I heard my Sunday school teacher say that she shared with her neighbors some of her tomatoes which her garden seemed to have in abundance. Her desire was not only to be kind but also cultivate opportunities to speak with neighbors about the Lord. She made the comment, “The Lord has given me this ministry of tomatoes” and that grabbed my attention. It made me stop and consider that the things we have are not given to us only for our benefit. Our possessions are to be used for God’s glory and my teacher recognized that her surplus of tomatoes could be a blessing to her neighborhood but also open the door for important conversations.
God's philosophy of wealth
The American dream is based on the idea of equality, that no matter who you are you can achieve success and status. While there is nothing wrong with making money and enjoying the benefits it brings, the problems begin when we are consumed by it or consume it only upon ourselves. God’s view of wealth is different from ours. In our minds wealth means we can live lavishly but I think the believers in the church of Acts who had surplus had a mentality that was more in line with God’s philosophy of wealth.
And all that believed were together, and had all things common; And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need. And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, (Acts 2:44-46)
Those who had extra quickly liquidated it so they could distribute it to those in need. I want to make it clear that I am not saying we have to sell all of our extra and give it away or that we cannot spend money on ourselves. What I am saying is that we should always be ready to help meet a need whenever we are able. This first congregation was ready to help those who were in a financial strain. Maybe they had lost a job, a crop failed, or there was an illness. Whatever the need, this group of believers was there to be a blessing.
Means of distribution
I remember hearing someone say that God likes to pour into a bag with holes meaning He desires for His people to be a means of distribution. Consider for a moment one of the Old Testament ways of providing for the poor and the widows. At harvest time, those with fields were not to glean every single stalk but leave the corners and let them follow behind to gather the pieces that fell from the workers. This was one of the ways God met the needs of His people through others. The New Testament believers were updating the method of provision by intentionally giving to those in need instead of investing more in themselves. These acts of care and compassion surely did not go unnoticed by the community. Imagine what went through the mind of the person who bought from one of the believers and heard that they were selling so they could help someone else. To a lost individual that must have seemed crazy but it also illustrated the transformation that takes place in the life of someone who is saved. Our life is meant to be a testimony of what happens when Jesus is King or at least, it should. If we live for ourselves, hoarding the resources God has given to us instead of asking Him how we can best use it for His glory, are we making an impact?
I desire to be a funnel, a bag with holes that God can use to meet the needs of others and perhaps be an answer to prayer. My possessions are not mine, they have been bestowed upon me so that, yes my needs are met, but also so I can help others when I am able.
An real life illustration
When I was a teenager, my mom came home after paying a call to a new visitor in our church. She and her friend were greeted by a young mom of three whose husband was currently deployed. This mother was embarrassed to invite them in because there was barely any place to sit not because the house was messy but because there was no furniture. Bill collectors had come and taken most of their belongings including beds for the children. When my mom shared this with my dad, they immediately went into action. We packed our spare bedroom set from the guest room including the mattress, bedding, and decorations along with an extra desk and computer. We phoned another couple in our church and asked if they could help. They gave us a bunk bed along with a few other items. My parents also went out and bought some additional furnishings and delivered it to this family. She was a puddle of tears as she watched this couple she didn’t know provide a desperate need. This mother continued to come to church and soon opened her heart to Jesus. When her husband came home he was so moved by what these people from church had done that he attended a service and gave His life to Christ as well. The last we heard they were busy serving in the church and raising their children to God’s glory.
A ministry of tomatoes
How different this story might have been if not for some believers rallying together to meet a need by giving of their surplus, their tomatoes you might say, and even giving sacrificially. May I be so bold as to say, there is no place for hoarders in God’s kingdom, only givers. This does not mean we give to every need we see or read about. After all there are countless advertisements in the mail and on television vying for our money but we should be ready to give as God leads. We can also be a mediator like when my parents brought this need to the attention of others who joined in giving. We may never know the eternal difference our gift makes when we let God guide our giving but may we live eager to obey. May we recognize that what we have is also a gift from Him, our ministry of tomatoes.
Little Italy and Chinatown are two neighborhoods located in the lower Manhattan area of New York City. Famous for its diversity, the Big Apple is host to these two little pockets that allow residents and tourists alike to enjoy the culture of another country. From food to language, the immersive experience draws people to sample just a tiny portion of what this country is all about. Those who walk through these mini-countries delight in what they discover yet they would not be able to if not for someone carefully creating them. What caused their origin? It began with a longing for the old country. These immigrants who made the bold and brave choice to leave their homeland for a chance at a better life found themselves lost in a new county and left with a yearning. While they crafted a life for their families their desire for the old ways and comforts were so strong that it caused them to surround their part of town with the familiar. In the middle of another country, another soon was nestled inside, enabling those who had never been to get a little taste.
