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AN ADVENT SERIES ON GENEROSITY

WHY MONEY? Every year at Praxis we do a special Advent sermon series that ties into the season both culturally and Biblically. Choosing the topic for the series is always a little daunting because churches have been celebrating Christmas for a few years now and there are lots of far more creative pastors than I who annually shame me with their witty sermon series titles and subject matter. It's hard to come up with something that might be at least a little original without completely losing the theme of the Christmas season. So, with all that being said, this year I decided to talk about money. You may be asking, Why money? Why would I choose to talk for four weeks about one of the most

difficult, emotionally charged, and controversial topics in the world? The simple answer is that I'm a glutton for punishment. But there are also some compelling reasons why I chose to talk about money. First, during the Christmas season Americans will spend more than $450 billion on Christmas gifts and trimmings. That's a lot of money. But in this day and age of billion-dollar bailouts, just how much money is it really? Here is some perspective: • It's more than what it cost to rebuild Europe after World War II (Marshall Plan was $115B in today's dollars) • It's almost double the cost to send a manned mission to Mars ($230B)

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• It's more than the total global illegal-drug market ($320B) • It's far more than Americans give to charity (including their church) in an entire year ($300B) • It's more than the entire U.S. defense budget ($440B) • It's almost as much as The New Deal (recovery from the Great Depression, $500B) • But saddest and most shocking of all, it is, by some estimates, enough money to feed and educate every child in the world for an entire year ($465B) So yeah, it's a lot of money.

thing because, when it comes to a man's real nature, money is of first importance. Money is an exact index to a man's true character. All through Scripture there is an intimate correlation between the development of a man's character and how he handles his money." He is right, at least about Jesus talking about money a lot. By some estimates 25 percent of Jesus' words in the Gospels speak about money in some way. And it's not just Jesus. The Bible speaks more often about money than it does on faith and prayer, or heaven and hell, combined (about 2,350 times).

Second, as Richard Halverson once said, "Jesus Christ said more about money than about any other single

So, I guess if the Bible talks about it that much, and we are spending it at such an alarming rate during the

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tions how you make or use it. You think that money is a private issue, not to be discussed in public – and especially not in church. God can have my time, energy, and prayers, you think to yourself, But my money is my money!

Christmas season, it's not that far fetched to make money the topic of our Advent series. I have to warn you, though, because contrary to what some well-manicured TV preachers would have you think, the Bible's teachings on money are not all promises of riches and blessing. In fact, it's quite the opposite.

That angst-ridden feeling in your stomach right now as you read this? That's you clutching your onto money with every ounce of strength you have. It's you telling God, just like the rich young ruler in Mark 10, that He can't have it.

The Bible has this crazy idea that money is really important to us. Jesus says disturbing things like, "Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" (Matt. 6:21), and, "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God" (Mark 10:25). We may flinch at being called rich, but we shouldn't. When you spend $791 in a month on Christmas gifts (the U.S. average per household in 2008), you are spending more than the average annual income in ten countries according to the International Monetary Fund. That is rich by any measure.

So for the next four weeks we are going to talk about money. Not your money, mind you, God's money. Because the reality is that, in the end, you don't have any money at all. It all belongs to God, and He has entrusted some of it to you for safekeeping and wise investment. He calls this stewardship. Right now you probably still think that all that money you make is yours. After all, you worked hard for it, right? But hopefully by the end of this month you will begin to realize that you don't own anything and that everything you enjoy is on loan to you from God.

So what does the Bible have to say about our money? Plenty. The Bible talks about how we make our money, spend our money, save our money, use our money, invest our money, give away our money, think about our money, and love our money. That's right; love our money.

Reflection HYMN OF What is the World to Me? by Georg M. Pfefferkorn

What is the world to me, With all its vaunted pleasure When Thou, and Thou alone, Lord Jesus, art my Treasure! Thou only, dearest Lord, My soul's Delight shalt be; Thou art my Peace, my Rest — What is the world to me?

