Tag Archives: generosity

God doesn’t expect that much from me? [False ideas Christians believe about…God’s desires for Christians. Part 5]

29 Mar
Photo by Ian Espinosa on Unsplash

How much does God expect from us, really?

It is very tempting to think, “God does not expect that much from me,”  when you know you are so thoroughly loved by God, so thoroughly forgiven, and in fact rightfully believing that there is nothing you can do to earn your salvation. We can almost theologically justify “God does not expect that much from me,” by saying that we are saved by grace through faith not by works. 

But that would be an improper way to live out the theology of grace.  Let me say clearly that this phrase is right only when it comes to our salvation.  It is true that God expects nothing from us in that sense, because Jesus did all the work salvation required through his birth, life, death and resurrection.  Only he could do that.  We could not. 

But our response, James says in James 2, is to have a faith that works in thankful gratitude for God’s grace.  Paul said the same thing in Titus 2:11 when he said “Grace teaches us to say, ‘No’ to unholiness and pursue a righteous life.” (my paraphrase)

Jesus also taught that God expects everything from us.   He told his disciples, “Die to yourself, and follow me.”  There is only one way to follow Jesus, and it is by giving your life completely to follow him.  Believing is not even close to enough.

Jesus told the rich young man, “Sell all you have, and give it to the poor.” Yet how many of us, upon hearing Jesus teach like this, think to ourselves, “Well…he doesn’t really mean that, does he?”

Sojourners magazine recently ran an article about wealthy Christians in the midst of so many in need.  The author talked about how Christians know there are people struggling with homelessness, for example, and yet we rarely give up our vacations or our hobbies in order to make a difference.

In the Deuteronomy series we talked about how Old Testament Law is not binding on Christians.  Consider how that relates to the practice of generosity. We Christians might say, “Whew…I’m glad I’m not bound to the Old Testament Law, so I don’t have to tithe like ancient Israel did…I don’t have to give to 10%!” 

But if you look at the New Testament teaching on giving, it is way more sacrificial than 10%.  In 2 Corinthians 8-9, Paul teaches the Christians to give generously, sacrificially, consistently and cheerfully.

And it is not just money.  It is about our whole lives.  Jesus lays claim to our entire lives, including our bodies. 

“You are not your own,” Paul says in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, “You were bought with a price, so glorify God with your body.”

God’s desires for Christians is that we will give all to him.  All means all.  That might sound scary or too difficult.  But remember that God has your best interest in mind.  His ways are far superior to our ways.  Are we willing to trust him with our lives?  Go all in.

So as we fact-check this one, God doesn’t expect you to do anything to save yourself, but as a follower of Jesus, he expects you to give everything.

How to grow your love for God, part 2

16 Oct
Photo by Kate Remmer on Unsplash

Yesterday I referred to the axiom, “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree,” but I didn’t talk about how it matters.  This week we are looking at Deuteronomy 11, and how to grow love for God, and I promise that I’ll eventually explain how the axiom about the apple tree relates to this. But today, we look at more ways to grow our love for God.  If you didn’t read yesterday’s post, you can do so here.

Yesterday we looked at the first of seven sections in Deuteronomy 11, verses 1-7, where Moses tells the people of Israel that they can grow their love for God by remembering what he did in their lives.  That brings us to the next section, which covers verses 8-12.

In this second section, the thing he wants them to do is found in verse 8: observe all God’s commands.  Sounds similar to the first section, doesn’t it?

But this time, Moses’ rationale changes.  Why does he want them to observe all God’s commands?  Do you see he uses two “so that” statements?  Observe the commands…so that…what?  The first is in verse 8: “so that you may have strength to go in and take over the land.”  That is really interesting to me.  Observing God’s commands, Moses says, gives them strength. 

The second “so that” is in verse 9.  “Observe all the commands, so that you may live long in the land.”  Observing God’s commands, then, will give them strength and longevity in the Promised Land.  Then Moses reminds them that the Promised Land is amazing, so they will definitely want to be there.   In verse 10, he says the land is not like Egypt, which they had to work hard to irrigate.  In verses 11-12, he says the land across the Jordan will be irrigated from heaven by the Lord.  If they obey God’s commands, then, it will be like they get a bonus farmer with super farming powers that will be working along with them.

Once again, God is prominent in Moses’ rationale.  In the first section, God was their savior.  In this second section, he is their provider.  But they have to obey his commands to access his blessing.

That brings us to Section 3, which covers verses 13-15.  Go ahead and read those verses for yourself.  Are you starting to see the pattern?  Let’s take a closer look.

What is the thing he wants them to do? Yup, there it is again in verse 13: “faithfully obey the commands, love God, serve him with all your heart and soul.”  Seems familiar!

And what will the result be?  In verse 14, if they obey and love God, then God will send rain and they will have a wonderful harvest.  Likewise, in verse 15, God will provide grass for cattle.  The conclusion?  If they obey and love him, they will have food!  That’s pretty important in the days before supermarkets, especially considering the people he is talking to here.  What have they just been through…for 40 years…in the food department?  Nothing but manna and quail and a struggle to get clean water in the wilderness.  We can’t imagine what that must have been like.  It must have been glorious for these Israelites to have their minds filled with visions of a variety of tasty vegetables, fruits, grains, meats and drinks in the Promised Land.  God is saying, “people, if you obey my commands and love me and serve me with all your heart, it will be a buffet every day for you.”

