Monday, November 25, 2013

Confident in the King; Psalm 2, Acts 4:23-37

To listen, click here.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Joyful Generosity; II Corinthians 8:1-12

The stewardship committee shared some real needs and hopes this morning regarding next year’s budget. But our motivation for giving ought never be about fear, guilt, or trying to get something from God. We shouldn’t give just so we can meet a budget. And our giving ought to never be about self-preservation. Obedience, however, can be a healthy motivation for giving. Giving is something we are commanded to do by God. But even more than obedience, our motivation for giving should be what Paul describes in our passage this morning--joyful generosity. The word “generosity” in this passage is the word “grace.” Though the Old King James version translates “agape” as “charity” in I Cor. 13, the Greek word for “grace—charis” is actually closer to the word “charity” or generous giving without expectation of return. Joyful generosity is an act of grace. Grace is the empowerment and activator of all we do. True generosity is based in grace. Joyful generosity is based out of the abundant joy of knowing and being known by Jesus Christ. We can give joyfully and generously even when things are hard. The Macedonian churches gave generously in the midst of being persecuted and in the midst of experiencing extreme poverty. These churches were not very old. They were fledgling churches just getting established. Their own situation was so tenuous that Paul actually tried to discourage them from giving so much, but they would not be denied the privilege of giving to support the offering that was going to the grandmother church at Jerusalem. These were believers in another country whom they had never met, yet the Macedonians Christians did not consider themselves apart from the other churches, but saw the Kingdom as one big whole with many parts. They had abundant joy despite what was going on around them because they were focused on the kingdom of God. Joyful generosity focuses on mission. It focuses on the larger kingdom of God. It looks outward and upward. The focus is on others. Who might be blessed through my generosity? The Macedonian churches gave until it hurt, but they didn’t feel the pain. Though they gave beyond their means, and they trusted in God. They didn’t worry about what they didn’t have or what they couldn’t give. They didn’t compare themselves to the churches around them. They didn’t feel sorry for themselves. They looked beyond themselves to the greater kingdom. They were able to see from the eternal perspective. Though they didn’t compare themselves to their sister churches, they considered their ties to their brothers & sisters in Christ as absolutely vital. Though it was even some of the believers from Jerusalem that caused them grief and led to their persecution, they did not give up on the church there. They wanted their brothers and sisters to know that they were connected and that they cared. And it wasn’t that the Jerusalem church was poorer or suffering more than the Macedonians, but it was important for the churches to be connected, and especially because this was the grandmother church, and because Jerusalem symbolized the place where all the nations would be gathered together. Every church needs to be a giving and a receiving church. Someone said, “God calls us to be His people helping other people in need where they are, not where we are comfortable.” Have you ever given to the point of feeling a little uncomfortable? What were the results? How did you experience God’s faithfulness? Maybe you want to write on your card something that will stretch you in terms of being generous. Paul asks the Corinthian church to step up to the plate whereas the Macedonian churches begged Paul and his companions to let them help the church in Jerusalem. Paul says that they gave themselves first to the Lord. We cannot have joyful generosity if we have not first given ourselves to the Lord. How much have you really surrendered to Jesus? Which parts of yourself or what you have, are you holding back from Christ’s Lordship? How much do you really trust the Lord? This may be what you write on your card this morning. Maybe you need to spend more time with the Lord. Maybe there is a particular area in your life that you need to surrender to Jesus. After Paul says that the Macedonian believers gave themselves first to the Lord, he says that then they gave themselves to us, i.e. to Paul and Silas and the other believers with him. The Macedonian believers trusted the leadership. Because they trusted in the Great Shepherd, they could trust His representatives. They recognized Christ in them. They shared with these leaders. If you can recognize the life and work of Christ in and through those who are responsible for the gifts you are giving, you are more likely to give joyfully. Paul sends Titus with this letter to collect the offering from the Corinthian believers. Titus was a leader in whom