How do you define abundance?

I heard this true story and I needed to share. There was a lady that decided to personally support a preacher. One hot summer the air conditioner went out on her car and she had to make a decision. She couldn’t afford to fix the AC and continue to support the gospel preacher. So she rolled the windows down on her car and kept on sending monthly support.

“For this is not for the ease of others and for your affliction, but by way of equality—at this present time your abundance being a supply for their need, so that their abundance also may become a supply for your need, that there may be equality; as it is written, ‘He who gathered much did not have too much, and he who gathered little had no lack.’” (II Cor. 8:13-15).

I wonder how we define “abundance”? I wonder how Paul would have defined “abundance”? Once my retirement account is where I’d like it to be, or once my vacation is paid for, or once my kids are through college, or once I get the house remodel done, or once my savings account is at a level that I feel secure, or once, once, once…

Too often we define “abundance” as anything we might have left over after all of our wants and desires are taken care of. The problem is that there is no end to our wants and desires. Would we ever sacrifice our comforts so that the gospel of Jesus might be preached? Would we put off a “nice to have” for the needs of others? This is a challenging thought for me today.

How do you define abundance?

Listen to this great sermon Sharing in all Good Things by Ralph Walker

“The one who is taught the word is to share all good things with the one who teaches him” (Galatians 6:6).

Preview for next week’s MDB: We will have 5 articles next week (March 28-April 1) by Shane Blackmer devoted to Love in Relationships.

Great Resolves of Heart

Among the divisions of Reuben there were great resolves of heart (Judges 5:15).

In the days of Deborah the prophetess and judge of Israel, God’s people were harshly oppressed and greatly outnumbered by Jabin king of Canaan. Jabin’s army was massive and equipped with 900 chariots of iron. For 20 years, the Bible said that Jabin and his commander Sisera harshly oppressed Israel. The people of Israel were without weaponry, “Not a shield or spear was seen among 40,000 in Israel” (Judges 5:8).

When Deborah through the Lord called Barak to lead 10,00o men into battle, they went. Yes, they wanted Deborah’s presence with them, but the fact that they went into this battle is amazing to me! 10,000 men may sound like a lot, but keep in mind the enemy they are about to engage is much larger and has 900 tanks (in our terms). Also, remember that those 10,000 don’t have weapons. Not sure what they had…maybe farming implements like pitchforks, shovels and axes. Regardless, they answered the call in faith knowing that God had already gone out before them into battle (Judges 4:14).

But not everyone answered the call. Some just thought about it. Some just stayed home. Some just had good ideas and wonderful intentions. The tribe of Reuben, according to the song of Deborah and Barak, had “great resolves of heart” and “great searchings of heart” (Judges 5:8-9). The tribe of Reuben was located on the other side of the Jordan. They were kind of like Adele’s song…they were saying, “Hello from the other side.” They really thought about it, and I’m sure they had lots of ideas about how the battle should be fought and how the enemy should have been defeated, but they did absolutely nothing.

There are a lot of Christian men like this, sadly. Great ideas for how the church should do things. All kinds of wisdom to give to others about how the church should do better. But where are they when the battle is waging? Where are they when we need their help? Where are they when we need someone to go and visit? Where are they when we need someone to make some calls and reach out to the hurting? Sitting at home thinking about it. They are safely tucked away, separated and aloof from the real problems that people are facing around them. Great resolves of heart…but nothing.

This is why in the song of Deborah and Barak that their hearts went out to the volunteers (Judges 5:9). There were those who didn’t just think about it, they stood up and rushed into battle because that’s where God called them to be. The tribe of Issachar “rushed” at Barak’s heels into battle (Judges 5:15). Both the tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali were described as those who jeopardized their lives to the point of death (Judges 5:18). They did not stand aloof and separated from the battle, they rushed at the enemy with full faith in God.

