Earlier this week, the Australian Federal Government announced that they had downgraded their projected 2019 budget surplus by two billion dollars. And with the Tasmanian government’s announcement that they are considering spending $40,000,000 on upgrading the Derwent Entertainment Centre to be able to host a Tasmanian based NBL team, there were some locals who claimed that this was a waste of tax-payers’ dollars. These two news items got me thinking. What would our economy look like if our governments ran their operations like not-for-profit organisations have to run theirs? If you’re not familiar with how we not-for-profits have to run our organisations, let me enlighten you.
Not-for-profits strive to do the following –
+ Make every dollar stretch
+ Keep wastage to a bare minimum
+ Depend on the help of unpaid volunteers
+ Pay staff minimum wages
+ Give generously to those in need of their time and resources
I’m sure that there are probably many small business owners who can also identify with these. (I wonder how different Government services would look if they were run the way that not-for-profits were run?) Having been involved in the not-for-profit sector for the past four decades in various capacities – churches, a community radio station, a Theological College, and a media production ministry — there are 5 key things that I have learned that make running a not-for-profit enterprise different to either a for-profit business, or a government enterprise, and I think these principles might help you personally as well.
WHAT YOU REALLY NEED, IS PROBABLY ALREADY IN YOUR HAND!
The LORD said to him, “What is that in your hand?” He said, “A staff.” Exodus 4:2
When God was about to tell Moses to return to Egypt and deliver Israel from the bondage of Pharaoh, He seems to have anticipated Moses’ unspoken question, “What with?” God’s question to Moses is the question I have to continually consider. What do you have? Like Moses, often my answer to this question seems grossly inadequate to the task at hand. But jumping ahead in the story, Moses did deliver Israel from Egypt (and his staff was with him through the whole process!). Often times we limit ourselves by waiting until we are fully ready or have all of the resources we need to complete the task. God told Moses to start with what he already had. After Israel’s exodus from Egypt, the rest of their journey follows this same principle. For example, when they constructed the Tabernacle, the Israelites contributed what they had. Interestingly, God had ensured that during the night of the Exodus the Hebrews were paid their unpaid wages (plus backpay) which included much bronze, silver, gold, and fine linens. When we read through the latter chapters of Exodus, we are struck by just how much bronze, silver, and gold the Hebrews contributed to the Tabernacle’s construction.
Speak now in the hearing of the people, that they ask, every man of his and every woman of her neighbor, for silver and gold jewelry.” The people of Israel had also done as Moses told them, for they had asked the Egyptians for silver and gold jewelry and for clothing. Exodus 11:2; 12:35
Later in Israel’s history, the Bible describes Israel’s occupiers, the Philistines, having vastly superior weaponry, and far greater numbers of soldiers. Their oppression of the Hebrews was cruel. Their situation seemed hopeless. But Jonathan used this principle of provision that we have seen with Moses and the Hebrews of the Exodus — he used what he had rather than sulk about what he didn’t! He and armour-bearer realised that they couldn’t single-handedly defeat all of the Philistines, but they could defeat some!
And the men of the garrison hailed Jonathan and his armor-bearer and said, “Come up to us, and we will show you a thing.” And Jonathan said to his armor-bearer, “Come up after me, for the LORD has given them into the hand of Israel.” Then Jonathan climbed up on his hands and feet, and his armor-bearer after him. And they fell before Jonathan, and his armor-bearer killed them after him. First Samuel 14:12-13
WHAT GOD CAN DO WITH A LITTLE
This principle should not be thought of as merely an Old Testament phenomena. Spare a thought for the young boy who brought a few small fish and few small loaves of bread along to the local gathering of townsfolk where Jesus was speaking. When the time came for supper, Jesus told His disciples to feed the 15,000 or so people who had come out and spent the day listening to Him. Again, the task seemed overwhelming — and the resources seemed grossly inadequate.
But He said to them, “You give them something to eat.” [“There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many?” (Jn. 6:9)] They said, “We have no more than five loaves and two fish—unless we are to go and buy food for all these people.” For there were about five thousand men. And He said to His disciples, “Have them sit down in groups of about fifty each.” And they did so, and had them all sit down. And taking the five loaves and the two fish, He looked up to heaven and said a blessing over them. Then He broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd. Luke 9:13-16
It’s not actually the point I’m trying to make, but it’s interesting what Jesus did to the meagre resources He was given to feed some 15,000 people. (i) He organised the people in readiness for provision; (ii) He thanked the Father for what He had already provided; (iii) He prayed a blessing over the loaves and fish; (iv) He broke the loaves and fish; (v) He organised the disciples to distribute the provision.
