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Majoring on the Minors

Majoring on the Minors

The Bible is the most read book in the history of mankind and in 2 Timothy we are told that “all Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Note that it said ALL Scripture. It is not hard for us to see the profitability of the gospels, the usefulness of the epistles, and the equipping that comes from books like Proverbs. But when we come to the middle of the Scriptures we come to what are likely the least understood and most skipped words ever written. Yes, I am talking about the prophets and especially the minor prophets. Though the word “minor” is in reference to the length of the books, I think it is easy to see these books as having minor relevance for our lives. 

They have weird names, confusing and sometimes even disturbing imagery, and at face value we struggle to see their relevance to modern-day life. So why even try to read and understand these strange books? When we treat the minor prophets as of minor importance, we forfeit much wisdom and beauty. And though not an exhaustive list, I want to look at three of the prophets and the message that reoccurs throughout the rest. 

 

God’s Justice in Nahum

One of the most repeated questions in the Bible is “how long, O Lord?” and perhaps you have joined in that cry. We do not have to look hard to find a world saturated with sin and suffering. Any time we hear the news there are examples of war, disaster, abuse, etc. If we worship a just God, “how long” will he seemingly do nothing about these headlines? The prophets do not give us a timeline, but they reveal to us the character of a God who takes into account the sins of his people and the sins against his people. 

The book of Nahum’s focus is the city of Nineveh in the nation of Assyria, which was used by God as an instrument of discipline against Israel for their rebellion against him. Though an instrument of God, Nineveh was not innocent of sin in their treatment of the Jews. In response to the wickedness of Nineveh we are told “The Lord is slow to anger but great in power; the Lord will never leave the guilty unpunished” (Nahum 1:3). This passage references God’s self-description of himself from the book of Exodus, but with slight differences. Hundreds of years prior, the Lord revealed himself to Moses as “slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love” (Exodus 34). 

So why does Nahum focus on God’s power and justice instead of his love? This is because God’s power and justice are not distinct from his love, they are aspects of it. If we worshiped a God who did not take evil and injustice into account, he would not be a God worth worshiping. If God was a capricious God who angrily annihilates his enemies, we would be hopeless. The prophet Nahum helps us see a God who perfectly holds justice and grace in balance, and therefore we have hope. 

 

God’s Sovereignty in Habakkuk

Another question we have likely asked of God is “are you there? If you are, do you care?” Amidst our suffering we like to have an understanding of the reason for the pain we experience. We want a diagnosis so we can get a prognosis. Sometimes the answer is not always that clear. Sometimes when we get an answer it’s not the answer we expected or wanted. In these moments we are tempted to doubt that the Lord truly has things under control. 

The prophet Habakkuk was weary of seeing the people of God engage in outright rebellion against their God, and he wants to know if God is going to hold them accountable. God’s response: “I am going to send Babylon as my tool of judgment.” Initially Habakkuk becomes even more enraged with this solution. Babylon? They are even more wicked than Israel! The Lord responds to the prophets’ understandable confusion with: “But the righteous will live by his faith” (Habakkuk 2:4). Note that he does not say the righteous will live by knowing the time, place, and purpose of all things. No, he says they will live by faith. God will use Babylon to overthrow Judah but he will also hold Babylon accountable. 

As the book comes to a conclusion, we find the prophet no longer lashing out at God but instead we see a resolute dependance: “Though the fig tree does not bud and there is no fruit on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though the flocks disappear from the pen and there are no herds in the stalls, yet I will celebrate in the Lord; I will rejoice in the God of my salvation.” (Habakkuk 3:17-18). We have and will continue to see such times when there is “no fruit on the vine,” but when we look to the prophets we have the invitation to join in a long history of prayers of trust that come from confused and hurting hearts that find their peace in an all powerful, victorious God. 

 

God’s Faithfulness in Micah

At other times, we are so humbled by the glory of God that we ask “how could God still want to do anything with a sinner like me?” Many have asked a similar question; upon approaching the throne room of God in a vision, Isaiah said “Woe is me for I am ruined because I am a man of unclean lips” (Isaiah 6:5). After seeing a miracle of Jesus, the disciple Peter said to him “Go away from me, because I’m a sinful man” (Luke 5:8). How could God’s faithfulness endure my unfaithfulness? 

