Tag Archives: sharing

Three radical facts about sharing money

We had to start talking about money. We were not meeting the goal we set. Drat.

For a church, organizing people to give money to support their life together and mission can be painful these days. In general, the Church is so into the ways of capitalism (where EVERYTHING is “monetized”) it is hard to tell a megachurch from a big box store, sometimes.

Meanwhile, many people are totally turned off to any mention of money or financial obligations clogging up their personal space — if Jesus is saving them from anything, it MUST be the constant barrage of oppressive advertising that demands a purchase every five seconds. They are totally wrong about this, but if the church is asking for money, it looks suspiciously like everything else trying to rob them.

Joel Osteen and Rick Warren are reportedly worth $40 million and $25 million respectively. So I think people can be forgiven if they think Christians are in it for the money — there is a lot of evidence to support that. I don’t know about Joel and Rick, but that is a lot of wealth, guys!

So our pastors and other leaders are very tempted to just keep their mouths shut. If you just TALK about money, people can get nervous. Not everyone, of course, but certainly those who are not sharing are likely to get agitated. But here I am about to talk. I need to say SOMETHING, since I think people are not respecting themselves and others if they do not share what they have like Jesus shared the life of God with them.

So here are three facts about sharing money I think everyone, especially radicals, should consider.

Sharing centers the focus

We need to know this and tell ourselves and others (like our loved ones!), “My money has a purpose for Jesus.” Like Jesus says, “If one’s eye is whole, the whole body is filled with light.” Sharing generously, with an eye on the security of grace and the promise of eternity, makes a mighty contribution to a life which fearlessly exercises freedom. Not sharing money (and all the other gifts entrusted to us) shifts the focus to fear.

Sharing is about fighting back

Sharing resources to support a common, alternative community is fundamental to undermining the status quo. If we do not share, we are individual sitting ducks for the huge powers that seek to dominate us with every ad on every possible surface, embedded in every possible communication.

Projecting your frustration with the corrosive marketing of the world onto the church is just not right! The church makes a request and you think it is an ad? Are we really going to let the world force us into such constant defensiveness that we will never open up and share? The church of Jesus is not the world, it is the antidote to self-destruction!

Sharing makes us real

“But,” I think people feel, “if I share like that, I am that person” — a committed sharer. “I am adult,” maybe stuck, obligated — everything that makes me unfree. Millennials are kind of cheap, afraid, it is said. They are 9/11 and financial crisis people.  They are afraid of debt, hold their assets in cash, don’t even like to invest. They spend less on dinner and spend less on Jesus. What a reputation!

I think sharing makes a person real. (We’ve all read the Velveteen Rabbit, right?). Sharing in the church’s common fund is sharing in a common life of love. It is a regular reinvestment in not leaving, and instead, being tangibly present right now. I am amazed at how many of us have not shared a penny this whole year, as if the church belonged to someone else and not us! What do we express of Jesus, who shares resurrection life with humanity, when we have no similar love to His, no sacrificial instinct, no trust that we are eternally provided for and so can lose our lives and still expect to save them?

Self-giving love, sacrifice, trust — everyone has something like those hopes and graces at work in them, but it seems radical to express them in a world like ours as a person like me. Sharing money: as friends, as married couples, as a team, and certainly as the church, changes the world and changes me in a very practical way.

How do YOU think people see your church?

The first question we asked our cells in order to gather some discernment about where God is leading us was this:

When a newcomer or unbeliever gets to know us, whether in a cell or Sunday Meeting, through one of our events or teams, or through an individual, what are the things they will most immediately notice about us and what gifts will they find easiest to access?” 

What do you think?

Examine yourselvesWe dared to take Paul seriously when he tells the Corinthian church: Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test? (2 Cor. 13:5). If we can be honest about what others see in us, we will not just follow the scripture, we will probably follow our humility right into spiritual growth! We are who we are, but who knows what we might become if we listen?.

