Saturday, May 30, 2015

150531 The Grace of Giving

2 Corinthians 8:7-9 But as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you—see that you excel in this act of grace also. I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.
The apostle Paul probably wrote this letter from Macedonia during his preparations to travel to Jerusalem. There was a famine in Judea at the time and he wanted to encourage the Christians in Corinth to take up a relief offering. It was important to Paul that the Corinthians join in this special offering. Corinth and the rest of Greece was wealthy when compared to Macedonia. He pointed out the extreme poverty of the Macedonian Christians and how they had begged him for the privilege of giving to this relief fund. Now, he wanted the church in Corinth to prosper because of their willingness to share with others. He commended them for excelling in all things and encouraged them to excel in giving.
Paul reminded the Corinthians of the grace of our Lord Jesus. By this grace all people everywhere are blessed. When Adam and Eve sinned in the garden of Eden they became worthy of eternal punishment and separation from God. All of us inherited that punishment as sons and daughters of Adam and Eve. That being the case, we have to wonder how can God continue to pour out blessings on sinners who deserve only death and hell? The answer is that God distributes grace to everyone on earth. All people are blessed by this grace. It is common to all people and not restricted to believers. God gives uncounted blessings, other than salvation by grace. But Paul especially wanted the Corinthians to see the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ that led to their salvation. Let’s look at…
The grace of Christ. Turn with me to the gospel of John 1:14-18.  And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. 15 (John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.’ ”) 16 For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.
We have all received grace upon grace; God’s gifts on top of God’s gifts through the blessing of the Lord Jesus Christ. The glory of Christ is seen as the glory of the only son from the Father. Jesus was the Word that became flesh and lived among us pouring out God’s love and God’s truth. It is very hard to imagine what this is all about. For the eternal son of God to come to earth and be born the son of a young woman in a stable is amazing to think about. This baby, born to Mary, had existed eternally as part of the triune Godhead. He was there as God when there was nothing else so far as we know. This child created the universe as we know it today and has always enjoyed the fellowship of the Father and the Holy Spirit.
He was born the son of a carpenter and grew up in the tiny village of Nazareth. Before that…
He was rich beyond understanding. Turn with me to Colossians 1:15-20. He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.
This Jesus was the exact representation of the Father. He was the glory of God forever and forever before anything existed that we are familiar with. Everything depends on him! All the angels and everything we see was created through him and for him. All the fullness of God was happy to dwell in him. Repeatedly we are told that Jesus not only created all things but also that he maintains all things by the word of his power. Today Jesus lives as the mediator between God and man having paid the full price of our sin, having conquered death and hell, and then sat down at the right hand of the Father in heaven. With all of that going for him — being preeminent in everything —…
Jesus willingly became poor. Turn with me to Philippians 2:5-8. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
Though he was in the form of God he did not consider refusing the mission agreed upon before the creation. The whole process of becoming a substitute sacrifice for Adam and Eve and all their descendents, who would believe, was planned out before the creation of the world. Jesus, along with the rest of the Godhead, is not just the creator of all things but is the owner of all things.
Without him nothing was made. Nothing existed apart from Jesus who became the Christ. Everything belongs to him and always has. I find it very hard to grasp the reality that my creator took my place and paid the price that I could not pay. Jesus willingly became poor and emptied himself of all that he possessed…
In order for his people to be rich. This may seem a strange idea but let’s see what the Bible says. Turn with me to 2 Corinthians 8:12-15.  For if the readiness is there, it is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have. 13 For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of fairness 14 your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness. 15 As it is written, “Whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack.”
God’s purpose in giving people financial resources is to advance the kingdom. As Paul said to the Corinthians, “your abundance at the present time should supply their need,…” This has been God’s plan throughout history. Let me tell you about a couple of people that have been used mightily of God.
One of those people is, RG LeTourneau he is perhaps the most inspiring Christian inventor, businessman and entrepreneur the world has ever seen. A sixth grade dropout, he went on to become the leading earth moving machinery manufacturer of his day with plants on 4 continents, more than 300 patents to his name and major contributions to road construction and heavy equipment that forever changed the world.  Most importantly, his contribution to the advancement of the Gospel ranks him among the greatest of Christian Businessmen of all time. LeTourneau exemplified what a Christian businessman should be.