What kind of man will you be? Will you be like a man of Reuben, a man who has all the ideas and intentions but no follow through? Or will you be a man of Issachar, Zebulun or Naphtali? Will you head into the fray with God as your captain? Will you get your hands dirty, your feet muddy, your face sweaty, and your skin bloody for the Lord?

“That the leaders led in Israel, that the people volunteered, bless the Lord!” (Judges 5:2).

The Gatekeepers

And he set the gatekeepers at the gates of the house of the Lord, so that no one who was in any way unclean should enter (2 Chronicles 23:19).

Ok, before we get serious, notice that the above verse reference is 23:19. Have you seen Monster’s Inc? Remember what number the monsters shouted out when a child or anything from the human world was found? 2319. It’s a conspiracy, I’m sure. John Lasseter must have been reading 2 Chronicles before the movie. Really, I’m not serious. Now back to the show.2319

Of the 12 tribes of Israel, God selected one tribe, the tribe of Levi, to be the family devoted to taking care of His holy things (Numbers 1:47-53).

The Levites had many responsibilities including: assisting the priests, singing and playing instruments, teachers, judges and scribes (1 Chronicles 23:1-5; 2 Chronicles 34:13).

But other times they held weapons and guarded very sacred things.

The Levites in the days of the tabernacle (the movable tent of meeting that preceded Solomon’s temple in Jerusalem) were to camp around the tabernacle, and any “outsider” who came near was to be put to death (Numbers 1:50-51; 1 Chronicles 9:17-27).

In the days of David, after a man named Uzzah was struck dead by God for touching the ark of the covenant, David appointed certain men to be gatekeepers for the ark (1 Chronicles 15:5; 16:38,42). When David was setting everything in order for his son Solomon to build the temple in Jerusalem, he set up a certain group of Levites to be gatekeepers for the temple (1 Chronicles 26; 2 Chronicles 8:14).

After the Jews returned home from Babylonian captivity and rebuilt the temple, God’s people were in need once again of gatekeepers. According to Nehemiah 13, a lot of folks were more concerned with business and turning a profit than honoring the Sabbath and putting God first. Nehemiah rebuked them, and set up the Levites as gatekeepers around the city walls and gates to guard the city. They were to ensure that the Sabbath day was truly given to God and His worship (Nehemiah 13:22).

Today, in God’s church, we as Christian men must be gatekeepers. We have to regard God, His word, and His people as sacred. We have to camp around God’s holy things and protect them with our lives. Not that we pick up physical weapons, but we pick up the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God (Ephesians 6:17) and use it to guard ourselves and God’s church.

  • Timothy was to “guard” what was committed to his trust (1 Timothy 6:20).
  • We are to be the gatekeepers of our souls so that we can do the same for the souls of others (1 Timothy 4:16).
  • God asked the elders, the shepherds of God’s flock to watch out over His people whom He purchased with His own blood. Shepherds are to be the gatekeepers for the church to protect the church from wolves who seek to destroy (Acts 20:28-32; 1 Peter 5:1-4).

Stand up today for what God calls special and holy. Be determined that God’s church will stand holy and live by His rules. Set a guard around God’s church and put your finger on the word of God for your authority as you serve as His gatekeepers.

Call a “2319” when the Devil tries to infiltrate God’s church!

Strengthened His Hand in God

Then Jonathan, Saul’s son, arose and went to David in the woods and strengthened his hand in God (1 Samuel 23:16).

Jonathan was King Saul’s son – If anything would have stopped him from going to encourage David, this would be it. King Saul, at this point in his life, was laser focused on eliminating David from the earth. Saul had already tried to kill Jonathan, his own son, because Jonathan stood up for David. However, Jonathan loved God more than he loved his own father, and he also loved his great friend David. Most folks would not have faulted Jonathan for staying at home, but Jonathan knew that the right thing to do was not the safest thing to do. Jonathan knew that David was going through a terrible ordeal and that he needed to be lifted up by God’s strength.

