Question: When was the last time you talked with someone about your giving?
Yeah, me too…
It seems we talk with our brothers and sisters about many aspects of our lives – our personal righteousness, purity, evangelism, Bible study, prayer, relationships, family, work, school, and more. However, money in general and giving in particular are frequently untouched.
That disconnect leaves us vulnerable to the temptations of greed and deceit, with the result that our giving can be inconsistent and ungenerous, which doesn’t glorify God.
Perhaps we misunderstand the instruction in Matthew 6:3, “But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing”. But Jesus’ command isn’t about our being open about our giving; it’s about giving with the wrong motive (to be seen by others). One has to wonder: Had the hypocrites been open about their giving plans, would they have seen their error and been spared Jesus’ condemnation?
In fact, the New Testament passages on giving are examples of seeking and following advice. Most prominent is 1 Corinthians 16:1-4, were Paul addresses “the collection for the Lord’s people”, a reference to a worldwide collection to support the poor disciples in Jerusalem (Acts 24:17). It appears that, in an unknown letter to Paul, the Corinthians asked for guidance on how to handle this collection, and 1 Corinthians 16 provides his response. His advice can be summarized in four steps:
1. Follow the pattern. Paul instructs the Corinthians to “Do what I told the Galatian churches to do.” In turn, he uses the Corinthians as an example for the Macedonian churches (2 Corinthians 9:2), and then he uses both the Corinthians and Macedonians as examples to the Roman disciples (Romans 15:26). The insight we gain from these passages is that the early church had a practice around giving that every congregation and every disciple were encouraged to follow.
Ask yourself: Am I following the Scriptural example, or do I do my own thing? Do I look to the Scriptures when I decide what and how I will give?
2.Budget your income. What we give should reflect what we’re given, with the same generosity that God gives it to us. Since our incomes tend to be constant week-to-week, our spending (including giving) should be constant as well. The only way to make this generous and consistent is to have a household budget and to be disciplined to follow it.
Ask yourself: Do I have a budget, live within my means, and seek input on my finances? If I’m in financial trouble, have I gotten spiritual (in addition to financial) help with this?
3.Set aside your contribution weekly. Paul’s desire was to avoid a collection when he arrived in Corinth at some unknown future date. Perhaps this was because he knew that if the Corinthians waited for his arrival they might be tempted to spend these funds on other things?
Ask yourself: When I miss a Sunday service, do I make up my contribution? Setting an automated transfer on our e-giving platform is one way to avoid a miss, but the real issue is how you think about your giving. Is it yours, or is it God’s?
4. Make it your responsibility. Paul tells the Corinthians to appoint representatives to accompany their collection to Jerusalem. Paul’s intent was that each church should feel responsible for what happened with its gift, and in doing so would feel confident about how that gift was used (to support the poor).
Ask yourself: Do I understand how my giving is used to advance the gospel and meet the needs of the poor? Do I feel a personal responsibility for this, or do I expect others to shoulder that responsibility?
The openness the Corinthian disciples had about their giving gave them the chance to be connected to their brothers around the world – disciples working together to further the mission of Christ. As we strive to be more connected in 2017 let’s make sure our giving is a part of that connection.
Spiritual growth happens when we are truly connected to God. But the process that God chooses to make growth happen is through our connection to one another. So our relationships in the church are critical to spiritual growth. We actually get to play a part in not only our own spiritual growth but in the spiritual growth of those around us.
One thing that we must be clear on is that we can lose connection in the first place. Paul speaking to the church in Colossae teaches that when we lose connection we begin to believe and teach all sorts of strange things (Colossians 2:19). So the disciples were warned against losing their connection to God and thereby their connection to one another. And if that connection is lost then we also lose our connection to spiritual growth.
We see this concept of growth coming through our connection to one another in the letter to the church in Ephesus as well.
