Spirituality of Fund-raising Part 3

 How rich are we?

I believe that all who are in Christ are rich beyond measure.  But still we see so much poverty around, not only materially, but more importantly, spiritually.

So how can our Bible passages help us here?

There could be 3 ways to look at the statement “you will always have the poor with you” from Deuteronomy 15 and Matthew 26, (see also Mark 14:7 and John 12:11):

  1. that we can never end poverty,
  2. that it is the role of Christians, not the government, to try to care for the poor, or
  3. that Jesus, rather than the poor, should be our concern.

Do these words say that we can never end poverty, or does it support a movement to abolish poverty with the poor taking the lead?  In Matthew’s account of the anointing of Jesus, an unnamed woman appears at Simon the Leper’s house with a jar of expensive perfume.  Right at the very beginning of this event in Jesus’ life is poverty, for Simon is a leper, an outcast, who lives in Bethany, which means “the house of the poor” in Hebrew.

Mark and John also have an account of Jesus being anointed a few days before His death.  John’s account happens, however, before Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, whilst both Matthew and Mark place it after this triumphal entry.  Whenever it happened I want to suggest that it is a turning point in Jesus’ ministry; it puts Jesus on a collision course with the Roman Empire, a course that leads directly to His betrayal, crucifixion and then resurrection.

Nowhere else in the Gospel of Matthew is Jesus anointed. Only the unnamed woman does this. The Hebrew word for anointed is “Messiah”.  The Greek word for anointed is “Christ”.  So, Jesus is made Christ and considered to be the Messiah only a few days before His death.  There are probably multiple meanings of this anointing*, but the obvious one is that Jesus is being anointed for His burial.  This unnamed woman in Matthew and Mark’s account is the first person to recognise that Jesus is going to die and wants to ensure that His body is prepared.

(*Jesus is anointed on his head with a special anointing ointment for kings – the same process that David and the other kings in the Hebrew Bible are brought through. It seems that Jesus is set up as an alternative king to Caesar when he’s anointed in this passage.)

When the woman anoints Jesus, she is chided by the disciples for doing so. They accuse her of wasting this very expensive and valuable perfume. They say that if they had sold that perfume, they could have earned a lot of money and given it to the poor.

(Now John’s version is slightly different here: Judas criticizes the woman.  And it reads that Judas says this not because he cares about the poor but because he’s the treasurer and regularly steals from the coffers.  Judas uses the poor as an excuse to make money for himself.  Something that still happens today!)

The disciples’ concerns in Matthew seem to be asserting a common way we still use in addressing poverty. You earn money, or come upon nice things in some way or another which you sell, and then use that money to donate to the poor.

But in this story, Jesus doesn’t praise the disciples for their idea of addressing poverty. Instead, He praises the woman for her alleged waste of the perfume.  And then to make matters worse, Jesus then says this classic line:

“The poor are with you always but you will not always have me.”

For someone who’s concerned about meeting the needs of the poor, this sounds pretty bad. This sounds like Jesus is justifying poverty.

But Jesus’ response to the disciples and praise of the woman with the line “the poor are with you always” echoes or actually quotes Deuteronomy 15, – one of the most liberating “Jubilee” passages in the Old Testament. Deuteronomy 15 explains that if people follow God’s commandments there will be no poverty. In fact, this passage lays out the Sabbath and Jubilee prescriptions that are given so that the people of God know what to do to ensure that there is no poverty, – that God’s bounty is enjoyed by all.  It concludes that because people do not follow what God has laid out, “there will never cease to be some in need on the earth” (or, “the poor you always have with you”), and because of that, it is our duty to God to “open your hand to the poor and needy neighbour.”  Jesus’ followers would have understood His reference to Deuteronomy 15 and would have known that God had other plans for addressing poverty.

What we read here in Matthew 26 highlights a main theme of Jesus’ teachings: in caring for the poor, in Jesus’ way, we can end poverty.  There are other passages in scripture, such as Matthew 25 where Jesus reminds us that what we do to the least of these, we do unto him.  The Old Testament prophets all emphasise our duty to care for the widow, the orphan, the alien, those in need.  There is the community of goods in Acts 2 and 4 that tells us that the early Christians had no needy people among them because they shared and cared for each other.  Even the Apostle Paul following his revelation of Jesus started a collection for the poor of Jerusalem that he discusses in Romans, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Corinthians and 2 Corinthians – more than any other single theological issue.

In Luke 4, Jesus reads from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah and announces that He has come to fulfil this passage – to proclaim release to the captives, to bring good news to the poor, to let the oppressed go free. This is the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. It’s the first place where He really shows what He’s made of, and what His life on earth is about.

So Jesus demonstrated that poverty would not exist if people follow God’s laws and commandments, i.e. living out the “Sabbatical Year” and “Jubilee.”  Jesus is saying that poverty is the result of society’s disobedience to God by following the laws and ways of the world.  There is no poverty in God’s Kingdom; there is no exclusion.  All of God’s children are valued and all life is affirmed.