The world seeks to be praised And honored by the mighty, Yet never once reflects That they are frail and flighty. But what I truly prize Above all things is He, My Jesus, He alone — What is the world to me?

The world is like a cloud And like a vapor fleeting, A shadow that declines, Swift to its end retreating. My Jesus doth abide, Though all things fade and flee; My everlasting Rock — What is the world to me?

The world seeks after wealth And all that Mammon offers, Yet never is content Though gold should fill it coffers. I have a higher good, Content with it I'll be: My Jesus is my Wealth — What is the world to me?

One day you will stand before God, and He will ask, "What did you do with all that I gave you?" How will you respond?

You may reject the idea that you or anyone else you know actually loves money, and yet you probably get upset anytime someone tries to tell you how to spend it. You get offended when someone ques-

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Advent PART ONE

THE GENEROUS CROSS "I do not believe one can settle how much we ought to give. I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare. In other words, if our expenditure on comforts, luxuries, amusements, etc., is up to the standard common among those with the same income as our own, we are probably giving away too little. If our charities do not at all pinch or hamper us, I should say they are too small. There ought to be things we should like to do and cannot do because our charities expenditure excludes them." – C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity

meaning. According to the scriptures: We are saved by grace (Eph. 2:8), grace was given to us through Jesus (John 1:17), we can be full of grace (Acts 6:8), grace helps us believe (Acts 18:27), we are justified by grace (Rom. 3:24), grace frees us from the law (Rom. 6:14), we are chosen by grace (Rom. 11:5), grace is the source of our spiritual gifts (Rom. 12:6), and His grace is sufficient for us (2 Cor. 12:9). That's a long and varied list that should illustrate the immeasurable importance of grace in God's plan. In the Bible, grace is an immensely important concept because it separates Jesus' message from that of the Jews and all other religious leaders at His or any other time. In

Grace is a term that Christians should be very familiar with. The word appears in our Bible more than 150 times, and it carries serious

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Romans 11:6, Paul says, "But if [salvation] is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace." This idea that God responds to us by grace instead of our good works is truly revolutionary. Grace, at its core, is freedom from sin, law, and the constant battle to win God's approval. God approves of us because He is good, not because we are good.

our love for you — see that you excel in this act of grace also." Paul tells the Corinthians that when they live out Biblical faith, speech, and knowledge; they are also living out grace. But what specific "act of grace" is Paul telling the church in Corinth to excel in? Lets back up and read the first five verses of the chapter. "We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for

Nearly everything we read about grace in the New Testament tells us that it comes from God and is for sinners, which is what makes Paul's words in 2 Corinthians 8:7 all the more amazing: "But as you excel in everything — in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in

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ings, and as such you have attained material wealth. And that is true to a point. You probably have worked hard, but lets not forget the fact that it was God who gave you the job you have, and the mind and body that allow you to work and keep that job. And I think we all know a person or two who has worked just as hard and been just as savvy as we are, but who has not done as well.

the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints— and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us." Paul points out that, in spite of their financial crisis, the church in Macedonia found a way to be generous. Think about how remarkable it is that people who were in "extreme poverty" would "overflow in a wealth of generosity". We tend to think that the rich should be the most generous with their money because they have so much to spare, but this passage clearly praises these poor Macedonians for their generosity. What's more, Paul calls it grace! It's truly amazing that we mere humans could actually be dispensers of grace. How is this possible?

" EVERY GOOD AND PERFECT GIFT COMES FROM ABOVE." James tells us, "Every good and perfect gift comes from above" (James 1:17). The sooner we really believe that, the sooner we will begin to see what grace truly means. Grace is everything in our life that brings joy, pleasure, delight, sweetness, charm, or loveliness; and God freely gave it all to us. We have done nothing to earn His grace or warrant it. God does not owe us, but He loves us. And because God love us, He showers His blessings down upon us.

