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The First Fruits of a New Year

The concept of biblical first fruits is one of those things I always struggled to visualize. First fruits is introduced in Genesis 4 where two brothers are called by God to give an offering up to the Lord. Since Cain was a farmer and food takes time to grow, he was hesitant to give God the best crops that he just picked. Meanwhile, Abel was a shepherd and offered up his very best sheep to the Lord. Abel gave his first fruit of the year believing God would provide in the future, but Cain held back food, doubting God.

And [we obligate ourselves] to bring the firstfruits of our ground and the first of all the fruit of all trees year by year to the house of the Lord, 36 As well as the firstborn of our sons and of our cattle, as is written in the Law, and the firstlings of our herds and flocks, to bring to the house of our God, to the priests who minister in [His] house. 37 And we shall bring the first and best of our coarse meal, our contributions, the fruit of all kinds of trees, of new wine, and of oil to the priests, to the chambers of the house of our God. And we shall bring the tithes from our ground to the Levites, for they, the Levites, collect the tithes in all our rural towns, Nehemiah 10:35-37.

Nehemiah was living in exile, serving as bodyguard for the king of Persia. One day a messenger sent word to Nehemiah that the wall of Jerusalem had been broken and the gates were on fire. This devastating news stirred Nehemiah’s heart, inspiring an extended period of fasting and prayer. Following this time of mourning, God gave Nehemiah a vision and plan to repair and rebuild the wall. The passage above serves as a celebration to give first fruits to the Lord as the wall surrounding Jerusalem was completed.

And it was of His own [free] will that He gave us birth [as sons] by [His] Word of Truth, so that we should be a kind of first fruits of His creatures [a sample of what He created to be consecrated to Himself], James 1:18.

The earthly brother of James provides a modern interpretation of first fruits. Instead of offering up a sacrifice similar to that of the Old Testament, our lives should be a demonstration that we’re serve a living God. As you read and study the Bible today, you should be inspired to live out your faith like Jesus, Romans 10:17. Colossians 3:17 and 23 provide a call to action. “Whatever you do, whether in action or words, do this all in the name of Jesus” as a first fruits offering in this new year.

by Jay Mankus

Fulfilling the Common Good

Good is one of those words that is overused.  As absolutes are becoming replaced by opinions fueled by cable news and talk radio, what is good and what is bad varies.  In the days of the Old Testament, Judges began to do what was right in their own eyes, removing the Bible as a measuring stick.  Similar to modern day humanism, anything that feels natural is deemed good.  On the other hand, anything that results in unpleasant experiences is considered bad.  Those who adopt this mentality place self seeking endeavors above the common good.

Now there are [distinctive] varieties of spiritual gifts [special abilities given by the grace and extraordinary power of the Holy Spirit operating in believers], but it is the same Spirit [who grants them and empowers believers]. And there are [distinctive] varieties of ministries and service, but it is the same Lord [who is served]. And there are [distinctive] ways of working [to accomplish things], but it is the same God who produces all things in all believers [inspiring, energizing, and empowering them]. But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit [the spiritual illumination and the enabling of the Holy Spirit] for the common good, 1 Corinthians 12:4-7.

During the first century, there was some confusion due to how God was allocating spiritual gifts among church members.  Apparently, jealousy distracted Christians from accomplishing the common good for society.  People who were blessed with special abilities that demonstrated God’s extraordinary powers were placed in higher esteem that those with more traditional gifts like discernment and hospitality.  This rift within Corinth inspired the apostle Paul to remind believers that without displaying love, spiritual gifts are meaningless, 1 Corinthians 13:1-3.

“Each of us… must rededicate ourselves to serving the common good.  Our individual fates are linked, our futures intertwined.  And if we act in that knowledge and in that spirit, together, as the Bible says, we can move mountains,” President Jimmy Carter 1978.

Jimmy Carter is the last evangelical Christian to hold the presidency of the United States.  Although most Americans would refer to the Carter presidency as a failure, this man has held a higher calling.  Known for his service to Habitat for Humanity, founded in his home state of Georgia, Carter has embraced the concept of providing homes for the homeless.  While most former presidents end up going on book tours, concentrate on speaking engagements or traveling the world, Carter volunteered his time to build homes.  The quote above serves as a great example of what it means to fulfill the common good.  Just as the city of Babel came together with a common purpose to erect a tower, Christian’s united under one spirit can move mountains.

by Jay Mankus

The Power of Thanksgiving

The Hebrew word for thanksgiving is ydh, referring to a public acknowledgement.  Greek uses the term efcharisto meaning the sense of appreciation, inspiring an expression of gratitude.  When a spirit of thanksgiving is verbalized to the down trodden, hurting and needy, affirmations can uplift anyone feeling down in the dumps.

Praise the Lord! Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever! – Psalm 106:1

Unfortunately, there is a negative force at work in the world, breeding critics, complaining and condemnation.  Whenever human beings give into the sinful nature, acts of the flesh come forth, usually in a cruel and harsh manner.  This mental barrier prevents individuals from doing the right thing as the apostle Paul describes in Romans 7.  The only way to break free from this addictive habit is through Jesus Christ.

Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you, 1 Thessalonians 5:18.

As a former professional golfer, my mind always got in the way, preventing me from reaching my full potential on the golf course.  Yet, the mind also hampers those off the course, in real life, whispering doubts, failure and ungodly beliefs into your head.  Unless you confront this battle with spiritual weapons, 2 Corinthians 10:3-5, victories will be few and far between.  Despite this troubling reality, with God all things are possible.  Therefore, if you want to make a difference this holiday season, unleash the power of Thanksgiving by keeping in step with the Holy Spirit, Galatians 5:25.

by Jay Mankus

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