The Most Important Commandment!

-What Would You Ask God?

Several times, in my lifetime, I’ve found myself in a conversation with someone who made a statement that they intended to ask God about something when they saw Him someday! How about you? If you could ask God any question, what would it be? Well, in Mark’s Gospel, the writer says, that:  “One of the scribes approached. When he heard them debating and saw that Jesus answered them well, he asked Him, “Which command is the most important of all?” Of all the 613 commands found in the Torah (Jewish Old Testament) which was THE most important? Wow! That’s a big question! Which command’s at the top of the list? Don’t wanna miss that one!

-The Answer To The Big Question!

This is the most important,” Jesus answered: “Listen, Israel! The Lord our God, the Lord is One. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength” Mark 12:28-30.  This is really a timely post as it seems the church, in general, is confused about “worship.” But, Jesus really clears things up, doesn’t He? He’s really saying that we have to love God with ALL of our being—ALL of our “heart” & our “soul” & our “mind” & our “strength.”

-Everyone Claims To Love God!

So, it’s impossible to love God until we know Him! But, we live in a day when everyone claims to love God! That may be a generalization; but, I’m absolutely stunned by the number of times that totally lost, unregenerate people—who have NO IDEA “Who” God is—still tell me they LOVE Him! I can believe them when they say they “love” pizza, for example, because they’ve tasted it! They’ve handled it! I can believe them when they say they “love” hunting because it’s something they’ve done! They take their dog & a friend! So, they’ve experienced it! But, you cannot possibly love God until you KNOW God! Until you’ve met Him & know Him well enough to explain WHY you love Him! Study Jesus’ words! That’s precisely what He’s saying!

-Love God Personally!

Jesus says we must love God PERSONALLY! Notice, from His response to the Scribes question, how Jesus uses 6 “personal” pronouns; and, every one of them is “possessive”—“The Lord OUR God”; “Love the Lord YOUR God”… ”with all YOUR HEART”… ”with all YOUR SOUL”… “with all YOUR MIND”… “with all YOUR STRENGTH.” THE most important commandment, in all of Scripture, is to have a personal, possessive love for God, Jesus says. And, you cannot love someone you don’t know! My wife & I have been married 35 years! But, I confess to you that there were 20 years during which time I did not love her! Not one bit of love did I have for her; and, the reason was that I didn’t know her! I hadn’t met her yet! Once I did, I grew to love her as I came to know her! That’s no different with God! We have to know Him personally before we can claim to love Him! We come to know His character—and, we know Him through Jesus & the Word!

 

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Do You Have Financial Pride?

-This Is A Real Problem!

When the Apostle Paul instructs Timothy, about his finances, he does so in a way that a disciple-maker might teach his disciple; or, a leader, in a church, might preach to his people.  “Instruct those who are rich in the present age,” Paul begins, in 1 Timothy 6:17-19, “not to be arrogant…” People, who are blessed with money, tend to struggle with pride. So, “…instruct them,” Paul tells him, “NOT to be consumed with financial pride.” Let me stop there, for a moment, and, address those of you who don’t think Paul’s words apply to you because you don’t think you’re “rich.” YES! He is talking to you! And, YES, you are rich!

-Yes! He’s Talking To You!

Half the world’s population lives on less than $2.50 a day! If you live on more than that you’re in the upper half of the world’s wealthy! If you’re household income is $37K or more you’re in the TOP 4% of the world’s wealthy! If you make $45K or more, you’re in the TOP 1%! YES! The Apostle Paul is talking to you; and, he says, “Don’t be consumed with financial pride.” How do you know if you have financial pride? Have you ever said, or thought, something similar to this: “If they worked as hard as I do; or, if they used their brain like I do, they wouldn’t be poor.” That’s PRIDE! That’s saying, “I’M the reason I’m wealthy! I worked hard for it! I used my brain & I deserve it.” To the Church of Corinth, Paul reminded, “…what do you have that you did not receive? But if you did receive it, why do you BOAST as if you had not received it?” (1 Corinthians 4:7)

-All Things Come From God!

God has given us our brains, our opportunities, and, our resources! He’s given us EVERYTHING we have! How can we boast about it? And, as if to emphasize that point, Paul adds this: “…don’t set your hope on the uncertainty of wealth…” Don’t be consumed by financial DEPENDENCE! Don’t DEPEND on it! Wealth, Paul says, is uncertain! It can’t be trusted! The wisdom, from the book of Proverbs, puts it like this: “Cast but a glance at riches, and they are gone, for they will surely sprout wings and fly off to the sky like an eagle” Proverbs 23:5.  In other words, just look at money and it’ll fly away! Avoid living an insignificant life! Don’t waste your life! The sin of “consumerism” draws it’s strength from financial pride and financial dependence!

