Friday, October 25, 2013

Generosity Makes the World Go 'Round

I once had a crazy experience at Barnes and Noble in Muskegon. (by the way, I love this Barnes and Noble; and I love their cafe because they’ll still serve Sumatra unlike that “other” coffee place with the green circle logo!) About 30 minutes before closing time; Marianne, Liam, and I stopped by to grab coffee and read for a bit while we waited for Emma to finish up her Senior High Bible Study thing (SNL).

I ordered a grande black coffee (I’m of the mindset that if you need cream or sugar in your coffee, then you don’t really like coffee). The young barista asked if house blend was okay, and being the gracious fellow I am, I said, “sure.”

Unfortunately, there wasn’t enough coffee left. He couldn’t quite fill my grande (medium) cup. So he showed me the cup and asked, “Is this okay, or would you rather just have a tall (small)?”

I said, “Whatever, tall is fine.”

Then he proceeded to pour my coffee out of the grande cup into a tall cup. When he was done, there was about 1/8 inch of coffee left in the grande cup. He gave me my tall coffee and threw away the coffee he didn’t use. All the while, he and his partner were patting themselves on the back for not having to brew a new pot, because they were sure their manager would NOT have been happy if they had brewed a new pot right before closing time.

Now here’s the funny thing. I know their manager. She knows me. Everytime I walk in, she asks if I’d like her to brew some Sumatra. (sometimes I say yes, sometimes I don’t) She is a great manager, and one of the reasons I frequent her cafe is because she is GENEROUS with customers.

Pouring a few ounces of coffee down the drain because the customer is only paying for a “tall” is NOT GENEROUS. In fact, it’s just bad business. See, it only costs 10 cents to upgrade from tall to grande, so that 10 cents was lost when I chose to pay for a tall. But then the loss was compounded by pouring the coffee into a new cup. Now one cup had been wasted, and more importantly a customer was treated poorly.

I won’t stop going to Barnes and Noble. I know that this was the exception, not the rule. I know that most of the baristas would have simply given me the coffee and charged me for the tall. In fact, some of them might have just given me the coffee for free since it was the bottom of the last pot (I frequently get such gifts from my friends at the “other place”). In those cases, being GENEROUS is actually GOOD BUSINESS.

Sometimes, we aren’t GENEROUS because we are afraid of the cost. We don’t see our GENEROSITY as an investment in the future.

Here’s the thing, though. We live in a world that works best when GENEROSITY is the engine driving things:

  • God’s creation was GENEROUS. Instead of just creating a functional, mechanical world; He gave us an amazingly creative, colorful, complex yet simple world. The variety and beauty of creation is a constant reminder of God’s GENEROSITY.
  • The most beloved characters in the history of the world are those who were viewed as GENEROUS by their contemporaries.
  • The hero of every story is the one who GIVES AWAY for the good of others.
  • The best meal is one that is prepared by a GENEROUS chef (have you ever eaten at a “fancy” restaurant that provides great food, but you only get two bites?)
  • The single greatest act of all time was the GENEROUS gift of life, given to us by God through His Son, Jesus. 

GENEROSITY makes the world go ‘round. Selfishness and hoarding bring things to a screeching halt. What you are willing to give away today may go a long way toward enabling someone else to continue into tomorrow! GIVE GENEROUSLY!

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

When Your Important Things Are Drowning In The Sea Of Good

We went to a yogurt place last night. It's a pay-by-the-pound joint, so after dispensing our preferred flavors of frozen yogurt, we each added toppings and set our finished concoctions on the cashiers scale.

While our styrofoam dishes sat on the scale, I noticed a difference between my dish and my son's. I had cappuccino yogurt with a few chocolate chips and a few peanut butter chips tastefully sprinkled on top. I had no idea which flavor my son had chosen because whatever yogurt he had was completely covered by the glut of toppings with which he had filled his bowl. I am certain, though, that he enjoyed his "yogurt."

Drowning the main thing in other good things may not be a bad practice in yogurt world. It might actually lead to quite tasty creations.

However, in most of life, losing sight of the main thing because of too many other "good" things can have devastating consequences.

In the pursuit of money and promotions, some have lost their families.

Despite accumulating myriad possessions and toys, others have lost their joy.

While filling their calendar with events and engagements, many have lost their time for God.

Many good things vie for our time and energy and resources. Yet, only a few things are what really matters. Be careful not to drown in your most important things in a sea of "good" things.

