We’re Done With Games

By Grant Vissers

Read 1 Timothy 1:1-11

This is a great passage for the church because it reminds us of what is most important in God’s kingdom. It is a charge to Timothy and the church to uphold that which matters most: faith and love. Paul comes at it by addressing false teaching that had risen within the church. This was not uncommon—especially in areas concerning the law. Paul writes, “Some have departed from these and have turned to meaningless talk. They want to be teachers of the law, but they do not know what they are talking about or what they so confidently affirm.” There is speculation as to who these false teachers are, but what seems to concern Paul more isn’t so much who the false teachers were but the fallout from their teaching.

Paul’s concern about their teaching is two-fold; it affects those inside the church and it jeopardizes the mission of the church in the world. The gold standard as it were for discerning whether teaching on the law is true or false is simple: does it promote the glory of God and the good of the church? In other words, does it encourage faith in the goodness of God and does it equip the church to love better and advance God’s work on earth? If it does not meet these two criteria according to Paul, it has become meaningless talk and promotes controversy and speculation about the true Gospel message and hope in Jesus.

So, if there is a wrong use of the law, can there be a right use of the law? Many people think that the law (handed down by God to Moses) is in direct opposition to the message of the cross and the good news of the New Testament. I think that would be to miss the point. Jesus himself said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.” (Matthew 5:17-18)

The reformer John Calvin writes that there are three right uses of the law for the Christian and the Church. First, to show humanity their sinfulness and inability to achieve salvation on their own. Second, it compels those who are untouched by any care for what is right and just to do good. Third, and probably most importantly, it admonishes believers and urges them on in doing what is right and good. To be sure, the law has no salvific power. That is, it alone cannot bring about salvation since nobody can live perfectly, according to the law. Salvation is by grace through faith in the completed work of Jesus on the cross. Nonetheless, it is this third use of the law that I find applicable to the Church today.

Think about it, the only reason we have speed limits is because there are drivers who speed. Humanity has demonstrated time and time again that there is a human bent toward lawlessness—what the Church calls sin. Jesus stepped into humanity and conquered sin on the cross and opened a way for humanity to be given the gift of salvation. Obedience to the law, becomes a natural way of being for the Christian. What Paul is saying is that there is a new way of being for anyone who is in Christ.

However, there are some who have misunderstood what this looks like. Namely, rigid obedience to the law. So Paul’s first point rings the clearest and the loudest. The Church is called to teach and promote the greatest commandment which is love; coming from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.

Questions:

  1. What rules did you have growing up? Did your family follow any rules that you remember as being particularly important?
  2. What do you think is the relationship between the law and the gospel?
  3. What is Paul’s biggest concern for Timothy in the first eleven verses?
  4. Do you think that there is still a need to “check” or “test” teaching in the Church today?
  5. In your opinion, what is the most important thing for the Church to proclaim today?

Living Richly for Kids: Giving It Away

Bible verse: Matthew 25:21 “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!”

(Read the whole story here: Matthew 25:14-30)

The last part of stewardship is about giving away. Most of us have more than we need and can give some stuff up for the sake of others. But it is not just our money that God wants. It is our time and talents too!

One time I got a kid’s telescope as a Christmas present from my parents. I was so excited, because I loved looking at the stars and finding constellations. I used it all the time as a kid, and when my brother was big enough, he started using it too. I think it made my parents happy to see me use the gift so much.  Have you ever gotten a Christmas gift from your parents that you hung on to and played with all the time, maybe you even still have it today? Do you think that made your parents happy? But sometimes people get gifts that they don’t wear or don’t use, and I think that makes the gift givers sad.

Being a good steward of the gifts that God has given you includes the gifts inside of you. Were you born to sing? Are you really good at art? Did God make you really strong? These are some of the talents we might have inside of us. But there are “spiritual gifts” too. These would include: being caring, having strong faith, being an encouragement to others, sharing your home with others (hospitality), being a good leader, teaching younger kids, etc. Do any of these spiritual gifts apply to you?

When Jesus tells the parable of the talents, in the Bible story above, he wants people to understand that whatever God has given you (time, talents, gifts, money), you should be using wisely for God. If you are an encouragement to others, make them cards, share kind words, show people how much you care. These are a few ways you can use that gift of encouragement.

When you use your gifts that God has given you, it is then that you hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant!”

What has God given you to steward: time, talents, spiritual gifts, money? How do you use them now? Is there a way you could use them even more?

