I love a good shortcut. Almost every day as I drive to work, I take a shortcut. Yet there are times in life when shortcuts are not best—when the easy way isn’t the best way.
When we dream about something we desire for the future, we want a shortcut to reach the dream. We want the money, but we do not want to do all the work. We want the title, but we don’t want to start from the bottom. We want the stuff, when we do not yet have the money to pay for it. We want the relationship, yet we do not want to make the investment.
In today’s passage, we read of the Israelites leaving Egypt, and of how God did not lead the people to take the shorter route. It’s true—sometimes shortcuts are great. Yet in life, we oftentimes have something to learn on the journey that we can only learn by travelling for a longer length of time. Suffering less is desirable, yet in suffering we often grow in our dependence on God, and our faith flourishes. Next time you have the opportunity to choose a path to take, instead of immediately jumping at the quick results, ask God what will bring you closer to Him.
“When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them on the road through the Philistine country, though that was shorter. For God said, ‘If they face war, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.’” – Exodus 13:17 [NIV]
When I was growing up, I remember being held accountable for grades based on the actual grade. I was supposed to earn certain grades. Bottom line. I do things differently with my children. I want them to do their best, whether their best is an A or a B or whatever—I want them to know that whatever they do, they are to give their best effort. If they feel that they did their best, then they succeeded. If not, then we have a problem.
I have always tried to give everything my best effort. I’m sure you heard the phrase do your best because that is the best you can do. That’s what I always aimed to accomplish. The best. In Proverbs, “the best” is used when describing the things we produce. The Bible says that we are to honor God with “the best part of everything you produce.” This means, NO LEFTOVERS! Leftovers are not best unless we are talking about spaghetti.
To truly honor God, you bring before Him the best part of everything. He does not need your offerings. He doesn’t need anything from you or I—we need it! We need to be able to let go of the best part of everything so we can cling to God. He is better. We choose God over these temporary items because we have a desire in our heart for Him. If you are still handing over leftovers, ask God to open your heart so you open your hands and bring Him glory.
“Honor the LORD with your wealth and with the best part of everything you produce.” – Proverbs 3:9 [NLT]
Recently, someone told me that they “cannot afford to tithe.” I remember those days—the days when I thought I could not part with the money or the bills wouldn’t get paid. But I also remember the moment I got my finances in order, when I started to take a serious look at where the money was going. The Bible speaks about where the treasure is located, that’s where your heart will also be found (see Matthew 6:21). Take a look at your checking account register. Review it and you will see what has value to you. Recognize that if God is first place in your life, He shouldn’t be getting the leftovers.
You might be included in the likely 90% + readers who know I am a pastor. Perhaps you are saying, “Oh here’s a pastor asking for money again.” Please understand, I am NOT asking you for money. God does NOT need your money. He is the God of the universe. He is our Creator. But He has blessed us with what we have in our possession. It’s HIS! ALL OF IT!! Maybe you worked for it, but He blessed you with that job. Behind it all, before it all, you will find God. He is the Alpha, the Omega, the Beginning, the End. He is in all, above all, through all. Bottom line (see 1 Corinthians 8:6, Ephesians 4:6, Colossians 1:17, Revelation 22:13). And tithing is a BLESSING to you! Yes, you read that right. Giving some of the money that God blessed you with to your local church to continue God’s kingdom building is an amazing opportunity you are blessed to be able to take part in. It’s a blessing to be a steward, and we are to be generous givers (see 1 Timothy 6:18). Tithing is not an obligation; it’s a loving response, a willing response to the grace of God.
God doesn’t want you trapped. He wants you free. Sometimes we are trapped by lies. Sometimes we are trapped by sin. Sometimes we are trapped by possessions. When you are trapped by your possessions, you cling to them so tightly that your possessions actually possess you. Today, look at your budget. Jot down different categories. Look to see where your money goes. Then pray about your finances. Consider what Paul wrote to the Corinthians. “On the first day of each week, you should each put aside a portion of the money you have earned. Don’t wait until I get there and then try to collect it all at once” (1 Corinthians 16:2 NLT). You do this and you will learn to be a better steward. You will start to loosen your grip on what God has blessed you with, and be the generous, cheerful giver you were meant to be.
“Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” – 2 Corinthians 9:7 [NIV]
ctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” – 2 Corinthians 9:7 [NIV]
This lesson is on the Parable of the Foolish Rich Man. The passage to read is Luke 12:13-21. The key verse is Luke 16:13. The front page of the activity sheet is divided into two sides. The object is to have the children list what they think both types of people would look like in their opinion. The one side would be those who are rich toward God and the other side would be those who are like the foolish rich man. On the second side, there is an activity to look through the passage and notice all of the key words that focus on the self. There are a few verses included with the lesson for the kids to reflect upon further with parents at home.
