The Joy of Giving (from a Baptized Wallet)!

gratitude-banner-tozer-fall

It’s been “a week of gratitude” here at This New Life, so we’ve offered our readers a brief devotional each day as a way to say “thanks.” Today is our last one. We have wanted to express our appreciation to those who regularly give of their time and treasure to support the work of the Lord, both here and around the world.

Moreover, we who are in pastoral ministry, parachurch work, and/or theological education depend on the generosity of faithful givers like you to make our living (1 Cor 9:14), so it’s especially important for us to say thank you from time to time. We seek to serve joyfully, ever remembering with deep affection and appreciation your partnership in the gospel (Phil 1:5). You are indeed precious to us!


 

Years ago there was a cartoon in Leadership Journal that spoke volumes about the average believer’s relationship to finances. A pastor was baptizing one of his parishioners by full immersion, but the submerged man could be seen holding his arm straight out of the water, clutching his wallet and keeping it dry. The new believer had no intention of applying Christ’s lordship to his personal stewardship.

baptized-wallet-leadership-journal

I’m glad you’re not the average believer! You’ve been openhanded with your resources, and you’ve supported the work of the Lord, either at the seminary where we work, the church where we serve, or some other gospel-centered ministry. Thank you!

Both we and the ministries we’re a part of depend on the generous support of people like you. So thank you for “letting your wallet get wet” for Jesus! We appreciate your generosity. What touches our hearts the most is that your gifts are freely given, without compulsion from external sources. These are the kinds of offerings that please our heavenly Father the most.

“Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work” (2 Cor 9:7-8).

Still, we know that stewardship goes way beyond the offering plate. The Bible indicates that true stewardship would involve the godly use of our body, mind, spirit, time, work, gifts, relationships, technology, and so much more. David P. King has said,

“The power of money in our lives is too great to view stewardship as managing finances by simply moving money from one column to another. Stewardship is rather tending our souls, aware of our unique fears and desires, nurturing our relationships with money as it marks a way of life and leading us to experience faithful living and the joy of giving.”

I hope your gifts to gospel-centered ministries help you experience the joy of giving. And I hope we can continue nurturing the relationship we have with you and your family. Please drop us a line via the contact page and let us know how we can pray for you. You are special to God and to us!

Thank you, Lord, for the generosity of your people. Again we ask that you would bless them mightily for their love and sacrificial giving. May the eyes of their heart be opened so that they would know the hope to which you have called your saints. Multiply to them the riches of your glorious inheritance, and your incomparably great power toward all who believe. May their words and works reflect the beauty of your gospel. Amen.

Devotionals

Thankful for You!

gratitude-banner-tozer-fall

It’s “a week of gratitude” here at This New Life, so we’d like to offer our readers a brief devotional each day as a way to say “thanks.” We especially want to express our appreciation to those who regularly give of their time and treasure to support the work of the Lord, both here and around the world.

Moreover, we who are in pastoral ministry, parachurch work, and/or theological education depend on the generosity of faithful givers like you to make our living (1 Cor 9:14). We seek to do so joyfully, ever remembering with deep affection and appreciation your partnership in the gospel (Phil 1:5). You are indeed precious to us!


 

Let’s use our imagination for a moment. What would happen if everything we owned and never thanked God for just disappeared? How would our day go if those items suddenly vanished?

Would we still have a roof, socks, toothbrush, hot water heater, local grocery store, or even traffic lights? We take many things in life for granted, and even complain about them sometimes. Who is thankful for traffic lights? Yet, we would have chaos without them.

All these things keep us healthy, comfortable, and safe.

Look around right now, and see what you may never have thanked God for. It’s actually stunning, isn’t it? How about being grateful for people?

Are we thankful for the farmers who grow our food, the bus drivers who transport our kids to school, the folks who mow the lawn at church, the people who engineer our mobile phones, the mail carrier who delivers our letters and packages?

What if they disappeared for our lack of gratitude?

woman-disappearing-seashore

Each of us has a million reasons to be thankful, don’t we? That’s because God is good. He provides. And he keeps providing.

In this little thought experiment, we know that you would never disappear because we do thank God for you—often! We never take you or your sacrifices for granted.

Both the seminary where we work and the church where we serve depend on the generous support of people like you. Without your generosity, we wouldn’t be able to fulfill the calling God has placed on our lives.

