According to Your Offering

Remember this: The person who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the person who sows generously will also reap generously.
2 Corinthians 9:6 HCSB

Not sure which way to go with this one this morning. I mean besides the obvious. Obviously this text is speaking to the Corinthian Church about the nature of giving, this as Paul is encouraging them to lay aside a sin of money for the churches in Judea. The Judean churches at this time were undergoing a famine, and Paul was urging the Gentile churches to donate money to help them in their time of need. This in response to the gospel of Jesus being preached from the Jews to the Gentiles.

His teaching here is about their practice of giving. The promise is fulfilled by God. You have control on the amount that you give. But you have no control over how much you reap. Circumstances too big and too complicated for us control dictate the crop we recieve. But God controls those circumstances. God determines the size of the crop that you reap. So Paul is saying that the amount you sow will be determined by the heart that gives at the first. If it gives sparingly, then the return will be minimal. But if a heart gives generously, then that crop will also be generous. We may plant, but God gives the increase.

What seeds are you planning today? As you go about your daily tasks, will you be planting seeds of joy? Or doubt? Will your seeds be of love or of apathy? What you plant will come in harvest. When you sow trust and faithfulness, God sees your seed and rewards you according to your planting. Do you sow yourself into relationships? Parenting? Your spouse? A slim planting will result in a slim return. Says it right here in God’s word.

Father God, may you draw out eyes to the seeds we are planting today. Show us the fields in which we labor, so that we may sow bountiful and in not for the harvest to come. Only You can control the weather and the circumstances which whose seeds grow. May you see the heart that planted and reward accordingly. And Father, may the most important see we plant today, the gospel, sprout and grow in others as it has in us. In Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.

Dear Friend

What you may not see in this translation is John’s hope for Gaius is two-fold, both that he may prosper financially as well as physically, just as his soul prospers. To prosper is to be financially well-off, to be “successful” or be financially secure. Someone who prospers is doing well. It is similar to the Vulcan benediction, “live long and prosper.” It is good wishes on those we care about. But what John adds here is the prosperity of the soul your physical and financial prosperity ought to be tied to how well your soul is doing. To be rich and healthy yet miserable is what we call Depression in America. What would you give to be happy? What would you give to have peace?

So what John wishes upon his friend Gaius is not so unusual. As a leader in the early church, he notes that physical and financial prosperity are both dependent on your soul’s health. And keeping a soul healthy depends on its reliance on the Lord. As he says in vs. 3, “you are walking in the truth.”

Soul health demands truth-walking. A healthy soul takes regular strolls through the halls of God’s word, takes in the sights, meditates on them, and allows them to fill his soul. He then can take his insights with him wherever he goes. If you are not spending time with God, you aren’t working on your soul.

So like a good pastor, John reminds Gaius (who probably didn’t need the reminder so much as those who would read the letter after him) that a healthy soul is necessary for physical health and financial health. As Paul once wrote, “godliness with contentment is great gain.” A godly soul is content even with a little, and considers it wealth. Don’t imagine for a minute John is inventing a “get rich” scheme here. The point of this physical health and prosperity is not to get religion. Being obedient to religious rules isn’t the beginning of a healthy retirement. Being obedient to the Lord is.

Like Gaius, let us hold fast the confession of our faith unwavering. And allow God to bless us in health and wealth as He sees fit. Let us not serve the Lord to be wealthy. Let us serve Him to be well in our soul. Yes, there is a return for faithful service. It is this, “Well done, my good and faithful servant. Enter thou into the joy of thy Lord!”

God bless you today!

Unstable Leadership

The king gives stability to the land by justice, But a man who takes bribes overthrows it.
I noticed as I was looking up today’s “verse of the day” from Youversion that the Christian Standard Bible has an unusual rendering for this passage. Instead of bribes as you see the NASB has here, which seemed a clearer translation, the CSB has “contributions” with quotes. I thought that was an odd choice since that sounded more idiomatic than translation. But then again, I’m not a professional translator, and I don’t know about such things.
What is more clear here is how money affects good governance. Have you ever allowed money to dictate an ethical decision for you? For example, you might continue to work at a job that you don’t like and causes you undue stress and hardship because it pays well. Or you might send your kids to public school instead of private school because private school costs too much. Or you might vote for one politician over another because you were promised free healthcare. As it happens, we allow money to dictate choices to us that we might make differently if money were no object. We do it so often that I doubt we give it another thought anymore.
As you might guess, this becomes problematic when the one making the decisions is in leadership, whether in the home, the church, or the nation. Leaders who allow themselves to be bought become slaves to whoever has the money to buy their favor. Pauk wrote in 1 Cor 7:21 the strongest stance he takes against slavery, “Were you called while a slave? It should not be a concern to you. But if you can become free, by all means take the opportunity.” Also, he writes in Romans 13:8, “Do not owe anyone anything, except to love one another …” Paul opposes the idea that a Christian should be entangled or constrained by economic slavery, including debts. While we may not be indebted to our stressful job or politicians with fake promises, we are indebted to mortgages, car loans, student loans, and credit cards. We are slaves to a bank, and we must keep that job, or make political decisions that allow us to keep more of our money, because we owe. We make these questionable decisions because of debt. We want to be out of it as soon as possible, but we also like the things money can buy, and we accumulate more debt. Paul schools us by saying we need to pay off our debts, and if an opportunity presents itself, to get out of slavery, to which I would include debt slavery.
Several years ago, I was pastoring a church in Illinois as was doing pretty well at it. My wife was starting out as a midwife and having some success at it. But then an opportunity presented itself, requiring us to move to another state, that would enable her to pay off her student loans by moving to a rural area. So with some thought and prayer, we pulled up stakes where we were doing just fine, and moved our household to pay off debt. It was a drastic choice, but I feel a necessary one. Today those student loans are paid off. We have found this new home to be even better than the last one in some ways. But in paying those student loans off, we now have a mortgage, since we moved out of a parsonage. On the bright side, we will have a home when we retire.
But something I want you to take away from this today is this: what role does money play in the decisions you make? Are you making decision based on your Christian values and beliefs, or in how much it costs? Are you allowing economic slavery to dictate to you your decisions, and does this compromise your faith and witness? Does your giving to God reflect your economic slavery or your trust in His ability to provide?
With this thought to keep you up tonight, I leave you with a “God bless” and may you live your life circumspect as you travel today.

