Category Archives: Giving

Trust God and See What He Will Do

Over 20 years ago, I pulled up in front of my parents’ home. My wife was beside me in our car and our three children, all under the age of five, were seated in the back. We had less than $5 in the bank and there was even less in my wallet. We were a family in transition and not sure where God was leading us. Across the state, we had left behind some special friends and experiences. God had worked in our lives, bringing change and renewal. However, the path ahead was not clear. In fact, it was not even visible.

The next several years were filled with trials and growing. I worked a seasonal job for several years. I enjoyed the work, but I had to find other employment every winter. God always provided and I found something to do to provide for my family. We were without health insurance for six years. Again, God provided, as we were relatively healthy and without major incidents. With three growing boys in the house, that is a miracle in itself.

We never had a lot of money, but God provided us with places to live, some in neighborhoods where we would never have been able to afford a home. One of our homes during this time placed us in an area where my annual salary was probably equal to what our neighbors made weekly. No joke. And yet we rented a two-story, historic house, on over an acre of land, for a few hundred dollars a month.

With as little as we made, God also allowed us to be generous in giving and, in the process, showed us His faithfulness. This came about, primarily because of an error on my part. Our church had a missions’ conference, and, as part of the event, we made pledges to support the missions’ efforts of the church. As I mentioned before, we did not have much money, so we pledged to give $25 per month for missions.

When we returned home that day, we pulled out our copy of the pledge card and were shocked to discover that I had pledged $25 per week, not per month. My initial response was to contact someone and notify them of the mistake. However, my wife and I discussed it, prayed about it, and decided to honor the pledge. We really did not have the money to cover it. But we decided to see how God would provide. And everything was smooth sailing. Well, not exactly.

As I mentioned, I worked a seasonal job. That year, we had a rainy fall season, and so I did not work as much as usual. Then, winter came along and though I found work, it was about half of the income I normally made. Rent was due in a couple of weeks. I knew that if I made out the check for our tithe and missions’ pledge, we would be $200 short for rent. I told my wife. We told no one else, but we prayed for God’s provision and wrote out the giving check.

Following the service that week or the next, we returned to our car in the parking lot (which we left locked).  We found an envelope on the front seat. When we opened it, we found $200 in cash inside. To this day, we have never discovered who it came from or how they got it into a locked car. Yet, once again, God had shown us that we could trust Him for our provision.

This past Sunday, our pastor taught from Matthew 6:19-34. In this passage, Jesus teaches us to store up treasure in heaven and to not be anxious about our lives. He concludes this section by saying, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” Matthew 6:33-34

God is not on His throne, wringing His hands and wondering how we are going to survive. I, on the other hand, find myself frequently concerned with the future. In fact, I find that I worry more now than when I had less money and possessions. Isn’t that something? It is really not surprising though.

When I made less, owned fewer possessions, and had very limited resources, I had no choice but to trust God. It is not that I did not worry. I was, and am, far from perfect. But then, I knew that there was nothing within my power I could do to create something out of nothing. It was either trust in God or live in despair. Now, with more resources, I somehow think I am the one making it all happen. How quickly we can forget that God is the provider of all things. Also, what we have today can be gone tomorrow (check the stock market today?).

Jesus clearly teaches us to seek Him first and He will take care of the rest. In a world that believes that we control our own destiny, this is a radical departure. It is a call to not hold onto the possessions and treasures of this world. We cannot allow them to rule our hearts. By releasing these things to God, it gives us freedom. It also allows us to be more radical in our trust and giving, and therefore, storing up treasure in heaven.

When we seek first God’s kingdom and righteousness, His work in our lives shapes our priorities and builds our faith. God becomes bigger in our eyes. It is not that He actually becomes bigger, but we see Him for more of Who He really is. Our focus begins to shift from our abilities, or lack thereof, to the character and unlimited resources of the eternal God.

As a result, He can then pour out His love and generosity through us, even if we do it by mistake. I am so glad I made that mistake years ago. Because it taught me that God was faithful. I can trust Him, always. However, it is a lesson that I have to learn over and over again. I have a short memory. I think we all do. That is why we are reminded about God’s faithfulness and urged to stir up each other to love and good works (Hebrews 10:23-25).