-Finding Your Significance!

Set your hope on God, Paul says—“Instruct those who are rich, not…to set their hope on the uncertainty of wealth, but on God, who richly provides us with all things to enjoy.” God is the giver of the gifts we enjoy! But, He never intended that we should enjoy the gifts more than the Giver! Our significance is wrapped up IN HIM; not, in the stuff he has lent to us! So, be consumed with Him! We overcome the consumerism bug by being consumed with God & with others! He continues, in v.18, “…do what is good, to be rich in good works” Be consumed with serving others with the gifts God has blessed us! And, “…be generous, willing to share…” Paul adds. There is really no worse testimony, about the sufficiency of Jesus, than a stingy, Scrooge-like Christian. Jesus said, “FREELY you have received, FREELY give!” Matthew 10:8

 

 

Avoiding An Insignificant Life!

Next Post July 5th!

A Little Vacation Time

-A Culture Of Consumption!

Let me share something, with you, that you may not know about the average 5-year old in America—the average 5-year old, in America, has 250 toys! Yes! I said 250 toys! Now, let’s apply some math to that. A 5-year old has only lived on planet Earth roughly 250 weeks. So, that 5-year old has grown up getting 1 new toy every week—on average—for their entire life! That’s just the AVERAGE! Some have 500 toys! Others have 1000! And, why are we surprised that they are rarely satisfied? That they are always wanting more? We’ve trained them to be “consumers”, haven’t we? We’re a culture that’s consumed by a desire for more stuff!

-The Stuff We Don’t Have!

We’re constantly exposed to commercials that advertise all the stuff we don’t have; and, telling us that we need it! “Our friends went to Best Buy, on Black Friday, and, got a new 70” Smart TV & our puny 55” TV just doesn’t cut it anymore”—that’s the general mindset of the average American! You take a ride in your friends new car & you love that new car smell! You get back in your old car and it smells like french fries & damp, moldy soccer cleats! You walk through SAMS or Target or COSTCO and you see all this new stuff that you NEED! You didn’t know you need it until you got there & saw what you were missing! Now, I may be exaggerating a bit; but, not by much!

-Managing God’s Estate!

If we’re followers, of Jesus, we can’t tolerate that selfish, consumerism controlling our lives! We must see ourselves—as Scripture tells us—as faithful “stewards” of God’s resources! We “manage” a portion of God’s “estate” that He’s entrusted to our care! How are we doing with that? If you live your life like you think you “own” your stuff, you’ll waste it all on building your own “little kingdom”—you’ll live an insignificant life! For the one, claiming to follow Jesus, we should not fear failure as much as we should fear success at something that really doesn’t matter in light of eternity! We need a constant reminder, from God’s Holy Spirit, that NOTHING we have is truly our own! It all belongs to God! And, whatever He’s given us, He’s trusting us to manage it well for Him; or, to leverage it in a way that builds His “big kingdom”! That’s how we avoid an insignificant life!

-How To Beat Consumerism!

In the Apostle Paul’s 1st letter, to Timothy, he instructed him to: “Instruct those who are rich in the present age not to be arrogant or to set their hope on the uncertainty of wealth, but on God, who richly provides us with all things to enjoy. Instruct them to do what is good, to be rich in good works, to be generous, willing to share, storing up for themselves a good reserve for the age to come, so that they may take hold of life that is real” 1 Timothy 6:17-19. Here’s how I would paraphrase Paul’s challenge—You beat consumerism by denying your flesh & by chasing a new passion! It’s not just enough to deny your flesh! You need to live for a new passion! To the rich, he says, don’t be arrogant (v.17). So, a key, to avoiding the insignificant life, is to renounce the financial pride that can over take us! Remember, it’s not ours!

 

True Generosity Serves Others!

-It’s Not Just About Money!

We typically think of “generosity” in financial terms, don’t we? But, in God’s economy, generosity is shown in more than financial ways! In the book of Proverbs, the Spirit of God inspired King Solomon to include these words:  “A generous person will be enriched, and the one who gives a drink of water will receive water” Proverbs 11:25.  God intends for us to understand generosity as being about more than our finances! It’s not just about our money! According to this Proverb, God also measures generosity in the ways we serve others. He measures generosity by our willingness to minister & help others.

-Don’t Throw Money At It!

In the world, there’s a tendency to just throw money at a need. Rather than getting their hands dirty, the person who has the financial means would rather gift someone or an organization. Unfortunately, that same attitude can often be found in the church too! Many would rather “gift” it than get dirty through service or ministry to others! But, that’s NOT God’s economy! The Message paraphrases Proverbs 11:25 like this:  “The one who blesses others is abundantly blessed; those who help others are helped.” God measures our generosity by our willingness to serve & by our willingness to enrich the lives of others by ministering to them. By offering something, Solomon says, as simple as a glass of water.

