All the way

We have reached the end of this particular study on “Tough Sayings from a Tender Heart”, it has bought many issues to the surface, don’t you agree?

There is a myth floating around on the periphery of Christian communities that Jesus is ‘nice’ and His followers should be ‘nice’ to each other. There are many who live their lives in conflict with what’s written in Scripture but their defence is that Jesus loves and welcomes all sinners. As with most good myths there is 80% truth and 20% lie – Jesus does love us and He proved that on the cross; but He was, and is, not always ‘nice’; He even said to His close friend, Peter – ‘Get behind me, Satan.’

As Selwyn says in today’s study: “If, and when we stumble, then let us make the stumbling an occasion of faith. In this century, as in the first, our Lord is looking not for adherents to His cause, or ‘hangers-on’, but out-and-disciples. And this will happen to the degree that we are willing to be broken on Him and then made whole by Him.”

Today, there are many ‘adherents to His cause’, who like the first century followers (including Peter, at that early stage) would have preferred Jesus to have stayed in Galilee, healing the sick and providing free meals to the hungry. The truth is, Jesus had His eyes fixed firmly on the cross – in Jerusalem – not on the ‘good’ life, but on a death – with ‘meaning’. Are you willing to be on a cross next to Jesus? It’s a tough question to answer – don’t you agree?

Give! Give! Give!

Selwyn’s introduction contains a key point which we must take to heart if we are to be fruitful in our journey: “God wants us to be free from bondage to money. He wants us to trust Him, not wealth.”

There is a choice for all of us; we can either seek wealth to make the 80 or 90 years of this life comfortable; or we can seek God and live an eternal, glorious life with Jesus.

I admit it is a difficult decision for some because we can easily believe in the things we can see and experience right now. Going into a shop and buying something we want, can give us immediate gratification – we can see it and feel it – and, after a few years toss it into a rubbish bin.

Trusting God, is believing in a promise that will be fulfilled in the future – we can’t see it right now – yet, it will never wear out or become obsolete – we will enjoy it forever and we will never grow tired of it – it’s almost too good to be true.

The other bit I liked in today’s study is: “What we must not do as Christians is to assume that the way things are is the right way. Disciples are radical. And if ever radicalism was needed it is now.”

What did you think of today’s study?

The Gift of gifts

Today’s study is a good follow-on from yesterday’s material on the six dangers that often arise out of our quest for wealth and power.

Of the five important issues, that Selwyn writes about today, regarding Jesus’ teaching on money I think the last point is the key which unlocks the Christian heart and brings glory to God. Selwyn writes: “Fifth, giving to others ought to bring spiritual as well as material liberation. … Giving that doesn’t bring a message of spiritual liberation is nothing more than do-good paternalism. Our giving ought to draw attention to Jesus, God’s great gift – ‘his gift too wonderful for words’.”

The other aspect of sharing wealth God has given to us to manage is that sometimes people in need will refuse to accept help. Often they see it as a response born out of a desire to retain their dignity/independence; and, also so they will not be indebted to anyone, which they see as an outcome – if they accept ‘charity’. If a Christian, who has known financial difficulties, refuses to accept a gift to help them over a rough patch they need to carefully examine their motives.

The greatest gift of all is offered by Jesus through his death and resurrection. If a person can’t accept a minuscule gift from a fellow Christian (which is really a very small gift from God) then how is it that they can gratefully accepted the gift of eternal life from Jesus – a priceless gift!  Have they really accepted ‘the Gift of gifts’ – or is there an independent spirit still residing in their heart who won’t put their hand out to accept it? (Even, when they believe, in the value of what is being offered.) What do you think?

Be warned!

I really liked today’s study – it summarises well the dangers of seeking wealth as an answer to our questions about security, fear and happiness. There is only one reliable and trustworthy answer – to love God and your neighbour, with all your heart, mind and soul.

It’s perhaps worth while looking up each of the verses refernced by Selwyn, in this section: “First, possessions, if we let them, can strangle our spiritual lives (Luke 8:14). Second, they can be a cause for constant worry (Luke 12:22-24). Third, they can blind (Luke 16:19-23). Forth, they can become our boss (Luke 16:1-9). Fifth, they can damn (Luke 12:13-21. Sixth, they can curse (Luke 6:20,24). These six things can undercut our allegiance to God’s kingdom.”

Anyone, who does not have a relationship with God, will usually develop a money-based problem during their lifetime. In my mind, a driving human characteristic is the ‘want’ - to be loved; and is associated with a strong and ever-present desire to be happy. Those outside of a relationship with God will naturally turn to money and possessions as a vehicle they can use to acquire love and happiness. Yet, we instintively know that the satisfaction derived from wealth is often shallow and evasive.

Sadly, some wolves masquerading as Christian ministers, are using this flawed human association of wealth and happiness to promote a false gospel, which says something like: ‘Become a Christian and God will bless you with wealth’. A recent copy (November 2007) of the Church Missionary Society (CMS - NSW Branch) contains a quote from such a wolf (a church ‘destroyer’ in Nairbi, Kenya): “The slum dwellers of Nairobi, Kenya are there because they are under the judgment of God. We need to tell them that God can release them from their life of poverty to a life of prosperity. The fact that we are rich is a sign of God’s blessing to us.” This same message can be heard in many churches in USA and other western countries. This message is a lie.

Ask yourself – how much wealth did Jesus possess when He died? Jesus was sinless and loved by His Father – surely if wealth was a sign of God’s love then Jesus would have been blessed with abundent wealth! Paul, during his missionary trips was beaten, shipwrecked and suffered considerable hardships. He was a tireless worker for Jesus and so was loved and blessed by God – did he die a very wealthy man? No! There are many examples of faithful Christians who did the exact opposite to acquiring wealth – what wealth they had, they gave away. An obsession about possessions or excess wealth will always be a heavy anchor holding us back from following Jesus – do you agree?

