The Giver: One-Upping

[Yesterday, Paul challenged the church to show proof of their love by giving. It isn’t just giving, but it’s giving with the right motives and the desire to please God. one church I attended called the weekly collection, “Worship through our Giving”. The early church was able to pull together its resources and give to others as they had the need. Then when the giving ministry grew, they put seven men in charge to help distribute food. Giving is not leaving two trash-bags full of dresses on a tomboy’s doorstep, it’s about meeting real needs Monday through Sunday.]

2 Corinthians 9:1-5, “1There is no need for me to write to you about this service to the saints. 2For I know your eagerness to help, and I have been boasting about it to the Macedonians, telling them that since last year you in Achaia were ready to give; and your enthusiasm has stirred most of them to action. 3But I am sending the brothers in order that our boasting about you in this matter should not prove hollow, but that you may be ready, as I said you would be. 4For if any Macedonians come with me and find you unprepared, we—not to say anything about you—would be ashamed of having been so confident. 5So I thought it necessary to urge the brothers to visit you in advance and finish the arrangements for the generous gift you had promised. Then it will be ready as a generous gift, not as one grudgingly given.”

[As with many verses in the Bible, this passage begins in the next chapter, but is the end of the chapter before it. Paul started by telling the Corinthians about how well the Macedonians had given, here we find out that they were inspired to do it by the gift the Corinthians had sent before. It must really be quite a plateau to hear how somebody you inspired up and outdid you. Do you think your church would be one that Paul would brag about? Would he use your example to inspire others? Would you go so far as to outdo the church that inspired you?]

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The Giver: Doing what is Right

2 Corinthians 8:16-24, “16I thank God, who put into the heart of Titus the same concern I have for you. 17For Titus not only welcomed our appeal, but he is coming to you with much enthusiasm and on his own initiative. 18And we are sending along with him the brother who is praised by all the churches for his service to the gospel. 19What is more, he was chosen by the churches to accompany us as we carry the offering, which we administer in order to honor the Lord himself and to show our eagerness to help. 20We want to avoid any criticism of the way we administer this liberal gift. 21For we are taking pains to do what is right, not only in the eyes of the Lord but also in the eyes of men.

[You would think that a church wouldn’t mind Paul and company carrying the money as they went along and giving out as they see fit, but it turns out that they’re being rather cautious, going so far as to have another handle the purse. It is just as important to them to do what is right in God’s sight and in man’s sight. I don’t think you’d ever catch them locking themselves into a tower until they had enough money donated to them to buy a hospital. I like Titus’ attitude, even though you’ve asked me to go – I had the idea that I wanted to go and see how they were doing – so I’d be glad to do it.]

22In addition, we are sending with them our brother who has often proved to us in many ways that he is zealous, and now even more so because of his great confidence in you. 23As for Titus, he is my partner and fellow worker among you; as for our brothers, they are representatives of the churches and an honor to Christ. 24Therefore show these men the proof of your love and the reason for our pride in you, so that the churches can see it.”

[I really don’t know what to comment about these verses, but I like the tone of Paul’s challenge in the last one.]

The Giver: of Haves and Havenots

10And here is my advice about what is best for you in this matter: Last year you were the first not only to give but also to have the desire to do so. 11Now finish the work, so that your eager willingness to do it may be matched by your completion of it, according to your means. 12For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what he does not have.

[This story certainly isn’t new, some churches get off to a great start, then they plateau. You see, if churches were more like a hill, going one way or the other, water would just run down it and do some good somewhere. Water on plateaus, on the other hand, gets to puddle until there is so much only some of it runs down the side or the sun evaporates it all. Paul is saying that they ought not to worry about giving an appropriately large gift, but they ought to give out of what they have to work with. After all, you can’t give a million dollars away if you don’t have at least a million dollars to give away.]

 13Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. 14At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. Then there will be equality, 15as it is written: “He who gathered much did not have too much, and he who gathered little did not have too little.””

