Sunday, January 27, 2013

By the Book

Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. 

-- John 17:17  

Can we really believe in the Bible? After all, some people say it's too old to be relevant in the 21st Century. Others doubt the possibility of all the miracles it reports. And still others believe that the Bible is no greater than the texts used by other religions.

So what makes the Bible stand out above every book ever written?

First, the Bible claims to be God's Word. And then it backs it up with dozens of prophesies (predictions) of events that eventually happened decades or centuries later. For instance, the Old Testament records in detail God's plan for saving mankind through a Messiah. And as we read in the New Testament, Jesus eventually fulfilled these prophesies in person through His birth, ministry, death and resurrection.

Historically and scientifically accurate, the Bible is also the most studied and critiqued book in history. Try as many have, no one has been able to disprove its claims.

What the Bible says about daily living is yet another reason to believe in the Scripture's validity. It advises us about friendship, marriage, money, health and much, much more. What was true 2,000 years ago remains so today.

And that's not surprising. After all, the Bible is God's owner's manual for our lives. It was written centuries ago to lead its first readers to abundant life. And in 2013, God's Word still does the same for you and me.

"Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart," Jesus invites us through Matthew's Gospel, "and you will find rest for your souls."

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?

Give generously to them and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to. 

-- Deuteronomy 15:10  
As Christ-followers, our faith grows as we continue to learn God's ways for living in the world and transforming it for His Kingdom. And it turns out that generosity is one of the character traits that He wants us to acquire and put into action along the journey. This is particularly relevant since we in 21st Century America are all so very least when compared to most of the world's population. 

It's unlikely that most of us feel like Donald Trump or Bill Gates when we look at our bank statements. But maybe we should. According to recent data from The Human Development Report, 3 billion people in the world live on less than $2.50 per day! Even more jaw-dropping is that 80 percent of the world's population lives on less than $10 each day.

These statistics should put our individual financial situations--bleak or otherwise--into perspective. Millions of Americans may be unemployed, on welfare or receiving food stamps. But even this reflects relative wealth against the backdrop of the crushing poverty found in sub-Saharan Africa, India or even Brazil. 

So how are we "millionaires" to respond with our excess of riches?

First, it's important to understand that being rich isn't a sin in itself. After all, Abraham--one of the heroes of the Old Testament--was quite wealthy. However, the way you get rich can be an issue. Do you gain by exploiting or cheating others? And are you being honest in your business affairs?

And there's also an even bigger question about wealth: What are you doing with your money?

"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," the Apostle Paul wrote to his protégé, Timothy. "Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share."

Whether it seems like it or not, most of us are millionaires when compared with the vast majority of the world. And with this wealth comes responsibility. Of course, we can never use our money to out-give God. But we can use it freely to positively impact our friends, neighbors and total strangers by being incredibly generous...and amazing examples of lives transformed by Jesus.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Giving From the Heart

Give generously to them and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to. 

-- Deuteronomy 15:10  
The statistics are literally heart stopping. 

According to the American Heart Association, cardiovascular disease (CVD) is responsible for about 1 out of every 3 deaths in the United States. The respected health organization reports that in 2012, nearly 2,150 Americans died from CVD every day. That's an average of one death every 40 seconds!

It's obvious that our nation is dealing with a major health crisis. But there's another serious heart problem that doesn't involve cigarette smoke, cholesterol management or low-fat diets. Far too many Christ-followers lack a heart that's willing to give according to the resources God has richly given them. They might not be wealthy...but they do have some to offer. And when they do open their pocketbooks, it's often done grudgingly.

Of course, that's not the example God has given us through His Word, the Bible. If there's one thing we should learn from God's principles about money and possessions, it's to be generous.

We worship a God of generosity. And He wants us to follow His example and spread His Kingdom throughout our community and beyond. One way to do that is by following the Biblical principle of the tithe, which means giving the first 10 percent of our income back to Him through the Church. Of course, the God who created the universe with a Word hardly needs our money. But following this savvy practice accomplishes several purposes. In addition to enabling the church to better spread the good news about Jesus Christ, help Christ-followers grow spiritually and benefit our communities, generous, purposeful giving shows how much we differ from society. The world teaches that cash is king and that he (or she) who has the most toys wins. Money and possessions are its god. But Christ-followers are to exchange what will ultimately rust and fade away for something much more permanent and valuable. Our Lord also knows our inner nature; if we didn't give to others, our selfish natures would take over.

Why do many Christ-followers fail to give to their potential? For some, it's a lack of sound Biblical teaching on the matter. For others, it might be a lack of financial planning or even debt issues. And unfortunately, basic selfishness often figures into the equation.

Whether you're rich or poor--or somewhere in the middle--generosity with your possessions is the cure for discontentment... as well as the antidote to materialism. Because when we give Jesus some, He can do a lot.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Just a Little to Give

He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well.
"Is that not what it means to know me?" declares the Lord.

-- Jeremiah 22:16  

For centuries, Christ-followers have given a portion of their resources to the church to help achieve God's will on Earth. And if you're a committed giver, you've probably discovered that you can't out-give God. We might one day feel led to help a neighbor pay his electric bill or buy a bag of groceries. And then a few days later, we might ourselves be blessed through an unexpected promotion at work or a surprise check in the mail. God's example is a powerful incentive for Believers of all economic levels. After all, He wants us to trust in Him--not money--as our Provider.

But when it comes to our money, it really does boil down to trust. We trust God with our eternal salvation. However, do we trust this same God to provide for our daily needs? Christ-followers are called to serve as His hands and feet to feed the hungry, heal the sick and house the homeless. So by making generous giving a spiritual habit, we become more like Him...and all while helping to change the world for the better.

This looks good on paper--particularly when our bank accounts are full and there's plenty more on the way. But how does it apply to Christ-followers with only modest financial resources?

In Luke's Gospel account of The Widow's Mite, Jesus describes a poor woman who literally gave her last penny as her offering. His point is that since she gave out of her poverty, her small gift was actually much greater in God's eyes than the vast amounts offered by rich worshippers. We can see that this widow--although poor--took the initiative and made the most of her gift. Likewise for today's Christ-followers of modest means, giving takes humility. (Who wants to feel compared to others?) What's more, giving out of limited resources takes discipline and trust. Just because we have less than others is no reason to turn our back on God. After all, when we're wise with the gifts He gives us, there's more to give back to Him and His Kingdom.

Whether our bank accounts are big or small, our generosity brings joy to others. It moves our focus from ourselves and onto the recipient. Moreover, a life of generosity brings joy to God because it shows we're becoming more like Him. And why not? After all, ours is a God who is the ultimate giver.