Eternity in the (extended) Family

In follow on from writing about what my bosses are doing through Operation Christmas Child, I heard another story this week of love in action. I had one of those “Aha! Yes, that’s it!” moments when hearing the story, seeing how easy it is to make a very big difference in the life of another. It is too inspiring not to share with you.

A friend of my mother’s told of how she gives to those she comes across who are in need. Her son is a skater and is often found down at the local skate park. There he has met a range of people and a few of them are in great need. My mother’s friend heard some of the boys’ stories through her son. One of the regular skaters has one parent in prison and the other is an alcoholic; he is alone in the world.

It is easy to hear such stories and say “what a shame” or “that poor boy”. Not this lady! She was moved to action.

“Is not this the fast that I choose:  . . . Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?” (Isaiah 58:6-7)

Clothe the poor

The boy, who is without parent figures in his life to mentor him, has now been taken shopping by her on several occasions where she bought him new shoes, clothes and food. She also occasionally has him over to stay the night. Through these small actions he is learning of the love, protection and care that a parent ought to give.

He said also to the man who had invited him, “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” (Luke 14:12-14)

Banquet

What a wonderful example of practically loving those in need and offering a mother’s love to one without. This example is such a small act of kindness, yet it will have a lasting impact on that young man’s life.

We run into young people who are in need every day. It is not only orphans who are without ‘parents’. Can you stop to help one of them?

You shall not mistreat any widow or fatherless child. (Exodus 22:22)

Older women likewise are to be … They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women … Likewise, urge the younger men … (Titus 2:3-6)

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Sphere of Communication: 3 of 3

In the third and final part on the Sphere of Communication, I’d like us to consider freedom of speech and open communication.

3)      Freedom of speech; Freedom of choice

Most of us speak out of our convictions and this can lead us into passionate discussion when talking on a subject close to our heart, or when we discover someone holds a different point of view. We see in Scripture that we need to remember that God has given us all the freedom of both speech and choice

Jesus, the greatest communicator, never silenced anybody in the public forum. The only thing He silenced was demons, and they were telling the truth (about Him being the Son of God before Jesus wanted this revealed). God gave us the choice right back in Genesis 1 & 2 (shouldn’t eat from the tree, but can choose to disobey) and He never took this freedom of choice away. Jesus presented the truth, but His listeners chose what they believed.

We must also remember that truth is most powerful in a free forum. This should be reflected with economic and governmental freedom within nations. A government limiting this is an attempt to limit people’s rights to think and to learn and to form their own opinions. We have the choice to believe or not to believe.

In summary, communication should be:

  • Truthful
  • Life giving
  • Followed by/ reflected in action
  • Freely allowed
  • Unbiased and factual

Application: give people the right information so that they can make the choice; tell the truth so that people can decide. Don’t try to control people or twist the story so that people will believe what you want them to. Do not manipulate people and their thinking.

We share the Gospel by how we live in every area of society. Communicating the Gospel is not just about sharing the message of salvation; we share the Gospel by how we live.

 

 

Sphere of Communication: 2 of 3

In the first blog on communication we looked at how our words have power to build up and tear down; that they can bring life and communicate righteousness or cause hurt and pain. In the second part, we are going to look at how our actions and words fit together.

2)      Connecting words and actions

We see that it is important that our words are followed by action:

If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? (James 2:15-16)

And that words and actions are connected:

The mouth of the righteous utters wisdom, and his tongue speaks justice. The law of his God is in his heart; his steps do not slip. (Psalms 37:30-31)

In light of this, we are warned against making promises that we cannot keep. Rather than making promises, we should say we can or can’t and then be sure to follow through according to our word:

But above all, my brothers, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your “yes” be yes and your “no” be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation. (James 5:12)

Paul talks in Colossians about partnering loving action with gracious speech in evangelism – that we are to be gracious and not judgemental or hard – and that we are called to spread the Good News that we have heard (communicate it, not keep it to ourselves):

At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison—that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak. Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person. (Colossians 4:2-6)

Application:

Is there something that you’ve said you would do and have not yet done? Maybe it was to mow the lawn or visit a friend with limited access to transport. Take a moment to write this in to your weekly planner.

