Rethinking Abundance

 “I am come that they might have life and that they might have it more abundantly.” John 10:10

Because of the guidance we are given in the Scriptures toward a deepening spiritual life, and the fact that Jesus was homeless during His three years of ministry, the abundant life is not centered in having things, it’s centered in an awareness of having a purpose and belonging to Something and Someone beyond us. Our eventual awareness of this fact is recognizing the distractions of our Western culture that steal away the purely spiritual walk that is possible. 

 “For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant. But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.” Hebrews 5:12-14

The Apostle Paul had to constantly deal with the early Church that was not spiritually growing because of the world’s distractions. In his first letter to members in Corinth, he pointed out that they were creating division because they were always arguing about which of the apostles were the most spiritual. The petty debates they engaged in over who was greatest were undermining their spiritual growth.

“Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual, but as worldly—as infants in Christ. 2 I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for solid food. 3for you are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and dissension among you, are you not worldly? Are you not walking in the way of man?” I Cor 3:1-3

“For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food. 13For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant. 14But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.” Hebrews 5:12-14

K. Edward Skidmore helps us understand the different steps that delineate the milk vs the meat concept in his sermon “Moving On From Milk To Meat in the Word of God” Oct. 26, 2011. “So, what happens to Christians who keep gravitating towards milk long after they should be shifting over to meat? They can be identified by showing the following characteristics:

• Slow to learn deeper truths:  There is a sluggishness about hearing anything beyond what they have already learned about the basics of the gospel message. 

• Inability to articulate their faith: Not only are they slow to hear and learn anything new, they also are unable to share what they have come to know about Christ. Like jabbering toddlers, spiritual babies keep returning to the spiritual ABC’s and show no interest in going on to deeper things.

• Worldly behavior: (1 Cor. 3:3) Baby Christians are hard to tell from non Christians because they often retain vestiges of carnality from their former lives. Paul encouraged Christians to put off the old man and its ways, and put on the new man. This means a transition from the ways unsaved people live to the ways of living that reveal our new natures in Christ. (Eph. 4:22)

• Inability to self feed: (2 Tim. 2:15) Even a baby drinking from a bottle can eventually hold his bottle with his own hands. In the same way, a baby Christian should be able to pick up their own Bible and read it devotionally for themselves. The spiritual baby who needs to be spoon fed continuously is heading towards arrested spiritual development. No Christian can get by on one 30 minute sermon per week as the sum total of spiritual feeding. That would be the same thing as eating only one meal per week. Eventually you would starve to death.

• Inability to discern between good and bad: (Heb 5:13-14) ‘Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.’ Spiritual babies gravitate towards rule books and lists that spell out what is right and wrong so that they can mindlessly go along with the dictates of manipulative teachers who call for conformity to outward rituals rather than the inner life of relationship with God. This is what Jesus condemned in the behavior of the Pharisees who placed burdens on the people that no one could possibly bear. Spiritual babies like to make a good impression on others by outward conformity to rules and regulations regardless of what may be going on in the heart.”

Now Skidmore helps us understand how to grow spiritually.

“How do Spiritual Babies Grow? Having warned against the dangers of failure to grow up and make progress in the Christian life, the writer of Hebrews shows the process of moving forward towards maturity. He wrote, ‘Even though we speak like this, dear friends, we are confident of better things in your case – things that accompany salvation. God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them. We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, in order to make your hope sure. We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised.’ (Hebrews 6:9-12)

When we talk about spiritual growth we must make it clear that growth is not just an option for a Christian; growing up is the very definition of a Christian! A Christian grows to be like Christ. This is a transformation much like the metamorphosis of a caterpillar turning into a butterfly. The process of this changing is described in 2 Cor. 3:18, ‘And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.’ The principle here is that we become more like whatever we focus on. . . The verse just mentioned reveals that focusing on Christ himself will have a changing effect on whoever is able to see Christ clearly. We are transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to the next. It is a daily changing so that we become more like Christ (having his mind within us), and people are more able to see Jesus living within us with the passing of time.

Looking back at Heb. 6:10-12 we also morph into the image of Christ if we do what the text advises us to do as growing Christians:

• Show your love of God by helping His people (vs. 10) As Christians grow towards maturity, they are able to develop more outward focus, and to be as concerned about the spiritual growth of others as they are about their own spiritual growth. It is odd but true that the more we focus on the spiritual development of others (by helping them out with the process) the more we find ourselves growing as well.

• Give diligence to the very end (vs. 11) . . A part of the process in spiritual development is to learn how to keep on keepin’ on.”  K. Edward Skidmore, “Moving On From Milk To Meat in the Word of God” Oct. 26, 2011.

The first part of Jesus’ statement in John 10:10 about why He came sets up His interpretation – the only one that matters – of abundance: “I have come that you might have life. . .”  Henri Nouwen, professor, writer and theologian wrote: “Every time there are losses, there are choices to be made.  You choose to live your losses as passages to anger, blame, hatred, depression and resentment, or you choose to let these losses be passages to something new, something wider, and deeper.”

