Biblical Perspective

31Dec 2014
new year

I’ve noticed something unusual while scrolling through my social media feeds over the last week. A lot of people are very eager to kiss 2014 goodbye.

How about you? Maybe you actually had a fantastic year. Or maybe it was a struggle.

For my family, 2014 brought a lot of blessings. It also brought a lot of injuries, followed by a lot of medical bills. Thanks to our emergency fund, my husband and I were able to make it through the year without acquiring any more debt, but we didn’t reach our goal of paying off our final student loan by the end of the year.

If, like us and so many others, you hit some bumps in the road in 2014, I just want to remind you that it’s OK.

Jesus told us that in this world, we will have trouble (John 16:33). Thankfully, trouble isn’t the end of the story. Jesus went on to say that we can take heart, because He has overcome the world.

It’s good to look back on the past 12 months and reflect on what went right and what could have gone better. Just don’t get so caught up in the speed bumps, potholes or even crashes of 2014 that you forget to look up at the road ahead.

Now is a great time to set new goals for 2015. You may make a New Year’s Resolution, or perhaps you’ll try the Un-Resolution route. In any case, let these words from Isaiah 43 sink into your soul as you look ahead to a fresh start. Happy New Year!

“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past.
See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
and streams in the wasteland.”

–Isaiah 43, 18-19 (NIV)

29Dec 2014
donation box

It’s that time of year when it seems everyone and their mother is asking for donations.

After reading this blog post about giving, I started examining my own household’s giving practices. I had to admit we don’t always give our first and best—and we don’t always give with the right motives, either.

The Bible makes it clear that it’s not just what, but how we give that matters. With that in mind, here are four giving guidelines I’m trying to put into practice. Hopefully they’ll give you something to think about, too.

Give your best, not your leftovers

(See Proverbs 3:9) I’m sad to say I’ve been guilty of donating food and clothing that I would not have wanted to use in my own home. Have you ever noticed the abundance of cheap, less-than-delicious-or-nutritious foods filling the shelves at food banks? I want to be intentional about donating healthy food that’s enjoyable to eat. Food I would put on my own table. The same goes for clothing. No more tossing stained shirts or smelly old shoes into the Donate box. We can do better. If you don’t have much to give, that’s OK. If you’re holding back out of greed, laziness or a false sense of superiority, it’s time to take a look at your heart.

Give quietly

(See Matthew 6:1-4) We’re called to give because it’s the right thing to do, not because we want to be recognized. Some people make a show out of giving in order to look like a big deal and feel good about themselves. Others just want to fit in or make sure people know they’re doing their part. Either way, we’ve got to keep our motives in check. Giving should be about God, not about our Facebook friends, family members or fellow churchgoers. That doesn’t mean we can’t tell our friends about fundraising efforts or cool opportunities to give. But we should be sharing for right right reasons.

Pray for the recipients

(See 1 Timothy 2:1). I love auto pay. I love it for utility bills, I love it for tithing, and I love it for monthly gifts like Compassion sponsorships. But the main benefit of auto pay and its potential pitfall is one and the same: you don’t have to think about it. That’s great for never missing a payment. Not so great for remembering to pray for the people who are handling, distributing and receiving your gift. Just imagine what could happen if every believer not only gave generously but also spent just one minute praying about every gift they gave? I think it would rock this world in the best way possible.

Make the Christmas spirit last all year.

(See Proverbs 3:27) There’s a reason those Salvation Army kettles come out at Christmastime and not in the middle of March. Studies have shown we’re more generous around the holidays. Plus, we’ve got our minds on potential tax write-offs. For those reasons and more, some nonprofits rely exclusively on end-of-year donations to keep their organizations up and running. The thing is, people don’t just need help from Black Friday to New Year’s Eve. The need for food, clothing, shelter, clean water and most of all, the hope of Christ, exists 365 days a year. So keep on packing that Operation Christmas Child shoebox or selecting a name from the angel tree. Just be sure to give generously during the rest of the year, too.

