Finances: Plans, Promises, and Problems

Money (or the love of it), as the Bible teaches, is “the root of all types of evil.” Oddly enough money is not evil. Money is used for good and bad; our hearts that makes the difference.  Two people with different motivations can spend money on the same thing with one person acting righteously and the other sinfully.

Money is a huge spiritual issue. There are approximately 800 verses in the Bible about money. Jesus teaches 11 parables about money. Jesus says, “Where your treasure is there your heart is also.”  Your desire for and use of money and material wealth is an accurate measure of your heart.  Where you are investing money is where you are investing your life.

Preconceived ideas become a problem in talking about money with Christians today. Some have heard and even believed the lies of the prosperity gospel. They have been told that if they give more, then they will get rich. Many (most) of the people who have believed this lie have felt its sting as they gave more than they could afford. Others have been taught heavy-handed legalistic approaches to percentages they must give. Far too many followers of Christ have simply not been taught anything that the Bible has to say about money.

Money matters to God because money matters to you. God wants you… ALL of you. Following Jesus will cost you everything. Not only does God want all of you, he demands all of you.  Following Jesus means “dying to self” and “living to Christ.” That death to self includes your finances. Jesus states that worldly materials are great measures of one’s heart. Where the treasure is, there the heart is also.

The heart matters.  Money follows.

1 Chronicles 29 is one of the places where we hear about the people of God giving above and beyond their normal (required by Law) giving toward the work of God.  In 1 Chronicles 29:6 the giving of the average family in their nation was described as “giving willingly.”

We teach giving to the Kingdom of God (the Church) as giving that comes from the heart. I teach tithing as a principle not a law. There is an inarguable pattern of giving in the Bible that never dips below 10% giving. The death and resurrection of Christ fulfilled, but did not abolish, the Law.  That means obedience in every area of life is no longer by Law; it is now by grace.  The principles, however, still apply.  The teachings about relationships, money, sexuality, etc., are still relevant. The ways of God toward which the law pointed are all still valid for our lives as God worshipers. Grace does not change the truth. Grace changes us.

When the people of Israel were called to give above and beyond their commanded taxes and tithes, they “offered willingly.” Why? They all wanted a place to worship together. They wanted a temple that would honor their God and offer their entire nation a place to come and go in worship of the Lord. They wanted other nations to see the worthiness of worship of their God. It was from their heart.

As you pray in the coming weeks and months about how Fellowship Church is going to move beyond where it is now to reach more people for Jesus, will you make this your prayer?  Ask the Lord to show you the value of what lies ahead. Ask God if He wants us to do these things? I know, without a doubt, that He does, and that is why I will give willingly. That is all I can ask of you.

We will teach directly about money. You will be challenged about your treasures and your heart. This challenge, however, will not be about buildings for Fellowship Church. The challenge is about the health of your soul. I pray that this heart and intention is heard and seen in every way that I speak and lead.

I believe that we will have everything that God intends for us to have to move BEYOND. I believe the majority of you will give willingly. Why do I believe that? Because I believe that we desire to do whatever it takes to “bring real life in Christ to Ascension Parish and beyond.” Out of that passion we will give willingly.

Remember…The heart matters.  Money follows.

I end with this.  As we discuss these truths, many of you will find yourself in a place where you cannot be obedient in giving because you have already been disobedient in spending. You are in such debt that you do not have the ability to be generous. If that is the case for you, please email me at kjones@fellowshipchurch.cc and I will help you get connected to some people and some teachings that will help you head down the right road spiritually so you can live more financially faithful.

 

Up to Date or Out of Date

In Ecclesiastes we are told a truth can both give hope and bring gravity to a situation.  “There is a time for everything.”  There are times in life to do new things.  There are times to do old things.  I also believe there are times to renew things.

The BEYOND Update we passed out yesterday at church is such a time.  For some of you it is new.  For others it is a renewal.  I hope that you will join us in prayer about what God would desire us to do as we move BEYOND.

Today, I want to give you a Biblical thought on how to respond to an update.  This update is positive.  Has everything worked out as we had planned or thought it would?  No.  Has it worked out as God planned?  Yes.  Has God done things that were beyond what we could even ask or imagine, like give us a property for one of our campuses?  Yes.  God is faithful!

