Friday, July 29, 2011

The Source of Your Supply

Therefore do not worry, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?” For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. (Matthew 6:21-34)

The way the economy is looking, with the unemployment rate, and the housing market, and the continuing debt crisis, many people are getting more and more worried. “What shall we eat?” “What shall we drink?” “What shall we wear?” “Where shall we live?” “How shall we pay the bills, the mortgage, the debt?”

You can tell what people are worrying about by what they say. It is heavy on their hearts, and it is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks. Do not worry about these things, Jesus says. Do not let them become your focus and fill your heart. Do not speak them over and over to yourself.

The Gentiles, that is, the surrounding nations, who had no covenant with the God of Israel, sought after these things. But Jesus speaks of God as the “heavenly Father” who “knows you have need of all these things.” Not only knows but has the means to take care of all those needs.

Jesus’ answer to these questions, then, is “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things shall be added to you.” The kingdom of God is His rule and reign in all the world, which had long been promised in the Old Testament. It is what Jesus came to announce in the good news of the gospel: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). The righteousness of God is His goodness, the faithfulness of God to His people and to keep His covenant promises. Jesus the Messiah came not only to announce the kingdom of God but to institute a new covenant based on even better promises (Hebrews 8:6), a covenant cut with His own blood (Luke 22:20).

Many people, even many Christians, look to the world, to the government, to their jobs, their bank accounts and their credit cards as their source and supply. But Jesus did not say, “Seek first the government check,” or “Seek first a good job,” or “Seek first a sound investment or a solid bank.” If we put our trust in these, we will always be let down. They may be viable channels but do not look to them as your source.

Jesus calls us to something radically different: “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.” Look to your Father in heaven as your source. He has all kinds of ways of getting your supply to you, ways you can’t even imagine.

Everything you need is not a goal but a by-product. Search for them and you will come up short. But seek out God’s kingdom and righteousness — His rule and reign, His goodness and faithfulness, His way of doing and being — and everything you need will “be added to you,” thrown into the bargain. “My God,” Paul says, “shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19).

In this time of financial crisis it is vitally important to understand who your source is and where your supply comes from. Seek God and His kingdom in everything you do, watch for His faithfulness and His provision, and He will take care of you in every way.

(See also Not to Worry.)

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Light in the Darkness

Unto the upright there arises light in the darkness.
He is gracious, and full of compassion, and righteous.
(Psalm 112:4)

No matter how dark things may seem, how intractable the economy may appear, how troublesome the times may look, there is always light for the upright. Who are the upright? The Hebrew word here refers to what is straight, level, right, pleasing, correct, straightforward, just, fitting or proper. It is often used of those who do what is right in the eyes of the Lord.

There are many who do what is right in their own eyes, but these are not commended before God. “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death” (Proverbs 14:12 and repeated again at Proverbs 16:25). No, the psalm writer is talking about those who do what is right in the eyes of Yahweh: “Blessed is the man who fears the LORD, who delights greatly in His commandments” (Psalm 112:1). This psalm tells about what the man who fears Yahweh looks like and what the blessing of Yahweh looks like in his life (see Divine Portrait of Prosperity: Psalm 112). He is gracious, full of compassion and righteous (he keeps covenant and conducts himself in a way that is just). That is just the way Yahweh is described in Psalm 116:5: “Gracious is the LORD, and righteous. Yes, our God is merciful.”

The upright always have light in the darkness. This does not mean that darkness will never enter his life; indeed, darkness may be all around him. But God gives him light in the midst of it so he can see and know the blessing of God. Remember the ninth plague that came on Pharaoh and the land of Egypt when he refused to let the children of Israel go?
Then the LORD said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand toward heaven, that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, darkness which may even be felt.” So Moses stretched out his hand toward heaven, and there was thick darkness in all the land of Egypt three days. They did not see one another; nor did anyone rise from his place for three days. But all the children of Israel had light in their dwellings. (Exodus 10:21-23)
Darkness — a thick darkness that could be felt! — covered all the land of Egypt so no one could see or do anything. It was for them a fearful darkness. No so for the people of God: “But all the children of Israel had light in their dwellings.” That is always God’s way with His people. In the Old Testament, and during a dark time, the prophet Isaiah announced a new day that was coming.
Arise, shine;
For your light has come!
And the glory of the LORD is risen upon you.
For behold, the darkness shall cover the earth,
And deep darkness the people;
But the LORD will arise over you,
And His glory will be seen upon you.
The Gentiles shall come to your light,
And kings to the brightness of your rising.
(Isaiah 60:1-3)
In the New Testament, this light is revealed. “Awake, you who sleep, arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light” (Ephesians 5:14). “For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6). He is “the true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world” (John 1: 9). “And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it” (John 1:5).

