The Foundation of Generosity

I am a pastor. This means that I am responsible for shepherding God’s people. It means that I encourage and walk alongside God’s people in all areas of life. I help them with their family life. I help them when discouraged or tempted. It also means I talk about money.

2 Corinthians 9:7-8 7 Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 8 And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed;

Money has been my least favorite subject to talk about. Over the course of my ministry, I must admit that the sermons and Bible studies that have given me the most trouble are the ones in which I talked about money. I hated feeling like I am asking for people to give the church (interpretation: to me) money. I hated feeling like that there will be people who believe that I am in ministry for easy money.

This perspective changed a few years ago. It changed when I took a careful look at why I give. You see, I like giving. I like supporting my local church. I like providing for needs that I hear about. Why? I had never really thought about why I like giving. So, when I examined the “why” certain explanations came to my mind. In fact, these explanations for why I like giving were Scriptures that I had heard over my lifetime and just absorbed without realizing it. So, here are my foundational truths about life and money that motivate the joy I have found in giving. I hope that they help someone who enjoys giving too and wants a way to explain it to others, or I hope they help someone who wants to enjoy giving but is still struggling with it.

Foundational truth # 1 – Human beings are family, not strangers.

Jesus tells a parable about this reality. It is the famous parable of the Good Samaritan. This parable focuses on a person who had no reason to do good but chooses to do good anyway. Jesus asks the man to who he told the parable who was a true neighbor. His answer? The man who showed mercy was the true neighbor. The Samaritan in the parable even paid extra so the inn-keeper would nurse the hurt man back to health. Who do we act this way with? We act this way with family. In fact, when those we see as family have needs we look for ways to provide what they need. Seeing people as family matters.

Foundational truth # 2 – Money is a tool to do great things, not a goal in itself.

Jesus said, “the sons of this age are more shrewd in relation to their own kind than the sons of light.” (Luke 16:8b) What was He talking about? He was talking about how we use money. He declares that the lost know how to use money – to get what they want from others. Saved people struggle with that. Instead of using money to get what we say we want (more people to know the love and wonder of Jesus), what do we use money for? If the money is the goal then keeping as much as we possible can makes sense. If seeing the Lord Jesus be glorified is the goal then we will happily invest our money in bringing more people to a saving knowledge of Him! That way, we are using the money as a tool to accomplish the great good that we are seeking. We are not using money to keep score.

Foundational truth # 3 – Giving is an outgrowth of giving myself wholly to God and not a separate activity involving money.

This is the area of motivation. Why do I give? I give because I have already given myself to Jesus. He gets whatever He wants from me because I’ve already given everything I am to Him. Therefore, instead of taking from me what He wants I get to be a manager of His stuff to use as He calls me. It isn’t my stuff any longer. It is His stuff to manage as He sees fit. Sure, He gives me a great deal of latitude for much of what He has put me in charge of, but I must never forget that it is already His. That way, when He asks me to put His resources to use in a new way I can be excited about what He is going to do next. No resentment because He isn’t taking from me. He is asking me, as His manager, to use His resources in a new way. As Jesus said in the same teaching in Luke, “12 And if you have not been faithful in the use of that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own? 13 No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and  wealth.” (Luke 16:12-13) Someday Jesus will give me even more than I can imagine. Today He asks me to manage His blessings to maximize eternal benefit. If I see the blessings in my life as that, what other emotion than joy should I feel when He leads me to give?

These foundations are the ones that guide my perspective on giving. They have served me well as my wife and I invest together in eternity. They remove guilt as a motivation. They correct me when I am tempted to spend my blessings recklessly on pleasure alone. They make giving a joy especially when that giving is a sacrifice. These foundational truths are the backbone of generosity.

Something to think about,

Pastor John

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God is Dependable – What does that Mean?

Image result for God can be trustedWhen you think about trust, who is it that you truly trust? Yes, sometimes we have to lean on people who will disappoint us, but we don’t trust them, do we? It is necessity, not trust, that makes us lean on those people. Who do we trust? We trust those we can count on! When it comes to God, what does the Bible mean when it declares that we can depend on Him?

