Thursday, December 26, 2013

"Baby Jesus" is safe but Jesus did not come to be safe

“Infinite, and an infant. Eternal, and yet born of a woman. Almighty, and yet hanging on a woman's breast. Supporting a universe, and yet needing to be carried in a mother's arms.  King of angels, and yet the reputed son of Joseph. Heir of all things, and yet the carpenter's despised son.” Charles Haddon Spurgeon

This time of year you’ll see “baby Jesus” everywhere—on cards, in stores, even on front lawns of homes. Some churches even have a live nativity scene, complete with an infant, lying in for “baby Jesus.” I’ve always wanted our church to have a nativity scene. I think that it’s the one time of year that those who don’t know the Lord are much more heedful of what the message that we are communicating even with our symbols.
  One of the reasons though that “baby Jesus” is nearly everywhere is that “baby Jesus” is safe. Please understand, I’m not some Grinch who’s anti-baby. I like babies. It’s just that “baby Jesus” isn’t what Christmas is all about. Even our multi-cultural, pluralistic world is fairly comfortable making Christmas only about “baby Jesus” but it’s an unbiblical reductionism.
  A little girl of ten years went with a group of family and friends to see the Christmas light displays at various locations throughout the city. At one church, they stopped and got out to look more closely at a beautifully done nativity scene. "Isn't that beautiful?" said the little girl's grandmother. "Look at all the animals, Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus." "Yes, Grandma," replied the granddaughter. "It is really nice. But there is only one thing that bothers me. Isn't baby Jesus ever going to grow up? He's the same size that He was last year."
  But Jesus did grow up! Did Jesus enter into human history as a baby? Yes. Is Christmas meant to celebrate the coming of Jesus into human history? Yes. What’s the problem? The reason we celebrate the coming of Jesus is not because He was born in a manger. It’s because of what He did on the cross about thirty years after His birth. If the most critical aspect of Jesus’ life is that He was born of a virgin, that there was no room for His parents in the Inn, that He was born in a stable and laid in a manger, that angels appeared to shepherds who were the newborns first visitors – if that’s it, then we have nothing to celebrate. If Jesus was born, lived for about thirty years, and died…even if it was a tragic death, but that was it, end of story, then we have nothing to celebrate.
  When we celebrate the birth of Jesus, we are only celebrating because of what He came to do and that Jesus accomplished what He came to do. To only celebrate “baby Jesus” is to forget the reason why He came. To only celebrate baby Jesus may be safe, yet it’s sentimentalism.
  The Old Testament prophet Isaiah writes of all aspects of Jesus’ life. In chapter 9, He writes of this special child being born to us. But we find Jesus’ mission toward the end, in Isaiah 53. While it begins with His childhood, it ends with His sacrificial death. “He was pierced for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities” (vs. 2). “He poured out His soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet He bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors” (vs. 12).
  That sounds more like Easter than Christmas. Yet, we only celebrate Christmas because of Easter. For more than 300 years after Jesus' time, Christians celebrated His resurrection but not His birth. That’s because if there had been no Good Friday and no Easter, then Christmas isn’t even “Happy Holidays.” We’re left with a world where Scrooge, Mr. Potter and the Grinch are the “heroes” because there is no hope. At best Christmas would be about bribes, not gifts because God’s great gift to a lost and guilty world had never been given. While most don’t realize why we give gifts, it’s because God the Father started it, “Thanks be to God for His inexpressible gift!” (2 Corinthians 9:15). “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
  Some years ago a powerful Christmas card was circulating with the title "If Christ Had Not Come." It was based upon our Savior's words "If I had not come." The card represented a pastor's falling asleep in his study on Christmas morning and dreaming of a world into which Jesus had never come. In his dream he found himself looking through his home, but there were no little stockings in the chimney corner, no Christmas bells or wreaths of holly, and no Christ to comfort, gladden and save. He walked out to the street, but there was no church with its steeple pointing to Heaven. He came back and sat down in his library, but every book about the Savior had disappeared. The doorbell rang and a messenger asked the preacher to visit his poor, dying mother. He hastened with the weeping child, and as he reached the home he sat down and said, "I have something here that will comfort you."  He opened his Bible to look for a familiar promise, but his Bible ended with Malachi. There was no Gospel and no promise of hope and salvation, and he could only bow his head and weep with her in bitter despair. Then, two days later he stood beside her coffin and conducted the funeral service. There was no message of consolation, no hope of heaven. Without the Gospel, we have no hope.
  But it isn’t enough that Jesus came, it’s that He came with a purpose…He came to die. That was God’s purpose even before Creation. God in His omniscience knew that man would choose to sin and follow Satan, that we would choose sin and death rather than Paradise. The cross wasn’t Plan B. It was God’s plan from before the beginning, “you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you” (1 Peter 1:18-20). Baby Jesus not only grew up, He grew up and gave His life for our sins. He was the first Christmas gift sent from God the Father to pay the penalty for our sins.
  Like any gift though, it’s not yours until you receive it. This Christmas, have you embraced Good Friday and Easter? In others words, have you accepted God’s gift of salvation? Have you repented of your sins and thrown yourself on Christ’s cross, believing that it is only in Jesus’ death that we can be forgiven and have hope? The Christmas story always begins with “For God so loved…” He loved you and me, even though we were so unlovable. Have you accepted His gift of salvation for you?

