God Has a Plan

Today’s reading is Matt 2 and Psalm 76

 

As I read through Matt 2 this morning I am struck by two things. One, the number of prophecies quoted and fulfilled in these few verses and two, the level of protection that God  had to lay over this young couple and their new baby to keep Him alive.

Let’s start with the prophecies. In vs 3-4, King Herod who is jealous of this baby and concerned for his job because of what he has heard about the baby’s future, calls all his best priests and teachers together to ask them some questions. He wants to know where this baby is to be born, and they reply with what a prophet of God wrote over 400 years earlier. Then in vs 17-18, Herod kills all of the baby boys in Bethlehem to try to wipe out the baby and his actions fulfill what God said through Jeremiah 500-600 years earlier. Then at the end of the chapter Joseph is told by an angel to take Mary and the baby back to Israel, which fulfilled a third prophecy which said that Jesus would be called a Nazarene. From this list of prophecies I learn:

1-God Has a plan. I am so easily swayed and discouraged by my circumstances. When I think about and remember that God has a plan and He will complete His plan, it changes the way my circumstances affect me.

2-Nothing is a surprise to God, nothing makes Him think, “Wow, I didn’t see that coming”. Living each day knowing that He knows what is coming my way brings a sense of security and the beautiful reminder that my God knows everything!

3-God is trustworthy and faithful to keep His word every time. If he says it, it will happen!

Next let’s look at and think through the early years of Jesus life and watch how God’s plan unfolds with God’s protection accomplishing every step in the plan. We saw yesterday how God prepared Mary and Joseph (kids) to be Jesus earthly parents. Then we know from Luke that these kids, had to make a trip to be counted for a census. Pregnant and almost due for delivery, these two take off from Nazareth to walk to Bethlehem, around 80 miles. Look, I’ve got to be honest here and say that the fact that Mary actually made this trip pregnant and on foot or better yet, a donkey is almost as big a miracle as her conception! (I am sorry, but I have to mentally put myself in the shoes of Mary and Joseph to actually grasp the meaning of the story.) Then, Jesus is born in a barn. This, in my mind requires a level of protection from God that spans more ground than I have time to cover here. Sometime within the first year of Jesus life, God sends His angel to Joseph in a dream and warns him to take the baby and get out of the country and to stay until God says to return, because the king is trying to kill their baby. What must have been going through their minds at this point? Is it not enough to go through the embarrassment and shame of a pregnancy before marriage, a scary and physically daunting trip and childbirth in a barn? Now they run for their lives because the king/President wants to kill their child. But they trusted that God would be faithful and keep His word and accomplish His plan so they obeyed. Really, when I put myself in their shoes it is amazing to me that they were able to trust and obey. Then when Herod dies, God tells them in a dream that it’s safe to return. God has a plan. Nothing that happens is a surprise to God. God is trustworthy and faithful to keep His word every time. If you need more evidence that this is truth, read through Ps 76 and watch for Asaph’s description of God accomplishing His plan fourteen generations before Jesus birth occurred.

My Refuge

Psalm 62

 

Vs 1-2 “ I wait quietly before God, for my victory comes from Him. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress where I will never be shaken.” vs 5-8 “Let all that I am wait quietly before God, for my hope is in Him. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress where I will not be shaken. My victory and honor come from God alone. He is my refuge, a rock where no enemy can reach me. O my people, trust in Him at all times. Pour out your heart to Him, for God is our refuge.”  

So much power, truth and beauty in these words. “I wait quietly before God”. How often do I sit quietly and wait before God?  What does that look like? Can you grasp how much self-control it takes to sit quietly and wait before God… without asking for forgiveness, help, or intervention from Him? Shoot, just without talking! How often am I willing to sit quietly and wait? First, waiting takes time. Time that we don’t feel like we have to give. Time, may arguably be our most precious commodity in this country, society, and age. Honestly, “waiting” is probably considered one of the biggest wastes of our time and causes us more frustration than most other things. Second, I have thought for years that waiting for answers to the unknown is one of the hardest things in life. I was reading earlier this week the story of Abraham and Sarah waiting for a child. The commentator wrote, “There probably isn’t anything harder to do than wait.”. Finally someone said it! Waiting is hard. Waiting shows us that we are not in control. A lot of times when we wait, we are powerless to do anything to change the situation or make the process move any faster. Hmmm… I wonder why God asks us to wait before Him?  

