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Star wars toys, Disc golf and becoming a cheerful giver…

Is it really more blessed to give than to receive?

In Acts 20:35 Paul says remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ ”

It’s interesting because it is not recorded in the bible of Jesus saying this. I love this though. I can picture the disciples sitting around a table talking about their time with Jesus and 1 of them mentioning mid conversation, “remember what Jesus said about giving, He said it was more blessed to give than to receive”. Paul obviously took note of this as you can see if you read Acts 20.

I love getting gifts. I guess it is one of my love languages. Still to this day get me a toy for Christmas and it makes my day! Even better if it is a nerf gun or star wars toy! Most of my life I haven’t lived Acts 20, because functionally I have enjoyed getting way more than giving. This makes it pretty difficult to be what God calls us to be in 2 cor. 9:7, a cheerful giver. Cheerful giver. So I not only need to give but be cheerful about it! How can this happen?

Two things have happened in my life that has given me better perspective on giving. 1. I developed hobbies that needed to be funded. I try not to have expensive hobbies, which is why I developed a love for Disc golf. Disc golf is kind of like regular golf (ball golf to us disc golfers) only there are no clubs and instead of golf balls we use Discs. Frisbees…don’t call them Frisbees and for heaven’s sake don’t refer to it as Frisbee golf!! There are many types of discs. Discs to putt with, discs to throw when you need it to fly left or right, discs that go far, discs that go mid range, and so on. As I learned how to play and began to love it more I began to buy better disc and spend a little more on them. And the thing was I spent money on it willingly and cheerfully because I loved what it was going toward.

The other thing that happened to me in life is I was blessed with 2 daughters. I love my daughters. As I am typing this blog I am anxious to see how Brooklynn and Kaelyn’s first day of 1st grade and 3rd grade is going. I can’t wait to see them this afternoon. I am thinking of things I can buy them to celebrate another “first day of school”. I love them and it results in loving giving them gifts. I love to see their face when we give them gifts. I give to them cheerfully because I love them.

God says he LOVES a CHEERFUL giver. As we grow fonder of God and trust Him and Love Him more we will want to love what He loves. He loves a cheerful giver. The type of giver that gives out of the knowledge that is all God’s anyways, so here have it back. We can trust that he is a cheerful giver. He is a perfect father and even imperfect fathers want to provide for their children. If you are like me there a many times we need to repent of how we view our “stuff”. I desire to hold on to it, hoard it, and spend it on myself instead of being a cheerful giver. Cheerfully giving to the Lord, to others in need, instead of holding on or even giving with a bad attitude. He says to not give begrudgingly. My prayer for you and I is that our affections for the Lord would increase and we would give cheerfully experiencing that it is more blessed to give than to receive.

I would like to share a few thoughts about giving by looking at a couple of my favorite verses from Philippians 4. The HOLY SPIRIT through Paul says in verse 13, “I can do all things through HIM who strengthens me.” Then in verse 19 we find these words, “And my GOD will supply all your needs according to HIS riches in glory in CHRIST JESUS.” Paul states that in JESUS all things are possible and in HIM all of our needs are met. What great comfort knowing that when I rest in HIM and in the cross that I will find satisfaction and contentment.

It is instructive to look at the verses between the two that are quoted above. Paul commends the Philippians for their gifts to him. In fact he notes that there was no other church that gave as they had given and on more than one occasion. Isn’t it curious that JESUS is the source of our strength and the ONE who meets our every need? But Paul recognizes that JESUS often uses others to provide the strength we need and to satisfy our very practical needs. Paul goes on to say that he is well supplied by their gift and that the gift was a pleasing aroma, an acceptable sacrifice to GOD. He also notes that he was not seeking the gift himself, but rather he was looking to the growth in faith that would come to the Philippians because of their generosity.

