Archive | July, 2012

The “Optional Extras” of Christian Faith?

21 Jul
To say grace or not to say grace when you are in a public place?


This week I was involved in a discussion about whether it was right or expected by God that we should give thanks for our food before a meal when eating in a restaurant or elsewhere. Naturally there was a range of opinions, with some people enthusiastic, and others reluctant. What intrigued me most, however, was the argument of those who thought it to be a bit of a tangential issue, a bit of a sideshow, or some kind of optional extra for those who felt like it.


Of course when we think about the biggest issue of Christian faith, the salvation of our souls, then everything else can be said to be a side issue, but unless one is on one’s deathbed and about to breathe one’s last, once salvation is taken care of, there’s a lot more living to be done!


It’s funny how often we can be tempted to refer to something as a side issue. It’s often the line with which we end the discussion after we have been shown something in the Bible which disrupts ouir comfortable theology. It’s the line we use to comfort ourselves that we aren’t doing so badly. We argue the rights and wrongs. We ‘um’ and ‘ah’. We find a way to wriggle out of doing the thing that would glorify God, rather than seeking to submit. And while we may be stubborn and disobedient to one (or several) of God’s clear commands, at least we can point to the fact that we’ve got the main issue sorted. We then feel safe to remain just as we are.


Of course, one could argue that giving thanks for one’s food is not necessarily commanded. We do, however, see it in the life of Jesus (at the feeding of the five thousand, and the four thousand, and the Last Supper) and Paul talks about it too (see e.g. 1 Tim 4:3-4). However, that doesn’t really go to the heart of the issue. The heart of the issue is, literally, the heart! For while saying grace is not necessarily commanded in Scripture, it is an opportunity to involve God with one’s day, to remind oneself of His goodness, to meet with Him and to commit a time of eating and fellowship to Him. If our hearts want God to be Lord of everything, and glorified in us, our own comfort takes second place.


What changed it for me?


Since I was baptised with the Holy Spirit (a secondary, post-conversion experience, with speaking in tongues, etc.), I view this whole business of what some people deem the “optional” elements of the Christian life very differently. Being filled with the Spirit on an ongoing basis has totally changed the way I think about both God and how I serve him. It means I no longer do this little dance about whether something is a choice, or right or wrong, or tangential, or a minor issue. Rather, love for God overflowing from the presence of the Holy Spirit within me means I want to put Him first in everything and please Him in everything – the details as well as the big-picture stuff. If I was married: I wouldn’t sit weighing up whether doing something nice for my wife was the “done thing”; I would just do it to express my love for her. It’s the same with loving and serving God.


I’m not attempting to judge anybody or try to fix where they are at spiritually. What I am saying is that that when I didn’t have the Spirit in me in the same way (for a whole 6 years after my conversion) I too tended to dwell on the pros and cons rather than Just Doing It, and somehow I always came down on the side of NOT doing whatever it was that I had opportunity to do. Expressing love for God has become far more instinctive since I started living a spirit-filled life, and I would recommend it to anybody.


It’s no longer about feeling coerced into observing rules, but rather we do the things that please the Father’s heart because our hearts are full of love for Him:
“We have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.” (Romans 7:6)


When we are full of the Holy Spirit, we seek to please God in all things. Suddenly, those issues that our legalistic minds once told us were optional extras become opportunities to meet with God and manifest His glory. God-in-us becomes unlimited in His potential to work through us when we give Him that kind of access. And that’s why I say grace in public places.


PS While I was putting this post together, a man added his story to the discussion.
He told of how he stopped at a truckers’ café for a full English breakfast sometime last year. He gave thanks for his food – and a young couple asked him what he was doing. After two hours of conversation, he led both of them to receive Christ as saviour. The couple now attend church and the man has been invited to attend the Christening of their first child. God works through our submission and sacrifice!


Open Letter to a Friend About Overcoming Debt

13 Jul

My dear friend,

I am sorry to hear things have been going badly for you in your finances. You may have been giving faithfully to God’s work in the past and are wondering why it’s not working for you now. Or maybe you’ve never really given sacrificially, and you find this a challenge. You may be asking yourself if you are cursed to be in debt forever, but I don’t believe this – certainly you are a child of God, He loves you and He wants you to be free from debt, so even if somebody somewhere really had put a curse on you, it is not the will of God that you be in poverty or debt.

I have written quite a lot, and I hope it’s not too much, but I really want to help you, so I hope you don’t mind taking a few minutes to read this.

I want to share some biblical steps with you that may help your situation. I’m assuming you have already taken charge of the things you can do in the natural, e.g. budgeting more carefully, managing your outgoings, and reducing overdrafts and anything else that charges high rates of interest. Here I want to talk about spiritual principles of provision.

