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enemies of missional giving
“Do not covet…anything that belongs to your neighbor.”
Exodus 20:17 (HCSB)
“I’ve worked hard and I’ve become rich and friendless and mean. In America, that’s about as far as you can go.”
Horace Vandergelder (Walter Matthau)
The person who puts his or her trust in things is as great a fool as the person who denies the existence of God altogether.
Periodically when I was a kid, my family would visit my Granny and Paw Paw in Clanton, Alabama. They lived in a wooden house, well-shaded by several enormous oak and pecan trees across the yard and near an old barn and smoke house where Granny stored her jellies, preserves, and canned vegetables. The front yard had a slight slope toward a hill that angled further down to the dirt driveway that led from Enterprise Road up to their house. It was there that my cousins and I played King of the Hill.
King of the Hill is typically a boy’s game—a rough-and-tumble human version of young bucks butting antlers or mountain goats clashing horns. The objective was to remove the cousin or cousins standing at the top of the grade by whatever means necessary and send them sprawling to a place topographically less prominent. Sometimes the dethroning was the result of a one-on-one engagement—hand-to-hand combat, if you will; sometimes it was the mutual effort of a hastily made alliance. Such an alliance was never formalized; rather, it amounted to two people grabbing each arm of the current king and dragging him down. The alliance then was immediately broken as the usurpers turned on each other for final control. For a brief and shining moment, one boy could flex his scarecrow-thin arms at the rest and declare himself, “King of the hill!” That reign would last until the fallen gathered themselves, raced back up the incline, laid hands on the grassy monarch and pitched him unceremoniously forward to less lordly surroundings.
All in all it reminds me of Washington, D.C. Or Wall Street.
The battle for generosity is like a spiritualized version of King of the Hill. We must actively dethrone all enemies, as often as is necessary, and submit our hearts, minds and possessions to Jesus Christ for His use and for His glory. In the New Testament, Paul once pictured this dethroning as caging anti-God thought processes so they could not retain control. He wrote to Christ’s followers in Corinth, “We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5; ESV).
As we previously considered, Jesus posits materialism (mammon) against God for control of our lives. It is to one of these two masters that each person has the opportunity to yield. The yielding takes place as we decide how we will relate to our possessions, since we cannot be wrongly related to our possessions and rightly related to God. Jesus emphasized that we cannot serve God and mammon; to love and serve one means hatred and despising of the other. The Scriptures point to a number of sins that hinder the follower of Christ from missional giving.
That’s what I want
One of the more well-known stories in the Bible is related to covetousness and involves a businessman farmer.130 This particular farmer had a record harvest, so abundant he would not be able to store it in his barns. At this point he had a number of options. He could have sought out those in need and blessed them with unexpected food. He could have thrown a “Harvest Party” for the town where he lived, giving glory to God for this unexpected blessing. He might have sought the wisdom of the town’s elders in the event there was an issue about which he was unaware, but with which he could help by selling some grain and using the proceeds to address the problem.
Instead, his decision was to demolish his existing barns and build bigger barns in order to store his grain and his goods. Then he would relax and, as we might say, “live off the interest for the rest of his life.” In true hedonistic style, he phrased it, “Relax, eat, drink, be merry.”
He could very well have been a 1990’s dot-com investor if we did not know any better.
His decision warns us of some dangers associated with covetousness and greed. First, the man was already rich. This was not an issue of some schlub winning the grain lottery, going from the poorhouse to the penthouse, from so low to the silo. We are not told how his wealth was accrued, but it is not too far a stretch to figure he had been a successful farmer. His decision to build bigger barns for storage was an outcrop on a life already established on keeping rather than giving.
Also, he did not see his possessions in the light of God’s ownership. Listen to his language: “my crops,” “my barns,” “my grain,” and “my goods.” Nowhere in the story did the man give thanks to God, praise Him for abundant provision, or acknowledge God as creator, sustainer, and provider. A true materialist infected with stuffitis, he took credit for every decision and every success.