Interesting reading, but so what? What does giving from the heart really mean to me here in O’Fallon, MO two millennia after these words were written to people living in ancient Turkey? JESUS is at the heart of everything and obviously that includes money. As we yield to HIM and make HIM the king of our lives, we can accomplish tasks beyond our abilities and in excess of resources that are at our disposal. HE is not only able but also actively involved in meeting every need of our lives as we rest in HIM whole-heartedly.

When we yield to and rest in HIM, then our giving is impacted in gospel-centered ways. We will look for opportunities to help others in need and creatively find ways to give that bring glory to HIM rather than us. We learn to give sacrificially to meet the needs of our church because it is in the local church that GOD has placed us and is asking us to serve. The goal of our generous and sacrificial giving should always be to bring glory to GOD. This type of giving can only happen when HE changes our hearts and rules our lives.

Isn’t it annoying all the advice that’s out there in regards to your money? I frequently see ads about how quickly you can pay off your mortgage, or how to retire early, or which stocks to purchase to get rich quick. I always write them all off as scams.

When it comes to our finances, most of us are skeptical of free advice or get rich quick schemes. Are you also skeptical when it comes to the advice and direction that scripture gives in regards to finances?

Let me encourage you, that if there is any place to look for direction and instruction regarding money it should be the Bible. Why should we trust scripture in regards to our finances?

1. The Bible has a healthy view of money.
It’s doesn’t teach that money is bad and it doesn’t teach that money is everything (1 Timothy 6:6-10). The Bible has a very healthy perspective about how we should use money but not be consumed by it.

2. The Bible offers principles and promises about giving.
When people make promises that you will be rich if you give, you should be skeptical. The Bible doesn’t do that. Rather it offers principles that are helpful in regards to how you should use and view money.

3. The Bible is more interested in your heart than your wallet.
Matthew 6:21 declares, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” I love this verse because scripture teaches us to focus on our hearts. The way to have the right perspective on money and giving is much more about our hearts than it is about what we do.

This week, let’s ask God to help us trust His word more in regards to our finances.

We live in a world where beauty is superficial and the definition seems to change and get harder to fulfill almost by the minute. I have been cleaning out my closet and purging as we pack to move and have noticed how quickly clothing goes out of style. As far as the church goes, I am thankful to be in a place where beauty never changes.

We have been created to reflect the image of God. As redeemed people, the more we hang out at the cross the more we look like Jesus, the more beautiful our hearts and lives become. When there is less of me/us, and more of Jesus, the image of God is reflected more beautifully in me/us. The beauty starts internally, in our spirits, and radiates externally through words and actions. It is not what we do, but who we are as we follow Jesus. I used both the “I/me” and the “we/us” because it does start with each of us but “we” together are the body of Christ.

It is a paradox, however, because beauty like that only happens in us because of the cross. The cross was a mechanism of torture and death. It is because Jesus died on the cross to rescue us that we can be beautiful in the Lord. That beauty is both individual and collective, and together we reflect the beauty of the cross to one another and to a world that has such a shallow picture of beauty.

Where do I see the beauty of the church? I see it as each one of us dies to ourselves and lives for Christ. I see it as we put our personal agendas aside and serve one another. I see it as we pray for one another. I see it as we speak truth in love to one another. “Oh, that beautiful, terrible cross,” say the lyrics from a song we sing. Those words rest deep in my soul. I know that beauty in the church is only possible because of the terrible.

1 Corinthians 1:18: “For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”

As we come to the end of our series on miracles I have been struck by how easy it is to miss God’s power at work in my day to day life.  God is at work in so many ways, and the more I am aware of how He is at work, the more it helps my relationship with Him.

What are some ways we can be more aware of God’s miracles in our lives?

  1. Process out Loud

I don’t always notice in the moment when God is displaying His power, but when I talk to people, when I engage with the staff at church, people in our community group, or the elders, and we ask each other where do you see God’s miraculous power, I start to notice where He is at work.  It’s when I process out loud that I see His work.

  1. Process on Paper

Writing also has a way of helping me to notice God’s miraculous power in my life.  Taking a moment to journal can be a great discipline to becoming more aware of God’s miraculous work in our lives.

