Photography is my hobby and I pray that I honour God with the gifting He has graciously given me. If you have ever visited my photography web site you will see several hundred photographs that still give me great pleasure to look at.
Only those who take photography seriously might know that every picture has been through an enhancement programme that is designed to bring out the very best in it.
The software programmes (such as Aperture or Photoshop) can have up to twenty five horizontal sliders, all of which alter the photograph in certain ways.
If the fields and the trees are not green enough I might gently slide the 'saturation' slider a little to the right.
If the photograph is too bright I might slide the 'brightness' slider a little to the left.
If I move any slider too far to the right, or too far to the left the picture quickly becomes unbalanced and does not reveal the finished image that I have in mind.
So it is with teaching Kingdom truth. There are many sliders. The love of God. The reverential fear of God. Repentance. Grace. Mercy. Holiness. Humility. Holy boldness. Commandments. Obedience. Service. Blessings. Judgement. Heaven. Hell. etc. and the Master's hand alone knows when to nudge the slider a little to the left or the right to produce the well balanced image that would reveal the image of Christ in us.
We have all met Christians who are clearly 'out of balance' The world certainly has and is quick to 'tar us all with the same brush'!
Teachers are human however and prone to well meaning errors of judgement. Yet, because of the influence we weald, we must never forget the warning in scripture.
My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment. James 3:1
Those called to teach must be aware that if we only use one or two sliders such as grace and mercy, we tell the truth, yet we avoid developing the whole image as God might desire.
If we only used one or two sliders such as judgement and hell we would be telling the truth yet we would not be developing the whole image as God would desire.
And worse, if we push any one slider too far to the left, or too far to the right, and keep it there, then although we would be using a truthful slider it would distort the image almost beyond recognition.
I hope that this example will become more useful as you read further into this editorial.
The word gospel means 'good news'. We are saved by grace. We are sustained by grace. The promises of God are yes and amen in Christ Jesus. God loves us. God is good.
This, and much more, is truth, truth, truth. We are truly blessed above all the peoples on the earth.
However, as we mature, and begin to understand the depth and the breadth of the love that our Heavenly Father has for us, the call of God has always been for our focus to be, not on ourselves, but on others. Especially those who struggle.
“ Is this not the fast that I have chosen:
To loose the bonds of wickedness,
To undo the heavy burdens,
To let the oppressed go free,
And that you break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
And that you bring to your house the poor who are cast out;
When you see the naked, that you cover him,
And not hide yourself from your own flesh? Isaiah 58:6 -7
Thus the call that God, through Christ, presents us with, is unmistakably one that invites us to die to self, and thus to self interest, and to follow Christ and to live for Christ.
“If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple. And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.Luke 14: 26-27
Listen afresh to Jesus speaking about being blessed and being repaid. Listen to the Father speaking to us through Him.
“When you give a dinner or a supper, do not ask your friends, your brothers, your relatives, nor rich neighbors, lest they also invite you back, and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you; for you shall be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” Luke 14: 12-14 emphasis mine)
Our spirit understands the beauty of this truth, but our flesh will always, always, resist the call to sacrificial Kingdom life.
You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. Matthew 5:38-39
If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also. And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away. Matthew 5: 40-42
The apostle Paul had to remind the church that the call is to lay our lives on the altar as living sacrifices.
I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God. Romans 12:1-2
The cost to self is so real that Jesus told us to weigh up the cost before setting out on the call to follow Him.
For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it - lest, after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish’? Luke 14: 28-30
We can have Christ interest, or self interest, but not both. God or mammon.
One must live, and one must die.
The apostle Paul wrote.
I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. Galatians 2:20a
And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Galatians 5:24
Once a trembling but obedient heart is firmly set to heed the Kingdom call it quickly becomes apparent that only by His grace can we make any headway along this narrow road that leads to life, because our spirit and flesh will oppose each other every step of the way.