When we are willing to use one of our most precious commodities, time, and put our hearts in the proper place of knowing we can’t control our own circumstances we are in the prime place to hear what God wants to tell us. I want to challenge you today to try this. Take 2-5 minutes this morning to sit quietly before God. (If you are anything like me, you will probably have to start over several times as your mind will wander to anything but waiting on God…and you may need to look at a clock. I can easily lie to myself about how long two minutes actually is.) Just try it today to see if it is a valuable practice that needs to be implemented on your calendar on a regular basis.

“ My hope is in Him, He is my rock, my salvation, my fortress and my refuge. Trust in Him at all times and pour out your heart to Him, He is our refuge.” What can I not face with these truths? I need these words in front of me all of the time! It is so easy to get sidetracked with responsibilities, activities, and schedules. A lot of life, because we need to concentrate and think on other things to complete tasks, pulls us away from thinking on these truths. I want to live my days mindful that my hope is in Him. I want to remember to pour out my heart to Him instead of worrying, telling a friend or complaining about my circumstances. I want to trust Him at all times instead of spending hours trying to figure out how to solve a situation. I want to remember His love for me and every person He created as I interact with others. I want to run to Him first when I think I’ve been wronged, scared or misunderstood.  

Praise Him

Intro to Luke and Ps 48

Yesterday we finished our trip through the New Testament. For those of you who have been reading with us for almost two years, I wonder if this time through was a different experience for you? Did the slower pace this year allow you to dig in a bit deeper to God’s story? I’m hoping you felt less rushed as I did this time and that slowing down has helped all of us to absorb more of what God is trying to help us learn. Tomorrow we will start back in the book of Luke and take this last few months of the year to look at the gospels another time. Why you ask, would we start with Luke? The answer I was given was “to keep us all on our toes”.

So let’s refresh quickly on our author for this book and then we will spend most of our time in Psalms today. Luke was a doctor by trade and writes a sensitive and careful account of Jesus life on earth. He makes a point of showing us Jesus compassion toward women, the sick, the poor, and those who would be considered the outcasts of society. Luke also writes down more parables than any other gospel writer records. As we enter Fall and then the Christmas season, I love the thought of spending so much of these next few months looking again at Jesus birth, life and ministry. I’m praying that studying the gospels keeps our hearts focussed on why we celebrate Christmas as we walk through the season this year.

 

Ps 48

“Oh God, we meditate on your unfailing love as we worship in your Temple. As your name deserves, O God, you will be praised to the ends of the earth.Your strong right hand is filled with victory.”

As I read these verses this morning, my thoughts carry me to last week when I had the opportunity to attend a banquet for some men, in a program, designed to reclaim their lives from the grip of addiction. Listening to some of their stories impressed upon me that these guys only hope was in God. Some had lived a good portion of their lives controlled by substances. They tried everything in their power to stop and get themselves out of their addictions, but no matter what they did, it wasn’t enough to make lasting change. Until these men could get in an environment where everything was stripped away and they had to get real with who they were and the value that each of them held in God’s eyes, things couldn’t change. But the beauty of a man’s softened heart and the light in his eyes after God has been invited in and allowed to “clean house” is a sight I won’t soon forget. When the daily choice is to “meditate on God’s unfailing love” and “praise God to the ends of the earth” people change. I think the beauty of this group of men is the visible 180 degree turn that each has made to put God above all in their lives. These men started this program at the darkest time in their lives and within a year they have seen and known “God’s right hand filled with victory”! It shows up more distinctly after an intense program, but what does putting God in His rightful place, above all, look like over my lifetime? Can others see the light in my eyes, do they sense a soft heart when they interact with me?

