The Bible says a lot about money and generosity. In 2 Corinthians Paul provides us with some solid principles related to how we are to give and what results. What we learn is that when we are conduits of God’s resources, gladly giving away generously, we will always have enough for us and abundance for others.
Along with the 7 annual feasts that God established for His people, He also established the weekly rhythm of 6 days work and one day rest. We call this one day of rest the sabbath, and though it is grossly misunderstood and misused within the body of Christ, God designed it to be a glorious gift that we need in our lives to function as He has created us to function. One of the benefits we see through Scripture of seeking to enjoy the gift of sabbath is that through practicing sabbath our heart rejoices as we abandon ourselves to God’s sanctifying grace.
In the Old Testament, God established 7 annual feasts with the people of Israel. These were appointed times in which God invited His people to come and meet with Him. Through these seven feasts God has revealed His redemptive plan in it’s entirety. Each feast finds its fulfillment in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ.
Nehemiah 8 and 9 record one of the greatest revivals that took place in Scripture. These chapters trace the journey of those who have returned to Jerusalem from repentance to joy. The account reveals the natural progression that will take place in our lives when we experience a return to God. When confronted with the Word of God we recognize our sinfulness, His holiness, and find ourselves broken in His presence. But as we find ourselves broken we also find that our God meets us in our brokenness to raise us up and restore us to the joy of salvation through what Jesus Christ has accomplished for us at the cross.
My eleventh Christmas started out as the worst Christmas experience of my life. That was the year I had the bright idea that it would be fun to secretly find out what all my presents were before Christmas morning. So, two weeks prior to Christmas I snuck into my parent’s room and spoiled the surprise.
Waking up that Christmas morning was worse than waking up for the first day back to school after Christmas break. The guilt and shame were so heavy that I thought I would need the fire department to extract me from my bed.
As I trudged down the hallway to the living room that morning I was met by my overly enthusiastic little sister who was under strict orders to wait until I got into the living room before evening touching a single present. She met me halfway and began dragging me down the hallway with the strength of two teams of firefighters. Normally this would have been cause for evasive action, but this morning I welcomed the helping hand as I lumbered down my personal death row. When we finally got to the living room I could barely look up at my parents. Their smiles and excitement made my stomach convulse even more, a feeling that was further accentuated by the box that my sister thrust into my stomach with a giggle and a, “Merry Christmas Mark!” I looked down at the box, “a lego set,” I thought. You would have thought I was holding a king cobra. In my mind I had dropped the box and stepped back screaming like a little girl, but on the outside I had mustered every ounce of willpower I had to keep hold of the box and forced a smile. I had to do this for Mom and Dad. I may have ruined my Christmas but I didn’t need to ruin theirs too. Déjà vu resulted from each present that was placed into my hands; socks, coat, baseball glove, forcing me to fake surprise for the family. It was miserable and as I came to the last present I couldn’t take it anymore. I had a feeling my parents could tell something was wrong, so I hung my head and confessed every sordid detail right there in front of the Christmas tree.
I thought every present would immediately turn to coal. Then I thought my parents would just gather everything that lay in front of me throw it in the trunk of the car and take it to some eleven year old who would really appreciate it. Neither of these things happened. Instead, my Mom began to cry and my Dad looked at me and said, “We already knew, we just wanted you to tell us yourself.” It turns out I hadn’t been as covert as I thought I was. Through her tears Mom explained to me how she had noticed something out of place in her closet a couple weeks ago but didn’t think much of it until she saw me getting more and more miserable. She put two and two together and realized I had gotten into the Christmas presents. My parents were disappointed over missing the surprise on my face as I opened the presents, but their hearts broke more over the misery I had inflicted upon myself. Pushing aside their own pain they asked me if I had learned my lesson then gave me a hug and told me they loved me.
