November 4 – The Poor Millionaire – Giving

Read 2 Corinthians 8:1-11

It’s always awkward to talk about giving in the context of a local church. It seems that once you bring up the idea of asking people to donate their hard-earned money to a church, walls get put up and you can feel the tension growing. When you ask people to excel, as Paul states in our reading, in the giving of their money and not just be generous in spirit, it’s a tough ask.

I have been blessed to have a behind-the-scenes view at Grace Church for many years now. For the last several years being on staff, I have the privilege of seeing the life change happen constantly as a result of the faithful giving here. I see the blessing that we are in our community and the needs that we meet as a result of faithful giving. I see families healed and people walk through painful seasons of their lives, surrounded by faith friends, as a result of faithful giving. I see generational curses broken and kids, weekly giving their lives to Christ as a result of faithful giving.

When you give to a local church, you fund life change.

In our reading today, Paul brags to the Corinthian church about Macedonian and how, in the midst of severe trial:

“…their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity.”

Generosity is a lifestyle. Giving is an action.

Paul continues:

“But since you excel in everything-in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in the love we have kindled in you-see that you also excel in this grace of giving.”

What does it look like to excel in giving?

The first way to excel at giving is to do so faithfully. I know there are many things that you would rather do with 10% of your income, trust me, the thought crosses my mind often. However, God commands us to give 10% back to the church as a tithe. This goes above generosity and into giving.

There have certainly been times where finances have been tight with Kelly and I. I remember looking over our budget and thinking of ways that we can save money but, no matter what, I knew that our tithe wasn’t going to be touched. It simply cannot.

“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Kelly and I give faithfully because we see the fruit of our giving.

Secondly, excel at giving by doing so above and beyond when you are able. Just the other day, I had a conversation with Kelly about our financial dreams. Being in the middle of Financial Peace University, we are dreaming of what it would look like to be outrageously generous. We are setting ourselves up for financial freedom so that we can give above and beyond when we are able. Kelly and I both cannot wait for that!

Are you faithfully giving to your local church? If not, simply put, you need to. Your giving funds life change.

Are you in a position where you can give above and beyond? Outside of your tithe, what are some opportunities that you have to be generous in your giving?

Jake Lawson

October 26 – Say What Now? – “Embrace your Weakness and I’ll Give You Strength”

Read 2 Corinthians 13:1-10

“He was sheer weakness and humiliation when he was killed on the cross, but oh, he’s alive now—in the mighty power of God! – (2 Corinthians 13:3 MSG)

From the age of five, James was raised by his maternal grandparents on their farm in Jackson, Michigan – they had moved from Mississippi. James found the transition to living with his grandparents in Michigan traumatic and developed a stutter so severe that he refused to speak. “I was a stutterer. I couldn’t talk. So, my first year of school was my first mute year, and then those mute years continued until I got to high school.”

James said that his stuttering created humiliation: “In Sunday school, I’d try to read my lessons and the children behind me were falling on the floor with laughter…my stuttering was so bad that I gave up trying to speak properly.”

James credits his high school English teacher, Donald Crouch, who discovered he had a gift for writing poetry, with helping him embrace this weakness. “‘Jim, this is a good poem. In fact, it is so good I don’t think you wrote it. I think you plagiarized it. If you want to prove you wrote it, you must stand in front of the class and recite it by memory.’ Which I did. As they were my own words, I got through it.”

James said his teacher got him talking and reading poetry, which sparked an interest in acting. By embracing the weakness, it eventually became a strength.

Known today as James Earl Jones, this man worked hard and eventually became a Broadway, television and movie star, and is well-known for his voice as Darth Vader in Star Wars. Jones has spoken some of the most memorable lines in the history of American film. He is known for his voice. But he was once afflicted with a severe stutter.

Examples of weakness are impatience, restlessness, a temper, greed, looking at pornography, selfishness and others. Jesus was weak when He died on the cross on Good Friday. He had been beaten, broken down, had his face spit on, whipped – pieces of skin hung from his back, verbally abused, naked and humiliated. And He was able to overcome all of this through the resurrection!

And Jesus provides a way through Him to overcome our weaknesses by recognizing, admitting and then embracing them.