Is there a promise you made rashly and did not live out? Can you get in touch with the person this week and apologise for your hasty vow?

Sphere of Communication; 1 of 3

This is a sphere that holds particular interest for me! One of the main reasons that drove me to complete the School of Biblical Studies in 2009 was that I wanted to know what was in the Word so that I could be more confident that I was conveying God’s truth through my writing.

I am sure that most of us would agree that our words reveal our much about our thoughts, and that our words are important. I think many Christians would also believe that our communication should convey truth. But what else can we glean from Scripture about communication? Quite a lot! Here’s a start:

What gems can be found in Scripture about how should we go about communication?

Note: Remember as we go that the sphere of communication is like that of arts and entertainment; it is weaved throughout Scripture rather than having passages where it can be seen to hold centre-stage.

1)      The Power of Words

Right from the start, we can see that words have power; God created the world through the power of His Word:

  • And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. (Genesis 1:3)
  • And God said, “Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.” (Genesis 1:6)
  • And God said, “Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.” And it was so. (Genesis 1:9)

We have seen above that God’s words have power and that they can create, but what about ours? A great deal is said in the Bible about the tongue and how powerful our words can be. We see that the communication can be used to build up, or to break down, and that we are called to speak words of life:

So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. (James 3:5-10)

Proverbs, of course, speaks a great deal of the tongue and is a great place to start a study in to the power of words:

  • The tongue of the righteous is choice silver; the heart of the wicked is of little worth. (Prov 10:20)
  • The mouth of the righteous brings forth wisdom, but the perverse tongue will be cut off. (Prov 10:31)
  • There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing. (Prov 12:18)
  • Truthful lips endure forever, but a lying tongue is but for a moment. (Prov 12:19)
  • The tongue of the wise commends knowledge, but the mouths of fools pour out folly. (Prov 15:2)
  • A gentle tongue is a tree of life, but perverseness in it breaks the spirit. (Prov 15:4)

Application:

In what situation do you find it hard to speak, write, or otherwise communicate in love? With what person or people do you find it hard to speak words of life and encouragement? Who do you find difficult to build up?

Now for the hard part, what is one small step that you can take to modify your communication with them? How will you actively reign in your tongue? Perhaps you need to think of something you appreciate in them and keep this in mind as you talk. Or maybe you can spend some time considering their strengths and then share them one by one with the person over the course of a week.

Arts & Entertainment – Spheres

God might not be the first thing that comes to our mind when we hear the words “arts and entertainment”. I think of movie premiers, art galleries, symphonies and plays. However, we must acknowledge that all of our artistic expression comes from who God is. We see this right from the start of Scripture when we see the Creator at work.

Genesis 1 & 2 reveals that there was more to the world than functionality. There was beauty in creation. There was colour, sounds, sensations. Consider the “disciplines of aesthetics”: colour, form, rhythm, harmony . . . God led the way; He is the Master Artist; He is the Creator; He is the One that brought beauty and aesthetics into the world.

There are no specific passages in Scripture, which are might seem to be taking centre-stage; rather, art is weaved throughout Scripture. The first mention of an artist comes only four chapters in; Genesis 4:21 tells us of Jubal, who was the father of all who play the harp and flute. This man is given credit for creating these instruments; God gave man the ability to co-create with Him!

In Ex 35:30-36:5 we also see that God blesses individuals with special skills in art and creativity as their call – as their purpose! God blessed them to work in this sphere; it was their occupation and it was very important to the Lord. Let’s have a look at what we can see for arts and entertainment from this passage:

Ex 35:31-32 and he has filled him with the Spirit of God, with skill, with intelligence, with knowledge, and with all craftsmanship, to devise artistic designs . . . Ex 36:5 . . . “The people bring much more than enough for doing the work that the LORD has commanded us to do.”

