Don’t Give Out Of Extortion!

-Give It As A Gift!

When I was a Bible College student, I came to the conclusion that I didn’t need to give a “tithe” or an “offering”, in church, because I was paying my tuition to a “Christian” college! So, I thought, that was like just as good as giving it to my church! Apparently NOT! I remember needing some repair work done on my car—and, it was a sizeable amount! I remember sensing a Holy Spirit “inspired” thought like God telling me, “I WILL get your offering even if I have to TAKE it through an auto repair!

-Taken By Coercion!

In Paul’s letter to the Church of Corinth, he made an interesting statement, “Therefore I considered it necessary to urge the brothers to go on ahead to you and arrange in advance the generous gift you promised, so that it will be ready as a gift and not as an extortion” 2 Corinthians 9:5.  That’s an interesting choice of words! Paul’s like saying, “Don’t MAKE me TAKE that from you”; or, “Don’t MAKE me EXTORT it…or, take it by COERCION.” Literally, he’s saying, “Don’t make me STEAL it from you.” That’s NOT how you give an offering to the Lord! That’s NOT how you give to the work of the Gospel! That’s NOT how you give to needy people! “Don’t give,” Paul says, “ONLY because your FORCED to give.” God won’t bless your gift if He has to EXTORT it from you!

-Sow Generously! Reap Generously!

In the next verse, Paul continues, “Remember this: The person who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the person who sows generously will also reap generously” 2 Corinthians 9:6.  Don’t give “sparingly.” So, what exactly does that word mean? We don’t use the word “sparingly” very often. We’re more familiar with the word “spare.” If someone begs you to spare their life, they mean, “Let me keep it! Don’t take it from me!” If a coach tells his team, “Spare no effort” he means, “Don’t hold back any of your effort! Give ALL your effort!” In Romans 8:32 it says, “God did not even SPARE His own Son, but offered Him up for us all.” That means that God didn’t hold Him back! He didn’t keep Jesus for himself! He SHARED Him with us! So, if we give “sparingly” it means, in our heart, that we want to HOLD BACK! We don’t want to SHARE!

-How “Not” To Give!

When we give “sparingly”, we’re not thinking about how much we can GIVE; but, about how much we can KEEP & HOLD onto! In the next verse, Paul tells the Corinthian believers not to give “reluctantly”—“Each person should do as he has decided in his heart—not reluctantly or out of necessity, for God loves a cheerful giver” 2 Corinthians 9:7. Some translations use the word “GRUDGINGLY”—don’t give your offering with a “grudge.” Don’t hold it against God like He’s asking too much from us! If we’re not careful, it’s easy to harbor a bitter spirit against God about His giving requirements! However, that’s acting like an “OWNER”—which we are NOT! We’re a “steward” or a “manager” of a portion of God’s estate! It’s all His! Nothing belongs to us—”You brought nothing into this world & you can’t take anything out” 1 Tim 6:7.

 

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Abraham Believed God!

-In The Midst Of A Faith Crisis!

When God makes an entrance into Abraham’s life, He calls him to leave his home & go to a new land where He promised to make him into a great nation. That presented a problem, because, Sarah—his wife—had been unable to conceive (see Genesis 12). The rest of Abraham’s “story” is just one crisis of belief after another—but, this is what God uses to grow him spiritually! Abraham presents us with a Biblical picture of a sanctified life; and, how God achieves it. This is how God works in the life of everyone who comes to Him by faith!

-Justified By Faith!

The scripture tells us that Abraham was “justified” by his faith.  “Abraham believed God,” His story, in Genesis, says, “and, God CREDITED it to him as RIGHTEOUSNESS” (Genesis 15:6).  And, the rest of his life presents a study, in SANCTIFICATION, as he is progressively set free from the power of sin. Isn’t that the hardest part of the Christian life? Growing in our “sanctification”? I mean JUSTIFICATION is really quite painless. It’s just applying the truth of the Gospel and accepting God’s pardon for sin, right? And, GLORIFICATION? I mean, yea, you have to DIE to get it! But, the actual process of BEING GLORIFIED, like Jesus, sounds awesome! But, SANCTIFICATION? That can be quite painful as God turns up the heat, on our lives, in order to bring our sins to the surface where they can be dealt with by His Spirit!

