Are the Givers Able to Receive?

The teacher doesn’t like to be taught, the fixer doesn’t want to be fixed, the counselor fights against being counseled, and the giver has a very hard time receiving.

At present, however, I am going to Jerusalem bringing aid to the saints. For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make some contribution for the poor among the saints at Jerusalem. For they were pleased to do it, and indeed they owe it to them. For if the Gentiles have come to share in their spiritual blessings, they ought also to be of service to them in material blessings.
(Romans 15:25-27)

In Romans 15, the apostle Paul wrote of two groups of people that were both givers AND receivers. The brethren from Jerusalem were sharing spiritual blessings and were receiving material blessings. The brethren from Macedonia and Achaia were receiving spiritual blessings from those at Jerusalem and were in turn giving material goods to help them in time of need.

This relationship is how God designed the body. This is how it works. But it only works when the givers receive.

Receiving is tough. It means I don’t have all the answers and resources. It means admitting I need help. It says, “I can’t do it by myself.” It by definition requires vulnerability and transparency. You have to open up to let people into your “safe zone.” Having to receive is having to admit I don’t have it all under control.

When the giver is put in a position to receive, the giver is in a very uncomfortable and unfamiliar position. Its like writing with your opposite hand. Writing for me left-handed is like breathing, but attempting to use my right hand is completely awkward and uncomfortable. The giver is completely safe and at home with the giving part, not so safe and secure with being taken care of. There are pride issues to deal with for sure. A lot of humility is needed to receive (of course we should have humility when we’re giving too!).

So, if you are someone who is the do-er, the fixer, the counselor, the teacher and the giver, how do you handle it when others offer you help or advice? Do you receive it well?

The eye needs the hand, and the hand needs the eye. When I have a fleck of dust in my eye, my hand helps my eye. When I have a splinter in my hand, my eye helps my hand. We need each other. We need to learn to receive.

Days of Feasting, Gladness and Giving

This will be the last post for 2017. Happy New Year! Thanks for being such an encouragement to me this year! God bless you all richly! 

But the Jews who were in Susa gathered on the thirteenth day and on the fourteenth, and rested on the fifteenth day, making that a day of feasting and gladness. Therefore the Jews of the villages, who live in the rural towns, hold the fourteenth day of the month of Adar as a day for gladness and feasting, as a holiday, and as a day on which they send gifts of food to one another. And Mordecai recorded these things and sent letters to all the Jews who were in all the provinces of King Ahasuerus, both near and far, obliging them to keep the fourteenth day of the month Adar and also the fifteenth day of the same, year by year, as the days on which the Jews got relief from their enemies, and as the month that had been turned for them from sorrow into gladness and from mourning into a holiday; that they should make them days of feasting and gladness, days for sending gifts of food to one another and gifts to the poor. So the Jews accepted what they had started to do, and what Mordecai had written to them.
(Esther 9:18-23)

The passage above from Esther records the beginnings of an annual Jewish holiday called Purim in which the Jews remembered their deliverance from the wicked plot of Haman to destroy all Jews. Mordecai set these times up for all Jews to have “days of feasting and gladness, days for sending gifts of food to one another and gifts to the poor.”

They were times of feasting, gladness and giving, not really much different than our holiday seasons. Even Jesus participated in festive times like weddings and feasts like Hanukkah (John 2, 10). The returning exiles in Nehemiah’s day also had a time of celebration, feasting and gift-giving, and they were commanded to do so by God’s priests (Nehemiah 8:10-12). There is a time for everything, including a time to rest, and celebrate God’s blessings in our lives. Solomon plainly said that this “is from the hand of God.”

There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God, for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment? For to the one who pleases him God has given wisdom and knowledge and joy, but to the sinner he has given the business of gathering and collecting, only to give to one who pleases God. This also is vanity and a striving after wind.
(Ecclesiastes 2:24-26)

We must always keep in mind, though, that all blessings come from God, and that in rejoicing in those blessings, we must put Him first in our hearts. We also because of God’s rich blessings, begin to think of others who are not blessed in the same ways. Hopefully we as the Jews in Esther’s day will look to find those who do not have what we have and share our blessings from God with them.

Enjoy your holidays. Keep God first in your thoughts. Rejoice that we are so richly blessed. Consider others who are hurting and find ways to help. Don’t feel guilty having a good time with your family and friends, as long as you are doing so in obedience to God. As Solomon said in the above passage, “For apart from Him who can eat or have enjoyment?”

