by Guest Author, Rev. Jim Burt, Director of Ministry Development
In the movie "The Shawshank Redemption", there is a moment when one of the main characters, Red (played by Morgan Freeman), who is incarcerated for murder, says that he does not have any expectation that he will ever be released from prison. He laments that his life will undoubtedly never be much different. Andy Dufrene, another main character, who also happens to be imprisoned for murder, expresses that he has hope for the future. When Red tries to dismiss the idea of hope, Andy says, "Hope is a good thing, maybe the best thing of all."
I wholeheartedly agree that hope is indeed a good thing, maybe the best thing of all. Hope has gotten me through some of the darkest and most painful moments of my life. Without hope we have no vision and no expectation for the future. We will only live moment by moment, because that is all we have. If we have no hope, and our present is dark, we may believe that the darkness will never go away. There is no light to guide us to a better place. Some have ended their lives because of that kind of hopeless darkness.
Yet, as good a concept as hope itself is, it is not a vague hope for hopes sake alone that we really need. Our hope, in reality, is no better than what or who can fulfill that hope. I can hope that I will someday have a beautiful mansion to live in. However, if I do not have a job that pays really, really well, or if I don't have a rich relative who will either share their money with me or leave it to me when they pass away, then my hope is simply wishful thinking and is relegated to something like the luck of winning the lottery or the Publisher Clearing House Sweepstakes. While that is hope and it is better than no hope at all, that hope is not based upon something or someone that can realistically deliver.
In the Bible, God is called "the God of all hope." God is a source of hope who can in fact, deliver as the fulfiller of hope. When God reveals Himself and His work to us in the Bible, He gives us specific and realistic things that we can hope for. This is yet another reason for Christ followers to spend time in the Bible. Our study of the Scriptures gives us a clear vision of what our hope is. Let's look at a few examples of this hope.
Believers,who have received Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, have the hope of eternal life for themselves and for those whom they love who are also in Christ! When they or those whom they love walk through the valley of the shadow of death, they do not need to fear evil, because they know with rock solid assurance that they have the promise of eternal life with the Lord in a far
better place. This is not wishful thinking, this is a sure hope that is an anchor for the soul.
Those in Christ can also have the hope that while things may be "falling apart" all around them, their God is in control and He is "working all things together for good to those who love Him." (Romans 8:28) This hope has been the "light at the end of the tunnel" for me many times when I have faced incredible darkness in my life. I have held on to that hope just as a drowning man would hold on to a life preserver that has been thrown to him. Again, this is not wishful thinking, but rather a sure hope promised by a God Who can deliver.
Believers can also have hope that we can always know what to do and which direction to go in life. With God in our life, there is someone who can deliver on that hope by guiding and directing us. He promises that if we "trust in the Lord, with all our heart, He will direct our paths (Proverbs 3:5-6). In addition, God also promises that the wisdom we need to follow His direction will be available. He will give it to us- and exactly what we need (James 1:5).
Do you have this strong hope in your life? The hope that is not just a good thing, but is the best thing of all? Will you let God's hope fill you with light and a vision for your present and the future?
By Guest Author, Rev. Jim Burt, Director of Ministry Development
As a ministry that works to strengthen churches and to help them to grow, Proactive must determine when we begin working with a church, what the current reality of the life of that church is. Part of this process is to learn what the churches strengths and weaknesses are. Often, when we ask people what the strengths of their church are, they will talk about how "friendly" their church is. They might even say, "We are the friendliest church in town." Sometimes when we work with multiple churches in the same town, they all claim to be the friendliest church in town. Not only is it clear that they can't all be the friendliest, but it is not clear that is even a goal that a church should aspire to.
Some very "friendly" churches are puzzled as to why their worship guests do not return. It is not uncommon for a church to have well over 90% of its visitors only come to the church once and never return. "We are so warm and friendly," they say, "and we love each other so much. Why wouldn't people like that? Why wouldn't they want to come back and get some more of that?"