To open the class, I am going to ask some questions that would give the children options of seeing how people could put God first or put money or themselves first. From there, I am going to tell the parable and have a few students read some verses. I got some granola (honey and oats) to share with the children as I discuss this abundance of crops. Then we will discuss further using the activity sheet I created (front and back). Our craft will be something I’ve seen around in the past. We will make silos using toilet paper rolls. I am going to get the tubes of toilet paper covered with white paper before class and glued at the bottom to save time. They will decorate the silos and then instead of filling them with crops, fill them with blessings from God. Then every night they can pull out a blessing and thank God. When the blessings run out, they are encouraged to fill the silos up (or even fill up as they see more blessings).
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During the summer, I often give my dog Max some ice cubes. When we come inside from a walk, I give him one ice cube to munch on and I try to encourage him to drink his water as well. But first thing in the morning he does not want to accept the ice cube because he expects a bone. Every morning he gets a bone to help clean his teeth. He tosses the ice cube on the floor and sits in defiance waiting for me to give him his bone first. He is focused on getting what is better to him so he won’t budge.
At times we have our focus skewed and we have our eyes focused on something that isn’t actually better for us. Rather than taking the ice cube, we desire the bone. Our eyes light up when we see the bones in life, and we sometimes sacrifice the much needed ice cube for the bone. We do this in many areas of our life—with our family, with our jobs, with money and possessions, etc.
Today, ask God to help you with your focus. Ask Him what areas need adjusted. Seek His guidance and don’t just listen—follow.
“Let your eyes look straight ahead; fix your gaze directly before you. Give careful thought to the paths for your feet and be steadfast in all your ways.” – Proverbs 4:25-26 [NIV]
This morning I passed by a dumpster filled with items from a house that is currently undergoing renovations. Out of the corner of my eye, I was able to spot a large box of books lying on top of the other discarded items. The books looked brand new and many of them were titles that were once found on the best sellers list. For a moment I thought of how those books and so many other items within the dumpster could have been used by someone instead of going to a landfill. I imagined if the items were donated to a church or another charity, the good that they could do for some lives. Then my mind started to focus on how we are all so guilty of getting things and tossing them out.
We have become a society that is so very good at getting rid of things. We toss out clothing because we have plenty of other items in our wardrobe. We toss out food because we had so much food, that we did not have time to eat it all and it went bad. We toss out relationships because it takes work and sacrifice for marriage and friendships to find success. We toss out opportunities because we do not desire taking risks on challenges. We toss out money with gambling or with purchases we don’t even want or need. We toss out pets because we bought them for their cuteness without thinking of the time investment. We toss out technology because something new came along. We toss and toss.
Then I thought of those who do not have anything to toss, those who are lacking the basic needs of life. There are people who are not able to eat tonight. There are people who have lost their family, their friends. There are people who do not have shoes or clothing. There are people who do not have all of the advantages and opportunities. There are those who do not have money to toss away. There are some who are sick, some dying. There are some who are slaves, yes slaves, on this very day in 2013. I could go on and on.
I cannot give any answers of how we can fix all of these things. I do not have the answers. I am just as guilty as the next person when it comes to tossing out things. All I can say is that I know Who has the answers. I know that all we can do is look to God for the answers of what we can do in our own lives to be His hands and feet, and to share His love with those around us and to be who He called us. We can start here. “He has told you, O man, what is good: And what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8 NASB). Let us start there.
Last night I was watching this television show that just began for what I believe is a week long program. Although I am not much of a television buff, I tuned in to this NBC show because of the title, “Take It All.” The show has contestants selecting unknown prizes from a screen or deciding to “steal” a gift from one of their fellow contestants. Whoever has selected the most valuable of the prizes moves on to the next round of play. The last round has the two final contestants facing off in a last standoff. Each contestant selects one small container which has some cash amount listed inside. Each contestant must make a selection which will determine if they keep the prizes they earned earlier, the cash that is in the container they just selected, and possibly even the other contestant’s prizes.
I sat and watched as the older gentleman the host called “Santa” told his opponent that he could be trusted, that because he believe God placed them both there for a reason and that they both could be blessed, that he would select to “keep mine.” If both contestants selected “keep mine” they would both take home what they had earned. If she decided to select “take it all,” but “Santa” said he would only “keep mine,” she would take it all. The contestant said she didn’t know if she could trust him. Earlier in the game he tried to take items from other contestants. She didn’t trust him. The last move of the game, she picked to “Take it All.” It could have been an issue of greed; however, she again and again said she did not trust this man because of what his actions showed earlier in the game.