Psalm 33:4 For the Word of the Lord is right and true; He is faithful in all He does.

Here are three large areas that describe how God is supremely dependable:

  1. God acts consistently within His character.

God says repeatedly in His Word that we can trust God because He doesn’t do things like lie or change who He is. His standard for holiness has not changed. His revelation of what He cares about has not changed. What does that mean for us? It means that the way God will act in our life will always match the character that is revealed in the Scripture. God will not suddenly become unloving or unholy. His character will always be consistent.

  1. God does what He says He will do.

There is a very disappointing reality about humans. We sometimes make promises that we don’t or can’t keep. God doesn’t do that. When He says He will do something, He does it. The Lord keeps His promises. Even when we are tempted to give up hope, the Scriptures encourage us with this idea: God will keep His promises.

  1. When He works, He does it well

There was a funny saying that I heard often when I was a student. It went, “God don’t make no junk.” Double negatives aside, the point is that when God works in a life He doesn’t do a half-hearted job. He doesn’t make a mess of things. When God’s work is accomplished in a life, it is amazing. The Apostle Paul encouraged his churches with thoughts like this. He declared that what God was doing was, “exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think.” (Ephesians 3:20)

When you and I struggle, we need to come back to these three glorious truths. They remind us that no matter what circumstances we face, God is there. He does not abandon us. He works in our lives. He walks with us, hand in hand. We can trust Him.

Normally, I would stop there and sign off for the week. However, I feel led to write a little longer this week about the discouragement that some of us feel when God’s work in our lives feels delayed. We may acknowledge that the Bible does declare these three things about God, but when the struggle persists or God says no to our proposed solution to our problems we struggle with discouragement about trusting God.  Let me offer a little perspective about what is happening many times when we want God to act and He delays.

  1. We are asking God to do something that violates His character.

Now, I don’t mean that we are asking God to sin. (Although I have had people ask me if God wouldn’t solve their problem without them giving up the sin that caused it – but that is a small number of people) I mean that our solution to our problems asks God to deny a part of His nature to emphasize another part of His nature. An example: when we ask God to judge quickly someone who has hurt us while ignoring the fact that He refrains from executing judgment specifically because He also loves to show mercy. God is not simplistic. He is filled with a good desires that tugs at His own heart. No sin, but definitely complex desires and character. Our simple answers can violate that part of God’s character and so we are frustrated by His delay.

  1. God is doing something bigger in our life than one season will accomplish.

Many times, I want God to act now!  As time passes, God shows me that His vision for my struggle was bigger than my vision. As the years pass, I keep learning more and more that when God seems to delay in answering my prayers that He is doing bigger things than I can see from where I am presently standing.

  1. God values quality and not just simplicity.

When I am struggling, I just want to escape. I am not thinking about how God is refining me. I am not thinking about I can grow and change to become more like Jesus. I just want out. What about you? Don’t you find yourself wanting the same? That’s not enough for God. Consistently in the Word we see Him say that He does things through suffering that transforms us on the inside. Sure, it leaves scars. However, as we turn to God in trust over and over, God takes those scars and redeems them in profoundly glorious ways.

What’s the point? There is a two-fold encouragement in Scripture. First, God’s people through the ages declare to us that God can be trusted. He is dependable and worthy of our trust. The second encouragement is that waiting on God is worth it too. Isaiah says that, “They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength. They shall mount up with wings as eagles. They shall run and not grow weary. They shall walk and not faint.” (Isaiah 40:31) So, let’s trust God at both times. If your faith is new or fragile today, know that God is worthy of your trust. He can be trusted. He is dependable. If your faith is seasoned or struggling, don’t talk yourself out of the child-like trust that Jesus encourages us to have. Children keep believing in their parents even though they don’t understand many of the things they do. Likewise, let us fan the flame of child-like trust when we don’t understand what God is doing. He is worthy of that kind of trust too. We can always depend on Him.