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.
(Philippians 4:4)

Learning from the Widow in Luke 21

We were in Indy last week visiting family, and we heard a really insightful short talk on a Wednesday night. The brother reminded us of a familiar passage in Luke 21 about the poor widow who gave her last two coins to God.  What the brother then said was to take out the chapter and verse divisions in the Bible and read the end of Luke 20 and then read about the widow in Luke 21. So I put the text here for you to read.

And in the hearing of all the people he said to his disciples, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and love greetings in the marketplaces and the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.” Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the offering box, and he saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. And he said, “Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”
(Luke 20:45-21:4)

The question was posed – I wonder how this widow ended up with only two coins? One really good explanation for the state of her poverty was that the Jewish leadership had “devoured” it. Instead of supporting the widows, they took advantage of them in their time of distress. Again, if you read the text straight through it sure sounds like that is the explanation for this widow’s condition. It also may explain how the “rich” in that context had so much excess of money to put into the treasury.

This concept of devouring widow’s houses is not just in Luke. Here are some other passages that address this social injustice (Isaiah 10:2; Jeremiah 7:6-10; Ezekiel 22:7; Amos 8:4-6; Micah 2:2,8; 3:1-3; Mark 12:40; 2 Timothy 3:6). These hypocritical, narcissistic Jewish leaders were even doing this garbage to their own parents (Mark 7; Matthew 15). When we take time to read passages like the ones in this paragraph, we can see how strongly God feels about it.

But that is not really the point of this article, nor was it the point of the brother who was giving that short talk. When you consider the state of things, the injustice that was going on, and the poverty of this woman, are you not impressed with her heart for God? Even in the midst of great poverty, knowing these two coins were “all” she had to live on, she still gave it all to God. Her heart was not filled with bitterness and rage against those who oppressed her, nor was she angry about her state in life. She loved God and was happy to give Him her all.

What a woman!

It is more blessed to give than to receive

Yes, you yourselves know that these hands have provided for my necessities, and for those who were with me. I have shown you in every way, by laboring like this, that you must support the weak. And remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ ” And when he had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all.
(Acts 20:34-36)

I was thinking of this verse in regards to Hurricane Harvey and how it is a time for many to give. So many are in dire straits and because of this devastation. Recovery will be a long time coming. I’m pretty sure many understand this, but let’s remember that those in need in Texas will need consistent help over time.

But now we see Hurricane Irma on the way, and it many others are going to face the wrath of nature. Again, it will be a time to give, share, pray, cry, work, sacrifice and comfort.

Tragedies reveal the heart of man. We could focus on the negative side of humanity that comes out during tragedies, but look at the goodness of the Creator that is reflected in people in the wake of painful trials.

Those who are going through the devastation show their remarkable faith and goodness, and those who are supporting the hurting during those times reveal their kind hearts as well. From personal experience, I know that the hearts of so many people are good and kind.

The people who are pouring out money, time, listening ears and physical work to help those in Texas have their own problems, too. Those who are giving have diseases, sicknesses, family crises, financial heartache, deaths in the family, etc. But in their suffering they are not self-centered, they are outward focused.

When the apostle Paul quoted the Lord Jesus about it being more blessed to give than to receive, think of what Paul had been going through and what he was about to go through. Awful. Tragic. Yes, but Paul’s heart was heaven-centered and outward focused. He devoted his life to helping the weak and supporting others, even with all the trials and adversity he personally faced.

This is the heart of God. This is what we see in the heart of Jesus while on earth. The very night before He was arrested, tortured and slaughtered for our sins, Jesus devoted a great deal of time to helping His 12 disciples. He taught them. He served them and washed their feet. Jesus prayed for them.

Jesus lived the message He taught us. “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”

Please, let us make a small upper room

And she said to her husband, “Look now, I know that this is a holy man of God, who passes by us regularly. Please, let us make a small upper room on the wall; and let us put a bed for him there, and a table and a chair and a lampstand; so it will be, whenever he comes to us, he can turn in there.” (2 Kings 4:9-10)

For today’s MDB, I want to go back to the verses we considered yesterday as we reflected upon the character of the Shunammite woman. This woman demonstrated great humility and contentment, and the Lord rewarded her for it. But for today, I want to consider her husband. Read the above verses and think about the relationship of a husband and a wife. Think about the fact that she could come to her husband with a request, that he listened to her, and he actively supported what she wanted to do.

