Does God Give Second Chances?

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By Larry Short

Several weeks ago Pastor Martin shared from Luke 1 the story of Zechariah and Elizabeth, who desired a child but were childless into old age. God ultimately met their deepest desires and went way beyond them when Zechariah learned, while serving in the Temple, that his elderly wife would become the mother of the Prophet John the Baptist.

This made me think of Abraham and Sarah. You know the story, from the pages of Genesis: God promises Abraham a son from whom the nation of Israel would derive. But Abraham and his wife grow old, with no son in sight and the possibility seeming dimmer with each passing day. They want to wait and trust God, but it seems impossible.

So, they take matters into their own hands. At Sarah’s urging, Abraham takes her handmaiden, Hagar, who conceives Ishmael.

But Abraham and Sarah’s folly, patience and disobedience do not defeat God’s plan. Ultimately, Isaac is born.

Even when we mess up, God is still in control. His will be done.

Is a Second Chance Simply a Free Pass to “Try Again?”

So, did God give Abraham a “second chance?” The answer to that question depends entirely on what you mean by “second chance.”

If you mean that God gave Abraham a mulligan, a free pass, a chance to “try again” to get it right, then the answer is “no.” God is not a God of second chances.

But if you mean that God worked His will in Abraham’s life despite his failures, that God’s mercy and grace was new every morning (including that wonderful morning when Sarah discovered she was pregnant with Isaac); if you mean that God always gives us a second chance to believe and obey and trust Him and see Him work His will in our lives, then the answer is: “Yes! God is a God of second chances!”

Also, it’s important to note that even though God didn’t give up on Abraham and Sarah, there were still serious consequences to be paid for their disbelief and disobedience. (Due to the enmity between Isaac and Ishmael, the world is still paying those consequences, even to this day.)

Second Chances and “New Year’s Resolutions”

It’s about that time of year when many of us make “New Year’s Resolutions.” We say to ourselves: “I want to be better. I will try harder to be the kind of person God wants me to be. To be healthier, to be happier, to be whatever it is I am hoping to be.” The problem with this kind of thinking about the New Year is that it is me-centered; it assumes that my transformation will occur if I simply “try hard enough,” if I make good goals and lift myself up by my bootstraps to achieve them.

Such thinking leaves no room for God’s grace, mercy, and power. Remember, it’s not our strength and willpower that are new every morning; it is His mercies that are new every morning! He who has begun a good work in you, will be faithful to complete it. That verse doesn’t say a lot about the contribution that your own effort might make. No, it’s not up to you, is it? He will complete it.

Do We Give “Second Chances?”

But what about us? When someone hurts us, or disappoints us, or fails to live up to our expectations, do we give grace? Are our mercies to that person “new every morning?”

After washing His disciples’ feet (to their shock and dismay), Jesus says to them (in John 13): “Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.” We often think of these verses strictly in terms of acts of (potentially unpleasant) service, but I think the implications go far deeper. Whatever service, love, grace, and mercy Jesus showed us, we would do well to also to show one another. (Unless we consider ourselves “above our Master!”)

Speaking of Second Chances …

… and of God’s grace and mercy! You all know that last Sunday (December 24) was Elim’s “Giving Sunday” event. We committed to “give away” all undesignated funding that came in through the offering that day (providing our income to spending actuals remained “in the black” as they currently appear to be) to three worthy causes, all above and beyond our approved 2017 church budget.

Some of us were a bit concerned when we looked around the sanctuary, the morning before Christmas, and attendance seemed a bit sparse. Would Giving Sunday be a bust?

So you can imagine our excitement when we were told that the total offering last Sunday was $28,161 … nearly five times Elim’s average weekly offering, and one of our largest ever! God is so good, and we are so thankful for faithful givers who responded to His leading.

Some have asked whether there would be another opportunity (a second chance!) to contribute to the Giving Sunday project (benefiting the Future Expansion Fund, the Benevolence Fund, and the Tabitha Center ministries in the Congo). The answer is yes! If you missed out on Giving Sunday due to vacation schedules and would still like to contribute, simply designate any gift made before the end of 2017 to “Giving Sunday” and it will be included in the total.

And, as you begin the new year and consider what goals you might set or resolutions you might make, be sure to seek God and thank Him — that “His mercies are new every morning,” that He will complete the good work He has begun in you, and that His grace is enough!

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On Giving

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By Dan Amos

Shame gets in the way of being a disciple, because it drives us to hide things in our lives that we do not want to give over to God. In terms of the front stage-back stage metaphor, shame is the stuff we keep behind the curtain in a locked, unmarked room. In many ways, “giving” shares that room where we keep shame. We don’t talk about it … much. We don’t get really personal when we do talk about it. We certainly don’t tell people how much we make or how much of that we give back.

I checked Dave Ramsey’s website, because many of us are familiar with him and have taken the course to get our finances in order. He’s very simple in his methods and definitions — save, spend, and give. Giving is every bit as important as saving and spending. Our basic giving is called tithing.