It is important for churches and people to know that there is a difference between being friendly, and being a friend. It is almost infinitely better to be a friend, than it is to be merely "friendly." Not that it is bad to be friendly, it is just far better to be a friend.
What is it like to be friendly in church? Friendly is smiling at a person and asking them how they are doing. It might also be telling them that it is good to see them and saying "I hope that you will come back." You might even engage them in small talk about the weather. Businesses that teach their employees to be "friendly" will include all of those things.
On the other hand, what is a friend? A true friend is someone who cares about you, not just in a general sense, but in a very specific and personal sense. A friend is one who knows you and wants to get to know you better. A friend is someone who has your back and doesn't like to see you get embarrassed or feel uncomfortable. Friendship, unlike friendliness, is not surfacy and shallow. It truly connects with a person.
We have often taught churches that we would rather have two people intentionally trying to be a real friend to someone who is visiting their church, than to have two hundred people just being friendly.
Some will ask, "But, isn't it difficult to be a friend when you have just met a person and don't have much time, such as in a church service with a visiting guest?" Yes, it can be, but there are strategies that can help you to make it happen. Proactive Ministries has an entire training module in which we teach those strategies.
Friendship is always a process. It starts somewhere and it grows. We all have friends that are at different places in that process. We have "best friends" with whom we are deep into the friendship process. We know others that are "new friends" with whom we have just started to build the relationship.
It is important to know that friendship normally doesn't just "happen". Friendship must be intentional. Review the description above of a friend. Truly "welcoming" churches must teach their greeters, ushers, and willing folks in the pews how to make a friend quickly. While there are certainly other factors which will cause a visiting guest to either return or not return to a church that they have visited, our experience shows that churches that teach their members strategies for being a friend, will almost always have a far greater percentage of returning guests.
By Guest Author, Rev. Jim Burt, Director of Ministry Development
I have four amazing children. I love each of them more than life itself. The miracle of the reproductive processes that God has put in motion when he created mankind means that each of my children has a part of me in them. I have passed on genes, DNA, some things I don't know about and probably some things that science doesn't even know about yet. None of my children had to ask for a part of me, or discover the secret of getting a part of me in them. When they were conceived they automatically got me They can't change that even if they would want to. Of course there are things that they have received from me that they would like to not have, but that is another story for another
When someone receives Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, they are born again They are in fact, born of God. As in physical birth they received things from their earthly Father, so in the spiritual new birth, they receive some things from their Heavenly Father. These received things are for the most part unasked for and even unrecognized at first. The believer simply asks God for forgiveness from their sins and for the life of God. He or she receives that, but they receive so much more!
The difference between the physical birth and the spiritual birth is that my children only got a part of me. In the Spiritual rebirth, those who believe receive all of God. There is no secret to getting more of God, everyone who is born again receives the fullness of God. We can't change that even if we wanted to. Who would want to? Now that is good news!
So what does it mean that we have "all of God" in us? First, it means that we have God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit fully in us. Stop for a moment and consider the wonder of that. The fullness of God is beyond comprehension, and yet that fullness is in us...Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. But it is more than just God's presence. God doesn't leave all that He is and all that He can do up in Heaven, and just bring his presence in us. With His presence He brings all that He is and all that He can do.
The Scriptures tell us that God is love. The Father is love, the Son is love, and the Holy Spirit is love. All of that love comes into us the moment that we believe and receive Christ as our Savior. What does that mean for me? It means that the power of God's love is within me. Therefore, I can love with the love of God. That is the only way that I could truly love people the way God asks me to. His love that is within me can flow out through me. That is how it is possible for me to love the unlovely and the unlovable. That is how it is possible for me to love my enemy. That is how it is possible to love others when I am tired, and frustrated, and emotionally spent.
