Why you should tell everyone that you tithe

tithesI used to think I was a good person for tithing. Actually, to be totally honest, I decided the other day to find the verses I knew were in the Old Testament about tithing and the blessings that come with it, something about “so much blessing you will have no place to store it.” You know, to pray back to God and ask for blessings and stuff. I flipped through Malachi (I was pretty sure that’s the right book) looking for a section heading titled “tithing” or something equally descriptive. I flipped through the whole book and didn’t find anything. Maybe it was the wrong book? No, I thought. I looked closer. I found the passage I was looking for–under the heading “robbery.” Robbery? Huh? I looked closer.

The book of Malachi, I noticed, is a dialogue between the people and God. God makes a statement, the people ask a question, and God explains what he meant by his statement. In this section, God asks, (and I paraphrase) “Can a man rob God? Yet you rob me.” “How have we robbed you?” The people ask. “By not bringing your tithes to the storehouse.” Whoa! Hold on. Let’s talk about this.

I remember a few Sundays ago, my pastor said, “A girl emailed me this week and told me I shouldn’t tell the congregation about my tithes. But I tell you so you know I’m with you, and I’m not asking you to do anything I’m not doing myself.” I thought he had a great point. I want to know my pastor practices what he preaches. And the passage in Malachi brings new light to the question, “Should we talk about our tithes and offerings?” First, let’s talk about an important distinction.

What’s the difference between tithes and offerings? A tithe was 10% of the traditional Jew’s income, and it went to the temple to support the Levites who served The Lord there, since they couldn’t make a living otherwise. Offerings were different: they were voluntary and not required by law, simply brought to please God or thank him for something he did for them. Nowadays, tithes and offerings are basically unchanged: we support the clergy with tithes and give offerings for other, extra purposes.

Let’s talk about offerings. There are a couple of places in the bible where we are told to “not let our right hand know what our left hand is doing” And that those who give in plain sight of men have received their reward in full. These verses are talking about OFFERINGS, not tithes. This is very important. I’ve heard many people apply these incorrectly to tithing, as well as this well-known verse: “Each one should give what he has decided in his heart to give: not under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” But Paul isn’t talking about tithing here. He’s talking about collecting an offering to support apostles like himself when they come to the church to teach. Going back to Malachi, we see that tithing isn’t about “what he has decided in his heart to give.” We are commanded to “bring the WHOLE tithe into the storehouse.” The whole thing. We don’t get to decide how much or how often. If we don’t tithe, we are robbing God.

Offerings are voluntary. If we don’t give an offering, we aren’t doing anything wrong, we’re just also not doing anything particularly right. But when we don’t tithe, we are robbing God. We sin when we don’t tithe. Why is it sin? For a few reasons:

1) Because God commanded it.
2) Not tithing is showing a lack of faith in God’s ability to provide.
3) Holding back our tithe is hoarding resources that literally belong to God.

We are never told not to talk about tithing, because it’s a duty, not a gift. It would be like talking about how you love your husband, wife, or children, about getting baptized, or about turning away from some sin we’ve been convicted of. It’s something we are commanded to do, not something extra we are more holy for doing. We are only doing our duty.

And yet, though the tithe is a duty, God promises incredible blessing to those who obey. It’s the only time in the bible we are told to test God, to “see if I do not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will have no room to store it.” That’s reason enough for me to tithe!

Here’s a staggering figure: only about 20% of churchgoers tithe. 80% don’t tithe! Do you know how much good we could do in the world if everyone tithed? Do you know how much more blessing we would receive if we all tithed? If we stopped robbing God of what belongs to him?

I can’t help but think that God protects everything I own because I tithe. My phone was stolen last year at school in a sketchy part of town. The odds weren’t good that I’d get it back. But the police station called me and said they’d found it a week later! God protected my belongings, as he has so many other times. I believe it’s mostly because I’m faithful to his commands in my finances.