Jesus did this same miracle a second time, but this time He started with more loaves and fishes (Matt. 15:34) and ended up with far less leftovers (compare Matthew 14:20 with Matthew 15:37). He then quizzed His disciples about whether they understood the point of the two miracles. The point that Christ was making was that God is often able to do far more with less to start with!
When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” They said to him, “Twelve.” “And the seven for the four thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” And they said to him, “Seven.” And he said to them, “Do you not yet understand?” Mark 8:19-21
WE CAN’T HELP EVERYONE, BUT EVERYONE CAN HELP SOMEONE!
Over the years I’ve tried to pastor people through tight financial seasons. This involves setting financial priorities. But occasionally someone will tell me that they can not live within these priority principles because ‘they cannot afford to’. Invariably, their situations rarely improve. On the other hand, I have had the opportunity to pastor some believers who have committed to live within the Biblical principles of finance. The foundation of their approach to handling their finances is the same principle that I’ve been highlighting: start with what you’ve got and be a faithful steward of it. ‘Stewardship’ means management, or more precisely, management of another’s property. One of the last parables that Jesus told before He was crucified, was the parable of the stewards (Matthew 25:14-28). Each of the businessman’s managers are given an extraordinary amount of money (a ‘talent’ is a measure of weight which equates to 25kg). At the end of the parable we hear Christ reiterate the principle that we’ve been pondering. If we were to paraphrase it, it might sound like, “Start with what you have and use it for God’s glory!”
¶ “For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more. So also he who had the two talents made two talents more. But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money. Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here, I have made five talents more.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant.You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me two talents; here, I have made two talents more.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here, you have what is yours.’ But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. Matthew 14:14-27
Some of the Care Christmas Hampers that our Care Team have put together for distributing around our community
Start with what you have, and be faithful with it! As a church, we have learned to stretch finances. One of the comments we hear a lot is – “You guys punch above your weight!” People may think we are flush with money because they misinterpret what we have and what we do with it, but the reality is quite different. While we have some staff, we are dependant on volunteers. And while we don’t make a song and dance about it, our church generously gives to needy causes that help people in need within our community. Added to this, there is much after-hours care that assists people where we can. But we can’t help everyone; but everyone can help someone. And that’s what we try to do. While there’s a lot more we wish we could do, and at time we don’t think we have that much to offer, let’s make the most of it!
¶ Two things I ask of you; deny them not to me before I die: Remove far from me falsehood and lying; give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me, lest I be full and deny you and say, “Who is the LORD?” or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God. Proverbs 30:7-9
For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Ephesians 6:12
When Paul said that “we wrestle” against “cosmic powers” that were not “flesh and blood”, what was really saying? In the previous verse, Ephesians 6:11, he describes these forces as being a part of the “schemes of the devil”. It seems that Paul had a very keen sense of the demonic real that was at work in attempting to hinder, destroy, and distort the work of the Kingdom of God on earth. He wrote to the Corinthians and told them that they were not “not ignorant of his (Satan’s) schemes” (2Cor. 2:11). He told the Thessalonians that he was hindered by Satan from coming to them earlier (1Thess. 2:18). And while there are a few other references in Paul’s epistles to Satan, it is perhaps surprising just how little attention the New Testament pays to the topic of Satan. But based on what Paul told us about Satan, it appears that the devilish work of Satan is still in operation, and if my reading of Revelation 20 is correct, there are good reasons for thinking that this might get worse in the days to come.
THE REALITY OF THE SPIRITUAL REALM
As I wrote in last week’s Pastor’s Desk, the baptism of Jesus was an intensely spiritual event. But what happened 40 days later was off the charts.
¶ Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after fasting forty days and forty nights, He was hungry. Matthew 4:1-2
How much did Christ speak about Satan? Jesus told His disciples that when they would preach, some of their hearers would be hindered immediately by Satan who would snatch the seed of the Word of God from their hearts (Mark 4:15). Jesus told Peter that Satan had planted a deceptive thought in his thinking (Mark 8:33). Jesus told a crowd about the true cause of an infirmed elderly lady’s ill health was due to Satan keeping her in bondage for eighteen years ( Luke 13:16). He accused the pharisees of doing the wicked bidding of their father—the devil (John 8:44). Just prior to Jesus being crucified He told Peter (whom He referred to as ‘Simon’) that Satan had demanded to have him and sift him like wheat and even more interestingly, He told Peter He had prayed for him to not fail and then strengthen his brothers (Luke 22:31-32). Christ also taught His disciples that the everlasting fires of hell had been “prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matt. 25:41). We are thus left in no doubt from what the Lord Jesus taught that the spiritual realm, where Satan and his demons worked to deceive, damage, and distract, was very real. But, just as with what Paul taught, what is worth being fascinated by is just how little Jesus talked about Satan.
