Giving Out of Our Poverty – November Encourager’s Devotion

With the Thanksgiving holiday in mind, the focus of the October devotion for The Encourager’s Devotional Series was on giving out of thankfulness for what God has given us. The main text for the devotion was 2 Corinthians 9, where Paul tells the Corinthians he’ll soon be coming for the contribution they had promised towards a collection he was taking to help the saints in Judea. In studying for that devotion, I was intrigued by the story of the church in Macedonia, which Paul was using as an example to inspire the Corinthian church to give generously to the cause.

Backing up to chapter 8, Paul describes the Macedonians as people who were in a time of great trial and affliction, and in extreme poverty. Yet, he said they had an abundance of joy. That right there would make them a model for any church, right? But Paul goes on to say that, despite their own poverty, they begged him (literally implored him with urgency) to let them contribute to the offering for the Judeans. What would cause people who were experiencing trials and poverty themselves beg to be a part of giving to someone else?

For many of us, giving to meet someone else’s need is the farthest thing from our minds when we are weighed down with our own problems. For instance, during the holidays, many people get very depressed. This time for sharing with family and giving gifts only reminds some that they’ve lost loved ones, or that they really don’t have the money to give the gifts they’d like to give, or that they really don’t get along with their families. So, instead of enjoying the season and using it as an occasion to reach out to others, they focus on the negative, turn their thoughts inward, and become sad.

The Macedonians certainly could have focused on the negative. The trial of affliction Paul mentioned was probably the persecution they were experiencing for having become Christians. Macedonia was a geographical region north of Greece which included many of the cities we hear about in Paul’s writings, like Philippi, Thessolonica, and Berea. On Paul’s first trip to Macedonia (Acts 16-18), he and Silas were thrown in jail and beaten at Philippi. Then they went to Thessolonica and a mob attacked the house where they were staying. So, they left there and went to Berea. Things were going pretty well in Berea, until some Jews from Thessolonica heard they were there and came to stir up those crowds against them, too. It got so bad that Paul had to flee to Athens. So, we are talking about a place that really had some enemies of the gospel.

And yet, Macedonia was also a place where people like Lydia, the Philippian jailer, and many others accepted the message of the gospel. These people made the decision to follow Christ knowing it would bring persecution. They knew what it meant to “count the cost” of discipleship (Luke 14:25-33). Several even decided to join Paul on his missionary journeys, despite the fact that they’d seen first-hand what kind of trouble he’d experienced. Imagine that: “Man you got beat up pretty bad today. Can I join you tomorrow?”

I think the reason these people, who had enough trouble of their own, would even think about helping others is because they knew they were a part of something much bigger than themselves. Acts 16:9,10 says that Paul had been called to Macedonia in a vision. Now, surely Paul told them about this vision. They knew they were a part of a divine call!

And, according to 2 Corinthians 8:4, they knew that divine call enlisted them into fellowship with the rest of the body of Christ. The Macedonians begged to give so they could have the “privilege of sharing in this service to the saints.” The Macedonians could have made plausible excuses for not contributing, but instead they participated eagerly.

Verse 3 says they gave out of their poverty and beyond their ability. Last month, I challenged you to give out of your abundance, out of thankfulness for the blessings you do have. Now I’d like to ask you if you can take this ministry a step further. Can you give until it hurts a little? Can you give not for the blessing or encouragement you’ll receive in return, but because of the thanks and blessing that go to the Father when you give sacrificially (2 Cor. 9:12)?

You, like the Corinthians, started this ministry commitment a year ago. Using the example of the Macedonians, as Paul did to prod the Corinthians, I pray that “your eager willingness to do it may be matched by your completion of it” (2 Cor. 8:10,11).

The Macedonians gave beyond their ability. How might you stretch yourself beyond your “abilities”? Do you need to trust God with finances? Do you need to ask His help with an inability to think compassionately or to get your focus off your own situation? Is your schedule such that you feel incapable of giving time to a worthy project? Pray and ask God what the specific application of this lesson might be for you. I pray we will all become more like the Macedonians and “beg” the Lord for opportunities to serve others in His name, regardless of the personal cost.

