A Time When We Say Goodbye to Goodbyes

I write this the evening prior to catching a flight in morning to head back home to Denver.  The surprise that was so anticipated turned into a wonderful visit with family, which included Concord Mills, Red Lobster, catching up with an area pastor, and the World Series. 

But this trip is bookended:  a surprise on the front, goodbyes in the back.

And I detest them. 

Sure, I’m grateful for the memories, grateful for the time, and grateful to get back to my crew on the Centennial front. 

But those goodbyes…

One day, I’ll say, “Goodbye” to goodbyes. 

Then I saw a new heaven  and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and  the sea was no more.  And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.  And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man.  He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.  He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away (Revelation 21:1-4).

Sin is covered, bringing fellowship with God.

Death is no more, bringing no more separation from each other.

The sea is no more, bring no more enemies that separate us from peace.

The Temple will be no more, for the Lord and the Lamb are our Temple (Rev. 21:22).

We say goodbye to those goodbyes. We will have one constant “Hello” to all that God has provided for us in Christ by the Spirit. 

Amen.  Come, Lord Jesus!  

God Showed Up– Why is That So Surprising?

Yesterday, I flew in to Charlotte, NC, to see my mom and surprise her for her birthday.  How we kept that surprise quiet, I’ll never know–but I’m glad I did.  To see the look on her face when I walked in made it all worthwhile.   Not much can surprise us anymore.

What saddens me is that so many in our churches across this land expect God not to show up, and are so surprised when He does in a palpable way.  Why?  I know last Sunday at my church, it was so apparent that God descended (just like we always ask) that many of us did not want to leave.  All the issues that we worried about up until that worship service dissipated in light of His presence.  No, I’m not saying the problems disappeared–I’m saying that we were all reminded that God through Christ is bigger than our problems and that we can cast our cares on Him, because He cares for us (Psalm 55:22-23; 1 Peter 5:7).

Tchvidijian wrote a book called “Surprised by Grace,” and C.S. Lewis penned him classic, “Surprised by Joy.”  The Christian life starts as a surprise that His grace could save and seal.  The Christian life continues to surprise at how God shows up to show us our sin and show us His presence and care and discipline in the midst of our sin–in order (surprisingly) to make us more holy.

Surprises are good.  And even when it’s a truth about God’s word and work that we know well, the implications and application of that work and word still surprise us.

I close with this.  Our church participated in a Catch-Up Sunday last Sunday.  Our cash flow was struggling, so our stewardship team felt that we needed to communicate this to the congregation, show them what the Word said about the gravity and gladness of giving, and then call for them to catch up their giving out of obedience.  Their obedience would help us fulfill the Great Commission in our Jerusalem.

Our church responded in such a way that I was (you guessed it) surprised!  Most church members and especially non-members get anxious when preachers talk about money.  But God’s Word and Spirit moved to where our folks stepped up and responded as a people of God. 

One day, I won’t be surprised at what God will do. 

Praise be to His glorious name.   

The Gospel Fuels the Gravity and Gladness of Giving

“Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7). Two things in this short verse:

First, in weighing the gravity of giving in light of God’s grace and in light of the gospel, each one of us must give as he has decided in his heart. The gospel fuels our gladness, and that gladness fuels our giving. Our decision in our heart comes from God, not from our own fear (reluctantly) or from others (under compulsion). Don’t give out of guilt, give gladly. Having said that, maybe the Spirit is convicting you right now in that you haven’t been trusting, haven’t been obedient, haven’t sacrificed what you could and should.

Keep in mind, it’s about a sacrifice. In bringing the gravity in, go back to Luke 21:1-4:

Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the offering box, 2 and he saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. 3 And he said, “Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them. 4 For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”

Connect this with the fact that in no place in the New Testament does the Spirit tell us to give a tithe-that is, a tenth. In the OT, a tithe was the equivalent of a tax, that helped the religious leaders make ends meet and helped the civic leaders lead Israel. For some, a tenth is no sacrifice at all, so God does not want to limit us to just 10%. For some, a tenth is out of the question. But whatever the obedience, whatever the trust, whatever the sacrifice—that’s key. It’s showing that Christ is Lord, not your cash, credit cards, retirement funds, your stock portfolio—or anything else here.

