Worshipping God’s Gifts

“The Egyptians were urgent with the people to send them out of the land in haste. For they said, “We shall all be dead.” So the people took their dough before it was leavened, their kneading bowls being bound up in their cloaks on their shoulders. The people of Israel had also done as Moses told them, for they had asked the Egyptians for silver and gold jewelry and for clothing. And the Lord had given the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they let them have what they asked. Thus they plundered the Egyptians.” Exodus‬ ‭12:33-36‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Not only did God rescue Israel from slavery in Egypt, He also showered them with clothing for the journey and with silver and gold. Later on in the story we see that some of that fabric and those precious metals would be used in the construction of the tabernacle. But God would only ask for those with willing hearts to give to the cause of the project.

“And they came, everyone whose heart stirred him, and everyone whose spirit moved him, and brought the Lord ‘s contribution to be used for the tent of meeting, and for all its service, and for the holy garments. So they came, both men and women. All who were of a willing heart brought brooches and earrings and signet rings and armlets, all sorts of gold objects, every man dedicating an offering of gold to the Lord. And every one who possessed blue or purple or scarlet yarns or fine linen or goats’ hair or tanned rams’ skins or goatskins brought them.” Exodus‬ ‭35:21-23‬ ‭ESV‬‬

The generosity of all those Israelites never ceases to encourage me to be more open with all God had blessed me and my family with. Since they were slaves in Egypt you know they didn’t have much. Most, if not all, of what they brought had to have been given to them upon their exit from the land. That’s because God is a giving God. As if our freedom is not enough (which obviously it’s more than enough) God goes beyond. He always gives more than we deserve. And the response of a thankful heart is to always give back to God’s mission and purposes. But, unfortunately, this passage in Exodus 35 came after a failed response by the people of Israel a few chapters earlier.

“When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered themselves together to Aaron and said to him, “Up, make us gods who shall go before us. As for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” So Aaron said to them, “Take off the rings of gold that are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” So all the people took off the rings of gold that were in their ears and brought them to Aaron. And he received the gold from their hand and fashioned it with a graving tool and made a golden calf. And they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!”” Exodus‬ ‭32:1-4‬ ‭ESV‬‬

All of us will do one of two things when God opens up His storehouses for us. We will either make gods of it, or we’ll be generous with it. We can be conduits of His generosity and let it flow through our hands. Instead, we often fall in into the trap of being dead ends. We set the ‘things’ God gives us at such a high value we never want to let go of them.

I have a saying that I tell to my kids when they’re being reluctant to share. I say, “we don’t deserve to have anything that we’re not willing to share with others.” That’s a lesson I have to occasionally relearn myself. If there is anything we posses that we aren’t willing to use to benefit or aid others, we’ve made it an idol. We are actually worshipping something that God has blessed us with. We might as well melt it down and make a golden calf out of it. Fortunately, God does not forsake us for our moments of selfishness. Hundreds of years later, in the book of Nehemiah, the Levites were recounting the story of the Exodus as the people confessed their sins before the Lord.

“Even when they had made for themselves a golden calf and said, ‘This is your God who brought you up out of Egypt,’ and had committed great blasphemies, you in your great mercies did not forsake them in the wilderness. The pillar of cloud to lead them in the way did not depart from them by day, nor the pillar of fire by night to light for them the way by which they should go. You gave your good Spirit to instruct them and did not withhold your manna from their mouth and gave them water for their thirst. Forty years you sustained them in the wilderness, and they lacked nothing. Their clothes did not wear out and their feet did not swell.” Nehemiah‬ ‭9:18-21‬ ‭ESV‬‬

I want God’s generosity to create a more generous heart in me. I want to live open handed. When God blesses me, I want to see it as an opportunity to bless others. I want to invest more of my time in the pursuit of heavenly treasures, not earthly possessions. I want nothing to be off limits for those in need.

“”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 ‭ESV‬‬

Cheers to the generous life!

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Would Jesus be allowed in your Bible Study?

BibleStudy-1

Have you ever stopped to think about how Jesus would respond if He walked into your Bible study gathering? Would He feel welcome? Would He be honored by what He saw? Those may seem like rhetorical questions, but they really aren’t. I think that there are Bible studies, or “small groups” as they are often labeled, out there that would not like Jesus to walk through the door. Or they would at least be in for quite the shock at what He may have to say. Why is that the case for some groups out there? Maybe because they are misrepresenting Him. Maybe because they are straying from the foundations of their faith. Maybe because they act as an exclusive group. Maybe the Bible isn’t really much of the focus in the first place. Maybe Jesus isn’t even their focus.

