Cheerful Heart

How willing are you to give to others? Do you willingly give to charities? Do you actively look for opportunities to share with those who are less fortunate? Or are you hording every dime for yourself? Do you give regularly to your church?

There are more charitable organizations available for us to give to than we can count. They are specialized for diseases, research, feeding people, clothing people, and providing for people in many other ways. We cannot deny there are opportunities to help others.

On the one hand, we cannot give to every charitable organization. On the other hand, we are called to give to those in need. But have you wondered why there are so many charitable organizations and why they are constantly asking for donations? I suggest it is due to the enormous need in our world today. The cynic will state there are rip-offs out there, and that is true. But that doesn’t give us a valid reason to refuse to give. It simply means we must be wise in our giving.

We are called to share. We teach our children when they are young to share their toys, take turns riding a bike, and take turns shooting the basketball. We applaud the child who shares their lunch at school with a child who has none. Yet when we become adults, we stop sharing.

Notice what the Apostle Paul is writing to the church in Corinth in today’s passage. There are three key points in it:

  1. Sow generously and reap generously.
  2. Give willingly and with a cheerful heart.
  3. God will bless you abundantly.

When you boil it all down, it comes down to the condition of our heart. If we want to know if our heart is in good condition, take a look at how much we share with others. If we want to measure how much we trust God, measure our giving.

You see, when we trust God, we share, we give, and we allow Him to provide for us. When our heart is focused on God, we see the hurting and less fortunate in the world and desire to share what God has blessed us with. We become His hands and feet to others. How is your heart?

I pray we all take a hard look at our giving. I pray we measure our hearts by God’s yardstick. I pray each one of us decides to give cheerfully to God’s purposes and trust Him to provide. Share what you have been blessed with. Give to others. Give wisely. Trust God. Know that He will bless you.

2 Corinthians 9:6-8 Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. 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. And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.

Grand Plan

Have you ever felt you were predestined for something larger than what you are currently doing? Have you felt a pull toward a grander plan? Do you know what it is? Or is it just out of your vision? Are you searching it out or waiting in fear?

Most of us have dreams. Those dreams may be grand in scale. Or they may be small in comparison to others. As small children our dreams are typically larger than they are when we are adults. As adults, we have come to the conclusion that our dreams need to be more realistic or logical.

I can remember as a small child dreaming of one day playing for the St. Louis Cardinals. One of my aunts used to say that I was born with a ball and bat in my hand. I played baseball nearly every day, even if only by myself. Before there were pitchbacks, I used a sidewalk and the cinder block foundation of our house. Since we lived on a gravel road, I would toss rocks in the air and hit them with a bat. I’m not sure the farmer whose field I hit them in was all that pleased.

Jesus was sent for a much larger plan. Oh, we all know of His crucifixion and resurrection. We’ve been told about it many times, especially during the Easter season. Yet that was only the means by which He was to do what He came to do. His plan was to do something that had not yet been done. He came to not merely rescue the Jews, but to bring all non-Jews into the kingdom of God.

Notice how Isaiah states God’s plan for His Son. To rescue the Jews was too small a task for Him to do. It simply would not do for Him to only bring them back into the fold. He was to gather the gentiles, everyone who was not a Jew, into the fold with them. Yes, Jesus had a far greater task to complete. His plan is still working to this day.

I pray we all recognize the grand plan God has for us. I pray we follow His plan. I pray each one of us realize Jesus has implemented His plan and we are part of it. Think bigger than you have in the past. Join in with God’s wonderful plan. Know that God wants all of us to be brought into His kingdom. Accept the salvation He offers.

Isaiah 49:5-6 And now the Lord says—he who formed me in the womb to be his servant to bring Jacob back to him and gather Israel to himself, for I am honored in the eyes of the Lord and my God has been my strength—he says: “It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.”

The Peace of Christ

What are you searching for? What is it you yearn for more than anything? Can you put your finger on it? Do you know what it is you long for down deep within your heart? Do you know where you can find it?