The most common Greek word used in the New Testament is "charis" (pronounced Kar–is). Charis literally means, "That which affords joy, pleasure, delight, sweetness, charm, loveliness." So, anything that God does that brings us joy or delight should be considered grace. This is truly inspiring because it means that whenever we bring joy or delight into a person's life, we are also showing them grace. This should give us a whole new perspective on our role in the dispensing of grace.

In Genesis 12, God tells Abraham that He is going to bless him so that he would be a blessing to all the nations. I have always loved this idea because God is essentially telling Abraham that he isn't blessed so that he can live a quiet and comfortable life but rather so he will be able to bless everyone around Him. God has designed the world so that every sweet or delightful thing that He pours out on His people will be used to pass on the truth about God's love to other people. God

Before we get to us dispensing grace, we have to really own the fact that everything joyful or delightful in our lives has come from God, including our wealth. You may argue that you have worked really hard and been very wise in your business deal-

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blesses us so that we can know His love for us and so that we can use those blessings to show His love for other people as well. In other words, God's blessing or grace is never solely for our enjoyment.

dollars away to those in need as a rich person can, that's just common sense. What God measures is sacrifice, generosity, and the love in a person's heart in response to what His Son did on the Cross.

Too many times, God's blessings in our life are wasted because they are used and enjoyed only by us. That's not how it was designed to work. John Piper wisely refers to us as "conduits of God's grace". God gives his people grace so that we can pass that grace on to the people around us and in so doing preach the Gospel of grace (Acts 20:24).

And that's really what all of this comes back to: the Cross.

" in the end, the question is, who do you love? " Paul says in 2 Corinthians 8:9, "For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich." Jesus is our ultimate example of someone rich becoming poor for the sake of those He loves. In the end, the question is, "Who do you love?" If you love God and His people, that love should be evidenced by your overflow of generosity and sacrifice – no matter how much money you make.

Paul makes grace a financial issue in 2 Corinthians 8, saying that our generosity towards the Kingdom and the people around us is a measure of the genuineness of our love for God and His Kingdom (2 Cor. 8:8). Paul says that if we really love God and His people, we will excel in generosity to the point of sacrifice. John Piper says it this way: "The issue is not how much a person makes. Big industry and big salaries are a fact of our times, and they are not necessarily evil. The evil is in being deceived unto thinking a $100,000 salary must be accompanied by a $100,000 lifestyle. God has made us to be conduits of His grace. The danger is in thinking the conduit should be lined with gold. It shouldn't. Copper will do."

Reflection HYMN OF

God of Mercy, God of Grace by Henry Lyte God of mercy, God of grace, Show the brightness of Thy face; Shine upon us, Savior, shine, Fill Thy Church with light divine, And Thy saving health extend, Unto earth's remotest end. Let the people praise Thee, Lord! Be by all that live adored; Let the nations shout and sing Glory to their Savior King, At Thy feet their tribute pay, And Thy holy will obey. Let the people praise Thee, Lord! Earth shall then her fruits afford, God to man His blessings give, Man to God devoted live; All below and all above One in joy and light and love.

The writings of Paul and the Gospel of Jesus make it clear that the amount that we give is unimportant. Poor people cannot give as many

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Advent PART TWO

The 80/20 Rule against those Christians who find themselves amongst the 80 percent.

In church (and other spheres) there is a concept called the 80/20 rule. The 80/20 rule states that 80 percent of the giving and serving done in the church is accomplished by only 20 percent of the people. Conversely, only 20 percent of the giving and serving is taken care of by the sluggardly, self-involved, greedy 80 percent. My experience in ministry confirms that the 80/20 rule really does exist, and I don't understand how a true Christian can stand by while the vast majority of work is done by a select few.

The Unheeded Plea

Week after week, in churches all across America, pastors and ministry leaders stand before their congregations asking for help. They dutifully explain that the work of the Gospel cannot be done by just a few and that the cost to accomplish what God has called the church to do exceeds what is being given. They do this patiently. They do this creatively. Sometimes they even do this firmly. But no amount of coaxing or cajoling will move that 80 percent.

