God loves a cheerful giver

16 08 2007

I came across this image on a blog about happenings in Austin, Texas. Unfortunately, the blog entry was discussing a recent article in the Austin American-Statesman about a pastor in Round Rock who has been accused of embezzling funds from his church. What a horrible story for a lot of reasons, but that is not what intrigued me. It was the image.

Have you struggled with the issue this image is conveying? I have. With the pressures our society places on financial achievement and material possessions, it is too easy to be fleshly in our thoughts about our finances. I know that all that I have comes from God. But there are times that I feel the tug of the flesh to lose focus on whose money it really is.

So, this got me thinking of the distinction between knowing God’s word (which is, of course, important) and abiding in Christ. Just intellectually knowing the “Biblical” way to think or act has never been enough for me. When I begin to think that way, Satan is able to pounce on my thoughts and bend my thinking toward the flesh. But knowing the word of God for the purpose of knowing God is different. Seeking Him and abiding in Christ opens a whole new relationship. Jesus says: “If you abide in me, I will abide in you” (John 15:4).

What I am proposing is a simple change in thinking. Next time you read the Bible or a devotional, actively think about why you are doing it. Are you doing it to gather intellectual knowledge about God? Or are you doing it to really get to know God? If you will do that and ask God to grow your relationship with Him – to abide in you, he will — and I think you will be amazed at the result.

Getting back to the image… The result from this way of thinking is a changed heart (really a changing heart, as God’s work in us in never done). God loves a cheerful giver, because a truly cheerful giver has a heart for God. Don’t be fooled, God does not want us to be cheerful givers on the outside, while we wrestle with our fleshliness on the inside. If we truly let Him, He will change our hearts and work within us to eliminate that turmoil with our sin nature.


A study in contrasts

15 08 2007

>Saul knew the Lord, he just didn’t know the Lord.

Saul, the Old Testament king, not the former Paul in the New Testament, knew that God was in charge. Saul was anointed as king by God’s prophet Samuel. The Holy Spirit transformed Saul and made him into a different person (1 Samuel 10:7), gifting him with the power of prophesy and enabling him to assume the kingly duties God chose for him. Saul’s story was so promising in the beginning — he was chosen by God, received the Spirit of the Lord, was made into a new person and was put on his way to be a great leader of Israel. Saul was set up to win — he had it all. But how does Saul’s story end? Saul was ultimately rejected as king and 1 Samuel 15:35 conveys to us the harshest result of Saul’s life and decisions “…and the Lord regretted He had made Saul king over Israel.” Ouch! Saul ultimately dies a tragic death, taking his own life after being overtaken by the Philistines (1 Samuel 31).

There are many lessons for us in Saul’s life as told in the Old Testament. But I want to get to the core of Saul’s erroneous ways. What happened with Saul that he wasted God’s gifts and perhaps a much different destiny? I am not going to attempt to decontruct Saul’s life in this entry, but I do believe that there is one glaring omission in Saul’s life that we can learn from.

Saul knew first hand of God’s existence, and he knew of God’s power. But Saul did not place full trust in God — Saul’s faith was not very deep. Saul’s life is characterized by poor decision making (see, for example, 1 Samuel 15 and 1 Samuel 14:23-24). At every turn, Saul first trusted in Saul and only when pushed to the absolute brink, did he “call” on God. I put call in quotes because I think a reading of Saul’s life story shows that there was likely not much conviction in Saul’s calls on the Lord. It could certainly be said that Saul believed that there was a God and that God was one, that is he believed that the God of his people was the one and only God of all. From the outside, you might not even guess that Saul was so off base in his relationship with the Lord. Saul asked for forgiveness through the prophet Samuel (1 Samuel 15:25, 30), he offered sacrifices (1 Samuel 13:9), he called for the ark (1 Samuel 14:18).To the observer, Saul appeared to be doing the things that one might expect of someone who had a faith in God. But where was Saul’s heart? If Saul were alive today, can’t you just picture him sitting in the pew, nodding approvingly at the message from the pulpit, then the nodding becomes more anxious as he glances at his watch, eager for the service to end. And once the service is over, he races out the church doors, getting back to life — a life with Saul in control.

I can certainly relate to a time in my life when I treated my relationship with God somewhat similar to the way Saul did. I acted as if He was there only when I really needed him. Acting like I could handle my life just fine, until I painted myself into a corner and needed God’s hand to lift me out. But this is not what God wants for us. He wants much, much more.

