Each December, I pray about dedicating the first days or weeks of the New Year to a time of fasting and prayer. I believe in giving the first and best of my year the same as I believe in giving the first and best of my resources. This year, I feel New Life is to do something out of the ordinary because we are living in extraordinary times. Therefore, the 90-day challenge is beginning at New Life on January 1st and will continue through the end of March.
The 90-day Challenge is meant to help all of us do four things:
* Be even more thankful for all God is doing in our lives.
* Set aside a percentage of our income and give it away.
* Live below our means by following a budget.
* Look for every opportunity to serve others.
For the next 90 days, I am hoping all New Lifers will join me on this journey. For many of us, this challenge will be far more difficult than any previous time of fasting food, sweets, or television. Our finances and our attitudes are usually the last parts of our lives that we give to God. Living for others, giving sacrificially, being thankful and controlling our spending appetites will produce an amazing amount of spiritual fruit. In fact, all of the very mature believers I know live this type of lifestyle and are generally not affected by greed and selfishness.
The reason the challenge will last to the end of March is simple. It takes time to break old harmful habits and establish healthy new ones. Let’s all stay committed to encouraging one another on this journey and let’s be diligent to share our stories of God’s goodness and faithfulness. These stories are guaranteed for everyone who finishes the challlenge. In fact, I truly believe that people will be so changed by these spiritual principles that they will choose to live like this for the rest of their lives.
I discussed the “T” word this Sunday at New Life. Tithing is a topic that is certainly biblical, but many people question the motives of any pastor who brings up the topic of money. I believe the poor reputation has been earned by pastors and it will take time to regain the respect and credibility of our churches. I believe the church has to prove to people that it will follow the Acts 2 and Acts 4 recipe of local church. People have to trust that church leaders care more about the poor, the widows and the orphans than living excessive lifestyles or building personal church empires. Once church leaders get serious about the ministry of Jesus on the earth, resources will always be available.
The church is the body of Christ and its members are His bride. No good husband would withhold resources from His bride and neither will Christ. In our staff meeting this week, we discussed the economic realities we are facing as a church right now. We are cutting our budgets to make ends meet, but we are not in a panic. We have decided to use this time to really evaluate what we are doing as a church and to make sure we are being wise stewards. We are convinced that our integrous handling of money will earn people’s trust and release heaven’s resources.
So, I will continue to teach on finances and discuss tithing even though it is awkward for some. Primarily, though, I will do all I can to keep my own heart pure and lead our church toward wise stewardship. In the end, I pray that everyone at New Life catches the revelation of generous giving and compassionate serving because both are expressions of true Christ followers.
I am amazed at how well the human body can heal itself. The wound above my left eye is returning to normal, leaving only a few bruises and a small, one-inch scar. After tripping and hitting my head on the fireplace last week, it seemed it would take forever for the bruising and cut to heal.
The same is true when we experience trauma to our emotions. This time last year, a young man came on our campus at New Life and took the lives of Stephanie and Rachel Works, injuring others before taking his own life. It was one of the darkest days we have ever experienced at New Life and it seemed we would never heal. The wound was just too deep and the bruises too intense. A year later, we still hurt and there are definitely scars that need constant attention and care, but, we are healing and it is a miracle. We have grieved, mourned and rallied around one another and it has made us stronger. The days and weeks ahead will get better and the pain will not always define us. There will be scars, but the scars will only serve to remind us of God’s healing in our lives.
One of my favorite movie scenes is from the movie “Jaws” Three men are sitting in a boat telling the stories of how they got all their scars. Two of the men have scars from battling killer sharks and defending themselves from barracuda attacks, but Roy Schneider only has a scar from having his appendix removed. Life produces scars and every scar has a story.
I have a new scar this morning. Last night I tripped over something in the living room floor and hit my head on the fireplace. My friend and neighbor, Garvin, took me to the emergency room and 15 stitches later, I was as good as new. But, I will have a scar. Sadly, the ER doctor told me my dreams for a modeling career are over! The scar is about an inch long above my left eye and I look worse than normal this morning. My forehead looks like a war zone and my head is throbbing. But, I do have a story. Unfortunately, my scar story seems as silly as Roy Schneiders. I did not get my scar because of some heroic deed. I just tripped and fell and I feel a bit silly.
I try to learn from all my silly mistakes. I learned that light is better than dark when navigating the living room. I learned that good neighbors are important in a crisis. I learned that the human body will heal itself, but it does leave a scar to remind us of the stories.