Thursday, 6 December 2012

The Writing Prophets

    I was sent this recently and I thought it was an excellent declaration of those who truly are hearing God as they put pen to paper, so that God is able to speak to us through the now-word. 

     Everyone more or less believes in God. But most of us do our best to keep God on the margins of our lives or, failing that, refashion God to suit our convenience. Prophets insist that God is the sovereign center, not off in the wings awaiting our beck and call. And prophets insist that we deal with God as God reveals himself, not as we imagine him to be.

     Prophets woke people up to the sovereign presence of God in their lives. They yelled, they wept, they rebuked, they soothed, they challenged, they comforted. They used words with power and imagination, whether blunt or subtle.

     Sixteen of these Old Testament prophets wrote what they spoke. We call them "the writing prophets." They comprise the section from Isaiah to Malachi in our Bibles. These sixteen Hebrew prophets provide the help we so badly need if we are to stay alert and knowledgeable regarding the conditions in which we cultivate faithful and obedient lives before God. For the ways of the world - its assumptions, its values, its methods of going about its work - are never on the side of God. Never.

     The prophets purge our imaginations of this world's assumptions on how life is lived and what counts in life. God the Holy Spirit uses these prophets to separate his people from the cultures in which they live, putting them back on the path of simple faith and obedience and worship in defiance of all that the world admires and rewards. Prophets train us in discerning the difference between the ways of the world and the ways of the gospel, keeping us present to the Presence of God.

     We don't read very many pages into the Prophets before realizing that there was nothing easygoing about them. Prophets were not popular figures. They never achieved celebrity status. They were decidedly uncongenial to the temperaments and dispositions of the people with whom they lived. And the centuries have not mellowed them. It's understandable that we should have a difficult time coming to terms with them. They aren't particularly sensitive to our feelings. They have very modest, as we would say "relationship skills." We like leaders, especially religious leaders, who understand our problems ("come alongside us" is our idiom for it), leaders with a touch of glamour, leaders who look good on posters and on television.

The hard-rock reality is that prophets don't fit into our way of life.

     For a people who are accustomed to "fitting God" into their lives, or, as we like to say, "making room for God," the prophets are hard to take and easy to dismiss. The God of which the prophets speak is far too large to fit into our lives. If we want anything to do with God, we have to fit into him.

     The prophets are not "reasonable," accommodating themselves to what makes sense to us. They are not diplomatic, tactfully negotiating an agreement that allows us a "say" in the outcome. What they do is haul us unceremoniously into a reality far too large to be accounted for by our explanations and expectations. They plunge us into mystery, immense and staggering.

     Their words and visions penetrate the illusions with which we cocoon ourselves from reality. We humans have an enormous capacity for denial and for self-deceit. We incapacitate ourselves from dealing with the consequences of sin, for facing judgment, for embracing truth. Then the prophets step in and help us to first recognize and then enter the new life God has for us, the life that hope in God opens up.

     They don't explain God. They shake us out of old conventional habits of small-mindedness, of trivializing god- gossip, and set us on our feet in wonder and obedience and worship. If we insist on understanding them before we live into them, we will never get it.

Basically, the prophets did two things:

     They worked to get people to accept the worst as God's judgment-not a religious catastrophe or a political disaster, but judgment. If what seems like the worst turns out to be God's judgment, it can be embraced, not denied or avoided, for God is good and intends our salvation. So judgment, while certainly not what we human beings anticipate in our planned future, can never be the worst that can happen. It is the best, for it is the work of God to set the world, and us, right.

     And the prophets worked to get people who were beaten down to open themselves up to hope in God's future. In the wreckage of exile and death and humiliation and sin, the prophet ignited hope, opening lives to the new work of salvation that God is about at all times and everywhere.

     One of the bad habits that we pick up early in our lives is separating things and people into secular and sacred. We assume that the secular is what we are more or less in charge of: our jobs, our time, our entertainment, our government, our social relations. The sacred is what God has charge of: worship and the Bible, heaven and hell, church and prayers. We then contrive to set aside a sacred place for God, designed, we say, to honor God but really intended to keep God in his place, leaving us free to have the final say about everything else that goes on.

     Prophets will have none of this. They contend that everything, absolutely everything, takes place on sacred ground. God has something to say about every aspect of our lives: the way we feel and act in the so-called privacy of our hearts and homes, the way we make our money and the way we spend it, the politics we embrace, the wars we fight, the catastrophes we endure, the people we hurt and the people we help. Nothing is hidden from the scrutiny of God, nothing is exempt from the rule of God, nothing escapes the purposes of God. Holy, holy, holy.

     Prophets make it impossible to evade God or make detours around God. Prophets insist on receiving God in every nook and cranny of life. For a prophet, God is more real than the next-door neighbor.

Eugene H. Peterson, The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2002), 1197-1199.

The Joy of Giving

The blessing of the Lord it maketh rich, and he addeth no sorrow with it.
Proverbs 10:22 (KJV)

     I was handed a small mini book just recently called "The Joy of Giving" written by a Pastor in Holland. It focused on the joy of giving and not just the blessing of giving. A refreshing book, as many give because of instruction but not because of revelation. Both of which are significantly different. In a nutshell we must maintain a revelation of the joy-of-giving and get serious about JOY!

     Why does "God love a cheerful giver"? There is strength in joy. Jesus Himself endured the cross for the "joy that was set before Him." Arguably joy put Jesus on the cross, not the Roman soldiers or Jewish leaders - but JOY! What an awesome consideration! "Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God" (Hebrews 12:2 KJV).

