Rich man, poor man, beggar man, thief

Rich man, poor man, beggar man, thief

Often, we are quick to make judgements about others based on outward appearances.  However, in the kingdom of God, outward appearance doesn’t matter.  This is well explained in scripture by James, (James 2:1-17):

1My brothers, as believers in our glorious lord Jesus Christ, don’t show favouritism. 2suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in. 3if you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “you stand there” or “sit on the floor by my feet,” 4have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?

5listen, my dear brothers: has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? 6but you have insulted the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? 7are they not the ones who are slandering the noble name of him to whom you belong?

8if you really keep the royal law found in scripture, “love your neighbour as yourself,” you are doing right. 9but if you show favouritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. 10for whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. 11for he who said, “do not commit adultery,” also said, “do not murder.” if you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker.

12speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, 13because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment!

14what good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? 15suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. 16if one of you says to him, “go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? 17in the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

We might look upon people according to their position or wealth, but God looks at the individual, not their job or their outward appearance.  James is confronting us about being too full of ourselves.

Later we will gather round the Lord’s table because Jesus invites us to his table. At his table there this is no distinction. The good news is that Christ Jesus invites us to an “all you can eat buffet” of God’s grace, mercy, forgiveness, redemption, justification, hope, wholeness, healing and, like cream or custard on top of your favourite pudding, love!

The only thing that’s required of us is to come empty, so that we can leave filled.

Come empty

How do we come empty?

… By laying at the foot of the cross all the trash, all the sin, and letting the blood of Christ flow over them, cleansing them from our life.  If we’re honest with ourselves the trash in our lives will include our selfishness (which really is pride), our prejudices, our hate, our anger at our brother, boss, neighbour, spouse or children, our assumptions that we are always right, our judgementalism.  The list goes on and on.

If we’re full of these when we come into God’s presence then we’re not going to receive all that he has for us, we just won’t have room.  We have to come empty.  For when we do, we come needy, hungry and so ready to receive what he has for us.  This will be different for each of us. Therefore, we have to come seeking, if not, we won’t be satisfied.

If we’re full there is no room for God’s grace, love and forgiveness. So we have to empty our heart, soul and spirit of all those things that keep us from feasting at God’s “all you can eat buffet of grace, forgiveness and love”.

Leave filled

The good news is that when we come empty we will leave filled.

When we come empty, we leave filled with the knowledge and assurance of our forgiveness.

When we come empty, we leave filled with the grace of God born of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

When we come empty, we leave filled with hope for ourselves and for the future.

When we come empty, we leave filled with the love which mirrors God’s unconditional love for us.

When we come empty, we leave filled with the holy spirit, Christ’s very presence in our daily lives, reminding us that we belong to him.

Conclusion

There’s a mum whose family treated her to a big birthday party. When the time came for her to receive her gifts, she was instructed to sit in her favourite chair. One by one, the father and the two older children came in from the kitchen bearing their gifts on trays, and presenting them to mum as if she were a queen.  The smallest girl, who was really too little to have had much input on the selection of gifts, had been left out of all these joyous plans. But watching the party, she rose to the occasion!  Just when the others thought the party was over, she appeared from the kitchen bearing an empty tray. Approaching her mother, she placed the tray on the floor, stepped upon it herself, and with a childish wiggle of joy said, “Mummy, I give you me!” (1)

When we come empty, we bring only ourselves, which is the best and greatest gift we can ever give to God. It’s the only gift God ever asks from us, and it’s the gift God gave to us through Jesus.  When we come empty, with just the gift of ourselves, God meets us and feeds us and fills us to overflowing with his glorious life.

It doesn’t make any difference whether we’re a rich man, poor man, beggar man, or thief, when we come empty, we leave filled.  So, empty yourself for Christ’s “all you can eat buffet of grace, love and forgiveness” and leave filled.

Bibliography

  1. Parables, etc. Saratoga press, PO Box 8, Platteville, co, 80651; 970-785-2990, March 1987

Spiritual Gifts

Spiritual Gifts

“Every good and perfect gift is from above.” (James 1:17).

God, our Father, pours out on us, His children, lavish spiritual and supernatural gifts.

Spiritual gifts are not talents or abilities or something we like to do.  What are they, and what is their purpose?