  1. Process in Prayer

Have you ever just asked God, ‘God, where are you displaying your miraculous power in my life?’  God wants us to sense His presence and to be aware of His work.  He is not trying to hide Himself from us, so sometimes it helps just to ask.

Let’s continue to become a people who is more aware of the miraculous power of God in our lives so we can help others become aware of God’s presence.

 

 

19 I also pray that you will understand the incredible greatness of God’s power for us who believe him. This is the same mighty power 20 that raised Christ from the dead and seated him in the place of honor at God’s right hand in the heavenly realms. — Ephesians 1:19-20 NLT

May this be our prayer today:

May we believe deeply in our souls that the miraculous power of God resides in us, rescuing and restoring our soul.

That we would believe

by Jesus’ work on the cross – taking our weak and sinFULL flesh – we receive His power by faith or trust in His work. We are asking God to help us live in the reality that we HAVE received the power of God. 

That the miraculous power of God

and this is not just any power, it is the “incredibly great” and miraculous power of God’s Holy Spirit that raised Christ from the dead and seated him at the right hand of God.  

Resides in us rescuing and restoring our soul.

We are asking God to help us live in the reality that the miraculous power of God – in the very person of God’s Holy Spirit – resides in us. And today – right now – the Spirit of God is doing miraculous work in our souls. He is rescuing us to God for fellowship, for the love and joy we were created for. And He is restoring our souls to look and act as they were meant to, before sin wrecked and broke them.

The Spirit of God is at work in you today! For His glory and your good. You are a miracle as you read and breathe this! And – you are a miracle still in the working and loving hands of God. You cannot be more loved, cherished, or pleasing to holy God. But He is not finished. 

May we believe today – live in the deep reality – that the Spirit of God is at work in us. May this cause our affections for you, our God, to grow. And, may this move us to live knowing we are a small part of something bigger God is doing in this world for his glory and our good. Amen.

In a sermon last week we were challenged to think of times when God did something in our lives that only he could do. Then we were urged to pick up a rock as a reminder. The moment God called me to surrender my life to Him in January of 1985 was my first stone in the Jordan, the first big miracle in my life.  As I look back at who I was then and who God has shaped me to be now, I am humbled and amazed that the Gospel continues to change my heart and my life. 2 Corinthians 10: 4-5 says this: “For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but have divine power to destroy strongholds.  We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.”

God created me to be a warrior. I have been a fighter since I can remember. And the thing is, God continues to change me – changes who and what I fight for. I used to fight primarily for my own security and safety. I could use my words to win every battle, and put others in their place. My husband used to say that I could slice him to pieces in two minutes with my words. But God continues to do a work in my life that only he could do. God reminds me that because of the Gospel my words have divine power to bring life, and Gospel truth to me and to others. The arguments and opinions that fill my thoughts eventually come out in words. As God destroys the strongholds of pride, self-protection, security and safety, he opens my eyes to see the spiritual warfare behind my selfish arguments. The lie that “I have to take care of and protect myself” has been blown up, and taken captive by the truth of the Gospel. So when confronted with the battles, the Spirit reminds me that I am called to fight against the spiritual darkness for the glory of God in my own life and the lives of others. And the majority of that battle is in prayer, a battle that is bloody and exhausting. Using my words as a weapon to pray scripture has become habit, which means my words are weapons for God’s kingdom, not my own. As the Gospel grows in my life, God’s kingdom becomes bigger and my kingdom shrinks.  I actually have a sword at home that I swing when the battle is intense, to slice the enemy, rather than my husband, to pieces. Yes, there are still plenty of times I use my words as selfish weapons, and almost in the middle of them I hear the spirit remind me of the truth that my kingdom is not worth fighting for, but God’s kingdom is. I know I will fight this battle till my last breath, because it is a battle in a war that has already been won by my Savior on the cross!