But I think in loving the poor, God is not just considering those who have little or no money, for anyone who does not accept Jesus as the Son of God and follow Him as their Lord and Saviour is poor in spirit, and poor in their quality of life!  We must claim the confidence to go to these people and say:

“We love you because of who you are, a person created in the image of God, and we want you to know God personally for yourself through the transforming power of His Son Jesus”!

The woman who anointed Jesus’ feet at Bethany was showing an amazing level of generosity, both materially and spiritually.  I believe that she was acting directly on behalf of God, who knew how it was going to end for Jesus, that His body would not be anointed for burial as it should be.  (As it turned out there wasn’t time to do the right thing.)  So God arranged for it happen before His death.  She acted as God called her to act.  There was no apathy or tightfistedness here from this woman. 

Prompted by God she acted in a way that can inspire us to give what we hold most dearly to the Lord, offering it for His service.  I believe God wants us to see all we have, especially the most precious objects we have, our skills and giftings, and our money, as belonging to Him, to be used as an offering to bring glory to Him, even if it means giving them away.

Having such an attitude will demand a sea-change in us.  It is challenging to offer our most prized possessions to God for Him as a sacrifice.  But when we are prepared to do this we bring glory to Him.

I believe that is the reason why Jesus said, “what she has done will also be told, in memory of her”.  In God’s Kingdom there is no apathy or tightfistedness.

As brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ we have inherited a priceless spiritual wealth. So in considering this passage from Matthew’s Gospel about giving, stewardship and fund-raising I conclude with a question:

What of yours is God asking you to be prepared to offer to Him for use in extending His Kingdom here in these villages?

Can I encourage you to find a quiet place and ask yourself that question.

Time to think

This is your opportunity to spend time alone with God.  The more time you spend with Him the more you will get to know Him as He reveals more of who He is to your heart, soul and spirit. This time will be personal and wholly unique to your faith journey with Him.

Read again the two passages from Scripture; Deuteronomy 15:1-11 and Matthew 26:6-13, and let them speak to you afresh in light of giving, stewardship and fund-raising as ministry.  As God speaks to you why not write down in your journal what you sense God is saying to you.

The benefit of writing down your thoughts helps you to check them against Scripture, and then plants them more firmly in your heart and mind, than just simply thinking on things.

I concluded the sermon with a question:

“What of yours is God asking you to be prepared to offer to Him for use in extending His Kingdom here in these villages?”

Go into a quiet place and invite God to show you how He wants you to answer this question.

As you ponder on it why not write down your thoughts and share your reflections with others.

Prayer response

Lord Jesus, teach me to be generous;

teach me to serve you as you deserve,

to give and not to count the cost,

to fight and not to heed the wounds,

to toil and not to seek for rest,

to labour and not to seek reward,

except that of knowing that I do your will.

Amen.                                                             

St. Ignatius Loyola

The Spirituality of Fund-raising: Part 2

Helping the Kingdom Come about

Last week I spoke about the ministry of fund-raising being a conversion experience as it helps us to realise our vision and mission.  Vision and mission is all about extending God’s kingdom here on earth as it is in heaven.  Likewise, fund-raising is a very concrete way to help the Kingdom of God come about.

But what is the Kingdom?

Jesus spoke on many occasions about the Kingdom.  His message was, “Repent for the Kingdom of God has come near”.

Scripture clearly teaches that we are to make the Kingdom our first priority, and when we do, “all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matt. 6:33).

The Kingdom is where God provides for all that we need. It is the realm of sufficiency where we are no longer pulled here and there by anxiety about having enough.

“Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.” (Matt. 6:34).

Jesus also compares the Kingdom to a mustard seed:

“It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds on earth. Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds can perch in its shade.’” (Mark 4:31-32).

God’s love is strong enough to sacrifice His Son for our sake.  Our response to this is to willingly sacrifice self for Him, and when our love is in line with God’s love we experience Kingdom love, a love we find that it is stronger than death (1 Cor. 13:8).   We are called to plant and nurture such love here on earth, and when we do this we are releasing the Kingdom of God here.  Our role as the children of God, Christ’s Church, is to create a community of love for all to see.  Paul is clear about this: “Follow the way of love” (1 Cor. 14:1).  In other words, make love your aim!

Covid-19 has given us all an opportunity to demonstrate this way of love, the Kingdom of God way.  Many have given themselves to connecting with friend, neighbour and family in a way that is offering God’s love in both practical and spiritual ways.

The Kingdom of God is all about relationship.  How do we relate to an eternal loving God who has come down to us? If fund raising is ministry then what is our relationship with money like? We will never be able to ask for money if we do not know how we ourselves relate to it.

What is the place of money in our lives?

How many of us know how much money those closest to us earn, or used to earn, at the moment?

Do we normally talk with them about their money?

Is money ever the subject of dinner table conversation?

Are family conversations about money usually anxious, angry, hopeful, satisfied?

Did our parents talk with us about money when we were children?

Do they talk with us about it now?

Did they teach us skills in how to handle money?

And in our own turn, do we discuss our financial affairs with our children?

Are we comfortable telling them how we earn it and how we use it?

Often, when it is too late, animated family discussions centre around money.  Growing up as a child it was tight and it led to tensions.  When I speak to wedding couples, we have discussions about money, and too often they say they have never had such conversations before! 

