What If?

Imagine God has called you to minister to widows and orphans who live in a slum area of a third-world country. You could pour yourself into fund-raising in order to build a feeding center. It will be on the outskirts of the slum since you can purchase acreage there (with some government stipulations of a local board of directors, since foreigners cannot actually own land post-colonialism). You raise the hundreds of thousands of dollars needed for the land, structure, wall and gate so you can protect the donor’s investments and the staff you will need. Oh, yes, there is also some money left for the first food you will give to the people you want to bless.

Yes, more people than you could have anticipated are willing to come for the beans and rice you give at lunch. Yes, they are willing to sit through the mandatory Bible study that precedes the meal. You know you are keeping some of these single moms from giving up their children as orphans because now they have at least one meal every day. You also know they are hearing from Scriptures and God’s Word will not come back void.

Have you really helped? Have you trained local people that “through this kind of hard work we must help the weak,” per Paul’s counsel?

Blessed to Give

Last Tuesday I wrote about giving. I want to return to the subject since we have had time to “chew on this cud” for a while.

I believe that Paul’s care calls us to engage this issue thoughtfully. He was concerned to prevent his apostolic band from being discounted as more religious charlatans–notorious con-artists. He, also, raises the issue of his desire to preach the gospel at his own personal cost so he could go “above and beyond the call of duty.” The apostle to the Gentiles models a very nuanced theology of giving.

Maybe I am misreading Acts 20:34-35, but it appears to me that Paul’s business enterprise in Ephesus was adequate to support his personal needs, also financed a sizable apostolic team and produced enough to “help the weak.”

My dream is to see apostolic workers (those commissioned to get the gospel into truly unreached people groups) who are able to enter communities with business models that are simple, easily reproduced and adequately resourced so they are truly financially sustainable. They will be of such a nature that they involve the workers in providing a valuable service for the people of the new community. They will provide excellent opportunities to look for Persons of Peace. They will become valuable for the community on a long-term basis. They will provide the opportunity to model hard work and helping the weak.

Maybe Paul had not taught about giving at earlier stages during his three year stay in Ephesus. Maybe his statement about “remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive'” was a personal remembrance. But I suspect he is pointing their minds back to earlier teaching he had done when he quoted this from Jesus [NOTE: This statement on giving is not found in Matthew, Mark, Luke or John. Is this something Jesus said to Paul personally after his Damascus Road encounter?]

I am thankful that my time in Arkansas prompted me to return to this issue. What are your thoughts on the matter?

More Blessed to Give?

Every teacher is selective! It does not matter whether you are using an inductive or deductive approach, you choose what will be taught and the order in which it is taught. Acknowledging this reality is significant. While it will not change it, you may become less accidental in how you exercise selectivity.

When I shared the critique of the Kenyan leader I was not wanting to be critical of the mission team–at all! I rejoice in what God has done through them. I rejoice in their willingness to be vulnerable. I rejoice that this subject was raised.

I, too, have encouraged missions organizations to carefully consider the importance of giving in the earliest stages of discipleship. As you might have noted in one of my replies to a comment made on my last blog, I believe God’s giving nature is one of his core character traits. John 3:16 is pretty specific when it says, “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son…” Answer the question, “What do you learn about God?” based on this verse and you observe He is an extreme giver!

While I was not present when the referenced rebuke took place, the statement prompts me to believe these Kenyan churches struggle with a lack of needed financial resources which arise from a lack of giving. The problem with waiting to teach on giving is it does not become easier with time, it may actually become more difficult.

Acts 20:17-35 has long been the text that has most significantly challenged my thinking on giving. Here Paul meets with the leaders of the church of Ephesus and reviews their history and pulls back the curtains on some prophetic insights believers have been receiving regarding his near future. Paul is about to face “prison and hardships,” according to the Holy Spirit. With the potential that this may be his last time ever with this group, he warns them to be on their guard against those who will seek “to draw away disciples after them[selves].” By contrast, he reminds them of his lifestyle.

“I have not coveted anyone’s silver or gold or clothing. You yourselves know that these hands of mine have supplied my own needs and the needs of my companions. In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.'”

Do we deprive people of the greater blessing when we fail to facilitate their discovery of the grace of giving? Are we as intentional in our behavior and explaining the purpose behind it as Paul was?