John Piper offers a brief but helpful reflection regarding Veteran’s Day and the risk soldiers are willing to take in service to their country (H/T Justin Taylor). Thank you to all who have and continue to risk their lives for the sake of our shared freedom.
Have you ever received a gift from someone that you knew was quite expensive? How would you feel if you came to find out that they could barely afford it? Would you insist that they take it back? Would you feel compelled to give them something in return? Would you work hard at crafting just the right thank you note? Being on the receiving end of a gift can be quite humbling, especially when we sense that the gift was quite costly. I can imagine that when Paul showed up in Jerusalem with a generous gift from Macedonia, many believers were humbled by the generosity of this church.
Paul wrote to the Corinthian church about the generosity of the Macedonians in 2 Corinthians 8. One of the reasons Paul was writing was to encourage the church in Corinth to make their own contribution for the Jerusalem church. To demonstrate that generosity was more a function of spiritual maturity than economic ability, Paul included the example of the Macedonian believers.
“We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints– and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us” (2 Cor 8:1-5, ESV).
The generosity of this Gentile church toward Jewish believers in Jerusalem made no earthly sense. Aside from the racial tensions that existed between the two groups that was still being worked out through the gospel, Paul mentions that the Macedonians had gone through “a severe test of affliction” and were experiencing “extreme poverty.” Even if they wanted to give, Paul did not expect them to be able to contribute to the Jerusalem fund. So when the believers begged to join the partnership Paul knew there was only one explanation for such joyous generosity: the grace of God.
Paul was not trying to twist the arm of the Corinthian church to give to the Jerusalem fund. It is not as if Paul was saying, “Hey, if the poor old Macedonians can dig deep and make a contribution, then you should be able to scrounge up a little something too.” No, Paul wasn’t appealing to a moral obligation. He was appealing to God’s grace at work among these believers that enabled them to give themselves wholly to the work of the gospel. Therefore, if the kind of joyous participation in the work of the gospel that was true in Macedonia happened to be absent in Corinth, then what should Paul conclude? Was the grace of God actively transforming the lives of believers in Corinth? And what are we to conclude about our churches today if such joyous generosity has grown stagnant?
I don’t think Paul thought that God’s grace was absent in Corinth, but it appears he may have been concerned it had gone dormant. So in the following verses Paul presented this solution:
“Accordingly, we urged Titus that as he had started, so he should complete among you this act of grace. But as you excel in everything–in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you–see that you excel in this act of grace also” (2 Cor 8:6-7, ESV).
We know from this letter and from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians that they were a “gifted” bunch. Paul admitted that by God’s grace the Holy Spirit had gifted them in many ways, “in faith, in speech, in knowledge,” etc. That meant that the grace of God wasn’t missing from Corinth, it just needed to be stirred up a bit and given a bit of direction. Paul sent Titus to help lead the church in Corinth to “excel in this act of grace also.”
Our world situation is often an easy scapegoat for restricted giving. We point to the economy, unemployment, and even unusual weather patterns as reasons for our hampered giving ability. But tell that to the first-century Macedonian church. Did they offer up their afflictions and extreme poverty as excuses?
The greatest factors affecting Christian generosity are not earthly but spiritual. When the grace of God is flowing, and disciples of Jesus are growing, God’s people will be sowing a bountiful harvest (cf. 2 Cor 9:6-7). May the gift of God’s grace cause us to become cheerful givers toward the work of the gospel.
Mid-week: peak or bleak?
It is Wednesday, do you remember what this past Sunday’s sermon was about? Maybe you don’t remember all that your pastor said, but hopefully there is something that is still sticking in your mind from the text of Scripture that was preached.
To assist you in this spiritual exercise I’ve been posting my list of suggestions on how to get the most out of the message. The first post offered suggestions to help you engage as a listener during the sermon. The second post listed some ideas on how to further mine and apply the message. Today I offer the final three suggestions that might help you take your journey in the Word a bit deeper.
1. Follow along with a commentary or study Bible.
No passage of Scripture can be fully exhausted in a morning service. For those who want to dig a little deeper into the discussion and study of a passage there are some great tools available. One such tool that can be used is a Bible commentary.
In a commentary the author studies the passage in greater depth and brings out much of what is behind some of the words, phrases, and ideas the biblical authors use. Like Bible translations, some commentaries are better than others. When you are ready to select a commentary it is wise to seek out recommendations. One resource that I have found helpful especially for moving from text to application is the NIV Application Commentary series.
