Who Asked for Your Two Cents?

Divine math is different from what we learned in school. That’s a comfort to those of us who sometimes find it hard to reconcile our checkbooks with our bank statement. But what if we totally drained our account one day and had nothing left to reconcile? What’s our net worth then? The answer might surprise us.

Mark records the story of a poor widow who put “two very small copper coins” into the temple treasury (Mark 12:42). Surprisingly, Jesus tells his disciples that she “put in more than all the others.” At first blush it’s an odd statement because all the other people that day had surely given larger amounts than she did. So how was it possible for her tiny gift of “two cents” to be larger than theirs?

the-widow-mite-hands

Jesus said it was because they gave out of their wealth, but she put in all she had to live on. In God’s mind, the size of the sacrifice is more noteworthy than the size of the gift. In other words, the real value of an offering to God is not in the amount given, but in the cost to the giver. How much does it pinch our pocketbooks? How much does it interfere with our unnecessary splurges?

Others at the temple that day gave what they could spare. This poor widow spared nothing. And Jesus took note. But where would her next meal come from? How could she buy flour for bread, or oil for the household lamps? What about new clothes to replace her tattered garments? What about the broken plow in the field?

The real value of an offering to God is not in the amount given, but in the cost to the giver.

By offering all she had to live on, the widow was entrusting herself to God’s care. She was offering herself completely to the One she had come to the temple to worship in the first place. Indeed, for her, devotion to God and his work took priority over everything else.

Still, was it wise for the widow to empty her account? What happens now? Would God provide for her? Would she be able to eke out a living? Would her fellow Israelites—charged in the Torah with being attentive to her needs as a widow—forget about her?

widow-bible-staff

Not to worry. God has a way of taking care of the generous. On one occasion in my younger days, I emptied out our checking account completely because a man told me he had a need. I was an easy touch and quite unaware that he was a professional extortionist. The man preyed on my commitment to Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount, “Give to the one who asks you” (Matt 5:42a).

So I did. I gave him everything I had.

At the time, I thought it was the right thing to do, but it made me nervous. How was I going to pay our bills? How was I going to feed my family? We had two young children at the time, and I was still in seminary. We had obligations all over the place. (With a few more years under my belt now, I would handle the extortionist a bit differently today.)

money-extortion-hands

Shortly after I gave away all our money, a widow in our church (a widow!) came to me and said, “Tim, the Lord is impressing on my heart that I should pay off your student loan. I don’t know what the balance is, and I don’t really care. God has blessed me with resources at this stage in my life, and I just think he wants me to do this for you.”

I was deeply moved. The woman didn’t know I had just emptied my checking account to help somebody else. She was just walking her own journey of faith and trying to follow Christ.

As Providence would have it, the Lord intersected our paths. Amazingly, the balance on my student loan was just about double the amount in my checking account the day I emptied it. Double! God saw fit to take care of our family in a big way the very week I gave away all our money. We rejoiced and celebrated God’s goodness to us.

Document with title student loan forgiveness.

It’s a great story, but honestly, it’s an old one. It’s been a while since I’ve taken such a radical step of faith with my money like that. Maybe that’s the problem. It’s not really my money, is it?

I need to get back to those days when I acted like everything I have belongs to the Lord, because it does—a time when I was willing to fling myself into God’s arms like a toddler jumping from the top step of the living room stairs, knowing for sure daddy will catch him.

It’s time to be openhanded again and watch what God will do. Problem is, we always assume the more we have, the more we can give. That’s only partially true. The widow in Mark 12 shows us the bigger miracle—the more we share, the more we have.

We always assume the more we have, the more we can give. That’s only partially true. The widow in Mark 12 shows us the bigger miracle—the more we share, the more we have.

In the end, God has always wanted my two cents. He wants yours, too. The amazing thing is, we never have to say a word to give it.

open-hand-give

Eternal Word, only begotten Son of God,
Teach me true generosity.
Teach me to serve you as you deserve.
To give without counting the cost,
To fight heedless of wounds,
To labor without seeking rest,
To sacrifice myself without thought of any reward
Save the knowledge that I have done your will.
Amen.

– St. Ignatius of Loyola

The Blood Covenant, Part 3: Open Your Mouth Wide (Psalm 81:1-10)

The descendants of Abraham found themselves enslaved down in Egypt building the treasure cities of Pharaoh. Because they were in covenant with God, however, it was as if God himself was enslaved, too. In fact, part of Psalm 81 gives us a portrait of God walking through Egypt, as if he were right there on the scene where his people were being mistreated. God says, in effect, “I was there, and I saw you with a burden on your back. I saw you with a basket of bricks in your hands. I heard you struggling with the language of the Egyptians.” And as Israel’s covenant partner, God obligated himself to act on their behalf. That’s why his message to the obstinate Pharaoh was, “Let my people go!” 

