set aside year-end donations early
If you do not plan ahead, you could unintentionally allow this year's Black Friday to give your church a black eye. You love your church, and you believe in the work that the church is doing. You sincerely want to see it thrive, and you believe God is blessing. Even if you are someone who is not easily lured into impulsive bargain snatching, despite your best intentions, if you do not set aside funds now for your year-end donations, those donations will likely be weaker if they happen at all.
A little less than a third of all tax filers itemize deductions, but we give to God's work for reasons beyond the Internal Revenue Code. For Southern Baptists, December is the month we emphasize international missions through the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. There are many opportunities for charitable giving, and I love what one speaker from the NC Baptist Foundation set forth awhile back. Christians should give to Christian causes; who else is going to do so?
Pray about an amount God would like for you to give, and go ahead and give those funds or set them aside if you can discipline yourself not to spend them later. By taking care of what is most important first, you avoid the possibility of accidentally omitting your church from the cash outflows of the season. Remember, whatever you do, don't give out of compulsion or obligation. Give out of a cheerful heart, because you want to - not because you felt guilty after reading this blog post.
I recently shared this devotional with the men of Grace Baptist Church in Fayetteville, NC where I serve as pastor.
Probably all of us know of several examples where guys grew up working so hard to gain their father's approval. But no matter how hard they tried, they can never remember a time when Dad said, "I'm proud of you, son," or "Good job." As far as they can tell, they never gained their dad's approval. That may even be your own story. We understand that this reality can have a devastating impact on a young man with ripple effects that last years.
The Bible makes clear that we have a heavenly Father. Gaining His approval is all that truly matters. If we have His approval, it does not matter who else may approve of us. He is #1. And He makes very clear how we can meet with His approval.
Jesus told the story of a man who left town for awhile. Before he left, he gave three of his workers some measure of responsibility. Two of the three multiplied the value of their responsibility while he was away. When he returned, he said to each of those two, "Well done, good and faithful servant." As Christians, we strive to live our lives in such a way that, when we go home to heaven, we hear those words of affirmation from our heavenly Father - "Well done, good and faithful servant."
Here's the thing, though. Jesus taught us that there is none good but God. No one is faithful like God either. So, how can we get to a point where the one who alone is good labels us "good and faithful?"
This is the life of grace. In 2 Corinthians 12, the Apostle Paul tells of a thorn in the flesh that was given to him lest he should become boastful. Three times he asked God to remove this thorn from him, and three times God said no. Instead of removing the thorn, God said to Paul, "My grace is sufficient for you: for my strength is made perfect in weakness." We understand that the word "perfect" here is interchangeable with the idea of being "made complete." If I am trying to live the Christian life in my own strength, I am not experiencing the fullness of God's grace and strength that is available to me. He must increase; I must decrease.
My strength to be good will quickly dissipate. My strength to be faithful will run out just as quickly. For me to hear my heavenly Father say "Well done, good and faithful servant," one day, I must give up operating in my own strength and surrender control to Him. Then He works out His own goodness through me, His own faithfulness through me, and works toward making me holy, good, and faithful as He is holy, good, and faithful. The sooner I come to the end of my self, the sooner I will see the strength of God made perfect in my own weakness. And when that happens, I will hear my Father say, "Well done, good and faithful servant."
Finding Your Way Back
Even the least adventurous among us enjoy the occasional exploration. For those who have been most sheltered, the curiosity of just how much greener the other side’s grass truly is can overcome our best efforts to be good. We do find, though, that once that first step is taken, the second step is much easier - and the third, and fourth. Eventually, our starting point is just a silhouette in the background shrinking out of sight, out of mind. This is the new normal. This is who we are now. There’s no going back. Even if we wanted to, could we?
But if you are God’s child, there are times that, no matter how much you tried to suppress it, you heard that still small voice asking you to return. You know this isn’t right. You know you shouldn’t be here right now. You know. But this is what you want. Isn’t it? You’re torn. You’re conflicted. There is a war going on inside. Your friends have no idea. In fact, nobody does - except God. That’s His Holy Spirit drawing you back, convicting you of your sin, letting you know that there’s always a place set for you at His table. So here’s the facts:
You may be happy to learn that I have the same church attendance trends in my church that you have in yours. I have a handful of people who attend every week (and two of us are paid to be there). I have Chreaster Christians - those who attend Christmas and Easter. I have everyone in between. On average, it is safe to say that my people attend a couple of times a month. When I mentioned this to my Assistant Pastor, who joined our team a few months ago, he helped me learn that this is a nationwide trend. It didn't use to be the case, when I was a child. To be sure, there are cultural trends that have driven much of this, but it feels like there is more. To show my cards a little bit up front, I sense that we need a fresh look at our theology of corporate worship. So as I go through answering this question which headlines this blog, I hope to do so in a way that gets us thinking about the bigger picture.
Gaining God’s approval has concerned people since the beginning. Genesis Chapter 4 tells the story of the jealousy that arose within Cain’s heart, when God had respect for his brother Abel’s offering but not his own offering. This jealousy drove Cain to commit the first and probably best-known murder.
The first step toward meeting with God’s approval in this life and the next is to accept Christ as your personal Savior. The question above begins “as a believer,” which assumes that you have already trusted Christ. Scripture is very clear that “no one comes unto the Father but by [Christ]” (John 14:6). It is through God’s saving grace and the redemption we have through the blood of Jesus that “He has made us accepted in the beloved” (Ephesians 1:6). As a believer, it’s not like you would meet with God’s disapproval in the next life. Your eternity is secure. There is no such place as purgatory. God doesn’t love you less when you sin (Romans 5:8).
Having trusted the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross for payment for your sin, you may still wonder whether God will approve of your life. Here are some insights from the Bible to guide your thoughts on this.