Monday, October 07, 2013

So Others Will Glory in Christ

" that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again." - Philippians 1:26

This morning, as I read Philippians 1, I was struck by this verse.  I paused.  Went back.  Read the paragraph again.  And was struck even more deeply.

In this verse, Paul is telling the Philippians that he wants to be part of the reason they glory in Christ Jesus.  In that same paragraph are these well-known words: "For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain" (v. 21).  Paul says that whatever comes of or death...he is eager to honor Christ.  Honor Christ through his life.  Honor Christ through his death.

Then, Paul talks about the struggle in determining which he would prefer, if the choice were left to him.  Obviously, being free of this world and its entanglements is far greater.  But, he says, it is more necessary to remain.

Imagine the scene.  It's a Roman prison, and Paul is dictating his letter.  Paul's scribe is faithfully taking the apostle's words down.  Paul has just said that being with Christ would be far better, and maybe the scribe is nodding as he writes.  And then Paul says: "But to remain in the flesh is more necessary..."  The scribe stops and puts the pen down.

"More necessary, Paul?" he inquires.  Paul replies, "Yes, more necessary."

Still puzzled, the scribe asks another question: "Better than being with Christ, Paul?"  Paul shakes his head: "I didn't say that, brother.  I said it is more necessary.  To keep living.  To keep preaching.  To keep teaching.  To keep suffering."

"But why, Paul?"  "Let me finish my sentence...But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account" (v. 24). 

Paul felt it more necessary to keep living.  But not just to keep living.  Not so he could continue to breathe in and out.  Not so he could retire and live a life of ease in the last years of life.  No.  He determined to live his life for the good of others.  For the building up of the church.  For the advance of the kingdom.

He wanted to come to this Philippian church again.  To continue working for their progress in the faith.  To see their joy in the faith continue to increase.  Why?  " that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus..."

Don't misunderstand.  Paul doesn't want the Philippians to think highly of him.  To give him a plaque of appreciation for all his years of service.  To name their meeting space "The Apostle Paul Worship Center."  If offered, he probably would have said: "May it never be!"

Paul is not the focus at all in Paul's mind.  Paul's life is about Jesus...for me to live is Christ.  But even then...with all his focus on Jesus...Paul wants his life to matter for the glory of Christ.  That's his goal.  His aim.  Paul wants to be the means by which Christians grow in their love for Jesus.  He wants to serve the church in such a way that they may forget all about him, but they will never forget about Jesus.  And he works hard at it.

Paul goes to great lengths to identify with unbelievers around him so that he can see them come to faith in Christ (1 Cor. 9:20-23).  He expends all his strength in preaching Christ so that every single Christian he encounters will grow to full maturity (Col. 1:28).  He pours himself out like a drink offering for the sake of others (cf. Phil. 3:17).  He even goes so far as to say that, by the grace of God, he has worked harder than anyone else in doing these things (1 Cor. 15:10).

This picture of the apostle Paul challenges me.  It confronts me.  It pushes me to keep on.  It prods me to work hard by God's grace.  To expend all my energy for His purposes.  To go to great lengths in promoting the gospel.  To give myself fully to the task God has laid before me, not turning to the right or to the left.  So that as I do this, my neighbors...the congregation I serve...will have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus.

What about you?

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Grace is Not a Mulligan

At this point in our church's life, I have the joyful responsibility of not only preaching the Word of God to the people of God...I also have the privilege of leading God's people in God's praise.  I get to lead an talented group of brothers and sisters in our praise team.  Together, we work hard preparing for Sunday morning's service.  I spend time writing chord charts each week.  Leading Wednesday night rehearsals (one of which starts in about 2 hours).  It is an additional "thing" on my plate, and it can't go on forever.  But I have to is fun!

In a recent rehearsal, one of the musicians made a mistake.  That's not really rare...we all make mistakes as we're working on music.  What was rare about this time was that someone called out, "Give him a second chance!"  I jokingly said, "We don't give second chances here."  Then came the reply, "That's not very gracious of us."  In that moment, it struck me.  I knew it before then, but it came into focus once again as I stood among musicians trying to work out a song.

Grace is not about giving second chances.  Oh, you may listen to the radio and hear your favorite DJ say exactly those words.  But they're wrong.  Contrary to my favorite song (musically speaking) in the Veggie Tales movie, Jonah, God is not the God of second chances.  Let that sink in, and maybe disturb you for a minute, and I'll come back to it.

I love playing golf.  I love that when you're on the course, it's really hard to think about all the things you "need to get done" in the office.  I also love mulligans.  You know what a mulligan is?  It's a second chance.  You hit a bad shot off the tee, and your buddies tell you to take a mulligan.  So, you tee up another ball, and you take another swing.  That second chance may be an improvement.  And it may actually be worse than the first shot.  But it's a second chance.  A second chance to make a good shot.  To give it your all.  To improve on your first shot.

That's not grace.  Grace is not getting to tee it up again.  Taking another swing at life.  Seeing if you can improve on the first attempt.  Grace would actually be crippling if that's all it was.  Grace is far more than that.  It's more than a mulligan.  God did not send Jesus Christ to die in our place so that we could take another shot at being good people!  To see if we could improve on our moral record!  There's nothing amazing about that concept of "grace."  Nothing awe-inspiring.  Nothing worth singing about.

Grace is God's favor given to us apart from anything we could do to earn it.  In fact, Jesus earned all of God's favor for our place.  Titus 3:7 says we are justified by grace.  That means that because of God's grace, we are credited with the righteousness of Jesus Christ.  He was counted as the vilest of sinners on the cross; in exchange, I am credited with His righteousness.  He bore the red stain of my sin; in exchange, I am as white as snow.  He died under God's curse; in exchange, I live forever blessed.

Grace is not God looking at you and saying, " can give it another try.  Hope you get it right this time."  No!  No!  A thousand times no!  Grace is Jesus doing everything in your place.  Living a perfectly righteous life under God's law in your place.  Dying the death God's law requires of your place.  And then you get all the credit for His work!  You are righteous!  That's what grace has accomplished.

You see..."Mulligan Christianity" is only works righteousness in disguise.  "Works righteousness" is the idea that God accepts us for our goodness.  Don't fall for it!  Works righteousness can subtly sneak into our thinking and our living, but it is an enemy of the true gospel.  No matter how many mulligans you get, you can't do it.  No matter how many shots at living righteously, you'll fail.  Even our best works are filthy rags before a holy God.