What have we seen so far?  The people have loads of good reasons to love and obey God.  His work saving them in the past, and the dream of their own land, and a bountiful one at that, in their future.  Blessings abound for those who obey the Lord, Moses says.  How, then, can we grow our love for God?  By looking to him as our provider!  God will strengthen, sustain and supply.

How will you look to God as your provider?  One practical way is to obey his command to be generous.  When we practice generosity in our lives, we are saying, “God, I will gratefully, joyfully, give back to you from the blessing you have poured out on me.”  Some ways to practice generosity is through giving to your church family, or giving to local charitable organizations serving those in need in your community and around the world.  Giving generously might require you to live more simply, to spend less on your selfish, so that you have more disposable income to give away.  Will you take a step of faith and give generously, showing that you love God and depend on him as your provider?

Another way to depend on God as your provider is to follow him in ways that are difficult for you.  Maybe it is working with a person or group that irritate you or rub you the wrong way.  Maybe it is a ministry in your church that needs help, and you would much rather do something else, but you choose to lend your time and talent to that ministry anyway.  By the way, in almost any church family, children’s ministry needs people to serve.  Spend a Sunday per month in the nursery.  Teach in a children’s class.  You just might find that you learn more preparing to teach than realize!  Or maybe there is a family in your neighborhood that needs help with yard work or cleaning.  You have a lot of yard work and cleaning of your own to do, and you really don’t have time to help others, but you could choose to do so anyway.  Are there any people from different ethnicities or cultures, or those who speak a different language, and they seem disconnected from your community? How could you help them connect?

How will you show your dependence on God, who is your provider?

God’s surprising views on justice

12 Oct
Photo by Zalmaury Saaved on Unsplash

Last year we started studying the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy.  Then I went on sabbatical. We had covered the first nine chapters of Deuteronomy.

Now we’re heading back in! 

For the most part, though, we’re going to study Deuteronomy differently than we did last year.  Last year we went chapter by chapter, verse by verse.  But beginning with Deuteronomy 10, the book changes.  It becomes quite topical, and some topics are repeated in numerous chapters.  So as  we restart this study, we’re not going verse by verse.  We’re going theme by theme.  Or topic by topic, as you will see in this post.

We left off last year having studied chapters 8 and 9, and if you glance at them, you can see what Moses is doing.  He strongly urges the people to love the Lord, to follow the Lord, and remember how awfully they sinned against the Lord.

The really bad sin was when they made a golden idol in the shape of a calf and began worshiping it, saying things like they wanted to go back to Egypt, where they had been slaves?!?!?  We don’t have time to get into all the details of that story, but God was so upset at this, that he said to Moses, the game was over.  He was going to destroy the entire nation and start over again with Moses.  But chapter 9 ends with Moses reminding the people that he interceded for them, begging God to give them another chance.

With that we come to chapter 10.  What did God think about Moses wheeling and dealing?

Read chapter 10, verses 1-11. God relents!  And there is a new beginning.  

With that Moses wraps up the story of Golden Calf.  But why would Moses retell this story?  Remember that here in Deuteronomy, the people are on the verge of entering the Promised Land.  That Golden Calf incident happened 40 years prior.  Many of the people hearing Moses tell that story were not even there when it first happened.  So Moses has a good reason to bring that up: he wants them to remember their past.  They are not getting into the Promised Land because they were so good and special and powerful.  Nope, they are getting into the Promised Land because God chose them, forgave them, and helped them.  Moses wants the people to have a proper dependence on God, and to obey God and not make the same kind of nearly disastrous mistake their parents made.

That is why in the next passage, 10:12-22, Moses has some really important instructions for this new generation.  Look at verse 12-13.  Moses asks the people, “What does the Lord ask of you?”  It’s a great question.  One that we often ask as well.  “Lord, what do you want me to do?”

He answers, “Fear the Lord, walk in his ways, love him, serve him with all your heart and soul, observe his commands and decrees.” 

This is so central.  God wanted a loving connection with his people.  You can really see God’s heart for his people in this passage.  He is saying to them, “I want to walk with you, and be with you, that there may be genuine affection between us.” 

He goes on in verses 14 and 15 reminding the people that while God owns all of creation, guess who he decided to make his special people?  Israel.  Moses reminds them that God is the initiating force behind this relationship.  He started this when he set his affection on their forefathers.  People like Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. 

Because of God’s choice, the people need to see how their relationship with God is unique.  Because God chose them, they have some choices of their own to make.   He says in verse 16 “Circumcise your hearts, therefore.”

Circumcision was a big part of Jewish culture.  When God chose their forefather Abraham, God said the mark, the physical mark of their relationship with God, was that all males would be physically circumcised on the 8th day of the tiny little baby lives.  You might think, Why in the world, of all the things that God could think of to mark his people, did he go with that one?  We’ll never answer that question.  But this passage in Deut. 10:16 reminds us of something so important.  God actually has a deeper mark in mind.  The circumcision of the heart.  There the word “heart” is not referring to a person’s “blood-pumper”.  It’s not like God is moving his focus from one physical part of the body to another.  He also is not talking about emotion.  Sometimes in our day we cover our heart when we get emotional and say, “Awww, that’s so precious.”  But that is not what Moses is talking about.   In the Hebrew conception, heart referred to your will.

I recently listened to a Bible teacher named John Ortberg talk about this.  He said this: the heart that God is talking about here is your will.  This is your ability to exercise dominion in the world. The ability to choose.

