Being Thankful

“There will be joy and songs of thanksgiving, and I will multiply my people, not diminish them; I will honor them, not despise them.” – Jeremiah 30:9.

I want to start this devotional with a question: Am I a thankful person? Is thankfulness part of the discipline of my life?

How much time do I spend each day reflecting on good, positive, praiseworthy things in my life? How often do I go out of my way to recognize people who are a blessing in my life? How often do I thank a friend, neighbor, relative, small group leader or even a complete stranger who has been a blessing to me in some way?

We have so much to be grateful for in this life. Each and every day. But the reality is that sometimes constant life demands, struggles, and worries give more room to gloom and doom than to joy and thanksgiving, Or we simply forget in the busyness of the day to pause and give thanks, for all that God has done, and continues to do in our lives. Are there things that you should be thankful for, or people you should be thankful for now, at this point in time?

Thanksgiving is a season of being grateful. Thanksgiving reminds us of all the things to be grateful for. One reason that we fail to thank God now for what we have is that we want more – we want the next step. We fool ourselves into thinking that when we get more or when we get to the next step that then we will stop to thank Him. But that suggests we should not be grateful for what God is doing in our lives as part of His plan for each of us. And that means being thankful even when life is falling apart around us.

Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. 

Look at what the Word of God says in Psalm 100:4, “Enter his gates with thanksgiving; go into his courts with praise. Give thanks to him and praise his name.”

All of us have a lot to be thankful for this time of year. But not only should we give thanks during the holidays, we should give thanks to God every day of the year.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Is it easier to be grateful or complain? Why?
  2. Is there someone who has influenced you that remains thankful and gives God glory even as life’s circumstances have dealt them a difficult hand to deal with? How did that impact you?
  3. What can we do this week to be more thankful?

Conduit or Holding Tank?

“I will make you into a great nation. I will bless you and make you famous, and you will be a blessing to others.” – Genesis 12:2.

If you talk to Christians for any length of time you will hear the word blessing. We tell people that we are blessed, or for them to have a blessed day. We count our blessings, and of course if someone sneezes, we say, “God bless you.” We count our blessings, name them one by one. In fact, the word blessing is used so often that it can become just another word. God has promised to bless us. The question is what are we doing with all our blessings: are we a conduit or a holding tank? 

If you’re simply accumulating more and more rather than giving what has been given to you, then you are a holding tank. However, if you give away the things that God gives you, then you become a conduit through which His blessings flow. God blesses us so that we can bless others.

In Genesis 12:1-2 (ESV) God reveals Himself to a man named Abram and says, “… Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.”

Why does God promise to make Abram into a great nation, bless him, and make his name great? Notice the two words, “so that”. Those two words show us why God blessed Abram and why God blesses us today. God blessed Abram “so that” he would be a blessing to others. In other words, God didn’t bless Abram primarily for Abram, instead He blessed Abram for the sake of others.    

So why does God bless you, or me? He blesses you and me so that we will be a blessing to others. He blesses us so that we will be a blessing for the sake of Christ, so that other people experience His blessings through you. So instead of merely counting your blessings one by one, start giving to others by being a conduit to pass your blessings along to others.  2 Corinthians 9:6-7 adds, “Remember this—a farmer who plants only a few seeds will get a small crop. But the one who plants generously will get a generous crop. You must each decide in your heart how much to give. And don’t give reluctantly or in response to pressure. “For God loves a person who gives cheerfully.”

These verses are a direct promise from God: If you will sow abundantly with a cheerful attitude, then God will bless you so you can be a conduit to bless others.  We are blessed to be a blessing.

Discussion Questions:

  1. In what ways can we be a blessing to others?
  2. Does how you live bless others?

In The Know

“This is what the Lord says: “Don’t let the wise boast in their wisdom, or the powerful boast in their power, or the rich boast in their riches. But those who wish to boast should boast in this alone: that they truly know me and understand that I am the Lord who demonstrates unfailing love and who brings justice and righteousness to the earth, and that I delight in these things. I, the Lord, have spoken!” – Jeremiah 9:23-24.

