Category: Grace

Mandatory donations?

Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.  (2 Corinthians 9:7)

In this verse we give out of thanks for who God is, without expecting or demanding to get anything back. This is different from the teaching that says, “If you give to this ministry then God will pay you back much much more money than you gave — guaranteed!”

In truth, our good God may graciously give even more back than we gave but he is good whether or not he does that. Our God isn’t a heavenly ATM machine and does not give an ironclad guarantee to make us whole like FDIC deposit insurance does! 

What is a cheerful giver like? The cheerful giver donates without being cajoled or manipulated. At our church we call this grace giving. Free grace giving gets rid of the transactional quid pro quo that often creeps into teaching on giving.

A couple of years ago we had a guest speaker at our church who took a collection. His cause was good, but I disagreed when he said, “Forget about what you planned to give — now give what God wants you to give!” But wait a minute — if someone has prayed and decided in their heart what to give, aren’t they a cheerful giver before God? Isn’t it a form of manipulative compulsion to say that the amount someone decided was bogus because it was too low? What good is it if someone gives some more because they were made to feel guilty ?

Cheerful giving gets rid of the fear of “What happens if I don’t give enough?” Some claim that it is mandatory to give at least 10% of your income to the church and they drag in some Old Testament verses to say that if you don’t give that percent then you are “robbing God.” How different that sounds from the grace shown in today’s opening verse!

 Ironically, people in my church end up giving more over the long term because we are not being cajoled, frightened and bullied into giving more! Indeed, as we grow in Christ, we have less acquisitive lives.  Note that we are not told to never spend a penny on our own pleasures but rather we see that the drive to strive to get more and more to spend on our own pleasures is toned down. As that happens, we simultaneously richly enjoy God’s provision for our own needs andwe cheerfully set aside a sizable chunk to give for the Lord’s work.

Do rules make me good?

Unlimited unconditional overflowing grace makes it less likely that we would sin; and using rules and regulations to control our behavior makes it more likely that we would sin.  How can this be?

When I was younger and I knew everything, grace was alien to me. After all, someone as wonderful as I was certainly did not deserve punishment!  But thankfully, God didn’t let me remain in this mistaken belief.  He shocked me by showing me  that yes, I did deserve punishment — but also that he provided me a way out of what I deserved :  to my great relief, I had my eyes opened to see that Christ took on the punishment that I deserve. I learned a good acronym for grace — G.R.A.C.E —- God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense.

But even so, I did not really understand grace very well.  So instead of a heartfelt and deepening trust in and thankfulness for what Christ did, I fell into an unfortunate error: I had to follow the rules to stay in Christ’s good graces. If I did enough, then I could stay on God’s good side. But if I didn’t do enough, God might be ticked.

Sickeningly, that put human rules and regulations measures in control, not the Lord.

And when I see human rules, I want to break them. Indeed, in the book of Romans, Paul says that the law shows me what a rebel I am.

Did you ever not care whether you did something or not, then someone told you not to do it and then you wanted to do it? If you saw the trail sign above, wouldn’t you at least be tempted to enter and see what’s happening on the trail? I know I would. That is how the law works! And then once I snuck down the trail, I would feel that I had to do enough good to try to pay back what I owed by disobeying the rules.

Now, Jesus did say “Obey my commands.” But guidelines and commands can’t be viewed as being mandatory rules to get God to approve of me. No, God showed his approval of me outside of anything I ever did by permanently sealing me in Christ. So following wise guidelines and commands may help me to keep reflecting God’s loving glory — but they do not earn anything!

Knowing I can’t earn approval from God, I am free to live a grace-driven life instead of a rules-driven life.  Freed by grace, secure in God’s approval, I can finally start to do some genuinely loving deeds.

He Preserves Us

The book of Philippians begins with “To all God’s holy people in Christ Jesus.” I think of us being God’s people when our men’s Battleground group gathers on Saturdays. Philippians continues in 1:6 by saying being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus, and reassures us by saying that it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose. (2: 13)

Last week our Battleground lesson was about control and many of us expressed how that idol shows up in our lives. I mentioned how I react when we receive a bogus bill and my wife says these five words: “Why are you so angry?”

