Archive for October, 2011

Living in balance

Monday, October 31st, 2011

“Two things I ask of you, LORD; 
do not refuse me before I die:
Keep falsehood and lies far from me; 
give me neither poverty nor riches, 
but give me only my daily bread. 
Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you
and say, ‘Who is the LORD?’
Or I may become poor and steal,
and so dishonor the name of my God.
Proverbs 30:8-9

In just about every offering teaching, we hear all forms of the words “abundance” and “overflow” being used on blessings we receive. What we like to hear is a “pressed down, shaken together and running over” kind of teaching (Malachi 3:8-12; Luke 6:38). If we are blessed to be a blessing as Abraham was (2 Corinthians 9:8-12; Genesis 12:1-4), then we should be as rich as possible so that our giving can abound right? So we desire greater and greater riches.

No one says mediocre is just as good. Living with just enough is some new sin that must be avoided at all cost. And if you are poor, you’re not living in God’s promises. We are led to believe that mediocre should not be in a Christian’s dictionary.

Few hear the seriousness in Jesus’ voice when he says “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” (Matthew 19:24; Mark 10:25) Fewer heed 1 Timothy 6:9 – “Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.” Those are certainly not popular verses when it comes to offering teaching.

Proverbs 30:8-9 tells us that mediocre is quite alright and has spiritual benefits. God’s plan is that we are wholeheartedly happy with having just enough – what we need. And why not? Our dependence upon God is dependent on our refusal to depend on ourselves. And we know that He always meets our needs because He is a providing God (Philippians 4:19; Matthew 6:25-34; 2 Corinthians 9:8). So why chase after more than is beneficial for us to have?

I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.
Philippians 4:12-13

But don’t take Proverbs 30:8-9 to mean that we shouldn’t save and live hand-to-mouth; many other verses commend us to save up if we can (Proverbs 6:6-8, 21:20). Just as important as saving financially is investing spiritually by giving (Luke 12:21; Matthew 6:19-24). We give within our means (2 Corinthians 8:12) to help us and the community to keep that balance to stay in the just enough zone (2 Corinthians 8:13-15). That I believe is God’s plan.

So our lifestyle need not increase exponentially (and unsustainabily) when our income increases. Instead, our giving should increase “in keeping with your income” (1 Corinthians 16:1-2).

Dark Horse

Friday, October 14th, 2011

Listen to Elihu son of Barakel the Buzite as he describes God:

“How great is God—beyond our understanding
The number of his years is past finding out.”
Job 36:26

Hear Zophar the Naamathite as he speaks:

Can you fathom the mysteries of God? 
Can you probe the limits of the Almighty?
They are higher than the heavens above—what can you do? 
They are deeper than the depths below—what can you know?
Their measure is longer than the earth and wider than the sea.”
Job 11:7-9

God is a mystery. He is an infinite mystery that can never be defined by finite man. In the Words of Rob Bell, “The moment God is figured out with nice neat lines and definitions, we are no longer dealing with God.” (Velvet Elvis: Repainting the Christian Faith)

If we lived in the Old Testament, we might agree with Isaiah (and Rob Bell):

“Who can fathom the Spirit of the LORD, 
 or instruct the LORD as his counselor?”
Isaiah 40:13

But what if God defined Himself for us in “neat lines and definitions” so that we may have knowledge of Him? In the New Testament, Paul declares:

The person with the Spirit makes judgments about all things, but such a person is not subject to merely human judgments, for, “Who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.
1 Corinthians 2:15-16

Now here we have a radical idea, that Jesus is the unfathomable fathomed, the undefinable defined, the mystery of God fully revealed. Jesus Christ is the definition of God because He is fully God (and at the same time God’s Son). He is completely the God who created the heavens and earth. He is also the God whose existence is self-sustaining (John 1:1-4; Colossians 1:15-20).  

