Giving Like Jesus Gave (Part 4): Practical Tips

light bulb closeupThis is the fourth, and last, post in our series on Giving Like Jesus Gave.  The first three dealt with obstacles in our way, principles of Christ-like giving, and the power to live it out.  Now, we finish up with practical ways to move forward.  I hope you’ll add your own in the ‘comments’ section.

  1. This might sound depressing, but there’s nothing you can do to force Jesus to seem more real.  He’s not like a vending machine, but would you really want him to be?  In that case, we’d be God and that would really be depressing.  Besides, even our other relationships don’t work like that.
  2. At the same time, once we get that, we can stop trying so hard and put our trust in God’s timing.  He wants to become more real to us and we can trust he’s always up to that in our lives.  (See Philippians 1:6).
  3. Read your bible prayerfully.  Yup, it’s a Sunday School answer, but it’s true.  Isaiah 55:11 says, ‘my word be that goes out from my mouth… shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.’  Even when we can’t feel it, God’s Word (found in the bible) always does what he wants it to and we should ask for that when we read.  Do you read your bible consistently and expect God to show up?
  4. Keep praying no matter what.  If you’re dry or God feels far away, don’t stop asking him until that changes.  In Luke 18:1-8, Jesus told a story about an old lady who wouldn’t stop nagging a corrupt judge for justice until he finally caved in.  Jesus’ point?  Keep praying and don’t give up, because God is good and will hear our prayers when we persist.  Is there something you need to start praying about again?
  5. Find some Christian friends and get real with them.  The Apostle is always talking about how important it is to be ‘in community’ (as we say) with other Christians.  Over sixty times in the New Testament he says, ‘… one another’.  Do you have even one other believing friend – a real one?  Here’s a few questions to help you know – do they know some things about you that you would be embarrassed for others to know?  Have you seriously annoyed each other?  And, have you made at least one serious sacrifice for each other?
  6. Is there an area of your life that you’re not giving to God?  That will always get in the way of your relationship with him, but asking forgiveness and committing to change – even starting with baby steps – can turn things around quickly.
  7. OK, on to less ‘big’, but more nitty-gritty, possible steps.  Carve out specific times you’ll connect with God.  Whenever you’re at your best and free, give (at least some) of that to him.  For me, it’s the morning.  What if you have an erratic schedule (hello, medical residents and ER physicians)?  Maybe you have less frequent, but longer times, with God at when you’re feeling more rested.   The point is being proactive and making whatever commitments you can.
  8. Refuse to get caught up in whatever distracts you.  It might be Facebook, TV, your favorite website, emails, reading, or counting the blades of grass on your front lawn.  Ask God – and probably a friend – to help you keep to your priorities.  Then enjoy those other things later.
  9. Perhaps most importantly, no matter how many times you fail, remember that there’s always, always grace.  Titus 2:11-12 is brilliant: For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, 12 training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age.  Notice that it’s not discipline or trying harder that helps us say ‘no’ to things or produces self-control.  It’s God’s grace.  When you know you’re already accepted by the One who gave everything for you, it gives you freedom to fail and a reason to do your best.

It’s easy to come to the end of a list like this and feel like a failure.  To think, ‘wow – honestly I could improve in all of these.’  And maybe you could.  I’d be right there with you.  But instead, remember that God is gracious and doesn’t want to overwhelm you.  Which one thing is he asking you to apply?  When will you start?  And, who else could help you as you make the change?

Giving Like Jesus Gave (Part 3): The Power To Make Progress

What makes giving work?  The answer isn't always obvious.

What makes giving work? The answer isn’t always obvious. 

We’ve been looking at what it means to give like Jesus gave, how to become the sort of generous, others-centered people that Jesus was (is).  In our last two posts, we’ve taken a look at two obstacles to, and seven characteristics of, what it means to give Jesus-style from 2 Corinthians 8.

