Hum “Family of God” as you read this one
2Corinthians 9: God loves it when the giver delights in the giving.
In spite of Paul having written some pretty stern stuff to them, he remains confident of his good relationship with the Corinthians. In fact, he moves from the topic of his first letter to them to encourage them to be generous in their giving to a special relief offering he’s collecting to be taken to the Christian poor in Jerusalem. If you think about it it’s quite an impressive thing he’s doing. These Gentiles wouldn’t have given a second thought to some Jews living in Jerusalem just a few years earlier. They felt no connection to them and they certainly wouldn’t have considered sending them a relief offering. Now, though, it’s all changed. Their lives are now linked to the lives of people throughout the region. Before it was “us and them” but now it’s all “us.” What has happened? Jesus! His presence in their lives has made them part of a family. These days, they not only know about fellow believers in distant Jerusalem, but they’re willing to send them some of their hard earned cash to help them through hard times. What Paul began so long ago continues to this day as Christians send offerings to people in distant places in the Name of Jesus. God’s people are the most generous people on the face of the earth. The reason, according to Paul, is that we’re behaving like our Heavenly Father who’s the most generous Being there is. We’re part of a great family and our Father has set for us a powerful example of giving. We give to all who are in need, but we’re especially willing to give, even sacrificially, to help our brothers and sisters. “I’m so glad I’m a part of the family of God.”
Take Away: God’s people are wonderfully generous people.
2Corinthians 8: We don’t want anyone suspecting us of taking one penny of this money for ourselves.
Paul’s collecting an offering for the Christian poor in Jerusalem. The idea came from the churches in Macedonia but has now spread throughout the Gentile Church. There’s no pressure as to what individuals give. Paul just urges people to give the best they are able. He does note though, that in spite of the Macedonian Christians going through some hard times of their own that they’ve set the giving bar pretty high. Now, Paul’s sending some folks to Corinth to collect their offering and take it to Jerusalem. He’s quite business like in his approach and wants to assure them that Titus won’t be alone in caring for this money but will be joined by another trustworthy individual in handling it. The Apostle adds that he doesn’t want anyone to have any reason to think he’s skimming expense money off the top of this designated offering. He wants them to be confident that everything they give will go to its designated purpose. As a pastor I’ve always followed Paul’s approach in money matters. I try to stay away from handling church cash if at all possible. Also, in the church we deal with money handling issues using accepted business practices along with a dose of sanctified common sense. Like Paul, we want to handle money and other church assets in such a way that no reasonable person will have reason to question our honesty. Beyond that, of course, we’re well aware that the Almighty sees it all and that someday we’ll stand before him in Judgment.
Take Away: Good business practices are good business for the church.
A little dirty, but no worse for wear
Matthew 25: It’s criminal to live cautiously like that!
A wealthy man is going on a long trip and in preparation for leaving he assigns three trusted servants to handle his investments for him while he’s gone. He doesn’t take his assets and divide them by three. Instead, he entrusts his servants with differing amounts based on their capabilities of handling such responsibilities. The most gifted (and trusted) servant comes through with flying colors. The next servant does just as well with the smaller amount placed under his control. The third servant, though, is a miserable failure. He wasn’t considered to be especially capable in the first place, but the wealthy man took that into consideration by giving him less responsibility. The third servant, though, doesn’t even try. He hides the money and waits for the day of accounting. This approach angers the wealthy man and it’s the undoing of the third servant who’s thrown out. He isn’t fired because he didn’t do as well with his money as did the first servant. Rather, he’s thrown out for doing nothing with the resources placed in his hands. In the Kingdom of God, we’re valued based on our faithfulness rather than our capability. Had the most gifted servant hidden the larger amount placed in his care he would have been the one thrown out. Had this third servant returned with even meager interest he would have been commended for a job well done. The thing that concerns me today isn’t that I see some who have greater ability and more high profile positions in the Kingdom of God. My concern is that I be faithful with what the Lord has given me. I don’t want to face God with empty hands.
Take Away: What must I do to be a good steward of what God has placed in my hands?
A given life
Isaiah 66: But there is something I’m looking for: a person simple and plain, reverently responsive to what I say.
I don’t know much about the wise men in the Christmas story, but I do know that they come to Jesus. The gifts they bring are, I understand, expensive ones. Beyond those material things, though, the important thing is that they bring themselves. In this passage Isaiah reminds me that God made it all and he owns it all. He’s not depending on me to bring him gold, frankincense, and myrrh or anything else for that matter. He is, though, counting on me to bring him my reverent obedience. I believe a person ought to practice their faith in Christ in practical ways, including being a good steward of all that has been placed in his or her hands. However, the offering I give is simply an outflow of a given life. That’s a gift that’s guaranteed to please the Lord.
Take Away: Our offerings are an outflow of our given lives.
God is the best
2 Chronicles 2: The house I am building has to be the best, for our God is the best.
Solomon assumes the throne of Israel with one major task before him: the construction of the Temple. His father David has accomplished much. For one thing, Israel is secure, at peace with the surrounding nations. Solomon’s efforts will not have to be divided between ruling and defending his kingdom. For another thing, David has already stockpiled building materials and funds for the Temple work. Now, the responsibility for the actual construction comes to Solomon. The young king takes the job to heart. The Temple is to be a masterpiece because it’s to be the focus of the worship of Jehovah God. Some years earlier David declared that he’d not give to God that which cost him nothing, now Solomon says that the Temple must be the best because God is the best. So, how does my life measure up against this standard? Do I give God my best at every juncture of life? I don’t want to ask God to play second fiddle in any area of my life. After all, what I give to God has to be the best because God is the best.