I thought about what she said and also what he had proclaimed before the big decision was made by both contestants. He did stick with his word and selected to “keep mine.” And yet, this lady did not trust him because of his actions before, something I think happens with a lot of Christians. Whether we like it or not, as a Christian, we are a representative of Christ. If we spend some time doing things that are not well representing Christ, and then later try to say that we are to be trusted, people may not see the true Christ. I am not saying that this man was falsely representing Christ. What I am talking about here is trust. If we are to be witnessing to people, there is a relationship that is involved. If we show people two different parts of us, the true us and then a different us, how could a person trust us? How can a person be brought to Christ when shown such a difference?
The lady in the show won everything—the money and prizes she had, plus everything that the other man had earned. She truly did “take it all.” Although we are taught to not take everything, to be generous, we are also taught to be truthful, to be faithful, to be like Christ. If we are not real with people, when we finally tell them about Jesus, about what He did for our lives, for how good He is, people may have already decided long before by your actions that you were a dishonest person and your words will have little meaning.
Verses to consider:
“Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another.” – Ephesians 4:25 [ESV]
“They profess to know God, but by their deeds they deny Him.” – Titus 1:16a [NASB]
“Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.” – 1 John 3:18 [NIV]
Do you wash your hands? It is a strange question for me to ask. Most people would think that I was making a suggestion about your hygiene; however, I am not talking about washing your hands as part of a routine for good hygiene. In Matthew 27, when Jesus was standing before Pilate, there was a great push for His crucifixion. Pilate did not want anything to do with what was to come, and so he washed his hands before the crowd and claimed his innocence in the matter.
If we turn a few chapters back in Matthew, we read about judgment. We do not like to discuss judgment, but Jesus painted a clear picture. He gave us an important image, “For I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink; I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me” (Matthew 25:42-43 NASB).
When I ask if you wash your hands, I am referring to helping your fellow brothers and sisters. Do you wash your hands and move along, ignoring reality, ignoring the needs of others? Or do you help to take care of the needs around you? Jesus said if we feed a person who is hungry, it is as if we are feeding Him. If we clothe someone who is without clothing, it is as if we are providing Him with clothing.
Helping others does not always take some overabundance of finances and belongings. People who have so little are like the widow who gave so much– providing for the needs around them without concern for letting go of something. I have seen people who do not have a large savings help to buy food and clothing for another family. I have seen families barely getting by invite others into their homes for dinner. I have seen people barely scraping by provide for the needs of others.
So I ask you today, do you wash your hands? Do you say that it’s not your problem and you won’t be bothered by it? Or do you pull up your sleeves and see what you can do for others? What you can do for Jesus?
“In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how He Himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”
– Acts 20:35 [ESV]
This past week was Vacation Bible School. As always, it was a week filled with praise and worship, learning, forming friendships, and enjoying fellowship. This year the theme was Hometown Nazareth: Where Jesus Was a Kid. With the theme in place, one can easily imagine the set consisted of present day items fixed to look like the Nazareth of old.
We attempted to stick to our theme as closely as possible so that the children would have an authentic glimpse into Nazareth. This even included hiding the cell phones and carbonated drinks that plaster our world, for shekels and edible bugs (yuck). Though the heat was nearly unbearable, many of us donned attire to suit the occasion.
A child in my group was a bit of a troublemaker at times. I took the behavior as a testing. Before the week was over, he acted in a manner which was caught by a few of the other children. He took the fake shekels that were being stored in one of the shops of Nazareth. Yes, I am talking about fake, plastic coins that we were using to allow the children to participate in an authentic marketplace atmosphere.
At that very moment, with these children pointing fingers, and this other child standing there guilty, I paused, not knowing what exactly to say. I must admit that part of me wanted to laugh, because it was a silly situation. Putting on my serious face, I told him that sneaking the plastic shekels may have gone unnoticed by me, but it did not go unnoticed by God. Then I began to ask why he would want to take something anyway.
I thought a lot about that episode. The boy changed and was great the rest of the time. He is a good kid. I thought of the episode for another reason. It got me to think about how many of us take the fake plastic shekels. I’m not talking about purposely stealing, but I am talking about taking from God.
Taking from God doesn’t only mean dipping into the collection plate or not tithing. Taking from God is not using your skills you were gifted as you were purposed. Taking from God is not using your time wisely. Taking from God is when you tell God you are His, but yet you’re not even consulting Him about anything in your life. Taking from God is spending more time talking to someone in a day then you do with Him all month. Taking from God is giving someone or something else more time, more consideration, more care, and more attention that you give God. It doesn’t matter what it is.. Whatever it may be, nothing can take priority over God.Life is hard. Life is busy. We only have 24 hours in a day. We can look at that in two different ways though. We can say that there are only 24 hours to try to get everything done. Or perhaps we can look at things differently. We can say God has blessed me with 24 hours in this day, more than enough than I deserve. No matter what excuse that can be created as a reason for not having time for God, the excuse will never be good enough.
“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich.” – 2 Corinthians 8:9 [NASB]