What motivates your God questions?

GodQuestioning“And Zechariah said to the angel, ‘How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years'” (Luke 1:18 ESV).

“And Mary said to the angel, ‘How will this be, since I am a virgin?'” (Luke 1:34 ESV).

As a pastor, I get a lot of “God questions.” Yet, people are often apologetic in asking them. It’s as if they fear offending me, or worse yet, that they might offend God. I try to put them at ease.

“God isn’t afraid of your questions.” I often reply when questioners express concern.

I tell questioners this to keep the conversation going. After all, how can you learn if you don’t ask questions? However, I’ve noticed that some aren’t really interested in learning. Their questions are actually agnostic arguments. They are more like intellectual barrages of skepticism that they throw out to avoid trusting God. They aren’t really seeking understanding. They are expressing unbelief.

These two kinds of questioners can be found in the first chapter of the gospel of Luke. The first questioner was an older man named Zechariah and the second was a young woman named Mary. At first glance, their questions look very similar, yet upon closer examination, it becomes clear that the first was motivated by unbelief and the second by a desire for understanding.

Zechariah and his wife were advanced in years and had no children. When God sent the angel Gabriel to Zechariah to announce that his wife would soon give birth to a son, Zechariah questioned God’s Word. He asked, “How shall I know this?” Zechariah wasn’t asking for an explanation. He was asking for a sign. God’s Word wasn’t enough. He needed proof to believe. So, God gave it to him. He made old Zach a mute for nine months. It’s like God said, “Here’s your sign, Zechariah. You won’t be able to ask any more questions until you learn to trust Me.”

The second questioner was Mary. She was a young girl who had never been with a man and here was this angel telling her that she was about to conceive and bear a son who would be the Messiah. So, like Zechariah, she had a question. And at first, her question doesn’t sound that different from Zechariah’s. But the motivation for her question couldn’t be more opposite. While Zechariah’s question clearly expressed his heart of unbelief, Mary’s revealed her desire for understanding. She asked, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”

Mary didn’t ask for a sign, or for proof. She didn’t doubt that God was going to give her a son. She didn’t express unbelief that she would be the mother of the Messiah. No, she just wanted to understand how a virgin could have a child. And so, God answered her with an explanation that she could understand. And then, she uttered one of the most profound faith statements in the Bible, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).

I still try to put questioners at ease by telling them, “God isn’t afraid of your questions.” But lately I’ve been adding the instruction, “But be aware, He knows your heart. Does your question come from a heart of unbelief or a desire for understanding? Because how God answers your questions has more to do with your heart than your head.”

What motivates your God questions?

Loving the sojourner

“He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing. Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt” (Deuteronomy 10:18-19 ESV).

What is a “sojourner?” The dictionary defines it as “one who resides temporarily in a place.” Other Bible versions translate it as “stranger, alien, or foreigner.” Or as they would say in the South, “You ain’t from around here, are ya?”

Over 15 years ago, my wife and I were having dinner at a local Chinese restaurant when we met a waitress named, Lily. We discovered that she was actually from Indonesia, a country that I had previously visited. Of course, I had to practice my few Indonesian phrases on her every time we visited the restaurant.

“Selamat sore, Lily! Apa kabar?” (“Good afternoon, Lily! How are you?”) I would shout out to her when I entered the restaurant.

“Baik, baik, terima kasih! Apa kabar?” (“Fine, fine, thank you! How are you?”) She’d answer, with a huge smile on her face. Obviously happy to have someone speak to her in her heart language.

After a time, we became very connected to Lily. We had her over to our house for meals. We helped her navigate some things like going to the dentist and hearing her struggles as a “sojourner” in America. She became like family to us.

One day when we visited the Chinese restaurant, Lily ran over to us very excited and said, “Good, good. I’m glad you’re here. I want you to meet someone new. His name is Yuhan and he is here from Indonesia too!”

Gary & Yuhan - Christmas 2001 in Wilson, NC

So, we started including this young man named Yuhan in the invitations to our home too. He depended on Lily like a mother and it wasn’t long before he started referring to me as his “American father.”

One Christmas, we had Lily and Yuhan over for Christmas dinner. We hung stockings on our fireplace with their names. We ate, and sang Christmas songs, and gave out gifts. Lily and Yuhan were part of our family.

