Saturday, February 27, 2016

Generosity Part 3

When your money goes in to something, a piece of your heart will go in to it as well.  Your heart has a tendency to follow your money.  So, it’s essential to protect our heart from what money can do to it.  In Generosity Part 1 and Part 2, I talked about how money can impact our heart.  Money is something that pretends to be an everything (Tripp) and if we’re not careful, we can easily fall into its grip.  To close out this series of posts, I simply want to talk about how we can protect our heart and see ourselves move toward a lifestyle of generosity. 

The Apostle Paul wrote to his young friend Timothy and said, “As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy.  They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.” (1 Timothy 6:17 – 19ESV) 

How can we protect our heart?  Paul tells us that the first way is through “hope” but not hope in riches because riches are uncertain rather hope in God.  Hope is not a situation.  Hope is a Person and His name is Jesus.  (Tripp) When I put my hope in anyone or anything other than God I am trusting in a risky hope because it will always be uncertain. Hope in material things, hope in a house, hope in a lifestyle, hope in a bank account that’s all risky hope because those things were never designed to be the source of life and hope. (Tripp) They will never hold up under that weight.  When the weight of life is placed on anyone or anything other than God, it will always cave under the pressure and I’ll discover that I can never spend enough to have all I want in life and I can never save enough to stop all the bad things that can happen in life. (Stanley) A full, meaningful, productive, purposeful life starts with Jesus at the center because He’s the only one capable of being our hope.

The second way to protect our heart is to remember that God “provides us with everything to enjoy.”  When is the last time you just paused and took time to enjoy what you have and reflect on how blessed you are?  When I focus on what I want more than what I have, well that leads to this wonderful trait called being discontent.  The love of money is fundamentally not an overspending problem it’s a contentment problem.  (Tripp) Money will never do anything to address contentment because contentment is a heart issue.

The dictionary defines contentment as the state of being satisfied with what you have.  And, this so much better than the alternative not being satisfied with what you have.  Not being satisfied can lead to crazy amounts of debt.  Not being satisfied can lead to obesity.  Not being satisfied can lead to affairs.  Not being satisfied can lead to feeling entitled.  Not being satisfied can lead to addictions.  Not being satisfied can lead to greed.  Not being satisfied can lead to stealing.  Not being satisfied can lead to putting your work first and your family last.  Not being satisfied can lead to me putting my wants at the center of the Universe and so everything now becomes about me and what I want.  So, do you see what’s at stake here?  This is why a lack of contentment in our life is such a big deal.  And, this is the tension that we all feel because as long as we’re human, we will struggle with this to one degree or another because it’s human nature to want more.  It doesn’t take any work on my part to want more.  It is what will always come natural to me.  And, as long as I’m wanting more, I will never be content. 

True contentment is the result of taking time to enjoy what you have instead of thinking about what you don’t have. Let me try to illustrate:  We have this tradition at our house over Christmas.  We do an Advent Calendar starting December 1st.  Each day leading up to Christmas the kids get a tiny gift a piece of candy, a coloring book, a date with mom or dad, a night out looking at Christmas lights stuff like that.  On Christmas Eve, we try to make the Advent Calendar gift a little more substantial, so we typically get a pair of pajamas for them that they can wear on Christmas Eve and then we’ll get them a small gift.  Two years ago we got little TY Beanie Boos for the kids. 

Our 3-year-old gets hers and it’s this little pink unicorn.  She thinks its super cute and is like “Oh, I love it!”  Then our 4-year-old gets hers.  She looks at it with this look of disappointment and is like, “But I wanted a pink unicorn too!”  A huge fit ensued.  Seriously, I think I saw her head spin completely around a couple of times!  Instead of receiving this gift and being thankful for it, she made her discontentment very clear!  And, that mindset totally stole her joy.  It totally took the joy of receiving that gift away from her because instead of feeling thankful, she clearly was not thankful and lack of thankfulness stole her joy.  But, here’s the thing her lack of thankfulness didn’t just affect her.  It affected us as well.  Carol and I thought she was going to love this little guy!  We were so excited to give it to her.  And, then, when she reacted the way she did like my first initial response was “You little ingrate!”  I know it’s not a very pastoral of me to think that. So, I kept it on the inside but the thought certainly crossed my mind.   But, a part of our joy was stolen as well because her lack of thankfulness.  Being discontent doesn’t just impact you.  It impacts those around you as well. (Gordon)

“Comparisons kill contentment.” And, this is why we are in desperate need for the grace of God.  Money will never do anything to address contentment because contentment is a heart issue. God has provided everything for our enjoyment.  Joy flows into your life when thankfulness explodes from your heart. (Gordon)  If we take time to enjoy what we have, we’ll be more content.  And, I guarantee that the more content you are the less you will spend and the more you’ll have to give.