All of this success grew out of a time of serious poverty and debt! After serving in World War I, LeTourneau went into business and struggled for several years. He operated an automobile dealership and a garage until he went under financially. In the course of his mechanical work he built some earth moving equipment and after using it himself he began to sell his equipment to other people. As a Christian he knew that he needed to give to his church as well as to missions. He wanted to be totally committed to Christ and thought that meant he would have to be a missionary or a pastor. It took a serious time of prayer and counseling to see that God wanted him as a successful businessman. He refused to work on Sunday even though he was losing money and the bank was threatening to close him down. After some persuasion, he convinced the bank to let him operate by Christian principles. As God blessed his business he and his wife made a very important decision. He had always practiced tithing as well as giving above and beyond the tithe to missions. As they began to prosper he made the decision to turn the formula around and give God 90% and keeping for himself 10%. He often said, “It’s not how much of my money I give to God, but how much of God’s money I keep for myself.” With that money they established the LeTourneau Foundation to manage the administration of donations. By 1959, after giving to Christian ministry more than $10 million, the LeTourneau Foundation was still worth some $40 million. Today, that foundation continues to support Christian ministry and educational facilities around the world.
Another man to mention is S. Truett Cathy who was the founder of Chick-fil-A and is one of the finest Christian entrepreneurs in American history. Cathy exemplifies what all Christian businessmen should strive to be in the workplace. Chick-fil-A is a very profitable national brand with gross revenues exceeding $4.5 Billion a year despite his mandate that each of the more 1600 fast food restaurants be closed on Sundays (what many in the fast food industry experience as one of their busiest days). S. Truett Cathy fostered children for over 30 years and took in over 200 foster children through WinShape Homes. His WinShape Foundation funded over $18 Million to develop foster homes and summer camps. The foundation has also awarded nearly 820 students of Berry College with scholarships of up to $32,000. His Leadership Scholarship program for Chick fil A employees has awarded more than $23 Million in $1,000 scholarships in the past 35 years. Cathy died in September 2014. The company is still run by his Christian principles. We need to remember the words of Jesus, “give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.” (Luke 6:38)
There are many other men and women who have faithfully built their lives on Christian principles and have been able to do much good in the world. The resources we have, all of us, are intended…
To meet the needs of others. Turn with me to 2 Corinthians 9:10-15.  He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. 11 You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God. 12 For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God. 13 By their approval of this service, they will glorify God because of your submission that comes from your confession of the gospel of Christ, and the generosity of your contribution for them and for all others, 14 while they long for you and pray for you, because of the surpassing grace of God upon you. 15 Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!
We need to remember that financial success has not been given to us for the purpose of expanding our lifestyle. Paul reminded the Corinthians that God supplies all our needs and then supplies even more with a particular purpose in mind.
Let me pause to say that the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Acquiring money is not evil, loving money is the problem. It’s very easy to go from acquiring money to loving money. What I’m sharing with you is not how to be rich but what to do with the resources we receive. Many Christian workers are going to have to answer to God for keeping back for themselves financial resources that could have changed other people in the world.
We need to remember that it is God who supplies the ability to earn. He will supply our resources and multiply them. Not just add but multiply. God does that not so we can be rich as a goal but so that we can be generous in every way. Don’t make the mistake of sitting on resources, or wasting them, when God has given those resources to meet the needs of others. The grace of God on us is God’s way of meeting the financial needs of ministry here. and around the world. When we are faithful with what God has given us he will always be faithful in giving to us to meet the needs of others. And when we have properly used those financial resources the people who are helped by them are going to glorify God and pray for us. Yes, we will be used by God in a special way. Those who receive will be grateful to us…
And give glory to God. Turn with me to Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:14-16.  “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
Jesus does not say that we should be the light of the world. He says that we are the light of the world! We have a responsibility to take the light that God has given us and drive away the darkness of the world. Light is not given to be hidden. Financial resources are not given to be taken out of circulation either. In fact, the world we live in is spiritually “darkness” and we have the responsibility of bringing light — God’s light — into this world. One thing we are assured of is that the light will soon cover the whole world. We are to cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. We do this by allowing our resources to be used for God’s glory and the good of many people.
Everything that we have belongs to God. It’s easy for us to say that we have accumulated material things and financial blessings by our hard work. No doubt, there is a great deal of truth in that. However it is the grace of God that enables us to do everything we do. Jesus set the example for us by giving up the glory of heaven to live in the gloom of earth. He came to give us life abundantly. Jesus willingly became poor. As a result he is able to make all of us as rich as need be to meet the needs of those around us. And most importantly to allow the light of the glory of the gospel of Jesus Christ to shine in the darkness of this world. Come to the light! And then become a light bearer to carry the gospel to all people.
