Best News Ever! by Wendy Knutson, CPA

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Have you ever received news too good to keep? News that had you jumping with excitement? Bursting at the seams? News you wanted to shout from the rooftops and tell everyone? Even strangers? Are you a person who’s good at keeping secrets? I’m not. My mouth often gets ahead of me. I’m a blurter.

Easter Sunday, my husband, Dan and I, received this type of news. We were entertaining family when our daughter and son-in-law asked to speak to us privately. As I stepped into the bedroom I thought, “this could be good or this could be bad”. Then, snap! They’re pregnant!!!! Oh the joy, the excitement. Our first grandchild! I wanted to tell everyone. But wait, there was a catch; we had to keep it a secret. “No blurting, Mom!” The news wouldn’t become “Facebook Official” for a few weeks.

The news of a new baby is joyous, but it pales in comparison to the news of Jesus’ Gospel! In a nutshell:

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16 NIV

The Gospel is life changing! We don’t have to keep it secret. In fact, God commands us to do just the opposite and he gives us a plan. Complete and practical, including the WHERE, WHO, WHAT and WHEN.

WHERE: Acts 1:8 tells us where to take the Gospel: Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. For now, we’ll focus on Jerusalem, the city in which we live.

WHO: God wants us to share the Gospel with the people in our Jerusalem. The people we see everyday: family, co-workers, the bank teller. Wait, who? The bank teller? But we barely know her?

WHAT: The thought of telling the bank teller about Jesus leaves me shaking in my shoes. How about you? I’m scared. What do I say? God tells us to fear not and promises to put His words in our mouth:

But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am too young.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the Lord.

Then the Lord reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, “I have put my words in your mouth.” Jeremiah 1:7-9 NIV

WHEN: What about timing? When do we speak? We must rely on the Holy Spirit for guidance. Ask God to show you opportunities too good to miss. Ask Him to open the door. When He shows you. When you sense His nudge, take a deep breath and speak! Remember, God gives you the strength and the words. He’s got this!

Please share with me your Acts 1:8 experience. The WHERE, WHO, WHAT and WHEN in your Jerusalem.

 

Concentric Circles by Wendy Knutson, CPA

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Amidst the recent excitement and buzz of members of our church leaving for a mission trip to Belize I started thinking about Acts 1:8 where Jesus said:

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. NIV

For me, this verse conjures up the image of concentric circles. You know, the ones formed when a pebble is tossed into a lake. When I was a kid, I spent weeks at Lake Benbrook with my grandparents. My grandmother, Memaw, was an avid fisherman. (She would not approve of the term fisherwoman). Fishing isn’t my game but I tossed many a pebble into the water. I would watch as the pebble broke through the glass-like surface and started to radiate a series of concentric circles, growing, one after the other. Acts 1:8 is like that.

In the Great Commission Jesus tells us what He wants us to do. He commands us to make disciples of all nations:

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you… Matthew 28:19-20

Acts 1:8 shows us how we are to accomplish the Great Commission, and then it goes on to explain the power behind us as we obey. God personally equips each of us through the power of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

First, He equips us to share His message in our Jerusalem: our homes, our community, and the city where we live and work. Next, He instructs us to reach Judea and Samaria; this is our state, region and country. Last and certainly not least, He commands us to witness to the ends of the earth. This was His plan to saturate the world with His message. But how can we be all around the world at one time? (We aren’t omnipresent.) We can equip and send others, and financially support their endeavors to take the Gospel where we cannot go.

We are like the pebble thrown in the lake. God has placed us where we are and He wants us to be the center of our own concentric circles, spreading His word and radiating His love outward to those around us.

Start today, talk to someone about God’s love, do what you can to send others willing to go, and give financially to support missions and share the love of Jesus. The Gospel has the power to change someone’s destiny. How can we not share that message? How can we keep it a secret? If you’re not quite ready to talk to someone, read Acts 1:6-11. Study and pray for God’s insight on how to start your own concentric circles.

A Heart Transformed, by Wendy Knutson, CPA

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Have you ever wondered, which comes first, obedience or love? Do we give out of obedience or are we generous out of love? As a Christian I want to be obedient but obedience out of obligation is not God’s desire.

Did you know God LONGS to reveal himself to us? He is waiting for us to connect with Him. He wants us to know how much He loves us:

Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you; therefore he will rise up to show you compassion. For the Lord is a God of justice. Blessed are all who wait for him! Isaiah 30:18 NIV

I desire a transformed heart. A heart sold out to the King of Kings. God is a heart surgeon and His Word holds the key:

Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. James 4:8

But I’m busy; I don’t have time to study the Bible. And when I DO, I find it confusing, hard to understand. What if I misinterpret? What if I get it wrong? The answer is in the Word. Ask God. He promises to guide us:

If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. James 1:5

He wants to be close to us. But how can we hear God amongst all the noise in our lives? We call on Him, open our hearts and listen, REALLY listen:

The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth. Psalms 145:18

I love the way Chip Ingram writes in The Genius of Generosity,

“It’s one thing to believe everything we have and everything we are belongs to God. It’s another for that truth to sink down into our hearts where we feel it and grasp it. And when it really sinks down, all the way into our gut where it shapes everything we think and feel and do, our lives are transformed.”

When God transforms our hearts, we become joyfully obedient! Our knowledge of God’s love, deep in our gut, gives us a how-can-we-not heart. A generous heart.

Do you also crave a transformed heart? If you’re not ready to dive into more scripture, pray over the verses we’ve explored today. Ask God to reveal Himself in everyday events. Be ready, watch and listen. God always keeps His promises, and I can’t wait to hear what He does in your heart!

How Much Is Enough? by Wendy Knutson, CPA

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I’m very black and white. I like clear direction: this is right, that is wrong; go this way, not that way; this is good, that is bad. When I seek God’s will, I look for black and white. But is it there? God gives us 10 commandments; or The Top 10, as I like to call them. But do the Top 10 answer the question, “How much is enough?”

The world tells us how much is enough, “you deserve this, you need that; if one is good, 10 is better”. But the world is not our authority. We are children of the Most High, the King of the Universe. Our heavenly Father, through his divine Word, gives us direction; even in the little things:

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. Matthew 10:29 NIV

Jesus assures us that God knows what we need. Our job is to ask for His help, listen to what He tells us and obey His Word:

For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Matthew 6:32-33

Peter assures us of God’s divine provision for everything we need:

His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. 2 Peter 1:3 (emphasis mine)

Paul said essentially the same, in Philippians 4:19:

And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.

What IS black and white to me is that God knows what we need. He will provide. We can trust him to show us how much is enough.

Are you ready? Ask God to show you how much is enough. Then listen. Create some margin in your schedule to really listen to what God is telling you.

When He provides the answer, His definition of your own personal enough, be faithful and obey. Ask Him to quiet the world’s voices and definitions and give you strength to obey His will for your life.
If you’re not ready to ask, turn to His Word. See what God says about who He is. A good place to start is Matthew 6:28-34.

When we live in God’s obedience, we find a “peace, which surpasses all understanding”, a joy in obedience to God. How can we not embrace the peace that comes from a relationship with Him, even in the little things?

Foreigners in a Foreign Land by Wendy Knutson, CPA

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We see foreigners every day. It’s easy to spot them. Sometimes it‘s big things. Sometimes the differences are subtle.

During my home-group Bible study of 1 Peter, I was struck by Peter’s use of the word “foreigner”.

Since you call on a Father who judges each person’s work impartially, live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear. 1 Peter 1:17 NIV

Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. 1 Peter 2:11

Does this ever happen to you? God causes a word jump out. It lodges in your brain and you can’t get rid of it.

Peter urges us to live differently. To live as foreigners in a foreign land. But our desire to “fit in”, to be “normal” makes us feel weird when we’re different. If we desire to follow God, how can we not be obedient? Why do we struggle?

God has been guiding me to establish boundaries so everything in my wardrobe brings joy. The boundary provides order and peace in my closet and budget. After abdominal surgery, the “joy” boundary of my simplified wardrobe caused me to wear the same outfit several times a week. But my desire to “fit in” challenged my obedience to the plan. Then I remembered Peter’s words. Aha! This was me living as a foreigner in a foreign land in an everyday situation.

Peter gives us a plan. Respect God and abstain from sinful desires. But how do we identify sinful desires? We ask God, “Will this cause me to sin?” “Will it cause me to stumble?” “Will it cause another to stumble?” Then we listen. God is not the author of confusion and strife. He is a God of order and peace. Peter’s warning is a strong one; war is no small matter.

Acting differently keeps us congruent with our values, commitments and obedience to Christ. When we struggle, we can rest in the assurance of being obedient to God’s will. Peter encourages us to own our differences. To embrace the weird. We should live uniquely.

They are surprised that you do not join them in their reckless, wild living, and they heap abuse on you. 1 Peter 4:4

Are we living unconventionally when it comes to our finances and giving, or do we look like everyone else? Remember Peter’s words as you make financial decisions. Are your friends surprised by your faithful financial choices and church support? Are they curious about how you put God first with your money? Peter encourages us to surprise our friends. To cause their eyebrows to raise. To cause a gasp in their breath, a look of puzzlement and disbelief. Maybe they’ll even ask, Why? This could open the door for you to share the love of Christ – our ultimate calling.