Something to think about,

Pastor John

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How Can I Have Courage?

Image result for courageFear does crazy things to us. It changes how we look at the world around us. It’s like we develop tunnel vision. We only see two things: the thing we fear and a means of escape. We lose sight of our strengths. We forget if we have a reason to not be afraid. It’s time to remove the blinders that cause our tunnel vision. Remembering why we don’t have to be afraid helps us when we face our next fearful encounter. As Christians, what should we remember no matter what crisis we find ourselves in?

  1. We serve the God of Heaven and of Earth and not some small power in the universe. God is not just the God of America or Christians. He is the Almighty, the maker of Heaven and Earth! No problem is too big for Him.
  2. God sees His children as family and not servants. His commitment to us is absolute. He gives us His attention, His power, His love, and His abiding presence. We aren’t God’s doorstops. We are His precious ones.
  3. This life is no where near the sum of our existence. Eternity beckons every believer. Our bodies will be better. Our lives will be better. AND – It lasts much longer that this life. A million years in the new Heaven and Earth will be but a drop in the bucket. How long do we live here?
  4. Unlike lesser purposes like occupations, the purpose of a child of God can never be taken away by age, disability, circumstances, or economics. The life of a child of God is to shine for Jesus. None of the things that might take away our job or our bank account can stop us from shining for Jesus. Thus, our lives will always have purpose!

Consider this word…

Philippians 1:21-22 21 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. 22  But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which to choose.

If you have ever wondered… these truths are why the Apostle Paul declares with absolute confidence that both living and dying were equally attractive options for himself in Philippians 1. He doesn’t wish for death because life is so hard. He cling to life because death is so scary. He is completely at peace with either choice because he has nothing to truly fear from either situation. Life means he can shine for Jesus. Death means he gets to be with Jesus. He can’t lose. When we remember these truths, we get the same confidence. Fear predictably loses its hold on us as we remind ourselves of the reason for our confidence. It’s hard to scare someone who has prepared to be scared. We prepare by remembering and trusting the promises of God in Christ.

Something to think about,

Pastor John

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Fear, Good or Bad?

Let’s think today about something we probably try to avoid thinking about: fear. We try to avoid thinking about it because of the other words we associate with it: scared, frightened, trembling, cowardly, etc. These words to be sure are emotional ones. They invoke feelings that we try to avoid. However, there is another important word that comes up, and it helps us understand exactly what fear is to us. That word is power.

What do I mean by that? What does power have to do with fear? Well, with the exception of things that we fear because they disgust us (mice, spiders, crickets, etc.), all fear comes because we believe that something has the power to affect us. We fear the IRS because it can garnish our wages. We fear the dentist because she can drill into our jaw. We fear diseases because they can cause pain or even death. We fear because we believe something in our life has power. The power may be limited, but we believe it still exists to affect us.

Proverbs 9:10 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.

The Bible encourages to fear God. Why? Why would God want us to both love Him and fear Him? After thinking about what fear is, it is easier to understand it. If fear at its core is a statement about the power something or someone has to affect our lives, then it makes perfect sense that we should fear God. He is the ultimate change agent in the universe. Above the creepy crawlies that we fear, God is greater. Above any problems that we fear, God is greater. Above any people or group of people that we fear, God is greater. Above any spiritual force in the universe we may face, God is greater.

Think with me about what that does in a person who lets it sink in. I have two types of people in mind: the faithful follower of Jesus and the God resistant person. How does a healthy fear of God affect each of them?

The faithful follower learns from a healthy fear of God…

1. God is bigger than my problems

2. When God makes promises, He keeps them.

3. When I am tempted to compromise my moral compass, God’s power and assurance let me know I don’t have to.

4. When I feel alone, God’s promise lets e know my feelings are not to be trusted.

5. God’s power and love lets me face every obstacle, even the impossible ones!

The God resistant person learns from a healthy fear of God…

1. I am not in control as often as I pretend to be. God is.

2. I can’t run from God.

3. If I oppose God, I will not ultimately win.

4. I, a mere human, think I can overcome or defeat the Almighty. What hubris!

5. If He is this profoundly unstoppable when I am resisting Him, how much more amazing will He be if I were to follow Him?