All scriptures quotes are from: The Holy Bible: English standard version. 2001. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

150521 The Kingdom: Now and Not Yet

Acts 1:6-7 So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority.
 When the angel Gabriel came to Mary he promised her that the Son she would bear would be great and would be called the Son of the Most High. He went on to say that Mary’s Son would rule over the house of Jacob and his kingdom would never end. (Luke 1:31-32) When Jesus began his ministry he began with these words: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 4:17) “At hand” indicates the kingdom was present at that time. The church is not the kingdom it is the community of the kingdom, a human society. Now the disciples wanted to know if Jesus would “restore the kingdom”. Restoring the kingdom was an important concern for the Jewish people and their expectations were different from God’s reality.
There are many people who are waiting for the kingdom of God to come. As we will see later the kingdom is a mystery and will never be fully understood while on this earth. Some very good books have been written about the kingdom and, I’m sure, a great many that may not be considered “good books”. We need to recognize that the kingdom is now, and not yet. We have a foretaste of the kingdom of heaven in our Christian fellowship and ministry. Jesus himself said that…
The Kingdom of God is present now. Or, at least, was then present. Turn with me to Luke 17:20-21. Being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, he answered them, “The kingdom of God is not coming in ways that can be observed, 21 nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.”
The Pharisees, along with all the other informed Jews, were expecting the kingdom to come. They identified it with the rule of the great King, and Shepherd, David. After all, the prophets often referred to restoring David’s kingdom. Therefore, they were definitely looking for a kingdom that can be observed with the eyes and experienced in their day-to-day life. It seems to me that Jesus is saying here, “The kingdom is present now. After all I am here!” The King had come and the kingdom was present wherever Jesus was. The kingdom was within their grasp and they couldn’t see it or feel it! In order for the kingdom to be seen it was important that…
The Kingdom of God was demonstrated by Jesus. The Pharisees had come along just as a demon oppressed man was brought to Jesus. The man was blind and mute. Jesus healed him causing the people to say, “Can this be the Son of David?” Listen while I read Matthew 12:24-28.  But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons.” 25 Knowing their thoughts, he said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand. 26 And if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand? 27 And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. 28 But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.
The Pharisees were very jealous of Jesus. The people were being drawn into the kingdom and the Pharisees were standing in the door trying to stop them! So they began to claim that Jesus’ power came from Satan! Surely that would turn the people away from following Jesus. Jesus’ response demonstrated how weak their argument was. Beelzebul, the Prince of demons, would not destroy his own kingdom. His kingdom could not stand if it was divided against itself. No, Jesus was not casting out demons by the power of the ruler of demons. He was casting out demons by the Spirit of God! And if he was casting out demons by the Spirit of God then it was very clear that the kingdom of God had come.
Jesus was demonstrating the power of God’s kingdom over that of Satan! The result was that the strong man’s house, Satan’s, was being plundered by someone who was much stronger than him. Satan had been defeated by Jesus in the wilderness during his temptation. He was now bound while Jesus was ministering on earth.
Just as Jesus demonstrated the power of the kingdom…
The disciples proclaimed the Kingdom. Jesus had called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority over unclean spirits. They were given the power to heal every disease and every affliction. Then we are told in Matthew 10:5-8. These twelve Jesus sent out, instructing them, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. You received without paying; give without pay.
At the beginning of their ministry the disciples went first to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. Later they would be commanded to go into all the world but now they were laying the groundwork for the kingdom of God to be expressed on earth. The kingdom had to begin with the Jews first and then spread to the Gentiles. So Jesus carefully instructed them to not go to the Gentiles or the Samaritans. Instead they were to go to their own people with a simple message: “The kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Sound familiar? That is the message that John the Baptizer began with and was also what Jesus proclaimed when he came back from his temptation in the wilderness.
With the coming of Jesus onto the scene, a new level of power — the Holy Spirit — was released! Beginning with Jesus and spreading through his disciples, by his word, the power of the kingdom was demonstrated. Later, this power, the Holy Spirit, would be poured out in fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecy on the believers. They were gathered in the upper room at Pentecost. In fact, Jesus had told them to wait until the power was poured out.
