Saturday, August 19, 2017

Growing in Grace by Giving

The Apostle Peter drew his second letter to a close with these wise and pastoral words: “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen” (2 Peter 3:18). The word “grow” is an exhortation and a command, and it implies that if we’re to progress in Christ we must play an active role, by the grace of Christ, in building habits that nurture that progress. Therefore, I am offering a series of devotionals this summer on eight essential habits that help us to grow in grace. For today, let’s consider the place of giving in the Christian life.

Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 9:6-8, “The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.”

The law of God is that we will reap what we sow, and this law extends to our finances. Sometimes, by his amazing grace, God violates this law, but generally speaking it is a law indeed. When it comes to giving our money, Christians should understand this truth, but we should also be compelled to give from the inside by the Holy Spirit, rather than from the outside by some person, group, or organization.

Giving that glorifies God must come from the heart because heartfelt giving is an expression of praise. God loves a cheerful giver because he loves a heart that overflows with love for him to such an extent that it’s willing to give of its time, talent, and treasure. For God, and hopefully for us, giving is about the heart, not the wallet.

Another reason God loves a cheerful giver is because a giving heart is a faith-filled heart. It’s a heart that trusts that God will provide. And God is able to make our provisions abound so that we can abound in every good work. God knows how to supply and multiply that we may live for the glory of his name and the good of others, and this is what giving is all about. “You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way,” and this will produce thanksgiving, or praise, for God (2 Cor 9:11).

So the reason that giving money is part and parcel of growing in the grace and knowledge of Christ is because it is a way of imaging the God who is abounding and gracious, of praising his holy name, and of being a blessing to others. My exhortation to you today, then, is to prayerfully consider the way you use your money, and to make a firm decision to use all that is in your possession for the glory of your Father and the good of others. May God cause all of us to be cheerful, worshipful, bountiful givers.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Growing in Grace by Fasting

The Apostle Peter drew his second letter to a close with these wise and pastoral words: “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen” (2 Peter 3:18). The word “grow” is an exhortation and a command, and it implies that if we’re to progress in Christ we must play an active role, by the grace of Christ, in building habits that nurture our progress. Therefore, I am offering a series of devotionals this summer on eight essential habits that help us to grow in grace. For today, let’s consider the place of fasting in the Christian life.

Midway through the Sermon on the Mount Jesus said to his disciples, “And when you fast...” Later he added, “The days will come when the bridegroom [Jesus] is taken away from them [Jesus’ disciples], and then they will fast” (Matthew 6:16; 9:15). The Lord said “when” not “if,” and “they will” not “they might.” Jesus assumed that fasting would be a regular part of his disciples’ lives, and so today I want to address three questions: What is fasting? Why should lovers of Jesus fast? How do we go about fasting?

First, what is fasting? To fast is to deny ourselves food or water or other necessities or pleasures of life for a time. It is putting aside good things so that we can feast on great things. It is a way of making space in our lives so that we can give more of ourselves to prayer and worship and the Word of God. And in this way, fasting is a way of intensifying our quest for God.

If you’ll think about this definition for a moment, you’ll see that we can only fast from things that are good. For instance, we can’t fast from stealing or gluttony or coveting or lust. We have to repent from these things. Indeed, the only things from which we can fast are good gifts from God. So again, fasting is putting aside good things for a time that we might feast on great things like prayer, worship, and the Word of God.

Second, why should lovers of Jesus fast? The primary reason we should fast is that Jesus fasted and taught his disciples to do the same. We don’t fast to be religious, or to deny ourselves for the sake of denying ourselves, or to earn the love of God, or to manipulate God into giving us what we want. Plain and simple, we fast because Jesus fasted and taught his disciples to do the same, and as Christians our passion is to be submissive to Jesus and our greatest hope is to be like Jesus.

Third, how do we go about fasting? Much needs to be said about this, and so rather than trying to answer this question here, I will simply refer you to Bill Bright’s helpful little booklet, Seven Basic Steps to Fasting and Prayer (available on our website at www.gcfmn.org, resources > articles).

