I sat with someone on a park bench this week and listened to their story of financial transformation. They had been struggling for a while, their business was on the edge, and they could not see a way through. But a couple of years ago, they made a decision to start tithing properly and consistently to the local church. Previously their giving was a little ad hoc and inconsistent.
The subsequent transformation for this individual and their business has been astounding. They are almost overrun with offers of contracts, their giving has gone up exponentially, and they feel very much the blessing of God on their business and finances. They give joyfully and thankfully, aware of the massive turnaround of their fortunes. They agree with Rick Warren’s statement that “you cannot outgive God!” That is a fight that you are never going to win.
I have, over the years, heard several stories of a similar ilk. People who have decided to honour God first with their finances and to trust him for his supply. We have certainly experienced similar circumstances in our own life on numerous occasions.
We need, of course, to be careful here. God is not a heavenly slot machine that you can prime with your tithes and offerings. We are not advocating a “prosperity gospel” here. But I think the Bible is absolutely clear that if we honour God in this very important area of our lives – he will bless us. No two ways about it. In this context, I think what Dave said in his sermon on Sunday is absolutely true. He recounted the faithfulness of his own father in this arena. The blessing that came back to him was not overtly financial – he never became rich or wealthy. But he was greatly blessed of God, was rich towards him, and left behind a rich legacy of faith to his children and grandchildren.
“The blessing of the Lord makes rich – and he adds no sorrow to it!”
Rick Warren gave some very practical and helpful advice in the small group teaching this week, which I think we can all learn from, as we think about and reassess how we handle our financial resources.
Where to start?
Church would be easy if it wasn’t for all the people….
As John Ortberg writes: “Every one of us – all we like sheep – have habits we can’t control, past deeds we can’t undo, flaws we can’t correct. This is the cast of characters God has to work with…..Everybody’s weird.”
Some are weirder than others.
The community of church – the body of Christ – is where we get to practise loving people. This people, in this place, at this time. It is easy to love people in the abstract, at a distance; to feel that our hearts are full of love and the goodness and kindness of God. It is a little harder to love people in reality. Face to face. Week in and week out. As Jean Vanier writes: “Community is the place where our limitations, our fears and our egoism are revealed to us. While we are alone, we could believe we loved everyone.”
But this is where it is at.
Jesus said that all the law and the prophets are summed up by two things: loving God and loving others. And he also said that you can’t pass on the “loving others” bit. You can’t say you love God, whom you can’t see, if you don’t love those people around you with skin on.
That is challenging at times.
But the older I get, the longer my teeth grow, the more I realise that relationships and friendships and intimacy and relating well to others is vital and central and of the utmost importance. More than visions and targets and purpose statements and campaigns – loving God and loving others is central to it all.
Some of the things that I think are important in this aspect, in no particular order:
Maybe you have some ideas and thoughts that you can add?
A couple of books I have enjoyed on this subject:
“Everybody’s normal till you get to know them” – John Ortberg. This is probably one of his best books and is divided into three sections: Part 1: “Normal, there’s no such thing dear”, Part 2: How to get close without getting hurt and Part 3: “The secrets of strong relationships.”
Friendship: An Expose by Joseph Epstein
“In a wickedly entertaining anatomy of friendship in its contemporary guises, Joseph Epstein uncovers the rich and surprising truths about our favoured companions. Is it possible to have too many friends? Is your spouse supposed to be your best friend? How far should you go to help a friend in need? And how do you end a friendship that has run its course?” (Good Reads)
Not a Christian book, but quite witty and entertaining…
On Sunday, Paul spoke to us about the two extremes of emotions: 1) Emotionalism, where we let our emotions rule and dictate our life and 2) Stoicism, where we live very rational lives, but don’t pay attention to our emotions and what they are telling us. By nature and disposition, some of us are more “gushers” and some of us are more “stuffers”. Some of us follow our emotions wherever they lead us and some of us ignore them at all costs. Some of us wear our hearts on our sleeves, and some of us would be great poker players – we are so inscrutable!
Perhaps you can recognise yourself and how you handle your emotions.
Learning to recognise, name, listen to and master our emotions is not easy, but it is a sign of growth and spiritual maturity. As Paul said on Sunday, we have to make sense of, monitor and manage our emotions!
One of the keys to this I have found is to be brutally honest. As Rick Warren put it in his small group teaching: “You must be honest with yourself, honest with God, and honest with one other person.”
As the Psalmist put it: “You desire truth in the inward parts” (Psalm 51:6)
The Psalms are full of honest and raw expressions of emotion and feeling – laying it all before God. Sometimes I think we hold back, we gloss over our feeling and our failures, we hide in the likeness of Adam and Eve, we know God knows, but we live in the shadows.
Whether you write it, or sing it, or speak it; whisper it or shout it, it is a good and healing thing to be very honest with God about where you are and lean in to him and his wonderful mercy and grace. Being honest about our feelings, watching our gauges, and spending time in God’s presence will help us to grow and flourish emotionally.
I was thinking this morning about God’s peace – and how he tells us to bring our worries and anxiety to him and he will give us his peace in exchange. I listened to the song “It is well” by Kristene diMarco, and was struck by the line:
“So let go my soul and trust in him
The waves and wind still know his name”.
May God’s peace come to you and rest on you as you lean into him.
Transformed is a strong word isn’t it?!I get nervous and wary around the claim that something is going to change my life.
