COVID-19

Sweet Assurance (Philippians 1:6)

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Since this is the first Global Pandemic I have ever lived through, I can’t make sweeping generalisations. But, from my observations thus far, Pandemics have a way of polarising people if you were to categorise them according to their reactions.

  • You get the nonchalant type, who’s in denial or is just ignorant
  • The paranoid person petrified even to make a phone call for fear that 5G might transmit the virus
  • The conspiracy theorists who seem to abound right now
  • The well-read, and so the wisely cautious person
  • People looking to make a quick buck off the whole thing
  • And, then, of course, there is always the nutjob with a smartphone willing to record themselves to share their nutty ideas with the whole world …

You get the idea! Sadly in Christian circles, we see all of these varieties and then some. As a pastor, I have been inundated with videos/articles sent to me from all the types of people listed above.  

The sender typically wants my read on what’s contained in the piece. And, it is no exaggeration to say that they have ranged from the sublimely insightful to the utterly ridiculous.

World shaking events like COVID19 and the ramifications emanating from the unprecedented strategies implored by national governments to try to contain the virus and mitigate the risk of loss of lives have unsettled many people. And Christians are not exempt from this all.

All of this has gotten me thinking a lot about assurance, and the unshakeable faith and confident security; I believe Jesus wants us, believers, to experience even in times like these.

Just the other day we were reading Mark 13 – an unsettling passage about the end times with people being led astray (vs5), a forewarning of false Christs (vs6), wars, earthquakes, famines(vs7-8), persecution of believers, being hated for being Christ-followers(vs11-13), something called the abomination of desolation and great tribulation (vs14-24) and the call of Jesus’ to be on guard and awake (vs23 & 37)…

I was struck by one of Jesus’ commands; “Do not be alarmed” (vs7)! It stood out like the first flower pushing up in a field after the veld has been burnt, almost out of place in the surrounding desolation. 

Jesus wanted His disciples, Jesus wants you and I who have trusted in Him not to be alarmed by even tumultuous events and experiences. Jesus wants us to be assured, at peace, secure. Jesus wants us to trust Him who not only made everything but is the One who holds all things together (Colossians 1:16-17) 

John records similar last moments with Jesus and explodes this theme of what Jesus wanted the disciples to experience in greater detail in the first verses of chapter 14;

Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. (John 14:1-3)

Jesus didn’t want the events of the days that would follow to unsettle His followers. He wanted them to contend for peace in their hearts and minds. Jesus wanted them not to let their hearts go to the place of anxiety and stress that they would go to if not restrained by faith.  

Jesus wanted His disciples to believe, to trust Him, to trust the Father’s goodness and power. Jesus wanted them to see the final picture; these disciples could be assured that they would dwell with Him for eternity in His the Father’s house. That future hope was something to believe because it could not be seen. However believing it would produce something in the disciples – assurance, peace & security in spite of tumultuous days that would follow.

Assurance for the believer in Jesus is a strong theme in the New Testament, and it is found in our passage for today’s reading (we are reading Philippians + some Psalms in August for our Bible Reading Plan).

I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. (Philippians 1:6)

Paul wanted the same thing for the Philippian believers that Jesus wanted for those first Christ-followers: assurance.

Yes, they might have faced tough circumstances, challenges to their faith, struggle and hardship, but God wanted them to be assured IN IT ALL.

That the God who initiated their faith would be the One who would bring it to completion as well, God doesn’t start our Jesus journey and then let us go to walk on our own like some parent teaching their child to walk hoping they will get the hang of it.  

No, rather God alone was both the author of their faith and would be the One to bring it to completion too (Hebrews 12:2). The confidence of these believers wasn’t to be in anything or anyone else other than their Saviour who both initiated and would complete their faith.

Friend if you know that have put your trust in Christ Jesus. If you know that you truly are saved by grace alone, through faith alone in Christ alone then you can be and should be, God wants you to be the most assured person on the planet. You and I are utterly secure, having believed in Jesus, He will save us completely (Hebrews 7:25).