It is so that through us, His children, Christ’s Church will be edified and glory brought to God, because God is a supernatural God.  All spiritual gifts have been provided to equip us to glorify God.  This is explained by Paul, who wrote that the gifts of the spirit are given:

“to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” (Ephesians 4:12-13)

Let’s break this down a bit further:

Gifts are given to manifest God’s presence in the body of Christ on earth

Jesus is our perfect example. He exemplified all the spiritual gifts through His words and the actions He carried out. Since Jesus is now at the right hand of God the Father, the Holy Spirit is the primary manifestation of the presence of God on the earth. Thus our heavenly Father distributes the gifts of the Spirit among the members of His Body in various ways, so that believers and none believers may see and know the presence of God.

Gifts are given to remind us of our dependence upon one another

Rather than giving each believer all of the gifts, God gives each of His children specific gifts. He did this so that no one would, in the words of Paul in Romans 12 think of themselves…

“more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.”

Our walk of faith is a journey, a journey not completed until we get to heaven. On this journey God knows that we need to mature in all areas of our faith.  So it is with spiritual gifts: they need to mature in us.  When this happens our appreciation for all the members of the Body is magnified.

For example, if you have the gift of mercy, God has given you a heightened sensitivity to the hurts of others (so that HE might express HIS compassion to them through you). Until you understand that everyone else is NOT supposed to be as sensitive to others’ hurts (to the degree that you discern them and want to respond to them), you will probably be tempted to condemn others as callous and heartless.

This is an immature attitude because our personal human nature, which naturally operates pridefully,

assumes that “my perspective” is always right — and usually the “only” perspective.

If you think that way, you are deceiving yourself. Yes, your perspective is valid and essential, but it is not the only perspective. Others are not being callous; they simply do not “see” as you see.

In fact, others will be sensitive to needs to which you are totally oblivious, such as:

  • the suffering person’s financial needs or
  • the need to be shown the truth about the situation that is causing the suffering or
  • the need to mow the sufferer’s overgrown lawn, which is frustrating his wife and his neighbours

So as different members of the Body of Christ discern each of these areas of need, all of the suffering person’s needs can be addressed and God will be glorified.

Therefore, we need each other desperately.

Thankfully, God has not given “the whole picture” to any individual, but through His grace and mercy, He has given each of us a “window” through which we are to perceive one another’s needs by using our spiritual gifts. Therefore, all the needs cannot be met unless the Body of Christ is thriving and practicing its gifts in love.

Gifts are given to build unity in the church

In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul exhorts believers to endeavour, to “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace”. (Ephesians 4:3).  He also explains that God gave the ministry gifts (i.e. apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers):

“… to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ”.  (Ephesians 4:12–13).

The truth is our differing gifts, empowered to us by the same Spirit, draw us together, because God wants us to depend on each other.

That’s why,  “The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!”” (1 Cor. 12:21).

Therefore, when the Holy Spirit is working strongly in a church to manifest God’s presence, one evidence will be a beautiful harmony in the church community and an overflowing love for one another.

Gifts are given to bring glory to God

God has given gifts to the Body of Christ,

  • to manifest His presence among us,
  • to remind us of our dependence upon one another
  • and thus to build unity in the Church.

As this happens Christ’s Church individually and corporately is edified, so that we are better equipped to reach the lost. So through the gifts of the Holy Spirit as believers we are humbled, fulfilled, encouraged, and made useful in the hands of our Master, to whom all glory is due.

How do I identify my spiritual gifts?

Well there is no magic formula or definitive test that can tell us exactly what our spiritual gifts are.

The Holy Spirit distributes the gifts as He determines (1 Corinthians 12:7-11).

A common problem for Christians is the temptation to get so caught up in “our spiritual gift” that we only seek to serve God in the area in which we feel we have been gifted.  That is not how God’s spiritual gifts work.  God calls us to obediently serve Him in all things.  As we learn to do this on our walk of faith He will equip us with whatever gift or gifts we need to accomplish the task He has called us to.

Identifying our spiritual giftedness can be accomplished in various ways.

We can use resources like Spiritual gift tests or inventories. They are helpful as they can help us understand where our gifting might be, but should not to be fully relied upon.

Confirmation from others, as others who see us serving the Lord can often identify a spiritual gift in us that we might take for granted.  It’s too easy for us to assume that all Christians do such and such,

so we don’t readily recognise it as a gift from the Holy Spirit.