Activity: What have you learned from this stewardship series? Did you discover any new gifts you have that you didn’t realize? Use your gifts for the benefit of others and of God’s kingdom. Talk to your family about doing a “talent” day. When you think about some of your talents and spiritual gifts, how might you be able to use them for others? Plan a Saturday with your family to give of yourselves by volunteering at a local food bank, singing/playing music at a retirement home, serving at a soup kitchen, or come up with a creative idea of your own.

Living Richly in the World

Using our time, talents, gifts, and resources to further God’s kingdom

Matthew 25:14-30

14 “Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them. 15 To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and to another one bag,[a] each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. 16 The man who had received five bags of gold went at once and put his money to work and gained five bags more. 17 So also, the one with two bags of gold gained two more. 18 But the man who had received one bag went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.

19 “After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. 20 The man who had received five bags of gold brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five bags of gold. See, I have gained five more.’

21 “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’

22 “The man with two bags of gold also came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with two bags of gold; see, I have gained two more.’

23 “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’

24 “Then the man who had received one bag of gold came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. 25 So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’

26 “His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? 27 Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.

28 “‘So take the bag of gold from him and give it to the one who has ten bags. 29 For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. 30 And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

Sometimes people begin to stiffen when you start talking about giving and stewardship; but I hope that you understand by this point that stewardship starts with the heart, not the wallet! We have looked at various aspects of stewardship: starting with our hearts being aligned with God, then with sharing with our community and understanding what is “enough,” then having a spirit of contentment, and finally we are looking at what it means to give as part of stewardship.

But giving away is not just money. Giving deals with our time, energy, and resources as well. There are many ways to further God’s kingdom-building work in the world. And I want to make clear that giving in any of these ways is not for a particular age-group. People from 4 to 104 can give in all of these ways, it just may look a little bit different.

Time is a precious resource, but we each are given exactly the same amount of time each day. “I don’t have time,” is not really a valid excuse. A more accurate statement is that, “That activity is not a priority.” Each year at the church, volunteers give countless hours to ministries like hospitality, KidZone, Youth/Rock, Healing Care, worship team, and many others. And it’s not about ticking off the box that you gave of your time, but rather finding a ministry in or outside of the church that you feel called to give your time to.

Frederick Buechner said, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” Churches don’t need more volunteers, they need people who are deeply passionate about certain ministries.

Another way to give is of your energy. One thing that comes to mind with this is my little sister. She lived in Colombia, South America until she was adopted at age 8. When she came to the states she was pretty used to foraging for food, and didn’t have a lot of resources readily available. Shortly after moving in with my family, before she even spoke English, my family was outside enjoying the sun and she was indoors. After about fifteen minutes, she came out the back door with a tray of ketchup sandwiches for everyone in the family. We gratefully accepted her gift. She used her energy to do what she knew how to do, and it made everyone’s day!

Finally, God calls us to give of our resources and money. Giving our money away refocuses our lust for wealth on the joy of sharing. Different people give in different amounts and in different proportions, but we know from the story of the widow’s 2 cents that God values our heart in the matter, more than our wealth. Giving cheerfully, even out of our poverty, means more than the amount. Generosity has little correlation to overall wealth. Sometimes there are very stingy rich people and very giving poor people, and vice versa. Give in whatever proportion you are able and whatever God has called you to give.

Giving doesn’t just change our personal bottom line, it also changes our hearts. I have found that the more I give, the happier I am, and the more dependent on God. It is an upward spiral to give and to seek God, rather than the downward spiral of hoarding wealth and working backbreaking weeks to make more money.

Of course, the church does want people to give regularly who are a part of it, to cover costs and help with the various mission causes we support. Each year we spend about 18% of our annual budget at SPL supporting mission causes like Presbyterian World Service and Development, Sunrise Pregnancy Center, YoungLife, Emmanuel International, Navigators, InterServe, Hainamosa New Song, to name a few. It’s important to us here that even as a church body we support external ministries that are furthering the kingdom.

Corporately, we remind ourselves that even the money coming into the church is not ours, but God’s. At Christmas each year, the entire offering goes out the door to support a different ministry each year. This is a small way that we realign our hearts as a community with God’s mission and take just “enough.”

