Saturday, April 12, 2008

A Reflection on the 40-Days

As my family and I are getting ready for the Miracle Sunday Offering and the Pledge service tomorrow, I couldn’t help but to feel this sense of gratitude in my heart. It is amazing that our whole church went through 40 days of reading the Bible together, as well as spending time in prayer for the Destiny Campaign.

When I thoroughly think through what we are trying to do as a church, I am just speechless. We are not a church with a lot of well-established adults who have made their fortune and fame. Instead, we are a church with a lot of college students (who have little resources), single adults (just starting off in their careers) and young families (navigating through their tight budgets).

How in the world are we going to raise $1.7 million and even shooting for $2.2 million with renovation cost? It seems like such an incredible feat that unless God is in it, it is doomed to fail. This is what we are banking on. We believe that God is in it and that God is with us. This is why we can respond in faith.

I believe these past 40 days have been journey of faith. Now, as we a day away from reaching the next step in our destiny, I am confident that the people of God will respond by faith to the challenge that is before us.

I just praise God for His Faithfulness to our church for the last 11+ years and it is His Faithfulness that will carry us through the future. What an incredible ride!

Friday, April 11, 2008

Day 40 - 2 Corinthians 9:6-15

"You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion"
- 2 Corinthians 9:11a

I'm really thankful for this promise from God, as well as the challenge it comes with. There have been many times in my life when I've felt unable to be generous, whether because I was looking for a job and didn't have much money, because I was too busy to stop and care for someone, or because I felt tired and overwhelmed. In all of these circumstances and more, God has always challenged me not with what I have to give, but with what He has provided for me to be a blessing.

I felt like God was challenging me with this last night. I had been wanting to get together with a close friend for a couple of months, but because of my schedule I hadn't been able to find a time. It was his birthday yesterday, and he was having a birthday party last night that he wanted me to come to. The only problem was that my evening was pretty busy and I wasn't available until later at night. At 10:30PM I had to make the decision of whether or not to go. All kinds of reasons not to go floated through my mind: "It's 30 minutes away and it's already late!" "You've been sick all week and you need to sleep!" "You need to wake up for morning prayer tomorrow!" But even with those reasons, I felt like the Holy Spirit was urging me to go, so I went. I ended up hanging out with my friend for almost an hour; he was thankful that I came, but I can't point to a specific moment when I shared the gospel or God used me to bless him in some substantial way. However, as I was driving home, I couldn't help but feel that I had pleased God with the decision to go, and I ended up singing praise songs during my 30 minute drive back to my apartment.

So what does this have to do with what Paul is saying here? I saw a few of these truths play out in my life last night:
  1. I made the decision to go in my own heart (not under compulsion), and I was able to do so cheerfully
  2. Though I was tired, God gave me the strength to be able to go and be a blessing to people
  3. God gave me the grace to sow generously, and now I'll trust that He will allow me to reap generously in the future.
  4. While I had gone specifically to bless my friend, I was also able to reconnect with some other friends and find more avenues to spend time with them soon (maybe this is an added blessing I reaped from the night)
It's easy to rationalize and find reasons not to be generous, but if we never step out in faith and trust these promises (and challenges) that God gives us, we will never have the privilege of being used by Him to be a blessing, and we will never have the joy of living in obedience to His will. This is something that I hope all of us will be able to experience.

And this is the challenge before us for this weekend. As we finish off the 40 Days to Destiny today and look ahead to Sunday's offering and pledge for the Destiny Campaign, will we listen to the Holy Spirit speaking in our hearts and obey His call to give cheerfully, or will we find reasons to keep what God has provided for ourselves? Additionally, God will provide many open doors for us to serve and give in the near future, and we need to continue to grow spiritually so that we will be able to rise to the challenge and give ourselves generously to His work as He moves our church forward.

Lastly, Paul exclaims, "Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!" Our generous giving to God's work is not our gift to Him, it is His gift to us. I pray that as we give on Sunday, and in the future, that we will be able to praise God for the gift He has given us.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Day 39 - Mark 12:41-44

Verses 43-44 in the NLT read like this, "Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I tell you the truth, this poor widow has given more than all the others who are making contributions. For they gave a tiny part of their surplus, but she, poor as she is, has given everything she had to live on." This really challenged me as I thought about the whole concept of giving. On one level, our bottomline amount is not what necessarily matters to God. In the narrative, many rich people gave large amounts of money for their offering to God. In the previous section, Jesus warns against the religious who are outwardly pious, but then cheat widows out of their property. I think the gospel writer Mark is making a connection here. What matters is consistency in our lives. Generosity should overflow in every area of our lives, not excluding our finances.

