Saturday, November 14, 2009

Why Give?

God wants hearts of people. People want money. When people give away their money generously to others in need and to the mission of the church they are giving to God exactly what he wants: their hearts.

The story of the widow's mite is one of the best examples of this in Scriptures. Jesus sees a great many rich people giving a lot of money to the temple treasury. He also sees a poor widow giving her last two copper coins (her mites). He uses this as a teaching moment. He says that the woman is giving more because she is giving her heart through her act of devotion. The "large sums" the rich give do not reflect the same faithful, heart-giving devotion as when the woman gives all she's got.

God doesn't want all of your money... he wants your heart. There are three things going on when you give generously in a heart-centered, living-faith way. First the act of giving recognizes that everything you have is a gift from God. Second, the act of giving puts your faith in the hope that God will continue to provide. Third, the money you give helps Christ's mission and others in need.

When Christians instead give, let's say, twenty bucks to their church occasionally on rare weeks when they have some extra money after paying bills, going shopping, and spending a few nights out, they are indeed helping through their gift. But that $20 offering is not the act of living faith because it neither recognizes all that they have is a gift, nor does it put their faith in the hope that God will continue to provide. "Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on (Mark 12:43b-44)."

Determine how blessed you are. Take stock of your income and make a commitment to give a percentage of what you receive back. Give it to help others. Give it to the ministry of your church. When giving is done as a way of faith and a way of life, the act of giving is no longer about the money... it becomes a spiritual act of giving God your heart.

Thankful, intentional giving is living faith; and it is through living faith in Christ that we see and live the spiritual reality that surrounds us. When the world says you don't have enough, living faith reveals that God, who blessed you yesterday, will bless you again now and forever. Its an act of liberation. It's a gift of freedom.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Joyful Music

Monday is the twentieth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. On November 9, 1989 Germans living in the totalitarian communist state known best as East Germany were first allowed to move through the locked down border that divided a people. History tells us it was a mistake of bureaucratic miscommunication that led the border guards to allow the first swarms of people through. But praise be to God, it was a mistake that changed the world. Once the gates to freedom were opened, nothing was going to turn back the clock. The Cold War was essentially over.

There were spontaneous celebrations throughout Berlin. East and West Germans came to the wall and stood in mass, unable to comprehend that this was happening. Just ten months earlier the leader of the DDR (East Germany) spoke of the wall standing for another 100 years before conditions might change for it to come down. Little did he know that within a year the DDR would be no more.

How do you celebrate such an event? Words could not express the feelings. Cameras took photos. Tears ran down cheeks. What can you say when a wrong which affected generations was finally made right?

A few days after the initial euphoria, when movement through Checkpoint Charlie was no different than movement through a Tri-State Highway toll booth, the great cellist, Mistislav Rostropovich, was moved the make a statement of pure joy. You see Rostropovich, music director of the National Symphony Orchestra and considered by many the greatest cellist of the twentieth century, was directly touched by the Cold War. A Russian, Rostropovich became great while learning and practicing his art in the finest musical institutions of the Soviet Union. But political pressures from the Communist Party forced him to make the difficult decision to defect to the United States with his wife in 1974. He thrived in America and continued his storied career. But he could never go home. He lost his country. He lost his people Or so he thought.

Then November 9, 1989 happened. So moved by joy... the great cellist did what he does best. He gave no speech. He wrote no articles. Instead he went to the wall, near Checkpoint Charlie, took out his cello, and played... and played... and played.

There are times in life when the only way we can express our joy and gratitude is through music. There are joys so inexpressible that only sounds can do the justice that words can't. And not just any sounds.... Music!

"Praise the Lord. Praise the Lord, my soul. I will praise the Lord all my life; I will sing praise to my God as long as I live (Psalm 146:1-2)." Music is such an essential part of how we worship God. Yes we have words. We have God's Word. Yes we lift up prayers. But there are aspects of our gratitude and awe for the Lord our God that require more than words. There are joys we feel that cannot be expressed in any better way than through music.

Rostropovich expressed the inexpressible that day in Berlin twenty years ago. The world had changed and he had to make a statement... a statement through his cello... a statement through music. Praise be to God!

Friday, November 06, 2009

I am the Dollars of Life

A church started a new gimmick a few weeks ago. As a way of trying to get more people to come to worship services they began giving away three prizes of cold hard cash. If you want to be one of the winners you have to attend. The top prize is something like $1000. Guess what happened? Attendance not only grew (from 1600 to 2500 on a Sunday) but they also got all kinds of local media attention. Talk about an avalanche of good fortune. They may reach 3000 by the end of this month.

My initial reaction was judgemental. Here's another one of those Evangelical Gospel-of-Victory churches telling people they can get free money if they come to church. They are missing the point, i thought. They missing the true calling of Christ to be disciples... servants of all.

Then I read more about their scheme in the paper. According to the stories, it is true that the church started the program as a way of bringing people in, but they are bringing people in with a purpose. Understanding that most of those attending are looking for the free money, they are apparently intentional of then sharing with them a message of truth: money is a trap that enslaves us. People are encouraged to destroy their credit cards in the shredder stationed in the church. Representatives from a local bank are on hand to help people open savings accounts, with $25 already in place. Reading what was described in the paper, I was impressed and moved. Did not Jesus do the same thing?

In John's Gospel Jesus impresses a whole lot of folks with miracles and give-aways. In chapter 6 he feeds thousands with only five loaves of bread and two fish. People love a free lunch. No wonder there were at least 5000 there. The next day many of them come looking for more since they are hungry again. Jesus tells them this: "Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you (John 6:26-27)." They are perplexed by this and ask Jesus to give them a sign so they might believe. I guess they forgot about yesterday's meal already.

The rest of chapter plays out like this: "I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty (John 6:35)." Jesus himself is the bread of liberation. Faith in Jesus frees us from the daily struggle of I want this, I need this, I hate this. And this is not because we are showered with all the fish we can eat, but because we no longer live the day looking for fish first, but looking to serve first. What you need will come.

John is wonderful about showing us that not everyone bought into this stuff Jesus was teaching. Its not as if 5000 suddenly understood everything that next day and believed. Actually very few understood Jesus and replied "This teaching is difficult, who can accept it (John 6:60)?" Most went looking for their bread elsewhere.

Most of those going to this church looking for free money will also go away disappointed. Even those lucky enough to win. After all $1000 only goes so far. They will ask for more signs and probably start reaching for credit card number two. But some will believe. Some will be changed. If what is reported in the paper is true, and their message is naming the enslaving lie called money as the phony idol it is, then people will be changed. Jesus is the dollars of life. Whoever comes to him will never be poor, and whoever believes in him will never go without. Not because you will be showered with millions, but because you will be living your faith in him first. What you need to live will come.