24Dec 2014
cross on Christmas tree

If there’s ever a time to take a break from number crunching, it’s Christmas.

We’re happy to report that the numbers below have absolutely nothing to do with budgets, shopping lists, mall visits or credit card bills, but everything to do with the real reason Christmas is worth celebrating.

300+

There were more than 300 ancient prophecies written about the Jewish Messiah, as recorded in the Old Testament of the Bible or the Jewish Torah. Jesus fulfilled many of them when he came to earth more than 2,000 years ago, and He will fulfill the rest when He comes again.

8

Dr. Peter Stoner was a mathematics and science professor who wanted to take a look at the probability of one man fulfilling even a few of the Messianic prophecies in the Old Testament. So Dr. Stoner picked 8 major prophecies (including the Messiah coming from Bethlehem, being betrayed by a friend for 30 pieces of silver, and being pierced in his hands and feet) and worked to figure out the probability of those events coming true in one man’s life.

1 in 10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 (or 1 x 1028)

That’s the probability of one man fulfilling the 8 prophecies Dr. Stoner included in his calculations, which were published in the 1950s book, Science Speaks.

1

One man did fulfill all 8 of those ancient prophecies, and many more, and that man is Jesus.

But the most convincing evidence that Jesus is the Messiah isn’t in the numbers—it’s in the powerful, visible life change people experience when they earnestly invite Jesus Christ to be their Savior.

Whether we’re talking about Paul—the biblical persecutor-turned-believer—or that friend who accepted Christ and has never been the same, Jesus has the power to change us from the inside out. Through Him, addictions are obliterated, dying relationships are restored, and hopelessness is replaced with endless hope.

That’s what we celebrate on Christmas Day and every day. Jesus, the Messiah—the perfect fulfillment of ancient prophecy, and the answer to our deepest longings.

Merry Christmas.

22Dec 2014
giving

When I glanced at my bank account balance the other day, I noticed several monthly gifts and offerings had been deducted as usual.

No big deal. I began to move down my to-do list like any other day, but something stopped me.

For the first time in a while, I actually thought about where the money was going. And then I wondered why it rarely occurred to me to pray about it.

Somewhere along the line, between the ease of auto pay and the rush of everyday life, I had become robotic in my giving. Sure, I was doing my part financially to stand up for what I believe in. But an atheist can do that, too.

What Sets Us Apart?

While we’re giving generously to causes close to God’s heart—taking care of the poor, widowed and orphaned and spreading the hope of Christ—people who reject faith are also giving generously. But too often, they’re giving to causes that break God’s heart.

So how can we stand out? By out-giving everyone else? No, I think it’s going to take more than money to capture the attention of this broken world with the love of Jesus.

Of course we need to give—not just our leftover morsels but our first and best. But we also need to harness the power of prayer, remembering that it’s God, not us, who makes every gift effective.

1 Thessalonians 5:17 instructs us to “pray without ceasing.” Let’s keep that in mind even as we view our bank balances or drop a check into the offering plate.

1 Timothy 2:1 tells us to pray for all people. “Ask God to help them,” it says. “Intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them.” Let’s make sure we’re not just praying for our own families, but for the families God connects us with through our giving.

Checks, Cash and Prayers

When we buy a backpack for a school supplies drive, let’s pray for the student who will receive it. When we sponsor a child close to home or on the other side of the world, let’s make a daily commitment to pray for her. And when we see our tithe deducted from our bank account, let’s pray for our church, our pastor, and the people who will benefit from the gift we’ve given.

Anyone can donate to a good cause. What distinguishes the gift of a Christian from that of a Buddhist, Muslim or atheist? Jesus. And the all-surpassing power He has to hear and answer our prayers.

Our God is alive. He’s still acting on behalf of His people. And He’s able to bless and amplify our gifts—however large or small—to advance His Kingdom. Now that’s something to be excited about.

