Sunday, October 16th - I Love My Church - Giving

I hope you are all having a great week so far and enjoying this fall weather! We are finally experiencing some light-jacket conditions now that it's mid-October, which is always a welcomed transition in my opinion.

More importantly than the weather, I hope you have been enjoying our current series titled "I Love My Church". This week we take a look at a sensitive, yet necessary component of building a God honoring community - giving. Talking about money can be uncomfortable, but it doesn't need to be. At least, not in the context of ensuring our brothers and sisters in Christ have their needs met and do not struggle alone.

Before we dive into the sermon from Sunday, I first want to share some insight gained from discussions on this topic from our Journey Sunday School class. Our discussion in class was broad in scope, but we landed on one point that really resonated with me, and it went back to the sermon last week about "tearing down our walls". I feel like the "walls" that keep us from experiencing community in an amazing way, specifically when it comes to giving, are two fold: those in need are too proud to ask for help, while those who are able to provide are hesitant to extend the offer.

Scripture teaches us that we are to care for one another and ensure that no one's needs are going unmet. The crazy thing about life is that while you may currently be the one that could use some help, it won't be long until you're able to provide for someone else in need. And you know what's even crazier? If you are the recipient of a gift during a hard time, how much more willing would you be to then help someone else when are able?! Both the giver and the recipient receive a blessing from God when we focus on community the way He intended. But, in order for this to happen, both sides have to tear down their wall. No pride. No shame. No selfishness. 

"All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need." - Acts 4:32-35

I'll be honest - I don't think we will ever experience this level of community and giving this side of Heaven. And please know that MLBC is not asking you to sell everything you have and give it all to the church!

However, this is how the early church functioned - crazy, right? How selfless and trusting they must have been to just give everything to the church and live as one big community.

So, we aren't asking you to replicate this early-church practice today, but what can we take away from this? For one, we can learn a lot when it comes to putting others' needs above our own - which is really what this whole lesson comes down to...
1. Release Your Grip

The first verse of this passage gives a clear picture of where these believers motives were - they denounced ownership of everything they had and shared it all. If you were to just think about what this would look like in your life, what material possessions jump to the forefront of you mind? What makes you think "there's no way I'm sharing my _________?!" Regardless of what comes to mind, maybe we should all reflect on what is really important to us... What are some things in life we simply refuse to loosen our grip on?

God calls us to use our material possessions to be a blessing to others - to ensure our fellow believers are not struggling, going without necessities. If we are so concerned with "our stuff" that we can't entertain the idea of sharing what God has blessed us with, how are we going to obey this instruction?

The challenge here is to reflect on your own attitude towards sharing your material possessions, your money, your food, or even your home if God presented an opportunity for you to be a blessing to someone. Are you going to loosen your grip enough to be a blessing, or are you going to choke the opportunity by keeping a death-grip on your stuff?
2. Tighten Your Belt

Pastor Scott made it clear on Sunday that this is a hard one - even for him as he prepared to bring the message. Not only should we loosen our grip on our stuff, we are also challenged to go without so that others don't have to... That one hurts a bit more, right?

I mean, it's one thing to part ways with stuff you really don't need. Maybe we have become so protective over our material possessions that we become guarded of our excess. Well, realizing you can utilize that excess to help others is a great place to start...but what about one step further? What about giving sacrificially to the point you are no longer giving of the excess, but of the things you need? Things your family needs?

The passage goes on to say that from to time, members of the church who owned houses or property would sell it and bring the proceeds to the church so that others would not have to go without. That's huge.

Again, don't interpret this as the church saying "everything you own belongs to us" but you should recognize that "everything you own does belong to God!" So, when God provides an opportunity or tugs at your heart to be a blessing to someone else, you should respond with an open heart and open hands saying "take what you need", even if that means you have to tighten your belt
3. Give it all Away

Again, this is not a call for you to give everything away (unless God is calling you to do that, I guess?). At the end of our passage, we see that the church collected everything that was brought forward and donated, then they gave it all away to those in need. God's people didn't sell their possessions and reduce what they had just so that the church could be rich and hold onto it all, they sacrificially gave so that others could be blessed. This is the heart and desire of MLBC.

Scott made a great point that deserves to be repeated - this is not talking about our tithe. Tithing could be a whole sermon series on its own, but that's not what we're discussing here. By our obedience in giving 10% of what we earn back to God, the church is provided for financially. This keeps the lights on, the water running and the staff members fed and clothed. However, the church does not strive to build up wealth gained by the sacrificial giving of its members! The church should use the giving of its members above and beyond the tithe to help those in need and be a blessing to others.

Bottom line: when we encounter individuals who are in need - if we aim to glorify God and expand His Kingdom - we must be willing to give it all away. 
In closing, I really want to revisit the way the service ended on Sunday. I realize in writing this that it would be easy to read over and say "yeah, but I just don't see the application. How does this happen in real life?" We saw a perfect example of it on Sunday.

In front of Pastor Scott, for the duration of his message, sat a little treasure chest. At the end of the service, Scott issued a challenge for everyone in attendance: "whatever you have in your pockets right now, give it away."

This put points number 1 and 2 to the test right away. Let's say you're sitting there with a few $20 bills in your pocket:

Release Your Grip - "I don't need all this cash, someone else can definitely use this $20 more than I do."
Tighten Your Belt - "I was going to use this cash to go to lunch after service, but I want it to bless someone else instead."

What about point number 3? Well, Scott gave further instructions for this exercise: everything that was given was gathered up into the treasure chest and placed at the back of the room. Anyone who had a need was free to take whatever they needed on the way out. I must say, the whole event really just blew my mind.

Once Scott finished giving instructions, the room was filled with activity and the treasure chest was overflowing within a few minutes - and not just with money. People gave what they felt led to give, and God was glorified. Not only that, but peoples' needs were met. God only knows how many prayers were answered by the gifts that were given during that time. It was really awesome to see all of this put into practice and to witness the overflow of generosity by the people of MLBC.

I hope you take away from this message the idea that our focus should be on the wellbeing and the needs of others, not our own. The beautiful thing about this whole concept of community is this: if we all put the needs of others above our own, then it would be impossible for anyone to have a need go unmet. It requires trust and faith, but how awesome would it be to be a part of a community that cares that much about the needs of others and glorifying God. Let it start with you!
Personal Reflection:
- What possessions are you holding onto the tightest?
- How could God use your possessions to bless others, and are you willing to let them be used for His glory?
- Are you willing to go without so that someone else doesn't have to? 

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