I don’t want to make anyone feel guilty by saying all this; I simply want to bring important truth to the table so we can change our lives to reflect it. It’s not me admonishing: it is the Bible that speaks. Who knows what discipline we might be undergoing because we don’t tithe? Who knows what blessings we miss out on because we don’t? When we tithe, we are giving in faith to the most generous and powerful being in the universe, the owner of “the cattle on a thousand hills”: “he who gives to the poor lends to The Lord.” He never asks us to give without promising to pay us back more than we invested. He is a gracious God.

If you tithe, take this as encouragement to continue, to trust God and be found faithful always with what he’s given you. I have made a covenant in my heart with God that I will always tithe to him, that I will always obey even when it’s difficult. If you don’t tithe, ask yourself why. What are the fears or apathies keeping you from doing so? Is there something in your heart you need to confront and change? Pray and ask God to help you have faith in him if it’s hard for you to do so. He will gladly help you obey him, and he WILL bless you for it.

Those who ask, receive

article-new-ehow-images-a08-al-vv-address-sitting-judge-letter-800x800There I sat, dumbstruck, my mental jaw dropping lower and lower with every word of the judge: “This jury will meet every Wednesday as long as the case is in session, and you will have several cases throughout the year. You must keep these proceedings secret. You may subpoena witnesses to testify, and you may ask them questions…” What???

Last Friday, I was drafted into the 4th judicial district’s Grand Jury for the year of 2014. The entire year. I was told that I must come to the courthouse every Wednesday from 9-5 and investigate the cases set before the jury. All the cases are criminal, and most of them are violent. Nevermind that I’m a software engineering student in my most difficult year of school. Wow! I couldn’t believe this was happening to me!

I told my parents, and of course, they were just as displeased as I. “Did you tell them you’re a full-time engineering student??” They asked me. “Of course I did! Apparently it wasn’t good enough,” I replied. Over the next few days, the reality sunk in: I was going to have to drop a class this semester, and who-knows-how-many classes would have to be put on hold this summer and fall. My graduation would be delayed a whole year because these classes are prerequisites, and as I saw it, there was no getting around that fact.

I was scheduled to appear again today to continue the case presented on Friday. However, yesterday, my mom called a friend who is an attorney, and he called the courthouse. He told my mom to have me write a letter to the DA and the judge explaining my extenuating circumstances and pray they’d excuse me. Today was my last chance.

I wrote the required letters and took them with me this morning to the courthouse. I held my breath while the DA left the room to bring the letters to the judge and discuss the matter. After a few minutes, he called me back to the judge’s chambers. We conversed for a few minutes about the details in my letter, and the judge said, “The DA has consented to let you go, and I do as well. You are dismissed from the jury.”

I could barely contain my elation. I called my boyfriend, Alex, immediately upon returning to my car and yelled for joy into my hands-free mic, “I FEEL LIKE I JUST GOT OUT OF PRISON!” He laughed and said, “Some poor person in the reserves is gonna get a call this morning, ‘Sir/Ma’am, you’re going to have to report for jury duty for the rest of the year.’ Do you feel bad about that?” I thought for a second, then replied, “I would like to serve, honestly. I’m grateful to live in a free country and it would be an honor to sit on the jury. But I can’t do it with school.” Then I added, “And my mom has taught me an extremely valuable lesson in life: those who ask, receive.”

Just the other day, my mom talked AT&T down 80 dollars per month on our phone bill. I don’t know how she does it.

The whole situation got me thinking: how often in our lives do we sit like the others on the jury, accepting of our fate and unwilling to ask for a better option because we should “grin and bear it”? How many of us live in a place of defeat, a spiritual desert, and a material lacking simply because we aren’t bold enough to ask for more?

When Elijah was about to be taken into heaven by God, he asked Elisha, “Is there anything you want me to do for you?” Elisha replied, “Give me a double-portion of your spirit.” Elijah said, “You have asked for a difficult thing.” But God granted his request. Elisha was bold in asking for blessing, and God was pleased and granted it.