We need to tell the stories of how God works in our lives. And then tell them again and again. It reminds those who listen, as well as us, of the goodness and faithfulness of God. It reminds us that He is worthy of our trust. And when we trust Him, He will always come through. It may not be according to our timing and expectations, but He will provide us with what we need. And it will be better. He has promised (Romans 8:28).

Together for His glory…

The Cost of the Life of Worship

“But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith – that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” Philippians 3:7-11

I have a friend who is a pastor in another country. Their church has gone through difficult times. Because of decisions made, which were based on following what they felt led by God to do, about half of their congregation left the church. To make matters worse, the government has determined that churches like theirs will no longer be recognized as an official church; therefore creating additional struggles for them, logistically, culturally, and financially, as they try to reach their community with the gospel.

However, at the same time, God continues to bless his ministry and the church. God is using Him to reach thousands of people throughout his country and beyond, as he teaches and reasons from the truth of the Word of God. His ministry reaches into his culture and into the theological, academic, and political communities of his country and beyond. Recently, he found out that their church would have to move locations. This could be a hardship on their church. However, he looks on this as God opening the door for ministry, as their new location is in an impoverished area, where there are thousands in need of hope. He is excited about the opportunities this will provide to spread the gospel.

I have another friend who is a pastor. The church he pastors has also gone through some difficult struggles. The economic impact of the past few years has taken a toll on families within the church. Several individuals or families have left the church, either because they feel led to go somewhere else or because they have issue with someone in leadership or something within the ministry of the church. These circumstances, and others, have together impacted the financial situation of the church.

Therefore, to be faithful to manage God’s resources well, decisions were made to cut spending. He informed the congregation of decisions to tighten spending, providing an overall view of the cuts. What he did not tell them was that he, along with the other full-time staff member, agreed to have their salaries cut by 15%. They sacrificed so that the part-time staff would not be impacted financially and so other areas of ministry were not stripped of additional resources. So, they quietly sacrificed for those they serve, at significant financial cost to themselves.

However, the Lord continues to bless this ministry. This pastor continues to faithfully teach the Word of God to his congregation. He continues to pour out his life in service to those in his congregation. And God is blessing this ministry, as he, the elders, staff, and ministry leaders strive to implement the vision that God has provided for growing disciples and reaching the community with the gospel. People are learning and growing in the faith through the impact of the ministries of the church. Over the past months, several people have come to Christ and are now growing in their faith. Other believers, who have been less active within the life of the church, are now fulfilling God’s call to serve His people and spread the gospel. Still others, already pouring out their lives, are giving even more of their time and resources. God is at work, even in the midst of uncertainty and struggle.

We could speak of many others, who live throughout this country and the world, pouring out their time, their gifts and talents, opening their homes, giving away their resources and money, living in the face of opposition and danger, and even giving up their lives for the gospel of Jesus Christ. They are not looking for power, fame, and prosperity. They are looking to a greater blessing, that of knowing Jesus Christ and living for the glory of their God. They have counted the treasures of this world as worthless compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ and the eternal treasure that is Him and through Him, both now and for eternity.

So, this leads me to a question. What does following Christ cost us? If following Jesus Christ does not significantly impact our lives (spiritually, culturally, emotionally, physically, financially, popularity, and availability), then we need to examine our lives and priorities. Does the way we live demonstrate that we treasure Christ? Or do we value our earthly possessions, homes, cars, careers, sex, popularity, success, vacations, entertainment, time, and leisure more than Christ?

Here in the American church, I think it is time for a serious evaluation of our lives. How are we different from our neighbors or the culture? Earlier in the letter to the Philippians, Paul urges the church to shine as lights in the world, as they live in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation (Philippians 2:14-18). How are we doing? Do we shine like stars or do we blend right in? If we are to shine like stars, there should be a significant difference in our lives.

Jesus said that people would know we are His by the way we love each other (John 13:34-35). Frequently, some of the greatest damage to Christians is done from within the church. Churches can be ripe with gossip, slander, lack of respect and criticism towards leadership, bitterness, an unwillingness to forgive each other, rebellion, and more. Who needs enemies outside the church? We do the enemy’s work for him. Why get involved in ministry when I can lob grenades from the sidelines? Remember the words of Jesus. The world will know we are His disciples because we love one another.

