GATHER (Week 4): We Gather to Give!

Key Verses:  Acts 2:37-47 (NASB)
Why do we gather? God gathers His Church for His purposes and His glory! Remember the theme verse for this series of teachings called, “Gather!” Read Acts 2:37-47 (NASB).
Verses 44-45 describe a very peculiar aspect of the Christian community: “And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need.”
We gather to give because of the One who gave us everything! The early church knew in tangible terms that it was Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit who gathered them and in gathering they knew that it was a new community that was different from the world. It was a community gathered to remember Jesus Christ and how He had established a new people—the Church—the called-out ones who are gathered at the cost of the precious blood of Jesus Christ. They gathered to remember Christ and in remembering Christ to live differently! The Church is gathered for God’s purposes for God’s glory! One of the ways (of the many we have already discussed in the first 3 weeks of this series of messages) is to give. Give God glory, YES! But to also give so that the world would know that we are His disciples—what are we to give? We are to give LOVE in practical and tangible ways to build up and support the community of God’s people!
In John 13:34-35, on the night that Jesus instituted the second ordinance of the Church, He gave us the Church’s one final command, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Giving is not an ordinance of the Church because Jesus Christ said giving is the COMMAND of the Church! We learned last week that the 2 ordinances of the church are baptism (which you do once to declare your loyalty to Jesus and His Kingdom) and the Lord’s Supper which we do often to remember our baptism and the cost of our gathering as the Church!

Ordinances are public declarations of our identity! Giving is different! Giving is a symbol of something more than the money because every time you give you are declaring a rebellion against this world and the worldly systems that are against God’s Kingdom. Giving is a sign of your loyalty because every time you give you are declaring whom you serve—Jesus Christ and not money or people. Giving is a step of Christian discipleship because every time you give you are taking a step of faith to trust God more than yourself and your plans.

Yes, this is a sermon on financial giving just as we saw the early church members selling property and possessions to build up and support the community of God’s people! We are gathered to give because our giving is the way God has designed the church to be built up and supported! We are commanded to give! Not out of duty nor under compulsion; not as a way of getting right with God or staying right with God! We give because our giving not only declares our loyalties, our giving determines our loyalties. Let me explain…
Jesus famously said in Matthew 6:19-21, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
What most people miss about this teaching is that what you give to is where your heart goes! Many people think that they will give to those they love, but that is not true! Often people give to what demands their attention or what cries the loudest or what is most pressing (to the urgent, not to the important!). What Jesus is saying is that your heart will follow your giving… your identity will follow your generosity! What you give your time and money does more than describe your loyalties, it determines your loyalties!
Jesus calls these things treasures: What are your treasures? What grabs your heart and mind? I invite you to audit your money flow to tell you the truth about your loyalties. 
Jesus knows! Your identity is meant to be in Him alone; therefore, He commands your loyalty! Not for His sake, but for your sake. You don’t give because He needs what you have to give, but because you need to give to Him what He commands you to give! Your experience of the abundant life is totally dependent on this…
We are gathered to give because it is our identity! Giving is more than an ordinance of the Church; giving is the identity of the Church! If you are not giving, you are not living the abundant life that Jesus promised in John 10:10, when Jesus teaches us, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” Abundance is not about receiving, it is about giving (Acts 20:35)! Jesus’ promise for His Church is not one of survival (staying in the black in the books or playing it safe by being a good boy or girl and not getting into any messy situations). Jesus’ promise for His Church is a life that lives and gives for eternity today: A life of sacrifice, faithfulness, and generosity!
Giving is the abundant life of freedom from all forms of slavery: Are you a steward of God’s resources or are you owned by stuff? Do you use people to get more stuff or do you use stuff to win people? When is the last time you made a financial sacrifice for God to declare where you real hope for the future is found?
John the Beloved of Jesus teaches us of the very practical nature of showing your loyalty as a follower of Jesus. In 1 John 3:16-18 the Beloved Disciple of Jesus commands our right response to Jesus’ gathering the Church by the cost of His precious blood, “We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoever has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him? Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth.”
John practically shows us that his heart response to Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection is a lifestyle that gives in practical ways—with all that we have! At the very end of John’s letter in 1 John 5:21, the Beloved Disciple of Jesus Christ commands something that seems to come out of left field: “Little children, guard yourselves from idols.” But it’s not out of left field at all, because his whole letter is about God’s love experienced in Jesus Christ and how we are to love by living generously, sacrificially, and faithfully. We guard ourselves from idols by giving in real and practical ways! Anything you are not willing to give away or anything you put your hope and trust in for abundance, apart from Christ, is the idol you need to guard against. For the sake of your life.
Let me share with you some sobering facts from a recent Ted Talk, “Suicide rates among adults ages 40 to 64 have risen nearly 40 percent since 1999. Job loss, bankruptcy and foreclosures were present in nearly 40 percent of the deaths, with white middle-aged men accounting for seven out of 10 suicides. What [the speaker] learned is that our self-destructive and self-defeating financial behaviors are not driven by our rational, logical minds. Instead, they are a product of our subconscious belief systems rooted in our childhoods and so deeply ingrained in us, they shape the way that we deal with money our entire adult lives” (Tammy Lally).
Brothers and sisters, I am calling you to obedience to Jesus’ command so that you can experience the abundant life of Jesus Christ! I am not trying to take anything from you, I am guarding you against idols and the devastating results of our culture’s addiction to the pursuit of prosperity that we are experiencing all around us. It is killing our nation and our communities!
That is the point of the the Story of the Rich Young Ruler (Mark 10:17-27). A rich man came to Jesus and asked what he had to do to live the abundant life that He promised. Luke records in Mark 17:21-22, “Looking at him, Jesus felt a love for him and said to him, ‘One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.’ But at these words he was saddened, and he went away grieving, for he was one who owned much property.”
In this story, Jesus is dealing with idolatry in the heart of this person; Jesus recognized his religious faithfulness and loved him, but He loved the person enough to tell him the truth—you are not free of an idol that has you enslaved—get rid of it and be mine! Jesus’ invitation is to abundance; the pathway to abundance is giving!