He was approachable. There are men like Nabal (1 Samuel 25) that were not approachable, but not the husband of this Shunammite woman. They had the kind of marriage where she knew she could come to him with such a request.

He listened to her request. The man could have dismissed her, cut her off, told her her idea was silly or you fill in the blanks. That’s not what happened. They were a team in this marriage, a partnership. He considered her viewpoint, he took time to think about what she was asking. The husband listened to her dreams/visions/plans.

He supported her in what she wanted to do for the Lord. “Let us make…” implies that she wanted him to be a part of this project, too. She didn’t say, “Let me make.” They were a team. It wasn’t, this is “your thing” or “your project,” he was involved also. But to support our wives means more than just writing a check. We need to be emotionally and verbally supportive as well. If he rode her the whole way through the project reminding her of how much it costs and how much of a hassle it is, then that is not supportive, is it? Think about it, she asked her husband to take on a building/remodeling project for a man who would only occasionally come by. I’m sure he could have fired off several practical reasons as to why that wasn’t a good idea, but that’s not what he did. He supported her. That’s what we as husbands need to do, too.

This couple is like the Priscilla and Aquila of the New Testament church (Romans 16:3-5; 1 Corinthians 16:19), who showed great hospitality and sacrifice for the church. They were a team and a partnership working for Jesus, and as husbands that requires that we have the kind of heart like his husband of the Shunammite woman. The heart to be approachable, to listen and to fully support our wives.

5 Love Languages: Gift Giving

I’m currently reading the 5 Love Languages for Men by Dr. Gary Chapman. Click here if you want to purchase the book for yourself.

Dr. Gary Chapman’s famous approach is that we all speak different love languages, and he categorizes them as:

  1. Words of Affirmation
  2. Quality Time
  3. Gift Giving
  4. Acts of Service
  5. Physical Touch

Today is about Gift-Giving

Dr. Chapman makes the point about getting the cart before the horse. He reminds us that love is the horse and the cart is the gift. We are not trying to purchase approval, affection and love from our wives by lavishing gifts upon them. Rather we are expressing our love for our beautiful wives by offering visual symbols of that love.

Consider one of the most famous verses in Scripture, John 3:16. It says, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son.” Love comes first, and giving is an expression of His love. God teaches us how to love, and how to give.

One point Dr. Chapman made in this chapter that resonated with me is when he talked about a “dialect” of this particular love language of gift-giving. This dialect is giving the gift of yourself, your presence. When your wife is facing a trial and adversity, the greatest gift you can offer is your presence. No appointment is more pressing than being there to offer support and encouragement for your wife. She will remember whether you were truly there for you.

A practical suggestion Dr. Chapman gives to guys who are getting started on gift-giving is to listen. Yes, listen. Go back in your memory bank and listen. Think of the gifts that your wife really appreciated and what she said as to why she loved those gifts. When your wife received a gift from a family member or close friend and that gift really meant something to her, listen to “why” it meant so much to her. Pay attention to these things because it will help shape your understanding as to what kinds of gifts your wife really wants. Talk to her close friends and family members and ask them for advice.

I encourage you to get this book if you don’t already have it and read this chapter. The last two pages of the chapter have some very practical tips on gifts you can purchase or make for your wife.

Attitude Reflects Leadership

One of my favorite movies is Remember the Titans. There is a scene when the two leaders of the defense, Julias Campbell and Gerry Bertier, are arguing in training camp. Julias is being accused by Gerry of playing selfish football, and Julias responded by saying, “Attitude reflects leadership, captain.”

What a true statement, right? Attitude reflects leadership. The tone of a team, family, church, country or organization is set by the leadership. What notes are we playing as leaders, men?

Please take a minute to read this section of Scripture about David. He is preparing all the resources for the building of the temple that will commence when his son Solomon takes the throne. I want you to notice David’s attitude and generosity in giving and how that influenced the other leaders in Israel.