This book will change your life!This diet will change your life.It is quite a claim – and it is often exaggerated!Obviously the title of this series – this 50 day campaign – is a strong one.
But it’s not my word. It’s not Rick Warren’s word.It’s God’s word.
“Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12:1-2 NIV)
As the New Living Translation puts it: “Don’t copy the behaviour and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think.”
You cannot have a positive life and a negative mind. As Joyce Meyer writes:“your life will not get straightened out until your mind does. You should consider this area one of vital necessity”
If you want to change anything in your life, you are going to have to change your mind. It always starts in your mind.
What are you feeding your mind?What is the track that you are listening to?What are the messages that you are imbibing and believing?
According to a 2015 study, we check our phones on average 85 times a day. Multiple studies found that almost half of smartphone users are glued to their screens for over five hours a day — that’s almost a third of our waking life. And some of us sit for hours and hours and hours and stare through this window on the world – this Instagram image of reality – this Facebook painting of facts, this televisual trash – and we are surprised that our minds our so messed up.
If I spend 5 hours a day on social media and using the Internet, and I engage with the Bible for 5 minutes a day – what is informing my mind and my reality?
Two ways that we can change and renew our minds:
a. Feed your mind with the truthb. Fend off destructive thoughts
“One of the sovereign remedies against sin is to spend much time, thoughtful time, meditative time, in the Scriptures, for it is impossible to get rid of the trash in our minds without replacing it with an entirely different way of thinking.” D.A.Carson
God’s word has the power to wash and renew your mind.
The only way to get rid of a bad thought is to replace it – to change the channel.
Thomas Chalmers said in his sermon called The Expulsive Power of the New Affection: “The best way to disengage an impure desire is to engage a pure one; the best way to expel the love of what is evil is to embrace the love of what is good instead. To be specific, we must replace the object of our sinful affection with an infinitely more worthy one-God himself…the expulsive power of our new affection weakens and even destroys the power of sin in our hearts.”
Only the word of God or the knowledge of God that enables to demolish and destroy these strongholds. This is a serious battle that cannot be ignored. The battle of the mind will dictate how you will live, whether you live in freedom or captivity.
A Mind for God – James Emery White
Battlefield of the Mind – Joyce Meyer
Digital Minimalism – Cal Newport
Twelve ways your phone is changing you – Tony Reinke
Competing spectacles: Treasuring Christ in the digital age – Tony Reinke
Podcast interview – How do I resist smartphone overuse?
“The way we use and treat our bodies, for better or worse, will profoundly shape our spirit and our relationship with God, others, and life itself.”(Ken Shigematsu – God in my Everything)
Just as we often create separate categories for our lives of secular and spiritual, so too we often separate the spiritual from the physical. I think this is a profound mistake.
What is happening with you physically affects you emotionally and spiritually.
In one section of C.S. Lewis’s “The Screwtape Letters”, the senior devil tells the junior devil to try to persuade the Christian whom he is tempting to believe that the body is inconsequential:
“At the very least, they can be persuaded that the bodily position makes no difference to their prayers; for they constantly forget…that they are animals and that whatever their bodies do affect their souls.”
So, writes Ken Shigematsu:
“the care of our bodies through regular exercise, adequate sleep, and healthy eating constitutes a foundational part of our rule, our trellis that supports our life with God. The body, mind and spirit are interconnected. This means that physical practices are also spiritual practices”
At a personal level, I know my life looks and feels very different when I am exercising, eating well and getting enough sleep. My “spiritual capacity” rises exponentially.
When I am stressed, not sleeping well, not exercising, and not eating right, it is a whole different story.
Some questions to think about:
1) Are you getting enough sleep?
2) Do you have good night-time routines to help you sleep?
3) Are you switching off from technology enough?
4) Are you constantly feeling tired and jaded?
5) What are you going to change about this?
6) Do you have a regular sabbath?
7) Do you eat healthily?
8) Do you get enough/any physical exercise?
Can things change for the better? Politicians promise us constantly that they can – that “yes we can”, and that they have the answer. They claim titles such as “progressive”, promise us a bright new future, and argue that their opponents belong to the past – “you were the future once”.
Can we change? Can our lives change when we are stuck in a rut, struggling with family circumstances, facing debilitating challenges and crumbling on the inside?
Sean told his moving story in church on Sunday of how his life has changed; how it has been completely turned around. He told of his descent into despondency and desperation, he spoke of the loss of his father at a young age, and of how, a number of years later, he marked a date in his diary when he wanted to end his life. He then talked of encountering Jesus Christ, experiencing faith and a spiritual new birth.
The change was dramatic. Transformation is not too strong a word. He was, to use a Biblical term, like a new person – a new creation.
I have watched makeover shows on television where they give a person a new wardrobe and new clothes. They perform dental work and even surgery to create a “new person”. But what those shows can never really do is change someone on the inside. For us as Christians this is the power of the “gospel” – the good news about Jesus Christ. We believe in his power to change a life completely – not just to stick a plaster on an issue, to make do and mend, or to make surface changes. But to be changed from the inside out – to be so radically transformed that people can’t help but notice.
In my years in church ministry I have seen this happen over and over. Sometimes the change is sudden and dramatic, sometimes it is slow and incremental.
But I do believe change is possible and I do believe that this is the power and the hope and truth of the gospel – good news for everyone.
As we enter into this 50-day “Transformed” campaign, I believe in a God that can change us from the inside out, that can transform every area of our lives.
“Anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!” (2 Corinthians 5:17 (NLT)