-It’s Being “Others Focused”!

It’s that same principle, that Jesus taught,  of being “others focused.” Unfortunately, it’s typical, in our American church culture, to look for a church that serves “me”! To look for a church that serves “my kids”! That’s the mindset of a “consumer,” isn’t it? And, it’s a way of thinking that is foreign to Scripture & to the church, in other parts of the world, where they look for a place with needs so they can serve! Faith’s way of serving is to look for needs and meet them! Faith’s way of serving actually prays that God’s Spirit will open eyes to those needs & open hearts to actually meet them! As with your finances, don’t “calculate’ how God might move others to serve you if you serve them! That’s serving out of GREED! And, just like God will not bless a greedy giver financially, He’ll not bless a greedy server either! He gave to us in love & we must give the same!

-Serve Recklessly!

The principle, in Scripture, is kind of like this—just serve & minister to the needs of others with reckless abandon! By faith, believe that God will keep His Word! Believe that, whether it’s by sacrificial giving or service, that God is going to reward you.  You might be rewarded in this life! Or, your reward might be received in heaven! At the same time, though we know the reward is coming, don’t give to get!  Just be generous, in faith, that God will take care of you! When we give, from a generous heart, it truly costs you nothing! You lose nothing in the exchange! You gain! You get richer the more you give! It’s counter cultural! Jesus said: “Whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life BECAUSE OF ME will FIND IT

Don’t Give Out Of Extortion!

-Give It As A Gift!

When I was a Bible College student, I came to the conclusion that I didn’t need to give a “tithe” or an “offering”, in church, because I was paying my tuition to a “Christian” college! So, I thought, that was like just as good as giving it to my church! Apparently NOT! I remember needing some repair work done on my car—and, it was a sizeable amount! I remember sensing a Holy Spirit “inspired” thought like God telling me, “I WILL get your offering even if I have to TAKE it through an auto repair!

-Taken By Coercion!

In Paul’s letter to the Church of Corinth, he made an interesting statement, “Therefore I considered it necessary to urge the brothers to go on ahead to you and arrange in advance the generous gift you promised, so that it will be ready as a gift and not as an extortion” 2 Corinthians 9:5.  That’s an interesting choice of words! Paul’s like saying, “Don’t MAKE me TAKE that from you”; or, “Don’t MAKE me EXTORT it…or, take it by COERCION.” Literally, he’s saying, “Don’t make me STEAL it from you.” That’s NOT how you give an offering to the Lord! That’s NOT how you give to the work of the Gospel! That’s NOT how you give to needy people! “Don’t give,” Paul says, “ONLY because your FORCED to give.” God won’t bless your gift if He has to EXTORT it from you!

-Sow Generously! Reap Generously!

In the next verse, Paul continues, “Remember this: The person who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the person who sows generously will also reap generously” 2 Corinthians 9:6.  Don’t give “sparingly.” So, what exactly does that word mean? We don’t use the word “sparingly” very often. We’re more familiar with the word “spare.” If someone begs you to spare their life, they mean, “Let me keep it! Don’t take it from me!” If a coach tells his team, “Spare no effort” he means, “Don’t hold back any of your effort! Give ALL your effort!” In Romans 8:32 it says, “God did not even SPARE His own Son, but offered Him up for us all.” That means that God didn’t hold Him back! He didn’t keep Jesus for himself! He SHARED Him with us! So, if we give “sparingly” it means, in our heart, that we want to HOLD BACK! We don’t want to SHARE!

-How “Not” To Give!

When we give “sparingly”, we’re not thinking about how much we can GIVE; but, about how much we can KEEP & HOLD onto! In the next verse, Paul tells the Corinthian believers not to give “reluctantly”—“Each person should do as he has decided in his heart—not reluctantly or out of necessity, for God loves a cheerful giver” 2 Corinthians 9:7. Some translations use the word “GRUDGINGLY”—don’t give your offering with a “grudge.” Don’t hold it against God like He’s asking too much from us! If we’re not careful, it’s easy to harbor a bitter spirit against God about His giving requirements! However, that’s acting like an “OWNER”—which we are NOT! We’re a “steward” or a “manager” of a portion of God’s estate! It’s all His! Nothing belongs to us—”You brought nothing into this world & you can’t take anything out” 1 Tim 6:7.

 

Your Giving Reveals Your Heart!

-It’s An Exact Index!

Richard Halverson served as the Chaplain of the United States Senate from 1981-1994. Some considered this statement he made, about money, to be controversial: “Jesus Christ said more about money than any other single thing because, when it comes to a man’s real nature, money is of first importance. Money is an exact index to a man’s true character.  All through Scripture there is an intimate correlation between the development of a man’s character and how he handles his money.” Money is an “exact index” to a man’s true character, he says! In other words, you can get a good feel for a person’s level of spiritual commitment by checking out their spending habits!