So, thank you! Your support means the world to us.

thank-you-hands-note

We know the Lord is attentive to your spirit of generosity. Paul describes the result of his people’s faithful giving like this: “This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of the Lord’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God” (1 Cor 9:12).

What a profound impact for the gospel generosity can have!

The English writer, philosopher, and Christian apologist, G. K. Chesterton once said, “When it comes to life, the critical thing is whether you take things for granted or take them with gratitude.”

We choose to take them with gratitude—including you. We are grateful for you—and the real difference you continue to make. May God richly bless you!

Thank you, Lord, for the generosity of your people. Bless them abundantly for their support of your work both here and around the world. On this day of thanksgiving, may they sense your presence and pleasure for the part they play in our lives. Amen.

Devotionals

Donkeys, Donors, and Disciples

gratitude-banner-tozer-fall

It’s “a week of gratitude” here at This New Life, so we’d like to offer our readers a brief devotional each day as a way to say “thanks.” We especially want to express our appreciation to those who regularly give of their time and treasure to support the work of the Lord, both here and around the world.

Moreover, we who are in pastoral ministry, parachurch work, and/or theological education depend on the generosity of faithful givers like you to make our living (1 Cor 9:14). We seek to do so joyfully, ever remembering with deep affection and appreciation your partnership in the gospel (Phil 1:5). You are indeed precious to us!


 

John F. Kennedy, the 35th President of the United States, once said, “We must find time to stop and thank the people who make a difference in our lives.” He was right, so I’d like to take a moment to thank you for the difference you’re making in our lives.

All over the world, believers support the Lord’s work in a variety of ways—some through intercessory prayer, some through verbal encouragement, some through volunteer service, some through financial giving, and some through a combination of these things.

“We must find time to stop and thank the people who make a difference in our lives.” – John F. Kennedy

Both the seminary where we work and the church where we serve depend on all these types of support. Simply put, we couldn’t be doing what we’re doing if you weren’t doing what you’re doing. So, thank you! Your support means the world to us.

At the seminary, one of our recent graduates was used by God to prevent a teen suicide in Berks County. In fact, this graduate has been thrown into numerous counseling situations over the past six months where he’s been able to deescalate tense situations involving drugs, alcohol, family strife, and physical abuse—not to mention the police and the mob—while providing genuine hope and healing to all parties involved.

At the church, we’ve seen a growing desire in many believers to understand the Bible better and reach out to the local community of which we’re a part. We’ve seen an openness to renewing our corporate worship and deepening our personal discipleship. We’ve seen believers get excited to embrace the vision that God has for us and step into the future with faith. The journey has been exhilarating.

These kinds of stories abound among our parishioners and students, and they wouldn’t be possible without you.

Your partnership in the gospel reminds me of the story of the Palm Sunday donkey. Maybe you remember the account: “The Lord has need of it,” says Jesus. And the disciples bring it back for the Lord. But what kind of a Savior admits to having a need? One who’s meek. One who’s kind. One who’s happy to let his followers participate in a miracle.

donkey

Think of it—Jesus multiplies the bread, but the twelve get to distribute it. Jesus raises Lazarus to life, but the disciples get to unwrap him and set him free. Jesus wins our salvation on the cross, but believers get to proclaim it so the world can hear the good news and respond in faith.

Jesus always does the heavy lifting, but each of us has a part to play in his kingdom work. Thank you for playing your part. You are, quite literally, helping to change the world. As Max Lucado has said:

“All of us have a donkey. You and I each have something in our lives, which, if given back to God, could, like the donkey, move Jesus and his story further down the road.”

Because of your generosity, the gospel is going further down the road in our day. May God richly bless you for it!

Dear Lord, thank you for the precious people in our lives who help us fulfill our calling. Pour out your blessings upon them, and let them know how valuable they are to you and your work. Continue to grant them both the means and the desire to support your work, advancing the good news of Jesus Christ around the world until he comes again. Amen.

Devotionals

Thanks (For Your) Giving

gratitude-banner-tozer-fall

It’s “a week of gratitude” here at This New Life, so we’d like to offer our readers a brief devotional each day as a way to say “thanks.” We especially want to express our appreciation to those who regularly give of their time and treasure to support the work of the Lord, both here and around the world.

Moreover, we who are in pastoral ministry, parachurch work, and/or theological education depend on the generosity of faithful givers like you to make our living (1 Cor 9:14). We seek to do so joyfully, ever remembering with deep affection and appreciation your partnership in the gospel (Phil 1:5). You are indeed precious to us!


