The Glory of the Story Sample: Day 106 – The last will be first

Here is another extracts from The Glory of the Story, my father’s devotional introduction to biblical theology in the form of 366 daily readings which show how the Old Testament story is fulfilled in Christ. The Glory of the Story is available as a Kindle book for $2.99 from amazon.com and £1.99 from amazon.co.uk. I’m posting extracts from the chaper on the story of Jacob, usually on the first Monday of the month.

The law of primogeniture establishes the right of succession to the first-born child. It is a very ancient and fundamental conviction in the world of Isaac and Rebekah (Deut. 21:15-17; cf. Gen. 25:5). It is something you don’t tamper with! So ‘the older will serve the younger’ (see yesterday) is a revolutionary announcement. It not only challenges the conventions of the day but sets a pattern for the rest of the story. It is essentially a disclosure about God himself and his dealings with us.

1. He is a sovereign God
God gives no explanation for his choice of Jacob over Esau (cf. Gen. 48:14; 1 Sam. 16:11-12). He declares the freedom of his will over every human convention and definition of propriety. Paul refers to Jacob’s election to argue that God, though faithful to Israel, never promises to save every single Jew. He will have mercy on whom he will have mercy (Rom. 9:6-16).

2. He is a subversive God
God’s overturning of conventional power arrangements anticipates:
• God’s frequent alignment with the ‘younger ones’ in Israel – the widows, orphans and aliens (Deut. 10:18; 14:28-29; 26:12).
• The gospel declaration that the first will be last and the last first (Matt. 19:30; 20:16; Mark 9:35; Luke 13:30).
• Jesus’ identification with tax-collectors and sinners (Matt. 9:10-13; 11:19; 21:32).
• Jesus’ description of those belongings to God’s kingdom. Read Matthew 5:3-5.
• Jesus’ call to servanthood (Matt. 20:20-28; 23:8-11)
• Paul’s critique of this world’s wisdom. The God who chose ‘the younger’ is the same God who makes foolish the wisdom of this world through the cross ( 1 Cor. 1:18-31).

3. He is a gracious God
Those who find the truth of God’s election difficult, even scandalous, might reflect on the fact that God almost invariably chooses ‘younger sons’- the outcasts, the helpless and hopeless, the unworthy and unvalued (1 Cor. 1:26). He violates the world’s notions of wisdom and power and is gracious to those who have no merit of their own. In the Parable of the Lost Sons (Luke 15:11-32), the older son rests on his rights and virtues. The younger son, from the point of weakness, trusts himself fully to the mercy of a gracious father. The story finishes with the younger, not the older, brother inside the family home. Such inversions remind us that salvation is all of grace.

Closing thought
Is the western Church today guilty of assuming it has culturally bestowed rights and privileges?

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Why am I so busy?

This post is adapted from material in my book, The Busy Christians Guide to BusynessThe Busy Christians Guide to Busyness is available in the US from amazon.com and amazon.co.uk.

I want to look at some reasons why we may be too busy. And they all symptoms of a lack of faith in the God. They all turn out to revolve around what we believe about God – not confessional faith (what we say in the creeds), but functional faith (the faith that actually shapes our lives). We are too busy because we do not believe the truth about God – not really, not in a way that shapes our lives.

I am busy because I need to get things right – God alone is my glory
There is a common rule of thumb that we get 80 per cent of our results from 20 per cent of our effort. My advice is: apply this rule rigorously to your life by settling for that 80 per cent you get in the first 20 per cent of your time.

The point is that we are finite. We have limited capacities. We can’t do everything at 100 per cent. We have to say No to perfectionism.

The problem is that we are proud. We want people to be impressed – as impressed as we can possible make them. We don’t settle for 80 per cent because we want to demonstrate how great we are. The truth is this: perfectionism is a sin.

The truth that counters this that God is my glory. What matters is his glory – not mine. ‘May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.’ (Galatians 6:14)

I am busy because other people need me – God alone is the Lord
We respond to problems by doing more. We think we can solve every problem. We cannot. Nor can we solve every problem that we can solve. We assume any need implies a responsibility on us to meet it. People tell us we have a responsibility to all sorts of causes. Something ought to be done, we say. But we are human. We are not God. We are limited. We are not indispensable. We are often in danger of over-esteeming ourselves. We think we matter more than we really do.