A few months later, Yuhan announced that he was returning home. We hugged and shared an emotional goodbye. We exchanged email addresses and wrote to one another a few times, but soon lost contact.

We continued to be close to Lily. She started attending our church. Her oldest daughter came to live in the States for a while and attended our youth group. Lily became an American citizen and recently started traveling back and forth to Indonesia to visit family.

Earlier this April, I led a small team to visit a missionary family our church had sent to work in Indonesia. Before we left, I contacted Lily to see if there was any way to get together with her while we were there. Unfortunately, her schedule and ours didn’t align. She was leaving Indonesia just as we were planning to arrive.

But as we were leaving the States, I got another email from Lily saying that she was extending her stay and wanted to meet with us in Jakarta the last two days before we planned to return. She would have to stay two extra weeks, buy a ticket to fly from Surabaya to Jakarta, and rent a hotel room there, but she was going to make it happen just to see us! We were surprised and humbled by her desire to be reunited with us. But the surprise didn’t end there.

As we were riding a taxi from the Jakarta airport to our hotel, I phoned Lily to see about planning dinner that evening with her. She was so excited. She said we would need two taxis to travel together to dinner. I told her we had room in our taxi for her, but she insisted that she already had two lined up because she had her daughter and some friends with her that wanted to go too.

Imagine my surprise when we arrived at the hotel and there stood Lily, her daughter, Amanda, another friend, and this smiling young man, nearly bursting with emotion at our arrival.

“Yuhan?!?” I shouted. Not meaning to ignore the others, but so surprised to see this older version of the young man from 15 years earlier.

“Yes, yes! You do remember me. I have waited 15 long years for this. I am so happy to see you again, my American father!” He exclaimed, as he ran towards me to embrace me in a hug.

“Where? Hmm… how did you know I was here?” I stuttered.

“Lily called me. So, I caught a flight from Singapore where I was working and booked a room here for the night. I wouldn’t miss seeing you and Mrs. Robin for the world!” He explained.

As we rode to dinner together, Yuhan told me that I was the only one in America who had ever invited him to their home while he worked in the States. Then, he pulled out his phone and showed us a photo he had of us together at my dining room table at Christmas in 2001 (photo above).

“See, I never forgot you!” He said, while pointing at the photo with tears welling up in his eyes.

GaryYuhan2“Now, I’m going to take you to dinner.” He announced. He insisted on paying for everyone’s meal. He even made sure that the restaurant that was closed when we arrived, remained open for us.

At the end of our time together, I told him, “I love you, Yuhan.” And he replied, “I love you, too.”

In the book of Deuteronomy, God told the Israelites to remember the time that they were “sojourners” in Egypt and how He had loved and cared for them. God commanded them to “love the sojourner,” just as He did.

After all, we are all just sojourners in this world. Yet, God has loved us so much that He sent Jesus to make a way for us to become citizens of heaven. It is the love of Christ that urges us to love the sojourner in our land. It was Christ’s love that moved us to love Lily and Yuhan when they were living in the States.

And I believe that it was God’s love that moved them to surprise us when we were sojourners in their land too.


Two tombs that point to resurrection life

The Garden Tomb

“Jesus said to her, ‘Your brother will rise again. ‘ Martha said to him, ‘I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.’ Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?’” (John 11:23-26 ESV).

The Greek word ἀνάστασις (anastasis) is translated “resurrection.” Literally, it means to cause one to stand up again. This is a physical word that points to a physical reality. Jesus claims that this word is more than an eschatological doctrine that gives us hope at funerals. He claims to be the resurrection and the life. Resurrection is more than a principle to believe. It is a Person to know.

Jesus’ resurrection claim has left a historical footprint in Israel in the form of two tombs: the Garden Tomb and the tomb of Lazarus. While visiting Israel three years ago, we saw many ancient ruins and grave sites, but one of the most meaningful was the Garden Tomb near Gordon’s Calvary.