The demonstration of kingdom power, during the days of Christ’s ministry on earth, was a temporary thing that laid the groundwork for the kingdom. So long as the King was there the kingdom was in their midst! A kingdom only requires a king and subjects and Jesus had both during his life on earth. Yes, the kingdom was there and is now here but…
Yet the Kingdom is not yet. Jesus was traveling towards Jerusalem when he saw a man in a tree. Jesus told Zacchaeus to come down from the tree because he was going to stay with him that day. The man in the tree had his life changed that day when he spent time with Jesus. Jesus proclaimed that he had now become a son of Abraham.
A son of Abraham is someone who believes God and it is counted to them as righteousness. Just as Abraham believed God, Zacchaeus now believed God. And the people responded in such a way that Jesus had to correct their thinking. Turn with me to Luke 19:11-12. As they heard these things, he proceeded to tell a parable, because he was near to Jerusalem, and because they supposed that the kingdom of God was to appear immediately. 12 He said therefore, “A nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom and then return.
More than once, the crowds around Jesus began to think that the kingdom of God was there. If they had had their way they would have made him king and placed him on a throne in Jerusalem to drive the Romans out!
They certainly did not understand. In order to correct their thinking, Jesus told them a story. The story began with the line, “A nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom and then return.”
Obviously, Jesus is the King who is going to go away into a “far country” — heaven itself — where he would receive a kingdom! The King, before he left on his journey, gave his servants gifts. These gifts would be used to enrich the kingdom and would be returned to the King, with interest, when he came back.
The message today is not designed to explain this parable. The parable demonstrates that Jesus would be going away and would return at a later time. These 2000 years have passed and the King has not returned. So, in that sense, the kingdom is not yet! In one sense, the kingdom is present because the King and his subjects are here.
There is a connection between the kingdom of God and the church today. As the church proclaims the good news of the kingdom, people will come and begin to experience the blessings of God’s rule in their lives. The kingdom shows itself through the church and the future reign of God comes into the present. It is already here and not yet completely here! Those who believe in Christ will begin to experience something of what our God’s final kingdom reign will be like. Eventually Christ will return and his kingdom reign will extend over all creation. (Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, p. 864)
While we are experiencing the kingdom and at the same time waiting for the manifestation of the kingdom in it’s fullness…
The Kingdom is a mystery. Jesus’ hearers could not grasp the meaning of his parables. Turn with me to Matthew 13:10-12. Then the disciples came and said to him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” 11 And he answered them, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. 12 For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.
Even the disciples, who had spent about three years with him, were not able to understand his teaching. Jesus assured them that they would be able to understand. Later he would promise them that he would provide the Holy Spirit to walk alongside them and teach them all that he had taught and even more as time went by. (John 16:13) The apostle Paul wrote about a hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. He then said that none of the rulers of this age understood. If they had only understood what was about to happen they would never have crucified Jesus. (1 Corinthians 2:7-8) Now what has all this to do with the kingdom? The kingdom of God is based on the secret that the Christ would take the sins of all who would believe into his own body and bear the punishment for that sin. He would be raised again on the third day in a glorified, resurrection body that will exist forever. During the time Jesus was on earth everything about him was focused on that final event of crucifixion. Since then the kingdom has been expanding across the world and will continue until…
The Kingdom will be delivered to the Father. Turn with me to 1 Corinthians 15:24-28. Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death. 27 For “God has put all things in subjection under his feet.” But when it says, “all things are put in subjection,” it is plain that he is excepted who put all things in subjection under him. 28 When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all.
When the end comes Jesus will have defeated every enemy, including death, and will have brought everything under his authority. When Jesus was asked how we should pray he gave us a pattern that included, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.…” (Matthew 6:9) The kingdom of God was so important to Jesus that he called on us to pray for the kingdom to come in its completion. One day in the future, no one knows how long, Jesus will pronounce, “It is finished” and space and time as we know it will be changed forever.
There is a close connection between the kingdom of God and the church. Just as the church tells the good news of the kingdom. Born again people who come into the church begin to experience the blessings of God’s rule in their lives. The kingdom shows itself through the church. The kingdom is here now because the King rules over his people now. Those who are born again have entered the kingdom of God. Some of what the kingdom will be like is seen today. There is some victory over sin, over demonic opposition, and over disease. The church exists in the power of the Holy Spirit and when Christ returns the kingdom will reign over all creation. Have you submitted yourself to the King? Are you a citizen of the kingdom? Today could be the day!
All scriptures quotes are from: The Holy Bible: English standard version. 2001. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.