Our cells had a LOT to say about this question (and all the other questions!). When I set my mind to sort all their responses, I came up with eighteen different headings for this first one! I was encouraged by what the cell members thought people see in us when they first get to know us. I thought you might be encouraged too. I am not going to list all eighteen things! But I thought I would give you ten. I’ll give you my heading and then one of the answers I culled out which intrigued or moved me. So you get my heading and one answer verbatim.

Whether you are part of our church or not, these things might give you something to think about. What’s more, I don’t doubt someone who is in our church will think the person I quote does not completely know what they are talking about. So we all might have more to think about, too. Regardless, I think we’d all like to be a church moving in the direction these thoughts signal.

Whether you think your church is seen in these ways or you think it just ought to be, let’s pray that we get there. Yesterday was Pentecost, and the Spirit of God is moving to take us into our fullness.

Here are ten ways the cell members think newcomers see us:

We are welcoming/hospitable/friendly/open.

  • You can be who you are.  You are relevant.  You have an opportunity to an actual path where God is leading you.  Walk with us – not your fear or a stereotype.

We create a distinct atmosphere.

  • We create an atmosphere where we try to attract those who are timid with things like the bible through our vulnerability showing it is OK to have doubts and disbelief.

We are a connected community.

  • We are not an obligation – this community is real and authentic and people are here out of choice.  We are not a thing to do.  We want to know you.  

Leadership is respected and varied.

  • Leaders don’t have to be older, mature people who have all their stuff together. Anyone can potentially be a leader and should see their gifts and insight valued and nurtured (not just for white male extroverts).

We have an open seeking spirit.

  • Vulnerability in sharing by both women and men. It’s good modeling by those in leadership because it sets a space to be real and to address deep set needs – we are a deep people because of this.

We are devoted to compassion.

  • Our good works are a natural progression from our togetherness

We share.

  • It is not hard to get resources of spiritual direction (informal), counseling, financial help, job connections.

We take action, are ambitious, intentional.

  • We are doers of the word. While other may talk about examples of how you may get involved the overwhelming expectation is that we are people who live through action and action particularly for both one another and those with need.

We expect people to participate.

  • They can get connected to anything (cell, team’s, leadership, etc.), the church is their oyster.

We are committed to dialogue.

  • It is the judge-free zone.  We all pretty openly discuss a lot of topics, personal and otherwise with widely varying opinions sometimes, and no one is upset.  

When you answer the question about your church, what are the answers YOU get? Let’s keep praying for the Holy Spirit to move us into the place the Lord would like us to be.

[Originally published on Circle of Hope’s blog]

Tenderness is the heart of the covenant.

When Jesus passes you the cup at the Love Feast it is an act of tenderness. Maybe you can’t look into his eyes and see it; but when you drink, you might be able to feel it. When you are surrounded by others who love him and love you, the tenderness might become more evident. I hope so.

It always happens. Someone at the feast will come up against this tenderness and it will throw them for a loop. Some might be frightened by it and might even refuse to drink. You can feel their resistance. Others will be melted for the first time and understand the liquid love being offered — a few flee to the outskirts of the group, they are so overcome. That’s because the heart of the covenant is tenderness and it unravels the world.

We have tenderness

When Paul wrote to his church plant in Philippi from prison, his tenderness towards them spilled out again and again. I think he imagined them gathered around the communion table where Christ’s selfless love was on display, ready to consume, when he wrote:

If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others (Philippians 2:1-4).

How tragic it is that so many Christians skip most of his exhortation and immediately stumble over “being like-minded” and then “having the same love” and then being “of one mind.” In postmodern America many people assume being like-minded is impossible, if not illegal. Difference is prized and protected. Sameness is about rights, not communion. “One mind” sounds like an ideological demand reminiscent of the Nazis, or something — it might seem as if Jesus were passing the cup and each person is commanded to swallow an elephant-sized ideology to follow him! I think many of my friends feel just that way when the cup comes to them. Some won’t even take a sip, much less make a covenant at  a “love feast” because they can’t swallow what they perceive to be a massive load of mind-boggling stuff that comes with it.

