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Spare Change - August 2023

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The Mark of a True Believer

What is the mark of a true believer?  One of the marks is our eagerness to serve those in need. Jesus makes it clear in Matthew 25 that He is very concerned about the outworking of our faith, especially in how we serve others.  Jesus takes time in Matthew 24 and 25 to speak prophetically about the future. He gives straightforward teaching about the end times punctuated by parables.  As He wraps up this speech, Jesus speaks about the final judgment (Matthew 25:31-46).  

In this judgment, all people will be separated as one divides sheep and goats.  The sheep in this section refer to believers, and the goats to unbelievers.  The primary difference between these groups is whether they ministered to the Lord by serving others.  Each group seems surprised that this is the criteria the Lord is using to separate His followers.  They do not seem to understand at first that by helping others they were actually serving the Lord.

At first glance, one might think that Jesus is speaking about a works-based salvation, but as we consider the whole of scripture, we understand that salvation comes only by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-10).   Jesus is speaking about works in the same way that James does in James 2:18. Our works display our faith; they are products of true gospel transformation.  In other words, a true follower of Jesus will desire to serve others because they are saved. They don’t desire to do it for an earthly or heavenly reward.  The true believer’s heart is transformed, and the outworking is to look for opportunities to help others in hard circumstances.  The pure motive of a believer does not desire a reward for good works; however, as Jesus says, they will receive a great reward -- the kingdom of God.

The goats seem equally surprised when they are told to depart and go forever into the eternal fires of hell.  They are wondering, when did they see the Lord in these desperate circumstances?  It is implied that they surely would have helped had they known.  I am sure they were confused when it is clarified that by serving others, they would have been serving the Lord; however, they chose to ignore their fellow man.  Their selfishness proved that they had no gospel transformation. They would have only done good deeds to receive the reward and not be punished.  The goats were not repentant of their sin and most certainly were not redeemed by the blood of Jesus.

What both groups seemed to miss is that by serving others they are serving the Lord.  It did not matter for the sheep because the gospel had changed the priority of their hearts to that of Jesus.  What is Jesus's priority?  He told us plainly in Luke 19:10 that He came to seek and save the lost.  Jesus's priority was people!  It is so plain that He loved mankind, His whole mission revolved around helping others.  He helped with their physical needs, all the while driving at their greatest need: salvation for their eternal souls. The same love was transferred to His followers through the gospel.  True believers should have the same desire to help others.  That is why Jesus can identify His followers very easily. The criteria is simple: Jesus’s followers show their love for Him by how they love others through service.

A believer should be a willing, zealous servant.  They see the plight of others and seek to ease their suffering.  If you notice, these acts of love in Matthew 25 are not extravagant; it is things like offering a drink, welcoming a stranger, visiting a sick person, clothing someone, etc.  These are simple acts that don’t cost a lot of money; however, they do cost something that many of us deem more valuable than money – TIME!  To accomplish these simple acts of service you must take the time to notice others, then take the time to serve them.  In our modern, fast-paced, self-focused life, are we willing to give up our most precious commodity?

From this passage, a mark of a true believer is someone that serves others simply because they love Jesus.  Is this you?  Do you serve others?  Do you take the time to notice others around you that are hurting?  If not, and you call yourself a believer, you need to repent and ask God to help you have a love for Him that is displayed in serving others.  Then, just look around! There are hurting people all around us. Let's commit to do the simple acts of service which show that we belong to Jesus.

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Spare Change - July 2023

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The Joy of Children

Part of my job and calling at Oakhill is to be the Children's Pastor.  I love this part of the job because I love kids! Kids are so much fun!  From squishy babies to precocious toddlers to funny older children, they are all a marvel of God.  I love to see them learn and grow, especially in the context of growing in the Lord. This is a special blessing of being involved in the children's ministry.  I am positive the other volunteers at Oakhill feel the same way.

I am thankful that at Oakhill we love children. Our love is modeled after the love of our Savior, Jesus Christ.  I am so thankful that the gospel writers inspired by the Holy Spirit
included the story about Jesus interacting with children in Mark 10:13-16:

“And [Parents] were bringing children to [Jesus] that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them.”

At this time in Jesus’ ministry, He was ministering to a great many people.  I can imagine a long line of people waiting to speak to Jesus.  This group of parents, knowing that their children were a most precious gift, brought them to Jesus to be blessed.  The disciples saw this as a waste of Jesus' time.  They probably thought, "look at all these people that need Jesus' help, these children are just taking up his time".  As I said, I'm thankful we get this glimpse into our Lord's thinking about children. He rebuked His disciples and pulled the children in close.  We get the picture that Jesus might have put them in His lap as He blessed them.  This shows us that our Savior loved children!

First, he knew that these were potential future followers.  If these parents believed in Jesus and taught their children to do the same, then these children would be the future for the church.  He wanted them to feel welcome in His church. Second, Jesus wants us all to approach Him with childlike faith.  This type of faith doesn't mean immature or devoid of theological thinking. It means that we have simplicity in our faith.  We need to trust Jesus like a child trusts a parent. Children with loving parents don't have to wonder if their parents will take care of their needs. They know their parents are going to protect them. They just simply trust, it's almost thoughtless, like a reflex.  We need to have the automatic reflex of faith in every stage of life. 

I am sure that this experience with Jesus left an indelible mark on the children He blessed.  I hope that many of them followed Jesus and learned to obey all that He taught.  Children are a great example of how we need to live in awe and wonder of our Savior.  As children grow in faith, they are like little sponges that are constantly amazed by all they are learning.  I pray we can all retain this attitude into adulthood.  We should continue to approach Jesus daily with awe and wonder. 

If we want to honor our Savior, then we will be like Him and make room for children in the church.  We will seek to love and disciple them. Most of all, we will bring them to Jesus. We will share the good news of the gospel.  We will be living examples of the gospel to the children.  I'm thankful that Oakhill is a church like this!

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