I have learned that the love of Jim Burt is severely limited. It is inconsistent, conditional, susceptible to my weaknesses, feelings, and sin nature. When all is going well and I am around lovable people who treat me right, Jim Burt love can look pretty good. When those conditions are not present, and they are often not, Jim Burt love can get ugly, in a hurry. In fact, my love stinks. God's love is all that Jim Burt's love could never be. God is perfect and so His love is perfect. That is the love that can truly love others through every believer.
Add to love all of God's other qualities and abilities and you see the incredible life that every believer ought to be able to live in God. Let God, in His fullness live through you and get ready to experience "everything that we need for life and godliness" (2 Peter 1:3).
By Guest Author, Rev. Jim Burt, Director of Ministry Development
I once bought an inflatable remote controlled giant fish for my grandson. It looked like a really neat Christmas gift that we could both enjoy. My little guy opened the present and seemed pretty excited about it. I was convinced that I had gotten the ideal gift for him. Of course, it was not nearly as easy to assemble as I was led to believe, but I finally had it ready to inflate. There were a number of warnings in the directions about over-inflating the fish. There were also suggestions to not under-inflate it, or else it would not fly properly. Unfortunately there was no clear way to know if it was inflated to the right level. Hesitantly I started filling our fish with helium. It did not seem to be rising properly, so I kept pumping in helium. You are probably way ahead of the story at this point. Yes, in one of the most disappointing moments of my life, the fish got too much helium and blew up into little pieces. I was stunned, my grandson was stunned and instead of a great gift, we had a tearful, heart wrenching clean-up. I have two suggestions for the reader. If you do not want to give a child a gift that will turn out to be a huge disappointment, either don't get an inflatable, remote controlled fish or, if you are compelled to buy one, don't over-inflate it.
Just as with gifts for children, there are certain things to avoid and things not to do when we consider how to grow spiritually.
To not grow spiritually, we need to be sure never to risk ourselves for God but, instead, choose to live in the "The Comfort Zone". At first glance, this may not seem to make much sense to the reader. "The Comfort Zone" sounds like a good place to be. This zone appears to be a place where we experience little or no stress. It promises to be a place of calm, ease, and contentment. Why wouldn't a comfort zone be a place where we could grow spiritually? Why would we need to risk ourselves in order to grow spiritually? Risking ourselves seems scary, stressful, and unpleasant.
To answer why "The Comfort Zone" is contrary to spiritual growth and why risking ourselves promotes spiritual growth, we need to go the heart of what enables us to grow spiritually. We grow spiritually when we learn to fully trust in the Lord and when we stop trusting in ourselves. When we are living in the comfort zone, we do not need to trust God. Everything is smooth and easy and we can be easily deceived into thinking that while it is nice to know God is out there just in case we need Him, we certainly don't need Him to help us navigate through the comfortable place that we are in. When we leave the comfort zone, however, we can't survive without trusting God and keeping our eyes upon Him. We could define "risking ourselves" for God as "attempting to do things in obedience to God that we could only do if God were there every step of the way helping us."
Many Christians have been heard to say that they do not want to talk to others outside the faith about their relationship to Christ. They will excuse themselves by saying, "that's outside of my comfort zone." To risk being rejected, or misunderstood, or be considered a religious fanatic, or not having all the answers, is far too difficult to trust God for. Certainly, if we don't share our faith with another, we don't have to face those fears and we will not need to have God help us each step of the way.
The Apostle Peter learned about risking himself for God when, while in a boat, He saw Jesus walking on the water of the sea. Jesus called for Peter to get out of the boat and come to Him by walking on the water. Peter had never walked on the water before. Peters experience with water before this event was that if you get out of a boat, you don't walk on the water, instead, you sink. But because Jesus was there and calling him, he left "The Comfort Zone" of the boat and became a part of a spiritual adventure that was astounding! Only when he took his eyes off of Jesus and saw the risky waves all around him did he start to sink.