-A Picture Of A Sanctified Life!

So, let’s talk about how Abraham is a picture of the sanctified life.  Genesis ch. 12 begins with these words: “The Lord said to Abram: Go out from your land, your relatives, and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make you into a great nation, I will bless you, I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.” But, Abraham never saw that promise, of God, fulfilled in his lifetime! The writer of Hebrews says: “By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed and went out to a place he was going to receive as an inheritance. He went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he stayed as a foreigner in the land of promise, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, coheirs of the same promise” (Heb.11:8,9). That phrase, “…he stayed as a foreigner in the land of promise…” reminds us that this world is not ours to claim! We’re “aliens” here (1 Peter 2:11).

-Where Do You Claim Citizenship?

The Apostle Paul wrote the Church of Philippi—“For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:20).  Like Abraham, we need to confess that we’re “…foreigners and temporary residents on earth” (Heb. 11:13). We can’t hold onto this life too tightly if we hope to grow spiritually! Jesus told us to let go of this life; and, to die to self every day as we wait for the promise of our GLORIFICATION—to be completed in the “Land of Promise.”  It’s interesting that Abraham purchased some of the land—God promised him—for his burial (Gen. 25). It was his act of faith that he believed God would come through on His promise! Let us follow his great example!

God Makes You New (Part I)

-You Need To Know This Stuff!

If you’re a believer, in Jesus Christ, you’re no longer the OLD you! You’ve become—and, you are becoming— a NEW you; a work that God promises to finish once our lives end here! I love how the Amplified Bible renders 2 Corinthians 5:17—“Therefore if anyone is in Christ [that is, grafted in, joined to Him by faith in Him as Savior], he is a new creature [reborn and renewed by the Holy Spirit]; the old things [the previous moral and spiritual condition] have passed away. Behold, all things have become new [because spiritual awakening brings a new life].” Throughout his writings, the Apostle Paul breaks down our salvation into 3 parts; and, understanding this is VITAL to your spiritual growth & to your spiritual sanity!

-3 Big Theological Words!

He uses 3 big theological words—our “JUSTIFICATION”; our “SANCTIFICATION”; and, our “GLORIFICATION.” Now, don’t start snoring on me! Give me a chance to help you understand. You need this; because, it’s all about your “identity” as a disciple of Jesus Christ. If you ever struggle in your faith, it’s because you don’t understand how your faith works—your “JUSTIFICATION” is all about the “WAS” of your salvation; your “SANCTIFICATION” is all about the “IS” of your faith right now; and, your “GLORIFICATION” is all about the “IS TO COME” part of your salvation! Paul explains it like this in 2 Thessalonians 2:13-14— “But we must always thank God for you, brothers loved by the Lord, because from the beginning God has chosen you for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and through belief in the truth. He called you to this through our gospel, so that you might obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

-Write This Down In Your Bible!

In your Bible, write down “JUSTIFICATION” next to “…belief in the truth…”  At the moment you believed, in Christ, you were JUSTIFIED by God; and, set free from the “PENALTY” of sin—ALL of it! As far as God is concerned, it’s just as if you’d never sinned because Jesus already paid the price for ALL the sin of ALL humanity for ALL time when He died, as a substitutionary atonement, on the cross! I’ve known believers who struggle with that truth—they believe all their sin, up to their salvation, was forgiven; but, they think they have to keep asking for forgiveness of future sins!

-How Far Is The East From The West?