You are immortal until the Day Jesus returns or the Day He calls you home to be with Him. You need not fret or worry, trying to discern the times and work out what not even Jesus knew when He walked on earth (Mark 13:32)!

So do not be alarmed even in the middle of a Global Pandemic, don’t stress yourself with worry when Jesus’ command to you is not to be alarmed and not to let your heart be troubled. Jesus wants you to sleep secure, live at peace knowing whom You have trusted your life to – and not just this life, but eternal life to.

Speak to Him now in prayer. If you have already believed in Jesus, simply ask for the help of the Holy Spirit to cast off fear with His perfect love and peace. Know this, Jesus wants you to experience the incredible peace that comes from knowing whom it is you have entrusted your present and future eternal life to – so live in the good of the assurance He purchased for you.  

But, if you haven’t yet believed in Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins and the salvation of your soul, don’t feel any assurance or peace until you have believed in Him. So, call out to Him right now! We really do not know whether any day is our last day, and so as Matthew Henry resolved; live every day as if it was your last day.

And if you know friends who have not yet put their faith in Jesus – don’t delay speak to them share the love of God with them, appeal to them in love to believe in Jesus while they still can.

Gareth is one of the elders at Reconciliation Road Church in Amanzimtoti, South Africa – click the link to get more information about our church.

Two T’s and a World Pandemic! (Mark 12:13-17 & 38-44)

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Taxes, Tithing and COVID19 – what a combo! We are living in unprecedented times of financial hardship. In South Africa, our statistics are that more than 3 million people have been retrenched in the last three months. So we can safely say that for the majority of people we’ve never faced a time like this. In addition to this, many have had salaries reduced, or people’s businesses are under severe strain. Unemployment and uncertainty are at all-time highs.

And then our bible reading plan comes to this little section in the gospel of Mark that seems to have a bit of a mini-focus on money from Jesus as a result of some of Jesus’ interactions. 

But is it insensitive to write about money at this time? No, I don’t believe it is, after-all in times of financial pressure or lack we need to speak more not less about money. 

Taxes & Tithes

In Mark 12:13-17 Jesus teaches us to be faithful in paying our taxes making our contribution to the governance and upkeep of the country in which we live and in the same moment Jesus teaches us that similarly, we ought to give ‘to God the things that are God’s’ – tithes (Mark 12:17).

Bear in mind that the Roman authority over the Jewish people of the time would have been seen as an oppressive authority by most Jews. This was not a government the Jewish people welcomed, agreed to or voted for! Yet referring to tax, Jesus says that we are to give to Caesar what is Caesar’s.

Now for most people, tax is normally a grudge expense! It is not common to find citizens who just can’t wait to pay their taxes. However, taxes are necessary for civil society to function and when taxes when are administered well they provide things like physical infrastructure, policing, a justice system, healthcare, education and social services for the poor and vulnerable.

Before you understandably interject about corruption in South Africa and you’d happily pay taxes if you knew they would be stewarded well – may I remind you of who Jesus was telling the Jews to pay their taxes to!  

The rule and authority of the Roman Empire was an authority that was not invited but imposed through military force. Yet Jesus tells His Jewish hearers to pay to that authority the tax it was imposing. 

Let’s be clear, corruption and mismanagement of public funds are sinful, corruption ought to be lamented over and exposed wherever possible. However, corruption does not release Christ-followers from paying our taxes.

Although I can’t claim to have ever been excited about paying tax. I have tried to shape my heart and my thoughts by thinking about two things;

  1. My taxes are my contribution to all the good things that taxes enable; it is nation-building.
  2. And reminding myself that if I’m paying tax, it means I have a job and an income and that is something I never want to take for granted!  

I’ve found that these things have helped me in paying tax with a good heart. Jesus doesn’t stop there but goes on in Make 12:17 saying that similarly just like Caesar is owed taxes, it is right for us to give to God, the ultimate authority, our tithes.

