Honor the LORD with your wealth

   and with the firstfruits of all your produce.

Proverbs 3: 9

These thoughts of reflection on this proverb need to come with a warning attached. So, to be open and honest, the reader should bear in mind the fact that I am a pastor and specifically that I am responsible for the area of finance for a church. Thus, the things that I say about what God’s people should do with their wealth could be thought to hold an inherent bias toward giving it all to the church. Well, you have been warned. It seems that a good starting point for these thoughts is to be found in a definition of wealth. Merriam-Webster defines it as, “abundance of valuable material possessions or resources.” I agree with this with the possible exception of the use of the word abundance, for I think that each of us has something that can be referenced as wealth, but not all of us possess this in equal or in great amounts. Our wealth is the sum total of our financial resources in combination with our intellectual, spiritual, and emotional ones. These are then combined with skills, knowledge, and wisdom to form up the wealth that an individual has to use and to share with the world.

So, when Solomon says that we are to honor the Lord with our wealth, he is speaking of something much greater than just the money that we may have or obtain over time. When he says that we are to honor the Lord with it he is also advancing the concept far beyond the act of giving or donating funds to the church or even to the work of serving in the various ministries of God’s global kingdom. To me, honor suggests worship; it is an expression of praise, respect, and participation in God’s calling to proclaim the gospel of Christ to all peoples in every corner of the world. Thus, we honor the Lord when we seek out His will for the use and the distribution of the money that we have, of our time, with the skills and the understanding that we have acquired, and with all other assets that are under our control. God’s underlying desire is for each of us to be so committed to Him out of our deep love and respect for Him that we are truly seeking to follow the Lord’s lead and to take His direction in giving away the totality of our lives, that is our very being, to His use in service to God’s kingdom.

That defines the firstfruits of our produce in a more complete manner than does Solomon’s contextually appropriate agricultural example. The idea of giving the first harvest of our crops to the Lord involves trust and reliance, for there is no surety to the grower that the rest of the crop will be successfully harvested, and the first picking is generally the sweetest and the richest of them all. These are the premium grapes, the fattest heads of grain, and the most robust of the lambs and calves. The same elements of trust and reliance apply to the broader concept of wealth that has been set out here. The Lord desires for us to dedicate our best thinking, our strength and wisdom, the first of our time, and our pre-tax earnings to His purposes and use. This service of worship may be carried out in a formal ministry setting, but it may also be done in our homes or at our place of employment. The point is that the Lord wants His people to worship Him with each and every breath that we breathe and with all of the thoughts, words, and actions that we produce during the course of our lives. This sort of deep worship is carried out with prayer, under the guidance and direction of the Holy Spirit, and with the counsel of God’s Word. This expression of total commitment is the form and the type of honor that the Lord desires to receive from each of us as we dedicate all of our wealth to bringing glory to His name.  

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For the LORD gives wisdom;

   from his mouth come knowledge and understanding;

he stores up sound wisdom for the upright;

   he is a shield to those who walk in integrity.

Proverbs 2: 6, 7

There are words all around us. They are shouted out in the morning, and they are whispered into the dreams of the night. Many people attempt to influence others into thinking in a certain manner by using skill with expression or through the pouring out of an overwhelming volume of sound and its accompanying fury. Yet, in all of this flood of thoughts, opinions, and concepts, there are only a few words that are spoken from a reliable source, and there is only one ultimate author that should be given complete acceptance and listened to with undivided attention. For in all of the aggregate information and influence that is out and around us in our world, only the words that God has set forth and ordained as His are absolutely thrust worthy, and come to us with the certainty to inform our journey through life in a manner that is both good for us and that brings healing to the hurt places in our world.

People who realize this eternal truth and who therefor seek after God’s Word with consistency and with diligence are to be sought after. They are aware of the sorts of wise things that are good and useful in living out each day as people who desire to love others well, to care about justice, and to hold up righteousness as the standard to follow through all of life. So, these are people to follow, and these are people to draw near to when we need understanding and guidance regarding the challenges and the struggles that we are facing. All of this sounds so serious and heavy; yet, there is great humor to be found in traveling in the presence of the Lord. He sees the irony and the curious silliness of life in a manner that only one who is very close to the subjects at hand could view them. So too does the person who dwells in the presence of the Creator hold a special place in his heart and mind for all that is light and humorous that comes about during these long and too often arduous days.

God’s wisdom is to be sought after. It is found in His Word and illuminated by His Spirit. These are the words that cut through the distractions and the untruths that are so prevalent in the air that we breath in our world. The Word of God provides the foundation from which all other thoughts, ideas, and concepts can be judged and evaluated as to their validity and usefulness in providing guidance for us. Thus, people who hold God’s Word as sacred and who search its depths as their source of wisdom and encouragement are to be valued and sought after. These are women and men who do dwell in the presence of the holy, and they are people who understand that strength of character is a gift that comes from the Lord and that love is the Godly characteristic that prevails in the face of all other forces and factors that might come at us during the day. People who so value the word of life that comes straight from the mouth of the Creator are to be prized, and their wisdom, grace, love, and humor are valuable beyond all measuring. 