My exhortation to us today is simply this: read Bill Bright’s booklet, ask Jesus to help you, take the seven steps, and learn to fast. To rightly understood and practiced, it is one of the most powerful disciplines in the Christian life.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Growing in Grace by Praying to God

The Apostle Peter drew his second letter to a close with these wise and pastoral words: “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen” (2 Peter 3:18). The word “grow” is an exhortation and a command, and it implies that if we’re to progress in Christ we must play an active role, by the grace of Christ, in building habits that nurture our progress. Therefore, I am offering a series of devotionals this summer on eight essential habits that help us to grow in grace. For today, let’s consider the place of prayer in the Christian life.

Paul writes in Colossians 4:2, “Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.” The words “continue steadfastly,” like Peter’s word “grow,” implies that we who love Jesus must put forth effort by the grace of Jesus and learn to talk to him about everything. And this is, of course, the essence of prayer: talking to Jesus. Prayer is not some kind of incantation or request line through which we get things from Jesus, rather, it is the highest and most important use of the gift of verbal and non-verbal communication.

And Paul exhorts us to keep on keeping on in prayer because this is the way we remain alert to the presence of Jesus in our lives, the perspective of Jesus on our lives, and the power of Jesus for our lives. In fact, the word translated “watchful” here literally means “to stay awake,” and I think Paul meant it to be taken literally. I think Paul is saying that when we pray we stay awake to the presence, perspective, and power of Jesus, and when we fail to pray we fall asleep to these things. Therefore, it is of vital importance for those who long to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus, to learn what it means to persevere in prayer, to talk with our Savior about all things at all times.

The life, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus bought for us the right of access to the throne-room of our Father. And his desire is that we would become intimately familiar with his courts, spending much time in his presence, seeking his broad and wise perspective, and pleading for the power to do his will.

So my exhortation to you today is this: commit yourself to spending more time with your Father every day, preferably in the morning. When we talk with the Lord at the beginning of the day, we tend to talk with him throughout the day. Press yourself to grow. “Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving” (Colossians 4:2).

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Growing in Grace by Praising God

The Apostle Peter drew his second letter to a close with these wise and pastoral words: “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen” (2 Peter 3:18). The word “grow” is an exhortation and a command, and it implies that if we’re to progress in Christ we must play an active role, by the grace of Christ, in building habits that nurture our progress. Therefore, I am offering a series of devotionals this summer on eight essential habits that help us to grow in grace. For today, let’s consider the place of praise in the Christian life.

Paul writes in Colossians 3:16, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” The three clauses in this verse are often quoted in isolation from one another, but they are in fact designed to be kept together. As Jesus enriches our lives with his Word, by his Spirit, we cannot help but overflow with praise for God through teaching, singing, and thanksgiving.

As Jesus teaches us his will and ways, we naturally long to share what we’ve learned with others. As he reveals to us more of his beauty and excellence, we naturally long to say and sing our praise, sometimes in the privacy of our hearts and sometimes at the top of our lungs. As he applies his will and ways to our lives, we naturally overflow with specific thanksgiving for who he is and what he’s done. As the Word of Christ becomes our treasure, the expression of praise becomes our pleasure. Indeed, as C. S. Lewis pointed out, the verbalization of joy completes our joy (Reflections on the Psalms).

Now, having said that, I must add that there is discipline to praise. That is to say, we must discipline ourselves to treasure the words of Christ and receive from the Spirit of Christ day by day. We must sometimes press ourselves to overflow with praise through teaching, singing, and thanksgiving. We must sometimes force ourselves to fix our eyes on him who is the prize of life that we may exalt him in one another’s eyes. Praise is the natural overflow of a heart enamored of Jesus and rich with the Word of Jesus. And praise requires effort, discipline, and perseverance.

So my exhortation to you today is this: spend some time with Jesus and search your heart in the atmosphere of his grace. How are you doing with regard to his Word—is it dwelling in you richly or poorly? Are you overflowing with praise through teaching, singing, and thanksgiving? How can you grow in discipline with regard to these things?