So, put down the score card.  Put down the clubs of moral effort and philanthropy and church involvement.  Stop thinking of life as a series of second chances.  Stop trusting the mulligan.  Instead, trust in Jesus Christ alone.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Forgive and Forget?

[This post follows a sermon titled "From Forgiven to Forgiving."]

There are times, as a preacher, when I have a clear sense that what I will say is particularly relevant.  Three important Sundays come to mind in this respect.  The first was April 18, 2004.  Six days prior I had been called to a 9 PM meeting of all the pastoral staff of the church where I served.  That night, it was revealed that our pastor had sinned such that he must resign.  Obviously, he would not be preaching on the following Sunday, and my brothers asked me to fill the pulpit.  My text for the day was Hebrews 12:1-3.  I don't remember much about that day or about what I said (except when I look back at my notes).  However, I distinctly remember feeling the weight of preaching in the wake of such a tragic moment in the life of the church.

The second was July 22, 2007.  The setting was a different church, but having been there for almost two years, I was convinced that we needed God to breathe a reviving wind into our congregation.  Though my normal pattern is to preach through books or sections of books in the Bible, I broke from my pattern that day to preach on Ezekiel 37...the famous vision of the valley of dry bones.  I look back on those notes, and I remember the weight of that day as well.  It was challenging as we considered the dryness of our live, but it was encouraging as we turned our eyes to the God who brings times of refreshing.

The third was two days ago.  Though God did use a circumstance to prompt a change in my preaching pattern again, it was not a change to address a tragedy.  It was a change to address something that is very hard for all of us...forgiving one another.  The text was Matthew 18:21-35 (the parable of the unforgiving servant), and again, I felt the weight of its my own life and for all who would hear.  After all, what spouse has never been tempted to hold the past over the head of the other (though repentance and confession has taken place)?  Who has never been tempted to think of "that hurt" when "that person" walks in the room, though forgiveness has been extended?

[Pause for commercial break] There is much that could be said in this arena, but I will have to limit what I say to a "blog-sized" thought.  For more on forgiveness, I would recommend the following resources:
  • From Forgiven to Forgiving by Jay Adams - I should publicly say that it is no coincidence that my sermon has this title...I intentionally borrowed Jay's.  Jay makes the case, quite well, that forgiveness is not a is a promise.  This is a critical distinction in our feelings-driven culture.  So, if you find yourself saying something like "I don't feel like forgiving" or "I don't feel like I have forgiven," this book would be beneficial.
  • Unpacking Forgiveness by Chris Brauns - Brauns works through the topic of forgiveness by addressing lots of great questions.  Here are a few: Should I just get over it?  How should I respond to the unrepentant?  How can I conquer bitterness?  How can I stop thinking about it?  These are important questions to think through.
  • Relationships: A Mess Worth Making by Timothy S. Lane and Paul David Tripp - This is not a book primarily about forgiveness but about relationships (in case you were having trouble decoding its mysterious title).  However, within the wide range of issues associated with relationships, Lane and Tripp deal with sin, mercy, and forgiveness.  I have benefited greatly from their other books, and while I have not read this one, it's on my list.
  • Forgiveness: Showing Grace When You Have Been Hurt by Rob Green - For those who think a whole book might be too much, this booklet gets to the point and is very practical.
  • What Do You Do When Your Marriage Goes Sour? by Jay Adams - This is another booklet, and it includes an explanation of the three promises we make when we forgive.  I have several in my office if you'd like to have one.
[Back to our regularly scheduled blog]  When it comes to forgiveness, it is a common thing to hear the phrase "forgive and forget."  It is also common to hear people speak about not having a problem forgiving but having a big problem forgetting.  I think this is a good place to stop and think for a few minutes.

How does one possibly forget a wrong done?  How do you put it out of your mind?  How can you erase the memory?  In 2002, I was treated unjustly by my senior pastor, and as a result, my family suffered for it.  Even as I type this blog, I can remember the events of that day as clearly as the day it happened.  What am I doing wrong?

These are good questions, and in order to get the right answer, it's important we have the right definition of "forget"...a definition shaped by the teaching of the Bible.  I am convinced that, when it comes to forgiven sins, the biblical concept of forgetting is not the same as me failing to get milk at the grocery store because my mental recall failed (something that happens all too frequently).  So, let me take you to two texts (one from the NT, one from the OT) to get a grip on what it means to forget.
  • 2 Peter 1:9 - "For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins."  Here we have a prime example of forgetting.  Prior to this verse, Peter lists qualities that should be increasing in the life of the believer: virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection, and love.  These are the qualities that will keep Christians from being "ineffective" or "unfruitful." 

    Then, in verse 9, if we lack them, we're nearsighted to the point of blindness, "having forgotten" that we were forgiven of our sins.  Here, Peter does not mean that our mind has gone blank...that information which was in our mind is no longer there.  No, what Peter means is that we are living as if we had never been forgiven.  So, "forgetting" something here means that this something (i.e.- the forgiveness of sins) is no longer affecting the way we think or live.
  • Jeremiah 31:34b - "For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more."  If Peter's "forget" didn't quite land in your mind, then this verse will certainly help.  Here, the Lord is speaking through Jeremiah about the new covenant...that new covenant which was signed, sealed, and delivered by the blood of Christ.  Part of the blessing of the new covenant is the final atonement for sin.  Our sin is fully and finally forgiven on the basis of Christ's death in our place.  We are off the hook...we are not liable anymore.  And here, the Lord speaks of the fullness of this forgiveness when He says, "I will remember their sin no more." 

    Certainly, we should not think that the all-knowing God loses track of some knowledge or that His memory lapsed.  If that's the case, then how does God "remember...sin no more"?  The answer is similar to what we saw in Peter.  God does not "remember" sin...God "forgets" that our sin no longer affects His relationship to us.  He does not remember our sin against us.  He will not hold our sin against us; He will not make us pay.  He has done everything necessary to make the payment for our sin in Christ, and no further payment is necessary.  Because of Christ, our sin is forgiven and forgotten.
To recap...what does the Bible mean to "forget" something?  It means that the thing forgotten no longer has any bearing on the situation.  So, forgetting our sins have been forgiven means that God's forgiveness is not defining the way we live.  God not remembering our sins means that our sins no longer define God's relationship to us.  In both cases, there are things forgotten.