A third way to protect our heart is to be generous. Generosity flows from a heart overwhelmed by the grace of God. “Only Jesus can turn an entitled person into a thankful one. Only Jesus can transform an envious heart into one that is truly content. Only Jesus can enable you to see and care about the needs of others instead of being so dominated by your own.” (Tripp) I can easily be ruled by my selfishness and this is why I am so desperate for the grace of Jesus in my life.  Every day I need to remind myself of who Jesus is and all He has done and the grace He has shown and allow Him to continue His work in me.  What Paul wrote in 1 Timothy 6 reveals that the overflow of a heart transformed by Jesus is “to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share.”

Imagine if everyone lived by that statement.  If you’re a follower of Jesus, this is the life we’re called to live because our generosity helps people and, in the process, points them to Jesus. And, when this happens, the Apostle Paul says we store up treasure for ourselves as a good foundation for the future and we take hold of that which is truly life.

The happiest people you know are the most generous people you know.  (Stanley) Show me a generous person and I’ll show you a happy person.  Show me a stingy person and I’ll show you a grumpy person.  When you live a generous life, you’re truly experiencing life.  Jesus said it Himself It’s more blessed to give than to receive.”  (Acts 20:35)  I’ve never been accused of being some great scholar or theologian.  Quite frankly, I’m not even the smartest person in my family!  But, I do know this given the option of choosing to be more blessed or less blessed I’m probably going to choose to be more blessed.  And, the way I choose to be more blessed the way I can truly experience life is simply by choosing to be more generous to intentionally give to daily sacrifice to really feel generosity in my budget to say “no” to some of my wants so I can say “yes” to another’s need to look to Jesus and trust Him at His word.  A greater paycheck won’t help me be generous, but a greater view of grace certainly will. A heart overwhelmed by grace is a heart willing to overwhelm others with generosity.

The “most blessed” lives are generous lives.  A bigger bank account will not make us more generous.  We do not need “more” in order to be generous.  We need grace.  Generosity flows from a heart overwhelmed by grace of God. So please don’t let anyone guilt you in to generosity.  Let God grace you in to generosity.  Guilt may cause you to be generous for a moment.  Grace will motivate you to be generous for a lifetime. 

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Generosity Part 2

If we cross paths with money, our heart has the potential of being pulled in two directions.  We have the potential to become arrogant or we have the potential to set our hopes on money.  In Generosity Part 1, I talked a little bit about how greed hides itself so well in our hearts that we often believe we are above it happening to us.  I only have to know one other person who is greedy to think that I am not.  The ultimate arrogance is to believe that I’m above materialism happening to me.

Another way we can be arrogant with our money is to think our money is our money.  And, this is very American.  We live in the land of opportunity.  Our country was founded on the principles of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  So, if I just pursue happiness hard enough, then I can make something of myself.  I work hard.  I put in the hours.  Blood, sweat, and tears have gone in to my bank account.  And, so our mindset can easily turn in to “My success is the product of my hard work.”  And, while I can see the truth in that, the arrogance creeps in if I never acknowledge where success comes from.  In 1 Chronicles 29:12 we are reminded that: “Wealth and honor come from You alone, for You rule over everything.  Power and might are in Your hand, and at Your discretion people are made great and given strength.”  So, you and I have because God has given it to us.  Humility acknowledges that we have it but God owns it.  Arrogance says since I have it and I own it.  There is danger in that.  God doesn’t give up ownership of it just because He gives it to us. (Keller)

My retirement money goes to an investment management company, but just because I give them the money doesn’t mean that it’s their money.  They manage it, but they do not own it.  If they begin to think that because they manage it, they own it well, they can get arrested for something like that.  They’re taking someone else’s money and acting like it’s their own and using it to promote their wants and their desires. Humility acknowledges that we have it but God owns it.  So, how can I promote God’s agenda?  How can I build His kingdom?  How can I share His love with it?  Arrogance says since I have it, I own it. So, how can I promote my agenda?  How can I build my kingdom?  How can I love myself with it?

Not only can money draw me to arrogance but also it can easily become my primary source of hope and security.  The Apostle Paul tells us in 1 Timothy 6:17 – 19 not to set our hopes on the uncertainty of riches.  I experienced how easily this can happen in 2014.