Moreover, because I have set my affection on the house of my God, I have given to the house of my God, over and above all that I have prepared for the holy house, my own special treasure of gold and silver: three thousand talents of gold, of the gold of Ophir, and seven thousand talents of refined silver, to overlay the walls of the houses; the gold for things of gold and the silver for things of silver, and for all kinds of work to be done by the hands of craftsmen. Who then is willing to consecrate himself this day to the LORD?” Then the leaders of the fathers’ houses, leaders of the tribes of Israel, the captains of thousands and of hundreds, with the officers over the king’s work, offered willingly. They gave for the work of the house of God five thousand talents and ten thousand darics of gold, ten thousand talents of silver, eighteen thousand talents of bronze, and one hundred thousand talents of iron. And whoever had precious stones gave them to the treasury of the house of the LORD, into the hand of Jehiel the Gershonite. Then the people rejoiced, for they had offered willingly, because with a loyal heart they had offered willingly to the LORD; and King David also rejoiced greatly (1 Chronicles 29:3-9).

Attitude Reflects Leadership

David set his affection on the house of God (the temple), and that reflected in how he gave. His commitment to this great work was evident to all; he had skin in the game. The king led the group in sacrifice, everyone could see what he offered and how he felt about it.

When he asked the question, “Who is willing?”, he first showed that he was willing. The rest followed. See how the other leadership responded? “Then the leaders of the fathers’ houses…offered willingly.”

Take this into consideration today. How is your attitude? Do others see the kind of heart that we just saw in David? What influence is your attitude having upon others?

“Attitude reflects leadership, captain!”

What Now Lord?

Thanks, Andy Harrison, for sharing this article about Ralph, entitled, What Now Lord?

 “Whom have I in heaven but You?  And besides You, I desire nothing on earth.  My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”  Psalm 73:25-26

Over the last few years I’ve gotten to know an old man, let’s call him Ralph.  Don’t worry, he wouldn’t be offended, he’s in his 80s and calls himself an “old man”.  Ralph is really nothing special to look at and in many ways is just your average elderly person.  He’s got white hair and wrinkles and has been in a wheelchair for a number of years.  He is soft spoken and his voice can get a little shaky when he talks.  Ralph lives in a very modest assisted-living facility with a few other elderly people.

But when Ralph was younger…oh man, that was different!  He was a pilot in the Air Force and retired with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.  For those who don’t know that is just a couple ranks away from a Brigadier General.  After his military service he found a home in the financial sector, responsible for significant sums of money.  One of Ralph’s passions in life was raising prize-winning Doberman Pinschers and he has pictures and trophies testifying to his accomplishments.  There was a lot about his life that one could envy.

But, as with all of us, time caught up with Ralph.  His wife got ill and died a number of years ago.  He started to lose muscle control in his legs and was forced to use a walker.  It wasn’t long until he deteriorated to the point of needing a wheelchair.  Because of Ralph’s physical condition, he was no longer able to take care of his dogs and he had to find them new homes.  Speaking of homes, he had to sell his and give up his freedom and space for a single room in a small assisted-living facility.

I suspect Ralph’s story is not that different than a lot of people in their 80s.  If I live long enough, I’m sure my decline will have a number of similarities.  What has impressed me (and humbled me) is his outlook and attitude throughout these stages of life.  So many people meet the loss of status and power and physical health and freedom with anger and bitterness but Ralph has embraced these changes with one simple question, “What now Lord?”  In every situation he sees opportunity to continue working for the Lord.

When he was forced to sell his house he spent time in prayer and decided that if the house sold he would use the money to support the preaching of the gospel.  He has confidently stated, “When I die I don’t want one cent left to my name.  I want it all used up for the Lord!”

When Ralph found himself lying in bed one night, shortly after moving into a small assisted-living facility he went to God in prayer and said, “Here I am.  What now, Lord?”  Shortly after that he realized that there were lonely people in that facility nearing the end of their lives and he could be a comfort and an encouragement to them.  He got busy and he shared Jesus.

After Ralph could no longer support his weight with the walker he was forced to stay in a wheelchair.  Many of us might consider this a greater restriction but Ralph turned it into an opportunity.  At worship he took his seat with him everywhere he went, all over the auditorium.  Instead of sitting in the same place, next to the same people, week after week, Ralph wheels around and sits by different people all the time.

Ralph is the very definition of a servant and he realizes that the Lord’s people don’t “retire”.  Wasn’t Moses 80 years old when God called him to lead Israel out of Egypt?  Ralph is not stuck on “how things should be” or “this wasn’t part of MY plan”, he simply does the work that is in front of him.

