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Saturday, December 14, 2013

Sacrificial Summit Prayers of Ascent - Day #14

THE LAST ONE (for those of you who are tired of seeing these. :) 

Ephesians 3:20-21 – “20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.”

We stand atop the summit.  It’s easy to think that just because we made it that we made it happen.  But by now anyone who has been doing the Jesus-followin’ thing for any length of time knows that anything we do is “his power that is at work within us”.  Nonetheless, there is something exhilarating about setting out ‘way back when’ looking at the steep climb ahead and knowing—knowing deep in our being—that we aren’t getting up that incline without Him.  It’s that feeling that fills my spirit this morning as I write this final entry.  

The takeaways from this power-passage could fill a library of pages…but I’ll try and pair it down to a handful…

#1 – When we come to the end of our ability, we serve a God “who is able”.  His ability is what any sane Christian relies on in seasons of need.
#2 – It’s easy to have a small imagination and to simply not ask for God to do “immeasurably more”.  It’s not that we don’t believe He can, but I think we struggle to think He will.
#3 – Get this…God does amazing things as “his power is at work within us”.  We ask him to move, when he really wants to move us.  Unimaginable power lays dormant in most believers, untold and untapped.
#4 – It’s staggering that God’s glory is connected to the actions of the church.  The power of God that is demonstrated/at work through His church has everything to do with whether He gets the glory due his name.  
#5 – The generations to come will not see the immeasurable ability and unimaginable power of God unless the church lets Him be “at work” in and through their lives in the present.  The future depends on the present.

In the Old Testament when God’s people would fail to be God’s presence in the world, the prophets would say that God’s name became a “byword” among the nations.  That’s another way of saying “irrelevant”, “unknown”, “impotent”.  The degree to which God relies on the church to be His powerful presence causes me to shutter.  That He has chosen to be “at work in us” to accomplish His purposes in the world continues to challenge me.  We must believe in Him, but it is just as important that we believe that He believes in us.  He thinks we can and will carry his power and presence from generation to generation, glory to glory.

I think that’s why the New Testament unfolds with Matthew, Mark, Luke, John…ACTS.  It is the action of the church empowered by the inner working of God that made the potent impact that we currently enjoy in this generation thousands of years later.  The power is there, the ability is there, the glory is there…the question is whether the church will let God move through them.  Only then will we become a movement.

“God Almighty, we humbly ask for you to do more than we could ask or imagine…but we know it is your intent to do that through us.  I don’t know how we could have missed this.  We keep praying for you to show up and you keep praying for us to show up.  So we believe that you believe we can be your presence and power in this world.  We open ourselves to the idea that “your power is at work in us” and we ask for you to do the impossible, the unimaginable, and the immeasurable through us.  We say with the Apostle Paul as he concludes his prayer: To you be all the glory in all generations, forever and ever!  Amen.”

Friday, December 13, 2013

Sacrificial Summit Prayers of Ascent - Day #13

2 Samuel 24:24 – “I will not sacrifice to the LORD my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing.”
We are in the final days of our Sacrificial Summit as a church.  This is my second to last bit of writing on the idea of giving and this is the last weekend of what we’ve been calling our “Banner Years Initiative” for our building expansion.  We called it a sacrificial summit for obvious reasons…we’re stretching to do something financially that is beyond our comfort zone.  If we weren’t we would call it a “Soft Summit” or a “Soothing Summit”.  But this initiative involves prayer, faith and, above all, sacrifice. 

This short passage today is something King David said toward the end of his life.  It was stated in response to someone who was inferring that he didn’t need to “pay a price” for his offering to God.  I gleaned some truths today as I mulled this over…

#1 – Sacrifice, by virtue of it’s quintessential meaning, has to cost you something.
#2 – People who truly understand sacrifice refuse to offer a gift that has no cost. 
#3 – Nothing that is valuable is free.  Nothing.  It might be free to you, but it always costs someone something.  Anything that deeply matters comes with a price tag.
#4 – As my coach said in college: “You have to pay the price to pursue your passion.” 
#5 – The cost of our sacrifice often reflects the worth of cause.  

I said at the end of the service this past weekend before the One-Time Sacrificial Offering: “If you are giving because of human guilt or pressure, please don’t give.”  I immediately heard my flesh say, “You idiot!  You just let everyone off the hook!  You should take anything from anyone for any reason!”  But I do not believe that.  My creeds scream otherwise.  It matters a great deal to me that people are giving with that same heart David describes in this passage.  Offerings of sacrifice that don’t consider the cost are often not considering the One to Whom they’re given. 

