Toward a Biblical Understanding of Fund Raising

For the week of March 5, 2016 / 25 Adar 5776

Fundraising puzzle piece

Va-Yakhel & Shekalim
Torah: Shemot/Exodus 35:1 – 38:20; 30:11-16
Haftarah: 2 Kings 12:1-17

Download Audio [Right click link to download]

Moses said to all the congregation of the people of Israel, “This is the thing that the LORD has commanded. Take from among you a contribution to the LORD. Whoever is of a generous heart, let him bring the LORD’s contribution…” (Shemot/Exodus 35:4-5)

I was brought up with an unhealthy relationship to money. It was the subject that my parents seemed to constantly bicker about. My father taught me that “money made the world go round,” something he firmly believed. As I grew up I regularly was told that we couldn’t do this and we couldn’t do that, because of the money. Not long after my parents divorced in my mid-teens, my mother and I were on welfare. We had a nice enough place to live and we didn’t starve, but the thought of not having enough was always with us, and it got to me. Our poverty was likely a key aspect in the panic attacks that eventually led me to know Yeshua.

Coming to know God and reading the Bible radically transformed my thinking in many areas, including money. The most mind-blowing concept was that I was no longer alone with regard to material provision. According to Yeshua, I had a Heavenly Father who was committed to taking care of my needs (see Matthew 6:25-34). So instead of every future hope of mine being stamped with a big and bold red “CAN’T” on it, I had a funding resource beyond my wildest dreams. I am not saying that I expected God to give me whatever I wanted, but as I have sought him for everything from education to marriage (which would eventually include 10 kids!), houses, cars, travel, and so on, he has provided for me and my family in so many surprising ways.

I am so grateful that the first community of believers I was involved with after coming to faith highly valued the Messiah’s teaching on God’s provision. Unlike some groups, their understanding regarding the relationship between faith and finances led them to rarely, if ever, talk about money. The idea was that since God promised to provide for our needs, then it would be dishonoring to him to ask people to give. This approach was firmly rooted in people such as George Müller, who was famous for founding orphanages and schools in England in the 19th century. As far we know, Müller never made a private or public request for funds, except to God alone in prayer. His story and the example of my community at the time led me to believe that this was the only way to be a genuine person of faith. To ask anyone for money was regarded as putting my trust in people, not God, thus undermining Yeshua’s teaching on God’s generosity toward his children.

As I mentioned, I have innumerable examples of God’s provision, but my commitment to keep my needs to myself at times became more than I could handle. Years ago, we sought to establish a ministry. We were affiliated with a group of believers but were basically on our own in terms of support. When little by way of finances came in, I had a difficult time of it. I regret to say that this was one of the factors for leaving the work I was doing. Based on my conviction, I concluded that I was at fault for not trusting God.

That was about twenty-four years ago. When I considered stepping back into fulltime Bible teaching ministry in 2012, I wondered how I was going to handle the trust factor. It’s only been since then that I have been challenged to rethink how fund raising is supposed to work. It has taken a long time to accept that the George Müller method was not actually biblical after all. The Bible doesn’t teach it’s wrong to ask for money. Look at this week’s Torah portion, for example. God instructed Moses to ask for contributions for the building of the Mishkan (English: Tabernacle). While there are right and wrong ways to raise funds, being open and honest about the need to fund ministry is godly.

I have come to realize that my difficulty with asking people to fund my ministry is not derived from the Bible, but rather due to deep-seated values that I somehow inherited that makes me feel ashamed for being a “charity case.” But why should it be acceptable to trade money for temporal goods, but shameful to invite people to invest in something that will bring eternal benefits? People fund all sorts of legitimate (and not-so legitimate) activities. What’s wrong with funding the work of God’s Kingdom? We have no problem with someone hawking their wares at the side of the road. Why then are we put out when someone makes a request raise money for ministry? You can always say, “No.”

All scriptures, English Standard Version (ESV) of the Bible

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Flip Flop

For the week of February 27, 2016 / 18 Adar 5776

Yes, no, maybe, etc. word cloud

Ki Tissa
Torah: Shemot/Exodus 30:11 – 34:35
Haftarah: 1 Melachim/1 Kings 18:1-39

Download Audio [Right click link to download]

And Elijah came near to all the people and said, “How long will you go limping between two different opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.” And the people did not answer him a word. (1 Melachim/1 Kings 18:21)

This week’s Haftarah (selection from the Prophets) was likely chosen because of the Torah’s reference to the sin of the golden calf when Israel became impatient waiting for Moses to return from meeting with God on Mt. Sinai. While he was in the presence of God receiving revelation for the nation, they were worshiping cow statues in God’s name.

