ThanksGIVING

2 Corinthians 8.1-15

Generosity is easily overlooked as a spiritual discipline. You have heard me say often…pray every day, spend time in the Word every day, fellowship with other believers as often as you can, and share your story at every opportunity, but generosity is another one of those disciplines that’s at the core of what it means to follow Jesus. I don’t know how we can express love…for God or for our neighbor…without being generous. Being generous with our time. Being generous with our abilities. Being generous with our resources. Being generous with our lives. Generosity reflects the love that God so generously has shown toward us in Jesus.

Two characters in the Gospel of Luke highlight for me the two opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to generosity…the Rich Young Ruler (Luke 18) and Zacchaeus (Luke 19). They are alike in some ways. Both are wealthy. Both have the resources to be generous. But, their characters couldn’t have been more different. We expect the Rich Young Ruler to be generous…he is well respected, a much loved leader in religious circles and generally a good guy. Zacchaeus…not so much. We don’t expect him to be generous at all. He is a despised tax collector…and not just a tax collector, but a chief tax collector. Both of them have an encounter with Jesus…one becomes a generous giver out of the overflow of his thankfulness for what Jesus has done for him, and the other leaves very sad. Jesus changes everything. And it’s not what we expected. For Zacchaeus, Jesus’ gracious offer of salvation is Good News indeed, and he goes from being a taker to a giver, from greedy to generous, from entitled to thankful… But the Rich Young Ruler can’t stand to part with his stuff. His selfishness and greed, which were already there, have just been revealed.

Let me ask you a question, and be honest with yourself…which one best describes you? 

Let me ask it another way. What would Central look like if everyone was as committed as you are? If everyone gave and served and prayed exactly like you, would we be more thankful and generous, or less?

Everything that we have comes from God. We are merely stewards of what He’s entrusted to us. Whether He’s entrusted us with little like the widow or much like King Solomon, it’s all His. We have to keep that in mind. And know this…God is more concerned about the “why” of our giving than the “what”. He looks at the heart. Sometimes it’s harder to be generous when you have more…our stuff tends to get in the way…to capture our hearts and cause us to want more. But the more we pursue generosity, the easier it is to let go of our stuff.

If being generous…if giving…is new to you, I know what it feels like to look at your finances and wonder, “how?” Let me just challenge you to try it. Taste and see that the LORD is good. And you’ll see for yourself, that when we’re generous, God’s always faithful to meet our needs.

And like our spiritual gifts, God has given us resources to build up the body. We won’t experience the fullness of joy and abundance of life that Jesus wants for us until He has all of us, including our resources.

If you haven’t experienced it yet, as I said earlier, this is a very generous church. I know there are a ton of stories of folks who give and give generously. We couldn’t do the ministry we do…we couldn’t reach the folks in this valley and around the world we’re reaching…we couldn’t have the kingdom impact we’re having…without you. So thank you.

But may we excel still more and more, and may we grow in the grace of giving.

pro rege

This post is based on this week’s sermon. Download the podcast at: Central Christian Church Main Service, or follow us on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube or Twitter: @ccclancaster. You can also download our Central Christian app in the iTunes App Store, Google Play or the Amazon App Store.

4 Lessons on Love

With Jim on vacation we have the opportunity to hear some thoughts on the reading plan from a few of our Central Christian staff. Today Andrew Alesso shares on 1 John 5, 2 John, and 3 John.

I think the apostle John would love our mission statement, transforming families to live and love like Jesus, because that’s what he’s all about. Here are a few ways you can love like Jesus.

Love God

Sometimes following God can seem like a chore – something to be endured, rather than something which is enjoyed. In 1 John 5 he writes, “this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments, and his commandments are not burdensome.” If we really loved God then we would obey him. I listen to my wife and respect her opinion because she loves me and I trust her, not because I have to. If I gave her an anniversary card inscribed with, “Here are your yearly flowers, as per your request…” I’d be sleeping on the couch to celebrate! She wants to be served because I passionately adore and respect her, not out of obligation.

It’s the same in our relationship with God. He doesn’t want you to consider his laws a burden, instead he wants you to trust him. He loves you so much that he sent his son Jesus to pay for your sins. Trust that God wants good for you, and extend love to him by joyfully obeying his commandments.

Love sinners

Later on in 1 John 5 he adds, “If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask, and God will give [that person] life.” John says that when a Christian friend starts to sin that the loving thing to do is to pray for that person to repent. Care deeply for the good of your friend. James adds that “whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death.” According to John, a person who lives in unrepentant sin, refusing to obey the clear commands of scripture, is not actually a Christian. As Christians, we ought to love people enough to care about their eternal well-being. The most important step is to pray, believing that God is still at work in their lives. Don’t give up on them – love them until the end.

