Saturday, February 28, 2009

The Christian and riches

The sixth chapter of the so-called "first" letter of Paul to Timothy is very instructive about the Christian's attitude to riches.

Firstly, it tells us that "if we have food and covering, with these we shall be content" (v8).

Next it tells us that if we are NOT content with these but "want to get rich" we get ourselves into all sorts of trouble: we "fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction" (v9)

Finally it tells us that if we are already rich we shouldn't be hoarding our riches but rather "be generous and ready to share" (v17-18).

Conclusion:

If we are a Christian and not rich, lets not desire to become so.

If we are a Christian and already rich lets be generous with our riches and share.

"A rich man's wealth is his strong city and like a high wall in his own imagination" (Proverbs 18:11)

Sunday, February 22, 2009

The forgiven-much loves much

I recently read again the story of Jesus, Simon the Pharisee and the "sinful woman" in Luke 7:36-50.

At first it seems to be all about the woman. Simon certainly thought it was. 

But its really all about Simon.  He's the one who needs the teaching, not the woman. He's the one with the wrong attitude, not the woman. He's the one who doesn't appreciate the company he's in, not the woman.

Simon "loved little" not because he needed to be "forgiven little". He "loved little" because he didn't appreciate that perhaps he too needed to be "forgiven much". 

The extent to which we appreciate our own sinfulness determines the extent that we will be drawn, overflowing with gratitude, to Christ.

"'Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.

The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: ' God I thank You that I am not like other people - swindlers, unjust, adulterers - or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, I pay tithes of all that I get'

But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast saying 'God be merciful to me the sinner!"  
(Luke 18:10-13)

Monday, February 16, 2009

The atheist's faith is greater than mine

Sometimes people sneer at the idea of "faith". 

But we all have faith. The atheist has faith that there is no God. He pins his eternal future on it in fact because if he's wrong - and Jesus is right - he's in terrible trouble. When I contemplate the extraordinary universe around me and the compelling life of the Nazarene, I must admit its a greater faith than I can muster.

"I tell you that every careless word that people speak they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment" (Matt12:36)

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Proper use of church funds

If it is faithfully following the New Testament pattern the church today should only be using its funds to support its own members. 

Individual members of the church can of course do as they see fit with their own money - indeed we are instructed to "do good to ALL people and especially to those of the household of the faith" (Gal6:10). 

But the money the members put in to the church collection on the first day of the week (1Cor16:2) - the "collection for the saints" (1Cor16:1) - was just that: a collection "for the saints" ("the saints" just meaning "the holy ones", Christians, members of the church itself)

Nowhere in the scriptures do we see the church using its "collection for the saints" to meet the material needs of the world. The church's obligation to the world is to be "the pillar and support of the truth" (1TIm3:15).

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Mary and Martha (Luke10:38-42)

I love this story.  Brief yet powerful, I never tire of pondering it. It constantly challenges me to evaluate what I'm doing. 

Left unchecked we probably all gravitate towards "Marthism".  Mary keeps pulling us back to where we need to be - remembering that really only "one thing is necessary" (Lk10:42)

"Thankyou Father for Mary's example:  her love for Jesus and her love of the truth. Thankyou for ensuring in Your wisdom that this story has endured even until now to instruct us in the way we should go."

"All that the Father gives Me will come to Me and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out" (Jn6:37)

Friday, February 6, 2009

God is not Father Christmas

A traditional representation of God is of a benign, grandfatherly figure smiling at everyone and "handing out the presents" as it were. 

But the God of the scriptures is much more than that. Yes, He is kind and loving but He can also be angry and severe.

The Israelites were God's chosen people to whom He kindly "stretched out His his hands all day long" yet they were "disobedient and obstinate" (Rom 10:21). 

Paul likens them to an olive tree which has some of its branches broken off "because of their unbelief".  In their place some new branches were grafted in: non-Jewish people or "Gentiles" who believed the gospel and proved obedient to it (Rom11:17, 20a).

