Posts Tagged ‘spreading the gospel’

1 Samuel 1:19-28
Samuel’s Birth and Dedication

It is at this point every year that we begin our budgeting process for coming year at my church. The new calendar and budget year are really not that far away. This year, 2017, is winding down. As of this morning, there are only 50 days left in 2017. Next year, 2018, is right around the corner – just over 7 weeks from now. It is now that we start thinking about the dollars and cents of ministry. It is time to prioritize what we can do and what we cannot. Sometimes, there are tough decisions to be made. To hire for a much needed position within the church or not to hire. To spend money on certain ministries or not to spend. To replace equipment or not to replace equipment. Tough choices sometimes. It all comes down to what we feel that God is leading our people to give on an annual basis.

When reading today’s passage, it made me think, being our church’s finance director and all, about “what if…” What if God’s people were sacrificial in their giving? What if we gave in the way that Hannah did? So many of us Christians nowadays do not think in this way. Often we are no different than the culture around us. Many of us see it as someone else’s responsibility to give sacrificially. So many of us are just like the culture in that we live off more than we make. The typical middle class American lives off their salary plus credit. In other words, we live off more than we make. The society seems to think who has the newest, most expensive toys wins the contest in the end. We as Christians are often no different. We think we have to have the newest car. We think we have to live in the neighborhood that’s just beyond our means. We think we have to have the latest electronics. We think we have to have the boat and the jet ski. We think we have to have an expensive vacation every year. But when you think about it from an eternal perspective, the old saying holds true, “You can’t take it with you” and “you never see a U-Haul behind a hearse.”

That is why it is one of my passions to teach God’s people about biblical financial principles. I have lived that life of chasing the rainbow and never being satisfied with what you have and always wanting more. I have lived the life of maxxed out credit cards. I have lived that life of too much month and too little paycheck. I have lived that life of creditors calling me to the point I dreaded hearing my phone ring. It took my wife and I a good long while to get free of our smothering of debts. We had to quit renting houses at the beach that cost almost $3k for the week. We had to quit blowing bonuses and tax refunds on additional stuff and start paying off debts with them and not acquiring new debt just because we paid off an old one. Even recently, we downsized our home and mortgage. We cut our mortgage payment by 1/3 by getting a smaller house. After living in our previous house for seven years we realized that we did not use half of that house so it was time to downsize. What if we had started living that way from the time we left our parents’ homes. What if we had lived frugally from the beginning of our adult lives.

One of the things that we learned early on in this process was to honor God with our finances. We could not tithe at first but we began to get our way there a percentage point at a time. We made honoring God first a part of who we are as people. The first check we write when I get paid is to honor God. We learned to live off the rest instead of living beyond our means. I want to teach our people the peace that comes from “living off the rest”. I want to teach people that honoring God with our finances changes our perspective about our things that we have to have. The freedom of heart that has come from putting God first in our finances has enabled us to appreciate why He commands us to tithe. As with all things, God gives peace to those who honor Him. We trust him with our finances. We as a result are able to give more than just our tithe now. We have opportunities to help others now that we would have had to forgo in years past. Being able to use our money to demonstrate God’s love to others has reminded us of why we work hard to keep our finances under control.
What if more of God’s people learned what we have learned? What if more people gave to the church more than the spare $20 bill that they might have in their wallet on Sundays? What if more people saw honoring God with their finances to the point they could be obedient in the tithe? What if people lived off less and gave more? What if just our people at our local church did that? What if that did happen? What if we as a people at our church became sacrificial givers? What if our church’s budget was 2.5 to 3 times bigger than it is now if all of our people tithed or just gave more sacrificially? Imagine the ministry that we could do through our church. Imagine the quality of the people we could hire to lead our ministries. Imagine how many more lives that we could touch with the gospel. Imagine how many more ways we could reach into the community and show them the love of Jesus Christ. Imagine if our people started thinking with an eternal perspective. Imagine each of us living off 90% or less of what we make. Imagine a people focused more on being generous. Imagine a people putting God first in their finances so that they could put forth the gospel first with their paychecks rather than the car sitting in the driveway. Imagine us being a sacrificially generous people. Just imagine that!

