Don’t Give Out Of Extortion!

-Give It As A Gift!

When I was a Bible College student, I came to the conclusion that I didn’t need to give a “tithe” or an “offering”, in church, because I was paying my tuition to a “Christian” college! So, I thought, that was like just as good as giving it to my church! Apparently NOT! I remember needing some repair work done on my car—and, it was a sizeable amount! I remember sensing a Holy Spirit “inspired” thought like God telling me, “I WILL get your offering even if I have to TAKE it through an auto repair!

-Taken By Coercion!

In Paul’s letter to the Church of Corinth, he made an interesting statement, “Therefore I considered it necessary to urge the brothers to go on ahead to you and arrange in advance the generous gift you promised, so that it will be ready as a gift and not as an extortion” 2 Corinthians 9:5.  That’s an interesting choice of words! Paul’s like saying, “Don’t MAKE me TAKE that from you”; or, “Don’t MAKE me EXTORT it…or, take it by COERCION.” Literally, he’s saying, “Don’t make me STEAL it from you.” That’s NOT how you give an offering to the Lord! That’s NOT how you give to the work of the Gospel! That’s NOT how you give to needy people! “Don’t give,” Paul says, “ONLY because your FORCED to give.” God won’t bless your gift if He has to EXTORT it from you!

-Sow Generously! Reap Generously!

In the next verse, Paul continues, “Remember this: The person who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the person who sows generously will also reap generously” 2 Corinthians 9:6.  Don’t give “sparingly.” So, what exactly does that word mean? We don’t use the word “sparingly” very often. We’re more familiar with the word “spare.” If someone begs you to spare their life, they mean, “Let me keep it! Don’t take it from me!” If a coach tells his team, “Spare no effort” he means, “Don’t hold back any of your effort! Give ALL your effort!” In Romans 8:32 it says, “God did not even SPARE His own Son, but offered Him up for us all.” That means that God didn’t hold Him back! He didn’t keep Jesus for himself! He SHARED Him with us! So, if we give “sparingly” it means, in our heart, that we want to HOLD BACK! We don’t want to SHARE!

-How “Not” To Give!

When we give “sparingly”, we’re not thinking about how much we can GIVE; but, about how much we can KEEP & HOLD onto! In the next verse, Paul tells the Corinthian believers not to give “reluctantly”—“Each person should do as he has decided in his heart—not reluctantly or out of necessity, for God loves a cheerful giver” 2 Corinthians 9:7. Some translations use the word “GRUDGINGLY”—don’t give your offering with a “grudge.” Don’t hold it against God like He’s asking too much from us! If we’re not careful, it’s easy to harbor a bitter spirit against God about His giving requirements! However, that’s acting like an “OWNER”—which we are NOT! We’re a “steward” or a “manager” of a portion of God’s estate! It’s all His! Nothing belongs to us—”You brought nothing into this world & you can’t take anything out” 1 Tim 6:7.

 

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Why Am I So Discontent?

-Hoping To Strike It Rich!

One of the most embarrassing financial decisions I ever made was getting into the beef jerky vending machine business! It was like the late ‘90’s, as I recall; and, I spent $10,000 for 20 machines. I trusted the company to place them in high traffic areas; but, it didn’t work out that way! My kids benefited—the boys, especially, enjoyed lots of beef jerky snacks! Then, there were all the “Publisher’s Clearing House” and “Reader’s Digest” sweepstakes entries I filled out religiously in hopes of striking it rich! But, perhaps my most embarrassing financial “scheme” was one of those “Chain Letters” where you write 1000 strangers, asking them to send you $10; and, then they send 1000 letters. And, if no one breaks the chain everyone will have like a million dollars in 30 days—it didn’t work! I lost a lot of money on postage! Yea, I did that! Only once! I was a dirt poor college student, and, I was easily manipulated! Don’t judge me!

-Greed Masqueraded!

Now, let me tell you why I’m willing to embarrass myself with those true stories! I wanted to illustrate how greed & covetousness can masquerade themselves! I’m NOT saying that buying into the beef jerky vending business; or, any kind of vending business is greedy! I’m NOT saying that filling out the “Publisher’s Clearing House” entries is greedy and covetous! But, FOR ME, it was! All those activities, FOR ME, were a hoped for “get rich scheme.” I was greedy and covetous! I saw someone wearing a t-shirt once that read, “All I Want Is A Little Bit More Than I’ll Ever Have.” That was ME! I had bought into that worldly attitude that to be happy, I needed more STUFF!

-Advertisers Appeal To Our Greed!

That’s the assumption behind most advertising, isn’t it— “You can’t be totally happy ‘til you own our product. If you wanna enjoy life, you need this & you can buy now, pay later, on our easy credit plan!” It’s my hope, over the next few posts, to search the Scriptures with you and seek the Holy Spirit’s help to determine what we ought to value in life! There’s no denying that God has a lot to say about money and wealth and stuff; and, generally speaking, this is what He says: “Everything belongs to ME!” It all belongs to HIM! None of our stuff is truly ours! How much do we leave behind at death? ALL of it!

-God Owns It All!

Consider these Scripture verses—”To the LORD your God belong the heavens, even the highest heavens, the earth and everything in it” Deut 10:14. “The silver is mine and the gold is mine,” declares the LORD Almighty” Haggai 2:8. “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it” 1 Cor. 10:26. We are NOT owners! We are “stewards” and “managers” of God’s stuff! Let me tell you why that’s so important—If you think YOU own your stuff, you’ll use your income to build your “Little Kingdom”; when, it’s God’s will that you leverage it to build His “BIG Kingdom.” You’ll be guilty of robbing from God. That was one of Israel’s sins: “Will a man rob God?” He ASKS, “Yet you have robbed Me! But you say, ‘In what way have we robbed You?’ In tithes and offerings. You are cursed with a curse” Malachi 3:8,9. It’s a serious crime to “rob” God—they were cursed!

