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How Should We Give?

Over the past few months, I’ve shared how the Holy Spirit led me to start a prayer gathering following my time in San Francisco with the house church movement there. Our Southwest Florida group has prayed together for nine months. Along the way, we added folks and saw others leave to form groups on their own. The Holy Spirit has worked in individual lives and collectively as a group. Each week as we gather, we see the Holy Spirit moving among us. We’ve witnessed physical, spiritual, and emotional healing. Personally, I am overwhelmed by what I see the Holy Spirit doing among us. I am more excited about this gathering than anything I have done in the past thirty years of ministry.

Recently I sensed the Holy Spirit was forming two prayer gatherings out of the one group. Several couples regularly attend another church in the area. It seemed to me that the Holy Spirit was forming one prayer gathering made up of those members attending the same church, and another gathering made up of those of us who were not connected with a local traditional church. I brought up the idea at a prayer gathering in early April. Much to my surprise, the folks in attendance that night were excited about moving to the next phase in our gathering – becoming a house church. The decision was made to move forward. Those who wanted to attend their home church were encouraged to continue gathering with those in their home church. The remaining group decided to have our first service as a house church on Easter Sunday morning.

On Easter Sunday, we gathered for a potluck breakfast, and then had a time of discussion, a time of prayer, and communion. All agreed that the Holy Spirit had brought us to this point, and we would rely on the Holy Spirit to lead us into his design. During our discussion, one of the members asked, “What do we do about our giving?” You may question this as well. Here’s my approach.

How does giving work in a house church?

There are several types of giving mentioned in the New Testament. As the New Testament church was formed, there was a spirit of generosity moving among them. “And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need” (Acts 2:45, ESV). Later in the book, Luke describes people selling houses and land and giving the proceeds to the leaders of the church to distribute to those who had needs. There was a willingness to sacrifice for the sake of others. In this instance, folks were bringing financial resources to the church leaders to distribute as needed. This is what we commonly think of when we think of giving to the church.

Another type of giving is mentioned in John’s writing. He writes about a personal responsibility to meet the needs of those around us. This is what he says:

“If anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth” (1 John 3:17-18, ESV).

Here we see a personal responsibility in the area of giving. When the Holy Spirit brings someone into our lives and shows us a need they have, it is our personal responsibility to meet the need if we have the resources to do so. Again, there is a sense of sacrifice involved. In this instance, it is helpful to remember that we, as individuals, are the church. The Holy Spirit may bring someone with a need across your path. According to this model, if you have the ability to meet the need, then meet it. Do it in the name of Jesus! Remember, you are the church. Be the church! It is exciting when we are set free to give in this way!

In my personal life, I take this type of giving seriously. This type of giving goes far beyond giving money to the leaders of a church body to distribute. It means personally entering into the world of an individual and meeting their need. This way of giving requires I live with sensitivity to the leading of the Holy Spirit. I need to know that the Holy Spirit is leading me to meet a need. Once that is clear, then I move forward. This is vital. This is why listening to the Holy Spirit is so important.

Through the years, this approach has led me to meet the needs of many individuals. At one point, I cleared out my savings account meeting other people’s needs. At another time, I cleared out my retirement account meeting needs. Meeting needs may not involve money. It may involve time, service, or other resources. On two different occasions, God led me to invite a homeless person to stay with me. This shouldn’t seem exceptional. It should feel normal if we understand what John is teaching. How many extra bedrooms do we have? In the two instances I mentioned, I did not even have an extra bedroom. I had a couch. How many couches do we have? Remember our example of the early church. There was a willingness to sacrifice for the sake of others.

At this point, I imagine I am freaking out some of you. The reason this makes some uncomfortable is that we tend to view our responsibility to others through the lens of an American, instead of through the Scriptures.

The American dream is exceptionally individualistic. We are taught that if we follow our dreams, we can succeed at anything. Work hard. Make lots of money. Live comfortably. You’ve earned it! Conversely, since we live in a land of opportunity, we may subconsciously think that someone who has needs is not applying themselves. It’s their fault. They should work harder. They must have wasted time and money they had. When confronted with someone who has obvious needs, we tend to look the other way. But is this how Jesus taught us to live?

I think about the story we commonly call, “the Good Samaritan.” It is an interesting conversation between Jesus and a lawyer. Here is what Luke wrote:

And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”

He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?”

And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”

And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”

But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.

But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.”

And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise” (Luke 10:25-37, ESV).

Loving our Neighbors as Ourselves

This manner of giving fulfills the second commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves. The end of the story shows the motivation behind this type of giving. It is characterized by mercy. In the Hebrew language, the word for mercy conveys the idea of bending down to someone of lesser position to hear a petition or request. It reflects the relative position of two individuals. In the story of the Good Samaritan, one party has resources, and the other does not. The one with the resources met the need of the other, and by doing so, showed him mercy.

Jesus concludes, saying, “You go, and do likewise.” His words ring out across the centuries to those in our generation who claim to follow Jesus. Love your neighbor as yourself. Selflessly love others. Show mercy. Meet needs. You personally go and live like that.

At some point, our little gathering of believers will likely have a bank account set up so we can pool our money together for the leadership to distribute to meet needs. We have no building and no paid staff, so we don’t need any money for ourselves. For now, we are individually setting aside what we believe the Holy Spirit is leading us to give and looking for those divine appointments to share with others in need. It is exciting to give like this!