I hate the 80/20 rule. I think it betrays a laziness and greed among Christians. It should serve as a sad and sharp rebuke

To be fair, its not always laziness that paralyzes the 80 percent.

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The Cycles of Life

Sometimes it's fear. They fear that if they give generously they might not have enough left over to maintain their desired lifestyle. They fear that might not be able to pay the bills, save for the future, or invest in their retirement. There are many things to fear in our world, but our culture tells us that if we have enough money, we have nothing to fear. Money comforts us because of its ability to bail us out of tough situations. Money talks, as they say, and it makes the world go 'round.

Life always goes in cycles. We have all experienced good times and bad, excitement and depression, hope and hopelessness. This universal human experience was best summed up by Solomon who said in Ecclesiastes: For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal;

" But our culture tells us that if we have enough money, we have nothing to fear."

a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh;

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a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;

circumstances that they have fallen into. One consistent saga I have heard is that the homeless person fell on hard times and didn't have anyone around to help them out. I was talking to my wife the other day about this, and she rightly said that if something were to go really wrong in our lives, we could always go live with family or lean on friends to help us out. That support system is ultimately what separates us from many of the homeless. We have a community that will help us out when we are in need.

a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace.

" Whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack. "

These natural cycles of life cannot be avoided and everyone has experienced them. For most of you, there has been a time where you have had plenty and there has been (or will be) a time with you have had little.

This ebb and flow is the heart of Paul's words in 2 Corinthians 8:10-15:

When I was growing up I didn't have any sense that my family had very little, but I have heard stories. For instance, one Christmas our tree was the top of somebody else's tree that had been discarded onto the side of the road. I don't remember that tree, but I remember other, bigger, and more robust trees that illustrate a time when we had plenty. We can all tell stories like this, both good and bad. We can also remember good and bad times emotionally, physically, and spiritually. These are just the natural ebb and flow of life.

And in this matter I give my judgment: this benefits you, who a year ago started not only to do this work but also to desire to do it. So now finish doing it as well, so that your readiness in desiring it may be matched by your completing it out of what you have. For if the readiness is there, it is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have. For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of fairness your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there

I am always surprised when I talk to homeless people. Many of them have very interesting stories that reflect bad choices they have made or bad

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may be fairness. As it is written, "Whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack."

that they are concerned. So, He comes to His servant Moses and makes him a promise: "Behold, I am about to rain bread from heaven for you, and the people shall go out and gather a day's portion every day, that I may test them, whether they will walk in my law or not. On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather daily." God is up front with Moses by telling him that He is going to use this provision as a test for Israel. God wants to see if Israel will trust Him or if they will disobey out of fear. God's plan is to drop just enough bread from heaven every morning to provide for the Israelites for one day. They are told to gather only what they will need for that one day and not a bit more. If they really trusted that God will provide what they need every day, they would have no need to take extra and save up.

Paul says in verse 14, "Your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness." In other words, when we have plenty, we should see it as an opportunity to help those who have need. This is the first implication of the lifestyle of sacrifice that we talked about in last week's sermon.

Who Is Your Provider?

At the end of the passage in 2 Corinthians, Paul references a story out of the Old Testament, found in Exodus 16, in which the people of Israel had just been led out of captivity and slavery in Egypt. Finding themselves hungry and in the wilderness, they began to grumble against God and Moses saying, "Would that we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into this wilderness, to kill this whole assembly with hunger."

This is a test that I think many of us would fail today. We are often so fearful of the future that we forget the promises that God has given us. As He plainly tells us in Matthew 6:30-33: "If God so clothes the grass of the field which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious saying, "What shall we eat? Or "What shall we drink? Or "What shall we wear? For the gentiles seek after all these things, and you heavenly gather knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of

They were afraid that God was going to lead them out into the desert just to let them starve to death. Why would they think this? What kind of God did they think they served? Did they think God was cruel and had just fooled them into thinking He could or would provide for them? What a ridiculous thing to think. God hears their grumbling and knows

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God and his righteousness and all these things will be added to you."

can handle the situation better than God. Instead of simply trusting in the promises of the one who created and sustains the Universe, I lean on my own understanding.