I believe that when we count the cost of our sacrifice because we’ve weighed the worth of our God, there is gravity in our generosity that brings glory to God and grace to us.  That is worth more than money.  That is priceless.

“God, in a world that gives you the leftovers, we long to give you the firstfruits.  We believe you are worthwhile and worthy, and because of that belief, we are not going to bring you costless worship.  The rest of us instead of the best of us.  You are deserving of costly sacrifice, the kind of offering that carries the weight of our worship.  You are the Highest and the Greatest.  You are priceless and precious beyond words, and I pray that our sacrifices are befitting your glory.  Only we know that in our hearts, only you know that in Yours.  We will not offer to you that which costs us nothing.  In Your holy name, Amen.”

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Sacrificial Summit Prayers of Ascent - Day #12

I Timothy 6:17-19 – “17 Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. 18 Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. 19 In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.”

This passage is a charge given to a young pastor, Timothy.  He was teaching him how to lead a charge as a rookie pastor of a small church plant.  One of the things Paul wanted to pass down to his protégé was a theology of money.  How to view it, how God views it, how the worlds views it…and how to make sense (cents) of it.  

I loved some of the things Paul shared about money to hit the tuning fork this young pastor…

#1 – God doesn’t condemn being rich, he is simply concerned about people putting their hope in wealth and becoming arrogant human beings.  This breaks His heart.
#2 – I must say that “God richly providing us with everything for our enjoyment” is a refreshing image of Him, to say the least.  He richly provides us with stuff so that we can enjoy it?  Really?  REALLY?  
#3 – He wants us to take the rich blessings and convert our financial currency into charitable goodness, action, generosity, and sharing.  If our “greenbacks” aren’t turned into “givebacks”, we break His commandment.
#4 – We have to be spending ourselves and our money on the things that matter for eternity.  The only thing we can take with us beyond this life is people…so the greatest investment of our money is to use it to reach more people for Christ. 
#5 – When we follow God’s financial plan, we “take hold of life that is truly life”, which means that you can take hold of life that isn’t really life.  Life that feels like life, but isn’t.   
#6 - God’s greatest desire for us is “true life” and “rich enjoyment”…none of shallow fleeting stuff or fluffy stuff.  He wants us to experience deep, rich, full life…our money can keep us from that or lead us to that.  It’s all in how we see and use it.

Remember, it is “the love of money that is the root of all evil”, not money itself.  God isn’t against wealth, just greed.  He isn’t against blessing, just selfishness.  He isn’t against possessions, just hoarding.  He isn’t against enjoyment, just hedonism.  He isn’t against life, just life that isn’t true life.  Everything God is saying in this passage is meant to reorient our vision of money and align it with the eternal dreams of God.  Will our money be used to change people’s lives and echo into eternity, or will it be used to make us insular, prideful and greedy?  Believe me when I say the souls of people hang in the balance of how we answer those questions.

“God, make us rich so that we can richly bless others.  Take our monies and turn them into good deeds, generous gifts, and a willingness to share.  Make us willing, not just able.  Take our ability to give and infuse it with a willingness to do so.  We want enjoyment, the kind you give.  We want life, the life that is truly life that you bestow.  We don’t want to pursue those things apart from you.  We will follow your commands that you’ve shared with us today, Lord.  These aren’t suggestions…they are commands and we want to obey.  In Jesus name, Amen.”

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Sacrificial Summit Prayers of Ascent - Day #11

Genesis 12:1-3 – “1 The LORD said to Abram, “Leave your country, your people and your father's household and go to the land I will show you. 2 I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”"

We are blessed to be a blessing.  Straight up.  It does no good asking for God to bless you as you pray in the morning if you don’t plan on being a blessing that day.  This covenant that God spoke over Abram is one of the most powerful utterances in the whole of Scripture.  The core of this text could shake the core of Christianity as we know it!

Several challenges struck me as I perused this passage afresh today…

#1 – The blessing of God is often reserved for the ones who will “go to the land” God has “yet to show them”.  Faith is often “going” before “knowing”.
#2 – God says “I will” when he knows “we will”.  He won’t entrust blessing to someone that he can’t trust with it. 
#3 – It seems odd to say this, but God actually states that he will make us great as long as we will emerge gracious.  He will be generative as long as we are generous.
#4 – You are not given things to ingest them, you are given things to invest them.
#5 – God’s dream for the restoration of mankind is not to bless the world himself, but to bless the world through us.  

