Prosper and refresh

Proverbs 11:25 NLT – The generous will prosper; those who refresh others will themselves be refreshed.

As the end of the year is fast approaching and many people are feeling tired and needing a break, the above verse can help. It promises us two wonderful things…

1. The generous WILL prosper

2. The refreshers WILL be refreshed

This simple verse with two great promises encourage me to press on towards God and the things He wants me to do.

Prayer

Dear God, the end of the year is nearly here and I have been doing my best to serve You each day. I pray that as I am generous and helping others that You will refresh and prosper me. Amen

Five ways to be a living sacrifice

Bible Reading: Romans 12:1-13, 1 Corinthians 12:4-8

The title of my message today is “Five ways to be a living sacrifice”. For my devotions this past week or so I have been working my way through Romans 12. As I did this Romans 12:1 has really stuck in my mind.

Romans 12:1 NLT says, “And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him”.

In this verse Paul urges us as believers to follow Jesus example in being a sacrifice, but rather die for sin, we die to ourselves and offer ourselves to God. Paul encourages us to be living sacrifices. To give our lives for God’s service. He says that this is an acceptable sacrifice to God and the way we truly worship Him. It is a right response to the actions of a loving God.

But how do we go about being a living sacrifice? What are some of the things it entails? If we read through the rest of chapter Romans 12 Paul gives us a few clues. Today I just want to touch on some of the things that jumped out at me as I meditated on this chapter.

1. Renew our mind

Verse 2 says, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Renewing your mind. This is a vital first step if we are wanting to live a life in God’s service and be a living sacrifice. We need to line our hearts and minds up with God’s thinking.

How do we do this? The primary way is by prayerfully reading, reflecting and meditating on the Bible. As we do this we allow God’s Spirit and God’s Word to enter our minds and sink deep into our hearts. The result of this if we do it diligently over a period of time, it changes our hearts to our minds forever. The result of this is “Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.”

I find that as the years go by and my mind is renewed more and more, the things of God become easier and more natural to do. It is easier to love others, it is easier to serve others and it is easier to live by Kingdom standards.

In many ways our minds are like the gearboxes of our lives. If our minds are renewed, it is easier to put them in D for drive and go forward in Christ and His will for our lives. If they are not renewed we might be in Park, Neutral or even Reverse. Those who drive an automatic will know that if you are in drive, you only have to take your foot off the brake and you start moving forward.

As I said I will unpack renewing our minds in a deeper way in a future sermon. But today I just want to make the first point that a key to being a living sacrifice is to renew our minds.

2. Use our gifts well

Verses 6-8 – “We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; 7 if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; 8 if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.”

Paul tells us to use whatever gift God has given us to the best of our abilities. If it is to prophesy, teach, serve, give, show kindness or encourage we should do the best job we can.

In 1 Corinthians 12:4-6 Paul also says, “4 There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. 5 There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. 6 There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.”

And in 1 Peter 4:10 Peter reminds us to, “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.

Using our gifts well is a key part of being a living sacrifice for God. This is sometimes where the sacrifice part comes in. There is work is finding, recognising and developing your gifts. I may be an encourager but we have to work at it. My loner tendencies needed to be overcome so I could be where people were who needed encouragement. I was told I had a gift of teaching, but I had to work to develop my gift with diligent study. I also had to get over my paralysing fear of public speaking. It can be hard and a sacrifice, but there is no greater and more peaceful place to be than being right in the middle God’s will using God’s gifts for the good of others. I wouldn’t be standing here today if I didn’t work hard to develop my gifts.

3. Really love each other

Verses 9-10 – “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honour one another above yourselves”.

Both the NIV and the NLT say this well, but I love the way the NLT puts it “Don’t just pretend that you love others. Really love them”. That is straight to the point!

I remember when our girls were young we put this verse on the fridge. We then had a list of ways we could show we really love someone. It said things like…

  •     Pray for them
  •     Do nice things for them
  •     Share things with others
  •     Listen to them
  •     Speak nicely to them
  •     Give them a hug
  •     Give them a present
  •     One even said by giving them chocolate!