Okay or Outstanding: Choosing Generosity Over Selfishness and Despair

A lot of time in life, “okay” is good enough. When I get my haircut, I don’t need “outstanding”, I just need “okay.” (I realize that may not be true for everyone)

Sometimes, “outstanding” is important. I’m not okay being just an “okay” father to my children, I want to be “outstanding.”

I think that a proper perspective of okay and outstanding is a great way to develop contentment and generosity in our lives, while also finding victory over despair and selfishness. Here’s the simple formula:

When you GIVE, be satisfied with nothing but outstanding.
When you RECEIVE, be satisfied with okay.

Generosity is the practice of giving your best to others, even when it requires you to sacrifice or to be a servant. Contentment is the art of accepting less than you expect, knowing that it is most likely more than you need.

Selfishness is the act of hoarding your resources at the expense of others. It is the polar opposite of generosity. It is the result and root of sin, and it flies in the face of a Christlike ethic. The solution to selfishness is to give generously, never be satisfied to give someone else less than your most outstanding efforts.

Despair is the state of believing the lie that you do not have all you need. Of course, this despair requires you to ignore not only the promises of God, but also His history of provision. Despair causes you to see the gifts of others as less than sufficient and below your expectations.

The solution to despair and selfishness is to be completely satisfied with gifts that may seem to be just okay, knowing that God will use those gifts to meet your needs in ways that surpass your greatest expectations.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The 17 Steps Of A New Testament Strategy for Discipleship

Planning is good. Often times a good plan is the difference between success and failure. Sometimes, though, a plan can mistakenly become an impediment to success.

Sometimes we forget that spiritual growth is not something we can manufacture. We can cultivate, plant seeds, water, etc. but it is God who causes the growth. Any discipleship plans should reflect this understanding.

Lots of good programs exist to enhance disciple-making activity. I would happily use many of them in my church/small groups/relationships. However, I would argue there is only one truly "biblical" plan for disciple-making, it looks like this:

  1. Love one another.
  2. Be devoted to one another.
  3. Honor one another.
  4. Live in harmony with one another.
  5. Stop judging one another.
  6. Accept one another.
  7. Instruct one another.
  8. Greet one another.
  9. Agree with one another.
  10. Serve one another.
  11. Bear with one another.
  12. Forgive one another.
  13. Submit to one another.
  14. Admonish one another.
  15. Encourage one another.
  16. Do not slander one another.
  17. Offer hospitality to one another.

Who is ready?

Monday, October 21, 2013

Generous: Living With An Open Hand

For what they are worth, here are my notes from a sermon on Matthew 25, the passage often called the "Parable of here Talents"

What is the Kingdom of Heaven? - Jesus said it was near -- present tense

1) It's already here but not yet (WWII. Free France refused to submit 2 occupier)
2) It's anywhere God's people are submitting to God's rule

Who is this story about? not servants -- is about master

The Bible = God's revelation to us. He is ALWAYS the hero of the story! If you ever read a story in the Bible and a man or woman is the hero... you read it wrong.

We need to learn how we fit into God's world instead of trying to fit Him into ours

What is the point of this story?

1) Everything we have has been given to us by God

- The servants in this story have nothing until the Master gives them His money.
- All we have originates with God. hard work = positive results, God's provision
- Health, Family, Home, Possessions, Energy, Time, Money - Entrusted 2 You

2)God gives different gifts in different amounts to different people

- God never treats two people the same. Circumstances crafted just for you
- In the OT, God reminded Israel not like other... : "I know the plans..."
- NT, reminds us "he will supply all our needs according to his riches" and "all things work together for good for those who love God..."
- Different resources, SAME OPPORTUNITY... to be Faithful

3) God expects us to use His treasure as He would use it

- True success is being able at the end to tell our master how we multiplied His resources
- Proper stewardship of God's resources requires a proper understanding of God's nature
- Two approaches to the master's money:
INVESTED -- first two servants. identical actions
- Faithful servants don't worry about what other servants have been given
- if you are not generous with a little, you will not be generous with a lot
- Generous living isn't the result of abundance, it is the result of reliance 
- This servant was motivated by FEAR ("I was afraid...")
- fear is a terrible motivator. Especially irrational fear (least to lose)
- What R U afraid of losing? How is fear keep you from being generous?
"I have a sneaking suspicion that we're going to be embarrassed when we get to heaven and realize how much emphasis we put on stuff, money, and ourselves here on earth. I need to constantly ask myself where I'm putting my help and what am I investing in?" -Paul Urban

Choose to invest the gifts of God into the work of God's Kingdom
- Move your feet, your heart will follow

Take Your First Step Today
- Find a person to serve
- Find a place to serve
- Find a group with whom to serve

Monday, September 23, 2013

How To Answer "That Person"

Having talked about being QUICK TO LISTEN, this week; I thought I would run a post I wrote several years ago that highlights not just that we need to be SLOW TO SPEAK, but that when we speak our speech needs to be appropriate...

