That’s not Fair!

By Scott Armstrong

“Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; do not fret when people succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes.” (Psalm 37:7)

(Read Psalm 37:3-8)

When they are little, siblings often complain about “fairness.”  Is that not the most burning issue to a small child? If one toddler takes a toy away, another exclaims for all to hear, “Hey, that’s not fair!”  If one brother gets to go over to a friend’s house while the other stays home, the “tortured” sibling mopes to his dad and mom, “But that’s not fair!”

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Even as teens and adults, we are usually concerned about fairness.  She got those grades and didn’t even try. He makes more money than I do and I work much harder.  The issue is even more complex when we see followers of Christ suffering and those who don’t even care about God living the high life. It is definitely easy to focus on those around us and ask God, “Are you seeing this? It’s just not fair!”

Maybe that is why David writes Psalm 37.  In its first 8 verses, he says 3 times, “Do not fret,” especially with regards to the apparent success of “evil men” who carry out “wicked schemes.”  It is as if David is saying, “I know it’s not fair.  But don’t worry about it.  God knows.”

Perhaps more importantly, David gives us some great advice.

“Trust in the Lord and do good…”

“Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart…”

“Commit your way to the Lord…”

“Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him.”

Those are words of guidance and also of encouragement.  Although the circumstances in your life may not be fair, God sees and knows everything.  He has incredible promises in store for you if you continue to faithfully serve him (vv.4-6).  Instead of focusing on others, let’s focus on the Lord and trust in him.

A Return to Rainy Season

By Scott Armstrong

I need to confess something at the onset of this article.  It’s regarding my spiritual walk and I am not proud of what I’m about to say.

I am very faithful at doing my devotions every day, but I do not always meet with God.

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Your reaction is probably this right now

What?! Doing your devotions is reading the Bible, praying and reflecting, all with the purpose of growing closer to God.  How can you do all those things and not meet with God? It doesn’t make sense!

You are right; it’s insane!  It’s like meeting up at a café with a friend you’ve longed to catch up with, and then spending the entire time on your cellphone.  I’ll go further: it’s like doing THAT and then returning home and contentedly checking “Meet with friend” off your to-do list.

I am faithful every day to read my Bible.  I pray and sometimes listen to Christian music.  But if I am not careful, it is all hurried.  Lost in the assault of appointments to come.  And worst of all, forgotten 5 minutes after I close the Bible.

It needs to change.  And that is why we took yesterday as our office to dedicate to a day-long spiritual retreat: listening to God through silence and his Word, confessing to one another, and praying for individual and ministry requests.  It was a necessary time of renewal that each one of us sorely needed.

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As the rain started to softly fall upon the grass and shrubs in our front yard, God led me to Isaiah 55, especially verses 10-11:

“As the rain and the snow
come down from heaven,
and do not return to it
without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,

so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”

I sensed him say:

“Just as the literal rain falling around you replenishes the soil,

allow me to refresh your soul every morning.

Don’t just open your Bible; dwell in my Word and let it dwell in you.

I desire to remake you into my likeness, but that takes time.

Are you willing to enjoy me or do you see me as another task to be completed?”

Ouch.

So I have committed to preparing the soil of my life to receive his nourishment every morning.  That can’t happen in five minutes of express-devotions.  Honestly, it won’t occur in 15 minutes either.  It will require making sacrifices in other areas.  THIS is the most important area.  THIS is the only real area that matters anyway.

If you have no devotional life, creating a habit of 5 minutes a day may be the first step.  God will honor that.  But if you have already developed the habit (or fallen into a rut), you need to take the next step.  Will you commit with me to make the necessary adjustments in order to move from ritual back to relationship?

In other words, let’s make sure we are faithful at “doing our devotions” every day.  But let’s make sure we truly meet with God during those times as well.

“Listen, listen to me…and your soul will delight in the richest of fare.” –Is. 55:2

 

Learning from Mary

By Charles W. Christian

I once heard a Catholic priest tell a joke about a scene in Heaven. Jesus walks up to a Protestant and a Catholic and says to them, “I am glad to see you two getting along so well.” Then Jesus turns to the Protestant and says, “I would like to introduce you to my mother.  I don’t think you two have met!”