Additionally, this rich man was foolish about the future. Out of either ignorance or hardheartedness, he presumed upon a future that was not to be. Unwilling or unable to admit that his life was like a vapor, here for a while and then gone,131 his life was forfeited that very night. Most grievous of all was that he missed everlasting blessing, since the most damaging thing about living under the control of materialism is that it provides nothing in eternity. This side of forever is the only place we will find any usefulness for our toys, trinkets, and trash. You may see someone’s iPod or favorite jeans in their casket, but those items will be there unused until they disintegrate. The contrast of this man’s life was the very example given to the believers at Corinth, “We do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things that are not seen are eternal” (2 Cor. 4:18; NKJV).
Jesus’ story about the farmer ended with a clear warning about materialism. Just like this foolish rich man, “so is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”132 The phrase “lay up treasure” in the original language of the New Testament is thesaurizo,133 and is used similarly in Matthew 6:19, where Jesus says, “Do not lay up for yourself treasures on earth” (NKJV). Laying up treasure per se is not the problem; the issue, like in real estate, is location, location, location. Foolish people “treasurize” their earthly things, heaping them up like King Tut’s tomb and leave them behind in the exact same way. Wise people make treasure out of heavenly things, accumulating them for a future reward.
The setting from which Jesus told the story of the foolish farmer involved a man who was, apparently, dissatisfied with his inheritance. Or, more properly, he was dissatisfied with what his brother was doing with his share of the inheritance. Well, what was really going on was that the brother who did not get an inheritance wanted some money, land or chariots from the brother who did get the inheritance and, in first-century People’s Court style, wanted Jesus to make a ruling. Jesus, who was not about to be whipsawed in this brotherly beatdown, responded, “Man, who made me a judge or arbitrator over you?” (Luke 12:14; ESV). It was then that the Lord drilled down to the real issue, which was not about who was getting what when Dad died, but the condition of the son’s heart that made him so concerned about the stuff that would be left behind. “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness,” Jesus told the man, “for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (v. 15; ESV).
The money pit: debt
Not only is covetousness a potential king of our heart’s hill that needs to be brought low, the accumulation of excessive amounts of debt is also an enemy to missional giving. One popular financial advisor encourages getting out of debt as a means of “financial freedom” so we can have “the money to do God’s will in our lives.”134 While the idea may be disputed that doing God’s will always entails something to do with money, there can be little dispute that the kind of sacrificial, missional giving that should be the norm among God’s people is often hindered by excessive debt. The late Larry Burkett wrote, “We have enough money in North America to fund all the Christian work in the world if the people would just give. Unfortunately, money needed for ministering to others is often tied up in large monthly payments.”135 Jerry Rankin concurs, “When we live beyond our means, we reveal that our priorities and values are not biblical but worldly and materialistic.”136
Our recent worldwide economic downturn has affected both believers and non-believers. For many, the problem was little savings and much debt; they were so far upside down that they could not even stand on their head to see the top. As a result, believers and non-believers alike have lost leveraged possessions and filed bankruptcy.137 Henri Nouwen’s thoughts on giving space to God include a word study of absurd and obedient. This comparison provides a tremendous insight on our time when Christ’s followers listen to mammon more than God,
We have often become deaf, unable to know when God calls us and unable to understand in which direction God calls us. Thus our lives have become absurd. In the word ‘absurd’ we find the Latin word surdus, which means ‘deaf.’
“A spiritual life requires discipline because we need to learn to listen to God, who constantly speaks but whom we seldom hear. When, however, we learn to listen, our lives become obedient lives. The word ‘obedient’ comes from the Latin word audire, which means ‘listening.’138
When Jesus said, “A student is not above his teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher,”139 it was both a sign and a warning. The wrong teacher inevitably yields a disciple (a learner) with the wrong focus. Nouwen’s diagnosis is that we have not listened closely enough to God and are, therefore, disobedient. The flip side is that we have listened closely to mammon and have followed it into full obedience.
Which way did it go, George?