… in all goodwill (9:1-5). Read with me 2 Corinthians 9:1-5:

Now it is superfluous for me to write to you about the ministry for the saints, 2 for I know your readiness, of which I boast about you to the people of Macedonia, saying that Achaia has been ready since last year. And your zeal has stirred up most of them. 3 But I am sending the brothers so that our boasting about you may not prove empty in this matter, so that you may be ready, as I said you would be. 4 Otherwise, if some Macedonians come with me and find that you are not ready, we would be humiliated—to say nothing of you—for being so confident. 5 So I thought it necessary to urge the brothers to go on ahead to you and arrange in advance for the gift[b] you have promised, so that it may be ready as a willing gift, not as an exaction.

You see, they had promised to contribute and help. In their zeal, they conveyed a readiness—and their “zeal stirred them up.” Paul is saying, “Follow through. Prepare! Arrange your giving! You promised!”

How does that apply to us? For those of you who are guests, could you please permit me to talk to my church family this morning? Dear church, around this time each year, our stewardship team works through our budget. They contact all the teams to see what they wish to have budgeted for their ministry. That opens a communication between the teams to see what’s appropriate. You see, our stewardship team and all our leadership are not simply aiming to fund the old things for their own sake, or to take an axe and chop away to fund less things. Our aim as a Great Commission Missions Hub is to fund the right things.

So, our stewardship team and your pastors spent almost five hours in a meeting discussing each line to prayerful see how we could fund the right things. This budget then goes to our church council, then will be discussed at a family conference on the evening of November 2, then voted upon on November 9. And, eventually, the church will adopt that budget. Now, what does that mean?

That means that we as a church covenant to give to help our Jerusalem Budget be funded so we can do ministry in the area that God has placed us, and all over the world. We don’t give just to keep the lights on and pay the bills. Jesus died on the cross for more than simply for a church to pay bills—but to pay it forward in making a visible difference for the Kingdom of God.

You see, money does funny things to people. Look at 1 Timothy 6:9-10:

9 But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.

Let’s go back to 2 Corinthians 9:7. Some possess a reluctancy to give—do you? The snare to be rich, or even for comfort in this life, compels them to hold back. Our situations and circumstances scream at us louder than the still small voice of the Spirit who bids us trust. Some use their giving (or lack thereof) as leverage or as an indicator of how much they like or do not like the direction of a church.

John Maxwell told of a time when he was at a church and one of his deacons came into his office and told him that until he changed this or that back to where it was, he would withhold his tithe. Maxwell then asked him to pray with him. He then prayed, “Lord, I pray for my deacon that you would forgive him for the sin of robbery against you.” The man rose up and say, “Wait a minute! What do you mean?” He showed him numerous Scriptures of how removing the tithe robbed God of His glory before others.

Let’s see the gravity and gladness of our giving, for sure!

Hymn for Sunday: How Sweet and Precious is the Way

How sweet and precious is your way
That leads through pastures green
That makes me lie by waters still
And turns my soul serene.

How hard and troubling is your way
That brings death’s shadow drear.
My only comfort is to know
That your hand leads me clear.

How sweet and precious is your way;
Your path lit by your word.
Enough light given for each step
Away from sin’s allure.

How hard and troubling is your way
When my heart-sin’s revealed
To see how prone I am to stray
My sorrow’s unconcealed!

How sweet and precious is your way
To know forgiveness sweet.
To know the joy of mercies new
Where earth and heaven meet.

Teach me to know the way that’s sweet
And know the way that’s hard.
Yes, in each way you show what’s next
Lord, keep us close in heart.

(Matthew R. Perry, 2014)

Links of Interest (10.25.2014)

Five Reasons There are No Millennials at Your Church (Chris Martin):  “You’re more likely to reach young people if you participate in their culture more than you criticize it.”  Boom!

Why No One Wants to Go to Church Anymore:  Interview with Thom Schultz:  “There is a difference between a friendly church and a welcoming church.”

A Vision for Church Revitalization (Aubrey Malphurs): “I’m not interested in planting a church! I’m interested in planting church planting churches. It’s not enough that we plant a single church.”

Six Retirement Lessons Hidden in 1980’s Songs (Dave Ramsey): “These six lessons will have you bobbing your head as you build a better future.”

Seven Good Things about the Houston Subpoena Controversy (Thom Rainer): “Let us continue to take a strong stand against those who attack the very heart of the gospel. But let us, at the same time, recognize that God is not thwarted in moments such as these.”

Arkansas Baptists Counter LGBT Ordinance (Baptist Press): Southern Baptists in an Arkansas city are working to overturn a homosexual-transgender ordinance in what apparently is the opening salvo in a new campaign to enact such legislation in the South.

Brainstorming Doesn’t Work: Try This Technique Instead (Rebecca Greenfield): “In most meetings with traditional brainstorming, a few people do 60-75% of the talking. With brainwriting, everyone gets a chance.”