However, PRAYER is most important in discerning your spiritual gifts. The truth is the one person who knows exactly how we are spiritually gifted is the gift-giver Himself – the Holy Spirit. We are to ask God to show us how He has gifted us in order to better use our spiritual gifts for His glory.

Yes, God calls some to be teachers and gives them the gift of teaching. God also calls some to be servants and blesses them with the gift of “helps”. However, specifically knowing our spiritual gift does not excuse us from serving God in areas outside our gifting.

Is it beneficial to know what spiritual gift(s) God has given us?   Of course it is. Is it wrong to focus so much on spiritual gifts that we miss other opportunities to serve God?   YES.

If we are dedicated to being used by God, He will equip us with the spiritual gifts we need.

A Biblical Spiritual Gifts List

There are three Biblical lists of the “gifts of the Spirit,” also known as spiritual gifts. The three main passages describing these spiritual gifts are Romans 12:6–8; 1 Corinthians 12:4–11; and 1 Corinthians 12:28.

The spiritual gifts identified in Romans 12 are:

prophesying, serving, teaching, encouraging, giving, leadership, and mercy.

The list in 1 Corinthians 12:4–11 includes:

the word of wisdom, the word of knowledge, faith, healing, miraculous powers, prophecy, distinguishing between spirits, speaking in tongues and interpretation of tongues.

The list in 1 Corinthians 12:28 includes:

healings, helps, administration/governments, diversities of tongues.

I invite you to read through the list below prayerfully, asking God to show you if He has given you a particular gift or gifts.  Remember, spiritual gifts are not natural talents or abilities or something you like to do.  They are to help you serve God and glorify his holy name.

A brief description of each spiritual gift follows:

Prophecy – Is “a speaking forth” from divine inspiration and declaring the purposes of God, whether by reproving and admonishing the wicked, or comforting the afflicted, or revealing things hidden.  This includes foretelling future events. To prophesy is to declare the divine will, to interpret the purposes of God, & to make known in any way the truth of God that is designed to influence people.  This involves speaking by divine revelation God’s message with power and authority.

Serving – Also referred to as ministering. This is service of any kind.  i.e. the broad application of practical help to those in need. They are known for their faithfulness and loyalty.

Teaching – This gift involves the analysis and proclamation of the Word of God, explaining the meaning, context and application to the hearer’s life, specifically the doctrines of the faith.

Encouraging – Also called exhortation, this gift is evident in those who consistently call upon others to heed and follow God’s truth, which may involve correction or building others up by strengthening weak faith or comforting in trials.

Giving – Gifted givers are those who joyfully share what they have with others, whether it is financial, material, or the giving of personal time and attention. The giver is concerned for the needs of others and seeks opportunities to share goods, money and time with them as needs arise.

Leadership – The gifted leader is one who rules, presides over or has the management of other people in the church. The word literally means “guide” and carries with it the idea of one who steers a ship. One with the gift of leadership rules with wisdom and grace and exhibits the fruit of the Spirit in his life as he leads by example.

Mercy – Closely linked with the gift of encouragement, the gift of mercy is obvious in those who are compassionate toward others who are in distress, showing sympathy and sensitivity coupled with a desire and the resources to lessen their suffering in a kind and cheerful manner.

Word of wisdom – This is one of the speaking gifts and describes someone who can understand and speak forth biblical truth in such a way as to skilfully apply it to life situations with all discernment.

Word of knowledge – This is another speaking gift that involves understanding truth with an insight that only comes by revelation from God. Those with the gift of knowledge understand the deep things of God and the mysteries of His Word.

Faith – All believers possess faith in some measure because it is one of the gifts of the Spirit bestowed on all who come to Christ in faith (Galatians 5:22-23). The spiritual gift of faith is exhibited by one with a strong and unshakeable confidence in God, His Word, His promises, and the power of prayer to effect miracles.

Healing – God does still heal today so miraculous healings affirm that God is present for He is a God of life.

Miraculous powers – Also known as the working of miracles, this is a sign gift which involves performing supernatural events that could only be attributed to the power of God (Acts 2:22). This gift was exhibited by Paul (Acts 19:11-12), Peter (Acts 3:6), Stephen (Acts 6:8), and Phillip (Acts 8:6-7), among others.

Distinguishing (discerning) of spirits – This is the unique ability to determine the true message of God from that of the deceiver, Satan, whose methods include purveying deceptive and erroneous doctrine. Jesus said many would come in His name and would deceive many (Matthew 24:4-5), but the gift of discerning spirits is given to individuals and the Church to protect it from such as these.