There are more needs in this world than we can meet. That means that needs that we could do something about if we had time will go unmet. But God has not lost control. He is sovereign. If you are over-busy because of other people’s needs then you are saying: ‘God can’t achieve his purposes without me.’

I am busy because of other people’s expectations – God alone is my Master
Another reason we are often busy is that we are worried about what other people will think. We crave their approval or we fear their rejection. What does the Bible call that? ‘The fear of man.’

There are a lot of things that we do, not because we consider them before God to be priorities, but because other people want us to do them. Think about those situations when you want to ‘no’, but you don’t. It’s the fear of man.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying we should be indifferent to what other people want or that other people don’t matter. We should serve them in love. But we shouldn’t make them our master – God is our master. That means taking other people’s desires seriously, but not being governed by them.

In fact when you crave the approval of other people or fear their rejection, you are not serving them in love. You are serving yourself. What governs the way you behave in that relationship is what that relationship gives you – maybe approval, maybe the absence of disapproval. You are not free to serve them in love.

What is the solution to the fear of man? It’s the fear of God. It is to re-orient our hearts to the majesty, glory, holiness, power, grace, wisdom and splendour of God. So that we reach the point: when people are disappointed in us we can say to God: ‘I’m sorry they are disappointed, but it doesn’t matter because I have done what you expect me to do.’

I am busy because I need to prove myself – God alone is my Saviour
Perhaps the biggest reason why people are too busy is that they are trying to prove themselves. Busyness has become a mark of honour in our culture.

Take an expression like ‘I’m a very busy man.’ What does it mean? It doesn’t mean: ‘My life’s out of control.’ It means ‘I’m a very important person – you should show me some respect.’ And technology is the badge we wear our busyness on. We have our mobiles phones and laptops so that people know we are busy, we are important, we are indispensable, people need us, we matter.

People sometimes blame our over-work culture on the Protestant work ethic. But in Reformation thought you work for the glory of God. And you also rest for the glory of God. You find your identity in knowing and serving God. The problem is the secularisation of the Protestant work ethic. Secularism takes out the God-bit. Now work has become an end in itself. People find identity and fulfilment through work itself. And so no wonder we work so hard – it is our salvation; it is what will give us meaning and identity. No wonder we are busy, busy, busy.

The information revolution offers greater potential for ‘self-actualisation’ through work. Sociologist Zygmunt Bauman (1998) says: ‘Work that is rich in gratifying experience, work as self-fulfilment, work as the meaning of life, work as the core or the axis of everything that counts, as the source of pride, self-esteem, honour and deference or notoriety, in short as vocation has become the privilege of the few, a distinctive mark of the elite, a way of life the rest may watch in awe, admire and contemplate at a distance.’ In other words, work has become a god. Reread the quote replacing the word ‘work’ with ‘God’: ‘… God is the meaning of life, God is the core or the axis of everything that counts, the source of pride …’ The elite find salvation (meaning, fulfilment and honour) through ‘rewarding’ jobs. The rest work all the harder to achieve this secular salvation.

Into this frenzy Jesus says: ‘Come to me … and find rest.’ We have good news for our busy culture. Proving yourself is just another term for justifying yourself. And we have good news of justification by grace.

But we Christians are not immune from this. We too are often busy because we want to prove ourselves. If you are busy trying to prove yourself then you will always be busy. You will never get the job done – because you can’t prove yourself. You will be like a dog chasing its tail.

Jesus cried on the cross: ‘It is finished’. The job is done. The task is complete. There is full atonement. There is nothing left for you to do. Here’s what you need to do about your busyness: nothing; everything has already been done.