I think the bigger question is, am I inviting God into my life on a daily basis and allowing Him to work on changing me? No matter what our lives have looked like up to this point, we have all missed the mark. There is not one of us who deserves a relationship with God because none of us can even be in His presents without Christ paying the price for our sin and washing us clean before God. The truth is that without God we are ALL in the same boat! Because of this gift, this purchase and this new life in Christ, am I “meditating on God’s unfailing love”? Am I “praising God’s name to the ends of the earth”? Does my life exhibit “God’s strong right hand filled with victory”?  After experiencing the fresh and intense beauty in these newly changed men, I am challenged! I have been washed clean just as they have, but I let time and complacency settle over me and I forget that I been gifted the same change as they have. How can I ever let my heart be unimpressed with the gift I’ve been given? Honestly I can hardly type that question. I’m so humbled and embarrassed before God to admit that there is ever a second of any day that I am not fall-on-my-face grateful for what He has done for me, but the truth is that I get distracted, busy, and think on my own agenda all the time, and before I even realize it, I’ve forgotten. Can we do better? Can we be conscious of His gift while we work? Is it possible to remember Who has purchased us as we interact with others?

I want to close today with the last verse in Ps 48. “He is our God forever and ever, and He will guide us until we die.”  One more gift to be grateful for. He will NEVER leave us! He will guide us until we are done on this earth and in His presents. If I will allow Him to have His rightful place in my heart day after day, He will guide me until I can be with Him in “person”! Praise Him to the ends of the earth!

The Lord Rescues

Intro to 2 Pet and Psalm 34

Welcome this morning to 2 Peter. It looks like Bible scholars best guess is that 2 Peter was written two-ish years after 1 Peter and maybe about a year before Peter died. He sends this second letter because he can foresee some of the problems that the people of Asia Minor will continue to face after he is gone and he wants to shore up their faith and the truth in their hearts. In this letter he warns believers about false teachers who might cause them to question their faith and he wants to seal in their minds that the reports about Jesus are completely true and not fiction. He wants to challenge them to continue to grow in their faith and to live Godly lives in anticipation of Jesus return. It all sounds so very practical for today…isn’t God amazing! He knew what the people of Asia Minor were facing 2000 years ago and He knows that His same help and truth is meaningful to us this morning.

Ps 34 A few days ago my husband and I made the trip to another state to move one of our 18 year old daughters into a dorm to begin her first year away from home at college. She and her dad are planners extraordinaire so for the past 6-8 months they have been making lists, planning schedules, planning weekend visits home, purchasing supplies, and readying her for this move. I knew it would be important for her to have her new surroundings feel like home so I did my part to try to replicate everything (on a much smaller scale) that makes her feel secure and comfortable…down to the same home fragrance we use here.  We even had her favorite meal, tacos, before she left. All three of us felt pretty confident in our preparation, training and readiness for her to move.

The night before my husband and I were to begin our trip back home without our daughter, she came over to our hotel room after dinner to visit. Tear drops started rolling down her cheeks from her big blue eyes and my husband and I felt shredded. She began to tell us that she was fine with being away from home, she was ready to make new friends, and she didn’t feel nervous about how she would do in her classes…everything was fine except that she wasn’t prepared for losing her entire adult support system in one weekend. She has built relationships with parents of kids she babysat for, she was blessed enough to have relationships with several of her good friends parents, we have some family close enough to us that they have been able to be in her life, and we have dear friends who have loved our kids like their own for years. She was losing a big system that would not be quickly replicated in a new city and in a college setting. These people are a big part of her safety net and her everyday life and now they would be miles away. We talked through the fact that none of these people would stop loving and supporting her because of this move but we all knew it would look a lot different. In my heart, I was crying out to God, “How do I help her through this?” I knew I was pretty much powerless.