IMG_5577The Garden Tomb is one of several possible locations for Jesus’ crucifixion and burial. The Church of the Holy Sepulcher is built over one of the traditional sites, but the church building hides any idea of what the site may have originally looked like. The Garden Tomb on the other hand is preserved in such a fashion that allows for meditative viewing. Our tour group spent considerable time there and I was even privileged to lead them in a communion service near the empty tomb.

IMG_5619The Garden Tomb has been maintained by a nondenominational charitable trust from the United Kingdom since 1894 named The Garden Tomb Association. It is near the Damascus Gate outside Old Jerusalem. We stayed at a hotel only a 5-minute walk away from the Garden Tomb and enjoyed stopping by nearly everyday. The association does not charge for entry, but does accept donations and runs a small store for support. We loved having our morning quiet times here!

Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see the tomb of Lazarus in the West Bank town of al-Eizariya (Arabic for “The Town of Lazarus”). We were on a 10-day tour of Israel, followed by another 8 days on our own, but there is so much to see that we just didn’t get to it. Plus, getting to it is complicated by the fact that the traditional town which was once called “Bethany,” now lies on the other side of the wall in a Palestinian controlled area. I regret that we didn’t visit. It is only a couple of miles away from Jerusalem. Perhaps on a future trip. We’d really love to go back some day.

These two tombs tell a story. Both are empty today. Both match the appearance as described in the Bible. Both held a dead body for at least three days. The one in Bethany was occupied by Lazarus until Jesus said, “Lazarus, come forth!”

IMG_5622The one outside the walls of Jerusalem was occupied by Jesus until the first day of the week over 2,000 years ago when the One who said, “I AM the Resurrection” stood up and left it empty till this day!

Resurrection life has conquered death. So, that whoever believes in Christ, though they die, yet shall they live!

Easter means… hope

0278=278“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3 ESV).

“My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly lean on Jesus’ Name” (Edward Mote).

In the dictionary’s definition of the word “hope,” it describes three aspects (I have put this into my own words):

  1. Its basis. That which makes up the foundation for our expectation that our great desire will be satisfied.
  2. Its nature. That which describes the quality and strength of our future longing and its affect on us in the present.
  3. Its object. That which is the focus of our expectation. This is the future something or someone that we focus our desire upon obtaining.

I think Edward Mote (1797-1874), the founding pastor of Rehoboth Baptist Church in Horsham, West Sussex, England must have been contemplating these three aspects of hope when he penned the words to that great hymn, “My Hope Is Built On Nothing Less.” Published in 1837, this hymn became an instant classic.

Mote declared, “My hope is built” on Christ! Mote sees Christ’s work on the cross, his “blood and righteousness” as the foundation, the basis of our hope.  I agree. But I would further add that which the apostle Peter proclaimed, that our hope is built on Christ’s resurrection. In other words, the basis for Christian hope is the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Our hope is built on the historical reality of Christ’s work.

Mote says that this hope is not mere “trust” in a sweet “frame” of mind. No, it is based on the firm foundation of Christ’s death, burial and resurrection. This also speaks to its nature. Christian hope is a “living hope” as Peter described it. Its quality lies in its connection to the living Lord Jesus, who abides in those who believe on him. This hope is not merely an optimistic or positive “frame” of mind, but a strong conviction that all is well and that all will be well because of the living Christ. As Mote wrote in verse three of his hymn, “When all around my soul gives way, He then is all my Hope and Stay.”

Christ’s resurrection is the basis of our hope. Christ’s abiding Spirit within us is the nature of our hope. And Christ’s return is the object of our hope. As Mote wrote in his final verse and chorus:

When He shall come with trumpet sound,
Oh may I then in Him be found.
Dressed in His righteousness alone,
Faultless to stand before the throne.

On Christ the solid Rock I stand,
All other ground is sinking sand;
All other ground is sinking sand.

Christ is our living hope!

Stop going to church

BeChurch“Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit” (Ephesians 2:19-22 NKJV).

“So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:46-47 NKJV).

“…upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18 KJV).

Stop going to church?

Jesus commanded us to “make disciples” (Matt. 28:19), but He never told us to go to church. In fact, the only “going” He commanded, was to “go into all the world and preach the gospel” (Mark 16:15). Jesus never told us to go to church because the Bible never describes it as a place to go, but a people to be.