It involves work (see Colossians 3:23), focus (see Hebrews 12:2) and opportunity (see Eph. 5:16).

Have you asked Jesus to help you embrace a weakness and work to overcome it? Is there anything specific that you need to bring to the Lord?

“So, if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:36)

If Christ sets you free – you can now try to forget your past mistakes and not focus on them. They are on the ocean floor (see Micah 7:19).

You can live free through Jesus Christ. You can embrace weaknesses and ask God for strength!

Tom Weckesser

September 16 – Life Verses – 2 Corinthians 5:21

Read 2 Corinthians 5:11-21

God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we

might become the righteousness of God.

2 Corinthians 5:21

When I think about a “life verse,” what instantly comes to mind for me is 2 Corinthians 5:21. In fact, I would describe 2 Corinthians 5 as my favorite chapter of Scripture, specifically verses 11-21.

I love verse 21 because it succinctly sums up the story of the Gospel: “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor 5:21). When Jesus went to the cross, He took on our sin, and in exchange He gave us His righteousness. What a trade! Our sin was charged against Jesus while His perfection and righteousness was applied to us. This is the beauty of the Gospel: that Jesus took our punishment and offers us not only forgiveness, but a way to be in a relationship with God.

That is why Paul, throughout the rest of chapter 5, encourages and challenges us to be Christ’s ambassadors! If we have been made into a “new creation” and have received this great mercy, how can we keep it to ourselves? Instead, we must realize that we who have been reconciled with God have been assigned what Paul calls the “ministry of reconciliation.” This means, simply, that we all have a job to do: to tell others about the incredible gift that Jesus has given to us, and to invite them to receive that same gift themselves.

I would consider this my life verse because it is my reminder of my duty. I am not here to serve myself. I am who I am because of Christ and Christ alone and because of that truth I have a God-given responsibility to reach others with the same message that reached me. I hope that you would consider the responsibility God has entrusted to you as well. We have been called by God to implore others to come back to Him. I love that truth because it reminds me every day of the reason I am on this earth.

Billy Starkey

August 30 – Heaven FAQ’s – Is Heaven really that great?

Read 2 Corinthians 12:1-10 and Philippians 1:23

“From the beginning, God had a shining dream in his heart. He would make people to share his forever happiness. They would be his children and the world would be their perfect home.” (Jesus Story Book Bible).

On Mattie’s, our 3-year-old’s, birthday, he was given the Jesus Story Book Bible. I read this to a few children when I babysat and I remember their parents always telling me that it was the best children’s Bible they have ever come across. So, I was extremely excited when Mattie was gifted one. He and I have been reading a chapter each night since he received it, and I remember, when reading the words above, I thought to myself, “This, all around us, was not the intent when God created it”.

When I was in Bible school, my pastor would tell us, “There is world 1.0 and world 2.0.” Now, let me explain, “world 1.0” was the world that God intended when He began creation. Then “world 2.0” came about when the fall took place. These two worlds co-exist, but we can only feel and see 2.0. However, our “perfect home” is still in existence and we are just separated for a time.

When studying Heaven and even the end times, it can become quite mind numbing trying to make sense of it all, but Paul states it perfectly when he says, “it is paradise.”

When thinking of living in this fallen world, it is easy to forget that this is not our true home. This is our temporary home and our true home is in Heaven with Jesus.

If you have never picked up “Heaven” by Randy Alcorn, I definitely recommend it. It answers any questions you may have regarding Heaven and what it may or may not be like. One of my favorite things He discusses is how there is a “Present Heaven” and an “Eternal Heaven”. He explains the biblical knowledge of how the unification of Heaven and Earth come together but he brings scripture to life and explains in depth how this world, 2.0, is not where we are meant to be.

Where we were intended to be is “a bright, vibrant, and physical New Earth, free from sin, suffering, and death, and brimming with Christ’s presence, wonderous natural beauty and the richness of human culture as God intended it”.

Doesn’t that sound amazing?!

Kelly Lawson

August 21 – Heaven FAQ’s – When does a person go to Heaven?