May Jesus grant us the passion and power to grow in the grace and knowledge of him, and to overflow with the praise of him all the days of our lives. Lord, hear our prayer!

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Growing in Grace by the Word of God


The Apostle Peter drew his second letter to a close with these wise and pastoral words: “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen” (2 Peter 3:18). The word “grow” is an exhortation and a command, and it implies that if we’re to progress in Christ we must play an active role, by the grace of Christ, in building habits that nurture our progress. Therefore, I am offering a series of devotionals this summer on eight essential habits that help us to grow in grace. For today, let’s consider the place of the Word in the Christian life.

Isaiah wrote, “The Lord God has given me the tongue of those who are taught, that I may know how to sustain with a word him who is weary. Morning by morning he awakens; he awakens my ear to hear as those who are taught” (Isaiah 50:4).

The longing of our God and Father is to draw near to his children morning by morning, opening our eyes to his glory and our hearts to his mercy. He wants to use his Word, by his Spirit, to lavish his love upon us that we might lavish his love upon others. For it is in receiving mercy that we’re able to give mercy, in receiving wisdom that we’re able to give wisdom, in receiving encouragement that we’re able to give encouragement, in receiving blessing that we’re able to be a blessing.

Therefore, our Father most lovingly calls us to allow the word of Christ to dwell richly in us (Colossians 3:16). His heart is not that we would legalistically hear, read, study, memorize, meditate on, apply, and teach the word. No, his heart is that we would seek him, that we would long for him to draw near to us and minister to us and transform us into his image, and that we would share in his joy and become a blessing to others.

So whatever place the Word of God has in your life right now, I want to challenge you to press on and let the word of Christ dwell in you all the more richly. Grow in the daily habits of hearing, reading, studying, memorizing, meditating on, applying, and teaching the Word of God. But as you do, remember that the aim of pressing on in the Word is to connect, heart to heart, with our Father. Mere reading and such will do us no good. Let us remember the words of Isaiah: “The Lord God has given me the tongue of those who are taught, that I may know how to sustain with a word him who is weary. Morning by morning he awakens; he awakens my ear to hear as those who are taught” (Isaiah 50:4). 

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Growing in the Grace and Knowledge of Christ

Do you want to grow in love for Jesus? Do you long to experience more of his grace day by day? Do you desire for your life to bring glory to Christ? Most Christians will, of course, answer “yes” to these questions, but I want to encourage you to join me in searching our hearts to see if our “yes” really means “yes.” Are we willing to take up our cross daily and die to anything that stands in the way of our progress in Christ? Are we willing to sell everything we have in order to gain him?

The Apostle Peter drew his second letter to a close with these wise and pastoral words: “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen” (2 Peter 3:18). Beloved, this is an exhortation from an elder brother in Christ, and it’s also a command. The word “grow” is in the imperative mood which means that it’s a directive. Peter is saying to people he loves very much, “Forsake the fading pleasures of this world and make every effort to pursue Christ” (see 1 Peter 1:5-11).

So I ask again: do you long for growth, grace, and the glory of Christ in your life? If you answered “yes,” then know that you will have to play an active role, by the grace of Christ, in building habits that nurture this longing. We cannot sit idly by and expect to grow, rather, we must apply ourselves according to the will and wisdom of God.

Therefore, over the next several weeks, I’ll be writing a series of devotionals on eight essential habits that create an atmosphere of growth in our lives. These habits do not, in themselves, cause us to grow in Christ, but they are tools and fertilizer in the hands of the God who does cause us to grow.

Specifically, I plan to write about the Word of God, praise, prayer, fasting, giving, community life, evangelism, and mercy ministry. As you read these devotionals each week, please join me in the quest to understand what our Father is asking of us and why, and in the effort to apply his wisdom to our lives by the grace and power of Christ. Those who hear and do the will of God will be blessed indeed.

Finally, please join me in praying that Jesus will do a great work at Glory of Christ this summer. Peter’s call to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ is not only imperative, it’s plural. It’s a command issued to us as a people, not as isolated individuals. So again, please pray that God will bind us together as we seek him together.