Today, we have too many people who go to church and not nearly enough who actually understand what it means to be the church. Consider the description of the first-century church in the book of Acts. Their devotion to God and to one another, their visible witness, their gladness, and favor with outsiders; all these characteristics were evidence of the Spirit of Christ in their community. This Spirit-filled, family of God, confessing “Christ as Lord” with their mouths as well as their manner, was the “rock” upon which the “Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.”

The church, as the people of God, is to be the visible manifestation of the body of Christ in this world. The existence of the true church should be one of the strongest proofs of God’s activity and presence. It is to be, as the apostle Paul told the Ephesians, the “household of God built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone.” And as Paul told the church at Corinth, our meetings should be so Spirit-filled and Word-rich that unbelievers would “fall to their knees and worship God, declaring, ‘God is truly here among you!’” (1 Cor. 14:25).

Unfortunately, the hypocrisy of those who only go to church, instead of being the church, has become an actual hindrance to the gospel receptivity of unbelievers. The church that should be an attraction to unbelievers, repels instead.

What can we do?

Stop just going to church and start being the church. Because the church is not the steeple, it’s the people. It’s not a place to go, but a people to be. It’s not a building filled with fine furnishings, but a faith-filled, family of Christ-followers. Pray that God would make our church a gospel-saturated, Spirit-filled, graceful and generous people, so that He can add to our number daily those who are being saved.

Let’s stop just GOING to church and start BEING the church, then Christ will BUILD the church.

Proclamation follows passion

TalkingHeart“In your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15 ESV).

“What you say flows from what is in your heart” (Luke 6:45 NLT).

Have you noticed? We tend to talk about whatever we are passionate about. If we love football, we will talk about the latest game or draft pick with a total stranger. If we love a new restaurant, we proclaim its food and atmosphere on social media to all who will listen. If we’re recently engaged to marry, no one can stop the bride-to-be from showing off her new engagement ring. It’s what we do. We just naturally talk about what or who we love. Proclamation follows passion!

This is what the apostle Peter was writing about in his first epistle. He knew that believers were often afraid to share their faith in Christ with others for fear of disapproval or persecution. Yet, he also knew that if believers elevated Christ to the highest place in their hearts, honoring Him as the Lord, then they would always be “prepared” to talk about their faith to others. Fear of persecution would not stop their proclamation because they would “fear” dishonoring Christ more than any fear of disapproval by others.

According to surveys by Barna, only 73% of born again believers believe that they have a personal responsibility to share their faith. And only 52% say they have actually shared their faith with someone else in the past year (George Barna, “Is Evangelism Going Out of Style?”).

Why is this? Why aren’t born again Christians sharing their faith? Here are some “reasons” that people give:

  • Lack of knowledge. “Fear that a question will be asked that I can’t answer.”
  • Rejection. “Fear that the person won’t like me.”
  • Disapproval. “Fear that the person will think I’m being too religious or uncool.”
  • Impolite. “It isn’t politically correct to discuss religion.”
  • No desire. “I’m an introvert. I don’t want to talk to anyone.”

There may be many more “reasons” that believers are giving for not witnessing, but the truth of the matter is not found in the external world, but in the heart. If we are afraid to talk about our hope in Christ with others, we may blame it on many things, but the real reason is found in our hearts. For as Jesus said, “Out of the heart, the mouth speaks.” If we are silent about our hope in Christ, then we have not set apart Christ as Lord in our hearts.

Dear friends, as we approach the Easter season, let us examine our hearts. Have we set apart Christ as Lord? Do we “honor” Him as holy and above all things? Do we want to please Him above all others?

When we love Christ with all of our heart, mind and soul, we won’t be able to stop talking about Him. Proclamation follows passion.

Gospel-centered living

Gospel Centered Living_3 Strands (Black)“Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person” (Colossians 4:5-6 ESV).

Over the next few weeks we will be discussing how making the gospel the center focus of our lives will result in a kind of three cord strand of evangelistic living. These three strands include: building relationships, sharing the gospel, and introducing people to our community of believers. Together, these three pursuits will not only reflect our gospel-centeredness, but will result in gospel-saturated lives that create an invitational culture that will bring those far away from God near.