 

William Ward once said, “God gave you the gift of 86,400 seconds today. Have you used one of them to say thank you?” It’s a good question, and I would like to take one second out of this day to say “thank you” to you.

I have to admit, though, the depth of my gratitude far exceeds the brief time it takes for me to express it. Still, it’s right to do so, however inadequate it may be.

Your systematic and sacrificial giving to the Lord’s work means that you understand how valuable Christ’s mission is to the world. Whether it’s to the seminary where I teach or to the church where I pastor—or some other gospel-centered ministry near to your heart—your generosity is making a huge impact.

generosity-hands-black-backgroundRight now there are dozens of marriage and family therapists serving in this county alone—restoring hope and nurturing healthy relationships—all because of the training they received at our seminary.

Hundreds of pastors are feeding their flocks and sharing the good news of Jesus. Scores of Christian workers are leading vibrant ministries, as well as starting new ones.

Dozens of chaplains are providing spiritual and emotional support to military personnel, who have some of the toughest and most dangerous jobs in the world.

Myriad spiritual care providers are helping people discern the will of God and be formed to the image of Christ.

At our church, genuine revitalization is taking place, and believers are looking to the future with hope and optimism again. God is up to something good, and lay leaders are taking more and more ownership of local ministries.

Whether at the seminary or in the church, we seek to promote, in the tradition of St. Anselm, “faith seeking understanding,” not so we can “fathom all mysteries and all knowledge” (1 Cor 13:2), but so we can take on the mind of Christ, who emptied himself and gave himself in service to the world (Phil 2:7).

Because of this approach, good gospel stuff is happening all around us. And donors like you are making it all possible. So, THANK YOU!

It doesn’t take long to say, but it does communicate in part how much your support is appreciated.

Thank you, Lord, for giving your people not only the means to give but also the desire to give so that your work can continue around the world. May their joy be multiplied, knowing that they’re not only supplying the needs of your people, but also causing an overflow of many expressions of thanks to you wherever the gospel is proclaimed. And, Lord, we thank you above all for the surpassing grace that you’ve given us in the indescribable gift of your Son, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Devotionals

Grateful for Your Partnership in the Gospel

gratitude-banner-tozer-fall

It’s “a week of gratitude” here at This New Life, so we’d like to offer our readers a brief devotional each day as a way to say “thanks.” We especially want to express our appreciation to those who regularly give of their time and treasure to support the work of the Lord, both here and around the world.

Moreover, we who are in pastoral ministry, parachurch work, and/or theological education depend on the generosity of faithful givers like you to make our living (1 Cor 9:14). We seek to do so joyfully, ever remembering with deep affection and appreciation your partnership in the gospel (Phil 1:5). You are indeed precious to us!


 

The grace of God to us produces a sense of gratitude in us.

That’s why Paul connects the two in 2 Corinthians 4:15, where he writes, “. . . the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.” Actually, there’s a beautiful play on words in the original, where it’s easier to see that the term for thanks is built on the term for grace:

“. . . the CHARIS [grace] that is reaching more and more people may cause eu-CHARIS-tian [gratitude] to overflow . . . .”

Clearly, grace and gratitude are related—not only in language but also in life. In Luke 8:1-3, we read that three women—Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Susanna—and “many others” all supported Jesus’ ministry “out of their own means.”

Mary had been freed from seven demons, and the others had been cured of various diseases. Christ healed them physically, spiritually, and emotionally. He took their broken hearts and battered souls and made them whole again. Once filled with pain and darkness, their lives were now filled with peace and freedom.

As a result, these women were now supporting Christ and his mission from their own finances. They followed and funded him because their lives had been transformed, producing within them a tangible gratitude. Thankfully, that story continues to this day.

Your faithful giving “out of your own means” is no doubt an expression of gratitude for the grace you have received from the Lord. Like the women of Luke 8, you are supporting gospel outreach and ministry training efforts as they did.

Their hearts were sensitive to God’s work in them, and they expressed that sensitivity through generosity. You are following in their footsteps, even as they followed Christ. And your generosity is causing “gratitude to overflow” all over the world.

Thank you, Lord, for the generosity of your people. Bless them mightily for their love and sacrificial giving. May the eyes of their heart be opened so that they would know the hope to which you have called your saints. Multiply to them the riches of your glorious inheritance, and your incomparably great power toward all who believe. May their words and works reflect the beauty of your gospel. Amen.