In the summer of 2014, my family and I moved from Indiana to Maryland.  As part of the move, we sold our home of 12 years.  We made dramatic improvements to that home in our 12 years there:  new bathroom, new floors, new paint, new furnace and AC, all new wiring, plumbing, and duct work.  Virtually no room in that house went untouched with improvements.  With all of the improvements and with 12 years of equity built up in the house, when we sold it we made a nice profit and let’s just say our bank account had NEVER seen a number like that!  And, when that number showed up in our bank account, I remember feeling a slight sense of “Ahhhhhh we finally don’t have to concern ourselves with money for a while."  It felt really nice and safe and secure to have that much money in our account ... then we moved to Howard County and quickly realized that what we thought was a lot really was not a lot!

Wealth is so uncertain, but it sure provided an illusion of safety and control for me.  I mean, I had just uprooted my family and left the place where my family had been forged.  I had to transition our kids to a new school.  I had to get used to an entirely different area.  I got lost everywhere I went for the first month.  I didn’t know anybody life was feeling very out of control for me at that time and having a lot of coin in the bank gave me the illusion that I had control in an uncontrollable world.

And, this is how money will battle for our heart.  Money is something that pretends to be an everything. (Tripp) And, as long as sin is inside of me, there will always be the temptation to put my hope in something other than God.

God’s chief competition for your devotion is not the devil. (Stanley) Most people are not like “Should I worship God or the devil?”  Hmmm??  No.  That’s not the struggle we have.  The real struggle that we have is will I surrender myself to good things or to the Giver of good things.  Will I place myself under God’s authority and trust that He will satisfy me or will I surrender myself to something else and believe that will satisfy me.  The devotion of my heart will always drift toward what I believe will provide everything.

Christian living is a continual realignment process. (Keller)  My son is in the process of getting braces.  His teeth are crooked, so he’s in the process of getting them straightened out.  He has the expander now.  Soon, the orthodontist will move to the next step and then the next step until hopefully, one day, his teeth are straight.  But, if I’m understanding it all correctly, this is a lifelong process.  His teeth are always going to want to go crooked, so even after braces, he will have to wear a retainer at night in order to keep his teeth in line with what the braces have accomplished. 

Even after I’m saved, my sin nature is going to fight to make me crooked again.  Every day I will be offered opportunities to offer myself to something that is not designed to satisfy my heart.  It really takes no effort on my part to become “crooked.”  For me to remain “straight,” I have to preach to myself every day the truth of who God is and the truth who I am because of Jesus.  I have to say to myself, “Whom have I in heaven but You?  And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides You.  My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”  (Psalm 73:25 – 26)  “Aim at Heaven and you will get Earth 'thrown in': aim at Earth and you will get neither.” (C.S. Lewis)

Prayers for Our Families and Children Week 4

The following prayers are written from Scripture and are designed to be a way to pray specifically for our children and families.  Each Tuesday in February I plan will post a prayer list for the week.  Will you join me in allowing our Heavenly Father to hear about our children every day and trust God to do His work in their hearts and ours.

Tuesday, February 23

Heavenly Father, I pray that my children will not seek to share Your glory in any way.  I ask that they will be able to say, “Not to us, O Lord, not to us but to Your name be the glory, because of Your love and faithfulness.” (Psalm 115:1)  I pray that others will see their good works that what they do and how they live their life will be such a blessing that others will turn their praise to You in heaven. (Matthew 5:16) Amen.

Wednesday, February 24

God I ask that my children will find You beyond compare.  (Isaiah 46:5).  I pray that they will see You as enthroned above the circle of the earth. (Isaiah 40:22).  I pray that they will lift their eyes toward the heavens and trust that it was by Your great power that it all was created and is all sustained (Isaiah 40:26) I pray that they will see You as the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. (Isaiah 40:28) Amen.

Thursday, February 25

Father, because we live in a broken world, my children will experience their own brokenness and the brokenness of others.  This reality can wear them down and discourage their hearts.  But, I pray that You will give strength to them when they are weary and will increase their power when they are weak.  In those moments when they grow tired and weary and when they may stumble and fall, I pray that their hope will be in You.  I pray that You will renew their strength and that they find You to be faithful to them and that You will help them to soar like eagles to run and not grow weary, to walk and not to be faint all because they find their rest in You. (Isaiah 40:29 – 31) Amen.

Friday, February 26

God, I pray that my children will believe that You are the LORD, the God of all mankind and that they would believe nothing is too hard for You. (Jeremiah 32:27) Amen.

Saturday, February 27

Father, You said to the family of the Recabites, “You have obeyed the command of your forefather Jonadad and have followed all his instructions and have done everything He ordered.  Therefore, Jonadab son of Recab will never fail to have a man to serve Me.” (Jeremiah 35:18 – 29)  Oh, God, I pray that will be true of my family as well that we will never fail to serve You.  Far be it from us to forsake You, Lord, to serve other gods!  As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.  (Joshua 24:15 – 16) Amen.