Are you living in "The Comfort Zone"? If so, you are probably not experiencing the spiritual growth and the spiritual adventure that God desires for His children. Don't be afraid to get out of the boat; Jesus is there, and he is calling for you. With great risk for God, there is great reward.
By Guest Author, Rev. Jim Burt, Director of Ministry Development
When I was in high school and college I participated in a sport called "Cross Country." This sport involved running long distances, such as one would run in a track meet, but it was quite different from the sport of track. In Cross Country we would run through the woods, on streets, on sand and pretty much any other surface available. It was common on a Cross Country Course to step in a hole, trip on a root, and even run down a wrong path. Before each race we would carefully go over the course to know where we should not step, paths we should not run down and places we should avoid. In order to run our fastest and best it was important for we runners to know what not to do and what to avoid.
In this series of blog articles, I have taken a similar approach in speaking about spiritual growth. We are learning about what not to do and what to avoid in our quest for spiritual growth. That will enable us to run our best in growing in Christ.
Today I want you to see that in order not to grow spiritually, you need to try to do what God says that He alone can and must do. It almost seems nonsensical to speak of trying to do what only God can do. While it may be nonsensical, it is certainly not uncommon and there are a lot of disappointed Christians who, instead of trusting God and allowing Him to do what He has promised to do, choose instead to take matters into their own hands. This is very much to the detriment of their spiritual growth.
There is a "pseudo" verse of Scripture for those who fall into this error. It is a "pseudo verse" because it does not actually appear in the Scripture, although many mistakenly believe that it does. The verse goes something like this: "God helps those who help themselves." There is ever so slight a note of truth in this pseudo verse and then a whole lot that is wrong. The note of truth is that God does not tell us to just trust in Him and then do absolutely nothing. He, in fact, expects us to obey His commands, follow the leading that He gives, and look for ways to be a part of what He is doing. The wrong information is the implication that God is just sitting back, waiting for our action in order to be able to help us. We grit our teeth, clench our fists and just plow ahead. God see's our determination and gets on our bandwagon and gives his aid should we happen to need it. While this might appeal to the independent spirit of a person, it is contrary to the clear teaching of Scripture, and it most definitely does not promote spiritual growth. It does the opposite.
How do we see this happen in real life? Some Christians believe that they need to work hard to figure things out in their life. They invest time, energy, and emotion in making a plan that they believe will work. Then they will perhaps ask God to bless what they have come up with, but they are determined that their own grit and determination will be the key to whether their plan will work or not.
The Scriptures say that God has already figured things out, for each of our lives. He has a plan for us. We must trust in Him to reveal that plan to us and guide us through it. In Proverbs 3:5-6 we read, "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight." We are to use our mental and reasoning skills to trust Him, acknowledge Him, and follow Him. The Lord does His part, which is to make our paths straight. To make our paths straight, He must have a plan and go ahead of us. He does and He will. At any point in our trusting and following, should we lack wisdom, we are told to ask God for it. James 1:5 says, "If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him." That is certainly not God helping those who help themselves. That is God guiding, directing, and giving. The way we get this guidance is to trust, acknowledge and ask.
We grow spiritually by learning how to be dependent upon God, not by learning how to live independently of Him. We are not to try to be God. We are not to try to do what God says that He alone can and must do. We are to submit to His Lordship and live and move and have our being in Him (Acts . Are you trying to do what God says that He alone can do? Let God be God and live as though you believe that. You will then be on the path to growing spiritually.
By guest author, Rev. Jim Burt, Director of Ministry Development
When my son Jeremy was younger, he was tall for his age. He towered over the other children in his grade. A Doctor told us that he would grow to be 6"5" or taller. That was not a total surprise to us, since his older brother was 6'4". Then when Jeremy was 8 years old, he had a life threatening major asthma attack. There were some very tense and even horrifying moments as we were not sure that he would survive. One of the treatments that was prescribed for him was steroids. The steroids appeared to help with the asthma, but they had some life altering side effects. He went from a skinny, hard to please eater, to a plump kid who ate everything in sight (and then some). He also stopped growing. He leveled out at about 5'8", which was very disappointing to him because of his basketball aspirations. If I were going to recommend to someone how not to grow taller physically, I would definitely advise them to take steroids when you are younger. Steroids can stunt your growth.
