2011 - The God Of Increase!

We’re off and running into a new year, 2011!  It has been my practice now formany years to preach to our congregation a New Year’s “theme.”  This is not gimmickry or the use of catch phrases (i.e. Learn to Wait, 2008; Focus on the Divine, 2009; Begin Again, 2010).  No, I’ve sincerely tried to listen for a “word in season” and for what “the Spirit says to the church.”  I was preaching in Northern California in early November and I was praying about our new year’s theme, when a distinct word came into my heart...INCREASE.  As my habit is, I started immediately jotting down notes and inspiration on anything available.  The biblical word for increase, “auzano,” means to grow, to increase, to enlarge, and it refers to the growth of that which is alive, naturally or spiritually.
Increase is so much more than just “noise, numbers and nickels,” but it is something that has everything to do with the nature of God and His kingdom.  What crystallized in my mind for this year was, “The God Of Increase.”  A biblical theology of increase is so much larger than most realize.  I want the word of God to “frame” our lives and our worlds this year.  The increase of the word of God and disciples is a key feature that flavors the Book of Acts.  The increase of love is commanded over and over throughout the Epistles.  Paul prays for the increase of revelation for the Ephesians.  The promise of God increasing strength was prophesied by Isaiah.
This is all a reasonable expectation based on the nature of God and His kingdom.  We usually only bring it out at Christmastime, but listen to (Isaiah 9:6,7) :For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end...”  The Kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is a growing not a failing kingdom.  Many times it may only appear small and insignificant, like a “mustard seed,”  but that distinctive is always present wherever God and the Gospel is on the loose!  One of the reasons that I love the Book of Acts is you see this feature at work in the life of the early church.  Luke’s introduction says, “In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach...”  He is saying in effect, “My first book, the Gospel of Luke, is the story of all Jesus began to do and to teach while on earth in the flesh.  My second book, the Acts of the Apostles, is the account of all that Jesus continued to do and to teach by His Spirit through His church.”  The other important aspect is that the Book of Acts is an unfinished narrative.  It is the only Bible book without an end.  The reason is that the Holy Spirit is still working today.  Acts 29 is still being written.  “The increase of his government” is still going on in the world today!
The focus on “The God Of Increase” is not a whip that says, “work harder; come on, snap to it, more effort!”  No, it carries with it the promise of a divine dimension in any of our labors.  This is the exciting part!  Consider (1Cor.3:6,7) “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase.  So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase.”  Notice where Paul’s hope and confidence lies: it is with the God who “gave the increase.”  A true, biblical understanding of increase will not lead to a selfish agenda that’s all about me (my needs, my wants, my agenda, my things).  It puts the focus where it needs to be, on God and His power and kingdom.  So there will be no misunderstanding he continues, “neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase.”  I really like the paraphrase that says, “It’s not the one who plants or the one who waters tho is at the center of this process but God, who makes things grow.”  The messengers are never as important as and should never eclipse the message or the means, which is Christ Himself.  That’s where I want our focus to be this year!
What activates all of this is one of the great revolutionary calls of the New Testament.  It is found in John the Baptist’s last words which embody his spiritual philosophy for life and ministry, (Jn.3:30) “HE MUST INCREASE, BUT I MUST DECREASE.”  This is another one of the Bible’s many reversals:  to live you’ve got to die, you become strong out of weakness, you are elevated by humbling yourself, the way up is the way down etc.  If I honestly look at my life and areas where I struggle (it’s a long list) I usually discover far too much of me, and far too little of Jesus.  “He must increase, but I must decrease.”  I read about a series of billboards in Dallas, TX that feature some famous and not-so famous individuals.  The caption on the billboard reads, “I am 2nd,” reminding us that God should always come first in our lives; and that a life well-lived is always one surrendered to God and His will.   Sports fans love to proclaim, “We’re #1," but the child of God rejoices in the truth that “we’re #2!”  This means that if we are to see increase in any area of our lives this year “He must increase, but I must decrease.”
I have a friend who because of circumstances in his life he has been put in the role of being a “church shopper.”  He’s had to visit many different churches.  He remarked that what stood out to him was how little vision there is in so many churches.  Instead, it’s all about making people feel good, and above all else, comfortable.  His observation has been that there is very little doctrinal content in what is being preached.  Worship is primarily about being entertained, not a participatory celebration.  Ministry is more of a glorified 12-step program rather than “Christ the wisdom of God and the power of God.”  Even in places where there are good things going on, it is all kept within the four walls of the church.  I’m sure this is not the case everywhere and his experience is naturally limited, but still, life-giving vision is not as prominent a quality as you might think.  Set against all of this is a statement that I want to grab a hold of moving into 2011.  “Though your beginning was small, your latter end will increase abundantly.” (Job 8:7)  Lord, help me to become more like You, and in this new year may your kingdom “increase” in and through our lives both individually as Your child, and corporately as part of Your church!