God Loves Re-Gifters

Imagine piles of gold, silver, bronze, and gemstones. Think of a lumber yard full of wood and iron materials. This is what the Chronicler describes in 1 Chronicles 29. King David and the people of Israel had given vast amounts of these materials for the construction of the temple. The monetary value of these materials has been estimated in the billions of dollars. This cache of wealth had been given freely and joyously.

David offers a dedicatory prayer for all these materials which had been given for the temple project. One of the notable emphases of this prayer is how David and the people gave to God what God had already given to them. David prays:

“But who am I, and what is my people, that we should be able thus to offer willingly? For all things come from you, and of your own have we given you. (1 Chronicles 29:14 ESV)

O LORD our God, all this abundance that we have provided for building you a house for your holy name comes from your hand and is all your own. (1 Chronicles 29:16 ESV)

In other words, David and the Israelites were re-gifters. Re-gifting is considered a faux pas, especially if you get caught. You know, that awkward moment when you open a gift from a friend or relative and realize you gave them that same gift last year. Embarrassing.

But, when it comes to our giving to God, re-gifting is our only option. As David reminds us in his prayer, everything we have belongs to God. All we have come to possess was given to us by God. He owns everything and rules over everything. So, the only gifts we can give to God are those he has already given to us. Far from being a spiritual faux pas which God would deem unacceptable, God delights in such re-gifting.

Essential to a life of real stewardship is the realization that our time, talent, and treasure is a gift from God entrusted to us during our brief stay here on earth to be used and invested for God’s glory. So, let’s re-gift freely, unashamedly, and generously.

Undeserving

This is a bit of poetry I composed while meditating on the coming of Jesus to be our Savior.

Undeserving

Undeserving was the world into which the King was born,
a world that he himself had fashioned, all it gave to him was scorn.

Undeserving were the eyes that saw great works of pow’r and might,
though these wonders showed his glory, we liked darkness more than light.

Undeserving were the ears that heard his words of truth and grace,
words that bring us life and beauty, in our hearts they found no place.

Undeserving are we all of such a King who left his throne,
like the ones who heard and saw him, we have hearts of native stone.

Undeserving was the back that felt the whip with searing pain,
every lash an ugly payment for the price our sin had gained.

Undeserving were the hands by nails fixed coldly to the tree,
holding wrath and death for sinners, suffering so they could be free.

Undeserving of the life that shattered bonds of death and grave,
when the King broke through the darkness, ever-living now to save.

Undeserving when one day we sing triumphant at his throne,
knowing in our hearts we stand there by no merit of our own.

Undeserving is the theme of every heart renewed by grace,
all the joys our hearts can fathom giv’n by One who took our place.

 

Of God and Platforms

I don’t post much on political things but the recent kerfuffle over the DNC platform prompted me to offer a couple of observations. Right-leaning pundits were making a big deal out of the DNC leaving the word “God” out of their platform. Now I learn that the DNC has amended their platform to include “God.” How nice.

It irks me to see God becoming the latest political football in the quest to garner votes. Not that this is a new development, but it seems to have reached a particularly deplorable low. I have a sneaking suspicion that a legitimate view of God in a political platform can be a lot like the biblical book of Esther – the word God is never mentioned but his presence is pervasive in the story line. Just because you mention “God” in your platform language doesn’t mean that you actually honor him or even think much of him. Just because you don’t mention him doesn’t mean he doesn’t figure into the views actually stated in the platform. Both parties would do well to remember this.

If either party really wants to acknowledge God in a meaningful way, then let them propose policies and plans that demonstrate they actually care about governing in a way that takes his words and plans into consideration – much like those who founded this country. They didn’t found a theocracy. They founded a representative republic. But the founding documents do show that they believed that government should be informed by ideas given to us by God. They do mention a Creator. But just because they don’t say “God” on every page doesn’t mean that those documents don’t demonstrate a world view largely informed by things God said.

God-talk doesn’t impress God. Using him as a ploy to get votes probably doesn’t sit well with him either. He’s not lobbying to be included in anyone’s platform. He’s not endorsing anyone’s platform. He’s not running. He’s already King of the Universe. Rather than treating God as a lesser planet orbiting around the sun of republican or democratic politics, those who are serious about honoring God should endeavor to bring every area of life – including their politics – into orbit around him.

The Blessing of Affliction

It was good for me to be afflicted that I might learn your decrees. Psalm 119:71

A recent bout with pneumonia “clothes-lined” me and then side-lined me. I have been blessed with great health all my life. Rarely have I contracted a sickness that lasted more than a day or two. Rarely have I missed more than a day of work because of illness. But this illness has knocked me down for a week.

Compared to some of the things that many people have dealt with, it is still a small thing. Lots of people have had life-threatening diseases, or still struggle with chronic problems that require daily attention. The last thing I want to do is sound like a light-weight whiner by making any illegitimate comparisons. That is not my aim.

But, though my bout with illness is small in comparison with many, it has still been a time of learning for me. The Psalmist said something that sounds so strange to our ears – it was good for me to be afflicted…It doesn’t seem natural for us to look upon affliction as something good. But the truth is that some of our biggest steps forward in spiritual growth take place during times of affliction, including sickness.

Puritan Thomas Watson said, The sharp frosts of affliction bring on the spring flowers of grace. Sickness does several things to promote the growth of those flowers of grace in our lives. Let me share a few things that I have been reminded of recently.

I am weak, vulnerable, and dependent. Sickness is a reminder of our creaturely status. We are not invincible. We are dependent on God for our very breath. We are also dependent on others around us like doctors who give us medicine to promote healing, family members who care for us in our sickness, and coworkers who take up the slack when we cannot fulfill our duties. Sickness reminds us to lean hard on Christ with a humble heart.