We see, for the faithful follower, the fear of God produces trust, comfort, and encouragement. It doesn’t make us scared. The fear of the Lord makes us supremely confident. It is a confidence that does not need our defense or defensiveness. It is a quiet and profound strength. It is strength in God.

For the resistant person, the fear of God is a constant call to stop resisting and start trusting. His power and unstoppable nature call us to lay down our resistance and come over to His side. We studied the woman of faith, Rahab, on Sunday. That is her story. She tells the spies that all of Jericho was melting at the thought of facing the God of Israel. Her response? The God of Israel is the God of Heaven and Earth. She chose to no longer resist.

What about you and me? Do we face each day with that type of confidence because we know that God is on our side? Do we really fear God as the Bible speaks or is there room to grow? Is He the unstoppable force of our life? Is He the greatest power of our lives or just one of many? Oh the change that happens when we understand His power rightly!

Something to think about,

Pastor John

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We Need Friends

Friends. They are easy to take for granted. They are easy to see as just happy additions to our lives. Those of us who have gone through hard times appreciate them immensely. However, have we given much thought to how faithful friends can help us in our walk with Jesus? Have we thought about how much good friends can amplify our courage?

Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 9 Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor. 10 For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up. 11 Furthermore, if two lie down together they keep warm, but how can one be warm alone? 12 And if one can overpower him who is alone, two can resist him. A cord of three strands is not quickly torn apart.

Think about the profound encouragement of these verses. First, when two work together they have a great opportunity to see success. Second, when two walk together their time in the dirt is shorter. Third, when two are together the cold is easier to defeat. Fourth, the fights we face are easier to endure. Whether we are working, just living, facing calamity, or being opposed we find strength when we walk together. Do we believe it?

Image result for we need friendsThere was a recent study done by Cigna (the health insurance company) that found that almost half of Americans feel isolated or alone. Probably even more disturbing is that the study also revealed that loneliness relates to mortality at the same rate as smoking 15 cigarettes a day does! Having an active social media presence didn’t make the feeling of being alone any better. Screen time is not the same as face time. We don’t need strangers online. We need friends at home.

We shouldn’t be surprised at Cigna’s findings. The Bible speaks well of having faithful friends who call us to live for God and invest in others. The problem is that many of us use substitutes for friendship. We avoid rubbing shoulders with others and believe that our Facebook or Twitter followers are the same thing. We hide what we really feel and keep our friendships at the acquaintance level. We insulate ourselves from uncomfortable situations by using platitudes to shield ourselves from actually walking with people through their struggles.

The greatest commandment according to Jesus is to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. The second greatest is to love our neighbor as our self. Do we seek to do that? Do we really seek to love our neighbor like we love ourselves? Do we seek out people to walk with? If you are wondering – yes, they will disappoint us at times. Yes, we will let them down too. However, that’s how friendships are forged – through thick and thin. When one falls down, the other picks him up. When she is working, her friend doubles her success. That’s what the Scripture says. Friends are worth it. Being a friend is worth it too.

Something to think about,

Pastor John

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Preparing to be Courageous

Image result for what is courageHave you considered what it takes to be courageous? Do you think of courage as the exclusive domain of the fearless? Courage isn’t just available to those who don’t feel fear. It is also available to any who will prepare.

Prepare. What do I mean by prepare? The simple definition of preparation is to consistently put together the tools for success. I thought about firemen this past week. They aren’t just courageous because they are brave. They also prepare every week to use their tools. They practice constantly so that they know what to do in the situations they face. They prepare, therefore their courage does not fail them.

How does that relate to having courage as a Christian? We too, can prepare to be used by God. As we prepare, we are getting ready to be courageous.