We must stop asking God to bless us if we have no intention of being a blessing, I don’t know how else to say it.  We are not meant to be cul-de-sacs…we are meant to be conduits, channels of blessing.  

“Lord, we are not to be consumers of blessing, but distributors.  Give us more so that we can give more.  Freely we have received, help us to freely give.  We cannot outgive you.  You are a bottomless and boundless reservoir of resources, Lord.  Entrust us with more in accordance to our trustworthiness.  Starve the stingy, Lord.  Fill the faithful, God.  Make us vessels of your blessing, Jesus.”

Monday, December 09, 2013

Sacrificial Summit Prayers of Ascent - Day #9

Matthew 6:19-21 – “19 Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
Jesus is teaching on money.  Contrary to public opinion, he talked a lot about it.  I think he new that money was the #1 obstacle to following God.  He went on to say later in this passage that you can’t serve God and Money, either you will hate the one and love the other or love the one and hate the other.  He was talking in such basic terms that it’s almost impossible to misunderstand his intent.  An uneducated peasant could pick up what he was laying down.  Your money and your heart parallel each other.

The Touchpoints in this passage are simple…

#1 – In a world that loves to accumulate stuff, Jesus seems to discourage it.  The amenities of this earth don’t seem to drive him much.
#2 – No matter how cool something is, you just gotta get real about its expiration date.
#3 – Jesus is trying to get people to think about leveraging their possessions and provisions for that with lasting value.  Invest in what matters for eternity.
#4 – In a simple phrase he says in effect: “Your worship follows your wallet.”
#5 – Your heart follows your money…not the other way around.  You can love something and still never give, but you can’t give to something without love tagging along.  We, as creatures, follow our actions, not our feelings.   

It’s not an oversimplification to say that the action of giving is directly related to where your heart is really at.  If you’ve ever wondered where your heart is at…check you bank statement or credit card purchases.   That path will lead to the throne of worship.   Your heart is where treasure is.  Your heart is not where you wish your treasure was…it is where it is. 
Our hearts follow our money. 

“Jesus…give us the courage to put your kingdom first.  If our worship follows our wallets, let us get our wallets out in front of our hearts so that our priorities align with that of yours.  You made us…you gave us your Word so that we could understand the mechanics of the human heart…and we believe you know what you’re talking about.  Help us to trust you, Lord.  It’s so very hard for us to do, but we long to.  Thank you for loving us enough to to tell us the truth.  It’s hard to find good friends like that…and you’re a good friend.”

Saturday, December 07, 2013

Sacrificial Summit Prayers of Ascent - Day #8

Matthew 21:12-13 - Jesus entered the temple area and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the moneychangers and the benches of those selling doves.  "It is written," he said to them, " 'My house will be called a house of prayer,' but you are making it a 'den of robbers.' "

Corruption.  Any time money is involved in religion, there is potential for corruption.  This passage warns against buying and selling for greedy gain.  I think a lot of people unknowingly are buying and selling in church with ulterior motives.  It’s really the only time in the Bible we see Jesus go off, so it’s probably worth browsing this passage to make sure we’re not in violation of what Jesus is angry about.

This passage has a plethora of Touchpoints that are striking…

#1 – Jesus drives out leadership that is motivated by making a buck on the backs of goodhearted people.  God won’t put up with weasels.
#2 – Jesus was so furious that the leadership was gouging those buying sacrifices with a little additional tax in order to make profit.  God cares about financial honesty.
#3 – When Jesus quotes that His house will be one of prayer, he’s saying that my house will be one that honestly practices my presence.  No trickery.
#4 – Jesus reserves some really strong words for spiritual leaders who rob people financially through deception. 
#5 – The moral of the story is simple…leaders who lead the people astray financially should get overturned and driven out of spiritual leadership by Jesus.   

It’s sobering to think that Jesus actually made a whip and went off on people who mishandled God’s money.  The buying and selling were normal in that setting, people needed to purchase sacrifices after a long journey to Jerusalem.  But when the religious leaders would add cost to line their own pockets, Jesus took them out.

“God, I’m mindful that money can get in peoples heads.  I pray that you would protect our people, especially our leaders, from the love of money and the allure of filthy lucre.  We want to be above board, just in our dealings, full of honor and honesty with our finances.  Keep us from becoming salesman of spiritual things…we are your servants.  We need your aggressive presence to intersect our lives if we forget this story, Lord.  Wake your church to your high view of financial integrity.  This is my prayer.”