But, that’s faulty thinking; because, ALL of our sin was “FUTURE” sin when Jesus died on the cross 2000 years ago! When God saves us, He tells us that He’s removed our sin “…as far as the east is from the west…” (Psalm 103:12). He says He “…buries them in the depths of the sea” (Micah 7:19); and, my favorite is that He “…chooses to remember our sins no more” (Heb 10:17). ALL our sins—past, present & future—are GONE! That’s what it means to be JUSTIFIED! Satan doesn’t want you to know that! He wants you to grovel in your sin & your inadequacies! Every time you stumble & fall he wants to accuse you; but, don’t listen to his lies! God no longer condemns you—Romans 8:1. (Next Week: Part II)

 

More Like Jesus & Less Like You!

-So, How Are You Doing Spiritually?

At a recent Small Group meeting I asked this series of questions: “How are you doing Spiritually? And, on what criteria do you base your answer? How are you measuring your walk with Christ?” I’ve found when I just ask the 1st question—“How are you doing spiritually?”—that everyone says, “Good! Good!” Have you noticed that? I mean, that’s MY typical response to that question! It’s a question that needs qualifying! It needs those follow-up questions. On what basis can I say, “Good! Good!” when someone asks me how I’m doing spiritually?

-Is It About What We Do?

Do we measure our spiritual progress by the things we DO? Be careful! Don’t quickly dismiss the things we DO & say that, “…it’s only what’s in the HEART that matters.” If our HEART is right with God it WILL impact the things we DO, right? Jesus said: “If you love Me, you WILL KEEP my commandments.” At the same time, we can DO all the RIGHT things for the WRONG reasons, can’t we? We can do things to be SEEN of men; and, Jesus called that hypocrisy!

-Practicing The Spiritual Disciplines

Several months back I received a call from a young man who got saved in my youth group, in Colorado, several years ago. He asked if he could interview me for a seminary class he was taking. The interview included a line of questions based on how I lived my life according to the so-called “Spiritual Disciplines”—or, practices found in Scripture that promote spiritual growth. They’re habits of devotion—like prayer, fasting, public & private worship, meditation, making disciples—and, they’re all activities that Jesus’ followers are commanded to do! In fact, Jesus practiced most of them Himself! In answering the question, for the interview, I prefaced my answer with this caution—we are NOT godly just because we practice certain spiritual disciplines!

-The Error Of The Pharisees

That was the great error of the Pharisees, wasn’t it? They believed that they were godly BECAUSE they practiced certain things!  You cannot separate what you’re doing on the OUTSIDE by who you ARE on the INSIDE. What you DO matters! But, who you ARE matters even more! Here’s what I’m trying to say—Spiritual growth happens, in your life, as you become MORE like Jesus & LESS like you! That’s what’s expected if you’re truly His disciple!

-Where Spiritual Growth Happens

Based on several NT passages, I believe that our spiritual development occurs BEST in the context of a “faith community”; or, a church! Being a disciple of Christ does not begin with something WE do; but, with something that Christ DID! That’s the Gospel! He redeemed our broken relationship with the Father by His substitutionary atonement on the cross! He took away our sin! He paid the penalty we should have paid so that the Father might grant us forgiveness, grace, mercy & love! He adopts us into His “family”; and, it’s His family that makes up the church!  That becomes our new identity! We’re no longer citizens of this world; rather, Scripture says we’re “temporary residents” here! And, it’s within the “family” atmosphere, of the “church”, that God prunes us so that He might accomplish our sanctification!

 

What A Healthy Church Looks Like!

-It’s Supernatural, Holy Spirit Empowered!

God’s work is never accomplished in the strength of the flesh! The book of Acts describes the early church as a supernatural, Holy Spirit empowered organism. What we read, in the 2nd chapter, is the result of a healthy church living in obedience to Jesus. After His resurrection, He gathered the disciples; and, He commissioned them to go & do something—He commissioned them to make disciples of all nations! But, He told them 1st to go to an upper room, in Jerusalem, and, WAIT for God’s Holy Spirit to indwell them & empower them! And, that’s exactly what they did!

