The Root of Generosity

This post is part of a devotional series based on our 2020 Bible Reading Calendar.

Each person should do as he has decided in his heart–not reluctantly or out of compulsion, since God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make every grace overflow to you, so that in every way, always having everything you need, you may excel in every good work. ~ 2 Corinthians 9:7-8

Second Corinthians 8&9 are back to back chapters encouraging generosity. At the time that Paul wrote, Corinth was a relatively wealthy city, unaffected by many of the hardships other communities faced. Yet, something had been lacking in their generosity, so Paul felt the need to encourage them to do more to give to the needs of others.

He presented various churches in Macedonia as an example to them in chapter 8. They had faced a “severe trial” that led to “extreme poverty” (8:2), yet they had begged Paul to use their resources to help those who were in even greater need (8:4). With a greater abundance of resources, Paul urged the church at Corinth to follow the example of these other churches.

Yet, Paul did not want guilt to be the motive behind their giving. After the example offered in chapter 8, Paul moved to motivation in chapter 9, and as a primary focus he chose joy and the grace of God.

God’s grace, after all, is his great generosity to us. Grace is goodness and kindness offered to us that we cannot earn or work for. In Ephesians 1, Paul wrote about how God lavished us with grace, speaking of our salvation in Jesus. Due to our rebellious nature against God, all we deserve is his judgement and wrath. Yet, when God offers us Jesus to cover our rebellion and give us salvation, he doesn’t offer us a place in his kingdom as servants with minimal provision. No, he offers us a place as his beloved sons and daughters who rule alongside Jesus, the King of kings, as fellow kings and queens over eternity.

God, in his grace, gives us abundantly more than we could imagine. And while we will not come into the fullness of our inheritance until we enter into eternity with the resurrected life, God offers us hints of these resources today.

One of the reasons that God gives his goodness and provisions to us is so we can then turn and give goodness and provision to others. God’s grace motivates generosity.

But God’s grace also produces joy in our lives. Jesus is the source of all life and joy, and to know him is to find happiness beyond present circumstances. So, Paul wrote, we should not feel forced to give, but we should give out of joy.

This is why Paul did not tell the church at Corinth to give a set percentage or dollar amount. He wanted them to go to God in prayer, pondering the joy they had in Christ, and dwelling on the great grace that God gives. And then, he wanted them to decide how much to give.

God calls us to be generous toward others. How do you decide how generous to be? Let grace and joy motivate you. Go to God in prayer, reflect on the joy of salvation, and meditate on the lavish grace of God. Then decide how much to give.

All Scripture quotations taken from the Christian Standard Bible.

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A Portrait of Repentance

This post is part of a devotional series based on our 2020 Bible Reading Calendar.

The sacrifice pleasing to God is a broken spirit. You will not despise a broken and humbled heart, God. ~ Psalm 51:17

David wrote Psalm 51 after one of the darkest moments of his life. The good king, the king who had been so faithful to God, the king who had won many battles and led God’s people to greatness–the king “after God’s own heart,” had committed a terrible sin. And that is an understatement.

He had an affair with another man’s wife and when she became pregnant, he tried to conceal first by manipulating the man, Uriah, and when that failed, he had Uriah purposefully killed in battle. King David murdered another man to conceal his own infidelity.

It was only after the prophet Nathan confronted him and spoke God’s judgement against David’s sin, that the king realized the error of his way. His power, it seems, blinded him to the obvious.

What followed, however, was a heart of true repentance. Such does not negate the heinousness of David’s crimes, and David still suffered loss because of it, but he also found the grace of God’s forgiveness.

So, what did repentance look like for David as a model for us?

First, he humbly called out for God’s compassion, and in doing so he confessed his sin against God. David realized that he stood guilty before God, more than before any other court. He needed grace and forgiveness, and God is the author of such. We find our grace and forgiveness through Jesus. He is the one who wipes away the eternal guilt of our sin. That does not mean we won’t suffer societal or physical consequences still for our sin, but the guilt that separated us from eternal life is removed.

Second, he asked for God to cleanse him. The stain of sin was great, but God could renew and restore his heart. So it is, again, in Christ that we receive a new heart and a new spirit. Our hearts of stone that once beat for the world and ourselves, become hearts of flesh that beat for God. Our spirit, once dead in trespasses and sins, becomes alive in Christ.