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

God's Christmas gift cures me of my Grinch

“Christmas is the season for giving.” Oftentimes, particularly at this time of year, we hear that phrase, “Christmas is the season of giving.” But what does that really mean? How do we even know what giving really is? Are there levels of giving? What’s truly generous giving?
            Personally, I’m very thankful for the work of the Salvation Army and their famous red kettles, particularly during the Christmas Season. Yet, is it really giving when I reach into my pocket, throwing in whatever change I happen to find readily available? Or, if I’m more serious, in this credit card age, I open my wallet to dole out a few bucks. Is that truly giving? It probably won’t alter my lifestyle. There’s nothing that I will do without because I gave, though it is still a gift on my part, in that I did not owe anything and did not receive any services or benefits for my “gift.” And though I may throw something in…I find that I am sometimes annoyed with the hassle. There is more natural Grinch in my soul than Christlike generosity.
I believe that giving, generous and sacrificial giving happens when we have seen it modeled. It’s commonly know that one of the best ways to learn is to not be verbally taught or to read about what you wish to learn, but to have it modeled by someone who is already proficient in it.
For example, this time of year, I always become reminiscent of yesterday. While my family always celebrated Christmas, more often than not, they were Christmases you’d sooner want to forget. My Dad was always angry and miserable to be around at Christmas. My Mom would nearly always cry…almost every Christmas. Money flowed. There were many big ticket items but it was about “getting” never about “giving.” That came through in my own heart as I would compare what I “got” compared to my siblings and particularly compared to my neighbors. Whereas, I would get a bike, my neighbor would get a mini-bike. If I received a set of plastic hot wheels that I’d be thrilled with it…until I saw that he had received an electric race track.   
It wasn’t until I left home and had found a new one that I began to truly understand the meaning of Christmas. I can remember a small house in LaCrosse, Wisconsin, a parsonage. It was there for the first time that I saw love and giving truly modeled at Christmas. Dave and Mary Cummins welcomed me into their home as their “quasi” adopted son. They didn’t have a lot of money and lived fairly simply. There were five nearly adult daughters and a growing number of son in-laws when I entered the picture. In my biological home, I rushed down the stairs with my sisters to see what Santa had brought ME. In the Cummins’ home, Dad would sit in his easy chair, the family would gather, and Dad with his rich bass voice would read the familiar Christmas account from Luke 2. Then, presents would be distributed to delighted “oohs” and “aahs.” None of the gifts were spectacular. Some were even home made. Mom Cummins made me my first robe which I wore for years. It was a Christmas gift. Others who had no family or place to go would soon join us around the Christmas dinner table that day. It was there though that for the very first time that I saw love and generosity modeled. Truly a “God bless us everyone” scene. And I, maybe for the first time, saw giving and love modeled.
It struck me though that only someone who has met Jesus, only someone who is a Christian and seen sacrificial giving can fully understand sacrificial giving and then begin to give as they have been given. Most give out of their abundance. Their lifestyle is not altered, there is no true sacrifice on their part. Their giving rarely inconveniences them.
Jesus, when He entered time and space, as God the Father’s first Christmas gift, modeled for us everything that true giving is all about. No wonder the Apostle Paul cried out with a heart overwhelmed by gratitude, “Thanks be to God for His inexpressible gift!” (2 Corinthians 9:15).
