Monday, January 26, 2015

GIVING MATTERS

By an act of faith, Abel brought a better sacrifice to God than Cain. It was what he believed, not what he brought, that made the difference. That’s what God noticed and approved as righteous (Heb. 11:4 Mes).  The Bible here is talking about giving in faith.  It wasn't what Abel gave that pleased God but how he gave it.  It wasn't the amount, but the attitude.  God is concerned about the attitude by which we give. 

There are two ways to give.  We can give by reason or we can give by revelation.  One of these ways you don't get any credit for.  The other way pleases God.

First, we can give by reason.  When we give by reason we look at our bank account and how much we've got and we figure out what can we afford.  And we give a reasonable amount based on what we can afford.  That doesn't require any faith.  An atheist can give by reason.  You don't have to believe in God for that. 

The other way to give is to give by revelation.  Revelation is when we pray and read what God says in the Scriptures, and we ask God, "God, what do You want me to give?  God, how much do You want me to trust You for?"  That's giving by faith.  That's the kind of giving that God blesses.

Some may say, "God, You give to me and then I'll give."  But that's not faith.  It's like, "God, You bring in this big windfall and when it arrives then I'll give some of it back to You."  That may be gratitude but that certainly isn't faith.  Giving is when you can't even afford it, when you give in advance -- like you're planting the seed in advance. 

The Bible says, They gave much because of their great joy. I can tell you that they gave as much as they were able and even more than they could afford (2 Cor. 8:2-3 NCV).  Anybody can give when they've got excess funds overflowing.  Anybody can believe when it's sitting there in front of them.  Anybody can obey when they already see the results. 

It's when you don’t feel like it and it doesn't make sense, and you step out in faith that God blesses you.  God comes through on His promises after we trust Him first.

Monday, January 19, 2015

SEE BEYOND WHAT’S IN FRONT OF YOU


Plan your year and your life around a future that lasts.  Abraham gives us a great example:  When he reached the land God promised him, he lived there by faith—for he was like a foreigner, living in a tent… Abraham did this because he was confidently looking forward to a city with eternal foundations, a city designed and built by God (Heb. 11:9-10 NLT).  Abraham was “looking forward” to the city built by God.

Look beyond today.  Everybody is going into the future.  Plan your life around the big picture, instead of just living for today.  And the big picture is connected to that which is of eternal value. 
Your future is tied to an eternity.  The good news is that you get to decide now what your eternity will be like.

We set our eyes not on what we see but on what we cannot see. What we see will last only a short time, but what we cannot see will last forever (2 Cor. 4:18 NCV).

Monday, January 12, 2015

FAITH…REAL OR IMITATION


We’re familiar with terms such as genuine and faux, real and imitation.  Our faith may be described by one of those terms, and God wants to make sure it’s the real thing, a genuine faith.

In 1 Peter 1:6-7 he writes, In this you greatly rejoice (vs. 1-5, our salvation, our heavenly inheritance, and our future resurrection), even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

Even when you go through troubling times, as a believer in Christ you have reasons to rejoice.  They include your salvation, your inheritance in Heaven reserved for you, your future resurrection with a new glorified physical body, God’s protection of you and your salvation, and His providence in causing you to be reborn spiritually into His family.  These are the things you can take joy in.  They’re real and lasting.  However as we rejoice in those things, we go through this life with difficulty and pain, trials and temptations.  Why?  They’re for the purpose of testing our faith and forming our character.  We will have them “for a little while.”  In other words, they are just moments compared to all eternity.  This life is a small segment of time.  Life in eternity is a great unending time.  That’s why it’s very na├»ve to live only for the present.

The words, “if necessary” refer to God’s purpose in your life.  The meaning is that in building your character and testing and proving your faith He doesn’t always use troubles and dark times.  But sometimes it’s necessary for God’s glory and our good.  And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose (Rom. 8:28).  Sometimes it’s in God’s will for us to suffer because we’re following Jesus and obeying Him.  Rom. 8:17 reads, Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.  And 1 Peter 3:17 says, For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.

Through it all God is the Manager and the Monitor of what and how much is allowed into your life. David writes in Psa. 139:5, You have enclosed me behind and before, And laid Your hand upon me.  We’re reminded in 1 Cor. 10:13, No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.  The word for “temptation” also means “testing.”  It doesn’t just mean temptation to sin, but also includes the testing of your faith through trouble.

God has you surrounded.  What comes into your life is only what He allows.  He is control of it.  What’s our responsibility?  We must trust His wisdom and love.  We don’t have to understand all that God does and all that He allows, but we can trust Him that it will end in good.

If you trust His love and wisdom in the suffering, then you can trust His faithfulness and promise that it will produce good for you.  And the genuineness of your faith will be proved.

Monday, January 5, 2015

WE REALLY DON’T WANT TO BE LEFT ALONE

There is a danger in thinking that people can connect with Christ while remaining disconnected from His Body.  In much of His instruction to us Christ emphasized that Christianity is something we do together.  This is why we have small group Bible studies, and breakfasts and lunches together, and potluck dinners and church anniversaries, and refreshments and baptisms, and Communion, and praying together, and visits in the hospital, and providing food in times of need.  It’s essential that people lovingly connect with one another because it evidences our loving connection with God.  John says in 1 John 4:19-21, We love because he first loved us.  Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.  And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister. 

Imagine a common scene of a family driving in a minivan or suv with dad listening to sports radio, mom talking on the phone, daughter texting, and son watching a movie on the back of his mother’s seat.  This is our culture today.  Everyone together, but alone.  In movie theaters, concert venues, and sports stadiums we sing, laugh, cry, and cheer powerfully together, and then leave without so much as a goodbye.

The outcome of our “individualistic ideology” is a society where intimate friendships are becoming rarer all the time.  Studies show that nearly a quarter of all Americans (twice as many as two decades ago) have no one with whom they can discuss things they consider important.  And the trend is not improving.  Boomers are more relationally isolated than their parents, and the children of Boomers are more isolated still.

Even in the church, isolation can exist.  But we are not meant to go to church alone.  When in Jesus’ name we lay down our lives for one another and engage in one another’s lives for the sake of love and encouragement, we become a powerful witness of God’s love.  And that is a huge difference from our consumer culture that uses people up and then excludes those no longer useful.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “It is the fellowship of the Cross to experience the burden of the other.  If one does not experience it, the fellowship he belongs to is not Christian.”  We can’t have intimacy with Christ and remain aloof from his Body.  We can’t worship God and claim, “I’m not my brother’s keeper.”

None of us really wants to be left alone.  We really do want to be “bothered” with questions from those who care.  To love others is to risk thawing the ice of isolation… even if sometimes you get a cold shoulder.