I would love to hear your experiences as foreigners in a foreign land. How have you surprised others with your faithfulness?

God’s Plan for His Believers

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As I consider God’s desire in what to share on generosity this month, I’m keenly aware we face a struggle. If we put God first in our daily finances, will there be enough left?

We hear of the fulfilled Christian life and ask: “Should it be this hard?” “Should I feel this conflicted?” “Is this what God is asking of me?”

I get it. I feel your pain. As Dan and I studied God’s will for our giving, we felt scared and uncertain. Was it possible? Could we do it? But, in the midst of the struggle, God’s word guided us. He generously provided His plan for giving:

  1. Put God first.
  2. Serve others.
  3. God will provide for all your needs.

Jesus taught us the first two steps:

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and, Love your neighbor as yourself.” Luke 10:27 NIV

God promised us step three in 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.”

Once we know God’s plan, how can we not surrender? I want to encourage you today. If you’re looking to find peace in the struggle, live a more generous life and be a cheerful giver, just start today. Put God first in your finances. If you’re not to that point, may I share with you a few books I’ve found insightful:

“The Treasure Principle: Unlocking the Secret to Joyful Giving” by Randy Alcorn

“How to Be Rich: It’s Not What You Have. It’s What You Do With What You Have” by Andy Stanley

“Generous Life Journey: The Road to Financial Freedom” by Gunnar Johnson

I would love to talk with you about these resources or any others you’ve discovered on your journey. Please share with me what God is doing in your heart.

A Cheerful Giver? by Wendy Knutson, CPA

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In II Corinthians verse 7 Paul tells us “…God loves a cheerful giver”. But how can we be cheerful when we’re living paycheck to paycheck? When we have more month than money? When we feel we don’t have enough to survive, how can we give?

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been enjoying our exercise of reading, as a congregation, Jesus’ words as told by John. Every day as I read the assigned section, I imagine my fellow Holy Cross family members reading the same. As I was reading I came across this gem where Simon Peter is talking to Jesus. It hit me how it relates to generosity:

“…Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life…” John 6:68

When Jesus offers us eternal life, how can we not look to Him for all our needs? Why do we go elsewhere? The pull of the world is strong. But the world lies to us. The world tells us things like: you deserve this, you need that, get it while you can, look out for number one. But Jesus calls us to something higher, to something better. Eternity.

Before we can be generous, we must get our financial house in order. Start with the basics. Make a plan. Dare I say, make a budget.

I was always resistant to a budget. As a CPA it’s a natural fit for me to handle balancing the Knutson books. When facilitating Financial Peace University (FPU), right out of the gate, the assignment was to prepare a budget. Yikes! “Do as I say, not as I do” wasn’t going to cut it. FPU taught us to invite God into the process. What a novel idea! When Dan and I sat down to review the first budget, we earnestly prayed. God held our hands and guided us through. He provided a smooth, productive meeting. Miraculous! Now, some 18 months later, on the first Sunday of each month, over breakfast, we review our budget. It’s a time to reflect on the many blessings God has provided and it aligns us a team.

There are a myriad of tools to assist with budgeting and tracking expenses. Pick one and get started. I’m a self-professed geek about personal finance and its tools. From manual spreadsheets to high-end software, I’ve tried them all. If you’re stuck or just want some help, I’m here for you. I’d love to assist. Start today on your personal road to generosity and all God has promised YOU. If you’re already working a budget at home, I would love to hear how it’s impacted your family! 

God’s Order Is Key by Wendy Knutson, CPA

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Have you ever sat in a meeting with no agenda? I have, and every time, I’ve left those meetings wondering if they could have been more productive with an agenda in place. Agenda-less meetings lack order and the ability to ensure, every necessary item is covered in the allotted time. Agendas foster productive meetings. Knowing the order changes how far we progress.

As we discussed last month, God created the world with order and design. A theme God presents throughout scripture is authority and submission. We first see this order in the act of creation:

Give thanks to him who made the heavenly lights…the sun to rule the day…the moon and stars to rule the night.” Psalm 136:7-9 (NLT)

During the day, the sun has authority over the moon and the moon submits to the sun. During the night, the moon has authority over the sun and the sun submits to the moon.

God shows us authority and submission in both nature and in our relationships:

Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”  Ephesians 5:21 (NIV)

Dictionary.com defines reverence as: “a feeling or attitude of deep respect tinged with awe; veneration and the outward manifestation of this feeling.” Because of our love, awe and deep respect for Christ, we submit to one another.