However, the most challenging thing about this passage is that it DOES challenge my bottomline giving. But not in the way I would expect. It's not the amount that matters, but the proportion. The rich gave only a "tiny part" of their surplus. They had plenty left over to use for themselves. Perhaps, it was used in a manner inconsistent with their "offering" to God. The poor widow gave 100% of what she had. What she gave came out of what she was living on. Just imagine that... What she gave cut into her way of life. She had to live differently. It wasn't much monetarily, but according to Jesus, it was more than what the rich gave. How incredible is that! In God's eyes, we can give more than all the billionaire philanthropists in the world. God's scales are weighed differently. As I've been praying about this Destiny Campaign, I'm challenged to give sacrificially. Different sums, equal sacrifice. This is the kind of giving that is generous in God's eyes.

Day 38 - Malachi 3:6-12

As some might already know, I'm a big sports fan. One of the great subplots in sports is the "comeback": players who return to the sport and perform heroically. The most dramatic comeback in my lifetime was in 1995 when Michael Jordan returned to the NBA after a short-term stint in retirement. I literally jumped up and down for joy when I heard the news.

"Return to me and I will return to you."
"How shall we return?"

So how do Christians make a comeback? It's interesting that the starting point for answering that question is the UNCHANGING CHARACTER OF GOD. That's good to know, since I always seem to be changing: older, slower, flabbier...fickle, compromising, calloused. Thank God that because of his great love we are not consumed!

Then in verses 8-12, the Lord says the comeback starts with a return to OBEDIENCE. He says that the reason they have been under such dire conditions ("cursed") is because they have not been honoring God with their tithes for the temple. If you were there for ACCESS last Friday, it's sort of the same situation where they had committed to contribute to the running of the temple, but they weren't being faithful to it. When we're not living in obedience to God's will, it not only stinks but it also is futile.

But when obedience is combined with its symbiotic partner, FAITH, we are on the road to blessings. It might be immediate or it might be the future reward we will receive in eternity, but it will come. Jesus Christ our Savior went to the cross to offer forgiveness when we fail to obey. And he also opened the door for us to experience every spiritual blessing in HIm. He changes us to want to obey him and enables us to do it too!

Monday, April 7, 2008

Day 37 - Proverbs 30:7-9

This prayer lifted up by Agur to the Lord is really wise and full of integrity. It's not a selfish prayer that we often lift up. I can sense that Agur really loves the Lord as he asks God to not refuse him before he dies. He knows life without God is meaningless and not having a relationship with God is the most devastating place to be especially when you're close to death. He also understands how this world is so wicked and full of lies that can draw him away from the Lord. I can see that his most sincere request is to be with God in a close relationship. Now he lifts up a humble request to God to give him just enough. How many of us can lift up this kind of prayer? I always ask God to give me more and never ask to give me less. Agur really understands the human nature. When we get too much, we get greedy and easily forget about God whether it's money or power. When we don't receive, we forget to depend on God and take things into our control that might lead us to sin and fall. He asks for just enough. In that sense, he can always remember God's faithfulness, always depend on God and always keep close to the Lord. Wow, what a prayer! I pray that I can lift up a humble prayer like Agur.

As the Miracle Sunday is coming up this weekend, I hope our church can lift up a prayer like Agur. That we will raise just enough to remember God's faithfulness and to continue to depend on God for the future. I pray that our church will always remember to stay close to God during this campaign and that we will experience God's provision as we depend on Him daily.

Day 36 - Psalm 126

I love this Psalm because it's a song of celebration for what God has done. You can sense the air of celebration and joy as "the LORD brought back the captives to Zion." I'm sure that anyone would want to be part of a party like this.

One thing I realized, however, is that not everyone will get to join in this kind of celebration. And why is that? Verse 5 states, "Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy." Sometimes the greatest experiences in life only come with a high price. Our natural human tendency is to avoid having to give up anything and to try to get a free ride, and if we stick with the status quo and what is easiest for us, we may never see some of the miraculous things that the Israelites saw in their history. I pray that all of us at HMCC will be willing to "sow in tears" so that we can experience all that God has in store for us.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Day 35 - 2 Corinthians 8:1-15

There are many amazing things that Paul mentions in this passage that challenges me on this topic of giving. Joy, sacrifice, privilege are words that I think exmplified the way that the people gave. But what really struck me is Paul's exhortation that as they grow in the areas of faith, love, and entusiasm, that they would also grow in their gracious acts of giving.

This past year I've been working for the university in an office that aims to bring alumni back to Ann Arbor to remember, relive and experience their time here. But in that aim, the school hopes that alumni will also see the vision and the needs of the university and thus give. Although the University of Michigan is a secular institution, it astounds me how much it reflects some of the things that Paul spoke of here in 2 Corinthians. The University expects our alumni to excel in their careers and in areas of expertise in the world, but at the same time, they also expect alumni to give back. They don't view it as a separate entity, but all as one. They also understand that not everyone can give a large amount. But even the small donations are seen as valuable because they add up together to build a greater fund.