There are two reasons why we don't really trust the words of Jesus that He will provide for us.

Unfortunately, we are not unique. The Israelites did the same thing we always do; they disbelieved God and thought they had a better plan. Instead of obeying Him and only taking what they needed for the day, some of them took more and saved it for the next day. The problem is that the bread only lasted one day. The next day it was rotten, and it stunk.

First, we are fearful in spite of God's promises. Just like the Israelites, we don't believe that God will do what He said. Jesus reminds us to simply look around us and see that the birds and animals are given all the food they need and that the flowers are clothed and cared for. Do we think that God would care for the sparrows but not for the pinnacle of His creation? Or do we think that He is actually unable to follow through on His promises? Do we equate God to other humans in our lives, family and friends, who have let us down over the years? Maybe you had a parent or friend who made promise that they couldn't keep. Is not the Creator more powerful and able to care for you than His creation? Why are we so afraid?

Day after day the Israelites went out in the morning and found that God had delivered bread once again. Then on the sixth day, because the Sabbath was the next day, God told the Israelites to take twice as much as they would need so that they would have enough for two days. He instructed the Israelites to rest on the Sabbath and not gather bread, but again, they disobeyed and many of them went out gather on the day of rest. After six days of God providing for them every morning, they still couldn't resist the urge to get more. God designed this test to teach the Israelites a few things.

" Is not the creator more powerful and able to care for you than his creation? "

Lessons in Provision

Second, when we are afraid, our remedy is to lean on ourselves rather than on God. If I have learned anything over the years it's that I am not trustworthy. I often lead myself astray, fall short, and act rashly or unwisely. In fact, I am one of the last people I should trust. But every time it seems that I believe I

First, He wanted them to trust Him. God is sovereign over all things and able to provide everything that we need. But often, like the Israelites, we don't believe Him. We think that He is either not able or not willing to follow through on His promise to provide for us. God demonstrated

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YOU ARE BLESSED to be a BLESSING

His divine power to the Israelites by causing quail to appear out of nowhere and bread to appear every morning. God is powerful and eternally able to provide for our every need. And He loves us far more than we could ever imagine. We have no reason to doubt Him.

He says in verse 15, "Whoever has gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack." Paul teaches the ideal of voluntary, Gospel-driven fairness that is to be seen in the Kingdom of God. Paul points out that the Corinthians have a lot of wealth and that it should be used strategically for the sake of those who have very little. This is an enduring principle about our wealth that we should take very seriously.

" paul teaches the ideal of voluntary, gospel-driven fairness that is to be seen in the kingdom "

You Are Blessed to be a Blessing

Second, Paul shows us in 2 Corinthians that God intended to teach the people that they should only take what they need and not, by their greed, cause others to go without.

As we talked about previously, God blesses us so that we can be a blessing to those around us. Paul takes this a step further by saying that one day we might be the one

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Reflection HYMN OF

that is in need and that others will provide for us. This isn't only a financial issue. You may have plenty of money but very little compassion, knowledge, wisdom, time, energy, or strength, and you need someone else to be generous to you or for you in those areas. We all play our part, some of us are strong in areas that others are weak, but it is on all of us to contribute in whatever ways God has, by His grace, blessed us.

The Lord Will Provide by John Newton

Finally, in 2 Corinthians 8:10-11, Paul exhorts his readers to finish what they have started. He tells them to do what they know is right, what God has called them to do. My suspicion is that God is beginning to move in your heart as you read this. Take advantage of this time and go do something about it. Now.

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Though troubles assail us and   dangers affright, Though friends should all fail us and   foes all unite, Yet one thing secures us,   whatever betide, The promise assures us, "The Lord   will provide."

He tells us we're weak, our hope is   in vain, The good that we seek we never   shall obtain, But when such suggestions, our   graces have tried, This answers all questions, "The   Lord will provide."

