This past Tuesday was giving Tuesday. Ironically after two big spending holidays. In the Christmas season we often talk about how it is better to give than to receive. We take on projects to help people, and we should. In the Old Testament they too had holidays where they focused on helping the poor. Let’s look in that heart for a moment.
As we read Mark 12:41-44, Jesus tells his disciples that a widow who gave a penny gave more than all the rich people dumping in loads of cash. No doubt that rocked the disciples and those around Jesus. Clearly she did not give more, but Jesus said she gave more. Ok, by percentage she may have given more, but effectively she did not. So what is the issue?
Big hearts give big
The widow didn’t have to give. She gave out of her poverty. The wealthy gave out of their abundance. It cost the widow to give. It didn’t cost the rich ones to give. True giving come from a desire to help people and worship God. The pattern that Jesus is pointing to is not an amount but sacrifice.
Jesus gave his life. That was far more than the 10% people often here of. Jesus gave up the comforts of heaven. That is far more than the giving of the wealthy that Jesus was observing. Jesus gave up his reputation, which is far more than the social justice we hear about. Jesus sacrificed and forgave. That gift is far greater than anything. It truly was sacrifice, just like the widow’s one penny.
Make it so
Each person has the ability to make the world a better place, but it is not from giving out of our abundance. Making a difference takes sacrifice. The Christmas season reminds us of that price it takes to make a difference. So what are you going to give this season? More importantly, from what kind of a heart will you give?
As we read Mark 1:16-20 the urgency of the gospel pops out. The men called by Jesus stopped what they were doing and went fishing. The words now and immediately jump off the page. They stopped being fishermen and became fisherofmen. Here is the question: have you gone fishing lately?
For those who do not like holidays or such occasions and are only interested in results, the book of Mark is for you. This begs the questions of self-examination. Are you producing results? When the disciples encountered Jesus that immediately changed and lived differently. Priorities were re-arranged and the church is throughout the world as a result.
Jesus changed the disciples target and aim for living. Rather than just scraping by, he gave them a massive mission to save people with the only news that can bring comfort and peace. The Gospel is not just about getting to heaven, it is also about helping others get there. It is an active pursuit of Jesus.
There are different methods of fishing. Trolling, nets, casting, farming, fly fishing, dynamite… The issue is not whether you should fish, but how you should fish. The driving force behind our mission of following Jesus is how you will reach the people Jesus brings your way. As you are reading this likely you are in your mission-field.
The results we see from Jesus is because Jesus went fishing. He didn’t wait for fish to jump into his lap. He went out and purposefully fished. The story of Christmas is Jesus going and reaching people. Jesus did not just give us a hope and a prayer, he got up, served, gave himself, and is now calling you.
As we read Mark 1:14-15 we see the controversy of calling people to repent. This is something that has rung true throughout the Bible and history. People don’t want to be told they’re wrong, need to change, and submit to a new authority. We would much rather rebel. So, what is the just thing for God to do when people are doing wrong?
God chose to not pursue the fairness route. Fair is hell. Instead God fought for the relationship in sending people to call for the change. What we see in the call for repentance is not God waiting with a 2x4, but God fighting for a relationship with us. He is pursing reconciliation. If God sought to bring back fairness and justice, we would be in deep trouble.
The good life
The kingdom of God is the ultimate good life. To be at hand, the scales of justice need to be balanced. This is the big point about Jesus and the Christma season. Jesus balances the scales of justice so we may enjoy the good life in his kingdom. The call to repentance is a call to a better life, not a worse one.
Jesus is giving humanity a second chance. He sees the evil, suffering, and heartache. It does not have to be that way. In calling for people to repent and beleive the Gospel Jesus is giving all of us a second chance. God did not leave us along, but he showed up. He arrived and fought to make things right between himself and us.
This is more caught than taught. Right now plan a time with God today. Never mind. Grab a journal, your Bible, and maybe even some music and go spend some time with God. Comment how it went. For starters, start with Psalm 98 and what it tells us about our awesome God.
Go. Be spontaneous and do something extra special with God today.
