The Present That Never Fades

Advent is a wonderful way to start the year.

In the liturgical church calendar, Advent begins the year. While I wasn’t raised following this church calendar, I’ve started to embrace it due to its richness and sublimity. It makes me stop and consider the history of our Christian faith, and feel a depth that’s lacking in general life.

It’s counter-cultural too. Instead of our year starting in January with “resolutions” to be the best we’ve ever been, our year starts with a realization that we can’t ever be better on our own. Our world is corrupt, fallen, sinful. Pain, sickness, and suffering abounds. Something’s not right.

We’re not ok.

But our year begins with the fulfillment of a promise. A promise that a savior would come and deliver us from sin and pain and death. A promise that a king would come to set things right. A promise that a gift would be given that keeps giving, giving, and giving.

Jesus is the fulfillment of these promises and more.

When we start our year off with a baby Jesus, we’re starting the year off with a fulfilled promise. We’re starting our year off with songs of joy. We’re starting our year off with hope and peace. These are wonderful ways to begin the year, I’d say.

We start the year with deep hurt, deep desires unfulfilled. But we start the year with a child who was born to meet our deep hurt and to fulfill our deepest desires for life, joy, peace, and love. Jesus is this child. And the church calendar follows his birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension. It’s a wonderful way to live your ordinary life in an extraordinary way.

It also reminds us that Jesus lived an ordinary life for probably 30 years too. He worked with his hands as likely a carpenter. He didn’t have a lot of money. His family was pretty poor. He didn’t have running water. He didn’t even live in Jerusalem! That’s God’s own city! It’s where God’s presence was (more or less) since King David and King Solomon. But when Jesus, fully God and fully man, walked about on earth, he wasn’t even living in his own city. Why?

Because Jesus came to seek and save the lost. Because Jesus came to those who were far from God. Those who were literally, physically far from God — Gentiles, non-Jews, people like you and me.

Jesus offered a free gift through his death on the cross and resurrection from the grave. This gift is the beginning of our new life (for those who believe in Jesus). This gift starts our lives. This gift starts our years, year after year. It’s the beginning of something new and great.

Paul, in Romans, puts it this way:

And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. – Romans 5:16

I had to read this about fifty times before I had a glimmer of what he’s saying here. And pardon me for missing something. I’m sure I did.

But what I gathered here is so amazing.

The free gift from Jesus “following many trespasses brought justification.” It’s easy to get lost in all this language, to be honest. But right before this, Paul says, “the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin.” What’s that mean? It means the free gift is not exactly like how Adam’s one sin led to a fallen world. When we sin, even one time, we are condemned. Condemned means we’re guilty. So through one sin, we’re guilty.

One wrong thought or action in this life causes you to be guilty. That’s it.

We need this guilt removed somehow. But we can’t remove it ourselves through good works. John Stott explains why:

“So what can be done? If we are ever to be forgiven we must repay what we owe. Yet we are incapable of doing this, either for ourselves or for other people. Our present obedience and good works cannot make satisfaction for our sin, since these are required of us anyway. So we cannot save ourselves.” (emphasis mine)

We need a gift. Now, recall that one wrong thought or action in this life causes us to be guilty. If you’re anything like me, though, you’ve done a bit more wrong than just one. Let’s just say I sin once a day. Since being born, that’s over 9,000 days. That’s over 9,000 sins. Woh. First of all, that’s more than I expected for some reason. Second of all, that’s only with one sin a day!

Two sins a day makes 18,000. Three makes over 27,000. If one makes me guilty, then how much more am I in the gutter!

But here’s the great part. Even after thousands of sins (or trespasses) the free gift of God brings justification! Just one sin causes condemnation. Yet one free gift overcomes innumerable sins and causes justification.

This is a much better way to start your year.

Instead of ending your year with presents that will fade away with time, start your year with a present that will never fade. Start your year with Jesus. Start your year believing in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Start your year with peace, hope, joy, and love.

– Matthew Welborn

 

When You Want To Give More

We’re entering the end of the calendar year. 2018 is almost over, beckoning us to contemplate on the next year and beyond. 

Maybe you’re not there yet. I understand.

Going backward in time from January 1st of next year, we have:

  • New Years Eve
  • Post-Christmas (Does anyone know what you’re supposed to do during these last few days? I’m still not sure.)
  • Christmas
  • Christmas Eve
  • (My sister’s birthday!)
  • Advent
  • Cyber Monday
  • Black Friday
  • Thanksgiving

That’s a lengthy list.