Read 2 Corinthians 4:16-5:10

On a Friday afternoon, in Granny’s kitchen in St. Charles, Missouri, Kelly and I were trying to get some lunch into Mattie before we put him down for a nap. Despite the semi hectic back and forth to and from the hospital, as any parent will tell you, naps for a toddler are vitally important. Our whole family made the trek to my parents’ hometown because Grandma’s health had been deteriorating over the past several months. We were praying this wasn’t the end but, as our visit continued, we knew that it wasn’t an “if” question but a “when”.

Our family had talked many a time of the hope that we have in Jesus. Earthly pain is temporary where eternity with Christ is forever for those who place their faith in Him. All of us knew that Grandma would soon be promoted to Heaven and we found ourselves trying to come to grips with saying goodbye to a staple in the Lawson family tree.

On that Friday afternoon, Kelly was trying to convince Mattie to clean up his plate when I got a call from Mom. Thinking nothing of it, I answered normally:

“Hey, Mama.”

“You know I love you, right?”

My whole demeanor changed.

“Mom, what’s wrong?”

“Your grandma is with Jesus.”

I hopped in the car and drove over to the hospital where I met the rest of our family. Tears were flowing as we came to grips with reality:  Grandma was with Jesus.

Our reading in 2 Corinthians today answers the question of, “When do I actually go to Heaven?” Dad made a point of telling those who were in the room when Grandma passed that they were on holy ground. The moment she breathed her last, angels came and ushered Grandma into eternity. Part of the pain was eased because we all knew she was hearing, “Well done, my good and faithful servant” right about then.

What a holy moment.

Paul describes two realities in this reading for those who have a relationship with Christ: at home with the body or away from it with the Lord. According to Scripture, when we are absent from the body, we are at home in Heaven with Jesus. I love how Paul talks about the earthly vs eternal. There are other passages like 1 Corinthians 15 that describe the relationship there is between the physical and the eternal.

Allow this to be a challenge to you all: where do you stand with Christ? Have you believed in Him for the forgiveness of your sins? Do you have that personal and intimate relationship with Him? Just knowing about Him won’t save you;  have you repented of your sin and chosen to follow God’s plan for your life? This isn’t something you can take care of right before you die. When you breath your last, you are immediately confronted with eternity.

Where will you spend it?

Jake Lawson

August 5 – Perseverance – In human weakness

Read 2 Corinthians 12:9

Perseverance is persistence in doing something, despite difficulty or a delay in achieving success. 

What keeps you from persevering?  What causes you to lose long term perspective? 

There have been times in my life where I have felt completely helpless, void of strength, even to do the simplest of tasks. 

A few years ago, I had major surgery.  In recovery I was on a respirator.  I couldn’t even breathe on my own, I was helpless.  We want to be strong, decisive, capable, and able to meet daily challenges.  But there are times when we feel inadequate.  Illness occurs, our bodies become physically weak, our minds aren’t as sharp as they used to be.  We feel like we don’t even have the ability to confront the day.  We are born with limitations, or, as some would call it, weakness.  We are created in His image, and yet we are lacking.  Do you think He might have created our bodies to give up under pressure, so that we could realize that we can do nothing apart from Him?  (John 15:5).

God created us to rely on Him.  

We can’t do it all, and that’s OK. 

If we could, then we would never have the opportunity to allow God’s power to be seen in us.

“My grace is sufficient, for My power is made perfect in weakness.”2 Corinthians 12:9

Paul prayed 3 times to have a weakness – “a thorn in his flesh” – removed.  Instead, God allowed it to remain so that His power would be seen. It was only through experiencing this weakness that Paul was able to receive the power of God.  Our weakness allows us to grow stronger in His strength, just as Paul persevered through the “thorn”.

“And my God will meet all your needs,

according to the riches of His glory in Jesus Christ.”Philippians 4:19

Paul is encouraging believers in Philippi to be content.  A few verses earlier Paul talks about how God gives us strength to be content, regardless of circumstances (Philippians 4:11-13).  Even when you feel weak, He will supply the strength needed to persevere. 

God promises us His strength. As you go about your daily life, facing your own limitations, weaknesses, and fears, meditate on these promises.  In His Word we learn that He never intended to remove weaknesses from our life.  If this was God’s intention, then we’d never have the pleasure of witnessing His power perfected in our weakness.  We’d never have the privilege of witnessing His ability to supply all our needs.

