Raising Our Standard of Giving

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One of the highest ways you can love someone is to remove the obstacles in their path to following Jesus.

The highest way I can love you is to remove anything that stands between you and growing in Christ. If sin is in the way, I want to allow God to remove it by sharing truth. If worshipping a human like a child or a lover or a boss is in the way, I want to allow God to remove them in your heart by sharing Scripture. 

And if money is in the way of your spiritual growth, I desire strongly to show you from Scripture, that you will be free when you stop serving money and start serving God with your money. It’s not about using people to make money. It’s about using money to help people. 

Is money in the way between you and following Jesus more obediently?

I met with a newly married guy in the church for over a year. We met every other week when both schedules allowed it. We would catch up and go through the Bible. We met at Panera and were the only males in there every single time.

For the first 6 months, it was great learning Scripture together. The next couple of months we cranked it up a bit and not just held the other accountable to reading the Bible daily, but to also living out the Bible on a daily basis. 

I asked this question each time we got together, Is there sacrifice in your life? 

This is a good, needed, consistent question for the follower of Christ. To be Christ-like is to sacrifice, and if there’s no sacrifice in one’s life, then whatever area that comes to mind that isn’t being sacrificed, that area is still not like Jesus and it’s got to change. 

One time I asked him is, Is there sacrifice in your life – in terms of generosity and giving to God and others and the needy – is there sacrifice? 

After thinking about it and wondering if we were close enough to share some vulnerable things like money and giving, he said, No. Honestly, there’s not. God’s has blessed me and I’ve been putting $20 a month in the offering bag at church. but it’s no sacrifice. I spend more on golf balls than what I do to give back.

He then went home, talked to his wife about their casual, sporadic giving, and when we met again he said, Zach, for the sake of accountability, I want you to know I wrote a check that hurt. Since then he has been open about giving 10% of their income to their church as God continues to provide for them and since then they have chosen to support two sibling children in Haiti, and since then they have been more Christ-like than ever before.

He sent me a text a couple weeks ago that said, Zach, will you hold be accountable to consistent, sacrificial giving? Will you continue to ask me how our giving is going? And will you pray that God continues to provide as we continue to sacrifice? In a later text, he said, Will you pray I fully grasp the gift of sacrificial living? 

And I pray that for him. I pray that for my home. I pray it for you, that we understand the beauty and freedom and responsibility and gift of sacrificial living and giving.

Giving away your money is part of following Jesus. 

Chances are, there are some individuals and family units who give a good percentage of what God has given them, back to church or non-profits or those in need, but it’s not sacrificial. It doesn’t hurt. It’s easy. They barely think about it because it’s not a stretch. 

Maybe it’s time to evaluate and increase the amount and watch your faith grow.

Christian Smith wrote a book entitled, Passing the Plate in 2008. Up to today it’s the most comprehensive, eye-opening work that’s ever been done on Christians who give to the church. It’s a sociological work that set out to answer this question: Why are Christians in the U.S. so stingy? 

Smith shares a stat that says, More than 36% of American Christians give less than 2% of their income in each year.

That’s got me shaking my head.

Over 1/3 of the Christians in this country –people who believe the Bible is the inspired word of God and that every word is true, who have made Jesus their Lord and Savior, Christians who agree that they will stand before God and give an account of how they used what He gave them – are giving less than 2% of all God has graciously given to them?  

A Christian’s focus should be on how to raise their standard of giving, not their standard of living. 

I know you can’t send Jesus an angry email, so please feel free to send me one if that really irks your tater. Jesus says this in His Sermon on the Mount:

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven (Matthew 6:19-20).

Meaning: The only things you can keep forever are the things you have given away. 

Here are some practical steps you need to take if you call yourself a Christ-follower: 

If you are not tithing consistently, begin today.

To tithe means to give the first 10% of everything you make, to God.

You may be sponsoring needy children and supporting missionaries and non-profits, helping friends in need, good, but God gets the first 10%, and then if you want to be generous to others, it’s out of the 90% you have remaining after giving to God.