Life is about choices.  It’s not living the abundant life just through financial blessings.  You hear a lot about the economy of the Kingdom.  Economy in this usage is not money or things, it’s spiritual depth of understanding.  The definition of “economy” is: “the wealth and resources of a country or region, especially in terms of the production and consumption of goods and services.”

We think of it as relating to money but the economy of the Kingdom is far different.  Everyone has a level playing field when it comes to the economy of the Kingdom.  We all have access to the “abundant life” that Jesus talks about.  We may not all have equal access to what is considered the “American Dream” of possession, status and ownership but we do have access to the most important resource of all – a life centered in Jesus Christ, the greatest resource of all.  He is the economy of the Kingdom.  The abundant life is accessible through choices.  Until we really understand that it’s spiritual abundance Christ was referring to, not money and things unless we have them to help others, we could be on the wrong path.   There is no careful budgeting, scrimping, restraint and thriftiness needed to have the Kingdom life.  It is the never-ending spring of life that we discover and choose.

 

On our farm, we have a spring that feeds one of our ponds. It worked well for years and years until the silt began to fill it in and stop the flow.  Once that was removed, the flow resumed.  In the case of an artesian well, it takes special handling to be controlled.  It’s very nature is that it can run freely as if it’s being pumped by artificial means. Wikipedia states that “An artesian aquifer is a confined aquifer containing groundwater under positive pressure. This causes the water level in a well to rise to a point where hydrostatic equilibrium has been reached. A well drilled into such an aquifer is called an artesian well.”

This positive pressure causes it to flow without a pump. A flowing well has it’s challenges to control. I am not that knowledgeable about how an artesian well works but I have always found the few I’ve encountered in my life interesting in how they are not capped, they just flow.  The Spiritual spring I have found is an artesian spring of living water that never stops. Its source is boundless with no limits.  As it flows into me, everything I am and am not is challenged.  If I say I want to grow and I pray for blessings in my life but because of resistant pride am not willing to change, those blessings may not happen, and my life may not change for the better.  When I don’t love enough because of pride, my life will not look any different.  This artesian spring of living water causes me to look at selfish pride and examples of me not being willing to share what I have.  Like you, I am the answer to someone’s prayer.  We are God’s Plan A for someone.  Blessings most often come through someone to us – someone who is responding to the spiritual leading of the living water that flows through them.  We are someone’s source of abundance.  It may be temporal or spiritual abundance, but nevertheless abundance needed for that person’s well-being and spiritual growth.  Jesus told His followers “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” John 20:29 

 I try to keep in mind that everything I have is God’s, given to me by God to use at his discretion, not mine. In the beginning, God walked with us in the Garden. It was not his initial intention to be invisible and seemingly inaccessible to us.  Sin has caused that to change.  Sending his Son to teach us how to live and then making the ultimate sacrifice so that our lives could be spiritual and we are now able to have a rich relationship with God as in the beginning.  

“Why do you spend money for what is not bread, And your wages for what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, And delight yourself in abundance.” Isaiah 55:2 

“Then I will give you shepherds after My own heart, who will feed you on knowledge and understanding.” Jeremiah 3:15

“I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread also which I will give for the life of the world is My flesh.” John 6:51 

“He who has an ear let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.  To him who overcomes I will give some of the hidden manna to eat.” From Rev 2:17

The manna given to the Israelites during the wilderness journey was a provision for their physical needs.  This manna was a special food, prepared by God, that contained everything necessary for the sustenance of the physical body.  It was provided fresh daily, and the Israelites were to gather only what they needed for the day’s food.  No supplemental food was provided or required.

The “manna” that the Israelites were given in the wilderness typified Christ, “the living bread that came down from heaven”; and this “living bread” is the provision that Christians have been given for their wilderness journey.  Christians “eat the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink His blood” (John 6:48-54) through the assimilation of the Word of God.  This Word is a special food, prepared by God, containing everything necessary for the sustenance and well-being of the spiritual life.

“I am the door; if anyone enters through Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture.” John 10:9

“All drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ.” I Corinthans 10:4

‘He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches To him who overcomes, I will grant to eat of the tree of life which is in the Paradise of God.’ Revelation 2:7

 “You are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read by all men; clearly you are an epistle of Christ, ministered by us, written not with ink but by the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of flesh, that is, of the heart.”

2 Cor. 2:2

Hebrews 6 ends with wonderful assurance for anyone willing to grow closer to Christ. Vs. 18-19 tell us to “Take hold of the hope offered to us and be greatly encouraged. For we have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.”

Imagine our community filled with Christ’s followers who are operating on a spiritual-based level of understanding, and like Christ are working for inclusion for all, not just for those who have. 

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