We value that you may have other organizations that you want to give to as well. A few that I would recommend are Compassion International (if you are looking for child sponsorship), Kiva (which funds microloans for entrepreneurs in the third world), PWS&D (currently Canada is matching funds with them to give to the famine in Africa), and Friends of Children Everywhere (the organization that supports Casa Bernabe orphanage in Guatemala). The point is to give somewhere.

Living richly is more than richly living—it is about the heart of the matter. I hope that as you give some of your time, energy, resources, and money, God will richly bless you.

Activity: Give boldly!

Living Richly for Kids: Being Content

Philippians 4:11-12, “…I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation…”

Have you ever spent a rainy-day puddle jumping? You put on your driest rain boots and your warm rain coat, and go up and down the sidewalk jumping in puddles? It’s even better in the park, where there are bigger mud puddles! I used to love doing this as a kid.

Sometimes we think of rain as a bad thing that keeps us indoors. But other times, when we can play in it, it becomes way more fun than being dry.

Being content in all circumstances means being happy with life whether it is good weather or bad, whether you have lots of toys or none, whether you get to do play the sports you want or not. Being content means that you are at peace with life whether your family has lots of money or almost no money.

While your situation may not be what you would have wanted, contentedness means being okay with it anyway. Your situation comes from outside of you, but contentedness comes from inside of you. The Bible tells us that we should learn to be content no matter what our situation in life is.

We can be content because we have God on our side. When we believe in Jesus, we are never alone in anything that comes our way.

Paul is the guy who wrote the Bible verse this week. And he actually wrote it from prison! He was put in prison because he believed in Jesus and worshipped him. His circumstances were terrible! But he still says that because of Christ Jesus, he can be content because he has a relationship with god.

Part of stewardship is being content no matter your circumstances in life. Part of contentedness is noticing the many ways that God has blessed you: with enough food, with warm clothing, with family, with friends (these are just a few examples).

Activity: What are you blessed with/grateful for in your life? What circumstances/situation are you not very happy with right now? What are some ways that you can still be content in it? Take a piece of paper and some colouring crayons or pencils. On both sides, write “Content in all circumstances,” (or have a parent write it for you). Then on one side draw pictures, images, or symbols of the blessings in your life. On the other side, draw pictures, images, or symbols of the things that are not going as well in your life. Keep it somewhere you can see as a reminder that you can be at peace in all circumstances because of a relationship with Jesus.

Living Richly in All Circumstances

There is something about children that understands what it means to be content in all circumstances. I remember moving into our house in Colorado when I was thirteen (before I became a believer) and my sister was only eight. My parents had spent a year having their dream-house built, only to have the builder abscond with funds and run off, leaving the house a beautiful, unfinished shell. I believe we had walls, but no flooring, lighting, running water, or electricity at the point my parents cut their losses and moved into the abode.

At the mature age of thirteen, it was simply an inconvenience of the greatest kind for me! I remember getting up at 4:00 am on my first day of 8th grade, because I insisted that I had to have a shower and curl my hair and look perfect for my first day. My parents humoured me and turned on the solar generator as I bathed in a camping drip shower in the back yard (we lived in the mountains, not in a neighbourhood), before coming inside and hooking up my blow dryer and curling iron to the generated power. They figured it must be hard to be a teenager living in a house with no electricity or running water. And while it seemed, at the time, like months before we got water and electricity, I think it was only a matter of a few short days. Needless to say, I was not content in my circumstances.

But my little sister, at eight, had a different perspective. Kids have an uncanny ability to create fun regardless of circumstances. So, my eight-year-old sister took it as a learning opportunity, and helped my mom tile the bathroom, and got the drill and drilled down her own subfloor in her bedroom, and helped paint, and finish all sorts of things. I cannot imagine, looking back, giving an eight-year-old power tools! But my parents did, and my sister loved it. She nested into her new room.

I particularly remember that her room had an abnormal level of static in it, which would have annoyed me. But she would put on her fuzziest socks and shuffle around in circles and then beckon someone upstairs to look at her hair standing on end, or simply reach out her hand and shock them and laugh. For my sister, it was like an endless camping trip in a giant tent. For me, it was an embarrassing place I couldn’t have friends over to. We were in the same exact circumstances, yet our perspectives were entirely different.

Since then, I am learning what it means to be content in all circumstances, and am not nearly the sissy I was at thirteen. For those who know me now, it might even be hard to imagine this other person, as I now haven’t curled my hair in about five months, since the last wedding I performed. And I haven’t had a haircut in about nine months. I was a fussy teenager. But many things came through my life later in childhood and into adulthood that changed my perspective of what is really necessary in life.