Third, he sought the joy that only God can give. Sin has momentary pleasures, a sense of happiness in the moment. But God alone is the source of unending happiness. This joy we find in God is not a happiness in things but a happiness in a person–in God himself and second to that the good things that he gives. If we have Jesus, then the happiest we feel today will pale compared to the eternal happiness we are promised; and the saddest we feel today will fade as a distant memory to the greater joy of forever.

Fourth, he vowed to tell of God’s goodness. Who are God’s people? What is the church? We are those who were broken in sin and now are being pieced back together by God. We are those who deserved eternal death but now have joyous forever-life by the undeserved goodness of God alone. We are those who have been lavished with grace, and this not because of anything we have done. So, what do we do? We seek to lavish others with grace as well. We want the to experience the goodness that we have experienced, so we tell them about God’s goodness, greatness, and love.

Repentance leads us not to shy away from our past but to see it through the lens of God’s grace and forgiveness, as we offer people great hope through Jesus.

All Scripture quotations taken from the Christian Standard Bible.

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The Moment When We Die

This post is part of a devotional series based on our 2020 Bible Reading Calendar.

In fact, we are confident, and we would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. ~ 2 Corinthians 5:8

What happens when we die? That is a question we all ponder at some point in time. For the follower of Jesus, death is the pathway to something better. In 2 Corinthians 5, Paul wrote of the hope we have through Jesus. Right now, in the body, we are not in the full presence of the Lord. But when we die, Paul wrote, we go to be “home with the Lord.”

While we do not seek to force our own death, we trust that God has determined our days, when that death comes we step into the full presence of the one who is perfect joy and unending life.

Yet, what we experience then is not our final state of being.

What we experience beginning the moment we die is like an interlude before the final act starts. In the beginning, God created us body and soul–as both physical and spiritual creatures combined into one. This, on Genesis’ sixth day, God declared “very good.” Yet, because of sin and death, our current physical bodies age, break down, suffer, and eventually cease to function. They are temporary.

This is part of Paul’s point in 5:1-5, where he referred to our current body as an “earthly tent.” This he contrasted with “a building from God, an eternal dwelling in the heavens,” speaking of our resurrected, perfected, and glorified bodies.

Tents are temporary. They are meant to be lived in for only a short season. The building from God is where we are meant to dwell forever. But that time after death and before the resurrection is a time in between. It is, without doubt, a wonderful time in between because we are with Jesus, but it is also a time that Paul symbolized as being “naked” (5:3-4). It also is not how we are meant to be, but we wait for that day to be “clothed… swallowed up by life” (5:4).

So, what happens the moment we die? If we belong to Jesus, we go to dwell with him and in his joyful presence, we wait with anticipation for the resurrection, our final step into true eternal life.

All Scripture quotations taken from the Christian Standard Bible.

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Our Refuge and Strength

This post is part of a devotional series based on our 2020 Bible Reading Calendar.

God is our refuge and strength, a helper who is always found in times of trouble. Therefore we will not be afraid, though the earth trembles and the mountains topple into the depths of the seas, though its water roars and foams and the mountains quake with its turmoil. ~Psalm 46:1-3

We’re living in a moment that seems more troubled than most. Not because of the danger of war or threat of terrorism, which we have faced before, but due to an enemy that is harder to see. A virus has upended our lives, not just in a single location, but throughout the world.

In a way, with measures being taken, we hope for light at the end of the tunnel, though we’re not too sure how long the tunnel is.

Psalm 46 was written for such uncertain times. In fact, the words of the opening verses use the language of the earth crumbling to represent the dangers, uncertainties, and fears we face at different times in life. It is, very literally, the idea of “it feels like the world is crumbling around me.”

Yet, the psalm reminds us that even in troubled moments, there is One who is greater than the trouble. In our fear, there is One greater than our fear. In our uncertainty, there is One who is ever-certain.

God is the one to whom we are to turn and trust. He is our helper. More than this, the psalm continues in verse four: “There is a river–its streams delight the city of God, the holy dwelling place of the Most High.” God is also the one who sustains our joy in troubled times.

God being our helper and joy-provider doesn’t mean that life in troubled times is easier for followers of Jesus than for others. No, we’re not immune from the physical and financial struggles the world in general faces. It does mean, however, no matter how bad things seem to get, we have a hope, a great light, that shines above and beyond the darkness.