It makes me wonder, if people can give so much to a place like the U-M for an insitution that one day will fade away, how much more for the Living Christ. I hope that giving to this campaign is more than just a short time calling, but something we learn to do because it's just a part of growing in our faith and love for the Lord. Sometimes while working at my office, it saddens me as to how well the university is able to insprie people to give back so generously. I hope that our church is able to be a testimony that others can be inspried by as they see God work in and through us.

Paul says in vs 9, "For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich". I pray as these 40 Days of Destiny are coming to a close, our eyes are fixed on Christ and that He is the motivation for why we give.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Day 34 - Exodus 19

"You will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation..." v. 6

Exactly three months after the Israelites left Egypt (v.1), "on that very day," God speaks to Moses and tells him that Israel is to be this kingdom of priests and a holy nation. What an amazing promise that God is making to the Israelites. Imagine being a refugee nation as the Israelites were. They had lived under slavery and oppression under the Egyptians, were miraculously delivered through signs and wonders and now three months after they had fled, God is giving this rag tag group of people an identity - and not just any identity. God desires for the Israelites to be his "treasured possession" (v.5). Later, Peter says something very similar about our identity as children of God, "But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare praises to him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light" (I Peter 1:9). Again, what an amazing connection to make! We as followers of Christ, bear that identity as a chosen people, a holy nation and people belonging to God.

The word "holy" really stands out to me from both of these passages. In order to be this treasured possession and a people that is distinct from the rest, we are to emulate and live out this incredible character trait of God, we are to be holy. In Exodus, God tells Moses to strictly warn the people to remain at a certain distance from the mountain in which he is going to descend upon and deliver His commandments to Moses. Afterwards, God says to Moses, "put limits arond the mountain and set it apart as holy" v.23. This is one theme we see throughout scripture, God is so holy that even the things He touches and consecrates, becomes holy and set apart. Holiness and sin or any kind of darkness or unrighteousness simply cannot mix. Thankfully, through Jesus' work on the Cross we have full access to His presence, even though we are unrighteouss and tainted with sin. We can confidently enter into the Holy of Holies because Christ's righteousness itself covers us.

So what does this mean for me personally? My identity as a child of God and follower of Christ must have that distinction of holiness to it. God wants me to be set apart and bear witness to His character as being His treasured possession, a priest and part of a holy people. I have to ask myself whether I am merely blending into the pattern and behavior of the rest of the world, or whether I am living a distinctly holy life, set apart for His purposes, consecrated for His purposes. Most often, it is easier to go along with the flow. This passage is a reminder to hear God's resounding call to be like Him - consecrated and set apart.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Day 33 - Acts 4:23-37

"Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness." - Acts 4:29

This is the kind of heart that I think we need more of in our church. The amazing thing about the disciples' prayer is that while they acknowledge the circumstances they are in, they never ask God to remove the challenges that they faced. All they ask for is "great boldness" in proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ.

I'm challenged by this in my own prayers; am I just praying for relief from the struggles I face each day, or am I asking for the power to overcome them? A question came to my mind: what would glorify God more, if His children faced no problems at all in this life, or if they were consistently able to overcome against incredible odds? It seems like the answer is pretty clear, and God gave us passages like this to show how He empowers His people to do extraordinary things.

One other thing I noticed here was God's immediate answer to the believers' prayer. It made me wonder if my prayers often go unanswered because I am not praying the things that are on God's heart (although there could be many other reasons for God not to immediately answer prayer, as well). However, when His people pray for boldness to share the gospel, how could He not answer right away? We need to know God's heart more in order to pray for, and then receive, the Hoy Spirit's power in our lives.

Lastly, we see another glimpse of the early church community at the end of this passage. It seems that one of its strongest distinctive marks was the generosity of the people. This was the fruit of the Spirit's work in their lives, and I believe that as we grow more and experience God each day we will demonstrate this kind of generosity towards one another and the work God has called us to do.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Day 32 - James 2:1-13

I recently came back from a service project to Louisiana with HMCC of Chicago. Throughout our trip, we went through the book of James together. One of the things that struck me about James is its practical relevance to everyday life. "Love your neighbor as yourself." The real question behind that command is, "Who is my neighbor?" This is the question that Jesus answered in the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10).

Our neighbors are not the few we choose to be neighbors to, but all who God brings our way. As I thought about my own life and our church community, I asked myself the same question in a different way. "Do I make space for others in my life?" This is what James rebukes the church in Jerusalem about in vv. 1-4. There were "good seats" saved for the privileged. The rest were made to sit on the floor. I wonder how this plays out in my own life. There are some that are worth my time and others that I'd rather ignore. As I thought about our church community, I wondered how we could use our "space" to love our neighbors and minister to all.

This is one of the things that excites me about the Destiny Campaign. I believe it will open up opportunities for us to bring the door of the church to our neighbors on campus and in our community. I pray that we will heed James' warning about our own tendency to choose favorites.