Sacrificial Summit Prayers of Ascent - Day #7

Exodus 36:3-5 - "And the people continued to bring freewill offerings morning after morning. So all the skilled craftsmen who were doing all the work on the sanctuary left their work and said to Moses, "The people are bringing more than enough for doing the work the LORD commanded to be done."

It’s almost hard to imagine having this kind of problem.  They brought too much as an offering to God and eventually had to stop people from bringing more.  I can safely say I’ve never had to dissuade people from their exuberant giving patterns.  Something special was going on in the community…that’s for sure.

This passage is teeming with Touchpoints to inspire our hearts in this season of surrender and sacrifice.  Let me surface a few of these generative gems of generosity…

#1 – The offerings were “freewill” offerings.  They weren’t “forcewill” offerings.  People brought them and the spirit was that of FREEDOM.
#2 – As the ball got rolling, God was showing up morning after morning as the people were moved by Him to give.  Every day, new mercies were falling on this community.
#3 – The craftsman (the skilled laborers) who are doing to visionary work on construction don’t go anywhere are do anything without the provision…and the provision means nothing without the craftsman to make vision a reality.
#4 – When each person in the community does their part there’s always “more than enough” to do the work.  Every little bit when added to whole becomes more than sufficient.
#5 – God gave the vision of the work he wanted done, it was then up to the people to have conversations in their homes, come to conclusions, and bring their freewill offerings to the construction project.   

This weekend is something akin to this passage.  In my mind, I desire every soul to bring their offering with a spirit of “freewill”.  There may be tightness of the chest or a feeling of suspense at the unknowns of the future, but I hope there is a deep joy in people’s generosity toward the project before us.
What would it be like for our leadership to step up in front of the people in a few months and say, “Stop bringing any more resources, we have more than enough to complete this project.  Thanks for digging deep and coming morning after morning with your gifts.  Go home and keep your stuff!”  What a revival of the heart!

“As we head into the weekend and bring our freewill offerings to You, do more than we could ever imagine.  Each of our gifts when combined with all of our gifts is meant to bring massive glory to your name!  We would love to join together with our brothers and sisters and bring ‘more than enough’ for your work, God.  More than anything, Lord, allow the spirit of the giving environment one of FREEDOM.  No Fear or Force or Franticness...full-on Freedom, Lord.  We are expected that you are going to do something amazing this weekend.  Have your way, Lord.”

Friday, December 06, 2013

Sacrificial Summit Prayers of Ascent - Day #6

Matthew 6:2-4 - "2 So when you give, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. 3 But when you give, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

This is one of my favorite giving passages in the Bible.  As we ascend the mountain in our Sacrificial Summit, we must let these inspired Words of God to seep into our souls protecting us from vain imaginations and vain glory.  Our condition of our hearts as we give are infinitely more important than our gifts themselves.

This passage is teeming with Touchpoints to guard our hearts in this season of surrender and sacrifice.  Let me surface a few of these generative gems of generosity…

#1 – No one should be gloating as they give.  The more anonymity in giving, the more God gets the glory for moving in a person’s heart and the person stays in the shadow of God’s grace.
#2 – Hypocrisy + Generosity = To be seen and approved by men.  Anonymity + Generosity = To be seen and approved by God.
#3 – When you give to get recognition that will be your full reward.  There will be no blessing from God in that, you’re blessing is fleetingly temporal.  
#4 – We are the body of Christ…don’t worry about how much the other parts of the body are giving.  Think about the part you play and trust that God is telling others the part they are to play.  We don’t need two left hands.  That’s dysfunctional. 
#5 – God rewards the silent and secret gift of humble sacrifice.   We must trust his quiet voice of affirmation even when our flesh longs for fanfare. 

Obviously, as we’re receiving gifts this weekend, our Financial Director and our Executive Pastor know the gift and the giver in order for the monies to be collected and accounted for with integrity.  But the greatest glory to God will be found when no one in our church knows who gave what, but every one finds out in the end what everyone collectively gave. 

As John proclaimed, “He must increase, I must decrease.”  This is the hope this weekend…that as people give, they become anonymous and God becomes magnanimous.  People become transparent and God becomes apparent.  People play a part in the story, but God gets the glory.