Encouragement + Spiritual Disciplines: You Do the Math – A Sermon for the October Encourager’s Devotional Series

This month’s installment of The Encourager’s Devotional Series looked ahead to Thanksgiving and focused on blessing others out of the abundance of what God has given us. Next month we’ll look at how we can maintain thankfulness and generosity even when we are struggling financially or in other ways. This sermon leads us into next month’s theme.

Encourager’s Devotional Series – October Bible Study Answer Guide

This is the answer guide for the Bible study corresponding to the October devotion in the Encourager’s Devotional Series.

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According to 2 Corinthians 9:2, Paul was writing to Christians “in Achaia.”

In Paul’s time, Greece was governed by the Romans and divided into two provinces, Achaia and Macedonia. Corinth was the capital of Achaia.

Paul starts 2 Corinthians 9:1 by mentioning “this service to the saints.” According to Romans 15:25-27, what was “this service”?

It was an offering being collected for the “poor among the saints in Jerusalem.”

Also from Romans 15:25-27, answer the following questions:

Were the Christians in Achaia and Macedonia Jewish or Gentile?  Gentile

Were the recipients of the offering Jewish or Gentile?  Jewish

What type of blessing had the Jewish believers bestowed upon the Gentile believers, spiritual or material?  Spiritual

Were the Gentile Christians repaying their Jewish brethren with spiritual or material blessings?  Material (in the offering they were collecting)

Meditation

Go back through the main part of the devotion (the image), reading the notes in the margins beside the text. Make note of any thoughts or any verses that stir your heart and tell why.

Make a list of things for which you are thankful. Spend some time in prayer thanking God for these blessings.

Application

You might send a “Thank You” card or note to someone you feel particularly thankful to have in your life.

You might use the things you wrote down in the meditation section, things for which you are thankful, to help you brainstorm ideas for how you might encourage someone less fortunate in that area. Examples in this month’s devotion (under the heading “Suggestions for planning encouragement projects this coming holiday season”) included:

Start by cultivating a heart of thanksgiving. Take some time to write down the things for which you are thankful. Then, while you are feeling grateful for your abundance, actually plan how you will give to encourage someone less fortunate. For example …

  • Thankful for your children? Contact a children’s home to see how you could be of service. Getting your own children involved is also a great way to teach them to become ministers of encouragement.
  • Thankful for your husband? See if a shelter for battered women needs assistance.
  • Thankful for the ability to provide food and shelter for your family? Volunteer at a homeless shelter or give to a food pantry.

Write down any ideas for “planned giving” that you might want to pursue this holiday season. Remember that your giving may be in the material realm, but it might also be in service or in the spiritual realm (for example, teaching, mentoring, or prayer).

Dedication

What do you specifically want to do in response to this month’s devotion? I am hoping your heart has been stirred to plan some generous giving projects for this holiday season.

 

Please tell me something good a Christian has done for you.

Tonight I am tired. I am tired of Christians bashing fellow Christians. I understand we have differences. And I believe we need to have difficult discussions sometimes in order to hold each other accountable. I believe in the process of “iron sharpening iron.” And I believe in exposing any sin that manifests itself amongst us (for we all sin).

“If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” 1 John 1:8 (ESV)

What I am tired of, though, is how it seems like many Christians cannot approach their disagreements without making each other the enemy. I am tired of the fact that this makes me feel cynical. I am very tired of seeing these things play out in a way that makes younger Christians I’m trying to mentor become cynical. And I’m tired of the poor taste this leaves in the mouths of non-Christians – not just towards Christians, but towards our Christ.

Much more could be said on this matter. Perhaps I should write a Bible study in the future. But for tonight, I’m just too tired.

As I was driving home from work tonight, feeling cynical and discouraged, I had to correct my self-talk. I had to remind myself that there are MANY good Christian people out there who are doing loving things for people.

In an environment filled with people pointing out others’ wrongs, can we take a minute to point out some of the good we see fellow Christians doing? PLEASE, post your positive examples here for all to see as I’m sure there are others like me who need to be reminded.

Encourager’s Devotional Series – October Bible Study

This Bible study corresponds to the October devotion in the Encourager’s Devotional Series.

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According to 2 Corinthians 9:2, Paul was writing to Christians “in _______________.”

In Paul’s time, Greece was governed by the Romans and divided into two provinces, Achaia and Macedonia. Corinth was the capital of Achaia.