In our relationships with one another, we should think about forgiving and forgetting in the same way.  When we forgive, we let people off the hook.  We have experienced real pain, real hurt, but when we forgive, we are declaring that the other person will not be held liable for that pain.  When we forget, we are saying that even when the events of this day come to my memory, I will not hold them against you.  I will not let the forgiven past dictate my relationship to you.

In doing these things, we are not condoning sin anymore than God condones the sin He forgives and forgets.  We are not saying "It's okay" (which is the wrong way to respond to an apology, by the way).  We are actually saying, "It's not okay, my pain is real and deep, but because you are repentant, and because of the greater mercy I have received from God, I release you from liability toward me, and I promise not to hold it against you (publicly or privately) from this point on."  In other words, "I forgive you."

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Applying Philippians 3 to Our Lives

[This entry follows a sermon titled "That I May Know Him."]

In Philippians 1, the apostle Paul tells his readers that they must contend side by side for the sake of the gospel.  They must defend it and advance it in the midst of adverse conditions.  In chapter 3, we get a glimpse of this glorious gospel.  Paul describes what it is to be part of the "real circumcision"...the true people of God...truly Christian.  He says that they are those who worship by the Spirit of God, glory in Christ Jesus, and put no confidence in the flesh (v. 3).  From this point, the apostle gives a glorious exposition of what it means to put no confidence in the flesh and glory in Christ Jesus (v. 3-11).

If anyone could boast in their life, Paul could.  In verses 5-6, he writes that he was "circumcised on he eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness, under the law blameless."

The apostle Paul was known as Saul before he became "the apostle Paul."  Saul's Jewish heritage was second to none.  He was born into the right family, and that family was full of religious devotion.  Saul was circumcised on the 8th day, per Genesis 17, and his family made sure he knew the Jewish language (Hebrew) and Jewish custom.  He was, truly, a Hebrew of Hebrews.

Not only was his heritage right, his life was right.  He took great pains in living a religious life.  Saul was a strict student and teacher of the law of God; he would let no one twist God's words and get away with it.  He zealously defended the reputation of God's people, especially against this new religious group called the Christians.  Finally, Saul obeyed when he ought to obey, and where he sinned, he atoned in the way he ought to atone.

However, this grand spiritual resume...all this gain...looked different after the resurrected Jesus came and spoke to him (see Acts 9).  Saul saw that none of this so-called "gain" made for a solid foundation on which to stand before God.  He saw that, in depending on his heritage and his religious effort, he was actually trying to build his house on sinking sand.  All that he once counted gain, he now sees as loss (v. 7-8).

Rather than looking to himself and putting confidence in his flesh, this new man now looked to Jesus Christ in faith.  He gloried in Christ Jesus.  Through faith in Christ, Saul was counted righteous, made right with God, called to be an apostle of Christ, and eventually, he became known as Paul.  God had opened his eyes.  Thus, the apostle Paul was born...or, more accurately, born again...and we are all still benefiting from his work.

It really is a glorious text, and the truth of this text is one we must come back to over and over again.  Specifically, in Sunday's sermon, I reminded our congregation that we must never fall into the trap of putting confidence in our great spiritual heritage or our spiritual efforts.  Both can be great gifts of God's grace, but neither are a sufficient grounds for being made right with God.  Only Christ and His atoning death suffice for that!

These truths are part of what is called the doctrine of justification.  Justification is the truth that on the ground of Christ's atoning death, God forgives sinners and proclaims them righteous in His sight when they trust in Christ alone.  Think of it as a great exchange.  Trusting in Christ, all our sin was laid on Him, and all His righteousness is laid on us.  He took the eternal curse we deserved, and we got the eternal blessing He deserved.  Christ was forsaken by the Father, so that we could be received by the Father.  God made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him (2 Cor. 5:21).  What a sweet truth it is!

But it's also a practical truth.  Allow me to list a few practical applications of this doctrine as seen in Philippians 3.  I pray they are as meaningful and beneficial to you as they are to me.
  • Just as we must not count on our spiritual heritage, we must not count ourselves out if we don't have one.  This struck me afresh yesterday as I listened to two sermons: one by Alistair Begg and one by Voddie Baucham.  Both men spoke at the same pastors' conference in 2008, and I have been listening to its contents of late.  Alistair Begg has a great spiritual heritage; I remember him speaking of sitting in the pew as a boy with his father pointing to Bible verses as the pastor would read.  His parents were great Christian influences in his life.  On the other hand, Voddie Baucham was raised, as he says, in drug-infested, gang-infested, south central Los Angeles by a single, teenage, Buddhist mother.  No gospel influence there!  Yet, both of these men, by God's grace, are being used to for His glory in gospel ministry.  Just as Alistair Begg cannot count on his spiritual heritage, Voddie Baucham cannot count himself out.  And neither should you...if that's your story.
  • We must be careful not to boast in our standing before God, but in Christ who has died for us.  I realize that for some, it may seem that I am splitting hairs by making this distinction, but I think it's an important distinction to make.  It's a hair that needs splitting.  Why?  Because thinking of oneself as a "true Christian" can become a source of arrogance.  We think about the world and the grave sinfulness of man, and we are tempted to think, "I'm so glad I'm not like all of those people!"  Suddenly, we are one of the characters in Jesus' story about two men praying in the temple, but we're the wrong one (see Luke 18:9-14).  Yes, it is a great blessing to be forgiven and to be counted righteous.  Yes, we live our lives in the full knowledge of these things.  But no, we do not boast in them...we do not think ourselves superior because of them...because we had nothing to do with them!  It was all Christ; we must boast in Christ.  We must not boast in the gift of righteousness but in the Giver of righteousness...the Righteous One! Paul wants to know nothing among his listeners but Christ and Him crucified (1 Cor. 2:2).  He wants to boast in nothing but the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ (Gal. 6:14).
  • Parents must look to this text and find relief...but not relief from our responsibility.  Raising children is a heart-wrenching exercise.  One day, we are rejoicing at the progress we see.  The next day, we wonder if the progress we once saw was just an illusion.  It's three steps forward, two steps back, two steps back, two steps back, one step forward, two steps back, three steps get the idea.  When we parents remember that a sterling spiritual heritage is no guarantee of being right with God...and we remember that a sub-par spiritual heritage is no guarantee of not being right with God...then we should praise God and stop believing our children are doomed because we forgot family devotions last week.  [Just to be clear...this also means that getting it all right, all the time, in every way, with every devotional, every bedtime prayer, being at church every time the doors are open, etc., etc., ad nauseum, is no guarantee of salvation or spiritual maturity.]