Kids have a way of putting things simply. I have never forgotten these things. They showed me that we love others in practical ways, by helping when they are in need. This is sometimes a sacrifice. But it is well worth it. Because it means we are living out this life that Jesus calls us to live and being a light unto the world around us.

There are a number of other places in the New Testament that talks about the importance of loving one another.

1 John 4:7 – Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.

1 John 4:11 – Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.

John 13:34-35 – “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

These verses remind us that we are commanded to love one another, that those who love are born of God, that since God loves us we should love one another and by our love for one another people we know we are Jesus’ disciples. My heart is to be known as a disciple of Jesus, so I need to love others.

4. Live in harmony with each other

Verses 14-18 – “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. 17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.

In the next section Paul urges us to live at peace with everyone. The NIV says to live at peace with everyone as much as it depends on you.

I remember years ago I worked with a lady who just didn’t like me. No matter what I did or said she just would not warm up to me. She would even go out of her way to make sure I did not receive favourable treatment at work. One day I read these verses and it reminded me that no matter how she treats me I had to live at peace with her. So I prayed and asked God to help me work with her and to ask if there was ways I could bless her. In time I emailed her and apologised if I had offended her without knowing. As a result, we were able to talk and the problem was sorted. We had a good working relationship and were able to talk and we did not a barrier between us.

It really brought home to me that we should try to love and serve others even if they persecute us as Christians. God makes it very clear it is not our place to curse or take revenge. That is a big sacrifice at times and is contrary to a worldly way of thinking.

If you want to be a living sacrifice, you need to live at peace with everyone as much as it depends on you.

5. Conquer evil with good

Verse 21 – “Don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil by doing good”

Paul finally finishes this section with a plea to not let evil overcome us, but we need to press on and overcome evil with good deeds. I remember years ago I was heavily involved in community outreach with our church in Perth. We would go door to door giving away Jesus videos. We were on fire and we wanted to take on the world. Then along came September 11. It is when I let evil overcome me. I was horrified at the evil people could do to each other. It really knocked me and I found it hard to go out every Saturday. I knew there was evil in the world, but somehow it brought it home to me. It took me a few months to get back on tract.

Verse 21 was one of the things that helped me get back on tract. God commands us to conquer evil by doing good.

Edmund Burke once said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing”. I think Princess Di used that in one of her famous speeches too.

It can be a sacrifice to have an overcoming attitude. But if we keep moving forward and serving God by serving others the Bible promises we will reap a harvest at the right time. It tells us this is Galatians 6:9.

Conclusion

As we can see from these things being a living sacrifice is about:

  1.     Renewing our minds to line up with Kingdom thinking
  2.     Using our gifts well
  3.     Living at peace with those around us.
  4.     Really loving and serving others.
  5.     Conquer the evil things that take place in this world by doing good.

And while we do these things we are to keep our hope, be patient when things are going wrong and keep praying faithfully.

Let’s pray

Serving one another

I really enjoyed this from today’s Our Daily Bread devotional…

Bible Reading: Acts 2:42-47

Marie, a single working mom, rarely missed church or Bible study. Each week, she rode the bus to and from church with her five children and helped with set up and clean up.

One Sunday, the pastor told Marie that some church members had donated gifts for the family. One couple provided the family a house with reduced rent. Another couple offered her a job with benefits at their coffee shop. A young man gave her an old car he’d rebuilt and promised to serve as her personal mechanic. Marie thanked God for the joy of living in a community devoted to serving God and each other.

Though we may not all be able to give as generously as Marie’s church family, God’s people are designed to help each other. The gospel writer Luke described believers in Jesus as “devoted” to the “apostles’ teaching and to fellowship” (Acts 2:42). When we combine our resources, we can work together to help those in need like the first believers in Jesus did (vv. 44–45). As we grow closer to God and each other, we can care for one another. Witnessing God’s love demonstrated through His people’s actions can lead others to a saving relationship with Jesus (vv. 46–47).