God’s gift was planned. When our first parents disobeyed God and sinned in the Garden, God promised that He would send a gift to fix it (Genesis 3:15). His gift would cure them of sin, guilt and death – the curse of sin. God’s gift was inconvenient though perfectly timed. Jesus, leaving the glories of Heaven, to come to earth to be born in a manger. Perfect heaven for sin-filled earth…divine love motivated such a gift. God’s gift was sacrificial. Jesus was born to die. Even at His birth, He was wrapped in “swaddling clothes,” not royal robes befitting a king. “Swaddling clothes” were used to wrap corpses before burying the body. God the Father knew that His Son would end His life on this earth by dying a horrible death, one that’s unimaginable to most of us…the painful death of a common criminal on a cross. And yet, knowing what would transpire in just a matter of three decades, His angels were still sent to announce to a dark, oppressed world that was about to miss out on the arrival of the first Christmas gift: “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” That angel was joined by “a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased!’” (Luke 2:10-14). It was God who first modeled true Christmas giving.
Last night, I felt that God gave me a peek at what normally happens when those who have met Jesus, those who have seen and comprehended God’s sacrificial gift for them, and have accepted God’s Christmas gift of His Son for them, how they in turn can’t hardly help but respond with generosity. It explains a Dave and Mary Cummins. It explains a church family in tough economic times, even after many of them have already stretched financially, giving once again generously.
My church, Grace Church, the church God has given me the privilege of pastoring for twenty-five years now, has just come through a major capital campaign. We’ve asked our church family to commit and give beyond their means so that we can build a new building, a new “tool” to be used for the glory of God. Yet, like every church family, we have some families with deep needs. And it seems that those needs are always felt even deeper at Christmas. We wanted to do a special offering at our Christmas Eve service with all of the money given to help those families.
One of our church leaders was hesitant (and rightfully so). We’ve asked for a lot over the course of the last few months. We’ve asked our church family to give generously and sacrificially…and they have.
Yet, last night, they did it again. Even though we’re not a huge church, even though we did not have a huge crowd with folk already out of town or with family, our church family dug deep…more than I would have ever imagined. And we were able to take some needed gifts to some needy families in our church.
But the story doesn’t end there. Last night at one of our services, I learned that a single lady in our church was going to spend Christmas all alone. To me, one who has spent too many Christmases alone, that’s just wrong. Our family is beginning vacation. It started after the service last night. My wife and our three children graciously and willingly give as part of our church all of the time. Yet, I knew that this wasn’t right and though it might be a little bit of inconvenience, I was going to ask my wife after the service to see if it would be okay if we added a place at our own Christmas dinner table. Yet, before I could have that conversation, I learned that another church family had already invited her to join theirs.
Yes, Christmas is the season of giving. And it’s true, you do not have to know Christ to give generously and sacrificially. Some do. Yet, when you have been given so much from a loving God who owed you nothing. When you’ve seen giving modeled in heavenly proportions…how can you do any less and how could you not desire to give more and more. It’s the supernatural outcome…because you are the recipient of God’s greatest gift, His Son, Jesus.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

