Monthly Archives: October 2014

Giving Our Money – Practice

make it betterOne of the ways we “make things better” is through the generous use of our resources – money, knowledge, time, emotional energy, etc.  Can you imagine a  world without philanthropy, generosity and charitable giving?  It would be terrible.  Is it possible to add up all the ways that your life as an individual, and as a member of a society, has been bettered through the generosity of others?
We’re in a series on what the Bible says about giving our resources.  If you’re curious on the broader background of the bible and money or more specifically the bible’s perspectives on giving read the related blog posts.  This week we’ll tackle some of the specific practices.

1.  Proportional: Rather than a designated “cut” there are two lear instances in which giving is related to income.  In response to the upcoming famine which would affect believers in Palestine “the disciples determined, every one according to his ability, to send relief to the brothers living in Judea” (Act 11:29).  In a similar vein Paul urges the Christians in Corinth, “Now concerning the collection for the saints: as I directed the churches of Galatia, so you also are to do. On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come ” 1 Cor 16:1-2.  This fits with Jesus’ principle that the more that is entrusted to someone, the more that is required of them (see Luke 12:48).

Under the  Old Covenant (God’s relationship with Israel) the tithe (10%) was the normal proportion for giving.  I do not think this requirement carries over to Christians for four brief reasons:
1.  The tithe was directly associated with the Old Covenant system of priests and temple worship which has been fulfilled in Christ.  2.  The tithe was part of a larger economic legislation and as part of this economic legislation was adjusted to the realities of poverty and destitution in a agricultural society.  For example, many sacrificial offerings have gradations that take into account poverty and the same is true of the “tithe” in that if you are to give every tenth sheep that passes under the shepherd’s staff (Lev 27:32) and you only have three sheep there is no tenth that you pay.
3.  In all of the New Testament’s teaching on giving there is no reiteration of the tithe.  The closest we get is Jesus’ rebuke of the religious leaders,  “Woe to you… for you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others” (Mat 23:23).  Jesus says they are right in tithing their spices, but this makes sense as they are still operating within the Old Covenant.  When Paul appeals to Christian churches to support the ministry of the gospel he gives various reasons but does not appeal to the tithe.
4.  While we see both Abraham and Jacob making 10% gifts there are features of these accounts that are different than tithing within Israel – i.e. Abraham giving a tenth of the spoils of war, Jacob’s giving in response to a vision.

This emphasis on proportion is both challenging and freeing.  There is not a magic number, but a task of discernment in which various God given responsibilities must be weighed and the heart examined.  I think it can be helpful to start with a percentage (be it 2%, 5%, 10%, or 20%) towards which you budget and work.  Another approach is to consciously not to increase your lifestyle as your income increases.  If you get a raise, change jobs, go from one income to two, pay off your house or car, wrap up student debt, or finish sending a child to college – there are a variety of ways in which our income can grow, and make significant increases in income.  On the other side, there are times when income decreases and we give a smaller proportion.  We can much more easily imagine these scenarios.

2.  Ecclesiastical:  The New Testament is straightforward in it’s expectation that Christian’s giving supports the “local church.”
Let the one who is taught the word share all good things with the one who teaches (Gal 6:6).
Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching.  For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer deserves his wages.” (1Ti 5:17-18)
In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel. (1Co 9:14)
While there are countless noble and worthwhile causes out there the starting point should be the church where a Christian is both cared for and committed.  While Christian generosity does not stop at the local church (Acts 11:29 – above) it must begin there with the goal of providing for the needs of its leaders.  I can imagine this raising questions, some of which we’ll address in our final installment in this series.

3.  Regular:  In 1 Cor 16:1, cited above, Paul commands a regular practice of setting aside money each week.  Our giving should not be sporadic, haphazard, but according to a plan (1 Cor 9:7) to which we strive to adhere.  This attention and thoroughness rises from the seriousness of our calling to generosity (see last week) and coheres with Scripture’s emphasis on planning, diligence, and faithfulness to commitments.

