Chapter 1 – Introduction

Oswald Chambers wrote about our having confidence in God.  We say we have faith, but do we expect God to take care of us?  Chambers wrote, “Yet our trust is only in God up to a certain point, then we turn back to the elementary panic-stricken prayers of those people who do not even know God.  We come to our wit’s end, showing that we don’t have even the slightest amount of confidence in Him or His sovereignty in the world.  To us He seems to be asleep, and we can see nothing but giant, breaking waves on the sea ahead of us.”

 

Let’s look at things that people call blessings from God.  In the following lessons, we will look at Money, Family, Employment, Education (or Intellect), Popularity, Health, and Possessions.  In the first chapter of Job, the Devil took away Job’s property and children.  In the second chapter, the Devil takes away Job’s health.  At what point in this scenario do we abandon God?  At what point do we praise God for what we have left?  At what point do we praise God for Him still being sovereign?  Can we do it?

 

Let’s look at it the other way around.  If you are confident that God will take care of you, why are you saving for retirement?  You say that’s absurd, but I am asking whether you have faith in God, or faith in the money, or faith in God, because you have a nest egg to fall back on.  This is a philosophical question for some.  Here is something more concrete.  If you had less than five digits (less than $10,000) in the bank, would you consider retirement?  Let’s say you have that little in the bank and you own only one car, and you are renting your home.  Under those conditions, could you take early retirement with its penalties and start collecting social security?

 

The following is an essay, separately published, titled “What do we have faith in?

 

Some of you may take offense by that question.  It should be “WHO do we have faith in.”  But I stick by my question.

 

George Carlin had a comedy routine called “Stuff”.  I don’t recommend watching it due to the foul language, but the gist is simple.  Americans are obsessed with stuff.  What is a house other than a place to store your stuff?  Your house is your stuff with a roof on top.  Sometimes we have too much stuff, so we store some of our stuff in storage.  Storage is an entire industry devoted to other people’s stuff.  When you go to a friend’s house, you are uncomfortable.  There is no place for your stuff.  Your friend has (excrement) everywhere.  Have you ever noticed that your stuff is stuff, but their stuff is (excrement)?  Carlin goes on and on from there, but he makes his point quickly.  Both non-Christians and Christians alike are obsessed with stuff.

 

But my question goes far beyond stuff.  We have a lot of people that we know who talk a good story about how God has blessed them with money, family, employment, friends, education, popularity, and health.  What if one item from this laundry list was taken away?  Would they still be blessed?  Would they wail about their loss, or would they praise God?  Most people would avoid thinking about the loss and mention one of the others in the laundry list.  They still have that.  How would they characterize the one item of the laundry list that was lost?  How could that loss be a blessing?  What if all the items on the laundry list were gone?

 

Oswald Chambers wrote in My Utmost for His Highest, “We tend to say that because a person has natural ability, he will make a good Christian.  It is not a matter of our equipment, but a matter of our poverty; not of what we bring with us, but of what God puts in us…”  In other words, if we are full of ourselves, God has no room in which to place His goodness.  Isaiah 64: 6 says, “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.”  What a shame it would be if we presented our filthy rags to God, wanting His praise, when He had great wonders that He wanted us to do.  We couldn’t do those wonders, because we had filled our lives with our “stuff”.  Don’t get Chambers wrong about the word “poverty”.  He is referring to every aspect of our lives, not just our bank account.

 

For an example, let’s look at the building of the tabernacle.  Exodus 31: 1-6 says, “Then the Lord said to Moses,  “See, I have chosen Bezalel son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah,  and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with wisdom, with understanding, with knowledge and with all kinds of skills—  to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze,  to cut and set stones, to work in wood, and to engage in all kinds of crafts.   Moreover, I have appointed Oholiab son of Ahisamak, of the tribe of Dan, to help him. Also I have given ability to all the skilled workers to make everything I have commanded you…”

 

Notice what God said of Bezalel.  He said “I have filled him with the Spirit of God.”  Bezalel was probably the greatest artist of his day regarding working with gold, silver and bronze, but God wanted Bezalel to have room for the Holy Spirit also.

 

When a church sends out a mission team to work somewhere:  We’ll say the team will help repair roofs after a tornado came through a neighboring town.  This team is usually commissioned.  Does the pastor, by commissioning the team, ensure that the mission team is going with all the skill to repair roofs, or is the commissioning ceremony meant to leave an emptiness that only God can fill?  The roof gets repaired in either case, but God is glorified when His power fixed the roof instead of the skill of those within the team.

 

In looking at the laundry list of blessings above, let’s examine someone who has only a low five digits of savings and no other assets, no family within a day’s drive, unemployed, few friends – none of which would run over if you needed a hug, some education – but unemployable in that field, a bit of a loner, and their health is failing.  But, they love Jesus.  Is this person blessed?

 

This person has the greatest of all blessings, far beyond those who brag about all of their stuff (whether inanimate possessions or friends / family).  This person that most would consider poor in the US has God in his/her heart.  He/she has no stuff to rely upon.  He/she has emptiness that God can fill.  He/she has only God to rely upon.  He/she asks for daily bread, and God ensures that the bread is on the table.  To this person, that is a miracle that is repeated every day.

 

Can anyone have a greater blessing than to have a miracle performed by God, just for them, every day?