The birds, without garner or   storehouse, are fed; From them let us learn to trust God   for our bread. His saints what is fitting shall ne'er   be denied So long as 'tis written, "The Lord   will provide."

No strength of our own and no   goodness we claim; Yet, since we have known of the   Savior's great Name, In this our strong tower for safety   we hide: The Lord is our power, "The Lord   will provide."

When Satan assails us to stop up   our path, And courage all fails us, we triumph   by faith. He cannot take from us, though oft   he has tried, This heart cheering promise, "The   Lord will provide."

When life sinks apace, and death is   in view, The word of His grace shall comfort   us through, Not fearing or doubting, with Christ   on our side, We hope to die shouting, "The Lord   will provide."

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Advent PART THREE

On the Farm I'm a city boy, or at least I feel like one. Even though I spent seven years of my life in a small, rural town in Oregon called Boring, I still consider myself a city boy. I enjoy the mountains and the country in moderation, but I feel like myself when I am in a big city.

of reaping and sowing over the years. They would have understood this metaphor experientially. When the Bible talks of sowing and reaping, it extends it from the vegetable world to the moral and spiritual worlds. The idea is that whatever you sow spiritually or morally, you will also reap.

So, when the Bible talks about sowing and reaping I only know what it's talking about intellectually, not experientially. From what I gather (don't quote me on this), if you plant corn seeds, you can generally expect to see corn emerge from the ground and not wheat or cotton or lions.

For instance, Paul extends this principle into the spiritual realm by saying, "Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap" (Galatians 6:7). This is in the midst of a passage about living either in the flesh or in the spirit. In other words Paul is saying that the principle that is true in farming and life is also true spiritually. You may think this is like Karma, but it isn't. Karma isn't a biblical concept.

The Bible uses the metaphor of sowing and reaping often. The Bible was written in an agrarian time to people who would have done their fair share

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Karma teaches that the life you are experiencing is a direct result of the life you are presently living and the past lives that you have lived. All of these experiences are combined to present you with your current reality.

describes it similarly, "Whoever sows injustice will reap calamity, and the rod of his fury will fail (Proverbs 22:8)." This doesn't teach karma per se, but it does reflect the reality of the world God has designed. When we make bad choices, bad things happen. When we choose to follow the way of the Lord, good things happen‌usually. It's the "usually" part that prevents me from believing in karma.

I don't believe in karma. That being said, I do believe in cause and effect, with limitations. I believe it because I see it and because the Bible teaches it. While, karma could be described as random cause and effect, the Bible teaches us that cause and effect has limitations.

I am actually thankful that karma isn't true. Karma is a harsh reality that is unforgiving and without grace. Karma doesn't understand circumstances or the bigger picture. Karma doesn't know mercy, and karma doesn't love. God does, and this is where karma breaks down and is different from the Biblical

The Bible teaches us that we will reap what we sow in several places. For instance, Job says, "As I have seen, those who plow iniquity and sow trouble reap the same" (4:8). Solomon

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understanding of how the world works. Randy Alcorn, in his book Money, Possessions and Eternity tells a fictional story that illustrates the point well.

6:8), and in some cases specifically regarding how we steward our money (Mark 10:21). While, the Bible is clear that Christians are storing up for themselves treasure in Heaven as they better obey God on earth, it goes a step further than that even, saying that there will be differences even among Christians with regards to God's rewards (Matt. 19:27-30; Luke 14:12-14). It is almost as if God is incentivizing his people towards greater obedience and discipleship.

Two men owned farms side by side. One was a bitter atheist, the other a devout Christian. Constantly annoyed at the Christian for trusting God, the atheist said to him one winter, "Let's plant our crops as usual this spring, each the same number of acres. You pray to God, and I'll curse Him. Then come October, let's see who has the bigger and better crop." When October came the atheist was delighted because his crop was larger. "See, you fool," he taunted, "what do you have to say for your God now?" "My God," the other farmer replied, "doesn't settle all of His accounts in October."

