Author Archives: Mark O'Connor

Lesson Fourteen • Devotion #2: Faithfully and Cheerfully

If there is a topic that is more uncomfortable to talk about than giving, I do not know what it is. I would rather sit and talk about lust and sexual sin all day. I prefer to talk about foolishness, folly, gossip, and murmur. However, giving, it is tough. It is easier in a one on one conversation, but addressing it to the church? No, thank you. That being said, it is a hugely missed and neglected thing in the church today. Doing ministry takes money on so many levels. Paul addresses it in 2 Corinthians 9:6-7, “The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” 

There are three points in this statement that stick out to me. 

First, is the concept of sowing and reaping. This is not the first, nor the last time we see this concept in Scripture. Jesus uses it in parables and Paul continues to teach it. It is a concept that we use in our culture for various examples. Do you want to be good at a sport? You have to put in the practice. Do you want to be a good student? Study hard. Do you want to make good money? Work hard in college and your subsequent career. Yet, when it comes to God’s blessing, we do not necessarily want that work and effort. Do you want to grow as a Christian? You need to study the Bible. This is not to say God’s blessing is conditional based on your giving, but there is something to giving faithfully. I have seen it both ways in my life. By no means have I experienced wealth as a result of my giving, but my needs have been met and that is a promise of the Lord.

Second, is how much we give. There is the staple of Scripture that states you give your first ten percent to the Lord. If you do that, fantastic. It is what you have decided in your heart. Some can do more. Also, fantastic, just do not let it go to your head and make it about how much better you are for giving so much. Some just cannot give that much. 

This is where the second and third concepts meet. I was taught as a young Christian to give faithfully and cheerfully. Also as a young Christian, I had a wife and three kids. We did not have much income to spread around but I decided on a number to give. I understood that giving ten percent was the gold standard but I also needed to feed my family. I chose a percentage to give and I did that faithfully and cheerfully. Sometimes it hurt to put that money in the safe, not knowing what the weeks ahead held for us. Yet, we did it. God has continued to bless our home in that faithfulness. Again, that is not to say things have always been great or abundant, but we have had our most dire needs met at the most unexpected times and by the strangest of sources.

Have that tough conversation with yourself or your spouse. How and what can we choose as the starting place to give faithfully and cheerfully? When you do, you will start to see changes in your life. Things will begin to fall in place a little bit better than they have and you will see God do some incredible things. I am not saying God will give you all the desires of your heart (which is really your flesh speaking) because you will still face trials and tribulations. I am saying you will be in a better place and better equipped when those times come.

Lesson Eight • Devotion #2: Afflicted

Afflicted. It is a word that we can relate to all too well right now. It is currently early in May of 2020. We are amid a global pandemic. Our adversary is Covid-19. Along with many in our country and the rest of the world, Michiganders are being asked to say home. Our friends, loved ones, and even ourselves are being afflicted with and by this virus. I can say for our family this has been a mix of highs and lows. There are good days and bad days. As we live in what before 2020 only could have been imagined by most of us as a science fiction movie, I find myself thinking of how good we have it and what it means for our faith. 

I have had students and adults alike ask how this could happen if God is there. The simple fact is that God never promised our lives would be without challenges and affliction. Psalm chapter 34 tells us that many are the affliction of the righteous man. Psalm 34:19 says, “Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all.”

We are not going to have a life that is just sunshine and rainbows at all times. The CSB uses the word adversities instead of an affliction. Imagine your favorite movie where the plot had no adversity. The Marvel movies would be quite lame if it were not for the villain and adversity they face and overcome. One of my favorite sports movies is Miracle on Ice. It tells the story of the US hockey teams’ Olympic victory over the Soviet Union. If the Soviets had not dominated and were not seen as the villain that could not be defeated, the movie would never have been made and there would be no amazing story to be told.

So it is with us. The story of our walk with the Lord would not be anything to talk about, let alone share with others, were it not for our adversities. We are good. We will get by. Paul reaffirms this to us in Romans 5:3-4, “Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.”

We are to rejoice in suffering. It builds up our character and maturity in Christ. These are the things we will need to pursue the mission we are given to share the Gospel to those who do not yet know Him. James tells us to count it joy when we face trials and tribulations. It is ok if you are going through some stuff. We will be alright. You will, if you rely on Jesus, get through it because as Paul goes on to tell us, no pain or suffering can outweigh the glory that will be revealed to us in the end.

Romans 8:18 adds, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”

Lesson Six • Devotion #1: The Counselor

I am grossly incompetent. I am not qualified to do my job. If left on my own to do everything myself, I would fail almost every time. Sure, I may have a small win here or there, but most of the time, it would be a tragic mess.

Before I had Jesus in my life, I gave some absolutely atrocious advice. I said things like, “You have to do what makes you happy.” On more than one occasion, I told someone to listen to their heart. I may have even said, “You do you.” When I look back at those times, I pray that those people did not take my advice. I cringe at what the result of those decisions may have been. I even acted on those impulses, and it set me up for different challenges. Now I have to admit, God has given some incredible blessings out of those choices and challenges. That would not have been the case if I had not realized what Paul tells the church in Corinth. 

In 2 Corinthians 3:4-6 (CSB), Paul writes, “Such is the confidence we have through Christ before God. It is not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God. He has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter, but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.”