If Christmas is about "peace on earth," where's mine?

“Unless you're in a James Bond movie, it's really unlikely that the pressure that you're feeling is anything but self-induced.”  Seth Godin

  For many, Christmas, and being with family is one of the highlights of the year. Yet, for many others…it’s anything but “Peace on earth.” Already, you’re dreading the obligatory holiday gatherings. Hopefully, most of that dread is not within your own family but with extended family.
  Yet, some of the tension is self-induced. Some of us have watched too many sappy Christmas movies. We’ve allowed ourselves to succumb to idealism and need to replace it with a healthy dose of realism. If you and your spouse tend to periodically squabble the other 364 days, like most married couples, it’s highly possible that you’re going to have a disagreement on December 25th, too. If your children fight, complain and whine the other 364 days of the year…like most children, it’s nearly guaranteed they’re going to do that on December 25th, too. Our sin natures don’t go comatose just because it’s Christmas. Why is that?
  Many of us overextend ourselves financially, particularly at Christmas. When we give a generous gift to someone, particularly one of our children, and they’re not overjoyed with our gift, we may be hurt…offended. But is it truly a gift? Or, is it a gift with strings in that we expect appreciation?
  When a gift is truly a gift, there are no expectations. Gratitude is just an extra blessing. We also need to honestly ask ourselves if we model gratitude. If our children do not see us thankful for God’s blessings, His salvation, forgiveness, our church, job, home and countless other blessings then what are they learning from us? It’s a reminder to us to be continually thankful to our Heavenly Father for His constant bounty of blessings in our lives. With knowing all that God has given me, shouldn’t my life be filled with continual thanking of Him?
  Many of us overextend ourselves physically, particularly at Christmas. If you’re not getting adequate rest, you’ll have difficulty controlling your spirit. Most of us find carnality more quickly rises to the surface when we’re fatigued. If we’re biting off heads or finding ourselves on the verge of an emotional meltdown, we’ve missed God’s plan of “peace on earth.” We probably need to cut back on our obligations and be willing to disappoint or irritate a well-meaning relative who insists “everyone has to be there for Christmas.” As an adult or married couple, you need to wisely do what’s best for you (and your family) both physically and spiritually.
  And since Jesus wasn’t actually born on December 25th, do we have to actually celebrate on December 25th? If another day would make the time of getting together more pleasant for most, why not schedule it for another day? The specific day isn’t the point, it’s the getting together that’s important. While Christmas is an opportunity to encourage family gatherings, it’s not a biblical command.
  Many of us foolishly think it will be different this time. If Uncle John drank too much last Christmas, he’ll probably drink too much this year. If Aunt Martha was inappropriate last year, she’ll probably be inappropriate this year. If Cousin Bob bragged about his new car, new house, Harvard bound kids, etc., things aren’t likely to change. But you can. You have the Holy Spirit indwelling you. You should be growing in your Christian walk and can choose how you’ll respond. Romans 12:18 commands us, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.”    
  Many of us are the only Christians at our Christmas gathering. Some will be visiting family members who are contemptuous of Christianity and even hostile to the gospel. Christmas isn’t the time to argue whether Christ was born of Virgin or if the Bible is truly God’s Word.
  The Holy Spirit brings peace (Gal. 5:22), and believers are to be peacemakers (Matt. 5:9). Sometimes the divisiveness that happens at extended family dinner tables isn’t because an unbelieving family member decides to persecute a Christian, it’s because a Christian is a Crusader rather than a missionary. While it’s true the gospel exposes sin, the gospel does so strategically, in order to point the lost to Christ. Antagonizing unbelievers at a family dinner table (or even a company Christmas party) because they think like unbelievers isn’t the way of Christ. Some believers foolishly think their belligerence is actually a sign of holiness. It’s not. Your presence should be one of peace and tranquility. The gospel you believe ought to be what disrupts, not you’re your own obnoxious argumentativeness. There’s a big difference between the two.
  And please keep the main thing the main thing. Our country today is polarized on political differences and ideology. No one is going to Heaven or Hell because they’re a Democrat or Republican, because they’re a Liberal or a Conservative, or even a member of the Tea Party or a card carrying member of the ACLU. Amazingly, Jesus had those who were ardent supporters of the Roman government and those who were fanatical revolutionaries seeking to overthrow Rome among His disciples. He taught and modeled for them to keep the main thing the main thing. There is only one Government that ultimately matters – that’s His reign. All of the rest are merely re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic of a doomed world. Personally, I want to rescue as many as I can off this sinking ship as I can, don’t you? Christmas with unsaved friends or family members isn’t the time for a political debate that’s not going to make any ultimate difference whether it’s in DC or Madison. We must be focused on eternity.
  Jesus is the Prince of Peace and came to bring “peace on earth.” He gave us the responsibility to share His message of how to have peace with God. By His grace, let’s choose to let Him fill our hearts with His peace so we can share it with those who don’t know Him. We’re His ambassadors in a world that knows little of true peace. Jesus brought peace through His humility, love and grace. That’s the starting place for us as well.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Why am I always amazed when God answers prayer?