Money is not only a central reality of family relationships, but it is also a central reality in our relationships with people, institutions, and causes beyond family life.

So how do we spend the money we have?

Are we inclined to save it so we will be prepared for emergencies, or do we spend it because we might not have it later?

Do we like to give our money to friends, to charities, to churches, to political parties, to educational institutions?

Where are we, in fact, giving our money?

Are we concerned about whether our gift is tax efficient?

How would we feel if people used the money we gave them in ways other than those for which we gave it?

Imagine giving a thousand pounds to someone thinking the money would be used to help needy children, only to find out that it’s been used to pay for a foreign holiday.  Would we get angry?

How does having, or not having, money affect our self-esteem, our sense of value?

Do we feel good about ourselves when we have a lot of money?

If we do not have much money, do we feel bad about ourselves?

Is a low or even modest income a source of embarrassment?

Or do we think money doesn’t matter at all?

How do we feel when people ask us for money?

If you are of a certain age you may remember Pink Floyd’s song Money, from their Dark Side of the Moon album. It highlights how money and power go together, and how it can make you selfish!  That’s what money does.  There is also a real relationship between power and a sense of self-worth. I’m sure you’ve known times when money has been used to control people or events.  Perhaps you’ve done that yourself.

It’s worth asking ourselves, do we use our money to make things happen the way we want them to happen? Do we ever use money simply to give others the freedom to do what they want to do? A few years ago Barbara and I gave some money to another church saying that they could use it as they see fit.  A year or so later we heard that they’d used it to take their staff away on a retreat, it was a real spiritual treat for all!

If any of these questions makes us uncomfortable, it may be because talking about money is hard for us, harder that talking about sex or religion!  This is most noticeable when we must do some fund-raising, we feel being up front is not easy! 

Henri Nouwen (see footnote [i]) says that this has something to do with the intimate place in our heart where we need security, and we do not want to reveal our need or give away our security to someone who might, maybe only accidentally, betray us.  This highlights an independent spirit we all have, whose voice can shout very loudly when we’re being asked to financially support someone or a project!!  “If I give will I have enough for myself?”

But that is not surprising, after all we live in a culture where we’re encouraged to secure our own future.  Such an attitude cannot be supported by Biblical teaching, however.  I know I have preached on this numerous times before; Jesus knows our need for security. He is concerned, because security seems to be such a deep human need.  Remember His words from Matthew’s Gospel,

‘Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matt. 6:19-21).

So what is your treasure?  God, or money?  This is saying, if our heart is divided we cannot find security.  In Luke 16 Jesus says something very radical:

‘No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.’ (Luke 16:13).

What is your security base; God or Mammon?

So if we believe God, (which we do), is calling us to appoint a paid worker for children’s and families’ work, are we trusting in God or self to fund such a role?

If Jesus were here I think this is what He would ask, “Is your security in God or Mammon?”  We cannot put our security in God and also in money. We have to make a choice. Jesus’ soundbite is “Put your security in God, and His kingdom.”  We have to make a choice where we want to belong, to the world or to God. Our trust, our basic trust, Jesus teaches, has to be in God.  As long as our real trust is in money, the harsh reality is that we cannot be true members of the Kingdom of God.

All the questions I have asked are simply to help us consider whether we are, perhaps, still putting our security in money.

“Those who trust in their riches will fall, but the righteous will thrive like a green leaf.”  (Prov. 11:28).

What is the true base of your security?

Is your security base based on the truth of the ways of Scripture, and so of the Kingdom, or on the lies of the ways of the world?

Time to think

Read the two passages from Scripture (1 Corinthians 12:31b – 13:13 & Matthew 6:19-24 & 33-34) and let them speak to you afresh in light of fund-raising as ministry.  As God speaks to you why not write down (in your journal) what you sense God is saying to you.

In the text of the sermon there were many questions.  Don’t feel that you have to go through them all in one go, instead choose a couple to ponder on each day over the coming weeks.

As you ponder on them why not write down your thoughts and share your reflections with others?

Prayer Response

Lord Jesus, teach me to be generous;

teach me to serve you as you deserve,

to give and not to count the cost,

to fight and not to heed the wounds,

to toil and not to seek for rest,

to labour and not to seek reward,

except that of knowing that I do your will.

Amen.

St. Ignatius Loyola


[i] Henri J.M. Nouwen, “The spirituality of fundraising” published by Upper Room Ministries, (2004)

Basic aspects of the Good News

Ash Wednesday 2020

Lent is a penitential season.  The 40 days of Lent give us a time to humble ourselves before God with sincere and contrite hearts, asking Him to show us the sin in our lives, for we all have sinned and thus fall short of the glory of God.  When we recognise our sin, out of His compassion, grace and love for us God deals with us, be it ever so gently, showing us our sin and pointing us to the one who has overcome all sin and taken that sin upon Himself, His Son Jesus.

For this reason, Jesus is good news!  The word evangelism means “good news”.  But Jesus only becomes good news when we are willing to receive Him as our Lord Saviour, recognising Him as the Son of God.  So, at the heart of Lent is the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and this Gospel of Jesus Christ is good news for us because it addresses our deepest needs and longings as human beings.  No other faith, philosophy or worldview can meet this need.  This amazing Gospel tells us many things, but there are three things that are basic to the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus.