There is nothing in the darkness or of the darkness that can harm those who belong to God through faith in Jesus the Messiah. In Him we are made right with God. In Him, we are empowered by the Spirit of God to live out the life of Jesus in the world. Even in the darkness of the world, the light arises for us and the glory of the Lord shines on us. What the psalm writer says of the upright is for all who will take hold of it by faith:
Surely he will never be shaken;
The righteous will be in everlasting remembrance.
He will not be afraid of evil tidings;
His heart is steadfast, trusting in the LORD.
His heart is established;
He will not be afraid.
(Psalm 112:6-8)
Do not be shaken or be afraid of the dark. Put your trust in God; light will arise.

Friday, July 15, 2011

True Prosperity

Prosperity is the ability to use God’s power to meet the needs of other men, whether it’s financial, or physical, or spiritual, or mental, or social, or whatever. That's true prosperity.
~ Kenneth Copeland, The Laws of Prosperity
Kenneth Copeland Ministries, 1982

Prosperity is the possession of everything you need for yourself and loved ones with enough surplus to give to those who need help. If you have only the bare necessities, you are not prosperous. And if you have all the sufficiencies of life but no more, that is not prosperity. But, if you have everything you need with something left over for the poor, that is prosperity.
 ~ Oral Roberts, My Favorite Bible Scriptures
Oral Roberts Evangelist Association, 1963

I like those definitions of prosperity. Prosperity is not just about us but about God and what He wants to do in the lives of others. I take my own definition, which is very like these, from the apostle Paul.

And God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work. (2 Corinthians 9:8)

Encouragement is a Choice

Somebody said that there is nothing you can do about discouragement. Nonsense! It is a choice. "David encouraged himself in the LORD his God" (1 Samuel 30:6). I wrote an article about that a few years back:

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Gospel of God’s Pleasure

For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell, and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross. (Colossians 1:19-20)

The good news of the gospel is that it pleased the Father that all the fullness of divinity should dwell in Jesus the Son, the Word who became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14).

The good news of the gospel is that it pleased God to reconcile all things in heaven and on earth to Himself. When Jesus came, He announced that the kingdom of heaven, a.k.a, the kingdom of God, was now at hand — present on earth. All His works on earth were a demonstration of the authority and power of the kingdom, and He taught the disciples to pray, “Kingdom of God, come! Will of God, be done on earth as it is in heaven!”

The good news of the gospel is that it pleased God to make peace — shalom, wholeness, oneness — through the violence of Jesus’ blood shed on the cross. There the battle was fought and there the victory was won.
And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy, and blameless, and above reproach in His sight — if indeed you continue in the faith, grounded and steadfast, and are not moved away from the hope of the gospel which you heard, which was preached to every creature under heaven, of which I, Paul, became a minister. (Colossians 1:21-23)
The good news of the gospel is that it pleased God that those who were once alienated from Him, whose thoughts and works were against Him, should now be reconciled to Him in the flesh-and-blood body of Jesus. It pleased God that through Jesus’ death on the cross, we should be presented holy, blameless and above reproach before Him, now and at the last day.

The good news of the gospel is that it pleased God that we should participate in this reconciliation, not by the futility of human striving, but purely through faith in Jesus, in whom all the fullness of God dwells in human flesh. This is the “hope” of the gospel. In the Bible, hope is not about wishful thinking; it is not tentative or uncertain. It is about positive expectation, joyful anticipation.

The gospel of God’s pleasure presents us with this good news, this hope, this expectation: The wholeness of God’s shalom in the world — the reconciliation of heaven and earth, of God and humanity, through faith in King Jesus the Messiah.

The Focus of Our Faith
The Focus of Our Faith
Paul’s Letters to the Jesus Believers at Colosse
Bite-Size Studies Through Colossians
by Jeff Doles

Preview with Amazon’s “Look Inside.”