A well-known conservative Christian blog runs a series of posts entitled "Next". They are designed to be short, witty, and somewhat snarky responses to objections people raise about the God, Christianity and church.

Often the responses are well-thought out and reflect very good answers to sometimes tough questions. However, I shudder a little every time I read them because the answers just don't seem to reflect the type of grace I'd like them to.

If you know me well, you know that I'm not always the most gentle of people, but I feel like this is an area of my life that the Spirit has shaped over the years... which is perhaps why I'm more sensitive to this.

So I asked in the comments of one of these posts if they could show me some Proverbs (the author is absolutely brilliant in his use of Proverbs) that demonstrate this type of dialogue as appropriate. After not receiving a response, I went ahead and did a quick word search in Proverbs for "answer".

Below I listed the verses which seemed appropriate to this discussion, and then made a short list of things I learned about wisely answering people (especially those with whom you disagree). I'll continue working on answering THIS way, I hope you will to.

Proverbs 1:28
"Then they will call to me but I will not answer; they will look for me but will not find me.

Proverbs 15:1
A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.

Proverbs 15:28
The heart of the righteous weighs its answers, but the mouth of the wicked gushes evil.

Proverbs 18:13
He who answers before listening— that is his folly and his shame.

Proverbs 18:23
A poor man pleads for mercy, but a rich man answers harshly.

Proverbs 21:13
If a man shuts his ears to the cry of the poor, he too will cry out and not be answered.

Proverbs 22:21
teaching you true and reliable words, so that you can give sound answers to him who sent you?

Proverbs 24:26
An honest answer is like a kiss on the lips.

Proverbs 26:4
Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you will be like him yourself.

Proverbs 26:5
Answer a fool according to his folly, or he will be wise in his own eyes.

Proverbs 26:16
The sluggard is wiser in his own eyes than seven men who answer discreetly.

Proverbs 27:11
Be wise, my son, and bring joy to my heart; then I can answer anyone who treats me with contempt.


1. Be Gentle, not harsh.

2. Listen well before you formulate your answer.

3. Weigh your answer, don't immediately gush.

4. Give answers that reflect Scripture.

5. Don't endlessly debate with a fool.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

What Exactly is the Church?

People think of church in a lot of different terms. Most of the times, we fixate on one particular concept, and as a result have a less than full understanding or just plain mistaken understanding of what church is.

Here are four of the most common ways we think about church:

Where we meet -- this is often associated with place and time. when we were young, we were always taught that "church was not a place", but that teaching was confusing for me because what I always heard was this:
1) we dress up and act "reverent" when we come to church.
2) church is not a building, it is people
3) stop running in the church.
what we believe -- many churches identify themselves (even in their names) by associating with the churches that believe the same things as them. For many people, this identity is the most important. I once had someone say to me in a newcomers class, "We're looking for a good baptist church". What he meant was, "We want a church that believes what we do". This isn't necessarily bad, it's just another way we identify the church.

What we do -- a lot of churches have labels describing their primary activities (usually Sunday). The labels are words like "seeker", "contemporary", "blended", "traditional", etc...  In more recent years, this type of identification has grown beyond just Sunday and other labels have been developed (purpose driven, church OF small groups, missional, yada-yada-yada).

Who we are -- here's a novel thought. The church isn't an organization at all. It cannot be defined by structures or systems. It is a fluid organism, always in flux because it is nothing more than the relationships holding a community of redeemed people together. It only exists to the extent their connectedness allows, and it doesn't exist where relationships don't exist. This one might need to be chewed on a bit, as there are some very attractive ideas here, yet they don't necessarily mesh with the way things are or how we might interpret Scripture.

so, when you think about church, how do you think about it?

is it a building? (the big one on the highway)
is it a time? (Sunday morning)
is it a belief set? (Baptist; Reformed)
is it an activity? (morning service)
is it people? (Bob, Larry, Junior, etc...)