That’s the thing I thought of this morning as I read how Hannah, so deeply desiring to have a child, sacrificially gave her son up to the Lord. She gave til it hurt. What if we had that kind of heart of sacrificial giving? Let’s read 1 Samuel 1:19-28 now:

19 The entire family got up early the next morning and went to worship the Lord once more. Then they returned home to Ramah. When Elkanah slept with Hannah, the Lord remembered her plea, 20 and in due time she gave birth to a son. She named him Samuel,[a] for she said, “I asked the Lord for him.”

21 The next year Elkanah and his family went on their annual trip to offer a sacrifice to the Lord and to keep his vow. 22 But Hannah did not go. She told her husband, “Wait until the boy is weaned. Then I will take him to the Tabernacle and leave him there with the Lord permanently.[b]”

23 “Whatever you think is best,” Elkanah agreed. “Stay here for now, and may the Lord help you keep your promise.[c]” So she stayed home and nursed the boy until he was weaned.

24 When the child was weaned, Hannah took him to the Tabernacle in Shiloh. They brought along a three-year-old bull[d] for the sacrifice and a basket[e] of flour and some wine. 25 After sacrificing the bull, they brought the boy to Eli. 26 “Sir, do you remember me?” Hannah asked. “I am the very woman who stood here several years ago praying to the Lord. 27 I asked the Lord to give me this boy, and he has granted my request. 28 Now I am giving him to the Lord, and he will belong to the Lord his whole life.” And they[f] worshiped the Lord there.

In this passage, we see that to do what she promised (1 Samuel 1:11), Hannah gave up what she wanted the most – her son – and presented him to Eli to serve in the house of the Lord. In dedicating her only son to God, Hannah was dedicating her entire life and future to God. Because Samuel’s life was from God, Hannah was not really giving him up to God. Rather, she was returning him to God, who had given Samuel to Hannah in the first place. These verses illustrate the kinds of gifts we should give to God. Do you gifts cost you a little (Sunday mornings, a comfortable donation of time and/or money) or are they gifts of sacrifice? Are you presenting God with tokens or are you presenting him with your entire life?

Let us resolve to live off less and give more sacrificially? Let us resolve to arrange our finances such that we can give more to our church and assist in the spread of the gospel in our community, nation and world. Let us arrange our finances so that we think first of eternal things instead of temporary things. Let us arrange our finances so that we can think of others instead of ourselves. Let us arrange our finances so that we can be sacrificial givers instead of wishing we could give anything. Let us arrange our finances so that we can invest in the eternal destinations of the people in our community. Let us be able to participate in leading people to our doors where they can hear the gospel preached and react to it. Let us be sacrificial because eternity is at stake. Let us help assure the eternity with Jesus in heaven for more and more people because we were so concerned about it that we gave up our pursuit of new houses, new cars, new toys. What if we had a sacrificial mentality to spread the gospel? What if our finances reflected our concern for the salvation of the world rather than our next new toy?

Amen and Amen.

1 Corinthians 1:1 — This letter was written by Paul, formerly known as Saul of Tarsus, and he says that he was chosen by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus. Let us examine this one verse. It seems very simple and straightforward. It is a typical greeting to ancient letter in which the writer introduces himself and his dictationist to the recipient(s) of the letter. It is in that sense, yes, very simple and straightforward. But the sentence/verse is loaded with background and meaning. Paul says he was chosen by the will of God to be an apostle. This is the point that we should dwell on today.

Paul never knew Jesus personally. He was not one of the twelve disciples that were on the inside of the core of Jesus’ earthly ministry nor part of the early beginnings of the church. As a matter of fact, Paul was the opposite of that. He was not one of the rag tag band of fishermen, tax collector, or scribe that made up Jesus’ core team. He did not know hard labor like many of Jesus’ disciples. He grew up the son of Jewish man who became wealthy enough apparently to buy Roman citizenship for he and his family. When he was old enough, he was sent to Jerusalem to begin his formal biblical education. He was an educated man. He studied under one of the great biblical scholars of that age, Gamaliel. Paul was very much a scholar. He knew the Scriptures at a level in depth that probably many of Jesus’ own disciples did not. But, yet, he was not part of the inner circle of Jesus. He never met him prior Jesus’ ascension.