It may seem strange to some that a God who is so much about grace would give heavenly rewards for Godly behavior on earth. But grace doesn't rule out the reality of merit. It is clear that we are saved by grace through faith and that nothing we do causes us to merit our salvation. But when we are made new by God, we are free to live the life that He designed us to live. We are free to live worshipful, loving, and generous lives that reflect the values of the Kingdom. In response to this, God is free to reward his children according to their willingness and desire to embody those values.

Our earthly sowing does produce earthly reaping, but what we see isn't the full extent of God's harvest. The Bible is clear that there are heavenly implications for our earthly actions, both positive and negative (Rev. 11:18; 1 Cor. 4:5). The Bible teaches that in Heaven faithful Christians:

This is exciting news. We will reap many of the good deeds that we sow here on earth in the form of loving relationships and satisfying contentment, but there is a whole other level of reaping that we can look forward to in Heaven. Thankfully, our God doesn't settle all of his accounts in October.

• Will receive varying levels of authority (Rev. 20:6) • Will rule over the angels (1 Cor. 6:3) and over cities (Luke 19:17-24) • Will receive rewards and that some will even receive crowns to wear as they rule with Christ (Jam 1:12; 1 Cor. 9:24, 25; 1 Thess. 2:19)

Reflection HYMN OF

He Liveth Long Who Liveth Well By Horatius Bonar He liveth long who liveth well; All other life is short and vain; He liveth longest who can tell Of living most for heavenly gain. He liveth long who liveth well; All else is being flung away; He liveth longest who can tell Of true things truly done each day. Be what thou seemest; live thy creed; Hold up to earth the torch divine: Be what thou prayest to be made; Let the great Master's steps be thine. Fill up each hour with what will last; Buy up the moments as they go; The life above, when this is past, Is the ripe fruit of life below. Sow love, and taste its fruitage pure; Sow peace, and reap its harvest bright; Sow sunbeams on the rock and moor, And find a harvest-home of light.

I encourage you to look at your own life and determine if you are living for rewards in heaven or for rewards on earth.

All of this will be doled out according to how well we serve our King (Eph.

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Advent PART FOUR

The Church the World is Waiting For Twitter is a funny thing. People all over the world (14 Million in the US alone!) are communicating with one another in 140 characters at a time. Most of the tweets I read are a waste of time, but occasionally I come across something really insightful or interesting. Dr. Ed Stetzer, noted Missiologist and author, is one of the more prolific Tweeters around, and he has delivered some great ones.

loved the poor & the sick, so they're confused when they don't see us doing either." I am always intrigued by the perception of the church by those who are outside of it. There are always detractors, even attackers, and that's to be expected. It is easy to throw stones at something you aren't a part of or don't understand. There are times, however, that the critique hits a little close to home – mostly because it's accurate.

Dr. Stetzer spends most of his time speaking or writing about the state of the church and how things are changing around the world. He is often very insightful and challenging. Such was the case the other day when he wrote this, "Even the unchurched know 2 things: Jesus

Dr. Stetzer's tweet is right on, even non-Christians know that Jesus went out of his way to love and value the marginalized all around Him. I generally believe that the common cry of hypocrisy in the church is

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unfounded, but I think this is an area of exception.

reiterates this same idea. He tells the Corinthians that the wealth God has given them should be used to care for the needy Christians in Jerusalem.

We have already talked at length about the many reasons why Christians should be the most generous people in the world. Paul gives us three reasons in 2 Corinthians 9:11-15: To supply the needs of the saints, to cause others to thank God for His provision, to profess the gospel.

The sad thing about the financial state of our country, which is experiencing one of the worst recessions since the Great Depression, is that we do not have to go very far to find similar opportunities as the Corinthians.