Speaking in tongues – The gift of tongues is a “sign gift” and is the divine ability to speak in languages previously unknown to the speaker.  See interpretation of tongues below.

Sometimes speaking in tongues is for the benefit of those who only know another language who otherwise would not hear the Word of God being proclaimed.  (Note this is different from praying in tongues).

Interpretation of tongues – A person with the gift of interpreting tongues could understand what a tongues-speaker was saying even though he did not know the language that was being spoken. The tongues interpreter would then communicate the message of the tongues speaker to everyone else, so all could understand.

Helps – Closely related to the gift of mercy is the gift of helps. Those with the gift of helps are those who can aid or render assistance to others with compassion and grace. This has a broad range of possibilities for application. Most importantly, this is the unique ability to identify those who are struggling with doubt, fears, and other spiritual battles; to move toward those in spiritual need with a kind word, an understanding and compassionate demeanour; and to speak scriptural truth that is both convicting and loving.

Administration/governments – A gift that takes the form of being able to offer sound advice and judgement in directing church affairs.

Apostleship – The gift of fulfilling the ministry of the Word of God, and to be exercised among nonbelievers.  Paul went to the Gentiles; Peter went to the Jews.

When you identify your own gifts (and this list is far from complete) ask God how He wants you to use them to build up His family.  At the same time, realise your gifts can’t do the work of the church all alone.  So be thankful for people whose gifts are completely different from yours.  Let your strengths balance their weaknesses, and be grateful that their abilities make up for your deficiencies.  Together we can build Christ’s Church.

 

Jesus is Lord

Jesus is Lord

Photo by Mike Kenneally on Unsplash
Photo by Mike Kenneally on Unsplash

John 6: 35, 41-51

Imagine later today, being introduced to someone who said, “Hi, I am the bread that has come down from heaven.”

What would you say? Would you say excitedly, “Wow, wonderful, It’s great to meet you!”, or would you say in disbelief, “I’m sorry, what did you just say?” Anyone making such claims could easily be labelled as needing psychiatric help.

C.S. Lewis, in his book “Mere Christianity,” considered that anyone who makes the claims that Jesus made must either be a liar, a lunatic, be of the devil, or in fact IS the Son of God.  Therefore we must either dismiss Jesus, or we HAVE to fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God!  Let’s examine this more closely.

Liar

The first century Jews came to the conclusion that Jesus was a liar.  Jesus used Capernaum for His base, so He is NOT an unknown in town.  They know him and his family and this is the point of contention with the leaders in the synagogue:

“You are the son of Joseph and Mary from Nazareth north of here.  How is it then that you say you are the bread which came down from heaven?”

You see Jesus is the 29-year-old boy of Joseph, born of flesh and blood, as the rest of us.  God did not drop him down from heaven like some Prophet of old sent back to judge God’s people.  The logical conclusion for a 1st century Jew is that Jesus is lying.  They would probably reach the same conclusion if Jesus were to explain His virgin birth.

Lunatic

The other view held by Jewish leaders was that Jesus was a lunatic.  But the leaders had to be careful here.  Jesus was immensely popular so instead they casually suggest that He is lying.  They hold the more serious charge of lunacy until such time as it is needed.  You can’t blame them for this, especially when you look at the outrageous claims Jesus makes in John chapter 6:  He claims:

  1. to have come down from heaven, v. 42.
  2. that people must come to him to get to the God the Father, v. 44.
  3. He will cause your resurrection, v. 44.
  4. He is the object of the prophet’s teachings, v. 45.
  5. He is from God, v. 46.
  6. He has seen the Father, v. 46.
  7. If you believe in Him you have eternal life, v. 47.
  8. He is the bread of life, v. 48.
  9. This bread is greater than Moses’ manna, v. 49-50.
  10. You will live forever with His bread, v. 50.
  11. This bread is His flesh given for the life of the world, v. 50

Surely the last claim alone is enough to convict him as an absolute lunatic!  You probably think, “How does this work?”

Of course today we understand this as a reference to the Cross, but here again Jesus cannot go into detail.  You simply won’t believe Him.  People failed to realise that Jesus was simply using bread as a metaphorBread, when we break it, sustains our bodies.  His body, when broken on the cross, sustains our souls.  In a word: we are forgiven, made whole, and therefore we shall live forever with God in right relationship.