“Not to us, Oh Lord, not to us, but to your name be all the glory because of your love and faithfulness!” – Psalm 115:1  

“This is our prayer as we ascend to your throne with our sacrifices this weekend.  We want to announce your glory and your grace and your goodness and your greatness!  Let us not rob you your honor, God.   If there is any public announcement may it be how great it is that a God like you could use a people like us.  Our gifts are a response to your unspeakable gift…your only begotten Son.  Let us hide in the shadow of your glory.”

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Sacrificial Summit Prayers of Ascent - Day #5

2 Corinthians 8:7 
- “But just as you excel in everything-in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in your love for us-see that you also excel in this grace of giving.”

I’ve been taking various texts of Scripture and allowing my heart to soak them in.  As we climb toward the Sacrificial Summit in this “peak week” for our church, I want us to feel the wind of God’s Spirit moving us along.  To hear his voice, to feel his nudge, to follow his promptings.  There is no more powerful tool of the Spirit that the Sword of the Spirit.  His Word is the best way to hear His voice.

This passage we looked at today has so many good Touchpoints to inform our hearts in this season of surrender and sacrifice.  A few stood out to me…

#1 – I can sometimes think giving is less important than faith, speech, doctrine, passion and love…but it’s not.  
#2 – It’s possible to excel—get better at—generosity.  You don’t have to stay the same; you can improve at giving.  
#3 – I wonder what an “excel”lent giver would look like?  It is a skill that we really should try to perform with “excel”ence.   The author seems to think so anyway.
#4 – God doesn’t minimize the other virtues, he’s just trying to open people’s heart to include giving in the character-conversation.  Don’t think it sits apart…it doesn’t.
#5 – Giving is a grace.  This means that God graces us with the ability to give.  It is an unmerited, unearned virtue given to us by God.

I don’t know about anyone else, but I sometimes segregate giving into its own little spiritual category.  There are the fruits of the Spirit…there are the gifts of the Spirit…and then there's this detached nicety called giving.  It’s negotiable, it’s personal, it’s private, it’s non-essential, it’s debatable…but it’s not critical and least in our minds.  I think a lot of people feel that financial giving is nobody else’s business, but this verse seems to indicate that the author was trying to debunk the myth that giving is any less of a spiritual issue than love, devotion, doctrine, or even faith.   

I need that reminder when I instinctually divorce it from other important spiritual virtues.  Excelling and growing in the gift of giving has to be on my radar.  I hope this opportunity to sacrifice in this Banner Years Initiative has challenged many people to “get better” at giving and that it will begin a journey of generosity that improves with every day that goes by.  

“God, thank you for pushing us to excel just as a coach encourages each of his or her players to reach their full potential.  You know our potential, Lord.  Pull it out of us with your Spirit’s coaching.  In Jesus name, Amen.”

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Sacrificial Summit Prayers of Ascent - Day #4

2 Corinthians 9:6-8
 - “Now this I say, he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed.

We are on an ascent up a movement-mountain toward the Sacrificial Summit as a church.  With every step this week, it’s been critical for me to bathe in Scripture and let the words of God move me.  I don’t want to be moved by anything other than the promptings and inklings of His Spirit.  This is what I’m praying for every person in our body coming into this first weekend of sacrificial giving.

The passage above has so many good Touchpoints to inspire our hearts in this season of surrender and sacrifice.  Let me surface several that caught my eye this morning…

#1 – Like anything else in life, you reap what you sow.  When you invest in something, it tends to grow and bear fruit.  That’s a law of nature and investment. 
#2 – You shouldn’t talk your heart out of what God is purposing it to do.  I believe if we listen to our heart, it’s telling us what to give.  Will we listen? 
#3 – When we listen to our hearts and follow God’s nudge, we won’t give with grudge.  When God moves us, it’s compelling not compulsive.
#4 – God loves a cheerful giver.  That is to say, God finds great delight in our delightful generosity.  No one likes to take a gift from someone who is grimacing as they give it.
#5 – We must trust that as we sow our gifts cheerfully, we will reap abounding grace, sufficient provision, and overflowing abundance.  Abounding abundance.  It doesn’t sound like God is trying to rip us off…as we entrust our finances to Him, we can trust him to take care of us.

I know what it is to sow into something, to go all in as it relates to sports, a hobby, my job, my family, etc.  When I sow sacrificially into something, I watch that area of my life grow and bear fruit.  I wonder what would happen if we collectively sowed into God’s kingdom and trusted God to care for our needs?  He says he is an abounding God who gives abundantly to those who entrust and invest themselves.  I wonder all that we forfeit when we hold onto the seed instead of sowing it?

