BLOG
Check here weekly for new blogs, and peruse our archives for dozens of great resources.

Generosity With an Abundance of Joy

selective focus photography of person holding white clustered flowers
 
We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints— and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us.Accordingly, we urged Titus that as he had started, so he should complete among you this act of grace. But as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you—see that you excel in this act of grace also. (II Corinthians 8:1-7 ESV)

Generosity is an interesting word.  It can relate to so many different things.  We can be generous with our time as we pay special attention to someone.  We can be generous with our talents as we give someone a hand with a task they are not personally equipped to handle.  We can be generous with our treasures as we provide resources for an important person or project.

In our reading Paul speaks about generosity.  Here’s what we learn from these seven verses:

  • Verse 2: in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part.  Generosity isn’t about an abundance of wealth—it is an abundance of joy that moves us to share all good things.
  • Verse 3:  they gave according to their means.  In other words, God never expects something from us that He hasn’t already given to us.
  • Verse 4:  begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints.  Generosity looks for opportunity to bless others.
  • Verse 5:  they gave themselves first to the Lord.  Generosity is about a relationship with the Lord who is so generous to each of us.
  • Verse 7:  you excel in this act of grace.  Being generous is an act of grace.  Grace is doing something simply out of the faith and joy that lives in the Christian heart.

How wonderful it is to joyfully respond to the grace of God by sharing what He entrusts to our keeping.

I marvel at Your generosity, gracious Lord.  While we were still sinners You died for us.  You gave Your life on our behalf that we would have eternal life in heaven.  Teach us generosity that we would follow You in all boldness of faith.  Amen.

 

Read more...

A Truthful Life

man in blue and white striped crew neck shirt reading book during daytime
 
[Jesus said,] “For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Don’t even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Don’t even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” [Matthew 5:46-48]

Just give it to me straight… I recently filled out a survey, which promised to give me $100 if I completed it. After getting done, they clarified – I was eligible for $100 worth of magazines. Ugh… okay, that could still be worth something, even if it’s not $100. After picking four interesting magazines, they then informed me that I would have to pay a $2 fee per magazine subscription! So much for that survey…

Life can feel gimmicky. Faith can seem to be just one more hoop to jump through. But in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gets rid of all gimmicks. Jesus eliminates all the wiggle room that centuries of people had built around the truth, to make it seem like they were accomplishing what in fact they were not. 

“You’ve heard it was said… But TRULY I tell you…” is the refrain of this portion of the sermon on the mount. And Jesus concludes it by letting people know: You must be perfect as God is perfect. Quit talking about perfection. Drop your sales pitches. Stop virtue-signaling. Live by the truth.

And the truth is not nearly as hypothetical or debatable, according to the way Jesus spells it out. It’s not merely “don’t murder;” don’t even use hateful speech. It’s not merely “don’t have affairs;” don’t even lust in your heart. It’s not “honor your promises;” quit making promises and just do what you say! 

Jesus makes it clear: a truthful life is lived out word by word, interaction by interaction, day by day. The powerful and truly convicting thing is that Jesus didn’t merely say these things. Jesus did it. Jesus demonstrated a truthful life, in every interaction, all the way up to the cross, as he forgave the very people who murdered him. He embraced “truth in the inner parts” (Psalm 51). And the Truth has set us free.

Live by the truth. Love your enemies. Strive for perfection. And remember, it’s not in the thinking and believing and saying the right words; truth is in the doing. And Truth is in you because Jesus is in you! 

Prayer: Jesus, You are the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Guide us in Your Way by your Truth, into eternal Life. We trust You, because Your love has changed us. Continue to work in us and through us day by day. In Your name we pray, AMEN.

Read more...

Generosity Out of Abundance

person getting 1 U.S. dollar banknote in wallet
 

41 And (Jesus) sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box. Many rich people put in large sums. 42 And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny.  43 And he called his disciples to him and said to them, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. 44 For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.” (Mark 12:41-44 ESV)

A parable is a story that Jesus would tell to make a point.  Jesus spoke the parable of the Prodigal Son to teach about forgiveness.  He spoke the parable of the sheep and goats to speak about loving the least.  He spoke the parable of Lost Sheep to encourage our efforts to seek and save the lost.

But this account of the woman placing “everything she had” into the temple treasury is NOT a parable.  This account actually took place!

Can you believe it?  Jesus says that she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on. 