In the previous two blogs we have discussed how not to grow spiritually. Just as with physical growth, there are things that you can do that will certainly stunt your spiritual growth. One of those is to live in the future, not in the present. "Living in the future" is being so focused on what lies ahead that you cannot really focus on the present and living life to the fullest in the "now".
When I was going to college in preparation for being in the ministry, I worked one summer at the Charmin Paper Plan in northern Pennsylvania. Charmin is famous for producing Pampers Diapers and of course Toilet Paper. I worked in the warehouse, which was one of the most boring jobs I have ever had. I worked on a conveyer line which brought boxes of either Pampers or T.P. down into the warehouse. I would take the boxes off of the conveyer belt and stack them in a cube shaped formation. A forklift would come and pick up our completed cubes and take them to a train car or a truck. Today, they have robots that do that job, but I was the robot back then. I and many of the other workers in that warehouse had bad attitudes because of our boredom. I remember thinking, "I can't wait for this summer to end so that I can get back to school and be that much closer to being in ministry." One day I was working beside someone on the line who knew that I was attending college. He asked me what I was planning on doing when I graduated. I said with great pride, "I am going to be a Pastor." He said, "Oh, I never would have guessed that." That stunned me and it was as though God was smacking me across the head with a two by four. I realized that I had such a bad attitude and was so much like the other people in that warehouse that they hardly knew that I was a Christian, much less that I was planning on being a Pastor. That night I had a "come to Jesus" meeting with Jesus, and I confessed my bad attitude and my failure to see that ministry was not what I was going to be in some day, but rather it was what I was supposed to be in there at the Charmin Paper Plant. I asked God to help me to be a part of a great "Charmin Revival" that summer. I asked Him to help me to have a good attitude and to give witness to the Gospel to everyone in that warehouse. The next day, I was a different person. I worked harder than I had ever worked before. I had a smile on my face. I did not complain and I sought opportunities to tell others about Jesus. By the end of that summer, when I went back to school, I had indeed talked to every other worker in the warehouse about the gospel of Jesus and had a chance to lead two of my fellow workers to Christ. I started a Bible Study during lunch. I felt like I was involved in real ministry. At the end of the summer I was torn about whether or not to stay at Charmin (I was offered a job). I felt so strongly about my ministry there, that I did not want to leave. I did choose to go back to school and enter the ministry, but God taught me a very valuable lesson: Serve God with all of your heart in the present, and the future will take care of itself.
There are Christians who love to study what the Bible says about the end times. I believe that any Bible Study is productive and helpful, but some people would much rather think about what will happen after the rapture, than what God wants them to do today in order to serve Him now!
Some people set goals for the future and they work hard at them, but they only seem to enjoy reaching the goal. They don't enjoy the process of getting to that goal. Then they set another goal and begin the same cycle.
God will be God in the future, but it is so important to realize that He is the God of the living, and living is supposed to happen now. Paul said, For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. Paul knew that he would someday pass from this world and He would gain through that because He would be with Christ. However, His desire was to live in such a manner that His life in the present would be all about Christ.
Are you living in the future? If you are, your spiritual growth is probably at a low point. Live in the present and serve God right where you are. Experience the abundant life that there is right now in Christ!
By Guest Author, Rev. Jim Burt, Director of Ministry Development
Few, if any Christians would say that they do not want to grow spiritually in Christ. Most would agree with the admonition in Second Peter 3:18 “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ....” Yet many are not growing. Why not?
God often likens spiritual growth to the growth of living things such as plants and trees. Just as it is possible for those who are growing these living things, to do things that are counterproductive to their growth ( i.e. not watering, planting in the wrong location etc.), so it is possible to do things that are counterproductive to spiritual growth in living Christians.