We Protestants in the crowd laughed, but it challenged me to take a closer look at what we as Christians – both Protestants and Catholics – can learn from Mary.

Based on the Gospels, here are a few lessons that come to mind:

  • We can be available for the work of God: “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “Let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).
  • We can allow faith in God to override our fears:  [Elizabeth said to her], “Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill His promises to her” (Luke 1:45).
  • We can embody thankfulness:  “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior” (Luke 1:46-47).
  • We can allow God to use us to speak prophetically to a world in need of a Savior: “He [God] has performed mighty deeds with His arm; He has scattered the proud. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble” (Luke 1:51-52).
  • We can learn to treasure God’s gifts: “But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19).

There are many other lessons we can learn from Mary’s example.  During this season of Advent, may we, like Mary, approach the future with humility, faithfulness, and hope.

God has chosen His Church to be the bearers of the good news of the person and work of Jesus Christ.  Let us adore Him, and let us share this good news by the power of the Holy Spirit as we journey together through Advent.

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Prayer for the week:

Teach us obedience, Lord
In every part of our lives
Ears to hear your word
Hands to do your work
Feet to walk your path
A heart for all your people
A mouth to shout your praise
A childlike faith
Humility
Confidence
That says
To the possible
And the impossible
I am the Lord’s servant
May it be to me as you have said.
Amen

(John Birch at faithandworship.com)

This article was originally published at: Holiness Today

 

Towards Missional Effectiveness: The Mark of Sentness – Part 5 of 7

By Ed Stetzer

God’s mission involves sending. But what does God send His people to do? 

I’m in a blog series covering the topic missional effectiveness. In the previous post, I started to explain the marks of God’s mission, beginning with the missional mark of community.

Today, I’ll cover the missional mark of sentness.

The Missional Mark of Sentness Explained and Exemplified

God’s mission has a dual movement—it moves centripetally and centrifugally. Thus, God’s mission isn’t static—it’s active.

One of the active characteristics of God’s mission is the notion of sentness. God establishes this pattern early in redemptive history. He goes to Adam and Eve, sends Abraham to the Promised Land, Moses to Egypt, Jonah to the Ninevites, Israel to Babylon, Jesus to the world, the Spirit to the Church, and the Church to the nations.

Clearly, God’s mission involves sending. But what does God send His people to do? Taking into account passages such as Genesis 1–2, Genesis 12:1–3, Jeremiah 29:1–7, Matthew 5:13–16, and Jesus’ sentness, the missional community of God is sent in the world to do at least two things.

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  1. God’s missional community is sent to be faithful in all areas of life.

This point dives deeper into the community’s obedience to the word of God in all areas of life. While I don’t have space to look at all of the verses above, let me note Jeremiah 29:1–7 to explain this idea.

Some may wonder, why use this passage?

Wasn’t Israel taken into captivity because of their sin? Yes, Israel finds themselves in Babylon because of their sin. However, we read in Jeremiah 29:4, “Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon….”

So, God has intentionally sent them into Babylonian exile. And in the proceeding verses we learn why He sent them.

God sent them to live in Babylon as if they were living in Jerusalem. Israel was to build houses, have families, plant gardens, and to multiply in exile. In other words, they were to live in Babylon as if they were living in Jerusalem. Since faithfulness was to be a mark of the people of God in the Promised Land, faithfulness was also to be a mark of the people of God in the foreign land.

Israel’s faithfulness would display a life that revolved around the glory and life of God. Greg Forster identifies this aspect as the joy of God being displayed through the life of a believer. As a result, Forster writes,

That embedded joy will not consist simply of a changed attitude. Our actions will change. In our families, we will act differently as sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, husbands, wives, fathers, or mothers. In our workplaces and other economic relationships we will act differently as employees, employers, managers, co-workers, students, teachers, clients, customers, or vendors. In our communities, we will act differently as friends, neighbors, members, or participants.

In addition, Israel’s faithfulness would lead them to operate as the city of God within the city of man. I love what Tim Keller says to this point. He writes,

Every city has two cities, the city of God and the city of man. Every city contains a smaller city, the city of God. The city of God is the people of God who forms an alternative city. What does that city look like? The Sermon on the Mount tells us. Christians are to take sex, money, [work], and power and instead of using them the way the city of man uses them, they are to use them the way God intended.