Last year in the run up to Valentine’s Day a well-known high street jeweller had a strap line “Show her that you know her”!  Surely, for Valentine’s Day it should have been “Show her that you love her”!  But perhaps to be known is to be loved.  That is very much part of the good news; we are known by God and His deepest desire is that we get to know Him, as He knows us.  He wants us to know that He notices us, after all, He sees all that goes on.  Scripture is full of accounts where people try and hide away from God only to discover that He has been with them along! 

The Gospel of Jesus tells us that we are seen, known and loved.  Do you remember who first witnessed the resurrection of Jesus? Mary.  She was a woman previously shunned and ignored by the people she lived with, now she sees Jesus face to face, when He calls her by name ‘Mary’!  From that moment she is seen and known, and this is the foundation on which she is the first witness to the resurrection of Jesus.  The Gospel of Jesus is good news because it tells us that we are seen, known and loved with an extraordinary love.  That’s the first thing, the Gospel tells us we are loved!

Secondly the Gospel tells us that we are forgiven.

Knowing that we are loved by Jesus is only part of the story, for love alone is not enough.  As I mentioned above the Gospel deals with one of the biggest problems we have as human beings; sin!  Paul in Romans 3 says, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”  Such a statement applies to everyone, but for many, sin seems difficult to talk about.  That is why we encourage people here to engage with Jesus Ministry as this helps us to see that God is so quick to forgive when we repent of our sin.  For many though the idea of there being a God we have wronged seems archaic, but we’re still extremely good had harming others, and ourselves, all of which leaves us feeling broken, guilt ridden and powerless to change.   Despite all our advances we still live from a selfish centre.  This shows us that sin is a form of idolatry where we assign our love toward something else rather than toward God who made us and loves us. 

While the Gospel makes clear our sinfulness, it makes even more abundantly clear Jesus’ extravagant, relentless and selfless love for us.  The events of Good Friday announce to us that whilst we are more sinful than we like to admit, we are loved more than we could ever dare to hope for or imagine.  The good news is that Jesus has come for sinners exactly like you and me.  As I have often said, forgiveness is an amazing and tremendous gift to us from a loving God who wants a personal relationship with us.  Every time we confess and repent, we experience what the prodigal son experienced when even before he was home his father ran to meet him.  Come close to God and He will come close to you!

This is the good news we are called to share – through forgiveness we are welcomed home!!

So the good news of the gospel tells us that we are loved and forgiven.  Thirdly the good news tells that we do not have to fear death.

What a time we are living in… death is all around us, every night on the news we hear how many people have died who tested positive for covid-19 in the last 28 days.  This doesn’t include any who have died for other reasons!  We’re being forced to come face to face with death on a daily basis.  This current generation hasn’t had to do this before so fear has grown, many are afraid to go outside.  We feel powerless; we cannot control the situation.  Perhaps that was why we all bought so much toilet paper and pasta!

Scripture refers to death as the final enemy (1 Cor. 15:24-26) and we also know from scripture that the enemy, Satan, has a powerful strategy to make us live in fear (Hebrews 2:15).  Remember how Jesus stood up against death?  Through His tears He called out to Lazarus, inviting him to leave the tomb, and he did!  We may think that death is natural, but it isn’t; God is eternal and Jesus says I am the Alpha and Omega.  Think how old the characters written about in scripture were when they died, far older than any of us.  You see, to God, death is a rupture in the fabric of our human existence (pg. 24 Living His Story by Hannah Steele).  In raising Lazarus from the dead, Jesus was demonstrating the power He has to overcome the final enemy, death.  This miracle prefigured His own resurrection, an event we celebrate in six weeks’ time.

The good news we live and tell is built on the foundation of the resurrection of Jesus.  If we have a personal relationship with God through Jesus we can say with confidence “I have seen the Lord”, for He is alive.  Because He is alive, death, the deepest fear for so many, has been met with resurrection and new life.  The resurrection of Jesus, which actually happened, is therefore, the most important event in the history of humanity.

So just as the Gospel of Jesus declares that we are loved because we are known personally by God, and that we are forgiven because Jesus was the ultimate sacrifice once and for all for our sin, so the promise of new life, eternal life, in the name of Jesus must not be hidden or kept out of sight.  Over the next six weeks live as Gospel people:

People who know that they are loved

People, who whenever they confess and repent, know they are forgiven,

People who know that death is defeated, for we believe in, and worship an eternal loving God.

The Spirituality of Fund-raising: Part 1

Fund raising as ministry

How do you view fund-raising? 

Do you see it as someone else’s job because you’re just too embarrassed to ask someone for some money?  I know that is how I have felt.  But is this the right attitude to have? 

Reading Henri Nouwen’s book “The Spirituality of Fund-raising” has opened my eyes to seeing fund-raising in a new way, a way firmly based on Scripture, God’s true word to us.

So how do you see fund-raising?  Is it a response to a crisis? Is it a form of ministry?