“The story of every great Christian achievement is the history of answered prayer.” E.M. Bounds

  My wife, Jane, and I don’t cry together often yet we did this past Monday…but it was a really good cry. We were just both overwhelmed with God’s goodness and His provision that it brought tears to our eyes. It literally took our breath away.
  For us, our commitment to our Building Changed Lives Together Campaign begins in January. While all along we’ve been giving toward our new building, this past Sunday, we’d talked about December and what we were going to give. We decided that we’d give $250.00 for the new building, plus our regular giving. In December, with Christmas around the corner, without long range planning for us and as it was not in the budget – that was a chunk of money for us.
  Monday, I came home after lunch and Jane was in the midst of emailing me. With tears in her eyes, she says, “You’re not going to believe what happened!” Jane has a used book business that we run out of our home and on Monday morning she sold a book for $250.00. And we didn’t even buy the book. It was given to us by a friend who often has extra books from their business that they need to discard and had given it to us.
  If you’re familiar with Amazon and that Amazon ranks their books by popularity in sales, this was a book that had very little chance of ever selling. It was ranked at 2.3 million. Many used book dealers won’t even buy books for resale that have a ranking of less than a million because they want to move books and don’t want a lot of books in their stock. Add to that, most of the books that Jane sells average between $8 to $10 a book.
  When we committed to that extra $250 over our regular giving and over our commitment, we had no idea where the money was going to come from. But our Heavenly Father did! God already had a lady somewhere in Missouri ready to order a book from a used book dealer in Rochester, Wisconsin because He knew that we needed $250 that we didn’t really have to give away for His glory!
  Talk about seeing your sermon come to life. Last weekend we worked through Philippians 4:10-20 and we specifically talked about God’s promise in verse 19, “And my God will supply every need of yours according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.”
  Jane and I got so excited that we decided to start a memory book of how God provides and answers our prayers during this Capital Campaign. Since we made our commitment, we’ve already seen God begin to provide in phenomenal ways…ways that we never even imagined.
  Over the course of my life, I’ve seen God provide for me over and over again. Here’s my problem – I have a very short memory. Unfortunately, I tend to make the current problems I’m facing so big that I can completely forget God’s big blessings and provision in the past. The same Heavenly Father who took care of me yesterday is going to take care of me today. Too often I forget what He’s already done for me.
  Then, we had this other great idea. If a “How God provided memory book” would be good for us, it might help everyone in our church family. Many of you are probably like me. God has taken care of you and provided for you so many times, but you just tend to forget, particularly during tough times.
  So this morning, we have some “How God provided memory notebooks” available for anyone who wants one. Please feel free to pick up one when you leave this morning. I hope that you’ll use this over the course of the next three years…maybe longer. It will help all of us remember that the God we’re bringing our problem to today is the same God Who provided for us yesterday. Talk about a way of encouraging and affirming our faith.
  This is all supremely biblical. Later today we’re having a baptismal service. God designed baptism to be a physical reminder of what’s already taken place spiritually. As one dies to sin and was dead spiritually prior to coming to Christ in salvation and being regenerated, so going down into the water is a symbol of that dead condition. Yet, coming back up out of the water is a beautiful symbol of the resurrection and the new life that every believer has in Jesus Christ. Ephesians 2:5-6 says, “even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with Him and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.”
  It’s why God had the Children of Israel keep a jar of manna in the Ark of the Covenant. He didn’t want them to forget how He’d providentially fed them for forty years in the wilderness. He had them bring twelve huge rocks from out of the Jordan River when they crossed over on dry ground during the flood season to remind them of how God had miraculously intervened for them and brought them into the Promised Land.
  Sadly, too often, in the Church, we don’t keep answered prayer or God’s provision diaries. We don’t have many symbols of how God has provided for us in the past. We also don’t share enough with each other of God intervening or answering our prayers. We’re working on that at Grace and will continue to take steps to grow in this area in our church.
  God has already used our Building Changed Lives Together Campaign to bring about spiritual growth in my life and in our family’s life. We want to keep a record of it so that we can look back and remember what God has done. I hope you’ll do the same. And if you have children at home, what a wonderful way to build a foundation of faith in their hearts as they see the written account of how our Heavenly Father provided for your family during this time of challenge and commitment for your family and our church family.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Giving from the heart...not because you have to

