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Giving

blessing and healing

Jesus gives us more than we ask.

In today’s Bible reading, Jesus encounters lots of people and heals many of them. He begins with some men bringing a paralytic on a stretcher. Jesus tells the paralytic that his sins are forgiven. (Matthew 9:2)

But wait, his friends only brought him to be healed! Why would Jesus tell him that his sins were forgiven? Neither the man nor his friends asked for forgiveness. Jesus told him that his sins were forgiven because He knew that healing the man’s paralysis wasn’t his greatest need.

Matthew concludes Chapter Nine with Jesus telling the disciples that the fields are ready for harvest. He’s looking at the spiritual need, having met the people’s physical needs.

Too often we become shortsighted, concerned about things that really aren’t the main things. How often we overlook the most important things, like our spiritual health.

Don’t get me wrong. Physical health is a big deal, especially if you or a loved one is dealing with physical issues. But in the grand scheme — in light of eternity — our physical lives can be compared to our breath vapor on a cold day. What is most important is our spiritual health.

Application

Lots of people watch what they eat. Many make a trip to the gym a part of their day. How about you? Are you being a good steward of your body?

But like I said, the bigger issue is your spiritual life. So what are you doing to steward that? Are you spending time every day praying? I’m not asking if you are “saying your prayers.” Are you conversing with the Creator and Sustainer of the universe — your “Papa” — every day?

Are you regularly reading and studying your Bible? Telling other people about your relationship with Jesus? Regularly meeting with other believers so you can encourage each other in your faith? Regularly giving financial support to your church and ministries that are close to your heart?

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applause, recognition

Jesus tells us the right way to give, pray, and fast in today’s Bible reading. He summarizes his instructions in Matthew 6:1, “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. Otherwise, you have no reward with your Father in heaven.” (CSB)

He lists three Spiritual Disciplines — probably the most public of the Disciplines: giving, praying, and fasting. He doesn’t say, “If you give”, “If you pray” or “If you fast”. He assumes that we will do these things “when” or “whenever“.

Each of these activities is important for a growing Christian life. Jesus warns us to not do these three things like hypocrites do; they do them so that they will be recognized by other people for their religious activities.

Application

Jesus says that if we give, pray, and fast — only in public, like the hypocrites do — we will receive our reward just like they do: in public by the people we’re trying to impress. Jesus says, if that’s what you want, that’s what you’ll get. But you won’t get any recognition from God.

I’ve said many times before, it’s all about relationship. Religion looks good. “Good works” looks good. But Jesus tells us plainly in today’s reading that our focus should be on our relationship with God and His Kingdom, not ourselves and our kingdoms. (Matthew 6:33)

Jesus cautions His followers that if we want to be recognized by God for our giving, our praying, and our fasting, we need to do them in secret, where only God knows what we’re doing. And then God will give His reward.

The bottom line is, whose applause do you want? Whose recognition do you want? Whose approval do you want?

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Today’s Bible reading is the beginning of The Sermon on the Mount. Throughout the Sermon, Jesus gives some very practical behaviors that believers should strive to emulate, not to give you a right standing before God, but because you have a right standing before God.

Hidden in today’s reading from Matthew 5, we find a striking statement. Don’t miss it!

So if you are offering your gift on the altar, and there you remember that your brother or sister has something against you,  leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled with your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. Matthew 5:23–24 (CSB)

Jesus says that our relationships with other people need to be right and healthy before we give an offering to God. In fact, he adds that we should do everything we can to have a good relationship with our adversaries. (Matthew 5:25-26)

Application

How are your relationships with your friends? Your family? Your spouse? Your coworkers? Your superiors/inferiors at work? How are your relationships with others in your church?

How are your relationships with people who seem to always know which buttons to push to push you over the edge?

You will never grow in intimacy with God if there’s something within your control that isn’t right with someone else. Yes, it’s that important!

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In today’s Bible reading in Acts 8, we are introduced to a Samaritan sorcerer named Simon. For a long time, Simon had amazed people with his magic. And then he heard the gospel. Simon and many other Samaritans responded to the gospel message and were saved. (Acts 8:13) Simon began to follow Philip, watching God do marvelous, miraculous things!

The Apostles in Jerusalem could hardly believe their ears! Samaritans have been saved?! Peter and John went to check it out and learned that the Samaritans had been baptized in Jesus’ name, but had not yet received the Holy Spirit.

Now, I don’t want to get into the discussion here of Holy Spirit baptism as being simultaneous vs. subsequent to salvation. I don’t have the space or time to get into that right now.

When Simon saw that the Samaritans received the Spirit (there were obviously physical signs), he was amazed and offered money for the “authority” to bestow the Spirit by laying his hands on people. (Acts 8:19)

Peter sharply rebuked Simon (Acts 8:20-23) who immediately repented deeply of his sin.

So what was Simon’s sin? All he did was ask to be able to lay hands on people so they could receive the Holy Spirit. What’s wrong with that? That sounds like a noble request, doesn’t it?

Application

Peter said that Simon’s heart was not right with God. Simon’s heart condition resulted in his offer of money in exchange for the authority.

Transactional religion is dangerous. Unfortunately, people practice it all the time, often without even realizing it!

Transactional religion resembles a vending machine. You give the machine money and the machine gives you a soda.

The most obvious example would be someone who asks God to save their dying child and telling God they’ll go on the mission field in exchange. But there are far more subtle ways that believers practice transactional religion. We read our Bible, study our Bible, memorize verses from our Bible, pray, fast, etc. “believing God” for blessings of one form or another. Yes, there is a blessing that comes from doing all of these spiritual disciplines. but God is not obligated to do anything for us!

Perhaps having an attitude that God is indebted to us for something that we do demonstrates that we don’t really understand what the Gospel is all about!

The Gospel has nothing to do with us doing anything. It is all about all that Jesus has already done for us. It’s a very unfair exchange: All of our sin, rebellion, alienation, and lostness in exchange for Jesus’ holiness, righteousness, and forgiveness.

That’s the Gospel. It can’t be bought because it’s free! It can only be received.

At the end of today’s reading from Mark 12, we find the story of the widow dropping money into the treasury (Mark 12:41-44).

We aren’t told if Jesus was the only person who was watching, but I think it’s safe to assume that he wasn’t alone in observing people as they dropped in their offering. Jesus makes the point elsewhere (Matthew 6:3) that our giving should be done in secret.

Jesus is the only person who should know how much we give. Unfortunately, because of the way tax deduction documentation is set up in the US, it’s difficult to truly give in secret. When you drop a check in the offering plate, put cash into an envelope, or make an online donation, more eyes than you think will see your offering.

It’s important to give. Not because the church needs the money. Not because the preacher needs the money. And not because God needs the money. God owns the cattle on a thousand hills (Psalm 50:10). Trust me, He doesn’t need your money!

But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t give. Actually, I would add that we need to give. Giving is good for us. Giving reminds us that everything that we have belongs to God and that we are merely stewards of what He has given us. Everything we receive we should hold with open hands.

Some people give to be seen by others. Some people give in order to receive a tax deduction. But what if you didn’t receive a tax deduction? Would you still give?

When you give, do you give something, just to have something to drop in the offering plate so other people won’t think that you don’t give at all? Or do you give out of the abundance of your heart (and wallet)?

Application

The widow gave what she had… all that she had. How about you?

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