There is a lesson here for us. Jesus can call us at any time from any walk of life. You can be well-educated, like Paul, or you can be just an average joe worker like many of the disciples. Jesus in His Sovereignty can call any of us to ministry. Each of us has talents to offer Jesus and His church. Each Christian has a job to do, a role to play, or a contribution to make. It is not necessary for you to be hand picked by your preacher to play a role in Jesus’ continuing ministry on earth. You have to be willing to hear the call of the Lord and pursue it. The Holy Spirit will find your place and led you to where He wants you to offer your gifts. One assignment may seem more spectacular than another but all assignments within the church, the body of Christ, are necessary for the building up of the fellowship of believers and for the spreading of the gospel of Jesus Christ in the world around us. We must, as my senior pastor says, be faithful, available and teachable. We must be willing to hear God call us. We must be willing to serve Him. We must be willing to be so in love with Jesus we will serve in whatever capacity that he sets in front of us at this time. We also must be willing to be so in love with Jesus that we will follow His call outside of our comfort zone. He certainly did that with Paul. Paul was used to a life of privilege and academia and God called him to a life that required living off the good graces of others while he preached the gospel in places that were often hostile to him. Let us be willing to hear God’s call on our lives and serve Him with humility in ways that He wants us to serve.

Another lesson that we learn from Paul’s calling is that when we give our lives to the Lord Jesus Christ and ask Him to save us from our sins, God will use us no matter what our past is. Prior to meeting the resurrected Lord on the Damascus road, Paul in his zealous defense of the Jewish faith had murdered, imprisoned, beaten, and ridiculed Christians. He killed Christians for believing that Jesus Christ was the Son of God. Talk about your unlikely candidates to be one of the biggest driving forces of Christianity outside of Jesus Himself. He was a murderer of believers. He hated anything to do with Jesus Christ. And, yet, Jesus on that road to Damascus called Paul to be an apostle. There is nothing that you and I have done in our pasts that is too heinous to be forgiven by Jesus Christ when we come to Him with repentant hearts. Jesus can redeem and use the worst of us. No one is too far gone. If you have run from the church because you have a past, guess what? We all do! Every last one of us are sinners redeemed by the grace of Jesus Christ. If you think that the Christian life is not for you because of some checklist that you have had to keep all your life you’re wrong. That’s religion. Jesus wants a relationship with you. He can redeem you and make you new. He can change your dark heart from the inside out. He has more than enough grace to cover the sins of your past. Just look at Paul. He was a murderer of Christians for being Christian. Talk about your unlikely candidates to be a gospel bearer! He was redeemed from a life of direct persecution of believers into one of the greatest voices of Christianity in Christian history. He can redeem you. He redeemed me and uses me despite my checkered and ugly past and He can do the same with you.

Paul, a murderer of believers, chosen by the will of God to be an apostle of Jesus Christ. Redemption. Restoration. Gospel Bearer. He did it with Paul. He can do it with you! There are those who will say there is no way that you can be a follower of Jesus. I knew when buddy! There’s no way that your faith is real. You were such a sinner. You’re too far gone! God is sovereign and can redeem any life no matter how bad it was previously. He can redeem it. He can make it new. He can use your past to be a real part of your testimony of redemption. He can use your talents that you used for evil and use them for good. That is the beauty of a relationship with Jesus Christ. He redeems. He makes new. He calls us to His ministry!

Luke 17:20-37 — End times movies. End times books. Trying to understand prophecy. It sells. People want to know how this all going to end. The Left Behind books series was not just a Christian best-seller. It was one of the best selling book series of all time on the New York Times bestseller list. We are all wired to understand that there must be an end to things, regardless of whether you are a child of Christ or not. Throughout the centuries and throughout all cultures, there are, have been, and will be stories of how the world as we know it will come to an end. The Pharisees asked Jesus, “When will the kingdom of God come?” The disciples asked, “where will this happen?” Why is it that we are so preoccupied with the end? It sells books. It sells tickets. Any time you mention the book of Revelation people stop and listen. People make all kinds of money trying to interpret the signs of the end times. YouTube is full of videos of people saying the end is here. Books are sold trying to say that current events are matching up with ancient prophecies.

