Little Miracles

It’s been an interesting week for me, which seems like something that I’ve been saying a lot lately. I had my second board meeting for the little league (second one I attended because the last one I missed for my son’s birthday). I subbed at a middle school in the town where our church is being planted. I met with my leadership team for our church. I took my oldest son with me to see Bob Dylan. I met with a friend who leads an incredible ministry which includes a food pantry and weekend feedings of the homeless. I participated in a book discussion group where I was only one of two men in attendance.

In the midst of all that, I have had an interesting opportunity dropped in my lap for our church. It was one that was completely unexpected but one that has God’s fingerprints all over it. In some ways, it feels like the perfect situation because it provides for the long-term. The decision wouldn’t be made out of urgency or imminent need, but made out of a vision that God has given me for what lies ahead.

As I survey the events of the week, it’s hard to point to just one thing that seemed more significant than any of the others. They have all combined to fuel the fire of the week, a good fire, a fire that acts as fuel to propel the engine of who I am forward into whatever it is that God has in store. But as has been a common theme for me over the past years, community stands out significantly.

I serve a little league board in my community. I am getting to know the community of the middle school and elementary school in the community where I am serving. I am grateful and humbled by the community that God has surrounded me with to plant our church. We are partnered with and partnering with some incredible community organizations who are seeking the peace and prosperity of the place where God has us. I entered into a new community to have a civil discussion about topics which are usually accompanied by anger, frustration, and hurt.

Sitting down with my friend who runs the local ministry to the homeless and hurting, I was glad to hear some of his stories face to face. While I’ve had the chance to read some of them on social media, there’s nothing like hearing them for yourself, face to face, from the person who has experienced them.

There’s a verse in Hebrews in the Bible that talks of spurring one another on towards love and good deeds. The verse right after it is a verse that I point to over and over again to people who are constantly asking and wondering what the point is of being part of a church community. Don’t give up meeting together. Don’t take yourself out of community. Community is essential to spur you on to love and good deeds.

I can attest to this. That was my experience this week. Community made me better. Community changed me. Community helped me. Community helped me see things that I would normally miss.

In my conversation with my friend at lunch, we were both reminded of the ways that God has worked and is working all around us. My friend said, “If we don’t see it, it’s because we aren’t looking or paying attention.” Those words resonate so deeply with me.

I have felt a strong sense of my own need to celebrate the little things in the season of life where God has me. My frustrations and anxieties can be overwhelming to me, but I have to counteract them with a celebration of the little miracles that I see in my life. They are little enough that if I’m not looking, I will miss them. They are little enough that they might just underwhelm me when I’m looking at them…….if I forget what they truly are: miracles.

Little miracles happen every day, in the chance meetings of two people, in the opportunities that seemingly come out of nowhere, in the provisions that God brings, in all of the little things that I will rush right past if I don’t take time to slow down, pay attention, take notice, and tell about them.

Maybe it’s just a fuller realization for me of the old adage to stop and smell the roses, but it feels more significant than that to me. It feels more like touching the divine, the realization that God is here, not far away somewhere. The realization that the incarnation of Christ in Advent wasn’t completed in his death and resurrection, but was just the beginning.

At the end of this week, I am tired and weary, but not from bad or hard things, thankfully, from the overwhelming way that God meets me in my messy life. I’m hitting the weekend at just the right time, but I want to anticipate more of what this past week held for me. Because in experiencing more of what I did this week, I find the little miracles that God has for me. Nothing extravagant or ornate, but just enough that it keeps me coming back for more. Just enough that I can allay my fears and anxieties for a little bit longer. Just enough that it keeps hope alive and spurs me on to see whatever is next, lying just around the corner.

The NIV Life Application Study Bible – Review

1105192023.jpgAt the beginning of the NIV Application Study Bible, there is a section called “Why the Life Application Study Bible Is Unique.” It gives a synopsis of what makes this Bible unique. Just a few pages further and the features of this Bible are listed.

Each book within the NIV Life Application Study Bible starts the same way with an overview of the book. It is formatted so that every book looks the same and one can easily find what they are looking for regarding the specifics of a book. Purpose, author, original audience, date written, setting, key verse, key people, key place, and special features. The blueprint or outline of the book is laid out. The megathemes of the book are also given to know what to look for when reading the book.

