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Testing our Motives

May 7th, 2018

[Jesus] said also to the man who had invited him, “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbours, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” (Luke 14:12-14 ESV)

Our faith is qualified by our motives, and not only by our expectations. If I believe God will do what He promises, then, well enough, I have faith. But still behind that thought may be simply a desire for a personal reward, that God will bless me as He has promised. It may not be driven by an unselfish desire for God and for others.

For example, the Bible says:”Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you” (Luke 6:38). If I give with the expectation that I shall get, and that is the only motivation in my heart, then my faith is still lacking an essential element. It is still all about me and what I shall receive.

God is gracious and often we receive some element of blessing because of our faith, even when that faith is imperfect. But Christ still put the emphasis on our motive. Our faith is not merely belief in God and in His promises. It must reveal a change of heart, a new attitude, genuine love for God and compassion for others. If we give only so that we will receive, then we have not ventured out into the realm of real faith.

Christ emphasized motive even over the amount that is given. He said, “And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward” (Matt. 10:42). The motive of rewarding another person’s faith in Christ brought the promise of a reward even if the gift was merely a cup of cold water. This is not to discount the fact that, generally speaking, the more loving and unselfish we are the further we will go for Christ, the more we shall endure for Him and others, and the more we will give for His cause.

So Christ always goes to the heart of the matter, and that is the condition of our hearts.  Moses interceded so deeply and personally for the people of Israel, asking God to forgive their sins, to the point that he prayed for his name to be blotted out of the book of God :”If you will forgive their sin—but if not, please blot me out of your book that you have written” (Exod. 32:32).*

Paul echoed the same sentiment as he prayed for his people Israel: “For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers” (Rom. 9:3). God did not allow such sacrifices by Moses and Paul for their people. The Bible says, “No one can redeem the life of another or give to God a ransom for them, for the redemption of his soul is costly…” (Psalm 49:7-8). Only Christ could die for the sins of others, and He died for the sins of the whole world, for the sins of all those who will trust in Him.

But still the sentiment is admirable and most Christ-like. People often expect great fan-fare and attention paid to them for giving that which cost them very little in personal discomfort or inconvenience. But the greater love is the one that is expressed toward those who cannot or will not say thank you, who cannot repay. Truly it is said that until we have such love for another person we have not truly lived.

And the greatest love is the love that Christ plants in our hearts for God by His Spirit, that wishes to do all we can, whatever we can, for Christ and for His cause in this world. Truly this is genuine life. Never feel sorry for someone who has a cause worth living and sacrificing for, and worth dying for. These are the only ones among us who truly live.

 

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*”The book that you have written” – some skeptics point out that this word is out of historical context for in the days of Moses books as we know them today had not yet been invented. But this original word sepher means a scroll or certificate, or a title deed. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica the ancient Sumerians, Egyptians, and Mesopotamians compiled books of writings on clay tablets in the third millennium B.C., long before the appearance of Abraham on the scene of history. The precise date of the invention of writing is unknown simply because the more common writing materials are of perishable material.

Authenticity in the Faith, Prayer

Easter Aftermath

April 2nd, 2018

“I’m going out to fish,” Simon Peter told them, and they said, “We’ll go with you.” (John 21:3)

Easter and the lead up to it is perhaps the most exciting season of the church, and the most emotionally draining for those of us in ministry.

The first Easter was similar for the disciples – exciting and exhausting. This little passage at the end of John is one of the most interesting in scripture, to me, because it presents the eternal reality of the risen Christ – that changed everything – and plays it against the backdrop of the disciples who seemed to seek to return to what had been normal.

A return to the familiar

When we are emotionally exhausted we often long for the familiar. The disciples were largely, if not exclusively, from Galilee, and after the resurrection and initial appearances of Christ to them in Jerusalem and Judea, they apparently made their ways back north to Galilee. And Peter decided to return to fishing. Those who were with him included James and John, his former partners in a fishing business, and three other disciples.

They had no other means of livelihood, so far as we know. While Christ lived on earth, they received donations from loyal followers but now that He was crucified and risen, in this in-between time, they had to find other means of support. And, we should remember, Judas Iscariot had been the treasurer of the group, and following his betrayal of Christ and suicide, who knows what happened to whatever funds they had had.