Who is master?

Selwyn continues his study on money and the teaching Jesus gave about how we should treat money and possessions.

 I think we need to be honest and admit to how nice it feels to have money and spend it on things we like. It provides us with a temporary level of satisfaction – a sense of additional freedom – a feeling of control over our immediate environment. It’s very seductive and these feelings of longing for satisfaction drive the consumer world, in which we live. As people, who follow Jesus, we need to be aware that we must actively manage our attitude to money or the sensory deluge of messages telling you, ‘to buy, because you deserve it’; will manage you – if you do nothing. Do you agree?

As Selwyn says: “He (Jesus) made it clear that working hard for money did not justify someone spending it lavishly and selfishly. He warned that the acquisitive streak in human nature could turn into a powerful god, capturing the imagination, and demanding total allegiance.”

A challenging idea in today’s study, is: “… ‘Conversion which doesn’t involve economic change isn’t authentic’, said one Christian writer – a statement for which he was highly criticised. I think I agree with him.” Let’s be clear about this point, when you commit your life to following Jesus your attitude to money and possessions will change. If you continue in your old ways and attitudes then ‘conversion’ has not occurred – obvious when you think about it! 

The concluding sentence is an old one but a good one: ‘If we do not crown Him Lord of all (that’s our life – relationships, feelings, desires, ambitions, health, money, possessions, etc), we do not crown Him Lord at all’. What’s your view on today’s study?

The money test

Selwyn now looks at the question of money and will no doubt over the next few days, cover what sort of attitude we should have to money and possessions.

I think it’s a matter of priorities. God must always come first, and love of God and love of our neighbour should always determine how we manage our financial affairs. If you accept that all you are given, or earn (through the talents God has blessed you with), belongs to God. It is then possible to easily give out of your surplus to others who are less fortunate than you. In a sense, money and possessions are held in an open hand where there are no barriers to letting it go. Contrast this to a closed fist, which guards what it has, and desires more – usually, it’s a grab for ‘security’, which excess money and power promise but can’t deliver.  In summary, those who can’t trust God with their future, transfer their trust to money and possessions – the more money, the greater is their hope that independence and security will be obtained, but the promised goal is never reached. Death usually intervenes and what they have accumulated on this earth is of no heavenly use to them. On the other hand – those who follow Jesus – and trust Him for the provisions of life, while keeping their eyes fixed firmly on Him, will enjoy the treasures of heaven, for eternity.  It’s a simple choice isn’t it? The remote possibility of up to 80 years of absolute luxury on earth without the certainty of peace and hapiness or more than 80 billion, trillion years of unbelievable joy in heaven.

I liked parts of Selwyn’s conclusion: ” … our Lord is not against us owning things; what He is against is allowing them to own us. … Money, possessions and material things can quickly become idols which replace the rule of God. … We cannot serve God AND money, but we can serve God with money.”

Do you agree that a Christian’s attitude to money and their willingness to share their wealth is a good indicator of their spiritual health?

‘A den of robbers’

Selwyn looks at Jesus’ dramatic cleansing of the temple in Jerusalem. Jesus is clearly challenging the authority of the High Priest and other priestly families who had allowed the Court of the Gentiles in the Temple to be used for commercial purposes (and, most likely there was some form of financial gain for them to allow this practice) such that prayer was no longer possible. Jesus’ focus was to ensure that (Mark 11:17): ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.’

 As he says in his conclusion: “Jesus was not against the Jewish religion, but human religion – or rather human ideas about religion. He (Jesus) cleansed the Temple not because it was Jewish, but because it was corrupt.” The priestly families had thought so little of the Gentiles that they had allowed the temple area which was set aside for Gentiles, to be used for other purposes. Here Jesus is saying that Gentiles have a place in His temple!

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I think it’s important to keep in mind that Jesus’ authority to cleanse the temple comes from the fact that He is God. We have the various creeds which give us the concept of the Trinity regarding three persons – one God. We may understand this construct but we don’t understand the precise nature of God. I think many theologians make this mistake. They can define and describe the Trinity in great detail – they can point to all the verses which help form the construct of the Trinity. Yet all this work does not describe the exact nature of the one, true God – we cannot, this side of the grave, fully comprehend what it is, when we say – ‘three persons, one God’. Can it be any clearer than Deuteronomy 4:35, “You were shown these things so that you might know that the Lord is God; besides him there is no other.” In summary, Jesus is God, besides Him there is no other!

The main reason I’m mentioning this point is that many people, especially members of some sects want to formulate beliefs where some of these mysteries (such as the Trinity) are either done away with, or simplified into something, which the human mind can understand. I’ll put it like this, what God represents stretches further than the distance from one end of this universe to the other. The Bible gives an insight into about a millimetre of all there is to know about God, but it is enough to get us safely through life’s journey and reach our true home. It is sheer arrogance to think we can ever know more than this – and it becomes a question of trust where we reach the point, when we can say: “I don’t need to know any more than what’s in the Bible.”

Finally, I’ll repeat, all we need to know is contained in the verses of the Bible; from verse Genesis 1:1 to Revelation 22:21. Jesus is the perfection of all the prophets; after Him, there is no need for any other prophets. In respect to other religions and sects, I understand many will not accept what I’ve just written – we will just have to agree, to disagree. In addition, He is the perfect High Priest – there is no need for any other ‘high’ priests. He is the final, perfect Temple – and, we don’t have to go to a special city to worship Him (John 4:21), Jesus declared, “Believe me woman (the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well), a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. …” There are no special ‘holy’ places. God should be worshipped ‘everywhere’! Do you agree?