All of us are longing for something. We run off in search of it every day. We set goals, both long-term and short-term. We pursue them in step-by-step fashion. In our pursuit, we often step on others and leave them behind. Yet do we really know what it is we long for?

I suspect the vast majority of us don’t really know what our deep desire is. We will say we are looking for a companion, a better job, a new house, a new car, friendships, or even a church where we feel we belong. Much like a disease, these are just symptoms of what we yearn for in our heart of hearts.

What we really want is peace. We look at these other things as a means to gain the peace we desire. We have the false impression that we will be satisfied with “things,” which will grant us the peace we want. Acquiring them will satisfy us for a short time, but our satisfaction will fade, and we will start searching again.

There is only one person who can grant us the peace we desire—Jesus Christ. We have heard this before and we have been led astray before. We hear it said, “Just turn your life over to Jesus and you will find peace.” Though that statement is true, it is not simple. We are often led to believe it is as simple as saying, “I believe in Jesus.” It is more than making a four-word statement.

Notice the beginning of our passage today. We must allow Christ to rule our hearts to gain the peace we desire. That means we must give up being in control of our hearts. We must give up seeking all of those “things” ahead of Him. We must allow Christ to be our guide. Sure, we can go get those “things,” but only if that is where Christ is leading us. Otherwise, we continue to chase after the peace we desire while only gaining temporary satisfaction.

I pray we all allow Christ to rule our hearts. I pray we gain the peace we desire. I pray each one of us give thanks to God for the peace we receive through Christ. Allow Jesus to rule your heart. Give yourself up for Him. Gain the peace you desire. Be thankful to God.

Colossians 3:15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.

Believe

What do you believe? Do you know that what you believe or believe in feeds your decision-making process? How do you decide what to believe? Are you willing to listen to, think through, and recognize truth?

We believe more than we consciously think about. Some of our beliefs are so ingrained in us they become second nature. Unfortunately, some of our beliefs are false. We don’t think they and we don’t want to hear they are. We want to believe our beliefs are correct.

There is One we should believe and believe in regardless of what else we may believe. Our belief in Him needs to become second nature, changing all our decisions, actions, and behavior. Again, it is unfortunate that most of us don’t. Oh, we may believe He is who He says He is on the surface, but we don’t truly believe deep down. It hasn’t become second nature. It doesn’t change who we are.

Many of us believe Jesus is the Son of God in the same way we believe 2 + 2 is 4. It’s nice to know. We may use that knowledge from time-to-time, but most of the time it doesn’t really impact us. We don’t have to perform math operations every moment of the day. So, we ignore it when we don’t need it.

Our mistake in treating our belief in Jesus this way is we actually need Him every moment of every day. Unlike our math equation, which may not be needed for multiple days at a time, Jesus is needed. We fail to understand deep down that He is the very One who gives us life—not just eternal life, not that eternal life isn’t important, but He provides the very breath we breathe right this moment.

We also fail to truly recognize what it means to overcome death. Jesus raised multiple people from the dead while He walked this earth simply to provide us a small indication of His power. He overcame death when He rose on the third day. He told us that we continue to live though we may die (John 11:25). Do you understand what that means? It means you and I never die. Oh, physically our temporary bodies will give out, but we continue living.

Jesus wants us to believe Him and believe in Him in the depths of our hearts. We need to believe Him, if we want to have the abundant life He promised in John 10:10. Jesus doesn’t make empty promises, but we must believe.

I pray we all believe Jesus is who He says He is. I pray we believe in Him deep in our hearts. I pray each one of us will decide to make our belief in Jesus second nature. Believe Jesus. Believe in Jesus. Believe with all your heart. Change your life with Jesus. Make your belief second nature.

Romans 10:9-11 If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. As Scripture says, “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.”

Accepting One Another

Are you competitive? Do you like to win? Do you argue until you have won the argument—or the other person simply gives up? Are you the parent who never lets your child win? What would you say if I told you, you will be last?