-The Normal Way The Spirit Works!

In the power, of the Holy Spirit, they began to make disciples! It says:  “Those who accepted the message were baptized, and that day about 3,000 people were added to them. And they devoted themselves to the Apostles’ teaching, to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to the prayers. Then fear came over everyone, and many wonders and signs were being performed through the apostles. Now all the believers were together and held all things in common. They sold their possessions and property and distributed the proceeds to all, as anyone had a need. Every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple complex, and broke bread from house to house. They ate their food with a joyful and humble attitude, praising God and having favor with all the people. And every day the Lord added to them those who were being saved” (Acts 2:41-47).  The church grew spiritually & numerically! This is the normal way that the Spirit of God works.

-A Healthy Church Is Gospel-Centered!

When a church gets spiritually healthy, Jesus uses them to add disciples—a healthy church is loyal to God & to one another in their devotion to sound doctrine. The text says “…they devoted themselves…” to the teaching of the Apostles! That word “devoted” literally means to be “loyal” or “attached” to something—the church was LOYAL to the teaching of the Apostles; so, they were LOYAL to sound doctrine! That’s a mark of a healthy church—it’s “Word” centered! It’s “gospel-centered”!

-A Healthy Church Rejects Error!

That means it exposes “error”—all teachings contrary to the Apostle’s! Any church that fails to expose error; and, fails to align with the New Testament teachings of the Apostles is unhealthy! And, we do so out of a loyalty, and, attachment to God first; but, also to the rest of the members of our local church! As a faith community, we show loyalty to each other; and, Biblical love for each other when we insist that everything we teach & preach—in classes, in Small Groups, in the pulpit—is consistent with the Apostle’s teachings in the New Testament!

-It’s A Challenge To Stay Healthy!

Can you imagine the challenges, of this church, in Jerusalem? Adding 3,000 new believers in one day is both a Pastor’s “DREAM” & a Pastor’s “NIGHTMARE.” All the variety of backgrounds! Their ignorance of basic Bible doctrines! What a mammoth task to disciple them all in their new faith—but, they were “devoted” or “loyal” to each other & that made all the difference!

More Like Jesus, Less Like Me!

-Measuring Spiritual Progress!

Have you ever tried asking someone, “How are you doing spiritually?” They always say, “Good, Good,” right? Probably not a very good question. It’s not likely to get the real answer you’re looking for! Next time, try this instead: “So, where are you at in your walk with the Lord? And, on what criteria do you base your answer? How are you measuring your walk with Christ?” When we enter into that kind of conversation with someone, we need those “qualifying” or “follow-up” questions too! On what basis can we say we’re doing “good” when someone asks us how we’re doing spiritually?

-Does It Matter What We Do?

Do we measure spiritual progress by the things we DO? Be careful! Don’t quickly dismiss the things we DO & SAY, that, “it’s only what’s in the heart that matters!” If our heart is right with God, it will impact the things we DO, right? Jesus said, “If you love Me, you will KEEP my commandments.” At the same time, we can DO all the RIGHT things for the WRONG reasons, can’t we? We can DO things to be SEEN of men; and, Jesus called that hypocrisy!

-What About “Spiritual Disciplines”?

I received a phone call, some time ago, from a young man who was saved years ago in my youth group in Colorado. He was on the pastoral staff of a church in Oregon; and, he called to ask if he could conduct an interview with me for a seminary class he was taking! The interview was based on how I lived my life according to the “spiritual disciplines.” If that’s a new term to you, suffice it to say that “spiritual disciplines” are practices found, in Scripture, that can promote spiritual growth. They are “habits” of devotion, like prayer, fasting, public & private worship, meditation & making disciples—all activities that we’re commanded to do, right? Jesus practiced them! But, I prefaced my answer, in the interview, with this caution: “We are NOT GODLY just because we practice certain spiritual disciplines!