The idolatrous situation in Elijah’s day was different. While there may have been elements of syncretism (the blending of true and false spiritualities) as in the earlier episode, the latter situation was one in which the people flipped flopped from faith in the Lord to Baal and back again as they desired. In this case, there was no confusion as to the identity of these two deities (or supposed deity as in the case of Baal) or the requirements each demanded. When and why one or the other would be approached would have depended upon the particular needs of the person at the given time.

Elijah challenged the people to stop flip-flopping. Note that he didn’t appeal to culture, preferences, or benefits. He didn’t even use the appeal most common in Scripture, that of the Lord’s deliverance from Egypt. Instead, he urged them to follow the one who is truly God. He left no room for syncretism. It was either one or the other, not both. The people’s reaction at the end of the story, after seeing which of the two responded in power, agrees with Elijah’s exclusive view of God. Only one divine being can be supreme, and therefore, only one God should be served. Whatever the other represented, real or not, had no claim on the people’s loyalty.

Israel had been experiencing a drought for three years ever since Elijah said it would be so. Since the Lord didn’t send the rain (or was blamed for holding it back), Baal, the storm god, was their next best choice for help. The people’s silence in the face of Elijah’s challenge exposes their uncertainty. That a god of power existed they had no doubt. But who was the true and only God? Of that they were so unsure, they didn’t know what to say. Their inability to discern spiritual truth had left them shifting back and forth between allegiances.

The difficulty in relating a story like this to our day is that we don’t tend to give our false gods personal names, such as Baal. But just because we don’t have personal names for education, money, technology, health, religion, sex, power, and fame doesn’t mean we don’t flip flop back and forth between relying on these lesser powers and the only true God. These and other areas of life are tools, not gods. But when we serve them instead of the Master of the Universe, we become enslaved to them. Then when we try to retain a right relationship to the Master of the Universe we become more and more confused, not knowing what to say when we are confronted on our duplicity.

The only way to stop flip-flopping is to stop. We need to remember that every aspect of life is under God’s rule. Whatever your need is, whatever your situation, the God of Elijah, the Father of our Messiah Yeshua is supreme. Don’t give yourself to lesser powers anymore, but rather submit to the one and only God. Don’t let impatience drive you to give yourself over to lesser powers. He will come through for you in time.

All scriptures, English Standard Version (ESV) of the Bible

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Putting It On

For the week of February 20, 2016 / 11 Adar 5776

Formal attire

My wife, Robin, and I at the wedding of one of sons , September 2013.

Torah: Exodus 27:20 – 30:10
Haftarah: Ezekiel 43:10-27
Revised version originally posted March 7, 2009 / 11 Adar 5769

Download Audio [Right click link to download]

And you shall make holy garments for Aaron your brother, for glory and for beauty. (Shemot/Exodus 28:2)

A few years ago my wife and I were treated to a two-night getaway at a lovely manor in the country. Their high-quality restaurant had a dress code for evening meals. I find it interesting how the putting on of nice clothes makes such a difference in how we feel about ourselves and our surroundings, as well as in how others relate to us.

I had a friend who was a taxi driver. The company he worked for didn’t impose particular dress standards, but when he started wearing suits; his customers began to treat him differently, calling him “Sir,” for example.

I don’t think that the wearing of nice clothes made my wife and I or my friend different people. Wearing nice clothes or a uniform doesn’t transform a person into something he or she is not. At the same time how we present ourselves does communicate something about ourselves. It could be anything from our economic situation, the people group to which we belong, our likes and preferences, or our desires and intentions. Of course it is possible that what we wear may not be consistent with who we really are. If I wore a police uniform in public, I would be giving the false impression that I was a police officer. On the other hand, when a police officer wears a uniform, it not only communicates to others his authority, but reminds him to behave accordingly.

In the days of the Mishkan and the Temple, the priests were required to wear special clothing whenever they performed their duties. To fail to do so would have resulted in dire consequences. It is not as if they were priests on the basis of their clothing. Not wearing their priestly garments would not make them less of who they were. Still, their clothing was a necessary part of their performing their priestly duties. Priests not only played a special role in the community, they had to look the part as well. They physically and mentally could have performed their duties in regular clothing, but they could not truly represent their position if they didn’t take the time to put on their special ones.

One of the contrasts between the Old and New Covenants is a shift of focus from things external to things internal. Under both covenants what God is seeking to communicate both to and through us is very much the same, but how he does so is quite different. With the coming of the Messiah and the loss of the Levitical priesthood due to the destruction of the Temple, the external elements of worship and service to God have been internalized in those who trust and follow the Messiah. What was at one time necessary through things such as clothing and other objects is now experienced in and through the living out of our day-to-day lives.