Jehosaphat gets a not so favorable update in 2 Chronicles.  His response, however, is one I think we should learn from.  Not that what we are sharing is negative, but because Jehosaphat sets a good example of how to respond to an update.

He set his face to the Lord.  He prayed.  He asked God to do what only God could do.  He asked what He should do.  He repented of his wrongs and his own selfishness and sin.  He called the people to do the same.  And God was gracious and intervened on their behalf and delivered them from their enemies.

Will you join me in fasting each Tuesday between now and Easter to ask God to do more than we could ask or imagine? Will you  pray for 5 people by name and commit yourself to being faithful to share the Gospel with them?  Will you find your place to serve at Fellowship?  God made each member a laborer.  Find your labor and serve the Lord faithfully with us.

The end of 2 Chronicles 20 gives us a dire warning about not finishing well though.  Jehosaphat humbled himself before the Lord, but he did not remain there.  He did what was evil in the eyes of the Lord.  I am not asking you to join me for one  particular day to give a particular amount.  I am not asking you to join me for one year.  I am not asking you to join me in seeing everything happen as we think it will.  I am asking you to join me on a journey BEYOND where we follow God – and wherever he leads we will faithfully go.

Responding to an update means responding to the Lord.  Whether the update is good or bad, God is in control of what lies ahead just as he was of what lies behind.

Are you in?

Piece Of The Puzzle

“God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as He chose”- 1 Corinthians 12:22 (ESV)

Everybody’s different. There is no one else in this world who is just like you. You are unique.

Do these messages sound familiar? In a highly individualistic culture such as ours, we hear them all the time. Truth be told, sometimes we’re convinced, while at other times, we aren’t.

But what if I told you that there is at least one wayin which every single one of us who are “in Christ” is exactly the same? Because according to God in 1 Corinthians 12, there is. This passage teaches us clearly that if you know Jesus personally, and are thus a member of His church, you have- without exception- been gifted by God for others’ good.

This gifting from God is gracious– there is nothing we can do to earn or deserve it. It is also generous– God has given us everything we need to do everything He has called us to do. And as the verse that heads this post makes clear, it is entirely purposeful– God made each of us who He made us, and how He made us, entirely on purpose. And what is that purpose? To bring glory to Him, and to bless and build others up to become who He has created them to be.

You see, each local church- Fellowship Church included- is much like a puzzle. Just as every puzzle has a designer, the church has been sovereignly and purposefully “designed” by God. This means that God has not only gifted each individual in His church uniquely, but He has also brought us together with a healthy diversity of unique giftings to form a unified, effective whole.

Also, just as every piece of every puzzle has a place and a purpose, every member of every church, including you, has a place and a purpose in God’s ongoing work. That means that you are needed, wanted, and valued. This is true no matter what you or anyone else has told you in the past. Make no mistake- God does love you, God has gifted you, and God does intend to use you powerfully to impact others in a big way, no matter how much you doubt that reality.

As one of the primary aspects of our Beyond Initiative, we want to challenge you to serve beyond yourself– that is, to utilize the unique and purposeful gifting of God in your life to glorify Him and benefit others here at Fellowship Church and beyond. Our church will only function fully to its potential as each member embraces and enacts the unique equipping of God in his or her life. To put it more simply, everyone must find their God given “fit” so that the whole may be complete.

How, then, do you do this, especially if you’ve never served at Fellowship Church- or perhaps at any church- before? Try this simple but significant process…

1- Begin in your heart. Serving beyond yourself obviously involves your hands, but the process must first begin in your heart, as you make yourself available to God to be used by Him in His work. Understand this- The first and foremost prerequisite for contributing in a powerful way to God’s church is a humble, willing heart. If you’ve got that, God can and will give you the grace to take the next step.

2- Start somewhere. As the old cliché goes, “It’s hard to steer a ship that isn’t moving.” The same principle holds true in serving. The best way to know what God has for you uniquely is to take the opportunities before you- even if they don’t seem ideal- and ask Him to direct you as you move in obedience. Also be sure to gather the feedback of trusted others who can recognize and call out your potential. Often others see in us what we have a tough time seeing in ourselves.