From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. Ephesians 4:16
God intends that we would grow through our connection to one another. This is the process that God has established. Our relationships are paramount to our spiritual growth. This concept is not a Central Jersey “thing”, this concept is a God “thing”! This is not a plan B but God’s plan A for spiritual growth! When we are not engaged relationally we are working against God and the process that he has chosen to use to help to grow spiritually. When we put to practice the countless “one another” passages we are taking part in the process that God has given us to grow spiritually.
It’s no wonder that we are designed to connect. We are like an electric plug. Whether it has two or three prongs, it is designed to be connected. It is of no use if it’s unplugged. But when it is plugged into the power it fulfills its purpose and goes from useless to useful. The same with us, we are design to connect. And when we are connected we fulfill our purpose and gain access to the power that leads to growth. When we are not connected, we are essentially, useless.
We also must remember that proximity does not equal connection. A chord near an outlet is powerless. No matter how close it is to the outlet. Until it is connected to the outlet or the power source it will not fulfill its purpose. You can be present at church and yet not be connected. I’m reminded of a quote that has been attributed to several people, “Just going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than standing in your garage makes you a car.” We take part in the process that God has established when we actually engage in spiritual relationships as God has instructed us.
Speaking the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15)
Encouraging one another (Hebrews 13:3)
Teach one another (Colossians 3:16)
Admonish one another (Colossians 3:16)
Confess to one another (James 5:16)
Pray for one another (James 5:16)
These are just a few passages that show us how to take part in the process that leads to spiritual growth. If you want to grow, you must connect to God and thereby to one another. And through that connection to one another we can take part in helping one another to grow as God intended. Let’s not solely be men and women of potential but let us become the people that God created us to be. Spiritual growth is awaiting us!
One of the challenges that we face in connecting to Jesus is that we do not see Him physically today. We might even think that the first century Christians had it easier because they actually got to see Jesus and walk with Him.
Some will even incorrectly conclude that we can’t connect to Jesus like disciples did in the first century. Yet the Bible teaches that we can know Jesus today just as well as those who physically walked with Him 2,000 years ago.
In the Gospel of Luke 24:13-35 we read a story that shows us that we can know Him today just as the first century Christians did, even though we may not see Him in the physical realm as they did. This story takes place after Jesus was resurrected and after some of the women visit the tomb only to find it empty. They also report that two angels confirm to them that Jesus had in fact risen (Luke 24:1-12).
Two of Jesus’ disciples are walking on a road to Emmaus and begin to discuss all that has happened and Jesus himself walks up alongside them and talks with them all the way to Emmaus.
On this walk there were several things of note. Among them were that the two men were “kept from recognizing” Jesus. So although they were talking to Jesus they did not recognize him. Then beginning in verse 25 Jesus seems to rebuke these men for not believing that He was resurrected. So even though they were kept from recognizing Him, Jesus is rebuking them for not believing.
Doesn’t this seem odd, if not unfair? It would have been easy for Jesus to make himself recognizable which would have enabled them to believe. But that is not what Jesus did. I believe if we keep reading we can get a reasonable idea as to why Jesus challenged them.
Later on after realizing that they were in the company of Jesus they ask each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” In their hearts they new something was going on while they were talking.
Maybe they were afraid to believe and Jesus knew that. Perhaps they wanted to ask if this was Jesus but just were scared to ask. We don’t know exactly what was going on in their hearts but Jesus did! Let’s not forget that Jesus knows what’s in the heart of men.
And he addressed them according to what He was seeing in their hearts. So when Jesus was presented with an opportunity to console two followers who were struggling in their faith instead of appearing physically to them He chose to point them to the Scriptures. He chose to build their convictions for the long haul.
Their burning hearts show us that we don’t have to see Jesus physically to be moved by Him. You don’t need to see Jesus physically to believe! You don’t have to see Jesus physically for your heart to burn at just hearing about Him. You don’t have to see Jesus physically to know Him and ultimately be led by Him.
We are told to “fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Cor. 4:18) Yet we often make too much of the physical realm. People think if they had seen Jesus and walked with Him then they would never have a problem being faithful. But Jesus’ actions show us that the focus must be on knowing Him through the Scriptures. In Luke 14:27, it says, “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.”