I am a sinner who needs to examine myself. Sickness is not always a discipline from God but it can be. I have been trying to search my heart and life and check myself spiritually to see if God is disciplining me. I want to be teachable.

I am thankful. I am thankful to be surrounded by people who love me and assist me in such times. My wife has cared for me and served me. My coworkers have stepped in and covered for me. My church family has encouraged me with their prayers and words of love. I am thankful for medicine that is helping my body mend.

I am longing. I long for the day when my body will be transformed to be like Jesus’ glorious body. Then sickness will be done forever. Pain will be gone. The effects of sin will be totally reversed. I will be with my Savior along with all who know Him. Sickness makes us long to be with Christ.

I pray that the flowers of His grace will continue to bloom in my life. We must not forget that He will sometimes use affliction to cultivate these graces in us. Let’s learn to say with David, it was good that I was afflicted.

Paul, a Volunteer…?

Volunteer is a word often associated with ministry. There are lots of articles about “mobilizing church volunteers” and such. If by volunteer we mean “unpaid”, I get that. However, I am afraid that volunteer is a term often used to mask an attitude which is roughly equivalent to “don’t bust my chops about how I do this ministry,  you’re lucky to have someone filling this slot.” For instance, to emphasize showing up on time, being prepared, and giving your best energy to a ministry is often met with surprise. “I’m a busy person. Don’t you know I’m a volunteer?”

It struck me last week as I was studying Titus 1:1-4 how often Paul frames his life in terms that make us “volunteers” cringe. We read things like, “Paul, a bondslave of God…” The Greek term doulos is defined in one lexicon as follows:

a slave, bondman, man of servile condition

  1. a slave
  2. metaph., one who gives himself up to another’s will, those whose service is used by Christ in extending and advancing his cause among men
  3. devoted to another to the disregard of one’s own interests

A bondslave doesn’t set his own agenda. He or she serves at the pleasure of the master with the interests of the master as their primary focus. It is hard to imagine Paul opening one of his letters with, “Paul, a volunteer for God…” Whether he is tackling marriage, parenting, work, or ministry, Paul consistently frames the discussion in terms of the service of the believer to Christ. Christ is the Master, we are his servants.

I don’t think this is just quibbling over terminology. If I view my ministry in the church primarily in terms of volunteerism, it will affect the way I think about and practice ministry.

  • Volunteers sometimes come across as though ministry is an imposition. Servants approach ministry as a privilege.
  • Volunteers sometimes cut corners when it comes to the quality of preparation. Servants prepare to give their best to Christ.
  • Volunteers will cut ministry if something else competes for their time. Servants prioritize ministry.
  • Volunteers may be offended if they are not recognized for their contribution. Servants deflect the glory to Christ.

It is disappointing when Christians treat their ministry responsibilities in ways they would never dream of treating their secular responsibilities. They wouldn’t think of showing up late or not at all to work. They wouldn’t turn in a half-baked report to their boss. They wouldn’t “wing it” on an important presentation with little or no prep work. Yet, these kinds of things are all too common in local church life.

This kind of behavior betrays a volunteer mentality rather than a servant mentality. Let’s restore the biblical vocabulary of servanthood when it comes to the way we think about and practice ministry.

Mohler on Digital Church

Al Mohler on the limitations of digital churches:

Christ clearly intends for his people to be gathered together into congregations. The fellowship of the saints is a vital means of grace for the disciple of Christ. We can be enriched by means of listening to sermons online and by delving deeply into the ocean of knowledge found within Christian websites, but these cannot replace the authenticity that comes only by means of the local church and its ministry.

Believers need the accountability found only within the local church. We need to hear sermons preached by flesh-and-blood preachers in the real-time experience of Christian worship. We need to confess the faith together through the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. We need to confess our sins and declare forgiveness by the blood of Christ together. We need to be deployed for service in Christ’s name together.

Without apology, we can learn much from preaching heard or seen over the Internet. Churches should engage digital technologies with the same eagerness that we use jet aircraft, copy machines, the printing press, and the telephone. At the same time, none of these can replace the fellowship of the saints and the centrality of the local church.

A digital preacher will not preach your funeral. The deep limitations of digital technologies become evident where the church is most needed. Don’t allow the Internet to become your congregation. YouTube is a horrible place to go to church.

Preaching Like a Dying Man to Dying Men

Makers of Puritan History

Marcus L. Loane provides a brief but powerful description of the preaching of Richard Baxter. Baxter himself stated that he preached “as a dying man to dying men.” Loane writes several memorable sentences which support this view of the gravity of Baxter’s preaching.

All his sermons were aimed at heart and conscience and were preached with a fire and passion which could not be ignored. The fire might burn at white heat, but it shone with a clear flame…(p. 182)

Men who did hear him felt that he spoke as one who had come from the unseen presence of God and they listened as men would listen for the voice of eternity. (p. 182)

His words were like point-blank-gun-shots fired at the breast of a startled congregation: men had to be forced to listen when the stake was nothing less than their souls. (p. 183)

Thus his warnings were forged with the thunder of wrath and the terror of hell, but they were matched by the persuasive tenderness with which he strove to win men back for God. (p. 183)

Baxter was a man who toiled and preached with heaven and hell before his eyes…(p. 183)

Baxter’s passion burned so fervently in preaching because his heart and mind were gripped with the eternal realities about which he spoke from the pulpit. May it be so in my life and preaching as well.

 

 

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