“I tell you the truth, anyone who believes in me will do the same works I have done, and even greater works, because I am going to be with the Father. You can ask for anything in my name, and I will do it, so that the Son can bring glory to the Father. Yes, ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it!” –John 14:12-14 (NLT)

09Dec 2014
my one word

Yesterday we talked about a few New Year’s resolutions that could help you get to financial freedom faster.

If you’re not the New Year’s resolution type—or if you typically find yourself forgetting all about your resolution by the time the Super Bowl rolls around—maybe it’s time for a different approach.

My One Word

A few years ago, I heard about the My One Word concept at Port City Community Church in Wilmington, North Carolina.

Pastor Mike Ashcraft had found New Year’s resolutions to be frustrating, ineffective and ultimately doomed to fail.

As he thought about why, he noticed that most resolutions have something in common: they tend to focus on a negative attribute in need of fixing.

I want to lose weight.

I want to stop yelling at my kids.

I’m going to watch less TV.

See the pattern? When we come up with ways to improve ourselves in the coming year, we tend to zero in on something we don’t like right now instead of envisioning what we hope to become in the future.

Even resolutions framed in a positive light (I want to eat healthier, I’m going to be a more involved parent, etc.) tend to be vague, difficult to stick with and nearly impossible to measure.

The Un-Resolution

That’s where My One Word comes in.

You can explore more about it here, but the basic idea is to ditch the list of resolutions and just pick one word to focus on for the next 12 months.

Many people pick biblical character traits they hope to embody, such as patience, kindness or perseverance. Others go for action words like move, believe or wait.

Adventure, hope, engage and fearless are a few of my words from years past.

When I was single I picked a word by myself; now my husband and I usually pick one together. We like to write it down—or if we can get to a beach, write it in the sand—and take a picture of it. The framed photo reminds us to keep working on our word all year long.

12 Months of Impact

Some would say you pick your word; others believe your word picks you. All I know is God seems to use our words to mold, encourage and challenge us in surprising ways. In fact, it’s not uncommon to choose a word with a particular reason in mind and realize partway through the year that your word has taken on a completely different meaning. Admit it, you don’t get that kind of adventure and intrigue with a standard resolution!

If you decide to try My One Word this year, I’d strongly recommend praying about your word before you make your choice. But don’t overthink it; this is meant to be less stressful than coming up with a New Year’s resolution.

I haven’t chosen my word for next year yet, but as I write this, I’m getting excited about the possibilities.

If you decide to try My One Word in the New Year, I’m excited for you, too. Start thinking and praying about it now and just see how God will work if you commit to sticking with it all year. Change is possible, and adventure awaits.

08Dec 2014
Bible Luke 2

It’s a four-word catchphrase seen on magnets, bumper stickers and December blog posts, denouncing our cultural emphasis on consumerism: Keep Christ in Christmas.

It’s easy to say, but how do we put it into action? And how do we do so without self-righteously condemning anything that has to do with Santa, shopping or the greeting so many believers love to hate: “Happy Holidays”?

Well, I think we start by focusing on what we love about Christmas—what makes it unique and truly worthy of celebrating—instead of dwelling on what we dislike. In other words, we make a decision to be known for what we’re for, not what we’re against.

With that in mind, here are a few simple ideas on how to keep Christ in Christmas.

Incorporate Scripture into your Christmas prep

Many Americans recognize the Advent season (a time of spiritual preparation that begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas) by doing little more than eating tiny pieces of chocolate out of a cardboard Advent calendar. How about we keep the chocolate, but add some Scripture? The whole Christmas story is told in the first two chapters of the book of Luke. If you sit down with your family once a week to read the story, you’ll be able to cover half a chapter at each sitting. For smaller children with shorter attention spans, just five verses a night will get you through both chapters by Christmas Day.