This leads me to my second point.

  1. God’s missional community is sent to bless the city spiritually, socially, and culturally.

As God’s people demonstrated the life of God and lived as the city of God, they were to seek the blessing and flourishing of the city of man.Interestingly, God doesn’t tell them to assimilate, withdraw, or seek the total transformation of the Babylonian culture (the city of man); he simply tells them, in their faithfulness, to seek the prosperity and shalom (human flourishing) of the city and to pray for it to thrive.

Essentially, God sent Israel to Babylon for the sake of His glory and for the good of the city. Keller puts it this way,

[God sends his people] to be used in life giving ways. The way you bear witness of God’s city is to go into the city for the city’s sake. The citizens of the city of God are the very best citizens of the city of man because they do not move in to assimilate, to use the city for their gains, or to move in for their own tribe, but they move in for the sake of the city.

As a reminder, the Babylonians were a polytheistic, pagan, ruthless, and violent people. In other words, they were dead in their trespasses and sins. Yet, God tells His people to live and pray towards their flourishing and peace. But what does that look like? Once again, without being exhaustive,

I believe people like Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego function as examples of what it means to live faithfully and bless the city.

These men served the empire civilly. In their service, they demonstrated the tension of living faithfully for the city of God while striving to serve the city of man. From their service, they exhibited at least three ways God’s people can bless the city of man.

First, they blessed the city spiritually by maintaining spiritual fidelity to God in the face of temptation.

In other words, they loved God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength. All of these men faced the temptation to bow down to a cultural idol, yet they chose to be faithful to the supremacy of God. As a result, many people were convinced of the truth of YHWH.

God’s people cannot bless the city spiritually by living unfaithful lives. When our words and witness line up, we exhibit an alternative plausibility reality for which the world needs to see.

Second, they blessed the city socially by having a humble and gracious disposition towards those in authority and in the larger culture.

They did not complain, grumble, or react unkindly towards those whom either had spied them out or who had treated them unfairly. Another way to look at it is that they loved others. When we exhibit grace and mercy towards others, we once again put the city of God on display for the world to see.

Third, they blessed the city culturally by doing their job with integrity, excellence, and skill.

They worked vocationally as if they were working for the Lord. The king recognizes their faith, character, integrity, and skill and honors their God and gives them a promotion. As the people of God work in a manner that reflects the glory of God, they exhibit a work ethic that surpasses (or should surpass), the work ethic of the city of man.

By embedding themselves in the larger culture and living faithful lives for the glory of God, they inevitably bless the city in spiritual, social, and cultural ways. As a result of the presence of God’s people and their participation in the culture, the city was better off. This reminds me of the question which many church leaders and churches ask themselves: If they were to one day cease to exist, would their community take notice and miss them?

In sum, the missional mode of sentness speaks of the church (and individuals) having a missional posture. Thus, missional effectiveness requires churches to teach, train, and equip believers towards a faithful presence where planted so that they may be used as God’s temple to reflect His radiant glory in all areas of life as He works through them to bless others spiritually, socially, and culturally.

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In the next post, I’ll talk about the missional mark of multiplication.

 

This article was originally posted at: http://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2017/january/towards-missional-effectiveness-mark-of-sentness-part-5.html

New Beginnings

By Scott Armstrong

Need a new beginning in your life, in your city, or in your church? God specializes in helping us start afresh. 

God gives us fresh songs of praise.

“He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear the Lord and put their trust in him.” (Ps. 40:3)

God is in the heart-transplant business.

“I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh.” (Ez. 11:19)

In the driest wilderness, God’s refreshing fountain springs forth!

“Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” (Is. 43:19)

God changes minds, attitudes, and entire selves so that we are like him!

“You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Eph. 4:22-24)

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God truly makes ALL things new.

“See, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind.” (Is. 65:17)

In Christ, God gives us a fresh start.

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” (2 Cor. 5:17)

The new beginning does not have to wait – God’s mercies are new every morning!

“Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. (Lam. 3:22-23)

Even at the end of the story, God starts another one.

“And he who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’ Also he said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.’” (Rev. 21:5)