Allow me to give some examples of what I’m referring to. I know groups where alcohol is a big part of the gathering (and it’s not for taking communion). I know groups that are pretty closed off to outsiders or those with different views from the majority of the group (Heaven-forbid a non-believer come to Bible study). I’ve been to Bible study groups that talk about most anything other than the Bible (it’s more of a social club). I know of groups that are so legalistic and focused on the Old Testament that Jesus is rarely (if at all) mentioned (The irony).

What would Bible Study with Jesus look like? I think we can know the answer to that by taking a look at His life. Read about what He did when He was with people. Jesus was constantly talking about the word. His mission was to gather outsiders and love on people. Jesus brought the liberating truth. He prayed, He served, and He inspired hope. He saw people for who they were and called them into something so much better. He loved the least of society instead of turning His back on them. Jesus lead and loved from the heart of God. I think Jesus-inspired Bible studies would look something like what they did in the first century when those who had experienced Jesus met with one another.

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

Acts 2:42-47 NIV

I don’t think it’s ever a bad idea to do a little reflection on our churches, our gatherings, and our relationships to make sure they are reflecting the One whom we love. Who knows…a new shot zeal could rise up among us. We could get a new sense of purpose for why we meet and why we do what we do. That sense of belonging in Christ and the new identity that we have could be revived among us. Our eyes could be turned more to those around us, to the hurting, the broken, and the lost. A new devotion to the mission of love and truth could spring up in our hearts. We could put Jesus more on display for each other, and especially for those who don’t know Him. Who wouldn’t want that?

Peace in Christ brothers and sisters!

Faith of Women Series: the Sinful Woman

Just as this series began with a story of redemption, I thought it appropriate to end with one, since that is what the entire story of the Christian faith is about. Our series started with Rahab, a woman with a less than good reputation. But she proved to be instrumental in the story God was unfolding through the people of Israel. The woman of faith we are focusing on today was an outcast of Jewish society. Much like Rahab, she would not be the top choice in many churches. But she is nonetheless, an example for followers of Jesus to aspire to. Here’s the story out of Luke.

“One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and reclined at table. And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment.” Luke‬ ‭7:36-38‬ ‭ESV‬‬

In Luke 7 a broken, sobbing, unnamed woman enters the home where Jesus is dining. She anoints his feet with oil and tears, wiping them with her hair. The men present talk about her like she isn’t even there. They are offended by the “sinner” in their presence.

Much debate exists over who the woman in this story is. I would caution anyone to rush into claiming to know her identity. The safest thing to do is to remain silent when the Bible is silent. The question of who she was must be left unanswered. Two answers have, however, been suggested by various sources. They are only theories though. One suggests she was Mary of Magdalene. The belief adopted by some interpreters, and more or less generally received in the Church of Rome, is that the woman was none other than Mary the sister of Lazarus. Both of these assumptions are quite a stretch with no basis of supporting information from the gospel texts. If the name had been important, the Lord would have impressed it on Doctor Luke to include it. The point of this story is not her name, it’s her heart.

“Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.”” Luke‬ ‭7:39‬ ‭ESV

We know only one thing about who this woman was: she was a sinner, That label, in this context, denotes that she was a woman well known for her lewd behavior. More than likely she was a prostitute due to the way the phrase is used elsewhere in the Bible. But no matter how much others wanted to label her that way, she wouldn’t allow it to define her destiny. In this concise passage from Luke’s gospel, we see the entirety of God’s mission in play.

“For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans‬ ‭5:6-8‬ ‭ESV‬‬

This woman saw something special in Jesus. She saw a necessity that couldn’t be filled in any other way. Jesus was her freedom. Her past would not deter her. Quite possibly she had been involved in her sinful lifestyle the day of this life-altering encounter. But sin requires a savior. The holiness of Jesus did not deter her, it attracted her. Faith overcame her failures.

“Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?” And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”” Luke‬ ‭7:44-50‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Who among us would go to such great lengths to show Jesus our love for Him? First, she had to recognize her sin and then she had to seek out the cure. Some sources suggest she was a gentile woman. Whether she was or wasn’t she still followed Jesus into the home of a Pharisee. That’s a huge no-no for a “sinful” woman. She could have very well been sealing her own death sentence. Instead of finding death, she found new life. And that’s exactly what faith does. It recognizes our need for Jesus and follows Him into any unknown danger. Her love for Him steered her course, not because she was worthy of Him, but because she knew she wasn’t and He chose her anyways. The same is true for all of us. No one in history ever deserved to kiss His feet or shower them in their tears. Which is precisely why her faith and His love are so amazing.

*I have enjoyed so much going through this series. We’ve looked at some pretty amazing women from the past, who’s faith exceeded our own. I just want to give a huge thank you to all the women in my life who have loved Jesus and followed Him into the unknown and spend their lives trying to make Him known. I’m a blessed man. Take the time to thank the women of faith in your own life. They are so important and are far too often overlooked. Thank you also to all the women of faith who have been reading this series. You’re changing the world around you!

Peace in Christ brothers and sisters

A leap from the edge

Parenthood gives us so many glimpses at the realities of how God views and wants to interact with us as His children. It’s just another grace of His and for me, it really makes the Bible come alive in unique and powerful ways. One such moment happened recently. My family and I were over at a friends house swimming. After a long time of playing we got out to have some lunch. When we were all finished and it was time to get back to the water we all waded it, that is, all but my oldest daughter. She walked around the pool’s edge rounding up toys to put in the pool before joining the rest of us. It was then that I had a fun idea.

My mind drifted back to times when I was little and I would leap from the pool’s edge into my dad’s arms. That’s how I learned to not be afraid. It wasn’t long before I would jump on my own. So I got my five year old daughter’s attention and said, “why don’t you jump from the edge and I’ll catch you?” Up to this point in the day she had mainly splashed around in the shallows with a floating vest on. Now I’m asking her to take a leap into the deep end. She paused and said, “no way daddy!” As most any father would, I encouraged her to face her fear and to give it a shot. Her hesitation turned to trepidation. It an attempt to calm her little heart I looked at her and said, “sweetheart, do you trust me?” Her eyes shifted from the water to me and she replied in a soft voice, “yes.” I smiled and told her, “that’s all you need. I know it’s a big jump and we’re in the deep end, but I’m in the deep end with you.” After a few more seconds of hesitation, my daughter inched to the side of the pool. Draping her toes over the edge, slowly bending her knees, legs shaking a bit, arms stretched out towards me, she jumped.

During a simple fun day at the pool, this moment probably did more for me than it did for her. I hope she gained confidence in overcoming something that was big and scary for her. But in that moment I felt the Holy Spirit teaching me like I was trying to teach my daughter. You see, what my daughter was asked to do is, in a way, a lot like scenarios that we find ourselves in with a fair amount of regularity. As followers of Jesus, we’re asked to take many leaps from the waters edge. Sure, it looks different in each of our lives but the idea behind it all is the same. A life of faith is a life lived by jumping in to the deep end when we can’t swim. But our faith tells us that our Heavenly Father is in the deep end with us, ready to catch us so we don’t seek to depths. We are all faced with the same choice that my daughter had, do I let me fear of the unknown and possible danger keep me from jumping, or do I listen to my Father’s voice and trust Him to catch me?

Faith of Women Series: Lydia

One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul. And after she was baptized, and her household as well, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.” And she prevailed upon us.” Acts‬ ‭16:14-15‬ ESV

Scripture does not supply us with any information regarding Lydia’s background apart from the fact that she lived in Thyatira which was one of the Macedonian colonies. Thyatira was conspicuous for its many guilds which were united by common pursuits and religious rites. One of these guilds was that of dyers. The water of the area was so well-adapted for dyeing, and the unique purple dye of Thyatira brought the city universal renown. This is the atmosphere that Lydia found her self in. According to Acts 16:14, Lydia was a well-known seller of this product making her an example of a successful business woman in a prosperous city.

I believe there are several observations about Lydia that make her a great example of faith. First, she is labeled as a worshipper of God. No one knows for sure if she was of Jewish descent. Most speculate she wasn’t due to her name and where she lived. Most in Thyatira wanted nothing to do with the God of Israel. It was a center of Greek paganism and the worship of many other gods, mainly Apollo. The fact that she worshipped the God of Israel made her set apart from the crowd and willing to be different for her convictions.