Henri Nouwen sees it very definitely as ministry!  Why? Well it does two things.  First it gives us an opportunity to announce our vision (where we want to get to) and mission, and secondly it gives others an opportunity to join us in our vision and mission. 

Scripture tells us that vision and mission are central to the life of God’s people.  The simple truth is this; without vision we perish, and with no vision of where we want to get to, our mission loses its way.

Our first reading from 2 Kings was gloomy.  But it clearly tells us what happens if you have no vision; you have no mission!  (2 Kings 21:1-9).  King Manasseh did not seek God, he did not listen to the words of God’s prophets, therefore he wilfully led God’s people into sin.  His actions angered God and they showed that he had no faith in God.  Not listening to God led to destruction.

On one occasion when we were praying about the children’s and families’ position that Mel Ramos will be taking up, this quote was shared…

‘Vision without action is a dream.

Action without vision is a nightmare.

Vision and action together changes the world.’

(From a resource titled “The Bible in One Year”)

We believe God has given us a vision here that involves stepping up through the gears with regards to children’s and families’ work.  If we don’t act on it our vision is only a dream.  Dreams go nowhere if they stay as dreams; action is needed, and action leads to mission.

We believe that God has shown us a need; for families and young people to be pointed towards God through His Son Jesus.  Such a vision will need resourcing in order for us to meet their needs.  So this vision will lead us, Jesus’ Church here, (that’s all of us), into new directions as it will give us new opportunities for mission (Acts 16:9-10).  This vision calls us to exercise faith in God, not in ourselves, but in God alone. This vision gives us courage to speak when we might want to remain silent (Acts 18:9).

So, fund-raising as ministry, ministry we are all called to, gives us an opportunity to invite people to journey with us in our vision and mission in a clear and confident way.  Such a ministry is not begging, instead we’re saying “We have a vision that is amazing and exciting. We are inviting you to invest yourself through the resources that God has given you — your energy, your prayers, and your money — in this work to which God has called us.”  Success depends on us believing in this vision and mission. 

Another reason that fund-raising is ministry is that it is a “call” to conversion.  What, a call to conversion?  How?

Well it works both ways, whether you’re receiving or giving it doesn’t matter, for however you are responding to the vision, you are being drawn together to others by God, who is about to do a new thing through your collaboration (see Isa. 43:19).

So what is conversion about?  According to Henri Nouwen to be converted means “to experience a deep shift in how we see and think and act.”  Christian conversion also involves being clothed in the mind of God.  The outworking of this is that we come to our senses, just as the younger son did when he was starving far from his true home (Luke 15:17-20).  So, Christian conversion is a shift of attention in which we set our mind on divine things (Matt. 16:23).  Paul in Romans 12:2 says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God – what is good and acceptable and perfect”.

Fund-raising as ministry involves a real conversion. Does that make sense to you? It did to me.  If you catch the vision, then that vision has changed you, you are converted.  You see things in a new way and want to be involved in experiencing its transformative power because you know, believe and trust that it will make a difference. 

If we apply this to fund-raising then it is ministry, because ministry is about inviting people to relate in a new way to the resources they have.  So, in prayer ministry, for example, you believe that prayer changes people and situations for the better.  This gives people a spiritual vision that God does care and that He is able to change situations, and to change you, so you too come more into line with His plumb line truth.  Prayer ministry is there for the spiritual benefit of all who are involved.

As Henri Nouwen says, “Fund-raising from the point of view of the gospel says to people: ‘I will take your money and invest it in this vision only if it is good for your spiritual journey, only if it is good for your spiritual health.’”

You become richer spiritually by giving in accordance with God’s calling.  The Apostle Paul in 2 Cor. 9:11 said, “You will be enriched in every way for your great generosity…”

I hope that you can see that making connections with those we’re asking is important if we want others to really get behind what we’re doing.  It’s much better for all concerned if we don’t merely receive a cheque.  Therefore, in sharing our vision we’re wanting to enter into a relationship with the hearers because we want givers to be fully on board, for when they are they will spread the word about what we’re doing, which in turn may encourage others to give!  This is natural organic evangelism.

We will fail to raise funds if we think that fund-raising is an unspiritual activity.  I think I can see now that fund-raising is not only a secular activity.  As a form of ministry, fund-raising is as spiritual as giving a sermon, entering a time of prayer, visiting the sick, or feeding the hungry.  So, fund-raising has to help us with our conversion too. Are we willing to be converted from our fear of asking, from our anxiety about being rejected or feeling humiliated, from our depression when someone says, “No, I’m not going to get involved in your project”? When we have gained the freedom to ask without fear, in other words to see fund-raising as a form of ministry, then fund-raising will be good for our spiritual life too.

Remember, as we engage in this ministry we are not alone.  We believe that God has a vision for us here, to see His Kingdom grow through people coming to faith in Jesus.  We will achieve this if we stay connected to Jesus.  Remember His teaching on the vine…?

“I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).

With him, we can do anything because we know that God surrounds us with an abundance of blessings. So, those who need money and those who can give money meet on the common ground of God’s love. 

“And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work” (2 Cor. 9:8).

