I had some people ask me about a comment I made this weekend. I was talking about one of the groups in the “pie chart”: the approximated 15 gifts that would make up one-third of the finances needed for the Luke 4 Challenge—gifts between $100,000 and $1M. When I mentioned what a sacrificial commitment might look like in that group, I said to consider leaving a legacy of giving now instead of a bigger inheritance for your kids later. And then I off-handedly said, “I’m not a big believer in inheritances…they need to work for their money anyway!”
Some folks asked me about the story the week before of my mom feeling guilty she and dad weren’t able to leave their kids anything...that she had become a Christian and read in Proverbs 13: A good man leaves an inheritance for his children’s children. So what’s with that?
Keep in mind that Israel had an agrarian culture; leaving land was critical for children to not end up enslaved. But today, most inheritances are more like windfalls than supplying a critical need. As I mentioned to my mom, the spiritual life she gave me was a much better legacy than money. What’s more, I would rather trust God myself for what my needs are…and I’m pretty sure I would have been more encouraged if they did have money had they given it to the Kingdom. I’ll take spiritual modeling any day of the week.
Let’s be honest: sometimes it’s odd talking about money. It feels very personal.
You know the old stat: Jesus talked more about money than heaven or hell combined. My response has been, “Yeah, but that was God. And I’m not God.” But in the past few years I’ve been thinking differently. Er…I don’t mean I think I’m God, but this:
I have some friends with a prophetic bent, so I’ve often taken people struggling to hear God to meet them and have them pray over them. I’ve also tapped people I know with a hospitality gift to help when someone is visiting from out-of-town. But somehow I never connected the gift that some people have for generating income with asking them to give in a big way to a missional project…and in my mind that’s just about everything at the Vineyard. But even more, I’m convinced that 99.9% of us are unbelievably affluent compared to the global village. Our ability to generate income is fantastic when juxtaposed with the rest of the world. It's a gift.
So I’m over it. If the cause is God-honoring, if it’s Spirit-led, if there is integrity with the people involved, and if it’s outward-focused, then I say: let’s cough it up. We’re in this together. And the reason why is because we need each other…and we can exponentially do more.
I think those are good reasons. What do you think?
This weekend I told a story about my dad and his commute: walk to the riverbank, unchain his boat, row across to the Ohio side, ride 1½ hours to General Electric, work eight hours on the second shift, ride 1½ hours back, row across the river, walk home with your oars. I can’t even imagine that in a cold rain at 2 A.M.
It’s amazing what someone would do for their family, what they would sacrifice. It made me think about my church family. What would I be willing to do? Even writing the words church family sounds cheesy…but it’s true. There is, of course, the cosmic family, those who are children born from God’s Spirit. But that plays out practically in the local gathering, whether it’s a megachurch, a house church, or a small group.
As my wife and I processed what we’re doing financially regarding the Luke 4 Challenge, it made us think about sacrifice. It’s still hard for me to seriously connect it with inconvenience, or discomfort, or loss. Even when I think about sacrifice as it related to Israel, I tend to feel badly for the bull or the goat or the turtledove. But I forget the profound effect it could have for a family: the loss of income. Our team in Nigeria was profoundly touched and humbled by the offer of a chicken from one very poor family as a gift just for coming. It was overwhelming generosity. No...let me rephrase that: it went from overwhelming generosity to a family-jeopardizing sacrifice. That makes me uneasy, but a good uneasy. It almost feels like a challenge. Paul used that same dynamic to rally churches when he was taking up a special collection for the poor in Jerusalem, telling the Corinthian church what the churches in Macedonia did:
Though they have been going through much trouble and hard times, their wonderful joy and deep poverty have overflowed in rich generosity. . . . I am not saying you must do it, even though the other churches are eager to do it. This is one way to prove your love is real. 2 Corinthians 8:2, 8 (New Living Translation)
The story of Jesus watching the widow drop her last two coins in the temple offering does the same thing for me personally. I could argue that she could have done better things with her big sacrifice: that the temple money wasn’t being used wisely, that the ruling Sanhedrin was not really very spiritual, that the people dropping their noticeably big offerings were hypocrites in that assembly, etcetera etcetera. But Jesus seems unconcerned about all that. He saw her offering as a major sacrifice...to God. And get this: the God of the universe—God in the flesh—was impressed. And I assume it takes a lot to impress God. I'm pretty sure He's seen everything.