Give a Gift, Magi Style

In the first two chapters of the book of Matthew, which also has an account of the birth of Jesus, we read about Magi, known to many as “wise men,” who brought valuable gifts to honor baby Jesus. As you budget for Christmas gifts this year, put Jesus at the top of your list by giving your first and best gift to Him. Practically, this could be a community service project centered around sharing Christ, a special gift to your church or the sponsorship of a child through an organization that shares the love of Jesus with kids around the world.

Go to Church

This sounds obvious, but church can easily take a back seat to the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season. Make it a priority. It may mean ducking out of a family event a little early or skipping that annual Christmas Eve party at the neighbor’s. Sometimes we need to stand up for our beliefs and show the world what makes us different. Taking the time to attend a Christmas service is one of the most basic ways to do that. And to really spread the Christmas spirit, invite some un-churched friends to come along. Did you know the majority of non-churchgoers in the U.S. say they would actually go to a church service if someone they knew invited them?

Check Out Some Christmas Lights

The catch here is in remembering what Christmas lights represent, and taking time to explain it to your kids. In the very first chapter of the book of John, the first few lines describe Jesus like this: In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. So pile into the car and take in those beautiful lights. And remember the great and glorious Source of all light.

Find a Christmas Activity Focused on Jesus

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with taking the kids to see Santa or heading to the mall for some Christmas shopping. But it shouldn’t be the only Christmas activity you and your children experience. Whether you take in a Christmas cantata at a local church or have some arts & crafts time making a manger scene, aim to keep Jesus-centered activities the main focus of the season. In my hometown (Charlotte, NC) we always set aside an evening for Christmas at The Library, where we know the birth of Christ will be celebrated. Other communities have concerts, live nativity scenes, plays and all sorts of ways to recognize Jesus as the true center of Christmas.

Hopefully these ideas will encourage us not to just talk about “keeping Christ in Christmas,” but actually do it. Our holiday season will be so much richer as we focus on Jesus. And more importantly, our joy may cause the rest of the world to wonder what they’re missing…and beckon them to enter into the best thing about Christmas and every day: a relationship with Christ.

01Dec 2014

A few years ago, my husband and I moved to Charlotte, North Carolina and started attending Mecklenburg Community Church. It was there that we first heard about a concept that, frankly, I was a little embarrassed hadn’t occurred to us a long time ago.

The idea is simple enough: Most of us have some sort of Christmas shopping list; we just need to make sure we’re not forgetting the most important gift.

The Typical Christmas List

Humor me for a minute and think about your typical holiday list.

Whether it includes just a few immediate family members or extends to your mail carrier, grocery bagger and favorite dental hygienist, you likely spend some amount of money on gifts each year.

And then there are the charitable organizations, some of which rely almost exclusively on Christmastime and other end-of-year donations. From the local animal shelter to the United Way, everyone and their mother is vying for a piece of the holiday pie.

Starting on Thanksgiving Day (which some have dubbed Black Thursday due to the rise of the post-turkey shopping spree) to Black Friday to Small Business Saturday to Cyber Monday to Giving Tuesday, it’s out of control.

If you aren’t careful, you’ll wake up on Red Wednesday, which is immediately followed by Dig-Out-of-Debt December.

Missing the Most Important Gift

In all the chaos, we can find ourselves overlooking—or at the very least, skimping on—what should be the most important gift of the season: the one we give to Christ.

Now, I realize a Christmas gift for Jesus isn’t something you can put a bow on, place under the tree and expect Him to come pick up while He stops in for a glass of eggnog. But a gift for Jesus doesn’t have to be invisible and abstract, either.

My church simply calls it Giving to Christ at Christmas, and it’s a tangible way to support the causes closest to Jesus’s heart—like helping the poor, taking care of widows and orphans, and advancing His Kingdom through the Church.

The idea is that our first and best Christmas gift should go to Christ, and we strive to give generously—above and beyond our regular tithes—to show God we have our priorities straight. Our best gift goes to Him first, not to Best Buy, Wal-Mart or that nonprofit that does excellent work but not Kingdom work.