Get Rich Scheme

What would you do to get rich? You’ve probably heard about various schemes, saving and investing, starting businesses or real estate. Many people I know have gotten into many of these means and found success, but strangely that’s not what Solomon recommends. I would be curious to know what Solomon would say about the others.

But Solomom does recommend starting with is both humility and the fear of the Lord. The rewards he mentions are riches, honor, and then long life. That is quite a promise. All three speak to the quality of life in this world. Or so we think. For a life given to humility and fear of the Lord is a life following Christ in our dispensation. It is a life that recognizes it’s own sinfulness before a holy God and is humble, giving fear, honor and respect the Lord of the Universe.

Such a one will receive glorious riches, family and friends that he never knew when he participates in fellowship. His riches will not be measured in dollars, but in spiritual wealth. He will find contentment. He will find family that he loves and love him in return.

He will fins honor as a true child of God, regaining his former honor as God’s image and now as redeemed and justified in His sight.

He will experience long life, even eternal life in the presence of God, no matter how long his days on earth are. Eternity is presented to each one bat accepts Jesus Christ today, humbling themselves in the fear of the Lord.

There is only one part to lasting riches in this world. This world is passing away with it’s wealth, but the word of the Lord stands forever. Long will he stand is one who stands with God.

Make today count. God bless you today!

Reap a Different Crop

The Bible affirms the law of sowing and reaping. What you sow, you must also reap. If you sow bad behavior, you will reap bad consequences. If you sow kindness, you will reap the same. All of that works pretty much as predicted. And then there is this verse.

If the law of sowing and reaping holds, sowing in tears means you will reap a flood of tears. You have to sow joy to reap the same. But this verse stubbornly refuses to comply with the law as we understand it. This is a promise from God.

So we also need to quote verse 6. 6  He who goes out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him. The law still applies (this in a literal sense). As we go out to sow seed, we are weeping. When we go to reap, we are joyful at the harvest. Tears aren’t being down, but seed. Tears reflect our emotional state as we are in the act of sowing.

I believe that when they went out to sow, this grain seed represented the last of their food, a sense of security. To sow it meant to trust their last meal to God with only hope of a return. This is not unlike sacrificial giving, when you give when it hurts to do so. When giving to God means you will be giving up something else that you treasure. That would be sowing in tears. The promise here is that you will reap with joy when the harvest is finally tallied. This is consistent with the law of sowing and reaping.

God bless you today!

Money Matters

When it’s tax time, that means its time to focus on the one thing that comes third in our lives, after God and family, and that’s money. Did you know that the Bible has more to say about money and money management than any other single topic? It’s no wonder, since many of our decisions often factor in 1) how much will this cost? 2) will I be able to pay this off, and 3) does my insurance cover this? Whether we are thinking about a house, a car, a new job, or surgery, money often becomes a deciding factor in our decision. Thankfully the Bible gives us solid guidelines on the use and saving of money, because money often represents time, as often as it represents assets.

Converting time and assets into money is nothing new. Ancient Israelites would convert their livestock into money, making it easier for them to travel to Jerusalem and there buy the proper sacrifices for the Temple. A person’s time working in another man’s field was considered a “day’s wage”. When you collect a paycheck, you are agreeing to the exchange of time (and skill), your invaluable, irreplaceable commodity, for the benefit of someone else’s profit margin. But this is a willing surrender, since compensation means a house payment, a car payment, and food on the table.

The Bible also speaks to the ownership of private property when it commands “thou shalt not steal”. God is very concerned about fairness, but not income inequality. Though the idea of equal pay for equal work is to be commended, income inequality is about envy, contrary to another commandment, “thou shalt not covet . . .”.

The Bible gives us rules and ethics for honest work, and what it means to provide for our families, but it also teaches about the proper use of debt, the payment of taxes, giving back to God, and saving for retirement. Just a cursory glance at the Bible’s principles of spending and saving money is enough to make me wonder if I’m honoring God with my money.

Principle of Work

For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.
(2Th 3:10)
Paul reminds the Thessalonians that even though he was apostle, he did not ignore the fact that he needed to work, with his own hands, to take care of his own needs. He argues that he had the right to expect compensation, but their sake, did not demand it. As long as we are able, we should be willing to work with our hands hands to care for our daily needs.

Principles of Debt and Repayment

Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.
(Rom 13:7)

In this section on respecting and honoring government (even when its hostile), Paul also reminds them that just because you are now a new man in Christ doesn’t erase financial and legal obligations to the state and others whose privileges you enjoy.

Principles of Giving

Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.
(2Co 9:7)
Paul’s instructions to the Corinthians about giving go far beyond tithing to the idea that we give as as we believe, according to our dependence on God. God lays no strict tithing program upon the Christian, but to give as he is cheerfully able.

Warning about Retirement and Planning for the Future

And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’
(Luk 12:19-20)

Jesus’ warning to the Jews of his day include this short story about  a man whose barns weren’t big enough to store his crop. It is a this point that the man decides to retire. This is exactly when God warns him that his life has come to an end, and what does he have to show for it? When it comes to retirement planning, Jesus is is calling us to give greater thought to how we plan for ourselves and our families.