In the book of Micah we are shown a holy God who appears in an unholy land and as a result, “The mountains will melt beneath him and the valleys will split apart, like wax near a fire, like water cascading down a mountainside.” (Micah 1:4). But in the “last days” it says that instead of a melting mountain, God will draw to himself those from many nations who will come to the mountain of the Lord where “He will teach us about his ways so we may walk in his paths” (Micah 4:2). And what are the ways of God? They are what God commands of his own people: “to act justly, to love faithfulness and to walk humbly with your God.” Throughout the prophets we see God enact perfect justice while maintaining faithfulness to his people. Therefore, we can come humbly to God because he “will vanquish our iniquities” and “will show loyalty to Jacob and faithful love to Abraham, as you swore to our ancestors from days long ago” (Micah 7:20). God has every right to hand us over to our sin but his faithful love overwhelms our rebellion. 

 

God’s Justice, Sovereignty and Faithfulness Is For Us, Too

The prophets are difficult to understand, there is no getting around that, but that does not mean we should avoid digging for the gold that each book contains. We forfeit too much hope and comfort if we do. Each of the prophets reveal a God who has ordered history for his glory and deserves our reverence. I pray that as we enter this new year, intentional time spent in study of the prophets will lead to new and greater insights into the character of our great God. Let us not neglect the hope and awe that the prophets beckon us to. 

Living Generously: Our Open-Handedness and God’s Faithfulness  |  POD 022

Living Generously: Our Open-Handedness and God’s Faithfulness | POD 022

WATCH

LISTEN

HOSTS & GUESTS

Kevin Harlan – Guest

Tom Nelson – Guest

Paul Brandes – Host

 

RESOURCES

Show Notes

Living Generously: Our Open-Handedness and God’s Faithfulness

Join us as we delve into stories of divine provision and the transformative power of generosity within the church community. Get ready to be inspired by the impact of open-handedness and stewardship as we journey through the remarkable experiences of Christ Community Church. In this episode of theFormed.life podcast we explore the “Financial Generosity” theme with special guests Kevin Harlan and Tom Nelson.

THREE KEY TAKEAWAYS:
  • The impact of financial generosity and open-handedness within Christ Community has been instrumental in shaping the church’s growth, sustainability, and impact, demonstrating the power of generosity in the local church.
  • The importance of faith, trust in God’s provision, and acknowledging divine providence in overcoming financial challenges and achieving a flourishing life with others through generosity.
  • Encouragement for listeners to embrace a generous posture, commitment to the mission, and stewardship for God’s glory and kingdom, highlighting the transformative power of collective engagement and generosity within the congregation.

#FinancialGenerosity #ChurchImpact #DivineProvidence #GenerousGiving #StewardshipJourney #GodsProvision #CultivatingGenerosity #GenerosityStories #TrustInGod #ImpactOfGenerosity

 

GUEST BIOs:

Kevin Harlan serves as the vice president of philanthropy at Made to Flourish. He works to build a broad base of philanthropic support and guide philanthropic endeavors to invest financially in pastors and churches.Kevin played a role in the formation of Made to Flourish and served on the senior pastoral team at Christ Community Church in Kansas City for 15 years. He and his wife, Sharon, have been involved at Christ Community in many leadership capacities since 1994. Prior to his work with Christ Community, Kevin served with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) for 19 years.

Tom Nelson is the founder and Lead Senior Pastor of Christ Community Church. Tom also serves as president of Made to Flourish, a network that seeks to empower pastors to lead churches that produce human flourishing for the common good. Tom is the author of Work Matters: Connecting Sunday Worship to Monday Work, Economics of Neighborly Love: Investing in Your Community’s Compassion and Capacity, and The Flourishing Pastor: Recovering the Lost Art of Shepherd Leadership. Tom speaks regularly on faith, work, and economics around the country. Tom has served on the board of regents of Trinity International University and is also a council member of The Gospel Coalition. Tom graduated with a master’s of theology degree from Dallas Theological Seminary and received his doctorate of ministry degree from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.