I’ll let God be stark about it:

Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, ‘How have we robbed you?’ In your tithes and contributions……Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need (Malachi 3:8, 10).

God says when we don’t give to Him first, we’re stealing from Him. But since this Malachi text says tithe, if we give God our first 10% – it’s a clear statement that we are showing God we truly worship Him. Simple sentence, huge life change. 

Maybe that forces you to have an honest conversation with your spouse or with your children or with God today, where you get out the budget and say, From this point forward, nothing will mean more to us, nothing will get more of our attention than giving back to God.

If you’re not tithing, begin today. Be sure you give to a church that has a godly leadership and is trustworthy.

If you are giving God 10%, move towards sacrificial generosity. 

Tithing is a great place to begin. For some of you, you need to begin at 3%, test drive it a few months, move it up to 7%, see if God still provides, and He will if you are wise. Once you get up to giving 10%, it’s not over. In the Old Testament, 10% was the minimum standard expected, you had to at least give 10% (most families in the Old Testament gave 20-25%). But in the New Testament, the word tithe isn’t mentioned, instead, giving in the early church is referred to as sacrificial generosity. 

The New Testament isn’t satisfied with just 10%. The New Testament is only  satisfied when our giving to God reflects the cross. When it hurts. When it’s generous. When it’s sacrificial. 

Mother Theresa said, We are to give until there is pain in the giving. 

For some, less than 10% hurts, or more than 10% hurts. 

Sacrifice is not measured by how much you give, but by how much you keep for yourself. 

In every area of my life I want to be sacrificial because in every area of my life I want to look like Jesus.

Jesus paid it all. All to him I owe.

If Jesus is the most generous Person to ever live, then growth in Christ would mean we would need to be generous, right? 

If you’ve been tithing for a while and it’s been a bit routine, pray about increasing your generous lifestyle until there’s sacrifice. 

Richard Foster writes,  God’s ownership of everything changes the kind of question we ask in giving. Rather than, ‘How much of my money should I give to God?’ we learn to ask, ‘How much of God’s money should I keep for myself?

I have a friend who has been open about giving with me and he’s been tithing since his marriage began. When he lost his job and had to take a new job that was half his previous income, his wife and him have up’ed their giving 4 different times. 

I know a Christian family who gave away a very nice SUV to a single, needy college student who never got a break in her life. I know a family who wants to provide money out of their savings so an infertile couple they know can adopt a beautiful little Chinese girl across the world. 

If we see everything as God’s, that it’s all his, then we’ll freely give it away. It’s those who refuse, those who hoard, those who are stingy, they still see what they hold as theirs. But it’s God’s. 

I hope you have someone close enough to you where you can show them your tax-return or year end giving, what you gave and how you lived, ask them if they see the cross of Christ demonstrated through your spending, saving, and giving.

If you’re not tithing, get there.
If you’ve tithed for a while, move to sacrificial generosity.
One more applicable challenge:

Ask Jesus to expose and eliminate any idols in your life.

An idol is anything, if Jesus said, Give it all to me – leave your job, all your money, I want your children, I want your health – if Jesus asked for it all, whatever you’d be reluctant to give Him – that’s an idol.

C.S. Lewis wrote that, History is the long, terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy.

Kyle Idleman writes in his book, Not a Fan, Followers are willing to deny themselves and say, ‘I choose Jesus. I choose Jesus over my family. I choose Jesus over money. I choose Jesus over my career. I am his completely. I choose Jesus over alcohol and partying. I choose Jesus over pornography. I choose Jesus over a remodeled house. I choose Jesus over my freedom. I choose Jesus over what people think about me. A follower makes a decision every day to deny himself and choose Jesus, even if it costs everything.”

If there is anything standing between you and Jesus (and it’s probably money) just give it to Jesus in a sacrificial, consistent, cheerful way. You’ll grow your standard of living by increasing your standard of giving.  

Thanks for reading. You are loved. 

