Given for the Saints at Medicalodge, Neosho, MO, on 5/28/06
"Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver" (II Cor. 9:7).
The Spirit has been pressing in on me for some time now to notice the differences between the church and the kingdom of God on earth. On my heart today is one of these differences, everyone's fascination: money and how it affects our lives, especially how it affects the operation of most churches. I can hear someone saying, "Now Jan, before you dust off your soapbox, remember that it takes money to keep the church doors open and the lights on. Churches do the Lord's work, you know." That sounds good until you understand that God dwells in His people, not in a building made with hands (Mark 14:58). We are His temple (I Cor. 3:16-17; 6:19).
There's a verse in Acts 2, which I overlooked until the Spirit began showing me that everything comes from God and He is responsible for getting His will accomplished. The context of the verse is the Day of Pentecost, when Peter has reminded them that they crucified the Son of Glory. Pricked in their hearts, they asked him what they should do, and he replied, "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children and to all that are far off, every one whom the Lord our God calls to him" (Acts 2:38-39). Notice that God is the one who calls us, who empowers us to believe that He died for our sins, enabling us to repent. It isn't the preacher, the Invitation Hymn, or the beautiful building down whose isles we're invited to walk to the altar, but rather the Lord Himself who calls us. This is a fulfillment of Jesus' prophecy, "You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide; so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you" (John 15:16). Usually, when people respond to the "invitation," they are added to that church's membership role, but notice this verse at the end of Acts, chapter two: "And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved" (2:47). They were not joined to the Baptist Church, the Methodist Church, the Church of Christ, the Assemblies of God, or any other church we see today. They were added to the church that Jesus bought, not with silver and gold, but with His precious blood. Christ Himself is the Head, not a Bishop, a Pope, a Pastor, Preacher, Apostle, or a Committee.
In the white hot fires of Spirit decreed fulfillment, the church quickly grew in numbers. The Apostles were vessels of power from on high, but the power was not limited to them alone: "After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were ALL filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly" (Acts 4:31). Because they were filled with the fire and light of God, it is no surprise that "All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and MUCH GRACE WAS UPON THEM ALL" (Vs. 32-33). The result of this grace was astonishing: "There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them and brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need" (Vs. 34). What a concept: people who were so full of the Spirit and so in love with the Lord that they had no quarrels, no doctrinal disputes, and no self serving agenda.
Moreover, they were not filled with the fears about tomorrow that cause people to hoard money, to pinch pennies, to be stingy with others who have a need. How can I say that? The grace of God reveals His great love for us where there is no fear, for perfect love always casts out fear (I John 4:18). Being in the presence of God's power causes us to trust Him, for He alone is worthy of trust precisely because He has the total control over our lives.
People in the world, and many Christians do not acknowledge God's sovereignty. It isn't popular to think that way. Folks would rather vote someone into office and have faith in him or his party to fix what's wrong. Don't worry, I will NOT get on that soapbox in this writing. My point is simply that the early church saw God revealed in such a way that they could not deny either His love or His power. Paul prophesied to Timothy that the day would come when people were lovers of themselves and lovers of money (II Tim. 3:2), "having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them. They are the kind who worm their way into homes and gain control over weak-willed women, who are loaded down with sins and are swayed by all kinds of evil desires, always learning but never able to acknowledge the truth" (Vs. 5-6). This verse reminds me that erecting a building with a monument sign out front, and a cross on top does not equate to the ecclesia, the church that Paul writes about.
But what has this to do with money? The early church, as we've read, shared what they had with the needy, sold their possessions and laid them at the Apostles' feet. "Well, that wouldn't work today," you protest. Probably not, but how would we know because we've never seen it except for some cultic expressions of this practice, where the participants are enslaved and abused and robbed of all their worldly goods for the privilege of following a leader so full of himself that he couldn't pick the Lord out of a lineup. A group like this operated in the Thousand Oaks, CA, area for a while. The leader finally took them out to a desert location where he had better control of them. We knew several who escaped his villainous clutches, but they came back bearing the scars of having been in such physical, emotional, and spiritual bondage. At the insistence of a friend, I went to his house one day before he took them to the desert, and sat on the couch listening to him rant and rave. He kept shouting that he was "breaking down barriers" in me. I decided he was a nut and finally got up and left. He told my friend that I was almost more than he could control. Sounds right to me.
Anyway, the power of God has been so diluted by "the form of godliness" practiced by churches today, that it wouldn't be safe to sell all your possessions and give it to a man or a committee. But what about the magnificent, and oh so costly church buildings we see everywhere? If they don't whine for money, how will they keep the doors open and operate the church programs? I know of two churches which built expensive new facilities thinking that the congregation would support the mortgage payment. In both cases, an unresolved doctrinal dispute caused a large portion of the congregation to pack up and go elsewhere, leaving the church elders in a real financial bind as to how to meet their monthly indebtedness. I doubt this was what Christ meant when He said,"All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age" (Matt. 28:18-20).