In addition to this, not only do we have the Most High to whom we can go, we also have a God who has already taken up residence with us, indeed, within us. In John 7:37-39, Jesus referred to the Holy Spirit, who comes to dwell in us as we place our trust in Jesus, as “streams of living water [flowing] from deep within in.”

How do we find strength and joy in the midst of the trouble? Though the Holy Spirit reminding us of the great promises and truth of God as we spend time in his word and in prayer. So, do not neglect your relationship with our refuge and helper. Read God’s word and let the truths sink deep within your heart and mind. Pray, casting your anxieties and worries upon the One who is greater than all.

All Scripture quotations taken from the Christian Standard Bible.

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Living in View of Death

This post is part of a devotional series based on our 2020 Bible Reading Calendar.

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ! Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the Lord’s work, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain. ~1 Corinthians 15:56-58

One day, you will die.

That is part of the reality of the world in which we live. Unless Jesus first returns, the day is coming where you will take your final breath on earth. How should this reality impact the way we live today?

Some might live in fear, going beyond common sense living to try to extend their life by any means necessary, not realizing it is beyond their control. Yet, for the follower of Jesus, death is nothing to fear. It is, instead, the step into our Savior’s presence.

Some might try to ignore it, focused on the moment and rarely thinking ahead. Yet, again, this is not the option for those who belong to Jesus. The Bible tells us about death and what happens following because it is supposed to be something we keep in mind.

For the follower of Jesus, we live with the reality of death before us but also the hope of the resurrection into eternal life beyond death. This reality, Paul told us, should impact our daily lives. We have victory in Jesus, so we should have a “steadfast and immovable” faith and hope in the face of death. No matter the worst the world can throw at us today, there is something more joyful and more glorious beyond that veil.

Thus, we should “always excel in the Lord’s work.” And what is the “Lord’s work”? Regardless of our vocation, we are to love and serve others and lead as many as we can to be fellow followers of Jesus. That is the Great Commandment of Matthew 22 and the Great Commission of Matthew 28.

When we devote time and resources to seeing others know Jesus and his love, then that time and those resources will never be wasted.

So, in light of death, let us live with that aim.

All Scripture quotations taken from the Christian Standard Bible.

 

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How to “do church” when we can’t gather together

The Bible teaches us that church isn’t a building and isn’t a place, but a people. Followers of Jesus are the church. There is what we call a “universal” aspect to this–every believer from every age of history and every location on earth. We are one big family, but we won’t all be together until Jesus returns. Then there is what we call the “local” church–a particular group of believers who regularly gather in a particular location.

The command to not neglect to meet together (Hebrews 10:25) speaks of our local gatherings as we anticipate the day we will join with all our brothers and sisters in the universal gathering.

But sometimes circumstances happen, like with the current pandemic or a winter ice storm, that temporarily hinder our ability to gather. In such cases, we don’t stop being the church, because the church is us. So, what can we do to still keep some sense of our regular gathering when we can’t meet?

Here’s some ideas, in no particular order:

1) Read the Bible together as a family. If you’re married and/or you have children, then use Sunday as a special time to read God’s word together, focus, and reflect on what it says. If you keep sermon notes, you could potentially go back and reread a recent passage and discuss it as a family. If you use a Bible reading calendar, such as this one: 2020 Bible Reading Calendar, then you could read that day’s passage together, talk about it, and pray about it.

If you have young children, you might find a Bible story book useful. The Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones is an excellent resource you can find on Amazon in both print and kindle additions. Also of note are the Tiny Truths Illustrated Bible and the It’s All About Jesus Bible Storybook.

2. Spend extra time in prayer. You can do this by yourself, or again as a family. This would be a great time to think about others in the church or your Sunday School / Bible Study Class and pray for them specifically by name. You can read through a Psalm, song, or hymn line-by-line, pausing to pray whatever comes to mind after each line. You can also spend time praying for the spread of the Gospel in our communities, nation, and world. This would be a great time to pray for other community churches as well as unreached people groups–Joshua Project is a great resource for that.