A similar but less in depth resource is a good study Bible. I highly recommend the ESV Study Bible from Crossway. The study notes can add to your understanding of the passage of Scripture and may even offer some guidance as to how to make personal application.
2. Keep a list of key words or phrases.
When you look at an entire book of the Bible in sequence you will begin to notice words, phrases and themes that appear again and again. Many times these repeated ideas are key to understanding the message of that book of the Bible as a whole. Some people like to underline or highlight these words directly in their Bible; others will simply keep a running list of things that stand out in their reading. Whatever method works for you, consider keeping some record that will add to your study and understanding of Scripture.
3. Keep a journal of your responses.
The most important thing for a Christian is not to learn more about the Bible; the most important thing for a Christian’s study of the Bible is to apply it to his or her life. For some this step is aided by keeping some sort of a record of how they have chosen to apply what they are reading and hearing on a week to week basis.
This may take the form of an actual journal where regular entries are recorded. But this could also be something as simple as writing a reminder on the back of a bulletin: “In light of this passage, this week I plan to…” Again each of us knows what works and does not work well for our own personalities. The key is to find something that works for you to help bring what we are hearing into practice as believers growing in Jesus Christ.
I hope that you have found these suggestions to be helpful in your study of Scripture. As a pastor my prayer for my congregation is always that they would not just hear what I would have to say, but that they would hear clearly what God is saying to them by the Holy Spirit through the reading of His Word. If you have other suggestions for moving from sermon to application I would love to hear from you.
May God bless the preaching and the hearing of His Word.
Seeing lives transformed. This response was an overwhelming number one. You could almost feel the enthusiasm for this aspect of their ministry as they responded. These pastors feel that God call them to lead toward transformation of others, and seeing that happen is their greatest joy in ministry.
Being a catalyst for gospel transformation never gets old. Everyone has discouraging days on the job, including pastors (see Rainer’s other post, ‘Ten Things Pastors Like Least about Their Jobs’). But the joy of helping lead church members to a deeper, more meaningful walk with Christ is without a doubt one of the best parts of their ministry.
As much as pastors enjoy hearing “We’re praying for you,” or “Great sermon today,” hearing something like, “Thanks for being a part of what Christ is doing in me,” goes a long way in putting a smile on your pastor’s face. Encourage your pastor this weekend by sharing with him how the gospel is at work in you, and how God might be using him as a catalyst for your spiritual growth.
I’ve never really been a fan of horror films. I like a good thriller or suspense movie, but the gory slasher films have never been my thing. In our culture the horror film genre seems to have exploded in recent years. We have come a long way from the classic monster movies to a film style that seems fascinated with the paranormal and the things that lurk in the dark. I don’t know that I’m qualified to psychoanalyze the reasons for this, but it seems to me that, like most forms of entertainment, this is a way of escape. Scary movies are a welcome distraction from the thing that really frightens us–the uncertainty of life.
What really scares people is a fear of loss. People fear losing their job, their income, their security. People fear losing their loved ones, the people who bring meaning to their life. People fear losing their health, their ability to control their own body. These and many other fears come from a misplaced hope. We know that it is foolish to trust in these things, yet we find it easier to hold on to what is tangible. We prefer to walk by sight and not by faith.
Scripture gives us a better answer to our fears. “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?”" (Hebrews 13:5-6, ESV). The principle in play is this: The subject of our fear reveals the object of our faith.
Like it or not, it is true that “money makes the world go ’round.” The warning here isn’t against having money, it’s against loving it (though there are certainly warnings about the power of great wealth, cf. Mt 19:24). Love of money means granting our finances god-like power in our lives. We call this idolatry. There a number of other “gods” that we are too willing to worship–reputation, pride, sex–but money is one of the most commonly described in Scripture, and one that is almost universally a temptation.
So how does one “keep [their] life free from love of money”? First, recognize the limits of its power. Money indeed has power, and in this world the more money you have the more power you possess. But money (or any other idol for that matter) cannot say, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” There is only one Power in the universe that cannot be lost or stolen–God’s love for us. This right perspective will lead us to the place of contentment the writer of Hebrews is talking about. For the Christian, contentment means being fully satisfied in Christ so that nothing else that competes for our joy will win out.
Second, we can be free from love of money if we learn to leverage money’s power for good purposes. Again, money has power, but not ultimate power. God doesn’t need our money, yet God gives us the privilege of investing our treasure in the work of the gospel. It’s simple math–the more we have tied up in temporal things, the less we will have to invest in things that will last for eternity.