Supplying Needs

Poverty is all around us. Every day we walk past people who live at or below the poverty line. On our way to church or work we drive through neighborhoods where parents aren't able to consistently provide basic human needs for their children. In

Paul says that through our generosity we are, "supplying the needs of the saints." As we talked about in first week of this Advent series, God promised to bless Abraham so that we would be a blessing to all the nations. In 2 Corinthians, Paul

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fact, according to a recent USDA report, 1 in 7 families in America are having trouble just putting enough food on the table – this includes 16.7 million children. In our own church we have families who are struggling to make ends meet.

help is an admission that we don't. The reality is that we are all in need at one time or another. Our inability to accept help and be thankful betrays that we are prideful, and that we don't truly trust that it is God alone who provides for us either through our own efforts or the efforts of others.

God has given you the ability to care for them financially.

The proper response of a Christian should be to be generous when able and to humbly and thankfully accept help when in need, acknowledging that in all things and in all ways God is our provider.

If you were not aware of this, you are now. The question is: What are you going to do about it? Will you keep driving through those neighborhoods and walk past those people knowing that you have been given so much so that you can be a blessing to them? Will you continue to just "go to church", sitting next to people who are in financial trouble? Or will you begin to see the role God has given you as one who is blessed and embrace it for the sake of the Gospel?

" the generosity of one group of people to another results in worship. how beautiful is that? " Paul says that the Corinthians' generosity resulted in the believers in Jerusalem thanking God. How beautiful is that? The generosity of one group of people to another results in worship. Do you think the Corinthians felt slighted that the believers in Jerusalem were thanking God instead of them? I don't think so. I think that the church in Corinth understood that the money they gave away wasn't theirs to begin with – that they were given the money for the unique purpose of blessing others.

Thanks Be to God

In verse 2 Corinthians 9:11, Paul says that not only is the generosity of the Corinthians supplying the needs of the saints, but also that the saints are in turn thanking God for the provision. Thanksgiving is an interesting and often misunderstood concept. It seems as if people are hesitant to give honest thanks to someone else for helping them with or providing for a need because it somehow makes them look weak. Honestly, thanking a person is humbling because we like to think we have our lives figured out, and being thankful and accepting

Confessing the Gospel As Paul points out in 2 Corinthians 9:13, the Corinthians' generosity, "flowed from their confession of the Gospel."

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Reflection HYMN OF

This is key. If we are generous because we feel guilty or because we want thanks or notoriety, we undercut the very reason God calls us to be generous. God modeled generosity for us by sending his Son to Earth to care for us in our great need. He gave us all that we would ever need. It is our belief in this Gospel that compels us to be generous to those in need. We give because we have been given to.

lord, speak to me by Frances R. Havergal

By being cheerfully generous, we show we believe that all God has given us is for the purpose of blessing others. And we honor the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. To not be cheerfully generous is nothing less than to bring shame to the cross of Christ.

Lord, speak to me that I may speak In living echoes of Thy tone; As Thou has sought, so let me seek Thine erring children lost and lone.

O fill me with Thy fullness, Lord, Until my very heart overflow In kindling thought and glowing word, Thy love to tell, Thy praise to show.

O lead me, Lord, that I may lead The wandering and the wavering feet; O feed me, Lord, that I may feed Thy hungering ones with manna sweet.

O use me, Lord, use even me, Just as Thou wilt, and when,   and where, Until Thy blessèd face I see, Thy rest, Thy joy, Thy glory share.

O strengthen me, that while I stand Firm on the rock, and strong in Thee, I may stretch out a loving hand To wrestlers with the troubled sea.

Be the Church

So, to circle back to Dr. Stetzer's point, the world is expecting to see our generosity. We are compelled by the gospel and Jesus' sacrifice to be generous. What's stopping you?

O teach me, Lord, that I may teach The precious things Thou dost impart; And wing my words, that they   may reach The hidden depths of many a heart.

Be the church the world is waiting for. Be generous.

O give Thine own sweet rest to me, That I may speak with soothing power A word in season, as from Thee, To weary ones in needful hour.

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Praxis Church PO Box 2135 Tempe, AZ 85280 480.733.1736 info@praxischurch.com www.praxischurch.com Give of Yourself Advent Series Š Praxis Church 2009

Give of Yourself  

Advent Sermon Series study guide