The next morning my husband and I gave her our final hugs and headed off for 7 ½ hours in the car to home. Our hearts were so heavy we could hardly talk to each other. It was hard. About 4 hours into the trip my husband called our daughter to see how her morning had gone. (We just flat needed some encouragement!) When our daughter answered the phone, she sounded like a different kid than the one we had left a few hours back. She was her usual happy, chipper little self and my husband and I were looking at each other with eyes as big as saucers wondering what had happened. She began to tell us that she had gone to church with a girl she had met at orientation back in June. They went in and found a seat and the lady next to her in the pew introduced herself to the girls. When the lady (who is close to my age) found out they were students, she visited with them and told them they were welcome at her home any time they wanted to get away from the dorm, do some baking or cooking or just study in peace for a few hours. She also made a date for several days later to have them over for dinner. Let me remind you that we are talking about God here… one sweet lady at church just isn’t enough of a gift from Him. He also let our daughter’s roommate run into an adult cousin of hers at church. The cousin and family took the girls out for lunch after church and filled a few more hours of that first long day of nothing to do before classes start. What? Really God? In just a few hours He completely turned things around for our daughter and comforted my husband and I beyond what we can express! Are all her troubles solved with these gifts from God? We all know they are not. She will still feel loss and probably struggle with many different fears about the unknown in the days and weeks to come but she does walk away knowing that God cares deeply about her and what she is dealing with today. She got to see His interest in her life and His love specifically for her, in several people reaching out to meet her exact need, hours after we had cried out to God! I think I could have penned David’s Psalm 34 myself on the rest of our drive home. Read it again, it’s only 22 verses, to see the hope and unabandoned joy that David gets from God, and the praise and gratefulness he tries to give back to God. It’s beautiful and my heart seeks to give God the honor He deserves for His precious personal love for each one of us!

 

Also..the lady who had her over for dinner on Wednesday fixed tacos for dinner!!

Discipline is Love?

 

Today’s reading is Heb 12/Ps 20

Discipline is Loving?

Heb 12 is so full of powerful and meaningful messages, I am having a hard time deciding what to focus on today. The first few verses seem to be taught often and memorized by many that have grown up in a church.  I would guess because the writer is so clear in giving instructions to help us continue to grow in our faith. Strip off the weight that slows us down, especially sin, so we can run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Him. Then in verses 3 and 4, we get a bit of more specific help that is not talked about or quoted quite as much as vs1-2. vs3-”Think of all the hostility He endured from sinful people; then you won’t become weary and give up. vs4-After all, you have not yet given your lives in your struggle against sin.”  So if you are feeling tired in your “race” right now, think of how Jesus was treated and then killed and maybe your struggles don’t seem quite so severe. It is a very sad and difficult way to be encouraged, but it actually does help. When we take our focus off of our own struggles and think on far harder and more unfair circumstances than our own, our difficulties seem smaller than they felt before we considered Jesus. It changes our mindset enough to help us have the grit to continue striving for what we are aiming at.

Next we move into a section of verses dealing with God’s discipline. I’m pretty sure that it’s not news to any of us that discipline is painful and unpleasant. Why does something have to be painful or unpleasant for us to learn from it? Discipline doesn’t sound very loving so why does God choose to use it? Below are several reasons God brought to mind to help me see His love and protection in discipline.

*We are stubborn and strong willed people who don’t very often learn well from others mistakes. Most of the time we need to live through a situation to actually own the lesson.

*God uses discipline to set us on the proper path. We very rarely wander on our own to the best things for us. We prefer the easier path with less friction. God is trying to train us in His right way of living because He cares for us.

*God wants us to be more like Him so he uses discipline to shape us and change us. We will usually choose the simplest and most pleasant path possible which leaves us very much the same as when we started…selfish. God’s discipline is always intended to direct us to greater holiness. Holiness is about making God bigger, not ourselves.