 Legend

Perhaps you think Jesus is becoming a bit of a legend.  Today many say He never existed, although historians agree that He did exist.  Jesus is not a legendary figure.

However, legends often grow after an event, when things get exaggerated.  Take King Arthur – a hero of mine.  It is generally agreed that there was a man named Arthur in Britain who was a war hero some 1500 years ago.  That’s about all that can be said with any certainty.

Was he a king?  Probably not.  Was there a Round Table?  Perhaps.  But there is no evidence of the sword in the stone, Merlin the magician, or the Holy Grail.  These were all legends that developed around a great war hero.  Legends grew about Jesus, during and after His life on earth.  To stop these the Gospels were written from eyewitness accounts.

In John’s gospel we have the seven “I Am” sayings, where Jesus said of himself:

  • “I AM the Bread of Life”
  • “I AM the Light of the World”
  • “I AM the Door”
  • “I AM the Good Shepherd”
  • “I AM the Resurrection and the Life”
  • “I AM the Way and the Truth and the Life”
  • “I AM the True Vine”

These sayings have ONE conclusion, that Jesus IS God.

So either Jesus said these things or they were made up to keep the legend going.  If it was all about keeping the legend going why were so many prepared to die for their faith?  Simply because His claim of deity is not the fictitious work of a writer.  We are left with this: the picture that is presented of Jesus IS a GENUINE accurate record of what happened.

 Jesus is Lord

Jesus is not a liar, lunatic, or legend.  He is Lord.

If you call him a liar let me ask you, what teachings, exactly, are lies?

If you call him a lunatic let me ask you, In what way is he insane?  Could someone so insightful about the human condition be so insane at the same time?  In Jesus we find the world’s most acute AND critical thinking when challenged by his adversaries.  This is not the mark of a deranged mind.

If you call him a legend let me ask you: How do you know he is a legend?

Were you with Neil Armstrong when he walked on the moon?  – probably not.  We know he walked on the moon because someone told us, and SOMEONE told me that Jesus lived!  There were eyewitnesses who touched him, saw him, and heard him.   Are His teachings and life story the work of disciples who wanted to make him MORE than he really was?  If so then why did they devote their lives to a literary ghost?

No. He is not a liar, a lunatic, or a legend.  He is LORD!

Amen.


 

The way… the truth… the life

John quotes Jesus as saying “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the father except through me.” (John 14:6).

This passage is GOOD NEWS! It contrasts with all Photo by Fernando Puente on Unsplashthe bad news and fake news we experience through the media. These words express a basic and important message that the way to eternal life, though unseen, is secure.

Jesus is the way because He is both God and man, (John 10:30).

Jesus is the truth because He is the reality and proof of all God’s promises.

Jesus is the life, meaning that He joins His divine life to ours, both now and eternally, because He is our Saviour

By dying for us on the cross He has saved us from death and sin. He truly is our Saviour!

However there is a catch. Just before saying these words, Jesus also said “…believe in God; believe also in me.” The message is clear. We can look forward to eternal life because Jesus has promised it, …to all who believe in him.

How is your belief in Jesus, your belief that He is God’s son and that He is the only way to God and eternal life? Can your belief be shaken by trials and tribulations, or is it rock-solid?

The Holy Spirit

Yet, believing in Jesus is just the start. We must respond to Jesus. We respond by allowing the Holy Spirit to dwell in us, for it is He who brings Jesus alive in us and in in turn provides us with direct access to God. 

As His disciples, working in the power of the Holy Spirit, we are to carry the gospel of God’s Kingdom out into our own daily lives, and so out into the world. (John 14:12-13).

The Holy Spirit regenerates us to live as God desires and helps us to build Christ’s church on earth. The very presence of God lives within us. Isn’t that truly amazing? God lives in us!

Are you ready to believe and trust in Jesus, and to receive God’s Holy Spirit? If so, please offer the following prayer to God:

Thank you God for sending you Son Jesus as Saviour to the world.
I now come to Jesus as my Saviour,
asking Him to forgive me for all the wrong things I have thought, said and done in my life
and so I choose to turn away from everything that I know is wrong.
I acknowledge that Jesus is the only way to you:
     help me to follow Him.
I acknowledge that Jesus is the truth:
bring me to know your truth.
I acknowledge that Jesus is the life:
     give me that life,
Please come and fill me with Your Holy Spirit
and make it possible for me to walk by faith with You,
my Lord and my God.
Amen.