Indeed, I need to confess what happened when we got a bogus bill early this year from our cable company. I ended up yelling at the representative on the phone. When I calmed down, I apologized for yelling at him, and he said, “No problem, that is what I get paid for.” Well I don’t think the yelling honored God but perhaps the apology did.

Scripture says that perseverance is especially important in our Christian life. But I have often failed in my perseverance. Does that mean I am doomed? That I might not carry on? Does it all depend on me? The Lord says no!

I am thankful that he gives us another word that starts with “P” that is even better than perseverance. It’s preservation. It’s Jesus who sustains me and preserves me.

Yes, God preserves us to allow us to take the next step after falling flat on our faces. And along that line, let me tell you how God has a sense of humor and timing.

After talking about my reaction to bogus bills at that Battleground meeting last week I got home and the postman rang our bell delivering a certified letter that said we were being fined by our homeowner’s association. It was punishment for something we did not do !

For a change, I wasn’t fuming and stewing over the unfairness of it all. My wife said I wasn’t handling this perfectly but I was handling it much better than I did with the cable company. Anyway this time I sent a polite but firm email to our association property manager protesting the fine and explaining why we did not owe it.

I said, “It’s in your hands, Lord.”

And early this past Monday an email came from the property manager apologizing for the misunderstanding and saying we did not owe the fine. Yes, God engineers circumstances to grow us and test us in our commitment and gives the grace to achieve it.

We really do spur each other on, broken vessels who nonetheless are growing in grace. I conclude with some words from Keith Getty and Stuart Townend’s song In Christ Alone which remind us how it does not depend on us:

Till He returns or calls me home-
Here in the pow’r of Christ I’ll stand.

Mercy Triumphs Over Judgment

I always thank my God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. (1 Corinthians 1:4)

Paul is addressing the Corinthian church here. If you read this verse out of context it seems like he is describing a thriving church.  And when you see the weaknesses and failings of today’s churches, not to mention our own shortcomings, you might ask “Why can’t our church be like one of those flourishing, victorious early New Testament churches where everyone is doing so well?”

But after his kind opening, we see that Paul was painfully aware of the imperfections of the Corinthian church. Paul’s opening thanks for these early believers in Christ is followed by a sharp reprimand.

After continuing in Chapter 1 for several more verses of thanks, Paul shifts hugely: by the time we get to 3:3, he is on an angry rant.  You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere humans?  

Paul was not being self-righteous or holier-than-thou here. After all, he frequently referred to himself as the chief of sinners!  Yet, these believers were falling far short of what Christ was calling them to be and so they did need a rebuke.

And the purpose of this rebuke was to bring them to repentance, so they’d return to the path to maturity that Christ has for them:

 Brothers and sisters stop thinking like children. In regard to evil be infants, but in your thinking be adults. (1 Corinthians 14:20)

Chapter 16 is the grand finale of this book. Hear Paul’s closing words: The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you. My love to all of you in Christ Jesus. Amen. (1 Corinthians 16:23-24)

What a kind way to talk to his people after having given them such a thorough scolding! Here, love and mercy triumph over judgment. I am glad that happens when God deals with our own imperfect but loving churches today. He still uses rebukes and correction — not to fill us with shame and guilt but rather to grow us and our churches so we can have more of Christ!

Senator Blumenthal and Me

Jesus saw Nathanael coming to Him, and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” (John 1:47)

Watching the Justice Kavanaugh hearings, I disagreed with what some of the Senators said, but one Senator in particular took me beyond disagreement into angry resentment : Senator Blumenthal.

Senator Blumenthal said that if Kavanaugh told even one lie about his personal history, then he should be totally disqualified for consideration for the Supreme Court.  But there was a huge problem : this Senator was known for misleading  statements about his own personal history.

Since many of the other Senators had their own annoying traits,  I wondered why it was only Blumenthal who got me so riled up ?

