New Year – A Time to Grow

As the New Year gets underway it is traditionally the time for resolutions dealing with lifestyle changes � especially in the area of food after the Christmas celebrations. We are going to “lose weight” by “eating right”; we are going to do those things we keep putting off � like last years resolutions � we will read more, pray more, love more, laugh more, and generally enjoy more of the life God has given us and the people we share it with. Then, as the year progresses we will resume our usual life-grind looking forward to the next event or break.

In the words of the manic depressive robot in Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, “Sigh� life�don’t talk to me about life�”

But seriously, we are a people of change and regardless of the time of year life is about growth and growth is about change. If we are following the apostle Peter’s admonition to “grow in grace” then we are never content with the status quo, nor are we content with our current position in God. Not that we are unfulfilled, restless, and always in need of the next thrill � a state of mind that is not rooted in “growth” but in perpetual hedonistic self-gratification � but a holy dissatisfaction rooted in the knowledge that we are being transformed into the image of Jesus Christ an image that is based on character not physical appearance.

A strong theme of Christ-likeness is one of obedience to God and subservience of individual rights for the common good. This theme is the clear purpose of Paul’s message in Philippians 2:1-11. By contrast the western ideology that pervades our churches is at odds with the gospel. What is evident is that the individual in society and in the church in general has become “a single ambulatory centre of selfishness”. “The individual is god; narcissistic self-interest and self-centeredness is the chief end of life.”

With this is mind I want to challenge your thinking concerning the “blessings of God”. When parents give a gift to a particular child, are they gratified when that child refuses to “share” with others? Usually parents give gifts to their children to bless them but not to promote selfishness. It is inherent in our subconscious that we should not prosper at the expense of others � even though western society does this every moment of every day.

The parable of the wicked servant in Matthew 18:23-36 is an example of how we are called to apply our blessings to benefit others. This story is one of forgiveness compelling us to forgive as we have been forgiven � a concept that is misunderstood today. The “turn the other cheek” principle has provisos indicating that we are not to be “door mats” because we are King’s kids. Yet that is precisely the meaning of the principle. Going the extra mile or giving your coat along with your shirt is also met with similar “reinterpretations”. Forgiveness is usually a philosophical concept rather than a physical act or else it is a weak excuse to avoid the tough love of church discipline.

The biblical event that I think powerfully expresses the need to understand God’s purpose in blessing is found in Act 16:25-31.

Acts 16:25-31

About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everybody’s chains came loose. The jailer woke up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped. But Paul shouted, “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!”

The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. 30 He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”

They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved � you and your household.”

Paul and Silas were in need of deliverance from prison. They no doubt prayed to that end and then began to worship God at the top of their voices trusting that His will would be done. Suddenly their deliverance was assured. An earthquake shook the foundations of the prison causing the walls to fall, their chains to be broken and fall off and their means of escape assured. Now by today’s reasoning God had blessed them and prospered them to escape. However, as we have read they did not. Did they understand that the jailer would be killed if they escaped? No doubt they did because it was common practice in that time. Rather than using their new found freedom to save themselves they used it as an opportunity to save the life of a man and his family.

Too often in our churches today we see inequality with one claiming God’s blessing while another of the same spiritual house is suffering. One local church has expensive adornments while another down the road struggles financially. Our preachers today call this, “God’s purpose”. He has blessed one man because that is the man God has chosen while another is not so chosen.

If however, we examine this in the light of the gospel we should soon see that God blesses one, not to show they are favoured, but so that they can be a blessing. Most groups that rely on donations to operate rarely give any of the received blessing to other groups. In the welfare “industry” I have seen first hand the fighting that goes on between them to get the allocated dollar. The one with the dollar feels they are more worthy than those who missed out.

This is not the way of God’s Kingdom yet tragically it is the experience. People receiving blessing convinced that they are more deserving and not realising they are to share.

Pastor, senior minister, CEO of a church, do you believe that God’s provision is so you can fulfil your vision? This is the current mindset. How many are willing to sit back and consider that the provision they have received may be for another household and they have been chosen to be a blessing?

I wonder how many will be held accountable before God for not fulfilling the simple request of Jesus to his disciples, “freely you have received, freely give.”

I love to challenge, it is my purpose and calling, to provoke other ministers to good works (Heb 10:24). My son went to work at a new location and his trainer had attended a Bible college I once taught at. He recognised the name and asked, “is your dad the really way-out-there guy?” He replied, “Yep. That’s my dad!” I would rather make people Christ-like than make them like me.

It is a new beginning; it comes around once a year. It is a time to put off the past failures, the past selfish actions and to put on Christ-likeness as we choose to grow in God’s grace. This is the power of the gospel, the power of “new beginnings”. At any time we can repent of sin and be set free from the past. Having done so, we can be propelled into the future of the crucified and risen Lord by the power of His Spirit. My challenge to you is this, “have you ever received God’s blessing and given it away?” If not you should try it. It is not simply a nice little thing to try though, it is in fact foundational Kingdom living.

Christmas declares, “It is better to give than to receive”.

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