I read an article once on generosity that says emerging generations view spontaneity as the hallmark of being generous. Older generations are much more aligned to the planning aspect. In our culture we need to stop viewing organization as being less spiritual. Often it is quite the opposite.
Set in order
As we read Titus 1:5-9, Paul gives Titus a mission to set in order what remains. This mission is similar to what he instructs Timothy. First Corinthians 11 and 14 also deal with the matter of things being done in order. The idea: masking sure people are built up. Things that are important are planned.
In Ephesians 4 Paul describes gifts Jesus gave to organize his religion we call the church. The purpose of these gifts was to equip all followers of Christ to fulfill their God given mission on Earth. The originator of organized church and professional clergy comes from God himself. Why? Because you plan for what is most important. For Jesus, that is you. He died for you. He made sure things were in order so that you are cared for!
But it doesn’t feel spiritual
For many, especially younger people, things that are organized do not feel exciting or great. When we are older we apprentice order and organization much much more. This isn’t to say that spontaneity is evil or bad. Quite the opposite. What I am saying is that while organization may not feel spiritual, it very much is. It’s not the purpose of the church’s existence, but organization is a vital aspect.
As we read Ecclesiastes 3:1-13 everything has its place. Admittedly, I do not like snow, but it makes for a good acronym for enjoying the presence of God. This is why Ecclesiastes 3 is helpful to read first. Snow asks two critical questions: Silence or Noice, Organized or Whenever? We already discussed Silence and noise, organized and whenever we’ll get into. The idea is that each has their place and is important.
Aspects not preferences
The SNOW principle asks the critical question: What is needed for this time and place? The answer depends upon many things. Is it a time for lamenting? Time for celebrating? When we appreciate what is best for the moment it adds depth to walking with God. Do not fall prey to just enjoying your preferences. Discern the time and place for events.
Silence or Noise?
In a moment of worship the question arises to which shall you do? What is needed? Sometimes when life is hard and not fair, you actually need noise. You need to sing or shout loudly the goodness of God. To remember you are loved and that God is in control. Sometimes you need quiet and solitude to mourn or repent. Neither is more or less spiritual than the other. The question is at your current moment what does your soul or the should of your church family need.
Organized or whenever?
Today’s emerging generations see spontaneity as the hallmark of being spiritual. Older generations view organization as the hallmark. Both are right. What is important to us planned for. Think budgets life plans, values, etc. We all plan and think through what is important. Emerging generations need to learn that organization is very much part of love and spirituality. Just think of how much planning goes into proposals now. Sometimes you need to out of the blue spend time with God. When we do that in other relationships it shoes love and care. We need both in our lives!
Today may seem to totally contradict what was said yesterday. It does not. While we need to make noise, we also need to be silent. These are not preference matters, but different aspects to enjoying the presence of God. There is a breadth of emotions and experiences in any relationship. The same is true with God. As people often struggle with making some noise, people also struggle with silence.
God is in control
Resting in God and taking the time to be silent says we trust that God is the one who is really in control. Really in control. As we read Psalm 46:10-11, the Sons of Korah are reminding us that we need to remember that God has this. We can easily be overwhelmed by all that is going on around us. In these times we need to just stop and be silent.
We hate silence
There is nothing more awkward to people than silence. This is why solitary confinement is such a terrifying punishment. We need people and interaction. The other side to this is we are often not comfortable in our skin and thoughts. Silence forces us to recon with hard questions and issues we may have. A key marker for health of a relationship is to be silent with someone you love and not have it be awkward. We need those moments.
God really does love you
Another aspect to avoiding silence is we fear that God only wants to bring up sin in our life. We feel that we’re always falling short of what God wants for us. God already understands our own imperfections. He sent his son to die for us anyways. God is a God who truly loves spending time with his own. Perhaps we often feel like God does not truly and deeply love us because we do not take the time be silent with him to know he is God and truly does watch over us.