My prayer is that we live out this verse in the coming days and years.  I can’t imagine what the returns could be on our investment!

“God, we want to sow into your kingdom work.  Speak into our spirits and give us the ears to hear what you’ve purposed in our hearts for us to give.   Don’t let us talk ourselves into something or let anyone else talk us into something…we want our hearts to talk us into something as you talk to our hearts…and may we have the bravery to not talk ourselves out of what you’ve placed on our hearts to give.  Give us courage, Lord.  As this passages promises…Give us Grace.  Be our Sufficiency.  Care for us Abundantly.  We entrust our money to you…because we trust You.”

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Sacrificial Summit Prayers of Ascent - Day #3

Mark 12:41-44 – “41 Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. 42 But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a fraction of a penny. 43 Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, "I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. 44 They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything--all she had to live on."

It’s critical that we fill our hearts with Scripture as we make our ascent to offering our sacrifices to God in this Banner Years Initiative.  The preparation of the heart is critical to the presentation of the offering.

I see several Touchpoints in this passage to guide our hearts in this season of sacrifice…

#1 – Jesus is the one who knows what we’re giving, but more importantly…he knows why we’re giving what we’re giving.  

#2 – God cares about the “how come?” more than the “how much?”  
#3 – God isn’t looking at large amounts or small amounts, he is looking at faith-filled sacrifice from the giver. 
#4 – Some people can give a little and sacrifice everything, some people can give a lot and sacrifice nothing.
#5 – God cares about the widow’s fraction of a penny.  He appreciates it.  He sees the sacrifice.

I’m moved by some of these simple truths.  We are humanly impressed with the quantity more than the quality because our eyes are drawn to volume. Large volume.  Loud volume.  We worship volume. In God’s eyes, the amount doesn’t amount to very much in comparison to the sacrifice.  Giving that is offered in deep faith moves God’s heart.  

I feel this is critical for us to understand as we ascend towards the Sacrificial Summit.  There will be wealthy people that give large amounts and my fear is that there will be people who feel their gift is insignificant.  No gift is insignificant!  Not one.  The only insignificant gift is the one given without sacrifice and faith. 

“God, release a spirit of generosity even in our poverty.  May the rich give with great sacrifice and may the poor give with great sacrifice.  You see our hearts and a penny could be worth more than a blank check in your kingdom economy depending on the state of one’s heart.  Release anyone who is feeling like his or her offering is worthless.  Let them feel your pleasure as they give with a pure heart and a sacrificial spirit.  We want to bless you, Lord.” 

Monday, December 02, 2013

Sacrificial Summit Prayers of Ascent - Day #2

2 Corinthians 8:1-4 – “1 And now, brothers, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. 2 Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. 3 For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, 4 they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints."

I felt it important to allow our hearts to be filled with Scripture as we make our ascent to offering our sacrifices to God in this Banner Years Initiative. The preparation of the heart is critical to the quality of the offering.

I see several Touchpoints in this passage to guide our hearts in this season of sacrifice…

#1 - We give out of the grace we’ve been given. When God gives grace to his church, we graciously give.
#2 - Sacrificial Giving gives out of poverty, not just prosperity. It gives out of trial, not just triumph.
#3 - Rich Generosity can only be so if it’s motivated by overflowing joy. This is not guilt-giving or forced-philanthropy. It’s joyful generosity.
#4 - Sacrificial Givers give according to their ability…and even beyond their ability. We are used to give as we are able, but sometimes God asked us to give more than we are able to see his power in it.
#5 - This act of worship has to be motivated entirely on your own. It can’t be extracted from you, it has to be given. That is why this weekend we will receive this offering, not take the offering. It’s never taken, only given.
#6 - Those who are joyful givers plead for the privilege to be a part of it. They beg for the blessing of sharing their resources.

We might think this is Insanity, but this is Christianity!

God, move in our hearts to have these attitudes and actions coming into the Sacrificial Summit. We want to see your kingdom come as your people respond to your grace with their gifts.