We are called to give up the temporary pleasures of sin and to pursue God in holiness, through the indwelling and power of the Holy Spirit. We are to put to death what is earthly in us, whether sexual immorality, impurity, overindulgence, coveting, slander, lying, malice, obscene talk, or any of the other sins that entangle us. We have put off the old self, with its practices, and put on the new self which is being renewed into the image of Jesus Christ (Colossians 3:5-10). There is a cost to pursuing Christ in righteousness, forsaking those public and private sins. We give up the temporary, but empty, pleasures. But if we yield to His work within us, we will reap joy and the wonder of becoming more like Christ and enjoy fellowship with Him.

Does following Jesus impact how I spend my money and use my resources? The New Testament is full of examples of those who gave abundantly, sacrificed beyond their means, gave up possessions, comfort, and lived humbly so that they could give to God and support the work of the gospel. Many believers throughout the world today make great sacrifices to follow Christ. They give up much and, many times, have things taken from them specifically because they are Christians. Their generosity and forsaking of worldly gain can put us to shame here in America.

How significantly should following Jesus impact us financially? This is a question that every follower of Christ has to ask themselves. “The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.” 2 Corinthians 9:6-8

When, at the end of days, we stand before Christ, I don’t think we are going to wish we had spent more money on homes, cars, going out to eat, entertainment, the newest electronic devices, or the myriads of other things that flash across our computer or television screens. So, how much do I have to give? If I am asking myself the question in that manner, my heart is not in right place. I think we should pray that God would allow us to give as much as possible. “How much can I give, God? Please help me be able to give more!”

When it comes down to it, the cost of being able to live the life of worship is very expensive. However, the ultimate price is not paid by us. “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.” 2 Corinthians 8:9.

We cannot pay for salvation. We can only receive it. We can never repay God for what we have received. We can only participate in the grace that we have received, living by His power and wisdom, and by following the example of the One Who gave His life for us. And by valuing the eternal and letting go of the temporary, which will fade away in the end, we bring glory to God and are promised the rich reward of our God.

It may be rough going at times, as we learn to leave the things of this world behind and face the backlash of those who hold onto this world and its temporary pleasures. We will face opposition, sometimes even within the church. But the reward of God is eternal and it will never end and it will never fade away. More on that later.

Together for His glory…

Two Copper Coins

“Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the offering box, and he saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. And he said, ‘Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.’” Luke 21:1-4

The world looks at outward appearances. No doubt that the eyes of many people were focused on the large amounts of money that were being placed in the offering boxes that day. They were likely impressed by the size of the gifts to the temple. No one probably noticed the widow as she placed her two small coins into the box. If they did, they may have scoffed or even been embarrassed by her. As we go about our daily lives, trying to live for the Lord, the world will not usually be impressed with us. They judge by earthly standards and, most often, miss the most important things. God never misses anything.

God looks at the heart. Jesus singled out the widow, as an example for his disciples. She had given a very small gift in the eyes of most. It was worth almost nothing and would have had no impact on the ministry of the temple if she had not given it. But Jesus knew her situation and He knew her heart. He knew this was all that she had to live on. Yet, she gave it anyway. It was not much, but she gave it all. Jesus told His disciples that she had given more than anyone else that day. She gave with a heart for her God.

No person or gift is too small for God to use. In our culture of newer and bigger and better, we judge everything by appearances. This leads to many people, organizations, and things being considered insignificant or meaningless because they don’t measure up to the standards of the culture or world. Even our churches have fallen prey to this mindset. You would think we are actually competing against each other, rather than working together to build the kingdom. I think that it is very possible that the greatest work of God is being done by those that no one even notices. People who pour themselves out behind the scenes, doing the work no one else want to do or does not even think to do. In addition, it is often the people who have the least financial resources who give the most. And in the eyes of heaven, two copper coins were more valuable than buckets of money brought by others. Remember, God chooses to use those who cannot boast in their own abilities or resources (1 Corinthians 1:26-31).

God can be trusted. This widow trusted God. She was placing her life in the hands of her Creator. When she gave those two coins, God was all she had left. Unfortunately, we usually have too many things we can place our trust in. We also rely on our own strengths and abilities, rather than trusting in God. Very few of us would risk it all, like this widow, completely abandoned to the provision of God. Her God was a big God, not the puny god we place so often believe in. But our God is the One Who holds all things in His hands. He spoke and they became. And in any circumstance, He can and will do whatever is needed to accomplished His purposes. The widow must have believed this. She truly knew her God, and she trusted Him with her life.

