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Suffering

Ministry costs money

In today’s Bible reading, Paul says that those who are unwilling to work shouldn’t eat. In other words, Believers aren’t to be freeloaders. Now, is that a cut-and-dried statement? Or is it a principle?

I think Paul intended this to be a principle. It comes down to a person’s heart, his/her motivations. If a person is able to work, but chooses not to, that’s a problem. If a person goes around constantly mooching off others, that’s a problem.

But what about someone who is “called to do God’s work”? It’s no different! If someone is called to do God’s work he/she shouldn’t wait until a paycheck comes along before doing the work. If God has called someone to do ministry, they should do ministry! If someone is genuinely called to do God’s work of sharing the gospel, Paul says they should be paid for doing the work if they so choose. If they want to work voluntarily, that’s fine. But no one should be shamed for accepting money for doing ministry. In fact, elsewhere, Paul says that laborers are worthy of their hire. (1 Timothy 5:18)

Taking on a second job in order to put food on the table is commendable; it can open up ministry opportunities as well. And a missionary or pastor shouldn’t be shamed if he does take on a second job. Neither should he be shamed for asking for financial support as his income source. Depending on the ministry, sometimes taking on a second job is impractical or impossible. And oftentimes, the people receiving ministry are unable to cover the expenses of a pastor or missionary.

Airline tickets cost money. Visas cost money. Passport processing costs money. Insurance costs money. Gas costs money. Food costs money. Ministry costs money! Fortunately, many ministries are very lean and are very good stewards. Unfortunately, not all are. And not all of the “big name” ministries are the most efficient. Beware of wolves that fleece their flocks and siphon large salaries away from those in need.

In the past, I have mentioned uniting our church with a neighboring church. This is a good thing. This is a God thing. Combining our efforts under one roof and one fellowship body will bring down the operating costs of the two churches and will free up monies to do more of God’s work. This is good stewardship! And quite frankly, I wish more churches would prayerfully consider doing the same! With the changing face of society and the declining nickels and noses in local churches, it might be the best thing to close the doors on a few dead/plateaued churches and unite the members under a new body with a new vision and new energy.

Important note: I say this having closed the doors of the first church I pastored. God was in that and He brought new life to an old building. Now, a newer, younger church is absolutely flourishing where we once floundered. God is good!

Application

Unfortunately, churches have turf wars and partnering with other churches is often difficult. It takes a lot of humility and repentance to set aside your own church and ministry preferences. We don’t like change. But oftentimes, God calls us to “suck it up” and follow Him, taking on His preferences in order to accomplish His work.

Doing God’s work requires God’s people to give. And those who work are worthy of the support of God’s people to accomplish the work.

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Jonathan Edwards

In today’s Bible reading, following his brief greeting, Paul assures the Thessalonians that God will take care of those who persecute Christians. I’m sure the Thessalonians were on board with Paul’s promise until they read what is now labeled as 2 Thessalonians 1:7, “This will take place at the revelation of the Lord Jesus from heaven with his powerful angels, when he takes vengeance with flaming fire on those who don’t know God and on those who don’t obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.” (CSB)

Jesus’ Disciples expected Jesus to come in and right all the wrongs by the Romans against the Jews. They expected Jesus to ride in on a white horse and assume His throne. That didn’t happen because it wasn’t His time to do that. It still isn’t. The Disciples were disappointed. The Thessalonians were disappointed. And persecuted Christians today are disappointed.

It’s another reminder that God’s Word is sure and God’s timing is not our timing. “The Lord does not delay his promise, as some understand delay, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish but all to come to repentance.” 2 Peter 3:9 (CSB)

God is gracious, merciful, and patient, giving guilty people time to repent. But a time will come when His patience will run out. He will pour out His wrath on the unrighteous. And that will be a day of wailing and gnashing of teeth. That will not be a good day from the perspective of any human. But it will be a good day for God. His righteousness will be vindicated.

Puritan preacher/theologian Jonathan Edwards, in his famous sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” expressed his perspective in similar ways. Contrary to popular thought about the sermon — and Edwards — the sermon is about God’s mercy, not His wrath. The sermon is about God’s pleasure to restrain His wrath in order to give men a chance to repent and turn to Him.

“There is the dreadful pit of the glowing flames of the wrath of God; there is hell’s wide gaping mouth open; and you have nothing to stand upon, nor anything between you and hell but the air; it is only the power and mere pleasure of God that holds you up.”[1]

Application

God is good to grant time for repentance. It’s in the midst of persecution that Believers must remain faithful to His call, despite how things look. Christian Hedonism makes faithfulness in the face of persecution possible.

And it’s part of being ready for Jesus’ return.

[1] Source: Monergism website

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Beware the Wolves

I read today’s Bible reading a few hours after I read a Facebook post from friends, Billy and Cindy Foote. In Billy’s new song, he has set the Prosperity Gospel peddlers in his crosshairs and fired his shot.

Billy begins his song, “All the Wolves”, with, “I know some preacher men, men with some business plans. And I think this must be said. They’re making millions selling Jesus. They take but they never give.”[1]

Billy’s description could not be further than the reality of Paul’s description of the preaching to and the reception of the Gospel by the Thessalonians.