But, he said, while will is central to who we are, it is terribly weak.  He referred to a scientist Valmeister who studied this.  Valmeister did experiments on will, and he found that our will can get tired, like a muscle being used. Our will gets tired, when trying to deal with the stuff of life and especially when making hard choices. Valmeister found that while our will is good at making decisions, it is also terrible at overriding our habits.  If we like to snack on sugary treats, and we do it every day, especially when we are stressed, our will is not good at helping us overcome that habit.

One thing, though, is easy for the will. Surrender. We all think that death to self is terrible and hard. Remember that Jesus said, unless we take up our cross and die to ourselves, we cannot be his disciple?  We hear that and think how awful it sounds.  Author Dallas Willard said that death to one’s lesser self is so that a more noble and glorious self can be born.  Our will was made to surrender to God.

Circumcision of our hearts, then, is another way to say, “People, surrender yourselves to God.”

And there is good reason to give yourself so completely over to God.  Look at verse 17, we can surrender to God because there is no god like our God.  He is the great God, mighty and awesome.  Above all gods.  When we surrender our lives to him, it’s not so bad.  It would be a major sacrifice if Moses had said to the people, “circumcise your hearts for God,” and God turned out to be some second-rate middle-level deity.  In the same way, it would be pretty pathetic if Jesus said, “Die to yourselves and follow me” if he ended up dying on the cross and staying dead, and never rising from the dead.  But no, YHWH is the one true all-powerful God, and Jesus didn’t stay dead, but rose again to victory over death, victory over sin, victory over the devil.  For us to surrender to him means we are giving our lives to the most powerful one who loves us.  That’s pretty awesome.  We can surrender to that!

As Moses continues through this passage, he describes God, and it becomes more and more clear how great it is to surrender ourselves to God.  Because there is none like him, God has some really interesting points of view about life.  Look at verse 18.  God has an eye out, a heart, for those in need.  He defends the fatherless and the widow, loves the alien, giving him food and clothing.  What an amazing God!

But it is not just God who cares for those in need.  Israel is to follow God’s heart, Moses says in verse 19, loving the alien, because they were once aliens. What a great God we have.  He cares for all people, and has a special heart for those in need.  When we give ourselves over to him, we will also care for those in need.

As we come to the end of this chapter, verses 20-22 give us a quick recap.  Fear God, serve him, hold fast to him.  He is your praise, he is your God, who performed mighty wonders.  Moses reminds Israel of the last 450-500 years of their nation’s existence.  When they first went to Egypt, they numbered 70 people.  Now they are in the millions, and God rescued them.  In other words, they have every reason to circumcise their hearts, to surrender to God, and to follow his heart, which is a passionate desire to help those, like they once were, people in serious need of help.

In the coming chapters, Moses wants the people to get this, so he brings it up again, and again. Turn to chapter 15.  I’m not going to read all of this.  Because we’re going to jump to chapter 19 as well.  In these chapters, I want us to see how Moses continues the theme of God’s heart for those in need.

Look at verse 1 of chapter 15, and the old NIV, says, “At the end of every seven years, you must cancel debts.”

Do you have debts? Doyou have debts that have been going on for at least seven years?  And did you just think, I’m going to head over to my bank tomorrow, and I’m going to plop my Bible down and have a little talk?  Please don’t do that.  They probably won’t be too thrilled with you trying to get out of a legally-binding document like a mortgage.

This verse is much better translated “Every seventh year you shall make a release.”  God instituted in the nation a regular pattern of release.  It did include debts, but also slavery, also land and more.  One scholar says, “The laws of release…provide a structure in Israel for maintaining a balance and equity in society, and especially for giving access to the wealth of the land to those who had not property rights of their own.” (McConville, 257)

Hear that?  You just heard God’s heart.  God’s heart is sometimes unexpected.  God’s heart sometimes doesn’t jive with the economic standards of the day.  In Israel, God wanted to make sure the people who owed money were not taken advantage of, or that paying back the loan didn’t destroy them.  And furthermore, look at verse 4.  “There shall be no poor among you.”

Look at verse 7.  “If there are poor among you, do not be tight-fisted or hardhearted.  Rather be openhanded.  Freely lend whatever they need!”  Verse 10, “give generously to him, without a grudging heart.” Verse 11, “I command you to be openhanded toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land.”  Over and over God is showing his heart.  We can really learn about God in these chapters of Deuteronomy!  God has a heart for those in need. 

Remember this all goes back to the fact that Israel did not earn their wealth and prosperity on their own.  God chose them, God saved them, God protected them, he forgave them when they sinned, and he brought them to a land that was capable of making them rich.  God did it all for them.  They had been enslaved and poor and powerless.  Now God is saying, remember where you came from.  Remember how I saved you.  Remember my heart for justice for those who are now like you used to be.  And love them, and give to them, and reach out to them.

In 15:12-18 this theme continues.  Again, hear the word release.  This time, he says, release servants.  And don’t just let them go, saying, “Good riddance, hope you can fend for yourself.”  No.  Give them what they need to make a new start. Look at verses 13-15.  “Supply them liberally!  Give to them as the Lord has blessed you.”

Now jump to chapter 19, and we continue to see God’s heart for justice.  This time with a really interesting idea: cities of refuge. In chapter 4, we learned that Moses created the first cities of refuge.  What in the world were cities of refuge?