He arose and went – He got up and did something. He did not wait for David to come to him. He knew David’s situation, and he actively sought to do whatever he could to ease David’s burden. In this case, what David needed was encouragement, prayer and companionship.

Look at the following passage from Paul and what he said about the encouragement he received in Rome from Onesiphorus.

The Lord grant mercy to the house of Onesiphorus, for he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains; but when he was in Rome, he eagerly searched for me and found me–the Lord grant to him to find mercy from the Lord on that day–and you know very well what services he rendered at Ephesus (2 Timothy 1:16-18).

Do you see what both Jonathan and Onesiphorus both did? They sought out someone to encourage. On both of their parts, this took a lot of effort and time to even get to the person they were trying to encourage. Think about that. They had to set out. They had to travel. They had to search. Encouragement can be a simple text, or a quick call, but other times it may require a great deal of our energy and resources to provide strength and aid to our brethren who need it.

Strengthened his hand in God – We have no further information here other than Jonathan strengthened David’s hand in God. What does that mean? How did Jonathan do that? Most likely they prayed together. Considering the other discussions they had with each other in 1 Samuel, we can make a safe assumption that Jonathan reminded David of the promises of God. It may be that Jonathan just listened while David poured out his heart.

How can you strengthen a brother’s hand in God? Maybe you can call him up and invite him to do something with you (a hobby, a sport, etc.) and use it as an opportunity to talk. You could send a note with a key Scripture or two in the mail. You could drive over to his house and sit and pray with him. Meet him for lunch and talk (make sure you listen more than you talk). It might be that you know your brother is struggling with health issues and you go over and take care of some of his chores that he cannot do. Or it could be that you find out he is dealing with financial need and you take care of some of his bills. I can tell you from someone who has been on the receiving end of that kind of encouragement, that it means the world to me and puts wind in my sails.

May we all be a Jonathan to someone today.

Exhort one another daily, while it is called “Today,” lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin (Hebrews 3:12-13).

For extra encouragement this weekend, please listen to this sermon by Andy Cantrell on theProof of Love.”

Anatomy of Trust, part 3

In last Friday’s article, we began to develop the components of the Anatomy of Trust: common ground, humility, vulnerability, accountability, and consistency. Today’s article will focus on the last two items: accountability and consistency.

Trust is vital to any relationship, what do we have without it?

Accountability

Iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another (Proverbs 27:17). 

I can have all the best intentions in the world, and can make goals and pray for God to help me accomplish those goals. But unless I make myself completely vulnerable and transparent to a godly and trusted friend, then my plans will simply be plans and wishes. I must commit these things that are in my heart to a trusted friend who can lovingly hold my feet to the fire, and then the goals and intentions will begin to translate into real action and effective change.

You need a friend who will ask you the questions you don’t want him to ask. If the person you have chosen to hold you accountable doesn’t have the fortitude to probe into those uncomfortable places, then you need to find someone else…it is as simple as that. Flip that around, if you want to be a true friend to your brothers in Christ, then you have to sometimes make them uncomfortable. We are to “consider how to stimulate” each other to love and good works (Hebrews 10:24)5). If they are truly seeking Christ, they will thank you for it (Proverbs 1:5; 9:9).

Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful (Proverbs 27:6).

Consistency

How do you build a reputation? Consistent, repeated behavior over time. How do you develop a reputation for being on time? How do you build a reputation for being a calm person in the midst of chaos? Consistent, repeated behavior over time.  Reflect on the following statement of the apostle Paul regarding Timothy.

Philippians 2:19-22 – But I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you shortly, so that I also may be encouraged when I learn of your condition. For I have no one else of kindred spirit who will genuinely be concerned for your welfare. For they all seek after their own interests, not those of Christ Jesus. But you know of his proven worth, that he served with me in the furtherance of the gospel like a child serving his father.