     The Message Bible offers its own take on this particular verse by saying: "When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he ploughed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls!" Joy then is likened to "adrenaline" in our souls and yet JOY is so often times missing from our Christian walk. "The kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and JOY in the Holy Ghost (Romans 14:17 - KJV). It is not the sole element of God's Kingdom but let's consider "joy" for today's article.

     Just the word "joy" (if dwelt on long enough) starts to have influence! Willing-yourself-into-a-position-of-joy is a good result. There is simply something contagious about joy - that always demands a reaction and yet it's so easy to neglect. The cares-of-this-life and the weight of responsibilities can take over, to the point we don't even notice when joy is missing. (A good daily litmus test: "Where's the joy in my life today?")

     Perhaps responsibilities are not joyful - but Kingdom joy is not emotional, because although it influences our emotions, it is "beyond" emotion. For example, you could not convince me for a second that Jesus "enjoyed" the cross! Rather it was the joy that was set before Him that motivated Him. Look at it this way: God the Father gave His one and only son to the world. Jesus gave Himself to the Father (in loving obedience). Both had a separate motivation for giving. Scripture is clear: the Father's motivation was love and the son's was joy, (the joy of being obedient to the Father!) Maturity looks at giving much the same way. Christlikeness involves giving that is joyful because it's happy about being obedient to the Father! (In fact I would dare say, that people reveal their true level of maturity through their giving - or lack of it!)

     The divine nature of God consists of more than just love and if joy is a major part of God's Kingdom and Nature, then it must also be a major part of ours. In our last article we spoke of the spirit of generosity, which helps kindle the fires of revival. Where people begin paying for each other's grocery bills at the supermarket, or other people's meals at the restaurant, creating a wonderful culture of both giving and receiving. And certainly there can't be one without the other. Receiving without giving is impossible and vice versa.

     Just think about it! Generosity is part of God's perfect design. So why then do so many believers remain sterile despite their giving? Sadly it takes very little for the devil to spoil the revelation of Godly generosity. All he has to do is project a hint of "self-preservation" into our minds and we are hooked! On the contrary - compulsive giving - is not synonymous with genuine generosity. Compulsive givers usually live in regret! However Holy Spirit inspired giving, can be extravagant and lavish but never compulsive or emotion-driven.

     My wife and I are determined to promote this cheerful spirit of generosity wherever we go. We have seen it flow THROUGH and TO this ministry for decades. Always giving over-and-above, we see miracles regularly because we give-out much more than what comes in (including scholarships and other incentives), with increasing opportunities daily to sow all around the world.

     However the reality of spiritual warfare means that we can all get hit sometimes - because the devil knows just how to attack the funds of Christian ministries (when MTV prospers excessively, in its trendy political-correctness!) But when partners stand together and give by the Spirit's leading - this equals God's provision - for Christian ministries such as ours.

     In his book Pastor Dirk Ophalfens of Holland discusses the fact that many believers give only because they are expecting a "pay-back-package." But that God desires Kingdom ambassadors who will grow beyond basic giving-and-receivingand grow into a place of maturity."To a mature standard of knowing that it is our responsibility to give all we have towards the kingdom of Our Father God who is always ready to reward faithfulness. The motive is not just because we are trying to influence God to bless us but that we are serving a faithful Father who always rewards faithful servants. There is a special joy in serving God with our money, love, talents, ministry and prayers."

     Maturity in giving has the sole purpose of glorifying God and Pastor Dirk adds that we must look to, "Give our lives first because no gift given to God can equate our souls." He goes onto say, "We need a REVELATION and not just an INSTRUCTION to give. We are more than just living principles."

     "God so loved that He GAVE..." (John 3:16) is all the proof that we need, to develop a giving lifestyle that mirrors God's. "Let each one give as he has made up his own mind and purposed in his heart, not reluctantly or sorrowfully or under compulsion, for God loves (He takes pleasure in, prizes above other things, and is unwilling to abandon or to do without) a cheerful (joyous, "prompt to do it") giver whose heart is in his giving" (2 Corinthians 9:7 AMP).

Thus you will be enriched in all things and in every way, so that you can be generous, and your generosity as it is administered by us will bring forth thanksgiving to God.
(2 Corinthians 9:11 AMP)

     This is why God loves a cheerful giver - when everyone is giving everyone is receiving and the result of that is "thanksgiving" unto God. When we give generous scholarships to students who aren't able to pay the full price at our LICU University, they run with an opportunity that has been given to them! They gush with thanks to God.

A lavish planter gets a lavish crop. I want each of you to take plenty of time to think it over, and make up your own mind what you will give. That will protect you against sob stories and arm-twisting. God loves it when the giver delights in the giving. God can pour on the blessings in astonishing ways so that you're ready for anything and everything... this most generous God...  who is more than extravagant with you... He gives you something you can then give away, which grows into full-formed lives, robust in God, wealthy in every way, so that you can be generous in every way, producing with us great praise to God.
(2 Corinthians 9:6,8 MSG)

Verse 12 goes onto say,

It also produces abundant and bountiful thanksgivings to God...  moved by the extravagance of God in your lives, they'll respond by praying for you in passionate intercession for whatever you need.

     Generous giving creates a domino effect because obedience is never sterile or selfish. So in the same measure that we look to minister to others, we thank you for standing with us as we go from strength to strength running this ministry on the currency of faith!

Be blessed in your giving during this season of Christmas - as you bring Glory to His Name.

Yours in Christ Jesus
Alan and Jenny Pateman