For you yourselves know, brothers and sisters, that our visit with you was not without result. On the contrary, after we had previously suffered and were treated outrageously in Philippi, as you know, we were emboldened by our God to speak the gospel of God to you in spite of great opposition. For our exhortation didn’t come from error or impurity or an intent to deceive. Instead, just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please people, but rather God, who examines our hearts. For we never used flattering speech, as you know, or had greedy motives—God is our witness— and we didn’t seek glory from people, either from you or from others. 1 Thessalonians 2:1–6 (CSB)

The ideas of difficulty and suffering are foreign to the wolves. The wolves come only to take and never give.

Application

The wolves are everywhere. They dress well and they sound good. They may also look like sheep. But beware the wolves in sheep’s clothing.

Be careful who you listen to. Be careful who you watch. Be careful who you read. Even the most popular Bible teachers and preachers can be wolves in sheep’s clothing. Look at the fruit of their work. Stay connected to the Word. Examine everything you hear, everything you see, everything you read. Run it through the filter of all of God’s Word. Does it fit with what you see in your Bible?

[1] Please take a few moments to listen and read the lyrics to Billy’s latest song, “All the Wolves“. Prepare

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Jesus Wept
Image source: LumoProject

In today’s Bible reading, Jesus’ friends sent word that his friend Lazarus has died. Jesus knows that He will raise his friend from the dead. And yet, when He approaches His friend’s grave, He weeps. (John 11:35)

The Jewish bystanders correctly observe that Jesus could have kept Lazarus from dying in the first place. I’m sure that His Disciples wondered why He didn’t go straight to Bethany when He heard that Lazarus was sick. In John 11:4, Jesus says that Lazarus’ sickness wouldn’t end in death, but would lead to glory being given to God. Obviously, Jesus’ understanding of the situation was far better than ours. And yet, He weeps.

Jesus tells the Disciples that He’s glad that Lazarus has died so that they might believe (John 11:15). And yet, He weeps.

Jesus tells Martha that Lazarus will rise from the dead. (John 11:23) Martha acknowledges that Jesus is the Messiah. (John 11:27) Yet, he weeps.

Regardless of how hopeless the situation looked, Jesus knew that God would work everything out to His glory. And yet Jesus wept.

Application

Believer, regardless of how hopeless your life situation may look, even in your darkest days, God promises to work out everything that He would be glorified, and that you will be more like Jesus. (Romans 8:28-29)

God, the Sovereign Lord, is on His throne. He is never caught off guard. He is never surprized by anything that happens. But even with all of this being true, when it He approached His friend’s grave, Jesus wept.

It’s ok to express emotions. God created you in His image. God has emotions. God expresses His emotions in healthy ways. And you can, too. You should, too.

Jesus didn’t just weep for Himself. He wept with His friends. Friends rejoice with friends who rejoice. And friends weep when friends weep. (Romans 12:15)

And when your friends go through dark days, God, the Sovereign Lord, is still on His throne. He is never caught off guard. He is never surprized by anything that happens. As your friends weep, be like Jesus and weep with them.

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Image source: LumoProject

In today’s Bible reading, John tells us about Jesus’ encounter with a man who was born blind. The Jewish leaders asked Jesus about the source of his blindness. Was it his sin or his parents’ sin?

Evidently, these First Century Jewish leaders believed there was a connection between sin and physical ailments. They were partially right. The fact than anyone has any type of physical or mental ailment is ultimately due to the Fall of mankind. One decision in Genesis 3 affected not only the spiritual condition, but also the physical and mental condition of every descendent of Adam and Eve. But the Jewish leaders went too far in believing there was a direct link between this man’s blindness and someone’s sin. Jesus said neither was the source. Instead, He says this man was blind to show the works of God. (John 9:3)

The First Century Jewish leaders aren’t the only ones who try to draw a direct link between sin and illness. Can there be a link between sin and illness? Absolutely! Is there always a direct link? No. And Scripture does not state or imply otherwise. But James tells us that if someone is not well, he/she should pray for healing and deal with whatever sin(s) that may be related to the illness. (James 5:16) And when Paul and Dr. Luke were shipwrecked on the island of Malta, people brought their sick to these two men. Dr. Luke points out (very clearly in Greek) that at least one of the people was healed and others were cured. (Acts 28:8-9)

Application

So why are some people born with physical or mental disabilities? Again, ultimately, this goes back to the decision made by Adam and Eve in the Garden. How could God cause/allow sickness and disease? If God is all-good, all-powerful, and all-loving, why doesn’t He prevent sickness and disease?

That’s a great question! And to answer it, we must define “all-good”, “all-powerful” and “all-loving” to include “not-always-understandable”. I don’t know why. And the Bible doesn’t tell me why. Nor does it need to. Some things about God are just beyond my comprehension. And God doesn’t owe me explanations for whatever He does. He’s God and I’m not! Sometimes, I just have to trust that He knows what He’s doing and that at some point — on this side, or on the other side of eternity — every Believer will be completely healed.

That trust is called “Faith”. And sometimes, I just have to say, “I believe. Help my unbelief.” (Acts 28:7)

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