David C. Hughes, Writer

“For the LORD your God will bless you in all your harvest and in all the work of your hands, and your JOY will be complete." –Deuteronomy 16:15

Archive for the tag “Gateway Church”

The Epiphany of Joy, Chapter 12: Joy in Giving (2 of 3)

I believe, however, that one hindrance to giving is the perception that God’s blessings are poured out only in financial form; we give $100 to the church, we expect to receive a check in the mail or an injection into our bank account for 30, 60, or a hundred times the amount given, and when that doesn’t happen, we crack the door open and allow discouragement to slither in and make its home in our heart. God is not limited in how (or when) He doles out His good measure. The promise is that He will dole it out. God does want to prosper us, He does want to give us good gifts because He is a loving and faithful Father (see Jeremiah 29:11 and Luke 11:11-13), but God is not limited by our limitations, expectations, pride, selfishness, or idolatry. As God spoke through Isaiah: “’For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the LORD” (Isaiah 55:8 NIV). Putting our giving into the proper perspective, and opening our hearts to receiving the blessings, even if it’s just a smile on someone’s face or a heartfelt “Thank you,” purifies our intentions.

I attended a Men’s Summit at Gateway Church in Southlake, Texas, and during this particular retreat, the testimony of one speaker shifted my perspective regarding expectations as a result of tithing and giving. Todd McIntyre, Gateway’s Men’s Pastor, related his experience of giving until it hurt, in the expectation that God would bless him financially because he had faithfully continued to give away his money, even when it didn’t make sense. Todd’s refrain to God was “Okay, I did what You said, now it’s Your turn.” So he gave. And waited. Gave. And waited some more. For two years Todd received seemingly nothing. He whined and complained, and God finally spoke: “Your whining does not motivate me. I’m not your Mama. I’m your Daddy. If you want to live, you have to have faith.” God continued: “Your motives are wrong. You gave for the wrong reason. Your foundation is on sand; you need to put it on Rock.” Pastor Todd’s lesson was not only in faith and right motives, but in perseverance and surrender. “When I finally gave up,” Todd said, “my life started turning around.”

In the book of Acts, chapter 20, the apostle Paul concluded his farewell address to the presbyters of the church at Ephesus with words that have almost become a cliché: “. . . keep in mind the words of the Lord Jesus who himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’” (Acts 20:35b NIV). The reference is to the deuterocanonical Book of Ben Sirach: “Let not your hand be open to receive and clenched when it is time to give” (Sirach 4:31 NAB). The blessing is in the giving itself, the joy that enters your heart when your hand is released.

Mary’s giving heart always amazes me; my wife truly gives to bless others, and she lives out her Spiritual gift of giving as naturally as Hannah lives out her gift of goofiness. Mary serves to serve, to meet a need, to satisfy a want. One evening she chatted on the phone with one of her friends, and during the conversation the woman admitted going through a rough patch financially as her husband labored hard to build up his business. She’d been going through the hoops of applying for financial assistance to bridge the gap, but had run into obstacle after obstacle during the application process. Later that week Mary asked me what I planned to tithe the upcoming Sunday. “$96,” I said. “Why?”

“I want to buy a grocery store gift card and give it to their family,” she declared. I agreed, and that Saturday we met Mary’s friend at a local craft fair where she sat under a canopy selling rustic picture frames, hat hangers, and flags her husband had fashioned from scraps of old wood, used horseshoes, and corrugated steel. She’d been there all day, through rain, wind, and sparse crowds, and had sold just enough to pay the vendor fee and clear a little bit more to take home.

When we arrived, one last heavy downpour had already rumbled through the area, and the early evening sun shone brightly in the crisp cyan sky. As we helped break down her canopy and pack away her wares, Mary called her aside and presented the gift card. Her friend looked at her, tears welling up in her eyes. “No,” she said. But my wife insisted.

“Look at me,” Mary told her. “Listen to me. Every week my husband and I tithe and we’ve been blessed for it.” She pressed the card into her friend’s hand. “This is our tithe for this week. You are our church, and this is what church is about, it’s about taking care of each other.” Her friend took the card and both women cried. And Mary’s joy–and mine!–was complete.

Both the Old and the New Testaments contain many stories about people enthusiastically giving, and the subsequent results of this encouragement, service, and material sacrifice. In 1 Chronicles 29, King David announced to the Hebrews that not only had he stored up the materials to construct the Temple, he had also donated his personal fortune of gold and silver “because of the delight I take in the house of my God” (1 Chronicles 29:3 NAB). He then asked the people, “who else is willing to contribute generously this day to the Lord?” (v 5). The Hebrews “came forward willingly and contributed . . .” (v 6). And what they contributed blew away David’s personal sacrifice in spades. Because of David’s enthusiasm and his heart for God, “the people rejoiced over these free-will offerings, which had been contributed to the Lord wholeheartedly. King David also rejoiced greatly” (v 9). As a result of these blessings, God in turn blessed the Hebrews, through Solomon, with a “princely house” where God dwelled among His people.

Later, after Joash became king, he commanded that the tax “for the tent of the testimony” (2 Chronicles 24:6 NAB) be collected to repair the Temple his own grandmother had damaged. “All the princes and the people rejoiced,” (v 10) and contributed so much to the cause that the money chest had to be emptied several times, and “they restored the house of God according to its original form, and reinforced it” (v 13). The people gave with joy, and as a result they were again blessed with a Temple befitting the King of the universe.