So, why do we try to struggle through our weakness on our own?

Why do we let weaknesses stop us from experiencing His power?

Today, trust Him, the One who promises to supply all you need!

Trust the One who promises to perfect His strength in you!

“Likewise, the Spirit helps us in our weakness.  For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.”Romans 8:26

“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us.”Ephesians 3:20

“He gives power to the weak,

and to those who have no might He increases strength.”Isaiah 40:29

Janene Nagel

August 4 – Perseverance – With pain

Read Romans 5:3-4 and 2 Corinthians 4:16-18

Probably the worst physical pain I have ever experienced was on a cold January night in 2014 during the opening session of the yearly Kalahari retreat. I was part of the opening act and, during it, I planned on, essentially, high jumping on a stage that was several feet off the ground. Now, I played sports in high school so I thought I was, at least, slightly athletic.

In case you were wondering, no, I didn’t practice at all to see if it was even possible.

Safe to say, I slipped on my jump and skinned my shin. After the opening, I walked out to the hallway and saw blood running down my shin. Upon getting a paper towel from the bathroom and looking closer to dab it up, I saw that my shin was literally flayed open.

I could see muscle and everything.

After the shock wore off (it was a solid 30 seconds of me staring at the gaping hole in my shin), my adrenaline wore off and the pain came in a huge and brutal wave.

When we talk about pain, I feel like everyone can relate. Either we can talk about a time where we were hurt physically, but I feel like it hurts us so much more when the pain is emotional.

How do you deal with emotional pain? How do you process through it? What role does God play in this healing process? Are you even healing from your pain?

One of the greatest things I have learned in my faith was that pain has a purpose. In our reading today in Romans, Paul is writing about a tough situation he is currently in. He is writing a letter to the church in Rome from prison. He knew his time was coming to a close and he was soon to be executed for his role in advancing the gospel.

If Paul can pen his encouraging words in Romans 5:3-4, how do any of our pains (physical or emotional) even compare?

“Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.”

Do you go so far as to glory in your sufferings? Are you able to zoom out of our scenario and see the long game of pain? Can you see the upcoming perseverance, character and, ultimately, hope that will come as a result of properly working through your pain?

What pain are you currently experiencing? What pain is a part of your past that you haven’t healed from?

What steps are you going to take in order to see your pain from a new perspective?

What potential benefits do you see from viewing your pain from a different lens?

What promises of hope does Jesus give us for the pain we experience throughout our life?

Jake Lawson

July 16 – Fear of – Inadequacy

Read 2 Corinthians 3:5

Our competence comes from the Lord, not our own doing.  If you believe God can do all things, why wouldn’t you believe He is capable of equipping you with what you need to complete what He wants you to do?

Throughout the Bible, God used flawed people to guide and share hope to the flawed world. 

One of my favorite quotes is “Jesus didn’t call the equipped, He equipped those He called.”

If you don’t believe that, just look at His twelve disciples.  This rag-tag bunch of fishermen were chosen to tell the world God’s plan of salvation! Not a king or emperor, the learned men of the temple, or even the high priest!  I’m sure they felt inadequate as well, BUT God equipped them for the mission He needed them to do!

Throughout the Bible we read about how other ordinary people were made to be extraordinary people of faith.

Moses stuttered, BUT GOD made him the spokesman for a great nation.   

David was a murderer, BUT GOD made him into a great leader and called him a Man after God’s Own Heart!

Joseph had been abused, BUT GOD used him to save his people from starvation.

Mary was just an ordinary young woman, BUT GOD chose her to become the mother of Jesus!

Peter denied knowing Jesus 3 times, BUT GOD built His church on him.

Paul once persecuted Christians, BUT GOD used him to spread Christianity to the known world!

When you think about it, the Bible is like a giant makeover show.  You know the kind where they take someone and give them a makeover and the transformation is unbelievable! The person does not look at all in the end like they did in the “before” picture.  But, for the transformation to take place, there needs to be a willing person – someone who wants to be changed.  In God’s case, it needs to be someone who is willing to be used for His kingdom.

What will your spiritual “before” and “after” pictures look like?  What are your skills and, better yet, what do you feel are your inadequacies? In God’s hands they can become your strengths! I never in my life thought I would become a writer!  That was the very last thing on my list of what I thought God would want me to do, but here I am writing this to you!