One of those counterproductive things is to live in the past instead of in the present. The past might stir up some incredibly strong emotional baggage and can significantly “stunt” our spiritual growth in the present. Living in the past looks like this: we become so mentally, emotionally, or spiritually entangled in our past that it hinders our present efforts to live a productive and fruitful life. It is possible for us to be entangled in either the successes or the pain of our past.
Dwelling on the successes of the past could keep us from focusing on what we need to do to be successful in the present. In the movie Napoleon Dynamite, Napoleon’s Uncle Rico constantly relives the victories of his High School football career. While those were certainly pleasant memories for him, he could never graduate from that and his life had become dysfunctional in the present because he couldn’t get disentangled from his past.
We can certainly be thankful for what God has done for us in our past, but just like the Apostle Paul, we must say, “Brothers,...one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead… (Philippians 3:13). He even said, “But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.” (Philippians 3:7) Yes, God was God in our past and He will be God in our future, but for us to be fruitful He must be the “God of our present.” Jesus said of God, “I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, He is not the God of the dead but of the living." (Matthew 22:32) We will not grow in Christ because of past Bible study, past prayers, past witnessing, past trusting in the Lord, etc. We must start each day as a new beginning and keep on growing daily!
On the other hand, it is certainly also possible to allow ourselves to be prisoners of past pain. That pain could relate to the way others have treated us, or to something that is totally our own responsibility. Many live as though they are “victims” of what has happened to them in life. Whatever they try to do, they are stuck in a quicksand of the memories of past pain and hurt. They may or may not blame God for the past, but they live as though they can’t trust Him to help them move beyond what they have gone through.
God offers a loving remedy to being tied down to the railroad tracks of our past. For personal failure, God offers us forgiveness and/or a new beginning by His grace. Grace means that it is given not based on our deserving it, but upon His choice to freely give it to us. For the failures of others which have hurt us, God offers the strength to forgive and freedom from being enslaved to those who have harmed us.
Are you ready to grow spiritually? Graduate from your past and experience the daily new and abundant life that Jesus came to give you (John 10:10b)
Over the years I have tried to find it, but I can’t. I have even asked others to help me find it, and they can’t help either. What am I trying to find? I am looking to see if I have a green thumb. I am pretty certain that I do not have one. Not only can I not see it, but even more telling is that I can’t seem to grow anything. I do not even have any interest in growing things. If I were to write a book on growing things, it would be a book about how not to grow something. I am good at that.
Sometimes it is helpful to point out how not to do something. That way the learner may be able to avoid some of the pitfalls of doing things that are ineffective, even though to the uninformed or inexperienced, they might appear to work. Growing spiritually in Christ is one of those areas in which it is helpful to learn what doesn’t work. At first glance, some of these things that don’t work may look like they have a chance to be successful, but they deviate from what does work just enough that they are doomed for failure.
The first way not to grow in Christ is to only get the Word of God from others. Those who fall into this restricted way of trying to grow spiritually take great pride in their attendance at a Bible believing church and/ or at Sunday School and Bible Studies. At those events they listen intently to those who have invested themselves in studying the Word of God. The messages and classes are excellent and much can be learned, but when that is the only way a person interacts with the Bible, it will actually limit their spiritual growth.
In 2 Timothy 2:15 we are told: “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.” Believers are told to personally “handle” the word of truth. We are not instructed to find others who are correctly handling the word of truth, but to do it ourselves. The King James Version translates the first phrase of that verse, “Study to show yourself approved unto God…”
Babies and very young children are fed only by others. They are not mature enough to be able to feed themselves. We mark it as an indication of their growth and maturity when they are able to feed themselves. The same thing is true of Christians.