Devotionals

The Exile of Death (Isaiah 25:6-8)

On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare
a feast of rich food for all peoples,
a banquet of aged wine—
the best of meats and the finest of wines. 

On this mountain he will destroy
the shroud that enfolds all peoples,
the sheet that covers all nations;
he will swallow up death forever.  

The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces;
he will remove the disgrace of his people from all the earth.
The Lord has spoken.  

Isaiah 25:6-8

There’s something pitiable about the person who lives in exile. To be in a faraway place when your heart is back home can be a severe discouragement. We can’t help feeling sorry for the person who’s been evicted or evacuated against his will. To be separated from the comforts of loved ones and familiar surroundings is to be assaulted by loneliness, fear, anxiety, and possibly even despair.

Have you ever felt like an exile? It’s a miserable sensation.

The child going away for summer camp, or the teenager going away to college for the first time might have a sense of exile. So might the missionary who heads off to a strange and hostile land after years of being cloistered in a Christian subculture.

man-alone-gray-fog

To be separated from the comforts of loved ones and familiar surroundings is to be assaulted by loneliness, fear, anxiety, and possibly even despair.

Exiles come in many forms—the military spouse who gets dragged all over the globe; the chronically ill patient who’s confined to a hospital bed; the success-driven businessperson who gets strapped into a plane seat yet again; the incarcerated man who can do nothing but hang his wrists on the iron bars all day long.

All of them can feel like exiles, and all of them desperately want to go home.

The people of Isaiah’s day knew that feeling well. Theirs was the plight of the exile. But Isaiah 25 is a song of liberation—an Old Testament Magnificat that anticipates real hope for a bright and glorious future. The hymn breaks into the text unexpected, celebrating the end of the tyranny and shame that have befallen the Jews for so long. God is clearly on the move, having subdued the enemies of Israel and having promised to restore them to a place of peace and prominence once again.

plant-from-tree-stump

With God, even the worst exile is only temporary. Verses 6-8 in particular celebrate the end of darkness and death for the covenant people. The marvelous truth is that Israel as a nation will rise again from the dead.

As is often the case with Old Testament prophecies, the divine Author could see more than the earthly author (cf. 1 Peter 1:10-12). It’s not difficult to capture glimpses of a greater resurrection in this passage—the bodily resurrection that awaits all believers at the end of the age.

empty-tomb-linens

With God, even the worst exile is only temporary. The marvelous truth is that Israel as a nation will rise again from the dead.

In fact, when Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15:54 that “death is swallowed up in victory,” he’s citing Isaiah 25:8. When John writes in Revelation 7:17 that “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes,” and again in 21:4 that God “will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more,” he’s surely alluding to the same prophecy. Isaiah’s original vision exceeds all expectations.

purple-mountains-majesty-stream-pine

Indeed, humanity’s exile to this sin-scarred planet of crime, cruelty, injustice, and death will one day come to an end. Like Israel of old, the church may continue to fail God in many ways, but God is still God, and he will keep his promises:

•  He will prepare an eschatological feast for his people (6).

•  He will destroy the corpse’s shroud that enfolds us all (7).

•  He will swallow up death forever (8a).

•  He will wipe away the tears from our faces (8b).

•  And he will remove his people’s disgrace from all the earth (8c).

In other words, death itself will be exiled forever, and the people of God will finally be home. And the authority for such a great hope is that the Lord himself has said it will happen (8d).

great-feast-table-fireplace

Thank you, God, for your power over death and the hope that it brings. As we journey through this life—sometimes feeling like strangers and exiles—encourage our spirits by helping us to remember that you will keep your resurrection promises. In the midst of our many failures, disappointments, disillusionments, and inadequacies, help us to stay focused on the glorious future that awaits the people of God. We’re eager to see you, Lord, and have you dry our tears. Until then, help us to hope. Amen.

Devotionals

Unwrapping a Miracle: Joining Jesus in His Work of Restoration

“Lazarus, come forth!” And he did. John 11:44 says, “The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. Jesus said to them, ‘Take off the grave clothes and let him go.’”

This well-known story is primarily a revelation of who Jesus is. John calls him the Way, the Truth, the Life, the Light, the Word, the Son of God, and many other titles that convey his divinity. It’s all about him. But is there anything in this story for us mortals—before our own resurrection at the end of the age? Indeed, there is.