Sunday, February 28

Holy Spirit, empower my children to be led by You so that they will not gratify the desires of their sinful nature. (Galatians 5:16)  Jesus, help them not to be deceived by the enemy and protect them from his desire to steal, kill, and destroy.  Instead, I pray that they will come to have the life You have promised an abundant and full life.  (John 10:10)  Holy Spirit, as they submit to You, grow your fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control in their heart and life.  (Galatians 5:22 – 23)

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Generosity Part 1

I’ve been a pastor for 14 years and money has always been a sensitive subject in church.  Many people think that the church just wants your money.  But, when someone says something like that, it really has nothing to do with the church.  Why?  Well, think about it like this: There really are places out there that truly just want your money.  Target just wants your money  people aren't complaining about that.  Chipotle just wants your money  people aren't complaining about that. Apple just wants your money  people aren't complaining about that.

We may complain about prices but we’re not really complaining about the spending because we’re using money to get something we want.  Our money is always tied to our heart and until our hearts are transformed our wants never will be.  So, my goal with this post, and the ones that follow, is that you will read them and desire to use your money on what you want but that what you’ll want most of all is to be generous.  I long for hearts to be overwhelmed by Jesus and His grace.  Generosity is the result of a life restored by grace. So my hope is that we will allow our hearts to be restored by grace and not motivated by guilt. Guilt may motivate you to give today.  Grace will motivate you to be generous for a lifetime. 

The Apostle Paul wrote to his young friend Timothy and said, “As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy.  They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.” (1 Timothy 6:17 – 19ESV)  Over the next couple of days I hope to break these verses down to help us understand how to live a generous life.

“As for the rich in this present age” Some of us read that and say, “Well, that leaves me out.  I’m certainly not rich. But, my neighbor you should see the car he drives!  He must be loaded!”  I get that.  I really do, because we often define “rich” as anyone who has more than us.  But, the reality is that being rich simply means we have more than we need.

The temptation is for me to describe “rich” as being able to afford what I want instead of being able to afford what I need.  That typically leads to “rich” always being the other guy. “Rich” is the other guy with better job.  “Rich” is the other woman with a nicer home.  “Rich” is the one with the bigger bank account.  This all leads to “rich” rarely being us.  And, that’s one of the biggest challenges facing those of us who have more than we need we lose our ability to recognize how blessed we truly are.   Money has a unique ability to blind us to what we have and can cause us to see only what we don’t have.

I think this is just one of the reasons why Jesus talks more about greed than He does sex.  Money has the unique ability to blind us to its effects.  For example, if Wikipedia is correct, the county I live in (Howard County) is the 3rd wealthiest county in America with a median income of nearly $109,000.   So, I live in the 3rd wealthiest county in America.  I’m surrounded by wealth and affluence every day. Yet, I find that I rarely even entertain the possibility that I myself may be materialistic because all I have to do is know one other person who is greedy to cause me not to consider myself to be. Greed blinds us in a way other sins do not. (Keller) It blinds us to what we have.  It causes us to see what we don’t have and then it hides itself in our heart.  This means I’m always more willing to point out greed in another person’s life than I am my own. 

But, the Word of God reminds me that I am more like the greedy and materialistic person I’m pointing my finger at than unlike them.  As a sinner, it’s always more fun to point the finger at someone else’s sin because this will always keep me from having to deal with my own.  And, this is exactly what Paul says money can do to us in 1 Timothy 6:17 – 19.  Paul said that money can make me “haughty.”  Haughty that’s not a word we use much anymore.  Sometimes I call my wife a “hotty,” but when I looked it up in the Greek, it’s not the same thing.  “Haughty” means to be arrogant.  So, we’re told that one of the impacts of money is that it can make us arrogant.  In relation to money, I think the ultimate arrogance is to say that I am above materialism happening to me. I have no problem pointing out a greedy person until I have to look in the mirror.  Greed hides itself and we can never think we’re above it happening to us.

This is why I’m desperate for grace.  God uses His grace to shine light on what I cannot see and exposes what He desires to transform.  And, this exposure is not a form of punishment but rather rescue.  Greed will hold me captive to the worst this world has to offer.  So, God  “dispels our self-inflicted darkness because He knows that we cannot grieve what we do not see, we cannot confess what we have not grieved, and we cannot turn from what we haven’t confessed.”  (Tripp)

Living a generous life has to start by simply asking God to reveal what is in our heart because “wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:21)  If any form of greed or selfishness is revealed, don’t think that God wants to punish you for it.  Rather, He wants to rescue you from it and continue His work of transformation in your life.

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