Basically, Moses tells us in chapter 19 that cities of refuge were places of refuge for people who caused the unintentional death of another.

You might think, isn’t that rare, though?  Why is God so concerned about accidental death, something that hardly happens?  This one is personal for me.  On this blog I previously told my story, as I accidentally caused the death of an Amish lady in a car accident that was my fault when I was 17. 

When you lose a loved one it is hard.  When the cause of death is irresponsibility, that is even harder.  God know this.  He knows how bad it hurts when you lose a loved one, even when they die of old age.  But when they die unexpectedly, younger, and because of people’s stupidity or irresponsibility, it hurts even more.  People who lose a loved one that way might take revenge.  God had Moses and the people of Israel create cities of refuge where people could flee to their safety.  Again, we see God’s heart for those in need.

In chapter 19:14, there is another illustration of God’s heart. Don’t move boundary stones.  Don’t try to cheat property lines.  Here in America, boundary lines are set by law, and they are highly mapped out.  But even then, have you ever had a neighbor try to snag a few extra feet?

Our property has a rental property on one side, and different people have come and gone.  Each time a new tenant arrives, I talk with them about our garden.  I call it our garden, but it is almost entirely on the rental property’s back lawn.  So I explain that we have an agreement with their landlord to use it, and of course they can too.  We planted berries back there, and they are welcome to them.  So far it has worked great.  But what would be wrong is if I tried to say, that is my property!  That would be cheating.

God’s heart is a heart of justice, no cheating.  Likewise, in verses 15-21, God says that people accused of a crime must have testimony established by two or three witnesses.   Again, we see God’s heart is for justice.  No lying.

Moses in chapters 10, 15, and 19 presents to us that God is a God of justice.  God cares about the poor and needy, the fatherless, the orphan, the widow and the alien.  He cares about fairness and equity.  And we should too.  We should circumcise our hearts, and surrender to him, which means will we learn his heart, think like he thinks, do what he does.  We build our lives on his ways.

What is amazing is how this passion for God’s heart worked its way into the early church.  Jesus regularly taught about helping the poor and needy, and he himself ministered to them frequently.  So when you go to the story of the beginning of the church in Acts 2, what do you find?  Turn to Acts 2:42-47.

In Acts 2:44-45, they were together and had everything in common.  Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need.  Sounds just like God’s heart in Deuteronomy!

Turn over to Acts 4:32, and we see this again.  Such amazing generosity!  Those first Christians had circumcised their hearts, were surrendered to God, and were being so giving.

Turn to Acts 6:1, and see how they talk about a ministry of caring for widows?  They got it.  The church knew God’s heart for those in need, and they did what they could do reach out.

When our church did a mission trip to Chicago in 2010, to work with our sister church there, it opened my eyes to God’s heart for justice.  I had been through four years of Bible College, and then through a seminary master’s degree, and somehow I barely heard anything about this.  In Chicago, they walked us through their neighborhoods and opened our eyes to injustice, and they also walked us through the Bible and opened our eyes to God’s heart for justice.  We looked at passages like we are studying in this post, and so many more.  It was embarrassing to me to realize that as a student of the Bible for so many years, I had missed this.  And it wasn’t like it was some small emphasis in Scripture that is easy to miss.  It is all over Scripture.  I am so thankful for how my church family has sought to identify the injustice in our community and seek to address it.

This is why Faith Church is so supportive of Conestoga Valley Christian Community Services, which operates a food and clothing bank.  This is why we have been a location for the summer lunch club.  This is why we support Homes of Hope.  This is why we give to the Conestoga Valley Ministerium Helping Hands fund, which provides support of those in need in our community.

This is why we support the idea of abolishing slavery around the world. This is why we support refugee resettlement.  Because that is God’s heart. 

What will it look like for you to so appreciate God’s heart for you, for rescuing you, for saving you, that you allow his heart to grow within you, so you that you reach out to those in need?  Do you need to be more giving, more generous, more involved in helping people?

When Jesus was people-watching and taught his disciples how to be generous

1 Aug

Image result for givingI love people-watching.  When I was in college, I took a class in which one of our assignments was to go to a place where lots of people walk by and we had to people-watch. While we were watching them, we were to pray that God would give us a heart for people.  I never did this before, at least on purpose like that, and I found that it is fun!  The mall is a great place.  You see people do interesting things!  I encourage you to try it.

There was a time in Mark’s account of Jesus’  life where we read about Jesus and his disciples at the temple, and they are watching people when something very interesting goes down right in from them.

Here’s the story from Mark 12:41-44:

     Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a fraction of a penny.
Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”

 

The rich people they watched threw in large amounts.  Then along comes a widow who gives what?  The NIV calls it “two very small copper coins”.  In the language this was written in, Greek, the coins are called lepta.  But what is a lepta?

Scholars tell us that are many options for what these coins might be.  Best guess is called a Prutah, one version depicted below.  These were very common in Judea.

What were they worth?  The NIV says “a fraction of a penny”.  Other translations say “a cent.”  The Greek says they are equal to a kodrantes, which is a coin with a tiny value.  So the NIV gets it right.  The widow has given hardly anything at all.  Pennies.

I know Ben Franklin said “a penny saved is a penny earned” but he said that in the 1700s.  Transport Mr. Franklin to 2017 and he might be in line to argue that we should just get rid of the penny.

CBS News reported last year that pennies cost 1.5 cents to make.  Relative to their face value, the report states, pennies are in fact the most expensive coin the US Mint makes.  And they are worth the least.  Time to get rid of the penny!