  • God wants to see quality in this area
  • They had already begun to develop these skills and been working at it; God honoured those who had been developing their artistic talents
  • God gave them the ability to teach their skill, passing it on to others
  • Anyone stirred to do this work could come and be a part of it
  • It is in His will that we have talents
  • God anoints people with skills of creativity and craftsmanship
  • Application to the broader sphere – architecture, engineering, building, interior design, used in therapy etc are also included in this sphere

Another example of art in Scripture is when we see it used as a therapeutic tool. When David is still young and serving King Saul, he would play his harp for the king to sooth his spirit (2 Samuel 16:23); David didn’t tell Saul to get a grip and get over it. Art has the ability to by-pass our brains; it can help us to relax and it can sooth our spirits. An example of this today is the use of dance and art in therapy for those who have gone through traumatic events; such as the children who were forced to be soldiers of the LRA (Lord’s Resistance Army led by Joseph Kony).

Dance Group Uganda_Asanti Africa

The Parable of the talents

This parable tells us to be faithful with what we have been given. We are not to hide our talents away but work at increasing them and improving them. This leads us to ask: what do we do with what God gives to us? God blesses each of us with different strengths, gifting and abilities. But there is also a need for us to steward what we have been given; this comes down to the day by day work and effort of fine tuning our gifts.

Here are some questions for you to think through:

  • Do we value beauty?
  • Do we make our work spaces look good?
  • Do we show good stewardship of our homes, keeping it maintained? Do we reflect God in the beauty of our homes?
  • Do we value the sportsperson who trains faithfully or the pianist who practices for hours to master his trade? We can celebrate someone for their gifts without making them idols or putting them on a platform.
  • Do we celebrate culture?
  • Are we blessing others through art? For example, writing a friend a poem or drawing them an image of something that you see as representing their strengths.

What to look at when studying this sphere in Scripture:

  • Sculpture
  • Sport
  • Cultural dress
  • Cultural dances
  • Incense and smells
  • Beauty
  • Embroidery
  • Pottery
  • Cooking

Summary 

God’s character: God of Beauty and God the Great Artist
God’s main attribute: God’s beauty and extravagance
Purpose: Provides rest, relaxation and celebration
God governs through: laws of aesthetics
God uses: skilled craftsmen

Photo school for missions

Church as a Sphere

It is important to define what we mean by church here before we dig deeper into the church as a sphere. When looking at the institution of church, we are not looking at the church being the people of God/ the body of Christ. We are considering the ministers of the church (the Levites in the Old Testament) and what the church as a corporate body should be involved in (i.e. what is the church’s responsibility versus government responsibility, parental concern, etc).

I’ve set out some questions below with brief answers to get you thinking of some of the questions and topics you might like to consider when looking at what Scripture has to convey about the church.

Question: Who were the Levites?

God initially selected the firstborn males to be dedicated to Him and His service. However, when the people rebelled against God in the wilderness, it was the tribe of Levi that stood with Moses on the Lord’s side.

Exo 32:26 then Moses stood in the gate of the camp and said, “Who is on the LORD’s side? Come to me.” And all the sons of Levi gathered around him.

As a result, God chose them to be devoted to Him.

Num 3:12-13 “Behold, I have taken the Levites from among the people of Israel instead of every firstborn who opens the womb among the people of Israel. The Levites shall be mine, for all the firstborn are mine. On the day that I struck down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, I consecrated for my own all the firstborn in Israel, both of man and of beast. They shall be mine: I am the LORD.”

Question: What was the role of the Levities?

It was the Levites who ministered in the Tabernacle (where God dwelt with man). They were to act as mediators.  The sacrificial system was designed to restore relationship with God. The people did not have direct access to God because of Genesis 3. It was the priests’ responsibility to see that the offerings were made to atone for sin.

They were to be a moral model:

  • They had to lead the people in the ways of God
  • An absolute standard of truth
  • God gives authority or these is none
  • Income from tithes and offerings from the community
  • Deut 26:12-13
  • Inheritance
  • Limited power – politically and economically
  • They were to be advisors to kings and leaders in the area of the Law

If a model of morality isn’t seen through the sphere of church, then what sphere will it be seen in???

However, their duties were not limited to the spiritual life of the community. They also served in a very practical way.

Leviticus 13 & 14 – the Levites were responsible to care for skin diseases, mildew in houses, quarantine in the community etc. They were the health and safety inspectors of Israel!

Question: What are some of the differences in role between church and government?

Electing the government is placed on the people (government by consensus) whereas the Levites were chosen by God.