Finally, freedom from love of money comes when we admit that it has no power over death. All the money in the world will not buy us any more life than what God will grant us. In fact Christians know that death is not the worst thing that could happen to us. The writer of Hebrews says, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?” This doesn’t mean that believers are invincible. We see everyday that what man can do is kill their fellow man. But fear of death belongs to the unbelieving world, not to followers of Jesus Christ. For Jesus said, “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Mt 10:28, ESV).
Friends, if you know Jesus Christ what is there to be afraid of? Life will bring its scary moments, but for the believer fear is unnecessary, not as long as God has promised to never leave us or forsake us. It’s like King David said, “The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” (Ps 27:1, ESV).
Originally written for the Cornerstone EFC Around the Corner newsletter
Tonight my wife and I are headed to see Chris Tomlin in concert and we couldn’t be more excited. I’ve been a “fan” of Tomlin’s music for some time now and have eagerly awaited his concert tour to come to a venue near us.
Tomlin’s catalog is vast and growing and so is his popularity among churches. In a CNN article posted last March it was estimated that “every Sunday in the United States, between 60,000 and 120,000 churches are singing Tomlin’s songs.” I can believe it. Our church has been known to sing a Tomlin tune or two on occasion.
So in preparation for tonight’s event (and for my own amusement) I thought I would list my top ten Tomlin tunes, Letterman style. (In selecting only ten songs I can only imagine how difficult it must be to prepare a set list for a show.)
9. Enough (As heard on the Not to Us album)
8. Jesus Messiah (As heard on the Hello Love album)
7. How Can I Keep from Singing (As heard on the See the Morning album)
5. Your Grace Is Enough (As heard on the Arriving album)
4. Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone)
3. Praise the Father, Praise the Son (As heard on the Hello Love album)
1. I Will Rise (As heard on the Hello Love album)
This week the BCS standings came out and this means that we are in the heart of the college football season. Have you ever noticed though that college football fans talk funny? Ask one how their favorite team faired over the weekend and they will typically speak in the first person. “We played well,” they will say. Or perhaps if things went poorly they will reply, “We played terribly and lost.” I too have been known to speak this way and yet I have never played one single down of football in my life. I am not officially on the team and yet I will go on and on about “our” season.
Speaking this way about a football team reveals a person’s sense of ownership. Fans don’t just follow the outcome of games, they invest themselves in their favorite teams. They sing and shout when their team wins big, and they wallow and gripe when their team falls to an opponent. As silly as it may seem, the hearts of college football fans are deeply invested in their team. On Saturday all other concerns are pushed away while the game is on.
Can the same be said of the church? The easiest way to tell is to listen to how church people talk. Ask one how their church was over the weekend. Do they respond in the first person? Do they say things like, “It was okay, but the sermon ran long and they didn’t play my favorite songs”? Or do they reply, “We are being challenged from the Scriptures to…”? When asked what their church is like do they reply in terms of size, age range, and music style? Or do they say things like, “God is moving us as a body to…”
“We” language is typical of churches that know and own their place in the mission of God. Words like “us” and “our” communicate belonging and ownership rather than words like “I,” “me,” and “my,” that communicate independence and individualism. “We” speakers do not hesitate to invest great amounts of their time, talent, and treasure into what God is doing through their church, for they see themselves as co-owners of the mission. People who speak about “our” church rather than “the” church find themselves joining in prayer as much for corporate concerns as they do for individual needs. The church is made up of individual members, but these members find their identity in the body–the body of Christ.
So ask yourself, when you speak about the church is it in the first person? Do you find yourself praying for the mission of the church as much as you do for a winning season? Is there as much room in your budget for game tickets and team logo gear as there is for the ministry? Will you shout as loud on Sunday about the victory we have in Christ over sin as you will on Saturday about your team’s victory over their opponent? Whether it’s about our college or our congregation, the way we speak reveals much about our sense of ownership.
Originally written for the Cornerstone EFC Around the Corner newsletter
Back in the day my preferred method of tracking tasks was to simply write a note on a post-it or scratch piece of paper and stick it in my pocket. When I would put my hand in my pocket I would pull out a mess of tattered scraps of paper with illegible notes to myself. This wasn’t a perfect system.
Fast forward to early 2010 when I began using Remember the Milk (RTM), a task management app that brought order to my to-do chaos. I not only use RTM everyday, I use it throughout the day to keep track of all the things I need to do. RTM is a free app but there is a pro version ($25/year) with a few other bells and whistles that I think is well worth the price.
There are a number of things I love about this app but here are four of my favorite features.