Take Away: The Lord is the best and he deserves my best.
The children of good stewardship
1 Chronicles 29: It was all yours in the first place!
Centuries before Paul ever writes to Corinth, encouraging them to give selflessly and stating stewardship principles, David lays out some giving concepts for the people of Israel. They’re raising an offering for the construction of the Temple and David’s addressing the Almighty in prayer. He’s reminded that this nation began as pitiful slaves in Egypt, without a square inch of land to call their own. Over the years God blessed them and now they can no longer say, “Silver and gold have I none.” Still, in a real sense they continue to have nothing of their own. All that they have has been graciously provided to them by the Lord. As plans are being made to build a House of Worship it only makes sense that they return a portion of that which has been entrusted to them that the planned building might be constructed. The people come through with wonderful generosity and David prays that this giving spirit might always be seen in their lives. The result of all this is the Temple. Also, there’s a wonderful spirit of celebration. Great accomplishments and great joy: these things are offspring of good stewardship.
Take Away: When the people of the Lord are faithful stewards of all the Lord has placed in their hands great things are accomplished to the glory of God.
Deuteronomy 15: Give freely and spontaneously. Don’t have a stingy heart.
The people in Moses’ congregation are a blessed people. If not for the grace of God they’d be slaves in Egypt. Because of God’s generosity they have food to eat and clothing to wear. The Lord has protected them from their enemies and provided guidance to them in their travels. Even now they’re poised to occupy the Promised Land. Moses reminds them that blessed people ought to be a blessing to others. Those who have received much should be givers and that giving should flow freely from their hearts. Does this describe me? The part about being “blessed” sure does. God has been good to me on many levels. Now, I need to ask him to help me to have a giving heart that will result in genuine generosity. Lord, please deliver me from having a “stingy heart.”
Take Away: Blessed people are to be people who bless others.
Please, no more money
Exodus 36: The people were ordered to stop bringing offerings!
The Tent of Meeting is being constructed and it’s no simple circus big top! The best of everything is going into the mobile worship center and the people are bringing items needed for its construction. In their excitement they bring gold, silver, bronze, and fine fabrics. And they just keep on bringing these items. Finally, the craftsmen go to Moses with a problem. They have too much stuff! Moses’ solution is to tell them to stop. I can’t help but smile as I read this story because such an order is rare or maybe even non-existent in the Church today. However, there are a couple of things to consider. First, the goal of the Church is not to rake in all that it can. Bigger, more expensive, more impressive isn’t necessarily a worthy goal. Second, God’s people are wonderfully generous when they know God is behind something. In my years of ministry I have seen this many times. God is good – and so are his people.
Take Away: God’s people are generous people.
The power of enthusiasm
Exodus 35: Then they came back, every one whose heart was roused, whose spirit was freely responsive, bringing offerings to God for building the Tent of Meeting.
God gave Moses the plans for the Tabernacle and now Moses has passed them on to the people. A one-of-a-kind of worship center will be constructed. It will be portable but in spite of its portability it will be an elaborate structure, a place reflective of the God they worship. When Moses tells them what God requires it sparks excitement throughout the congregation. Now, without any pressure, the people freely give so that the Tent of Meeting can be constructed according to God’s plans. As I look at the people coming with their gifts, my attention is drawn to those “roused hearts.” Enthusiasm is a powerful emotion. As it does for them, it stirs me to action and makes me willing to make sacrifices. I want to have a “heart that is roused” when it comes to my relationship with God and his Church. There are many things that demand my attention and my support. Those things may or may not be worthy. However, doing God’s work is always worth the effort. Stir my heart, O God, that I might be “roused” to enthusiastic, sacrificial service of you.
Take Away: I serve the Lord, not because I must, but because I may.
May I please have all your silver and gold?
Exodus 25: Use a seventy-five-pound brick of pure gold to make the Lampstand and its accessories.
In addition to giving Moses the Ten Commandments during their meeting on Mount Sinai the Lord gives him the plans for the design for and the furnishings of the Tabernacle. This structure is to be a portable worship center. However, its portable status doesn’t mean corners will be cut. This will be the most amazing portable structure ever built and the materials used in construction will be first rate. Even the Lampstand is to reflect this: ornate, hammered out of pure gold, and alive with symbolism. Now how are ex-slaves to come up with “a seventy-five-pound brick of pure gold?” Actually, that problem was taken care of a few months earlier, just prior to the Passover. The Lord instructed the Israelites to go to the Egyptians and simply ask for their valuables! Without understanding why, the Egyptians said, “Sure, here’s all my silver and gold!” In that way, the Israelites left Egypt carrying with them tons of silver and gold. Now, we see the rest of that story. That silver and gold isn’t to be horded by individuals. Really, it was never theirs in the first place. Instead, it’s to be used in this one-of-a-kind construction project. So, what is it that the Lord has put in my hands that was never meant to be kept in the first place? How does he intend for me to use it? In this incident from Exodus I find a practical lesson in stewardship.
Take Away: As a person just passing through this world, nothing is every permanently mine.