9:6-7)

When we do not give as we have been prospered or when we purposely withhold our contribution for some reason there are unintended consequences...

Imagine a boy in poverty-stricken rural India, who more than anything else, would like to have his very own copy of the Bible. For weeks, he has been told by a local missionary that he was expecting a shipment of Bibles from his sponsoring congregation in the USA and that when they arrived he would give each child a copy. Finally, the shipment arrives (fewer boxes than expected) – the children all line up and the missionary passes out the Bibles. Each child that receives a Bible goes away beaming with happiness. The boy patiently waits his turn, excited at the prospect of being able to read from his very own Bible. When the boy reaches the front of the line, imagine how crestfallen he would be to learn that there were no more Bibles – that there had not been enough money to purchase all that were needed.

What a tragedy. How easily it could have been avoided...

How do stories like this happen? Those among us who live on a fixed income understand just how difficult it is to live on that amount. The cost of living climbs at a higher rate each year than does the amount drawn from retirement accounts, disability or from Social Security. Every year the cost of food, utilities, health care, insurance, gasoline and other essentials goes up. A fixed income stays virtually the same every year while the expenses and expenditures increase. The result – people living on a fixed income have to go without some things. They have to “make do” with less. They have to find ways to “cut” costs.

The same is true with congregations. Most churches operate on a fixed budget. The have certain amounts allotted for various essential expenditures. In the United States, where most congregations own the building in which they meet, there are many essential expenses that must be made – that are simply the “cost of doing business” – the Lord’s business. Church buildings must be insured – the level of insurance must be adequate to rebuild or replace the building in case of fire, flood or some other natural disaster. Not just property insurance is needed, but also liability insurance is necessary. If a visitor slips on the floor, breaks their leg, and then sues the congregation (this has happened) liability insurance will help cover that expense. In addition, the cost of utilities go up every year, oftentimes every month. Older buildings are also in need of constant repair and upkeep. Sometimes things just break – A/C compressors, toilets, etc. All of this costs money. Other church building expenses include grounds maintenance and janitorial work. All of this just to maintain a place to meet for worship and Bible study.

Most congregations also have located preachers. Preachers are hired and supported by the congregation so that they can preach and teach the gospel and to do the work of an evangelist. Preachers often have families and they need adequate financial support so that they can live in the community and do their job and support their family. Often congregations will also compensate preachers by providing a house and utilities and by helping pay the cost of private health care insurance (which usually costs about twice what most employees pay in their company subsidized health insurance plans). Again, all of these things all cost the congregation money.

Congregations do not just have buildings and hire preachers – they also are involved with many other ministries. Edification, Bible classes – material must be bought and paid for. This includes the class books and materials, copiers, laminators, staples, crayons, etc. Evangelism – tracts must be ordered, tract racks bought, advertising purchased, travel and motel expense for visiting preachers. Benevolence – church members need financial help from time to time, food pantries need to be supplied, etc. Worship – song books must be purchased and sometimes replaced, pew Bibles, PowerPoint projectors, sound system and CD recording / copying expenses, grape juice and unleavened bread must the provided and so forth.

Thus far, we have listed only essential expenses just the basic “cost of doing business.” However, congregations are not just interested in supporting the local work, but they are also involved in supporting the work of the church worldwide. Foreign missionaries are supported by local congregations. Domestic missions are supported as well. College programs are supported – student ministries, Bible chairs and other important evangelistic work on college campuses. Students in the various preacher-training schools are also supported by various local congregations.

The “cost of doing business” increases annually. It costs more money each year to keep up with the essential expenditures. When these costs go up and the amount of financial contribution given by the members does not increase at the same rate or if it decreases, then congregations have to make cost savings somewhere. Operating budgets end up needing to be cut. What is usually the first thing to go? Generally speaking, since the local congregation’s primary mission is to their local community, the first area they cut back in is on foreign or domestic mission work.

Missionaries depend upon contributions sent by various congregations from around the world. Usually they are only able to raise money with great difficulty and are very dependant upon the supporters they do have. What happens when they lose even one supporter? They go without. They have to perform their mission with less. Perhaps they cannot afford to buy all the Bibles that they need. Perhaps they run short of funds for Bible class material. Perhaps they cannot afford to travel to as many villages as they would. The result – perhaps some who would have obeyed the gospel had they been able to hear it preached remain in a lost condition.