This lady gives pennies in the offering.  It is easy to think, Well, that’s a horrible offering.  She’s giving money that is basically worthless.  What can God do with a couple pennies?  It is likewise easy to think the rich people gave a gift that is far more important, meaningful and valuable.  The rich people gave a gift that will actually make a difference!

That is, until Jesus points out something about the difference between the rich people and the widow.  The widow put everything she had in the treasury.  And Jesus’ conclusion is that the widow was the one who put in the most!

When I read this I wondered if it was just a one-time thing?  Maybe this widow never gave much at all during her lifetime.  And on that day she picked up two pennies and thought “Huh, these are worthless, I’ll just drop them in the temple treasury.” Maybe she was actually trying to look good and gain praise for herself.

But I don’t think so.  The reason I don’t think so is because it was Jesus who was people watching.  Jesus’ comments show that he had an inside view of this woman’s situation.  He knew she was giving all she had. He knew her heart, that her gift was a gift of complete surrender to the Lord.

When I think about that, I think it is much more likely that she was a woman who wasn’t making a one-time gift, or a random gift.  She is showing us what happens when a person knows how to practice the discipline of giving.

So how do we grow a habit, a discipline, of giving financially?

First of all, you can grow a habit of giving when you have the eternal view of giving.  In his Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 6:19-21, Jesus talked about storing up treasure in heaven.

See your giving as having eternal value.  When you give an offering, you are not just giving money that is going into the church’s bank account here on earth.  You are making a spiritual impact in God’s Kingdom.

Next, we need to see ourselves as stewards of God’s money.  Jesus’ close friend, Peter, would later write about this.  See 1 Peter 4:10.  It is a hard statement, but we need to see our money is not ours.  It seems like it is ours because we work for it, we invest it, we bank it, we spend it.  It is really easy to forget that it is God who enables us to earn it, to have the money.  We simply need to see him as the source of it all.  It is his money, his bank account, his debit card, his credit card.  We need to spend his money in a way that honors him.

Third, God loves a cheerful giver.  Paul talks about this in 2 Corinthians 9:7 when he says “Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” Cheerful here is the word in Greek “hilaros” which is where we get our word “hilarious”.  God loves a hilarious giver.  By using the word “Hilaros” Paul is not saying that giving should be funny or comical and you’re laughing your head off.  Instead it is the idea of great joy in giving.

We need to see it as a joy to give.  We can be excited about it, knowing that giving is being obedient to God, and that God says he will bless us.  That does not mean that if you give a regular joyful offering to the church, God is going to turn you into a millionaire.  But instead it means that you will be trusting in him, and you’ll have the blessing of knowing that you are being obedient to God.  And perhaps the blessing won’t be realized until heaven.

There was a person in Faith Church who years ago came to worship with $10 in their wallet.  This person was a struggling single mom, desperate just to keep a roof over her kids’ heads.  She could have used that $10 to feed her kids lunch after church.  There is nothing wrong with feeding your kids.  But right in the middle of worship, that person felt convicted that God wanted her to give her $10 to the church.  It wasn’t a guilt-ridden decision.  Instead she gave joyfully, knowing she could trust God.

After worship was over another person in the church came up to her, having no idea what had just happened, and gave her $10 saying, “I feel the Lord wanted me to give you this.”

Next, know that you can give joyfully and sacrificially because God knows what you need and he is faithful to his promises to take care of you.

I also heard of a person who gave away a month’s salary and told not a soul about it.  One day that month a lady stopped by with groceries for this person and their family.

Or have you heard of George Mueller and the orphanages?  Mueller was a deeply godly man in England who ran a number of orphanages.  As you can imagine, it takes a lot of money to care for children and staff in an orphanage.  And Mueller had more than one!  But his practice was not to have a fundraising department.  Instead he would pray, and he would accept speaking invitations at churches to talk about the ministry.  He would not ask for money.  People would give anyway!  One day early on, the Muellers and the group of orphans sat down at the dinner table to eat.  There was no food left.  They set out the plates and silverware, and rather than eat, they prayed.  Just as they were praying, a bread man came knocking on the door.  He had day old bread that he could no longer sell, and he wanted to see if the Muellers could use it.

Then there is the story of a family from Faith Church that cared for foster children.  One day they received a call asking if they could care for a child immediately.  They had no bed for the child.  They prayed, and a bed showed up.

God is faithful.  As Isaiah 41:10 says, “Fear not, for I am with you.”

Again the teaching of Scripture is not that God will make you rich, or make life easy, if you give generously.  But he has promised to take care of your needs.

I recently learned of a lady who said the curious phrase, “I would be afraid not to give.”  We shouldn’t give out of fear, as if God is going to strike us with lightning if we don’t put 10% of our income in the offering basket at church each week.  That is not what this lady meant.  When she said “I would be afraid not to give,” her heart was in the right place.  She feared depending on herself, when God calls us to depend on him.

Do you need to practice the spiritual discipline of giving?  I encourage you to start.  But maybe get a trainer.  Who do you know that is a very generous person?  Who do you know that gives regularly, generously, sacrificially, and cheerfully?  Talk to them, and ask them to train you how to give.