Reflection
1. I am busy because I need to earn or save enough money – God alone is my joy
2. I am busy because otherwise things get out of control – God alone is my provider
3. I am busy because I need to get things right – God alone is my glory
4. I am busy because other people need me – God alone is the Lord
5. I am busy because of other people’s expectations – God alone is my Master
6. I am busy because I need to prove myself – God alone is my Saviour

  • Which of these causes you to be too busy?
  • What is the remedy?

Conclusion

My heart is not proud, O LORD,
my eyes are not haughty;
I do not concern myself with great matters
or things too wonderful for me.
But I have stilled and quietened my soul;
like a weaned child with its mother
like a weaned child is my soul within me.
O Israel, put your hope in the LORD
both now and for evermore. (Psalm 131)

Is your soul still and quiet? Or is it frenzied and noisy? The answer is to put your hope in the LORD.

I don’t what you expected from me today. Maybe you were hoping for some secret that would unlock an extra hour each day. And all I’ve told you to do is hope in God! Not very useful!

What would be a practical talk on busyness? Some kind of time management advice? Let me tell you time management advice is not practical. It doesn’t really work. It’s not practical because poor time management is not the cause of our busyness. Jesus did not have a smart phone or a clever app or synced calendar. Yet he could say to his Father: ‘I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do.’ (John 17:4)

What makes us too busy is our failure to believe the truth about God. How that works out will vary. Some will want to be in control; some will be worried about other people’s opinion; some will try to prove themselves; for other it will be different things altogether. But at the root it will always have to do with our faith in God. And it is faith in God that will set us free to serve other, to glorify God and to enjoy his rest.

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How can we achieve a balance between work and rest?

This post is adapted from material in my book, The Busy Christians Guide to BusynessThe Busy Christians Guide to Busyness is available in the US from amazon.com and amazon.co.uk.

How much extra time each day do you need to complete all you need or want to do? Thirty minutes? An hour? Two hours?

It seems as if God made a mistake when he first spun the world into space. That initial twist with his fingers that set the earth spinning was just a bit too energetic. If only God has spun it a little slower we would have had 25 or 26 hours in the day. Then everything would have been all right. Then we would have time enough for everything. If only.

But of course God doesn’t make mistakes. Twenty-four-hour-days were part of the world God declared very good. So the problem is not that there is not enough time for what we want to do. The problem is we are trying to do too much. We haven’t come to terms with the fact that we are finite.

God does not expect you to do more than you can do.

The question to ask yourself as the end of your day or week is not ‘What have I left to do?’ Instead we should ask ourselves: ‘Have I used my time well?’ We still need to ask the hard questions. But we should ask possible questions. If you ask ‘What have I left to do?’ you are bound to fail. So look back on your day by asking: ‘Have I done the sort of things I ought to be doing?’

Three key questions:

  1. How can I use my time more efficiently?

This is the issue with which time management books and courses deal. There’s a lot of wisdom in them. But at best they will only take you so far. I suspect of lot of us have read the books and still feel overworked!

  1. What are my priorities?

Managing time is not so much about reducing waste time – that just leaves you a relentless whirl of activity. It is about ensuring you spent your time doing what is important. And that means deciding your priorities and it means deciding what you can leave undone – planned neglect.

Reflection

  •       When do you use time inefficiently?
  •       What are your core priorities?
  •       What should be core priorities?
  •       What are you spending too much time doing?
  •       What are you spending too little time doing?
  •       What could you leave undone?

But the key question is this:

  1. What creates the pressure I feel to do more than God expects?

The person responsible for your busyness is you. It is your heart. Jesus says that our behaviour comes from within, out of the heart. ‘For from within,’ says Jesus, ‘out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly.’ (Mark 7:21-22; Luke 6:43-45) And to that list we might add busyness. External factors can trigger our behaviour, but we can’t blame the providence of God, says James in James 1. It’s our own evil desire that drags us into sin.

So in a future post I want to look at some reasons why we may be too busy. And they all symptoms of a lack of faith in the God. They all turn out to revolve around what we believe about God – not confessional faith (what we say in the creeds), but functional faith (the faith that actually shapes our lives). We are too busy because we do not believe the truth about God – not really, not in a way that shapes our lives.