The authority of the Levities was limited in other areas in order to ensure that they could fulfil their duties. For example, the other tribes inherited land, but the Levites were spread amongst the tribes, got small plots of land and houses. God was to be their inheritance. They also couldn’t then go out to war and had further restrictions placed on who they could marry. However, it was not in God’s intentions for them to be poor! Under the Law, they were well provided for with food and housing, yet this was reliant on the people following His commandments and bringing in His sacrifices.

Deut 26:12-13 “When you have finished paying all the tithe of your produce in the third year, which is the year of tithing, giving it to the Levite, the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, so that they may eat within your towns and be filled, then you shall say before the LORD your God, ‘I have removed the sacred portion out of my house, and moreover, I have given it to the Levite, the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, according to all your commandment that you have commanded me. I have not transgressed any of your commandments, nor have I forgotten them.”

It is interesting that in Deut 26:12-13 that God puts the Levites with the poor, widow and orphan. God makes provision for those who have least in the community. And when people didn’t bring their tithes, the priest, poor, widow, foreigner etc did not eat! God made provision through the tithes and through the sacrifice. If people were living for God, and following the Laws, then there should have been plenty to eat.

God is giving a checks and balance system. If a teacher brings life and a moral teaching then they will be well provided for; there is a responsibility on the community to pay tithes but also for the minister/ vicar to be teaching the word of God and upholding a standard of morality.

Question: How are the spheres of church and family connected?

If there is no mother or father, it was first the responsibility of kin and then the communities’ responsibility to care for orphans. But care was also to come through the local church. The church was to distribute to the orphans and widows.

Application 1: Today, this has application when discussing topics such as adoption and the role of orphanages. For example, is it best for a child to be adopted by a family unit or live in a state-institution; and why?

Application 2: Are we advocating that every child has access to education? Are we advocating that everyone has the right to health care? Are we as churches getting involved in medical outreaches? We often get stuck on ourselves; thinking of me, myself and I. But Biblical thinking looks at the community as a whole.

Summary: 

God’s character: Great High Priest (see the book of Hebrews!!!)
Main attribute of God: Holiness and Forgiveness
God governs: top down
Institutional authority: Levites; Represent God to the people

Church

Education as a Sphere

It is clear through His Word that God is a God of Knowledge. His wisdom surpasses the wisdom of man. And His Spirit is the Ultimate Teacher.

Prov 21:30 No wisdom, no understanding, no counsel can avail against the LORD.

We also see that God can be known, He wants to be known and He has given us minds that can seek out knowledge of Him and His world. God gave man the ability to think and to reason.

1Co 2:12-13 Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.

Prov 23:23 Buy truth, and do not sell it; buy wisdom, instruction, and understanding.

Scripture

And of course, the Bible remains the ultimate authority. Scripture educates us in the ways of the Lord; it teaches us how to live life with one another and as He would have us live. There are Scriptures that command us to store up knowledge and wisdom and to seek understanding. The Word calls us again and again to seek His ways and live according to His statutes.

Ps 119:2-5 Blessed are those who keep his testimonies, who seek him with their whole heart, who also do no wrong, but walk in his ways! You have commanded your precepts to be kept diligently. Oh that my ways may be steadfast in keeping your statutes!

We as a church need to teach people how to think, analyse, process etc. It should not be what you know but rather show people how to know and how to learn. Christ was our greatest example of this. A difference between Him and the Pharisees was that whilst they could quote the law, Christ could explain it, apply it and live it. Can we explain Scripture at a deeper level or can we only quote it or ramble of Christian-ese jargon?

Education of Children

In Scripture, we see that the home is where education is to start. God gave the authority to parents to teach their children. Parent involvement is crucial! We should help children integrate knowledge of God with knowledge of the world. We do not see in Scripture a call to governments to be the one spear heading education and whilst we see the church playing a role in education, the primary responsibility is placed on parents. This means that parents (and families) need to know what theur children are learning. They need to see that their children are raised up in the ways of the Lord; they also need to be aware of what their children are being taught at schools and what they are learning from friends.

Summary 

Reveals: God as Teacher
Primary attribute of God: Knowledge and wisdom
God governs: The laws of human nature and the authority of God’s truth
Key Scripture: whole Bible

 Seek learning