In comparison to the eternal God, all of our abilities and resources are small. God is able to accomplish His purposes without anyone or anything. Anytime we start to think too highly of ourselves or what we have to offer, we have completely lost sight of Who God is. If we combine all that we are and all that we have, we are but two copper coins compared to the magnitude of the Almighty God. And yet, He treasures us and chooses to use us to accomplish His glorious purposes. And in His hands, He will do more with two small coins than what could be accomplished with all the wealth and resources the world can offer.

Together for His glory…

Spotted Dishes and Wrinkled Shirts

Yesterday and today, I wore a wrinkled shirt. Seems kind of strange, I know, but I had my reasons.

Earlier this week, my wife and I spent a day out, going to lunch and doing some Christmas shopping. Our oldest son graciously agreed to stay at home with our youngest son, Caleb, so we would have the day out together. I have always been very thankful for how our older sons, and now also our daughter-in-law, have been so willing to spend time with and care for their brother. Even though they have busy lives, they will help out with “man-sitting” whenever they are able. “Man-sitting” is, of course, another one of those Caleb coined phrases called “Calebisms.” It was first used a number of years ago, when he did not appreciate the term “baby-sitting” being used to refer to someone taking care of him for a day.

Returning to the topic, my wife and I were spending the day out together. When we arrived back home, we walked in the door and noticed the dishes were all done. Our oldest was sitting on the couch and my wife asked if he had done the dishes. He said that Caleb had done them. He then proceeded to tell us that Caleb had also done a load of laundry. He had decided to wash our dress clothes. I walked back to our room and saw the pile of clean clothes on the bed. Normally, when our hang-up clothes come out of the dryer, they go straight to the hanger. However, Caleb, not being a normal part of doing the dress clothes, did not do this. So, the clothes were in a big, wrinkled pile.

My wife said to me that she would re-do them, but I told her not to. I would wear the shirts wrinkled. It would be a reminder that our son did something special for us. Besides, what are a few wrinkles, right? She did, however, rewash the dishes. There were quite a few missed places. But the point is, however, Caleb was trying to do something special for us and it was meaningful to us.

As we go through our lives as Christians, I think there are many times when we try to do things for God. For some, they may do this out of obligation, only because they think they have to or because they think it earns them points with God. Neither of these attitudes is reflective of what God wants for our lives. But when we, out of love and gratitude for God, respond in celebration and service to Him and others, it reflects a genuine life that wants to be a part of doing something special with and for God.

And yet, we are limited and flawed human beings. How can we offer anything of value to the eternal God Who possesses everything? The same way our children offer something to us, such as taking care of their brother or trying to wash dishes and do the laundry. They demonstrate their love for us. When we think of all of the things we have tried to accomplish over the years as Christians, it must be a wonderful assortment of spotty dishes and wrinkle shirts in God’s collection.

I don’t know how God fully operates, for Who can fully know the mind of the Lord? However, I know from His Word that He delights in His children and rejoices when they rejoice in Him. We can never earn His favor or approval through good works. But we can express our love and gratitude for Him through a pursuit to know Him better and living to glorify Him and spread the gospel of Jesus Christ. No, our human efforts will never be perfect, but when done out of love for God, I believe they are a fragrant offering to Him, just like a wrinkled shirt.

Together for His glory…

When is Giving Worship?

“Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the offering box, and he saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. And he said, ‘Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.’” Luke 21:1-4

A couple of Sundays ago, our pastor, Mike Priest, was preaching in James 5. His sermon has kept coming back to my mind, particularly on one topic. In this chapter, James gives a strong warning to those who are rich. Who are the rich? Well, if you live in America, you are probably rich.

I realize that every person’s circumstance is different. There are poor that live among us. With the economy the way it is, many have also been impacted. Some people are out of work. For others, financial obligations are pressing in hard. But how we respond to these situations demonstrate key aspects of our view of God and our relationship to Him.

