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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What Do You Love More Than God?

-Are There Competing Loves?

When Jesus told the rich young ruler to, “Go, sell your belongings and give it to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven…” he confronted him with the one thing in his life that was competing for a relationship with God—his wealth! The text continues, “…but, when the young man heard that command, he went away grieving, because he had many possessions” Mark 10:17-27.  Let’s be clear—Jesus didn’t tell everyone to sell all their possessions and give it to the poor. Only to those, who made their possessions an idol, does He tell to get rid of it!

-Do You Want To Be Rich?

And, it’s not just about HAVING riches! The Apostle Paul says, “…those who WANT to BE RICH fall into temptations, a trap, and many foolish and harmful desires, which plunge people into ruin and destruction” 1 Timothy 6:9.  It’s not having riches, necessarily, that are the temptation and trap. It’s the WANTING to BE RICH! I’ve known people who were dirt poor and fell into this trap! It was the “lust” they had to BE RICH that ruled their life! It was the idol they bowed down to—WANTING to BE RICH! Those who love money, whether they have it or not, are easily deceived by it!

-The Root Of All Kinds Of Evil!

Paul continued his warning to Timothy, “…the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil, and by craving it, some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains” 1 Timothy 6:10. In other words, it’s that covetous love for money that can give rise to all kinds of other deadly sins. When the “love of money” is your life’s ambition, you’ll sell out everything to get it—even your relationship with God! You’ll do whatever it takes to gain more money; and, to gain more stuff! But, you’ll never be content!

-Godliness With Contentment!

Paul told Timothy that it was “…godliness with contentment that is great gain”; and, “…if we have food and clothing we should be content with these” 1 Timothy 6:6,8.  Our greatest “return on investment” comes from a life that finds contentment in God alone! If we have God! If we know Him! If He is our treasure, than food and clothing is all we really need in this life! Paul tells Timothy that it’s possible to be content with those simple necessities of life because we have all that we really need in God! Do you believe that? Do you live that way? Are you content?

-Free From The Love For Money!

God inspired the writer of Hebrews to record these words: “Keep your life free from the love of money. Be content with what you have. For He has said, ‘I will never fail you nor forsake you.’ Hence we can confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper, I will not be afraid; what can man do to me?’” Hebrews 13:5,6.  We can be FREE from the love of money! We can be content with what we have because God will never forsake us! He’ll never fail me! The stock market will fail me; but, God never will! So, how do you spend your money? Jesus said, “…where your heart is, there your treasure will be…” If you treasure stuff, that’s where your heart will follow! If you treasure God’s work, that’s where your heart will follow!

 

Do I Really Own My Stuff?

-Or, Am I A Manager?

You don’t want to be on the wrong side of that question! If you don’t listen to the Word of God—when it comes to your finances & your stuff—you’ll forfeit something. God will oppose you as long as you live like an “owner” of YOUR stuff rather than a “steward” or a “manager” of HIS. The prophet, Malachi, was inspired by God’s Spirit to write: “Will a man rob God? 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.

-God Owns It All!

Clearly, God means for us to understand that our resources are not ours to use however we may wish! In my last post I challenged you with Scripture that makes it clear that God owns ALL of it! He doesn’t just get our tithe & offerings; and, the rest is ours to spend on ourselves! He owns it ALL—Deuteronomy 10:14; Haggai 2:8; 1 Corinthians 10:26. As stewards, we are responsible for managing the portion of HIS “estate”—that He has entrusted to us—the way that HE wants it to be managed! We don’t really have the freedom to do what we want with it! Our responsibility is to spend it the way He directs us! We have to get this right, Church! You’re the STEWARD of your stuff, not the OWNER! Repeat that our loud! You need to convince yourself of that!

-Do A Financial Audit!

Here’s what you need to do—you need to do an AUDIT of your finances! And, if God’s Spirit shows you that you’ve been living like an owner instead of a steward, you need to “repent.” Literally, to “repent” means to “change your mind” about something. If you’ve not been obedient, in this area, you need to repent & change your mind about the way you’ve been living! And, I would challenge you to make it a matter of prayer, every day, to release your stuff back to God! Talk to Him every day, about it, and, give it all back to Him. And, how will you know if you’re making progress? Well, you’ll begin to experience freedom from greed, first of all! When it’s part of your mindset that none of your stuff is really yours, you’ll also begin to experience a freedom from the anxiety that a love of money can bring. It’s all Gods anyway; and, He’s promised to take care of you! So, your dependence transfers from your IRA to God, right?

-Don’t Wander From The Faith!

The Apostle Paul warned Timothy, his son in the faith, with these words: “But godliness with contentment is a great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out.  But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these. But those who want to be rich fall into temptation, a trap, and many foolish and harmful desires, which plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and by craving it, some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains” 1 Timothy 6:6-10. Catch the gravity of Paul’s warning to young Timothy? He tells him that the way he looks at his money & his stuff has a direct correlation to his relationship with God! And, if he gets it wrong he’s in danger of “financial apostasy”; or, wandering from the faith! Don’t do that!

 

How Do You Measure Spiritual Growth?

-Measuring Physical Growth Is Easy!