4.  Responsive:  When Christians hear of pressing needs in Acts and in the ministry of Paul in the gentile world, they respond with financial assistance (Acts 11:29).  This principle of giving in response to both local and broader needs fits well with Jesus command to “Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.” (Mat 5:42)

5. Sacrificial:  In both Mark and Luke the account is recorded in which

“Jesus sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box. Many rich people put in large sums.  And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny.  And he called his disciples to him and said to them, ‘Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box.  For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.'”

In a similar vein, the Apostle Paul points to the generosity of the church in Macedonia

“for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part.  For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord….” If giving does not affect our lifestyle, lead us to rogue something we have wanted, or force us to make hard choices then we have not given enough.

*Again, my thoughts here are indebted to others.  In this particular post I draw specifically from T. David Gordon’s “The Tithe in Biblical-theological Perspective“, as well as work from our Sr. Pastor in Providence, David Sherwood.

Photo Credit: opensourceway via Compfight cc

Giving Our Money – Perspective

This stained glass depicts Jesus in the regalia of a Byzantine emperor.  While Jesus clearly rejected the power and authority of the state, this image helps remember that he made claims to greater authority than any human being or institution.

When talking about money and the perspective which the bible gives, the starting point is the “Lordship of Christ.”  Basically this refers to Jesus’ claim of being Lord, Ruler, or King of every aspect of life.  There are not some areas in which he is deeply concerned then others towards which he is indifferent or mildly interested.  He says all of your life belongs to me.  If such claims to authority or influence happened in any relationship we might say that such a person is controlling to the point of obsession.  But if Jesus is God – the one who made us, the one who upholds the universe moment by moment, the one who knows what is best for us, the one who laid down his life to redeem us, and the one who conquered death – then his rule over every bit of our lives begins to make sense.  Thus, there is no area that is off limits, no categories in which we can say, “Jesus, this is none of your business.”  As I’ve done a quick mental inventory, every New Testament author speaks about money in one respect or another.  In this way, money is just another area of which the Christian must manage according to God’s blueprint.

The second perspective on giving money that we see in the bible is an emphasis on the heart.  Jesus statement, “where your treasure is, there your heart will also be” is recorded both in the Gospel According to Matthew chapter six and the Gospel According to Luke chapter twelve.  In Matthew, Jesus is talking about giving in secret for the praise of God rather than giving publicly so that others recognize you.  He then goes on to say that we cannot serve both God or money, as one must ultimately master us.  Thus, giving is always about the heart.  Martin Luther, the protestant reformer, said “there are three conversions necessary: the conversion of the heart, the conversion of the mind, and the conversion of the purse.”  True allegiance to Christ will involve all three, so that if the purse (i.e. use of money) does not change over time it is an issue of incredible concern because of what it implies about the soul. Giving expresses our love for God, for his people, and the progress of his cause in this world.

The third perspective on giving is that it is commanded.  In the sixth chapter of Matthew, which is cited above Jesus says, “when you give…” In this simple use of “when” he implies that his followers will give.  The apostle Paul roots the generosity of Christians in God’s own generosity to us in Christ, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.”  With a clear precedent in the Old Testament Scriptures we see in the earliest records that Christians were marked by generous giving of their resources (See Acts 2-4).  It is also important to note that simply because something is commanded, that this does not exclude joy and heartfelt willingness.  The commanded to love God does not somehow impinge on us authentically responding in love to him.  Thus, being commanded by God to give in now way contradicts the bible’s command to give cheerfully and willingly.

The fourth perspective that the bible provides is that giving is a privilege.  Again, the apostle Paul in the second letter to the Corinthians,

We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part.  For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints–

Their generosity is attributed to the “Grace of God” being giving to them, which is an incredible privilege.  Furthermore they are held up as an example in “begging earnestly” to participate in the relief of poor Christians in Judea.  Whether in giving, or in any area of life, it is a privilege to obey God and participate in his cause in this world.  In serving God with our resources we become more like our savior, do good to others, store up eternal wealth, see God’s faithfulness, and are encouraged in our faith.  I remember a friend writing how he was so deeply encouraged in his faith by his own generosity.  It went something like this: “money was very tight, yet I still obeyed Jesus in giving of my meager resources.   Then in retrospect I looked at the situation and said, surely God has given me a new heart for I never would have done this before.”