A second observation about Lydia is that she was actively seeking out the things of God. In verse 13 Paul said that they went to a place of prayer by the riverside on the sabbath day. Lydia was there. She was a woman of prayer, not afraid to be seen among other believers, outside the gates of the city wall. She risked a lot for her faith…to be active in her faith. This is where she met Jesus. As a worshipper of God, Lydia only knew him in part. In Jesus, we get a much fuller picture of who God is, since Jesus is the full embodiment of God’s holiness and character and love.

Thirdly, Lydia responded to the gospel without hesitation. As Paul preached, she soaked it all in. The Holy Spirit moved in her and when it did, she took the call to be baptized, making her public confession of her faith in Jesus.

Lastly, Lydia showed her love for others. She most likely contributed to her family’s salvation and baptism and immediately requested that those carrying the gospel come to her home to be taken care of. Her faith becomes action in the form of her generous hospitality. She maintained that hospitality by continuing to take care of Christians after this original encounter. After Paul and Silas got out of prison (for preaching the gospel) they went to see her where many brothers and sisters in Christ were. It is very likely that Lydia had started a home church there.

“Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.” Philippians‬ ‭4:3‬ ‭ESV‬‬

In Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi, he asked for the prayers and support for the women who had labored beside him in the furthering of the gospel. Lydia was undoubtedly one of them. Her presence and example would continue to carry on. Her life was spent for the gospel of Jesus. Today, she is regarded as one of the greatest women of faith among the Orthodox Christian church, which has its roots in region Lydia called home.

This one Thing

Can you see me here before you?How long have I served you? What more must I do?

Are you pleased? I don’t feel that way. How could you be? I am imperfect.

I have tried and tried until I can no longer. What more must I bring? I have but a weary body, fatigued and stretched thin.

In my dreary and failed state I hear a gentle whisper say, “it’s you my child. That’s all I’ve ever wanted. Give me your heart and I will move your hands and feet.”

Faith of Women Series: Priscilla

“He began to speak boldly in the synagogue, but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately.” Acts‬ ‭18:26‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Our topic of discussion in this post is quite opposite from that of our last post, but also quite the same and other ways. The person of Priscilla to mention a half a dozen times throughout the New Testament. Her name, along with out of her husband Aquila, is of Roman origin. It is believed that they both had strong connections with Roman families of good standing. They were tent makers, and as merchants they were able to assist those who were spreading the gospel in the first century, namely Paul the apostle. They were from a Roman culture, but most definitely not of that culture as was displayed by their life. Biblegateway comments on the unique couple as follows:

As Priscilla is always paired with her husband, Aquila, it is difficult to separate her and place her on a pedestal of her own. Their two hearts beat as one. Harmoniously, they labored together in the service of the church. They walked as one for they had mutually agreed to put Christ first. In the six references where both are mentioned, the name of Priscilla comes first in three instances, and Aquila first in the other three. They are never mentioned apart.

Priscilla was a model of the Christian woman. She served alongside her husband, unified in cause and purpose. She would have played a significant role, not only in helping Paul, but even discipling Paul. Her and her husband were on the front lines. While Paul new doctrine, Priscilla and Aquila knew servanthood. From what we know is scripture, Priscilla was along the missionary journey with revolutionized the world. Along with her husband and the Apostle Paul, she went to Ephesus and to Rome assisting in every way. As a missionary she scattered the good seed of the Gospel wherever she went. You can read about her exploits in passages like Acts 18:18, Romans 16:3, and 2 Timothy 4:19.

Priscilla’s faith demonstrates a mind set on the greater purposes of life. I don’t know her story leading up to her rendezvous with Paul, but it had to be one of divine encounter. Priscilla and her husband were fully walking in the things of Christ by the time Paul reached them. Their lives were wholly devoted to taken care of others and spreading the good news of Jesus. While her background makes her different from Mary, her life of service and surrender makes her similar. In a “man’s world” of the first century, Priscilla succeeded in both business and, most importantly, ministry. She is one of the greatest examples we see that took the call of Jesus to go to the ends of the earth and make disciples.

In many ways, Priscilla reminds me of the faith in my own wife. God has blessed me with an incredible woman of faith. Her heart is for missions and the spread of the gospel. She loves greatly and serves with her life. She loves Jesus and makes Him known.

The world needs more Priscillas and Aquilas. Men and women who live only unto the Lord. Couples who are one in purpose. Couples who are doing all they can to further the good news of salvation in Jesus.