In chapter three of Philippians, Paul reminds the congregation of believers that they were not citizens of this world.
“For our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ.” Philippians 3:20
The word “conversation” means community or citizenship. Paul wanted the Philippians to remember that they were merely resident aliens of Earth. Their citizenship was in heaven which is theirs, as well as ours, true homeland. This thought caused me to consider something. Those immigrants in New York City, who landed there so many decades ago, deeply longed for the old country which drove them to build a community within a community that was woven with the familiar elements of home. Shouldn’t we, as citizens of heaven, have such a longing for heaven that it causes us to create a home that reflects heaven on earth?
A choice to be different
Those who came by sea could have chosen to immerse themselves in this new and unique land. They could have embraced their ways of doing things, adopted their language, and eaten their food but the love of their own beautiful heritage and culture was greater. Of course, they were good residents in this new country and sought to obey the laws and contribute to their new community but they still held true to their own values. Because of this desire, others now experience a taste of their country.
As citizens of heaven, our homes should be a small taste of heaven to all who enter. Both family, friends, and guests should know that Christ reigns in this home. What does it take to craft a heaven-minded home? It begins with yielding our home to God and walking in the Spirit. There is something else that is needed, a desire. The immigrants of old never forget their heritage or their old homeland. Even though they embraced life in America they still craved the familiar. Can we say that we long for the things of Heaven? Are our eyes lifted heavenward toward the things above or are we finding our delight in the things of earth? Those who crafted Little Italy were good residents of New York City but they did not want to lose who they were. That is what can happen when you immerse yourself in what is around you. As believers, we can never lose our salvation but we can lose our identity by choosing to embrace the world’s philosophies and appearances over Christlikeness. The more we adapt to the world the less impact we have in it for Christ.
A Necessary Ingredient
Familiarity is a necessary ingredient when building a heaven-minded home. The immigrants were familiar with the qualities and characteristics that made their culture theirs. We must do the same by spending time in the Word of God. This is how we became familiar with the needful elements such as the fruit of the Spirit. A heaven-minded home contains love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance. It is a home where things like anger, envy, bitterness, and slander are absent. Instead, kindness, forgiveness, and tenderness thrive and are liberally used by every person who resides there. This is a home where the Bible is not just read but cherished and applied to every situation. Prayer is also a key component in this home.
Impacting the world
Just as Little Italy and Chinatown give visitors a taste of the old country, a heaven-minded home should let every guest experience a little bit of heaven on earth. What would happen if they did? Many who have walked these unique sections of New York City felt a desire stir inside of them to go and visit the original countries that served as the inspiration. It is the ideal marketing campaign. Would those who came to our homes desire to go to heaven based on what they experienced? Would they want to know more about Jesus because of how we lived our lives? I believe it should, which is why how we live our lives as resident aliens of earth matters. As long as we reside here we should make every effort to create a little bit of heaven around us so that we encourage fellow believers to stay upwardly focused and be a witness to those who are lost.
In my teenage years, I remember hearing about a new reality television show that was gaining in popularity due to this family’s size. What started as a documentary called “14 kids and pregnant again” soon led to the start of what eventually became “19 kids and counting”. The Duggars peaked the interest of the many viewers not just because of the number of children but also their religious beliefs which were mainly founded in the teachings of Bill Gothard, founder of the Institute in Basic Life Principles more commonly known as IBLP. I was just as curious as the rest of the audience on what a typical day looks like for this family but as a believer I was also interested in how they presented and lived out their faith. Even though I was not in agreement with all of their principles, it seemed that they were a sweet, loving family who had a genuine desire to serve the Lord and glorify Him with their lives.
A Sad Day
When the news broke about their son Josh’s sexual accusations, my heart hurt for them but I also knew that it would have negative consequences for others in the Chrisitan faith, not just those associated with IBLP. This was the ammunition that both doubters and full disbelievers of the show and everything it stood for were looking for and they wasted no time voicing their thoughts. As America’s seemingly ideal family lost both their own show as well as the follow up show “Counting on”, people continued to keep tabs on what was happening and many secretly wanted to know more about what really went on behind the camera.
When Jinger Duggar Vuolo announced that she had written a book entitled, “Becoming Free Indeed”, many fans and critics alike were eager to read. I was among those who were curious just how much she would share and in what way would she present her story.