Next week I’ll write about some of the practices of giving that we see in the New Testament.

*This is number 2 in a series on giving.  Week 1 is Giving our Money (and other precious things).
I draw on works from others, particularly David Sherwood, the Sr. Pastor of our mother church Trinity PCA in Providence, RI.

Giving Our Money (and other precious things)

Often the hardest things to talk about are the most significant.  It is no accident that we can easily talk about the weather, sports, or a movie.  But when it comes to subjects such as money, parenting, religion, and politics it is incredibly challenging.

Maybe we do not want to offend others, maybe we see our own inconsistency, maybe we are ashamed of our failures in the past, maybe we are unwilling to change, or maybe there is a lack of knowledge because no one else has been willing to talk about it.

One of the things that I love about the bible is that it does not shy away from anything.  The most significant and challenging topics are addressed with incredible wisdom.  People may think that the bible is a relic from the past or is simply held on to due to some tradition or a sense of guilt, but I find that as people read the bible they find it to be incredibly helpful.  One of the overarching themes of the bible is generosity, which is rooted in God’s own character and meant to be expressed in the lives of his people.  We’ll spend about four weeks looking at the bible’s teaching on giving: The Big Picture on Money, Perspective on Giving, Practice of Giving, Promises and Problems of Giving.

Before we outline the “big picture,” some of you will be curious why I’m talking about money.  I have a couple of reasons:
-The bible talks about money quite a bit and I try to talk about the subjects the bible talks about
-People think about money a lot (whether worrying, envying, working etc.) and I try to help people with their lives
-I have a running list of “things to teach about” and this is on the list
-Each fall is when I work more concertedly on Fundraising for the following year so it is on my mind as well
-In my reading about church plant survivability (i.e. not all new churches make it) a new church increases its odds of survivability by over 178% if it has a stewardship development plan in place so there is a clear path towards financial self-sufficiency.

So, here are three pieces of the Big Picture on Money and Possessions…
-Wealth is not an indicator of “spirituality.”  In the bible some people who love God are poor and others are rich.  Some of the “wicked” are also poor and rich.

-Wealth does not last.  The above painting by Rembrandt portrays a scene from Jesus’ parable in which a rich man has accumulated great possessions and is caught up thinking of them, unaware that he will die that very night.  Each of us is responsible for how we manage whatever resources are entrusted to us.

-The bible not only talks about giving but work, saving, debt, planning, spending, enjoyment, management, inheritance, and investments.  Gaining a biblical perspective on giving is one part of a much larger whole.

-The bible is realistic about both the temptations of money and the wonderful things that can be done with it.

I realize this is brief but as I was looking at resources came across this chart which has an excellent selection from various parts of the bible.  Rather than reading what I write, go to the primary source.

For a few thoughts on money itself.  money itself –

helpful workbook (that is much cheeper than other materials).  freed up financial living –

Financial Peace University – has been a great help to many.

Dedication – Leading in Prayer #7

arrowThis is the last in a series of entries on leading the church in prayer.  The last prayer of our services is the one following our celebration of communion (see here for context).  This prayer has been referred to as a prayer of dedication, which I find appropriate.  These thoughts draw on Leading in Prayer by Hughs Holiphat Old, which I’ve mentioned before.  Old, particularly draws on the Hallel Psalms (113-118)  traditionally used in the celebration of Passover, the Didache (one of the earliest post-apostolic documents available, which has a section on leading a communion service), and John Calvin.   Here are five themes, which have significant points of overlap but are worth addressing particularly…

1.  Response:  “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19) summarizes a recurring theme in the scriptures.  As we have just experienced the love of God in communion it is appropriate to respond with praise and thanks which reflects our love.  There are so many angels and avenues for rejoicing in God’s great love for us:

Psalm 116 What shall I render to the LORD for all his benefits to me?  I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the LORD.  Psalm 118

Psalm 118 Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever! Let Israel say, “His steadfast love endures forever.”  Let the house of Aaron say, “His steadfast love endures forever.”  Let those who fear the LORD say, “His steadfast love endures forever.” Out of my distress I called on the LORD; the LORD answered me and set me free.  The LORD is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me?

2. Longing:  When we celebrate communion we “proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Cor 10).  As Jesus instituted this sacrament he said to his disciples, “I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”  As Christians we are meant to long for God himself as well as the renewal of all things.  Communion, in a unique way, points forward to the marriage supper of the Lamb (Rev. 19) such that expressions of Christian hope and expectation should pervade our prayers.  This is a great time to enlarge the vision of God’s people as to the incomparable worth of the glory that will be revealed to us.  What will it mean to see God face to face?  What will it be to have him wipe all tears from our faces and banish evil from this world?  What will it mean to be perfected in holiness?

3.  Dedicating ourselves: In response to God’s love we renew our commitment to him.  This can draw specifically on themes from the sermon or take a more general approach.  John Calvin in the Genevan Psalter prays…

“…Now, also, grant us grace, that we may need be unmindful of these things [Christ’s death for us]; but rather carrying them about engraven upon our hearts, may advance and grow in that faith that is effectual unto every good work.  Thus, may the rest of our lives be ordered and followed out to thy glory and the edification of our neighbors;”

4. Dedicating our church: In the Didache the minister prays for the gathering and perfecting of the church as part of the communion prayers.  This is an amplification of our individual prayers of dedication and alludes to to praying for our mission.  It is not enough for individual Christians to grow, as it is the whole body that is meant to grow in maturity and love (Eph 4).  Again there are general categories for praying for the church (apostolicity, sanctity, unity) and more specific requests based on the life and events of the congregation.  At this point it is worthwhile to pray for the church as a whole in Worcester and throughout the world.  Communion is a reminder of our union with Christ and his people across both space and time.

5.  Dedicating our mission:  In communion we celebrate Jesus’ sacrificial death for his enemies and should remember the great cause of proclaiming this good news in the world.  This ties into our individual and corporate prayers of dedication and our longing for the world to come.  Waiting for Christ’s return is not characterized by passive disengagement but active pursuit of his great cause in this world.  Thus we should pray for the conversion of the lost both locally and throughout the earth.  We should pray for the extension of God’s mercy in good deeds which proclaim his love and point towards his good reign.  Specifically we should pray for God’s increasing influence in our city and region, helping people to imagine what that might be.  Here are some of the specifics that come to mind…

Instead of money or power being the source of meaning and hope people know God’s grace in Jesus so that the wealthy are radically generous with their resources, those with political and institutional power share their influence for the betterment of the city and the inclusion of those on the outside.  Those struggling economically no longer envy or despise the wealthy, have a great sense of worth due to God’s love for them, and feel hopeful about the future since God is for them.

Rather than the usual tensions of town and gown there is mutual appreciation and collaboration with selfless investment in the good of the other.  College students are not simply a commodity which we use for city’s economic vitality.  Neither is Worcester a “scary place except for my campus.”  How can the city work to enrich the life of college students, regardless of whether they stick around after graduation as an expression of God’s hospitality?  As an expression of God’s commitment to the unlovely, students can stick around when they might have an opportunity in a more attractive place.

In contrast to the normal practice of burnout and fatigue the leaders and workers of the many service agencies and non-profits would be sustained in their service to the needy by a sense of God’s calling and increased success.  Hope would overshadow disillusionment and cooperation the need to build one’s own agency and reputation.  With long term leaders and workers more effective and lasting service in the city would improve the quality of life for many on the margins.

Photo Credit: liquidnight via Compfight cc

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