What the Bible teaches about how much you should give (or How to beat donor fatigue in a world that asks a lot)

17 May

Image result for cure for donor fatigue

Donor fatigue is real. Do you feel it?  Are you tired of all the people and organizations asking you to support them?  Last week I introduced the issue of donor fatigue by saying that in our culture, where money is tight for so many, it can be hard to be generous.  When all of the asking piles up, it feels frustrating and exhausting.  But since Jesus calls us to be generous people, how do we avoid donor fatigue?

This past Sunday we looked at the final section of 1st Timothy, chapter 6, verses 17-21, and there Paul talks about generosity.  In verse 18 he gives four important commands:

  1. Do good
  2. Be rich in good deeds
  3. Be generous
  4. Be willing to share

In other words, be like Amazon.  Amazon specializes in distribution.  I’ve been astounded at how fast Amazon can get purchases to me.  If you have an Amazon Prime subscription, you get your products in two days.  And shipping is free!  We need to see ourselves as distributors of God’s resources.

Those of you who are rich financially, Paul says, should be known not because you have a lot of money, you should be known for your generosity.  There is nothing wrong with having a lot of money.  Paul never says money or having money or making money is wrong.  Back up a few weeks and we saw that it is the love of money that is the problem.  But money itself is neutral.

No doubt, Paul is saying that those who have a lot of money, those who are rich, need to be exceedingly careful because they can become arrogant.  So those of you who have money, see yourselves as distributors.  God has given you the ability to make money, or maybe you were born into money, so you can be a distributor!

When our hearts are so full of the joy of the Lord, when we know that God is faithful to keep his promises, we can see ourselves as distributors of God’s resources.  That is what honors God.

Paul’s teaching about generosity is something he would refer to in other letters as well.  Probably the best place to read a full treatment of what Paul had to say about generosity is found in 2 Corinthians 8-9. I would encourage you to make a note of that and read it this week.

He is especially focused in 2 Cor. 9:6-15.  In verse 10-11 he says, “You will be made rich… so that you can be generous!”  We are distributors of God’s resources.

You can sum up Paul’s teaching of giving in four words:  consistent (1 Cor. 16:1-4), joyful (2 Cor. 9:6-15), sacrificial (2 Cor. 8:1-15), generosity (2 Cor 9:6-15; 1 Tim. 6:17-21).

You know what word is not in any of these passages?  Tithing.  Do you know what tithing is?  It is when you give 10% of your income to the Lord.  This word is in the Old Testament frequently.  In fact, Israel was commanded by God to give three different tithes.   Two of them were annual, and one was every third year, amounting to about 23% of their income given to the Lord every year.  But the purpose of those tithes included caring for the Levites and other causes that were very similar to our taxation system.

But what about Jesus and the apostles?  There is some debate about this.  I have read authors who make a case that tithing should be binding on all Christians.  I am not convinced with their argument.  If Paul believed that Christians should tithe, he had ample opportunity in 2 Corinthians 8-9 or 1 Timothy 6:17-21 to say that.  He doesn’t.  In fact, if tithing was so important for the church, it really is strange that Paul didn’t mention it.  My conclusion is that tithing is not binding on Christians.

It is not wrong to give 10%, but quite frankly for some of you, 10% is not nearly enough.  You could give a lot more.  And maybe you should.  For others of you, it is OK if you give less.  The question that we need to answer is “How much money should I give to the Lord?”  And a second question as a follow-up, “To whom should I give that money?”

Let’s try to answer the first question: How much should I give?  The principle is this:  Give with consistent, joyful, sacrificial generosity.

I have heard people say “I can’t give,” or “I can’t increase my giving.”  But let me ask: when we think that we can’t give, are we really saying: “I can’t give because I have to support my lifestyle first, and there is nothing left.”?

That’s why back in 1 Timothy 6, Paul has something important to remind the people of in verse 19: “Lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age.” Doesn’t that sound a lot like Jesus talking about storing up treasure in heaven?

How do we invest in heaven?

Paul goes on to say that we “Take hold of life that is truly life.”  What is the life that is truly life?  We talked about this last week when Paul said something very similar: “Take hold of eternal life.”

It is a life of trust in God.  We think, and our culture certainly tries to convince us, that the good life is life that money can provide. But what about God’s life? Living God’s life?  Being filled with the Holy Spirit, transformed, with the fruit of the Spirit flowing out of us?  That is truly life, living eternal life now. So how we do take hold of that now?  It is a life of consistent, joyful, sacrificial generosity.  But what does it look like?

We need examples of people who live out consistent joyful sacrificial generosity.  One is a guy named R. G. Letourneau.  He was famous for creating a company that built earth-moving machines.  He was a committed disciple of Jesus, and as his business and wealth grew, he decided to practice a reverse tithe.  For him, the answer to the question “How much should I give God?” was 90%.  His story is in the book The Treasure Principle, which I encourage you to read for more examples of generous people.  Those people show us that it is possible to live a life of consistent joyful sacrificial generosity.

Letourneau is a wonderful example of the phrase “God loves a cheerful giver!”  There is a massive joy in radical sacrificial generosity.

I have been so impressed with how Faith Church has practiced consistent joyful sacrificial generosity. We had a fundraising breakfast a few weeks ago.  It benefited one of our Faith Church families that has had significant medical concerns.  It was amazing.  Delicious food, great conversations, and it brought in thousands of dollars to show love to that family.  That was some joyful generosity!