Jesus tells us two things in this passage. First, the kingdom of God is already here among us. Second, when Jesus actually does return to end all things, He will come quickly and many will be caught off guard by it.

The first thing that Jesus teaches us in this passage is that the kingdom of God is already here. The Pharisees wanted to know but could not see that it was already here right in front of them. The kingdom of God is not like earthly kingdoms with defined boundaries and signs that tell you that this is the boundary of the country. Instead, it begins with the work of the Holy Spirit in peoples lives and in relationships. We must not look for institutional signs of the coming of God’s Kingdom. Instead, we must look at what He is doing in people’s heart. A 65 year old man coming to Christ after a life of ambition and greed is the kingdom of God showing itself. My friend, Marvin, passed away night before last. He accepted Christ as His Savior not til he was 65 years old. His life was radically changed by his salvation in Christ. That my friends is the kingdom of God in operation. It is his church in action. It is the spreading of the gospel to those who do not have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. That is the kingdom of God. Paul warned the Thessalonians not to quit life watching and waiting for the end of time and Jesus’ return. They had work to do. They had a gospel to spread. Instead of waiting and worrying and bemoaning the state of the world as Christ followers, we should be about our business of spreading the gospel as if Jesus were about to return tomorrow. When Jesus does return (and only the Father in heaven knows when that will be), there will be no more second chances. As our Ironmen men’s ministry at has been progressing through Revelation, the thing that has struck me the most is that it must increase our urgency to share the gospel. Not just live our lives as examples of Christ in front of them but actually telling them about their need for Jesus that they don’t even recognize. When Jesus returns, what will we say then? We were too busy to share the gospel. My friend Marvin did not think twice about sharing the gospel with complete strangers. He was so thankful for his salvation that he felt compelled to share the gospel with everyone he met. We should be the same. When the end does come there will be no more second chances. We should have gospel urgency. Stop trying to match Obama to the anti-Christ. Stop trying to determine if the United States is Babylon. Share the gospel before its too late.

The second thing that Jesus tells us is that many of us will go through life as business as usual ignoring the signs of the kingdom of God. Even if the signs of the end times are really coming to fruition people will not take them seriously. Many of us want to continue to live like there is no end times. There is an end time for us all whether its in our own physical death or when Jesus does actually return to end all things. One way or the other, we will meet our own end time. Our own death or Jesus returning today. Many of us live as if one or the other is not going to occur. We live like hell. We live for ourselves. God is merely and idea. We believe in our tangible things. We believe in our possessions. Our things will make us happy. We ignore the kingdom of God. We believe in our own abilities. We believe that we determine our destiny. We worship ourselves. We worship what we can touch and feel and ignore the Holy Spirit of God. We ignore our need for God. We ignore our need for a Savior. If we make this world the most important thing, we cannot see the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God is among those who have already submitted their lives to His Lordship. Those who cannot see this will go on living there lives living to please themselves all the way up until the day the Lord returns, indifferent to the kingdom of God. I have time. I will deal with Jesus later. I will deal with this whole God thing later. They will be taken by surprise by Christ’s return. They will taken by surprise by their own death if it happens before Christ’s return. We should be living as if Christ will return tomorrow. When He does return it will be too late for those who have ignored the kingdom of God. You must deal with this God thing right now. Stop trying to interpret the signs of the end times by buying the latest book on the end times by some guy who has a Messiah complex. Stop trying to push the envelop as far as you can because you think you will be able to interpret the signs of the end times and THEN get your life together. Stop. Now. Like my friend Marvin at age 65 had to stop on the side of the road and deal with Jesus right then and there. We all are going to face an end. We do not know when it will come. Either you die or Jesus returns. We don’t know when it will come either one of those. You could die today on your way to work. Jesus could return today during your commute to work. Stop trying to interpret signs. Deal with Jesus right now. If you died RIGHT NOW, where would you spend eternity. If Jesus returned RIGHT NOW, where would you spend eternity? He will come suddenly! Death often comes when we least expect it? The kingdom of God is here. It is in Jesus Christ. Know Him now. Accept Him as Your Savior NOW!

