Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Secret Giving

So when you give to the poor, don’t sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But when you give to the poor, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.Matthew 6.2-4

Now get ready to see some real substantial personal growth, for this next section is some very powerful exercise for your spiritual strength!

If you’re following along with these lessons in your small group, you spent a week on teleios, then a week on our theme verse for this next section: “Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 6.1) As we observed before, that line is an introductory statement to what follows.  Remember:
  1. Challenge yourself – double-check your true motives
  2. Grace saves, then disciples work to please God
  3. It’s a warning, not a rule

Apply those three sentiments to each of these following lessons, and if you do so as a group, you’ll experience something rare and wonderful. 

Experts at fundraising know how to get you to give 
  • That’s why buildings (and bricks) at public institutions have names on them – most of us want some kind of credit for giving our money. 
  • That’s why youth groups have car washes, and why so many sports events are named as “charities,” so that (supposedly) your entry fee goes to something good.  We want some fun for our “giving” (Otherwise, we’d just give from our salary – we make more money at work than at a lame car wash, or running in a 5k or buying cookies)
  • It’s why churches advertise and have professional, slick websites and graphics … they need to appeal to human vanity and ego.  
  • It's why the Red Cross gives a "I gave" sticker when we give blood or we get an "I voted" sticker when we vote ... credit, and honor for us! 

Churches, non-profits and their members all want credit for their giving … they want others to see and know and praise them

Everyone knows: honey attracts better than vinegar, but…

Jesus taught his disciples something different: Giving is a blessing within itself – it needs no other reward.  In fact, when we give and others know it … the blessing is diluted.  The best gift you will ever give is the one you give that no one on earth knows about, and it costs you dearly!  Only then will you understand how right Jesus was: “It’s more blessed to give than to receive.”

The all-time best gift ever was disgusting and unattractive.  The ‘praise’ Jesus received was mocking – his reward was a sign on a cross calling him “King of the Jews,” and his crown was made of thorns.  It wasn't until later that people realized what had been done for them.  In the moment, Jesus received no glory or honor.  His gift wasn't fun, nor did Jesus shout from the cross that this was how much he loved us.  Only his closest small group understood – and even they didn't understand until three days later.

Secret Giving: Expectations

Secret giving (of either time or money) is very hard, especially at first.  It’s like starting to exercise for the first time after being sedentary for a while.  The giver feels the pain of sacrifice, but no one says, “Good job,” because they don’t know!  Can you try this?  Most of you don’t have the faith or love to even try.  But a few of you will try, and you’ll be amazed.

After a while … it gets harder in a different way.  If you give secretly for as long as a few years, not only won’t you get credit, but others will think badly about you.  They will wonder why you ‘never’ give.  They will harbor bad thoughts about you, they will gossip about you, and they will think of you as selfish and mean-spirited.  Most people can’t take it.  Most people can’t stand having others think of them that way!  They are compelled to tell people of their good deeds!  Shoot, even Mother Teresa had some PR – how else would we have even heard of a random nun among a billion Indians?

But of course most people don’t live to share a private smile between themselves and God  

If you doubt this, you don’t know Jesus or Paul or Moses or any of the greats.  They all had detractors who were ignorant.  Israel thought Moses was power-hungry, Corinth thought Paul was weak, and everyone despised Jeremiah’s negative preaching.  Even Jesus’ own brothers mocked him, his hometown despised him, and the religious leaders murdered him.  He could have explained, but, “as a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he spoke not a word.”  Jesus gave secretly!  Why?  Because he didn't want glory from men, but only from his Father.

This is where your small group can be tremendously helpful! 
A small group can be like “training wheels” or a support team for times like these.  Shoot, that’s why God invented church, and why the original church was only for disciples – not for evangelism.  You can confess your struggles, you can give and receive tips, and you can give and receive support.  As a group you should talk about how you can give more and more each week, and how you can give privately.  Be open about how hard it is never to get credit for yourself or give it to your group, your church or your family … but for God alone.  This is “spur one another on to love and good deeds!”  (Hebrews 10.24)

I’ll offer you some suggestions as starting points.  Try some of these things, but don’t tell anyone outside your small group:
  • Visit a sick or hurting person … but tell no one, and ask them to tell no one (like Jesus)
  • Anonymously (blank envelope, no note, except maybe “this is from God”) send cash through the mail to a needy person or group
  • Spend extra time preparing your next lesson or talk … just to see if you can deliver it in a way that makes you look bad and God look good (yes it can be done)
  • When you’re out for a walk, pull a weed in someone else’s yard when they’re not looking, or pick up a piece of trash or return a shopping cart that’s blocking a parking space or park far from the door to leave the “good” spots open for others
  • Take the blame for someone else’s mistake
  • Ask a stupid question on purpose; to strengthen those who are afraid to ask questions  
  • Wear clothes, jewelry or make-up in a way to not draw attention to yourself
  • Shine the light of praise on others instead of yourself

You can share your little victories with others in your group, but promise each other it won’t go outside the group.  Make sacrifices – of your time, your money, and even your reputation – to bring help to another person and praise to God, and then share your story only within your group.  Together you can inspire and motivate one another.  You can form strategies to improve, and you can consistently become better and better givers … and give all the glory ONLY to God. 

If you do this, you’ll reap a reward beyond your imagination.  What’s more, you’ll be a very rare person, for the vast majority of people (even “Christians”) will never even try this.  That makes you a bit special in God’s eyes, and He sees all and will reward you on The Day of our Lord’s appearing.

Meanwhile, you’ll develop a kind of strength that you didn't know was possible.  You can learn to rely on God alone, and get to the point you need no help or approval from other people.  The stronger you get the closer to God you’ll be, the more you will be able to give, and so goes the upward spiral of growth. 

We live in a very dark world – this is how we let our lights shine away from ourselves, and cause others to praise God  

Though I’m free from all men, I've made myself a slave to all, so that I may win more. 
To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some.
1 Corinthians 9:19, 22

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