When we look to God’s order for our finances, the most important thing to recognize is that it all belongs to God and His order starts with Him. God required His people to return a sacrifice, and He makes His order clear when He commands the Israelites to bring their firstborn animal:

You are to give over to the Lord the first offspring of every womb. All the firstborn males of your livestock belong to the Lord.” Exodus 13:12

The Israelites gave the firstborn not knowing if the sheep would have one lamb or ten. God’s people gave by faith and we are called to do the same. God is requiring the first; if God is second we’ve gotten things in the wrong order.

Obedience to God’s order is an act of faith. He set the example for us in Jesus:

“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8

God graciously gave us His firstborn; His clean, spotless Lamb. Jesus was given to redeem us, hoping we would come to Him. God didn’t wait for us to get it right, or become sinless. No, He sent His son, His only son, in faith; faith that we would turn to Him and away from our sin.

In the same way, how can we not give our first to honor Him? We are asked to go on faith, just as God did for us. When we honor God with the first we’re saying, “You own it all. I’m honoring you with the first portion, recognizing that it belongs to you, and I’m praying that the rest will come.”

I’d love to hear your thoughts and what God is putting on your heart regarding generosity. Please reach out to me!

Whose Is It Anyway? by Wendy Knutson, CPA

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As we start 2017 and continue our discussion of generosity, it’s the perfect time to talk about beginnings: the beginning of God’s word, the beginning of creation, and the beginning of our concept of generosity. God’s precious word kicks off in Genesis 1:1,

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” (NIV) This firmly places God as the creator of everything.

Intellectually, we know that God created it all. But let’s think a bit deeper. Imagine if you will, that you go to work tomorrow and there are no longer any roles, no job descriptions, and no one has a clue what they’re supposed to be doing. You might be thinking, “This is exactly how things are at my job!” But please, stay with me for just a moment. How would this work? In a workplace like this, there would be chaos! I picture the Keystone Cops or the Three Stooges. Would God, in His infinite wisdom, have created the heavens and earth in this way? No!

His creation is quite the opposite – God created the world with order and design. He gives each of us a role and a job description. He gives each of us a purpose. “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11

Because God has a purpose for each of us, He will provide all the resources we need: time, talents and treasures to fulfill His purpose. I’ve heard it said, “God will always provide a provision for His vision.” He makes us this promise through Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians in chapter nine verse eight, “And God will generously provide all you need. Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others.” What a beautiful promise! I love God’s use of superlatives: all, always, everything. He leaves no room for doubt or ambiguity.

Let’s turn back to our workplace example. Your employer hires you for your knowledge or talent and then provides you with resources. They provide you the time you need to do your work and the equipment or resources to do your job. The company provides tools for your use, but they retain the ownership. When you leave the job, you don’t take these things with you because you don’t own them. Let’s think about this in terms of God’s creation. If God created it all, is it possible that God maintained ownership and we are just managing what He has entrusted to us. Scripture tells us, Yes!

“The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it. The world and all its people belong to him.” Psalm 24:1 (NLT)

“For all the animals of the forest are mine, and I own the cattle on a thousand hills.” Psalm 50:10

“The silver is mine and the gold is mine,” declares the Lord Almighty. Haggai 2:8 (NIV)

When we understand that God created the world, how can we not acknowledge that it all belongs to Him? As we begin this new year, I want to encourage you to acknowledge something like this to the Lord: “God, thank You for creating our world. It is beautiful and wonderful. You are a mighty Creator and everything you make is good. It all belongs to You. Thank You for making me a part of your Creation. Amen.”

How is God impacting your heart about generosity?

Generosity – How Can We Not?

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It is my joy to write articles regarding generosity in our church’s monthly church newsletter. I am thrilled to share them here on my blog and hope you’ll follow our church’s journey toward generosity.

I have loved numbers as long as I can remember. From the very first debit and credit that lead to my work as a CPA, numbers have always made sense. If you can’t put it into a spreadsheet, it probably doesn’t have a solution. Personal finance has also interested me for many years. Last year, my husband, Dan, and I were blessed to lead Financial Peace University at our church. That experience changed our lives, our marriage and the way we manage money.

Since then God has continued to work in my heart in the areas of personal finance, generosity and stewardship. I have felt challenged to dive deeper into His Word and learn how it relates to generosity. Through Bible study, prayer and books, I have discovered that God continually has much to say about generosity.

Generosity is truly a heart matter and God is a heart surgeon. When we allow God to work in our hearts and we fully focus on what God has done for us by sending his son, Jesus Christ, to die for our sins our heart is changed.

A changed heart, in turn, becomes a generous heart. With the full knowledge of all God has done (and continues to do) for us, how can we not praise Him? How can we not be generous? Just like a fruit tree cannot help but bear fruit (unless it’s sick), generosity will flow from a changed heart.

These are my thoughts as I’ve been looking at generosity through God’s word. How is God is speaking to you about generosity?

Wendy Knutson