Other Bible translations will say that we are not sufficient, and I cannot argue the validity of that word. When I see the word competent, it makes it a bit more relatable. It is probably because it is so true. Without guidance from the Holy Spirit, I have messed up way more than I have not. When I realized this, though, there is a peace in that. I will never have it all together on my own, and neither will you. However, when you see that your adequacy comes from the Lord, you gain confidence. It is Jesus, via the Spirit, who gives life. Jesus, through the Spirit, guides us. He is sufficient, so we do not have to be. When I started to rely on that, my counsel became sound. Please do not feel like you have to carry yourself through. Your power and skill will only carry you so far. Let the Holy Spirit take the reins and steer you in the right direction. 

Strength• Devotion #1: Husband

Husband: ​a married man considered in relation to his spouse. 

That is the dictionary definition of the word husband. It is not quite that simple. Like many areas of our lives, there are good and bad. I have seen more than a few bad husbands in my time here on Earth. I have also had the blessing to see exceptional men who are tremendous husbands. I am fortunate to have come into a relationship with Christ before Jamie and I were married. It was my growing spiritual maturity and the examples that I saw in my exposure to the church world that steered me in the direction to be the very best husband I could possibly be. Now, please understand that I am not saying I am a perfect husband. I am far from it. However, learning how this whole marriage thing works made me want to be more Christlike in the entirety of my life. This is a natural thing that will bleed into our marriage. 

We see in Scripture multiple descriptions and directions for spousal relationships. In Ephesians, Paul pretty clearly tells us our responsibility to our spouses. We like to spout it out all the time. In chapter 5 verse 22, he says all we need, right? “Wives, submit to your own husbands.” We guys like that part. Our wives have to be subservient to their husbands. It is a gross twisting of context that is common throughout American Christianity. Read on and it says she is to submit as the church submits to Christ. This is a little different when you think of it that way. We could write chapters of books on this concept, which many people have. 

Husbands, let us fast forward a couple of verses. Let us take a look and see the massive responsibility we have. It is a responsibility that sadly, we have missed the boat on in a massive way. Ephesians 5:25-27 says, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.

Love your wife as Christ loved the church. Just to be clear, we all understand the love that Jesus has for us right? We have an idea of what Jesus did and endured for the church. Husband, you have a responsibility to your wife that is of the greatest measure.

We are not only to love, care for, and provide for our wives, but we are to put her ahead of all things. I love my children dearly, but not more than my bride. Are the needs of your wife more important than our own? Looking around our world and even our church, I will contend not in many cases. Do you support her, and do you support each other? I strive every day to be the picture that Paul lays out for our marriage. It is definitely a team effort.

Successful teams have a leader. Who is leading your family? If it is you husband, who are you allowing to lead you? If the answer to that question is not undeniably Jesus, you need to check yourself now. 

Paul closes chapter 5 with a quick verse to clarify the whole thing if there was any confusion, “To sum up, each one of you is to love his wife as himself, and the wife is to respect her husband” (Ephesians 5:33 CSB).

Reset • Devotion #4: Preventing Infection

Have you ever had that wound that just would not heal? I once had a cut on my thumb that just would not totally heal. It would start to get better, then I wound hit it on something and the scab would come off. It would start bleeding and the whole process would start over again. I feel like it went on for weeks but it may have been shorter. I am proficient in being awful for remembering time frames. I can tell you for certain it was longer than average because I can remember a single cut. Band-Aids would not protect it for some reason. It got to a point where it started to get the red irritating ring around it. The wound began to be infected. It was time to break out the Neosporin. Why I did not use it in the first place, I do not know. Sure enough, as the Neosporin started working, the small infection started going away. A simple step that probably would have saved me days or weeks of pain and irritation, provided relief in a very short time.

Now have you ever experienced an injured heart? I am not referencing a heart attack or physical condition. I am talking about that time when someone hurt you. It could have been a parent, a sibling, or a friend. In those times, when those words are said or actions are taken, infections can set in quickly. Our relationships can be just like that infection. The initial injury happens and we do not think much of it. Life goes on and it festers. We do not feel it much, it is just an irritation. Life moves on and we think we forget about it, or maybe not. Maybe it stays there and that nerve keeps getting hit over and over again. At some point, the infection starts to grow and gets worse. Then, before we know it is toxic. It consumes us in a way we could never have imagined. We begin to react in ways that we never would have imagined and say things we never thought we would say. 

It does not have to be that way. Proverbs chapter 4 instructs us to guard our hearts: “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it. Keep your mouth free of perversity; keep corrupt talk far from your lips. Let your eyes look straight ahead; fix your gaze directly before you. Give careful thought to the paths for your feet and be steadfast in all your ways” (Proverbs 4:23-26 NIV).

In reading these words, we see how to prevent that infection from festering and also how to keep ourselves from injuring those around us. Jeremiah chapter 17 tells us that our hearts are desperately wicked and deceitful. When we guard and protect our heart, when we fix our gaze on the Lord, past injuries will start to heal. Future injuries, while they still may sting will be easier to handle. We can be especially hard on our families in both attacking and healing. When those who we should be able to trust strike out at us, that hurt and pain can be immense. Looking to and leaning on the Lord is the most effective antibiotic we can use to begin the healing process and preventing the toxicity from developing.

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