One of the things, was becoming a believer. I had gone to church before and even been baptized at nine, but my heart was not captured by Jesus until I was fourteen. Picking up the Bible and delving into it for the first time changed my perspective on a slough of things!

Philippians 4:10-13 says this: “I rejoice in the Lord greatly that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned for me, but had no opportunity to show it. Not that I am referring to being in need; for I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”

This often-repeated verse has become a cliché in some church circles because of its overuse and disconnection with the context. I actually heard a Christian once who had the last part of this verse inscribed on her $250 shoes: “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” While this may be true, and a helpful reminder, it divorces the verse from the context of being content regardless of circumstances or possessions.

This passage comes from a letter that the apostle Paul wrote to the church in Philippi. Paul was encouraging and upbuilding his brothers and sisters at his far-off church plant, while simultaneously thanking them for their gracious support of his ministry. And we are not talking that they were giving him money to live in a lovely manse and have all of his needs met; we are talking he had enough food most of the time.

Paul wrote this letter from prison, where he was in chains because of his belief in Jesus Christ and his proclamation of the Gospel. This is not a context most of us are familiar with today in North America or Europe. Religious persecution and physical needs being met are not two of our biggest concerns.

Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 11:23-28, “Are they ministers of Christ?…I am a better one: with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless floggings, and often near death. Five times I have received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I received a stoning. Three times I was shipwrecked; for a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from bandits, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers and sisters; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, hungry and thirsty, often without food, cold and naked. And, besides other things, I am under daily pressure because of my anxiety for all the churches.” He did not have a lot going for him from a first world perspective.

And yet, Paul writes from that context that he has learned to be content in all circumstances because of Christ. This is something I think most of us could learn a thing or two from. Living richly (inwardly) means living as though you are constantly satisfied by, and grateful for, God’s provision. Paul only ever gloats about his suffering because he is considered worthy to suffer for Christ’s sake. What an attitude to adopt!

While I sit in my comfortable office chair (courtesy of a neighbour who threw it out) at my desk looking out over our backyard, I realize just how fortunate I am. But I am still working on being content in all circumstances.

There are a lot of different opinions on taking short mission trips just to help people in third world countries, but one thing I think that everyone should experience at some point in life is being immersed in a true third world experience, at least seeing how much of the world lives.

My husband and I went to Bolivia to meet our sponsor child a few months after we got married. She is a beautiful six-year-old as I write this, living with a loving family, and connected to a Compassion International program run out of a local Bolivian church. Witnessing her lifestyle, opposed to how we live, was particularly lifechanging for my husband who had not spent much time in the third world.

While we were there, we visited several Compassion sites, simply to meet people and hear their stories. There was no great gift that we came with, and no great work we were sent to do, we were there to be and to witness the power of God.

One woman we met was sweeping her dirt floor when we entered her hut. She took pride in how her home looked and wanted it to be “just so” when the visitors arrived. She welcomed us in with open arms, showing incredible hospitality and offering whatever she could. She showed me what it meant to be content in all circumstances. Though she did not have a real door on her hut, or clean water, she proclaimed the greatness of God like nobody I have seen. She had been given the gift of a relationship with Jesus because her neighbour shared the good news and prayed over her in her serious illness, and she had been healed. This woman had tears pouring down her face as she relayed this story of God’s sufficiency in her life as several of us crouched into her home.

She taught me what it was like to be content with any and all circumstances.

I think being in Canada in a privileged area, there are many ways to be content, first of all, never complaining. A complaining spirit is the antithesis of living contentedly. And we have so much to be grateful for here!

Second, having a heart that does not covet more stuff shows a content spirit. Richard Foster writes in Celebration of Discipline, “Contemporary culture lacks both the inward reality and the outward life-style of simplicity…Because we lack a divine Center our need for security has led us into an insane attachment to things. We really must understand that the lust for affluence in contemporary society is psychotic. It is psychotic because it has completely lost touch with reality. We crave things we neither need nor enjoy. ‘We buy things we do not want to impress people we do not like.’…Covetousness we call ambition. Hoarding we call prudence. Greed we call industry.” This quote from the 1980s seems just as on track today as it did then. The contemporary culture model that Foster describes stands in sharp contrast to a spirit of contentedness.