And holidays are nothing but costly. They cost time, money, attentiveness, and emotions.

So even if you’re not thinking about 2019 and beyond, you’re most certainly thinking about the coming holiday season(s). And as a result, you’re most likely considering the cost of them too.

But I don’t want to talk about money here the way you might be expecting. I want to talk about what I’ve been learning in my own heart about giving. And I specifically mean giving money.

Here’s a story I want us to consider in our discussion:

‘Sitting across from the temple treasury, [Jesus] watched how the crowd dropped money into the treasury. Many rich people were putting in large sums. Then a poor widow came and dropped in two tiny coins worth very little.’ – Mark 12:41-42

Read that again if that helps you capture the image of what’s going on here.

What’s happening is something like this:

Jesus was sitting around with his disciples, probably chatting about who would be first in the kingdom or something like that. At some point, Jesus zoned out of the conversation and zoned into observing some obviously rich people walking up to give money to the temple.

Now, this is a really, really good thing to do. What they’re doing is praiseworthy. They’re rocking the Lottie Moon offering here. That church goal of $10,000 for missions–surpassed in one check! Boom, chaka laka.

They walk away, but Jesus isn’t watching them anymore. Meanwhile, the disciples notice Jesus checked out a while ago, and they start watching what he’s watching: an old, poor widow.

She drops in two quarters. Yes, 50 cents. That’s not making a dent in the thankfully-now-surpassed $10,000 missions fundraising goal. The rich people noticed her gift. How precious, they think. The disciples noticed too. That’s good, but not much really. We left our jobs and financial securities for Jesus.

But thankfully for everyone involved, and most importantly, Jesus noticed. And this is what he did and said:

‘Summoning his disciples, he said to them, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. For they all gave out of their surplus, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had —all she had to live on.”’ – Mark 12:43-44

She did what?! Jesus says she “put more into the treasury than all the others.”

I remember from 1st grade that 10,000 is greater than 0.50. Right? (Maybe it was 2nd grade.)

(Google even says it’s 10,000. I checked.)

So what is Jesus talking about? What does he mean 50 cents is more than $10,000?

He explains with a little more detail, “For they gave out of their surplus, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had–all she had to live on.”

The rich people gave out of their surplus. They had a surplus of at least $10,000! I’m not kidding here when I say I wish I had a surplus of half that.

This is why I mentioned thinking about 2019 and beyond before. This is why I mentioned the holidays and money and giving. I’ve been thinking a lot recently about wanting a job that pays well. I mean, really well. I want to make money. I want to have a surplus out of which to give. I really do. I want to be able to take care of a family, provide for tangible needs in my church and community, buy a decent house, stock my library, have a reliable car, and meet those $10,000 goals with ease. I would love that. And I don’t think any of that desire is inherently wrong.

I used to think having a lot of money was evil. Now I realize it’s the love of money that’s the problem.

So I’ve been thinking about trying to get a better paying job. Or thinking about going back to school to get a master’s degree that could result in a high paying job and career. I’ve thought about it a lot recently. I want to love others and love God with my money. And I’ve thought I needed a lot of money to do that effectively.

And I realized I was wrong.

I realized when I read what Jesus said about the poor widow could be true of me. I could give more than the wealthiest people I know. By living paycheck to paycheck (yeah, really), I could give even more than people with thousands invested and in assets. I could even give more now than in the future (if I end up making more money in the future, which is more likely than not).

In God’s economy, which is wonky to our limited perspective, my giving can be more in God’s eyes than I think it is. And I don’t need a lot to give a lot.

You don’t need a lot to give a lot.

And people who make a lot less money than I do around the world are giving way more than I do to the Church. What a humbling realization!

God’s economy doesn’t compute. The bottom line seems written in by pen regardless of the numbers above. It’s a mystery. But we get to participate in it. By giving money you are participating in the coming of the kingdom. By giving money you are demonstrating your citizenship in the economy of heaven. By giving money you are showing the world that money isn’t worth what it’s worth to the world.

Giving out of surplus is commendable. Giving out of a generous and cheerful heart is amazing.

But giving out of lack is worth the attention and commendation of Jesus.

Think about this story as the holidays approach. Think about what Jesus notices in the widow.

Pray for the heart of a poor, old widow.

– Matt Welborn