[I wonder what it would be like if we were to really follow through in these verses. This verse isn’t saying that we should take from Peter to pay Paul. It’s about Sunnyside Church helping Fairweather Church out during a flood so that when a fire threatens you, Fairweather Church would be willing and able to help good old Sunnyside Church – and of course, the people that attend those churches. These particular passages might be at an end, but our lesson is just beginning.]

The Giver: Contrast and Compare

2 Corinthians 8:1-15, “1And now, brothers, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. 2Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. 3For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, 4they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints. 5And they did not do as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then to us in keeping with God’s will. 6So we urged Titus, since he had earlier made a beginning, to bring also to completion this act of grace on your part. 7But just as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in your love for us—see that you also excel in this grace of giving.

[When it became clear that the church couldn’t just be in one city, as soon as many churches were planted in many cities there was an element of competition and comparison. Paul is telling the Corinthians that their Macedonians counterparts were able to give a lot of money despite the fact that they were very poor. They gave first to God, then to His servants. The Corinthians, on the other hand, needed to learn an important lesson: how to give.]

8I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.

[If we were to use the same measure, testing how sincere we are by comparing it with others earnestness, what would the results be? Would one church excel at giving? Would another church need a tutor to help them learn how?]

Radical: The Rich Man and the Gospel

Not long ago, I was listening to National Public Radio as they were interviewing a pastor about his new book that was sweeping the nation. Having been caught up in the Purpose Driven Life spectacle a few years before, I wasn’t particularly enthusiastic about this new idea.

That Sunday, I visited Sunday School for the first time and listened as the teacher read from that very same book, or something I suspect was an earlier version. I didn’t really know all that much about the book. It was written by the pastor of a mega-church in a capital city in one of the southern states. The pastor in question wasn’t a stranger to overseas travel, having visited over a dozen countries. Knowing only these two facts, I surmised that he hadn’t ever known what it was like to live from paycheck to paycheck, however there is really no way to know for certain.

He complained that the church had wandered away from the true gospel by pushing the Prosperity gospel and similar doctrines. He proposed that we ought to live within our means, or live far under our means and use the difference to bring glory to God. He believed that the American Dream was keeping Christianity in chains and that the latter needed to be rescued from the former. The problem is that my American Dream might be vastly different from your American Dream.

Now the often used example of an American Dream is this: A house (presumably not in need of repair, with good bones, and well insulated, not too small, a bonus would be with a 2 or three car garage), 2.5 kids (presumably well behaved and adjusted, making contributions to society in meaningful way, without any major life-threatening medical issues and not getting into trouble with the law) a white picket fence (also not falling apart, with that freshly painted look) and possibly an apple pie cooling on the counter top. After all, if you’re Christian, you can’t have a house that isn’t a death-trap because that’s just too extravagant and you’re supposed to be modest.

The pastor asked if you would be willing to live as if you didn’t have a 150,000 yearly income, but as if you actually made 50,000 a year. He pointed out that 100,000 a year could go a lot of places and do a lot of things. Certainly true. It could buy a lot of fish and feed people, but it could also teach a lot of people to fish so that they could feed themselves.

The essence of the American Dream is to live better than the last generation did. One man’s American Dream might be to find a cure for cancer. I don’t see how you have to give up that dream to be a Christian. Materialism is a problem in Christianity, that I don’t deny. It was there in the early days when Ananias and Sapphira decided to skim off of the top of the collection plate, so to speak. So what does the Bible tell rich people to do with their money? Well, there was this one guy who was told to sell his belongings, but what about all the other rich people? Basically, be humble, be generous, be willing to give, be nice to your slaves – which would mean paid servants in today’s vernacular. The Bible doesn’t tell them to free their slaves, sell off their possessions, live in a tent, and give the proceeds to charity. Nor does it tell us to.

The truth is that when it comes to riches, there is nobody richer than the poorest Christian – mostly due to the promises found in the Gospel. When I used to do car washes, who do you think gave the most? The poorer Christian who doesn’t have much to give or the richer Christian who could stand to give away more than they do? It was the poorer Christian who was better at giving, every single time. The thing about giving is that if you give because you’re rich and you need a tax credit doesn’t fix the issue that is in your heart. You could give half of everything you own away and still not fix your heart – only the gospel can do that. Materialism has a strong grip, but God has never let anybody go.

The Challenges

It seems that almost everything in life is a challenge designed to test you. Lately, I’ve gone through quite a few challenges.

In March, I decided to join the Military. I started exercising in an effort to prepare myself to meet the minimum entrance requirements. Then something came up and I had to start over. Then something else came up and I had to start over again. Now another two things have come up and I’m not going to be able to start over until the middle of November. Still, in all that time I’ve thought over my decision. I will still join.

In my senior year, I realized that I was carrying more weight around me than I needed. Through carefully controlling what I eat, I managed to lose five pounds. After awhile I had lost fifteen pounds. In the one year I’ve lived here, I’ve lost another ten pounds. Even though I was always within the acceptable range to enter the Military, I have now reached the point where I’m just ten pounds below the weight minimum for my height. In other words, after losing a total of thirty pounds, I have to gain ten pounds back. I will likely go about this by packing on some muscle. I have no idea how to do that without the assistance of exercise machines, which I cannot afford to use.

In my many years of public education, I’ve taken six levels of high school Spanish and at least one semester of Spanish instruction before that. I’ve also continued to study Spanish after I’ve graduated, more off than on though. I’m going to spend a month in a Spanish speaking country. The challenge of that is making coherent sentences despite the fact that I haven’t held a conversation in Spanish in the last five years.

There are many challenges that I can’t seem to take on at all. My lack of self-confidence, my inability to trust others, and my difficulty with running a single mile, for instance. I know that the point is to overcome various obstacles and make myself a better person, but can it be really hard and really tricky sometimes. What challenges are you facing with ease? Which challenges are throwing you a curve ball?  Which ones just keep on testing you no matter what you do?

I Defer to Indifference

“What is the difference between ignorance and apathy? I don’t know and I don’t care.” – No idea where it came from, I just saw it somewhere.

“Apathy is the suppression of the emotions of concern, excitement, motivation, and passion. Apathetic individuals don’t display interests or concerns about their emotional, social, or physical life. He or she might exhibit insensibility and / or sluggishness.” – Taken from Wikipedia’s article on Indifference.

Sometimes when I went to all of those churches, I’d get a good look around. I saw too many bored, disinterested faces. Sometimes when I see groups of Christians outside of church, they seem much the same way. No wonder we aren’t doing much of anything for God, we just don’t care.

When King David was consumed by his desire to worship God, it was expressed in the vast majority of the One hundred and Fifty Psalms he wrote to honor God.

When modern Christians are consumed by their desire to worship God, they don’t write psalms.

When King David was consumed by his desire to celebrate God, it was expressed in him dancing before the Lord with all his might.

When modern Christians are consumed by their desire to celebrate God, they don’t dance like that.

The Bible tells us twice that: “God is a consuming fire.”

Have you ever sat beside a campfire and watch the flames eat away at the wood? Did you see the ashes fall away and the cinders rise up? Were you able to notice the crackling? Fire is really something. It eats so long as there is food. It supplies heat and light so long as there is fuel. It is beautiful and dangerous at the same time. A perfect description for God… but something many Christians (and even some non-Christians) don’t respect. For that, no doubt, they’ll get burnt.

So here we are. Bored to tears sometime. Unconsumed. Unconcerned. Unexcited. Unmotivated. and Without passion. We have forsaken our first love, for which the only cure is to go back, repent, and do the things we did at first. Without that brand-new Christian passion, what are we? Without that zeal over God’s word, what pages are we really turning? Without proof that we are alive, would we not be easily mistake for being dead? Without being hot or cold, aren’t we the most dreadful condition of being lukewarm?

Without an all-consuming love for God, we are nothing at all. Our fate will be worse that the ones the Revelation churches were warned about for their failures. A even more horrible thought – we will have the experience of it all on top if its price.