Z

3 Things You Would Have More Of If You Believed In Easter

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Just before He is crucified, one of Jesus’ closest friends denies knowing Him at all. This close friend denies knowing Jesus hours after telling Jesus he would die for Jesus. He denies knowing Jesus to strangers. He denies knowing Jesus to children he doesn’t know. He curses and swears on his life he’s never met Jesus before.

This is after knowing Jesus for three and a half years. He traveled with Jesus. Ate with him every single day for 1,200 days. Learned from Jesus. Watched Jesus love.

Peter is his name.

After Jesus is killed, Peter is left with regret for betraying Jesus.

Peter reverts to what he was good at: He goes fishing.

All of us, when we feel like a failure, we revert to what we are decent at so we don’t feel so much like a failure.

Jesus rises from death. He finds Peter. He forgives Peter. Jesus tells Peter how much he is loved. He gives Peter grace. It changes Peter’s life. It gives him true identity. And it led Peter to write these words:

Once you had no identity as a people; now you are God’s people. Once you received no mercy; now you have received God’s mercy. (1 Peter 2:10, NLT)

Jesus told Peter after the resurrection that Peter wasn’t his past. He wasn’t his failures. And Peter was never the same.

We should not look the same after Jesus’ recieving mercy as we did before it.

Peter uses the word mercy a lot. It’s because he should know what mercy is after denying Jesus three times and being reinstated by Christ.

I could write until I’m blue in the face and all my hair falls out who you are in Christ, but only the Spirit can get a hold of you through the mercy of Jesus. I’m just doing some reminding here.

If there is any regret in our lives, it’s because we choose to not embrace our identity in who God says we are.

A few snapshots of what you would experience if you just embrace who you really are to Jesus:

You would be more secure.

If we try to find our identity in our spouse, in what they think of us, what happens when the marriage fails? There goes our identity.

If our identity is in our job, what happens when we underperform or we’re not recognized, or we lose the job? There goes our identity.

If our identity is in friends, what happens when they backstab us or don’t fulfill us in the way we expect?

If our identity is in money, what happens when we’re still empty inside after spending it?

We are unstoppably secure when we place our identity in Christ. He loves us, even when we fail. He’s saved us. He wants us. And the world can’t touch it.

I want to say that if my kids ran away and my wife left me for someone else and the doctor said I have cancer and I was fired from my job and in my desperation, no one that said they loved me came to love me in my time of need, after all of that I would still be secure in Jesus.

Just think of the worst of the worst that could happen and know it will not change who you are to Jesus. He loves you so much, so let’s stop freaking out and getting angry over the slightest of things. We aren’t insecure people, we’re Christians secure in God’s love.

You would be more confident.

So many Christians comes to God in prayer, in need, and they’re like, Um, God…I mean, yeah, um, Jesus, hey, I’m really struggling, I guess. And I don’t know if this is okay, but I kind of need some help, and I’m not sure if You can do something, maybe, to, well, you know………

Where’s the confidence?

You are God’s son. You are His daughter. You are the apple of His eye. Stop talking to Him like He’s some dictator and you’re some peasant. He’s your Father. Go to Him confidently and tell Him what you need.

You would be more restful. 

How much of our frantic pace is directly related to the fact we ignore who we are in Christ?

We are running around with our heads cut off to prove things to others, to show others we’re there for them, to provide for family and to serve people non-stop. As a result, we are exhausted because we’re trying to make all of that happen on our own strength.

Your crazy schedule is traced back to your reluctance to embrace your true identity in Jesus.

The opposite of security, confidence and rest is emptiness. Insecurity has made me empty. Fear has left me empty. Busyness has left me empty. Jesus has never.

Unless you and I believe Jesus is alive today and that He loves us, we will be empty.

Unless we believe the tomb is empty, our lives will be, empty.

Thanks for reading. Happy Easter. You are loved.

Z

Changing Our Perspective in Hardship

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Many people right now are being asked by God to endure hardship. There are marriage problems, parenting issues, infertility heartaches, stress at work, addictions, loneliness, there’s financial problems, health issues –all around there is hardship.

Are you being asked by God to endure hardship right now? I hope this perspective helps:

Hardship isn’t punishment from God because He doesn’t love you. Hardship is discipline from God because He does love you. 