The dead in Israel would be wrapped in long strips of cloth. The strips were placed in such a way as to bind the limbs and keep them straight. Even the head was wrapped to keep the mouth closed. Such a tight encasement would have made it hard for a living person to walk, let alone a dead person whose consciousness had just been restored.

lazarus-come-forth-03

Given these constraints, how did Lazarus even stand up when Jesus ordered him to? How did he make it over to the entrance of the tomb for all to see? Nothing but the power of God can explain such a miracle.

But could not the Savior who had just set a man free from the grip of death also set him free from the garments of death? If the restoration of life was no problem, could the removal of linens be a challenge? Obviously not. So, why the command? Apparently, Jesus delights in letting his followers participate in a miracle. 

  • “Take me to the tomb!” he says. And they do. (Couldn’t he find it himself?)
  • “Take away the stone!” he says. And they do. (Couldn’t he do that himself?)
  • “Take off the linens!” he says. And they do. (Couldn’t he do that himself?)

Jesus could have done all those things himself, but once again he allows his followers to participate in a miracle. It seems to be his pattern—and his Father’s. In the Old Testament, creation is supernaturally spoken into existence by God, but human beings have to take care of it. Manna is supernaturally rained down from heaven by God, but the Israelites have to go out and collect it. The Promised Land is supernaturally given by God, but the covenant people have to go in and take possession of it.

lazarus-come-forth-02Like Father, like Son: Jairus’ daughter is supernaturally raised to life, but the family has to feed her. The bread and fish are supernaturally multiplied, but the disciples have to distribute the food and pick up the leftovers. Eternal salvation is supernaturally accomplished on Calvary, but believers have to proclaim it for the world to hear the good news and respond in faith. Jesus acts like his Father in every respect.

The God of the Bible never needs our help, but he often allows himself to be “helped.” Remember the Palm Sunday donkey? “The Lord has need of it,” says Jesus (Luke 19:31). That’s an odd thing to say if you’re the Son of God.

What kind of a Savior admits to having a need? What kind of an all-powerful God is this? One who is meek. One who is kind. One who invites his people to join him in his work of restoration. It’s the same humble God we meet in the manger. And again in the upper room washing dirty feet. The beauty of Jesus’ meekness here in John 11 is that the people who wrapped Lazarus in sorrow now get to unwrap him in joy! Jesus made him alive, but they get to set him free!

This is the mission of the church—to help set at liberty those who are in bondage and living under the sentence of death. But it’s also a mission that applies to believers, too—those who have been resurrected by Jesus in the new birth but still may not be completely free.

All of us come into the kingdom of God with some sort of hang-up—a habit, an attitude, an addiction, a trauma, a psychological struggle, or some sort of besetting sin. Oh, we’re trusting Christ for salvation all right—and we’re spiritually alive in him—but we’re still not completely free. We’re wrapped up tight in a collection of character flaws and spiritual deficiencies. Theologians call it “remaining corruption.” And some of that corruption seems to remain for a long time.

lazarus-come-forth-04Our fellow disciples are commissioned to help unwrap us from that which still binds us, even as they themselves are being unwrapped. That’s why, according to the New Testament, we do this for each other in a relationship of radical grace and non-judgmental accountability. We’re all in the same battered boat, so capsizing other people’s ships is rank hypocrisy.

Sometimes the unbinding process is messy and complicated (“But, Lord . . . by this time there is a bad odor,” v. 39). Sometimes it’s glorious and exhilarating (“Many . . . put their faith in him,” v. 45). Either way, when we join Christ in his work of restoration, we get to see the love-power of God in action—up close and in person.

We get to see Lazarus face to face, and we get to unwrap a miracle.

Thank you, Father, for your amazing love-power that can do all things. Send forth your Word again in our day to heal, forgive, restore, and provide. Open my eyes to the opportunities around me where I can participate in your divine work of restoration and be a conduit of your grace. Help me to be gentle and meek like Jesus, using my gifts, abilities, and resources to serve others and advance your kingdom. Use me as you see fit to help set others free from their bondage. And help me, Lord, to allow my fellow disciples to gently pull off my own grave clothes, too. Amen.

Image Credits: Jesus of Nazareth, ITC; Angela Johnson (http://lightoftheworldgarden.comhttp://ajsculptures.com).
Devotionals