Paul starts 2 Corinthians 9:1 by mentioning “this service to the saints.” According to Romans 15:25-27, what was “this service”?

Also from Romans 15:25-27, answer the following questions:

Were the Christians in Achaia and Macedonia Jewish or Gentile?

Were the recipients of the offering Jewish or Gentile?

What type of blessing had the Jewish believers bestowed upon the Gentile believers, spiritual or material?

Were the Gentile Christians repaying their Jewish brethren with spiritual or material blessings? 

Meditation

Go back through the main part of the devotion (the image), reading the notes in the margins beside the text. Make note of any thoughts or any verses that stir your heart and tell why.

Make a list of things for which you are thankful. Spend some time in prayer thanking God for these blessings.

Application

You might send a “Thank You” card or note to someone you feel particularly thankful to have in your life.

You might use the things you wrote down in the meditation section, things for which you are thankful, to help you brainstorm ideas for how you might encourage someone less fortunate in that area. You can find examples in this month’s devotion under the heading “Suggestions for planning encouragement projects this coming holiday season.”

Write down any ideas for “planned giving” that you might want to pursue this holiday season. Remember that your giving may be in the material realm, but it might also be in service or in the spiritual realm (for example, teaching, mentoring, or prayer).

Dedication

What do you specifically want to do in response to this month’s devotion? I am hoping your heart has been stirred to plan some generous giving projects for this holiday season.

Looking Ahead to Thanksgiving – October Encourager’s Devotion

In 2 Corinthians 7-9, Paul encouraged the Christians in Corinth to contribute to an offering he was collecting for the poor in Jerusalem. To spark their generosity, he reminded them that they had been made “rich in every way” so they could be “generous on every occasion.” This month’s installment of The Encourager’s Devotional Series looks ahead to Thanksgiving and focuses on blessing others out of the abundance of what God has given us. You may not always feel rich, but when you compare your blessings (both material and spiritual) to those less fortunate, you should be able to become the cheerful giver God loves.

To read this month’s devotion, click on the image below to see it full screen. Before reading it though, take a moment to write down three things you are thankful for so you can keep them in mind as you continue.

Background design is the property of Geetesh Bajaj. Used with permission. © Geetesh Bajaj. All Rights Reserved.

Background design is the property of Geetesh Bajaj. Used with permission. © Geetesh Bajaj. All Rights Reserved. If you would like a printer friendly version of the image in grayscale, email me at pullupachairwithlisa@gmail.com

Suggestions for planning encouragement projects this coming holiday season:

Start by cultivating a heart of thanksgiving. Take some time to write down the things for which you are thankful. Then, while you are feeling grateful for your abundance, actually plan how you will give to encourage someone less fortunate. For example …

  • Thankful for your children? Contact a children’s home to see how you could be of service. Getting your own children involved is also a great way to teach them to become ministers of encouragement.
  • Thankful for your husband? See if a shelter for battered women needs assistance.
  • Thankful for the ability to provide food and shelter for your family? Volunteer at a homeless shelter or give to a food pantry.

In what ways do you feel blessed? How can that translate into generosity?

An Evening with One of the Most Encouraging People I Know

For the “5th Wednesday Free-for-All” of the Encourager’s Devotional Series, I’d like to tell you about one of the most encouraging people I know. His name is Kent Sanders and I had the pleasure of attending the launch party for his new book The Artist’s Suitcase last night.The Artist's Suitcase

One of the things that makes Kent such an encouraging person is his positivity. I had the honor of working with Kent on the faculty at St. Louis Christian College and served on several committees with him. Committee work is seldom fun. The teams we worked together on often had to tackle some tough issues. In situations where there was much room for complaining, legitimate complaining, Kent has a way of looking ahead to solutions instead of focusing solely on the problems.

Kent’s not a “hide your head in the sand” kind of guy. He doesn’t white wash the situation. He’s realistic. But there’s something about his approach that makes you think, “We can do this. We can make things better.” Whenever I needed to assemble a team for one of my projects, Kent was one of the first people on my list (sorry for the extra work, Kent).