James tells the believers in his letter, “You do not have because you do not ask God.” He does not say, “You do not have because you ask for things like money that God doesn’t promise you.” He does rebuke them for spending what they get on their pleasures. However, I believe that sometimes we don’t ask God for things we want because we don’t believe we can ask God for them or that he’d answer that request. Sure, if we ask for things out of the wrong motive, it wouldn’t be good for God to grant them to us. But God likens his giving to that of earthly fathers. My earthly father often gives me gifts that I don’t need, but that I’d simply like. Why wouldn’t God delight in giving us those gifts as well? Maybe not always material gifts, but spiritual blessings as well?

Christ gave to give us life, and life abundantly. Not life defeated. Not life average. “You do not have because you do not ask God.”

None of the others on the jury got out of the commitment. Why? Because they possibly did not ask. Should I feel guilty that I got to go? No.

Sometimes, I think it’s easy to feel guilty about our blessings, when I think that the Lord would rather us thank Him, and strive to help others as much as we can. To feel guilty about your blessings is to bury the talent; to thank God for them and use them to glorify him is to multiply the talent.

If you need something, ask God. If you want something, ask God. Ask in faith, believing that he is good and wants to give you good gifts. The worst thing he could say is no, and the best he could say is yes. If a child comes to his father and asks for something he shouldn’t be given, such as yet another candy bar or cookie after dinner, would the father ridicule him or be indignant at his request? No! He would gently correct the child and explain why he can’t have any more candy. God does that sometimes, but other times he says yes. “Ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened. For everyone who asks receives, everyone who seeks finds, and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.” Have a blessed week!

“He lived well before the Lord, but…”

rope-breaking-on-man-holding-stone-heart-on-hillsideI’ve been reading through the Old Testament lately (most recently, 1st and 2 kings), and I’ve been shocked by the lack of good kings of Israel. I’ve only found four or five so far, like David, Solomon, Asa, and his son. And even with these kings who pleased God, I’ve noticed a trend with most all of them except for David. There’s a phrase somewhere in their histories that goes something like, “[this king] walked righteously before God, but…” And for most of them, the “but” preceded the author’s note that he did not destroy the high places where people worshipped other gods. And even with David, we know that he had a large stain on his kingship from killing Uriah and taking his wife. It always seems like there’s a “but…” following every righteous person in the Old Testament. Even Samson followed God, “but…” He was easily seduced by women.

As I was reading these passages, I began to wonder: “If God assessed my life as I’m living it now, would he find a ‘but…’? Would I be righteous in every area except one? Is there anything I’m holding back from him?”

As we ponder this question, however, there is a very good thing about God to remember in the process: he is gracious and forgiving to us. Even though David committed adultery and murder during his reign, God always viewed him as righteous. God said to many of his descendants, “If you follow me and obey me, as your father David did…” So we can see that the most important part of our walks with him is the state of our hearts. If we humble ourselves before him and always repent and turn away from our sins, our sins will not be taken into account in God’s assessment of our lives. Even Abraham, who feared for his life and gave his wife to pharaoh twice, not trusting God to protect him, was called God’s friend and given the greatest promise ever made to mankind.

With that in mind, I think it’s very important to God that we commit all of our heart to him, without holding  back a part that could turn into a “but…”.

There is only one king after David of whom God said of him, “He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord and followed completely the ways of his father David, not turning to the right or to the left.” This king was Josiah. Though he was ignorant of the Law’s commands, once he found the book of the Law that had been hidden for years and read what God commanded, he tore his clothes and put on sackcloth. He completely reformed Israel’s ways and held fast to the Word of the Lord all his life, and he remains in history as the one who followed God, without turning to the right or to the left.

How do we follow God like David and Josiah? Clearly, it does not mean we must live a sinless life. Neither of these two men did, nor has any man in history except Jesus. But it does mean we must fight for an undivided heart. An undivided heart is pleasing to God, and it is all he ever asks of us. But we really must fight for it. Countless loves vie for our attention and our heart, and we must always keep our guard up against allowing our hearts to stray to the right or to the left.