    Of course, this does not mean that we are relieved of our responsibility.  We are to raise our children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord (Eph. 6:4).  We are to constantly look for opportunities to teach both formal and informal settings (Deut. 6:4-9).  We have the devotions, we pray with and for our children, we have them involved at church, we seek to teach and model, etc.  But we are to do so realizing that we are merely God's fellow workers in our children's lives.  We will plant the seed of the gospel, and we will water it with all the influence we are granted.  However, it is God who gives the growth (1 Cor. 3:5-9).

    For those of you who are now empty nesters, take refuge in the truth of this text.  Did you fail?  Did you fail heinously?  It's quite possible.  You may need to go to your adult child and confess your failures and seek his forgiveness for not being the mother or father God called you to be.  However, your parental failures cannot stop the power of God from transforming your child's life, so stop torturing yourself.  Likewise, your parental successes cannot help God transform your child; while God uses means for His work, He needs no help.

    No matter where we are on the parenting spectrum, this text is both freeing and humbling.  It is freeing for us who are overly discouraged by our failures, and it is humbling for us who are over encouraged by our successes.  And it drives all of us to our knees to pray that God would give our children power to comprehend His love for them in Christ (Eph. 3:14-19).
I think the list could go on, but I will stop here.  The point is this...the truth of justification by faith alone is relevant.  It is not merely a doctrine for ivory tower theologians to debate.  It is a doctrine which communicates the gospel to us, and it is a doctrine that gives us encouragement and help as we live for Christ.

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Grumbling, Isolation, and Sound Judgment

[This entry follows a sermon titled, "Work Out Your Own Salvation, Part 2."]

This past Sunday, we studied Philippians 2:14-16 together.  Having told the Philippians church that they must "work out their own salvation with fear and trembling" (v. 12), the apostle Paul goes on to give them a practical example of how they might do this: "do all things without grumbling or questioning" (v. 14).  This was particularly pertinent in Philippi because division was beginning to rear its ugly head in the congregation.  However, God's design is not that local churches would merely exist and function; rather, churches should exist and function in unity.  This means our relationships with one another in the church are very important.
From the beginning, human relationships have been important, as God has made us as relational beings.  Distinct from all other animals, human beings have a unique capacity for relationships both with other human beings and with God.  This capacity is part of what it means to be made in God's image (Gen. 1:26-27).  After God said that it is not good for man to be alone (Gen. 2:18), it was discovered that there was no suitable partner in all the animal kingdom for Adam.  Only another human being would do, so God made Eve.  God establishes the family as the cornerstone of society.
Later, Abraham is called out to be the progenitor of a new nation.  This nation would be God's people...a people having distinct relationships with God and with one another.  As the Lord Jesus carried out His earthly ministry, He did so in the company of twelve men.  Then, through His death, resurrection, ascension, and the sending of His Spirit, Jesus established His church.  He did not merely establish a religious system in which individuals are reconciled to God; He established a community of believers.  One day, all Christians from all times will be finally and forever gathered to live on the new earth, living in perfect relationship with God and one another.
It is this big picture that makes it unwise and unbiblical to look at relationships as disposable.  It is also this big picture that brings me to the main thrust of this week's blog.  When we consider grumbling and questioning, we must consider that it leads to separation.  It separates brothers and sisters in the church.  Grumbling and questioning isolates us from one another, and it is with this in mind that I want us all to consider the teaching of one of Solomon's proverbs.
"Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire; he breaks out against all sound judgment" (Proverbs 18:1).  Though man was created to be relational, the presence of sin means we tend to isolate ourselves.  First, our sin isolates us from God.  Second, our sin isolates us from one another because it brings with it conflict and strife to our relationships.  This can happen in the home, at work, in friendships, in can even happen in the local church.
Solomon's words ring as true today as the day he first penned them.  Isolation from others is the result of seeking our own.  In the movie Finding Forrester, Sean Connery plays a famous author who lives as a recluse, living in isolation to escape society.  He never goes outside (except to clean the exterior of his windows).  He has his groceries delivered...the whole nine yards.  He decided at some point that regular contact with other human beings was too much for him, so he isolated himself...he sought his own desire.
You and I may not be recluses, but we still may see to isolate ourselves from others.  Some of us keep our friends at arm's length, so they will not see the real me...the sinful me...the struggling me.  Instead, they will see the happy me, the spiritual me, the best version of me.  In doing this, I am seeking my own desire to not be diminished in the eyes of others.  You know, Facebook is perfectly designed for such an approach to relationships.  It gives me the ability to put forward the "me" I want others to see...without anyone really knowing me.  It can give the illusion of relationship while remaining essentially isolated.
Some Christians decide to isolate themselves from the church...a concept absolutely foreign to New Testament doctrine.  However, they think that with TV and mp3s and online tools, the physical gathering of the church is not needed.  After all, I can get much better preaching online than in my local church (I don't argue).  Others determine that since there is no church where all my preferences are met, I have no need of the church.  And...I know some Christians at work, at school, or at the gym.  So, I have relationships with other Christians.  That's all I really need.  This is seeking my own desire.
Other Christians live an isolated existence by hopping from one church to another.  This is not unlike the one who keeps friends at arm's length.  The person or family spends a few weeks, a few months, or a few years at a church, but once I start feeling a bit "blah" about the congregation or the leadership or whatever it may be, I feel it's time to move on.  We may have the same relationship with the church that we have with our local grocery store.  As long as the product and the cost fit my needs, I stay.  Again...seeking one's own desire.
Let me mention one more.  There are still other Christians who may tend to remain isolated without ever leaving a particular local church.  We come to corporate gatherings such as this, but we do not care to involve ourselves in relationships...or serve in ministries...or concern ourselves with the business of the church...or whatever the case may be.  We are all together...yet alone.  Still seeking one's own desire.
This proverb speaks boldly to all these kinds of isolation, saying that "whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire; he breaks out against all sound judgment."  So, what does this have to do with grumbling and questioning?  Well, think about the reasons why we grumble.  I mentioned two on Sunday: (1) we don't get what we want, or (2) our expectations go unmet.
When we don't get what we want or our expectations go unmet, we must respond, and there are two main responses.  We will either respond with the kind of contentment that trusts God's sovereignty in all situations, or we will respond by grumbling and questioning.  If we grumble, we seek our own desires with such conviction that we are willing to isolate ourselves from others.  Left uncorrected, this passionate pursuit of my own desires can lead to radical amputation of relationships.
What I want can become so important to me that I am willing to sacrifice my relationship with you or anyone else who stands in the way of what I want.  My heart is open to sinful bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, slander, and malice, where I should be kind and tenderhearted (Eph. 4:32).  I am willing to grumble, I am willing to hold grudges, I am willing to walk away from the church where God has placed me...and all because I do not get what I want.  To paraphrase the proverb: we seek our own desire and isolate ourselves.
Now, what's the big deal?  The big deal is that Solomon didn't stop with just describing the relationships between isolation and our desires.  He goes on to say that the one who does these types of things "breaks out against all sound judgment."  What is this sound judgment?  It's God's judgment.  And God tells us that we are to seek to live peaceably with all men (Rom. 12:18).  With that in mind, grumbling and questioning must be put to death by the power of the Spirit (Rom. 8:13).
The only way we will do this is to learn how to hold to our own desires and expectations: loosely.  My desires and my expectations cannot be ultimate; they must be subordinate to the purposes of God.  In many cases, they must be placed in submission to those whom God has placed in authority over us.  This brings the place of prayer to the forefront.  We must cry out to God to give us the grace necessary to live in this way, and the good news is that God is at work in us, "both to will and to work for his good pleasure" (Phil. 2:13).
One last thing – If you commit yourself to do all things without grumbling or questioning, it is almost certain that you will soon find yourself not getting what you want...having your expectations unmet.  God will superintend our lives to show us where we must continue to repent...continue to live by faith.  And we can do so, looking to Jesus, who did all things without grumbling or complaining, including facing the wrath of God on the cross.  His perfect "doing" is credited to us through faith, and we can never add to that righteous standing before God.  So, we can work hard at working out our own salvation without relying on our own hard work.  And that's what we must do...for God's glory and for our growth.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Helping Others Interpret Life Biblically