Dedicated to Mark M. upon entering the next phase in service to our Lord.  

I know that everything God does endures forever; there is nothing to add to it and there is nothing to take from it, for God has so worked that men should fear Him.

Ecclesiastes 3: 14 

There is something strangely comforting in the thought that my life has an element of Divine reason and management in it; although, I might enjoy the notion that I am the one who determines my own direction, values, and outcomes, I also know my own lack of true skill and strength when it comes to handling the really challenging aspects of life. My vision is rather limited, too, for I tend to be looking out and devising my strategies from the vantage point of the hole that I continually dig for myself; whereas, I need to be positioned on a hill or in a tall tower in order to see clearly and far enough to make proper decisions. 

Let’s visit this idea of fearing God for just a moment; the real idea here is that we would respect Him, not that we would cower in the corner in terror. The fear that Solomon was speaking about is characterized by the knowledge that God already knows the outcome of our decisions, knows our hearts far better than we do, and will still stick with us through everything. This sort of respect involves trust, a willingness to yield my will to God, the acceptance of His direction for my life, and the understanding of how great God’s grace and forgiveness truly are. The Lord has it all under control; there will still be times of sadness, sorrow, and loss, but the result of following Him is a life that impacts my world with God’s love and grace.  

The Lord wants me to stay close to Him, and He promises that He will always be near to me. God wants me to find delight, joy, and comfort in living through each day; since, each day is one that He has designed as one step along the path of dwelling inside of the perfect life story that was laid out for me from the very beginning of Creation. Admittedly, there are times when evil steps in and momentarily subverts God’s purpose and plan; yet, even then, this is but a momentary time of misdirection, for God always takes back control. Like certain fantasy tales that I have read and seen in film, my choices and decisions have an influence on the day to day direction of the story, but God has promised His blessing on all of the outcomes so long as I continue to listen to His voice and seek His will. The Lord’s call to me is, “Listen, trust, and be joyous throughout the day that I have given to you”. My only reasonable response is to yield control to my Lord and to take delight in His outcome.  

Jesus therefore said to them again, “Peace be with you; as the Father has sent me, I also send you.”

John 20: 21

The presence of the living Christ in our world can be highly disturbing. He asks for a lot, and He isn’t really willing to compromise on the things that He wants from people, ether. So, it almost seems like a paradox that these were the first words He said to His disciples after He left the tomb and appeared among them. Now Christ was certainly wishing for them to be at ease and to realize and understand that the person who stood among them was the same Jesus that they had known and loved and who had loved them over the last few years, but I think that Christ had much more in mind than just that reassurance. He wanted them to embrace the fact that they were called to continue His work of bringing the reconciling love and grace of God to and into the world. So, the disciples were to go out and to bring the essential message of peace between people and God and, thus, that of peace among people in our world.

Jesus knew that bringing peace was never going to be an easy task, for it requires hard work and dedication to the purpose at hand. It is a relentless process, for there is an enormous amount of energy in our world that is dedicated to creating turmoil, separation, and animosity. People tend toward self-protection and fear of others, and these are emotions that run so deep within us as to be almost fundamental to who and to what we are. Our own natures tend toward the troubled, self-protective, and fearful sides of behavior. Still, Christ wants His deep-seated peace to rule our hearts and minds so that we will interact with others with the clear headed inner calm of Christ. When we do this, we can make a difference in our homes, neighborhoods, and communities, and that difference will be a tangible expression of Christ’s love.

With this eternal peace well settled on us, we can speak the hard truths of God’s Word and still be heard as compassionate. When we interact with others, the peace in our hearts will help to filter out our human defenses and it will allow a true dialogue to begin. The peace of Christ is something to accept and it is something to diligently seek after, for as humans, we just don’t naturally settle in peaceful places. Yet, in response to our tendency Jesus says, “Peace be with you.” True peace is not something that is created by treaties, by force, or by governments. True peace is the result of individual people who choose to believe Christ and who are willing to set aside their worldly human responses and thinking in order to allow the Holy Spirit the opportunityto transform our hearts and minds into ones that more accurately reflect God’s intent in creation; thus, Christ sends us into our world as committed peace makers. 

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it, and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.

2 Timothy 3: 14, 15

Paul begins this section of his letter with this statement, “But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty.” (3:1)  The author is making it quite clear to Timothy and to anyone else who would read this letter that the various struggles that they would encounter both in the community at large and especially in and around that of faith were the result of the tension that exists between a dying worldly set of values and its way of living life and the redeemed order that comes as a result of Christ’s sacrifice upon the cross and His work in setting right all that has been corrupted by sin. The reality of this conflict is a primary reason for followers of Christ to be well grounded in the truths of Scripture and to hold onto them with a tenacity that comes from the deepest parts of our beings.