For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish. Galatians 5:17
Through a will set to obedience and the accompanying grace of God we continually put the old man off and put the new man on. We seek to live by the Spirit and not be controlled by the demands and desires of the flesh. We are loved and so can love. We believe our Heavenly Father knows what we have need of, and so we are free to earnestly seek His Kingdom and His righteousness. Our thinking no longer conforms to the broad road that represents the world's thinking. Indeed we and the world's ways are no longer friends, because that would be enmity with God.
It is death, on a daily basis, but it is a death that leads to life. And life in abundance.
He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it. Matthew 10:39
And there, as we lose our life for Christ, are the showers of Kingdom blessings. Blessings that the world neither understands nor wants.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
For theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn,
For they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek,
For they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
For they shall be filled. Blessed are the merciful,
For they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart,
For they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers,
For they shall be called sons of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake,
For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you". Matthew 5:3-11(emphasis mine)
"Blessed is that servant whom his master, when he comes, will find so doing". Matthew 24:46 (emphasis mine)
"..blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” Luke 11:28 (emphasis mine)
‘.. "It is more blessed to give than to receive."’ Acts 20:35(emphasis mine)
Amongst Jesus's last words on earth to His disciples was the command to go into all the world and make disciples, teaching them to obey all that He had commanded them to obey.
“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you.." Matthew 28:18-20
Then came His promise linked to that command,
"..and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
The early church knew this call of God and turned the world upside down. They counted the cost and often paid a heavy price for doing so. Gladly, as an honour.
Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. 2 Corinthians 12:10
Most of us, if not all of us, fall well short of all of the above, and we quickly realise that without the leading and the power of the Holy Spirit we can do nothing. But it is clear that it should be the direction we are facing and pressing into. The upward call of God in Christ.
Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3:12-14
However, the teaching that I increasingly hear and read more of is 'come to Jesus and be blessed blessed blessed blessed'. What you name and claim, you get as your Kingdom right.
"God loves you and has a plan for your life, and He wants to prosper you and bless you in every possible way"
This is a truth 'slider' and popular because we all want to be loved, blessed and provided for. But when this slider is pushed way off to the right and left there, or not balanced out with the dying to self 'slider' then a wrong image develops.
When we do not teach that God's plan to prosper and bless our life is that we die daily to self and live for Christ, considering others better than ourselves, giving rather than receiving, working with the lost, the unlovable, the outcast, forsaking the ways of the world, trusting Christ, following Christ, serving Christ, being a living letter from Christ, then we do not teach the whole counsel of God.
And we end up with a weak, carnal, self centred, sin ridden church that the world does not even have a sneaking regard for.
Opinions might be divided in certain areas about Mother Theresa, but I understand that there were occasions when she walked into a room full of dignitaries who wished to honour her with an award, and many would weep without even knowing fully why they were weeping.
What I call 'the gospel of me' is - for obvious reasons - a very popular teaching.
Here is a sample. Not a sample from an unknown preacher of little influence, but from arguably one of the most dynamic and gifted preachers on the world circuit today. Hence its significance.
Suppose you have just heard of someone whose financial debts have been miraculously cleared. Or your elated friend has just told you that despite being an average student in school, he scored straight As in all his subjects. Perhaps on Sunday, you heard a couple share about how they had become proud owners of a condominium which was the grand prize in a supermarket lucky draw, or how a once-childless couple is now expecting their miracle child.
When you see or hear of others being blessed, do you ever wonder when it will be your turn? Or do you even find yourself saying, “Oh, he got blessed with the very thing that I have been praying for. There goes my blessing.”
Now, just because man’s economy operates on the principle of shortage, it does not mean that God operates in the same manner. So the next time somebody gets blessed, tell yourself, “I won’t be disheartened. I won’t be jealous. I am the next one to be blessed!”