What happens when a congregation has a financial shortfall on a monthly basis? This can happen when a congregation has budgeted for certain things but other unforeseen expenses appear that exceed the available budget. When this happens, if there is a savings or escrow account, then these contingency funds need to be accessed. If it happens too frequently, that contingency fund will soon be exhausted. What happens then? Imagine family in the congregation in which the father suffers some serious disability leaving him unable to work. He is now unable to support his wife and children. His medical bills far surpass what he would be able to pay even if he was able to work. Financial ruin and bankruptcy soon follow. His wife, at wit’s end, goes to one of the elders and asks for the congregation to help them out. Imagine the elder who has to explain to this heartbroken and desperate woman that there is no money – that they cannot help her.

What a tragedy. How easily it could have been avoided...

When we do not give as we have been prospered or when we purposely withhold our contribution for some reason there are unintended consequences...

“Now Jesus sat opposite the treasury and saw how the people put money into the treasury. And many who were rich put in much. Then one poor widow came and threw in two mites, which make a quadrans. So He called His disciples to Himself and said to them, "Assuredly, I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all those who have given to the treasury; for they all put in out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all that she had, her whole livelihood..."
(Mark 12:41-44 NKJV)

Lessons From "The QuiltMaker's Gift"

We have in our collection at home a storybook called The QuiltMaker’s Gift by Jeff Brumbeau and Gail de Marcken. (Orchard Books; New York, NY; © 2000).

The story begins by introducing the QuiltMaker, a mysterious old woman who lives in a cabin in the mountains. She is a quilter of consummate talent and spends all of her days making quilts and then at night she goes down into the villages and gives her quilts to the poor and to the needy. The act of giving brings her much joy.

Another character is introduced after the QuiltMaker – a greedy King. The King was one who was never happy, never smiled and never thought of anyone but himself. He liked nothing better than to receive presents – so he commanded each person in the Kingdom to give him a gift twice a year. In this way, he collected many wonderful and beautiful things – but they never could satisfy him. One day he found out about the QuiltMaker and realized that she had never given him a gift. Therefore, he went to her and demanded she give him a quilt. She refused – saying that she only gave them to those who were in need and that if the King would give away all of the presents he had received, when they were all gone, she would make him a quilt. She told him that every time he would give away a gift that she would add a new piece to his quilt.

After several more attempts to force her to give him a quilt, the King finally relented and promised to give away his many presents. He went home began to give away his many presents. With each gift he gave he began to feel happy – the more he gave, the happier he became. He decided to give away everything that he owned not just to those in his Kingdom but he went into the entire world giving away all his precious gifts. Each time he gave one away a messenger would tell the QuiltMaker and she would add a new piece to his quilt.

After many years of gift giving, the King had become a wondrous and joyful man to be around. He loved nothing more than to give all his precious time and gifts to those in need. And when the time came that he gave away his last present, the QuiltMaker finished his quilt which was a masterpiece – so beautiful that birds would sing when they saw it and butterflies circled around it. When she was finished with the quilt, the QuiltMaker went in search of the King. When she found him, his clothes were torn and soiled and he had given away all that he had. Then because he had made himself poor and now was in need – she gave him the quilt that she had made. The King replied that he was not poor, that in fact, he was the riches man he knew because of all the joy he had given and received in the giving away of his gifts.

Several wonderful parallels can be drawn from this delightful tale about the joy of giving:

The QuiltMaker’s labor of love reflects the blessings that come from above. “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.” (James 1:17)

The initial attitude of the King reminds us of the Rich Fool. "The ground of a certain rich man yielded plentifully. And he thought within himself, saying, 'What shall I do, since I have no room to store my crops?' So he said, 'I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build greater, and there I will store all my crops and my goods. And I will say to my soul, "Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry." ' But God said to him, 'Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?' "So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God." (Luke 12:16-21)

The King’s unhappiness despite his over-abundance of material possessions, reflects the life of King Solomon and his discovery that there is “no profit under the sun.”(Ecclesiastes 2:11). Like the King in “The QuiltMaker’s Gift” Solomon had everything he wanted or desired, but in the end he found no happiness in things material. Solomon found happiness in serving God (Ecclesiastes 12:13). The QuiltMaker’s King found happiness in giving.