We can serve others with a smile or a kind deed. We can offer a financial gift or a prayer. As God works in and through us, we’re simply better together.

Prayer

Loving Father, please help me see those in need and serve You by serving others. Amen.

Faith and Endurance

This week I want to take my sermon from the first heading at the start of the Book of James. For most of our translations the heading says something like, “Faith and Endurance”.

And before I start, I have to say that James is one of my favourite books of the Bible. I became a Christian in July of 1989. I went to a Baptist church with some friends from work. They invited me to a Bible study at their house. They said we are starting a new study on the book of James. A year later I felt God wanted me to find a more local church to where I lived. So I went to my local Church of Christ. I got invited to a Bible study during the week, they were starting a new study on the book of James. I went to that church for about 5 years and then I met Larissa. We then looked for a church we both could attend. When we found one and when we were attending regularly, I got invited to a Bible study. Guess what…it was a new study on the book of James. It seems God had some practical things for me to learn on how to live as a Christian.

So you could say I am reasonably well versed on the book of James.

Points for today

Today I have three main points I want to bring out.

1. James tells us that we should be joyful when struggles come our way.

Verse 2 says, “Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy.”

This verse really got my attention when I sat in that first Bible study all those years ago. I remember hearing, “When bad stuff happens, I should be joyful”. I sat there and quietly thought this is crazy. Only a crazy person would be joyful in tough times.

But as I sat there and listened to the rest of the study I soon realised that the next verses gave that context. Verses 3 and 4 say, “For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. 4 So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing”.

James was saying that faith that is tested, grows. And faith that grows comes to maturity. And when we are mature, we lack nothing as it says in verse 4.

James who wrote this book knew what it was to face trials. He saw His half-brother Jesus die on the cross. He was there for the early persecution of the church. History tells us that James, like the Apostle Paul and Apostle Peter were all martyred for their faith.

The thing I find interesting about James is how he started his book. Of all the themes he talks about, he chose to touch on trials and temptations first. It is almost like he is saying that if want a live a life that really makes an impact for the Kingdom, you can expect trials and temptations to be part of your journey. After all in verse 2 he says, “When trials come your way”, …not if they come your way!

Sometimes in this life, God allows trials to come our way. This is not because He is a mean God. It is because He loves us and He wants us to grow and mature. As I have said before, “God loves us the way we are. But He loves us too much to leave us that way”.

Oswald Chambers in My Utmost for His Highest put it this way. “Saints [believers] are like a bow and arrow in the hands of an archer. God is aiming at something the saint cannot see, but our Lord continues to stretch and strain, and every once in a while the saint says, “I can’t take any more.” Yet God pays no attention; He goes on stretching until His purpose is in sight, and then He lets the arrow fly.”

The arrow can’t fly as far, if the bow is not pulled back far enough. So trials are necessary for our growth and for God’s purposes in us to be fulfilled.

So years on from that initial Bible study, and being a little bit more mature, I can see what James means when he says, “consider it pure joy when trials come your way”.

2. James tells us that if you need wisdom ask God

James 1: 5 says, “If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and He will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking”.

Who knows that when we go through trials we need wisdom? Wisdom from God is so vital when we are going through trials.

When I was a new Christian and bad things happened, I would throw my hands up in the air and whinge at God. I would say things like “How could You let this happen?” or “Why have You left me alone?” or “Are You really there God?”. Over time my questions changed as I matured. I said things like, “Where are You in the midst of this Lord?” or “What are You trying to teach me Lord?”. Rather than whinge at God I prayerfully proclaimed His faithfulness and all the times He had helped me in the past. And how I knew this trial would not last forever. I would see things through the lens of eternity, not just the here and now. I believe this is a more mature way of looking at things.

Wisdom as we know is so much more than knowledge. Knowledge means we know stuff. Having wisdom means we know what to do with the knowledge we have. It is about making right decisions at the right time.