Always remember that God does not have to bless anyone at your expense. Nor does He have to bless you at anyone’s expense. We don’t have to be jealous of each other. There is a portion that God gives to you which no man can touch because it has your name on it — “A man can receive nothing unless it has been given to him from heaven”. (John 3:27)
Our God is a rich God. He owns the whole universe. He has contacts and blessings you do not know of and which are reserved just for you! There is more than enough for everybody with plenty of leftovers. In fact, you will not be able to take it all because when the blessings start coming in, they will come in a net-breaking, boat-sinking style. You will have to call for your friends in the other boats to come and help you! (Luke 5:1–7) That is the kind of blessings that our God gives. So get ready for your blessings and overflowing abundance!
I get no sensing of this tone of preaching as I read the Gospel or the epistles to the early church. To the best of my understanding the early church fathers did not take this line of Kingdom teaching.
Below this internet teaching the response of the followers was probably predictable. Here is a sample exactly as written.
yes lord i am ready to receive your blessing thank you lord AMEN
Thank you Lord Jesus! I am thankful for all that you are giving me. Now I am next to receive the red SUV from you. Thank you very much.
Amen!!! We are next!!! We claim it in Jesus Name!!
I claim it, hallelujah...
I AM NEXT.. !
I'm believing for that for myself and my family, Amen!!! After all the bible says, that we are the head and not the tail; the we are the lenders and not the borrowers; that we are above only and not beneath!!! Thank you Father GOD that You are giving us houses we didn't build, wells we didn't dig, and vineyards we didn't plant. Amen.
Amen! Its MY turn!
YES, INDEED, I AM NEXT. NEXT IN LINE, FOR SIGNS AND WONDERS, NEXT IN LINE FOR A MIRACULOUS OUTPOURING OF WEALTH AND UNLIMITED PROSPERITY FROM THE BENEVOLENT LORD GOD, IN THE MIGHTY NAME OF JESUS CHRIST, OUR LORD, AMEN !!!
My God is an AWESOME GOD! My wife and I came into agreement with someone at our church last week over an area of our finances. Thirty minutes after we got home someone called blessed us with $1200. This morning we went to church and a man came to me with a Christmas card with a check for $500. My GOD IS AN AWESOME GOD !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!GLORY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Sow your seed today! You cannot out give GOD!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Can you see the flesh rising to this teaching? Do you sense that a slider has been pushed too far to the right and that the wrong image is being developed amongst believers?
Yes scripture does speak much on riches.
Try this with the New Testament. Type the word 'riches' into your online Bible or Bible app and see the long list of results. Material riches do not get a good showing, but the many and varied spiritual riches in Christ do get a great showing. Examples,
..the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and he becomes unfruitful. Matthew 13:22
“How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God!” Mark 10:23
..the riches of His glory Romans 9:23
..the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! Romans 11:33
Likewise 'treasures' Check it out. Material treasures gets a poor showing but spiritual treasures gets many and varied promises. Examples,
Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth.. Matthew 6:19
..the kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field.. Matthew 13:44
Try 'gold' same results.
As God's beloved children we are spiritual millionaires in Christ - whether we live in the USA or Ethiopia.
..the eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, Ephesians 1:18
Ron Hutchcraft in his article called 'Escaping the Me monster' wrote:
Too often, life is about my needs, my issues, my problems, my agenda, my feelings, my load. But a life of self-focus or self-pity or self-centeredness is just not how we were wired to live, especially if we belong to Jesus Christ.
Sowing and reaping is a spiritual principle, but it is often taught for self gain rather than Kingdom gain. The principle then backfires because if one sows to the flesh then in due time one reaps corruption, because the self centred flesh always wants more for itself.
Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life. Galatians 6:7
Will God be glorified, will he still be awesome if He does not come up with the required blessings, but perhaps with a call to persecution and suffering for the gospel instead?
Many of us in the prosperous (so far) west have been blessed with financial and material blessings, either from time to time, or permanently. However when we make 'expected prosperity' rather than 'supply all your need' into a doctrine we move a truth slider too far to the right again.
We must ask ourselves if this teaching will produce the promised financial and material blessings in the third world? Will they experience net-breaking, boat-sinking style blessings to such an extent that they will have to call for their friends in the other boats to come and help them!"
Or is it just the western gospel of 'me' again?