Available in paperback and Kindle (Amazon), epub (Google and iTunes) and PDF.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

A Peculiar People

Who [Jesus] gave Himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto Himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works. (Titus 2:14 KJV)

Years ago, my father had a plant nursery and flower business called “Old Weird Harold’s.” This came from three sources. First, my father’s name is Harold. Second, Bill Cosby created a character named “Old Weird Harold.” Third is this verse, in the King James Version. Jesus gave Himself to redeem us and purify for Himself a “peculiar” people. Pop knew, of course, that the use of “peculiar” in this verse does not mean weird, but he was making a play on words with a popular cultural icon. So, there you go.

The word peculiar comes from peculium, a word which had a specific legal meaning in Roman civil law but then slipped into a more common usage.
PECULIUM, civil law. The savings which were made by a son or slave with the consent of his father or master. Inst. 2, 9, 1; Dig. 15, 1, 5, 3; Poth. ad Pand. lib. 50, tit. 17, c. 2, art. 3.
     2. A master is not entitled to the extraordinary earnings of his apprentice, which do not interfere with his services so as to affect his master’s profits. An apprentice was therefore decreed to be entitled to salvage in opposition to his master's claim for it.
In the Middle Ages, “peculiar” referred to that which was “one’s own,” and that is how it is used in the King James Version.
Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine: And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation. (Exodus 19:5-6)

For thou art an holy people unto the LORD thy God, and the LORD hath chosen thee to be a peculiar people unto himself, above all the nations that are upon the earth. (Deuteronomy 14:2)

And the LORD hath avouched thee this day to be his peculiar people, as he hath promised thee, and that thou shouldest keep all his commandments; and to make thee high above all nations which he hath made, in praise, and in name, and in honour; and that thou mayest be an holy people unto the LORD thy God, as he hath spoken. (Deuteronomy 26:18-19)

For the LORD hath chosen Jacob unto himself, and Israel for his peculiar treasure. (Psalm 135:4)
The Greek word translated as “peculiar” in Titus 2:14 is periousious. Literally, it is about what is “over and above.” Vincent’s Word Studies says that it was used of what was “specially selected for one's own.” So the King James Version translates it as “peculiar.” Other versions have it as
  • A people for His own possession (English Standard Version, Lexham English Bible, New American Standard Bible)
  • His own people (Contemporary English Version)
  • A people who should be specially His own (Weymouth’s New Testament in Modern Speech)
  • A special people (Holman Christian Standard Bible)
  • People who belong only to Him (New Century Version, The Expanded Bible New Testament)
  • His own special people (New King James Version)
  • His very own people (New Living Translation)
  • A special people for Himself (Common English Bible)
  • A people that are His very own (New International Version)
  • His own dedicated band (The Unvarnished New Testament)
  • A people of His own private possession (Wuest’s New Testament: An Expanded Translation)
  • A people He can be proud of (The Message)
The Hebrew word translated as “peculiar” in the Old Testament is segullah and speaks of wealth or that which is treasured. In Exodus 19:5, the KJV translates it as “peculiar treasure.” The LXX (also known as the Septuagint, an ancient Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures), translates the Old Testament occurrences listed above as periousious, the same word found in Titus 2:14.

In using periousious, the apostle Paul picks up on what God was doing in the Old Testament and brings it forward into the New. In the Old Testament, God created a people, Israel, to be His own treasured possession, who would be a kingdom of priests (Exodus 19:5-6). The role of a priest is to represent God before the people and the people before God, so Israel was to represent God before the nations and the nations before God. What Israel failed to do as a nation, though, was fulfilled through her Messiah, Jesus. In the New Testament, the people of God enlarged to include every believer in Jesus the Messiah, whether Jew or Gentile. Titus himself was a Gentile believer, as were many of those under his pastoral care, but Paul includes them all as God’s own people.

The good news of the Gospel is that Jesus gave Himself for us to redeem us from our sins and to purify us as His own people. Not as a loose assortment of individuals but together as a community of faith, a people who belong to God and God alone. We are His peculiar people. Not weird or geeky but special and treasured by Him.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

A Mouth of Wisdom and Steps That Don’t Slide

The mouth of the righteous speaks wisdom,
And his tongue talks of justice.
The law of his God is in his heart;
None of his steps shall slide.
(Psalm 37:30-31)
There is an important spiritual connection between your heart and your mouth. Jesus said, “For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45). If you want to know what is in somebody’s heart, listen to their mouth for a little while — especially in pressure situations — and it will become apparent.