Are you willing to step out and let God use you to bring others to Him? Are you ready for YOUR makeover?  Ask God to tell you what HE wants you to do.   Don’t be surprised if it is the one thing that is furthest from what you imagine.  Then watch the hand of God work its power in you! 

You will be amazed!

Pat Arnold

June 12 – Enough – Good Enough?

Read 2 Corinthians 3:1-6

One of the greatest experiences of my life was travelling to Israel in 2012.

I don’t remember a lot but can recall standing in Caesarea Maritima amongst some ruins. Our teacher and tour guide said, “Oh, by the way, we are currently standing within 50 feet of where Paul appealed to Caesar” (Acts 25).

Chills ran throughout my body as I grappled with that statement.

We then walked over to what was a horse track back in ancient times. As we escaped the sun by standing under a porch where the ruler would address the people of the day, our teacher told us that it was above our heads where Herod was eaten alive by worms in Acts 12 because he took the praise of the people and not giving glory to God.

What a one-two punch, am I right?

That visual has always stuck out to me. I never want to be a prideful person. But, let’s be honest, it’s easy to accept the praise that people give to you.

Today, when people speak kind words to me, while thankful, I’m tempted to think higher of myself than I should. I combat those emotions by thinking of that horse track in Caesarea Maritima.

Through anything that I do, I don’t want people to see me, I want them to see Jesus within me. If thinking of Herod doesn’t work, I will vocally speak truth out loud until my heart accepts it:

“Your words, not mine.”

“Glory to you, God.”

“You be praised, Father.”

I will admit. I’m not 100% successful at diverting praise to Jesus and the Corinthian believers seemed to struggle with this as well.

In our reading today, Paul needs to dish out some humble pie because the Corinthian church began to think a little too highly of themselves:

“Are we beginning to commend ourselves again?”

Apparently, this was an ongoing problem.

“Such confidence we have through Christ before God.”

The only confidence that we can have is through Christ and for His glory. Without Him, we are nothing. It is only through Him that we can live and breathe.

Personally, I am honored that God would choose me to be one of many vessels telling people about the hope they can have through Jesus.

As you take an honest inventory of your life, are you tempted to think too highly of yourself? In what areas are you most tempted to do so? In what way are you going to humble yourself before God?

If you need to, think of Herod. It’s better to humble yourself before God humbles you.

Jake Lawson

June 11 – Enough – giving enough?

Read 2 Corinthians 9:7 and Proverbs 21:26

Generosity is a tough topic to grasp. It can be relative to each person, someone with a $100k salary might feel that giving $1,000 is impossible while someone earning $50,000 might be able to give $10,000 with no problem.

Money in general is a moving target, there is always a next level, another milestone to achieve.

The verse in Proverbs explains this perfectly, “all day long he craves for more…” Given to our selfishness and desires, our cravings can overtake us. The verse goes on to say “but the righteous give without sparing.”

The correlation of righteousness and generosity must not be overlooked.

The sanctification process that God is working in our lives is expressed in a variety of ways, one of which is giving. When we have been blessed with the greatest gift of salvation we should be filled with grace and display it, specifically in our finances, amongst other areas.

The part I struggle with when reading this verse is “without sparing.” If I really give without sparing wouldn’t I end in financial ruin and have a family that is desolate, lacking their everyday needs? There is always another area that would benefit humanity if I chip in a few dollars, as many as my life savings could afford. Does this conflict with Luke 14:28 where Jesus says?“Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it?”

Finances and generosity require a plan!

How much do you spend on gas a week? How much are your groceries? What are you committing to a retirement fund or your 401(k)? How much are you giving? All of these questions should have an answer and by having one, you can be much more strategic, way more influential and accomplish goals that are currently just dreams.

We shouldn’t expect to give our last dollar if our family has needs. However, we should be constantly looking for ways to bless others out of our abundance. Generosity looks a little bit different for every person because we have all been gifted differently.

Though one expectation that we all should have is living generously no matter our circumstances.

Do you need to put a plan in place? Do you need to revisit your plan? What is your plan for generosity?

Jeff Walter