The answer is that if it does not work anywhere in the world then it is safe to assume that it is wrongly developed Kingdom teaching.
Two thirds of the world live on less than several dollars a day. And that is hard earned. The persecuted church in India, or Indonesia, or Ethiopia, or Pakistan knows nothing of this bless me with finance, condominium and Sports Utility Vehicle (SUV) gospel, but they do know the gospel of the privilege of suffering for their faith.
Their prayer would undoubtedly be in line with this prayer in the book of Proverbs.
Two things I request of You (Deprive me not before I die): Remove falsehood and lies far from me; Give me neither poverty nor riches. Feed me with the food allotted to me; Lest I be full and deny You, And say, “Who is the Lord?” Or lest I be poor and steal, And profane the name of my God. Proverbs 30:5-9
Paul summed up his own position this way..
I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. Philippians 4:12-13
The Apostles understood that part of God's plan was for the saints to meet the needs of the saints. (all emphasis mine)
..distributing to the needs of the saints, given to hospitality. Romans 12:13
For the administration of this service not only supplies the needs of the saints. 2 Corinthians 9:12
And let our people also learn to maintain good works, to meet urgent needs, that they may not be unfruitful. Titus 3:14
If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? James 2:16
Paul was rejected, beaten up, shipwrecked, stoned, bitten by a snake etc etc
We give no offense in anything, that our ministry may not be blamed. But in all things we commend ourselves as ministers of God: in much patience, in tribulations, in needs, in distresses, in stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labors, in sleeplessness, in fastings; by purity, by knowledge, by long-suffering, by kindness, by the Holy Spirit, by sincere love, by the word of truth, by the power of God, by the armor of righteousness on the right hand and on the left, by honor and dishonor, by evil report and good report; as deceivers, and yet true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold we live; as chastened, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things. 2 Corinthians 6: 3 -10
The old saints called it 'the calvary road' James wrote to the persecuted church.
My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. James 1:2-3
My brethren, take the prophets, who spoke in the name of the Lord, as an example of suffering and patience. Indeed we count them blessed who endure. You have heard of the perseverance of Job and seen the end intended by the Lord - that the Lord is very compassionate and merciful. James 5;10-11
The heroes of faith mentioned in the second half of Hebrews 11:17-38 knew nothing of this bless me financially and materially gospel, but knew all too well the cost of following Christ.
There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated - the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground.
God's heart is reflected perfectly in Jesus and Jesus said that as we do to the least of them we do it to Him. As we follow Him into these areas the Father will honour us.
If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also. If anyone serves Me, him My Father will honour. John 12:2
John Wesley's Covenant prayer spoken in a Covenant service in 1780 stills stands as a simple beacon of truth.
I am no longer my own, but Thine.
Put me to what Thou wilt, rank me with whom Thou wilt.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed by Thee or laid aside for Thee.
Exalted for Thee or brought low for Thee.
Let me be full or empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things
to Thy pleasure and disposal.
And now, O glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
Thou art mine, and I am Thine. So be it.
And the Covenant which I have made on earth,
let it be ratified in heaven. Amen"
It will be good to hear those longed for words "well done, good and faithful servant" Provided of course that we have been 'good and faithful servants'
a person who performs duties for others, esp. a person employed in a house on domestic duties or as a personal attendant.
a devoted and helpful follower or supporter : a tireless servant of God.
Undoubtedly difficult days lie ahead for us all. God makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.I just pray that western Christians who have been led to expect great financial blessings do not loose their faith.
As the rich western world plunges deeper and deeper into financial crisis, perhaps wisdom will finally prevail, and balanced preaching, the whole counsel of God, will return as feeding for the sheep and the lambs.
“And indeed, now I know that you all, among whom I have gone preaching the kingdom of God, will see my face no more. Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all men. For I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God. Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. Acts 20:25-28
The whole counsel of God, empowered by the Holy Spirit and spoken in love to people with submissive hearts, has as it's end, one perfectly developed image.
For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son Romans 8:29