More Than an Afterthought

My husband and I have started to budget for Giving to Christ at Christmas each year, and we’re getting better at doing so before we make our annual holiday shopping list.

The amount is between us and God (and the church finance guy, I suppose), and it varies from year to year based on how much we are able to give. There’s no magic formula. We just try to make sure it reflects our priorities and, subsequently, the real heart of the Christmas season.

So this year, go ahead and make your Christmas list, and feel free to include your dental hygienist and that cool nonprofit. But put it all in the right order. Give to Christ first. It is His birthday, after all.

30Nov 2014
home improvement

Remember when the only home improvement show on prime time TV starred Tim Allen and had almost nothing to do with actual home repairs?

Now home improvement shows are everywhere—Extreme Home Makeover, Love It or List It and Curb Appeal are a few of the dozens of reality shows that let us watch people turn their “ordinary” houses into dream homes.

Reality TV to Real Life

This isn’t just entertaining television; it’s a way of life.

We spend hours surfing Pinterest for design ideas. We spend entire Saturday afternoons wandering the aisles of IKEA and Lowe’s. And we spend thousands of dollars turning our homes into miniature palaces.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Americans spent $130 billion on home improvement projects in 2013. Yes, that’s billion, with a “b.”

Necessary or Excessive?

I understand that many home improvement projects are absolutely necessary. A hole in the roof, for example, is not something you want to overlook. But we all know a good chunk of that $130 billion isn’t going toward roof repairs. It’s going toward one creature comfort after another until we no longer have a reason to leave the walls of our home.

When did home improvement in the United States become an obsession—and an idol?

I’m not here to determine what is a reasonable home repair for you and what’s excessive; I’m just asking you to think about it.

I’m not trying to tell you how much money to spend; just make sure it’s carefully budgeted like anything else.

And I’m not looking to give you a guilt trip about how your living space ranks on a global scale; but I am reminding you to be thankful.

Finding a Balance

It’s good to make our homes safe, clean, peaceful places where families can live and play and grow together.

It’s not good to be make our homes into idols, where precious time, energy and money are taken away from the most important parts of life—our relationships with God and one another.

I’ll leave you with the words of 1 John 2:15-17 from The Message. These are words that continually challenge me. I hope they’ll do the same for you.

Don’t love the world’s ways. Don’t love the world’s goods. Love of the world squeezes out love for the Father.

Practically everything that goes on in the world—wanting your own way, wanting everything for yourself, wanting to appear important—has nothing to do with the Father. It just isolates you from him.

The world and all its wanting, wanting, wanting is on the way out—but whoever does what God wants is set for eternity.

27Nov 2014
Happy Thanksgiving

Sometimes my prayers sound like a heavenly To Do List for God. I fill in different names and circumstances depending on the day.

Oh, God, please heal _________ from _________.

Comfort _________, who is struggling with _________.

Keep _________ safe while he travels.

Show my skeptical friend, _________ that you love her.

Forgive me for _________.

I know I’m not the only one with a laundry list of prayer requests. And the Bible says we should pray for one another, so there is nothing wrong with asking God for those things.

There’s also nothing wrong with putting the list down from time to time and just being thankful for what God has already done.

The Thanksgiving season seems as good a time as any to do so.

If, like me, it’s been a while since you set the list aside (God already knows it better than you do, by the way) and just thanked Him, would you join me in offering a simple prayer of thanksgiving this season?

If we practice thankfulness, perhaps our prayer list will begin to look a little more like this:

Oh, God, thank you for the time you healed _________ from _________.

Thank you for comforting me when I was struggling with _________.

Thank you for all the times you’ve kept _________ safe while he traveled.

Thank you for loving my skeptical friend, _________, even if she doesn’t know it yet.

And thank you, thank you, thank you for allowing your own Son to die and come back to life, all so that I could be forgiven. You are amazing. In Jesus’ name, amen.

The FaithWorks Financial Team wishes you a happy and blessed Thanksgiving.