What happened next turned my worst Christmas experience into my best. While I was hugging my Mom and apologizing through the sobs, my Dad slipped something onto my lap. I thought I was going to look down and see a present that would again prompt déjà vu but instead when I looked down my mind drew a blank. Finally, I reflexively looked into my parent’s eyes with a face full of surprise, wonder, and a good measure of perplexity. My parent’s faces beamed right back. Maybe in spite of, maybe because of, maybe both my parents had secured one present for me they knew would be a surprise on Christmas morning. As I tore into the present I didn’t care what it was and honestly I can’t remember what it ended up being. I had already received the greatest present. I knew I didn’t deserve this gift. I knew I didn’t deserve my parent’s forgiveness and kindness. I knew my parents were well aware of all this and still gave the gift.
That Christmas, grace was the greatest gift I received, and as I look back now I realize how much my parent’s actions helped me understand the grace of God wrapped in a babe in swaddling cloths and lying a manger. Its a gift we don’t deserve. Its kindness and forgiveness we don’t deserve. With full knowledge of this God still places the gift on our laps inviting us to receive it with wonder and maybe even a good measure of perplexity.
I once took a group of middle and high school students on an adventure hike through the woods. As part of this hike we were to cross a small stream bed that had not completely dried up yet. Upon approaching the stream bed I thought nothing of the crossing until I planted my foot on what I thought would be semi solid ground. My foot sunk in mud to my knee. Getting it out was like trying to remove my leg from quick drying cement. When I finally did get my leg out the mud had claimed its first victim, my shoe. This was only the first victim, as each student crossed the treacherous bog the mud got increasingly greedy. At one point we thought we were going to lose one of the students who stepped in and somehow ended up with both feet in the mire enveloped from the waist down. It took two of the strongest adult chaperones on the hike ten minutes to pull her from the clutches of the sludge.
On another occasion my family was on vacation at the beach. My father had taught me to body surf when I was younger and it was one of our favorite pass times when we would vacation at the beach. I had never body surfed on waves so big and powerful. They were pushing me farther and faster than I had ever experienced. I was having a great time until I caught one of the waves a little too low and it drove me to the sandy bottom. I hadn’t taken enough of a breath because I wasn’t expecting to be underwater so my air supply was quickly dwindling as I frantically searched for the surface. When I finally hit the surface another wave immediately slapped me in the face and drove me once again to the sandy bottom. This time I thought I stood a strong chance of not making it back to the surface. Fear and panic set in as I mustered every ounce of strength left in my body and with lungs screaming I fought my way to the surface. By the time I got back to the beach I was so weak and tired I just lay there breathing in deep gasps of air. I had never been so grateful for air in my life.
A poet once used these two metaphors to describe what it was like for him when he was in one of the lowest points in his life. He combined the thought of being stuck in a miry mud pit at the bottom of a well sinking deeper and deeper with each thrash with the idea that in this well was also tumultuous water. It was as though as he sank deeper and deeper into the miry mud there were Hurricane Katrina-ish waves blasting him from all sides. It’s all he could do to get a mouthful of air.
In the midst of this mayhem the poet cries out for help and waits for a response, which makes sense when one realizes that the situation requires more than a self-sufficient response. That was what the young girl did who found herself stuck in the mud to her waist. She not only cried out but cried a lot of tears as she waited for rescue too.
The coolest part of the poet’s verse is his proclamation after his deliverance. After being lifted out of the chaotic sludge he proclaims that God put a new song in his heart, God is the one he cried out to and also the one who lifted him out of the mucky mess by the way. I find it interesting that we equate joy and gratitude with singing or whistling. When someone has just received good news from a doctor or from the boss, or when a young married couple finds out they are going to be having a child, these things are often accompanied by melody of some sort. It’s been said, “Those who don’t sing, at least in their heart, are people who do not cherish anything very deeply, or feel intense gratitude for anything. They are the sort of people who take life for granted. They never soar with a sense of joy in their heart.”
There are times when it takes the absence of something for us to really appreciate and cherish it. For me, it was air that sunny afternoon on the beach. As my family and I walked off the beach that day I couldn’t help but sing a joyful song with each new breath of fresh air. God had put a new song in my heart. It may not have been worthy of American Idol or Casey’s Top Forty but it was a joyous song. He can do the same for you regardless of how chaotic your situation may appear. Just cry out to Him and wait for His response, and while you’re waiting you might want to read Psalm 40, that’s the poet’s proclamation of God’s deliverance and a record of the new song God put in his heart.