How do we react to this?  What do we make of this woman?  What would we say to this sister in the faith?  Would we ask if she was crazy?  Would we accuse her of testing God to see if He would provide for her?  Would we accuse her of being a poor steward of the resources God placed into her care and keeping?

Or, would we ask her to tell us more of her amazing grace that would move her to such generosity?  We would beg her to show us how to be so trusting and generous.  Would we want to be just like her?

Does God require us to give Him everything?  Yes he does!  I’m not promoting that you empty your bank account and place it all in the offering.  I do believe we should consider the following:

  • Do we manage all we have been given by God in a manner that glorifies Him?
  • Do we simply “contribute out of our abundance” (verse 44), meaning, do we give what we feel we can afford to let go without infringing on our lifestyle?
  • Does our generosity reflect God’s.

We give Thee but Thine own,
Whate’er the gift may be;
All that we have is Thine alone,
A trust, O Lord, from Thee.  Amen.


Read more...

A “Beautiful” Life

focus photography of yellow and red petaled flower
 
And Jesus opened up his mouth and taught them, saying: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven… Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” [Matthew 5:2,10]

People want things to look good. Maybe it goes back to the Garden, when Eve thought that the tree from the knowledge of good and evil looked pretty, or maybe it comes from being made in the image of our Creator God – or maybe both. Whatever the case, we value beauty.

Beautiful clothes, cars, people, possessions. Beautiful lawns, gardens, houses. As Solomon noted, “God has made everything beautiful in its time (Ecclesiastes 3). But God has not meant for it merely to be a worldly ideal, or merely about physical things. God has designed the life, or daily actions, of a Christian to be beautiful. 

We are called to live beautiful lives. But it doesn’t look at all like humans are wired to think. A “beautiful” life, as Jesus defined it in the Beatitudes, is in many ways the inverse of what we would humanly expect. It’s not about bigger or nicer things. It’s not about accumulating anything actually. The beautiful life of a Christian looks more like having mercy, doing what is right no matter the cost. A life of beauty looks like tears of mourning and yearning for God’s kingdom. A life of beauty looks like suffering and being persecuted. 

No one ever would have said a man dying painfully on a cross was beautiful. And it wasn’t. It was tragic, painful, treacherous, wrong. But Jesus’ act of selfless love, his act of giving himself for us was the clearest display of beauty. 

Sure, keep a great garden. Have a clean house. Invest in things that look nice and work well. Join in with the Creator God who built us to be creative. But remember this: Beauty is actually seen in following Jesus every day, in the little ways. It can’t always be captured in a picture. Just as Jesus made clear in the Beatitudes, go live a blessed, truly beautiful life.

Prayer: Lord God, you created us. You sustain us and inspire us to live in your image. Through Jesus’ sacrifice, you have saved us and taught us to see beauty in selfless love. Empower us by your Holy Spirit to live a life of beauty. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Read more...

What “Day” Is It Today? (Part 3)

woman in brown coat and black pants sitting on brown wooden bench

“The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught. Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, ‘Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” Mark 6:30-31

Has it been a busy week? Have you had more things to do than time to do it? Then this is the day you need:  World Unplugging Day.  What a great idea. Today is the day to step away from at least some of our electronics. Of course, finish reading this devotion!  But then maybe it would be good to spend a little less time online.  That could be maybe fewer emails, less time on social media, and less time checking on your favorite websites.

This time away has always been a good idea. The disciples had the same idea when they found themselves and Jesus surrounded by too many people. What a wonderful invitation Jesus gave when he invited them to go away to a quiet place to rest. Wouldn’t that be a perfect day:  a quiet place, no crowd, just you and Jesus.

The good news is that we can still have that time. Oh, we won’t get in a boat and sail away with Jesus. But we can take that slice of time that might have been used up online and spend it with Jesus in hearing his word and prayer. At the heart of that time is forgiveness which means that we can be at peace with Jesus. Romans 5:1 reminds us that having been justified by grace, we have peace with God.  So, our quiet time with Jesus can be truly quiet, a peaceful time to hear his promises and the reassurance of being forgiven. What a great way to spend even 5 minutes away from the computer or phone. Hear again the promises of forgiveness, perhaps by reading Psalm 23 and Psalm 103, and enjoying the reassurance of peace by forgiveness. Take the time, unplug the phone and computer and rest in the forgiveness that brings us peace.

Our Heavenly Father, take us to a quiet place, away from the endless media and information of our world. Help us to hear only your words and let them be words of peace and forgiveness. We pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.


Read more...