A third enemy to missional giving is a lack of planning. Paul’s encouragement to the Corinthians was to prepare an offering for which they had already planned.140 Missional giving does not flow from a distracted heart or a lackadaisical mind. Missional giving does not just happen; it comes from a passion for God and God’s mission. It is the priority item in our budgeting; it is the reason for possessions God has put under our management. We should plan both to give and how we will give. While I agree with the spiritual theme of Donald Whitney’s statement, “How we use money for ourselves, for others, and especially for the sake of God’s Kingdom is from first to last a spiritual issue,”141 I think he, perhaps inadvertently, creates a false trichotomy. All is under God’s kingdom; it is not a third issue added to self and others. We need to have a plan as to how our giving impacts the kingdom of God, under which umbrella lies everything having to do with our lives on this earth.
This planning is nothing less than determining how the King wants His funds, currently under our management, invested in or dispersed throughout His kingdom. As we plan according to Kingdom priorities, we trust that God can and will sufficiently guide us as His Word promises.142 What we find is that when we plan to give, we give; without a plan to give, giving becomes more sporadic with many opportunities squandered.
What’s number one?
Closely related to a lack of planning is a lack of discipline. This deficiency can both keep us from planning and from sticking with the plans we have developed through prayer and listening to God. (The road to hell being paved with good intentions and all that.) Even some who plan to give fall through with the implementation; it’s as if they packed for a long trip and left the GPS or wallet on the kitchen table. There will always be plenty of distractions to keep us from remembering to give. Randy Alcorn writes, “It’s this hit-and-miss approach to giving that Paul wished the Corinthians to avoid: ‘On the first day of the week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income’” (1 Cor. 16:2; NIV).143
A number of years ago, we developed the habit of writing the checks that represented our giving first after being paid each week; in other words, we wrote the check to our local church, then our mission support checks, then the bills. We did this for two reasons: first, so that we would not forget and find ourselves rushing around on Sunday morning to get it done or forgetting altogether. Second, we did it so we did not watch the “balance” column in our check register get lower and lower before writing the most important checks. This one decision helped build needed discipline in our management practices. The exercise of discipline in our giving helps us to not fall prey to the distractions in what Swindoll calls, “[our] cluttered, complicated world.”144
A ministry position I once held included working with the benevolence team. Occasionally, when those wanting money called our church office, I would field the initial contacts. I remember a specific lady who called because they needed to pay a bill. In the course of the conversation, she revealed that they attended our church regularly. That was rather a surprise to me, so I asked, “Do you and your husband tithe regularly?” “Yes,” she said. “All the time.” I was shocked, so I asked, “You mean to tell me that you and your husband regularly give 10 percent of your income and you cannot afford to pay this bill?” She responded, “That’s right. Each week I write out the bills that are due, like the cable, rent, phone, or groceries, then we give 10 percent of whatever we have left.” Even if you believe that tithing on your net income is a biblical position, they had taken it to the extreme! Because they had never disciplined themselves to give of the “first fruits,”145 they were giving God the stems, cores, and peelings, with predictable financial problems as the result. Their lack of discipline may also have been tied to the next enemy: a lack of faith.
Hey, God, I trust You…kind of
Missional giving depends upon faith in God’s willingness and ability to provide for our needs. It takes seriously the admonition not to worry about tomorrow, trusting God for today since today has enough trouble of its own. After giving, it trusts that God is able to stretch what we have leftover in a supernatural way, or supplement it in a providential way. Missional giving recognizes that on occasion our finances may not make much sense on paper, but they make sense in God’s economy.
When I was a teenager and young man, my family was acquainted with a single mother in our church, Brenda, and her two children. Brenda wrote a monthly article for our church’s newsletter chronicling her walk with God; it was a mix of humor and truth enjoyed by a lot of people. I remember one article in which Brenda wrote of God’s unfailing provision, even mentioning a box of detergent, like the widow’s jar, that continued to fill the scoop long after it should have been fully used. Her son, Jay, now a pastor, wrote how he remembered,
“going to the candlelight service on Christmas Eve every year at our church. When we would get back to our car, there would always be presents for the whole family. It was good stuff we needed like clothes. My mom may have found out before she died but at the time we only had guesses who was doing that for us. I still don’t have a clue.