How do people miss “comfort” and “sharing” and “compassion” in what Paul says Jesus brings? How do they miss the possibility of “joy,” or “love,” of being of “value” and being freed to value? Drinking deeply of all those wonders are what the covenant includes. Unity in Christ is a spiritual reality infused with love, not a doctrinal argument presided over by the winners of the latest round of law-making.

Don’t miss the longing

Jesus “took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you.  This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, I will not drink from this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom’” (Matthew 26:27-29).

He knew His death was going to usher in the age to come. He wants us to be included at the future banquet table God has prepared for his loved ones. He desires to be there with us. This new covenant symbolized with the bread and cup has that longing in it. It is not just about the beliefs we share, but the hope, the longing.

Don’t miss the vulnerability

“In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you. But the hand of him who is going to betray me is with mine on the table.  The Son of Man will go as it has been decreed. But woe to that man who betrays him!’ They began to question among themselves which of them it might be who would do this” (Luke 22:20-23).

By his own hand Jesus shares with his betrayer, just like he shares with us. This is the self-giving love that thrills Paul, and humbles me. If you came to the table wondering if you really believed some boatload of rationality, wouldn’t you miss that God, in the likeness of your own body, is going to impossible lengths to tell you something completely beyond that? This new covenant comes through service and death, not through rational domination. There will always be some society-dominators who make an attempt to take over the world by force or manipulation, often thinking they are doing it for everyone’s good (back to Nazis). But that is obviously not the way of Jesus. The cup is full of the new covenant in his blood.

Don’t miss the sharing

“Truly I tell you, I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God” (Mark 14:25).

I experience the tenderness of Jesus in so many ways. I have a sense that God is with me, sharing life, sharing love, healing, restoring. Prayer is comfort and power. The church is sustaining and fruitful. My faith is a gift I treasure. All these things and more are symbolized by that cup; they are the grace I drink — my share of the shared life God gives. Jesus imagines all this as he moves through death with me. In the verse above he imagines his future and mine with him. We will drink again when the work is done: his first, mine next. I share in his work; He waits patiently for mine to finish. But we will share the cup again, one on one, together with all the others who love him — today and then forever.

This short post is just one small way I want to keep protesting the captivity of Jesus in the minds of so many. They have been trained to look for a principle that fights for hegemony or organizes them into some kind of holiness. They reduce their covenant down to a contract, even a law. Meanwhile Paul writes to them, “Surely there is some tenderness in you, because Jesus is that tenderness — and he has given you himself!” Whenever we share the bread and cup, or whenever we are having the same attitude and intention of Jesus; we are deepening the tenderness the world needs so much and every one of us with them. May we all stay soft to the tender gestures of Jesus, like handing us that cup — especially when we think deep thoughts and decide what to believe.

Stand against the invisible hand: share and pray

When capitalism organizes your money, it undermines community. Worse, when capitalism channels your desire it warps prayer. The main things our church may be lacking the most right now are money and prayer. There is a good, macro reason for that lack which we might not even notice: we are in the grip of the invisible hand.

Let me say right off the top, in case you don’t read too much further:

1) We cannot sustain community without sharing money. Practically, we have made commitments as a group that require money, of course. But more profoundly, if you opt out of contributing to the whole you diminish it, even mock it, name it unworthy. You put a hole in our mutuality. Give ten dollars or a tithe, but stay in the game with us. We could lose the game.

2) We cannot keep praying if we let the Jesus-free economy deform our desire. Practically, if the consumption-driven economy drives you, you have another god. If you have stopped praying because, in reality,  your “needs” are met by your place in the economy and your desires are driven by the market, you look like a foreigner in the Kingdom of God. Pray one minute or make praying your vocation, but connect with the Spirit. You could die. And the church could die with you.