3- Don’t give up. Even when you feel like you’ve found your perfect “fit” in serving beyond, there will be challenging days. Serving in God’s church involves people- you included- and wherever people are, problems can arise. Don’t let this difficulty sway you from doing everything that God has called you to do. After all, Jesus’ “perfect fit” in serving was a bloody Cross, where He bore your sin and mine so we could have real life in Him. This was no doubt a difficult assignment, but He followed it through obediently to completion. Let’s make His example our model and motivation.

I pray you have been encouraged and challenged this week to consider how God wants to use you in the lives of others at Fellowship Church. If you are not yet serving, but would like to take a first step, please contact us at (225) 673-4735 or by emailing sstone@fellowshipchurch.cc. We would be privileged to help you take that step.

Beyond a Dollar

Living Beyond yourself is not just a desire, it must be the direction of your life. This life is not found in what is sentimental but in what is practical. The most elusive reality about a life lived beyond is going from desire and sentiment to direction and practice.

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Beyond begins with God.

Living beyond ourselves is our right response towards God who has gone beyond for us. “We love God because he first loved us.” “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son that whoever believes in Him would not perish but have everlasting life.” God is the beginning of beyond. He loves beyond. He is gracious beyond. He can do beyond what we “ask or imagine.”

2 Corinthians 9:6-15 speaks to one of the most difficult issues of the heart that prevents us from living beyond ourselves: Money.

The passage begins with the truth that he who sows little also reaps little and he who sows much also reaps much. The decision to give is often difficult because there are so many emotions wrapped up in it. There are feelings about who or what you are giving to, who or what you are giving up, and who will know about your gift. These emotions are often how the enemy sneaks in and robs us of the joy of being a giver.

Giving is a living decision.

How you plan to give will determine how you live. The common lie we believe is that I will give after I have enough to live. But there will never be enough. Never. We have an insatiable appetite for more. The decision to give determines how we live. In this way, it is the decision that makes the other decisions.

These decisions include financial responsibility. Living on a budget can be a love/hate experience but is a necessity to be able to consistently give. Decisions that are based on budgets instead of bank accounts are typically better for the long view of financial stewardship.

A cheerful heart is not the result of a cheerful gift.
A cheerful gift is the result of a cheerful heart.

God loves a cheerful giver. This description of happiness and joy is not the description of the gift, it is the description of the person that gives. The gift we give cheerfully is the result of the life we live cheerfully.

I encourage you in your giving to avoid a life cycle of self-bribery. This occurs when we try to buy ourselves out of the guilt of selfishness by giving. We give so that we feel better about how we live. Instead, you should change how you live. Sacrifice some selfish desires to give beyond.

The cheerful heart speaks of what one loves. It is never difficult for people to invest in what and who they love. If you love fishing, you spend the money on it. Shoes a passion? You spend money on them. If you love it, you give of your self for it.

How much do you love Jesus and his glorious gospel?
How much do you love your church?

How much do you love your neighbor going through a hard time?

Do you love them enough to live in such a way that you can give? Decide in your heart what you will give, be cheerful…and do it!

A Parable about Mario Kart

Just last week, Jessica and I were fortunate enough to head to Austin for a conference on discipleship. A true blessing from the Lord is when you have small kids & some family that is willing to keep them for a few days (and nights). All of God’s people said??

We had a great time learning and worshiping (and eating). But as you would guess, after a few days, we missed our 3 crazy little boys. On Saturday, we headed home. As we got closer, I began to imagine my first interaction with the boys. I dreamed of them being off in a distance, and I, like the father in the Prodigal Story, would see them and run to them. And they to me. And we would embrace. And it would be a beautiful reuniting between parents and children.

Didn’t happen.

We saw them. They ran around in circles. To get away. Finally, I convinced them to come. Caleb was the first to speak.
What I expected? “Oh father, I missed you and I love you. I missed your masculine influence on my life!”

Nope. Instead? “Dad, on Mario Kart I opened a new level and a new character and yadda yadda yadda!!!” I can’t even describe the excitement on his face. Ear to ear smile.

At first I was offended (on the inside). I am already not that excited about his obsession with this video game…and that was the first thing he had to say? But then God struck me down in my spirit with 2 things.

Caleb does love you Jonathan. Your son loves you so much he wanted you to know about everything that he loves.
His desire to tell me everything is a sign of his love for me. I know how to turn my wife on (this is clean, I promise). I take her for coffee and we talk openly. We share feelings. We share hurts. It is a deep showing of affection.