There’s a lot you might expect a church to say about giving. You would expect to hear that we need to give back a part of what God gave us. You would hear that everything we have comes from God. This includes your talent, your skills, your experiences and your resources. But you would also hear that God doesn’t need your money. It’s true. He owns it all. “The silver is mine and the gold is mine, declares the Lord Almighty.” (Haggai 2:8) God doesn’t tell us to give because He needs something from us. It is an act of worship and helps us better know God. That’s right, we know God through giving.

Let me explain what I mean. Giving is a spiritual issue and in fact, a relational issue with God. In order to truly yield to God’s ownership of our possessions, we must evaluate carefully what may be the most telling evidence of our stewardship – the part we give. Just as we decide on what we spend on monthly phone bills or how much we will put in a savings or retirement account, we must also decide how much money we will give. Even when we opt to give nothing, we made a decision. But even when we opt not to give we are still accountable to God for our decisions because we are stewards of what God has given us. 

That can seem like God has put the onus on us, or in other words it can seem like a burden. In 2 Corinthians 9:7 Paul tells us, “Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” Giving is actually a relational decision. In the process of making giving decisions we really establish our alignment with God on stewardship. As we continually decide to give, we constantly confirm how much we value our relationship with God. When we truly look at ourselves as stewards, then the decisions to give are as simple as thinking and praying on how He wants us to allocate His money.

Giving is a freeing experience as it connects us more closely to God relationally. The ultimate outcome is that those who give as stewards experience a sense of intimacy with God that all followers of Christ long for. Giving becomes worship. Giving becomes a way of saying thanks to God for His grace and promised provision. Giving becomes a deep part of our personal connection to God.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why do you think it’s so common to believe that giving is a list of rules and requirements? How do you define giving?
  2. What role does giving play in your relationship with God?   

Giving Is Good

“Since you excel in so many ways—in your faith, your gifted speakers, your knowledge, your enthusiasm, and your love from us—I want you to excel also in this gracious act of giving.” — 2 Corinthians 8:7

In Corinthians 2:8:1-12, the Apostle Paul points out the positive side of giving, the positive side of generosity. He shared with the church in Corinth that there is joy that comes with giving; that there is joy in generosity. 

First a little background. The church in Corinth had made a promise to give an offering to assist some people back in Israel. But the Corinthians hadn’t followed thru on their promise. We don’t know why, but Paul does not beat them up, but rather tried to inspire them by using the church in  Macedonia as an example. 

 Paul pointed out a church in Macedonia that didn’t allow their circumstances to interfere with their giving.”…They are being tested by many troubles, and they are very poor.”but they are also filled with abundant joy, which has overflowed in rich generosity.” (2 Corinthians 8:2) Paul added that the  church in Macedonia followed thru. Paul encouraged the Corinthian Christians to follow through and turn their desire to contribute into action. Verse 11 says, “Now you should finish what you started. Let the eagerness you showed in the beginning be matched now by your giving. Give in proportion to what you have.” 

Sometimes our willingness to give often needs to be encouraged. God desires us to put our good intentions into concrete actions. 2 Corinthians 8:12 encouraged the Corinthians to give according to their desire and means. “Whatever you give is acceptable if you give it eagerly. And give according to what you have, not what you don’t have.”

God doesn’t expect us to give what we do not have. We are expected to give according to their ability. God sees the gift from a heart perspective. When we have given willingly according to what we have, we have practiced faith; we have practiced love.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What is your biggest motivation for giving? 
  2. Has your view on giving versus receiving changed over the years? Explain.
  3. Do you feel that giving and being generous to your church and to others directly reflect your faith? Why or why not?