Measuring “physical” growth is relatively easy, isn’t it? And, we begin measuring physical growth from birth, don’t’ we? How long is the baby, in terms of inches; and, how much does baby weigh? Right? That’s always one of the first questions asked! And, the measuring continues as baby grows into a toddler; and, then elementary age. Many homes have a measuring wall; or, a doorway, with all kinds of little pencil marks & words alongside it with a child’s name & age representing how tall they were at that specific age. Do you have such a place? Measuring physical growth is also a pretty exact science too, isn’t it? This is your “HEIGHT”; this, is your “WEIGHT”! This is your “inseam”, your “waist”; and, your “neck size.”

-Measuring Spiritual Growth!

But, measuring “SPIRITUAL” growth isn’t as easy, is it? It’s our tendency to measure others “SPIRITUALLY”  by how much they know about the Bible, doctrine, and, theology. So, if someone’s level of Bible knowledge is how we judge their level of spirituality, than it follows that we think of “SPIRITUAL GROWTH” as adding more “KNOWLEDGE”—more Bible reading; more Bible studies; and, more Church activities! And, yet, it’s curious that the Apostle Paul taught the Church of Corinth that, “…knowledge puffs up…” (1 Cor. 8:1); or, it INFLATES us with PRIDE! Who hasn’t met the arrogant “know-it-all” that keeps reminding you how much they know about the Bible? They beam proudly when others brag about their Bible knowledge. Paul is saying that—in their case—knowledge isn’t a measure of how spiritual they are; but, how CARNAL & FLESHLY they are! Knowledge is their IDOL!

-Bible Knowledge & Spirituality!

Now, please understand that I’m not ragging on anyone who has a growing knowledge of God’s Word! On the contrary, Scripture demands that we read it; memorize it; and, meditate on it! In fact, it’s impossible to grow spiritually apart from a steady diet of God’s Word. I’m simply saying that Bible knowledge is NOT an accurate measuring tool for spirituality! So, if it’s not more Bible knowledge; than, what is it that grows us spiritually? I like to say that spiritual growth happens as you become more like Jesus; & less like you! How does that happen?

-It’s Not By Osmosis!

How do we become more like Jesus? Well, it doesn’t happen by some process of osmosis! Rather, it happens by our “SANCTIFICATION” Scripture says! At the moment of our salvation—when we exercise faith in Christ’s atoning work on the cross—God “JUSTIFIES” us! That means He pardons us from sin’s penalty—death! And, from that point forward, we are destined for “GLORIFICATION”—that day when we’ll finally be set free from the very presence of sin; and, we’ll be “like Jesus.” And, “SANCTIFICATION” is everything that God is doing in your life, in that time in between, our SANCTIFICATION & our GLORIFICATION! If you’re a follower of Jesus, you’ve been set FREE from the “power” of sin! Your spirit long’s to be rid of sin; while, your broken, totally depraved flesh continues to lust after it! It’s in that tension where God works in us!

More Like Jesus, Less Like Me!

-Measuring Spiritual Progress!

Have you ever tried asking someone, “How are you doing spiritually?” They always say, “Good, Good,” right? Probably not a very good question. It’s not likely to get the real answer you’re looking for! Next time, try this instead: “So, where are you at in your walk with the Lord? And, on what criteria do you base your answer? How are you measuring your walk with Christ?” When we enter into that kind of conversation with someone, we need those “qualifying” or “follow-up” questions too! On what basis can we say we’re doing “good” when someone asks us how we’re doing spiritually?

-Does It Matter What We Do?

Do we measure spiritual progress by the things we DO? Be careful! Don’t quickly dismiss the things we DO & SAY, that, “it’s only what’s in the heart that matters!” If our heart is right with God, it will impact the things we DO, right? Jesus said, “If you love Me, you will KEEP my commandments.” At the same time, we can DO all the RIGHT things for the WRONG reasons, can’t we? We can DO things to be SEEN of men; and, Jesus called that hypocrisy!

-What About “Spiritual Disciplines”?

I received a phone call, some time ago, from a young man who was saved years ago in my youth group in Colorado. He was on the pastoral staff of a church in Oregon; and, he called to ask if he could conduct an interview with me for a seminary class he was taking! The interview was based on how I lived my life according to the “spiritual disciplines.” If that’s a new term to you, suffice it to say that “spiritual disciplines” are practices found, in Scripture, that can promote spiritual growth. They are “habits” of devotion, like prayer, fasting, public & private worship, meditation & making disciples—all activities that we’re commanded to do, right? Jesus practiced them! But, I prefaced my answer, in the interview, with this caution: “We are NOT GODLY just because we practice certain spiritual disciplines!

-The Error Of The Pharisees!

That was the great error of the Pharisees! They believed they were godly BECAUSE they did certain things! You can’t separate what you’re DOING on the OUTSIDE by who you ARE on the INSIDE! WHAT you do matters! But, WHO you are matters even more! Here’s the point—spiritual growth happens as you become more like Jesus; and, less like you!

-Become Like Your Teacher!

It is our goal, as a local church, that our community of believers would become mature disciples of Christ in their personal spiritual development. That’s a core value! That we’d all grow in spiritual maturity! As disciples of Christ, that we’d all become more like Him! That’s what a disciple does! He becomes like his Teacher! And, it is our belief that individual spiritual development occurs BEST in the context of a local church! Faith grows best where it is challenged, not isolated! And, crucial to that is the realization that being a disciple of Christ does not begin with something we DO; but, with something that Christ already DID! He redeemed our broken relationship with the Father by His death on the cross! He took my sin! And, He paid the penalty that I should have paid so that I might receive forgiveness! That’s the Gospel!