Love the truth

2 John repeats the call to love God and love sinners, but warns to reject false teachers. If someone is leading people away from the true gospel, then that is harmful, and the most loving thing to do is to refuse to participate with them. This doesn’t mean we reject Christians or churches with whom we have minor differences of doctrine or practice, but we stand firm on the truth that Jesus is the only way. Are you standing firm in your faith when others talk against it and attempt to discredit Jesus Christ?

Love faithful Christian workers

            Finally, 3 John encourages us to support Christian workers in their journey. If someone who is faithful to the gospel is doing ministry, than we should make every effort to support them in prayer, through relationships, and even by supporting them financially. How can you help someone in your life who is working to spread God’s kingdom?

Too Busy to Minister – Matthew 22

“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”  Matthew 22:36-40 (ESV)

Mark Batterson, in his book, Wild Goose Chase, tells the following story about an experiment conducted by two Princeton University psychologists.

In the experiment, the psychologists interviewed seminary students and asked them why they went into the ministry.

The vast majority of the students said they went into ministry to help people.

Half of the students were then asked to prepare a short sermon on the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37).

The other half of the students were asked to prepare a short sermon on a variety of subjects.

Finally, the students were told to go to another building on campus to present their sermons.

Unbeknownst to the students, the psychologists staged an actor in an alley along the way, to play a person that had been mugged, much in the same way as the Samaritan – would the students stop to help?

They added one more twist.

Some of the students were told to head to the other building in a hurry because they had to give their presentations in a few minutes. They were going to be late!

The rest of the students were told to start making their way to the other building but they had time before they needed to give their presentations.

Of those in a hurry, only 10% stopped to offer help to the victim, while 63% of those not in a hurry stopped.

In several cases those that had prepared the sermon on the Good Samaritan actually stepped over the victim as they hurried on their way!

Ministry to others can sometimes be messy and much of the time it is inconvenient – we are just to busy to help others.

We find ourselves too busy to reach out to someone in need, too busy to answer a call for help.

Oh we may tell ourselves we have good reasons, yet we constantly let our busyness hamper our ability to minister to others.

I am reminded of an old Filipino saying, “Westerners are people with gods on their wrists.”

Obviously we have to adhere to schedules but when the schedules dictate how we minister, when our schedules prevent us from being used by the Holy Spirit in opportune times, when our schedules make us immune to the needs of others, it may be time to slow down and prioritize.

Jesus was clear about the two great commandments – love God, love your neighbor.

I am constantly reminded that our greatest preoccupation beyond our own relationship with Christ, should be people – helping where we can to meet needs, and taking the time to share the Gospel.

Until next time… keep reading!

Jim

 

 

Thoughts About What We’re Reading…

By our love, by our love…

We did it!  We finished Numbers today and tomorrow we begin the Book of Deuteronomy. As we prepare to read Deuteronomy, I thought I would lay out some thoughts about this great book in the Bible.

Deuteronomy is essentially a sermon or series of sermons preached by Moses. It is motivational in nature, urging Israel’s faithful obedience to the covenant laws of Sinai given 40 years before.

The book contains the addresses that Moses gave during the final months of his life, when the Israelites were encamped in the plains of Moab prior to their entrance into the Promised Land.

The people were facing war, temptations, and a new, settled way of life – all under the unproved leadership of Joshua.

Moses’ congregation had not personally experienced the deliverance at the Red Sea or the giving of the law at Sinai; they needed to be reminded of God’s power and God’s laws.

As a reminder, the older generation (the generation that was part of the exodus from Egypt) has died off after the refusal to enter the promised land (see my blog dated March 27, 2014).  Now that the younger generation is back at the border again, Moses wants to ensure the failure of their parents does not happen again.

The book may be viewed as a constitution for the theocracy of Israel once she was established in the land. Think about it – Israel in Deuteronomy is the only nation on earth that had as its “constitution” the Word of God.

The primary themes are God’s love and man’s obedience. Deuteronomy recognizes the need for God to act within the heart if Israel is to achieve faithful obedience to God’s covenant.

The ideal life in the land is for each member of the people, and the body as a whole, to display fervent love to God as the proper response to God’s love for them. This is the means by which the rest of the world is to learn of the true God – the very reason why Israel exists.

Hmmm…suppose we switch the words of the previous paragraph to each member of the church, and the church as a whole, is to display fervent love to God as the proper response to God’s love for them. This is the very reason why we as Christians and the Church as a whole exist.

When asked which commandment is the most important, (Mark 12:29-31) Jesus responded by quoting Deuteronomy 6:4-5,

“Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.”

Jesus would go on to add, “The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

Imagine what our lives would be like if we embraced this idea to display fervent love for Jesus and our neighbor and adapted the Bible as our own “constitution”.

Until next time, keep reading…

Jim
 
Excerpts and references: ESV Study Bible, HCSB Study Bible, Gospel Transformation Bible