Just like David did, I believe we can ask God to reveal places in our hearts that have been given over to something other than him. “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” It is God who gives and renews our spirits to be steadfast. Ask him to reveal to you these areas and help you turn them back to him. It is his deep desire to possess our hearts completely, and he will be faithful to answer your request. Have a blessed week!

“… he arrives exactly when he means to.”

gandalf-approaches-minas-tirith

Gandalf was speeding towards Helm’s Deep, even when the defenders couldn’t see him.

I’ve always loved the quote from Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings, “A wizard is never late, nor is he early; he arrives exactly when he means to.” I loved that part in the movie where the defenders have been fighting the battle of Helm’s Deep against droves of orcs and such, and they’re holding out for Gandalf, who told them to look to the east on the dawn of the fifth day to see him coming to their rescue. And for some reason, I’ve always thought of Samuel like a wizard in one particular Old Testament story. You know, the one where he tells Saul to wait for him to make the sacrifice before going to battle against the Philistines?

1 Samuel 13:11-13: “‘What have you done?’ asked Samuel. Saul replied, ‘When I saw that the men were scattering, and that you did not come at the set time, and that the Philistines were assembling at Mikmash, I thought, “Now the Philistines will come down against me at Gilgal, and I have not sought the Lord’s favor.” So I felt compelled to offer the burnt offering.’ ‘You have done a foolish thing,’ said Samuel.”

Here’s some background on this passage: In the previous chapter, Saul had been anointed by Samuel as the first king over Israel. Then Samuel instructed him to go to a certain place and find some men who would give him food, then to go to another place where he would see a group of people prophesying. There, the Spirit of the Lord would come upon him in power, and he would prophesy with them and be changed into a different person. Then, he was to go to Gilgal and wait for Samuel for seven days, and he would come and offer the required sacrifice to God. Before this passage, Saul has seen the first two elements of Samuel’s prophesy come true–he received bread and wine at the appointed place, and he received the Spirit of the Lord, prophesied, and changed into a different person. What reason did he have to suppose that the third prophesy wouldn’t come true?

But instead of having faith, the very first story we hear of Saul as king of Israel is one of faithlessness. He did not wait for Samuel, even though he did come at the appointed time.

The words that stood out to me in this passage were, “When I saw…” and “… So I felt compelled.” When Saul looked at the outward appearance of the situation at Gilgal, he saw the great odds stacked against him and how much he had to lose if God didn’t show up. After all, it would be easy to trust God if there wasn’t much on the line to lose. But what he didn’t see was Samuel approaching, to arrive right as he finished the sacrifice in wizard-like fashion, “Exactly when he means to.” Had he waited mere moments, he would have seen the deliverance of the Lord. Secondly, when he saw the odds, he decided he’d better take matters into his own hands. After all, he was clearly more in control of this situation than God, right? He used man’s wisdom to assess the situation, and then used man’s wisdom to attempt to fix it. As we can see, that was the wrong decision.

Had Saul waited for Samuel for an hour or so longer, God had intended to establish Saul’s bloodline forever as the kings over Israel. That would mean that the Messiah would also come through the line of Saul. But because he took matters into his own hands, God chose David at that very moment to be king, so from the very first days of Saul’s reign, God already had a replacement.

What if Saul had simply chosen to wait on God? What if he remembered all God had done for Israel in generations past, if he had a relationship with God and knew his ways? The whole story of history would be vastly different, and Saul’s family would have been honored for the rest of time as the bloodline of the Messiah.

How much of the time are we like Saul, lack faith, and do things our way?

God can only increase our faith if he has put us in a situation where we have a lot to lose. Sometimes, I believe he puts us in those situations intentionally. Otherwise, how would we learn to rely on him? Muscles never develop unless resistance is placed on them and they push against it.

