November 24, 2008

More than you Think...

Every year about this time I urge our congregation to give ‘more than you think you can give’ to the Lottie Moon Missions Offering (or the benevolence offering, or the ...). It’s a bold suggestion. It goes against conventional wisdom. Many financial counselors would have a fit if they heard me say it. Some pastors would scold me for being too demanding. But I wish everyone in this church (and on this blog) would give more to missions and mercy than seems doable.

Why? Because that is exactly the kind of example we are given in the Scriptures. Jesus didn’t applaud the wealthy people at the temple gates—the ones who gave large gifts out of their surplus. He commended the poor widow who gave two copper coins—all she had to live on (Mark 12.41-44). And Paul pointed to the poor Macedonian as an example of faithful giving:

In a great deal of affliction their abundance of joy and their deep poverty overflowed in the wealth of their liberality. For I testify that according to their ability, and beyond their ability, they gave of their own accord, begging us with much urging for the favor of participation in the support of the saints (2 Corinthians 8.2-4).

Did you catch that? The Macedonians were afflicted and deeply poor. Yet they rejoiced in giving. They gave – hear this well – beyond their ability. They even begged Paul to let them give an offering (a minister’s dream)! They loved giving to God’s purposes so much that they gave more than they thought possible—and trusted God with their needs!

That’s the example of biblical, God-honoring giving. When a need comes up, we don’t fish around for our spare change (or spare hundred dollar bills, as the case may be). We give more than we think prudent—so that loose change becomes twenty-dollar bills; and hundreds become thousands! I don’t doubt that some of you have the ability to give thousands to the cause of missions if you choose to! Not sure? Here are some suggestions for how you might give more than you think you can give, both this year and next…

*Sell some piece of property and give the money to missions or mercy (a car, a home, a piece of land or jewelry, a doll collection, etc.). In that day, will these things matter more than souls?

*Give your entire Christmas bonus to missions or mercy.

*Buy a less expensive car, television, CD player, etc. and give the money you would have normally spent to missions or mercy.

*Give some of that Christmas money to missions or mercy. The perishing millions need the gospel more than your husband needs a gas-grill!

*Cash in some rainy-day savings account and put the money in the missions offering. It’s better to save the islanders than visit the islands!

*By faith, simply take a larger-than-you-think-you-can-afford chunk of your current cash-on-hand and give it to missions or mercy … and trust God to provide.

*Disable the cable, the high-speed internet, the extra cell minutes…and put the extra money into your offering.

*Look over your family budget and see if there isn't a line item you could decrease by $10 per month ... setting the rest aside for missions of mercy.

There are many ways to give more than you think you can…if you’re only willing! Looking for ways to give beyond my ability with you...

November 20, 2008

This, too, is worth 3 minutes

OK, actually 2 minutes and change.

Thanks, Jordan.

And if you want to give the gift of water this Christmas ... click here.

November 11, 2008

Was it God?

Have you ever been in prayer and thought to yourself: ‘God is telling me to call Sam’; or ‘God is telling me to give my Christmas bonus to that family at church’; or ‘God wants me to take that job.’ If not, you may have never prayed. For there is no doubt that, as we seek the Lord in prayer and meditation, the Spirit occasionally urges us with His still, small voice. And we need to listen for that voice. But the question always needs to follow: ‘How do I know it was God speaking?’ For, after all, our hearts are deceitful above all else. So maybe we misunderstood what God wanted. Or maybe we convinced ourselves that God wanted something when He actually never spoke at all. So, how do we know if God is really speaking? Let me make a few suggestions that you should always apply when you sense that the Spirit may be urging you to do something, or telling you that something is so.

1. Compare it with Scripture. Peter says that the Bible consists of material in which “men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God” (2 Peter 1.21). So the Bible is the word of the Holy Spirit. And surely the Spirit would not contradict, in prayer, what He has already said in print. So, if you believe the Holy Spirit is speaking to you … compare what you hear with the teaching of Scripture. And don’t just seek our one verse that seems to justify what you believe you heard. Study the whole counsel of God’s word on the subject at hand. And if the urging you heard in prayer does not match up with the plain teaching of Scripture, rule it out as not from God.

2. Seek the counsel of fellow believers. Sometimes you may feel the Spirit is urging you to do something for which the Scripture gives no specific or comprehensive command. You feel fairly certain He is telling you to take that new job. It’s not a sinful job. And the Bible doesn’t say anything specifically about where you should work. So that settles it, right? You should go ahead and start boxing up your pens and post-it notes, making ready for the new office, right? Not necessarily. You may still have mis-understood God’s will for you … even if what you feel you heard does not directly contradict Scripture. So, talk things like this out with some mature Christian friends – people who won’t pull any punches; and who won’t tickle your ears. If they give good, reasonable feedback that says ‘Maybe this is not the best fit’ … then perhaps you misheard. Not necessarily. But it’s a lot harder for 3-4 people to misunderstand God than it is for just one.

3. Recognize that you and your friends can be wrong. Let’s say that, after praying with friends, you still feel certain that God is telling you that you are about to change jobs. Your friends, in fact, agree that this would be a good thing. And then you get a call that says the company has ‘decided to go in a different direction’. What now? Do you show up at HR and say: ‘Obviously, you made a mistake; God told me this was my job’? No! Instead you take a step back and remember that your heart is deceitful … and admit that you must have misheard or misunderstood what God was saying (or that, perhaps, He wasn’t saying anything at all). You admit that your capacity to hear from God is fallible. In fact, it would be helpful to remind yourself of these things right up front … to never assume, in the first place, that the word was certainly from the Lord.