For instance, take the widow in the passage in Luke. She probably had no source of income and, therefore, did not have any additional resources coming her way. This is indicated in Jesus statement that she gave “all she had to live on.” Why would someone do that? That seems crazy. That would be like me receiving my paycheck and, knowing that I had groceries to buy and bills to pay, giving all of it as an offering. What would I live on? Well, this is what the widow in the temple did, except without the promise of a future paycheck, like I have.

It is impossible to really know what the widow was thinking, but I think it is clear, since Jesus held her up as an example, that she probably had a deep faith in God. She trusted Him for her present and for her future. When she dropped those coins into the container, she knew that she had no resources left except God. She had probably been in this situation before, and God always came through. Her giving was worship because she was trusting in God alone. Her life reflected Jesus teaching on trusting God for our provision (Matthew 6:25-34).

It is difficult to be rich. The tentacles of prosperity weave their way into the very fabric of our heart and lives. It alters the way we think and the decisions we make. It changes our priorities. We trust in money’s ability to provide for us, both now and in the future. In reality, money becomes our god. That is why James warning is so strong. It is a warning against idolatry. That is why Jesus spoke of money so often and why He warned against storing up treasures on earth (Matthew 6:19-24). We cannot trust (or serve) both God and money.

In Pastor Mike’s message, he said that if our lives are caught up in materialism and the things of this world, there is reason to question whether we are truly followers of Christ. I think this is clear from James 5, the teachings of Jesus, and Scripture as a whole. If I cannot let go of temporary things such as money, possessions, and entertainment, then that is an indicator of the condition of my heart. Or, to put it another way, if this topic is irritating you, that may be another indication that your heart is not right with God.

Pastor Mike went on to say that, as a Christian, it is never okay to live the kind of lifestyle that we are capable of living, no matter how much we make. If we are not giving in a way that impacts the way we live, then, it is safe to say, that we are not giving enough. Our giving is not worship and we are not trusting God for our provision.

God is a giver. He is a sacrificial giver. Jesus Christ gave everything. He gave up the riches of heaven and took upon Himself our poverty to make us rich. He took upon Himself our sin so that He could give us His righteousness. He sacrificed to make us rich in the things above, the things of heaven, not the things of earth. As followers of Christ, our lives should reflect our Master. If He is a giver, our lives should reflect giving hearts.

There is often a lot of discussion around giving in the modern church. What is the amount we are supposed to give? Are we supposed to tithe? Do we give before or after taxes? In the Old Testament, Israel had tithes and other special offerings. Some people will say that tithing does not apply to the New Testament church. As for me, I do not focus on tithing, except as a place to begin. Tithing can become a legalistic practice, which can lead me to believe that I have fulfilled my obligation to God by giving Him 10% of my income. When Jesus mentions the tithe, He condemns the Pharisees for their hypocrisy. He says that they should have done these things (tithing), but at the same time, not neglected justice and the love of God (Luke 11:42-44; Matthew 23:23-24).

That is why I think tithing should be a standard only as it serves as a place to begin. I know there are those who will disagree with me. In the end, everyone needs to give how God leads them to give (2 Corinthians 9:7). However, when we get in extensive debates about how much we should give, I think it is very possible that we are just looking for justifications to not give as much. I think that New Testament giving goes far beyond tithing. There are numerous examples of believers selling possessions and even giving out of their extreme poverty in order to give to the work of the gospel and help those in need. The apostle Paul singles out the Macedonians, as example of to the Corinthian church, for their sacrificial giving, even though they were in need themselves (2 Corinthians 8:1-15).

As followers of Christ, our giving behavior should not be rational. It should be radical. It should reveal a radical trust in God for our provision. It should reveal hearts that delight in Christ and building His kingdom. It should reflect an attitude of not seeking treasure or reward in this life, but the desire to build up treasure in heaven, where no earthly person, thing, or circumstance can ever destroy it or take it away.

Giving is worship when it reflects the heart of the God we worship. It is worship when it demonstrates that we are trusting in God, not money or possessions. Giving is worship when I delight to be a part of what God is doing to build His kingdom, and not think of what else I could have done with the money. It is worship when I know that my gift will impact my life and my future, and that I need to trust God because only He can make up the difference. I pray that our lives will reflect our God, the true giver, Who has given us all things in Jesus Christ.

Together for His glory…