Third, consciously note your blessings. If you are like me in any way, it is hard for me to naturally adopt an attitude of positivity. I am a “realist” I say, but my husband seems to think I am a pessimist. So, I actually write down the things I am grateful for so that I remember how very blessed I am.

I was out for a walk the other day, and in our neighbourhood, it seems that everyone has a dog. So lots of people were out walking their dogs. It was drippy out, not full-on rain, but definitely not dry; and there were puddles everywhere. I saw a little girl walking with her parents. All of the adults I saw looked generally gloomy and out of sorts. But the little girl was running from puddle to puddle jumping to make the biggest splash she could, soaking everyone around her, much to the dismay of her parents. I was reminded just how much kids can set the example in being content in all circumstances. This was a beautiful image for me of living with an attitude of contentedness.

Consider what of these applies to you. Are you content right now with your circumstances? What would it take for you to adopt a lifestyle of contentedness?

Activity: Living richly (inwardly) means living as though you are constantly satisfied by, and grateful for, God’s provision. Spend a couple of hours meditating on God’s provision in your life. Try painting, writing a song, composing a song on the piano or guitar, drawing, etc during this time while you meditate on God’s provision. If you create a piece of physical art during this meditation time, place it somewhere in your house as a reminder of God’s provision for you in your life. *Also, if you are comfortable, post an image of what you have created in the comments on the blog.

Challenge: Have you ever been on a mission trip? Have you even spent time with people in a third world country and actually gotten to know them? If you have, spend some time writing about that experience. Write down any reminders of contentedness. What do you have to be grateful for here that you sometimes take for granted?

 

Living Richly for Kids: Sharing is Caring

Acts 2:44-45 “All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.”

Once your heart is in the right place, and focused on your relationship with God, you can move into the next part of stewardship. In the book of Acts, it talks about the early church and how Christians lived during that time. The verse this week shows that all the believers lived in community and shared everything. They gave and took things as they needed instead of thinking too much about “wants.”

Sometimes in Canada we forget how important it is to be in community and focus more on wealth and money than on relationships. This is the opposite of life within the early church. Nobody had very much money, but everybody shared and had what they needed to survive.

Think about what you really need in life…food, water, a home, warmth in the winter, love from family. Now think about some of the things that you want or already have that are not a need…toys, games, sports equipment, I-pods, I-phones, I-pads, etc.

What about the rest of the world? In part of Africa right now, there is a severe drought. This means that there is not enough rain or water for the crops, which means that there is not enough food. Millions of people do not have what they need just to survive. What would it look like to be able to share some of what we have with those who do not have as much?

I think kids have a good idea of what it means to share…sometimes better than grown-ups. Check out this video with your family put out by a global hunger organization. (Action Against Hunger—The Sharing Experiment.)

What emotions come to mind when you see it? How does this make you think about stewardship? How might this change your view of stewardship?

Activity: Talk to your family about what you could share with others. If you get an allowance, maybe some of that could go to an organization that helps fight hunger. If you have clothes you don’t wear anymore, maybe you could give some away to a clothing bank. There are lots of ways to share with others so that everybody has enough.

Challenge: If you receive an allowance or make money doing chores, try this challenge. Use three Tupperware containers or empty tissue boxes. Decorate them however you would like. Then write “Giving,” “Saving,” and “Spending” on the three boxes. Every time you receive money, place 10% in Giving, 20% in Saving, and 70% in Spending. This is a great way to remember to give the first 10% to God/God’s purposes, the next bit to savings, and then allow yourself to spend the remainder. The “Giving” you can bring to KidZone to help with what we are saving for (like the playground or bathroom for kids in other countries), or talk to your parents about a specific kingdom-cause you want to give to. *Ask a parent to help with this activity and the math if necessary.

Living Richly with Others

According to world hunger and poverty statistics, we currently produce enough food globally to feed about 10 billion people (about 1.5 times what is needed). And yet, about one sixth of the world’s population goes to bed hungry every night. I realize eating every last pea on your plate, instead of throwing out the remnants, does not actually benefit anyone in Sub-Saharan Africa. But cultivating a lifestyle of taking “just enough” and sharing broadly with others begins to create change to systemic issues, like hunger.

I think one of the many lessons I learned in Guatemala, while working at an orphanage and teaching English, dealt with this issue. I went down there thinking that I would be helping orphans, and caring for people in need, but I came back with a sense of having learned so much more than I ever could have offered. One of the things I learned was a sense of “sharing all in common,” and understanding what “enough” actually means.