James tells us ask God if we lack wisdom. He tells us to ask the One who knows the beginning from the end. He tells us to ask the One who is all powerful and all knowing. He tells us to ask the One to where our help comes from, the maker of heaven and earth. If you need wisdom, you just need to ask God.

James also warns us in this section to make sure we look to God alone. Verses 6-8 remind us that, “6 But when you ask Him, be sure that your faith is in God alone. Do not waver, for a person with divided loyalty is as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is blown and tossed by the wind. 7 Such people should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. 8 Their loyalty is divided between God and the world, and they are unstable in everything they do.”

James is saying we can’t look to God for wisdom or guidance about the future and then look to the world for answers. We can’t ask for wisdom and then go to a psychic or read our horoscope. We need to look to God and wait on Him for answers. Our loyalties can’t be divided. We have to stay the course. We have to believe God will answer our prayer for wisdom and in time He will guide us in what to do. Proverbs 3:5-6 tells us to look to God and lean not on our own understanding, and He will show us which path to take.

If you need wisdom in your current trial, seek God and ask for wisdom. He will give it.

3. James tells us that God promises to bless us in our trials

Verse 12 says, “God blesses those who patiently endure testing and temptation. Afterwards they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love Him”.

All of us here could probably stand up and tell us of a trial they are going through or have been through. Health issues, family issues, problems at work, financial issues, legal issues, or issues with other people. None of us are immune. We live in a fallen world that is effected by sin. As hard as it is when we are going through it, if we walk through it with God, we are not alone. And if we walk through our trials with God, we grow our faith through them. On the other side of the melting pot of the trial, we are made mature. We have a deeper faith and trust in God and we are better able to handles the stresses of life. We lack nothing as James tells us.

Those of you who know me well, know that I am into keeping fit. Fitness is one of those things you have to work at consistently and if you want to improve you have to put the work in. I have been doing weights since I was 18. I started with light weights to strengthen my body that was ravaged by Rheumatoid Arthritis. When I started I could lift a 3kg dumbbell for some exercises. Over the years I have gradually got stronger and I now do the same exercise with 20kg. I couldn’t do squats at first and now I squat over 100kg. I couldn’t do dead-lifts, but now I dead-lift over 100kg. To do this I have had to work hard and be consistent to build strength, build fitness and build my body.

It is the same with building our faith and trust in God. We read our Bibles, pray and come to church to encourage each other. That helps our spiritual muscles to grow. But we need something extra to really build our maturity, we need trials and the blessing that comes from going through them. We need to archer to stretch the bow.

Would I want to go through the things I have been through in my life again? No way. But I am glad I have been through them. Because I have a depth of relationship with God, the blessings He has given me and an unshakeable trust in Him, I would not have know if I didn’t go through my trials.

If you are going through some sort of trial at the moment, I would encourage you to look to God. Look for His strength to help you through. Look to His wisdom to let you know what to do next. Look to the future with hope knowing that once you are through this, your level of faith and trust in Him will be greater than you have ever known. You will know a level of maturity that only comes through walking through the valleys of life. This to me is one of the great promised blessings God gives us in this life.

Stand firm, stay the course. God promises that blessing is coming. And a crown of life as it says in verse 12.

Some words from Paul…

2 Corinthians 4:8-11 – We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. 9 We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed. 10 Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies. 11 Yes, we live under constant danger of death because we serve Jesus, so that the life of Jesus will be evident in our dying bodies…

16 That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. 17 For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! 18 So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.

Closing

Today we have looked at the first part of the book of James. My hope and prayer is that you have been encouraged. I hope that if you are going through a trial at the moment, or when the next one comes, that you will remember these three points.

1. James tells us that we should be joyful when struggles come our way – because it a chance for growth.

2. James tells us to ask God if we need wisdom – He will give it to us.

3. James tells us that God will bless us if we endure through trials – we will grow and receive a crown of life.

Amen