 

QUOTES:

“Our loaves and fishes in our life may not be that cool or exciting or the best, but God can take Even little crusty loaves and fishes and multiply to multitude, and we’re seeing that.” — Tom Nelson

 

“It’s the generosity of our congregation, everyone. They are deeply committed to forming the new pastors in generation.” — Tom Nelson

 

“It’s the generosity of our congregation, everyone. They are deeply committed to forming the new pastors in generation.” — Kevin Harlan

 

RESOURCES:

madetoflourish.com

cckc.church

The Economics Of Neighborly Love – Tom Nelson

The Flourishing Pastor: Recovering the Lost Art of Shepherd Leadership – Tom Nelson

 

CHAPTERS:

05:57 Discussion on human experience, generosity and acknowledgment.
08:33 Sensitivity to institutional practices, emphasizing generosity, gratitude.
10:20 Elder team considering loan, then church in Romania.
14:46 Left Dallas in 24 foot truck.
16:59 God spurs generosity, stories inspire others.
20:21 Teamwork, stewardship, financial difficulty
26:02 Church building refurbished.
29:35 Importance of funded residency program.
32:10 Excited about church leaders forming work programs.
36:03 Generosity and church planting.
39:09 Encouraging generosity and investments for shaping the future church.
42:59 Organizing life, trusting God for provision, memories.
46:05 Memories from pastor, staff, congregants.
46:51 Kevin’s other dream job.

Remembering to Remember

Remembering to Remember

With the beginning of a new year we often pause from the hustle and bustle of busy schedules to reflect on the speedy passage of time. As the years pile on, we increasingly marvel how the past year has flown by with such breakneck speed. We hear in our hearts with increased beckoning the psalmist prayerful words, Lord teach us to number our days that we may apply our heart to wisdom.  Seeking to live more wisely in the new year, we may consider priority adjustments that require attention; life pace that needs slowing, more consistent sabbath rests, curiosities that need fostering, or relationships that call for greater deepening. Yet, there is a reflective question that we may overlook, one a life of wisdom requires. What may we have forgotten that we dare not forget?

 

The Peril of Forgetfulness 

We often call them “senior moments,” those frustrating gaps in our memory as we age. It may be someone’s name we just can’t recall, a computer password that simply has vanished from our memory, or an important anniversary date. Forgetting is embarrassing, unpleasant, and even annoying, but it can also prove perilous. A missed deadline can lead to an IRS audit, a doctor’s prescription not taken can lead to hospitalization, a burning candle left lit can burn an entire house to the ground.  But perhaps the greatest danger we face is in forgetting God’s manifest presence, his bedrock promises and his great faithfulness to us.

Martyred German pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer reminds us of the evil one’s temptation strategy to get us to forget God in our daily lives. Bonhoeffer puts it this way in his book Creation and Fall, Temptation, Two Biblical Studies: “At this moment God is quite unreal to us, he loses all reality, and only desire for the creature is real; the only reality is the devil. Satan does not here fill us with hatred of God, but with forgetfulness of God.”

Forgetfulness is not something we take as seriously as we ought, yet it may well be the most perilous obstacle to our spiritual formation in Christlikeness. Just a cursory glance of the Bible reminds us over and over again of the peril of forgetting as well as the crucial importance of remembering. In this new year, as we seek to live an increasingly wise life, perhaps few things are more important than remembering to remember. What do we need to remember to remember? What must we dare not forget?

 In a very dark moment in redemptive history, the writer of Lamentations encourages God’s covenant people to remember to remember. “This I call to mind and therefore I have hope. The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end. They are new every morning, great is your faithfulness.” Lamentations 3:21-23  In The Message, Eugene Peterson paraphrases this text beautifully. “But there is one thing I remember and remembering I keep a grip on hope. God’s loyal love couldn’t have run out, his merciful love couldn’t have dried up. They’re created new every morning. How great your faithfulness! I’m sticking with God (I say it over and over). He’s all I got left.”