A Wonderful Example:

Jesus comes back to the issue of money when He does a remarkable thing. Jesus sits Himself down in the temple opposite the offering box and ‘watched the people putting money into the offering box’ (Mark 12:41).  

Since becoming a church leader, for the past 17yrs, I have always kept myself from knowing what people are or are not tithing, but Jesus did the exact opposite! Jesus sat there, watching. People are coming and placing their tithe offerings into the box in the temple, some tithes are large, and some are tiny in monetary terms (Mark 12:41-42).

Jesus watches one poor widow approach the tithe box. She doesn’t have much, that is obvious to see. She isn’t dressed in fancy apparel like the rich people and the scribes (Mark 12:38). 

We don’t know much about her other than that she was a widow and that she was poor (Mark 12:42). We do also know, however, that what she put into the offering box as her tithe impressed Jesus more than any of the other offerings given that day.

You see, in the maths of heaven, her two little coins (worth probably less than ten Rands) meant more to Jesus than the great sums of money given by others. 

Why is that? 

Well in the maths of heaven what makes your gift substantial is the heart with which it is given not the amount that is given. What matters is the wholeheartedness of the gift in relation to what that person has been entrusted with financially by God.

And so, it didn’t matter one iota to Jesus that she only had two coins to give! What mattered to Jesus was her heart of generosity with which those two coins were given. Giving is all about our hearts. Jesus taught that where our treasure is our hearts are too (Matthew 6:21), and I have found the reverse to be true as well – that where our hearts are there our money flows too.  

This poor widow teaches us that giving to God is not about affordability but is about our heart’s condition. Her offering was small, but it was large, relatively speaking when compared to what she had – so she had given much. Jesus knows this and so says to the disciples (I think in her presence to honour her);

“Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. 44 For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.” 

She had ‘put in more’ than all the others with their big monetary values! Because her heart of generosity and or love for God overcame her state of poverty. Her heart for God leads her into giving wholeheartedly in rich generosity with faith. We know that she gave in faith because having given she then needed to trust God for the rest of her needs (see vs44).

And because of her example, Jesus makes much of her and honours her above all those giving large monetary amounts but giving gifts that proportionately presumably weren’t generous or sacrificial at all.  

Were these others’ tipping’ God rather than tithing? 

It seems likely. They were all about appearances, but their hearts were not like hers, seemingly. I think to consider tithing as simply giving to God 10% of the income God has entrusted to you is a really helpful thing. 

It is helpful partly because the maths is so easy. It is also helpful because giving a percentage of your income in a church like ours where some people earn more than R100 000/month, and some people earn only R1000/month giving 10% honours everyone’s giving equally. 

What matters is not the Rand amount, but that you are willingly faithful with whatever amounts of income God has entrusted you with. And so, whatever your tithe’s monetary amount is it is valuable to Jesus!

We have an older single woman in our church, who actually reminds me of this widow. She is actually supported by our church every month and has been for some time. During the lockdown, she made more effort than anyone else I know to tithe on the money we had given her for her provision! She made a big effort each month to make contact and make arrangements for her small offering in monetary terms but big offering in proportion to be given to God! Amazing.

This is what matters that even amid COVID-19 we have hearts that are wholehearted like the poor widow in Mark 12, that we give from whatever it is God has entrusted to us financially even if that amount entrusted to us is less during this time. And, that we give the whole tithe, that we give with faith and with joy in Jesus. 

Jesus seems to like to watch what we are giving and wants to commend us for our wholehearted and faithful consistent giving to God in bringing in the whole tithe. Let’s not be like these rich people Jesus rebuked in Mark 12:38-44 who appear to have been tipping God not tithing and so got rebuked.

Gareth is one of the elders at Reconciliation Road Church in Amanzimtoti, South Africa – click the link to get more information about our church.