There is nothing wrong with receiving good preaching and good teaching from someone else. The spiritual gifts of others exercised in motivating us and helping us to understand the meaning of passages and their application to our life can be extremely helpful. But real spiritual growth takes place when it is just God and us interacting as we personally invest ourselves in the intake and study of the Word of God. Like the Bereans mentioned in Acts 17:11 who “examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true,” we need to allow the words of preachers and teachers to take us to the Word itself, so that we might examine it for ourselves.
What is your plan for your own personal reading and study of God’s Word? If you have no plan, you are probably not studying, and thus you are not growing in Christ. Confining yourself to receiving the word of God only from others is like watching someone train for a 5K race on TV. You can learn something from watching them and even receive some motivation, but it will not really help you unless you get out and train and then run the 5K yourself. That is how you grow as a runner, and the same principle is true if you desire to grow spiritually in Christ.
John and Martha could hardly believe their good luck. As a newly married couple they had expected to live in a smallish apartment and to be burdened with financial obligations. It would surely be quite some time before they could own their own home and get ahead financially. Then, to their amazement, an incredible opportunity presented itself. A very rich family that John’s parents knew was going to Europe for two years. This couple had just built their dream home and had no intention of selling it. They needed someone that they could trust to live in their house, keep it safe, and make sure that it was taken care of for the two years. They had no need of income and so there would be no rent, no utilities, and no upkeep expenses. Even the luxurious furniture would be provided. The only question that the home owners needed to have answered by John and Martha was, “Can we trust you to take care of what belongs to us?”
John and Martha were able to convince the wealthy home owners that they were trustworthy and so they happily became, for two years, what the Bible calls “stewards”. Stewards take personal care of things that actually belong to someone else.
As those who are stewards are taking care of the things that belong to others, it may at times appear to others as though they are the real owners. They may even themselves come to believe that they are the actual owners. That can be a danger point, because it is incredibly important for a steward to take care of the true owner’s possessions in the way that the owner wants them taken care of. John and Martha were given a very clear and detailed list of their responsibilities and obligations as “stewards”. To deviate from those responsibilities risked not only the displeasure of the owners, but also the very opportunity to be stewards.
We are stewards. We have the incredible opportunity to take care of things that belong to our God. Psalm 24:1 says, “The earth is the Lord's and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it;” The reality of human existence is that the Lord is the blessed possessor of all things. He created all and He didn’t give it away. It is still all His. He did, however, entrust it to stewards. Those stewards are you and I.
So what does our stewardship include? The hard but true answer is “everything.” Our life, our bodies, our time, our talents, our possessions and so much more…none of these are really ours. If we really believe that truth, it changes our whole perspective on what we do with our lives. It is not our time, it is not our money, it is not our body, is not our health.
An ugly possibility is that we can come to actually believe that these possessions which God has entrusted to us are ours, and we fail to treat them the way the true Owner desires, provoking His displeasure and perhaps the loss of our opportunity of stewardship.
Another very deceptive and erroneous view of stewardship is that only a portion of what we have belongs to the Lord. For example, we might consider that a tithe of our money belongs to God; the rest belongs to us to do with as we please. This ignores the very clear teaching of Scripture that everything belongs to God. How much better to give a tithe of what comes to us but then take care of the rest as though it belongs to God.
Do we see ourselves as stewards? How does that reality affect our lives? May we take this incredible opportunity to please the Lord in what He has given to us and take care of it for Him!
By Guest Author, Rev. Jim Burt, Director of Ministry Development
We have begun unraveling the tangled causes for our hesitancy when it comes to sharing the good news that Jesus came to forgive and give eternal life to everyone who will put their trust in Him. We discovered that the first cause is fear- -fear of rejection and the fear of not knowing what to say. The second cause is a lack of compassion. We have celebrated the fact that the remedy is unveiled in Christ.
The third cause for not obeying Jesus’ Great Commission is misplaced priorities. Someone has defined priorities as: “those things which precede other things in importance.” When we have our priorities in order we are able to choose the best things to do with our time, resources and energies from among the ocean of good and bad things that could be a magnet for our attention.