Joshua 1:7-8 7 Only be strong and very courageous;  be careful to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, so that you may have success wherever you go. 8  This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success.

So, how do we prepare as Christians?

  1. We learn the Word of God. The Bible declares that when we hide God’s Word in our hearts, we prepare ourselves to find victory sin.
  2. We practice the Word of God. When we obey the Word, we make a habit of living by trusting what God has said. As that becomes our character, it becomes easier to make the right choices. That is the backbone of courage.
  3. We rejoice in the work of God. Rejoicing in what God is doing helps us practice seeing God’s activity in our lives. Seeing God work reinforces our prayers and our desire to stand for Him. Never underestimate the power of the “effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man”!

This is our preparation: the Word, obedience, and faith-filled prayer. As we practice these things we are preparing to stand in courage for what we believe and what God is leading us to do. We need people of courage and character in our day. Are you and I preparing to be those type of people?

Something to think about,

Pastor John

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Finding Delight In the Word

Psalms 1:1-2 ​1 How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked,
Nor stand in the  path of sinners, Nor sit in the seat of scoffers! 2 But his delight is in the law of the Lord, And in His law he meditates day and night.

Image result for house built on the rockEnglish is so sloppy. Specifically, how we speak about love is sloppy. We use the same word for loving our spouse, loving our dog, and loving a cheeseburger. Obviously, it isn’t the same thing. We are encouraged in the Bible to love the Word of God. What does that look like?

The verse of the week is Psalm 1:1-2. I am specifically thinking about verse 2: “his delight is in the law of the Lord…” This verse makes me think: what does that delight look like? I see in Psalm 119 (the Psalm all about the Word of God) the psalmist use words like delight, treasure and meditate all over the place. He isn’t quiet about this delighting in the Word of God that we see in Psalm 1. The Psalmist demands it.

Psalm 1 also demands it. As we look at the psalm, we see a simple and clear difference between the one who delights in God’s Word and the wicked. The wicked are like chaff. The one who delights in the Word is like a mighty tree. The wicked face God’s discipline. The one who delights in the Word receives God’s blessing. This is pretty clear stuff.

So then, what does it look like to delight in the Word of God?

  1. We read and think on the Word of God deeply enough for it to move us. The things we truly delight in are things that move us. They make us happy. They make us cry. The thing they don’t do is make us say, “Meh…” We should think deeply enough that it moves our affections and passions.
  2. We seek to understand and not just fill a quota. People talk about having a daily quiet time. That is great. However, if our devotional time is just something to check off our to do list, then we are not delighting in the Word. When I read, I want to understand the Word. I want to know what it has to do with me. I don’t want to ever just take it for granted.
  3. We always seek to apply God’s Word to our life. Yes, there are a few places in Scripture (genealogies, for example) where direct application will be more in the area of appreciation, but the Scripture has been given to teach, correct, rebuke and train us in righteousness. It wasn’t given to merely appreciate. It was given to change, challenge, comfort, and correct. Those who delight in God’s Word aren’t satisfied with simply reading it. They want to do it.

If this is what it looks like to delight in His Word, then how do we do it?

  1. Never read passively. When our brains and hearts are engaged, the Word’s truths naturally move us. We don’t have to manufacture feeling. A life intentionally given to understand God’s Word will be moved.
  2. Come to your personal time with God as worship, not just reading. Whether it is singing, praying, or thinking deeply – worship God as you spend personal time with Him. Read His Word with that same intensity.
  3. Fight lethargy and sporadic affection with the same intensity as you would in any relationship you value. Don’t be surprised by times of dryness, be ready for them with renewed fervency and time chasing after Jesus.
  4. After you understand the Word ask this question, “How can I live this out in my life today?”

It is easy to forget that loving God in Christ is all about getting to know more of Him. We like the emotional side of worship as we sing and pour our hearts out to Him. Yet, letting Him speak is just as important. His clearest speech comes through His Word. Let’s listen to Him with rapt attention!

Something to think about,

Pastor John

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