Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Baptistic Sprinklings of Charity

Baptistic denominations and fellowships are usually divisive by the definition of their own constitutions, though they are often blissfully unaware of this. I'm referring specifically to when church membership is denied to Christians whose only disqualification is that they were baptised as infants.

Not all baptistic people feel that this should be the case, but those that don't remain a small minority.

One of those in this beloved minority, whom I have a great deal of respect for, is John Piper. His sermon, How Important is Church Membership, which I've previously posted here, is an excellent summary of his own thoughts and feelings on the subject, thoroughly supported by scripture. This sermon also contains a summary of his own actions in attempting to right this wrong within his own congregation.

Few other baptistic theologians share his views.

I was therefore delighted and surprised when I recently started reading Infant Baptism and the Covenant of Grace, by Paul K. Jewett, a Baptist. Let me share a brief quote from the preface, on page 5 of this book:

Though the traditional Baptist usage of closed communion, first challenged so eloquently by Robert Hall, has given way in our day to the more ultimate demands of Christian charity and unity, the practice of closed membership is still widely insisted on in Baptist circles. This, to me, is very unfortunate; for though the defense of infant baptism may not be a good cause, it does not follow that the people who make this defense are not good Christians and worthy members of the Christian church. To have the conviction that baptism should not be administered to infants is quite different from the intolerance that excludes all dissent from the fellowship of the church. Polemical theology that would serve a good purpose must be irenic, not divisive.

Small baptistic sprinklings of charity such as this are enough to encourage me to not lose heart, entirely.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Poverty of Spirit is Possible with God

Read Luke 6:20
How can we be sincerely and consistently poor in spirit?

How are we supposed to actually do all this? How can we be genuinely and continuously so poor in spirit, trusting in God, and sacrificially generous with our money? It’s more than not easy – it’s impossible. Jesus tells us it’s impossible, in the story of the rich young ruler in Luke 18, from verse 18.

Read Luke 18:18. The man wants to be in the kingdom, and wants to know what he must do to get in. Because we understand grace, this question should be a red flag. We know it’s the wrong question: “How can I work my way to heaven?”

Read Luke 18:19. Jesus is trying to help him, and reminds him that noone is good, no-one is righteous.

Read Luke 18:20-21. When Jesus presented him with the law, which nobody can keep, the ruler responded with spiritual pride. He trusts in himself, that he is righteous. He should have responded like the tax collector, and beat his breast and said, “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Instead, he says, “I’m not a sinner. The law: I’ve done that since I was a kid.”

Read Luke 18:22-23. The rich young ruler was trying to serve God and money, so Jesus told him to get rid of the money. But he chose the money.

Read 18:24-27. Jesus makes a massive statement here. Just like it is impossible for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, it is humanly impossible for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. But there’s good news: What is impossible with men is possible with God.

It is God who changes hearts. God removes the heart of stone, and replaces it with a heart of flesh. You and I are rich, by the standards of the world today, and by the standards of history. Only God can change our hearts, by his grace, so that our reliance and worship of our wealth can be overcome, and that we can truly become poor in spirit, and trust solely on God for our salvation, and for everyone else, and enter the kingdom of God.

Do you want to be blessed by God and enter his kingdom?
  • Be Poor in Spirit: Confess that you have no moral or spiritual worth to bring to God
  • Trust God for mercy in Jesus Christ, like a child trusts his father, and ask him to save you.
  • Be Obedient. Walk in the good works that God has prepared for you, being generous with the money God has given you.
  • Stay Poor in Spirit and Be Humble. Never forget or cease to acknowledge that you are his unworthy servant.
In the book What Jesus Demands from the World John Piper wrote,
“The joy of the humble does not reside in being deserving, but in receiving mercy.”

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Spiritual Poverty & Money

Read: Luke 6:20 and Luke 6:24

The point of the last few posts has been that “poor” in these verses means spiritual poverty, and “rich” means spiritual pride. So what about money?

Previously I’ve made the point that “Jesus uses figurative speech, all the time.” This combined blessing and curse is an example of figurative speech. If the poor are blessed and the rich are cursed, then the literal interpretation is that there’s some kind of net worth borderline: less money and you’re in, and more money and you’re out.

This is obviously not the case, and as I said we know from Matthew 5 that Jesus also said “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” This blessing and curse are primarily about our spirit, and our heart.

But I think it goes much too far to say that these sayings have nothing to do with money at all.

We are in the kingdom by being poor in spirit – confessing that we have nothing spiritual or morally valuable to bring to God – and by trusting in him for salvation.

But those that are in the kingdom will treat money very differently to those that are outside of the kingdom. In fact, I think that money is the main application of being poor in spirit for us today.

The poor in spirit bring nothing to God, and trust him for salvation. The poor in spirit also trust God for everything else, through all of life. We trust him for food and clothing. We must trust him when circumstances look hopeless, and when our life looks like its not worth living.