A Debt Of Love

“Owe nothing to anyone—except for your obligation to love one another. If you love your neighbor, you will fulfill the requirements of God’s law. 9 For the commandments say, “You must not commit adultery. You must not murder. You must not steal. You must not covet.”These—and other such commandments—are summed up in this one commandment: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to others, so love fulfills the requirements of God’s law.” – Romans 13:8-10.   

We have talked about debt this week. There is one debt we have yet to talk about: the debt of love to all people. In Matthew 22:36, a Pharisee asks Jesus, “Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?” Jesus answers by quoting Deuteronomy 6:5, “…you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength.”  Then in verse 39-40 Jesus adds, “A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.”

The Apostle Paul viewed himself as a debtor. The reason he incurred that debt is that he received God’s gracious love while he was yet a sinner: “But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.” (Romans 5:8).

Paying off debts is hard work. It requires discipline. You’d really enjoy that $4 latte at your favorite coffee shop, but you’re trying to get your credit card debt paid off, so you say no. You’d really like to get that latest computer gadget or smart phone, but you can’t afford it, so you wait. It’s not easy to get out of debt because it requires denying yourself in order to reach your goal.

It’s the same with the debt of love, except that you never will get it paid off. You’ll never get to the point where you can honestly say, “I love my wife as much as I should. I don’t need to work at it any longer.” The reason that it’s difficult to love others is that it always requires self-sacrifice or self-denial.  It takes hard work. The Bible commands us to love others, which implies that we can do it even though it requires some thought and effort.

The debt of love involves not only our feelings, but also our actions, both positive and negative. Thus love involves concrete actions. It requires continual self-denial in order to meet the needs of others. It requires constant effort and thought. My prayer is that we will work to pay off our financial debts but also our debt to love others.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Which people in your world are easiest to love, and why? Which people are toughest to love, and why?
  2. Think of one person in your “world” who is hurting right now. How can you show your love for this person in the coming week?

Life On Lease

“Give to everyone what you owe them: Pay your taxes and government fees to those who collect them, and give respect and honor to those who are in authority.” – Romans 13:7-8.

Our current teaching series is entitled Making Change and as the name implies, it is about making changes in our lives. I believe most people believe the idea of change sounds good, until we realize we may have to do things differently. And too often we spend our time and effort trying to change others other than changing ourselves. Warren Wiersbe said, “Real contentment must come from within. You and I cannot change or control the world around us, but we can change and control the world within us.” And that includes controlling our spending and thus our debt.

We all have them. Those bad spending habits that break the budget on a monthly basis. Maybe you always have to have the most up-to-date electronic gadget. It could be that you can’t help purchasing something on sale, even if it’s not budgeted for. Whatever it is, you know it’s a problem and adds up to living a life on lease.

Whatever we’re controlled by is what we’re enslaved to. When we’re in debt, we belong to those who lend us money. The more debt we take on, the fewer options we give ourselves when it comes to where we work and how we spend our time. Instead of making decisions based on what we want to do, we find ourselves thinking about what we have to do.

We are never going to get out of debt accidentally. It’s got to be intentional. You’ve got to have a plan. The Bible says, “Good planning and hard work lead to prosperity…” (Proverbs 21:5). Once you have decided to eliminate or reduce your debt, you need a plan of attack. The plan will solve the case of the vanishing dollars and identify where funds went and how they got there. And when you have a handle of where your money is going, set up a procedure to prevent a recurrence.

Debt will always leave us feeling stuck, and Jesus wants so much more for our lives. When Jesus died for our sins, He paid the ultimate debt, a debt we could never afford to pay. Jesus died to give us freedom from sin and an abundant life. That’s why Paul encouraged the Christians in Rome to pay off whatever they owed, whether it was money or an apology. When the only debt we’re concerned with is how to love the people around us, we’ll do more for God than we ever imagined (Romans 13:7–8). To do that, we need a plan.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What has been your experience with debt?
  2. In what ways does debt limit freedom?
  3. What makes it so difficult to get out of debt?

The Art Of Self-Control

“The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure.” – 1 Corinthians 10:13.