The title to this entry is a Study in Contrasts. So, who is the contrast? Are you thinking it’s some nearly perfect, God-honoring, God-fearing, do-gooder. Nope. How about a murdering adulterer? That’s right, Saul’s successor, David. David was certainly not perfect and he was not sinless. But David trusted God. David had faith in the Lord.

David rose from a shepherd boy to become the most renowned king of Israel. And it was through David’s line that Jesus was born. David’s military conquests are legendary. David had a deep faith. David completely sought God’s will. This does not mean that David did not stumble, he certainly did and sometimes in a big way. But the more David’s condition broke down, the more earnestly he sought God’s presence and guidance.

There are many examples of David’s strong faith. As the author of the bulk of the Psalms, David’s heart for God is clearly evident. But the event in David’s life that I want to use to contrast with Saul is a seemingly minor one on its face, especially in light of some of the more well-known stories from David’s life. In 1 Samuel 23 we are told that it was reported to David (who was not yet king) that the Philistines were fighting against and raiding a town called Keilah in the lowlands of Judah. Upon hearing the news, David first inquired of the Lord as to what he should do. God told David to launch an attack and rescue the town. But David’s men weren’t too enthused about the prospect of launching an attack against the Philistines while in Judah. You see, Saul was after David at this point and David and his men were in hiding. David’s men were afraid of making themselves even more vulnerable by attacking the Philistines in Judah. So, faced with the opposition of his men (an opposition that was perfectly justifiable in light of the circumstances), David neither acquiesced nor did he ignore the will of his men and command them to move out. David went back to God. And God told him to go at once and rescue the people of Keilah.

What I think is so cool about this story is not necessarily that David first inquired of God when he heard of the plight of the people of Keilah. What I think is so great about this event from David’s life is that when faced with contradictory logic that seemed to make practical sense, David went right back to God. Now, you may be thinking, didn’t David basically ignore God’s command by not simply telling his men that God commanded it and thus they should go? Did David not trust God enough to go on the first command? But I don’t think that is the case — that would not be consistent with what we know of David. What I think this shows is that David was in a state of relationship with God that was characterized by constant communication. You see, faith in the Lord is more than knowing that He is in control — it is constantly placing yourself in His control. And the only way to do that is by constantly staying in His presence. That is what David did. And it is very far from what Saul did. Sure, David could have taken God’s command and charged ahead, undeterred by the comments from his men. And there are occasions where David’s approach was just that. But David’s relationship with God was the type of relationship that David could, when faced with uncertainty, just take it to God.

Saul and David both recognized that God was God, and even Saul recognized some of the “religious” activities that were common among God’s people in their day. Saul, though, was going through the motions while David’s life was characterized by a constant connection to God and a relationship with God.

David’s heart was in it, Saul’s was not. And that made all the difference. God’s strength flowed through David over and over. Saul’s strength failed him, over and over.

What is the "faith" we are talking about here?

13 08 2007

>The word “faith” is generally accepted as a belief in something. You might have faith in democracy or faith that your favorite sports team will pull out a victory. When the Bible speaks of faith, what does it mean? Is it enough to simply believe there is a God? James tells us that even the demons believe that God is one, and they shudder. (James 2:19) What about believing in the historicity of Jesus? Isn’t believing in Christ more than believing that He existed in history? I think Biblical faith is something more, more than simple belief. I particularly like this definition from the New Bible Dictionary:

Faith is clearly one of the most important concepts in the whole New Testament. Everywhere it is required and its importance insisted upon. Faith means abandoning all trust in one’s own resources. Faith means casting oneself unreservedly on the mercy of God. Faith means laying hold on the promises of God in Christ, relying entirely on the finished work of Christ for salvation, and on the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit of God for daily strength. Faith implies complete reliance on God and full obedience to God. (Wood, D. R. W. (1996, c1982, c1962). New Bible Dictionary (359). InterVarsity Press.)

What I am going to try to focus on in this blog is a concept of faith that comes through intentionally living our faith, which leads to an ever-deepening of the living waters that flow from God. It is important to note that we do not work our way into this faith, however. Instead, it is by constantly turning our focus toward God — focusing on His presence and purpose in every aspect of life — that we enable God to deepen our faith through His strength.