God’s message to his own people was, “Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it” (Psalm 81:10). That’s an illustration from the hedgerows—a picture of baby birds being fed by mother bird in the nest. A baby bird is nothing but a big open beak with a straggly bit of flesh attached to it. It’s the picture of absolute dependence and expectancy. God was reminding his people to trust him; to depend on him—to rely on him, even when life was difficult. Or, in the words of Jesus: “Apart from me, you can do nothing” (John 15:5). This spiritual dynamic is still true today. God is the ultimate covenant partner on whom we can always depend. We just need to learn how to open our mouths wide.

Sermon Resources:

Open Your Mouth Wide (Sermon Audio MP3)

Purpose and Pleasure: Partners in Finding and Navigating Our Vocation in Life

Eric Liddell famously said to his sister in Chariots of Fire, “I believe that God made me for a purpose—for China. But he also made me fast. And when I run, I feel his pleasure.” While the screenplay is likely embellished (or even apocryphal) at that point, the line is rich and insightful. There the “Flying Scotsman” articulates an elusive and hard-to-describe aspect of calling (or “vocation”). 

Liddell’s insight was this: Whenever people live out their divine purpose, they tend to sense God’s blessing and affirmation in the process, even if there are deep struggles along the way. As David wrote in Psalm 16:11, “You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence.” David, of course, was no stranger to trouble. On more than one occasion, the spears of King Saul whizzed past his ear, twanging into the wallboards of the place where he was hiding at the time.

It is significant that David connects being in God’s presence to being filled with joy, not groveling in the dust as a miserable sinner before an angry, implacable God. While epochal moments in redemptive history sometimes require dramatic theophanies for prophetic or revelatory reasons (cf. Exod 19:18-19, 40:34; Isa 6:1-5; Matt 17:5-6; Acts 2:1-4), God has a track record of delighting his people, not debilitating them. 

As such, I have slightly adjusted Liddell’s observation to make it my own: “When I learn, I feel his pleasure.” That’s one of the reasons it’s such a joy for me to be a teaching pastor and a seminary professor. It seems that God has made me for this. My calling can often be difficult, but it aligns well with how I’m wired. And if others can learn a few things along the way because I learned them earlier—whether in life or in libraries—so much the better. Such a venture has filled me with joy in the past, and it continues to do so today. 

Thare’s a caution, however, that’s never far from my thoughts in this regard: “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up” (1 Corinthians 8:1b). Our calling, then, must encompass the good of others, not just ourselves. That makes sense theologically because we’re relational beings, made in the image of God—the One who is true comm-unity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit). But, oh, what a challenge to see our lives and calling in connection to others. I can be awfully selfish sometimes; how about you?

Our calling must encompass the good of others, not just ourselves. 

I’m not sure I could articluate an inviolable or unassailable personal mission statement, but I do know that God is inviting me to embody his beauty, truth, and goodness as a pastor-scholar in the 21st-century church of Jesus Christ so that others can discover their lofty status and calling as image bearers of God—reveling in the good news of his redeeming grace. 

This “reveling” by others can take myriad forms, but the common core is culture-making that leads to human flourishing in this life, whatever joys the next life may hold. Historian Will Durant once wrote, “Civilization is social order promoting cultural creation. Four elements constitute it: economic provision, political organization, moral traditions, and the pursuit of knowledge and the arts. It begins where chaos and insecurity end.” 

My own calling is part of the “social order” of which Durant speaks, centered mostly in the third element he cites (viz., “moral traditions”)—though grace must always be part of the equation, as moral ideals often collapse under the weight of our own fallenness. If God is not gracious, then all of us are toast in the end.

Indeed, my own particular “tradition,” as Durant uses the term, is one that is Trinitarian, evangelical, and gospel-centered. That is why I seek to help inspire others to overcome their own insecurities and become “fully human,” even as they come to know and enjoy their Creator—the Logos who became human for the sake of love and liberation. As Durant noted, “When fear is overcome, curiosity and constructiveness are free, and [hu]man[ity] passes by natural impulse towards the understanding and embellishment of life.”

Grace must always be part of the equation, as moral ideals often collapse under the weight of our own fallenness.

That sounds to me like purpose and pleasure go together—even if the former leads the latter in priority. Both gravity and gladness can play together nicely in the sandbox of life. Indeed, they must play together nicely, or it’s not even rightly called “life.”

When is it that you most feel God’s pleasure?

Image Credits: 123rf.com; chrysaliscoaching.co.uk; runnersworld.com.

ICL Evangelism and Discipleship, Class Session 3

Class Resources:

Class video available (for 30 days) upon request.

25 of the Most Majestic Libraries in the World

“I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library.”
– Jorge Luis Borges

The seminary where I teach just converted its entire library to a digital access collection. That’s a wise move for us since so many of our students these days are from out of town, out of state, or even out of the country. Online education has made such diversity possible. Still, I miss the tactile nature of real books, so there’s something to lament here as well as to celebrate.

