Thursday, March 17, 2011

Momentum in Our Finances Part 4

(I am teaching three sessions at a local Christian Conference called Momentum on March 19.  The first session deals with our finances and using them for God's Kingdom.  I have broken the talk up into 5 different sections.  This is part number 4.)

To have momentum in our finances means to have the financial freedom to use our money for God's Kingdom.  In these tight and troubling economic times it is difficult to feel like we are able to do that.  Financial freedom begins with trusting God.  There are two thoughts connected with trusting God with our money.  The first thought is that we have been called to be stewards.  Too many of us see ourselves as consumers rather than stewards and so we don't live disciplined financial lives and we pile up debt.  Remember we are managing God's wealth.

The second thought is: We are called to be generous. Followers of Jesus Christ are not to hoard the gifts we receive from God, but we are to share those gifts with other people. As responsible stewards we are to direct God’s resources so they can benefit other people. This is what we see in Acts 2:
All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer. 
A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders. And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need. They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity—all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved. (Acts 2:42-47; NLT)

These early Christians shared what they had with one another so the people who were in need would not be in want. The reason they lived this way was because they didn’t see what they owned as their personal property, rather it belonged to God. So the extra coat in the closest wasn’t their coat, but it was God’s coat, and they were responsible for making sure it was put to good use.

The concept of being generous is tied to our giving. One of the commands God has given to His stewards is to give. Jesus during the Sermon on the Mount said; “Give to those who ask, and don’t turn away from those who want to borrow” (Matthew 5:42; NLT). It isn’t up to us to ferret out the swindlers from the truly needy (though I do think wisdom needs to be involved in our giving, but it is better to error on the side of being duped), it is up to us to give to those in need. That doesn’t mean that we give the person exactly what they ask for, but rather what we can afford to give or what we think will best meet their need. Peter and John didn't have money to give to the crippled beggar (Acts 3:6), but through the Holy Spirit they had the ability to heal the man. So maybe it is buying groceries for the person rather than simply giving them money or giving a person a ride rather than allowing them to use your extra car. They might reject your help, but that is on them and not on your lack of generosity.

We also give to share in the work of the Church. We are not all called into the same level of ministry, and that is okay, because we are all part of one big body, and the body needs the talents, gifts, and resources of each member. It is proper then for people not called into paid ministry to provide for those who are. 1 Timothy 5:17-18 reads:
Elders who do their work well should be respected and paid well, especially those who work hard at both preaching and teaching.  For the Scripture says, “You must not muzzle an ox to keep it from eating as it treads out the grain.” And in another place, “Those who work deserve their pay!” (NLT)
It is not a bad thing to have a ministry staff that gets paid for their efforts. In fact it is a very beneficial thing because it provides for a division of labor. The person who is paid is freed to use their time teaching, preaching, studying, and praying. It is in this manner that we can become partners with those people doing the work of ministry. In Philippians 1:3-6 Paul writes:
Every time I think of you, I give thanks to my God. Whenever I pray, I make my requests for all of you with joy,  for you have been my partners in spreading the Good News about Christ from the time you first heard it until now.  And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns. (NLT)
The primary way the Philippians have partnered with Paul in his mission is through their financial support. They gave the fruit of the labors to Paul so Paul could spend his time preaching, teaching, and praying. So while we might not be gifted in these areas of service, we can make it possible for those who are to focus their lives in doing ministry.

So how much should we give? That is the question we want to know. There are many thoughts out there on this topic, and I will share mine. The standard for giving that runs through Scripture is generosity. The Law laid out that this generosity began with a tithe, 10% of the first fruits of a person’s labor, but there was other giving required according to the Law so the poor would be taken care of, the needs of the priests met, and sins atoned for. Remember a sacrifice was an additional expense families had to pay in order to worship God.

I think a good rule of thumb would be 10% of our income be given to our local church families for the purpose of supporting the ministries they have decided are important (local ministries and mission work), but that our are giving also includes supporting missions, ministries, and organizations that we think are important.

This concept of generosity is also tied to our hospitality. Peter writes; Cheerfully share your home with those who need a meal or a place to stay (1 Peter 4:9; NLT). Paul writes; When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality (Romans 12:13; NLT). We need to open up our homes and set a table for people so they can share in the abundance that God has given to us.

 In God’s Kingdom our homes do not become our castles where we hide behind the walls from the rest of the world, instead they become places of rest and refuge for people traveling through the world. We should pray that our homes be a place of love, light, truth, and rest so that the people who visit us will be blessed by being there. We need to be willing to open our homes to other people, because we remember our houses are not ours but rather God’s property.

Why can we generous with what we have? Because we trust that God will provide for our needs. Paul writes to the Philippians:
At the moment I have all I need—and more! I am generously supplied with the gifts you sent me with Epaphroditus. They are a sweet-smelling sacrifice that is acceptable and pleasing to God.  And this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:18-19; NLT)

God is able to provide for all of our needs through His glorious power. When we are generous we are able to experience that power at work in our lives providing for what we need.

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