Are you in a situation where you have to trust God? Instead of despairing, rejoice! God has placed you there to increase your faith. Of course, bad things happen in all of our lives, and the bad thing itself is never good. But many things that are not necessarily bad, but are simply trying situations, are allowed by God. “These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith–of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire–may result in praise, glory, and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed” (1 Pet. 1:7). Our faith is worth more than refined gold to God, so we should rejoice through the difficulty and stand firmly convinced that we will see the salvation of the Lord. God had much blessing and honor in store for Saul had he obeyed, and I believe he has much stored up for us as well. Will you cling to his faithfulness? Will you trust him to deliver you and be found waiting when he arrives? God always blesses faithfulness and trust in him, and I pray that he blesses you all as you trust him.

Have a blessed week!

Can anyone get into heaven?

Knocking_On_Heaven__s_Door_by_SliMBdFDoes anyone actually know what the kingdom of God is? Why is it such an ambiguous concept?

I searched on the Internet for answers, and all I found were cryptic articles saying that the phrase refers to God’s authority on earth and how he eventually will reign supreme over everything. And then I hear most people voice their opinion about homosexuality or fornication using the verse that says, “There will be no… sexually immoral… or homosexual offenders… in heaven.” (1 Cor. 6:9-10) Except for the fact that this verse does NOT say “Heaven,” but instead uses the phrase “the kingdom of God,” which I believe is an incredibly important distinction.

I sought to answer this question for myself–does this verse really mean that all these kinds of people won’t be in heaven? If so, does that mean that no one in heaven practices those things (if so, that would be stating the obvious) or does it mean that no one who does/has done these things gets into heaven? Cause I’m pretty sure I’ve slandered, been envious, lied, cheated, etc. before, so that doesn’t bode well for me, or anyone else for that matter. Hmmmm.

What I found has mostly nothing to do with either of those questions. Now, I’m no Bible scholar, and I didn’t find this information in any church fathers’ writings, but I asked God to teach me, and I think he has. So just bear with me, and remember that I’m quite human.

Jesus talks a lot about the kingdom of God; in fact, most of his parables begin with “the kingdom of God is like…” (You can also use “kingdom of Heaven”; they mean the same thing.), so I figured that, if I wanted to know what the kingdom of God is, I should start with parables. Jesus compares the kingdom of God to 1) the sower of the seed, which fell on the path, was choked by weeds, or grew and produced a crop, 2) the weeds sown by the enemy in the crop of wheat, which the master left until threshing time, 3) the mustard seed, which becomes the biggest of trees though it is the smallest of seeds, 4) the yeast, which, though it is small, works its way through all the dough, and 5) the treasure in the field, which a man bought with the money from all his possessions. Let’s examine what these say about the kingdom of God:

1) It consists of the words of the Gospel, or the work of the Holy Spirit in people’s hearts.
2) One of its elements lies at the end of the age, when the saved will be separated from the unsaved.
3) Though the investment in the kingdom may seem small, God can cultivate it into a massive influence which bears much fruit.
4) Eventually, God’s kingdom will advance throughout the whole earth, just as yeast works throughout the whole dough.
5) If a person would seek the kingdom, he must first realize its great value, then pay the price (everything), and invest himself completely in it.

But we’re not done. Jesus also speaks of the kingdom to many people he interacts with, as you can see from the following passages:

“Jesus said to another man, “Follow me.” But the man replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” Jesus said, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.” Jesus replied, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”” Luke 9:57-62

“[Jesus meets the rich young ruler, tells him to sell all he has and follow, but the man refuses. Jesus says "it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven," then says] I tell you the truth, no one who has left home or wife or brothers or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age and, in the age to come, eternal life.” Luke 18:29-30

Let me tell you a story. My family went on a trip to Disneyworld about ten years ago, and when traveling between parks, we always took the Disney buses. One night, we got on what we presumed to be the very last bus of the night, and my brother and I were very tired. It had rained ALL day, and our whole party was cold, wet, sore, and we couldn’t wait to fall into bed after a long day at the park. At one of the stops, a woman boarded the bus carrying a little boy in her arms. His nose was bleeding all over her poncho, and she was on crutches. My dad and mom discussed helping her out at her stop, but Jack and I (I’m sad to say) whined so much, and this bus was most likely the last one, that we decided to remain on the bus. We watched her struggle out of the bus and crutch her way to her resort, struggling with our flesh and what we knew was right. But the doors to the bus closed, as did those of the kingdom of God.

