The Essence of Kingdom Living: Generosity

Here are some of the highlights from my sermon this past Sunday.  I’m posting this for those who were not in attendance so that you will understand the context for the following challenge that the elders made to the congregation:

In response to this Sunday’s sermon on generosity, the elders have issued a churchwide sacrificial giving challenge. Next Sunday (October 3), a special offering (in addition to the regular offering) will be collected for the ministry of the Hills in Japan. Because the dollar-to-yen exchange rate is so low right now, they are experiencing a serious financial deficit. Their ministry in Japan is so vital to the expansion of the kingdom that the elders have set the goal of collecting $10,000 from this second offering to send to them. Pray about how you can store up treasures in heaven by generously giving to the ministry of the Hills. If you will not be in attendance on Sunday, please send your financial gift to the church or drop it by the office this week.

Kingdom citizens are people who decide how much is enough to live on and generously give away the rest.

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.  “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!  No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money. (Matthew 6:19-24)

Glen Stassen, professor at Fuller Theological Seminary, and author of Living the Sermon on the Mount says:

We know the reality: if we invest all our money in an expensive, luxurious car, then a significant amount of our caring and attention will go into how the car is doing.  This is what is meant by our heart following our possessions.  If on the other hand we invest our money in education and evangelism; prevention of HIV/AIDS, hunger, and poverty; in orphanages, in poor countries, and agricultural development and teaching the gospel there, then we will pay more attention to how people we have given to are doing.

God wants our heart not only our money, but Jesus is a realist.  He knows that our heart tends to follow our money.

How to live like generous kingdom citizens in today’s world…

1. Decide how much is enough and stick to it.

Pray about this and realize that enough is much less than what you think it is.

2. Know where your money is going.

Track your spending so that you can determine how much is enough and areas of excess.

3. Get out of debt and stay out!

Ask the Lord to make a way for you to get out of debt and be willing to trim and cut in order to do so.  Also, do not stop being generous while you are working your way out of debt.

4. Get to know people in need.

Francis Chan, pastor and author of Crazy Love wrote this:

Awhile back I had a free evening, so I decided to go to the store and buy some items to give away to those who needed them more than I do.  It was a good idea, something I want my life to be characterized by more and more.  But it was embarrassing.  I realized that everyone I knew had enough, that I didn’t know many people who were truly in need, and that I needed to change that.  I needed to go and intentionally meet people who don’t live like I do or think like I do, people who could never repay me.  For their sake, but for my own as well.

5. Don’t be afraid to do what it takes to be generous.

Francis Chan again:

Sometimes I feel like when I make decisions that are remotely biblical, people who call themselves Christians are the first to criticize and say I’m crazy, that I’m taking the Bible too literally, or that I’m not thinking about my family’s well-being.  For example, when I returned from my first trip to Africa, I felt very strongly that we were to sell our house and move into something smaller, in order to give more away.  The feedback I got was along the lines of “It’s not fair to your kids,”  “It’s not a prudent financial choice,” and “You are doing it just for show.”  I do not remember a single person who encouraged me to explore it or supported the decision at the time.

We ended up moving into a house half the size of our previous home, and we haven’t regretted it.  My response to the cynics, in the context of eternity, was, “Am I the crazy one for selling my house?  Or are you for not giving more, serving more, being with your Creator more?”


Am I Listening?

I recently attended a conference along with 1400 other people where Christian author and social critic, Os Guinness, spoke.  Although I was just one of many in attendance that day, it was as if he was speaking to me.  He said, “In America today, everybody’s speaking and hardly anyone is listening.  Focused attention is rarer than gold in America today.”

A few days later, I read these words from one of my Christian heroes, Dietrich Bonhoeffer:

Just as the love of God begins with listening to His Word, so the beginning of love for the brethren is learning to listen to them.  It is God’s love for us that He not only gives us His Word but also lends us His ear.  Christians, especially ministers, so often think they must contribute something when they are in the company of others, that this is the one service they have to render.  They forget that listening can be a greater service than speaking.

He who can no longer listen to His brother will soon be no longer listening to God either.  This is the beginning of the death of the spiritual life.  Anyone who thinks that his time is too valuable to spend keeping quiet will eventually have no time for God and his brother – but only for himself and for his own follies.

I’m pretty sure the Lord is asking me if I’m listening – to Him and to others.  Is He asking you the same?

Illegal Love

Illegal immigration is a big issue here in New Mexico as we are a state that shares a border with Mexico.  I recently attended the 2010 New Mexico Worldview Conference where – among others – Chuck Colson spoke.  After the conference, I attended a pastor’s luncheon where Colson and the other speakers fielded questions. One of the questions that was asked of the panel was their opinion of the illegal immigration issue.  Colson referred to an article on his web site entitled Strangers and Sojourners by T.M. Moore.  I’m still processing the article, but I was struck by a portion that I thought I’d share.  The issue of illegal immigration is complex and polarizing, but one thing is certain: Christians are called upon to love at all times regardless of nationality or legality.

The Bible cannot be any clearer: They who know the Lord are called to love the stranger who sojourns in our midst. Yes, they may be here illegally. Yes, they may be selfishly drawing down the public treasury by taking advantage of medical and educational facilities. And yes, they may be guilty of crimes and repeated incursions across our borders. None of these disqualifies them as objects of the love of the Christian community.

Whatever approach we might recommend to resolving the immigration crisis in America, therefore, must be seen to be motivated by and infused with love for those who sojourn in our midst, as well as for all parties in the debate. Rancor, blanket condemnations, stereotyping, or self-righteousness are completely out of the question. So also is taking the law into our own hands. The Christian community must not conclude, for example, that the “law of love” entitles us to disregard the laws of the land and make our churches or homes sanctuaries for those who are in this country in a manner contrary to those laws. Sometimes the loving thing to do is to work for change in the laws regulating immigration. While such change is possible through peaceable and legal means, this must be the Christian’s course.