When we shift our attitude about fund-raising – that it is ministry to which all are called, then we can boldly share God’s vision for this place. As we share we are giving others an opportunity to join us in God’s mission as we work towards His vision for us.

Time to think

As you ponder the questions below why not write down your thoughts and share your reflections with others.

Digging into God’s Word

If “ministry is, first of all, receiving God’s blessing from those to whom we minister” what do you think this blessing is?  Is it catching a glimpse of the face of God?

In fund-raising ministry, we are striving to give people a spiritual vision of the things God is calling us to do.  If people catch this spiritual vision they have experienced conversion. How did your own spiritual conversion to be a follower of Jesus change your outlook on life?  Did it say anything to you about the generosity of God?  If so, what did it say about this?

Digging Deeper into God’s Word

Luke 6:38 says, “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

This verse teaches that if we live to give, God will see to it that we receive: but if we live only to get, God will see to it that we lose.  This principle applies not only to giving money, but also to the giving of ourselves in ministry to others.  What ministry has God called you to here?  How are you moving forward with this ministry?

Prayer Response

Lord Jesus, teach me to be generous;

teach me to serve you as you deserve,

to give and not to count the cost,

to fight and not to heed the wounds,

to toil and not to seek for rest,

to labour and not to seek reward,

except that of knowing that I do your will.

Amen

St. Ignatius Loyola

The pre-eminence of Jesus

Readings: Colossians 1: 14-20; John 1: 1-14

Everyone worships someone or something. All people give someone or something first place in their life.  The apostle Paul was determined that the church at Colossae give Jesus Christ pre-eminence in everything.  Paul used what is most likely an early Christian hymn to explain how Jesus is pre-eminent in the entire universe and worthy of the church’s allegiance and affection.

The beginning of the hymn explains that when people see Jesus, they see God. Remarkably, even in His human form, Jesus is God.  Jesus Himself affirmed this when He said, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30).  Jesus’ deity displays His pre-eminence.

Paul then used a phrase that has often been misunderstood.  He said Jesus is the “firstborn over all creation” (Col 1:15).  At times, people have mistakenly taken this to mean that God the Father created the Son.  The immediate context reveals otherwise, describing Jesus as the creator of all things, who existed “before all things” (v16-17).  Additionally, John as we heard in our Gospel reading, affirmed that Jesus was in existence with the Father at the very beginning: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning” (John 1:1-2).

So, from what I have just said, and proved with Scripture, God and Jesus have been around for as long as each other.  What then is the meaning of Paul’s use of this word “firstborn“?  Well, this is where it helps to have a little bit of understanding of the Jewish culture of Jesus’ day.  The “first born” was significant.   Remember last week we celebrated Candlemas; Jesus being presented to God in the Temple because the Law of the Lord said;  ‘Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord’. (Luke 2:23).

This points to the exalted position held by God, and so the family, of the firstborn son.  So in the Jewish context, “firstborn” implied the highest rank and value.  Therefore, as the firstborn Jesus has the highest ranking and value of all things, both visible (i.e. created) and invisible (i.e. what goes on spiritually and in the heavenly realms).

Paul then pointed to the fact that Jesus created the universe.  He hoped to stretch his readers’ minds by leading them to think about invisible things that Jesus created, including the unseen angelic realm.  When Christians ponder on all of creation, galaxies upon galaxies, unexplored oceans and the complexity of the human body, we can only just begin to understand a tiny fraction of the majesty and power of Jesus.  During His life on earth Jesus demonstrated the very same power that He used to create everything through the “signs” He performed, “signs” such as turning water into wine, feeding the five thousand, walking on water, calming the storm, casting out demons, etc. 

All of these show us His complete mastery over both the physical and spiritual worlds.  “Signs” brought glory to God, and therefore all of creation exists to bring glory to God.  As part of His creation, we too are to bring glory to God.  And we can do this because Jesus dwells in us!  Colossians 1:19 tells us that God was pleased to have all His fullness dwell in Jesus.  So, if the fullness of God dwelt in Jesus and Jesus dwells in us, so the fullness of God dwells in us too!  Isn’t that awesome?  The same amount of God dwelling in Jesus (which is all of God) dwells in us too!

As the firstborn, Jesus is pre-eminent in His church.  Jesus creates, sustains, and leads His church as its Head.  Every church has its challenges and problems; but, because the church belongs to Jesus, Christians should have a heart to build up the church rather than tear it down. Such a heart has to be based on obeying the teachings and commands of Jesus.

Jesus’ pre-eminence shines brightly through His work of reconciling all things through His death on the cross: Jesus’ death and resurrection are among the ultimate displays of His pre-eminence.  Why?  Because of this Good News: Jesus is greater than humanity’s sin. Wow!  Now that should be worth shouting from the roof tops. 

Yet there is more to shout about…Jesus is greater than death! Jesus is greater than the devil, so much greater!  At the name of Jesus, the devil and his minions quiver and shake and look to make a very quick exit before they are destroyed.  Jesus’ name has that much power.  Indeed, in a world that often feels out of control, Christians can rejoice and take hope that Jesus Christ is in fact reconciling all things to the Father and will bring peace to the cosmos.