Timothy had “proven” character (Phil. 2:22). The men appointed by the apostles to care for the widows were to be of “good reputation” (Acts 6:3). Those who serve as elders (shepherds, overseers) in the churches were to be of “good reputation” (1 Timothy 3:7). Likewise, the men who are appointed as deacons in the churches must first be “tested,” according to Paul (1 Tim. 3:10). Kobe Bryant or LeBron James did not become the legends they are by making one lucky shot. There really is no substitute for demonstrating over time that your behavior matches your claim.

Consistent, repeated behavior over time. That solidifies trust.

Anatomy of Trust, part 2

In yesterday’s article, we introduced the concept of the Anatomy of Trust. Today we will begin to develop the components of trust: common ground, humility, vulnerability, accountability, and consistency.

Common ground

In order to have trust, we have to have a starting point. Now you and I don’t have to be Christians in order for us to trust each other. We have friends, co-workers, etc, that we fully trust even though we do not share the same belief systems. But I’m sure that in all of those relationships there is some common ground we share. God asked a great question in Amos, “Can two walk together unless they are agreed?”

As Christians, that foundation has already been laid down for us. We are all to be rooted in Christ and take His very mindset as our own (Phil. 2:2). With that as our starting point, we then can look at each other through the same lenses and begin to build trust for each other. We are all sinners in need of the grace and mercy of Jesus.

Humility

This mindset of Christ is saturated with humility, because that is the attitude He displayed coming to earth (Phil. 2:5). Jesus, being God, humbled Himself and became a slave to others, even to the point of crucifixion.

But how does that apply to trust? If I think I’m above you, I will expect you to trust me no matter what I do or say. If I am lifted up with pride, I will get loud and defensive if you dare to question me. Do you want people to trust you? Then you must “with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves” (Phil. 2:3).

Vulnerability

Jesus made Himself of no reputation (Phil. 2:7). I don’t think you can get more vulnerable and exposed than Jesus did hanging on the cross.

My good friend, Andy Harrison, shared the following observation with me. Think of how the Bible was written; we have the most embarrassing details and failures of people recorded on paper for billions of people to read for thousands of years! Noah got drunk and naked, Lot slept with his own daughters, Moses committed murder, and David broke most of the 10 commandments! So really, you think you have something to hide?

Why do we fail to build trust? Because we do not want to open our hearts to others for a number of reasons. It may be that we just don’t want someone to discover all our skeletons in the closet. It may be that we want to maintain our “perfect image.” It may be that we have opened our hearts to people before and we got burned.

But without being vulnerable and transparent, then you and I cannot build a relationship of trust. Paul told the Corinthians that his heart was “wide open” to them, and he asked them to do the same thing for him (2 Cor. 6:11-13; 7:2). He wrote to the Thessalonians that he not only imparted the gospel to them, but he imparted his life to them also (1 Thessalonians 2:8). Pray for God to lead you to a fellow Christian man to whom you can bare your soul and develop a strong bond of trust.

Next Friday, we will cover the final two parts of the Anatomy of Trust:

Accountability and Consistency

 

You Don’t Know How Fast You Move

You don’t know how fast you move until you can’t move fast.

Recently, I’ve been having some health issues, and in the process of figuring all that out, I’ve been slowed down. A week or so ago, Anna and I decided to get out of the house and go to Kroger. No big deal, right? I regularly go to the grocery store, and my motto is, “Get in, zoom, zoom, zoom, and get out…no messing around.” Not this time, buddy. I felt like I was in slow motion. The energy to move just wasn’t there. I had to sit down twice in the store on a bench and wait for Anna.

What I began to notice that day was how fast so many folks were moving through the store, and how they went whizzing around me at seemingly lightning speed. That’s me most of the time…full speed ahead. That day I saw the elderly and disabled in the store with different eyes as they moved through the store in the only speed that was comfortable to them…slow. It was a humbling experience, and for sure I needed that lesson and certainly more to come.