This is exactly how God wants us to relate to him. To share with him honestly about our passions, our dreams and even our hurts and our fears. God desires authenticity in prayer because it shows affection.

The second thing He dropped into my spirit was this…we don’t have to be trained to talk about the things we love. Caleb doesn’t need training to talk about Mario Kart. I don’t need a seminar to open my mouth about the Eagles. Jessica? Fingernail polish & shoes. Isaac? Underwear (don’t ask…he’s at that age). Abram? His mom (and he talks LOUDLY about that beautiful woman).

Don’t get me wrong, training to share your faith is valuable. I want you to have it. But you don’t need it to talk about Him. Jesus is better than everything. If you believe that and know HIM…then you LOVE Him. If you love Him, you will talk about Him.
On the spot, God spoke to me. “You love me? Let it be known.”

I love kids. God uses them to teach me so much about living BEYOND myself.

Side note: I like to play Mario Kart too. There, honesty. A sign of my affection to you.

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Like Dynamite

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“For this reason I bow my knees before the Father…that according to the riches of His glory He may grant you to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner being…”- Ephesians 3:14, 16 (ESV)

This weekend at Fellowship Church, we launched head first into a new initiative called Beyond. This “series” is far more than just a series, but is instead a full scale effort designed to renew and refocus us individually and corporately around what it means to steward well every aspect of the lives which God has granted to us as His people and His church.

Within this season, we’ll focus on four key stewardship of life practices of followers of Jesus- serving the church practically, sharing the Gospel intentionally, giving of our financial resources generously, and living a life of distinctive obedience to God and participation in His Kingdom mission. In each of these areas, it is our conviction that God has called us as His people to live beyond ourselves in a radical way, that God might be rightly glorified, that His church might be continually built up, and that the lives of people just like you and me might be transformed inside out by the grace of God in Jesus. The “end game” of the beyond life is nothing less than such an eternal impact.

In this way, the beyond life is a life of power.

In Ephesians 3, Paul prays a tremendous pastoral prayer for the church in the city of Ephesus. Within it, he petitions God passionately to grant his brothers and sisters “power” as they seek to know and follow Him. The Greek word that translates as “power” in this verse is dunamis, where we get our English word “dynamite.” Now if you have any experience with dynamite- or perhaps if you’ve watched an episode of Looney Tunes at some point in your life- you know that is an undeniably powerful force. When it is detonated, its surroundings are impacted- significantly, and permanently.

Do you recognize that this is the precise intensity of impact that God desires for you as His follower- and for us as His church- to have on the world around us? He desires and has designed that we would, in Him, “blow up” the prevailing power of sin and death in the lives of those around us and instead break through with the life changing light of the Gospel of grace. He wants lives changed…families changed…neighborhoods changed…nations changed…for His eternal glory. And astoundingly, He wants you and I to be an intimate part of that process.

Let’s face it, though- We can’t live the life of “dynamite” spiritual power that God intends for us if we remain content to pattern our lives practically after the status quo of this world. To someone not living the beyond life, serving, sharing, giving, and living beyond what is normal or even seemingly reasonable seems downright strange. As Craig Groeschel states in his aptly titled book, Weird- “If you want a normal life, do what normal people do. But if you want to know God intimately, walk with Him daily, and please Him in every way, you have to do what few people do.” This, of course, sounds strikingly familiar to something Jesus Himself said about finding life on the “narrow path.”

Chances are, this all sounds somewhat heady, or even intimidating, to you. You’re thinking to yourself, “But I could never…” about one or more or perhaps all of these aspects of the beyond life. That’s understandable, but in the face of that fear or doubt, I want to encourage you to look again at what Paul prays here. He does not pray that the Ephesians would “find strength within themselves,” “reach down and muster up some willpower,” or anything of the sort. In fact, he prays just the opposite- that God Himself, by His gracious and strengthening Spirit, would “grant” them all the strength needed to be and do all that He had called them to be and do.

Make no mistake- The beyond is a life of power, but it is not a power of your own making. It is, instead, the power of your Father God at work in and through you. Our power is inadequate, but His is unlimited. After all, the same power that raised Jesus Christ from the dead now lives in us. Will you?