So rather than being idle, Peter, being a man of action, preferred to fish and earn his living the old way. There is nothing wrong with this, and the scripture never condemns their action. Christ had called them to be fishers of men and they had left all to follow Him, but they were not beggars. And besides, what is a man to do except to earn his living the best way he knows how? (See Eph. 4:28.)

Their former boats had been sold, most likely, but using their old contacts, Peter and perhaps James and John, secured another and off they set, onto their old familiar fishing grounds. The sun and the water, as well as the night sky later that evening, conjured up familiar and comfortable memories – they knew how to do this.

Have you ever been emotionally exhausted? Have you ever been in circumstances where everything seemed to be changing around you so fast that you felt you just needed to find something familiar? I read their story and I think about the way most pastors feel the Monday after Easter.

But the old would never be the same again

Despite their best efforts they caught nothing, at least not until Jesus showed up the next morning. The old life, if they had held illusions of how great it used to be, was not as super as they remembered.

After the cross and the resurrection the old life could never be returned to, at least not in its entirety. Nothing would ever be the same again. But, truthfully, it had all changed for Peter and the others once they had decided to follow Christ. They had a purpose that could never be fulfilled through fishing for fish alone.

Can’t we imagine how Peter would have changed had he been left to work as a fisherman for the rest of his life? Before Christ he simply talked about fishing with his colleagues and those he hired. After Christ, though, he talked about Christ as he fished. Pre-Christ life was never about Christ, but post-Christ life was always about Christ.

Christ did not leave Peter working as a fisherman the rest of his life. He was an apostle and a missionary and a pastor-teacher in the church. His life from that point on would be given as a witness to the Lord. He was a preacher of unparalleled opportunities in those early days of the church, and God used him greatly. On that day the words of Christ to Peter simply prepared him to refocus his life for Christ.

He would be imprisoned, beaten, and threatened by men, and anointed and used by God to perform miracles and bring the gospel to the Gentiles. In the end he would be martyred for his faith, and ultimately his life and ministry would be the framework upon which Christ would build His church – as Paul wrote, the church was “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone” (Eph. 2:20).

The difference between the Spirit of Christ and our emotions

But on that morning on Galilee, Christ was there and helped them catch a large amount of fish, served them breakfast which He Himself had cooked for them on the shore, and comforted Peter about His forgiveness over his denials on the night of Christ’s arrest. Jesus let Peter know that his life was not yet over, that his race of faith had not yet been fully run.

It was all simple, straightforward, and Jesus talked to Peter in a way you should talk to a man who had witnessed so much in such a short time, and who had fished all night as well. No inappropriate pressure, no mind games, just Jesus and six of the disciples on the beach having breakfast and a chat.

We have physical and emotional needs. We are physical and emotional beings. We need exercise, rest, food, sleep, as well as friends, encouragement, challenges, peace, and purpose in life. And God knows this, of course, and provides these things for us.

Yet we are also spiritual beings – especially is this true for those who trust in Christ. In a short while, after this conversation with Peter, Christ would ascend on high and the Spirit would descend upon the church. The Spirit of God brought back to life the dead spirit of people – that which was dead in the unsaved became the very center of the Christian. But the Spirit is not the same as our emotions.

Christ said, “I have come that you might have life and have it to the full” (John 1010). He did not say, “I have come that you might have emotion and have it to the full.” Some have compared the filling of the Spirit to some sort of emotional experience that lifts us off the ground in excitement and enthusiasm. But the fullness of the Spirit is not about how high we jump in the air when God gets ahold of us, but about how straight we walk when our feet hit the ground.

To all those who are tired and weary

Let me end this little devotion with reminding us that the Spirit does not demand emotional enthusiasm from us. To be filled with Him does not mean that we must be leaping and shouting on some emotional high. We can relax and be calm and still enjoy the filling of the Spirit. Remember Christ said: “Come unto me all you who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28).

 

 

Authenticity in the Faith, Christ's Post-Resurrection Appearances