-The Error Of The Pharisees!

That was the great error of the Pharisees! They believed they were godly BECAUSE they did certain things! You can’t separate what you’re DOING on the OUTSIDE by who you ARE on the INSIDE! WHAT you do matters! But, WHO you are matters even more! Here’s the point—spiritual growth happens as you become more like Jesus; and, less like you!

-Become Like Your Teacher!

It is our goal, as a local church, that our community of believers would become mature disciples of Christ in their personal spiritual development. That’s a core value! That we’d all grow in spiritual maturity! As disciples of Christ, that we’d all become more like Him! That’s what a disciple does! He becomes like his Teacher! And, it is our belief that individual spiritual development occurs BEST in the context of a local church! Faith grows best where it is challenged, not isolated! And, crucial to that is the realization that being a disciple of Christ does not begin with something we DO; but, with something that Christ already DID! He redeemed our broken relationship with the Father by His death on the cross! He took my sin! And, He paid the penalty that I should have paid so that I might receive forgiveness! That’s the Gospel!

Daniel: Pride Comes Before The Fall

-Wearing Pride Like A Badge!

(NOTE: This Continues A Series Of Posts On Daniel’s Life)

As a young boy, I remember being taught by well-intended parents & teachers that I needed to take pride in my accomplishments! I needed to take pride in my grades & my education! I needed to take pride in my work ethic & everything I did! Wear pride like a badge! I learned that pride was important to  my “self-worth” & that it was even “healthy”! So, I “bought in” and became a pretty good bragger; and, I was proud of myself for that!

-Pride Makes “Me” The Standard!

And, since “I” was the standard by which I measured everyone else, it was easy for me to look down on you if you didn’t compare favorably to my ACT score; or, if school didn’t come as easy for you; or, if you weren’t as good as I was at sports or drama or music! But, that all began to change for me, as I began to understand the claims of the Gospel. As a young believer & follower of Jesus, the Scriptures began to come to life for me; and, I was forced to reconsider my pride on the basis of God’s Word!

-Pride: #1 On God’s “Hate List”

How could I justify my personal pride when I read in the Bible: “These 6 things the Lord hates, Yes, 7 are an abomination to Him…”; and, #1 on God’s “hate” list? “…a PROUD look…” (Prov 6:16-19) The Lord HATES PRIDE, it says! It’s an ABOMINATION to Him! How could I continue living with all this pride? Could all my teachers have been wrong? Additional Scriptures like Proverbs 8:13 & Proverbs 16:5 & Mark 7:21-23 confirmed that “PRIDE” was a SIN to be avoided at all costs! It’s like spiritual suicide! Jesus listed it right up there with sexual immorality, murder, adultery & wickedness!

-Pride Can Damn Your Soul

The 4th chapter—in the book of Daniel—indicates that it was pride that nearly damned the soul of King Nebuchadnezzar! Pride had deceived him! It blinded him to his true condition before God! But, God would not leave Nebuchadnezzar where he was at! Yahweh was about to get in the King’s “grill.” Things were going to get very personal! The King was about to experience God’s response to His pride; and, it would ultimately lead to his eternal salvation!

-A Personal Encounter With God

In the first 3 chapters of Daniel, King Nebuchadnezzar had only seen God from afar!  Each chapter found Daniel and/or his 3 friends dealing with a personal “crisis of faith.” Each time they trust God’s Sovereign plan—in the face of adversity & possible death—and, each time God shows up and delivers them!  But, for the King, none of those events were “personal.” He had not personally encountered Daniel’s God up to this point! There’s an individual application here:  We cannot live vicariously through someone else’s faith! The King thought well about Daniel’s God because he had seen what Yahweh had done for Daniel! Yahweh had made a favorable impression on him; but, the King didn’t “know” Him personally…..YET! That was all about to change! King Nebuchadnezzar…let me introduce you to KING YAHWEH!