THE ENEMY DECEIVES, DAMAGES, AND DISTRACTS
The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. John 10:10
The work of enemy is malicious. In John 10:10, Jesus summed up the enemy’s work as stealing, killing, and destroying. In John 8:44, Jesus described Satan as “the father of lies”. And because the enemy knows that mankind was purposed to worship and walk with God, he also schemes to distract mankind from doing so with “the cares of this world” (Matt. 13:22; Lk. 21:34) which have the potential to “choke” the spiritual life of a vulnerable believer. We might summarise the enemy’s activities as deceiving, damaging, and distracting. Little wonder then that the enemy seeks to eradicate as many people as possible through abortion, murder, avoidable deaths, and strives to reduce global population levels through such scare-mongering as Climate-Extinction propaganda (which ironically brands itself as rebel for life while promoting a radical anti-life agenda of drastic population decrease). The enemy is the enemy of truth and preys on the most vulnerable to promote his deceptions — who are often regarded as the most intelligent among us. This work of deception is often carried out under the cloak of false religion which should also alert us to the fact, that unlike the true God, the enemy does not care what we call him, as long as we don’t call on the name of the true God!
Gargoyle on Notre-Dame Paris
THE ENEMY’S TIME WAS SHORT
Therefore, rejoice, O heavens and you who dwell in them! But woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!” Revelation 12:12
While we can discern that the enemy is still active, the good news is that he has been defeated. World War II was essentially over on “D Day” (June 6th 1944). It was the strategic move that culminated in the surrender of the Nazis, on May 7th 1945 (after Berlin had been surrounded by the Allies. In a similar way the enemy’s “D Day” came in 30AD when Christ died on the cross and rose three days later. And in 70AD, his surrender (which will come on The Day of Judgment, described in Revelation 20) was assured when the last vestiges of the Old Covenant were done away with when God used the Romans to end the temple, the Levitical priesthood, and Mosaic sacrifices. This is why the book of Revelation tells us that the enemy knew his time was short to eradicate the church (he only had AD 30 to AD 70). Under the Old Covenant, the enemy had the authority to accuse God’s people of failing to live up to God’s moral standards. But with the removal of the Old Covenant and the New Covenant then being the only covenant available for mankind to enter into peace and reconciliation with God, this authority was cancelled and Satan was banished from having access to God’s immediate presence.
And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. Revelation 12:10
Andrew Corbett in Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s house
In the last days of World War II in Europe, when it was inevitable that Hitler and forces were defeated, Hitler unleashed a tirade of evil and cruelty. One of the items on this list of wickedness was his order to execute Dietrich Bonhoeffer who had been held as a Nazi prisoner for two years and recently transferred to Flossenbürg concentration camp. Bonhoeffer was hanged on 9th April 1945. Hitler committed suicide 21 days later. The Bible reveals something similar about Satan’s final doom. Just before his doom enacted, “Satan will be released from his prison and will come out to deceive the nations that are at the four corners of the earth” (Rev. 20:7-8). Initially this might sound scary, but considering what Satan used to be able to do under the Old Covenant, we can be confident that if we are armed with the truth, we can be shielded against his wiles. And it also gives us a clue as to how we can actually be spiritually invincible.
Paul’s strategy for the believer’s spiritual invincibility-
¶ Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints Ephesians 6:10-18
One of the safest places for the believer to be is in the midst of the community of their brothers and sisters. This is why we invest so much importance to being in fellowship together on Sunday — and in a small group of the church. Church for the believer is like the Fortress of Solitude is to Superman — it is the place of refreshing, renewal, strengthening, and bathing. It has always been the enemy’s devilish strategy to isolate susceptible lambs from the flock. You cannot become spiritually invincible if you only connect with your local church when it is convenient, or, when you feel like it.
The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know My own and My own know Me John 10:10-14
Here are the five ingredients of spiritual invincibility-
Be in Christ—walk with Christ in daily time in His Word and prayer (Col. 2:6)
Can a believer be inoculated against doubt? If so, what would it take for someone to become immune from doubt? An angelic visit? A vivid vision of your immediate future? Hearing the audible voice of God?
Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen Me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” John 20:29
John the Baptist was a miracle baby. He was born to aged parents who were past the age of child-hearing. His father had an encounter with an angel who announced to him the birth of his special son. John was born and raised with a deep awareness of God and His presence. The next time we meet him is when he is around 30 years of age, has never had a haircut, and his breath smells like locusts.
¶ In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; make His paths straight.’” ¶ Now John wore a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Matthew 3:1-4
It’s difficult to imagine that the John the Baptist wasn’t aware of the ancient prophecies which referred to him. His father, a priest, would have certainly told him of the prophecies which foretold of his arrival (Isaiah 40:1-11). All of this – the circumstances of his birth, his own encounters with God, the prophecies from the ancient prophets about him (Malachi 4:5), and his fruitful ministry resulting in all of Judea coming to him to be baptised – would have given him great faith in God.
Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. ¶ But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. Matthew 3:5-8
John the Baptist was faithful, courageous, and extremely godly. But, as if this was not enough, the day came when God-in-the-flesh came to him to be baptised as an example to all His future followers. John saw the Holy Spirit coming down from heaven as a dove and alighting upon Jesus, and then, he and everyone there heard the voice of God!
¶ Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. And when Jesus was baptized, immediately He went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on Him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” Matthew 3:13-17
So all of the things that we may think might inoculate a person from doubting God, John the Baptist experienced in spades. But then two things happened that even someone whom Jesus described as ‘there is none greater than John’ (Matt. 11:11) had a crippling moment of doubt.
WHEN JOHN’S MISSION WAS COMPLETE
And they came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, He who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you bore witness—look, He is baptizing, and all are going to Him.” John answered, “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven. You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before Him.’ The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. He must increase, but I must decrease.” John 3:26-30
Purpose is a powerful thing. When you’ve got it there’s a point to getting up each morning. Having and knowing your purpose enables you to bounce back from setbacks. But, when a person lacks purpose, even the greatest person, life can become difficult and that person’s soul can become vulnerable to depression—especially if they encounter a King Herod.
2. ABANDONMENT AND ISOLATION
For it was Herod who had sent and seized John and bound him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because he had married her. For John had been saying to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” And Herodias had a grudge against him and wanted to put him to death. But she could not, for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he kept him safe. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed, and yet he heard him gladly. Mark 6:17-20
A feeling of abandonment is one of the cruelest emotions any person can experience. Abandonment makes a person feel like no-one cares. It leads to the unnatural state of loneliness and being deprived of the company of others. This can spiral down to negative self-pity. Loneliness has now reached epidemic proportions in our society. When we take a few moments each Sunday to greet each other with ‘handshake or a hug’ we are offering someone a temporary physical connection with another person that they may not have experienced in a week, or a month, or even longer. When I say, “There is someone here today who needs a hug”, I am not being trite.
¶ Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the One who is to come, or shall we look for another?” And Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” ¶ As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds concerning John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Behold, those who wear soft clothing are in kings’ houses. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is he of whom it is written, “‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you.’ ¶ Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. Matthew 11:2-11
“Are you the One who is to come, or shall we look for another?” It’s a remarkable question from someone who had so many convincing proofs from God already. But it highlights that even the greatest believers need assurance. It highlights that even the greatest human beings become susceptible to depression when they are cut-off from the community of faith. It highlights what happens when our expectations of others do not correspond to reality—after all, if Jesus was the all-powerful—all-conquering messiah to come—why hadn’t He come to rescue John out of his deep dark dungeon? Christ’s answer for John is extremely telling. Jesus doesn’t condemn John for doubting. Jesus doesn’t give John some fluffy pastorism about hanging in the there or keep the faith. Instead, Jesus validates John’s question with the kind of answer that addressed his question. Our questions of God in our moments of doubt are not moments of shame. They are moments of honesty.
John’s question may have been a heart-cry to the Christ for rescue. That rescue never came the way John may have wanted. But I do wonder if there was some mystical grace infused in the answer and report that he received from Jesus that somehow gave him the comfort and strength to endure for a little longer in the confidence that God had not abandoned him despite his dire circumstances.
¶ But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his nobles and military commanders and the leading men of Galilee. For when Herodias’s daughter came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests. And the king said to the girl, “Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it to you.” And he vowed to her, “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, up to half of my kingdom.” And she went out and said to her mother, “For what should I ask?” And she said, “The head of John the Baptist.” And she came in immediately with haste to the king and asked, saying, “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.” And the king was exceedingly sorry, but because of his oaths and his guests he did not want to break his word to her. And immediately the king sent an executioner with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded him in the prison and brought his head on a platter and gave it to the girl, and the girl gave it to her mother. When his disciples heard of it, they came and took his body and laid it in a tomb. Mark 6:21-29
Christ’s response to the news of John’s death, which came at a time when His disciples excitedly reported all that had been able to do, is very touching.
¶ The apostles returned to Jesus and told Him all that they had done and taught. And He said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. Mark 6:30-31
Following the way of Christ does not inoculate you from doubt or the circumstances which seem to foster doubts. Questions that are spawned from moments of doubt are not signs of weakness or even lack of faith. The One who does not break bruised reeds is the One who still answers our questions and then makes the most remarkable declaration, which is worth pondering today –
¶ I tell you, among those born of women none is greater than John. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.” Luke 7:28