I guess it takes personal sacrifice.
Nevertheless, I'm taking it as a challenge. What would I be willing to do for my church family, whether here or in Nigeria?
This past week I reread one of my favorite books The Jesus I Never Knew by Philip Yancey. Yancey’s titles reveal an author whose religious paradigms have been shattered not a few times: Disappointment With God, Where Is God When It Hurts? The Jesus I Never Knew, Church—Why Bother? What’s So Amazing About Grace? He often raises big questions that don’t have simple answers with a vulnerable honesty not always evident in Christian books.
In one chapter on grace he admits that because of all the suffering in the world, it’s not always easy to believe in the love of God. During a radio talk show he was on, a youth pastor called in with a horrifying story of how his young wife and baby daughter were dying of AIDS from tainted blood in a hospital. On the phone he cried, “How can I possibly talk to my youth group about a loving God after what has happened to me?” Yancey struggles—and rightfully so—with the issue. Though unresolved, he writes:
“One question, however, no longer gnaws at me as it once did, a question that I believe lurks behind most of our issues with God: ‘Does God care?’ I know of only one way to answer that question, and it has come through my study of the life of Jesus. In Jesus, God gave us a face, and I can read directly in that face how God feels . . . By no means did Jesus eliminate all suffering—he healed only a few in one small patch of the globe—but he did signify an answer to the question of whether God cares.”
That little paragraph created more philosophical and theological questions for me than it was satisfying. If God does care, then why doesn’t He cover more than “one small patch of the globe”…after all, He is God. But it made me think.
First, it's obvious that eliminating suffering is a whole lot more complex than we think. But second, God does have a way of healing beyond “one small patch of the globe”—it’s called the Church. And God has put us in a specific patch to do the same things that Jesus did: feed the hungry, heal the sick, drive out demons, release the oppressed…while being driven by the compassion of Jesus. To me, the Healing Center is a God-challenging opportunity to take ourselves seriously as a healing community…to put our money where our mouth is. For whatever reason, God's strategy involves distributing His power through human beings who have experienced redemption. Perhaps the best salesperson is a satisfied customer.
We may not have all the answers for healing, but I’m pretty sure we are commanded to make the attempt.
“I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.” John 14:12 (NIV)
For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. (1 Corinthians 13:12)
After Saturday night I needed to edit some of the message and emphasize other parts. But there was a slant on a particular scripture that I had never really considered before as it relates to vision and the will—or plan—of God in our lives. I had to cut it out to make room for other points that were made, but here’s what I said:
“The apostle Paul wrote that we see the plans of God in our lives like we’re looking through a dark glass. I want you to think about how profound that is. I think Americans—because we have thousands of options and choices and live incredibly wealthy lives compared to the vast majority of the world—believe that “clarity” and “measured outcomes” are an inalienable right. Perhaps some of us even carry that entitlement into our spiritual walk. But Paul infers that not everything is clear now. Someday Jesus will come and we’ll see and know God and His will plainly. But now the window is a little foggy. We know a few things about God’s plan for our lives now…we get a prophetic word here…a little word of knowledge there…and we do our best to piece it together. It’s often on the other side of a move of God that we really see the beauty and power of God’s plan.”
In his book Ruthless Trust, author Brennan Manning writes:
“When the brilliant ethicist John Kavanaugh went to work for three months at ‘the house of the dying’ in Calcutta, he was seeking a clear answer as to how best to spend the rest of his life. On the first morning there he met Mother Teresa. She asked, ‘And what can I do for you?’ Kavanaugh asked her to pray for him.
‘What do you want me to pray for?’ she asked.
… ‘Pray that I have clarity.’
She said firmly, ‘No, I will not do that.’ When he asked her why, she said, ‘Clarity is the last thing you are clinging to and must let go of.’ When Kavanaugh commented that she always seemed to have the clarity he longed for, she laughed and said, ‘I have never had clarity; what I have always had is trust. So I will pray that you trust God.’”
I believe God has given us a vision. How it will turn out is His business. My job is to love God, love others, listen to His whispers, inspire action and pray to get out of the way. I wish I could say everything is perfectly clear, but that would be arrogant. But sometimes I wonder if the times I worried the most whether something would be successful or not were the moments nothing was achieved.
But honestly, I’ve never been more sure. Our city, our future, our world. I think God is offering us an invitation to an innovative supernatural opportunity.