[This entry follows a sermon titled "Interpreting Life Biblically."]

As we studied Philippians 1:12-26 on Sunday, we saw that Paul interpreted his past, present, and future biblically.  He was constantly wanting to see his life through the lens of the Bible, and we were all challenged to do the same.

If I am going to see life with a biblical lens, then I am going to need help.  One thing that is true about interpreting life biblically is that we typically have an easier time interpreting other people's lives more accurately and honestly than we do our own.  We may look at the trials of others, knowing that if only they understood God's purposes in their trials, they would have such great hope!  Yet, we look in the mirror at our own trials, and all we want is to get out of them.  We want to escape more than we want strength to endure.  This is why we need help to interpret our lives biblically.

Think about it this way.  If the TV is getting blurry...if I have to squint to read (and then get a headache afterward)...if seeing while driving at night is getting harder...I have to look outside myself to get the problem fixed.  I go to the optometrist to get my eyes examined, receive a prescription for glasses, and then begin to wear them. The same is true in seeing our lives and trials and struggles and temptations clearly.  We need help from outside ourselves.  Yet, there is one great, hope-giving difference between these two. It doesn't take a doctorate, a master's degree, a Bible college degree, or a certain certification to be able to help others interpret their lives biblically. These can be helpful, if you have the ability to pursue them, but they are not necessary.

Let me explain. Paul wrote this to the Roman church: "I myself am satisfied about you, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able to instruct one another" (Rom. 15:14). The word for "instruct" in this verse is noutheteo, which means to counsel. He's saying to this congregation that he knows they are full of goodness and knowledge...and that they are very capable of counseling one another. Do you know what makes this verse all the more astounding? Paul had never been there in person (1:10)!  So, if Paul is confident that this unknown Roman church could counsel one another, then certainly we can have confidence that, by God's grace and with His help, we can do the same.

So, what must you do if you are going to really help others interpret their lives biblically?  Let me finish by listing four commitments we must have:
  • Be committed to the Bible.  You cannot help others see their lives through the lens of the Bible if you are not committed to the lens itself.  This means you must be consistently reading, studying, memorizing, meditating on, and applying God's Word.  When God calls us to "speak the truth in love" (Eph. 4:15), He calls us to speak His truth.  This means we must be committed to knowing His truth!
  • Be committed to compassion.  When people are in the hospital, especially for serious conditions, the people they most remember are not the doctors but the nurses...good and bad.  Good and bad nurses have the same mission...carry out the doctor's orders.  The bad ones carry out orders in a cold-hearted way...get in, apply the meds, and get out!  No talking, no concern, no empathy...just a task to perform.  The good ones carry out the same orders.  They apply the same meds, and they, too, have other patients.  But they do their job with compassion...they hurt with you...they hate your pain.  Likewise, as we speak God's Word into another person's life, we are carrying out the orders of the Great Physician of Souls.  We should not just seek to get in, spout off some verses, and get out!  Rather, we should feel our brother's pain with him and minister the Word with compassion.
  • Be committed to the relationship.  The trials of life are often times when spiritual warfare is at its strongest.  This means helping your friend interpret the events of her life through the lens of the Bible will not be easy.  Your friend may go back and forth in her interpretation of life.  Sometimes it's biblical; other times it's just downright selfish and worldly.  There will be times when she doesn't want to hear anything you say, and other times, she will need to hear biblical hope like a thirsty man in the desert.  Whatever may come, remember, "A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity" (Prov. 17:17).
  • Be committed to your own spiritual growth.  As I said earlier, it is often easier to help others see life from God's perspective than it is to see our own lives that way.  At times, when I am in the middle of helping other people with their problems, God confronts me with my own counsel!  For example, I may be speaking of a husband's need to do this or that, and all the while, it's as if God is saying to me: "Toby, can't you see that this is what I want from you?"  When God graciously shows me my flawed perspective, I intentionally take time to repent.  Sometimes, I'll even confess what just happened to the person I'm talking helps them know that they're not alone!  So, don't be surprised when your words to others hit home in your own heart.  And when they do, listen...grow...and change!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Recognizing Evidences of Grace

[This entry follows a sermon titled "Paul's Confidence and Concern."]