Tithing is a scriptural mandate and is 10% of our income that we give back to God. Practically and simply, we give a tenth of what we earn to our home church. Elim’s ministry leaders, staff, and elders put together a budget each year for spending what is given to financially support the mission and vision of our church. Believers are led by God in Scripture to tithe. It is part of being a disciple.

Dave Ramsey writes, “Tithing was created for our benefit. It is to teach us how to keep God first in our lives and how to be unselfish people. Unselfish people make better husbands, wives, friends, relatives, employees, and employers.”

We believe many within Elim are faithful givers, but we also know that many don’t understand the principles of giving. I was in a community group with one couple who were new believers. We should have discipled them in all aspects of being a disciple, including giving, but because we were afraid to tread in this sensitive area, we did not. When they learned of what the Bible tells us, they were happy to know it. They told us of the joy they had in giving and knowing the truth. I regretted not being the one to share that with them.

The Stewardship Team and the Elder Board want to partner on making our finances a vibrant part of our growth as disciples. Giving isn’t a dues we pay to keep the Elim club going; it is our opportunity to be part of building the Kingdom on South Hill and beyond.

Make giving part of the conversation with those closest to you. Tell your Paul, ask your Timothy, or discuss it with your Barnabas. We would love to hear your story about how giving has impacted your life. You can comment on Facebook or the website or tell one of the Stewardship Team members or Elders. The Stewardship Team is led by Mark McCullough and includes Phil Pavey, Gregg Zimmerman, Bethany Gapsch, and Dan Amos.

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Popcorn Parallels

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By Nate Champneys

Popcorn KaelenThe other day my 4-year-old son asked me if we could make popcorn (or “caw-corn,” as he calls it). So I got out the oil and popcorn and put a generous amount in the bottom of a pan. Kaelen sat on the counter next to me and waited excitedly. It finished popping and I poured it into a large bowl and handed it to him. A giant grin crossed his face as he took the bowl that was almost as big as him. We sat down to watch a movie together. Now I hadn’t made a bowl for myself but had just given him the whole large bowl, so, naturally, as we sat there I started to nibble from his bowl.

As I took a handful he turned to me and said very seriously, “Dad, don’t eat it all.” I replied, “Don’t worry, I won’t.” A couple minutes later I took another small handful.

“Dad, you’re gonna eat it all.”

“Kaelen, it’s okay, I can always make more,” I said.

As the minutes passed and we ate together from the giant bowl of popcorn (that no child could possibly finish by themselves, I might add), he got more and more adamant that I was going to eat it all. I finally turned to him and said with a smile, “Kaelen, do you realize that I have access to pretty much an unlimited supply of popcorn? If the bowl runs out I can go make more. If we run out here at home I could go and buy 100 pounds of popcorn if I wanted to. I promise you there will be enough popcorn.” Do you want to know his response?

“Dad, you’re gonna eat it all.”

Now this is a cute story of my life with a 4-year-old, but isn’t this really a picture of the way we are sometimes with our money and possessions? God has literally given us everything we have. Then when he asks us to give generously, we worry that there won’t be enough and we cling so hard to what we have. God is probably thinking, “Um … you realize that I have access to an unlimited supply of money and resources?” And, like my son, what is our response?

“But God, you’re gonna take it all.”

My wife and I have been married almost nine years, and for a long time we did not give faithfully. We had the same attitude as Kaelen; we gave only when we could see that there was more than enough, or when we felt guilty about our lack of giving. But God taught us through many difficult circumstances that he doesn’t want us to live in either of these places. Rather than saying we trust Him when things are easy and grasping for control when things are hard, He wants us to live in faithful dependence, trusting Him to provide for all our needs, in good times and bad. Rather than feeling guilty about our lack of trust, He wants us to live in joy by giving generously.

God doesn’t need your money. He just doesn’t. But that’s not the point of giving. God is not a God that needs anything from us, just as there is nothing that I technically need from my son. That is not why we are called to give. Giving is not about meeting God’s needs, but rather it is about our human need for prayerful dependence on our Father. Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money” (Matthew 6:24). This is a brutal truth and a haunting reality. We cannot cling to the control of our lives and possessions and serve God at the same time.

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?”—Matthew 6:25-27

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Money: Where Does It All Go?

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By Martin Schlomer

By now, most of you know that this Sunday we are voting on a proposed budget for 2014. Too often, money and budgets are contentious issues in church families. I am pleased to say this is not the case at Elim. That being said, we want members and attenders to be aware of where the money goes. Our goal is to be transparent. The money you give is donated to God as a “… fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice …” (Philippians 4:18). God considers these offerings sacred and they need to be used accordingly to support the work of the Gospel ministry through Elim.

At first glance, budgets aren’t very exciting. They’re like feet … not very attractive but extremely important. The largest budget area at Elim continues to be staffing (pastoral, support, and custodial staffing and associated costs). There is a 4% increase proposed for 2014. Ministry programs are asking for a 10% increase to accommodate growth. Half of this increase is to help cover the costs of student ministry leaders going to the EFCA Challenge conference in July 2014. The ministry area with the largest percentage increase is facilities. In 2013, we budgeted $22,240 for maintenance and mortgage. In 2014, we are proposing $32,240. This includes an additional $6,400 (for a total $16,400) to cover additional maintenance costs like resurfacing the parking lot and painting the exterior of the main building and annex. In addition, $3,600 is being requested to go toward paying down the principle of our mortgage, which is in addition to the mortgage line item. There are numerous smaller changes — increases and decreases — throughout the budget which you can observe at your leisure. All of these changes take the bottom line from $338,536 in 2013 to a proposed $359,491 in 2014 — a 6% increase.