Most of us like to win, at least sometimes. We have been conditioned to believe losing is terrible. Although, those of us who have ran races have come to understand placing in the top ten or twenty percent is still pretty good.

Unfortunately, we often carry our competitive nature into our Christian viewpoint. We don’t want the person who doesn’t look like he or she belongs to come into our churches. We ostracize the person who doesn’t wear nice clothes to church. It’s alright if we serve them in a homeless shelter, but we don’t want them sitting next to us in the pew.

We read the last sentence of today’s passage or we hear it quoted and think we are the last. When we treat the children of God as though they don’t belong, we are not putting ourselves last. Unfortunately, that means Jesus will put us last. I’m sure you are wondering how I can say that.

Allow me to explain. In the parable in which Jesus states the last will be first, and the first will be last, He is talking about hiring workers. This points to His calling of all of us to work for Him. Yet, when we are like the workers who were hired first, demanding more pay, He will make us last. The point of this story is all who come to Him will receive the same reward—spending eternity with Him.

A secondary point Jesus makes is don’t hold yourself in higher regard than others. As brothers and sisters in Christ, we are all equal. That’s a tough one for many of us. Treating each other as beloved brothers and sisters irrespective of race, gender, ethnicity, social status, and any other man-made division of people is hard. We really like to think highly of ourselves.

Being believers in Jesus has made all of us equal in God’s eyes, whether we like it or not. The sooner we accept it, the better off we will be, not just because God will be more pleased with us, but we will find freedom in our acceptance of others.

I pray we all continue working for God. I pray we treat our brothers and sisters equally. I pray each one of us accepts God’s viewpoint of His children. Work for God. Accept your reward. Treat each other well. Accept your brothers and sisters.

Matthew 20:13-16 “But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to workfor a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

Humble Yourself

Do you like it when people honor you for doing something well? Do you seek recognition for extraordinary talent or achievements? Are you frustrated when others are presented with awards? Have you realized you are called to be humble?

We see people put on pedestals for their achievements. Our society is constantly looking for someone who does something extraordinary. We are encouraged to take on the challenge of achieving a rare feat. The world longs for someone to worship.

We see it in the sports arena. There is the “Play of the Day.” Highlights of the game are shown repeatedly. We see it in the academic world. We are amazed by people to climb their way out of poverty to be CEO’s. There are even stories of people who overcome horrible accidents to achieve amazing success.

Though we long to see and hear of people who do amazing things, we often fail to think about how they were able to do them. In many cases, the achievers spent years of hard work and practice to reach the pinnacle of achievement. This is what the world tells us we must do to achieve a high status.

There is nothing wrong with working hard. In fact, we are told we are to work with all our heart, as if we are working for the Lord (Colossians 3:23). That means we are to put forth an honest days’ work for our pay. But that’s the catch, isn’t it? Putting forth a good effort only earns the pay we receive. It doesn’t get us the recognition we want.

God has a different plan for us. His plan is to lift us up. What do we need to do? We are to humble ourselves. That is certainly contrary to what we hear from the world. But think about it for just a minute. Who do you remember the most? Who is you hold in high esteem for years or perhaps your entire life? It is the person who has sacrificed themselves for the better good. It is the person who taught you about life. It is the person who has humbled themselves before God, taking on the task He assigned to them. In most cases, it is a parent or grandparent.

God has a plan for each one of us. He desires us to humble ourselves and pursue His plan. When we do, He will lift us up. Not with ten minutes of fame, but with eternal honor. Have you sought God’s plan for you?

I pray we all seek God’s plan. I pray we humble ourselves before Him. I pray each one of us choose to work with all our heart as though we are working for God. Humble yourself. Wait for God to lift you up. Trust His promises. Choose God’s plan for you.

Matthew 23:11-12 The greatest among you will be your servant. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.

Inexpressible Joy

Are you looking for joy? Do you long to have joy in your life? Have you found joy? Or is it a fleeting feeling that comes and goes? Have you discovered that your joy is connected to your faith in Jesus?