3. Spend time singing. We sing when we gather as a church. Chances are you also sing in the car, when you’re cleaning, or in the shower. So why not set aside some time on Sunday, again as an individual or with your family, to sing praises to God? If you have a hymnal, you can use that. Or you can put in a CD or fire up the music player on your phone and sing along. You can also find many great Christian songs, often with lyrics, on YouTube.

4. Read. You might set aside some time to read a good devotional book or other book that points your heart and mind to God.

5. Watch a livestream of a church service. Even if they don’t regularly livestream, many churches are using this time to do just that. We’re going to give it a try with info before hand on our Facebook page about it. You can find a lot of streams from a lot of good churches.

6. Contact your fellow church members. We’re hearing the phrase “social distancing” a lot in recent days. I did see a person comment that maybe “physical distancing” would be a better phrase to use. After all, though we want to keep physical interactions down for a few weeks, we still have plenty of ways to socially connect. Text some people in church. Give them a call. If they want, maybe spend some time using Facebook Messenger or another app to video chat with them or have a group chat with several people, again like your Sunday School or Bible Study.

We can’t meet for the moment, but there are still plenty of ways to connect.

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Scriptures and Prayers for Uncertain Times

A reminder of God’s greatness:

Say among the nations: “The Lord reigns. The world is firmly established; it cannot be shaken. He judges the peoples fairly.” Let the heavens be glad and the earth rejoice; let the sea and all that fills it resound. ~ Psalm 96:10-11

Father, you are the great, awesome, and mighty God. You reign over all creation. The whole earth is yours. Nothing happens that is beyond your control. Nothing surprises you or catches you off guard. Father, we are weak. We are prone to fear. We don’t see everything as you see. Help us to remember your strength. Help us to trust in your sovereign rule. Even in the midst of trouble, make us glad so that we may rejoice at all you are and all you have done. Amen.

A reminder of God’s presence:

“The Lord is the one who will go before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or abandon you. Do not be afraid or discouraged.” ~Moses, Deuteronomy 31:8; “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” ~Jesus, Matthew 28:20

Lord, sometimes we feel alone and isolated. Sometimes we can feel as if there is no hope. Sometimes we are confused and scared. Yet, you promise that you are always with us. You promise to always be near. By your Spirit, remind us of your nearness. By your word, remind us again and again of your great promises. Help us to realize that as our souls cry out, “Abba, Father!”, you are there near to us. Always and forever. Amen.

A reminder of God’s compassion:

Lord, hear my prayer; let my cry for help come before you. Do not hide your face from me in my day of trouble. Listen closely to me; answer me quickly when I call… But you, Lord, are enthroned forever; your fame endures to all generations. You will rise up and have compassion on Zion, for it is time to show favor to her–the appointed time has come. ~Psalm 102:1-2, 12-13

Father, you are the God of compassion. Look upon us with your kindness and mercy. Hear our prayers for help in this day of trouble. Answer quickly, Lord. Hear from your throne, and for your glory, rise up and show your compassion to us. Show us your favor and bring relief. You are the God delighting in doing good; the God who gives eternal love to your children. Amen.

A reminder of God’s love and grace:

For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so is his faithful love toward those who fear him. As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. ~Psalm 103:11-12

Father, your love is greater than we can imagine. Your grace is deeper than the depths of the oceans. Because of our rebellion against you, we don’t deserve your goodness. But through Jesus you draw us near as your sons and daughters. You have looked upon us with love; you have given us grace. You have taken our sins and cast them away from us, so you hold nothing against us. Your gift to us is greater than all the goodness we could otherwise see in this life. Your love is so vast that all the evil and hardships we face will one day fade to a distant memory. Thank you for your love and grace. Amen.

A reminder of God’s protection:

The Lord will rescue me from every evil work and will bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory forever and ever! Amen. ~2 Timothy 4:18

Father, as much as we desire comfort and safety, we have no guarantee of that in this life. Yet, this does not make us fear, nor does this rob our joy. For, in Jesus, you promise us something greater. You will protect us into eternity. At worst, today, we might die. But then, if we die, we step into forever life, forever joy, and forever glory. You have given us a purpose in this life to know you and your love and make you and your love known. For each breath you give us, may we seek to do just that. And then, when our days are done, we rejoice that you bring us safely into your heavenly kingdom. Amen.

All Scripture quotes taken from the Christian Standard Bible.

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