This raises the question, “Can we afford this increase?” Our average weekly giving as of November 10 is $6,541. The proposed budget will require $6,906 in weekly giving. While giving will fluctuate from quarter to quarter, $6,906 is well within the range of our capacity if 2013 is a reliable indication. For example, in the 1st quarter in 2013 our average weekly giving was $7,342.

What is God’s heart in this issue? What is He most interested in? While budgets and financial trends are helpful, the issue in which God is most interested is the condition and attitude of our hearts as we give to Him. Are we generous in our financial gifts to Him? Does our giving reflect the generous grace He has given to us? In 2 Corinthians 9 Paul writes:

11 “You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God. 12 This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of God’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. 13 Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, men will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else. 14 And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you. 15 Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!

In summarizing what Paul writes, we could state, “Grace came down; generosity welled up; the Gospel is lived out.” Budgets aside, what matters most to God and therefore to the Elders is the generosity of our hearts. I’m glad to say that generosity is a part of the fabric of Elim. However, we must never take it for granted. There is a culture around us and within us that would seek to erode away giving by turning generosity and joy into begrudging obligation. Therefore, let us always protect, promote, and value joyful generosity.

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Let’s take a risk … so please read

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by Martin Schlomer

Have you ever sensed God leading you to break out of your comfort zone, to take a risk that might make you feel a little uncomfortable? I have had the growing sense for the past month that God would have us, as a church, take such a risk.

As you know, Christmas falls on a Sunday this year. A few weeks ago, I ran an idea by the Elders and the Stewardship Team that felt uncomfortable and risky. Out of this idea came the following proposal to the Elder Board: We would take the Christmas offering as usual; however, half of it would go to meet the regular (budgeted) needs of the Body, and the other half would go to meet the special (unbudgeted) benevolence needs of Christ’s Body at Elim.

You may ask, “Why does this feel risky?” Elim has experienced incredible growth this past year. This has stretched our budget and financial resources. While everyone has pulled together and we have not only met the budget but have also exceeded it, expenses have also kept pace with the income and thus exceeded the budget as well.

While our financial position is decent, our needs will continue to grow in the new year. Yet despite these needs, the Elders passed this proposal unanimously.

The Christmas season is always a time to celebrate God’s lavish sacrifice to meet our enormous need, by sending and sacrificing His Son! Experiencing His gift must surely move our hearts to become like the heart of the poor widow in Mark 12:41-44.

I can’t think of a better way of celebrating God’s gift and sacrifice than by being generous toward others! As you prepare for this special Sunday, please ask our Father what He would have you give, and come ready to celebrate what God is doing in our midst!

God’s richest blessings to you in this holy season …

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Hunker down … or take a risk?

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By Larry Short

I recently read a very interesting article in the Washington Post on the fear that causes us to “hunker down,” which in itself adds to the negative aspects of the economic cycle which afflicts us.

Because of a pessimistic sense of where our economy will be in the future, for instance, people might put off making a significant purchase such as a new car or home. Instead of sending their children to an expensive academic institution, they might opt for a less expensive public college or even delay education altogether and ask their child to flip burgers at MacDonald’s until the economy lightens up a bit.

Each of these things, of course, actually contributes to the negative cycle and makes it worse. Hunkering down has the opposite effect (corporately speaking) as the one we are hoping for.

This article made me think about my faith, and about how many of the same dynamics hold true. If I am feeling somewhat pessimistic about my life, my church, and my faith, I might have a tendency to “hunker down.” Rather than stretching myself in faith, to serve others, to take risks, to share Christ with my neighbor, to give more generously of my time and money, I have a tendency to clam up, to become more stingy, to focus my time and effort on things I think will benefit me personally, rather than others.

In faith, as in the economy, this may create a vicious cycle. People I fellowship with are more withdrawn and self-centered, so I might conclude “They don’t really care about me; they are just a bunch of hypocrites,” not realizing, of course, I myself am doing the very thing I accuse them of, and contributing to a vicious cycle of faithlessness.

I think the answer for us as Christians, in breaking this cycle, is the same as the answer for our economy. We must be willing to stretch, to have faith, to express our confidence through taking risks. We must open up, be vulnerable, reach out, share God’s love with others. It only takes a small group of faithful risk-takers (spiritually speaking) to get the steamroller rolling and to help create an environment of “spiritual recovery,” with God’s help.

So, I probably won’t go out anytime soon and buy a car, or a new house. (I don’t need one, anyway!) But I would ask you to pray for me as I seek to take some spiritual risks, to “give my life away” in ever larger ways, for the sake of a spiritual recovery in God’s Kingdom!

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