If we really want to know Jesus then we must go to the Scriptures to know Him. Jesus elevates the importance of the Scriptures to know Him over seeing Him physically. In fact the second that they recognize him physically, He disappears. Now you see Him, now you don’t!
The presence of Christ today is not dependent on Him being here physically. Likewise, Christ not being present in the flesh today does not limit the impact He can make in your life and with your life.
In fact if you examine the lives of His disciples, they made a much greater impact in this world after Jesus was resurrected and ascended to heaven than when He was physically present with them. We must be convinced that we are not at a disadvantage today. In fact Jesus said, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believed.”(John 20:29). In the Bible we have all we need to know Him and be led by Him.
As we seek to be connected to Him by getting to know Him, let’s remember that the Scriptures are what help us to know Him. As His disciples, His Spirit will continue to point us to the Scriptures. Today we see Him and His power at work in our lives when we come to know Him. Let’s not miss Him in our walk. He wants to walk with us too!
The past decade and more has been described as “the age of social media.” More people are interacting with each other online than ever before. The number of Facebook users worldwide has doubled between 2010 and 2013, from 608 million to 1.2 billion, while Twitter has 284 million monthly users.
Walk around New York City and all you will see are people staring at screens or talking on their phones. Go into a restaurant or a coffee shop and notice how so many people can be so close to each other physically but are somewhere else entirely on their phones. It is incredible that so many people can be in one place and yet, be so disconnected to each other.
Almost every street in every city across the world is packed with people doing this – something that didn’t exist a few decades ago. We have grown accustomed to the fact that shared physical space no longer means shared experience. Everywhere we go, we carry with us options far more enticing than the place and moment we happen to be standing within: access to friends, family, news, views, scandals, celebrity, work, and information. Through the handheld screens we carry – and will soon be wearing – it has never been easier to summon those we love, need, care about or rely upon.
As a result, today we are seemingly more connected than ever. With a click or button we can find out what our friends and families are thinking, doing, and eating.
But are we? If two people are walking down the street together both on the phone to someone else, are they really together? If we are friends on Facebook but we have never spoken or met personally are we really friends?
Unfortunately, I believe social media has deceived us into thinking that we are more connected to each other than we actually are. The connections we think we have through social media are poor replacements that do not meet a real human need to be and feel connected. Consequently, we are LESS connected to each other more than ever.
To be human is to be connected. To be a Christian is to be connected to Christ and His body. Just like we have a natural and innate need to bond and connect to each other, God has created us to have an innate need to connect to Him.
Real connection to Christ and his people is more than just being at church and church events and activities. Further, it is more than just acquiring knowledge and knowing facts and saying the right things. Lest we become the very people Jesus rebukes when he says, “I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!” (Matthew 7:23 NIV with emphasis). It is about truly having a relationship with Jesus by being connected to His Will, Word, and Body.
This is why Paul writes that, “I want to know Christ” (Philippians 3:10). Later, he says, ““All of us, then, who are mature should take such a view of things” (Philippians 3:15).
I write this not to discourage the use of social media. In fact social media can help us be better connected to one another. However these “connections” cannot become a substitute for genuine connection. Nor can they become a priority over our most important connection – our connection to Christ and His Body. Let it be that as Christians, we are more connected to God and each other with or without social media.
– Khai Le
Reflecting on our church theme for 2017, Connected, my mind quickly jumps to a familiar story that happened 2000 years ago in a small town outside of Jerusalem called Bethany.
Luke 10:38-42 AMP
Now while they were on their way, Jesus entered a village [called Bethany], and a woman named Martha welcomed Him into her home. 39 She had a sister named Mary, who seated
herself at the Lord’s feet and was continually listening to His teaching. 40 But Martha was very busy and distracted with all of her serving responsibilities; and she approached Him and said,
“Lord, is it of no concern to You that my sister has left me to do the serving alone? Tell her to help me and do her part.” 41 But the Lord replied to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and
bothered and anxious about so many things; 42 but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part [that which is to her advantage], which will not be taken away from her.”