 

Remembering God’s Unfailing Love  

As we enter a new year, let’s remember to remember God’s unfailing love to us. Others will let us down, disappoint us and fail us, but God will not. His promises are golden. His presence is never in doubt. He is always there for you. He will never leave the room on you. As his son or daughter, he simply, purely, and utterly delights in you. The prophet Zephaniah describes God’s loving presence with sheer delight for his covenant people. “The Lord your God is with you, he is mighty to save, he will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.” Zephaniah 3:17 (NIV) What this coming year will bring we do not know, but we can truly know God’s unfailing love will be there for us both as individual apprentices of Jesus as well as a faith community. Nothing, or no one, can ever separate us from God’s unfailing love.

                                   

Remembering God’s Past Faithfulness

In this new year, let’s also remember to remember God’s past faithfulness. Few things build more hopeful buoyancy in our hearts and minds than remembering God’s past faithfulness. It is seen in his loving protection of our lives, abundant provision for our needs, his guiding and comforting presence even in the midst of suffering, and the many good things he showers on us simply for our delight and joy. How has God shown his faithfulness to you this past year? When God’s covenant people crossed the Jordan river into the promised land, God instructed them to carry with them twelve memorial stones of remembrance so they would not forget God’s past faithfulness in the forty years of rugged wilderness living. What might be a tangible way you can better remember to remember God’s past faithfulness in your life this year? Where are your stones of remembrance? How will they help you not forget what you dare not forget?

 

Remembering Christ Together

Remembering to remember is not only an individual endeavor, it is woven into the hopeful and joyful fabric of local church community. When we  make weekly corporate worship a high priority, together in the power of the Holy Spirit we are remembering to remember God’s good news to us, Christ’s work for us, his unfailing love for us, his faithfulness to us and his manifest presence with us. When our Lord Jesus instituted Holy Communion for his local gathered church, he placed it in a frame of remembrance.  Jesus said, “Do this in remembrance of me.” This year will you join me and our Christ Community family on Sundays with greater regularity and more joyful expectation of remembering to remember our wonderful Lord and Savior Jesus Christ? He is the one who has forgiven us, given us new creation life, and welcomed us into his already, but not fully yet kingdom. If we are going to live a life of increasing wisdom in this new year, let’s remember to remember what we dare not forget.

Unusual Times Call for Unusual Kindness

Unusual Times Call for Unusual Kindness

In the 4th century the city of Caesarea was reeling from war and famine that rendered its citizens and infrastructure vulnerable. The city’s fragility was compounded with a widespread plague that forced many to flee, leaving the poor and sick to fend for themselves. While many evacuated in panic there was one group of people who remained in the city to care for the dying. It was the Christian remnant of Caesarea who risked exposure to illness and death to stay back and care for their indigent neighbors.

The ancient historian Eusebius recorded the events that took place during this time and penned these words:

“All day long some of [the Christians] tended to the dying and to their burial, countless numbers with no one to care for them. Others gathered together from all parts of the city a multitude of those withered from famine and distributed bread to them all.”

In the face of great sickness, uncertainty, and even death, followers of Jesus risked their own well being to love and care for the most vulnerable in their midst. While many saw these events as an opportunity for self-preservation, apprentices of Jesus saw it as an opportunity for sacrificial love. This has been a hallmark of the church of Jesus Christ from the beginning. And she finds herself presented with another opportunity to be who she has always been.

This is quite an unusual time in our world as we watch the COVID 19 virus spread around the globe. It is unusual to see major sporting events canceled, churches empty on Sundays, and toilet paper in such high demand. If you know where I can score some please hit me up…I have 4 kids. 

But these unusual times call for unusual kindness (Acts 28:1-2).

Yes, we need to take precautions to avoid the spread of this virus. Yes, we need to adjust our rhythms and habits to embrace a new normal for the time being.

While many are viewing this time as a reason to panic, the church of Jesus Christ should see it as a reason to persist in neighborly love.

Here are a few suggestions for us to consider as we seek to offer a counter-narrative to the Coronavirus by showing unusual kindness:

1. Check in on the vulnerable

The elderly and the chronically ill are the most susceptible to the virus. Odds are there is someone on your block or in your apartment complex who is living with a heightened and justifiable concern because of their increased risk of contracting the virus. Find ways to contact them to offer prayer, encouragement, and any assistance that is appropriate within the parameters recommended by the CDC and other public health officials. It could be as simple as offering to get groceries for them. If your neighborhood or apartment complex has a social media group or webpage then use it to contact neighbors and encourage others to do the same.