“I can think of two people from our church that gave her their car. I think she paid a dollar for one and made a gallon of sweet tea for the other one. We always had car problems but we never had car problems. No matter what hose blew or belt snapped, there seemed to always be another free car waiting in the wings.”146
Brenda’s faith was rewarded by God’ provision, though she never attained any appreciable level of wealth.
“Without faith it is impossible to please God.”147 There is no biblical reason to think that faith is necessary in all areas of life except finances. Faith is necessary for this life and the next. It makes no sense that people can claim to trust God for eternal life, but struggle to trust Him for daily bread.
Can tithing become sinful?
Many people reading this book have been taught “tithing;” that is, giving 10 percent of their income through the ministry of their local church. If you are one of those, have you ever considered the possibility of tithing becoming sinful? No, that is not an excuse to quit doing it; it is a challenge not to get stuck at 10 percent. Let me explain.
I was taught to tithe from my youngest days, so I tithed whenever I earned money cutting grass, raking leaves, or on the funds from whatever odd job found me. When, as a senior in high school, my first actual job arrived, I tithed without hesitation; I thought it was just the right thing to do. When Sonya and I married, we continued to tithe faithfully; it was assumed, not discussed. Eventually, though, we came to realize that it took absolutely no faith at all to write those tithe checks. God had long since proven Himself faithful to meet our needs, so we never spent one second wondering about it. We were being obedient, was not that the sum of what He wanted from us?
The issue became this: our giving no longer required faith. We were not giving beyond our ability. For many years we had factored tithing into our finances and had simply learned to live without that money. In a very real sense, God never had to show up at all in our finances; our giving never required His intervention and it never required any measure of faith. This situation developed despite the Bible’s teaching, “Whatever is not from faith is sin.”148 If we learn anything from the “Great Faith Chapter,” Hebrews 11, it is that faith is always inextricably linked to an outward expression of it. Abel was not commended simply for his faith, but for the obedient offering that resulted from his faith (v. 4); Abraham was commended for leaving his homeland without map, GPS or AAA membership (v. 8, 9); Sarah for trusting God for birthing a child when she could have been a great-grandmother (v. 11), and so on. All believers are thus admonished, “Without faith it is impossible to please God.”149
In the same way, our faith in God’s ability to provide for our needs is expressed not simply in verbal affirmations, but through obedience in our managerial responsibilities. We give when God says give, we give how much God says give, and we give to whom God says give. It is His; we are merely the channels of Him carrying out His business.
In one of the churches I have served, I had a sweet widow serve for a while as my ministry assistant. She was a thoroughly genuine follower of Christ who had a passion for God’s mission. On an occasion when we were just sharing some things about life and the Lord, she told me how, when her husband was alive, they had increased their Kingdom giving until it had reached 50 percent of his income.150 When her husband died in a hunting accident, she received the proceeds from life insurance. She said, “I knew that God wanted me to demonstrate faith and invest 50 percent in His kingdom, the same amount we had been giving.” Her investment was leading a team to an Eastern European country, armed with hundreds or thousands of Bibles to distribute while ministering to children in orphanages. She footed the entire expense herself.
When God gives the opportunity for us to give, in effect He is merely moving assets from one part of His kingdom to another. Or, as we might think of it, from one account to another. If God moves money from my possession for the purpose of meeting a need somewhere else, I can have faith that God can move assets from another account back under my management whenever I have a need to cover. This idea was expressed to the Corinthians like this: “You should give now while you have a personal abundance, so the abundance of another might help you when you need it.”151
But I just need a little more
Another usurper king to be dethroned is discontentment. A good biblical definition of contentment is “satisfaction in God regardless of my possessions, status or situation.”152 From our earliest days, those of us in the West are bombarded with advertising. Television, radio, billboards, newspaper, Internet, magazines, and smart phones all portray what could be if we were cool enough, rich enough, shrewd enough, or good looking enough. The battle for contentment begins as early in our lives as any other struggle we will ever endure. Our Lord says, “Don’t worry about your life,” but we grab for every promise of extending youthfulness. He says, “Don’t worry about what you’ll wear,” but JC Penney, Aeropostale, and Eddie Bauer are calling. And we can handle it when He tells us, “Don’t worry about tomorrow,” because we have TD Ameritrade, right?