In both of the stories of Jesus above, each person had a brief moment with Jesus–a split-second decision time. For the rich young ruler, it might have been the first and last time he saw Jesus. But because of his wealth, he was unwilling to follow, so Jesus walked right out of his life. For the man with the father to bury and the family to farewell, their hesitance meant that they missed the opportunity to follow Jesus. In my family’s story, our fleshly desires for sleep and warmth kept us from helping that woman, and she walked out of our lives in a matter of minutes, only to haunt my parents to this day. And though my parents asked the bus driver to call someone to help her, our opportunity to help her had passed.

Here is my definition of the kingdom of God: it exists all around us at all times, touching earth for incredibly brief moments. It manifests in the form of opportunities–an opportunity to help a struggling woman off the bus, to drop everything to help a struggling friend, to give of our resources or words or encouragement–but the door is only open for a moment. If we are not completely in tune with what God is prompting us to do, we’ll miss the opportunity every time.

So now, what do we do with the verses that describe those people who will not inherit the kingdom of God? Well, we understand the second element of the kingdom that refers to the next life. Of course there will be no sin in heaven. But I believe there’s a more imminent, dynamic element to the kingdom. Jesus is not saying that rich people can’t get into heaven. But what I believe he is saying is that those who love riches will not be able to take advantage of the moments when the kingdom of God touches their lives. In fact, ANY sin, ANY idol of our hearts will keep us from seeing those opportunities, because every sin keeps us from complete fellowship and focus on God. We cannot serve two masters, and we cannot hear the Spirit’s prompting within our hearts if a sin or idol has captivated our attention. Now, here’s the second element:

Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day… Matt. 7:21

“On that day” referring to the age to come. “Does the will of my Father” referring to how we lived on earth. We can only do the will of the Father if we are in tune with his Spirit and leading, and we can only be in tune with his Spirit if we have no other sin or idol taking that place in our hearts. Going back to the first part of this article (Jesus’s parables), we can see from number 1 that the kingdom begins with the word planted by Jesus through the Holy Spirit. From number 5, we see that we must drop everything to invest in the kingdom once he has presented us with an opportunity. If we see great value in it, like the man in the parable did, we will not hesitate. From number 3, we realize that, no matter how little we have to give, or how insignificant a work of God may seem at the time, in the end it will grow to incredible size and influence. From number 4, we see that the kingdom will eventually permeate the whole world. From number 2, we see that at the end of the age, once the kingdom has worked its way through the whole world, the saved will be separated from the unsaved and the saved will enter into his new and perfect kingdom, where they will live forever.

I believe this understanding is extremely important for us to recognize for a couple of reasons. First, it causes us not to judge people who fall on the “list” of those who won’t inherit the kingdom. When we realize that literally any sin or distraction in our hearts can keep us from God’s work, we are humbled and caused to depend on God to cleanse us and bring us into focused fellowship with him. Second, we understand how closely we must walk with God, how faithfully and fervently we must seek him, in order to be used in his kingdom. We cannot look back from our plows or allow our wealth or comfort to distract us.

I hope this explanation is helpful! And if you have any other ideas or opinions about what you believe that differs, feel free to comment! God bless!

“Behold, I am doing a new thing!”

 

silhouette5

Happy New Year everyone!! Since I know that, for basically everyone, these first few days of 2014 are filled with resolutions, hopes, and dreams for the new year, I’ve decided to share one of my ideas for a resolution this year! It’s more of a thought-resolution than an action-resolution. Come with me through my last few days as I recall the whisperings of God in my heart: “Behold, I am doing a new thing!”