In Acts 2, the early church is described as “sharing everything in common,” pooling their money and resources together and “giving to each person as there was a need.” This is a far cry from what we see in the Western world today, where amassing wealth has become the paradigm for many.

Out of necessity at the orphanage, all who lived and worked there lived in a shared lifestyle. We shared our time, our meals, and for many, even clothing. It was like nothing I had ever experienced myself. There was a giant garden on the property that was cultivated by some staff and some children, and the produce fed us many of our meals each week. Additionally, it was donated to families in the community that didn’t have access to fresh food.

Each person at the orphanage also had a “job” by about age 10. It was not child labour in any sense, but a gifting that had been recognized and shared with the community. Some of the girls helped make tortillas once a week. Some of the boys helps moved produce from the garden to the kitchen. Some of the kids played in a band for worship on Sundays. Some of the students aided in passing out snack at the school—all simple tasks that provided meaning and a necessary contribution to the community. Some of the older students helped with cleaning or learning a trade on-site. But it was all in the sense of having a meaningful position in the family.

Additionally, I learned what it meant to have “enough.” This was one of the more fortunate orphanages in the country of Guatemala in terms of safety, welfare of the kids, and necessities. But nothing was taken for granted either. All of the kids and staff received three meals a day, plus a snack at school. They received an education through 12th grade. They also received trade skills if they were not college-bound (hair styling, making jewelry, fixing cars, etc). The school-aged kids wore uniforms to school, and outside of that, the children wore donated clothing. Anything that was not readily used on site was given away to other orphanages in greater need.

But the lifestyle was far from lavish. The meager toys and books available had mostly been donated. There were several soccer balls and a small metal “playground” on the school grounds. But none of the kids partook in vacations, had any tech devices, had their own toys even. Everything was shared in common.

What struck me the most, probably, was what some of the students did on their “spring break.” Most kids stayed and played in their free time. But a small group of selected teenagers went on a mission trip. They understood the blessings they had been given, and gave up a week of their free-time to travel to the “basurero,” the city garbage dump, where many people lived. They took the clothes and resources that they did not need with them to the “basurero” to give away to those who needed them more. And they saw what others lived like. For me this was an image of “enough.” The students living at the orphanage had enough, and shared what was beyond “enough” with those who needed it. Check out some videos or pictures of this online. The living conditions are so poor that one documentary coined the term “4th world,” referring to life in garbage dumps.

My point is this: what is enough? So many of us live just barely within our means, and some of us actually go into debt to live above our means. Ask yourself, your family, what is enough? Most people in Canada live well above the poverty line, certainly by global standards. (*If you do find yourself on the other end of this, truly not having enough, please contact me. The church has assistance readily available for food, transportation, housing and utilities).

Another way to think about what is “enough,” is through an Old Testament principle. Scripture talks about gleaning. In agrarian societies, people would plant their crops all the way to the edge of their fields. But they wouldn’t harvest to the edge of the field.

In Leviticus 19:9-10, God commands His people to do this when setting up farms: “When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the foreigner.” It was common practice for anyone who had need to then go into a field and pick whatever they needed from the edges of the field. In the book of Ruth, she herself a foreigner and a poor widow, does just that.

This concept is not just for the benefit of insiders, or God’s chosen people, but for the benefit of anyone as they have need. We have lost many practices like this over time, but we can certainly practice this in different ways. And some parts of the world still practice gleaning to this day. Giving away 10% of your money is a recommended tithe, as our first fruits going to kingdom purposes. But another way to look at it, for those who have been particularly financially blessed, is to think through the question, “what is enough?”

John Wesley understood what it meant to live by this principle later in his life. When he was a minister and professor at Oxford, he decided that he needed between 28 and 30 pounds to live on. That was his “enough.” He lived off of that one year and gave a few extra pounds away. Then his income started to increase in larger margins, but he continued to live on that and give the rest away. Finally, one year he made over 1400 pounds, and still lived on the 30 and gave the rest away. (View full article here). What a legacy to live by!

*Brian Loritts, a pastor in Memphis Tennessee, preached an awesome sermon on this topic at the Global Leadership Summit 2015.

I think if we are being good stewards corporately, we can happily share with others, and we can also decide on what “enough” is in each of our lives. I have seen the abundant blessings of God in my own life, and also know the richness that comes with being able to give some of our blessings away. As you go about your week, think about what it means to share things in common. What would that look like in our community? How could that reshape some of the cultural paradigm of amassing wealth?

