Have you noticed? Nothing reveals the bankruptcy of the evangelical church in America more clearly than our materialistic lifestyles. Especially at Christmas. How easily we get caught up in the spirit of the world. Several years ago Becky and I made the conscious decision to forgo exchanging Christmas presents with each other and to let God use that money instead to purchase our tickets to Ethiopia. We no longer buy presents for other people or purchase a Christmas tree. We've never missed those things. Our lifestyle has become a lot simpler than it was before we started going to Ethiopia twice a year. We made a definite choice to go without certain things in order to put Ethiopia first.
Yet as I pray and evaluate my life today, I am discovering many other areas of my lifestyle that require sifting. True, I'm still willing to leave the safety and security of America several times a year. But when I am at home I tend to think that I can't live without that bowl of ice cream. I feel the need to find new ways to save money for missions. Already the television and magazine subscriptions have disappeared from my life. And I rarely purchase any books for my personal library. No, I'm NOT going to become a Scrooge about these things. But God has convicted me that I need to be more frugal than I am now. As Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 8 -- that classic passage on Christian finances -- "I'm not laying down any rules. But by showing how eager you are to help, I'm trying to find out how real your own love is" (2 Cor. 8:8). Paul's telling me -- Dave Black -- that I must seek equity in my dealings with other believers, be they Americans or Africans. "Since you have plenty," he writes, "it's only fair that you should help those who are in need." If that doesn't hit the nail on the head. Our problem in America is that we believe all the money that comes to us belongs to us to spend as we please. There is only one solution to this problem, and it is not legalism. It is seeking the mind of Christ about the proper use of earthly things. It is living a life that matches my responsibility to my fellow believers in the Majority World.
Friends, can you imagine what would happen this Christmas if Christians in America were to grasp this principle of equity? Within a few years, we would turn our world upside down for Christ. May God begin to set us free from our covetousness and greed and help us to live more simply so that others might simply live. Let's be sure to keep His example always before us:
You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Rich as He was, He made Himself poor for your sake, in order to make you rich by means of His poverty (2 Cor. 8:9).
Thanks be to God for His unspeakable gift!
You know what Sheriff Buford T. Justice would say about that?
That is not how we operate here in the West and especially America. As long as I "tithe" (whatever that means to me) to a local church and if I have anything left over to another charity I am good. We often wave the stats about how the most religious states are also the "most generous" in terms of tax deductible charitable giving to brag about how generous we are compared to the heathen in New England and California but I wonder what portion of those generous contributions go to local churches and what percentage of those offerings stay right in that local church providing a place for convenient religious expression for those same people. There is nothing especially generous about funding a building for you to gather in for an hour a week, pay for Sunday school and VBS materials for your own kids and pay a guy so you can subcontract the work of ministry to him. Our view of money and giving and sharing is awfully localized. That is understandable but it is also dangerous.
But wait a second.
Do we have an obligation to other believers that we don't even know and won't meet this side of eternity? In the New Testament the answer seems to be yes.
Now concerning the collection for the saints: as I directed the churches of Galatia, so you also are to do. On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come. And when I arrive, I will send those whom you accredit by letter to carry your gift to Jerusalem. (1 Cor 16:1-3)
This collection was not unique to Corinth. See also what Paul wrote in Romans 15....
At present, however, I am going to Jerusalem bringing aid to the saints. For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make some contribution for the poor among the saints at Jerusalem. For they were pleased to do it, and indeed they owe it to them. For if the Gentiles have come to share in their spiritual blessings, they ought also to be of service to them in material blessings. (Romans 15:25-27)
So the saints in Macedonia and Achaia owed it to the saints in Jerusalem? Oh I am not sure I am comfortable at all with that language! Someone needed to tell those slackers in Jerusalem to get a job! Given the reality of life back then these would be offerings to complete strangers. Yet there apparently was no thought given to taking up a collection that wouldn't benefit their own "local church", something we really don't ever see in the Bible. In other words we never see the church raising funds for the operation of the church but instead for the benefit of others, apparently often for others outside of the immediate "local church".
I think Dr. Black strikes the right tone. This is not a legalistic thing. This isn't an issue of I am holier than thou because you have a smart phone and I don't. Blogging at its best is designed to provoke thought and I have been thinking a lot about what he wrote. In fact it dovetails nicely with some other thoughts on the church and how we artificially divide it up. So more on that later but first do you think that we have an obligation to seek equity with believers in other parts of the world or even those living right around us?