Updated: Nov 7
It's very rare that I use photos here that I didn't take myself, but, a while back, this one hit me hard enough that I never forgot it.
Who knows if this photo is technically accurate, but it still represents what church is, the body of Christ, those who gather in the name of the Holy Trinity.
"For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them." - Jesus Christ - Matthew 18:20 (KJV)
As I said in Uplifting The Church - Pt 1 - What IS Church?:
"A church is not a building. It's not a bank account. It's not a piece of land, a mill that produces media or a copyrighted logo. Church is not a company, a mission or an idea. You don't need money to protect it, and get this, you don't even need a specific place to build it."
I was pretty clear in that series of articles about what a church really is. So in this series, as I write it along side of my own attempt to create a local church group, I will be looking at how we build it from the ground, up.
Building the church at the core
I do not use stock photography. See this image in my personal, photography portfolio.
Though my family and I have seen things done right in two of the many church buildings we've attended, we are frustrated at the hypocrisy we've found in every other one. So, as of right now, we are taking a break from those buildings and services. This does not mean we don't need a church community. In fact, we do. But what this break is good for is for us to heal from some of the mistreatment we'd found in church buildings. And, while we're in the midst of patching up those bruises, we're digging deep into the words of God and The Christ. We're finding those seeds and roots that Jesus laid out, teaching us to do this church thing with consistent respect for the sacrifices He made.
With just the three of us gathered in His name, we've been holding our own, private, mini services. Sitting on the rocks among the desert trees and stunning views; we pray, read scripture and discuss the lessons we feel it's time to learn at that moment. As a family, we let God and the gospels guide us through our potential worry, hardships and not knowing what our next steps are in life.
We started a separate bank account just for tithes. And as we see the need to support ourselves and members of the community, if need be, we take that account down to practically nothing. Remember, the church is not about a building, a bank account, or any material thing. If we never have a building to welcome our church into, then we'll do it outside or in someone's home. If we lose all of our resources, that doesn't mean we lose the church. We will take that bank account down to zero every single time we or a member of our community struggles for basic needs. And in living that philosophy, God has never let us down and has always replenished our resources.
"Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you." - Jesus Christ - Matthew 6:30-33 (NKJV)
I spoke about this a lot in my article series called Being A Conduit. In that series, I tell the story of how my wife and I were first scared about living this kind of philosophy. Having been under financial strain for quite a while, we felt it was best to protect our resources and keep them all to ourselves. At that point, feeling incredibly protective of the few resources we had for ourselves and our new baby girl, we never gave anything to anyone else in need. But then one day we attended a sermon about being generous to others with the gifts that God has given us, no matter what is going on in our lives at that moment. That's when we really started examining and testing that line from Matthew listed above:
"seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you."
In other words: put God first and everything else will fall in line. Those were the words that Pastor spoke on the stage that day, and they weighed heavy on our minds for quite some time. Later on, we decided to test those waters. We took the leap of faith and began not only tithing, but also giving money and other resources to others in need. And what came next shocked us then, and continues to surprise us now, even years later.
A new consistency of giving to others, even through poverty, created a consistency in getting things back. Sometimes it was as simple as handing out a few dollars, then somehow, strangely finding ways that money would return to us, but as more than we gave out. But then there were the moments when we would get scared again and try not giving anymore. During those times of refrain from generosity, all of the gifts that had been returning to us would stop. The pattern never changed, not once. The data remained absolute. Give, get. Don't give, don't get. As with every other test of all of God's other instructions, this one rang true.
When we first started tithing, we immediately began noticing resources pop up in our lives that we never had before. Deals worked out in businesses and with other people that almost seemed humanly impossible.
"With men it is impossible, but not with God: for with God all things are possible." - Jesus Christ - Mark 10:27 (KJV)
Money would come to us from the strangest places. For example: we prayed at one point for God to help us with a car payment. Within a few days, a check showed up in our mailbox for one portion of the car payment (I can't remember exactly what the strange place was that it came from, but the next one is the kicker). Also in our mailbox was a check from a previous tax year. They said they discovered that, three years before, we over-paid for our federal taxes. They were giving us that overpayment back (how often does that happen?). We knew nothing about it until we received that check. The two checks put together, almost exactly equaled our car payment.
During another moment, we prayed that on the following Thursday we would have enough money for a Thanksgiving meal. I specifically said: "even $50 would help us have a nice meal". The next day while driving toward town, my wife, Grace, felt a very strong push to go out of the way to a gas station we almost never go to. Even though she kept thinking it doesn't make any sense to go that way, she gave into the urge. She stopped in, filled up the tank and went inside to pay. When my daughter asked if she could buy a granola bar and a sticker, Grace said she was sorry, but we couldn't afford it at that moment. That's when the stranger behind them told her to get the sticker and the bar for little Jewel, that he wanted to pay for it. After that, he handed her a $50 bill, telling her to have a nice Thanksgiving meal with her family.
I could go on and on about finding random money, gifts and resources; the kind that never came to us before we began trying generosity. But when I follow God's word and understand basic physics, I don't need to. We live under a system designed by the greatest engineer that ever existed. And in His system, the inputs don't work unless the outputs are opened up. Things like greed or fear can override that rule for some time, as we have the option to gather and cling to our resources. But eventually, worldly and spiritual consequences always close in.
"Then said Jesus unto his disciples, Verily I say unto you, That a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven. And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.'" - Matthew 19:23-24 (KJV)
"Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." - Jesus Christ - Matthew 6:19-21 (NKJV)
Multiple ways to give
Even folks in a secular society understand how things like friendships and romantic relationships work. If you want to get from others, you have to be willing to give. People in any society, especially those who operate in the body of Christ, have many things they can be generous with. And, just like with the financial end, things like our personal time and other resources can sometimes be hard to give away.
I'm sure we've all been there, a moment when a friend is in need, but all we want to do is relax, unwind and exist in our own space. I've had moments of guilt and regret when I chose my own comfort over the needs of someone else. In my younger years, I was a much more selfish person. But these days I'm much better at doing the right thing, being there for someone else during their time of need. And, even though I still have moments where selfishness wants to override generosity, I still help whenever I can. The rewards always outweigh the sacrifices.
So, in the church, the body of Christ, from here on out my family and I will carry the same practice taught by Jesus Christ. We will support the core of the church, the people that come to worship. And, after having so many solid examples of this truth in our own lives, we will do it without fear and without worry. We will let God take care of the number in the bank account and the timing of its rise and fall. We will let God take care of blessing us with things like a church building and other resources. Our job is to follow that word found in the Bible. We will be generous and uplifting at the core of our church, toward the people who attend, in turn, showing others the glory of God.
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