What you give to will capture your heart! You buy a thing; your heart goes with it and focuses on it. You give to God’s work, you will pray and think about and give more time to God’s work. You give to God’s people, you will pray, think about, and want to spend more time with God’s people.

It never is about whether you can afford to give! Never, that is the tactic of the devil that is winning in a gross majority of Christian’s lives and keeping them focused on where their money is going. It is never about whether or not you can afford to give, it is about whether or not you can afford to not give!
Can you afford to not give?

 I can’t! Kimberly and I learned that giving has to be first and the more we give the more we have… If you want to ask me about how my household gives, I am happy to discuss. I am not inviting you to anything that is not true or right. I am inviting you to join me in living the abundant life.  

At the end of service today, we are going to hand out Letter #2 of the 2020 Vision Initiative where I introduce to you Phase 2 of the Finish Strong Campaign. Please read that letter and you can also watch me read it on a video I shot with Dick Kinnaird last week. An email is being sent out at noon today with both the letter and the video link. Please read. Please watch. Please pray. We will be having a special congregational meeting in 2 weeks on September 23 to discuss Letter #2 and Phase 2 of the Finish Strong Campaign.
I am inviting you to find your freedom in your identity in Jesus! Above anything else, I am inviting you to obey your Lord and Savior. Just remember how Jesus dealt with the issue of giving and how the Apostles joined with Jesus. I am doing nothing more and nothing less than striving to live before you and this community with integrity to the messages I preach. I am inviting you to join us in and be an Acts 2 community.
  It is my heart’s desire as your pastor that 1 year from now, as we approach the conclusion of the 2020 Vision Initiative, that we look more Jesus and live more like an Acts 2 Jesus-community than we do today. We are in the most important point in the 2020 Vision Initiative. Over 8 year of work has gotten us here and the best days are ahead of us. But for those days to become a reality, we all must respond in tangible and practical ways to build up and support the community of God’s people!
Gather Week 4:  Listen to it here
The video series can be found by clicking HERE.