Well, after watching the hearing, I went to a physical therapy session for my tender left shoulder.  I heard a fellow patient ranting bitterly  against Blumenthal, but I kept quiet. Later, though, I considered the  gap between  my polite outer exterior and my own secret agreement with that gentleman’s angry rant! Yes,  I like to project a certain  image…an even-keeled man who doesn’t express nasty, ranting  thoughts. But wait a minute —isn’t that a gap between how I present myself and what I am really like …. just like Blumenthal ?!

The Lord used my reactions to Blumenthal to switch me to dealing with my own deceit instead of ranting at his !

I am glad we have a Lord who is so patient with our inconsistencies! And he loves us so much that he engineers circumstances to expose them, so they can be corrected.

I can’t yet say I am just like Jesus’ disciple Nathaniel in whom there is no deceit. But by God’s grace I can say I’m willing to admit it when I’m being deceitful. Then I can pray for help in putting off two-faced deceit and putting on single-minded transparency and honesty.

When Does Jesus contradict me?

I think Jesus likes to contradict me both when I think too highly of myself and when I think too lowly of myself.

First, I’ll give you an example of each from scripture and then explain how it might apply to us.

In John 4, Jesus meets a woman at the well who thinks  too lowly of herself. Due to her messed up personal life with multiple divorces,  she is viewed locally as a low life. Plus, being a member of an outcast ethnic group, she was shocked that Jesus would even bother talking to her.

 The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.) (John 4:9)

Jesus regards her as full of worth and dignity, and dialogs with her anyway.

Now meet the Pharisees, who thought too highly of themselves. When Jesus confronts them in John 8, their attitude is : How dare you challenge our beliefs ! We are always right ! Jesus  is not as mellow with them as he was with the woman at the well —  indeed in  John 8:44  he goes so far as to say they are listening to their  father, the devil.

Do you see yourself in either of these categories? I see how both of these can and do happen in my life. So when I sin or err and  beat myself up and feel like a worthless piece of filth, that’s the “too low.”  Jesus contradicts me :You are a new creation. You are a forgiven man who has life and worth from me.

It’s easy to cheer for Jesus  being especially stern to those  hard-heartedly closed Pharisees.  We may even pat ourselves on the back for not being like them.  But sometimes that hard-heartedness sneaks into us.

Here’s how : Someone confronts me  about something wrong I said or did and they are spot on— but my first reaction is to think: How dare they say that to me?  I know I am in the right ! Now I am thinking too highly of myself.

I’m glad we have a merciful God. I need to do one thing that the Pharisees refused to do : when I am in the wrong, I quickly need to grab on to Jesus’ offer of repentance and forgiveness.

Today’s takeaways :

  • When you are on a high horse – listen to Jesus and repent.
  • And when you are beating yourself up —-stop !— listen to Jesus and see your worth.

Heart Transplant

new heart

Do you ever get caught in the trap of thinking that being a Christian mainly means following a list of rules and commands ? I know that I do ! Today, let’s look at how rule-keeping fails —- but how God, by grace, provides a wonderful alternative.

To show this grace of God in action, let’s start with the book of Deuteronomy. A common theme in Deuteronomy is that obedience brings blessing and disobedience brings curses. But if that kind of rule-keeping to stay on God’s good side worked, we all would obey, and the Bible could end right there.

But unfortunately, God’s people kept falling short of obedience, and got cursed instead.  You might think that God would say the heck with them and just let them be doomed.

But he doesn’t ! Why ? Because  God has made a promise that is irrevocable : he will always have a people no matter how badly his people screw up.

For the LORD your God is a merciful God; he will not abandon or destroy you or forget the covenant with your ancestors, which he confirmed to them by oath (Deuteronomy 4:31)

Wow, what an amazing promise of grace !

Now, with a revelation to the prophet Ezekiel,  God goes even further beyond rule-keeping :

I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh. (Ezekiel 11:19)

Back in the sixties  we had the first human heart transplants. But much better than that is how God promises to give us a spiritual heart transplant.

The Holy Spirit empowers our new heart, allowing  Jesus to live in us. And it’s Jesus who provides our way of escape from falling under the curses. For when we do fall short we can repent and  turn to our advocate, the Lord Jesus Christ, who forgives us.

God remains faithful to his promise ! Freed from keeping rules and regulations, our new heart frees us to joyfully live God’s way.