*Sometimes God uses discipline to turn us away from harm. We are so narrow minded and self centered that sometimes God has to use discipline to get us to look outside of ourselves and see a bigger picture. We forget that His view is so much broader than ours and that He knows more than we do. I think we often miss seeing things He is protecting us from because we can’t see past the end of our own noses.

Last, I couldn’t help but wonder what benefit or up-side there is for God in disciplining me. The answer, I think is none. There is no benefit for Him. The only motivation for Him investing in me is His love for me. It takes more of His time and energy to teach me a needed character trait or a new attitude, but because His love is so much bigger than I can understand, He actually WANTS to invest in you and me. Today, I am overwhelmed by His love and desire not only to save my life, but to go beyond rescue, and actually take the time to help me change. Vs 8-If God doesn’t discipline me as He does all of His other children, it means that I am illegitimate and not really one of His at all. My heart is melted today that God wants me to be one of His children. The truth is that I am worth filthy rags to Him without Christ purchasing me, washing me clean and working in my heart to make me more like Him. The Creator of the universe, the One who stops the waves on the shore, the One who calls the sun up every morning, the One who fills my lungs with air,  sees value in my filthy rags, and wants to rescue and change me. “Thank you” is too small. I can not express my gratefulness this morning.

Introduction to Philemon

 

It seems like Philemon is the last letter that we see Paul write in the new testament, but it was actually written several years before Timothy and Titus. Paul writes this letter to a Christian and slave owner who lives in Colosse. I don’t want to steal Caitlin’s thunder tomorrow as she digs into this writing, but I think it is safe to say that Paul uses a very real life circumstance to show all of us a beautiful picture of what Jesus actually did for us on the cross. Paul sees the broken relationship between a slave and his master and the need for forgiveness to show us our need for reconciliation to God, through Christ. I hope you take the time today to read Philemon and watch for Jesus’ payment on the cross for our sin as you read the story.

This is a bit of a side bar but it popped into my mind as I was thinking about the order of the books in the New Testament. In 2016 a friend and I committed to read through the Bible together within the year. We wanted to do it in a way that would seem different than what we had both tried and failed at in years past, so we decided to read through a Living version of a Chronological Bible. Now I know that there is controversy among scholars around what the actual order is chronologically, but for my and my friend’s purposes the version that we chose was fine. We just wanted to read more chronologically than we had before. It was a very meaningful year. It was so helpful to see God’s fulfilment of the prophecies right after they were spoken. I found more meaning and saw God’s faithfulness in new ways. I loved reading through David’s life and seeing the Psalms that he wrote right in the circumstances that he wrote them. Again, more meaningful. I saw God pursuing us more outright than I had before because of the timeline of the stories. I’m glad that I did it last year and I plan to do it again soon because it helped me so much. I wanted to include this idea here to encourage you consider this method at some point in your life.  

We also get to look together at Psalm 6 today. David is literally freaking out in this Psalm. People are chasing him and trying to kill him. If I take a few seconds and try to put myself in his space mentally before reading this Psalm, it helps me grasp his desperation and fear. He is crying out to God for his life. His words are very honest and he doesn’t seem to mind telling God that he is full of fear, that he is weak and that he needs help. For eight verses he pours out his heart to God and then he says, “the Lord has heard my plea; the Lord will answer my prayer.” These words can only come from a relationship. David knows God. David has seen God be faithful before in his life and so now he can rest, trusting that God will care for him again. I am so grateful that God put this song in the Bible for us to read. I’m so glad to see David’s human fear, weakness and need for help. I wish that when I face something hard, my first reaction would be, “the Lord has heard my plea, the Lord will answer my prayer.” But like David, it takes a little crying out for help and some fear being spoken aloud before I can get to the place where I remember that God is trustworthy and He will be faithful in these circumstances as He has in the past to me.

Pray for Everyone

Today’s reading is 1 Tim 2

I love the instruction Paul writes to us in the first verse of this chapter. “I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them.” He goes on to say that we should be praying for all who are in authority so that we can live at peace and be marked by godliness and dignity. God wants us to pray for everyone because He wants everyone to be saved and understand the truth. Jesus gave His life to reconcile God and humanity and to purchase freedom for everyone.