Fraught with danger, peril, and great adventure, the tales of Middle Earth have touched all our hearts at one time or another, stirring up a desire to be a part of an epic story. God placed a yearning in our hearts to play a part in something bigger than ourselves, and few authors have captured that on the scale that J.R.R. Tolkein did in his Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Hobbit. As I watched The Hobbit this Christmas, I felt that desire stirring once again in myself; I thought, “Why do all human beings love epic stories of adventure?” Of course, it’s because God put that in our hearts. As I was journaling the morning after we went to see it, I asked God to give me a new revelation of himself for the new year, something exciting to hope for and be a part of, and he delivered.

G. K. Chesterton says in his book, Orthodoxy, that mysticism is necessary for an accurate view of the world. Unless we acknowledge that there are things we will never understand, we will try our best to stuff the entire world inside our minds, and it will be our heads that give way first. C. S. Lewis says of God in The Chronicles of Narnia that “he is not a tame lion, but he is good.” Our God is a consuming fire, as wild and overwhelming as a hurricane, and the box we put him in here in America falls utterly short of who he really is. Yes, he is a just judge. Yes, he refines us to be more like Christ. But salvation is not bondage to a dry and boring lifestyle filled with rules and edification. It is an invitation to participate in the divine narrative, a great story written by the Lover of our souls, whose love for us is stronger than death and more jealous than the grave. Every moment of our ordinary lives becomes important, exciting, and meaningful when we realize how beautiful and wild God’s heart really is. We were made to love adventure because HE loves adventure.

A few days later, the sermon at church honed in on Romans 12:11: “Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.” The pastor reminded us that passion and zeal are just like love: they require cultivation. They are not mere feelings that come and go with age and changing circumstances; we have to fight to keep them alive in our hearts, and God commands us to do so. In the same way, maintaining a focus on the mystery of Christianity is not a passive exercise. Apathetic people, cynics, and the disillusioned will steal your joy and fervor right out from under you if you let them.

In the midst of the ordinary, of circumstances that turned out far differently than you expected, in disappointment and sadness, the call to come away with our divine lover often fades from our ears. When we fall away from constant communion and communication with him, it’s much easier to focus on the rules, the edification, to filter our prayers and allow doubt to dampen our once visionary supplications. Yes, it is a blessing in a world filled with pain that feelings subside with time, but it means we have to fight for our faith and our belief in the bigness of God. Tragedy and disappointment are necessary elements in every adventure story, and the fullest beauty often arises from ashes. God always promises his grace to carry on through the hard times, and his light shines brightest in the darkest places. Like every good adventure story, we can rest securely in the assurance of a happy ending. 

So this year, as you make your resolutions and to-do lists, remember to contemplate the bigness and beauty of God. Be mindful of his wild beauty, his call to come with him as he weaves your story into the great tapestry of history. Ask him for books, sermons, and conversations that will maintain your awe and wonder of his greatness. Ask him to fan your passion into a flame that does not depend on circumstances or feelings, and ask him to keep others’ cynicism from dampening your faith in and love for him. Remember that God is a consuming fire, and that his love for you is passionate and exciting. Be blessed today and every day of the opportunity that God has given in 2014!

“Open wide your mouth, and I will fill it”

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Does God promise good things for us? Are his blessings only spiritual, relating to our sanctification? Or does he bless materially as well? I’ve often asked myself these questions when pondering about asking God for a material blessing of some kind. Sometimes I stop asking mid-sentence because I think God doesn’t promise that to me. But I decided to take that idea to scripture before I made a decision, and here’s what I found.

Recall with me what God said in the beginning when he created the world: “It is very good.” In our terms, that means everything he created is pretty darn awesome. And even though we fell, he still thinks the world is pretty great, and that we’re worth saving.

In Ecclesiastes, the wisest man to ever live said this about a man’s life: “Then I realized that it is good and proper for a man to eat and drink, and to find satisfaction in his toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given him–for this is his lot. Moreover, when God gives any man wealth and possessions, and enables him to enjoy them, to accept his lot and be happy in his work–this is a gift of God” (Ecc. 5:18-19).