In the book, Total Church, the authors write about this idea of living “gospel-saturated” lives:

TotalChurch“We need Christian communities who saturate ordinary life with the gospel. The communities to which we introduce people must be communities in which “God-talk” is normal. This means talking about what we are reading in the Bible, praying together whenever we share needs, delighting together in the gospel, and sharing our spiritual struggles, not only with Christians but with unbelievers. We want our life together to be gospel-saturated. We want to live and talk the gospel as part of our shared life.” – Tim Chester; Steve Timmis. Total Church: A Radical Reshaping around Gospel and Community.

The apostle Paul wrote to the believers in Colossae about how they could live lives that were marked by this kind of gospel saturation. Using the word “walk” to describe the ordinary, day-to-day coming and going of their lives, Paul encouraged them to live with the kind of “wisdom toward outsiders” that would open up opportunities for gospel sharing. Knowing that outsiders would be attracted to the wisdom and grace of gospel-centered living, Paul advised the Colossians to be ready to “answer” them with the gospel reason for their behavior.

This kind of gospel-centered living changes our ordinary days into extraordinary ones as we see “outsiders,” people who are far from God, brought near by the gospel that they see demonstrated in us.

As we approach the Easter season, we are redoubling our focus on making disciples that live gospel-centered lives. With this in mind, we are offering four Easter weekend services this year, so our members will have more options for inviting others to hear the gospel. In order to put more focus on these additional services, we decided to cancel our usual Easter EGGstravaganza event.

So, remind me again why we cancelled Easter EGGstravaganza?

Sure, this event was very successful at attracting large numbers of people to our campus (Over 3,000 attenders last year), but we really couldn’t point to anyone who came to faith or starting attending our church as a result. The event did make us quite famous in Wilson and certainly made us a lot of friends, but it didn’t appear to be leading “outsiders” into our gospel community.

We have not given up on doing special outreach events, but we are determined to carefully evaluate every event to make sure it is leading people closer to hearing and receiving the gospel.

So, this year we decided to take the money and effort that we normally spend on Easter EGGstravaganza and put it towards actually inviting outsiders to attend one of our Easter weekend services. We are mailing out 12,500 postcard invites to our Easter weekend services. These postcards have been carefully selected to go to households that have children and will advertise our Easter services, as well as a fun egg hunt opportunity for the kids after every service. We are also printing 2,000 doorhangers that we will hang during our annual Hope Station food drive and we are giving out special Easter invite cards to our members to pass along to their friends.

As Chester and Timmis say in Total Church:

“Major events have a role to play in church life, but the bedrock of gospel ministry is low-key, ordinary, day-to-day work that often goes unseen. Most gospel ministry involves ordinary people doing ordinary things with gospel intentionality.”

The truth is, most people visit our church because they were personally invited by a friend or family member. This is where the real gospel work takes place. One gospel-centered person deciding to befriend, share and invite an outsider to come inside and experience the life-changing power of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Generous ears

listen“Who among you will give ear to this,
    will attend and listen for the time to come?” (Isaiah 42:23 ESV).

“Lend me your ears” (Mark Antony in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar).

Perhaps one of the greatest gifts we can give another is the gift of listening.

In a world where everyone is busy expressing their opinion on social media and tweeting about their status, do you ever wonder if anyone is really listening? We greet one another with “How are you?” but really don’t want to know. It’s just a pleasantry. We don’t have time to hear. Listening is a luxury we feel we can’t afford.

Yet many are starving for understanding, yearning for someone to really listen to their voice. Who will give the gift of listening to them?

There have been many through the years who have given me the gift of listening. And that’s really important to a “talker” like me. Certainly the one, other than Jesus, that has been my most ardent listener has been my wife, Robin. As long as I don’t start the conversation too late at night (she’s an early to bed, early to rise type), she will listen attentively as long as I talk. She’s my biggest fan. Always encouraging me when I express self-doubt. Believing in me when I describe my dreams. Her listening speaks louder of her love for me than words ever could.

That’s because listening is sacrificial. We have to humble ourselves and be silent to truly hear another. This self-imposed silence is not only to our speaking voice, but also to our inner one as well, not thinking of what we’re going to say next, but truly focusing on the other. Listening is a gift of love.