they could trust. Titus ends up becoming one of the pastors in Corinth. Paul had sent Titus to Corinth earlier with a message for the Corinthians. Titus is delayed and does not meet Paul in Troas with an offering for Jerusalem as anticipated, but comes later bringing some not so good news about the church in Corinth. Paul sends Timothy to Corinth with I Corinthians. Later Paul sends Titus back to Corinth. Titus reports back with good news. The Corinthians have done some major house-keeping. Repentance and restoration has taken place, and they are a much stronger and healthier church. So Paul again sends Titus back to Corinth with this current letter, rejoicing with them for their turnaround and reminding them of the pledge they had made earlier to help the church in Jerusalem. You cannot have joyful generosity if your spiritual household is a wreck. Again, you must give yourself fully to the Lord. How is your spiritual household? How are your relationships with your family and others? Are they healthy? Maybe you want to write on your card a relationship that needs healing or a commitment to spend more time with family or friends or maybe you need to take better care of yourself physically and emotionally as well as spiritually. Paul commends the Corinthians for many things. He commends them for their faith, which they demonstrated through their obedience. He commends them for their speech and knowledge, for they were well educated. He commends them for their earnestness, their diligence. And he commends them in his love and the love of the other leaders for them. Because they knew that Paul wrote what he did out of love, they responded to that love and took the necessary steps to get their spiritual house in order. They could’ve gotten mad at Paul. They could have ignored his exhortations and rebukes in I Corinthians, but they didn’t. They showed that same trust in leadership both in Paul and Titus that they Macedonians had. With these spiritual strengths affirmed, Paul asks that they would excel in the grace of giving as well. All of our spiritual gifts and strengths are works of grace. The Greek word for “gifts” is “charismaton”, whose root is “charis—grace”. Gifts are things freely given that we do not deserve. But God has given them to us, therefore we are to make the most of them. Paul asks them to excel in the grace of generosity as they have excelled with these other grace gifts. Are there gifts that God has given you that you are underutilizing? Paul is holding the Corinthians to something they had already committed to doing. He’s not asking them to go beyond that, but he is asking them to fulfill their pledge. They had already willingly and enthusiastically committed to giving. They pledge they made was not out of compulsion but also out of joy. They had gotten sidetracked by problems within their church, but now they were in a place to fulfill their commitment even though them may not have the same feelings they did in the beginning. Paul was sure, as am I, that in obedience to Christ, our joy is restored. We rediscover joy when we obey Jesus and walk in God’s commandments. Is there a promise that you made to God from which you have gotten sidetracked? Interestingly, though the Macedonians are commended for not comparing themselves to others, Paul asks the Corinthians to consider the Macedonians and to do a little comparing when it comes to demonstrating love through joyful generosity. He isn’t commanding them to give, but he admits to comparing them. More than the examples of the Macedonians, however, Paul reminds them of the example of Jesus, who is our true standard of comparison, against whom we will never measure up and always fall short. And yet Jesus is the one whom we must always become more and more like. Though Jesus was rich, He became poor, not for His sake, but for ours, so that we through His poverty might become rich. In what areas are Jesus calling you to be more like Him? Is Jesus asking you to be more like Him in joyful generosity? Finally, Paul once again reminds the Corinthians that it’s not about what they can’t do, but about what they can do. Our faithfulness is never measured by what we can’t do. Our grace giving is not measured by what we can’t give or by what we don’t have. It’s all about what we do with what we have been given. Are we really being faithful with the things to which God has entrusted us? Are we being faithful in the small things as well as the big things? Joyful generosity is a demonstration of grace. God’s grace enables us to do good works, including being charitable. Joyful generosity comes through submitting oneself and all that one has to the Lordship of Christ. When we can do this, we are able to see beyond ourselves to the greater Kingdom of God and God’s mission in the world. What believer, who truly loves Jesus, wouldn’t want to be part of what God is doing?

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Joy in the Midst of Sorrow; Psalm 16, Nehemiah 8:1-12, John 16:1-24

To listen, click here.