What is capitalism again?

socialists trying to thwart the invisible handCapitalism was identified in the 1700’s by the likes of Adam Smith and others as an economic reality in which the “market” is not something that is extra to your life, it is in the center of your life. For centuries, markets were places where you could go trade for something you could not produce yourself. Now markets are the only means you can obtain anything. We always hear about the “free” market, which means the market, as an abstraction, aspires to be free from external constraints and obstacles. By this time, not only is the market central to everything, but everything is also subject to the rules of the market. The market is free, but we cannot be free from the market.

There are many schools of economics. The one that has been steering us since Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, followed up by Bill Clinton and Tony Blair, advocates the complete marketization of life. It is all for overcoming obstacles and inefficiencies brought on by the so-called “welfare state” and increasing the integration of the globe into one market. This school is, in a sense, “anti-government” since governments interfere with the invisible hand. But its proponents are usually for small, lean governments that have strong militaries to face threats to the market.

Did you miss this debate? While you were growing up, the invisible hand of capitalism firmly took over your territory. It is global and it has armies. For instance, during the recent downturn, the 1% we talk about took advantage of their opening to gain world domination; now a huge percentage of global wealth is in their hands. The triumph of the invisible hand — a reality most of us don’t even recognize — might be why we don’t share like we could and why we might even be discouraged in our prayer. Yet the church needs sharing and praying more than ever if it is not going to be ground down even more by this powerful force.

We cannot sustain community without sharing money.

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).

In God’s economy, sharing is motivated by the desire to create community because that is elemental to God’s desire. The work of the cross joins us to Christ as his body. Former motivations from the world system that drove us are healed. We are freed from self-absorption, obsession with our own interests, and fear of scarcity — our desire is turned outward in humble vulnerability and generous service to and with others. Jesus demonstrated that love as God shared life with us, even to the point of death. That’s the basis of the new economy in Christ — unless it is not.

invisible hand dialogue between pawns and kingsA good half of us have a terrible time sharing because we are still consuming church like a product and are still too afraid of our own present or prospective poverty to share. Lack of sharing kills the church. It is not so much that the church needs a lot of money to survive. We can survive as the church at all sorts of levels. What is important is this: when we don’t share, we do not subvert the anti-sharing of capitalism and we worship the invisible hand by default. We become individual marketers in competition for scarce resources; we become individualized products selling ourselves daily. We become mere pawns in the 1%’s market pretending that our freedom to buy a new gadget or buy the monetized thoughts of the internet is actual choice.

We cannot keep praying if we let the Jesus-free economy deform our desire.

You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God (James 4:2).

All economies are based on desire. Capitalism has mastered the art of making everything about desire, what we want and don’t have. Long ago, James rightly prophesied that such misplaced desire would cause nothing but conflict. The recent, ongoing U.S. wars have proven James right in a large way. They are all about our desire for revenge, desire to be protected and our desire for oil and our “way of life,” aren’t they? Did anyone ask God about that? “Asking God” does not mean getting God to give us what we can’t get in the economy. It means being part of a new economy based on God’s generosity, being in full communion with the one true God and putting the invisible hand in its place.

danceMany of us have a secret. We stopped praying long ago because we believe the bible of capitalism when it says that education and hard work will get us what we desire. We don’t have time to pray because we are at work or at school. Our schedule barely leaves time for our families, much less some alternative economy. We are content to have a privatized faith, a leisure time faith that we visit a couple of times a month at the Sunday meeting. Our desire is deformed. It is so conformed to the way the world is post-Reagan that we believe it when people say it has always been this way, only now it is better.

I get a sinking feeling some days that we are going to lose the battle. As alternative as our church is, as radical as some of us are, as amazing as our thinking and acting really are, the forces sometimes seem stronger. The post-9/11 generation is so scared. The institutions are so much bigger than they were before the attack and before years of warfare, homeland security and recession. Are we still a circle of hope? — or is that just a brand name, now? If we don’t share and we don’t pray, if we don’t do what the church really needs right now, what are we?

God rescues me when I am sinking in such thinking, just like he pulled Peter from the sea that time. Paul also said in Romans 5: Hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. And James also said in James 4: God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Whether we share and pray or not, God’s grace is greater. That grace has made us and will keep drawing us toward home.