Another way Kent is encouraging is that he shows a genuine interest in others. A conversation with Kent is always affirming in some way. As he celebrated the launch of his new book last night, he took time to ask me how my book was going. And, as yet another illustration of why I find him so encouraging, he said, “Let me know if there’s any way I can help.” I know he truly means that. If you take a look at his blog (linked above), you’ll see he has a passion to help others do well.

Kent shared a story about how he even encouraged himself at one point in his life. I found that amusing, thinking, Wow, he’s that good at the gift of encouragement. To watch the video of Kent sharing that story, reading an excerpt from his book, as well presenting some beautiful music by his guest band BlackFolk, click here.

We can learn a lot about how to be better encouragers by studying the attributes of the people we know who display that gift. How about you? Can you tell us about someone you know who is an uplifting person and share a few examples of how they encourage you?

September Wrap-Up for Encourager’s Devotional Series

Here are some encouragement project ideas for September and October. You might want to click these links to see how they correspond to the September Devotion and Bible Study for the Encourager’s Devotional Series.

*Is there someone who could use a dose of mercy from you? Someone you could try to see anew through eyes that “cover” their faults? If so, put the matter to prayer and then try to think of a way to encourage them.

Philippians 4 8

*Are you part of a group of people who always tend to grumble and complain? Perhaps you could be intentional about not joining in on those conversations for a month. As the devotion pointed out this month, we might even agree with the complaints but that doesn’t mean we have to participate in such “gripe sessions.” And if you really want to take this challenge up a notch, perhaps you could make it a goal to insert at least one positive comment about the situation or person who is the subject of the complaining.

*Looking ahead: October is Pastor Appreciation Month and some have asked how they might encourage their ministers. Here are some suggestions:

October is Pastor Appreciation Month

October is Pastor Appreciation Month

  • One of our churches used to provide us with meals throughout the month. Sometimes food was brought to us. Some people took us out or had us over. Others gave gift certificates to restaurants. We loved it!
  • The same church also did a “stock the parsonage pantry.” That was a great blessing. If you do this, it might be a good idea to ask what food items are family favorites.
  • How about having a “Handy-man at your service” emphasis and ask what repairs or home-improvement projects you might do?
  • Ask the minister’s spouse if there’s any “secret” dream or wish you could fulfill for the minister and/or the family. A vacation or get-away? A new study book or set of commentaries? A course of study they’d like to attend? A microphone headset or new pulpit? You might be surprised what a minister really wishes he/she could have that hasn’t been worked into the budget. One church bought my husband a leaf blower because someone heard him teasing that he was envious of the neighbor’s. It was a thoughtful gesture that made us laugh, too.
  • Card showers are encouraging (I’ve kept the cards and notes people have given us and still look them over now and then). Ministers are often the target of the speech sins mentioned in this month’s devotional (grumbling, gossip, etc.). It is always good for them to hear the things people appreciate.
  • Send them on a weekend retreat.
  • And finally, really knock their socks off and volunteer now to direct next year’s VBS, or Easter drama, or … you name it. Volunteers are always a blessing.

Can you add any suggestions to this list?

Encourager’s Devotional Series – September Bible Study Answer Guide

Here are the answers to the Bible Study for the September Devotional in the Encourager’s Series.

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James 1:26 says, “If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless.”

Read James 3:1-12 – In this passage, why is the tongue compared to a horse’s bit, a ship’s rudder, and a small spark?

It is compared to a horse’s bit and ship’s rudder because it is small, but it has the ability to guide or steer us in a certain direction. Like a small spark, it has the power to cause great harm.

Verse 6 says, “The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body …” It goes further in verse 8 to say that “no man can tame the tongue.”

All of this makes it almost seem like there is no hope when it comes to controlling our speech. Yet, it must be possible, because we are commanded to do it. The point is that we cannot do this in our own strength, and also that we will never control what comes out of our mouths if we do not control what’s in our hearts.

Read James 1:1-27. Notice that speech sins are discussed in the context of the “trials of many kinds” (v. 2) which test our faith and develop our perseverance. Why do we have more trouble taming our tongues when we are in the middle of trials? Can you think of times when you’ve seen stress bring about speech sins?

According to verses 13-15, the temptation to sin in any area comes from our “own evil desires.” What evil desires might be in play when we have trouble controlling our mouths during trials/stress?

selfishness, doubt, anger, desire for revenge – Can you think of others?  Continue reading