By the time we are adults, the default position for contentment involves many more possessions than the Bible declares are necessary. Paul told Timothy, “If we have food and clothing we will be content with these” (1 Tim. 6:8; HCSB). How badly does that fly in the face of our modern or postmodern expectations? Having been saturated with a ‘health and wealth’ understanding of the gospel or the belief that a sign of God’s blessing on America is our financial prosperity, how many American believers could possibly be content only with something to eat and something to wear? I do not know if I could.
Is having only food and clothes God’s expectation for everyone? Probably not, although Jesus Himself drew attention to His lack of earthly housing,153 and the writer of the New Testament book of Hebrews held in high esteem those who “wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth” (Heb. 11:38; NKJV). Somehow I do not think he was referring to Cro-Magnon Man. These were believers, our brothers and sisters in Christ who “wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented” (Heb. 11:37; NKJV). The fact they were listed with others, who were mauled by lions, lends to the idea that homelessness was the exception not the rule.
Paul did not equate contentment with being poor or rich, but assured the believers in the Roman colony of Philippi that contentment was possible whether in abundance or poverty.154 This happiness with what he had was only possible because Paul had not elevated his stuff into the realm of personal treasure. His influence on believers from the first century down to our day is evidence that he was entrusted with the true riches of which Jesus spoke.155
Ah, who cares?
The final enemy to missional giving that we need to consider is a lack of compassion. David Phillips argues that emotion leads to thought which leads to action.156 Moses was rescued because the daughter of Pharaoh had compassion on him,157 the mother whose child was threatened by King Solomon saw the baby’s life spared because of her compassion,158 God’s promise to return Israel back to their homeland was based on His compassion,159 and many of Jesus’ healings were motivated by compassion.160
The result is if we lack compassion toward those in need, it is less likely that we will give to meet that need. Just think about it: if you are a political conservative, when is the last time you gave to Greenpeace? If you are a political liberal, when is the last time you sent money to the NRA? If you are a Christian, when is the last time you sent money to Islamic Relief? The lack of giving cannot be solely attributed to philosophical differences. We do not give because we have no empathy; we are not compassionate toward them, therefore it does not figure into our giving plan, therefore we do not give. (This is not advocacy for donation to Greenpeace, the NRA, or Islamic Relief or other specific charity; these are used merely to show the role of compassion in giving.)
There is a reason, you know, why starving children or abused animals are shown on those fundraising ads. If the organization can tug on the appropriate heartstrings, we may be motivated to give, whereas a bunch of cold statistics on a dark background rarely secures the same result.
Compassion is the central theme of a well-known New Testament story. The story of the good Samaritan, an unnamed man who helped a stranger—the victim of a mugging—has come to represent compassion even for those not familiar with the Gospels (think of the references to a “good samaritan who stopped to help with the accident” on the local news). Two religious people had already passed by this wounded man without offering any assistance at all. The one who did help was from a race generally despised by the Jews of Jesus’ day, yet was held up as the example from which to learn. Christians today must be compassionate lest we fulfill the observation noted by Carl F.H. Henry in the middle of the last century. Using the story of the good Samaritan as a backdrop, he wrote, “Fundamentalism is the modern priest and Levite, by-passing suffering humanity.”161
Obedience defeats the enemy and the enemies
These hindrances to missional giving (our enemies as well as our enemy, Satan) can be overcome via simple obedience. Paul told us that all the thoughts we have that work against our knowledge of God are to be brought into obedience to Christ. Temptations to do wrong are not obligations to do wrong; a tempting thought does not necessitate a follow through. Jesus died to release us from that kind of bondage, giving us both the freedom and will to live obediently to Him.
Missional giving, as practiced by the missionary manager, allows us to join God in His mission in this world experiencing immeasurable blessings along the way. Then, in eternity, we find that, as with all things springing from the grace of God, the reward far outweighs the sacrifice.
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