Last week I preached on a Hebrews passage which showed us just how broad and high Jesus affects the cosmos.  This has enormous implications for us, because Jesus shapes the way we live our lives, right down to the very smallest detail of our daily lives.  As Christ is supreme over all creation, including the spiritual world, we must believe in the deity of Jesus Christ, (that Jesus is God) or our Christian faith is hollow, misdirected, and meaningless, for this is a central truth of Christianity for Jesus is the Lord of all.

When we believe this, we are to share this awesome Good News with others.  There is nothing in the whole of this world, the whole of your life, that is better than Jesus.  Yes, my wife and daughters are amazing and I love them dearly.  Yes, I love cricket, I love riding my motorcycle, driving a classic Mini car.  All of these give me great joy and satisfaction, but all of these pale into insignificance with regards to what I get out of my personal relationship with Jesus.  Jesus is the ONE, He is the way, the truth and the life. 

That certainly has been my personal experience and God wants it to be everyone’s personal experience.  And it can, regardless of your age, circumstances and what you’ve done before with your life.  You see in our life God has given us a route to experience His reconciliation through His incarnate Son Jesus!

To know God, we have to go through Jesus.  He alone has cleared away our sin that stops us having a right relationship with God, so we can have direct access to the presence of the only holy supernatural divine God – Jesus’ Father.  Clearing away our sin doesn’t mean that everyone has been saved from eternal death.  Instead by clearing away our sin, Jesus has shown a path for anyone who trusts Him to be saved. 

All of our life is to openly proclaim the way of salvation to be through Christ alone.  Our life is to be a clear pointer to Christ.  Jesus has laid a clear path that leads to eternal life, a path that is counter-cultural, a path that will bring hostility to you, but a path that has closed the gap between us and our creator God.  Jesus’ way is what unites us to our Creator God.

I can preach for hours on these few verses.  They do have so much to say to us about faith, trust, who Jesus is, (God), who God is, (the sustainer of all things), but the crucial thing to me for us today is this question:

Does your life point people to Jesus?   

In other words, does Jesus have pre-eminence in your life 24/7?  If He does others will see it!

Time to think

Read Colossians 1:15-20 (and pray)

These verses are often referred to as one of the ‘purple’ passages in the Bible on the person and work of our Lord Jesus Christ. It speaks of His Supremacy over creation (old and new) and as a result His Sufficiency in Salvation. This all fits in with the main Idea of Colossians: Jesus Christ is all you need.

As you ponder the questions below why not write down your thoughts and share your reflections with others.

Digging into God’s word

  1. What does Paul mean when he says that Jesus is the ‘image of the invisible God? Hint: see John 1:18. So, if we could learn something about God outside of Jesus, even if in dreams and visions and myths (the things troubling the Colossians), what would this say about Jesus?
  2. How much of God can we learn from Jesus according to verse 19? How much of Himself has God given to us in Jesus?
  3. Jesus is described as ‘firstborn’ in 15a. Some people think this means that Jesus was created. Look up Psalm 89:24-28 and Hebrews 1:1-3 and reflect of the Biblical meaning of the word ‘firstborn’.

Digging deeper into God’s word

  1. Jesus is Supreme in Creation because He created everything and He holds it all together.  He is Supreme in the New Creation because of His death and resurrection. What does this say about the sufficiency of our salvation in Christ?
  2. Can you think of ways in which Christians are tempted to add to Jesus?
  3. Christians are to point towards Jesus.  Write down the ways that your life points people to Him.

Prayer response

Dear Father,

we have not seen you. We do not even know what it might mean to see you. But you have shown us Jesus, and because we have seen him, we have seen you.

Thank you for him who is the image of you, the invisible God. Thank you for creating all things through him who is the first-born of all creation.

Help us grasp what it means that everything – things in heaven, things on earth, things visible, things invisible, thrones, dominions, principalities, authorities, all matter and all energy – was created by him who was before all things, and that all these things hold together through him.

How over-awed we are! We prostrate our bodies, souls, and spirits before him!

In Jesus’ hallowed name we pray. Amen.

Candlemas

Hebrews 2:10-18; Luke 2:22-40

Today we remember the Christ child being presented in the temple.  This was a tradition that Jewish families of Jesus’ day undertook.  I would imagine that both Mary and Joseph were a little apprehensive as they entered the temple.  Even more so, I would have thought, when two elderly people, unknown to them, greeted them and said amazing things about their son.  To me, those two were there by God’s design to say to Mary and Joseph, “You can do it, you can bring up this special child.  You both have what it takes to do the job God is calling you to do, to bring up His child.”

Today’s lectionary includes a reading from the Book of Hebrews.  But what has this to do with Candlemas?  First, let me tell you another story, a parable.

There was a college athletic team that could not win. They were a standing joke, especially over an annual special event – completing an obstacle course which most times they didn’t even complete!  The training coaches came and went, a bit like some Premier League Football managers.

Then one year a gifted coach got the job.  At the first practice, a cynical team member asked, “How long are you going to be here, one week or two?” The coach answered, “I am here for my whole career if the college will let me stay. I believe you can win and I am here to help you do it. I am with you. I am going to be here. Are you?”