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Busy, busy, busy

This post is adapted from material in my book, The Busy Christians Guide to BusynessThe Busy Christians Guide to Busyness is available in the US from amazon.com and amazon.co.uk.

Oxford University Press researchers looked at newspapers, journals and blogs to take a snapshot of our everyday language. Top of the list was the word ‘time’. Not only is ‘time’ at number one, but ‘year’ is at number three, ‘day’ at number five and ‘week’ at 17. The word ‘work’ is the 15th most frequently used noun, but ‘play’ and ‘rest’ did not even feature in the top 100 nouns.

I wonder how many of you have felt too busy in the last year, the last month, the last week? It’s a big issue for people in our congregations. Here are some comments from people in my church:

  • I feel trapped in my lifestyle.
  • I always seem to take on too much.
  • Please clear my diary!
  • I feel guilty about the tensions between work and family.
  • I just don’t want to be busy all the time.

It is a big issue in our culture. We seem to have a workaholic culture. Work-life balance is becoming a big concern.

Reflection

  • Do you struggle to achieve work-life balance?
  • What’s your experience of work-life imbalance.
  • If you are older (and I will let you decide whether you fit that category), how have things changed over your working life?
  • What have you found helpful in managing your time?

In this post I want to think about the questions, What is a balance between work and rest? In future posts I’ll think about how we can achieve a balance between work and rest.

What is a balance between work and rest?

The first thing to say is that work is good and rest is good.

We have in our culture two competing ethics: a work-centred ethic and a leisure-centred ethic.

The work-centred ethic says work is good and leisure is bad or work is central and leisure is peripheral.

It really gets going with the industrial revolution. In medieval times people’s work was regulated by the sun and by the seasons. All that changed with the industrial revolution. Now work was regulated by the clock and extended into the night through light bulb.

Thomas Carlyle claimed in the nineteenth century: ‘Man was created to work, not to speculate, or feel, or dream … Every idle moment is treason.’ The nineteenth century moralists have been replaced by today’s management gurus. They promote a life of self-fulfilment through high activity, continuous improvement and high performance.

Opposing this is the leisure-centred ethic. This is the belief that leisure is good and work is bad or leisure is central and work is peripheral. This was the ethic of the Greek and Roman elite. They aspired to live a life of leisure, free from manual work, given over instead to philosophy and art. This ethic is making something of comeback in reaction to our contemporary workaholic culture. Recent book titles bear witness to this: How to be Idle, In Praise of Slow, The Joy of Laziness and The Play Ethic.

But both ethics are exploitative. The work ethic is designed to create a willing workforce. It not only justifies overwork, it makes it a moral good!

But the idyllic life of leisure advocated in the leisure ethic is equally exploitative. It is only really possible at the expense of other people’s servitude – whether it is the state or the family or exploited workers.

The Bible commends both work and rest.

Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise! … A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest – and poverty will come on you like a bandit and scarcity like an armed man. (Proverbs 6:6-11)

In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers, to keep away from every brother who is idle and does not live according to the teaching you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, labouring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you. We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to make ourselves a model for you to follow. For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: ‘If a man will not work, he shall not eat.’ We hear that some among you are idle. They are not busy; they are busybodies. Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the bread they eat. And as for you, brothers, never tire of doing what is right. (2 Thessalonians 3:6-13)

And the Bible also commends rest. The fourth commandment says: ‘Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labour and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God.’ The reason for the Sabbath is this: ‘For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day.’ (Exodus 20:8-11). We rest because God himself rested. Rest is godly because rest is godlike.

The reason for the Sabbath day in Deuteronomy 5 is slightly different. ‘Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the Lord your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the Lord your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day.’ (Deuteronomy 5:15) The Sabbath here is based on the Israelites’ experience of redemption from slavery. The word ‘labour’ in verse 13 (‘Six days you shall labour’) is the same as ‘slave’ in verse 15 (‘you were salves in Egypt’). The Sabbath day is a symbol of salvation from slavery under Pharaoh’s reign to blessing under God’s reign. The Sabbath day prohibited work without rest – the experience of God’s people in Egypt. Unlike the inherent exploitation of the work-centred ethic and the leisure-centred ethic, the biblical pattern of work and rest is liberating.