 

Devoted To Church Community!

-But, Satan Opposes It!

Unity is always God’s will for His Church! Satan, on the other hand, is always working to sow seeds of “DISUNITY” among those individuals that comprise a local church community! Because Satan has been so successful—at promoting disunity—many believers have determined to live a life of “isolation” while still attending church; and, others have elected to “quit” church altogether! Listen believer: “God never intended for you to live your Christian life in a vacuum!” I am so sorry that you’ve been “wounded”! I truly am! The Christian life was never intended to be lived alone; but, in the context of a “community.”

-Is It Like Joining A Commune?

Now, I’ve noticed that all it takes for some of us to “check out” is to hear that word “community.” Your eyes kind of roll to the back of your head! You cross your fingers & hope we’ll quickly change the subject! It’s like you’re afraid I’m going to tell you to sell everything you own, join a commune, and, raise organic fruits & vegetables! If that’s what you think, it’s because you misunderstand what community means in the Biblical context of a local church. It’s something that, once you grasp it’s meaning,  you’ll never let go of it because of it’s relational beauty!

-Biblical Community Is Beautiful!

In our hearts, we all want Biblical community—it makes no difference your personality type! Whether you’re an introvert, an extrovert, or, socially awkward, all of us long for meaningful human relationships! That’s how God “wired” us—in HIS “image”—in the “community” of the Triune Godhead! He is, Himself, a “community” of 3 persons—ONE God existing in the perfect, loving, community of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Even those of us, who’ve been “wounded” by someone, still keep searching for deep, authentic, relationships. The word “community” is a compound word: “COM” meaning “with”; and, “UNITY” meaning… “unity.” So, it means to “be unified”; or, having “common union.” In the church it just means to share our common life “IN” Christ.  Now that’s a problem, in America, where the typical response is to look for a church where WE can “be fed”; where, our family can be ministered “unto.” That response is foreign in Scripture! It’s is an unbiblical, unhealthy, consumer-driven mindset that has hi-jacked Jesus Christ’s intended purpose for HIS CHURCH! It requires repentance!

-We’re Not Just Here For You!

The church—the followers of Jesus—is NOT made up of those who “minister”; and, those who are “ministered to”! Rather, ALL are to minister!  “And, let us (ALL of us!) consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds” (Hebrews 10:24). “Bear one another’s burdens; and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2). More than 60 times the phrase “each other” or “one another” is found in the N.T. commanding the church in the ways they’re to minister & care for one another! Every person can say, “We’re not just here for you; you’re here for us also!” That’s the responsibility of everyone in the faith community! The church that fails in that is crippled; and, guilty of “man-centered” narcissistic consumerism!

Daniel: Debunking The American Dream!

-Even If He Doesn’t, We Won’t Bow!

(NOTE: This Continues A Series Of Posts On Daniel’s Life)

I love the response of Daniel’s 3 friends—Hananiah, Mishael & Azariah—when King Nebuchadnezzar demanded that they bow down & worship his gold statue; or, face death in the fiery furnace: “If the God we serve exists, then HE CAN rescue us from the furnace of blazing fire, and HE CAN rescue us from the power of you, the King. But EVEN IF HE DOES NOT rescue us, we want you as King to know that we will not serve your gods or worship the gold statue you set up” (Daniel 3:17-18).  They trusted God  to deliver them either by miracle or by death! They trusted God even if it was part of His Sovereign will NOT to deliver them by a miracle! Their trust in God was not just tied to delivery from the furnace—“EVEN IF He does NOT,” they said, “We won’t bow to your false gods.”

-Will You Trust God With Whatever?

By application, we have to be careful that our trust in God is not limited to delivery by miracle! Sadly, the “gospel” being preached in the majority of our American churches is all about “ME”—it’s “MAN-centered”, not “GOD-centered”—“If God doesn’t deliver me from the ‘furnace’ of my bad circumstances, than He’s not to be trusted!” That’s where false teaching begins—with MAN’S WAY! God’s Gospel always begins with GOD! And, it contrasts the holiness of God with unholy mankind! God is always righteous & we’re not! We’re born, into this world, under His judgment and wrath—broken, depraved, in need of mercy & grace that is only available to us through Jesus’ atonement, for our sin, on the cross!

-The False Gospel Of The American Dream!

The so-called “American Dream” is a perversion of God’s true Gospel! It promotes an entitlement mentality of a bigger & better “YOU”—your “right” to own a home; your “right” to a high-paying job; your “right” to affordable health care; your “right” to be delivered from the “furnace”! The false gospel of the “American Dream” says Jesus came to make us bigger & better—that’s NOT the Gospel of Jesus Christ! He didn’t come to make you a better YOU! He came to put you on a CROSS & die to SELF!

-God Is The Treasure We Seek!

To His disciples, Jesus said: “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it” (Matthew 16:24-25). We don’t just need a little “makeover.” We need to DIE! Our “SELF” needs to be crucified & born again in Christ! That’s the true Gospel! This story wasn’t about the delivery of Daniel’s friends from the furnace! This story is about GOD & His eternal purposes—and, Daniel’s 3 friends were submitted to that whether it meant delivery by miracle or by death! That’s their testimony—having relationship with God was of far greater value to them than life itself! By their willingness to entrust their lives to God’s plan & purpose—rather than their own—they made God the treasure to desire more than anything else!