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Guilt-free Blessings

November 15th, 2016

Now may the Lord of peace Himself give you peace always in every way. The Lord be with you all… The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen. (2 Thes. 3:16-18, NKJV)

If I were known for only one thing in my ministry I would hope that it would be to bless and encourage people.

There are times when we all need a word of reproof, a word of challenge, a word of correction - the Word of God is useful for these things (2 Tim. 3:16-17) - but these should never become the aftertaste of our encounters with God. The final word of Paul in this letter was one of blessing, and he ends all of his letters like this, as did other New Testament writers.

Christ began His Sermon on the Mount with pronouncing rich blessings available to people from God - for the spiritually poor, for the mournful, for the meek, and so forth.

I am often tired of guilt-inducing Christianity that tries to pressure someone into feeling bad. I am tired of those who try to motivate through guilt, or to challenge others by guilt. I am tired of mean and angry people who find fault with everyone and everything and do so in the name of Christ. Our Christian faith should offer people more hope than despair, more love than hate, more grace than guilt, and more joy than sorrow.

What is the aftertaste of your encounters and experiences with God? Embrace His grace! Grace is our only hope anyway.

This really is a question of faith - do we believe Christ when He says that He will forgive us, that our sins are erased from His ledger by His sufferings for us? Do we believe that the Christian life and message are centered in blessing, on the curse of sin being lifted, of the believer being set free and receiving the gift of life? Will we surrender to this incredible love of God and His divine desire to bless us? The blessing of confidence in His love is not an optional part of the Christian life, but it is an essential part of the message, an integral and indispensable element of the gospel. Until we believe that “He rewards those who earnestly seek Him” (Heb. 11:6), we have not really believed the gospel. Faith is a surrender to divine love.

James S. Stewart, in his classic book Man in Christ, described the reality of Paul’s conversion. Some questioned if Paul’s experience was normative of every Christian, or if some may be “Christian” who have never thought or believed as he did. Stewart answers affirmative that Paul’s conversion, though, like all of our stories, had its own unique aspects, was normative for all. Paul was saved by realizing the reality of who Christ is and what He offered. He surrendered his heart to grace.

This leads us to the consequence of the encounter with Jesus on the road - the man’s surrender to the divine love which now stood revealed. That Jesus Christ, whose name he had maligned, whose followers he had harried, whose cause he had striven to bring down to destruction, should nevertheless have come to meet him, and to lay His hands upon him, was a thought at once gloriously uplifting and terribly subduing. For him, then, blasphemer and persecutor as he was, Jesus had been seeking! For him, grace and mercy had entered the field! … Gone was the stern, inexorable God of Judaism, watching His creatures toiling for a justification He knew they could never win. Now there revealed a Father yearning for His child. Face to face with that seeking grace, that reconciling love, Paul’s whole being went down in uttermost surrender. With all the passion of his soul he responded. He gave himself to God. He worshipped Christ. Grace on the side of God had met faith on the side of man: and from the white-hot crucible of that experience there emerged a new life. (James S. Stewart, Man in Christ, pp 140-141.

Blessings to you. Live in the peace and joy of the Lord.

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A Tough But Essential Command

November 9th, 2016

But we command you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to keep away from any brother who lives an undisciplined life and not according to the tradition they received from us. (2 Thes. 3:6 NET)

The Christian faith is a compassionate faith. Christ taught us to love, to serve, to be generous, and gave us His example of a life of service. The early church exploded with compassion toward one another through the inner working of the Spirit of God. Compassion and generosity are inseparable aspects of the Christian faith. We read in Scripture:

If anyone is poor among your fellow Israelites in any of the towns of the land the LORD your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward them. Rather, be openhanded and freely lend them whatever they need. (Deut. 15:7-8)

[Christ said:] Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. (Matt. 5:42)

Command those who are rich in this world’s goods not to be haughty or to set their hope on riches, which are uncertain, but on God who richly provides us with all things for our enjoyment. Tell them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, to be generous givers, sharing with others. (1 Tim. 6:17-18)

Why then would we see such words in God’s Word as are found in this chapter, “For even when we were with you, we used to give you this command: ‘If anyone is not willing to work, neither should he eat’” (2 Thes. 3:10)?  The reason is that compassion can be taken advantage of by heartless and lost people, to the point that those who truly need help are not helped at all.

This was not a teaching or a command to stop caring, or to cease giving. Rather it was a command to give wisely.

When we lived in Manila, Philippines we saw both the needs of the urban poor and the abuse of each other within their own group. Children stand at many intersections, dressed in rags, begging for money. The children naturally touch your heart and you want to give, but if you look you will see someone older standing in the shadows nearby, who is their handler. As soon as they receive money he takes it from them, and often it goes to drugs and alcohol, and not to the benefit of the children themselves. In fact, at one time, it was illegal to give money to beggars because, supposedly, it simply increased crime and the further abuse of children.

That was why when we lived there we did as many missionaries did. We carried small sacks of rice and gave these to the children, and we received more sincere thank yous from them for having done so. And our mission was also involved in social programs to truly help the poor with training and education.

Each church and each Christian have a calling to be gracious and generous. We are not just to feel compassion for the lost and needy, but we are also to do something for them. Yet at the same time we have an obligation to give wisely. How can we give wisely?

Give according to needs, not according to requests: We must feel greater pressure and leadership from God to give than pressure from the people who ask or the community around us. Just because someone asks does not mean that they should receive. This was the problem that Paul was addressing - the abusers of Christian compassion.

Help establish people in a better lifestyle and do not give just to support their bad habits: We should do more than simply enable people to continue to be dependent. Sometimes feeding the hungry is essential, but it is not a permanent solution to anyone’s problem. We should help people get a better life, and not just a meal - a hand up and not just a hand out. I think every Christian employer should be on the lookout for someone whom he or she can help by giving them a job, by mentoring them, encouraging them, helping them get on their own.

Say no to those unwilling to work: Paul’s command not to give food to the one who will not work, emphasizes the unwillingness to work. There are many who are willing to work but who are unable to work because of injury or illness, and some who cannot find work because of the economy, and those are who we should help. But someone who intentionally refuses to work - is unwilling - when they have both the ability and the opportunity, that is the person we should not help.

And in not helping them we are in fact helping them - teaching them the importance of them making a positive difference in this world.

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