Luke 9:23 says, “If any man will come after ME, let him deny himself, take up his cross, daily, and follow ME.”  This is a verse that I have memorized, contemplated, and at times even lived by.  It is my sincere desire to follow HIM, but like Paul I must confess that the very things I want to do, I do not do; and the things I do not want to do, I do.  The GOSPEL is my only hope to live my life more in step with what JESUS asked.

The GOSPEL makes it clear that the only way I can come after HIM is as HE draws me to HIMSELF.  It was never me pursuing HIM rather it has always been HIM reaching out to me.  HE came for me, when I was an enemy and wanted nothing to do with HIM and HE continues to call me to relationship day by day with HIM.   As I strive to yield my life to HIM and follow where HE leads, I discover that it is only when I allow HIM to rule my mind and heart that this can take place.  When I listen to my old nature and live in broken religion, I discover that even my best efforts are ineffectual and ultimately lead only to corruption.

I have also discovered that apart from the GOSPEL, it is impossible for me to deny myself.  I am far too self-centered and without HIS direct intervention in my life I would never give up all the creature comforts that I have come to crave.  The HOLY SPIRIT gently prods and encourages me to remember JESUS and all that HE taught as I live each day.   THE SPIRIT brings to mind verses and truth that I can rely on to put aside these sins that so easily ensnare me and focus my energy and efforts on HIM.

The GOSPEL has served to convince me that walking with HIM is a daily experience.  The GOSPEL calls me to confess and repent continually, moment by moment throughout each day, not just on Sundays.  From my experiences, it is so easy to compartmentalize my life and to have my Sunday game as well as my Monday through Saturday game.  As JESUS clearly states in this verse from Luke, my Christian walk is a daily activity not something I do once a week.

JESUS is my only hope.  I can only come to HIM because HE first pursued me, I can only deny myself as HE empowers me to do so.  It is only HIS presence in my life day by day that allows me to follow HIM where HE leads.

“And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.” — Ezekiel 36:26 ESV

When I was in elementary school, my parents surprised me with tickets to go see one of my favorite magicians, David Copperfield. I loved magic growing up. The magician’s ability to completely boggle the mind was captivating to me. I remember the last trick David did at his show. He brought a live elephant onto the stage, which as a kid, was awesome! He covered up the elephant with a giant sheet. And almost in an instant, he snapped his fingers and pulled off the sheet, and right where the elephant use to be, appeared a double decker bus full of tourists. I nearly lost my mind in that moment! How in the world could such a transformation occur?

Obviously, as I grew older, I realized that magic isn’t miraculous transformations, as much as it is diverting attention, and smoke and mirrors. That’s why I am so thankful that Gospel transformation is in no way like a magic trick. My “religious” background consisted of very little church and a whole lot of skepticism. From eighth grade until my junior year of high school I would have labeled myself as an atheist. But then something miraculous happened. A group of students who attended my high school started to invite me to things. I was not normally the kid who got invited to things. I avoided them for the longest time, until finally I literally had this thought, “I will go hang out with them and be my completely obnoxious self, and then they will leave me alone!”

I remember walking into a living room full of high school students. I recognized some faces, but didn’t really “know” anyone. And as I sat there feeling extremely awkward, God began to show me what true Gospel authenticity looks like. I had rarely seen the Gospel lived out in a positive way. Usually it came in the form of someone preaching “at” me and telling me to stop what I was doing and go to church. But this group was different. They were…normal, but joyful. And it was there in that living room that God began to chip away the hard pieces of my heart. It was also in that living room that I met the girl I would marry five years later.

The Gospel is powerful. It has the ability to take something and not just change it, or even “fix” it, but completely transform it into something completely different. I can honestly say that I am not the same person as the guy who walked into that living room. A couple of things changed for me in that moment:

  • I was confronted with my brokenness. As an atheist, this is a foreign concept. Sure, I knew I made mistakes, but that doesn’t make me “broken”. But when God grabbed hold of my life, He opened my eyes to see that no good I could ever do would make me pleasing and acceptable to Him. Which brought me to my second revelation…
  • I was introduced to a Savior. People began to speak into my life and teach me about a God who paid it all so that I could live in freedom. I learned that I didn’t have to “make up” for my past sin, but that it had already been covered.