1. RTM is cross-platform
I use RTM on my iPad, my android phone, and on both my home and office computers. Like all cloud based apps, when I update one device it syncs across all the others. This is especially nice when I’m away from my desk and need to remember to do something later. No more jotting notes on the backs of sales receipts!
2. RTM is extremely easy to customize
Everyone has their own method of tracking their stuff and it’s rare that any app is exactly the way you want it right out of the box. With RTM almost everything can be customized: lists, tags, locations, etc. If you’re a Chrome user there is a useful extension called ‘A Bit Better RTM’ that makes the web based version of RTM even more user friendly.
3. Reoccurring tasks
Like most people I have a number of tasks, both personal and work related, that are part of my weekly routine. In RTM I can set a task to repeat on a certain day of the week, (e.g., Every Monday do XYZ), or I can set a task to repeat after a certain amount of time has passed (e.g., Check on XYZ after 14 days). Either way I don’t have to worry about rescheduling a routine task for next week, RTM tracks it for me.
4. Custom searching
If you have a lot of tasks on your to-do lists it can be rather overwhelming. As David Allen talks about in his book Getting Things Done, most of the time you only want to see what needs to be done in a certain context. In RTM I can search for and even save a custom list of tasks that fit specific criteria I am looking for (i.e., overdue and tagged as ‘work’, tasks I’ve tagged as ‘bills’ that are due this week, etc.)
There are a lot of other features that I use but I don’t have the space to mention them all here. If you are a RTM user leave me a comment below about your favorite features. If you use a different app or even a more “low tech” method of task management, leave a comment about what works (or doesn’t work) for you. If you’re eager to give RTM a test drive you can sign up here.
“But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.” (James 1:22, ESV)
In last Wednesday’s post I discussed the first three of ten suggestions on how to get the most out of the pastor’s sermons. Today we explore four more ways that you as the listener can better engage the message that you hear. Doing these things will not make the transition from hearing to application automatic. However, the way we listen (or fail to listen) to sermons can sometimes prove the old adage to be true: “If you aim at nothing, you will hit it every time.”
Read the passage before coming to church
Does your pastor publish a preaching schedule? Many times the following week’s sermon passage will be noted in the worship bulletin, in a monthly newsletter, or on the church calendar. Why not take advantage of this by simply reading through the passage once or twice prior to coming to worship? You would be surprised how much this can enrich the whole worship service when you have had a chance to preview what’s in store for that morning. If this information is not currently available to you, be sure to encourage your pastor to publish his preaching texts ahead of time. You and your congregation will be blessed for having it.
Read the passage in a different translation
Most of us have been reading from the same Bible translation (if not from the same copy of the Bible) for many years. We tend to stick to what we are used to. However, the Lord has blessed English speakers with some great versions of the Bible that can enrich our study of his Word.
In many evangelical churches the sermons are typically based out of the New International Version (NIV). I preach from the English Standard Version (ESV) and I often read other versions in my personal Bible study such as the NET Bible, the New American Standard (NASB), and the Holman Christian Standard (HCSB). Some translations are better than others, but simply reading a passage from another version can open your eyes to what is being said in the text that you might otherwise have missed.
Make a list of questions
As you read your Bible and listen to the messages, keep a list of questions that arise in your mind. If you are reading the passage before the sermon, write down any questions you have that you hope to have answered as a result of hearing the message. If you don’t get those questions answered, seek out the Pastor or someone who can clear up anything you might be wondering about.
As you listen to the message preached, there may also be new questions that are raised in your mind. Be sure to write those questions down and seek the answers. You can do this either through your own study of the Bible or by asking someone else for insight. Whatever you do, don’t settle for leaving your questions unanswered.
Join a group discussion
A great place for seeking answers is in a group setting. More than likely your question is shared by someone else who might just be a little too afraid to ask. While sermons tend to be more one-directional, groups allow dialog and learning from one another.
If discussion groups are not available through your church, see if you can’t invent your own. All you need is at least one other person that will think out loud with you about what you are hearing and reading from God’s Word.
Next week I will conclude this three-part series of posts on getting the most out of the messages. Until then, work at digging deep into God’s Word. You won’t be disappointed by what you find there.
I love just about everything Google touches. I use gmail, google calendar, hangouts, google voice, chrome, and more. But their basic search page is quite boring. So I use a little extension for chrome called Bing™ Wallpaper for Google™ Homepage. It takes the daily image from Bing and sets it as the Google search page background.
If you like this then here are a couple other tips.
- Create an IFTTT recipe (here’s mine) to grab the Bing image of the day and save it to Dropbox. Use it as your desktop wallpaper or screensaver image.
- Check out this site to find an archive of Bing images.