We all seek joy in our life. Though, for many people, they define joy as happiness, laughing, and getting everything they wish for. That is not how joy is defined by God. It is not to say you won’t receive those, but it is neither dependent nor all encompassed by them.

Joy is expressed and defined in several passages throughout the New Testament. The first thing to remember is joy comes from the Holy Spirit. When we receive the Holy Spirit and allow Him to work in our lives, joy is one of the fruits we experience (Galatians 5:22). In other words, we cannot generate true joy on our own, it is a gift.

We experience joy when we pray for others (Philippians 1:4). Now, that makes sense, doesn’t it? Don’t we fill a peace or calm about our lives when we pray for others? This is one component of the joy we are blessed with by God. Our overall joy is increased as we pray for others.

We are told to count it joy when we experience difficulties because of our belief in Jesus (James 1:2). Those difficulties may come in the form of persecution, which may mean being ridiculed, laughed at, teased, or otherwise ostracized. As we experience these difficulties, we are to give joyful thanks to God for the inheritance we have from Him (Colossians 1:11-12).

Our joy is connected to our faith. As our faith increases, our joy increases. The joy we experience through our faith is inexpressible, as we see in today’s passage. In other words, we have no earthly explanation for the joy we have. It comes from God. Therefore, it is also a glorious joy, rooted in the glory of God.

True joy is more than happiness, laughing, or getting what we want. Sure, those will satisfy us for a short period of time. However, joy is something we have at all times. It includes peace, calm, contentment, confidence, and belief that God will provide for us in every situation.

I pray we all experience the true joy given to us by God. I pray we allow the Holy Spirit to produce joy in our lives. I pray each one of us believes in Jesus and increase our faith in Him. Experience true joy. Allow the Holy Spirit to bless you. Increase your faith. Believe in Jesus.

1 Peter 1:8-9 Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

Breaking Bread

What is the most important time of day for you? Are you a morning person? Are you a night owl? Is there another part of the day you prefer? How do you view meals? Not simply eating, but who you are eating with.

We all have our favorite time of day. Some love the morning and get a lot done during the first half of the day. Others prefer the evenings or nights, staying up until the wee hours of the morning. Regardless of which part of the day you prefer, you can learn to appreciate others.

We all have a basic need—we need to eat. Spending time together for meals can be a great time of fellowship. Sitting around the table sharing a meal is an intimate time. We may deny that statement, but it makes it no less true. All you need to do to verify it is pay attention to the moods, attitudes, and topics of discussion at the next meal you enjoy with others. Pay attention when you eat your next meal with your family. Be even more observant of everyone eating together at the next corporate dinner or think back to the last one you participated in.

Why am I focusing so much on meals? I believe Jesus loved having meals with a group. We see recorded several occasions in which He ate or fed others. We see the breaking of bread specifically mentioned on those occasions. We remember most often His breaking the bread at the last supper, but He did this several other times. Have you ever thought there was significance in this? It wasn’t simply a Jewish custom.

I believe Jesus knew exactly what He was doing. In fact, I believe Jesus ensured every word and action of His had meaning. As Jesus broke bread, I wonder if He was thinking about it representing His broken body for us each time. Also, notice that He always gave thanks for the bread before He broke it. I don’t believe it was simply a ritualistic action, but one full of meaning.

As I have pondered Jesus breaking bread and giving thanks, I also noticed one more key. He is always the One who gives the instructions. In other words, He is the host. It doesn’t matter if He is in someone’s home or on a hillside or sitting by a lake. Jesus is in charge of the meal. How much more important are our meals, if we allow Jesus to be the host?

I pray we all invite Jesus to be the host of our meals. I pray we stop taking meals for granted. I pray each one of us realize the food we eat is a blessing from God, just as Jesus did. Let Jesus be the host. Accept Him at your table. Recognize God’s blessing. Give thanks.