Aren’t you glad the Gospel isn’t a magic trick? God isn’t waiting to pull back the curtain to show us that the sin is still there. He has completely transformed us because of what Jesus has done. It is not an illusion, it is a miracle.

Fear strikes us all in different ways. Fear can make us run and hide. Fear can make us lash out. Fear can enslave us to live in overwhelming anxiety. Fear is not a sin – for fear can be a gift that protects us from hot stoves, from dangerous currents in a river, or from making a bad purchase. While fear is not a sin in and of itself – it can definitely lead us to sin.

I’m beginning to learn that my (our) greatest weapon against fear – is the gospel. This is because the gospel brings the light of God’s truth and presence to bear on the darkness that accompanies fear. Let me give you one example of how the gospel (Jesus and His finished work) is affecting how I live with fear.

When I am experiencing fear – I usually have one of two responses. The first is to hide or avoid thinking about the situation that is causing the fear. Like a child, I curl up in a ball, pull the covers over my head, and hope the scary monster goes away. For me this means I bury myself in the TV or a book for hours or days. My second response to fear is my “go to” move – I work. What do I mean? How do I try to cope with this fear?

Fear makes me feel weak. It makes me feel like a child (not a great feeling for any adult). It makes me want to hide (and as I said above, sometimes I do). Feeling weak – is humiliating and so my natural response is to do something that will make me not feel weak. Work is that response for me. When I plow into work in the midst of fear – I begin to feel strong. I begin to sense that I’m not weak – I can be strong. Great! Problem solved! Well, not really.

While the anxiety and fear may go away for a few days or weeks, the same fear eventually returns with greater teeth and a louder roar.  “Saving myself” from my fear – is a false salvation from a “broken religion”. But, there is hope in a true and pure courage I have been learning to experience through the gospel of Jesus Christ.

When I am experiencing fear and I hide or run, at some point my “self salvation” fails and Jesus whispers – “come to me all who are heavy burdened.” I have never heard his voice audibly but I hear it in the midst of my fear through the word, through my wife, and through many of you who turn me toward the gospel. How does the gospel bring real courage?

1st – It reminds me the courage I find in my work is false. Self-salvation is a false and worthless gospel.

2nd – It tells me weakness is not childish – but it is where I most powerfully and beautifully taste and experience the power of Christ in me.

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. II Corinthians 12:9

3rd –  When I see I cannot save myself – that is I cannot give myself courage, comfort, or wisdom to make the anxiety go away – I see how hopeless my efforts are. Even more – when God shows me that in trying to save myself that I am replacing Jesus as my Savior – I see how great a sinner I am and how great a SAVIOR I really need. Yes, I need a Savior who can give me courage – but even more, I need a Savior who can truly deal with my great SIN.

4th –  Jesus, came and lived a completely pleasing life to God and died in my place – pleasing God for my sin. This is a GREAT SAVIOR. When I turn to Him in my fear, I am reminded – that God is fully “pleased” with me. He is not pleased because I am weak and certainly not because I try and replace Him when I am scared. I am pleasing … because the perfect pleasing life of Jesus lives in me. So because I am pleasing – I run to Him IN my fear.

5th –  Here is the best thing I get when I run to Jesus in my fear – His presence! He never left me – but somehow in my fear – I forget? I don’t know – but what I do know is I’m often not aware he is there. When I run to Him IN my fear and hear – “pleasing” – I always experience His presence that brings courage, comfort, and wisdom.

Fear still comes … and often I still try and save myself from this fear. But I’m learning to hear His whisper sooner – run to him quicker – and rest in His work – not mine – that gives me real courage, real comfort and real wisdom in my fear.

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