I’m going to bypass the endless amount of parenting analogies that apply here.

At times, when my faith is weak, I choose to primarily focus on the hardship and how things are really tough and I cry out to God, I thought You were a good and loving God?! Why are you allowing this to happen to me?!? Check out these verses:

Don’t feel sorry for yourselves. Or have you forgotten how good parents treat children, and that God regards you as his children? My dear child, don’t shrug off God’s discipline, but don’t be crushed by it either. God is educating you; that’s why you must never drop out. (Hebrews 12:5-7)

God says, You have hardship BECAUSE I’m a good God. It’s discipline for you to become more like My Son Jesus, if you can endure humbly through it. This is an opportunity to grow your witness and add to your testimony. Rely on Me. There is purpose here. 

The goodness of God is that He will use the sin/pain/trials of life to bring eventual, permanent good. Another reminder verse:

God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God. (Romans 8:28)

With the trial we are asked by God to embrace and grow in, instead of thanking God, instead of trusting God, we ask, Why God? Why them? Why me? Why now? 

Let’s not forget that Jesus never used the word Christian. Jesus used the words follower and disciple.

Follower. Disciple.

In your hardship, will you still follow God? Or you could drop out.

The word disciple comes from the Latin root word discipline, meaning you can’t be a disciple without going through some discipline.

In your hardship, recognizing it’s not God punishing you, it’s God discipline, it’s God bringing love and purpose, will you still be His follower? Or you could drop out.

I am grateful God has allowed hardship and discipline to occur in my life. After hardship and discipline, I am more honest. I’m more hard-working. I’m more grateful. Because I hung onto God and saw His discipline as an act of love toward me.

We don’t automatically enter into this world with wisdom and theology and holiness. We grow up in this world with lots of folly and mess and sin. We choose to go toward death because we fall in love with rebellion. And because of grace and love and kindness, God is a Father who adopts us, makes us His, cleanses and frees us from our past, so that we can move toward true life and peace. After trusting and accepting Him, He will (not, He might. He will), in His perfect timing, allow trials in order to lovingly discipline us, hoping we hold onto Him and if so, become more like Him.

If you sit by an unbeliever at work, and you’re a believer, and both of you get fired, for YOU, it’s God disciplining you to trust Him more. I don’t know what it is for the unbeliever.

If a non-Christian gets cancer and you do as well, for YOU, it’s an opportunity to follow God more closely and not let go of Him. It will hone your character.

When hardship comes, we are asking the wrong question. When difficulty comes in our life, we’re asking, How can I change this? – whatever this is – a better marriage, better health, I want kids, I want to be married, I want more obedient kids, I want to pay the bills, I want to leave my addictions……….

We’re asking the wrong question if we’re primarily concerned with, How can I change this difficulty?

What I see from Hebrews chapter 12, is that we shouldn’t ask during our difficulties, How can I change this?

In every trial, we should be asking, How can this difficulty change me?

No matter how severe, how long, how devastating, how fatiguing the hardship is, for a healthy and biblical perspective, ask God, Lord, what discipline are you allowing me to have so this changes me for the better? 

Maybe it’s not about you fixing your difficulties as much as it is about your difficulties fixing you.

If we can have the faith in God to stop complaining about our hardships and start being thankful for them, then we can have joy. We can praise Him no matter what. We can rejoice. We can sing. We can declare that we are His followers and we will follow toward Him through anything this world throws at us. We will never let go of Jesus. If Jesus left heaven and resisted temptation for 33 years and died the death you deserved, and if there are faithful Christians on the other side of the world being murdered for their faith, then how can you, even as exhausted as you may be, whine about your current hardship?

It’s an honor to suffer. Do you not trust what God is doing by allowing the pain to occur in your life? If we trust God is our afterlife, then we can trust Him with this temporary trial in this life. Do not drop out. Seek His will in the trial. He’s allowing it to happen for a reason. To change you.

Hardships often prepare ordinary people for an extraordinary destiny. – C.S. Lewis

Thanks for reading. You are loved.

Z