In contrast to the work-centred ethic and the leisure-centred ethic, the Bible presents us with a liberating God-centred ethic in which we work for the glory of God and we rest for the glory of God. The goal is more than a balance between the two. The goal for both is the glory of God. Neither work nor rest is ultimate. God is ultimate. This gives value to both work and rest. Neither is simply a means to the other. Both are to be relished, enjoyed and used for God’s glory. ‘Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God’ (1 Corinthians 10:31).

I want to suggest that defining work-life balance may not be as complicated as we imagine. The Bible gives us a clear pattern and that pattern is six days of work and one day of rest.

What constitutes work and rest will vary from person to person. The key thing is that it is a weekly pattern. We are to work each week and rest each week. The problem is that many of us go a whole week without truly resting.

Our culture we have replaced a weekly pattern with an annual pattern. We overwork for 48 weeks of the year and then ‘binge rest’ on holiday. Or we turn the weekly pattern into a lifetime pattern. We overwork for 45 years and then indulge ourselves in retirement.

So get a pattern for work and rest that works over a week. That will be a work-life balance that is sustainable.

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The Glory of the Story Sample: Day 105 – The older will serve the younger

Reading: Genesis 25:19-34

Here is another extracts from The Glory of the Story, my father’s devotional introduction to biblical theology in the form of 366 daily readings which show how the Old Testament story is fulfilled in Christ. The Glory of the Story is available as a Kindle book for $2.99 from amazon.com and £1.99 from amazon.co.uk. I’m posting extracts from the chaper on the story of Jacob, usually on the first Monday of the month.

After twenty years of marriage Rebekah finally conceives, but has a difficult twin-pregnancy. The antenatal in-fighting of the babies (22) foreshadows the life-long conflict that is to follow. Even as they are born there is no let up. The second baby comes out clutching his brother’s heel and is named Jacob, signifying ‘grasper’, ‘deceiver’. Though twins, their characters develop quite differently. Jacob is a stay-at-home of quiet disposition, while Esau is a man of the open country and a skilful hunter. The prophecy given to Rebekah is the fulcrum for their story: ‘Two nations are in your womb … and the older will serve the younger.’ (23)

The LORD warns that the usual conventions of society are going to be overturned. In this case the younger twin, Jacob, would continue the line of God’s purposes, with the implied opposition of the stronger son, Esau. This would lead eventually to the separate nations of Israel and Edom. The way Isaac and Esau disregard God’s word for their own preferences governs how the story develops.
One day when Esau is famished he requests of his brother, ‘Quick, let me have some of that red stew!’ Jacob replies ‘First sell me your birthright’ – your status as head of the family (30-31). Jacob may have been prompted by a belief that there is a significant future for him in God’s purpose. If so, his acceptance of God’s role is commendable, even if the means he uses leaves much to be desired.

Esau, on the other hand, fecklessly embraces the present and the tangible at any cost. He goes through with the choice (33) and walks away unconcerned (34) – clearly no where near to death! (32) The narrator’s final comment is not ‘Jacob cheated his brother,’ but ‘Esau despised his birthright.’ Esau is saying, in effect, ‘If clinging to my inheritance rights means present hunger and pain you can have the lot, Jacob!’

The letter to the Hebrews is written to Jewish Christians who, facing persecution and social ostracism, are being tempted to revert to Judaism. They are exhorted not to be like Esau and forego their spiritual inheritance in favour of their present comforts (Heb. 12:16). It is an exhortation that is always relevant.

Closing thought
Read Hebrews 10:32-39. We can live through great difficulties when we are sure about the ultimate outcome.

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Why do mission? (again)

A couple of months ago I wrote a post entitled ‘Why do mission?‘ which is was adapted from my book Mission Matters. Here’s a rather different take on the question.

Ever since he was five years old, Steve Davies dreamed of playing for West Ham. He covered his bedroom walls with photos of West Ham players. He wore the shirt with pride and would travel to see the games as often as he could – even though this involved a 180-mile round trip from his home in Rushden.

Trevor Brooking was his hero. One day in 1980 he was watching West Ham at Upton Park when the ball flew toward him and he caught it. And it was Trevor Brooking who ran over to fetch it. Steve refused to throw it him and made Brooking come over to collect it so he could be close to his hero.

Steve went on to play amateur football for a pub team in Milton Keynes. “I was never really good enough, if I’m honest,” he says. And he was distracted by travelling to see West Ham home and away. “I’d get stuck in places like Sheffield,” he says, “and couldn’t get home, sleeping in empty stations.”

Then Steve married Kelly and in 1990 they had their first child, Chloe. Chloe was followed in 1993 by a boy whom they named Samuel Brooking after Steve’s hero, Trevor Brooking.

One day a friend, another West Ham fan, phoned Steve. “We’ve got a pre-season game over at Oxford – fancy it?” In was a summer’s night in 1994.

The West Ham manager at the time was Harry Redknapp. “Harry being Harry, he talks to people,” says Steve. “He said hello and all that. A few fans exchanged pleasantries. But there’s no airs and graces with Harry.”

Then the game kicked off. And West Ham’s star striker, Lee Chapman, is getting grief from the Oxford defenders. And so Steve gives him grief from the side-lines. Then he starts on Harry Redknapp. “We ain’t got that Lee Chapman up front do we – I ain’t coming every week if he’s playing.”

At half-time Redknapp had made five substitutions. But someone was injured and there’s no-one left to bring on. So Redknapp turns to Steve in the crowd and says, “Oi, can you play as good as you talk?” Suddenly Redknapp is walking Steve into the changing room. “What’s your name, son? What size boots are you?” Steve is kitted up and Chapman is taken off. “I thought Harry was having a laugh with me,’ says Steve. “I didn’t think I was actually gonna get on.”

But the second-half kicked off and he was out there on the pitch. “It was quick football,” he says. “This was a step up from Sunday league, to say the least.” He was out of his depth. After the first five minutes, his legs were shaking. He was playing for West Ham!

Then in the 71st minute, half an hour after being in the stands, swigging beer and smoking a cigarette, Steve gets the ball in front of goal. “I just hit it,” he says. The ball flew past the goalkeeper into the bottom corner and Steve set off in celebration. “It was like time stopped still – it was the greatest moment of my life,” says Steve.

The perfect end to the story. Or it might have been. In fact the referee blew for off-side and the goal was disallowed.

But for 45 minutes a fan go to play for his team.

Why get involved in mission? Asking that question is a bit like asking a football fan if they would like to play for their team! Why be a spectator when you can be involved. Why be a fan of Jesus when you can join him on the pitch?

The call to mission is an opportunity to get out your seat in the stadium and come to the pitch-side. At the front someone is going to ask you’re the missionary equivalent of the question, “What size boots do you wear?”

This story is adapted from Jeff Maysh, ‘The day Harry Redknapp brought a fan on to play for West Ham,’ The Guardian, 5 September 2013.

For more on world mission see my book Mission Matters which available from amazon.co.uk and amazon.com.

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Bible Reading Plan 2016

I’ve posted this Bible reading plan before. If you’ve been using it then you’ll be interested in postcard-sized weekly reading plan for 2016.

Here’s the complete three year plan. And here it is in Word so you can create your own handy version of it in the future.

If you’re not reading through the Bible then the approach of the new year is a good time to review your Bible reading habits. Here are a couple of old posts on why that would be a good idea – Hearing God Speak and Must I Read My Bible Every Day?

This plan has a number of differences from other plans.

1. Flexibility

The plan specifies a number of chapters for each week rather than for each day. This makes it more flexible. You can read a chapter or two each day or you can read it in two or three sittings. Or you can set out reading a chapter a day and then catch up at the weekend. It means it fits more readily around people’s lifestyle.

2. Communal
It is designed to be followed with a partner or among a group of people. There is only one section each week (occasionally two shorter books). So you don’t have to read a section from one book and then a section from another book each day. It means the sections are somewhat uneven, but it makes it easy to discuss what you have been reading when you meet up with other people.

We’ve been using it for a year now and it works very well in this way. I meet up with a friend each week for lunch. It’s easy for us to discuss what we’ve been reading because there is only one Bible book to focus on.

It also means I only need look at the Bible plan once a week – I don’t need to refer to it each day.

3. Realistic
Following this plan you read the OT in three years and the NT twice in three years. This works out at about nine chapters a week. It means you are not rushing through what you are reading to ‘get it done’. I’ve found with other plans I tend to read it with my mind disengaged. This plan gives time to meditate on the passage.

4. Balanced
The plan balances OT history, prophecy, wisdom, Gospel and Epistles throughout the year. You move between genres so you’re never faced with reading OT prophecy continuously for six months.

 

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We can’t be more generous than God

In a previous post I looked at the need to be generous if small churches are going to work together to plant churches. Looking at 2 Corinthians 8, we saw that we can’t be more sacrificial than God. Now in 2 Corinthians 9 we discover that we can’t be generous than God.

Look at 2 Corinthians 9:6-11. There is a danger that these verses misinterpreted as advocating some kind of prosperity gospel in which we earn blessings from God. The harvest Paul that promises here is a harvest of ‘righteousness’ (9:10).

But the prosperity gospel is not our danger! I suspect our danger is much more likely to be a functional deism in which we operate as if God is not present and active in a dynamic way in our lives and churches. So let’s take these promises seriously.

Look at verse 6: ‘Remember this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.’ The imagery is clear: if you plant 100 bean seeds you’ll get a bigger harvest than if you plant 10. But there’s a straight-forward cause and effect between planting seeds and harvesting fruit.

It’s not so clear that the money you give to the poor in Jerusalem, the greater the harvest you will reap in Corinth. Unless, God promises to bless your giving. Unless, God is no man’s debtor. Unless, we can’t be more generous than God.

Look at how Paul goes on in verses 7-8: ‘Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.’

‘Every good work’ is literally ‘all good works’. So there are five ‘all’s in this verse: ‘all grace … all things … all times … all you need … all good works’. How would you like this to be true of your church? ‘In all things at all times, [we have] all that we need [so that we] abound in all good works.’

If you want that, then sow generously and give cheerfully. You cannot be more generous than God. When you sow generously, when you give cheerfully, God ‘makes all grace abound to you’. And what happens then? ‘You may abound in every good work.’

How do this work? I think we can identify some lines of cause and effect:

  1. Generosity encourages generosity. Generosity in one area encourages generosity elsewhere because giving loosens the grip of wealth. A generous church creates a culture of generosity in which its members are generous.
  2. People replace people. Churches often testify that, when they have sent people, others have come to replace them. But there’s a also a natural sense in which people leaving creates gaps for others to fill. It creates opportunities for people to step up.
  3. Mission inspires mission. Involvement in mission leads to involvement in mission. It changes mindsets. It makes them missional. It encourages creativity. It gives courage.

These are the natural lines of cause and effect. But there is also something supernatural going on here. God is generous to those who are generous.

Look at verse 10: ‘Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness.’ If you sow generously then God will give you more seed! And what do you do with seed? You sow generously.

Verse 11 is even more explicit: ‘You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion.’ If you give generously then God will give generously to you so you can continue to give generously. He entrusts us with his resources. If we’re generous then he entrusts more – so that we can be more generous.

The economy of God

There’s almost a sense in which resources move backwards and forwards. In 8:14 Paul says: ‘At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need.’ There’s a constant circulation of resources. My church gives to your church. Your church gives to another church. That church gives to my church. And we end up back where we started. And you’re tempted to say, Why bother? Why is the economy of God like this? Why this circulation of resources with everyone giving to everyone else? Three reasons to close:

  • Verse 13: It evokes God’s praise: ‘Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, others will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else.’
  • Verse 14: It connects God’s people: ‘And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you.’
  • Verse 15: It highlights God’s generosity: ‘Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!’ All the time we are remembering God’s generosity to us in Christ.

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