So I am not going to answer the question “How much should I give?” with a dollar amount or a percentage.  Instead, when you try to answer the question “How much should I give?” I encourage you to take that question to the Lord in prayer.  I ask you to present your income and your expenses to the Lord in prayer.  See what he would have you do.  And in prayer to the Lord, ask him this: “Lord, how can a I move more in the direction of consistent, joyful sacrificial generosity?”

One last thought on that joyful part of giving.  So often giving a regular weekly offering, or giving a monthly contribution can seem compulsory.  Do you ever feel like that?  Do you ever daydream about how you could use that charitable donation for new gadgets or entertainment?  If so, join the club.  How then, can our charitable giving be joyful?  When you see the value of what you are giving towards, it fills you with joy.  It is the mission of God’s Kingdom, especially through your local church.  When you know you are depending on God by giving generously, it fills you with joy!

The second question is “Who should I give to?”  When you are bombarded with requests, this is a hard one to answer.  I wish it were as easy as “give 10% to the church, and then give generously on top of that as God blesses you.”  But the New Testament teaching is consistent, joyful, sacrificial generosity.  But who do you give to?  Let’s take a look at a few practical options.

Our church family has decided that we would like to operate using a budget.  Every year at our congregational meeting we vote on that budget, and throughout the year that budget guides our spending.  We plan a budget that asks each family to give about 6.3%, based on average local incomes. When we vote on the budget, we are making a commitment together as a church family that we will give enough to fully fund that budget.

There are plenty of other ways to give, as I mentioned at the beginning of the sermon.  Give to missionaries, to local social services, or those working in international justice and relief.  But donor fatigue is real.  None of us can give to every cause that asks us, and frankly none of us can give to all those we want to give to, let alone all those that ask.

So remember the cheerful part.  It is so easy to feel guilty about giving, like we are not giving enough, like we are disappointing people or God.  But instead I encourage you to be joyful and cheerful about giving what you can.  Of you money, your time, and of your abilities.  How can you cheerfully, joyfully, avoid donor fatigue?  Tend your heart.  God is most of all concerned about your heart!

Take a look at closing comments Paul gives in verses 20-21: “Timothy!  Pay close attention to what I have said in this letter.”  Paul was a mentor to Timothy.  That principle of mentorship is very important.  As we think about finances, do you have a spiritual budget coach?  I urge you to be humble and ask for help if money is struggle for you.  We often view money as deeply personal, as if no one should know how much we make or how we spend it.  Instead, I urge you to open the doors to that area of your life.  Invite financial accountability.

This is a sermon that I struggled with preaching.  How should a preacher preach about money?  I don’t want people to walk away from the sermon just hearing “Joel’s asking for us to give more money to the church.”  Please hear my heart in this.  I know money is a struggle.  I know the feeling of getting a letter from the bank saying that you overdrew your account.  I’ve been there, many times.  It’s embarrassing and humiliating, especially when they charge you fees.  But I urge you to trust in God to provide as you give, using the principle of consistent, joyful, sacrificial generosity.

For some of you, I urge you to consider how you can re-evaluate your spending.  What can you do to live more simply so you can pay off debt?  Perhaps one of the most spiritual, sacrificial things you can do is reduce your expenses so you can pay off debt faster, and thus put yourself in a position to be more generous faster.

Remember that behind it all is our heart’s desire.  The principle is consistent, joyful, sacrificial generosity.  Obviously, Paul is saying to Timothy that people should give of their finances to the work of the Lord.

But they should be generous is other ways too.  In good deeds.  Generosity is a lifestyle.  It is not just about how much money you give to the church.  Are you a generous person with your money, with your talents, with your time, with your abilities?

You don’t have to be a millionaire to be generous.  All of us can be consistent, joyful, sacrificial generous people, with the three Ts: our time, our talent, our treasure.  So I urge you to place all that before God, and say “Here I am, Lord, all of me.”

Do you feel you’re being asked to give too much, too often?

12 May

How many of you are living paycheck to paycheck?

What do I mean by “paycheck to paycheck”?  What I mean is that you need that paycheck to keep coming in order to pay your bills.  If you don’t get that paycheck, you won’t be able to pay bills, buy groceries, etc.  Does that describe your family?  If so, your answer is “Yes” to that question.

But if you have enough savings where you can live for at least a month or more without any income, without working, without unemployment, then you would answer “no” that you are not living paycheck to paycheck.

My intent is not to shame anyone.  I know in our society there is a goal, a dream, that we should build up savings accounts and become financially independent.  But the reality is that for many of us finances can be such a struggle.

Those of you who are younger families, life is expensive with all the sports, and lots of bills, school loans, groceries, health insurance, car loans, rent or mortgages, and credit cards.

If you are an older family you might have a fixed income, lots of health bills, and life might be expensive for you too.

The reality is that we live in an amazingly prosperous society, but most people don’t feel prosperous.  Instead, for most of us, finances stress us out.  Do finances stress you out?  My hand is raised for that one.  I hate money.  I work hard to earn it, and it seems like it is gone just as fast as it comes in.

You know what that means?  When money feels tight, it is hard to be generous.

Not to mention how many people and organizations are asking for money: the sports booster club, the fire company, the fraternal order of police, the politicians, the non-profits like the Boy Scouts and local social services organizations.

And then there is the church asking you to give to mission trips, fundraisers, missionaries, the weekly regular offering, and more.

Let’s just admit it.  We churches ask a lot.  Last week at Faith Church it struck me that on one weekend we asked our church family to bring donations for the youth group Chicken BBQ, then to purchase Chicken BBQ, then to give a regular offering on Sunday morning, then to give over and above offering to the Capital campaign, and then at the end of the worship service, we asked yet again, when took up our monthly special offering for missionaries.