“Man sees your actions, but God your motives.” Thomas à Kempis

Okay, now that Christmas and the Christmas shopping season are here, can I make a little confession? Many years Jane and I make a deal on how much we’re going to spend on each other and what the budget is. When it comes to Jane, I’m a “dirty” dealmaker. We’ll set a certain amount and Jane will honor it, BUT it nearly kills me. And I nearly always break our deal. Why? Well, I love giving gifts to Jane. I love making her happy….because I love Jane and I am so thankful for her! I consider myself one of the most blessed men in the world.
  I agree with Winston Churchill’s classic line. Towards the end of his life, when Churchill was honored at a banquet, someone asked him, “If you could come back as anyone after you die, who would it be?” He thought for a second, stood up, turned to his wife, and said, “Mrs. Churchill’s second husband.”  One of my biggest regrets over the course of my life is that I haven’t done more for Jane during our thirty plus years of marriage. Remember that line from It’s a Wonderful life: “George lassoes the moon for Mary.” If I could, I’d lasso the moon for Jane.
  Though there are many reasons that I love giving Jane gifts and doing things for her, two stand out in my mind. First, Jane gives and gives and gives so much to me. I want to give; I want do things for Jane. Second, Jane is thankful for everything and every gift that I give her.
  One of the frustrations and even exasperations for many of us at Christmas are the obligatory gifts. Those are gifts that you feel you have to give, yet don’t necessarily want to give. Sometimes your family has a huge gift giving tradition that probably should be retired now that everyone is grown and the list of relatives who you’re purchasing gifts for has become onerous. You hardly know your second cousin’s wife and other than Christmas, never see them or have any contact with them, yet still there is that pressure to have a gift for them. Or, you have a co-worker who daily wears on your last nerve but every year they bring you a gift. You find that you feel obligated to give them a gift in return. But guilt and obligation are terrible motivations for gift giving. Rather than feeling joyful that we can give, we find that we feel resentful.
  It’s the difference between Law and Grace, or even tithing and grace-giving. Under the Law or Old Covenant, Jews were required to tithe. It was obligatory. It was something like a tax. It’s obvious that they began resent it and obeyed the letter of the Law but missed the spirit of the Law. For example, Jews were required to bring an animal sacrifice in worship to God. They obeyed the letter of the Law, but began bringing rejects from their flocks. Malachi 1:8 records God’s rebuke of this practice, “When you offer blind animals in sacrifice, is that not evil? And when you offer those that are lame or sick, is that not evil? Present that to your governor; will he accept you or show you favor?” The people of Malachi’s day were giving God the leftovers. They had no use for a blind, lame, or sick animal, so they’ d give it to God. But God tells them that He’d rather that they close the doors of the Temple than to have them offer these junk and cheap sacrifices to Him.
  Can you imagine a husband going down to the local thrift store to buy his wife a Christmas gift? He doesn’t even go to the higher quality displays but goes to the bargain bin to find his wife her gift. And then he’s surprised that her response is a little south of less than thrilled with his junky gift.
  Our culture takes for granted that which is free. But just because something is free doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s cheap. Salvation is a free gift. You cannot earn it or pay for it. You can only accept it freely, BUT it cost God everything. It cost the Father the life of His beloved Son. Once you accept such a precious gift, it demands everything you have in response. And when you recognize that you are not your own, you were bought with a price, and that all that you have has been freely given to you by God, how can you hold back anything from Him?
  The only thing that a holy God owes us is His justice and judgment. Instead, He freely gave His own Son to die on the Cross for us. God’s justice was satisfied as our judgment was poured out on Jesus. He died in our place and took our Hell. Is it any wonder that Paul says of God’s gift for our salvation? “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!” (2 Corinthians 9:15, NASV).
  When I begin to comprehend how much I am loved by God and how gracious and generous God has been with me, giving back to God becomes one of the greatest joys of my life. I love to give because I am giving in gratitude. And I proactively look for ways that I can give more.
  Somehow though in the Church we’ve communicated that giving is similar to courtesy. For example, frequently we teach children to say please and thank you as a matter of courtesy—as a way of teaching them how to get along in society. It’s the price they must pay to get their milk and cookies. We’re more concerned with the outward performance of good manners than we are with true gratitude.
  There’s a great chasm of difference between giving thanks and having a thankful heart. Our Heavenly Father cares more about thankfulness that flows from the inside out than obedience we wear like a cheap suit. We have missed the gratitude that God desires in our giving when we focus on a tithe, or worse, wonder if we tithe on the gross or the net.
  Giving is an act of worship. It’s demonstrating gratitude to the One who has given so greatly to us that it will take us all of eternity just to begin to thank Him. If we want to receive the blessing that God wants us to receive from giving, rather than hearing it as a command, we need to hear it as an invitation. It’s our opportunity to say thank you back to God for His love and generosity to us. God is honored (and we are healthiest) when our hearts and minds flow naturally with His and we give from a heart overflowing with gratitude and generosity just as His does toward us.