A False Teacher
I first want to say that Jinger did an amazing job at presenting the facts, answering some of the fans' questions, unpacking the beliefs of IBLP, all while maintaining a sense of balance between exposing false teaching and respecting her parents. I learned a lot about Gothard and IBLP and was truly saddened to hear many of the things he taught plus more than a little disturbed. When the Bible describes us as sheep it is not the most flattering comparison as these fluffy clouds are followers to a fault and often lack discernment. History has shown us over and over again the danger of blindly following men without ever taking the time to study and seek out if what they are sharing is true. This is especially needful when it comes to religious leaders. Gothard ruled his followers with fear and manipulation tactics. He taught 7 principles that almost resemble a “health, wealth, and prosperity” gospel because he presented them as the key to living. If you followed these principles God would bless you but if you stepped outside of them you were in danger of punishment or worse.
Heeding man's interpretation instead of God's
In an interview, Jinger said, “When you think you don’t know what God expects of you, that's so damaging”. Gothard presented his beliefs, not God’s, in his seminars and took scripture out of context. This is damaging because it misrepresents God and His Word, something we are never to do. Tragically, Jinger shares some of the illustrations Gothard used to get his point across such as the story of a woman whose two sons and her husband drowned. This was an old story that Gothard had found probably in a book and was told by a pastor who visited this woman. He blamed her for the deaths of her loved ones because she had a picture of a sailboat hanging above her mantle. The presence of that picture caused her family to want to go to sea which ultimately led to their death. As unbelievable and ignorant as that sounds, Gothard backed the pastor. He used this story to emphasize the care parents should use in what to place in their homes. I do believe that we are to guard our homes and that includes what we let inside but to blame a grieving woman for wanting to make her home beautiful through a piece of seaside artwork was wrong.
Another devastating illustration was from a meeting Gothard had with a young woman who had stepped away from church and now wanted to return to God. He told her that she needed to obey (his steps) and do good works for a while before God could save her. That is contrary to the gospel in every way. We cannot earn our salvation or are required to clean up our life before God can save us. Jesus died for the vilest of sinners and we cannot “clean up” our life without Him. He accepts and saves us where we are in order to help us become what we were meant to be but Gothard taught a different gospel. Paul said to the Galatians “I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ.” Galatians 1:6-7. Gothard was clearly perverting the gospel and I wonder how many felt that salvation was almost beyond reach because of that story or believed they had to work so hard before God would even consider saving them? My heart grieves and my soul almost burns with a righteous anger against such a man who twists the scripture to suit his own false message.
Reading the Bible for ourselves
This is why it is critical that we read the Bible for ourselves so that we do know what God expects. When we do, it gives us a clear path to follow as well as a knowledge of the resources our God provides for us. The Bible was not written so one man could interpret the message for everyone. It was given so that each of us could know God for ourselves and do what the believers in Berea did who are mentioned in Acts 17:10-11
And the brethren immediately sent away Paul and Silas by night unto Berea: who coming thither went into the synagogue of the Jews. These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.
They were true students of the word which is what Paul told Timothy and all believers to be in 2 Timothy 2:15
Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.
This became the main thrust of Jinger’s book as she tells how she began to have her beliefs challenged, first by Jessa’s future husband Ben Seewald and next by her own then-boyfriend Jeremy Vuolo. These two men always referenced Bible passages whenever discussing their beliefs instead of just one man’s teachings or personal interpretation of the Bible. This was almost a foreign concept to Jinger but it also grabbed her full attention. As these discussions progressed, specifically ones between Jeremey and herself as they watched Gothard’s seminars together, Jinger slowly began to see the inaccuracies and problems with them. In essence, she was opening her Bible for herself and studying the verses to discover what God, not a man, was saying. This was the turning point in her life and the beginning of becoming free from the strongholds of fear and guilt.
Growing up, Jinger had been afraid to do certain things, like watch The Andy Griffith Show because she felt that God would no longer love her or be guilty if she wanted to play a game with her family instead of using that time to read her Bible some more. Her life revolved around obeying a set of rules instead of cultivating a relationship with her Heavenly Father. How tragic. Our Father wants us to know Him intimately and invites us into His very presence. Yes there are commands He has given us to obey but the greatest is to love Him with all of our heart, mind, and soul. This is the love described in 1 John 4:18:
There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.
God’s love can never be earned but is freely given and meant to give us strength to face each day. Jinger began to realize that “our foundation must be the Word of God.” and that meant reading if for yourself.
Keep your Bible open
Jinger’s journey was beautiful to watch as she began to grasp the amazing love God has for her and what happens when we become students of the word instead of relying on others to teach us. This does not mean that we can never read another commentary or listen to another sermon but it does require that we keep our Bibles open just like those in Berea who “received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so."
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I am just an ordinary girl who is loved by an extraordinary God and I seek to love others the same way. I love to bake, read, do puzzles, watch Hallmark movies, and go shopping with my mom! This blog was created as a place where I could share some thoughts that the Lord has shown me and to be an encouragement to others who desire to know Him in a deeper way. My prayer is to learn to sit still and trust God with my future.