Lord, God, give me the power to speak your words with urgency as if you are coming tomorrow. Give me the urgency to share that you are the only and only way to heaven and to the Father. Give me urgency to share the gospel story of rescue and restoration. Help me to be a part of the expansion of your kingdom. The kingdom that lives in the hearts of men. The kingdom to which we are blind to its existence until we accept Christ as our Savior. Amen.

Romans 16:1-16 — After reading through the list of names in Paul’s greetings to the church at Rome, it strikes you that the early church was diverse and it was mobile.

The list of names includes Roman names, Greek names, Jews and Gentiles. It includes men and women. It includes prisoners and prominent citizens. It reveals that the church’s base was broad. It crossed cultural, social and economic lines. This is what the church should be. It should not matter where you live, what you look like, how much money you make, or the color of your skin. The thing that matters is that we all believe in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. Too often in the church now, we segregate ourselves by economic lines, racial lines, etc. Our churches are mainly people just like us. Yes, there are many large churches that are culturally and racially diverse, but there are far too many mid-size to small churches that are not. We should be welcoming to all believers who walk through our doors and make them feel comfortable and accepted. The only qualification for acceptance in our pews should be that we are all seeking Jesus. Although LifeSong may not be as culturally and racially as diverse as we could be, our church is a collection of young in their walk believers and believers who have been away from church because of past hurts. As a result there is a general sense of acceptance to anyone who walks through our doors. The general sense we have at our church is that we are simply thankful to not be living our old lives and because of that we simply have no time for the old games. There are no stares or quiet whispers when someone new walks through our doors. This is church as it should be.

The list of names also make recognize that Paul apparently already knew a good many people from the church at Rome. How did this happen if he had desired to come to Rome but had not yet been there. The answer is that the church at Rome, much like all of the early churches, was mobile. Everyone was a missionary. Paul would meet these people in other places where the church was being planted. All of the early church was eager to get out and help the church along wherever the help was needed. These early Christians would go anywhere anytime to spread the gospel. They were willing to go to prison for it. They were willing to die for it. What if we had these sensibilities today. Many today use the excuse that they have jobs in the real world and thus what they can do is limited, very limited. Didn’t people have to work back in the first century? Well, of course they did. However, they made the advance of the church the single most important priority. They measured their employment options by how it would affect their ability to participate in the mission of the church. Last night, I was sitting in the upper deck of Clemson’s football stadium watching the Tigers play along with 80,031 of my friends. It struck me that we make priorities out the things we WANT to make priorities out of. What if we had the passion for the church’s mission that we Tiger fans have for our beloved Clemson Tigers. Clemson fans are some of the most passionate and most willing to travel fans in college football. Last week, Clemson was well represented at the Boston College game – the longest road trip that the Tigers have every other year. What if we were just as willing to travel far and wide to spread the gospel with that same passion and loyalty. What if we were willing to make the same sacrifices for the church’s worldwide mission that we are willing to make to follow our Tigers. May we be as passionate with our LifeSong Church t-shirt on as we are when we have our Clemson t-shirts on. May be be as passionate to post on Christian blog boards as we are to post our passionate feelings on our Clemson blog boards. The early church was mobile, passionate, and willing. This is the hope we have for our church in today’s world. May we be a church that is willing to do whatever it takes, go wherever we need to go, to help the spread of the gospel.

Father, help us to remember that the only thing that matters about membership in the fellowship of saints is that we are seeking Jesus Christ. No other qualifications matter. Help us to also remember that we should be passionate about this fact, seeking Jesus and making His name known. We should be willing to go anywhere and do anything to make His name famous. May we do it with all our passion. May there be no sacrifice that we consider too great to make this happen. Jesus thought that we worth no sacrifice too great. Let us repay Him with the same mindset. Amen.