As the priests had to purposely put on special clothing to fulfill their special role in the world, so we too must do the same, figuratively speaking. We are to purposely apply the elements of a godly lifestyle to our behavior (see Colossians 3:1-17). While it is not our deeds that make us God’s children, godly living requires decisive, purposeful activity.

At times purposely putting on godly behavior can feel as if we are play acting – more like a costume than a uniform. Being kind, generous, disciplined, merciful, and so on, may not seem natural to us. But we shouldn’t think that just because we possess the inner reality of God’s presence in our lives that godly behavior will automatically spring forth without our cooperation. Similar to dressing up to eat in a fancy restaurant, things we have never or rarely done can feel quite strange. But once we realize that we, like the priests of old, have a special place in the world, then it shouldn’t surprise us to learn that it requires our putting on special behavior.

All scriptures, English Standard Version (ESV) of the Bible

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Sanctuary

For the week of February 13, 2016 / 4 Adar 5776

Mishkan (Tabernacle) Holy Place replica

Within the full-scale replica of the Mishkan at Hotel Eshel Hashomron, Ariel, Samaria. Photo: Alan Gilman

Terumah
Torah reading: Shemot/Exodus 25:1 – 27:19
Haftarah: 1 Melachim/Kings 5:26 – 6:13

Download Audio [Right click link to download]

And let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst. Exactly as I show you concerning the pattern of the tabernacle, and of all its furniture, so you shall make it. (Shemot/Exodus 35:8-9)

This week’s reading begins the instructions for the building of the Mishkan (English: Tabernacle). Mishkan means dwelling place, for this centrally located mobile complex was to signify the presence of God among the people of Israel. That it is described as a sanctuary in the selection I just read is probably not a surprise to most readers, since it is common even today to refer to a place of worship as such. But what does sanctuary mean?

I think when most people hear the word sanctuary, they immediately think of what Merriam-Webster’s dictionary lists as a common definition: “a place where someone or something is protected or given shelter.” A safe place in other words. Perhaps that is rooted in the custom of people finding protection from accusations and revenge by running to the Mishkan or later the Temple and holding the horns of the alter located there (see 1 Kings 1:50; 2:28). But shelter and protection were not central to the Mishkan’s purpose.

The Hebrew word for sanctuary here is “mikdash” which is derived from “kadash,” meaning to set apart or make holy. The Mishkan was to be a holy place, a structure designed to be set apart for God. Whatever might result from the Mishkan’s being a sanctuary, it is first and foremost God’s place. This is where God would be encountered, served, and from where his ways would be taught. It would be so, because God himself would be present. Therefore, a mikdash, a sanctuary, is where God’s presence dwells.

Where do we find sanctuary today? The Mishkan and Temple have long been destroyed. Millions of people gather at the Western Wall in Jerusalem to get as close as possible to the Temple’s location. For many this expresses a desire to be near to God’s presence. Synagogues and churches refer to their main meeting and prayer halls as sanctuaries, for it is in these locals that the community gathers to meet God in a special way, similar to the Mishkan and Temple. But he is in none of these places, at least not in the manifest way he was in ancient times.

That doesn’t mean that true sanctuary no longer exists. Far from it! Because of the coming of the Messiah, that which at one time dwelt within the confines of the Mishkan or the Temple is now present within his people both individually (see 1 Corinthians 3:17) and corporately (see 1 Corinthians 3:17).

If you truly know God through Yeshua the Messiah, you are God’s sanctuary. He who dwelt in the Mishkan of old now dwells in you. And if you are God’s sanctuary, his mikdash, then you are his holy place, set apart by him and for him. It is in and through you and others like you that he desires to manifest his presence and make himself known by his word and his power. The so-called sanctuaries of our houses of worship can be nothing of the kind unless filled with God’s faithful people. But when they are, they too become God’s true sanctuary.

It is time for Yeshua’s followers to realize our special function in the world. We don’t simply represent a far-off, detached Supreme Being that people need to know about. He has taken up residence in us, so that when people encounter us they should be encountering their Creator, Lord, Judge, and would-be Savior. We are the bridge through which God seeks to access a lost and confused world. We therefore must be diligent to prevent any barriers to form preventing people from seeing him in us. But please don’t ask God to take you out of the way, for it is you he has chosen through whom to make himself known.

All scriptures, English Standard Version (ESV) of the Bible

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail