Enduring Hardships Together

struggle

When Paul was on his very first missionary journey, he endured incredible challenges. It is not surprising, because the Lord told Ananias that he would show Paul how much he would suffer for his name. And suffer Paul did. From the very first step he took on the mission trail, Paul experienced opposition.

When Paul and Barnabas came into Lystra, Paul was stoned and left for dead. Luke records that “when the disciples gathered about him, he rose up and entered the city, and on the next day he went on with Barnabas to Derbe” (Acts 14:20 ESV). When they had gone on to Derbe, they circled back and entered Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch, “strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22).

In the midst of hardships, Paul and his companions were strengthening the church, encouraging people to remain faithful, and were appointing elders in every church. This is such an example of what the church could and should be doing! Most people shut down when they are discouraged. It is normal to feel defeated. But what happens when we share our pain and suffering and use that to the glory of God? Luke records that, in those same churches, “the churches were strengthened in the faith, and they increased in numbers daily” (Acts 16:5). God will bless the church when we lean into him and endure hardships together!

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Denying Youself

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The past week was a great reminder of just how many people in our congregation really get Jesus’ words: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it” (Luke 9:23-24 ESV).

In the past week I’ve witnessed people selflessly give of themselves–both their time and their money–to help others who are in need. I was teaching the Bible class when literally half of the class abruptly got up and walked out. At first, I wondered what I said to offend them. In my ten years of teaching and preaching here, I’ve never had a group just up and walk out. Then I saw the reason–a recent widow walked in the door and they ran to embrace her, cry with her, and pray over her. My heart smiled at the disruption and it reminded me of how well our congregation loves others.

Several people personally handed me money to help various people in need. Others quietly gave and did not let their left hand know what their right hand was doing. We received a beautiful card in the mail from a church member who lives in another state. I’ve heard of so, so many stories of people who have received phone calls, visits, emails, and even money from church members.

This congregation is heeding the words of Jesus to deny yourself, pick up your cross daily, and follow Jesus.

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Salvation for Foreigners

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As we’ve been doing a series on caring for the poor, we cannot forget about the foreigner. We are in a political climate where a lot of attention and emotion is being poured out on account of foreigners. Immigration is nothing new. Right now in the United States we have almost 50 million immigrants living among us. These are people who were not born in the United States but are now residents. As Christians, we need to look at what God says about how we welcome and treat foreigners.

In Isaiah 56:1, God reminds Israel to “Keep justice, and do righteousness, for soon my salvation will come, and my righteousness be revealed.” When foreigners resided in the Promised Land, Israel was commanded to take care of them and instruct them with God’s word. “Let not the foreigner who has joined himself to the Lord say, ‘The Lord will surely separate me from his people'” (Isaiah 56:3). The godly foreigner shouldn’t live in fear that they will be separated. God grafts them into the holy family.

God is clear that foreigners who obey the commandments are honored: “And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord, to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord, and to be his servants, everyone who keeps the Sabbath and does not profane it, and holds to my covenant–these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples” (Isaiah 56:6-7).

We are commanded to care for the foreigners and sojourners who are in need, just the same as everyone else. With nearly 50 million immigrants living with us, we should consider it an honor to treat them with care.

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The Cost and Reward of Being Disciples

treasures in heaven

The message is clear that there is a great cost of being a disciple of Jesus. Christians are promised persecution and there is so much we need to sacrifice. One of the costs (and great blessings!) is taking care of the poor. With the cost comes reward. Jesus said, “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Luke 12:32-34 ESV).

The Bible is pregnant with references to caring for the poor–to those in desperate need. Those who are sojourners, poor, oppressed, and destitute, are described in the Bible as our neighbors. We are commanded to love and care for our neighbors, to lend to them and not expect anything in return.

Caring for the poor comes with a cost, but is not meant to be burdensome. In fact, over and over we are told to give joyfully and to lend with an open hand. When we store up treasure in heaven, we do so by helping those in need. Jesus took it so seriously that, in a scathing dialogue, he specifically mentioned the sorting of the sheep and goats by whether they cared for the poor and sick or not. These are not suggestions in the Bible.

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Justice and Caring for the Poor Go Together

helping poor

When we think of caring for the poor we probably get a picture of taking up collections and distributing the proceeds to those in need. Certainly this is a biblical concept, as we see it throughout the Bible. Paul took up a collection for the people who were greatly impacted by a famine (1 Cor. 16:1-4, 2 Cor. 8:1-15, Rom. 15:14-32). In Acts 2, Christians were selling possessions and laying the money at the apostles’ feet so that nobody was with need. They broke bread together and ate in each others’ homes.

But there is a deeper aspect to caring for the poor that is often missed. The Bible instructs us to stay connected with one another, to help out, and to pursue justice. Isaiah 1:17 (ESV) says, “. . . learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widows cause.” It wasn’t just about open-fisted giving to the poor. It was about correcting oppressors and shielding the poor and oppressed from people who would wrong them.

Jesus said that the poor you will always have among you. This is not a descriptive statement telling us to resign ourselves to the idea that people will always be poor. No, he was quoting from Deuteronomy 15:11: “For there will never cease to be poor in the land.” In the context of Deuteronomy 15, there were poor because the Israelites were unfaithful in caring for the poor. In fact, the latter part of verse 11 says, “Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.'” Just a few verses before, God says, “But there will be no poor among you; for the Lord will bless you in the land that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance to possess” (Deut. 15:4).

But caring for the poor was not just giving handouts. In the context of justice, it was about giving people dignity. Israel was expected to provide jobs for people and let them use their skills to bless others. There are people who physically cannot work, and they were to be taken care of. But for the ones who were poor and could work, it was expected that they work. It’s interesting that Jesus never (to our knowledge) gave money to beggars. Instead, he healed them. Why? Because Jesus was just! He was restoring their dignity and their right, honor, and blessing to work. We often only view Jesus’ miracles as a demonstration of his power and revelation. But we’re completely missing the point. He healed people because of justice! He healed people so they could go back to work. He healed them so they could bless other people.

When this godly cycle happens, there are no poor in the land.

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The Tree of Wisdom

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Human nature is to pursue wisdom. It’s no secret that we live in an instant world. Amazon has become the biggest online retailer. In 2005, it boasted just over $8 billion in annual revenue. Just 13 years later, in 2018, it brought in just shy of $233 billion. People are buying online and are addicted to instant delivery. It has created a shortage of truck drivers, and Amazon outsources to USPS, UPS, and Fed-Ex, all of which are overwhelmed. Efficiency is expected to increase where people receive goods on their doorstep no more than 24 hours after they click “place order.”

But it’s not just stuff that we want immediately. As mentioned, wisdom is something people have wanted since the beginning of time. God forbade Adam and Eve from eating of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. But Satan tempted Eve with being “like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:5).

“So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate” (Genesis 3:6). Satan promised that their eyes would be opened. Enlightenment. Answers. Immortality (a lie). They were promised all of these things. And, in one bite, they could have it all.

Shortcuts. Eve and Adam, and really all of mankind, learns, forgets, and bears the consequence for seeking instant wisdom and understanding. We don’t have to look very far to realize how arrogant we are becoming. There are so many “experts” on immigration, abortion, church growth, and you name it. Most people have a strong opinion and throw it around as if it is fact. There is mass confusion and downright hysteria. This is what the quest for instant wisdom breeds.

Genuine wisdom, however, is rooted in humility and can’t be eaten into existence. We can’t pray for a silver bullet or whip our phone out to get wisdom. True Godly wisdom comes from above. To gain it, we need to be refined, tested, and stretched beyond our foreseeable comfort zones. Godly wisdom helps other people. It instructs and gently guides. This is the wisdom we need to pursue!

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It’s More Blessed to Give Than to Receive

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Paul was a vocational evangelist. He was a tent maker by trade. He often told churches that he intentionally did not seek financial support from them, lest they come back and say he was “robbing” them. Paul worked very hard in everything he did. And he also gave. He gave of his time, money, and heart.

When he was on the beach at Miletus with the Ephesian elders, Paul said, “I coveted no one’s silver or gold or apparel. You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my necessities and to those who were with me. In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive'” (Acts 20: 35 ESV).

There is an old adage: “You get back what you put in.” This is true of life. The person who works hard gets promoted. The one who gives of her time, money, and energy reaps a crop of righteousness. This doesn’t mean that those who give will be materially wealthy. But it does mean that those blessings will spread and endure. Others will be blessed. Kingdom work will be blessed. The poor will be provided for. They’ll be fed and clothed. The injured will have their wounds dressed and will find healing.

But we have to be willing to give. When we have the means to give, we should be extremely generous. Ultimately, we need to be willing to lay down our lives for others. We need to be giving of our talents, our tithes, and our time. Let’s challenge ourselves to give more and see how God blesses!

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