Posted by: mikebackup | February 16, 2014

Eyes, Camels, Needles

Mark 10:17-31

New International Version (NIV)

The Rich and the Kingdom of God

17 As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

18 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. 19 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.’[a]

20 “Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.”

21 Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor,and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

22 At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.

23 Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!”

24 The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

26 The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, “Who then can be saved?”

27 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.”

28 Then Peter spoke up, “We have left everything to follow you!”

29 “Truly I tell you,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel 30 will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. 31 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”

On the television you sometimes hear something along the lines of ‘in a change to advertised listings, the scheduled program has been changed’. That’s what we have today with this reading.

Reason being, we recently hosted a regional finance day designed to help ministers and churches reflect on finance. Linda, Maureen and I both felt there was plenty to share more widely and so in a change to our scheduled listings we reflect on all things money with the story of the rich young man a very helpful scriptural focus.

This is a story that takes place on a journey  to Jerusalem. The encounter with the rich man begins with great promise. The question he asks is a good one and Jesus gives a standard answer summarising the ten commandments. The man protests that he has kept all of these things, yet something still holds him back.

Verse 21 states simply and powerfully that Jesus looked at him and loved him.

The advice which follows should not be seen at all as an impossible demand. Jesus discerns with great gentleness that the only way for the man to be free is to break his connection with his many possessions. For this man, his wealth is the stumbling block and radical surgery is needed.

It is with the disciples rather than the encounter with the rich man that contains the most challenging teaching. Here the lessons from the meeting are turned by Jesus into general principles about wealth and the kingdom of God. First comes the challenge of how hard it is to enter the Kingdom of heaven and then the image of the camel (v. 25). All of us need to take heed of the temptation and snare of wealth in terms of spiritual growth and development .

Then, however, comes the word of comfort. The warning is severe, yet we cannot use it as a single basis either for judging ourselves or judging others: with God all things are possible. Those who have genuinely given up much for the sake of Jesus and the good news will find all of these things and more restored to them a hundredfold in the age to come ‘with eternal life’. The way of a disciple is often the way of sacrifice. If we would gain our life we will often find we have to first lose it.

And so the Christian message comes with great comfort. Our High Priest ‘sympathises with our weaknesses’, ‘with God all things are possible’ and ‘the God of hosts will be with you’. Yet this comfort also comes wrapped in uncomfortable warnings about behaviour, attitude and judgement.

With that as the backdrop, let’s return to our finance day and we have to begin with the basics of Christian giving. At the finance day someone asked ‘what’s tithing?’ It was a shock question to some, but if someone hasn’t received the teaching then it’s a very good question.

“Tithe” means a tenth or 10 percent. The Old Testament law required that a tenth of all produce, flocks, and cattle be given to support the Levites (the priestly class in ancient Israel). The question for Christians is whether that still applies to us. In definitive terms it doesn’t because Jesus fulfilled the law, but the call to be generous and to make a financial sacrifice is still there. Jesus makes this point really well in Luke 11.42.

“You Pharisees are in for trouble! You give God a tenth of the spices from your gardens, such as mint and rue. But you cheat people, and you don’t love God. You should be fair and kind to others and still give a tenth to God.”

The way to look at tithing from a Christian perspective is this. The aim is that we give to God first as an act of love and worship and 10% is a good place to start. It doesn’t mean the rest is all ours. It all belongs to God and therefore the use of all our money must bring honour to our relationship with God. The act of giving at least 10% up front orientates and focuses our faith on generous, sacrificial giving that will then permeate the rest.

We have to make sure we’re not legalistic the 10% is a Biblical and generous starting point for Christians. For some the amount given first can be much higher. We also must consider those that are unable to do that at this time, that putting10% first will put you under for the rest of the month. The message here is that over time the aim is to get to at least 10%. Make that the priority as finances are considered. If that’s a struggle or a challenge – help is coming. We are going to be running the Christians against Poverty Money budgeting course from the autumn. It will enable you to budget right and be a great blessing. Ahead of that we are running a Lent course on ‘parables and possessions’ with material from the Churches Together in Britain and Ireland. That will be on Thursday mornings 10.30-noon.

The tithe doesn’t end with income it applies to assets as well. If a tithe isn’t in your will, Jesus asks you to make a generous provision to help uphold those that follow on after we have gone. Again 10% of your assets is a good starting point, but it may be much higher. It will witness profoundly after you have gone and provide some teaching to family and friends
So the teaching is clear – we must aim to give the first fruits of our labour to God. 10% is the first goal, but don’t let it stop there, the call is to be generous now and in the future.

That leads onto another observation that was made on the finance day. A well connected local Pastor didn’t know that all Baptist churches are asked to give 5% of their income to Home Mission. Home Mission put simply has enabled our ministry over the past six and a half years. The £10,000 a year they have been giving has provided the Stipend. It is massively important up and down the land that churches like ours have the Baptist family purse to call upon.

We have a challenge though. Based on our income we should be giving about £1700 a year but it has been nearer £600. Should you want to give specifically to Home Mission out of your giving, please let Maureen know and she can provide envelopes. The overall aim however is that a standing order of around £140 would go out each month from the church account.

Related to that is how we support wider kingdom work around the world through the support of BMS. The latest guidance for churches is £45 per regular attendee or 2% of income. You can specifically support through envelopes and the Birthday scheme. The aim though is that around £60 is sent from the church direct to BMS each month.

Our personal giving helps enable the Kingdom of God to appear directly in our community, nationally and internationally.

In Mark 12.41-44 we read this:

Mark 12:41-44

The Message (MSG)

41-44 Sitting across from the offering box, he was observing how the crowd tossed money in for the collection. Many of the rich were making large contributions. One poor widow came up and put in two small coins—a measly two cents. Jesus called his disciples over and said, “The truth is that this poor widow gave more to the collection than all the others put together. All the others gave what they’ll never miss; she gave extravagantly what she couldn’t afford—she gave her all.”

Jesus looks on us, loves us and then asks us to live life orientated around sacrificial giving. I have a challenge, you have a challenge and so does our community. Let’s action a prayer that we are like the widow and not like the rich young man.

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