 

Having wealth is not a sin, in and of itself.  If you have grandchildren who live a block away, give them a hug.  If you have great wealth, give to the church and other charities.  If you have great health, use it to glorify God and do His will on the earth.  But don’t condemn those who don’t have what you have.  At the beginning of John 9, they asked if the blind man had sinned or his parents.  John 9:3 says, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.”  The empty vessel has more room in which to receive God’s goodness.

 

I will admit that the people in the US are jaded.  We violate the tenth commandment constantly, comparing our situation with others around us.  Even if we are the poorest in our neighborhood, we are richer than the above average person in most other countries.  Yet, we lament in what we don’t have.

 

We should each go to a country that has a lot of poor people.  I have worked in Thailand and India for periods that were long enough to witness the poorest of the poor.  Beggars have to be sad in order to get more alms.  Not counting the beggars in the big city, when you get out into the countryside, the small towns are filled with happy people.  They have nothing but a thatched roof over their heads – if even that, a pot for cooking, and a container to fetch water three miles away – or further.  They are happy, because they are not bombarded with television ads (for example) trying to tell you that you will be happier if you just use this skin cream to remove those bags under your eyes.  This ad makes us sad, even when we don’t have bags under our eyes.  It gets us thinking of what else might be sagging.

 

As for our beliefs, C. S. Lewis wrote in A Grief Observed, You never know how much you really believe anything until its truth or falsehood becomes a matter of life and death to you.”  May we all strive to achieve that depth of faith.

 

 

Since the First Draft

The only part of my original introduction that I kept was the last paragraph.  Maybe I’ll salvage pieces of the original for a blog post.

 

Red Letters

Matthew 5:3-12 (the Message – in order to look at the Beatitudes from a different perspective)

“You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.

“You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.

“You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.

“You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat.

“You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for.

“You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.

“You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.

“You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom.

“Not only that—count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens—give a cheer, even!—for though they don’t like it, I do! And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble.

 

The Beatitudes sound so lovely in most translations.  People want to hear that they are blessed, without hearing the rest of each verse.  A variety of interpretations have been given for them.  I like the one that says each person who comes to Christ goes through all of them in the process of humbling himself/herself before God and admitting that he/she needs God in his/her life.  The Message provides a slightly different view, and thus I included it in this text.  I’ve also heard a variety of sermon series on the Beatitudes.  Each sermon series often ends before you get to blessed are those who are persecuted.  Is your persecution due to your affirmation of faith or are you doing something that provokes the persecution outside of your beliefs?

 

 

Discussion

 

If you have a comfortable life, how do you focus on God’s provision?

 

 

Have you ever been in need?  If so, did you rely on God more or did you blame God more?

 

 

They say you can’t take it with you.  A Texas millionaire was buried in his Cadillac to prove that you could.  What would you want to take with you?

 

 

Can you look upon a series of bad events and see that God has the Devil worried?  Have you had a series of bad events and actually laughed, seeing the dark comedy in the events?

 

 

Read Job 1 through Job 2.  God allowed Satan to take things away gradually.  While we may have enough money, God may allow our health to fail or our children to leave the nest.  Is it easier to lose one thing at a time?  What about if you lost everything at one time?  My brother had a friend who was a pastor of a church during hurricane Katrina.  He lost a lot of his members during the hurricane, but one couple had been missing for days.  Everyone assumed they had left to seek shelter.  Both of the missing people had plenty of options inland.  A week or so later, someone went by the couple’s house and discovered the bodies.  The pastor started drinking and never stopped, according to my brother.  The pastor could handle the large loss.  It was sudden.  The gradual fear because two people were missing, and then the helplessness put him over the edge.  I pray that he found solace at the Master’s feet.

 

 

Are you like the rich young man (Matthew 19:16-22)?  If Jesus asked for you to leave everything, would you?

 

 

Let’s take that last question in a different direction.  If you were given the chance to move to either a deserted tropical island or a mountain cabin far from the nearest outpost of civilization, would you go?  What would be the thing you couldn’t live without?  If you did go, what would you miss, excluding family?

 

 

My grandfather died of cancer with my parents in the room.  My Dad said that his Dad had a glow on his face as if he’d just seen Jesus.  I believe that he did.  I’ve known others on their death beds who refused to turn off the lights at night, because their night visitors made them scared of the dark.  Have you ever seen a loved one die, either at the moment of death or the time leading up to it?  Were they ready to go?  Were they worried about what was left behind?

 

 

Dedication

Let’s take a twist on the one item from the fire that you would reenter the house to save.  You know the drill.  Your house is on fire and you have a few seconds to save one thing.  What is it?  Most people say family and pets, but they are taken care of already.  What else?

 

Let’s go a different direction with that idea.  God opens the gate to heaven for a second.  You cannot wait.  You have no time for anything other than running for the gate, but you know once you pass through, there is no turning back.  You have to focus on the open gate and run.  Do you hesitate?  Do you think for one second about family, possessions, etc.?

 

5 Comments

Add yours →

  1. You’ve asked some tough questions here, Mark, but they are good ones! It’s good to examine what is truly important. I find myself playing the comparison game far too often. It helps to unplug from the advertising bombardment and stop myself from acquiring more “stuff.” I look forward to reading more!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Mark, the Lord has given you a lot of insight. Lord bless you as you work on this project!

    Liked by 1 person

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