When was the last time you gave the gift of listening to someone that everyone else tends to shun? When did you last bend down to a child’s level and truly hear their little voice?

I’m glad that I have a wife that listens to me. Even more than that, I’m glad that we have a God that listens. As the psalmist said, “But truly God has listened; he has attended to the voice of my prayer” (Psalm 66:19 ESV).

If our great God can lean down and listen to us, shouldn’t we also be willing to have such generous ears?

Displaying the selfless generosity of God

Basic RGB“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” (2 Corinthians 8:1-2 ESV).

“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” (C.S. Lewis).

This coming Sunday we are beginning a new sermon series entitled, “Generosity: An Exposition of 2 Corinthians 8-9.” In this series, we are moved to communicate the truth that the apostle Paul sought to give to the church in Corinth, that those who have received the generous grace of God are to joyfully overflow with generosity towards others. Paul hoped to inspire the wealthy Corinthians by sharing the story of how the impoverished and persecuted Christians of Macedonia had received and responded to God’s grace by overflowing “in a wealth of generosity” themselves.

The kind of generosity displayed in the believers of Macedonia is unlike the so-called generosity of this world in at least three ways:

1. It was a generosity that resulted from first receiving God’s grace. 

newtons-cradle-1Like the device know as Newton’s cradle, the kind of crazy, self-emptying generosity that the Macedonians displayed, came from an external power source. Named after Sir Isaac Newton, the device uses a series of swinging spheres to demonstrate the third law of motion— that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. When one of the spheres on the end is lifted and released, it strikes the stationary spheres and a force is transmitted them that pushes the last sphere upward.

In similar fashion, Paul said that the “grace of God” that had been “given” to the Macedonians had caused them to overflow with joyful generosity in spite of their poverty and affliction. The generosity seen in the Macedonian believers was in fact, the generosity of God flowing to and through them to others.

This is not the kind of generosity that the one desiring to win the lottery expresses, saying, “If I win the Power Ball, I promise I will give a lot of it to help the church!”

No, the truth of the matter is that someone who is not generous before winning the lottery, will not magically become generous afterwards. The Macedonian Christians gave out of their poverty, not their wealth. They were so full of God’s grace that they emptied themselves in generosity.

2. It was a generosity that surprised others in its sacrificial extravagance.

When Bill Gates gives away a million dollars people are impressed with the amount, but no one worries how Bill will live without that million. Everyone knows that he is a billionaire. He’ll probably be able to struggle by with the amount he has left.

But the apostle Paul was astounded by the offering that the Macedonians gave to help the hungry and hurting in Jerusalem. He doesn’t name the amount, but it must have been more than seemed humanly possible for such an impoverished people. Paul described their giving as being “beyond their means” (2 Cor. 8:3).

How is this possible? How can one give “beyond their means?” The only way this can happen is when one is willing to do without something in order to give more. The Macedonian believers decided to live on less in order to give more. I’m sure this meant more than just going without their daily “Starbucks” mocha latte. They sacrificed in order to give generously.

3. It was a generosity that held nothing back in reserve.

Generosity in the worldly sense usually points to the one who is willing to give from their surplus. Even the word, “generosity,” originates from the Latin, meaning of “noble birth.” Those born into nobility, with their lands and titles, were expected to be generous.

But the generosity of the impoverished Macedonian believers exceeded this expectation. They not only gave more than they were able, they ultimately offered their whole lives as an offering to God. Paul said that they “gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God” (2 Cor. 8:5) to him as well.

They said, “My ‘Yes’ is on the table! Whatever God wants from me, it’s His! And whatever you [Paul] as our spiritual leader, ask of us, we will do.”

It was God’s selfless generosity displayed in the Macedonian believers that Paul wanted the Corinthians to see. He wanted them to intentionally pursue the excellence of generosity as God had displayed it in Macedonia.

This is what God always wanted when He created us, that we would be His image-bearers in this world, displaying His character to the universe. He wants us to display His selfless generosity in our lives.

This is why He generously gave us His Son, Jesus, so that receiving this grace, we might be born again and become the generous image-bearers that God always intended.

Do you display the excellence of God’s selfless generosity in your life? What would it look like for you to start intentionally depending on God to grow in this area today?