Ah yes, perhaps it is all of them.

What if none of these was a full reflection of the church? What if we learned a better way of thinking and talking about the church? What if we used new terms to better identify the biblical story of God's community of redeemed?

What words would you use?

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Leftovers from James 1:5-18

The following is a list of some thoughts that were in my study notes this week, but didnt make it into the sermon. These are just the notes as I typed them during my study, they don't include any editing or contextual clarification.

  • there appears to be a minor chiasm of sorts here. Bookended by all-inclusive references, the man being tempted is contrasted by a generous God and the doubter is contrasted with the one who remains steadfast. Also the lowly and rich are addressed in the same train of thought.
  • "remains" is a time word. The idea is not one moment of withstanding the trial, but continual commitment to respond appropriately to an on-going trial
  • "when tempted" -- if we have not properly prepared ourselves for trials, we will have a difficult time withstanding temptation when it comes
  • from above -- good and perfect gifts are from above. not from below. not from here. we are incapable of giving good and perfect gifts. we give ok gifts, but never perfect.
  • In the midst is encouragement to the lowly because they are learning wisdom. and a warning to the rich, because their lesson is easily missed.
  • God's sovereignty/control is critical. James' entire argument is based on the assumption that God is in control.Secondarily, God's nature is critical. If God is loving and the giver of good gifts, then we can naturally respond to trials as prescribed by James.
  • Theology of blessing vs. Health and wealth theology. The health and wealth paradigm is attacked particularly in verse 11 where wealth and earthly gain is shown to be fleeting. PERISHABLE REWARDS SHOULD NEVER BE THE PRIMARY MOTIVATION FOR CHRISTIANS.
  • The gospel is the news of God's best gift... salvation. "Of his own will he brought us forth... as firstfruits of his creatures." Because of this gift, we have been restored to our original relationship with God. He has brought us out of the category of condemned and into the category of child.
  • Life is full of struggle. Struggle, rightly responded to, is OPPORTUNITY. Struggle is the path to wisdom (if you don't doubt). Doubt is the unwillingness to believe God is capable of turning struggle into success
  • Every Christian can avoid and defeat temptation by embracing struggle as a good gift from a generous God.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

The Unpleasant Gifts of God?

Something to think about before this week's study on James 1:5-18.

Job 2:10 -- ..."Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?" In all this Job did not sin with his lips.

Assumption # 1: Every gift we receive from God is a good gift for which we are needful. (I guess this isn't an assumption, it's straight from James 1)

Assumption #2: Everything we have (time, circumstances, possessions, relationships, etc.) is a gift from God. (This may be uncomfortable if you think about it too long, but awkward truths are still truths)

Thought from Job 2:

If you are willing to keep the pleasant gifts God gives you, why would you not want the unpleasant gifts as well?

Perseverance Produces Great Results

Anna was really old. She might have been eighty-four years old. Or, she might have been a widow for eighty-four years. We’re not sure, but either way; Anna was really old.

Anna’s story is found in Luke 2. Her husband died after only seven years of marriage, and she devoted the rest of her life to serving God. For as many as eighty-four years, Anna faithfully spent her days and nights at the temple praying, fasting, and teaching about God. Her faithfulness was rewarded one day near the end of her life when she was allowed to meet the child Jesus who would one day redeem her people.

What if Anna had taken that day off? 

What if she had for some reason decided not to go to the temple, not to pray or fast or serve God that day?

She would have missed out on the most amazing experience any human could have, she would have missed God.

Anna didn’t miss that day, though, because Anna had developed patterns of discipline in her life. Over all those years, she certainly would have many reasons surface to skip her daily routine, but Anna chose to stick to her spiritual disciplines through thick and thin,

Popular marketing guru Seth Godin has written a book called The Dip. Godin’s premise is that before we ever truly succeed at any major accomplishment, we must first push through “the dip”. The dip is a time of frustration, distraction, and temptation to quit. The other side of the dip, however, is success often in the form of a new skill or habit.

Anna's dip lasted several decades.

James (Jesus’ brother) wrote:
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” 
Our spiritual muscles are formed and developed when we are willing to push through the dip, regardless of how difficult life may be at the moment. The only way to effectively push through is by habitually disciplining ourselves.