Matthew 14:19-20 And he directed the people to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over.

Family Found

There are many in this world looking for a place to belong. They search for a place to fit in. Many of them are ostracized by their peers. Some are rejected or abused by their families. They feel left out. They become depressed.

Some people find a place they feel welcomed. The people they join are open and understanding. Often, these people are more mature and perhaps have experienced being ostracized themselves. They have “been around the block a time or two.”

How are we to find such people? What are we to do when we do find them? Might I suggest we look at those who are followers of Jesus. When we find a group that is welcoming, we should accept being welcomed. Over time, we can let down our guard and stop taking every comment as a personal attack. We begin to realize they are simply accepting us into the family. You see, sometimes families must correct one of their own. But more often than not, they are simply teasing you rather than attacking.

God brings us together as a family. It doesn’t mean we are required to agree at all times. We can agree to disagree and remain a family. God accepts us as we are, but He won’t leave us as we are. He has a plan for each of us. His plan is to bring us to our own glory by following His plan. He has made us brothers and sisters with His Son.

As someone who accepts Jesus as Lord and Savior, we are made holy by God. We follow in Jesus’ footsteps into salvation. We are a member of THE royal family. God’s family is a welcoming, accepting, and open family. While on earth and being human, we are not perfect yet. But we continue to strive to obey God’s commands and improve ourselves.

If you are a person who is longing to belong to something good, look to God. Find a church family that is welcoming. Don’t simply attend but join them. Get involved in the works. Participate in the classes. Build relationships with others. Let down your guard, allowing others to care for you and care for others.

I pray we all discover we are welcomed into God’s family. I pray we become active members. I pray each one of us learn to let down our guard and be caring people. Join God’s family. Follow His plan for you. Be active in His family. Love your brothers and sisters. Accept the salvation He freely gives.

Hebrews 2:10-11 In bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through what he suffered. Both the one who makes people holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters.

Ah-ha Moment

Have you ever been surprised? Have you ever had an “ah-ha” moment? Did it happen when a friend revealed something to you? Was it when a co-worker was explaining a process to you? How did you feel when it happened?

We all experience times when something “clicks” and it all makes sense. We often call them “ah-ha” moments. We may feel elated when it happens. We may feel a bit foolish. We may be amazed. One thing we can’t do is ignore those moments.

Think back to your early childhood, perhaps when you were in first or second grade. Think about learning math. Were you amazed when you suddenly understood how counting by tens worked? Understanding that tens counted just like ones, at least until you got to one hundred seemed simply amazing once you got it.

Perhaps you experienced it when you were learning to drive. You understood that by turning the steering wheel to the left caused the front tires to turn to the left. You figured out that the back wheels simply followed in the tracks of the front wheels. It is these little moments of understanding that set us up to understand more complex machinations later in life.

Have you had an “ah-ha” moment with Jesus? Have you begun to understand who he is? Are you piecing together more information to further your understanding? Jesus provides us with many clues and insights to His character, identifying who He is.

We see in today’s passage that a few of His followers had invited Him to eat supper with them yet didn’t know who He was. But once He broke the bread, gave thanks for it, and gave it to them, they recognized Him. They had an “ah-ha” moment. They finally understood why He was so knowledgeable about the Scriptures and prophecy of the Messiah. They realized why their hearts were burning while He was walking and talking with them.

Can you imagine this type of moment? You are talking to a person you met while on a trip. You think there is something oddly familiar about them. While in conversation you keep thinking, trying to determine where you may have seen them before. Suddenly, you realize they were a bit player in a television show you watched. Something similar to this happened to me in the Seattle airport. I saw one of the captains from the Deadliest Catch.

I pray we all have an “ah-ha” moment with Jesus. I pray we put the pieces together and finally understand who He is. I pray each one of us recognize Jesus as the Son of God, our Lord and Savior. Open your eyes. See Jesus for who He is. Come to the true realization that He is your Lord and Savior.

Luke 24:30-31 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight.