Money, Community and being a follower of Jesus

04_28_4pileofmoney_web

Meister Eckhart said,
“If the only prayer you say in your entire life is Thank You that would suffice.”

This is an article about Money and Giving.  I wanted you to know that right off the blocks.  First of all, here’s the truth:  people will talk about anything, they will share any secret, even open up details of their sex life before they are open with others about money.  When the bible says, “the love of money is the root of all evil” it isn’t making reference to the “bad-ness” of money only to the reality that materialism and consumption dominates our lives.  It is an insidious secret in our hearts and minds…we worry about not having enough, we plan about when we have more, we dream about making more, we spend tons of time spending it, and we will work most of our lives attaining it.  To say anything less than what is reality about money is a dishonor to God and to community.  We owe the Lord and each other the commitment to talk about any subject in an attitude of love and grace.  Remember when Paul says, “give grace to those who hear” (Ephesians 4)?  That’s what this message is all about GRACE!  So, take a few moments and read this carefully and receive it from the spirit it was written in – love and a desire for us to share every aspect of our journey as Christ-followers in community.

I’d like you to look at the list below – a friend of mine compiled it some time ago.  In these biblical illustrations, he contrasts some of predominant feelings that dominate many of our lives with the “way” of Jesus.  Now again, you need to read this clearly…one of the great problems in much of Christianity is that there is an assumed “direct correlation” between our money and the local church.  What Jesus said about money and what the bible says about money have very, very, very little to do with local church…it has to do with the heart and with community.  Take a look:

THE WAY OF JESUS AND MONEY

A Christ-follower incarnating the nature of God and moving from…

1. Stress to The Way of Simplicity – Ecclesiastes 4: 1-8; Psalm 37:7-16 2 Peter 1: 2-11, Matthew. 6:24-34; the discipline of simple living.

2. Greed to The Way of Charity – Isaiah 58:6-11; Psalm 49:16-19: 1 John 3:16-18, Luke 12:15-21: the discipline of giving to the poor.

3.  Security/INsecurity to The Way of Trust /Dependence – Deuteronomy 14:22-29, Psalm 33:18-22, 2 Corinthians 8:1-5; Mark 12: 42-44 the discipline of giving money away (in whatever discipline you choose – tithe, proportional giving, total sacrificial giving, etc.).

4. (Insatiable) Desire to The Way of Contentment – Exodus16: 15-27; Psalm 118:1-9; Philippians 4:10-20; Luke 9:1-6, the discipline of living within your means with a “full” heart.

5. Prodigal to The Way of Prudence. Ecclesiastes 5:10-11; Psalm 119:129-136; 2 Thessalonians 3:6-15; Luke 16.10-12, the discipline of working unto the glory of God.

6. Ownership to The Way of Stewardship – Leviticus 25:13-24, 1 Chronicles 29:12-14, Psalm 50:1-12, Revelation 3:14-19, Luke 14: 25-33, the discipline of thanksgiving – and offering.

One thing about the bible has always “haunted” me regarding money.  Jesus calls our constant fixation on material goods, consumerism and money by the name of “Mammon”.  Essentially what he is saying is that there is a dark side to money (“Luke, Luke, I am your father” “come to the dark side of the Force “ – sorry for the Star Wars reference, couldn’t resist).  That dark side actually takes on a dark “presence”, that being likened to a false god.  Now, let’s say here and now – false gods are never satisfied. False gods are insatiable.  That’s why this money thing can be a trap.  Jesus asks clearly, “who’s going to control your life?”  If you believe that your well being is only in your hands, you will hoard and clutch and strive for control your whole life long.

But look to what Jesus would say to that – Matthew 6 “Look at the birds. Their whole existence, every time they eat, it is not the random act of an unfeeling, unthinking, unblinking, mechanical universe, every time a little bird has something to eat.” It is story and image that is clear – our God is a caring, generous, faithful, giving God.  Giving is essential to the very nature of the Divine – because giving is what God not only does but is.  In addition, God has woven the law of giving into this universe like the law of gravity, and if you try to live by getting instead of giving, it will break you like defying the law of gravity will break your body.

There’s another lesson from the birds. I love these words. This is written by a Re/New favorite, Eugene Peterson. He writes about one time when he was watching adult swallows trying to get their little swallow chicks to fly…

“One adult swallow got alongside the chicks and started shoving them out, towards the end of the branch, pushing, pushing, pushing. The end one fell off. Somewhere between the branch and the water, four feet below, the wings started working and the fledgling was off on his own, then, the second one. But the third one was not to be bullied. At the last possible moment, his grip on the branch loosened just enough, so that he swung downward, then, tightened again—bulldog tenacious. The parent was without sentiment. He pecked at the desperately clinging talons until it was more painful for the poor chick to hang on than risk the insecurities of flying.  The grip was released and the inexperienced wings began pumping. The mature swallow knew what the chick did not, that it would fly—that there was no danger in making it do what it was perfectly designed to do.”

Birds have feet and can walk…birds have talons and can grasp a branch securely…but flying is their characteristic action. And not until they fly are they living at their best, gracefully and beautifully. Giving is what we do best. It is the air into which we were born. It is the action that was designed into us before our birth. It is the way we reflect God to the world.  God gives himself. Love isn’t love unless it is shared with seemingly idiotic outrageousness.  God makes no exceptions – we are created and called to give. We are called to give ourselves away to our families, to our neighbors, to our friends, to our enemies, and to the nations. Our life is for others. Now, some of us try, desperately, to hold onto ourselves and to live for ourselves. It is fascinating to look around as see so many bedraggled and pathetic lives hanging onto the dead branch of a bank account balance for dear life, afraid to risk themselves on the untried wings of giving.  Many of us don’t think we can live generously – but that is because we have never tried. Giving is what we do best. It’s what you are made to do.

Let me end this note with a little advice, dear partners and friends. You are a follower of Christ – that’s the truth!  If you find that you have not been giving with authentic cheerfulness, joy and an eagerness to experience the likeness of Jesus because you’ve been waiting to give until you feel like it, let me challenge you to give anyway.  If Vicky and I waited until we felt like being giving people, we would never give.  I found that giving only became infectious when I gave. Now, I have a growing desire to give.  This is what YOU need to do:  you need to leave the branch. A lot of times joy of giving only comes after obedience to God’s call.

I don’t know what past decisions you’ve made well or foolishly in regards to your finances.  In Re/New, we’ll do some concrete teaching regarding this subject soon.  All I know now is this – Jesus is still calling people who will follow him and live in the way.  So pray and decide now, “I will obey”. When the Holy Spirit whispers, “give”, trust the Lord God, take a step and ruthlessly obey”. 

Now, many of you know that I am involved in a missional, faith community called, Re/New.  Re/New is a non-profit organization.  We received our 501(c)3 status a few months back.  At this stage in our journey, every dollar we receive will be handled faithfully and openly in the context of our community.  Currently, our offerings are earmarked to pay for our “meager” overhead expenses (primarily supplies for meals and Emily’s honorarium for caring for our children during our Gatherings).  As dollars accumulate, we will discuss how to use those resources in a God-honoring and Kingdom manner.  Openness and honesty and integrity will be our goals.  I am not going to try to do a “bait and switch” with anybody…people’s giving, though God-honoring, is not primarily a gift to God.  God doesn’t need money.  He “owns the cattle on a 1000 hills” (Psalm 50:10 – that is a lot of cow!).  It is a gift to a movement of God….that is what we are attempting to do in Re/New – be a movement.  We have goals of using funds to bless local efforts to help real people in real situations.  We also have goals to use funds to underwrite our Training efforts (high school/college student training and equipping – the former work of the Youth Leadership Institute that many in our community have been directly involved in during past years). 

So, here’s my encouragement and challenge – let us all be known as a GIVING People involved in GIVING Communities and Movements.  Offering plates/baskets/etc. are around at each community’s Gathering not as a "demand" but as an invitation to transformation. 

More to come… 

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