In John, Jesus says three times that if we saturate our minds and hearts with his words, we can ask whatever we wish of him and it will be given to us.

In James, the author says that “every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of heavenly lights, who does not change like the shifting shadows,” and that “you do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures” (James 1:17, 4:2-3).

I could quote many other verses about God’s love for us, his desire to bless us, and his desire to conform us to the image of Christ. Here’s the idea I’m wanting to combat through this article: many people (including me) are often hesitant to ask for blessing from God because we think, “Does God promise this to me? Do I have the right to ask this? Isn’t the Christian life supposed to be hard? Doesn’t God only do things that will “sanctify” us?”

I think this makes God sad. He is not simply our father, like an earthly father, but he is our Heavenly Father who is perfect, loving, and gracious to us. He already blessed us abundantly beyond what we could ever imagine or ask for by giving us salvation in Jesus. “He gave us his son–will he then not also freely give us all things?” (Rom. 8:32).

The only place in the entire Bible where God invites us to test him lies in Malachai: “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it” (Mal. 3:10). Along with Jesus’s exhortations on the seeds that were sown, returning a harvest a hundred times what was sown, I think we can see that God desires to bless us. “He who gives to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will repay his deed,” and “Those who give to the poor will lack nothing, but he who shuts his eyes will have many curses” (Prov. 19:17, 28:27). And in Psalms, “Surely you will repay each one according to what he has done.”

My parents have always been an incredible example to me of what it looks like to give generously. They’ve never flaunted what they give, but they involved us in their giving so we could see that they obeyed God even when it hurts. I have often seen them give above their means, and often within the next 24 hours, I see God give it back to them, always with an increase. Because of their example, I give joyfully to God. I give not out of compulsion, but out of gratefulness for what he has done for me and for the fact that I know he will not forget the things I do for him. Isaiah 58 is an amazing chapter about the heart of God for fasting and giving. I won’t include it here, but next time you sit down with your Bible and don’t know what to read, pay this passage a visit. God wants to bless us and provide for us in miraculous ways, and he promises to do so when we give generously.

This doesn’t mean we’ll be millionaires; we all know that. Sometimes I just see God’s provision in the way he protects my belongings. I’ve had things stolen and broken and then returned to me or replaced by miraculous means. I always look out for the most ordinary things–discounts, good parking spots, green lights, coupons, things for free–and I thank God for them. Same with my parents. We always strive to have thankful hearts towards God. I also have friends who struggle financially, however, but through their faithfulness, I see God bless and provide for them in ways they couldn’t even have imagined.

I think the key in all this lies in the ability to accept all things from God. As Job says in 2:10: “Should we accept only good things from the hand of God and never anything bad?” and in Ecclesiastes 7:14, “When times are good, be happy; but when times are bad, consider: God has made the one as well as the other.” We will all have bad times because we live in a fallen world. But I believe we should never reign in our prayers and say, “No, I won’t ask God for extra blessings; he only promises enough.” I think we should ALWAYS ask God to bless us extravagantly (out of a heart with pure motives, of course), because he is our loving father and longs to bless us. However, when bad times hit, or when he doesn’t grant our requests, we know he will always give us the grace to bear it. We should always accept it from him and defer to his superior knowledge and wisdom, never blaming him for a life that didn’t turn out like we thought it would. There are always blessings to be found; you just have to look for them.

I once heard a very inspiring quote from a person who just returned from a mission trip overseas. Someone asked him, “Do you feel bad now because you live in America and have water and food?” He replied, “No, I don’t feel bad. I believe everyone has a right to those things, and I’m dedicated to making it happen for as many people as I can.” It breaks my heart to see starving and dying children overseas, and I want to always have that attitude towards those less fortunate than I. I try to be faithful with my possessions and with everything God has given me so that I can be found a good steward of what he’s given, all the while asking that God would bless me in whatever fatherly ways he wishes to.

Ask yourself this Christmas: what has God given me that I can use to bless others?