This was originally written specifically for the church I pastor but thought is might be helpful for all of us. So I figured I’d share.
I had the privilege of hiking through Clifton Gorge earlier this week. For those of you who have been there I’m sure you agree that it is a privilege, and with the foliage changing color it is nothing short of breathtaking. We were all lighthearted as we started our little hike and the kids were joking around and laughing so in the spirit of things I jokingly said to Mackenzie and Ethan that there was no laughing or smiling allowed because we weren’t here to enjoy ourselves but to get this hike over with so we could say we did it and move on to our next destination. Of course Mackenzie rolled her eyes because she knew I was kidding and just kept right on having fun, we all did.
As we were driving home I was thinking about how much fun we had and remembered my sarcastic comment to the kids. It got me thinking about how often we approach life with that mindset. We focus so hard on the just getting things done and reaching the destination that we fail to see the joy of the journey. We completely ignore the privilege of being right where we are at and how breathtaking God’s handiwork is all around us. Being a goal setter I don’t want you to think I am saying that we settle in and don’t seek to move forward, we have to keep moving forward, but we also have to remember that, quite often, the destination isn’t nearly as sweet if we’re miserable when we get there.
I hope you have been enjoying the journey here at MorningStar as much as I have. It is such a privilege to be a part of this fellowship and sharing life together. Your stories and your passion have taken my breath away countless times over the last several months. And I’ve heard those stories and shared that passion as we’ve been journeying to our destination of being a multi-generational church that simply and clearly communicates the unchanging gospel in the ever changing culture around us. I hope you are just as committed as I am to reaching that destination but I also hope that are having just as much fun getting there as I am.
I have been spending a lot of time for the last several weeks thinking about sharing Jesus with individuals who have yet to enter into a relationship with him. My focus has primarily been in two place within Jesus’ own teaching; his admonition to love our neighbor as ourself and the parable of the sower found in the gospel of Mark. I’ve been allowing these to just marinade in my mind along with my own life experiences and it has been quite a journey.
In the parable of the sower Jesus uses the metaphor of seed for the good news of new life through him. As one of his followers I am to scatter and scatter and scatter seed and like the farmer in his parable I need to be prepared that a large percentage of the seed is not going to find good soil and produce a crop. Any follower of Jesus who has ever done any measure of scattering knows this percentage to be true and also knows the heartache and discouragement that accompanies the process of being a scatterer of the seed of the good news that Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life.
Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy! He who goes out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him. Psalm 126:5-6
That is why my reading of Psalm 126 was so encouraging this morning. It was a reminder that weeping often accompanies being a sower of seed. I don’t know how it couldn’t for a person who realizes what is at stake in this process. Few things break my heart like having someone who I have grown to care about dearly let me know that they don’t have any time for or interest in the God who has radically transformed my life for the better. As I think about that I can connect with the words of the psalmist when he writes there are those who sow in tears and there are those who go out weeping bearing seed for sowing. Jesus himself can been seen in this state when he looked out over the multitudes following him and said to his disciples that the fields (meaning people) were ready to be harvested and were filled with people who were harassed and helpless like sheep without a shepherd they were wandering aimlessly.
But I was encouraged and inspired this morning as I read Psalm 126 because the psalmist says those who sow in tears will reap with shouts of joy. Lots of seed may be scattered and only a small percentage may actually reap a harvest, but when that harvest comes and someone actually recognizes and embraces their need for Jesus Christ it is beyond amazing, it’s indescribable! In a simple kind of way it’s like playing a horrible round of golf but having your best hole on number 18. That makes you long to come back for more. It’s not a perfect analogy but the motivation is very similar.
Bottom line, let’s not become overwhelmed and discouraged over all the tears we shed and seemingly pointless scatter of spiritual seed that we spread but encourage one another to keep our eyes on the joy that comes with the harvest. I can resolve myself to nothing less because the harvest is far to valuable and the stakes just way to high. I pray the same for you.