There are times when we all struggle in our journey of spiritual growth.  Times we feel stagnant.  Times we think we're going backward rather than forward.  Times when we unwisely compare ourselves with brothers and sisters in our church, wondering why we aren't as spiritually mature as that person.  These times can even lead to times of wrestling with whether or not we are really Christians.

Before we turn back to Philippians 1:3-11 to find another way to encourage others who struggle, let me, once again, address those who feel they are struggling even now.  First of all, there is something healthy about the struggle.  There is something healthy about the discontent you feel regarding your spiritual growth.

I remember reading Don Whitney's Ten Questions to Diagnose Your Spiritual Health.  As Whitney mentioned spiritual disciplines, he warned against the idea of "microwave spirituality."  This is the notion that we can just push a particular button and very, very quickly grow in Christlikeness.  In that same section, he quotes R.C. Sproul's book The Soul's Quest for God: "There are no quick and easy paths to spiritual maturity.  The soul that seeks a deeper level of maturity must be prepared for a long, arduous task.  If we are to seek the kingdom of God, we must abandon any formulae that promise instant spiritual gratification."

Because spiritual growth is a "long, arduous task," we should not be surprised when we feel that it is taking longer than we expected.  We should not fret when growth seems harder than we thought it would be.  It is long because we have far to travel to truly be like Jesus.  It is arduous because all along the way, we fight against the world, the flesh, and the devil.

Yet, there is hope.  There is hope when the path of spiritual growth seems too long or too hard, and we see a piece of that hope in Philippians 1:3-11.  Paul declares, with great confidence, that "he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ" (v. 6).  God began the work in you, He is completing it, and He will complete it.  Of this, we can be confident.  And in this, we find hope when the journey is a "long, arduous task."

We can speak these kinds of words to our brothers and sisters who are struggling in their own spiritual growth.  But there is more in this text.  This is not the only source of encouragement that Paul gives the Philippian Christians.  The other way we can encourage one another when struggling with spiritual growth is to intentionally recognize evidences of grace.

Now, what are evidences of grace?  They are, quite simply, the evidences that God's grace is at work in another person.  They are the evidences that God has begun a good work and that God is continuing His good work.  Let me give some examples:
  • Love for God, His Word, other Christians, neighbors, enemies...seen in words and in actions
  • Enduring the trials of life while looking to God for strength and grace, trusting His purposes
  • Godly sorrow that leads to repentance when he sins
  • Remaining faithful to Christ, to the gospel, to the church, and to holiness in the face of opposition from family, friends, or co-workers
  • A biblical approach to his family life, work life, social life...all of life
  • Being quicker to confess sin against others and forgive the sin of others against him
  • His decision-making process is driven by what the Word says and getting counsel from the godly people around him
  • Etc.
The list could go on, but these are the kinds of things that indicate newness of life.  We cannot know the heart of another person, but we can and should recognize the evidence displayed in their lives.  In warning His followers about false prophets, Jesus said this: "So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit.  A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit.  Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.  Thus you will recognize them by their fruits" (Matthew 7:17-20).

What is happening when we rebuke another person?  We are recognizing fruits that are inconsistent with who they are in Christ.  What is happening when we talk to others about the evidences of grace in their lives?  We are recognizing fruits that are consistent with God's work of grace in their lives.  Paul does this in three ways, and we should take this as an example of how to encourage others.

First, in verse 5, Paul rejoices because of their "partnership in the gospel from the first day until now."  He is not simply thankful for their financial support of his missionary efforts, though he is that.  He is recognizing that they are committed to fellowship with an apostle of Jesus Christ in a day when apostles were not celebrated but stoned.  If you walked into the Philippian branch of the postal service, you would likely find Paul's face on a "Wanted" poster.  Yet, the Philippian Christians were committed to him.

D.A. Carson remarks that the word "fellowship," in our day, has been watered down to mean warm friendship between people at a formal or informal event.  It doesn't even have to be Christian.  Non-Christians talk about having "fellowship" with one another.  To counter this notion, Carson continues, "The heart of true fellowship is self-sacrificing conformity to a shared vision" (p. 16, Basics for Believers).  The vision shared by Paul and the Philippians was a gospel vision...a vision of men and women from all peoples, languages, tribes, and tongues believing the gospel and serving the Lord Jesus Christ.  And this kind of commitment to the gospel...a commitment that shares the vision and shares resources to make the vision a reality...this is an evidence of God's grace at work in them.

Second, Paul says that the Philippians did not simply get off to a good start and then fade away.  They are persevering in their commitment to the gospel and to gospel ministry.  Notice in verse 7, they are partakers of grace "both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel."  Even when opposition came their way, the Christians in Philippi persevered in their commitment to Christ and to His gospel and to His apostle.

This kind of endurance is another evidence of grace.  In the parable of the sower, Jesus talks about seeds that are sown on rocky ground.  These are people who hear the Word and immediately receive it with joy.  However, in the face of opposition, tribulation, or persecution, they fall away, proving they were not truly rooted in the gospel (cf. Mark 4:1-20).

For those who are parents, this is one way to tell if the faith your child professes has taken root.  When he/she hits the teen years, there is typically an increase in opposition to the gospel.  Other teens are exploring all kinds of philosophies and lifestyles, and it is often in middle and high school that other children will voice opposition to your child's professed faith.  What happens then can be an indicator of whether the gospel has taken root.  It is certainly true that a teen's love of debate or stubborn desire to be right may mean not giving up in an argument.  However, opposition typically exposes whether the professed faith is a genuine faith (cf. 1 Peter 1:6-7).

The Philippians did not fall away in the face of opposition.  As we read the rest of the letter, we see that the opposition remains, and Paul will encourage them to continue to persevere.  But, for now, he is recognizing that they have persevered to this point.