Self-control is not a new or revolutionary idea by any stretch of the imagination. It doesn’t turn heads or grab headlines.  Self-control is so important and yet it may be the epitome of “easier said than done.” Self-control can be learned.

Alongside love and godliness, self-control is an important part of how we are to conduct ourselves as Christians. “In view of all this, make every effort to respond to God’s promises. Supplement your faith with a generous provision of moral excellence, and moral excellence with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with patient endurance, and patient endurance with godliness.” (2 Peter 1:5-6). 2 Timothy 1:7 adds, “For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.” It is a “fruit of the Spirit” in Paul’s famous list (Galatians 5:22–23) and one of the first things that must be characteristic of leaders in the church (1 Timothy 3:2). And Proverbs 25:28 likens “a person without self-control is like a city with broken-down walls.“ True self-control is not about developing the ability to control ourselves, but giving control to Christ. In other words, not bringing ourselves under our own control, but under the power of Christ.

Most Christians have read or heard a sermon on the fruits of the Spirit from Galatians 5:22-23.  Each of the fruits are characteristics of God that are manifested in the believer. That is to say, God is the source of each of the fruit. We can’t conjure them up through self improvement, we can only allow God to form the fruit in us through the work of His Spirit in our lives. And that includes financial self-control. 

James 1:13-14 says: ”And remember, when you are being tempted, do not say, “God is tempting me.” God is never tempted to do wrong, and he never tempts anyone else. Temptation comes from our own desires, which entice us and drag us away.”

These verses tell me that the biggest problem I have – is me. I do the things I do – because I like to do it. When I do something I know is bad for me – many times I still do it because I like to do it. I want to do it. Self control can set you free. Free of that destructive habit. Free of that addiction. Free of poor choices. And free of debilitating debt.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What was a big test of your self-control? Did you pass or fail?
  2. How does the Bible speak of self-control as a Christian trait in a positive way? (1 Timothy 3:2, Titus 2:2, 5-6,11-12)
  3. If you realize that you are going to be in a situation that requires self-control, do you try to prepare yourself ahead of time? How?

Debt Changes Tomorrow

“Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.” – Romans 13:7

It was Hebert Hoover who said, “Blessed are the young for they shall inherit the national debt.”  We sometimes forget that debt impacts tomorrow. When we get into debt, we assume that we will earn enough in the future to pay the debt. We believe the promise of “easy monthly payments.” But let’s be honest, there is nothing easy about those monthly payments.

Even for those who are wise, and do not get in over their heads, there is still the constant pressure of debt. We can all identify with the poet who wrote:

“Tomorrow never comes, they say,

But all such talk is idle gush,

For when we have a debt to pay,

Tomorrow gets here with a rush.”

Debt can and often does directly change standards of living and financial security for individuals today and into the future. We all want to see into the future, but none of us really knows the future here upon this earth. Solomon talks about that several times in the Book of Ecclesiastes. For example, Ecclesiastes 8:7 says, “Since no one knows the future, who can tell someone else what is to come?”

Debt is a limiting force that causes you to live your life in such a way that your ability to pay your debt is a major consideration in every life decision you make. That will not change in the future. How many people do you know who can’t retire or even cut back on their workload as they get older? Short-term debt has become long-term debt. In many cases, the ultimate cause usually comes down to long term debt that they never seem to get rid of. They’ve spent decades pushing their debt into the future and now it has come home to roost.

When it comes down to it, you have to decide what kind of life you want to live. Once you realize that when it comes to debt, less is more, and none is best, then you can start changing your life for good.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Can we separate short-term debt from long-term debt? Why or why not?
  2. How can breaking through the bondage of debt result in spiritual freedom as well?
  3. What will you need to do to gain that freedom?

Life And Debt

“Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law.” – Romans 13:8.

Imagine for a second that you hear a knock at the door. You pause the TV and walk over and open the door. There stands God, and after a pause God looks at you and says, “Come follow me …”  You are naturally speechless and mesmerized for a few seconds. 