Here is a passage of Scripture to reflect upon today:

But Jacob said to him (Esau), “My lord knows that the children are weak, and the flocks and herds which are nursing are with me. And if the men should drive them hard one day, all the flock will die. Please let my lord go on ahead before his servant. I will lead on slowly at a pace which the livestock that go before me, and the children, are able to endure, until I come to my lord in Seir” (Genesis 33:14).

Jacob as a shepherd and a father was wise enough to know that he had to lead at a pace which those following him could “endure.” Yes, he could have gotten there quicker if he drove and pushed everyone to beyond exhaustion, but at what cost?

So, I want to leave you with a few quick points for today:

  1. It might be necessary for us to back off, slow down and ease the foot off the accelerator. If we want to lead souls and be leaders in churches, are we leading at a pace that others can follow? Or are we so goal-driven and laser-focused that all we see is the end result?
  2. Take some time to sit down and enjoy fellowship with your older brethren in Christ. Listen to them. Learn from them. Enjoy their company at their pace, not yours.
  3. If you are teaching kids or new Christians about God, remember to lead and teach at a pace that they can endure. Your head may be full of knowledge, and your intentions to help them grow may be pure, but if you go at your own personal pace, you will lose them. Slow down.

You don’t know how fast you move until you can’t move fast.

How Cornelius viewed God and His words

For today, please meditate upon how Cornelius viewed God and His words.

Cornelius, a Roman centurion, was an honorable man who along with his household feared God. He was praying and looking for answers. God sent him an angel who told him to send for Peter, and that Peter would tell him “what he must do” and “words by which he and all his household would be saved” (compare Acts 10:6; 11:13-14).

How Cornelius responded to these instructions is indicative of a heart that had: (1) a deep reverence for God, (2) a hunger for God’s words, and (3) a strong desire for others to hear those same words of salvation.

“We are all present before God, to hear all things commanded you by God” (Acts 10:29). 

  1. Cornelius showed a deep reverence for God. He knew in whose presence he stood…a holy and almighty God. God wasn’t distant and aloof, he was present in the room with Cornelius. Even though he was misguided, note that when Peter came in the room, Cornelius fell down and worshiped him. Yes, he needed to be corrected, but do not fail to see the deep reverence for God that Cornelius displayed.
  2. Cornelius showed a deep hunger for God’s words. He clearly recognized that this God he feared had commands, and as a soldier he wanted to obey and follow every one of those commands of His Master. This was the most important thing on his mind…fearing God and doing whatever God says.
  3. Cornelius showed a strong desire for others to hear those same words of salvation. “We are all present.” Do not overlook that. Why were they all present? Notice verse 24 says that while Cornelius was waiting for Peter to arrive, he “called together his relatives and close friends.” These saving words of God were not to be kept exclusively to himself. He did not view this as a private matter that should not be discussed. These words of God which had yet to be preached were so important to him that he wanted to make sure those closest to him heard them too!

So, how about you? What can you learn from Cornelius today? How do you view worship services and Bible studies? What attitude do you display to those in your circle about God and His words? Are you keeping His saving words to yourself or do you value them so much that you want everyone around you to hear them?

May God give us the spirit of Cornelius in our hearts today.

 

Listening to the “Little People”

In II Kings 5 we have the story of Naaman, a highly respected man, a valiant warrior, and a leper. In verse 2, we are told of a little girl from Israel that was taken captive by the Arameans and is put into service waiting on Naaman’s wife. This little girl, aware of Naaman’s condition, says “I wish that my master were with the prophet who is in Samaria! Then he would cure him of his leprosy.” (verse 3)

This revelation causes Naaman to ask permission to head to Samaria and the king of Aram grants permission and sends Naaman to the king of Israel with a letter which says “And now as this letter comes to you, behold, I have sent Naaman my servant to you, that you may cure him of his leprosy.” (verse 6)