Sacrificial Summit Prayers of Ascent - Day #1

Psalm 50: 7-15 – “7 Hear, O my people, and I will speak, O Israel, and I will testify against you: I am God, your God. 8 I do not rebuke you for your sacrifices or your burnt offerings, which are ever before me. 9 I have no need of a bull from your stall or of goats from your pens, 10 for every animal of the forest is mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills. 11 I know every bird in the mountains, and the creatures of the field are mine. 12 If I were hungry I would not tell you, for the world is mine, and all that is in it. 13 Do I eat the flesh of bulls or drink the blood of goats? 14 Sacrifice thank offerings to God, fulfill your vows to the Most High, 15 and call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you will honor me."

I felt it important to allow our hearts to be filled with Scripture as we make our ascent to offering our sacrifices to God in this Banner Years Initiative.  The Israelites would sing “songs of ascent” as they would journey toward Jerusalem to offer their sacrifices to God.  So in some ways we are counting down (descent) the days while our hearts are counting up (ascent).

This passage is where we get the phrase “God owns the cattle on a thousand hills”.  I always heard that growing up and it never made much sense to me, since I didn’t live in the hills and didn’t own any cattle.  It was always mentioned when talking about how God would provide and we didn’t have to worry about it cause he was loaded. 

But this phrase is actually surrounded by some rich stuff.  A couple things I wanted to touch on.  Let’s call them touchpoints…

#1 God doesn’t need our guilt offerings. He isn’t some desperate deity looking for a hand out.  He has it all.  When we think of him as being a needy nag, we give out of obligation and frustration.

#2 God wants our thank offerings.  When God’s people come to him offering their sacrifices with great thanks that blesses the heart of God.  That is the sacrifice he is moved by. 

This passage closes by showing the blessing of obedience.  You honor me…I deliver you.  #IfThen. You call on me in the day of trouble, and I will rescue you.  This is the promise of God to his people.  When we bless God with our sacrifices, He responds.

I look forward to offering our “thank offerings” to God in the coming weeks for our Sacrificial Summit.  I hope we’ll give it because we get to, not because we’ve got to.   Here we go, let’s band together!

Friday, August 30, 2013

Life is Meaningless? Part 12

Ecclesiastes 5:8-16
8 If you see the poor oppressed in a district, and justice and rights denied, do not be surprised at such things; for one official is eyed by a higher one, and over them both are others higher still. 9The increase from the land is taken by all; the king himself profits from the fields. 10 Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income. This too is meaningless. 11 As goods increase, so do those who consume them. And what benefit are they to the owner except to feast his eyes on them? 12 The sleep of a laborer is sweet, whether he eats little or much, but the abundance of a rich man permits him no sleep. 13 I have seen a grievous evil under the sun: wealth hoarded to the harm of its owner, 14 or wealth lost through some misfortune, so that when he has a son there is nothing left for him. 15 Naked a man comes from his mother's womb, and as he comes, so he departs. He takes nothing from his labor that he can carry in his hand. 16 This too is a grievous evil: As a man comes, so he departs, and what does he gain, since he toils for the wind?

Work, profit, consumption, wealth, poverty, supply & demand, possessions, employment.

These are the issues of our day.  Almost every story in the news finds its origin in one or a mix of all of these themes.  Work and money, or the lack thereof, leads to need or greed which causes tragedy, economic disparity, crime and devastation.  

Consumers demand Production.  Production drives Pressure.  And employers and employees alike deal with pressures on both sides that make them wonder if "it's all worth it"...they ask, "what's the use" or "what is gained in the gaining"...the impoverished, "what is lost in the losing".  People are committing suicide on either side consumed with the strain of need or the demands of greed.  Need and Greed both kill their victims using slightly different weapons.  The "love" of money is the root of all evil, right?

He even touches on this fact.  "Whoever loves money never has enough."  The key word is "loves".  Money is not evil, nor the possession of it.  When you have money and you see yourself as a steward to invest it in things that are everlasting, those resources are a source of life for you and others. 

I've never had much money (in American standards at least) and wasn't born into wealth.  But I love the part of this verse that talks about the sleep of the laborer being sweet.  Sometimes with poverty comes simplicity, and with simplicity comes peace, and with peace comes rest.  The less you have, the less options you have, making life less complicated.  You work, earn a wage, that wage determines the width of your life, and you live within that margin.  It seems that the author uses sleep as a gauge for quality of life and it often has nothing to do with the things our world applauds as success.  Quantity doesn't equal Quality in the authors opinion and you get the sense that he would rather have less with hearty sleep than more with insomnia.  