Pray for all people…what does that look like for me? Paul helps me out a bit more by giving some guidelines in these verses. Ask God to help others. I can do that. Intercede on others behalf when you know they are struggling to reach out to God for themselves, or if they don’t have a relationship with Him at all, I should go to God for them and ask Him to help them. That makes sense. God wants me to be thankful for others. He wants me to be grateful to Him for creating other people and allowing them to be in my life whether I enjoy them or not. This one might feel a bit tougher to do consistently, but sure helps me keep my heart centered on God instead of myself. God wants me to pray for my leaders. The ones in my family, at church, at my workplace, in my country, and in the world. God’s desire is that all people be saved, so if I pray for people to meet Jesus and to accept Him, this is good and pleases God. It’s pretty clear after reading these verses that God is not looking for a “daily blanket prayer” meant to cover all people. He wants us to pay attention to the people we encounter. He wants us to be aware of the people we meet, work with, shop with, sit at the kids swimming lessons with, make conference calls with, live next to, etc. If I have enough time to think about these people and notice them throughout my day, I have enough time to lift them to Jesus in prayer. I can thank God for them, ask Him to help them, and ask God to draw them to Him if they don’t have a relationship with Him, without even knowing very much about them. I can work on this. I can learn to pray for people I encounter instead of breezing right by without a second thought.

The next section of this chapter, vs 8-15 are a bit trickier to figure out. I had to drag out my commentaries again to get some help on culture and customs from this time period so I could grasp more of the heart of what Paul is trying to convey. It looks like the principle behind Paul’s instructions for women’s dress, hair style and jewelry was more about them emphasizing the internal over the external. Clothes, (as long as they are not sexually suggestive) jewelry and hairstyles are not wrong in themselves, but can take on too much importance in our hearts which shows us that we might be struggling with misplaced values. When our focus is on our hearts and being good to others, then our beauty is seen from the inside out. This is what Paul is asking women to aim at.

Verses 11-15, honestly, I wish were in someone else’s chapter to post on! Ugh!! Even the commentaries admit that this is one of the most difficult passages in the New Testament to interpret. Good, it’s not just me! I am not going to make a guess at explaining this. I would encourage you to look into some explanations and options written by much more studied persons than myself. Research some word studies on “quiet” and “submissive” in this biblical context. Ask God to speak to you on what He wants you to understand from this group of verses. Ask Him if He wants you to consider changing your thinking around this topic. (Maybe after trying to figure out the meaning of these last verses, Paul’s earlier command to pray for all people seems a little easier…)

Heaven

Today’s reading is Col 3

I need to start this post with a little window into my world today as I borrow my daughter’s laptop to write. My family was on a 10 day trip out of the country last week. It was a fabulous trip, but about halfway through the trip, my mom texted that my almost 97 year old grandma had gone to heaven early that morning. While I had been asking God to take her for over a month  because her mind and body were failing so much that she was unable to enjoy any of the things that she had loved in her life, the news that that she was gone was so hard to hear. My gram was one of the most faithful prayers I have ever known and she was one of the most interested visitors you could ever have a conversation with. She loved to find out about you, what you were interested in and what your hopes and dreams were. Then she would trap that information and pray faithfully accordingly. I will miss that faithful prayer coverage in my and my families lives.

Before we left on our trip, we learned that my dad’s only sister in law, had gotten the news that she was full of an aggressive lung cancer and maybe had weeks to live. We were back and forth trying to decide whether we make the 7 hour trip up to see her before we go or if there would be time to see her when we got back. We are currently in the car heading up to Michigan to spend a few days with my Aunt, and say goodbye.

My heart is heavy and feels broken as I try to tackle this post. I’m having a hard time thinking about anything besides my pain. I open my Bible to Col 3 and the first 4 verses are:

Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand. Think about things of heaven, not the things of earth. For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God. And when Christ, who is your life, is revealed to the whole world, you will share in all his glory.