2. Put pen to paper

We may be limited in our face to face contact. What a great opportunity to dust off your ink pen and stationery to write some cards to friends, family members, and neighbors. When you consider our technological age and our impending quarantined lifestyle, receiving a handwritten card in the mail might do wonders for people stuck in isolation.

3. Redeem social media

Can we all agree that social media has been kind of terrible as of late? But it doesn’t have to be. With people more isolated due to the virus, let’s redeem this tool to connect, encourage, pray for, and serve others. Ask people how you can pray for them and just see who responds. Invite people to your church’s online worship service if they are offering one. Share encouraging words of Scripture that will buoy people’s spirits and remind them of God’s presence amidst the chaos. 

4. Volunteer (if possible)

This may not be a viable or even permissible option, but if it is within your means to do so you may reach out to offer your time and resources to area food pantries, non-profit groups, hospitals, and nursing homes. We all know that medical professionals will be swamped during this time. We also know that there are many food insecure families who will be in greater need with schools closed for an indefinite period of time. Many families rely on the meals their children receive at school. Consider contacting the principal of your neighborhood school to see if there is any way to help. 

5. Share the unusual good news of Jesus

It is during times like these when we are awakened to our need for Jesus. When we discover just how fragile, vulnerable, dependent, and fearful we actually are.

May the church of Jesus Christ be present and ready to give a reason for the hope that is in us (1 Peter 3:15) and to show how the unusual message of the cross of Christ is actually our wisdom and power (1 Cor 1:20-25).

This is indeed an unusual time in our history, but it is also a unique opportunity for the church to step up and reach out to our neighbors. As it is said, desperate times call for desperate measures. I think unusual times call for unusual kindness.

 

Good News! You Are Ordinary

Good News! You Are Ordinary

“You’re totally ordinary and you know it.”

These are the harsh words uttered by Ricky Fitts to Angela Hayes in the movie American Beauty. While the word ordinary isn’t going to be bleeped out on the radio or censored on public television, it can still leave a mark on us as much, if not more, than a curse word. Think about it. How would you feel if someone said you were totally ordinary? Even hypothetically thinking about that now makes me want to call my mom and hear her tell me how wonderful I am.

But why do we have such an adverse reaction to the idea of being ordinary or doing ordinary things? Maybe it’s because we have such high expectations placed upon us by our parents, neighbors, coaches, bosses, and even pastors.

I am by no means advocating a lifestyle of mediocrity and laziness. However, I wonder if in all of our talk of being extraordinary and accomplishing extraordinary things we have lost sight of the fact that God does indeed love the ordinary. I think there is something God sees as beautiful and good in the seemingly ordinary parts of our lives. After all, Jesus lived out the majority of His life in the obscurity of ordinary life.

Obviously, we know a lot about the three years of Jesus’ ministry of miracles, healings, and teachings that culminated in His death and resurrection. But do we ever stop and think about the fact that Jesus worked as a humble and faithful carpenter for 18 years? As our lead senior pastor Tom Nelson has said, we move from the cradle to the cross very quickly, but we miss the carpenter’s shop. Jesus’ work as a carpenter wasn’t about waiting around until the “real work” of His ministry began. It wasn’t about killing time until God was ready to use Him for His “true purposes.”

I believe that the seemingly insignificant and shockingly normal years of Jesus’ carpentry work in obscurity teach us something. Namely, that God values, appreciates, and is involved in the ordinary things of our lives. This is good news, because so much of our life is, in fact, overwhelmingly ordinary.

In her outstanding book Liturgy of the Ordinary, Tish Warren reminds us of this important truth.

“The new life into which we are baptized is lived out in days, hours, and minutes. God is forming us into a new people. And the place of that formation is in the small moments of today.”