Money enters the equation in at least these two ways:
  1. Having money gets in the way of trusting God for our needs.
  2. Our generosity with money shows our trust of God.

1. Having money gets in the way of trusting God for our needs. This is almost certainly your problem, today. I know that it’s mine. Maybe one or two of us are exceptions, but I doubt it.

Read Luke 12:29-31, the well-known passage where Jesus says “don’t be anxious about your life”, and “consider the ravens” and “consider the lilies”.

“Do you have the clothes you are wearing, and will you eat another two meals today mainly because you were seeking first after God’s kingdom and trusting him to provide the clothes and food?”

In this passage, in Luke 12, Jesus is telling some of the poorest people to not be anxious about where they’ll find their clothes, or how they’ll put another meal on the table. They were anxious because they were poor and weren’t certain how they’d afford these things. We have the exact opposite problem.

When was the last time you were tempted to worry about the bare necessities of life? Worried about clothing, shelter and food? We’re not tempted to worry about these things because we are so incredibly wealthy. Our fridges, freezers and cupboards are full of food. If we need more, we go down to Coles or Woollies and spend a fraction of our money on a range and quality of foods that would have amazed King Solomon.

You are actually among the richest people in the world. I want to quote the beginning of an article that was in the Sydney Morning Herald recently. The figures of wealth in this article are net worth: take the value of all your assets, and then subtract your liabilities. They aren’t annual income figures.
Australians remain the richest people in the world, by one measure at least.

The median wealth of adult Australians stands at $US219,505 ($233,504) - the highest level in the world, according to the Credit Suisse 2013 Global Wealth Report, released on Wednesday.

Median wealth is the midpoint between richest and poorest, meaning that 50 per cent of the population has more than $233,504, and 50 per cent less than that.

Our wealth gets in the way of us trusting God for what we need. We trust our money, our jobs, our savings, our investments, our insurance, our friends and family. We even trust the government to stop us from becoming naked and starving.

We are not poor. We are so rich, that we should tremble at the thought that we could be trusting our money more than our God. We cannot trust our money to provide for our needs, and still be poor in spirit. And only the poor in spirit inherit the kingdom.

The second way that money relates to being poor in spirit is that: 2. Our generosity with money shows our trust in God.

Jesus has a lot to say about wealth, and money. His commands about money are radical, and obeying them means trusting God. Starting in Luke 6.

Read Luke 6:30, Luke 6:35 and Luke 6:38. Jesus says to give generously and lend without expecting anything in return, and trust God that he will reward you, and be more generous than you’ve been.

Read Luke 12:15-21. Again, Jesus gives a dire warning to those who are selfish with money and possessions: you die and enter judgement, and someone else gets the stuff.

Luke 12:22-34 is the passage we looked at earlier about seeking the kingdom of God first, and all the other things will be added to you. Now read Luke 12:32-34. These are radical commands.

Read Luke 16:13. When you trust money, you serve money. You cannot serve God, and money. You can’t trust God, and trust money.

Luke 16:19-31 is the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. The rich man went to Hades in torment, and Lazarus went to Abraham’s bosom. In verse 25, Abraham said to the rich man, “Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish.” That sounds very familiar, doesn’t it:
Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.

So we should pay attention to this parable, to better understand what it means to be poor in spirit, or not so poor in spirit, like the rich man. And what was the sin of the rich man, that he didn’t repent of? It’s implied by the situation:

Read Luke 16:19-21

It’s not a sin to be rich, to wear nice clothes and to feast sumptuously. But this rich man had Lazarus laid at his gate, who was poor, sick and suffering. All he wanted was the leftovers; the table scraps. He desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table. He only wanted the floor sweepings, and it seems he didn’t even get that. The rich man kept his money to himself, and had no love or compassion for Lazarus. He is then held responsible for his treatment of the poor man Lazarus at his gate.

You and I are physically rich. We live in sturdy, comfortable houses, wear great clothes and eat the best food in the world. Who is lying at your door: poor, sick or suffering?

We live in a much smaller world now, than Lazarus. My wife and I bought some books and other stuff online the other day from a shop in Idaho, while sitting on the couch, using my iPad. If I can buy from a shop on the other side of the world without leaving the living room, then my doorstop beside which the poor are lying must also be global. Surely God holds me responsible for how I use my money to help the poor and suffering in Emerald, and the rest of Australia and across the world.

Do you help the poor with your money? Or are you clinging to your money more than you should, and helping the poor and destitute, especially the Christian poor, less than you should?

I recommend some impulse generosity. Just like impulse buying, impulse generosity is instantaneous. If your heart is moved to help the poor, then it’s not complicated. Get onto your internet banking and give the Barnabas Fund or Open Doors a few hundred dollars. While you’re there, set it up to happen every month. Or buy some extra groceries while you’re shopping and drop them off at the Neighbourhood Centre.

Give from the heart, generously. Don’t do it to be seen by others, or that will be your only reward. If you do it to be noticed and admired, it won’t be from the heart, and it won’t be generous.