While I know there is a much broader meaning in these verses for all of us, this few sentences feels deeply personal to me. It seems as though God is speaking directly to me and my situation. “Tracy, instead of dwelling on your losses and pain, set your sights on the realities of heaven. Think about the things of heaven, not this earth.” I have been comforted since Gram died knowing that she is whole today in heaven. Her mind is back to full function and her body is able to work, run, laugh and visit again. All the things she loved to do on this earth but lost the capacity to do, she is able to do now. The part that is  even more beautiful than being whole after a long time of decline on this earth, is that she is with Jesus. She doesn’t have to bow her head and pray to connect with God, she is WITH Him! She is able to lift her lovely soprano voice in praise to Him right in front of Him. Really, can you imagine? When I think through these things, my heart turns from pain and loss to joy and hope.

I am so thankful for this beautiful gift of scripture today. While these first few verses fill my heart and redirect my thoughts, there is so much more to consider in the rest of this passage. Paul directs us to consider how we continue to live on this earth with our hearts and minds set on heaven. What does that look like? Paul gives us a few direct lists of what we should be doing and what we shouldn’t be doing to help keep our hearts focused on heaven. He says to put to death the earthly things that are lurking within us. If I am serious about changing the way I think and the things that motivate me, what will I do to help myself? Would it be worth taking 10 minutes today to get out a piece of paper and write out the two lists of instructions that Paul gives us? Make a list of the Do’s and Don’ts. Sometimes writing  things on paper, helps embed them in my mind. Tuck the list somewhere  in your house where it will surface again. I know that by the time my list shows up again, I will need the reminder of this list to continue reorienting my mind to heaven instead of the stuff of this earth.  

Generous Giving

Today’s reading is 2 Cor 8

Today we get to look at a pretty straight forward but very rich text. I am a person who loves to give gifts. I find so much joy in seeing someone light up with excitement when I have found the perfect trinket for that person. I love purchasing gifts that make people laugh because of a mutual experience we have shared and the gift is a reminder of that event. I even enjoy gifting people with help (mostly food, flowers or some manual labor) or a gift of time listening to their worries, sadnesses or problems. Even as a natural born gifter, I am challenged by Paul’s words in this chapter of Corinthians to evaluate my willingness and generosity around giving.

I want to look at a list of the directions Paul gives us in this chapter.

1-vs 3, Give not only what you can afford, but far more.

2-vs 3, Give of your own free will.

3-vs 4, Ask over and over for the privilege of sharing with others.

4-vs 5, Do more than others hope for.

5-vs 7, Excel in the gracious act of giving.

6-vs 8,Our genuine love for others is shown by our level of generosity.

7-vs 9, Jesus is the ultimate example of generosity because He left the riches of heaven, but for our sakes became poor, so that His poverty could make us rich.

8-vs 10-11, Finish the gift that you start giving. Complete your commitments.

9-vs 11, Give in proportion to what you have.

10-vs 12, Whatever you give is acceptable if you give it eagerly.

11-vs 13, Our giving shouldn’t make life easy for others and hard for ourselves.

12-vs 16-24, If you are in the position of handling or managing other people’s gifts, make sure that you bring at least one other person along to be sure there is no chance for mismanagement. Make sure that the people whose gifts you manage have complete faith in your system of checks and balances, so the gifters have assurance that their full gift is ending up where they expect it to be.

I love this list! It challenges me to think differently when I am giving of myself. Read through the list again and see which ones affect your heart. Take a few seconds to sit with each one and check yourself for compliance. Today, the one that hit me is, “Do more than others hope for”. I like it because it is simple and with a little thought or a small gesture it would be easy for me to accomplish this one. How much sweeter would my life be if every day I looked for a way to do more for one person than they hope for? (If I choose someone who expects nothing of me, this gets really simple!) It can be as small as a smile or a greeting to anyone you come into contact with. If I choose someone in my home, how much more appreciated or loved will my family feel if they get some help they were not expecting? If I can add number 10 to number 4 and do whatever I am doing for others eagerly, what kind of an impact can it make in others lives? My ultimate goal is to be like Christ. Willing to leave the riches of heaven to come to earth so our lives could be purchased and then we get to experience the riches of heaven. If this is my standard, my goal…doesn’t giving a little more of my time, energy, and resources seem almost trivial?