Where is it written that making disciples of all nations involves expensive church facilities with fellowship halls and recreation rooms? Are people coming because the building is beautiful or because they are being delivered from their sins, their illnesses, and their neurotic stuff? Are they faithful because they love the Lord, or because they fear hell and need to pay their fire insurance, as the saying goes. Are they sharing their good news with others to please God or man?
These are difficult questions that no one person can answer, though I've been talking to the Lord about them for three decades now. He has not given me the answers yet, but He has begun to show me the Kingdom of God on earth, and in the kingdom, there are no money problems. Why? Because those walking with the King know that He supplies our every need. "From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work" (Eph. 4:16). There is no need to whine for money, because if God called you or your group to do something, then He will supply the means to do it. Everything on The Glory Road website is free to anyone who wishes to read it, copy it, or share it with anyone else.
A brother asked us for some of our books so he could sell them in his bookstore in Canada. I explained to him that what God gives us is free, so how could we allow him to charge anyone for it? The early church was built on the principle that God had freely given them all things and they were to freely give to others. There's a beautiful picture of this in Paul's exhortation to the Macedonian churches, found in II Cor. 8:2-5: "Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints. And they did not do as we expected, but they gave themselves FIRST TO THE LORD and then to us in keeping with God's will." From verses like these, and personal experience with the Lord, I can testify that if God wants you to give, you will give, and if He doesn't tell you to do it, it will be a struggle and not a blessing for you if you go ahead and give out of guilt.
We often get pleading e-mails from brothers in third world countries, begging for help, and suggesting that without us, the work of the Lord in their area cannot continue. We all know that Jesus said, "Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you" (Lk. 6:38), and "God loves a cheerful giver" (II Cor. 9:7), but read on: "And GOD is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work" (Vs 8). "Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God" (Vs. 10-11). Note that the essence here is that God is the one who supplies what you need, including a larger harvest. Do not allow yourself to be manipulated with guilt to give something that God did not ask of you. Lenny learned this the hard way. He tells of the time when the church needed money for something, and he pledged $1,000, which he borrowed from a bank to give. He says he struggled long and hard to repay the loan. After taking it up with God, Lenny heard, "Why complain to me? I didn't tell you to give it." We have well learned, that if we're supposed to do or give something, God will show us. If He doesn't, then we don't do it or give it. Part of entering into His rest is knowing that He doesn't supply everything we want, but always what we need. We testify to His faithfulness.
I grew up on a dairy farm. Dad milked the cows and Mother pasteurized the milk which they sold for $.50 a gallon. People came to the farm to get the milk, and if no one was here to help them, they deposited their fifty cent piece in a box Dad had installed with a slit in it, and got the milk out of the refrigerator. Mother kept the half dollars in a Mayonnaise jar hidden in a drawer under the tea towels. If we needed something, we had only to ask, and she would say, "Go get it out of the milk jar." We girls never abused the privilege and never asked for anything extravagant either, but the money was always there. I doubt my Mother realizes what a blessing that has been to me over the years, for long after they quit milking cows and I had left home, I remembered the jar and knew that my needs would be met somehow. God has a REALLY big milk jar, my friends, one that never runs dry, where thieves cannot break in and steal and moths cannot corrupt, and by His grace, He supplies what we need for what He calls us to do.
Knowing that takes the heat off. Churches today have resorted all too often to "whining for Jesus," on TV, from the pulpit, in letters and tracts and brochures, and that itself has turned the world off to anything they may offer. An unbeliever told me while we were in California, "All they want is the money." Though that's too harsh a statement, there is no rest in the corporate business model which modern day church organizations have adopted to get money for their programs. They must always hustle, whine, and worry to pay the indebtedness on the building, fund the missionary programs, pay salaries and light bills, community outreach, TV and Radio spots, and on it goes. In the early church, we see the apostles asking for what was needed, and we see by God's grace, an outpouring from the ecclesia, the called out, the church bought and paid for by the blood of the Lamb.
Don't you think that since He established the Church with his life's blood, He will also supply what it needs? Like Paul, we ask that we may be "filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory IN THE CHURCH and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever!" (Eph. 3:19-21).
Father, we depend on You to show us what Your will for our lives is, corporately and individually. We ask You to open our hearts to see that Your treasure is Christ Himself, that we may share Him with Your creation, so that all may know You in Your fulness, Your beauty, and Your glory. In Christ we ask it, amen. Jan Antonsson
Jan and Lenny Antonsson
17178 Highway 59, Neosho, MO 64850 (Snail Mail)
The Glory Road
We always enjoy hearing from you!
This writing was uploaded to the web 05/25/06,
by Jan Antonsson, webmeister,
and last updated 10/08/08.