Jerry Seinfeld is considered one of the greatest comedians in the world. When he was first beginning to work in comedy clubs he realized he needed to spend time every day writing his material. As a motivational technique, he placed a large calendar on his wall, and every day he spent time writing, he would place a large red “X” on that day’s box. Later he said about that process, “After a few days you'll have a chain. Just keep at it and the chain will grow longer every day. You'll like seeing that chain, especially when you get a few weeks under your belt. Your only job next is to not break the chain.”  Developing spiritual habits requires the same type of discipline. Don’t break the chain!

We all embrace daily disciplines in our lives. Even those who seem to be the most undisciplined people still engage in a daily habit of food. Have you ever considered why meals are such an easy discipline in which to participate? I’ve identified at least two reasons:
1) Our bodies need food to function. If we don’t eat, we shut down and die. We all desire to live, so we eat. 
2) Our bodies have been conditioned to expect a certain amount of food at a certain time. If we don’t eat at our normal time, we have an internal alert system known as a stomach rumble. If we forget to eat, out body will quickly remind us.
Jesus said “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

A disciplined person will have a spirit which is conditioned to expect a certain amount of spiritual food (prayer, the Bible, fellowship, etc.) at a certain time.

A disciplined person will not be able to endure if their spiritual food is withheld. Once they’ve pushed through the dip, their efforts will pay off with a new hunger and thirst for righteousness.

A fruitful life is the result of many habitual hours spent over time seeking more of God and less of me. As I discipline myself in this way, the results will begin to spill over to every area of my life.

Every day Anna spent time praying and fasting. Are you ready to start today? And continue tomorrow? Don’t break the chain!

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Kicking Off A New Season

The best part about opening day in any sport is that every team is on equal ground. Everyone has the same opportunity to win the championship. What has happened in the past has no bearing on what might happen in the future. Fresh Starts are opportunities to break from the failure and disappointment of the past and focus instead on the possibilities of the future.

God has graciously built fresh starts into His creation. Every morning, the sun rises as a reminder that we have a new day... A fresh start. Yesterday is in the rear view mirror and today is full of potential. Fall is often a time of fresh starts. The NFL kicks off today, school starts, routines change.
My desire is to see our community kick off this new season by focusing on Jesus.
John 15:10 records Jesus' instructions to his disciples just before He went to the cross. He told his followers that those who obey his commands will remain focused on Him. A community focused on Jesus will be a community committed to following his commands.

Mark 12 tells the story of a religious ruler who asked Jesus what was the greatest command? Jesus responded that the greatest command was to "love The Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength." In other words, Love God with everything you have. He then continued His answer by saying, "the second is similar, love your neighbor as yourself." In Luke's version of this story, Jesus used the parable of the Good Samaritan to explain that our neighbor is anyone with whom we have contact. Later in His life, Jesus provided his disciples with a third command. He instructed them to love each other with the type of love He had modeled for them.

These three commands make up the heart of Jesus' expectation of His followers. If we want to remain focused on Jesus, will concentrate on obeying these commands. We will work to love God, love one another and love our neighbors.

LOVING GOD (Knowing & Obeying)

A simple way to demonstrate love toward God is to pursue a deeper knowledge of his character, actions and expectations. The best way to better know God is to spend time in His Word. However, just knowing God isn't really loving Him. When we love someone, our knowledge of them compels us to action. Our love can most clearly be seen in that action. Our love for God is best demonstrated when our knowledge of Him leads to obedience. As we obey Him we become more like Him. We become more generous, more kind, more loving.

LOVING ONE ANOTHER (Connecting & Caring)

Jesus said that our love for each other would be the identifying mark of his followers. Our love for one another is cultivated when we connect with each other and care for one another. The more connected we are to each other, the more successful we can be in carrying out Christ's mission for His church. The better we are at caring for one another, the more we demonstrate to the world our allegiance to Jesus.

LOVING OUR NEIGHBOR (Investing & Inviting)

As those who have experienced true peace and true hope because of the work of Christ, we should regularly be inviting others to experience the same salvation and freedom. We should invite them to follow Christ, to explore our faith community, to experience the relationships we enjoy. However, an invitation without investment can sometimes be odd or even creepy. Jesus invited people into the kingdom of heaven, but he also invested in the lives of those around him. He healed the sick, set the captives free, touched the untouchables and loved the children. Loving our neighbors means we invest in their lives and invite them to know Christ.