I am the church. You are the church. We are the church. Not a building. Not a denomination. You, me, us. We are the church. For so long, we have thought of the church as a place we go to, but that is not accurate. A church may meet together in a building, but the building is not the church. We are.

It seems to me, the original question remains. If we are the church, how should we give?

 

I always enjoy reading your comments. Feel free to post your thoughts below.

For more on the model of prayer used in our prayer gatherings, see the blog post here: https://timothymark.com/teach-us-to-pray/

 

Tomorrow – Your Giving DOUBLED!

It’s almost here! The website is up, and the staff of the Community Foundation of Sarasota County is ready to double your gift up to $100 to the ministry beginning tomorrow, May 1, at noon and ending on May 2, at noon. While the event doesn’t start until noon tomorrow,  you can check out the page today. Here is the special giving site: www.givingpartnerchallenge.org/

Remember, the special link to give will not appear until tomorrow at noon and will disappear 24 hours later.

It will be an exciting 24-hour blitz. The last time the foundation matched giving was in 2016. I remember how overwhelmed I was when the event began, and folks like you started giving to support the ministry. I had no idea so many people cared and just wanted an opportunity to have a part in what God is doing through the ministry. It was an emotional roller coaster for 24 hours. Tomorrow I will follow the giving in real-time and will post updates on Facebook and Twitter as the event progresses. Together let us celebrate God’s kindness and faithfulness in meeting all of the ministry’s needs.

You can have a part even if you cannot give. Share this information on your social media pages, and share what God has done in your life and relationship with him. Go for it!

The Giving Challenge is provided by the Community Foundation of Sarasota County with giving strengthened by the Patterson Foundation.

I always appreciate reading your comments. Please post any comments or questions below.

The Great Gift Exchange

The great gift exchange is upon us again. It is a season of unrealistic expectations wrapped up in credit card statements. In our hearts we believe the Hallmark version of Christmas, but every year expectations get crushed. Many lie through their teeth with an exclamation of, “I love it!” We accept a gift with thankful words, and then discard the item quicker than you can say, “Peace on earth and Goodwill stores for all men.” It is a scene that will be repeated thousands of times in the coming weeks. Somewhere in the world right now, someone is sliding a plate of awful Christmas cookies into the waste bin beneath the kitchen sink, and the bow is still attached. You know who you are.

Then there is the moment when you give someone a gift, and they smile and say, “Oh, but you shouldn’t have.” And what they really meant to say is, “Oh, but you shouldn’t have because I have nothing for you. Zip. Nada. Didn’t really think of you at all. Awkward.” You stand there, each of you holding the fake smile for as long as you can bear it while crickets chirp in the background. This is perhaps the worst feeling of all. Expectations can be so cruel.

Now lest you think I am some sort of Christmas Grinch, I have a point to this. How does it feel to be the one giving a gift but not receiving one back? Do you feel forgotten? Do you feel less valued? It would be human if you felt this way. But how does God feel when this happens to him? How does he feel when he gives us a gift, but we give him nothing back? Does he feel forgotten? Does he feel less valued? Sometimes I wonder.

God gave us the gift of his son Jesus to pay the penalty for our sins. With eager hands we accept his gift of salvation. But what does God get from us? In this celestial gift exchange, what is the gift that we give back to him? What could God possibly want from me?

Think about it. What can you give God that he does not already have? He doesn’t need a gift card or cash. He created the world and everything in it. If he wanted something, he could just create it with a word. Poof! Done. So what can we give God that he can’t create by himself? He has everything, right? Well, almost.

What we give back to him is relationship, and that is all he really wants.

Think back with me to the Garden of Eden. God has just created the universe, the world, and every living thing in it. But when he created man, it was unique in all of his creation. Why? Because we were the only creation with whom he wanted to have a relationship. In the Genesis account, we learn that God would come down to walk with Adam and Eve in the cool of the garden. Why would he do that? Because he loved them and loved the relationship with them.

Then sin entered the world and the relationship between God and his creation was forever altered. From this point forward, God was at work trying to restore the relationship. Man, not so much. But God wanted the relationship so deeply that he finally sent his own son to die on our behalf. Why would he do that? Because he loves us and wants a relationship with his creation. Through the years we changed the story to make it all about us and the forgiveness of our sins. But the reality is that this story, this gift, is all about God and his desire to restore relationship with his creation.

When we accept God’s great gift of forgiveness, we should be overwhelmed by his great love and kindness to us. But it shouldn’t stop there. We should give back to him the gift that would bless him the most – our lives in a loving relationship with him.

I should come to God and say, “Because you’ve loved me so much that you gave me this amazing gift of forgiveness, I want to give you a special gift as well. I give you my love, my life, my time, my everything. I want to know you. I want to spend time with you. I want you to know that I love you with all my heart, all my soul, and all my mind.”

When we do this, I imagine God opens wide his arms in embrace, as he smiles and says, “I love it!” And with God, it’s true. It is the great gift exchange. It is a merry Christmas indeed.

That you and I are unique in all of God’s creation should humble us. That God should desire this relationship so deeply that he would give the life of his son should astound us. That we would cast aside this gift after receiving it and never give him the gift of relationship back should appall us. After all, the gift from God is the opportunity for relationship. It is merely wrapped in salvation. Let us not be guilty of discarding the gift and playing with the box instead. Let us give back to God the gift that will bless him the most – our hearts and lives in relationship with him.

It’s the great gift exchange. My friend, what are you planning to give?

This article was originally published in the December 2015 Newsletter.