The only sure method of hearing God’s voice is in the pages of the Bible. That doesn’t mean we don’t listen anywhere else. But it means that, as we do, we put an asterisk beside everything we believe we hear. And we don’t put ultimate confidence in ‘the leading of the Spirit’. We put ultimate confidence, rather, in the writing of the Spirit.

November 5, 2008


I titled this "Wise Words" because of the link to Barry's blog ... not to insinuate that any of my words were wise!

Wise Words

I think this is my last post on political topics. Despite the content of this blog for the last couple of months, I am really not all that in to politics. I hope it is less that I am disinterested and more that I really believe what I said here. I've been writing largely because of a question that was posed to me in one of our quarterly Q and A sessions at church. But I think I have said my fill, the election has been decided, and it is time for us to:

1. Pray for our rulers (1 Timothy 2.1-2)
2. Submit to governing authorities ... rather than complaining about them (Romans 13)
3. Thank God for the racial progress that He has provided in this country

I've already posted a prayer below. I hope it is faithful. And Barry reminds me (re: #2) that I need to do a better job of "having a smile on [my] face and a song in [my] heart." Thanks BJ!

November 4, 2008

A Prayer for Barack Obama

By now you know that Barack Obama has been elected as the next President of the United States. At least, I hope you know. If you are getting your news from The Rest Stop, your world is probably a tad askew since the present writer knows very little about anything. But one thing I do know is that, like it or not, Barack Obama is the President-elect ... and God tells us to pray for men in his position, not because we agree or disagree with them, but because government is God's instrument to do us good. So, if for no other reason, because the person in the Oval Office is charged, by God Himself, with doing the nation good ... Mr. Obama needs our prayers, and God's help. Here's my effort. I'd encourage you - whether you particularly like Mr. Obama or not - to pray these things for him and his family.

Father, believing that “the king’s heart is like channels of waters in the hand of the Lord” and that You “turn it wherever [You] wish” (Proverbs 21.1); and knowing that You command Your people, unqualifiedly, to pray for their leaders (1 Timothy 2.1-2), we do now humbly pray for our president-elect, Senator Barack Obama.

First, regardless of how we voted on Tuesday, we thank you that the United States has come to a place in her history where it is possible to rise to the highest position of responsibility and honor regardless of the color of one’s skin. In this regard, make president-elect Obama an example of hope to us all.

Father, we repent of the sordid history we have in the area of race-relations and lament the fact that there are those who hate the very idea of a black man in office. Protect our leaders from the hatred of those whose opposition runs much deeper than political ideology.

Guard Mr. Obama’s family, as well. None of us can imagine the strain they will face as they live in the public eye, travel more than they ever thought they would, and find family time sparser than they’d like over the next four years. So bless Mr. and Mrs. Obama’s marriage, and make these years happy ones for their children.

Recognizing that the love of money is the root of all sorts of evil, we do not confidently assume that the prosperity of the American economy is, necessarily, your will. So again, Lord, guide the president’s heart like channels of water – and produce for this nation the economic status that would be best for our eternal souls – whether prosperous or not.

We ask, too, that you would guide our president-elect in knowing how and why to either continue or conclude the conflicts in the Middle East. Make him a wise commander in chief, and protect us, we pray.

In accordance with Your word, we pray that you would impress on Mr. Obama the importance of upholding the law of our land, the Constitution, which is written in such a way that the biblical goals (Romans 13) for secular government (rewarding good, defending the helpless, and upholding basic human rights) might be upheld. Especially, we pray that you might change his and his administration’s mind (indeed change our nation’s collective mind) so that we stop making it easier and easier to kill unborn babies. Please frustrate any designs the president or congress may have of passing the murderous Freedom of Choice Act. O Lord, use this administration – or some administration – to remove the blood-guiltiness from our land.

Finally, Lord, we pray for our future president’s soul. Father, would you so bring Mr. Obama to the feet of Jesus that he would love and treasure and trust your Son with all of His heart?

We don’t deserve anything we’ve asked, Father. But we need a president who will honor You and Your ways. Give us, as you so often have done in times past, far better than we deserve.

November 3, 2008

Attention all Ohioans!

I wish I'd have posted this sooner. Maybe it's not too late. Tomorrow Issue 6 proposes to bring casino gambling to Ohio. I hope you vote no. Who cares whether there are loopholes that will allow the casino to be tax free or not. I'd vote no if the casino promised me a hundred bucks a day for life. It's a destructive industry.

And that's not just coming from a typical Baptist preacher who thinks gambling is sin (which I am and do, by the way). It's also coming from someone who has lived in the neon glow of one of the larger gaming industries in the United States, and seen first-hand the devastation that gambling brings to communities. Most of all it's coming, I hope, from a pastor who wants to see people enter into the kingdom of Christ and who knows that "those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction" (1 Timothy 6.9).

The gospel of God's Son can and does triumph in degraded cultures. It's designed to, in fact. But the Bible also makes it clear that cultural sins like gambling lead people away from Jesus and destroy their lives, plain and simple. If we can keep it out, we should. So vote tomorrow ... and vote wisely.