-Where Is Your Treasure?

Jesus said it like this, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will follow” Matthew 6:21. What your money goes after is a pretty clear indication of what your heart goes after! What your hands buy is a reflection of what your heart is doing with God! I saw this 1st hand because I didn’t grow up in a Christian home. I was 13 when my parents came to faith in Christ; and, I saw how it impacted all their decisions about finances. So, the “quality” of your faith will reflect in all your financial decisions, as well as the level of your generosity. Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments”; and, He had a lot to say about money! Nearly half of his parables were about finances—He talked about money & possessions more than all His talks on heaven & hell combined! REALLY!

-Is Money Spiritual?

All of which means that it’s impossible to separate your financial life from your spiritual life. We can’t make money a taboo subject in the Church & the pulpit when 1 out of every 7 verses, in the New Testament, deals with money. Think about this: There are 500 Bible verses on prayer; LESS than 500 verses on faith; and, more than 2,350 verses on money! If the Church is to be faithful to the Word of God, we can’t NOT preach and teach about money! There is a fundamental connection between your spiritual life, and, the way you think about & handle money! Your financial decisions ultimately reveal what you think about God!

-We’re Managing God’s Stuff!

And, it’s vital to your walk with Christ—to your SANCTIFICATION & your spiritual growth—that you listen and obey what the Scriptures say about this. You’ve got to get this right, Church! Let the Holy Spirit, who indwells you as a believer, convict you with God’s Word if you’re not doing this right! And, REPENT! Make the right decision for God! As we conclude, let the words of the Apostle Paul to the Church of Corinth speak to your heart: “Remember this, the person who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the person who sows generously will also reap generously. Each person should do as he has decided in his heart—not reluctantly or out of necessity, for God loves a cheerful giver…You will be enriched in every way for all generosity, which produces thanksgiving to God through us.” 2 Corinthians 9:1-12

 

More Like Jesus & Less Like You!

-So, How Are You Doing Spiritually?

At a recent Small Group meeting I asked this series of questions: “How are you doing Spiritually? And, on what criteria do you base your answer? How are you measuring your walk with Christ?” I’ve found when I just ask the 1st question—“How are you doing spiritually?”—that everyone says, “Good! Good!” Have you noticed that? I mean, that’s MY typical response to that question! It’s a question that needs qualifying! It needs those follow-up questions. On what basis can I say, “Good! Good!” when someone asks me how I’m doing spiritually?

-Is It About What We Do?

Do we measure our spiritual progress by the things we DO? Be careful! Don’t quickly dismiss the things we DO & say that, “…it’s only what’s in the HEART that matters.” If our HEART is right with God it WILL impact the things we DO, right? Jesus said: “If you love Me, you WILL KEEP my commandments.” At the same time, we can DO all the RIGHT things for the WRONG reasons, can’t we? We can do things to be SEEN of men; and, Jesus called that hypocrisy!

-Practicing The Spiritual Disciplines

Several months back I received a call from a young man who got saved in my youth group, in Colorado, several years ago. He asked if he could interview me for a seminary class he was taking. The interview included a line of questions based on how I lived my life according to the so-called “Spiritual Disciplines”—or, practices found in Scripture that promote spiritual growth. They’re habits of devotion—like prayer, fasting, public & private worship, meditation, making disciples—and, they’re all activities that Jesus’ followers are commanded to do! In fact, Jesus practiced most of them Himself! In answering the question, for the interview, I prefaced my answer with this caution—we are NOT godly just because we practice certain spiritual disciplines!

-The Error Of The Pharisees

That was the great error of the Pharisees, wasn’t it? They believed that they were godly BECAUSE they practiced certain things!  You cannot separate what you’re doing on the OUTSIDE by who you ARE on the INSIDE. What you DO matters! But, who you ARE matters even more! Here’s what I’m trying to say—Spiritual growth happens, in your life, as you become MORE like Jesus & LESS like you! That’s what’s expected if you’re truly His disciple!

-Where Spiritual Growth Happens

Based on several NT passages, I believe that our spiritual development occurs BEST in the context of a “faith community”; or, a church! Being a disciple of Christ does not begin with something WE do; but, with something that Christ DID! That’s the Gospel! He redeemed our broken relationship with the Father by His substitutionary atonement on the cross! He took away our sin! He paid the penalty we should have paid so that the Father might grant us forgiveness, grace, mercy & love! He adopts us into His “family”; and, it’s His family that makes up the church!  That becomes our new identity! We’re no longer citizens of this world; rather, Scripture says we’re “temporary residents” here! And, it’s within the “family” atmosphere, of the “church”, that God prunes us so that He might accomplish our sanctification!