We can speculate regarding who it is that Paul is referencing when he talks about the teacher that has so well equipped Timothy for living out his faith in Christ, but the real and the best answer to that query is to say that God, through the work of the Spirit, is that teacher. This is true for each of us who know Christ, too. The Spirit instructs and empowers people to grasp and to communicate the gospel, and He also illuminates the deeper meanings and the living application found within God’s Word. Timothy’s mother was a person whose faith was well known; so, he was raised in a home where Christ was taught and was also lived out by way of example. His childhood was the literal beginning of his relationship with God, but even if that is not the situation in my life or in yours, the same raising up from childhood can occur for us. As we come to know Christ, we are new born into life from death, and so, we are launched forth into living as newly birthed infants in the sense of our spiritual lives and in all of living that is connected to this redeemed reality.

Yet, we cannot and should not remain in this infant state for long. Life is complex and there will be many challenges to our faith that will come along during the journey that we are on. These are times that demand maturity in thinking and soundness in judgement. These times of difficulty will place many situations before Christ’s followers wherein we will be called upon to weigh in on what is right, just, and loving. There will be people watching us to see what we say and how we act when we are confronted by the current issues that are being hotly contested in our world. These are times when the positions that we hold may often be unpopular; so, they need to be ones that are founded in the eternal truths of God’s Word. Still, of even greater importance than the truth that we cling to will be the manner in which we hold our beliefs and express them to those who do not agree with us. Jesus loves people, and He especially loves those who disagree with the reality of His gospel of grace. As His people, we too are called upon by Christ to love the people that we encounter, and so, the Spirit will guide us into encountering them with the love of Christ and the truth of His redeeming word as our calling card and the seal of our relationship with God.  

Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings, for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, which have not benefited those devoted to them.

Hebrews 13: 9

For people in the early days of the church, the topic of food, the way that it was handled and prepared, and even the manner in which it was eaten was important. If they came from a Jewish background, as many in the church did, then they had always lived under the guidance and the compulsion of the Law of Moses. If they came to Christ after living as a part of the gentile world, they had not been handling foods and selecting them based upon those standards and principles, and this was a mark of differentiation and thus one of division between the Jews and the gentiles. Yet, at the center of following Christ is unity in the Spirit, and thus, unity in the way that life is lived and the conduct of our days. Things that divide or that separate Christ’s people from each other are to be considered carefully and with great suspicion.

The use of foods as an example of this sort of thing was truly pertinent to the days at hand when Hebrews was written. Today there might be other issues and concerns that strike more closely to the heart of unity or rather that enter into heart of the division or separation of people who follow Christ. I am not speaking about core and foundational teachings such as the deity of Christ, the virgin birth, the existence of heaven and hell, or Jesus’ death and resurrection. Still, there are many issues that we can and do allow to disrupt the fellowship of people of faith in Christ. These teachings or ways of thinking are diverse in that they can force people to seek out divergent paths in our journeys as Christians, and they are strange in that when they are made important or even central to a specific group of people they divide us in ways that are unnatural to God and that are outside of God’s desire and intent to bring all of His people together in the unity of the Spirit and in the expression and proclamation of Christ in our world.

In all of life, we need grace. This is the Godly quality that is poured over each of us as we seek to enter into a relationship with God through Christ. We are granted a form of grace that brings about acceptance when we deserve rejection, that embraces us in love as we have earned animosity and separation, that proclaims us righteous despite the sinful nature of much that we think, say, and do. This is the grace that was made perfect and complete by Jesus on His cross of torture and pain and that was given full birth with Christ’s resurrection and victorious rule over all of creation. Now, it is this same grace that provides us with the wisdom, understanding, and love that is required for us to enter into relationships with other followers of Christ without regard for the issues and the concerns that might otherwise keep us distant and separated from each other. Christ’s grace gives His people the strength that we need in order to live outside of the worldly constraints that build barriers between people as grace becomes a gift that we can grant to one another in the name of the one who gave it to us, Jesus Christ.  

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.

Philippians 4: 23

The thing that I needed more than all else was God’s grace, for here I was, interested, even fascinated with God, listening to His word, and hanging out with His people; yet, until I was ready and willing to open my heart to Him and surrender control to His Spirit, I was as lost and as dead as any person who had never come near to His presence. In fact, I was more so; since, if I had continued to ignore His call, my intellectual knowledge could have become a very large barrier to entering into a true relationship with Christ. However, God’s grace continued to pursue me until I stopped running away and accepted Him.

This need for grace continues throughout my life; in fact, it seems that there are many times when the need has become even greater than before I had entered into that relationship with Christ, for now, evil tries to speak to me with a voice that tells me in detail about every way that I fail to follow God’s will, and it keeps reminding me of each instance of moral, ethical, relational, and spiritual deviation from the direction that God tells me to travel. It is the truth of the Lord that brings me back to my senses, and it is the truth about my Lord’s grace that overcomes the lies that Satan keeps speaking to my mind.

I know, based upon my life experience, that there will be times today when I will need to focus on the truth of the totality of Jesus’ saving work and on what that means for me right now. The glorious aspect of this fact is that when I do closely consider  God’s love for me and then get on with living as someone who knows from the heart that this love and acceptance is total and absolute, my spirit is lifted out of the depths of worry and concern that fear tries to push it into, and I am set free to live as God intends for me to live. It is the grace of Christ that carries the weight of life that this world and I keep attempting to hang around my spirit. So, this same grace is where I find freedom and living in that freedom is how I experience peace in my soul.