No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.
John 1:18 (See also, John 14:8-9)

Does that mean we know absolutely everything there is to know about God? No. But it means that we have everything we need to know about God. Everything outside of our need to know is God’s prerogative and futile for us to try to discover/assume (Deuteronomy 29:29).  To not define God as He has made Himself known is equally foolish. That would render the work of Christ and the testimony of the Holy Spirit in us useless.

No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you.
John 15:15

In the same way that we know our friends, we know God. We know what they like, and what they dislike. We know what makes them tick. In that way, I can tell if a person standing in front of me is my wife or isn’t my wife. I know what she looks like, how she moves and what she sounds like, yet it isn’t just knowledge. It is knowledge that is experienced. When the “nice neat lines and definitions” permeate our daily living and changes us from the inside out, we know God.

It might only be our own contextualised understanding of God (our own commentary) but we must recognise that it is God relating to us in a way that we understand – to bring forth the truth about Himself using our context. That is the picture of Jesus, fully God, fully man. Without it, we would be in the Old Testament.

Dare we make such a high claim as to be the judge of what is and isn’t God (according to the Bible, not according to our human experience/expectation)?

You decide.

Take up the cross

Friday, October 7th, 2011

“Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me.”
Matthew 10:38

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”
Matthew 16:24

Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. ”
Luke 9:23

“And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.”
Luke 14:27

I sense that there is a theme going on here. In Matthew 10 and Luke 14, Jesus was elaborating the need to put Him first above all other allegiance – above the people arounds, above our own family and above ourselves. In Matthew 16 and Luke 9, Jesus teaches that all of us need to face the death of our self – just as He faces his death. The context in which he says the same phrase might be different and the lesson might differ slightly, but the practice of it is the same. To be Christ’s disciple, Jesus needs to be supremely alive in us and we need to be buried deep.

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
Galatians 2:20

The cross sent a strong message to the public. It was used as a strong public display to dissuade people from going against the Roman Empire. Anyone carrying a cross was doomed to a slow, painful and agonizing process of death. But one thing was absolutely certain – death. If you saw someone carrying a cross, chances are by this time tomorrow, he/she would be dead. The cross was a symbol of sure death.

This is what Jesus meant when He said “take up their cross”. It is not a picture of bearing a heavy burden and suffering, it was a picture of going to one’s death. It was a picture of crucifying your life and dying to it. Only when our life is 6 feet underground can we truly raise Christ as the centrepiece in our life. This is when Christ fully defines us – when everything we are and have comes under His dominion, because we have nothing and are nothing outside of Him.

Carrying his own cross, he went out to the place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha).
John 19:17

It is a tall order, but only one that He examplifies first with His own life. He says “follow me”, because He knows with full certainty where He was heading – to the cross and to life eternal. He asks for no more than He gave. He wants us to continuously carry our death as we walk toward eternal life in Him. So we carry our own cross and end up following Him. Just as Christ carried His own cross and is found eternally with God the Father.

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin— because anyone who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.
Romans 6:5-8

When we consider His grace and love to be the single most important thing that we have received, we are driven to place Him first. More often than not, placing Him first means something in us needs to die so that He can be exalted. This sits right at the core of our Christian life. This comes hand in hand with our continuous relationship and faith in Christ. When we believe Jesus Christ to be God’s grace poured out to us and believe Him to be of absolute importance because He is God, then other things naturally fade in importance.

It isn’t a bad thing at all, it means the things that holds us bound to sin (and exploited by the law) are dead (Romans 7:4; Galatians 2:19). So we glady give up ourselves, bury us 10 feet deep if need be. We willingly take up our cross. We confidently face our own death. And when we find it hard or scary, hey, no worries.  His grace is here to cover. His love is here to take away the guilt and blame. His Spirit is here to help.

“If, then, you suffer from moral anaemia, take my advice and steer clear of Christianity. If you want to live a life of easy-going, self-indulgence, whatever you do, do not become a Christian.”
John Stott

“Among the plastic saints of our times, Jesus has to do all the dying, and all we want to hear is another sermon about his dying.”
A.W. Tozer

No no, Christians are not prudish kill-joys trying to earn our own salvation through suffering. We have hell shaking parties – God’s way.