Frankly, as I read this, it’s embarrassing.  Essentially, last weekend we asked the family of Faith Church to give to five different needs. I’m tired of fundraising.  Are you?

We live in a day and age where so much is asked of us.  We are tired of all the requests.  We wish we could give more, and we feel guilty that we can’t.  Have you felt like that?  It is called donor fatigue, and it is real.  Has donor fatigue crept into your heart and mind?

This Sunday we finish our study through 1st Timothy, looking at what Paul says in 1 Timothy 6:17-21.  He has some important words to say to those of us experiencing donor fatigue.  We invite you to join us at Faith Church this Sunday May 14, 2017 as we are going to talk about how we should view generosity in a world where finances are a struggle and many of us have a bad case of donor fatigue.

How to have a good relationship with money – Part 2: Be Rich Toward God – Luke 12:13-21

23 Nov

 

 

 

How is your relationship with money? I wrote this question on the welcome board in our church lobby.  We always have a question of the day, hoping to get people thinking as they walk in for worship.  As I conversed with one person yesterday, we started joking: “My relationship with money?  We don’t see each very much!”  Whether you love money, hate it, there are so many of us that are very frustrated in our relationship with money.

But here is the good news. It is possible to have a good, even great relationship with money right here, right now.

In Luke 12:13-21, Jesus told a parable about a farmer who had a killer harvest one year.  He thought with excitement that he could build bigger barns, and retire early.  He was going to live it up!  But the Lord came to him with shocking news, “Tonight you will die.  Now who will benefit from your harvest?”

The story reminds us to consider the shortness of life.  In so doing Jesus gives us the secret to having a right relationship with money. In verse 21, he leads us to consider, are we storing up things for ourselves?   Are we amassing possessions?  Or are we rich toward God?

We can be so filled with love toward God that we are not enamored by riches, possessions. When we are enamored with God, we’ll see how inferior possessions are to him.

The band U2 has a song titled Walk On that has a wonderful message about possessions in light of the suddenness and shortness of life.

What U2 is talking about is right in line with what Jesus is talking about. It is the right relationship with money. Money will be left behind. But there are riches that will not be left behind. And Jesus is saying that we should invest our lives in those riches. He says in verse 21 that we should be rich toward God.

How do we focus on being rich toward God? It is an attitude, a heart attitude that leads to action. If your attitude is right, God is glorified.  Here’s a question to ask if you’re not sure how to evaluate your attitude:

By what do I want to be remembered? If you stand before God, we should want to hear him say that we used our time talent and treasure to advance his Kingdom. Jesus does not say that being rich, amassing wealth is in and of itself wrong. What is wrong is if we amass wealth and are not also rich toward God!

So the gaining of wealth is not the issue. It is the heart.

John Wesley famously said “Earn all you can, Save all you can, Give all you can.” There is nothing wrong with being able to make a lot of money. If God has given you that gift, then by all means, amass wealth.

BUT, save it! Don’t spend it. And by “save it” Wesley did not mean what the farmer in Jesus’s story meant. The farmer planned to store his wealth away so he could have a comfortable life. But Wesley meant “do not spend it on yourself.” Instead…

GIVE all you can.

In the wonderful little book, The Treasure Principle, we read about R. G. Letourneau. In the early 1900s he made a fortune in the earth-moving business. He was a committed follower of Jesus and made the decision to give 90% of his income, he lived on 10%. And you know what he said? “As fast as I gave it away, God shoveled it right back in.”

It’s not wrong to amass wealth. If your heart is right, if you love God, amass wealth so you can be lavishly generous with it.

Plan an investment portfolio to be rich toward God.

Pay off debt, so you can be rich toward God.

As people earn more, stats have shown that they are less generous. So fight that trend and give more.

Practice a generous lifestyle. Give your time, talent, treasure.

What do your private choices tell about you? If we could display your bank account transactions on a TV show about your life, what would we learn about you? Would we be able to tell that you are being rich toward God?

If we could display your calendar on that show, what would we learn about you? Would we be able to tell that you are rich toward God?

If we could have camera footage of what happens in your home, what would we learn about you? Would we be able to tell that you are rich toward God?

Let us be a thankful people. People who are thankful remember that he is the giver of all good gifts. Let us not fool ourselves into thinking that we created our wealth, that it is ours. Instead, it is God’s, and he owns it. The capabilities of your mind, your body…not yours. They are gifts given to you by God.

This past summer when a group from our church took a mission trip to Kenya, one of the phrases that we used was that we hit the geographical lottery. We Americans have hit the geographical lottery. We are so blessed here.  We have opportunity.

Why are we rich?…Paul says in 2 Cor 9:11, we are rich so we can be generous. As Jesus will say later in Luke 12:48 “To whom much is given, much is desired”

Maybe you’re thinking, “I’m not rich. I can barely pay the bills, and sometimes, I can’t even pay the bills.”  I understand. My family is carrying some debt right now that bugs me to no end. I want to pay it off.

Remember that we have opportunity here in the USA. Work hard, pay off debt, so you can have more financial space to be generous. For many of us, it is our debt that is keeping us from being generous.

And perhaps, like some good friends taught us, when things are tight, that is the moment we need to show our trust in God and give. Watch him provide.   Plan your life so you are rich toward God.