We see a third and final evidence of grace in verse 9.  Here, Paul has begun to tell them what he prays on their behalf.  He prays they will grow in love, in knowledge, and in discernment, so that they will make wise choices and live holy lives.  However, there is a little piece of grace evidence tucked inside this wonderful prayer for spiritual growth.  It's the possessive pronoun before the word "love."

Paul does not pray that "love may abound" but that "your love may abound."  That little word makes a huge difference!  Paul is saying that the kind of love that should be abounding in the congregation is already present.  They are not devoid of love.  He is not praying that they would begin doing something they have neglected to this point.  He is praying that the love they already have for one another, which is an evidence of God's grace in their lives, will abound more and more.

So, Paul recognizes God's grace (1) in their gospel fellowship, (2) in their perseverance in the face of opposition, and (3) in their love for one another.  One last do you do that with other people?  How are you going to be able to recognize the evidence of grace in others?  How can you encourage others in ways that are real and meaningful rather than sounding superficial and a Hallmark card?  We should want to answer these kinds of questions because we are commanded to encourage one another, and we want that encouragement to be meaningful.

Here's the first step to recognizing the evidences of grace in being able to give more meaningful encouragement to one another.  It will seem simple, but it may also feel very difficult and too time-consuming.  Here it goes: "We must know one another if we are going to recognize evidences of grace in one another."  I told you it was simple.  You can't recognize evidences of grace in someone you don't know...or someone with whom you only talk about the weather, sports, and politics.

If our relationships with one another do not remain and grow deeper over time, then we have no ability to see and encourage spiritual growth in one another.  Not only that, but receiving this kind of encouragement from strangers or acquaintances is not nearly as meaningful as receiving it from those who truly know you.  If I've seen you fail in an area of your life for some time and then recognize growth in that area, then you will be more blessed when you hear me say so.  I'll say it again: We must know one another if we are going to recognize evidences of grace in one another.

It's simple, yet seemingly difficult.  We fill our lives with tasks and activities, and as a result, many of our relationships remain superficial.  We don't have time for people; we don't have energy for people; we don't want to deal with people.  We can too easily settle for small talk in the church foyer, when biblical relationships in the church must go deeper.  You need others to see into your life, and others need you to see into theirs.

When Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, he said this: "And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all" (1 Thessalonians 5:14).  As you look around at your relationships in the local church, do you know the idle that need to be admonished?  Do you know the fainthearted that need to be encouraged?  Do you know the weak who need your help?  Brothers and sisters, if local churches are to be what God has called them to be, then we must seek to know one another and encourage one another by recognizing the evidences of God's amazing grace.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

A Prayer for Grace

[This entry follows last Sunday's sermon, titled "Grace to You."]

This past Sunday, we looked at Paul's greeting to the Philippians.  There, we saw that Paul's greeting was centered on Jesus Christ.  Not only that, but the entire letter centers on Jesus Christ.  Much more, Paul's whole ministry and life centered on Jesus Christ.

Also, we looked at the two ways that Paul refers to grace in that short greeting.  The first is behind the phrase "saints in Christ Jesus."  Being one who is set apart for who is in Christ not something that is achieved by men and women.  It is the gift of God, so that no one can boast (cf. Ephesians 2:8-9).  The second reference to grace is the explicit statement, "grace to you," in verse 2.  Here, Paul is not seeking to bless those who are already true Christians with another conversion experience.  Speaking the blessing of grace is an indication that they should live by grace.

In the New Testament, grace is not only the unmerited favor of God in Jesus, by which we are saved.  It is also, as Jerry Bridges puts it, "God's divine assistance to us through the Holy Spirit."  It is by the sustaining and empowering work of grace that we grow spiritually, that we can endure the trials of this life, and that we serve the Lord faithfully.  We talked about four ways that God has given us to grow in grace, and I will only list them again here:
  1. Prayer - We are invited to come with confidence to the throne of grace and seek mercy and grace in our time of need (Heb. 4:16).
  2. God's Word - It is a "word of grace" which can build us up (Acts 20:32).
  3. Life's circumstances - In Paul's dealing with the "thorn in the flesh", he learned that God's grace is sufficient for him (2 Corinthians 12:9).
  4. Others - God has given us to one another, especially in the local church, to be ministers of grace to each exhort one another, to care for one another (Hebrews 3:13; 1 Corinthians 12:25).
In studying for Sunday's message, I came across a hymn that speaks of God's purpose to grow us in grace through the circumstances of life.  It was written by John Newton, the former slave trader who composed "Amazing Grace."  This hymn is called "Prayer Answered by Crosses," and I hope you are as encouraged and challenged as I was when I first read it.
I asked the Lord that I might grow
     In faith and love and every grace,
Might more of his salvation know,
     And seek more earnestly his face. 
'Twas he who taught me thus to pray;
     And he, I trust, has answered prayer;
But it has been in such a way
     As almost drove me to despair.
I hopes that, in some favoured hour,
     At once he'd answer my request,
And by his love's constraining power
     Subdue my sins, and give me rest.
Instead of this, he made me feel
     The hidden evils in my heart,
And let the angry powers of hell
     Assault my soul in every part.
Yea, more, with his own hand he seemed
     Intent to aggravate my woe,
Crossed all the fair designs I schemed,
     Blasted my gourds, and laid me low. 
Lord, why is this? I trembling cried;
     Wilt thou pursue this worm to death?
This is the way, the Lord replied
     I answer prayer for grace and faith.
These inward trials I now employ
     From self and pride to set thee free,
And break thy schemes of earthly joy,
     That thou may'st seek thy all in me.
I referred to Jerry Bridges' writing earlier.  Let me share one last poetic expression from him.  It was given to him by a friend after the death of his first wife.  He says it is in a notebook where he often sees it, meditates on it, and prays it.  May we have the grace to pray this way.
Lord, I am willing
To receive what You give,
To lack what You withhold,
To relinquish what You take,
To suffer what You inflict,
To be what You require. 

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Too Much Month at the End of My Money

[This entry follows a sermon titled "The Conflict We Must Win," the second in a three-part series on financial stewardship.]