There are times when people feel more comfortable in the musical or emotional engagement with God. Some like it loud at gatherings, others like it more private. I say musical or emotional engagement because worship is a lifestyle of being a living sacrifice, its not music or what we do on a Sunday morning. A key part of it though is making some noise!
Turn up the volume
Let’s face it, loud noise hurts our ears. There is a time and place for that. For many long drives are optimal times. Crank up the volume, sing loudly, no one cares, have fun. When you read Psalm 47, the making some noise just has to happen. Think of it this way, in a tight sporting match, or when your team is creaming the other side, it’s hard to be quiet.
There are times when people complain about the noise of a worship service. Granted, if its constantly loud and painful, that’s one thing. If it’s occasional that is quite another. Again, there is a time and place to be loud and proud, and singing to God is one of those times. We forget the loud, obnoxious, celebratory music is a key part of worship, as are many other forms. In battle you don’t want quiet and soothing, your want to feel the rush.
Command not preference
Making some noise is not a preference issue in worship. It is part of it. Every life moment has aspects of music, emotion, etc. that match the occasion. The questions should be is the music and volume appropriate to the moment. In times of pain and lament loud and proud music is not appropriate. In times of reflection or solemnity it is not appropriate either. In times of celebrating victory and the goodness of God? Bring. It. On. This may not feel comfortable, but there is a time and place for it.
What is my musical preference for sinking to God?
How do I feel about being loud and proud for people I love?
What is God’s response in Psalm 47 when God’s people make some noise?
Going on a canoe trip with guys I’ve never camped with before meant one thing: training hard. This was totally a matter of pride. I didn’t want to be the one to hold the group back. So training hard I did. It meant pushing myself. Then something amazing happened.
A day off
I was not alone. The others had the same prideful fear of being the one who held the group back. Our team was fit and ready for the great adventure that lay ahead. So in tune from training hard that we left a wake behind our canoes and paddled ourselves a full day ahead of schedule. This allowed for a day off. As we read 1 Timothy 4:8 we see that getting a day off was not the biggest thing.
The trip was about leadership training. Because we prepared well, worried we’d hold the team back, the team exceeded expectations. Church is a team, the leader said. When we all do our part and work hard training in righteousness, amazing things can happen when the church comes together. Leaders lead best when the prepare and train hard for the mission they intend to do.
Spiritual health matters
Training in godliness effects all areas of life, including eternity. Until Jesus comes back, the chance of us growing old and having broken down bodies is likely. It is a consequence of sin. But, our spiritual health matter for the whole of our life and its effectiveness reaches into the new heavens and earth. There we get new tip top shape bodies. So, while working out profits some, especially when canoeing, the breather reward is training to develop our souls to be vibrant and healthy.
What is my training look like for spiritual health?
Which and why is more important to me: spiritual health or physical health?
What and why is my training plan to strengthen my soul?
I loathed report card times. More so, I loathed the “delight to have in class, talks to much” statements, but it was a time of fear. Enter athletic training. There we looked forward to report cards. It was all about achievement and progress. In one situation we worry about the consequences for falling short. In the other we see how we can bring things up to where we want them to be. The difference is judgementalism vs ownership.
As we read 1 Timothy 4:15, Paul had in mind an ownership mind set. Like an athlete training for an event, everything is consumed by that focus. You want to demonstrate progress because that means reaching your goal. When we own it, evaluation is about the pathway to success, not the value of who you are.
Biggest thing I hates about swimming is cold water. It takes me awhile to adjust and I loath the feeling. Once in and adjusted life is great and swimming a delight. What I learned is you just need to dive in, all the way. The biggest struggle for many Christians is we merely want to ease our way in. Sometimes you need to jump.
Plan and practice
Good achievers plan their practice as much as they plan for their events. The same is true with our walk with God. Solid practice leads to fruitful actions. It is being intentional so we respond well in the situations we face. Christianity is not a passive journey, it is a very active one. Most important things we practice and train for. The same is true for matters of faith. You need a plan, and you need a plan for training.
How do I view my progress of serving God?
What changes do I need to make and what am I doing well?
What does my practice plan look like and how can I make it more effective?