Activity: Watch the “Action Against Hunger—The Sharing Experiment Video” on Youtube individually or with your family. What emotions does it elicit? How does this make you think about stewardship? How might this change your view of stewardship? How does sharing impact the way we perceive blessing?

 

Challenge: Sit down with your budget and the rest of your household, and consider what “enough” is for you/your family. Factor 10% giving into your budget for giving. If you already give 10%, then consider what “enough” is, and give away the rest. Part of the fun is deciding where to give the rest!

One of the causes my husband and I give to, in addition to the church, is Compassion International. They offer special giving as well as child sponsorship, and we have been able to see first-hand the impact it has on whole communities.

 

 

Living Richly for Kids: God’s Love is Extravagant

Mark 8:8 “The people ate and were satisfied.”

As I mentioned last week, stewardship doesn’t start with giving, it starts with the heart. Being good stewards isn’t all about living simply and giving stuff away, it is about having a right relationship with God first! The memory verse from last week was, “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness and all these things will be given to you as well.” This verse talks about putting our hearts before God and trusting in Him to provide for our needs. But God’s love goes way beyond that.

God’s love is extravagant. That means it is crazy big! He has more love than any of us can know or understand, and he shares that with His people.

In the Bible, Mark tells a story about Jesus feeding over 4,000 people. All he had was seven loaves of bread and a few small fish! But Jesus worked a miracle and made that food multiply enough to feed thousands of people! (Read the whole story in Mark 8:1-10).

When Jesus fed the people, he didn’t just provide the bare minimum, he provided extravagantly! It says, “The people ate and were satisfied. Afterward the disciples picked up seven basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over” (Mark 8:8). Jesus created a feast, and then even made leftovers!

When we trust in Jesus first, and focus our lives around God, it means our hearts are in the right place. This is where stewardship begins.

Activity: Volunteer to help your dad or mom make dinner one night this week. As you prepare the meal, think about how God provided for the 4,000. While you eat dinner, talk to your parents, sisters and brothers about God’s love. What does it look like to have a relationship with God? Where does stewardship start? How can you be a good steward of your relationship with Jesus?

Living Richly: God’s Extravagant Love

I had a friend a number of years ago that told a story about a backpacking trip that he took in university. It was a friend from camp, who generally did outlandish things and therefore had a plethora of absurd stories, but this one really captured me.

I have been backpacking for many years, even took at backpacking class in university (something you would only find in Portland, Oregon). And I am not referring to the kind of backpacking where you hop from hostel to hostel via public transit as you traipse through Europe. I am talking about down and dirty packing through the mountains and valleys of the Pacific Northwest.

During university, I did part of the Pacific Crest Trail, a several thousand-mile trek across some of the toughest terrain in the world for backpackers. (I did the easy part). But one of the keys in backpacking is to travel light. The best, most expensive gear is the super compact kind, that is made of hyper-light metals, because you are carrying all your resources for survival on your back.

My sleeping bag is actually a “short” version because you don’t want to carry anything extra…so it is about six inches shorter than adult-size—because I am about six inches shorter than adult-size. I even sawed off my toothbrush, so it is just a toothbrush head. I have a two-person tent that weighs about 5 lbs, and an ultra-light sleeping pad. My resources (including food) for up to several weeks will weigh between 30 and 40 lbs total in my backpack. Weight matters tremendously…and all of this is very important to my friend’s story!

He was on a trip with twenty or so university students and they were summiting a mountain. His pack appeared to be a bit overloaded for their length of trek, but nobody said anything to him. And as they scaled the peak, he became increasingly more and more tired, far ahead of anyone else. Everyone stopped for a break at one point, and he set his pack down with some trouble, and somebody quipped, “What, do you have in there? Rocks?!” He laughed and shrugged it off, before strapping himself back into the immensity.

They continued climbing and he started to complain more about how hungry and thirsty he was, and people began to chime in a bit. Then he muttered how nice it would be to have some fresh fruit, as they had been eating freeze-dried meals for days. Everyone seemed to agree!

The trek went onward quite a while, and as they reached the peak of the mountain, they looked out across incredible views. As my friend told the story, it took me back to some of my own experiences of witnessing God’s grandeur at the top of mountain peaks. Just as everyone set their packs down to break at the top of the peak, my friend set his down and started to open it up…which is not something you do on a mountain peak. The innards of a pack are normally extra clothing, and other items that you only need when you are setting up camp for the night.