This past Sunday, we looked at the parable of the rich fool and the text that follows it in Luke 12, and we thought about the way we must battle against the sin covetousness.  "Covetousness" may seem a strange word to some, but it essentially means greed.  It means that I will see my life as better or more fulfilled as I accumulate things or money. Quite frankly, we live in an economic culture where covetousness is not a sin but a standard way of operating.  It is a culture that thrives on greed, advertises greed, and exalts greed.

At the same time, though, we tend to limit our perspective of where greed resides.  We may reserve the word "luxury" to describe the purchases and activities of the richest Americans...not regular Joes like me.  We tend not to see greed both in the protesters of the recent "occupy" movements and the banks and corporations against whom they protest.  Or, to use a less volatile example, owners of sports teams are often called the greedy ones, while the players demanding millions more in salary are just trying to get "what the deserve."  Truth be told, covetousness can be found in highest of the upper class and lowest of the lower class.

The more personal point is this: when we hear talk of greed, we are always more likely to think of the attitudes and actions of other people rather than ourselves.  "They" are the greedy ones!  I'm just trying to get what I deserve and need..."they" are living in luxury.  Now, before moving on, pause and remember this...there are genuine financial needs in our world, and they are needs we should work to meet.  Jesus said the poor will always be with us, and He indicates that true Christians are men and women who use their resources to meet the needs of the poor (cf. Mark 14:7; Matthew 25:31-46).

Having said all of this, one of the ways that we battle covetousness is by fighting greed and fueling generosity.  Fight greed by asking yourself if you genuinely need what you are about to purchase.  Why am I buying it?  What purpose will it serve?  Am I making this purchase to meet a genuine need or to satisfy other cravings...sinful cravings...cravings that look more like the world than Christ?  The two extremes here are (1) becoming legalistic regarding spending and (2) never asking any questions about spending.  When Paul writes that everything in our lives should be aimed at honoring and glorifying God (1 Cor. 10:31), do we assume that this should not include how we use our money?  We must fight greed.

Fueling generosity means giving, and according to Luke 12:33, it's not giving what's left over.  It's giving in a way that we sacrifice for the good of others...we sacrifice to give for God's glory...we sacrifice to advance His kingdom.  Here's a question we asked ourselves during Sunday's sermon: "When was the last time I sacrificed anything to meet the needs of someone else?  When was the last time I sacrificed anything to give?"  These may be difficult questions, but they challenge us to grow in trusting grow in the grace of giving.

In response to this biblical call to generosity, I have often been approached by men and women who want to be generous, but they feel they cannot.  I have received questions like this: "How can I give if I don't have enough to give?"  Or to put it another way, "How can I give when there's too much month at the end of my money?"  These are great questions, and if that's what you've been thinking, I want to respond in ways I hope are helpful.

First, praise God that you want to give...that you want to solve this problem...that you want to be generous.  However, beware the deception that you cannot be generous...beware settling for the desire without purposing yourself to act on it.  I once read a story about a children's Sunday school class in which the teacher asked, "How many of you would be willing to give $1 million to missions?"  The whole class eagerly said, "Yes!"  Next, the teacher asked, "How many of you would be willing to give just $1 to missions?"  Most of the children responded the same way, but one little boy remained silent and looked down at the floor.  The teacher stopped the class and inquired of him, "What's wrong?  Why didn't you say yes that time?"  The boy responded, "Well, that question's not fair because I actually have a dollar!" 

It's a funny story, but it has a serious lesson to be learned.  You see, when the desire to be generous met the opportunity, the desire turned out to be faulty.  We can all imagine being generous if we had more money, but the truth is that if we are not generous when we have little, we will not be generous when we have much.

Secondly, it is often helpful to take a close look at our budgets.  When we lived in Nashville, a man came to me after a Sunday morning service with his electric bill.  He said, "Pastor, I know I should give, and I want to give.  However, I have this electric bill for $150.  It's either pay that bill or give that money to the church.  Which do you think I should do?"  That seems like quite a quandary, doesn't it?  I mean, it was wintertime, and he couldn't afford for his family (i.e.- wife and two children) to go without electricity.  If it was just him, he could freeze, but he needs to care for his family.  What would you tell him?  Well, what if I told you that these weren't the only options (i.e.- either pay the electric bill or give to the Lord)?  Consider this response: "Wow, Bill (fake name)! That's quite a decision to make.  Let me ask you a much is your cable bill this month?"  [Insert long, awkward pause here.] 

Do you see how there are more options?  Of course, I could have asked him about a number of things, but the point is that there is typically more wiggle room in our monthly budgets than we see at first glance.  The real question I willing to sacrifice what is a genuine luxury in order to give to the Lord?  To advance the gospel?  To meet the needs of others?

Third, you may say, "Ok...but that's not me.  I don't have cable.  I've wiggled all the luxury out.  What should I do?"  Well, dear friend, I would say what I probably should have said in the first sentence.  Giving is an act of faith.  It is an expression of our trust that God will take care of our needs.  When Jesus says to seek God's kingdom and all these things will be added to you (Luke 12:31), it is the call and command to stop seeking for yourself and trust the Lord.  God feeds the birds, God clothes the field with flowers, and God cares about His children more than all can we not trust Him?

Even for the one who needs to wiggle the luxury out of the budget, finding spare change to give to God is not the kind of giving God desires.  In Luke 21, Jesus sees people giving offerings.  He notices rich people giving, and He sees a poor widow giving.  The rich give a large amount.  The poor widow gives two small copper coins...the last two coins she could rub together.  Who is the greater giver?  It is the poor widow.  Jesus says as much when he points out that the widow "put in all she had to live on" (21:4). 

It's one thing to do that when you have a steady job and can expect another paycheck.  But it's another thing altogether is you're a "poor widow."  In Jesus' day, being a poor widow meant that others had to care for you...whether it was your children or your grandchildren or God's people.  So, when this poor widow gives all that she has to live on, she is giving in such a way that she must be dependent on God.  He must give her this day her daily bread.  He must add all these things to her.

Wow!  What an expression of faith!  For some of us, there is money at the end of our month and we feel we can afford to give some of that extra cash in the weekly offering.  For others, there is more month at the end of our money, and we don't feel we have any extra to give in the weekly offering.  Whichever category fits your situation, remember this.  The Lord has not called us to find extra so that we may give.  He calls us to give in such a way that it expresses our faith...our dependence on Him...not just for our eternal souls, but also for our daily bread.