The psalm writer says that “the mouth of the righteous speaks wisdom and his tongue talks of justice.” The “righteous” are those who keep covenant with God, that is, who are in right relationship with God and the community of faith.

The mouth of the righteous speaks “wisdom.” The Hebrew word is hokmah and refers to understanding, mastery, prudence, or skill. The realm of wisdom can be anything and everything, including craftsmanship, administration and ethics. It produces sound judgment about what is right and what is wrong: “His tongue talks of justice.”

Words of insight and justice do not fall out of the sky. They come forth from a heart that is full of wisdom and discernment. But how does a heart get filled with these? The psalm writer gives the answer: “The law of his God is in his heart.” The word for “law” is torah and can just as well be translated as “instruction.” Wisdom and justice in the mouth of the righteous are the overflow of God’s Word in his heart.

Remember how the Book of Psalms opens. The blessed man is not the one who fills his heart with the counsel of the ungodly, or the way of the wicked or with mockery and scorn for everything that is good (Psalm 1:1). Instead, his delight is in the instruction of the LORD. He delights in it and meditates constantly upon it (Psalm 1:2).

In meditating God’s Word, he speaks it into his heart and lets it fill him up to overflowing. After that, when he opens his mouth, his words and his ways are in alignment with God’s. The result is blessing and prosperity in all he does (Psalm 1:3). Because the instruction of the LORD is in his heart in abundance, wisdom and justice flow from his lips. His leaf does not wither and his steps do not slide.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Open Wide Your Hand

Since God is gracious and giving and opens His hand wide toward us (and invites us to set all our expectation on Him) we should be gracious and giving and open our hands to give generously to others, because God wants to show them His grace, too. That is why, in addition to always giving us all sufficiency in all things, God wants to have us plenty more besides, so we may do a lot of good for others. Let us then be generous, open-handed, bountiful in our giving.

Paul said, “He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully” (2 Corinthians 9:6). To sow “sparingly” means to hold back, to be stingy with your seed. How you sow is how you will reap. If you hold back your seed, you are also holding back your harvest. In the Greek text, to sow “bountifully” means to sow “with blessing,” and when you sow “with blessing,” that is also how you reap — with blessing! When you sow with your hand wide open, you will one day have a harvest that is larger than you can contain. You will never end up behind because you have been generous toward others, and what you sow will cause praise and thanksgiving to abound toward God. Watch how this works:
Now may He who supplies seed to the sower, and bread for food, supply and multiply the seed you have sown and increase the fruits of your righteousness, while you are enriched in everything for all liberality, which causes thanksgiving through us to God. For the administration of this service not only supplies the needs of the saints, but also is abounding through many thanksgivings to God, while, through the proof of this ministry, they glorify God for the obedience of your confession to the gospel of Christ, and for your liberal sharing with them and all men, and by their prayer for you, who long for you because of the exceeding grace of God in you. (2 Corinthians 9:10-14)
God gives us “bread,” every provision to meet our needs fully and completely. He also gives us “seed,” the more than enough, which is for sowing. When we sow it toward the needs of others, God multiplies it, increasing its fruitfulness, that is, the benefit it brings to others. That, in turn, brings forth praise and thanks to God — and we get to be a part of what God is doing in the lives of others. In this way, not only do all of our own needs get met, but also the needs of others, because we are allowing the grace of God to be abundant through us as well as to us. As we keep sowing generously for the sake of others, we will continue to reap bountifully because we are trusting in the open hand of God.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Open Wide Your Mouth

God opens wide His hand toward us
and calls us to open wide our mouths toward Him:

I am the LORD your God,
Who brought you out of the land of Egypt;
Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it.
(Psalm 81:10)
This verse opens in a very interesting way. Interesting because it is exactly how the Ten Commandments begins: “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt” (Exodus 20:2). It is the basis of the Old Testament covenant. God delivered the children of Israel from Egyptian bondage and made them a nation. He revealed Himself to them by His personal name, that is, who He is, Yahweh (rendered here by “the LORD”), as well as by His office, what He is: “God.” And He said, “I am … your God,” and the implied reciprocal is “You are my people.”
In Exodus 20, this statement is followed by the Ten Commandments, which we often think of in a very negative way because … well, because of the “thou shalt nots.” But there are very positive ways of thinking about them. The psalm writers extol them, for example, in Psalm 1, Psalm 19 and Psalm 119. They loved the “law” of Yahweh. The Hebrew word torah, which is often translated as “law” can just as well be rendered as “instruction.” It is not an arbitrary set of rules to test loyalty but a practical guide that shows us the way to health, prosperity, well-being and good, positive relationship with God, others and the world around us.