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Copyright ©2014 by David C. Hughes

The Epiphany of Joy, Introduction [2 of 2]

In January 2011 I attended a Fully Alive men’s weekend with Marc Owings, Pastor of Elevate Him Ministries in Fort Worth, Texas, and author of The Original Sanctuary and All In.  The men on the retreat were given the opportunity for one-on-one time with God, in a spirit and environment of quietness, protection, and expectation.  During that time God spoke to me in the form of a letter penned by my own hand, directed by the Spirit.  “Set your heart right,” God wrote to me, “set your eyes on Me, and KNOW, KNOW, in your heart of hearts that you are going down the right path, that you are fulfilling My plans, and the plans are to give you joy, fun, and to prosper you in ways you can’t even imagine.  You’ll know when it’s time to transition; trust that I am right now creating these paths and opportunities to you.  You’ll know.  And write to your (and My) heart’s content!  Enjoy and be filled with joy!  This is the path.”  The scales fell off my eyes as I realized I’d been on the right road, the Road to Damascus, all along.  I cried a lot that weekend.

Fast-forward six months.  While on a business trip to Buffalo, New York, to engage with one of my suppliers, the Lord whispered to me in the hotel room: “I want you to write a book about joy,” He said. “I want you to become a joy expert.”  Me?  Write a book about joy?  In my past life my writing focused more on short horror stories, a “Twilight Zone” type novel, and poetry rather than Christian non-fiction.  Who was I to talk about joy, let alone write a book about it?  What did I know?

Turns out, I didn’t have to know anything, I just had to be obedient to God’s request.  As Caroline Barnett says in her book, Willing to Walk on Water, “You need to follow God’s voice.  And if He gives you a desire to do something, He will find a way to make it happen.” (page 161)

But a week after that trip to Buffalo, Satan attacked my mind with a full-on frontal assault:  “You’ll never finish the book,” he tormented.  “Who are you to write about joy?”  I stood in the shower, water splashing over me, praying to God and rebuking the devil.

“Lord,” I pleaded. “How am I going to write this thing?”

“All you have to do is be creative and organize it,” He replied.  Ha!  That’s all?!  And at that moment I made a commitment to not only write the book, but to disengage the project from the spirit of mammon: Since this is God’s book, I decided that, as the first fruit of many more to come, all profits from its sale will go to New River Fellowship, my home church in Hudson Oaks, Texas.  This book is my Jericho!

As Scott Crenshaw, Senior Pastor of New River, said “There is something when the winds of persecution blow on the flames of God in your heart.”  Satan’s rancid breath tried to blow out my joy completely.  But instead, he inadvertently helped fan the flames into an inferno of hope.  Through researching and writing this book, I’ve discovered how God means for us to live, not in slavery to expectations but in the freedom of who He created us to be.  God opened my eyes and heart to what it means to lead a joy-filled life alive with the Spirit, despite circumstances and past choices.

As I started writing The Epiphany of Joy, I was far from being a joy expert, and I concurred with my friend Stephen Erwin when he told me, “Joy is a decision–it doesn’t come naturally to me.”  It doesn’t come naturally to me either, although by the smile on my face, my persistence, and my sense of humor you’d never guess that.  That’s the funny thing about joy: it shows even when it’s not felt.

This joy thing continues to be a journey for me, a journey from despair and depression and hopelessness to trust and hope and praise.  I know this will be a lifelong adventure, a continuous education, and a reminder that joy is a gift planted in me by the Spirit of God; I need to remember to unwrap that gift and receive it daily in my heart.  Like the tattoo on my arm declaring my sonship with the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, it’s there, I just gotta show it!

So . . . what is joy?  I mean, what is it really?  Is it equivalent to happiness?  Why is it so elusive in today’s world?  Why do so many people rely on Things and Feelings and Money and People for joy, and never really experience it at all?  Joy is in my daughter’s squeal of delight as she runs across the back yard and launches herself into her inflatable swimming pool.  It’s climbing up to cloud base in a sailplane on nothing but the breath of heated air.  It’s continuing to go to work every day because I can be confident the Lord has put me in these jobs to train me for a mission way bigger than myself. It’s shouldering my cross and pressing through the depression, knowing Jesus’ power is made perfect in my weakness.  It’s the birth of a baby, the first moment of contact between her and me, despite the fear.

Despite.  This is a key word.  Joy is despite.  Joy is in the trials.  Joy is in the calmness.  Joy is in the seeing what others can’t see, doing what others think is strange, maybe even foolish, living a life focused on obedience to God rather than centering around myself.  “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world,” Paul said in Romans 12:2, “but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”  This command is prefaced in Romans 12:1 with the offer of our bodies–ourselves–to God, wholly and completely, without reservation.  Joy is a renewing, an attitude provided by grace by the Spirit who moves in us, by a God who loves us more than we’ll ever know or could even fathom.  As Bob Hamp, Freedom Pastor at Gateway Church in Southlake, Texas told me: “Joy is a way of looking at the world; it may not be okay now, but it will be.”  So step out in faith with me and let’s learn about this thing called “joy” together.  We don’t have to worry about taking the wrong path; it’s not the ending that counts, but the way we get there.

Enjoy!

 

Copyright ©2013 by David C. Hughes

 

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