But that’s not the whole story.  It’s entirely possible to know the problem – and solution – but not have the power to do what we want to do… in this case, be generous and focused on others.

This is not just a theory.  Take a moment and think about your last week.  How many times did you do intentionally do something for someone else?  Don’t let yourself off the hook here – be specific!  If you’re anything like me, the number is pretty small.  Most of us are not all that giving, so we really need help in this area.

But what kind of help?  That’s what this post is about.

The first clue comes from verses 1-2: 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.  Did you catch that?  The Macedonians didn’t just become generous on their own – beneath their kindness was ‘the grace of God’.  They were connected to Christ and he gave them the ability to do what they would never do on their own: be generous toward others at a time they were hurting themselves.

Still, you might be thinking, ‘OK, great, but what does that really mean?  How does knowing Jesus make you generous?’

Verse 9 starts to show us how:

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.

There’s that word ‘grace’ again.  It means favor or blessing you don’t deserve.  Let’s open up the box and unpack that for a minute.

‘though he was rich…’ – the Apostle Paul is talking about what it was like for Jesus before he became a man.  He was with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit.  He was the third person in a perfect community.  He didn’t need anything or anyone.

‘yet… he became poor’ – this refers to Jesus’ incarnation, the shocking fact that God became a human being.  The Creator became the creature.  He was thirsty.  He grew tired.  And he was unfairly crucified by the people he came to rescue.  (See Philippians 2:6-7).

‘so that you by his poverty might become rich’ – He did it for us.  The only thing he didn’t have in heaven was us.  We had become poor, broken, because we turned away from him.  So he voluntarily gave it all up so that we could be with him again.

There’s really no way to even begin to do justice to this in a blog post.  And in all honesty, it will take our entire lives to even begin understanding how much he loves us.

But we’ve got to keep fighting for that.  The Macedonians had started to get it and that’s what made them incredibly generous.  They saw that what Jesus had done for them – they saw that he became nothing so that they could receive everything.

Some of you may still be (I hope you are, actually) thinking, ‘Fine, Jesus is the answer, just like he always is.  But how do I see what Jesus has done for me?  I already know all this stuff, but it doesn’t seem to mean that much.  I want it to, but it doesn’t.’

Glad you asked.  That’s the subject of my next post, which will come out next Wednesday.  (I promise – it’s already done).

Can It Really Be That Easy?

For healthcare students and medical residents, this is the season of transition.  Some of you first-years are rejoicing, having finished with the year’s exams and embarking on your “last free summer.”  (Not to depress you even as I encourage you).  Many fourth-years are enjoying a few days off before orientation for internship year begins.

For others, though, this may be a tougher season.  First-years who’ve found out they need to repeat the year; second-years who need to remediate over the summer or study for boards; residents who are exhausted as the academic year comes to a close.  Or, those of you just dealing with anything that comes with life in a broken world, much of which has nothing to do with medicine.

This post is for you.

You’re exhausted, so I’ll try to keep it short.

Here’s the basic idea: Jesus knows what you’re going through, and he’s just asking you to hold on to him.  Not to surge ahead with big plans, or, to stress out about everything on your to-do list.

Revelation 3:11, written to Christians under persecution by the Roman Empire, says, “Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take away your crown.”  In other words, ‘Just keep your faith in Jesus and trust him; don’t let your difficult circumstances take your eyes off of him.’

Some of you may be thinking, “Medical culture isn’t exactly like persecution from a godless government.  I’m not sure how relevant this is to me.”  I hear you, but would add that although you can give thanks for your (better) circumstances, there are applications here for any tough time.

To some of you type-As, this message of “just hold on” might sound almost blasphemous.  “You mean, all that Jesus is asking me to do is trust him until this storm passes?  Don’t I have to do something?!”

I’ll let you work that out with Jesus.  Meditating on and praying through the larger passage, Revelation 3:7-13, may help.

Today, in the midst of the desert, the message is simply, “Hold on.”

Grace to you, friends.