Discussing generosity and finances in the church is akin to discussing religion or politics at the dinner table, you just don’t do it. Why is this? I think it’s mostly because the ways most of us heard this topic taught in churches was in a manipulative or even unbiblical format. The focus was all about the “output” – how much you’re giving and how often you’re doing it. It tends to be discussed as a “should do” not a “get to”. When we focus on the “output” and never discuss the “input” we get in trouble every time.
Here’s the reality – we live in a world full of bad days, bad weeks, bad months, and bad years! Our world is broken and unfortunately we see way too many evidences of its brokenness everyday around us.
My guess is for many of us in this room, the bad stuff catches us off guard more often than not. We’re journeying along and all of sudden “it” happens. It has lots of different names: health, finances, people, family, job, car, house, loneliness and the list goes on. And “it” causes pain, fear, worry, stress, anxiety, depression, angst.
I think most of us have a forgetful streak (some of us it’s more than a streak). And for the most part the things we forget have little consequence in what matters most. Sure we may find ourselves delayed leaving our house because our keys are misplaced or feeling badly that we forgot a good friend’s birthday. However in the large scheme of things there is little life consequence. As a person who is seeking to follow God, there are actually two things we often forget that can have some very difficult consequences in our lives. When we forget these two things about God we will find ourselves worrying more, stressing more and sinning more. In fact without these two things being believed and top of mind for us we will be more susceptible to all kinds of temptations. Temptations are “fallen for” when we succumb to the lies that whatever they’re asking us to do will give us what we really want and long for in life. (And by contrast, the lie that God isn’t for us or able to provide what we really need and long for.)
Here’s the reality about us humans especially when we get connected in a group of other humans: we tend to turn inward. I don’t know that we do it on purpose or that we have any poor intentions but it just happens. We really enjoy the feeling of being connected and belonging some place. It’s not that we don’t care about people who are on the outside, we just don’t think about it. I mean life is busy and when we get a minute of true connection we just want to bask in it. The reality is connection is what we are made for, God hardwired it into us. So being connected and enjoying life with others is not wrong, it’s very very right. Yet, knowing this tendency about ourselves is important if we’re going to make sure that we both belong AND create belonging for others.
I find it fascinating that we assume God is on our side when things are going well. I hear people say, “God answered that prayer”. And what do they mean? They mean their situation turned out the way they hoped it would be. We don’t say, “praise God, He answered my prayer” when He answers us “no”. At least I haven’t heard that before. In fact I rarely even find someone willing to say “praise God” when things are not going the way we’d hope. Now, to be fair, I’ve met some who will thank God for being there with them in the midst of a difficultly but it’s often long after the difficultly has passed. But what about in the midst of it? Is God still good when He doesn’t do what we want Him to do?
I grew up going to church since I was a kid. The church my family and I attended was conservative and maybe even a little legalistic at times. I can remember being chastised for playing “Go Fish” and “War” with a deck of playing cards (because cards are used in gambling was the excuse I was given). We were allowed to play “Dutch Blitz” because they were different kinds of cards. Similar “policies” were made about movies, dress code and music. But the church and its congregation loved Jesus, loved the Bible and for the most part I really enjoyed church as a kid. As I hear other people’s horror stories about church, I think I did pretty well. But that’s not what this post is about. I want to talk about “church people”. I wonder sometimes if the kind and style of the church either attracts or creates the kind of Christians that come out of it. Again, I’m not specifically talking about my church or any church in particular but it seems depending on what church you attend determines what kind of “church person” you become. But there are some generalities about relationships with most church people that are bothersome.
Hope is a critical attribute in life. Without hope, we’re done. It’s hope that gives us the energy to push through when things are difficult. It’s hope that helps us persevere when everything in us wants to give up. But the problem is most of what we call “hope” is not really hope at all. We live in a world that is best at “hope so” which is essentially, “this might be ok”. There is little assurance in that kind of hope. It’s all up in the air and circumstantial. It doesn’t change us it just takes our odds from 0% to 25 or 50% — but come on, how “hopeful” is that? The problem is that that is the best the world can offer us. Sure we can do things to up our odds of success, but it’s so temperamental and unstable.
I’ve been thinking lately about the power of an environment. A little while ago I was able to go on a trip with my wife Lisa to the Dominican Republic. We stayed in a resort where we could literally walk onto the beach. One morning we woke up before the sun and so we ventured out to watch the sunrise. I can’t remember the last time I did that and I never had done it on a beach on an island. Before I go any further, I should tell you I grew up around a lot of amazing technology, watched movies where they could do amazing things and populate my desktop background images with the most amazing pictures you could imagine. And yet as I stood there waiting, watching the horizon, it happened, the same thing that happens everyday whether I’m there to see it or not – the sun rose. It sounds so cheap to write that, because the sun didn’t just rise, it exploded in the most majestic, dare I say holy array of colors. Immediately I wondered, who am I that God would think of me? I mean look at what He can do and look at what He does with barely a thought, everyday whether someone is there to admire it or not. What that environment did to me was nothing short of miraculous. My mind rushed with awe, love, admiration, worship and humility. I was impacted by what God did and continues to do. And I realized something, God creates environments and it’s in environments that God does some incredible work. And what was also fascinating is how hundreds, thousands of people can experience the same environment I did and not be changed by it, drawn to Jesus and transformed, but that’s probably for another blog post.
I’m not sure I’ve seen what I see in our country and society when it comes to the division and emotions. It seems we are all asked to pick a side, name our view and whatever little thing we may choose to say or post on social media we are immediately ushered onto a team and told that this is now our team and we must espouse the views of this team. We are quickly put into categories, black and white, right and wrong. The somewhat crazy thing to me is that while we may not agree with many of the stands of the particular team we are placed on, we are not allowed to have no team. Every view point or opinion is clearly a reflection of our team. It’s just not that easy and I think we do a disservice to one another when we villianize or applaud based on a comment or thought. This is incredibly difficult as a pastor and as a church. And it’s times like today where I am most thankful that we have chosen years ago to not make political comments as a church. Our philosophy has always been, “we know that we likely only get people’s attention for a minute and if we only have a minute we want to be known for Jesus – we are about Jesus, we want you to know Jesus and we want Jesus to be what we’re known for!!” It’s not that we don’t or I don’t have opinions, I do. In fact we all have opinions whether we know anything about the issue! 🙂 But I don’t want to be known and I don’t want our church to be known for our opinions, but for our Jesus! That is where change really is possible!
Watch this video to learn about the new Break Through building renovation including why we’re doing it and what it could look like…