Then reality hits and without much though you blurt out “This is not a good time to follow you. I have a pretty good job and as you know Lord, I need a pretty good job. I owe thousands on my credit cards. I bought a new car and have four years of payments and the mortgage payment won’t pay itself. So when you take all of that into consideration, you can understand why I just can’t pick up and leave, right?” 

You would not be alone both in that predicament and in that response. But if God came today asking you to walk away from everything and follow Him, would you have to say “no” due to financial obligations? Very often our ability to respond to God’s call or follow His plan for our lives is related to our financial situation, especially debt.

The Bible clearly discourages debt.  Romans 13:8 reads: “Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another” and in Proverbs 22:7 we learn that “Just as the rich rule the poor, so the borrower is servant to the lender.”  In today’s culture slave probably seems like a strong word and it is. But see if you don’t feel like a slave if you miss a payment or two on your mortgage, car loan or credit card.

Years ago, during the housing crash and recession that followed, there were a lot of people who looked at debt in a whole new light. The financial woes provided an opportunity to fully understand what Proverbs 22:7 is telling us. As users of the resources that God has blessed us with, we should be careful spenders not just during a recession, but as a response to His call to be good stewards of all the blessings He has showered upon us. We need to be careful that we don’t fall into the trap that how we handle money doesn’t have a direct impact on our spiritual life.  

Think about the same scenario I mentioned earlier. You hear a knock at the door and open it to hear God say “Come follow me …” Your response is, “”There is nothing that would prevent me from from following your will for my life, Lord. So Here I am. I will go if You lead me.”

 Discussion Questions:

  1. What has been your experience with debt?
  2. What makes it so difficult to get out of debt?
  3. What are the benefits of living debt free? How would your life change?

  

We Have More Than Less

“The Lord is my shepherd; I have all that I need. He lets me rest in green meadows; he leads me beside peaceful streams. He renews my strength. He guides me along right paths, bringing honor to his name. Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me. Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me. You prepare a feast for me in the presence of my enemies. You honor me by anointing my head with oil. My cup overflows with blessings. Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will live in the house of the Lord forever.” – Psalm 23.   

Thanksgiving is upon us and already stores are putting up their Christmas decorations. It’s that glorious time of year set aside for giving lots of stuff and to stuffing ourselves a lot. But to celebrate these holidays—and every day—as God intended, one thing above all is necessary: we must grasp that all of life is grace. James 1:17 reminds us of that fact: “Whatever is good and perfect is a gift coming down to us from God our Father…”  Thanksgiving is the time to count your blessings, name them one by one. But how do we do that? God has blessed us far more than we deserve and with far too many blessings to count. Yet there are times that we want more.

Jesus showed time and time again that He would and could provide for those who followed Him. Just as a shepherd provides for the sheep, so does Jesus provide for those who follow Him. Psalm 23 tells us exactly that. David is an old man when he wrote Psalm 23. He had seen tragedies and disappointments, but he also had come to know God. David knew that God was beneath him in green pastures, beside him in still waters, before him at the table, behind him pursuing him with goodness and mercy, behind him preparing a heavenly home, and with him all the while as the good shepherd. David had been given more than he deserved.

That is why we should be grateful every day. Not because we hope to earn more than others, or that we have more stuff, but because we know that he has already given us more than we deserve. We serve a generous God.

I am not here to serve a God that gives people what they deserve. I am here to serve a God who gives people more than they deserve. I am here to serve a God who has given me more than I deserve.

So as you embrace this time of Thanksgiving, will you focus on the Giver, who gives you more than you need? Will you prayerfully consider that less is more and that if you have more than you need share it with others?

Discussion Questions:

  1. Americans are some of the wealthiest people in the world, but do you think Americans are generous with their wealth? Why or why not?
  2. What excuses do people sometimes make for not being more generous with their resources (time, money, and energy) toward others? Are they valid?
  3. God has blessed us with more than we deserve. When God blesses us how should we respond?