As that wasn’t what they usually heard the team didn’t believe him. But he acted like he meant it. At each training session he told them, “There are two things I want you to do. Believe you can win and live like winners.”  The team joked about the coach’s positivity in private. But he acted as if he meant for them to take it seriously.

When it came to work on the obstacle course the coach told the team to watch as he showed them how it should be done.  He did it in record time, and said, “If I can do that, you can do it, too. I am a guy just like you.”  The team members were impressed – but they didn’t believe it.

Still they finished last at the end of the season. But the following season they had more success as bit by bit, the team’s attitude began to change. However, those who did the hiring and firing sacked the coach just before the last meeting.  The team members were shocked.  They didn’t quite know what to do.  But when they came to the competition, they saw their old coach in the stands.  Every time a team member was about to compete, the old coach was heard shouting, “Come on. I believe in you. You can do it.”  They won the event.  As a result, the team members made it their tradition to shout, “Believe you can win and live like a winner.” They became a winning team.

The book of Hebrews is a hard book to read but it tells a story that is similar to that in many ways but much more cosmic in its scope and much more important in its implications for us.

The story begins by assuming our human need. We want to live good and productive lives. We want to live in a good and right relationship with God, with ourselves and with others. But it is hard to do that. Many things in life and within ourselves work against us. We find ourselves living lives of which we are not proud, and with which we cannot be happy. We feel like we are part of that losing team. We can’t win. But God acted to reach out to us, to make known to us what He is always doing for our salvation.

We must remember that God is the primary actor in this story. God sent one who was an aspect of His own being to lead us to life. This one, who will be called the pioneer because he came to lead us into faith and life, is God with us; (See Heb. 1:2-3 & 12:1-2).

So this “One” became one of us and one with us. He came to identify with us. Like the track coach in the parable, he came saying, “I am with you. I am committed to you. I am one of you.” The text says that Jesus was not ashamed to call us brothers and sisters. “Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity…” (Hebrews 2:14).

Living as one of us, he experienced life as we experience it. He even experienced temptation.  He experienced uncertainty, anxiety, pain, loneliness, and all of the other things we experience. (Hebrews 2:18 & 4:15). Because of His experiences Jesus was able to accomplish several important things for our salvation.

We heard how he made atonement for the sins of the people (Hebrews 2:17).  Whenever we read about atonement in the Bible, we are reading about God forgiving our sins and not holding our guilt against us. This is a very important part of the saving work of God.  It tells us that we are accepted by God as we are.  Sin is not okay, but God has set our past failures aside so that He can start with us where we are and lead us through confession and repentance into a better life.

Hebrews also tells us that Jesus lived the life that we are called to live and did it under our circumstances to show us that it can be done.  Like the track coach in the parable, he ran the obstacle course of life to show us how to do it and to show us that we can do it.   This reminds me of a friend’s young son who always said “I do it, I do it, I do it, I did it!” whenever he did anything.  Jesus achieved living the life that we are called to live by living a life of faithfulness to the purposes of God, (see Hebrews 3:1-2).  This is the life we too are called to live.

Jesus has also shown us that we don’t have to be intimidated by the threat of death, either by the ultimate death that ends our lives, or by the little deaths with which we are so often threatened by those who want to control us.  Remember Jesus died “… so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death, that is, the devil, and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death” (Hebrews 2:14-15).

Living under our circumstances made it possible for Jesus to suffer for our sins and to set us free from guilt.  Otherwise He couldn’t show us the life for which we were created and neither could He demonstrate that we can actually live it despite our human limitations and circumstances.

But then the story enters another phase. After the death and resurrection of Jesus, He returned to be with God, by sitting at the right hand of God, His Father, in heaven, making sacrifices for us in the heavenly temple, and representing us before God.  In being seated, Jesus is stating; “It is finished.  I have done all my Father has asked me to do.”  Now it is up to us to pick up where He has left off.

All of this may well raise the question: How will life deal with me? Will I succeed?  Will it afflict me, or condemn me, or be indifferent toward me?

The book of Hebrews tells us that, even though many hurtful and cruel things will happen to us in life, the one who stands with us is the one who loves us enough to be committed to our salvation.  After all, He is the one who understands what we are going through because He has been through it too.  After all, He is the one who forgives our sins and accepts us as we are, and the one who believes in us.  He is like the athletic coach sitting in the stands and shouting, “Come on, you can do it. I believe in you.”  This enables us to go to meet life with confidence and expectancy that Jesus will be with us no matter.  (see Hebrews 4:14-16 & 12:1a-2).

This is a reason why we celebrate Candlemas.  This helps us to catch the vision of a life in which God is with us.  He is shouting from the stands, “Come on, you can make it.  I believe in you!”

Time to think

Read Hebrews 2:10-18.  With pen and paper (maybe your journal) to hand give yourself time to think about the following questions as you dig into God’s word.

  1. Our suffering can make us more sensitive servants of God because we are able to reach out with His compassion to others who hurt.  If you have suffered, ask God how your experience can be used to help others.
  2. How was Jesus made perfect through suffering?
  3. All who dread death should have the opportunity to know the hope that Christ’s victory brings.  How can you share this truth with those close to you