More and more and more often creates complexities that not only drain the brain in the daytime hours, but crowd the mind with anxious midnight thoughts that revolve around how to keep the money machine from breaking down.  You fantasize about sleep and yet you can't bed down even in your most exhausted state because you've created a life around you that demands your constant plotting and planning to hold together.  I would rather have a shack with peace than a mansion with pressure.  That's just me.

I was naked at my grand entrance into this world and naked I will depart.  Someone said, "There is no Uhaul behind a Hearse".  Dust to dust, ashes to ashes.  So the moral of the story is to look at the polarities of extreme need and extreme greed closely, watching to see if either side is stealing away your ability to sleep sweetly.  The more you take your resources and possessions and leverage them for the good of humanity and eternity, it is then that you can take your wealth with you.  When you use your affluence to influence, your resources last forever because the only thing crossing over to the other side is the souls of people.

So the question is, "Am I using what God has given me to impact people for eternity?"  If the answer is no, prepare for insomnia and a nagging sense of futility.  We were created to invest our earnings into everlasting defy that is like defying a law of nature like gravity, you will lose that battle.  But if the answer is yes, you are not only simplifying your life each day by downsizing and divesting, you are actually turning fiscal affluence into spiritual influence, exchanging physical currency into eternal currency.  

It's the only way to avoid the feelings this author bemoans.  Are you starting to feel sorry for this sucker yet? 

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Life is Meaningless? Part 11

Ecclesiastes 5:1-7

1 Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. Go near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools, who do not know that they do wrong. 2 Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few. 3 As a dream comes when there are many cares, so the speech of a fool when there are many words. 4 When you make a vow to God, do not delay in fulfilling it. He has no pleasure in fools; fulfill your vow. 5 It is better not to vow than to make a vow and not fulfill it. 6Do not let your mouth lead you into sin. And do not protest to the [temple] messenger, "My vow was a mistake." Why should God be angry at what you say and destroy the work of your hands?7 Much dreaming and many words are meaningless. Therefore stand in awe of God.

Reverence. Awe. Honor

These are concepts that I struggle to comprehend, but the older I get them more I'm drawn to them.  I want to "stand in awe of God".  I want to guard my steps in His presence and lessen my words as I utter my thoughts to His heart.  I don't want to treat God like my "Homeboy" or my "Buddy" or "The Big Guy upstairs".  I'm not interested in bringing him down to my level and being non-chalant with him.  

But let me clarify.  I don't want to be scared of him or to pray like a machine to a machine in the sky either.  I want to honor his presence is all I'm saying.  No need for crouching down and groveling like a peasant before a King.  I'm his child and His palace is my home.  And yet there is a certain gravity to my relationship with God that demands reverence.  Deep, abiding respect that is only his just due.  He is God...I am not.  

The part of this verse that stands out to me is the dreaming part.  Specifically how many cares lead to many dreams. I feel as though there are days that I bear the weight of the world on my shoulders and as I contemplate the reason for this, I am left to wonder if I don't see myself as a sort of god.  When I don't understand who is really God in my life, I am left to carry the cares myself.  I say this to my shame and I don't think I knowingly assume this god-like posture, but this verse makes me wonder if there isn't clear enough distinction between God and myself.  What is his and what is mine.  What he does and what I do.  I have been having tons of dreams lately, many of which are borne out a tightness of chest and the pressures of life.  These dreams are a mixture of fact and fiction and I wake with a certain darkness hovering over me.  The darkness of dread and fear and anxiety.  

It's easy to try to sate these fears with words.  To try to over-compensate with being faster...instead of guarding my steps.  Saying more...instead of letting my words be few.  Dreaming more instead of simply living.  This is meaningless largely because it's hollow.  Life is wordy and busy and dreamy, but it's not centered and anchored.  I can't feel the shallowness of a sailboat without a keel or sail.  I'm going nowhere or sideways depending on the wind, but I'm not catching the gusts of God, that's for sure.  This is wearisome as the author says over and over again.  A greyhound chasing a mechanical rabbit.

I long for a reverence of God that puts me in my proper place.  I say that without the least bit of pity.  I truly want him to be distinguish from me in a league all his own, a personality that is completely other as the Holy God of the Universe.  I want to stand square and small in my rightful place relaxed under his Sovereign wings.  I don't want to carry myself as if I'm like Him and He's like me.  It's easy to reduce him to that place, but I want to posture myself correctly in our relationship.  I want to love him as he deserves and dare I say, demands.  Only then will I rest my weary bones and tame my wild tongue.

I love Him very much.