I realise that finances can be a tough topic for some people, especially where they may feel condemned by their church or pastor if they don’t give. What I would like to do is to suggest a way to walk with God through your difficulties and have Him deliver you in the way that only He can. This is not a “formula for success” or some way of twisting God’s arm. Rather, it is a way of walking in faith and power that will enable you to see God’s promises of provision realised in your life. As you grow in making use of these principles, you’ll be able to see both what works best for you and the things that God leads you to do that are unique to you and your situation.

1.)    First, get a revelation of God as your provider. Read and pray over these great Scriptures and underline the bits that talk about God providing for you, words such as blessing, prosperity, provide, etc.:  Psalms 23; 34;  84:11; Deuteronomy 28:1-14; Malachi 3, Luke 6:38; 2 Cor 9:6-15; Proverbs 11:24,25; 22:9; Philippians 4:19. Look in the rest of the Bible too. Don’t worry about whether you can afford to tithe right now – just see what God promises to do for his people, because He is promising to do it for you!

2.)    Next, take all of your bills and unpaid debts and spread them out on a table. Read Mark 11:20-24, in which Jesus tells us that if we have faith in God, we can speak even to mountains and they will move. Debt and lack are your mountains! You are going to speak to them and command them to move in Jesus’ name! Today, tell your bills and debts that they are paid and met in full in Jesus’ name, and that lack no longer has a hold on your life! Of course, this may not mean that you will be debt-free in 24 hours. What you are doing is taking a stand in faith that says that your bills no longer have the final authority in your household.

3.)    Make God’s word the final authority. Every time you get a bill or a debt, or look at your bank statement, speak the verses you read earlier over those pieces of paper. Rejoice in faith, looking to God and thanking him that He has promised to “meet all your needs according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:13). There is no debt too big for God! Tell your debts (mountains!) that, and tell yourself that.

4.)    Ask God to give you opportunities to sow good seeds, from which you will reap a harvest. Wait on God, and ask him to guide you. Some seeds may be financial, but there may be other ways you can give too. Remember, this isn’t about trying to make you tithe 10% if you don’t feel ready. I hope you will soon develop the faith to give God 10% of your income, or even more, but right now, take the step for which you have faith.

Ask God the Holy Spirit to reveal to your heart how much you should give, or what to give instead of money. Jesus says, “Give, and it shall be given to you.” (Luke 6:38). God’s giving begins with us giving. It’s the principle Paul talks about: “Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.” (2Cor 9:6) In order to have a harvest, first you have to sow a seed!

It may be a pound (or dollar!) in the offering plate. It may be buying a meal for a homeless person. It may be doing something practical like mowing the lawn for an elderly person. Ask God to guide you to opportunities to bless other people, and as this happens, give thanks in faith that this is something God is using to meet your needs. He works in ALL THINGS for the good of those who love him! (Romans 8:28) Notice how you feel as you go along. After a while, giving in faith and expectation starts to feel good, doesn’t it?

“Is it wrong to give with the expectation that God will bless me?”

No – sowing and reaping are an intentional thing!

Every farmer expects a harvest on the seed he has sown.
If he did not expect a harvest, he would never plant his seed.

 5.)    Remember the principle of the loaves and fishes (John 6). The crowd could not be fed, and the miracle could not happen, until somebody gave something in faith. God is not going to bankrupt you. Just give what He lays on your heart and trust him to multiply it.

6.)    Look out for the ways in which God is meeting your needs. Maybe he will prompt you to go somewhere, or meet someone, or look at applying for a new job. Will He give you an idea to make something, or sell something, or will He just ask you to trust Him? Be sensitive to the ways in which God is providing. Explore and trust, rather than shutting doors.

7.)    Above all, in all of this, be in faith! Do not speak negatives or say things like, “Well, I tried it, but I doubt it will work.” Rest in the promises God has made – that if you do your part, he will do his part. And don’t let your faith be undermined by people who love to complain and moan and look only at the world’s view of things. God has promised to meet your needs – thank Him that He is doing this, even before you see results, because we live by faith, not by sight. (2 Cor 5:7)

8.)    It’s worth doing a quick spiritual health check. Repent of careless spending if you have wasted money or recklessly bought things you couldn’t afford. Have you wronged anybody; are you in bitterness or unforgiveness towards anyone, or have you disobeyed God in the past? See Mark 11:25 and Isaiah ch. 58: it’s important to be in right standing with others. If the Holy Spirit reveals anything to you, deal with it. This can be important in removing any barriers to blessings.

All of this is something you can do between you and God. Involve your spouse if you are married. It is all simple stuff that is part of God’s provision for his people, whom He loves.

God bless you, my friend, and may you see His hand at work in your areas of need.

PS Above all, remember, this is not about tithing 10% if you don’t feel ready. Just give what you feel God is prompting you to give and that you feel able to give cheerfully and in faith. Then build upon that faith and give more. You’ll be blessed!

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