But much to everyone’s surprise, he reached into his pack to pull out the biggest, juiciest watermelon any of them had seen. They laughed hysterically at the extravagance of it all, but never did they enjoy such a delicious treat after a hard day’s travel. To carry a giant watermelon, in addition to all of his belongings, up the mountainside seemed insane, but not to him. The treat of sharing that watermelon with friends at the vista point of their trip seemed like an awesome thing to do.

What struck me about this unusual tale was not the seeming absurdity of it all, or even my friend’s radical kindness, but the extravagant provision of the watermelon.

Jesus acts out the extravagant provision of God in Mark 8.

Mark 8:1-10, “In those days when there was again a great crowd without anything to eat, he called his disciples and said to them, ‘I have compassion for the crowd, because they have been with me now for three days and have nothing to eat. If I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way—and some of them have come from a great distance.’ His disciples replied, ‘How can one feed these people with bread here in the desert?’ He asked them, ‘How many loaves do you have?’ They said, ‘Seven.’ Then he ordered the crowd to sit down on the ground; and he took the seven loaves, and after giving thanks he broke them and gave them to his disciples to distribute; and they distributed them to the crowd. They had also a few small fish; and after blessing them, he ordered that these too should be distributed. They ate and were filled; and they took up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets full. Now there were about four thousand people. And he sent them away. And immediately he got into the boat with his disciples and went to the district of Dalmanutha.” (NRSV)

As a younger believer, I thought about this passage a lot. I wasn’t really sure of the whole miracle thing, and I thought maybe there could be a more human explanation for such a thing happening. Perhaps, the seven loaves were broken into itty-bitty pieces, and the sustenance was just enough to get all the people to their homes for a real meal. Or perhaps, only the really hungry people ate. Or perhaps the loaves were Guinness Book of World Records size and the fish were really whales. But none of these explanations really hold up.

In this time, a crowd would have been counted by the number of men present. In fact, when this story is relayed by Matthew in that book, it says, “Those who had eaten were four thousand men, besides women and children” (Matthew 15:38, NRSV). But besides feeding these 4000 men plus women and children, it says that the disciples collected seven baskets full of broken pieces that were left over. This debunks a couple of my rationalities. And we know that they weren’t just giant fish/loaves because Jesus held them and broke them—difficult to do with a whale, but then again, He’s Jesus! What we have here, plain and simple, is a miracle, witnessed by thousands and recorded in several different historical books.

But what strikes me in this is not only the miraculous feeding, but the abundance. “They took up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets full” (Mark 8:8, NRSV). Again, this is not a situation of God providing only the necessary amount to fill them up. It goes well above and beyond the provision necessary. All of the men, women, and children ate and were satisfied. But they also had left overs. And the amount left over is significant.

The number seven, in Jewish culture, was the number of perfection, the quintessential number of completion. Because of the story of creation, among other things, the Jewish people believed that the number seven represented rightness, sufficiency, excellence. The disciples, having collected seven baskets of leftovers shows abundance in God’s provision, but it also shows completeness, totality.

When we are talking about God’s provision, we find extravagance, not just sufficiency. It is like eating a watermelon at the top of a mountain peak—certainly not necessary, nor even reasonable or rational. It is extravagant.

That watermelon has become an analogy in my mind for how God has dealt with me. In seeking to be good stewards of our lives, I trust that God will ultimately provide. This upward focus of living in relation to God first and foremost is “upward stewardship.” Worrying not about money, but about the kingdom of God in the world, and allowing God to work miraculously and extravagantly in our lives has taught us a lot about who God is and how we should live in relation to Him.

There are times where I act more like the complaining Hebrews in the wilderness than I act like someone who is extravagantly provided for, but that does not change how God provides for us. Albert Einstein purportedly said, “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is.”

Be the kind of person who sees the blessings and lives gratefully. Be the kind of person who recognizes the holy in the commonplace.

An upward focus on God and a centeredness in scripture takes away the covetousness of this life and aligns us toward our Creator.

Activity: As you prepare a meal this week, think about how God provided for the 4,000. While you eat dinner, think about some of God’s physical provisions for you. Later, journal in response to a few of these questions: How has God provided extravagantly in your life? What does it look like to have a relationship with God? Where does stewardship start? How can you be a good steward of your relationship with Jesus?