More than that, though, there is something implicit — and very positive — in the Ten Commandments, especially in the way they begin: “I am the LORD your God.” This is a covenant, and the essence of covenant is exchange: We give to God everything we are and possess; He gives to us everything He is and possesses. By identifying Himself in this way and in this context, God is saying that He will take care of us. Therefore, we don’t need to seek after any other gods, or idolize anyone or anything. We don’t have to steal, lie, covet or kill to get out needs met — God will always protect and provide for us. The Ten Commandments, then, are about trusting God with everything.

So God says in Psalm 81:10, “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt; open your mouth wide, and I will fill it.” Unfortunately, Israel would not listen. “But My people would not heed My voice, and Israel would have none of Me. So I gave them over to their own stubborn heart, to walk in their own counsels” (vv. 11-12). But see what would have happened if they had trusted in Him for everything:
Oh, that My people would listen to Me,
That Israel would walk in My ways!
I would soon subdue their enemies,
And turn My hand against their adversaries.
The haters of the LORD would pretend submission to Him,
But their fate would endure forever.
He would have fed them also with the finest of wheat;
And with honey from the rock I would have satisfied you.
(Psalm 81:13-16)
God was ready to give them the finest of wheat. The Hebrew word speaks of fatness, abundance, richness, the choicest, most excellent part. He would have provided them with “honey from the rock,” to enjoy all the sweetness of life, and they would have been fully satisfied. Abundance and sweetness — this is the language of the Promised Land. If only they had believed Him.

God has likewise opened His hand wide toward us to satisfy our needs and desires — if we will trust Him. The act of faith is to open our mouths wide, that is, to enlarge our expectation toward Him. Through Jesus the Messiah, He has delivered us, just as He delivered the children of Israel from Egyptian bondage, and He will take care of us completely, just as He desired to do for them.
And God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work. (2 Corinthians 9:8)
Notice how all-encompassing this is: God gives us grace and glory — all grace, so that we can always have all sufficiency in all things. This grace is given to us through Jesus the Messiah. “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?” (Romans 8:32). Plus abundance — not just enough but more than enough — so that we may be blessed and a blessing to others.

Which leads us to the second important way we experience the open hand of God. We’ll talk about that in the next post.

Friday, July 1, 2011

The Open Hand of God

You open Your hand
And satisfy the desire of every living thing.
(Psalm 145:16)
The Hebrew word for “open” means “wide open.” The opening of the hand is an act of great generosity. God is a giver and He opens His hand wide to pour out His gifts to us.
For the LORD God is a sun and shield;
The LORD will give grace and glory;
No good thing will He withhold
From those who walk uprightly.
(Psalm 84:1)

Command those who are rich in this present age not to be haughty, nor to trust in uncertain riches but in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy. (1 Timothy 6:17)

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning. (James 1:17)
God satisfies the desire of every living thing. To satisfy is to fulfill, or fill full. There are no voids, no nooks, no crannies — everything is completely filled in with nothing left lacking. The Hebrew word for “desire” speaks of pleasure or delight. God does not try to satisfy us with junk but gives us good things, things that are pleasing and delightful — things that are truly satisfying. Brenton’s English Septuagint (a translation of the Septuagint, which is an ancient Greek translation of the Hebrew text) has Psalm 145:16 as, “Thou openest thine hands, and fillest every living thing with pleasure.”

Some people think that God is interested only in our needs, not our desires (if He is interested at all). But the truth is that He is interested in both. Now, of course, our desires are not always what they should be. We do not always want what is good and sometimes we crave things that are harmful to us or others. But God wants to heal our desires so we hunger after those things that are good and healthy and prosperous. He does this through personal relationship with Him.
Delight yourself also in the LORD,
And He shall give you the desires of your heart.
(Psalm 37:4)
As we delight ourselves in the LORD, the desires, or requests, of our heart begin to line up with what is in His own heart — and the desires of His heart are always good and pleasant. Then He is happy to give us the desires of our heart because they are what He has wanted to do for us all along.

God’s hand is opened wide to be gracious and generous to us in every way. In the next couple of posts we will look at two ways to experience all the good things He wants to pour out on us: 1. Open Wide Your Mouth 2. Open Wide Your Hand