What a vivid picture the Amplified translation paints of this encounter with Jesus! Jesus is on His way to spend time with a family He is close to. He is bringing his disciples too. Think about that for a moment. The Son of God, a man who taught with authority, healed the sick, drove demons to oblivion, touched the untouchable, and stood up to the religious establishment, is coming for a visit. He wanted to spend time with His friends. How would you respond?
Let’s look at Martha and Mary’s responses to Jesus’ visit. Martha is detailed-oriented, dutiful, and as we read on, a little bossy. She focuses not on the guest in her home, but on the never ending to do list of tasks to be done. She ends up frustrated, accusing her sister of not doing her part, and even chides Jesus to challenge her! Mary, on the other hand, responds to the news of Jesus coming to her home very differently. She sees an opportunity to spend time with Him. No doubt, she understands the importance of Jesus, her Rabbi, breaking bread in her home. But for Mary, it is a chance for her to listen to Him, soak up His teachings and connect with Him.
As women, we are all busy. Like Martha, we can easily get caught up in all we think have to do and miss what we have to be- connected. How many times, have I in the spirit of serving others, become so busy, I forget the people I’m serving, why I’m serving and to my shame, even get bitter at God? Doing things does not equal connection. We have to learn what it means to be still at the feet of our Lord and connect with Him daily. Only then will we learn how to really connect with others.
If you’re like me, the idea of being still can seem unproductive and counter intuitive. After all,there are so many needs to meet. Yet, Jesus reminds us in this story that the most important thing we can do is to be still, sit at His feet and connect to Him. It’s what Jesus did. Throughout the gospels, we see what helped Him accomplish all He was sent to do, including meeting the many needs of all who He encountered- daily and constant connection with God. Jesus spent a lot of time alone in prayer and communion with the Father (Matthew 14:23; Mark 1:35; Luke 6:12-13; Luke 9:18; Luke 23:39-41). Jesus would not do or say anything that was not from the Father (John 12:49). What a perfect example of connection to God we see in Jesus’ life! For us to connect amidst the responsibilities that come from our current season of life, the noise and distractions from this world, the many trials and challenges we face, we must learn to sit at His feet and learn from Him. As we open our hearts to Him who knows us best and loves us most, He will guide us to action.
I believe most of us crave this kind of connection to Jesus. We desire Mary’s courage to love Jesus with complete surrender and trust in Him. In fact, we already experienced this when we first started learning about Him. Do you remember what it felt like when you realized He was YOUR Lord and entrusted everything to Him who gave His life in exchange for yours? Do you remember how honored and excited you were to read, pray and sing to Him? Maybe you weren’t a bible scholar, but how amazed were you when scriptures starting making sense to you? The Bible tells us in Hebrews 13:8 that Jesus Christ does not change. So if anyone has changed, it’s us. The busyness and worries of this life, hurts and disappointments can slowly erode our connection to Him. Many times we focus on our circumstances, things and people rather than Him. Like Martha, what started off as service to Jesus, has become stuff we have to do. If you’re like me who understands Martha a lot more then Mary, but crave connecting the way Mary did, Jesus is still looking to spend time with you. He is still seeking to build a deep relationship with you. He is still looking to connect with you. He just asks that you stop all that you are busy with, let go of all that is bothering you and sit with Him a while.
My prayer for 2017 is for us to be women who drown out the noise, sit at Jesus feet and connect with Him. I pray we go back to the love, trust and surrender we had in Jesus when we first understood how much He loves us and how the Son of God came to earth, stooped down to make us great and He, Lord of lords, King of kings craves and longs for a relationship with us! Mary understood this. Mary knew the most important thing she could do was to be still and sit at His feet. As we connect with Jesus, we will connect to others. We will want to share this love with others! May we become women of courage and purpose who connect to our Lord and out of the overflow of that love, connect to others.
– Glorimar Rivera