Friday, October 21, 2011

Can We Live According to the Promise?

            It’s been six months since Michele and I made the decision that I would not sign my contract and return to the classroom as a teacher. Living on one income in today’s economy is a challenging and at times stressful, but we believe God’s promises.

Deuteronomy 28:1-6 “And it shall come to pass, if thou shalt hearken diligently unto the voice of the LORD thy God, to observe and to do all his commandments which I command thee this day, that the LORD thy God will set thee on high above all nations of the earth: And all these blessings shall come on thee, and overtake thee, if thou shalt hearken unto the voice of the LORD thy God. Blessed shalt thou be in the city, and blessed shalt thou be in the field. Blessed shall be the fruit of thy body, and the fruit of thy ground, and the fruit of thy cattle, the increase of thy kine, and the flocks of thy sheep. Blessed shall be thy basket and thy store. Blessed shalt thou be when thou comest in, and blessed shalt thou be when thou goest out.” (JKV)

            I understand most of us do not live in an agrarian society – farming and tending flocks as our mainstay. Trust me when I say I have no talent for those endeavors and no desire to abandon centuries of cultural advancements or the comforts of modern life, but I can diligently listen and respond to the voice of the Lord. After all, it is our response to God that ensures His blessing. Every time I have questioned the decision to radically change our married life by cutting our income in half and seeking opportunities to serve the Lord through preaching His Word. God has answered the question with an unexpected blessing.

            The whole concept of an unexpected blessing, and a couple of Sunday lunches with friends sparked my interest. Should we (Christians – the Children of God) be surprised at how God cares for us? In the Old Testament He promised we would be blessed everywhere – in the city and in the field – coming in and going out. In the New Testament we are instructed to make the Kingdom of God and His Righteousness our priority and trust Him to take care of our needs.

Matthew 6:31-34 “Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.” (JKV)

            I will admit: I wish my phone would ring with invitations to preach or my mailbox would be filled, by publishers, with book offers, but I know I am where God has called me. Right now I am learning to be content.

Philippians 4:11-13 “Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.”  (JKV)

            Living according to the promise is a choice. It requires commitment and faith. Will you?

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Hey Are You Using That?

            Recently and continually, I've been challenged and encouraged by friends along the journey toward writing as a ministry. Almost a year ago Michele and I were teaching a marriage class during the Sunday School hour at church. In one of the early sessions, I was sharing an example to illustrate a point. I mentioned that I always test Michele by telling her I'm going to open a restaurant (It's just to see if she will give me what I want. I have no intention of actually opening a business) . Every time we walk through the kitchen appliance department I say, “Honey, if we buy a hot dog roaster it would be great and I'd be that much closer to my restaurant.” (Michele always responds, “You don't need a hot dog roaster and we are not opening a restaurant.” It always makes me laugh.)

            A few weeks later, one of the couples from the Sunday School class came in carrying a box. The conversation went something like this:

            Husband says, “Russ, my wife and I just wanted to bless you and help make one of your dreams come true.”

            Me laughing, “Oh, I love this. This is beautiful.”

            At this point the box is not open so the husband asks, “Do you know what it is?”

            Me, very excited and laughing, still not opening the box, “It's a hot dog roaster!”  Everyone in class had a good chuckle and Michele smiled and promised hot dogs for me very soon.

            It was a beautiful gift, much appreciated, and highly prized. I took it home unpacked it checked to see if it worked. Then repacked it put it in a very special place and never used it. Fast forward one year. Michele and I were attending an evening church service and happen to sit right behind the couple who blessed us with the hot dog roaster. Said husband turns to see who has just set down and asks, “Hey, Russ, did you ever use that hot dog roaster?”

            Okay, now I'm sitting in church, feeling like a hot dog on that roaster. You know what's going through my mind! I cannot lie and I don't want him to think I didn't like the gift because I really LOVE it. There is no way around it. Just tell the truth. So my response went like this, “I really love the gift, but I have not used it. I did check it to see that it worked, but just have not put it to use yet.”

            Service began and it was a very moving testimony service, however all I could do was feel guilty and think about how much I may have disappointed this amazing couple. Through the whole service, I was asking God to show me the way to save this situation and the relationship we have with this couple.  I leaned to Michele and said, “I'm inviting them to dinner a week from Thursday for hot dogs.”

            Thankfully, they accepted the invitation and it was a success on several levels. The hot dogs were delicious, the house was clean and comfortable, and the fellowship was fantastic. This experience was a life lesson for me. How many gifts have we received from God that remain unused – neatly stored away for the perfect opportunity to “get it out and use it?”

Ephesians 4:7-8 “But unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ. Wherefore he saith, when he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men.” (KJV)

            This concept is larger than me and my hot dog roaster. I believe it applies to the entire “Body of Christ”. Each one of us has been given gifts that will exponentially build up the church.  In the book of Exodus, from the Old Testament, we find that God gifted skilled craftsmen of all types to construct the Tabernacle, its furnishings, and the priestly garments.  In the New Testament, the book of 1 Peter, Christians are called the “living stones” that are being joined together by the Spirit of God to serve Him. Paul addresses the diversity of spiritual gifts and their operation within the church through chapters twelve and fourteen of 1 Corinthians.

1 Corinthians 12:6-7 “And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all. But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal.” (KJV)

            Without a doubt, all these gifts are given to strengthen, encourage, and expand the scope of the church. The great challenge for any Pastor, or Spiritual leader is assisting the members of the “Body of Christ” in developing their full potential as “living stones” My father was a mechanic. His tool boxes held a wide variety of tools. Each tool had a function and in his skilled hands could fix a dysfunctional vehicle. He knew where to go to get the tool and how to use it when he had it in hand.

            How much better off would we be as Christians if we took stock of the gifts we have been given and employed them in our lives according to the direction of the Holy Spirit?

            How much more vibrant would our churches be if...?