And what of the real structures that house the real books? Virtual shelves lack a certain je ne sais quoi, do they not? While they’re losing ground to the modern e-book and audio book industries, libraries once were the central hubs of human intellectual progress and achievement. Indeed, there’s something about them that still attracts people today.

Whether it’s their magnificent architecture, the distinct smell of old books, or the charm of intimate spaces that no other kind of building can command, scholars and dreamers alike still enjoy scanning the best of our literary heritage inside traditional libraries.

Because of their cultural importance, libraries often were built to be beautiful and to last. The folks over at boredpanda.com have assembled an impressive gallery for your viewing pleasure. You can check it out here.

Not too long ago I visited the George Peabody Library in Baltimore, Maryland. The atmosphere was mesmerizing, but I inadvertently broke a rule while on site. I started perusing a rather old francophone book on the French Revolution, only to discover several chapters later that it was part of the not-to-be-touched collection. Thankfully, I avoided the guillotine. 

In the end, pixels, I suppose, have a longer shelf life than paper, so book fragility may become a thing of the past. That’s an upside to the digital age. Moreover I have a Kindle, and I like it, so I’m quite comfortable in this new world. The only snafu comes when I lick my finger to turn the page. Apparently my screen is averse to human saliva.


Image Credits: boredpanda.com.

The Blood Covenant, Part 2: Is There Anyone Still Left? (1 Samuel 18:1-4; 2 Samuel 9:1-10)

David and Jonathan enter into a parity covenant, exchanging robes and weapons to signify their bond of loyalty to each other. The covenant they cut includes Jonathan’s young son Mephibosheth, whom David seeks out to bless even after Jonathan dies. Thereafter, Mephibosheth is invited to eat at the king’s table forever, unworthy though he may be. David shows Mephibosheth hesed (loving-kindness) because of his covenant with Jonathan, who served as his son’s covenant representative head.

This historical episode illustrates well the concept of representation. As Jonathan was Mephibosheth’s covenant representative head, so Jesus is the covenant representative head of the entire human race. Moreover, like David looking for Mephibosheth, God is searching for us, wanting to lavish upon us all the riches and blessings that come from being in covenant with him through Christ. He invites us to eat at the King’s table forever, unworthy though we may be. God’s hesed (lovingkindness) now flows to all who acknowledge Jesus by faith as their covenant representative head.

Sermon Resources:

New Worship Song for This Sunday: ‘Covenant of Grace’

Corporate worship continues this Sunday, September 27 at 10:30 a.m. in Dech Memorial Chapel in Myerstown, PA. Local folks will be singing “Covenant of Grace”—a song that is new to our fellowship. You can preview it here to help prepare for worship:


COVENANT OF GRACE

Chorus

The wonder of Your mercy Lord 
The beauty of Your grace 
That You would even pardon me 
And bring me to this place 
I stand before Your holiness 
I can only stand amazed 
The sinless Savior died to make 
A covenant of grace 

Verse 1

I only want to serve you 
Bring honor to Your name 
And though I’ve often failed You 
Your faithfulness remains 
I’ll glory in my weakness 
That I might know Your strength 
I will live my life at the Cross of Christ 
And raise a banner to proclaim 

Verse 2

You welcome us before You 
Into this holy place 
The brilliance of Your glory 
Demands our endless praise 
The One, the only Savior 
Has opened heaven’s doors
We can enter in free from all our sin 
By Your cleansing sacrifice

Words and music by Don Wallace 
© 1997 Sovereign Grace Worship (ASCAP)

‘The Man in the Arena’: Theodore Roosevelt’s Inspiration to Persevere

Theodore Roosevelt was a soldier, explorer, naturalist, and statesman who served as the 26th President of the United States from 1901 to 1909. Born a sickly child with debilitating asthma, he eventually overcame his health challenges by embracing a rigorous lifestyle.

Following William McKinley’s assassination in September 1901, Roosevelt became president at age 42, the youngest person ever to hold the office. One of his more famous quotations was shared in a speech the year after he left office. It is commonly known at the “The Man in the Arena” quotation, from an address titled, “Citizenship in a Republic.”

Regardless of how many times you may have stumbled or failed, be inspired by Roosevelt’s words to persevere:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

Theodore Roosevelt

“Citizenship in a Republic”
Speech at the Sorbonne Paris, France
April 23, 1910

ICL Evangelism and Discipleship, Class Session 2

Class Resources:

Video Clip: Alistair Begg on “The Supremacy of Christ in the First Century” (2:45)

Video Clip: Paul Tripp on “Knowledge Does Not Mean Maturity” (3:45)

Video Clip: Robert Plummer on “The Greek Grammar of the Great Commission” (6:56)

Class video available (for 30 days) upon request.