The king’s response to the letter in verse 7 is “Am I God, to kill and to make alive, that this man is sending to me to cure a man of his leprosy? But consider now, and see how he is seeking a quarrel against me.” Verse 8 says that the king also tore his clothes, this showing his grief. When Elisha hears of the king’s response he says “Why have you torn your clothes? Now let him come to me, and he shall know that there is a prophet in Israel.” (verse 8)

I find it very interesting that the little captive girl had confidence in Elisha and God but the king of Israel responds with despair and grief. She has enough confidence to approach her mistress and tell her about the prophet. I believe it is safe to assume that she wasn’t highly educated and we are unaware of any personal interaction she had with Elisha. But she has heard the stories and she has faith. The king, on the other hand, would have been educated and did have personal experience with Elisha yet seems to have no faith.

And now let’s look at Naaman’s response. He had enough confidence in the little captive girl to approach his king and make the journey to Samaria. Maybe it wasn’t confidence as much as clinging to hope. Yet when Elisha gives him some simple instructions Naaman goes away furious saying “Behold, I thought, ‘He will surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, and wave his hand over the place and cure the leper.” (verse 11) And who is it that provides Naaman wisdom and clarity in the situation? In verse 13 his servant says “My father, had the prophet told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much more, when he says to you, ‘Wash, and be clean’?”

There are a number of things we can learn from these events but what I learned today is that wisdom often comes from the perceived “little” people in our lives. The ones that we might deem as less important, or uneducated, or of a lower social status. They can give us insights we overlook. So I’m going to do my best to listen and observe. To hear what everyone in my life says and not discount anyone because of what they look like, how they make their living, or what they’ve been through.

Moses was faithful even when…(5 of 6)

Now Moses was faithful in all God’s house as a servant… (Hebrews 3:5)

#5 Moses was faithful to God even when those closest to him turned against him.

Sometimes standing for something means you will be standing alone.

Miriam and Aaron, Moses’ own sister and brother, turned against him at one point. Amazingly, when God punished Miriam because of this with leprosy, it was Moses who prayed for her to be healed. He was faithful to God even when those closest to him opposed him.

It is at this point in Moses’ life that the Bible says that Moses was the most humble man on the face of the earth (Numbers 12:3). Moses’ heart was truly set on God – even when his own family turned on him, he did not get defensive or proud. He did not make it about him, he turned his heart toward God in prayer. Moses still loved his family even though they behaved this way toward him.

Moses was not the only person in Scripture who had to stand alone.

  • Jesus’ brothers thought He was crazy, and His closest friends abandoned Him when He was arrested. Jesus kept His focus on the Father and doing His will.
  • The apostle Paul wrote that during one of his trials in Rome that “no one stood” with him. However, the “Lord stood with him and strengthened him.”
  • Samuel was deeply hurt and felt rejected when the Israelites asked for a king. God reminded Samuel that the people had rejected Him, not Samuel.
  • Job’s wife said to curse God and die. Job kept his eyes on the Lord.
  • David’s most loyal soldiers at one point all turned against him and wanted to kill him. Yet, David “strengthened himself in the Lord his God.”

People won’t always understand your priorities.  Your fellow Christians sometimes won’t be going the same direction. We can’t force what is important to us to be important to those closest to us.

Humble service can shed light on lack of commitment in others.  Without saying a word our actions can make those around us feel guilty and that guilt will often be displayed in criticism and disapproval.

So, the question comes, will you be faithful even when you have to be faithful alone? Remember, though, that with God you are never alone. We truly learn to find our peace, comfort, joy and strength in God during the times we are not finding it in those closest to us.

Moses was faithful to God, even when:

  1. He did not want to do to the job.
  2. The lack of enthusiasm made the job even harder.
  3. He received little appreciation.
  4. He doubted his own value and effectiveness.
  5. Those closest to him turned against him.

That is a faithful man. Are you like Moses?