A struggle that we can have with choosing priorities is that “lesser things” often boisterously cry out for our attention. Have you ever been at a store, which you have taken the time to go to, and at which you have picked out what you wanted and then gone to the cash register, only to have the phone ring and the person who is supposed to be waiting on you answer the phone and ignore you? The attendant has succumbed to the “tyranny of the urgent” and missed the important, which is you…a paying customer.
“Lesser things” not only often scream out for our attention, but they may also be easier and they may be more fun or entertaining. It is difficult for the “more important” to compete against that.
The “Great Commission”, in which Jesus tells us to go and make disciples, is called the “great” commission for a phenomenal reason. It is the last and thus most important of Jesus’ directives to His followers. It is most certainly a “priority” for all of Jesus’ followers to obey. Yet, lesser things can crowd out this priority.
Making disciples takes time. It takes consistency. It is a process of building relationships which become bridges across which those who do not know Christ can cross and find Him. This is where the dragon of misplaced priorities often rears its ugly head. “I do not have time for that,” many will say. I have my own family to take care of, I have a job, I have responsibilities, I have….and the list goes on and on. Embracing the Great Commission will not replace the other important priorities of life, but it must become an essential attachment to them.
Churches often contribute to these misplaced priorities by making evangelistic ministries either non-existent or very low on the church “to do” list. Churches encourage almost endless opportunities that do not include reaching people for Christ. They might say “reaching people for Christ is not a program, but a lifestyle.” Yet there is little or no instruction on how to live that lifestyle, and little or no instruction on how to lead someone to Christ if one were to live that lifestyle. Instead, meetings are priorities, Church Services are priorities, special events are priorities, but not making disciples. Please do not misunderstand. There is nothing wrong with any of the things that we have mentioned. They are not necessarily sinful choices. It is just that they often become the focal points for Church life and individual Christian lives and there is nothing left for Disciple Making.
Even those who say that they have no time because their family is a priority, and they have work and life responsibilities are often deceiving themselves. I have worked with a number of people on time management principles and helped them work through an inventory of how they actually spend their time. Many people who consider themselves extremely busy, are shocked at the amount of time that they spend that has nothing to do with the important priorities of their life. Many of these people spend an inordinate amount of time watching television, playing computer games, participating in personal hobbies, being disorganized and even just being lazy. Many of these activities could be fairly called “selfish”.
None of us likes to think that we are selfish. We can give much anecdotal evidence that we are not. We sacrifice self interest often to meet the needs of others whom we love. We give of our time, our talents, and our treasure to meet the needs of others. Yet, when it comes to seeking to reach those who do not know Christ with the gospel message, and we realize that it requires us to give up things of lesser importance, that all changes.
Yes, everyone thinks that they are busy. May I remind you that Jesus was a busy man. As God come in the flesh, He literally had the weight and the responsibility of the world upon His shoulders. As a human being he had things that He would have liked to do to entertain himself, as well as responsibilities that are a part of life. Yet, He consistently was reaching out to make disciples.
Why was Jesus able to overcome his “busyness” and consistently seek to make disciples? It was all about priorities. He knew why he was here in this world. He had come “to seek and to save that which was lost.” (Luke 19:10) Reaching out in love to seek to bring people into a saving relationship with Him was not an option. It was a central focus of his life.
Making disciples is not an option for any of us either. The Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20) assures us of that. Yes, I acknowledge that there is more to our priorities in life than just making disciples. God has asked us to do other things. Yet, He has not asked us to do other things to the exclusion of making disciples.
Is it possible that we avoid this priority because (as we said previously) we are afraid to do it? Or could it be because we lack compassion upon those who do not know Christ? Please allow Jesus to overcome your fears and your lack of compassion. Let Him reorder your priorities so that you will do what He considers important. May you accomplish those things in life that will truly make a difference for all eternity.