Now here is the kicker and a little bonus lesson in humility that I received.  I started my relationship with Ralph thinking, “Now there’s someone that could use some attention and encouragement.  I should be a ‘good Christian’ and help that lonely old man.”  Maybe it didn’t sound just like that in my head but you get the picture.  A few years have gone by and I don’t know if I’ve helped Ralph but one thing I do know:  I have learned a ton from him.

“Whom have I in heaven but You?  And besides You, I desire nothing on earth.  My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”  Psalm 73:25-26

Can I Give God Something That Isn’t His Already?

We are studying the subject of giving in our adult Bible class. I’ve been thinking about a question, “Can I give God something that isn’t His already?” I have heard myself and others say often that everything we give to God is already His. We are giving Him “a portion of that with which He has richly blessed us.”

It is true that everything is God’s including all people (Psalm 24:1). The “cattle on a thousand hills” are His (Psalm 50:11). He is not worshiped with men’s hands, because He doesn’t need anything (Acts 17:25). Giving is not about “appeasing the gods” like in other religions. God doesn’t need our stuff to survive.

Giving is about the will…MY will

God gave to me my own free will. It is mine. I can offer to the Lord, or I can keep it to myself. Even Jesus demonstrated in the Garden of Gethsemane that He had His own will. He offered that will as a sacrifice to glorify His Father. “Not My will, but Yours be done” (Mark 14:36). Jesus said once that His “food” was to do the will of His Father (John 4:34; see also John 5:30; 6:38-39).

When the 24 elders fell before the throne of God in heaven, they said:

“You are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and by Your will they exist and were created” (Revelation 4:11).

Think about that statement. God is “worthy” to receive glory and honor and power. Wait a minute…He is God, right? Doesn’t He have all of that stuff already?

He does not “receive” that from most of humanity, does He? He is worthy enough to receive it for sure, but the fact remains that He does not receive it. Jesus healed 10 lepers, only one came back to say, “Thank you” (Luke 17:17). Do I give God the honor, or do I keep it for myself? Is God glorified by every cell in my body, or do I keep the glory for me? Does God receive the power over my life? Am I sacrificing my will to give Him full control?

“Your will be done on earth…” (Matthew 6:10)

Being thankful is a sacrifice, because it involves my will (Psalm 50:14,15,23). Praising God is also a sacrifice for the same reason (Hebrews 13:15). Our favorite subject is ourselves…just look at social media. We love to talk about ourselves. Taking time to thank and praise someone else takes away the spotlight from us.

You see, you can offer God millions of dollars and offer Him lots of religious time, but have you given Him the one thing that is yours…your will? Jesus said that in order to truly follow Him, we must “deny” ourselves (Matthew 16). Again, that involves your will, the one thing God gave to you that is yours. Will you offer it to Him freely?

How do you define abundance?

I heard this true story and I needed to share. There was a lady that decided to personally support a preacher. One hot summer the air conditioner went out on her car and she had to make a decision. She couldn’t afford to fix the AC and continue to support the gospel preacher. So she rolled the windows down on her car and kept on sending monthly support.

“For this is not for the ease of others and for your affliction, but by way of equality—at this present time your abundance being a supply for their need, so that their abundance also may become a supply for your need, that there may be equality; as it is written, ‘He who gathered much did not have too much, and he who gathered little had no lack.’” (II Cor. 8:13-15).

I wonder how we define “abundance”? I wonder how Paul would have defined “abundance”? Once my retirement account is where I’d like it to be, or once my vacation is paid for, or once my kids are through college, or once I get the house remodel done, or once my savings account is at a level that I feel secure, or once, once, once…

Too often we define “abundance” as anything we might have left over after all of our wants and desires are taken care of. The problem is that there is no end to our wants and desires. Would we ever sacrifice our comforts so that the gospel of Jesus might be preached? Would we put off a “nice to have” for the needs of others? This is a challenging thought for me today.

How do you define abundance?

Listen to this great sermon Sharing in all Good Things by Ralph Walker

“The one who is taught the word is to share all good things with the one who teaches him” (Galatians 6:6).

Preview for next week’s MDB: We will have 5 articles next week (March 28-April 1) by Shane Blackmer devoted to Love in Relationships.