Maps are also shown, detailing the specific places of interest throughout the book. This is helpful to be able to follow geographically the events of the books and helps tie them to other books and sets them specifically in the area in which they occurred. As the reader goes through the text, it’s super helpful to have these maps to give geographic context and to have a better understanding of where the text takes place.

Throughout the Bible are sections dedicated to characters encountered in the text. These sections give background information and short narratives of the character. They also contain a list that details some specific accomplishments, facts, statistics, and even a key verse regarding the character. Rather than having to thumb through the entire Bible to discover more about the characters about which you are reading, these sections have everything laid out in one place to discover simply and easily all the important information you want.

Much has been written in book form of the Harmony of the Gospels, within the pages of the NIV Life Application Study Bible, there is a short treatment of this, listing out in table form the significant events of Jesus’ life and ministry and where within the four Gospels these can be found. This is a helpful table to compare and contrast and to have a quick and easy resource to study these specific events yourself.

1105192024.jpgAesthetically, this Bible looks great. Not only is the soft leather cover an attractive and eye-catching element, but it also has a lay flat design that makes it easier to read when open on a table or countertop. While the thin pages initially stick together a lot, it seems like good incentive to read it more frequently to break those pages in.

If you are looking for a study Bible with helpful tools and resources, the NIV Life Application Study Bible may just be the end of your search.

(This review is based upon a copy of this Bible which was provided free of charge from Zondervan as a member of BG2. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)

 

Giving In Faith

you of little faith

If you were to ask any pastor the topics that are the most uncomfortable for them to address and preach on, I would be hard pressed to believe that money and giving would not fall in the top five. Despite the discomfort that pastors might have in addressing these subjects, Jesus seemed to have no problem whatsoever addressing these issues. After all, he said in Matthew 6:21, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

People in the United States give an average of 3 percent to charitable causes annually. If you look at Christians within the church, the same number applies. Yet, there are numerous references in the Bible for people to be giving back at least ten percent to God. Why the disparity?

Ryan Thomas has written a provocative book meant to challenge believers to give not charitably or out of obligation but out of faith. Rather than giving because it is commanded or because of an altruistic spirit, Thomas urges believers to give in faith with the expectation that God will give back.

Thomas defines a faith-based giver as one whom, “gives to God, and only to God, and not because of how the money will be used.” He tells his own story, sharing of how he and his wife gave sacrificially and how God returned the blessing to them. He shares that giving to God should be driven by the rewards that we know we will receive in giving. In fact, he claims, the idea of giving to receive a reward is seen throughout the Bible and he shares the various places where we see this.

After sharing his own story, Thomas lays out the four rewards that should come to us when we give in faith. We give in faith because it will strengthen our faith, it will free us from materialism, we will be provided for, and we will receive treasure in heaven. He spends time within the book supporting these rewards and how the Bible supports them as well.

When I picked up “You of Little Faith,” I was incredibly skeptical of the message that it seemed to be promoting. It smelled of a “health and wealth” gospel, a gospel that can often treat God like a genie in a bottle, ready to accommodate our every request and desire. As I read from the author’s own experience, there were certainly times that I squirmed, feeling uncomfortable with what he was sharing. But I began to ask myself whether my discomfort was because what he was sharing was wrong or because it was different from everything that had been traditionally taught about giving.

As I made my way through the book, I couldn’t help but see parallels between what the author was sharing and my own experience in life. Growing up the son of a pastor, I heard stories from my parents of how God had provided for them in the midst of very difficult times. As a pastor myself, I have experienced those same times, times when I wondered how on earth we could keep pressing forward as a family, only to have God show up in a powerful and mighty way, unexpected and miraculous.

While there are certain things within “You of Little Faith” that I don’t necessarily agree with, the overall message of the book was a challenge to me to step out further in faith, giving more than was rational in expectation of just how God would show his faithfulness in sacrifice.

Among the verses that Thomas shares within the book is Malachi 3:10, “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.” It’s a verse that most church-going people have heard around the matter of giving, but I wonder how many have written it off as irrelevant because of its location in the Old Testament.

If you want to be challenged to the point of wrestling and discomfort, you should read this book. While you might not agree with everything that the author shares and writes, you may be stretched in your faith, causing you to step out and test whether what he poses is true. If nothing else, it may cause your faith to grow in a way that you weren’t expecting.

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Baker Books. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)