We all long to live meaningful lives and desire to do things that truly matter. We want our lives to count for something and have something to show for our time on this earth. But that is not mutually exclusive from doing ordinary work, being formed in ordinary ways, and maintaining faithfulness in ordinary things. We all want to live extraordinary lives. But that cannot happen without embracing and even rejoicing in the ordinary things of life. If we fail to see the importance of being faithful and intentional in what we view as ordinary, then we may miss out on what is truly extraordinary about life.

In his book Ordinary, Michael Horton pens these poignant words. He writes, “Our big ideas to ‘change the world’ can become ways of actually avoiding the opportunities we have every day, right where God has placed us, to glorify and enjoy Him and to enrich the lives of others…Sometimes, the best way to change the world is to live extraordinarily in what looks like an ordinary existence—to radically love and serve those around us every day, no matter where we are.”

Yes, we want to live lives of deep devotion and radical faith in Christ. But perhaps we need to start by reminding ourselves to be faithful and intentional in the very ordinary things that God has placed in our lives. I think Jesus was on to something when He said in Luke 16:10, “One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much.”

We may have grandiose expectations for our lives and for what we want to accomplish. But is it possible that in fixing our eyes only on extraordinary things we may miss out on the great fruitfulness of being faithful in the countless ordinary things in our Monday life? Is it possible that we have failed to see that the very path toward an extraordinary life is paved with so many beautifully ordinary bricks?

How is God calling you to be faithful and how is He forming you through the ordinary parts of your Monday life?

Right vs. Easy

Right vs. Easy

A wise character once said, “We must all face the choice between what is right and what is easy.” The Old Testament reveals to today’s families the truth of God’s character as a loving father and a faithful provider. From the Old Testament to the present, families have had to make, and continue to struggle to make, the choices that are right to grow in God’s character as His image bearers.

THE CHOICE
Adam and Eve’s choice was obviously wrong, but they picked it (see what I did there?) in the hope that knowing good and evil would make their life easy. Sadly, they were not satisfied with the good, loving, and caring environment God placed them in. Thus, they believed Satan’s temptation would unlock wisdom. Instead, it brought insecurity, confusion, anxiety, and fear.

Today’s parents face the challenge to guide the descendants of Adam not only towards a relationship with God but also through the minefield of temptations culture presents.

THE FRUSTRATION
Daily, parents can relate to the heartache, frustration, hurt, and defeat around their children’s choices. These choices often reflect taking the easy path over the right path. Inexplicably, a preschooler will begin lying not to disappoint, an elementary student allows an idol to shape their language and behavior, a middle-school-aged student will bully out of pride, and a high schooler will turn to drugs, alcohol, or self-harming as a release to fit in or mask their differences from others.

God’s story reflects the treacherous path of His children to replace what is right, and perhaps possibly challenging to do, with the facade of easy. This facade leads towards a path of self-reliance, destruction, loneliness, and ends in isolation. Being made for community, isolation is the perfect ending for temptation. At the core of evil, we are isolated and cut off from the truth and the hope that God can rescue us and love us again.

FORGETFULNESS
We are a forgetful people, born into a long lineage of forgetful people. Even the Israelite descendants who passed down unbelievable stories of rescue from Egypt, the Red Sea, and the wilderness were doomed to become amnesiac again, reverting to their old ways and emotions.

The covenants and laws reminded God’s children He is the faithful provider, even when they rebelled or became lost in their forgetfulness. Each covenant beautifully builds upon the last from one man, to one family, to one nation, and ending in all people. This narrative, when told from the beginning in Eden to the incredible ending of a new heaven and new earth, represents the faithfulness of God to provide a way.

NOT ALONE
Parents, you are not alone. You have a perfect parent, God, who knows the cost of raising generations of children who have walked away from a loving environment due to forgetfulness. Our children are daily reminders that we are still growing in doing what is right, even when it is hard. As champions of our children’s spiritual faith, we stand on the front lines constantly repositioning our children to be on a path toward God.

We do not want to be weary parents. We must be strong and courageous, daily strengthened in Christ—looking to Scripture for words of wisdom, humbling ourselves in intercession and prayer, and above all, seeking the will and provision of the Father. God has demonstrated throughout the Old Testament His love as a father and faithfulness as a provider who is always right on time.