Like the Rich Young Ruler of Matthew 19:16-22, this ruler was ruled by his possessions. Both asked for something they greatly desired. The Rich Young Ruler asked for eternal life and the QuiltMaker’s King asked for a beautiful quilt. Both were told to give away their possessions. The Rich Young Ruler went away sorrowful, but the QuiltMaker’s King went away and did as he was told. The Rich Young Ruler’s soul remained bound to his possessions and he felt extreme sorrow at the thought of giving away his precious things, but the QuiltMaker’s King found true joy and happiness through his giving and in the end he received the treasure he desired most.

In reading the story we see demonstrated once again that materialism cannot satisfy the soul. We see illustrated the Truth that Jesus spoke when He said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35).

"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. (Matthew 6:19-21)

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Perfect Love Casts Out Fear

“There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love” (1 John 4:18)

The in his first general epistle, the apostle John (by inspiration of the Holy Spirit) writes to those he refers to as “my little children.” (1 John 2:1). The recipients of the letter are also referred to as “children of God” (1 John 3:1) and as “beloved” (1 John 4:1, 7). The letter then was written to those who are “beloved little children of God.” Brethren, that is us! What a picture of the faithful Christian – a beloved little child of the Father! God loves each of us as a father loves his child – yea even more! God’s motive for loving us and sacrificing Himself for us is born of the fact that He is our Father and we are His children. This is the central message of 1 John 4:7-21. God loves His children and His children are to love and obey Him. Because God loves us so, we as His beloved little children must love one another. Love, agape, is the highest motive. It is what motivated God to act on our behalf. Love should be what motivates us to act on His behalf.

There is another motivation to serve God beside the motive of agape and that is the motive of fear. Many are the souls that have been brought to repentance by a healthy fear of damnation in hell-fire. Hell, fire and brimstone sermons have their place – each of us needs a healthy amount of fear of such things, often we need to be reminded of that fear. While godly fear can be a healthy motive for obedience, irrational and ungodly fear is a decidedly unhealthy one.

In his dissertation on love in 1 John chapter 4, the apostle John said, “There is no fear in love...” (v.18a). John is not referring to “godly” fear or the overwhelming sense of awe of God. Here he is speaking of that irrational fear where one has an overwhelming sense of doom; the sense that they can never be “good” enough to get to Heaven. This kind of fear has no part in the love of God.

He goes on to say, “...but perfect love casts out fear...” (v.18b) Perfect refers to that which is completed; that which has matured. Love perfected and fully matured casts out fear. “Casts out” literally means “to turn out of doors” such as when the dog is “shoo-ed” out the door of our house. Perfect love casts our fear because there is no room left for it when it has been replaced by agape.

Why must perfect love cast out fear? “Because fear involves torment...” John says in v.18c. When we are motivated strictly by a sense of fear and terror, we “torture” ourselves. If all we ever do, is focus on the “terror of the Lord...” (2 Corinthians 5:11), we will be unable to grow as Christians. If we irrationally allow fear to cause us to regress to the “fetal position” every time we make a misstep or every time we fail – we can never grow as Christians. Love, faith and patience are perfected as we are tried and as we learn from and overcome our shortcomings (James 1:1-4).

John concludes the thought, “But he who fears has not been made perfect in love...” (v.18d) The Christian who has allowed irrational fear to take over is not mature and cannot become mature as long as he holds that fear. How can one come to be made mature in love? Notice the first phrase of verse 17 from the King James Version, “...Herein is our love made perfect...” What is referenced by the word “herein”? We must go back yet another verse to find out. “And we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him...” (1 John 4:16) John says that our love can be perfected when we recognize God’s unwavering love for us. When we come to realize the depth of God’s love. Remember the words of Paul, “For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39)

When we realize how much God has done for us (1 John 4:9-10) we come to understand truly how much He loves us. When we realize we are loved so much by God “that He gave His only begotten Son” we grow in our love for Him. As our love for God grows, there is less and less room for irrational fears. Love so perfected then casts out that fear.

When we were new in the faith, perhaps the fear of hell motivated us to stay on the right track. That is normal and healthy for those who are still babes in Christ. However, if one is to mature, they need to go beyond that fear-based motivation to serve God and progress toward the higher motivation for serving God – reciprocated love! “We love Him because He first loved us.” (1 John 4:19)