But Paul warns his Gentile readers that they should not become conceited by this but rather "fear, for if God did not spare the natural branches, He will not spare you either" (Rom11:21).

Paul's conclusion?

"Behold the kindness AND severity of God. To those who fell, severity but to you God's kindness if you continue in his kindness otherwise you also will be cut off. And they also, if they do not continue in their unbelief will be grafted in for God is able to graft them in again" (Rom11:22,23)

God's kindness is immense -  but so can be His wrath. Which we experience is entirely up to us. Choose life (Deut30:19).

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

How devoted is "devoted" to prayer?

The New Testament expects Christians to be "devoted to prayer":

"These [the apostles] all with one mind were continually devoting themselves to prayer..." (Acts1:14)

"They [new Christians] were continually devoting themselves to the apostles' teaching, and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer" (Acts2:42)

"Be devoted to one another in brotherly love, give preference to one another in honour, not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord, rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer....." (Rom12:10-12)


The question is what does "devoted" mean? Of course we can look up a dictionary but that just tells us what someone who wrote a dictionary thinks. We need to look for other places the New Testament itself uses the word to understand what God thinks.

Here's some examples of how the Greek word (the New Testament was written in Greek originally) translated "devoted / devoting" above is translated elsewhere in the New Testament:

"Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple and breaking bread from house to house they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart...." (Acts2:46)

".......he (a Roman centurion)  summoned two of his servants and a devout soldier of those who were in constant attendance upon him..." (Acts10:7)

"Even Simon himself believed and after being baptized he continued on with Philip....." (Acts8:13)

"And He told His disciples that a boat should stand ready for Him because of the crowd, so that they would not crowd Him....." (Mark3:9)


The bold words in these references are from the same Greek word that has been translated "devoted / devoting" in the prayer references.  We can start to see that when the New Testament writers say "devoted" to something they mean to be day by day "continuing" in it, to be in "constant attendance" to it. I particularly like the last reference (Mark3:9). The boat was to be set aside for Jesus. It was to have no other purpose except to be available to him. It was to be "devoted" to Him. 

So what would the prayer pattern of someone "devoted to prayer" look like in practice?

Lets consider first what it wouldn't look like. I think we would agree for example that just participating in prayers during church on a Sunday or the quick giving of thanks before a meal or praying only when a crisis looms wouldn't constitute "devotion" to prayer.

By contrast the apostle Paul could say that he prayed "night and day" for Timothy (2TIm1:3) and the Christians in Thessalonica (1Thess3:10) and that he "unceasingly" made mention of the Christians in Rome in his prayers (Rom1:9,10). Epaphras was described as one who "laboured earnestly" in prayer (Col4:12).  Jesus Himself would "get up while still dark" to pray (Mk1:35), would "slip away to the wilderness to pray" (Lk5:16) and even went off to a mountain and "spent the whole night in prayer" in Luke 6:12.

When we put all this together we get a pretty good picture of what being "devoted" to prayer looks like.

And why wouldn't we be devoted to prayer when you consider what prayer is? 

It is communing with a God who is ABLE to do all things for his children (Eph3:20), who WANTS to do all things for them (Rom8:32) and who WILL do all things for those who ask (1Jn5:14,15)

Why wouldn't we be devoted to prayer when it is the opportunity to thank God for the "indescribable gift" (2Cor9:15) of His Son. 

Why wouldn't we be devoted to prayer when it is the opportunity to do things for each other far beyond what we could possibly do for them ourselves? (Jas5:16).

"Pray without ceasing" (1Thess5:17)

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Courage

Courage is giving up everything even though no-one else sees (Luke4:5-7)

Courage is continuing to walk the path even though no-one will share it with you (Mark8:11,12)

Courage is receiving the blows in silence when you know you're only trying to help (1Pet2:23)

Courage is feeling the fear and doing it anyway (Luke22:42,44)

Courage is thinking of others in the midst of your own pain (Jn19:26,27)

Courage is keeping your compassion when everyone else has abandoned theirs (Luke23:34)