I’ll end with one quick last thought. As I read a commentary on this passage in preparation for writing today one sentence kind of stabbed me in the heart. It said,” Best wishes, good intentions, desire and eager willingness are no substitute for good deeds”. So often I hear of a situation or know about a need or struggle of a friend, and can’t find time in my “busy” schedule to do the thing that God is asking me to do for that person. My desire to help someone does NOTHING for their need. I actually have to DO something!

Hats, Hair and Meals?

Today’s reading is 1 Cor 11

At first glance our chapter today seems to be dealing with some rather strange topics. Does God really care if I cover my head, wear my hair long or short, or have a meal with friends? If we read this chapter literally and don’t look a bit deeper into it’s meaning and purpose, we might walk away thinking we need to make some changes in our appearance. I’m pretty sure that God is way more interested in my heart and my motives than how I wear my hair. So what is the point? What is God getting at in this passage?

In the first 16 verses of this chapter, Paul is using some pretty persuasive writing to the Corinthians to help them understand what was expected of them during worship. Looking at vs 16, it is pretty clear that Paul is dealing with an issue that is a cultural custom in this passage. It seems that the Corinthian women were in the process of working out their freedom in Christ and ended up making some choices that missed the mark of God’s intentions. The cultural custom around head coverings and hair length were in place to help everyone remember that God was the Head of the church and that men were heads of the family unit. When the Corinthian women threw off their head coverings, they were going beyond their freedom in Christ. In essence they were saying by this action that there is no authority, which is a self-serving attitude. Because the Corinthians were pursuing self-interests, they were unwilling to subordinate themselves to the needs of others, and worse, they were placing themselves above God. Now we are getting into some territory that speaks to me and continues to be prevalent in our culture today. This principle behind the head covering issue is something that all people throughout time have struggled with and faced no matter what the cultural norm has looked like.

So the last 17 verses of this passage deal with the Lord’s Supper. It seems that back during early church time, the Lord’s Supper was an actual meal. When the people gathered to worship, part of that worship time was sharing a meal together. It looks like this was getting twisted enough in the Corinthian church that it was actually producing the exact opposite results than it was intended to produce. It appears that just as we sometimes struggle today, the Corinthians were separating by friend groups, forming cliques and eating fancy meals together with their friends, while other people were hurt because they were left out, maybe because they couldn’t afford such an elaborate version of the meal. The Lord’s Supper represents the most selfless and giving act ever known. The Corinthians were, and we are called to partake in this meal to remember the selfless gift of Christ taking our place, paying the price for our sin. Instead of a unifying remembrance of a selfless act, they turned it into a selfish time of fun with friends to the exclusion of others. They were actually doing more harm than good.

As I read this passage and think on the ways that these Christians got off track, I sometimes wish that I had Paul as a personal friend and that he would send me letters pointing out the places I have twisted God’s truth, and missed the mark trying to live by God’s principles. I tell myself that it would be so much easier to know where I am messing up if I got direct instructions in a letter like so many of the people in the new testament did. (The truth is that I would probably melt into a puddle of shame if that actually happened!) The good news is that we have a loving God who knows our hearts and minds. He knows us perfectly and knows how we learn best and at what pace we are able to make changes. He has also gifted us the Holy Spirit who is willing to point out our messes if we are brave enough to ask for help. Let’s choose today to take the time to ask God to show us where we are missing the mark. Let’s ask Him to show us the places in our lives where we are putting ourselves and our desires ahead of others needs, or worse Him.